With Return to Ravnica finally at our fingertips and the Prerelease already in the books everyone is clamoring for new and exciting ideas for Standard (and occasionally Modern/Legacy). With Standard being the focus of the regular Joe I find myself compelled to brew and test out variations of what I think the format's best decks will be. Obviously I am living in a vacuum as the set hasn't even been released yet but the playtesting videos I've been doing with Brian Braun-Duin have given me a lot to think about. I feel miles ahead of where I normally am with a new set's release since I usually don't like to proxy up decks and battle but this time it's been different. We've been playing matches of new Standard almost every day!
While I've been trying to mix it up and test out new strategies for our videos I can't help but find myself coming back to the same cards over and over. These are some of the most important cards in Standard that will shape the early life of the post-rotation format and you need a very good reason to not have any of these cards in your deck! Obviously there's going to be a solid strategy that we all miss for the first few weeks but Innistrad Block Constructed and previous Standard formats should help us deduce what cards will be major players and also give us some insight into what will be good in an open format.
While not every card on the list is a "pillar" I do feel like some utility cards warrant mention due to their power level. But we'll get to that in just a minute. I will begin by saying that my decklists probably won't help you too much. They fluctuate wildly between testing sessions as I'm still trying out new ideas. I'll list a few of the more interesting ones to get you started but this isn't going to be a "wall of decklists" kind of article.
While we did lose a ton of sweet cards with the rotation we gained some amazing mana bases and some strong game-changers to boot. While certain cards that are still legal aren't quite as good as I would want them to be...
... There isn't a lot we can do about it. Without a ton of cheap and/or free utility spells at our disposal including the oh-so-important Ponder Delver of Secrets just isn't good enough. At least not yet. While I'm not counting Delver of Secrets out just yet I do think he's going to need a lot of help before he becomes playable again. Unfortunately for me Delver was my bread-and-butter in Standard for about a year. When I'm telling you not to play Delver I might just be on to something.
Ah yes. The best removal spell in Standard! Well maybe. Pillar of Flame is definitely at the top of my list for helping me out against Zombies. Sure you might not want to play red in your deck just for Pillar of Flame but every red deck should be playing it in some number. Geralf's Messenger and company are a bit too much to handle without some solid ways to interact early. Of course Pillar of Flame works much better when you're playing things like Augur of Bolas or Snapcaster Mage but those cards make every instant and sorcery look better!
Pillar of Flame while not something you can really metagame against will help to shape Standard in its own way. I honestly think that this card is the biggest reason why Delver of Secrets isn't going to dominate Standard for a while. You don't have Mutagenic Growth or Mental Misstep anymore for the "free roll" protection and a 3/2 flier isn't really all that terrifying when you don't have the engine of free spells rolling around it.
While this one is obviously no slouch I do think that it lost a lot of value now that we don't have an overabundance of efficient cantrips and removal. With the addition of Charms to Standard we might just see a new era of Snapcaster Mage. The fair era.
Before rotation I was calling for the banning of Snapcaster Mage Delver of Secrets and Ponder. I thought that they were too powerful oppressed a lot of strategies and gave the aggressive blue decks a huge advantage as far as card quality and selection went. No other deck in the format could abuse Ponder as well let alone Snapcaster Mage. It was the perfect storm. Given access to a bevy of free spells thanks to Phyrexian mana we were definitely living in a dream world. I mean in what format is it acceptable to have a single creature that is just a variation on all the following cards (mostly at instant speed):
Obviously the mana power/toughness and cost of each is slightly different but I think you get the point. Snapcaster Mage was an additional copy of the best card in your deck at nearly every point in the game...with a 2/1 body attached!
If you still have a hankering for Delver this is starting point I would recommend. The suite of red removal is pretty sweet and can handle just about anything giving you problems. Even in the late game you can really obliterate people with Mizzium Mortars and even Sleep! While this deck might need something like Runechanter's Pike to go over the top you just don't hit nearly as hard with it as you used to. With three colors and no Ponder I also find it difficult to play Moorland Haunt which would be especially nice if we could also fit Runechanter's Pike.
It might not be feasible to fill your deck with clunky instants and sorceries just to help Delver flip. There is a good reason why Delver of Secrets wasn't good in Innistrad Block Constructed and I think that still holds true to today's Standard. The instants and sorceries you have to play to make it "good" just aren't there and the serious lean on cheap removal by other decks will help push Delver (slowly) out of the format.
