We're here at the release of Ixalan and what a breath of fresh air this week of testing has been! With the entire set having been released this past Monday to be put under the Harsh Scrutiny of the gauntlet that is the Magic Online Standard Competitive Leagues, there's a massive amount of data that needs to be sifted through. While there's no way that I've had nearly enough time to come to a definitive to the question on everyone's mind, what to play, I have seen more innovation than I could have imagined in such a short span. The old stalwarts have shown that they're still here to stay, but that doesn't mean we're without hope!
Getting the obvious out of the way, if you show up to SCG Dallas not prepared to fight the good fight against Ramunap Red and Temur Energy of all flavors, you'll be enjoying the view from the sidelines earlier than you'd typically want.
I'm lamenting the fact that, despite this deck losing some of its early aggressive creatures with the rotation, it remains largely intact, as you just need any creature with more than one power to cast in the early-game to make the heavy hitters like Hazoret the Fervent look frightening. The only real upgrade this deck received was of course the addition of Lightning Strike. While it may seem like only a slight upgrade over Incendiary Flow, the magnitudes of better Lightning Strike is can only be met with a deep sigh when your opponent asks the question I hope not to hear this weekend: "You're at three, right?"
In the past we've been gifted with cards that hose such an oppressive onslaught of burn spells, cards like Kor Firewalker and Timely Reinforcements. With no such Saving Grace here to bail us out here, it looks like we'll just have to topple the jolly red giant the old-fashioned way.
The other deck that still plagues us from the format now past is Temur Energy. The deck literally lost one, maybe two, lands from the previous versions that have proven themselves in tournaments this year. With that being said, it also gained very little if anything with the release of Ixalan. Be that as it may, any new deck that might emerge from this weekend will have to prove itself worthy to hang with some of the seniors of this Standard.
Enough about the old. What's new?!
Fall rotation always brings the best parts of Magic to the forefront combining fresh arrivals with cards whose time has finally come!
While Approach of the Second Sun isn't a new card, it's definitely gotten a bunch of shiny new toys to mess around with. With most of the decks in the format asking who can tame the early aggression of Ramunap Red and who can go bigger in the battle of the Dinosaurs, Approach of the Second Sun goes over the top of all of that and just wins the game. So what gives? Why is this deck now so much better than it was before?
Settle the Wreckage has truly been wrecking people left and right by being the Quicken plus Supreme Verdict we've always wanted! In a deck that doesn't care about how many lands you have and isn't scared of whatever monstrous creature you're casting, Settle the Wreckage put your opponent in a no=win scenario simply by existing. No longer can you simply jam a Hazoret the Fervent into four open mana from a control opponent and hope that, by pressuring the turn they're trying to take off to cast a Glimmer of Genius, you're safe! This card is surely a game-changer and has given this fringe control deck the punch it needs to hang with the best.
The short list of cards you're going to have to worry about now when your opponent passes with four open mana includes Glimmer of Genius, Settle the Wreckage, Censor, Disallow, Opt, Cast Out, and whatever other nonsense you can do in those colors.
Whatever hope Dinosaurs of all color combinations had of being top tier has been swept away by the existence of this deck. While it greatly disappoints me to say such a thing, I've thrown every conceivable angle of attack that you could add to a G/XX deck to help combat this matchup. Heroic Intervention? Nice card, but have you read Settle the Wreckage? Planeswalkers? Too midrange to impact the end-game Approach of the Second Sun imposes in a relatively quick manner.
It's a riddle I've been unable to crack thus far despite my best efforts. The only card I've had reasonable success with at fighting them is Nissa, Vital Force, since it's a threat that you can't sweep away and hits hard enough to pressure the time Approach of the Second Sun can buy by casting its namesake card.
Will this be the tournament where it's wrong not to be playing a control deck Week 1? Unlikely, but I wouldn't be shocked.
Speaking of Dinosaurs, this week I've lit a solid five to eight Leagues on fire by attempting to solve the puzzle.
