It is Monday morning, January 9th, 2017, and as I sat refreshing my computer screen, hoping for the Banned and Restricted announcement going up early, I couldn't help but wonder what would happen. Lots of people had been clamoring for an Emrakul, the Promised End ban in Standard. I understood. What are you going to do with your mana that is better than Emrakul? Nothing, and that's one of the problems with making big giant monsters that you want to see play.
I think they got it right with Dragonlord Atarka, although I might be a bit biased.
There was also a lot of talk about the potential of a preemptive ban of Felidar Guardian, a new card from Aether Revolt. When combined with Saheeli Rai, you can “Splinter Twin” your opponent for arbitrarily large damage and win the game.
I was skeptical of a preemptive ban, but like everyone else, I planned on just holding my breath for the announcement.
10:59 AM (Pacific time): I am spamming refresh.
11:00 AM: Still spamming and seeing nothing.
Mage listed for Standard.
So, with a new set being released that is jam-packed with powerful cards, we also have three cards that are banned in Standard that are poised to change the entire metagame. What is the big top-end now? Are four-mana creatures safe now? Will planeswalkers be under as much pressure as they were before?
These are all great questions. One card that I was already keen on before the announcement was Heart of Kiran, and with Smuggler's Copter leaving, Heart of Kiran is going to be an excellent replacement to pressure opposing planeswalkers.
The big concern is that Heart of Kiran is legendary. With Smuggler's Copter not being legendary, it was easy to put four copies in your deck, but we must take that into consideration with Heart of Kiran. I think that it's good enough to warrant a full four.
Heart of Kiran needs crew 3 or to remove a loyalty counter from a planeswalker you control to become a creature. The Clue that is generated from the Inspector does still have some value in terms of turning on your Toolcraft Exemplar and Inventor's Apprentice.
I want to first focus on the planeswalker interaction with Heart of Kiran. I think that Nissa, Voice of Zendikar and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar fit perfectly into a deck that is trying to take advantage of Heart of Kiran, or maybe it's just that Heart of Kiran may fit into a deck that is trying to take advantage of Nissa and Gideon.
This route is a take on the old G/W Tokens Strategy. I want to try to take advantage of Sram's Expertise and Rishkar, Peema Renegade, but you can also go a bit bigger and try to take over the game with Selfless Spirit and Archangel Avacyn, which are still legal. We can also go a bit bigger with something like Verdurous Gearhulk, which does play right into our tokens strategy.
Sram's Expertise has a lot of potential, especially since we have Nissa, Voice of Zendikar; Oath of Ajani; and Rishkar, Peema Renegade as payoff cards that we can combo the tokens into. Getting seven mana worth of spells for just four mana, when one of the parts is building our own battlefield, is huge. I've been thinking a lot about the expertise spells, and I think that Sram's Expertise is going to end up the best and most-played. Baral's Expertise and Yahenni's Expertise have some big swing potential but require your opponent to be doing something for you to take full advantage of the card, where Sram's Expertise is going to just be great basically all the time.
With Emrakul, the Promised End gone, we aren't put in a spot where we have to try to beat Ishkanah, Grafwidow before Emrakul, the Promised End takes over, so we can play for a bit of a longer game. That's the thought, at least, but we do have something else to consider.
Now, as I mentioned before, there are going to be a lot different builds using Saheeli Rai and Felidar Guardian. In fact, our very own Patrick Chapin wrote about just this earlier in the week. His preliminary Jeskai Combo is exactly along the line that I was thinking.
We aren't in a world of Ponder and Serum Visions, so building the deck to have a Plan B is extremely important. My initial Plan B was going to be using Reflector Mage and Felidar Guardian over and over to make my opponents unhappy, but just finding permanents that we actively want to blink may end up being good enough.
Here are some decks from my notebook:
This one looks a little weird, but I wanted to see what we could do if we wanted to utilize cantrip artifacts with our Felidar Guardian as a way to generate advantage when we don't have our infinite combo. Battle at the Bridge likely deserves a spot somewhere in a deck like this. Is this good? Probably not. Does it look fun? Hell yes it does.
- 4 Felidar Guardian
- 4 Servant of the Conduit
- 4 Kozilek, the Great Distortion
- 4 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
This is a combination of the two combo decks, but I think that we've forgotten just how good Kozilek, the Great Distortion is. Yes, we aren't going to be casting our Eldrazi now that Emrakul, the Promised End is gone, but with the junction of Marvel and the Saheeli combo, we are attacking our opponents from two different angles.
There really are so many different ways that you can try to put this two-card combo into a deck, and it even helps that both of the cards are decent and do interesting things. Talk about a brewer's paradise!
As long as you can contain “the combo,” I think Gideon, Ally of Zendikar is going to be the primary threat in the format, and one way to go over him is with Brisela, Voice of Nightmares. W/B Angels hasn't really been a thing since Magic Origins rotated, but we do gain access to Yahenni's Expertise as a sweeper now, and the creatures and removal that W/B has access to are both top-notch.
