I've talked a lot in recent articles about how some card will fit in post-rotation but not right now. Turns out most of those predictions are likely to be off by a fair amount. Innistrad Block Constructed at best will be a loose predictor of new Standard.
This is not just the usual "there's a ton of new cards this changes everything." The aspects that defined Innistrad Block Constructed are all thrown out the window by the cards introduced with M13 and Return to Ravnica
1. Casting Your Spells
The biggest thing is that the mana is way different. In Innistrad Block Constructed you either had to play green or enemy colors to have reasonable mana. Even with enemy colors one of them was better off as a splash. The "play green" option was also deceiving as you had to use spell slots in your deck to support fixing in the form of Avacyn's Pilgrim Borderland Ranger or Abundant Growth. Adding the allied color lands from M13 alone would have fixed some of this but now we also have shocklands.
Here's how mana is going to work after Return to Ravnica.
Mono-color decks will be those needing to hit a specific one-drop on 1 with some heavy color commitment further up the curve. Gravecrawler into Geralf's Messenger Champion of the Parish into Loyal Cathar or Stromkirk Noble into multiple burn spells. Even then they have the option to free roll a second color almost effortlessly. Not even looking at noncreature spells Cavern of Souls means there are eight untapped duals for Zombies to cast Lotleth Troll and Humans to cast Zealous Conscripts.
The only truly mono-color deck I can see existing in this format is a red deck. In testing for Pro Tour Avacyn Restored we had a list that was very close to being played. M13 brought a two-drop and better burn (Mogg Flunkies Searing Spear Flames of the Firebrand) and Return to Ravnica likely brings four powerful hybrid creatures. Rakdos Shred-Freak is definitely good enough and if the Rakdos and Izzet members of the one-drop cycle are as powerful as the ones we know about things are looking good for the red deck. (For reference Judge's Familiar Dryad Militant and Slitherhead are the three known one-drops.) As of now there isn't a spell that seems strong enough to splash for but that could easily change.
(12 AM Monday addendum: Well maybe the Rakdos member of the cycle will actually be good enough...)
Two-color decks will also mostly be aggressive. The mono-color decks that want one splash might just not see cards they actually want in another color or a deck might have solid commitments in two colors that make the splash on the third awkward at best.
What do I mean by that last one? Look at how the dual lands break down. In any three-color deck where you are playing eight shocklands and their corresponding M10 style lands you are going to have one color that all sixteen of your nonbasics make. You can make your off-color lands try to bridge the gap but best-case scenario you are evening out one of your side colors with the base one. This is probably fine in control builds but attempting to get this working if you are curving out is not going to be a good time. If you go with the natural distribution of fixing the mana looks like this:
- White splashes green and blue.
- Blue splashes white and red.
- Black splashes red and green.
- Red splashes black and blue
- Green splashes white and black (Avacyn's Pilgrim also pushes the white here).
So if you are building something with Drogskol Captain do you really want to splash anything green or red? Or would you rather just hang out with your two colors of spells and always cast them? The answer likely depends on exactly what we see out of this set but odds are there will be a two-color deck that just wants to have reliable mana.
Three-color decks get a bit more interesting. You have the base-splash-splash style we just talked about but once you hit a solid three colors why stop there? More nonbasics should pretty much be a free roll and Vessel of Empty Rest was completely playable in Innistrad Block Constructed. Actually you can basically forget about that card and just play Chromatic Lantern. Realistically any three-color control deck should probably just be splashing any cards in a fourth color that it needs or wants. Even if you are just playing cards that cost two of each of your base colors you probably want Lantern and Evolving Wilds anyway to fix your mana. A single basic makes that nine on-color sources for a splash. Easy enough.
That said the off-color basic does effectively eat one of your colorless mana slot. The ability lands from Innistrad block are all fairly powerful and in a three-color deck there is likely to be at least one that you want to consider running. Splashing that fourth color is probably better than a Grim Backwoods but I would bet that Vault of the Archangel is better with Lingering Souls around.
