So we have Rivals of Ixalan. We have the bans. Now, it's time to get to work brewing decks for the new Standard format. Even though the Pro Tour is Modern, my guess is that Rivals of Ixalan won't change much, aside from Merfolk getting one or two new cards. Regardless, Standard is the format on everyone's mind because so much has happened to it in the last week.
Yeah we've all heard it by now. Banning two big cards from Temur Energy and Ramunap Red has completely changed the format. So what are we left with now? Tribal decks are getting a huge boost from Rivals of Ixalan, control decks might be the cream of the crop, and why the heck did everyone forget about God-Pharaoh's Gift?
I don't know exactly what I want to be doing in Standard just yet, but my gut tells me that God-Pharaoh's Gift is going to be absurd. I've tried beating it with control decks, and it just seems too difficult. Resolving a single Gate to the Afterlife isn't that hard, and the accumulation of small creatures forces you to tap out at some point to kill them. And when the control deck taps out, that's when the deck strikes, landing a huge artifact that is pretty tough to deal with outside of playing red for Abrade.
While God-Pharaoh's Gift could be the reigning champ of the new Standard format, I also think there's a lot of exploring to do (both literally and figuratively). Jadelight Ranger could easily be the next Tireless Tracker. Winding Constrictor could make a comeback. Token decks don't have much to fear now that Rampaging Ferocidon is out of the picture. And above all else, Energy could still be a solid deck in some form. At the very least, some energy-based cards are self-sustaining enough to see play. I, for one, still think Glint-Sleeve Siphoner is a legitimate threat in the early game. But I don't want to start there. I want to start here.
The combination of these three cards will absolutely dominate creature-based strategies, so long as you can slow them down enough to set up for the mid-game. Merfolk have the ability to overwhelm you in the early turns with the right mana and the right draw. Luckily, cards like Fatal Push are getting quite a few new targets.
With Fatal Push and Ravenous Chupacabra at the ready to punish the creature-based decks in the early turns, you should be able to buy yourself enough time to set up The Scarab God without much trouble. And since there still aren't that many cards that profitably interact with The Scarab God, I think it will still be a major problem. The fact that you now have an extra ridiculous creature to bring back in Ravenous Chupacabra is just icing on the cake.
So now that we know our core for this U/B/X deck, what else do we want? A third color? If so, what should that color be? If not, do we want to lean toward God-Pharaoh's Gift and all the creatures that help fuel it? Red seems like a reasonable option, giving us Harnessed Lightning, Whirler Virtuoso, and enough energy to justify Glint-Sleeve Siphoner. Green seems mediocre now since we lost Attune with Aether and Rogue Refiner. White doesn't seem like a terrible idea if we go the God-Pharaoh's Gift route.
We've seen something like this Grixis shell before, and my teammate, Brennan DeCandio, played the deck at a Team Open in the Standard portion just a few months ago.
- 2 Champion of Wits
- 1 Gifted Aetherborn
- 4 Glint-Sleeve Siphoner
- 4 Glorybringer
- 2 Hostage Taker
- 1 Vizier of Many Faces
- 3 Whirler Virtuoso
- 2 The Scarab God
On paper, it looked pretty awesome, but seemed like it was lacking somewhere. It had a ton of removal, which was a bit awkward against the control decks, and flooding out on removal wasn't exactly ideal in a world where Bristling Hydra was everywhere. On top of that, the Grixis deck didn't seem to have a great plan in the early turns of the game. Outside of Glint-Sleeve Siphoner, you just didn't have very much to do on the first few turns other than kill your opponent's creatures.
In practice, you also had too many five-drops. Trying to play The Scarab God and Glorybringer in large numbers just wasn't practical, and especially so without Attune with Aether, Rogue Refiner, and Servant of the Conduit. It was just too clunky. And while Brennan's record in that tournament wasn't bad, I saw him lose games because his deck just didn't function "normally." It wasn't smooth. The kinks weren't worked out. But now we have a new card in Ravenous Chupacabra to help close the gap.