- 4 Gifted Aetherborn
- 2 Thalia's Lancers
- 1 Bruna, the Fading Light
- 2 Gisela, the Broken Blade
- 2 Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
- 1 Linvala, the Preserver
My first crack at this wants to put Yahenni's Expertise in the sideboard. Since a lot of our plays off it are removal spells, we're likely going to want to bring more creatures in along with the Expertise against the aggressive decks and cut a lot of our top-end. The legendary package with Thalia's Lancers seems like it has the potential to still be great.
Gifted Aetherborn really strikes me as a great card for the new format. It can pressure planeswalkers early since it has great stats and can play defense absurdly well. It is vulnerable to Harnessed Lightning, but just about everything aggressive is. It is also a two-drop Vampire with great stats. Maybe we end up seeing a resurgence of the Vampire archetype. I've got my Drana and Olivias all ready. Do you?
Transgress the Mind is another card that I expect to see a lot of in sideboards, since it can interact with the Saheeli combo pieces.
With all these midrange and combo decks, there must be something on the more aggressive side for Aether Revolt. With Smuggler's Copter leaving, I think that we're going to see quite a bit of Tom Ross-inspired Human aggro.
Last week he wrote about a W/B Humans deck that looks great, and (spoiler alert) he had zero copies of Smuggler's Copter.
- 4 Metallic Mimic
- 4 Expedition Envoy
- 4 Glint-Sleeve Siphoner
- 4 Night Market Lookout
- 4 Thalia's Lieutenant
- 4 Thraben Inspector
- 4 Town Gossipmonger
- 2 Thalia, Heretic Cathar
This deck looks like it can kill exceptionally quickly and has at least one way to interact with the Saheeli combo in its maindeck with Thalia, Heretic Cathar. Thalia was already a decent card to be playing in the last format, but with Reflector Mage gone and this new combo deck, I think that Thalia's stock is going to increase quite a bit.
There is also a new pump card that I've been pummeling my brain over since I saw it previewed.
The G/R Energy deck started picking up steam at the Players' Championship, and with some new cards and the format being refreshed, we may end up seeing it again. Highspire Infusion is exactly what the deck has been looking for.
Take Joe Lossett's Standard deck from the Players' Championship.
I think that Highspire Infusion is a great upgrade to Larger Than Life. Yes, it does gain trample from Larger Than Life, which is important when we are trying to combo kill with the Electrostatic Pummeler, but we still have Rush of Adrenaline that can be used, and when we make all of our pump spells instant-speed, then we can play more of an Infect role.
Greenbelt Rampager might also find a home in a deck like this. It's not going to be a turn 1 play usually, but when we can follow up an Attune with Aether with a one-mana 3/4, it might just be good enough.
A huge benefit of playing an aggressive deck like this in the beginning of a format is that the control and combo decks are generally under-tuned and vulnerable to aggressive decks – especially those with a combo finish.
Another aggressive card that has me interested is Aethergeode Miner. As a 3/1 for 1W, it has some decent attacking stats. It is also a Dwarf, which makes Depala, Pilot Exemplar happy. Sadly, Inventor's Apprentice and Thraben Inspector are both Humans, leaving the only one-drop Dwarf as Toolcraft Exemplar.
Maybe in a more midrange W/B deck that's not so focused on Angels…
This deck feels like we're on the right track. Glint-Sleeve Siphoner is also a consideration for this deck as it has a bit of an energy theme and plays well with the Geomancer and Live Fast. Likely in the sideboard to swap out for some removal spells against control decks.
I love Sram's Expertise in this deck, as we can fill the battlefield and follow it up with a threat, a removal spell, a card advantage spell, or a Liliana, the Last Hope. It does it all, and will play a nice role in helping us ultimate Liliana, the Last Hope, which is a much bigger threat now that we aren't having to worry about Emrakul, the Promised End racing us.
We can even Collective Effort off the Expertise to put a +1/+1 counter on all of our creatures for free!
Yaheeni's Expertise is likely to be in the sideboard somewhere as a means to sweep the battlefield against the aggressive Humans or other low-curve strategies that pop up. Heart of Kiran, Fleetwheel Cruiser, and Skysovereign, Consul Flagship are all still great threats, but with Smuggler's Copter gone, playing a dedicated Vehicle strategy has lost the majority of its merit.
I really believe that harnessing the full power of Gideon, Ally of Zendikar (as long as you can interact with the Saheeli Combo decks) is going to be the key to the new format. Once I have some more time to digest what the format is going to look like with these three cards gone, I will have more decks and ideas, but for now, I think that it's going to be about Saheeli Combo and ways to control it and win the game with Gideon, Ally of Zendikar.
What do you think of the bannings? Thumbs up? Thumbs down? In the middle?