Pro Tour Hour of Devastation is officially over and it seems we can't go a Pro Tour without six copies of some deck in the Top 8. Unlike with Aetherworks Marvel's reign, however, I actually see this Top 8 as a good omen for the Standard format to come. Having a clear deck with a target on its head is not so bad when that deck is actually beatable and has a clear weakness. "Mono-Red" might not be as fragile as it normally is, but if you want to win the Ramunap Red matchup, you most certainly can, no questions asked. Even the decks gunning directly to beat Marvel would still lose to it on turn 4, which was quite disheartening.
I am not here to dwell on the past, however! In fact, quite the opposite! Grand Prix Denver is just a few weeks away, and I have my eye on attacking that format. I say that format rather than this format because I do expect some changes between now and then. Today, I want to examine the state of the format and talk about some of the cards that I feel are absolutely prime right now. Through this process, I want to throw out a couple of variations on an archetype I feel extremely confident in right now. But first, let's quickly discuss where I see Standard going so that we can be better-informed for that process.
Riding the Wave
The most important thing to be aware of when brewing after the Pro Tour is that people are going to overreact to the showing that Ramunap Red put up, and this includes in both directions. You will have that group of people who decide they absolutely will not lose to Ramunap Red and they will choose decks, or else dedicate much of the space in their deck, to avoid those losses. I predict that this will lead to a tournament or two in which Ramunap Red struggles to make the Top 8.
- 4 Gifted Aetherborn
- 4 Glint-Sleeve Siphoner
- 4 Matter Reshaper
- 4 Reality Smasher
- 4 Thought-Knot Seer
- 2 Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
The Magic Online PTQ already sort of followed this formula, but I can see it carrying forward into this weekend's Standard events. This in turn, leads to people deciding that Ramunap Red is dead and then taking out all of their dedicated cards for the matchup.
We have seen this back-and-forth occur many times in Standard's past. It tends to happen whenever there is a very strong deck with some clear weaknesses and, unsurprisingly, neither extreme approach tends to be correct. That is to say that Ramunap Red deserves some of your attention as a deckbuilder, but it doesn't deserve it all. We need to have tools in our lists to beat one of the fastest decks in the format, but we also need to prepare for the other decks trying to do the same thing.
This category of decks aiming at Ramunap Red contains some of the lists we saw at the Pro Tour, such as Zombies and G/B Constrictor, but also some decks that will emerge in its wake, such as G/R Ramp and various midrange lists like Jund or Abzan. Naturally, control will pop its head up to pick up some free wins against these decks, and we will see this three-cornered Standard settle in. I should make it clear that, in spite of the hate, Ramunap Red will continue to be a deck. It is too resilient to disappear altogether. Its numbers will likely decline from that of the Pro Tour, but expecting 20% of Grand Prix Denver field to be Ramunap Red doesn't seem unreasonable to me.
With that quick breakdown of where I see things headed out of the way, I wanted to direct my attention to some cards that I feel are extremely well-positioned right now. Understandably, it sometimes takes a big leap of faith to play one of my lists, as they tend to be out of left field, but as individual cards go, I strongly encourage trying out some of these ideas in your favorite Standard list. Not every card is going to work perfectly in every deck, but you might be able to improve your deck of choice with a little rogue technology.
I bring this card up right out of the gate because it seems absolutely incredible right now and has seen almost zero Standard play until this point. Currently, every deck seems to be heavily based in creatures. Against Ramunap Red, you can take them off curve or steal an impending Hazoret the Fervent before it reaches indestructible status. Winding Constrictor and Electrostatic Pummeler decks are essentially creature-based combo decks that you can dismantle with a well-timed Harsh Scrutiny. Even when you run into control, being able to hold Harsh Scrutiny until turn 5 and then taking them off Torrential Gearhulk is a game-winning play.
And remember, we are not just talking about discard here. You also get to scry! This is huge at preparing for whatever else you saw hanging out in the enemy hand. Harsh Scrutiny being limited to just creatures does mean you likely cannot get away with more than two or three copies in your maindeck, but if you back these up with a few copies of Collective Brutality, you have covered the majority of the spectrum and have a strong early-game established for yourself.