- 4 Champion of Wits
- 4 Glint-Sleeve Siphoner
- 4 Ravenous Chupacabra
- 3 Vizier of Many Faces
- 4 Whirler Virtuoso
- 3 The Scarab God
My gut says we want another energy card to help fill the gap. Turning on both Whirler Virtuoso and Glint-Sleeve Siphoner is a big deal, but I just don't like any of the options at our disposal. I also want a few more creatures for Vizier of the Many Faces to copy, but I'm banking on my opponent having some good stuff in the meantime.
Having a flexible sideboard to help get removal out of your deck is important. Control decks won't have many, if any, targets for your spot removal, so making sure you turn those into stuff like Duress and Negate is important. It might feel like we're overdoing it a bit, but I think the options we've chosen should give you a great shot at beating them in post-sideboard games. Decks like this tend to struggle in the first game against control because most of our deck is centered around interacting with creatures. And, consequently, it's one of the reasons why I think control might be very good right now.
Regardless, I think this deck is pretty sweet, and it's definitely something I'd like to try in the near future.
Moving Toward Control
Hardcore control decks aren't something we're used to seeing nowadays. Beside the occasional Approach of the Second Sun deck, I haven't seen a Torrential Gearhulk cast in a while. And for a card as powerful as Torrential Gearhulk, that almost feels like an oversight. I think we could build something pretty that interacts with most opponents in a positive way. And now that we don't have to deal with Energy as much, our deckbuilding just got a lot more flexible.
In the past few years, Izzet in all its forms has been my wheelhouse. I love drawing cards. I love countering spells. I love killing creatures. It's what I do best. But I also like having some sort of engine around to capitalize on when I'm "spinning my wheels." There are two cards that come to mind when I think of "control" in the traditional sense, assuming that energy is our method of generating that engine.
A lot of people forgot about Dynavolt Tower, and for good reason. Abrade really pushed it out of the format. Plus, it wasn't able to deal with some of the heavy hitters like Glorybringer, Bristling Hydra, or The Scarab God. But now with tribal decks coming back in a big way, my gut is telling me that Dynavolt Tower could be a knockout blow to a lot of these decks. We just have to make sure we build our strategy the right way.
While Dynavolt Tower is certainly a strong card against aggressive decks, it doesn't do much the turn you cast it. And without access to Attune with Aether, it might be a little harder to turn on than normal, but I think a traditional U/R Control deck could be just fine. And while Whirler Virtuoso can't clear the battlefield in the same way as Dynavolt Tower, it can certainly help put up some road blocks to buy you time. And if all you want is time to start casting Torrential Gearhulk, then cards like Whirler Virtuoso are perfect. It's great in the early game at pressuring opponents, and it can give you a much needed outlet to burn extra energy from cards like Glimmer of Genius or leftovers from Harnessed Lightning. Let's take a look at what a potential U/R Control deck could look like with Rivals of Ixalan.
It might turn out that Dynavolt Tower and Whirler Virtuoso aren't what you want to be doing, but I do like that both of them can directly attack planeswalkers, which is the card type that gives this kind of deck the most trouble. I also don't know if this deck is as good as something like U/B Control, which is a current control deck that is a bit more tested. But what that deck was being tested against is no longer relevant, and I think this version could be much stronger at combating aggressive decks.
But you've all seen my "U/R Control" deck featuring new cards before. And this particular version doesn't have anything from Rivals of Ixalan in the main deck, so I'm sure it's not nearly as exciting as it could/should be. But with the banning of cards in Standard, it's important to look at archetypes that could make a comeback as a result.
Mer Money Mer Problems
Of all the decks that could come out of Rivals of Ixalan, and perhaps the archetype that got the biggest boost, I think that Merfolk will be a major player in the new Standard format. You have an insane amount of aggressive tools, and a lot of your creatures replace themselves. The only downside to building a U/G Merfolk deck is that your mana base might give you some problems, which is pretty weird considering it's just a two-color deck. But hear me out.