Next up? Brains!
While Geralf's Messenger isn't the stone-cold killer he used to be thanks to everyone and their brother adopting Pillar of Flame I do think that he's still an outrageously powerful creature. Alongside a slew of one-mana two-power threats as well his new partners in crime Dreg Mangler and Lotleth Troll Zombies will be eating a lot of people's brains over the next few months.
While the initial onslaught of Zombies will force people to modify their decks I think that Zombies will be very well positioned in Standard for the first few weeks. It is the strategy that most people have in mind when building their deck at the moment but that doesn't mean they actually have good answers. Thragtusk isn't a dagger anymore since Lotleth Troll gives the deck a sweet angle of attack. Regenerate is a powerful ability that a lot of people aren't really "getting" since it hasn't been that relevant in a long time. Sure you can Terminus it. You can Tragic Slip it. Detention Sphere is also slightly annoying... but you have so many threats in your Zombie deck that need an answer immediately or they just die! If you're relying on red cards to get the job done then you're going to be in for a world of hurt. You can kill Troll in a few different ways but don't be surprised when you get run over by Dreg Mangler and Rancor.
While not all Zombie decks will be playing green they will all be playing Geralf's Messenger. It is of course a no-brainer but it is definitely one of the best cards in Standard and you should always keep it in mind when deckbuilding both with and against. Also I know that Golgari Guildgate comes into play tapped. I'm aware that this drawback is occasionally detrimental to the progression of your board presence. However I do like actually being able to cast my spells. You can't afford Forests since you have so many Geralf's Messengers but you will often start games with a few one-drop creatures a Swamp and a Guildgate. It really isn't that bad...most of the time.
- 4 Diregraf Ghoul
- 4 Dreg Mangler
- 4 Geralf's Messenger
- 4 Gravecrawler
- 3 Highborn Ghoul
- 4 Lotleth Troll
- 3 Rakdos Cackler
While Thragtusk is a pretty solid clock on its own it is also a great defensive measure against the aggressive decks in the format. With Zombies looking to be the premier aggressive deck of choice I can't recommend Thragtusk enough! I've been trying to splash him into everything since he is such an efficient body. While the mana bases in Standard are going to be strong I think I might be getting a little too greedy but that might be just what the doctor ordered! There are so many powerful spells and interactions that it might be necessary to just do the most wacky powerful things at your disposal at the risk of getting color screwed every once in a while. Heck with Farseek and Evolving Wilds around anything is possible!
With Thragtusk at the top end of your curve you have a lot of room to fill out the middle. My favorite creature to pair up with Thragtusk is Restoration Angel but that is not a dream that comes to fruition often. I do think that any green deck needs to be playing white as well since it is important to utilize Avacyn's Pilgrim. However if you don't feel it's necessary to play Avacyn's Pilgrim this isn't exactly a truism. I would love to see some ramp decks relying on Farseek but I have literally no idea what the finisher for that style of deck should be. Without Primeval Titan I just feel....lost.
The following decklist has some obvious holes in it but the biggest offender is the mana base. Without Stomping Ground or Sacred Foundry it is going to be a little rough. I'm hoping that Gruul can add a little spice to the mix but Selesnya's Armada Wurm seems pretty sick. Broodmate Wurm anyone?
- 4 Arbor Elf
- 2 Armada Wurm
- 4 Avacyn's Pilgrim
- 4 Borderland Ranger
- 4 Huntmaster of the Fells
- 4 Restoration Angel
- 4 Thragtusk
I feel like these two cards should go hand in hand. While they don't really have a lot of synergy between themselves the style of deck you want to play with the miracle mechanic wants a certain number of miracle spells to function smoothly! After all your ability to trigger a miracle is limited significantly when you don't have the full set in your deck. While the correct number of Entreat the Angels still eludes me I think that any white-based control deck should be playing four Terminus. The card is just bananas when you get to miracle it and is a solid sweeper that takes care of anything with regenerate undying etc.
While there are a few cards that answer Entreat the Angels pretty easily there aren't too many decks that play them. Aside from Detention Sphere which will be the most popular one Sever the Bloodline and Supreme Judgment shouldn't cause any waves. Without an easy answer like Ratchet Bomb or the existence of Mana Leak in the format I think that Entreat the Angels will be an excellent finisher for this style of deck. While Angel of Serenity will see a lot of play I honestly don't know which one is better. I think that will mostly depend on how the metagame starts to shape up after more people have gotten a chance to play with the cards. Entreat the Angels is probably better against an aggressive field whereas Angel of Serenity seems well positioned against a field full of control decks.
