Continued Restoration

Still looking for Avacyn Restored innovation in Standard? Jon Agley highlights four cards that he thinks have the potential to shake up Standard, perhaps at this weekend’s SCG Open Series in Nashville.

Two weeks ago we discussed the relatively low numbers of Avacyn Restored cards being played in the current Standard metagame. To a great extent, this trend has continued, even though innovative decks have begun to appear at high-level tournaments (i.e., Mono-Blue Architect). As other authors have suggested, this is probably a result of decks’ momentum more so than the actual ‘optimal’ configuration of the metagame.

There have been hints here and there, though, of strategies trying to break through into the mainstream, their whispers often being Vapor Snagged back into the aether. With a number of significant Standard tournaments approaching, including the StarCityGames.com Invitational in Indianapolis beginning on June 15th, there is still time to investigate these fringe strategies to determine which might be able to complete with blue’s flying Wild Nacatl and G/R’s omnipresent utility bear. Oh, and Primeval Titan.

Let’s begin with many people’s least favorite planeswalker of all time (excepting, perhaps, Jace, the Mind Sculptor, who is more of Byronic hero than a villain): Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded.

To the best of my knowledge, Michael Tabler is the first player to have a decklist published from a Standard tournament using Tibalt. He used a modified Frites shell to snag 44th place at the SCG Open Series in Madison, Wisconsin a couple weeks ago. His deck:

In this build, Tibalt plays the role of Tracker’s Instincts, dumping cards into the graveyard while digging through the deck. Tabler also plays Gisela, Blade of Goldnight (an excellent choice against G/R Aggro and W/R Humans) but foregoes Griselbrand altogether. We might question, though, whether a fragile planeswalker has a place in a reanimation strategy given the proliferation of Delver of Secrets, Strangleroot Geist, and other efficient answers.

It is unlikely that Tibalt will survive long enough to duplicate the initial use of Tracker’s Instincts much less the flashback, although he does more work if he does survive. In addition, the RR casting cost is more difficult to hit than 1G, especially on turn 2. For this reason, although I think it’s a very interesting idea, I’m not sure that Tibalt really is better than Tracker’s Instincts, although he likely is an excellent sideboard choice against control decks (i.e., U/B Control).

On the other hand, given the recent aggressive bent in the metagame, Gisela seems like an excellent reanimation target and might even warrant a second slot (replacing an Inferno Titan). It also seems like this deck wants copies of Mental Misstep in the sideboard (to combat Vapor Snag out of U/W Delver) and perhaps some copies of Griselbrand, simply because the ability to Necropotence for seven at instant speed makes Vapor Snag less of an issue if a Delver opponent doesn’t have a lot of pressure. What is important, though, is that players like Tabler continue to innovate with new cards!

If we want to make Tibalt work, we should consider a shell in which his casting cost is slightly less relevant and in which his second ability is slightly more synergistic. One such example is Grixis Vengeance.

This deck has a fairly standard shell but is still a work in progress. It wants some number of Pillar of Flame either in the maindeck or in the sideboard, but where is unclear. Whipflare (or Slagstorm) is the primary way of dealing with Geist of Saint Traft, so it absolutely cannot become Pillar of Flame even though the latter is better against Strangleroot Geist.

It also struggles, much like any midrange deck, against Primeval Titan, especially since it doesn’t have the rebounding power of Vapor Snag. Though it is possible that the cards could be reconfigured to accommodate three or four copies of Vapor Snag as well—but then we might as well just play U/R Delver. The unfortunate reality at this point is that we might have a hard time finding a competitive home for our newest planeswalker; it’s too bad that Thunderous Wrath doesn’t have madness instead of miracle.

A second card that hasn’t seen any serious tournament play as of yet but that has emerged as a favorite in low-level tournaments (like FNM) is Favorable Winds.

Throughout the history of Magic, it has been a rare occurrence when an Anthem effect has not seen play in Standard; it’s simply a matter of figuring out the best way to use the effect (such as pairing Ajani Goldmane with Bitterblossom in Standard B/W Tokens). With the U/W Delver decks increasingly going all in on a single creature (especially Geist of Saint Traft) with multiple pieces of equipment and enchantments like Spectral Flight, the ability to clog the air with a variety of fliers seems very lucrative and may effectively evolve from the Esper Spirits decks that were very popular several months ago.

After conversing with other players and toying around with the deck, it seems as though Favorable Winds is a card that needs to be "forced." In other words, if we’re going to run Favorable Winds we might consider excluding Geist of Saint Traft. This may strike some of us as fundamentally incorrect (Geist of Saint Traft is a singularly powerful card in this type of archetype), but if we’re going to run the Geist we should be running a variation of U/W Delver, which arguably is the optimal form of a deck using that card.

This experimental shell works to capitalize on Favorable Winds and a critical mass of flyers as well as the hexproof buff provided by Drogskol Captain. This decision is made by nature of the processes of testing and exploration rather than as an attempt to copy/paste the ‘best deck’ for a tournament tomorrow, though initial results suggest that this shell has the potential to be fairly competitive.

Another card that has flown relatively under the radar, though it made some significant appearances at the Pro Tour, is Champion of Lambholt.

This is one of the few cards from Avacyn Restored that is completely sold out on StarCityGames.com, which says something about the card’s potential. The G/W Block deck that uses the card isn’t quite optimal for Standard, but several players have begun placing in Magic Online queues with an interesting Naya Humans shell. For example:

This deck is synergistic on a variety of levels. At first blush, Champion of Lambholt and Champion of the Parish quickly become monstrously large, but the variety of Anthem effects (Signal Pest, Mayor of Avabruck, and Hamlet Captain) don’t immediately impress with their power—and they should. The creatures in this deck attack for a lot more than it seems like they will. Some experience with the deck in practice rooms and a few two-man queues suggests that this is the real deal.

It’s a very legitimate aggressive strategy, and it’s very difficult for our opponents to coherently make blocking decisions (if it’s even possible to do so at all). Kruin Striker is the deck’s secret all-star because it easily hits for five or six damage later in the game when we’re attacking with Hero of Bladehold and a Thatcher Revolt. Much like the W/R Humans deck, this deck is structured in such a way that it doesn’t really need "closer" burn like Brimstone Volley, and the set of Cavern of Souls ensures that we typically can resolve (and pay for) our creatures at will.

Finally, a few decks have been using a card that is seemingly very underpowered and, in fact, is not even very playable in Limited: Wild Defiance. Unlike the other examples, I haven’t had time to play with or adjust this deck yet, but the concept is sufficiently interesting that it’s worth bringing from the archives of Standard Daily Events out into the open.

With Wild Defiance on the table, targeted removal becomes almost moot—even more useless than it already would have been with Spellskite, Ranger’s Guile, and Apostle’s Blessing in the deck. It also means that a single Titanic Growth is nearly lethal. This deck is on my shortlist of decks to examine in the next month.

Whatever your inclination, if you’re at all interested in exploring the current Standard format Avacyn Restored offers some powerful cards, but work needs to be done to overcome the momentum built up by Scars of Mirrodin block and the associated archetypes. Have fun brewing!