Two of the hallmark cards to come out of the set point to a G/R midrange deck. You can spice up the lists with varying numbers of Deathgorge Scavanger, Ranging Raptor, and the tailor-made removal spell Savage Stomp.
This is what I've come to after hours of losing and learning.
- 2 Walking Ballista
- 3 Burning Sun's Avatar
- 4 Deathgorge Scavenger
- 4 Drover of the Mighty
- 3 Otepec Huntmaster
- 2 Ranging Raptors
- 4 Regisaur Alpha
- 4 Ripjaw Raptor
There's no dancing around the issue here: the control decks of the format are very good against our Dinosaur friends and I don't see any other way around it but jamming four copies of Negate in the sideboard to help combat them.
One glaring difference between almost every variant of Dinosaurs I've seen and this list is the complete lack of Carnage Tyrant. No, it's not a budget consideration. No, I didn't forget the card exists. No, I don't think it's a bad card.
The truth of the matter is that there isn't a need for a card like Carnage Tyrant in this deck. The matchup you'd dream of having a card like Carnage Tyrant for is a control deck, right? But what if the default control deck has six maindeck ways of dealing with this card meant to hose control and they also get to sweet up the rest of your offense as well?
This is a classic example of a deck being too good at what it does and completely putting any control deck that isn't playing an actual Wrath of God effect out of a job. Carnage Tyrant was likely designed to fight Hour of Devastation and Torrential Gearhulk, seeing as it lines up pretty perfectly against those two highly popular cards that were seen in control decks prior to Ixalan.
Don't get me wrong. Carnage Tyrant will absolutely destroy any player relying on damage based removal spells like Harnessed Lightning to handle creatures, but with the default control deck being what it is, with neither Hour of Devastation nor Torrential Gearhulk playing a major role, and Settle the Wreckage having joined the equation, I think it's best to look at another six-drop Dinosaur!
An Inferno Titan lookalike for sure, but the days when Titans ruled Standard are long since gone and we're hoping they don't return. While this is much worse than Inferno Titan was back in its day, Burning Sun's Avatar definitely pulls its weight in this metagame. Having ways to deal with Whirler Virtuoso, Hostage Taker, Winding Constrictor, and many other pesky three-toughness creatures has never been at more of a premium.
Another thing this card has going for it is getting the haste bonus from Regisaur Alpha and Otepec Huntmaster, which can make for a full nine-point swing and deprive the opponent of a blocker along the way! I didn't believe it until I tried it, but I assure you, this card is no joke and might be the adaptation you'll need to make a deep run in Dallas.
Ixalan brought us a Swiss Army knife of potential decks to experiment with, one of which caught my eye after getting handily defeated by it in a Competitive Standard League.
Typically, when a card like this is printed, one of two things can happen: it can be utterly unplayable, or it could be beyond broken. Cost reduction for spells is something that isn't generally worth a card, but when casting four spells that either draw cards or interact with your opponent's battlefield turns into a card advantage engine few decks can keep up with, then we're talking.
Outside of Walking Ballista, there aren't really any cards in Standard that act as a Fireball, which is what the flipped side of Primal Amulet is begging for. However, we do have Cut // Ribbons and that fits the role of removal spell as well as win condition, since the primary way this deck is looking to finish the game is with a massive Ribbons once you've found Primal Wellspring sitting amongst your lands.
This deck offers those who enjoy watching an opponent rot with a fistful of interactive cards fall prey to you copying Glimmer of Genius over and over again and finishing them at your leisure. While a deck like this is insanely fun, I've also had a decent amount of success with it, and with the proper tuning and card selection, it could be a pillar of the format…assuming Abrade isn't everywhere!
Only a day away from SCG Dallas and I'm ready to be impressed by everything and anything. I'm not sold on sticking with that's been proven like Temur, but that just means the format is wide open enough to where you can pick and choose what you'd like to do!
Tune in this weekend and hopefully I'll have figured it out by then. Should we stick to Sultai? Casting Winding Constrictor into Rishkar, Peema Renegade has served me well before. Should I join those under the Second Sun and abandon all creatures and Dinosaurs alike? Probably not, because I love me some beatdown! See you all there!