Beating The Obvious Threats At #SCGBALT

Step one to #SCGBALT success is to not get be beaten by the format’s most pertinent foes. Pro Tour Champion Ari Lax explains how you can avoid silly week one losses just by constructing your deck for easy wins!

Shadows over Innistrad Prerelease April 2-3!

The first week of a fresh Standard is always one of the most exciting tournaments of the year. Really anything can happen. Thankfully, the writers on this site have done a great job of elaborating a large portion of what anything is and covering what parts of anything they expect to rise to the top of the heap.

The approximate list of hyped threats and strategies I would be gunning for:

Let’s go through some answers:

Thing in the Ice is probably the easiest one of these to handle. Your opponents’ Thing in the Ice decks are going to be split into two main categories: control and tempo.

Control decks with Thing in the Ice will also have Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy. Unlike traditional control decks where a card like Silkwrap would be dead, it will be very important to have available here. Silkwrap is doubly important to prevent Ojutai’s Command shenanigans, which will inevitably go with these two-drops. Beyond this, you need to have access to traditionally good cards against control: discard, counters, flash threats, two-for-one threats. It will just be a little easier to not brick off game 1 with dead removal rotting in your hand, meaning your sideboard has to carry less weight.

The tempo decks with Thing in the Ice will lose the same way as every other tempo deck in any format. Kill all their threats or quickly outclass the ones you want to ignore. Thing in the Ice is not fundamentally different to fight here from a Tarmogoyf out of Legacy or Modern Delver decks. Kill it, kill their Stormchaser Mages, and play something big enough to block Abbot of Keral Keep.

If you want to put these together, I would expect midrange to demolish both of these decks. Think of how Jund edged out all sorts of blue decks in Modern pre-Kolaghan’s Command. Kill their thing early, play a better threat, and suddenly, without Treasure Cruise, they reach a point where they can no longer compete.

This is more of a stand-in for the whole Vampires deck than Olivia, Mobilized for War in particular, but a lot of the same principles apply to both.

We’ve seen a lot of what Vampires has to offer in the past, notably with B/R Zombies decks in original InnistradReturn to Ravnica Standard. Those decks finished with Falkenrath Aristocrat and Thundermaw Hellkite, and these Vampires decks have similar numbers of flying threats with a little less haste.

Unlike with the old Innistrad, there is no Thragtusk to save you and you have to win the hard way. The flying threats have to die or you need a large blocker to get in the way. The large blocker plan also fails when their four-drop flier has five toughness, so some removal is needed regardless. The default in my mind is Archangel Avacyn plus all the white removal. Thunderbreak Regent plus Draconic Roar is another solid duo here if you can supply more threats to kill them while leaving the 4/4 flying creature back to block. Killing all their things is a bit clunky, so incidental lifegain like Ojutai’s Command will be important so as not to die to Fiery Temper and other reach.

You can also beat these decks by going under them. Red aggro was the way to do this last time, but I’m more excited by Humans aggro in this iteration. It has all the one-drops, pumping over their creatures, and removal that trades up on cost for Olivia, Mobilized for War and other big threats.

Spoiler: Gideon, Ally of Zendikar is still great. Arlinn Kord is not quite as immediately absurd but still powerful. Both have the same failure mode: paying four mana for the first 2/2 is not a good rate. If you are behind, neither of them is going to save you. Getting your planeswalker attacked to death is pure card disadvantage, or really just an expensive Fog.

Play to get ahead on the battlefield before your opponent can play their four-drop planeswalker, or at least have plays that immediately clear the way the next turn to kill it. If either of these two activates twice unopposed, the odds of you winning drop significantly.

I’m pairing these cards together to dispel some traps people will fall into. The immediate reaction is “lots of spot removal for Thought-Knot Seer and friends, powerful spells for Collected Company,” but honestly the opposite might be true.

Thought-Knot Seer actually plays really well against anything other than a straight-up overload of removal. It strips a single removal spell and then the 4/4 body takes another, leaving the path clear for your next threat. The other half of the equation is that the red Eldrazi decks are full of Thopter token generators and lands that make tokens, giving them resilience to spot removal. You still need to have some to beat their big threats, but playing all Doom Blades is not going to beat Eldrazi.

Collected Company, on the other hand? It isn’t backed by Rally the Ancestors any more. Creatures that die tend to stay dead, and all the white exile removal makes absolutely sure of that. Killing their Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy or Sylvan Advocate leaves them with a lot of random creatures that don’t do a whole lot. The fact that Archangel Avacyn can be recast on your opponent’s turn after a Reflector Mage wears off also hurts here.

Declaration in Stone also does some real work against Collected Company. The dream “double kill” scenario happens a lot more than it should when Collected Company starts putting creatures on the battlefield.

Note that, again, we see an aggro deck that is soft to having its best threats picked off and the rest of them trumped. If you can build an aggressive deck that breaks this pattern, you have hit the sweet spot.

I went over part of how to beat Dragonlord Ojutai already in the Thing in the Ice section: discard, counters, flash threats, two-for-one threats. The difference is the typical Dragonlord Ojutai dance that occurs when they suspect you have removal and force you to leave up mana every turn while not attacking.

