It's only been a couple of weeks since my return to Magic writing, and I'm loving every minute of it. I feel a new sense of purpose and fulfillment where previously there was none. I enjoy preparation more because I know when I do a good job, people who use my strategy advice will have a greater experience. The positive support from the community has been incredible as well, so a special thanks to everyone who has reached out to me. That said, it's time to turn to Dominaria previews, and the biggest bombshell I've seen so far is the reprinting of the Innistrad cycle of dual lands.
In one of my first articles back, I spoke about how poor the mana was in Standard, but I feel like we've come full circle and now the mana in Standard is back to being incredible. The reason for this is the addition of these sweet dual lands and the format slowing down because the best aggressive decks, Mono-Red Aggro and Temur Energy, both got weakened substantially by the bannings.
The average game length in Standard is longer than before, as Mono-Red Aggro doesn't win as quickly as it used to and Temur Energy as an archetype doesn't exist and lest we forget it was an aggro deck. Players liked to call it midrange, but it was mostly creatures and the World Champion, Huey Jensen, had four copies of both Longtusk Cub and Glorybringer in his tournament-winning decklist
That's beatdown, people.
One of my next articles back was for a Grixis Energy list that has seen a ton of success lately. My mana was pretty aggressive, but I almost always had more issue with card choices than mana. I'm not advocating that decklist, but simply using it as an example.
I was able to support double red, double black, and double blue with ease. It almost felt like cheating; I simply paired the black cycling lands with the black dual lands, and with my remaining spots I included Aether Hub (because it's overpowered mana fixing) and enough basics to weaken Field of Ruin. A little Kaladesh fastlands sprinkled on top and you've got yourself a manabase, and it's exactly as easy as it looks.
I decided to base my deck around being able to cast Vraska's Contempt, so a lean to the black fixing felt natural. The cycling lands allowed me to play a higher land count guilt-free, but the more I played, the more I learned that the cycling lands weren't good because they cycled; they were good because they make two colors of mana and allow Drowned Catacomb and Dragonskull Summit to enter the battlefield untapped. They're literally so good I would argue that unless you already have one, it's often a mistake to cycle them.
Canyon Slough and Fetid Pools are like the gateway drug to perfect mana, as they don't slow you down because they enter the battlefield tapped.; they actually speed you up because once you've placed one onto the battlefield, many of your lands now enter the battlefield untapped. I give opening hands that contain these two cards added weight and in the same breath, I would advocate being more likely to mulligan hands without them. I'm not saying lose focus of your common sense mulligan strategy, but these are good guidelines to have when you're on the fence and not sure what to do.
I like to mulligan land-light hands a little bit more often than I have historically with decks like this because I feel missing land drops is more devastating than drawing too many lands. Additionally, I tend to mulligan a lot more often with hands I dislike on the draw, and ever since the scry mulligan rule, I've found the difference between seven and six plus a scry is substantially less extreme than the difference between your normal seven and six. I also like to mulligan hands that do not contain my best cards, so if I'm super unsure about a hand, I just remind myself that mulliganing allows me the opportunity to see six more cards and one of them might be a Glint-Sleeve Siphoner.
A card worth mulliganing for.
These new lands will completely redefine Standard. Right now, it seems to be very close to
proven that playing Mono-Red Aggro in most Standard metagames is a suboptimal choice. Math says to play either The Scarab God or a rogue strategy. As an example, I played U/W Gift in the MOCS this past weekend to a 6-2 record. So, unless Dominaria completely revamps red decks or the awesome mana makes way for sweet two-color beatdown decks, it appears to me as if the format will be some mix of midrange, combo, and control decks that all slot into three colors where matchup knowledge and card choice are the most likely factors in deciding a game.
Previous versions of Owen Turtenwald would've been bragging to all his friends about how skill-intensive the format looks and how all that's left to do now is figure out how to spend the prize money…
Okay, obviously I'm still doing that today.
My point with the dual lands is they drastically improve all decks. I've seen so many Foul Orchards lately, it makes me want to throw up. That card is horrible and the cost of a full-stop tap land is at an all-time high in aggressive decks. I think Winding Constrictor will be even better now because 4 Blooming Marsh 4 Woodland Cemetery 4 Aether Hub 6 Swamp 6 Forest is actually a totally respectable manabase. It's polite, it's right, it's just responsible.
What I'm saying is there's a time and a place for everything, and in slow control decks with
sweepers that allow you to produce card advantage and make up for lost time with for time lost
from lands that enter the battlefield tapped lands, it's more reasonable to play cards like this. My deck had four copies of both Languish and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar in it, so it's understandable why I would want as much black and white mana as I could get my hands on. I actually beat my boss playing deep in day two in top 8 contention in the mirror match!
CEDitor's Note: This thing dealt me twelve damage…
I expect Winding Constrictor decks to be tier one, but not all this nonsense I see with Hadana's Climb. I want good old fashioned two-color beatdown with all the right tools. I want four copies of Fatal Push, four copies of Vraska's Contempt, and some copies of Blossoming Defense sprinkled on top. I'm also seeing some room here for Evolving Wilds to make a resurgence. When mana-fixing cares about basics and the format slows down, that gives room for Evolving Wilds to be a very attractive option. Here's my manabase from when I won Grand Prix Houston 2016:
I understand that playing with Polluted Delta and Jace, Vryn's Prodigy in Standard is completely busted so I did it at the Pro Tour as often as I could. The core concept is the same; you can build a manabase that lets you do virtually anything. This deck was trying to cast spells that cost 1GB and 1UW on turn 3, so I was trying to use a combination of lands that could do both. Island, Swamp, Canopy Vista, and Plains, Forest, Sunken Hollow both accomplish this task.
This is only 23 lands, but it provides me with twelve sources of each color. This is purely a hypothetical situation since it doesn't appear as if Kambal is a card I want to put in my main deck and if I was to play with Whirler Virtuoso, you know I'd be playing with Aether Hub and Harnessed Lightning, but the point remains the same. We're entering a multicolored dawn for Standard, and it's going to be very similar to the days where Mantis Rider decks also played Kolaghan's Command and occasionally you saw extremely bizarre behavior like combining Chained to the Rocks and Siege Rhino.
It does seem to me like Sulfur Falls is a huge win for Jeskai Control decks. I've noticed Splinter Twin decks in Modern that still play four copies of Sulfur Falls even years after it was printed, so there's no denying that these lands are among some of the best lands ever printed. Spirebluff Canal mimics Blackcleave Cliffs, and four Blackcleave Cliffs have been a staple of Jund in Modern since the dawn of time. These are super pushed Constructed lands and you can do absolutely anything with them.
I'm hopeful for the future of Standard, and I think talk of the sky falling in terms of a metagame saturated by The Scarab God were completely justified, but now with a new set coming in and better options for all decks across the board, it looks like energy and its reign of terror will be put right back in their place. It will be a daunting task to test all the various combination of three-color decks, but as I said at the beginning of the article I'm more motivated than I've ever been in the past.
That said, I fear a new card might be pushed a little too far and it might be time to play vehicles again…