Whenever I approach a new format especially one as conveniently small as the new Standard it’s always been a helpful tool to make a list of the strongest cards that decks look to base their tactics around. Most of the cards I'm going to list have already been defined as power players while the others are the most obvious from the new set and I’m highlighting the potential roles they could play.
Lists like the following really help stir up my design juices whenever I'm looking to make new decks. Knowing what cards are going to be the most popular and most impacting has a huge effect on the cards you'll make in your own home brews and I always like to have a rough list in my head at all times to metagame around while making card choices for whatever deck is on the chopping block.
This card gets my vote for best Standard card out of the new set. It's one of the most unique ways of removing a creature that we've seen in awhile and it doubles as a reactive counter to their reactive counters. Its artificial hatred doesn't have many useful applications as far as I can tell mostly due to the fact that the Esper tribe doesn't look so hot at the moment. It's the best counter we've seen since Cryptic Command since when you aren't countering spells with it you’re taking care of two other types of permanents.
Man those foily textless reward cards look saucy. I've already got my play set reserved and it’s an extremely safe buy since it will remain the best reactive card in Standard for probably the next year. Everyone knows all the utilities that Cryptic Command presents but the fact that you can now support Cryptic Command alongside the Charms is really amazing since between them all you can outplay your opponents in a wide variety of ways.
Reveillark is the most brutal creature in all of Standard. Its value honestly shouldn't drop that much even with the loss of several two-powered buddies. The new set doesn't offer much in the way of 187 creatures but with everyone looking into Reflecting Pools lately Fulminator Mage is looking particularly attractive.
The Wrath effect of choice given it wipes out nearly all of the smaller critters running around and hammers the nail into the coffin of whatever hyper aggressive strategies that are thrown your way. Except Shards brought a host of delicious looking animals that are immune to the spouts of fire given their boosted toughness. I'd look to see a rise in White control decks since there really is no replacement for Wrath of God. Speaking of...
Wrath of God
WoG has been a popular Standard card since I started playing in Mercadian Masques and with Damnation gone everyone will have to start playing White again as a control color. The simple threat of having Wrath of God alters the way aggro decks approach the game from turn 1 and having one in your opening hand gives you that warm comfortable fuzzy feeling inside.
Bitterblossom / Mistblind Clique
If Inquest was still around I'm sure they'd file this one under “Killer Combos!” The Champion ability on Mistblind Clique may seem like a drawback but with Bitterblossom spitting out more Faeries than Angelina Jolie's adoption rate sacrificing a flying fella doesn't look so bad. Mistblind Clique really is one of the most impressive creatures to ever be printed. A 4/4 flier for four mana that can be played as an instant and Time Walks your opponent when it comes into play… wow. This is already known but there really isn't much in the lines of quality counter magic compared to last Standard so I'd look for the Clique to go up a little in value. It's also something you need to prepare to play against. If you have a deck chock-full of creatures it'd do some good to include some instant responses to this devastating Faerie.
I'm honestly not sure where this card will find a home. Maybe he'll find his way as a splash into a Jund deck or perhaps some sort of RGW control deck with the Razer for the final one-hit knockout. My point is that his effect is insanely powerful and tapping out to play a monster of your own could end in all your resources going away. Holding back a couple of land against the appropriately colored decks is a great way to avoid losing to this guy and will probably become a common practice.
Best land. It's really pretty insane what this land does to the entire format. Without it things would look a lot more dreary. With it we can expect to see even more outrageous looking manabases and even more outrageous looking maindecks.
Figure of Destiny
This is the creature that really sets the pace for the aggro decks. Control decks need a two-mana answer to this card to ensure that it won't take away half your life before your deck can get going. Figure is the perennial one-drop and a card you always have to have on your mind when designing a deck. Some decks simply fold to an early Figure or let the Figure tear them up to the point where the game is virtually over.
Rhox War Monk / Woolly Thoctar
For all intents and purposes these creatures are the same. They can be propelled into play on the second turn via a Birds of Paradise and both fill the same virtual role for their respected Shards. Both are also vulnerable to Shriekmaw which is a card that felt like it lost a lot of utility for awhile but is sure to come back with resounding force given these dudes and their popularity.
Torrent of Souls
This is the most powerful game ender in a deck that can support it. Decks that look to vomit numerous creatures on to the table in one motion can kill the opponent out of nowhere with this card. It's an excellent solution to Wrath of God effects at the same time since you'll always get your best creature back an attack and whatever come into play benefits that creature might have. A turn five Torrent is perhaps the strongest thing you can do on turn five if your deck is set up for it.
Furystoke Giant brings a similar utility to the same types of decks… however Torrent is clearly much much deadlier. So deadly in fact that I've focused almost primarily on it and the best structure to place around it this past week.
During the tail end of Block Constructed season Billy Moreno made a brilliant deck that felt like it stepped its way around the metagame and found a soft spot for whatever deck it was up against. Similar decks claimed a few Top 8s throughout the season but Billy's version was unique on a number of levels. I made Top 8 at a PTQ in Austin with it after running the swiss undefeated and it’s a perfect place to start. For reference here’s the list.
Token Black Deck
It combined powerful reanimation effects with creatures with comes-into-play effects all the way up the curve optimizing both modes of Torrent of Souls to the fullest. This deck does something that I always love to do whenever I'm playing and that’s put your opponent in unfamiliar situations. This forces them to think on the fly in a position where they might not be accustomed and it gives them a lot of room to make errors.
