One of the first and probably the largest Standard tournament since the release of Avacyn Restored took place over the weekend at the StarCityCames.com Open Series in Providence Rhode Island. Unless it happens to be a Pro Tour event the first tournament following a new set tends to display very conservative numbers of new cards; this time was no exception. The wisdom of Kevin Malone consistently rings true: we tend to go to the party we know.
We can learn though from what people have done and from the innovative ways in which they have begun to introduce new cards. Arguably Avacyn Restored did prompt the introduction of a new archetype to Standard (though it's somewhat of a port from Innistrad Block Constructed) but it also has strengthened a number of other archetypes.
Although only seven different Avacyn Restored cards made their presence known in the SCG Standard Open: Providence Top 8 several of them performed very significant roles.
We see that the highest priced rare in the set Cavern of Souls may be deserving of its price tag even in the context of Standard. With the largest number of uses across maindecks and sideboards (twelve) in the Top 8 it powered both Wolf Run Ramp (as expected) and a relatively new take on traditional R/W Aggro: R/W Humans.
- 4 Champion of the Parish
- 2 Doomed Traveler
- 2 Fiend Hunter
- 4 Hero of Bladehold
- 3 Lightning Mauler
- 3 Mirran Crusader
- 3 Silverblade Paladin
- 3 Stormblood Berserker
- 3 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
With 27 human creatures in the maindeck Justin's deck wants to beat down as quickly as possible but he doesn't use the traditional closers often found in R/W aggro decks (like Brimstone Volley). In this way it plays much more similarly to the R/W Kithkin decks of yore than the more often cited Boros decks (i.e. twelve one-drops some two-drops and some burn). Cavern of Souls is the perfect support land for this type of deck fighting effectively against both Mana Leak and Dissipate which appeared in reasonable numbers across the entire Top 32.
Justin's deck also accounts for all of the appearances of Lightning Mauler Silverblade Paladin and Slayers' Stronghold in the Top 8. StarCityGames.com's premier red mage Patrick Sullivan identified Lightning Mauler as a card to watch in his article last week. So this card's appearance shouldn't surprise us but we might want to consider it more carefully—especially in the context of a card like Hero of Bladehold!
We also see Wolfir Avenger appearing in two different archetypes: G/R Aggro and G/W Humans. Gnarled Mass has never looked so good. As a blocker for an attacking Huntmaster of the Fells or simply as a removal-resistant beatdown creature we should expect to see more of this card in future tournaments.
We see a few copies of Bonfire of the Damned in Wolf Run Ramp which seems to be an appropriate home for it. But more interestingly we see what was once a bulk-priced rare Zealous Conscripts making waves as the second most frequently appearing card although all of its use was relegated to sideboards. The ability to take any permanent not just a land makes the card much more powerful than the sorcery speed Act of Aggression that many players first assumed it to be.
Planeswalkers are the obvious "bonus" target though the proliferation of equipment may mean that players will more often be stealing Sword of War and Peace for extra damage as well. Currently the card sells for $2.99 on StarCityGames.com and I wouldn't be surprised to see it climb another dollar or dollar-fifty in the next month or two.
Of course innovation with Avacyn Restored cards didn't end at eighth place. If we add places nine through sixteen to our graph we see a broader spectrum of possibilities.
… Or do we?
While we see increases in the numbers for Cavern of Souls and Zealous Conscripts we only see three new cards among the decks in ninth through sixteenth place and these appear only in small quantities. Pillar of Flame appears in the sideboard of Brandon Rodriguez's Wolf Run Ramp deck presumably as an answer to pesky undying creatures like Strangleroot Geist. Two copies of Tamiyo the Moon Sage (in a single sideboard) and one copy of Entreat the Angels are the only cards from the new set to appear in the seven U/x decks that rounded out the Top 16.
These numbers may suggest that the offerings given to blue white and black in Avacyn Restored aren't powerful enough to justify altering current decks' shells (Solar Flare U/W Delver and Heartless Summoning). Alternately they may suggest that blue players may be sticking with the "party they know" until a big finish suggests that they should do otherwise although it could be argued that a final pairing between G/R Aggro and Wolf Run Ramp (with Cavern of Souls) suggests that U/x needs to change its game plan.
However if we expand our view to the top 32 decklists we begin to see some additional cards appear in relatively niche uses.
In the context of this broader landscape Zealous Conscripts (nineteen copies) and Cavern of Souls (36 copies) demonstrate relatively their levels of proliferation above all of the other new cards. In terms of the extent to which they currently are played these cards are "it" which is interesting because they fall on two different ends of the price spectrum for the set. One is among the cheapest cards and one is among the most expensive.
When we broaden our vision to the Top 32 we begin to see more copies of Bonfire of the Damned (at eight copies the third most frequently played card) as well as Pillar of Flame (seven copies) and Entreat the Angels (six copies). None of these cards however defines an archetype.
To the extent that Cavern of Souls works to push U/x decks further out of the metagame it is likely that larger creatures (i.e. Wolf Run Ramp) will become more and more common in the metagame to come. It is unusual however that there were no copies of a deck like Frites in the Top 32. Griselbrand is a true contender for a Reanimation target that can be better than Elesh Norn Grand Cenobite in some circumstances.
Further it is unusual that only one copy of Wolf Run White was present among the Top 32 decks. Elesh Norn is incredibly well-positioned right now and Cavern of Souls can guarantee her resolution easily as the first Primeval Titan (protected by the first Cavern of Souls) easily can locate another copy of the land. Wolf Run White also needs to incorporate a few cards designed to resist the early pressure applied by decks like G/R Aggro.
A basic shell for the deck could look like this:
Good luck if you decide to play Wolf Run White at the next SCG Open Series in Madison. The archetype seems like it is well poised to prey on the expected surge in red- and/or green-based aggressive decks.