Deconstructing Constructed – The Shards of Standard

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Monday, October 13th – This article will be all about getting ready for the StarCityGames.com $5,000 Standard Open. To start, I want to clear a few misconceptions people seem to have about the format at large. After that, we’ll be taking a look more closely at the popular decks, followed by a few that may be flying under the radar at the moment. Let’s go!

This article will be all about getting ready for the StarCityGames.com $5,000 Standard Open. To start, I want to clear a few misconceptions people seem to have about the format at large. After that, we’ll be taking a look more closely at the popular decks, followed by a few that may be flying under the radar at the moment. Let’s go!

Things you need to know

1. The format is not slow.

This seems like a gimmie, but depending on who you asked, you could get that idea because Toast is a popular / highly praised deck in the format that makes snail races seem like Formula 1. Frankly Standard has only gotten faster, with Shards of Alara bringing more undercosted minions to the table, making Gaddock Teeg even better and adding a cheap Red way* to deal with Kitchen Finks. The only reason that Toast can afford to be playing with such slow end-game cards is because it literally has 6-7 sweepers maindeck, some amount of spot removal, and Finks on D. Not to mention a set of Cryptic Command, all and all meaning that half the deck is tuned toward stomping on you swarms in the early game.

* Magma Spray.

Essentially, there are three known decks that force a large amount of defense to be played over the first 3-4 turns: Kithkin, R/B/G Tokens, and Aggro Red. With Kithkin, not much has changed from Block Constructed. It didn’t really lose anything in the rotation; if anything, it benefited from the addition of Glorious Anthem and Ranger of Eos. Over half of Kithkin threats are self-contained monsters. Spectral Procession, Cloudgoat Ranger, Figure of Destiny, Ranger of Eos… all of them demand an answer in a short period of time, or the game is over. Worst of all for control players is that even with Pyroclasm lowering the cost of sweepers, Wrath of God is the only card unaffected by Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender.

Red may have lost a number of good cards to the rotation, but the aggro core remains intact, and Demigod of Revenge remains a potent late-game threat. Interestingly enough, the Red decks may move toward slightly slower and more powerful options (much like Kithkin did) to overcome our new Five-Color Control overlords. Siege-Gang Commander is certainly scarier than Cloudgoat Ranger if Red gets an untap step, and none of the Toast decks I’ve seen have easy answers to Chandra Nalaar who can come down, blow up a potential attacker, and then ping away while building up to her ultimate. Sure, Cryptic still bounces / counters her, but as yet another strong threat in a deck full of solid creatures and burn, it isn’t to be overlooked.

People have touched on versions of the Token deck last week, and yes, it is the real deal. It may not be optimized yet, and it may have some serious issues dealing with Kithkin at times, but once optimized I think the deck has a real shot at being a contender. More on the deck later, but the short version is that most decks can’t handle six tokens dishing out for two or more on turn 5.

2. Reflecting Pool decks and Faeries are all going to look completely different

Yes, a certain amount of players will just netdeck whatever Five-Color Control deck GerryT or Chapin throws up. Odds are good, especially on the Fae front; people are going to deviate from the norm we saw during Block Constructed, incorporating heavier doses of Shards or older sets than previously seen. There hasn’t really been any advancement on Fae in a while, rather it leaves off with the final possible advancement simply being adding more Five-Color lands and running Doran in the maindeck. Going for more aggression is certainly a possibility with that sort of set-up, having Bitterblossom, Scion, and both Clique and Doran as big beaters, while still having control power. Some have gone back to running Jace Beleren or Mulldrifter, to help make up for the loss of Ancestral Visions and still have the control shell.

Some basic cards will be present in all Reflecting Pool decks, but after something like 20-24 base non-land cards they could drastically switch, depending on what Charms / Gold / Planeswalkers / draw engines they want to run in the deck. I’ve seen some that remind me more of the straight U/B Mannequin decks than the Cruel Ultimatum variations, and others which throw it back old school with Jace or Liliana Vess to win the card drawing war. One switch that could potentially throw aggro players for a loop in the late-game is the possibility of Violent Ultimatum, simply blowing up the army instead of dealing with a plus-five to the opponent’s life and losing your worst guy from Cruel.