You could probably even get up to a full five-color mana base if you want. Gerry Thompson managed it this year with Scars duals and the shocklands aren't much different. Keep in mind that there is a limit to what you can stretch for. A splash or three is fine but we aren't back to the days of Lorwyn where having Wrath of God Cloudthresher and Cruel Ultimatum in the same deck was perfectly normal.
2. You Can Kill Things
Let's look at one specific card: Wolfir Silverheart.
28 copies in the Magic World Cup Top 8.
24 copies in the Top 8 of Innistrad Block Constructed Champs at Gen Con.
15 copies in the Top 8 of Grand Prix Anaheim.
22 copies in the Top 8 of Pro Tour Avacyn Restored.
Why was this card so good in Innistrad Block Constructed?
Absolutely nothing killed it.
We were testing Blood Feud as an answer in G/R mirrors. Half the reason Naya was so good was that you had a shaky answer in Fiend Hunter. Even in control decks the only thing you had that didn't result in you taking a bunch of damage from it was Victim of Night. As for that see above for why that didn't work. Good luck leaving up BB without fixing.
Now? Augur Spree kills it in response to the soulbond trigger. Dreadbore kills it (albeit at sorcery speed). Selesnya Charm beats the crap out of it. Murder? Dead again. Best of all we can actually cast all of these.
You also have a Wrath effect that costs less than six mana in Supreme Verdict. The Miracle deck will actually be good in games where it doesn't run above expectations in hitting miracles.
Things can and will actually die in this format. Control has a chance to be a real thing.
3. Lingering Souls and Intangible Virtue
Turns out that there were actually cards banned in Innistrad Block Constructed. This occurred pre-Avacyn Restored so let's take a look at what that format looked like for those of you who don't play formats that only matter for Magic Online Daily Events.
- G/R aggro/midrange featuring Hellrider and Huntmaster of the Fells
- Base green bigger midrange centered on Predator Ooze and Sever the Bloodline being trumps
- W/R aggro with Champion of the Parish and Hellrider
- Mono-Black Zombies
- G/U "Dredge" with Splinterfright Armored Skaab Mulch etc.
- G/R/x control with X being black for Olivia and Curse of Death's Hold or blue for Snapcaster Mage and Desperate Ravings
Not a bad selection though it might have been a little heavily focused on Huntmaster of the Fells.
What about before the Lingering Souls ban?
- W/B/R Lingering Souls Intangible Virtue Hellrider
- W/G/B Lingering Souls Curse of Death's Hold planeswalkers with Witchbane Orb main to fight opposing Curses and Devil's Play
Yeah…about that healthy format thing…
This isn't to say that Bonfire of the Damned wouldn't change that but Lingering Souls is a big deal. Wolfir Silverheart looks a bit worse when there are a million chump blockers in the way and Falkenrath Aristocrat is significantly more embarrassing when the 4/1 body runs into a 1/1 Spirit.
This will also be even truer with the presumed introduction of Godless Shrine to the format with Gatecrash. I am very glad Wizards staggered the Ravnica lands the way they did so we don't immediately have to slog through a format of Lingering Souls. You can play Overgrown Tomb and Temple Garden to double splash the card but that's a lot different than being base B/W or having easy mana to Drogskol Captain with the card.
Now that the effects of this transition are out of the way we can talk about cards in a semi-correct frame of reference.
These aren't new and the decks they enable won't necessarily be but the tools given to them in Return to Ravnica make them worth mentioning. Not only does the mana get much better but the Golgari cards are huge for these archetypes.
Some of the larger scavenge creatures give the Splinterfright decks a lot more play. They are creatures to count for the namesake card as well as graveyard-based action that helps make your random bodies like Avacyn's Pilgrim or Armored Skaab into threats. Add to that the fact that they just let you go natural beatdown sometimes and I don't see how at least Deadbridge Goliath doesn't find its way into the deck. Jarad Golgari Lich Lord also works great with the deck as a graveyard active card another Boneyard Wurm and as a way to force through your huge monsters for lethal.