Each creature presents a different line of attack/defense. Kitchen Finks and Fulminator Mage are the catch-up team given that the decks curve is relatively slow compared to most. However the deck’s sheer power more than makes up for that once the pistons start firing. Marsh Flitter Cloudgoat Ranger Bitterblossom and Spectral Procession are the producers giving the deck the fuel to exploit Furystoke Giant and Torrent of Souls as game ending effects. Stealing games out of nowhere because you set yourself up to draw either Torrent or Furystoke was a common play one which you could usually bank on since they both virtually kill the opponent if either resolves.
There were a certain number of restrictions in regards to the manabase during Block season and with the addition of painlands this deck could stretch a bit deeper to include some cheaper role-players. Sprouting Thrinax is a mass token producer that makes it hard for them to spend their main phase dealing with it since there’s a chance they could be taking a mass amount of damage on the follow up so perhaps a Jund base would be appropriate with a similar theme. Nantuko Husk served Stuart Wright well in his Goblin-based token design from the past Standard and there’s no reason it couldn't present yet another threat to the army approach.
Jundin' Ain't Easy
The perks of playing White are the additions of Cloudgoat Ranger Kitchen Finks Windbrisk Heights and it’s obviously mostly motivated by Spectral Procession. I feel this complicates the mana and entices a slower game plan when it’s not necessary.
This version also shifts away from the reanimation strategy and focuses purely on token generation and their interaction with Stokes n' Souls. From playtesting I feel the deck is severely underpowered compared to the original design and it lacks the late game resilience to top deck out of compromising situations. A late addition of Treetop Village looked to help that end and while it didn't hurt the mana terribly and was an excellent way to close out games I feel like I'm switching colors for no reason.
Sprouting Thrinax isn't nearly as good when Bant Charm is running rampant… however his combo with Husk is reminiscent of Promise of Bunrei. Gilt-Leaf Ambush was the actual all-star from the Green swap giving a form of deck manipulation while being an excellent way to mise your way to some card advantage by blocking. More importantly I noticed how impacting instant speed tokens were when faced by decks including numerous Wrath effects like Pyroclasm Firespout Wrath of God and Infest. The average mana cost of this deck is also pretty high considering the numerous five casting-cost spells.
That said the core of the deck and initial focus was still powerful enough to win a fair majority of the games I played against nearly every archetype I could think of. I've been testing with buddies for a Standard cash event that takes place the week after GP: KC so my head has been completely wrapped around Standard lately. The token approach has always been one I've been extremely fond of since you have a variety of ways to both outplay your opponents and completely overpower them at the same time. However a Jund base might not be the answer and perhaps the White/Black base is best.
Token Black Deck version 1
4 Spectral Procession
4 Torrent of Souls
Even though this deck may contain more powerful spells its mana is nowhere near as consistent as the Jund-based builds since it seeks to include Windbrisk Heights and doesn't have a Shard land to take care of things. This version leans on Tidehollow Sculler to enable a more advanced board since Scully is an awesome way to rid the opponent’s hand of whatever Wrath effect he might have while tying into Deathbringer Liege synergies. Scully plus Nantuko Husk can also act like a Castigate if sacrificed with the comes-into-play ability on the stack. While this deck excludes Furystoke Giant it obtains Deathbringer Liege to make the horde of tokens pinch a little harder.
After testing this deck I found the addition of Scully and Liege to be too cute and not near as impacting as landing a well-timed Furystoke Giant. As the manabase problems stemmed from the inclusion of Windbrisk Heights I eventually ended up right back where I started.
This is my finalized build of the updated Token Black and the main differences are the lowered curve and addition of Nantuko Husk. Dragon Fodder gives me eleven two-drops and an extremely proactive approach to the token producing as opposed to the past version that looked to make them as reactive tools until the deck combo'ed off. Nantuko Husk adds a lot of resilience both in the form of having a threat that can kill them out of nowhere and a creature that will survive post-Firespout.
I tried the non-Heights versions... and frankly it was less successful than a girl with braces on prom night. You just can't have a token party without the lofty Heights available. The lower curve also made room to include more Vivid lands since the curve tends to stall at three and four frequently enough to allow a slower manabase. There aren't as many five-drops as there were previously which means you can play tap lands on turns 1 3 and 4 fairly often.
The sideboard is a neat idea I had to combat the heavy-end control decks by using all the best discard cards with each other to restrict their movements. Scully and Blighting also have some remote utility should the opponent’s hand be empty which stops them from being completely dead draws later on. You really don't need much to trounce aggressive decks since they have no way to contain the herd and Furystoke is the ultimate finisher against a Wrathless deck.
I also tried out Goblin based versions but they all ended up colliding with the Jund deck I posted earlier. This resulted in the eventual extermination of all the Goblin cards which meant cutting Auntie’s Hovel and the whole tribe plan turned to mush. Siege-Gang isn't good enough to fight for a spot against Torrent and Furystoke and playing more five-drops than that is suicide in Standard.
I plan on doing upwards of ten Sealed decks this week so I'm going to share the more interesting builds next week in preparation for GP: Kansas City. I'm going to try and concentrate on Sealed for the next couple weeks so I have a couple questions about the formatting for your reading pleasure. Would you rather have more Sealed decks with less explanation or fewer Sealed decks with more a more detailed analysis? I'd like to share all ten but that seems like it'd be an information overload. Another idea if I open a challenging enough pool is to send the same pool to some Pros to get their individual thoughts and specific builds.
I'll also be in the forums if you guys have any questions about the decks.
Thanks for reading…
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