Clip Wings is a pretty awesome answer here. It also hits Archangel Avacyn in a lot of the shells that will play it and takes down the relevant Vampire threats. I’m not wild enough to maindeck it, but a lot of sideboards will have this one.

Archangel Avacyn is also a way to punish Dragonlord Ojutai. It’s a threat that tangles with Ojutai in the air and looks the same as leaving up removal. It’s also a flash threat that is naturally good against the other control aspects of Ojutai decks. It crushes aggressive decks, yet is rock solid in midrange matchups.

I actually have no idea where Archangel Avacyn is bad. Todd Anderson was dead-on last week and comparing this card to Serra Angel is comically wrong. It’s Restoration Angel and then some. The threat alone is solid, but the effect it has on a game is the even more concerning part. Large flash fliers like it already make attacking risky, and the indestructible trigger just doubles down on it. Often you reach the midgame, see five mana open, and just accept that you can’t attack that turn. You’ll have to deal with the 4/4 flying Angel swinging the game around in their favor.

You can make Archangel Avacyn worse, though. It crushes games when played as a flash blocker, so beat it the same ways people beat Plumeveil.

If you have to attack on that turn to win the game, be sure to go around them. It was Spectral Procession last time; this time, it is Secure the Wastes.

You can pilot decks that play a tactical game and can afford to wait. There are no Faeries this time, but most midrange will do. The other difference is that it is now possible to play creatures that attack into a 4/4 and don’t die. The fifth point of toughness is a big deal, especially if you have removal to keep the path relatively clear of double blocks. Archangel Avacyn also plays well against Archangel Avacyn in this plan, letting you negate the trumped attack by giving all your creatures indestructible or eating their Angel on the way back.

You can also just play a deck that doesn’t care about attacking ever, like ramp or control. That’s a bit narrower and can have issues with the other 56 cards in the Avacyn deck, but it makes that one card into “just” a five-mana flash threat.

Chandra, Flamecaller is another card that makes the fifth toughness matter a ton. Don’t leave a bunch of creatures with three or less toughness around on turn 6 if you don’t want to get your battlefield wiped at a profit, and adding 4/4s to the equation only helps if you stagger it so Chandra self-destructing with a -4 activation matters. Unless, of course, those 4/4’s are Archangel Avacyn, in which case, have fun leaving up your five-mana counter to Chandra’s ability.

You also shouldn’t expect unprotected planeswalkers to be safe on empty battlefields later on. Two 3/1 Elementals will break through the tokens most planeswalkers produce just fine. Other sticky threats are required to hold the fort. The turn 4 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar or Arlinn Kord will have done enough to win the fight, but if they don’t have a head start, Chandra is going to kill them before they get to her.

As with Olivia, Mobilized for War and Vampires, this is a representative of the Ramp archetype in general.

Ramp in this format is a true, hard Ramp strategy. You spend a few turns setting up and hope your threat reimburses you for the time you spent doing nothing to cast it.

World Breaker doesn’t kill creatures; it just tries to block them. If you kill it and keep attacking, your opponent often dies before they can cast the second one found off Sanctum of Ugin. If they cast Chandra, Flamecaller or Dragonlord Atarka, they aren’t chaining off threats and you can often just run out of things.

Actual Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger… if they get to that one, you aren’t going to do a lot. Win first.

Seven is also a lot more than the old six for Primeval Titan. If they miss their turn 4 double ramp spell, that’s a huge blow, and if you keep them off it for an extra turn, that’s the same. Killing their Hedron Crawler or Deathcap Cultivator is huge blow. Defensive creatures like Sylvan Advocate and Hangarback Walker fill a similar slot and just die to the same clearing removal as the mana creature. Silkwrap again is a real winner, as is Declaration in Stone.

The latest hot trend is making a 9/7 haste Demon. Ormendahl, Profane Prince does a lot of scary things, but it is definitely a manageable threat.

The first thing is that Ormendahl requires a lot of resources to produce. Picking off their small threats holds off the end-game very well. The token-generation ability still exists to make it an eventuality, but it has a huge cost associated with it. Applying pressure while chipping away at their creatures stops the activation just fine.

What about the surprise Secure the Wastes setups? Kozilek’s Return is an instant for a reason. It might be time for non-Eldrazi decks to start playing that card.

What if they get to make a Demon? Turns out that also isn’t the end of the world. There are the obvious instant exiling answers, but even the sorcery-speed ones can work. Ormendahl doesn’t have trample in its long list of abilities, so a flying chump blocker plus a sorcery-speed answer is a fine trade for five creatures if you can win through the nine-life buffer. Archangel Avacyn again gets airtime here as a “chump” blocker that doesn’t die in combat.

The thing that doesn’t work against Ormendahl? Edict effects. It’s too easy for a deck that wants to make five creatures to just make a sixth or randomly already have it. Even something like Clip Wings is mitigated by Hangarback Walker often being a creature that is sacrificed in these decks, leaving around flying Thopters as bait.

If you sum up all these things, the obvious answer I would bias toward is playing an Archangel Avacyn deck with cheap removal, but there are other ways to piece together a solid response to everything. Even if you choose the “good white cards” road, there are tons of ways to build the rest of your deck.

The even more fun part? These are just the first-week threats. Once you fold in the results from #SCGBALT next weekend? That’s when things start getting really interesting.

Shadows over Innistrad Prerelease April 2-3!