Hrm. Well I will say that Jace is much better than I originally gave him credit for. I've found myself constantly using his +1 ability even when my opponent doesn't have creatures in play. While that might sound silly the existence of Dreg Mangler might change your perception. Creatures with haste are going to be running rampant and I've even tried out Rakdos Shred-Freak in various Zombie lists in order to see if "all the haste all the time" is what I want to be doing. While it was fine the fact that decks with Lingering Souls exist means you probably can't afford to be doing something so paltry against them.
At this point I am starting to think that a lot of control mirrors are going to be specifically about whether or not you can deal with Jace. Detention Sphere Oblivion Ring and your own Jaces will be the ways to deal with theirs but I find that being able to use the mini Fact or Fiction ability first will put you pretty far ahead. You don't want to be tapping out each turn for no value so whoever gets the play should be favored at least until one of you has counterspells in your deck. I'm not sure if Syncopate is actually playable but Negate is definitely sideboard-worthy for mirrors if only to take care of Jace (and the occasional Entreat the Angels or Detention Sphere).
I would also like to point out that Jace virtually blanks Lingering Souls. Sure a lot of decks will be running effects like Gavony Township or Intangible Virtue to grow them in size but even still that might not be enough to finish off the Jace. With cards like Detention Sphere in their arsenal to clean up the mess I think that Lingering Souls has had its day in the sun. The time may come when a token-based deck is dominant in Standard but I foresee Detention Sphere making that plan much less appealing. It is one of the best removal spells against Zombies wrecks tokens takes care of planeswalkers and can take out multiples of the same big baddie. A lot of decks will use Detention Sphere because it is versatile efficient and (most importantly) new!
While Jace is integral to the blue-based strategies (for me anyway) I'm not sure how quickly that trend is going to pick up. I think that people will realize just how good his abilities are once they start to use them but I will say that I haven't seen a planeswalker able to protect itself this easily since...well ever. Five loyalty is a lot and especially so if you are getting hammered by a swarm of dorks as opposed to an onslaught of fatties. Obviously his +1 ability is less relevant against a Thragtusk deck but a Thragtusk and Avacyn's Pilgrim can't kill a Jace without help. Take a minute to let that sink in.
Anyone who has actually cast Jace AoT will know that four is the correct number for any control deck.
While Olivia Voldaren was overshadowed in previous Standard and Block formats by Falkenrath Aristocrat I think that this is definitely her time to shine. She's very hard to kill since she is multicolored (Ultimate Price) and can grow out of burn range rather quickly. Unchecked Olivia will dominate the board against virtually any aggressive deck though she lacks a bit against the control decks. Without the ability to ping herself she is just a 3/3 flier but her utility against aggressive decks is unparalleled for her efficient cost.
While I don't think Olivia will take too many slots in people's decklists early on most Grixis style control decks will make good use of her. I think that she is probably better than Niv-Mizzet Dracogenius in the right shell since she is a full two mana cheaper! Being able to steal annoyances like Thragtusk is just a plus. I think Patrick Chapin is the go-to source on this card since he has played Grixis more than any other human being alive and his love for Olivia is matched only by his love for a four-mana Jace. Luckily he now gets to play with both!
I'm really looking forward to this weekend as I think the StarCityGames.com Open Series in Cincinnati will be a great tournament to showcase new and exciting cards! With so many eyes watching what do you think will come out on top? I think that some of the new cards are a bit overrated for Standard but will eventually see more play in Legacy. I'm a huge fan of both Abrupt Decay and Supreme Verdict since the "can't be countered" ability is awesome against Daze and Spell Pierce decks. Abrupt Decay will also breathe new life into a lot of strategies that have fallen out of favor giving you insane answers to both Tarmogoyf and Delver of Secrets!
As far as Standard is concerned there is still a lot of area left unexplored. I think that a Mulch deck featuring Grisly Salvage looks pretty awesome but I have no idea where to even begin! I'm looking forward to everything the new format has to offer. Won't you come figure it out with me?
Thanks for reading.
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I am Golgari.