As for the Unburial Rites decks Grisly Salvage is a huge upgrade to Tracker's Instincts. Going a card deeper is nice but one of the issues with Tracker's Instincts was that you would often see only one creature and be forced to draw the card you wanted to Reanimate. When you can also hit lands the odds of that happening are basically nil.
Tormod's Crypt coming back is quite important. Real graveyard hate is going to be necessary at least some of the time in this format to combat both of these cards. Just be aware neither of these decks is Dredge-level dependent on its graveyard. Dying to Huntmaster beats is normal from the Angel of Glory's Rise decks and as mentioned above the Splinterfright decks could just jam a bunch of large scavenge creatures at you.
Ignore the "can't be countered" cycle (though to be fair this card usually can't be countered due to Cavern of Souls). This is going to be the defining anti-control card of the next year. If your threat kills you when they Conscripts it you might want to consider your choice of threat. If it kills itself it isn't great but is workable. If it just deals you a few damage you can probably play around it. If it doesn't do much how lucky.
Not Much Happens
Staff of Nin
You Just Take a Few or Other Small Benefit
Liliana of the Dark Realms + Rakdos's Return
A comment I left in the discussion on one of my previous articles:
"I'm thinking Liliana is better in B/R than pure Mono-Black. There's the Looting thing I mentioned you can play Nighthawk to get the most value out of the -3 and between Bonfire and Devil's Play you make her ultimate relevant."
The "Looting thing" is the fact that Faithless Looting is a sweet engine for a control deck and that Liliana gives you extra cards to filter away. Vampire Nighthawk seems even better now than it was before as it trades for a Wolfir Silverheart. The final piece of the puzzle is another X-spell to combo with Liliana's ultimate.
Rakdos's Return has received a lot of hype and it's probably just a hair shy of what the public's expectation of it is. It's great against control and midrange decks but if they are attacking it probably isn't quite as exceptional. Against aggro casting it for X = 2 is probably decent against the higher end threats like Hellrider or Zealous Conscripts but it comes in a bit slow against Geralf's Messenger. It gains a lot from all the anti-counterspell text in the format as the biggest fear of someone casting a giant sorcery is a Mana Leak or Negate that now has fewer reasons to be in a deck.
So between Rakdos's Return Devil's Play and Bonfire of the Damned there are ton of splashable X-spells to combo with Liliana's ultimate. None of them are excessively clunky when you don't want them to be and they all serve different roles and don't overload you on slower cards in any one area.
I'm not saying "Mono"-Black is going to be good again but it's definitely going to be better than it has been for a while.
Jace Architect of Thought
Everyone is raving about Vraska the Unseen but I'm pretty sure this is the better of the two planeswalkers.
Jace's +1 ability helps you layer planeswalkers. When your other planeswalkers also protect themselves (i.e. Tamiyo and Garruk Relentless) establishing multiple walkers is fairly easy and things cascade out of control quickly once that occurs. It also still applies even if they kill Jace or Zealous Conscripts it pre-combat.
The -2 is also a lot more card advantage than people realize right now. Strategic Planning or Murmurs from Beyond? Guess what it's your choice! Starting at four is also huge in control mirrors letting you cash Jace in for a bunch of cards immediately then drop another copy.
The ultimate also should actually kill them. It won't happen that often (think Tamiyo) but it's enough to make an impact.
This card is probably on a similar power level as Tamiyo if not better.
Solid tempo dude that isn't getting the respect it deserves. If games start grinding down this card helps you extract a lot of value. The ability to Loot multiple times a turn is very strong as is the ability to double up any Searing Spears you may find. The only concern is that a 2/2 is likely fragile in those kind of games and that finding cards to discard can be awkward when you both want more action to double up on and more mana to activate Nivix Guildmage.
This is probably my favorite card in the set as of right now. I've always wanted a RR 2/1 haste creature but this one also helps solves the two-drop issue with Zombies! Acceptable aggro beats away!
Here's hoping the next two-thirds of this set are as cool as the first!
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