Botanical Sanctum is the nuts. For obvious reasons, this cycle of lands has been influential in Standard since their printing in Kaladesh. Any opening draw featuring one or more copies of Botanical Sanctum should give you the right combination of colors, untapped, to cast most of your spells. But the draws that don't contain Botanical Sanctum might be a little troublesome. You want to play a one-drop green creature, but most of your best cards are blue. You want to play a double green card in Jadelight Ranger, and yet again most of your best cards are blue. And if you're trying to have an even split on colors, drawing one or two of the wrong type of land in your first ten cards could be disastrous. And for a deck that relies on curving out every game, that could spell the end before the game even gets started.
Unclaimed Territory is a pretty sweet gift for a deck like Merfolk, but it doesn't help you cast your support cards. Lands like Unclaimed Territory present you with a choice. If you play Unclaimed Territory, your deck should have very few, if any, support cards that aren't creatures. That means no interaction with Fumigate/Settle the Wreckage. And that means your matchup against decks with sweeper effects will be a little harder than normal. In the past, decks like Merfolk are traditionally favored against spell-heavy decks because you get to apply pressure and back it up with a few counterspells. And lucky us, Spell Pierce is legal in Standard again.
But we don't have Mana Leak. We don't have anything even close to resembling a Mana Leak for Merfolk. And if you go so far as to main deck something like Negate, I think you're going to fold to the mirror and other creature-based decks.
This color combination of U/G also makes it so we don't get access to real removal. An opposing creature is going to stay there for virtually the entire game until we decide to attack into it, block it, or overrun it. That means Glorybringer will be a huge pain in the butt. That means Glint-Sleeve Siphoner will bury you in card advantage. And coupled with a lot of removal, you will lose to a card draw engine.
With all of that said, I do think that Merfolk still has a viable chance to break into Standard in a big way. The overall power level of your creatures is pretty high, and you have a gameplan that involves overwhelming their spot removal with Deeproot Waters. And while Deeproot Waters might not have been all that exciting before, I think it got significantly better with the addition of these three gems.
Before Rivals of Ixalan, I thought that Merfolk was on the cusp of breaking through. But with these three awesome additions, as well as the turbo boost to Deeproot Waters, I think Merfolk is going to be a solid contender. For reference, here is where I want to start.
- 4 Deeproot Elite
- 3 Forerunner of the Heralds
- 4 Kumena's Speaker
- 4 Merfolk Branchwalker
- 4 Merfolk Mistbinder
- 4 Silvergill Adept
- 1 Kopala, Warden of Waves
- 3 Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca
Since we're an Unclaimed Territory deck, I honestly have no idea what my sideboard should be. More creatures? If so, which Merfolk would actually make fine additions after sideboard? And do we want stuff like Vizier of the Many Faces to help win longer games against Ravenous Chupacabra? Should I bother with green spells since I only have twelve sources for non-Merfolk? Do I want ways to exile my opponent's graveyard to help fight God-Pharaoh's Gift? All these questions are running through my head right now, and I honestly have no idea what I would want.
But it's a start.
And even though Jadelight Ranger feels like a slam dunk for this type of deck, I thought that the two green mana symbols pushes it slightly out of favor. For now, I want to see how this version of the deck runs. I want to see if cards like Spell Pierce and Unsummon are even worth playing. If not, then maybe we could move more towards green and play stuff like Blossoming Defense to protect our more important Merfolk.
Well, that's all I got this week. Aside from these three decks, I have about a hundred other ideas I want to work on, but I only have so many Magic Online Event Tix to burn and only so many hours in the day. I'll be looking at the results of Magic Online 5-0 lists in the coming weeks to get a better idea of what this new Standard format is going to look like. All I know is that it won't look like Temur/Four-Color Energy, and that alone is getting my creative juices flowing. With Energy having been so dominant in the last fifteen months, it'll be a welcome change of pace.