Some people have already caught onto this card and for good reason. Deathtouch is one of the most powerful abilities in Standard right now, as I mentioned in my praise for Fathom Feeder. Deathtouch allows you to trade for the early-game plays of Ramunap Red or Energy decks while being relevant against the big bodies of B/G Constrictor, Zombies, and Eldrazi. Lifelink is obviously a godsend against a more aggressive metagame, and the third point of toughness means this skates past Kozilek's Return, Flaying Tendrils, and Shock just fine.
I'll be honest in saying I was going to lead with Warping Wail, but given my extreme love for the card, I wanted to ease into it first. That said, Warping Wail may actually be incredible in Standard right now. Allow me to explain.
Almost every deck in the format is hurt in a severe way by one of the two disruptive modes of Warping Wail. Some decks are hurt by both halves, but most decks rely heavily on a card that is directly stopped by our two-mana instant.
Creatures with one power or toughness:
Then, beyond just this interaction, we always have the option to make a 1/1 that ramps. This means catching an opponent off-guard who anticipated you having X mana, when in reality you can generate an extra source on the end step and throw them for a loop. If you have the ability to play Warping Wail, at least consider it. It makes for an excellent sideboard card too.
Unlike my previous suggestions, "six toughness or loyalty" is an attribute rather than a specific card, but I think it is quite relevant. As decks like G/R Eldrazi Ramp gain in popularity, Hour of Devastation will as well. This means that both Hour of Devastation and Kozilek's Return deal five damage to the entire battlefield. Add to this that people play Glorybringer, Grasp of Darkness, Dark Salvation, Harnessed Lighting, and Chandra, Torch of Defiance, and I think you will be quite pleased to pack win conditions that have that crucial six-toughness benchmark. The Gitrog Monster is one of my favorite examples in this category, as it comes down cheap and tussles with other six-toughness critters such as Torrential Gearhulk.
Liliana, Death's Majesty deserves a nod here as well, since she effectively enters the battlefield with six loyalty, as do Jace, Unraveler of Secrets; Nahiri, the Harbinger; Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh; Ob Nixilis Reignited; Nissa, Vital Force; Tezzeret the Schemer; and Sorin, Grim Nemesis. All of these planeswalkers are playable but are underplayed right now due to an aggressive format. As Ramp and Control increase in popularity, expect some of these to follow suit.
While Kozilek's Return will be receiving most of the love for its raw power level, as Zombies gains in popularity to beat Ramunap Red, Flaying Tendrils becomes that much more impressive. The exile clause is absolutely huge here and comes up in other matchups. Flaying Tendrils is hardly an unknown card, but if you are looking at Kozilek's Return as your primary reason for moving into red in your ramp strategies, give Tendrils a second look. Along with this, I would give a special shout-out to Make Obsolete, which is a reasonable sideboard option for Zombies to fight Ramunap Red with, if you feel you need the help.
While already a premium card in Standard, I think Aethersphere Harvester will end up even better than it is now. Yes, Abrade answers it, but that is only a loss of one mana on your part and you gained a few energy. When Abrade doesn't come down, Aethersphere Harvester offers you lifegain against the aggressive decks that can be really tough to overcome. My favorite aspect of the card comes in the fact that it can block the Ramunap Red deck better than most creatures, as it animates after Ahn-Crop Crasher, Earthshaker Khenra, and Cartouche of Zeal have chosen their targets that cannot block for the turn.
Additionally, five toughness is great against those copies of Glorybringer and Grasp of Darkness that decks will be running, and being a Vehicle already allows you to sidestep the five damage from Kozilek's Return and Hour of Devastation.
Turning It Into 75
A lot of theorycrafting and logic about the format to come is all good and well, but if we are going to begin testing for the Grand Prix, it would be nice to actually have a deck to do so. Here I want to put my money where my mouth is and use some of the logic I have gone through today to attack the format. First, I must stress that the format is changing and evolving and will not be at a resting state any time soon. Because of this, whatever deck we propose here must be malleable and must adapt as the metagame does. In this, the shell and concept of the list is currently much more important than any individual card, as those might change. We definitely want to note the performance of individual cards and testing them is still extremely valuable, but they are very likely to change.
In expecting a lot more G/R Ramp to show up, I wanted to cut them off by being a step ahead without sacrificing my Ramunap Red matchup. It is very difficult to go over the top of a Ramp deck while maintaining a strong early-game, but one of the easiest ways to do this is to be a Ramp deck yourself. If we are able to maintain the tools that G/R Ramp has against aggro decks, we can make subtle shifts in card choices to position ourselves better against Ramp or Control or Midrange removal.
As a very basic example, consider the exchange of Abrade for Collective Brutality. Abrade is cheap removal against Ramunap Red with some versatility in its ability to kill artifacts. Collective Brutality offers most of the same against Ramunap Red, albeit at sorcery speed, but also has a lifegain option and then is very powerful in any type of mirror. If we can take the opponent's Hour of Promise or countermagic, that is an immense upgrade from the three-damage spell that we would be looking to sideboard out in the very same matchups.
Another great example comes in our manabase. Ramunap Ruins is one of the best cards in Standard when found in a red aggro deck, but in the G/R Ramp lists, it is an afterthought at best. Upgrading your Desert from useless to a removal spell is so absolutely huge for a ramp shell that will usually end up with excess lands anyway. Enough examples for now. Let's just get to a list:
If you are familiar with the G/R Hour of Promise decks, you probably notice a lot of parallels here. However, you might also notice some of the tools we gain that G/R Ramp simply has no access to. Catacomb Sifter jumps out in this respect. I actually began with only three in the list and it did not take me long to realize my mistake. Being able to ramp to a turn 4 Hour of Promise is invaluable in any matchup, but Sifter does so much more. It is defensive when it needs to be and aggressive when it needs to be. You aren't getting this level of versatility out of Beneath the Sands or Druid of the Cowl.
The Gitrog Monster deserves some love, so allow me to indulge our Froggy friend. While I have sung the praises of the Frog Horror in the past, it becomes much more attractive when you are already looking to ramp to five mana. The Gitrog Monster actually ramps you up to World Breaker at the exact same rate as Hour of Promise (although a little less consistently). It has the critical six toughness that I talked about earlier. It has crazy synergy with Liliana, Death's Majesty going both directions. In general, when my opponent is on some midrange brew or G/R Ramp, The Gitrog Monster is the card I want most, as it is so hard to remove and takes over the game for just five mana.
In fact, as the metagame ebbs and flows, I want to explore variations in this list that would position us even better against the wave of anti-red decks that is sure to emerge. Again, I don't want to ignore red and give them free wins against us, but we can probably dial back some of the interaction in favor of more robust options against the slower decks. In particular, if we lean into The Gitrog Monster, we can incorporate Ramunap Excavator into deck which just gives you so much card advantage and utility against Ramp, Control, and Midrange.
In the late-game, you get the ability to endlessly Blighted Fen an opponent or use Ifnir Deadlands to gun down small creatures. We could even work in a copy of Mortuary Mire, which works very well with the Gitrog/Excavator engine, as now we have a way to rebuy both cards with regularity in addition to having Liliana, Death's Majesty. Here is where I might go with that concept.
- 4 Jaddi Offshoot
- 3 Ramunap Excavator
- 2 World Breaker
- 2 The Gitrog Monster
- 1 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
Obviously there is a lot of overlap in cards between both lists, but I do think they attack slightly different metagames. This version with the larger land package is probably still a little weak out there right now, but it should gain in strength over the next few weeks, possibly being the right call for Grand Prix Denver even. Of course, both of these lists will evolve through iteration and as we gain more information about the metagame.
I will be working on these lists often over the course of the next few weeks and will report back with changes and updates as I have them. I really do feel good about this sort of shell going into the new metagame, though. As for next week, we will be switching focus back to Modern, where I have some updates to the combo decks we have been working on as well as a few other spicy things to show off.