3. “Expect the Unexpected” = Be aware of the major Shards cards that can be turned into archetypes (or modify older three-color decks like Doran)

I can sit here all day and tell you to be ready for Reflecting Pools, Fae, and Kithkin en masse, but that isn’t going to do you much good if your first three rounds are against Naya Fish and Bant Aggro. These decks may have some limitations due to the triple costs or other drawbacks on their abilities, but potentially strong decks can be built out of just the ‘obvious’ cards with a few throw-ins from the older sets. I largely think lack of optimization will be the doom for many of these decks, but that doesn’t mean a strong draw won’t put you on the back foot. Facing down Wild Nacatl, Gaddock Teeg, and Woolly Thoctar on turn 3 can be one of the more awkward experiences you can have.

The same goes for cards you think could see some sideboard play, but aren’t sure about. Really, it’s best if you can at least remember the possibility of such cards, like Hindering Light, Agony Warp, all the Charms, and even stuff like Sigil Blessing*. Knowing what these cards do at least gives you the chance to plan around them, even if you suspect they aren’t running them. At least running through the possibilities can lower the possibility of getting blown out by something you didn’t even remember existed.

* It was a pretty miserable feeling of getting blown out by Sigil Blessing when I cast a minty-fresh, off the top Firespout to deal with Birds of Paradise and double Tidehollow Sculler.

Deck Index

Kithkin V1
Tokens V2
Five-Color Control / Toast V3
Faeries V4
Misc. other stuff V5

Kithkin V1

As you can see, not a lot has changed since I last posted a Kithkin build for Block Constructed. I still think Knight of the Meadowgrain is overrated, especially if two of the top decks are going to be Five-Color Control and Fae, and that zero Vaults are the way to go for consistency sake. The biggest change is the addition of Ranger of Eos to the maindeck. Ranger almost always fetches two Figures of Destiny, and is the rough equivalent of a super Cloudgoat Ranger. Not only does it come with a moderate body, which, combined with any threats currently in play, demand a sweeper anyway, but then set-up the next 3-4 turns with Figure of Destiny while not impeding your normal draw-steps. This is huge, not only giving you another guaranteed two threats in hand when it resolves, but you keep the classic Kithkin power-topdecking open in case you see Spectral Procession or Cloudgoat Ranger. It can even makes rips like Goldmeadow Stalwart and Forge-Tender scary for the opponent, because they can gain a critical mass to be played with the last Figure, or after he’s dealt with.

In essence, assuming you have five White mana sources in play, you will likely get eleven power worth of guys from Ranger of Eos: three from Ranger, and four from each Figure, with the potential for more. Spectral gives you three power at once, and Cloudgoat gives you six. Although Ranger gives you less power on the table (without evasion) than Ranger, it spreads the love out to prevent sweepers from instantly cleaning house. It works wonderfully with the rest of the deck. If you can’t make room for it main (and I recommend you do), at least run multiples in the board. In almost every situation that’s come up, I rather have Ranger of Eos over Reveillark against control.

Oh and yes, this does have a good control match overall. It can simply run the opponent out of sweepers, and it negates many of the better defensive creatures that can be played against the deck. Ultimately after boarding, you have full sets of three cards that demand sweepers / spot removal very quickly, and another card that can find multiple threats.

Tokens V2

This is no-frills token beatdown, taking full advantage of Sprouting Thrinax and Sarkhan Vol’s additions to the archetype. The deck has a number of ways to negate the normal sweepers in the format, either by making more tokens, pumping Husk, or Torrent of Souls. As you can tell with the manabase, the deck hasn’t been optimized yet, and the third Torrent slot and Inversion slots are also being debated to some degree. I’ve tried maindeck Thoughtseize and found it lacking against control and aggro, where I rather simply have another way to make tokens or deal with creatures. As a result, I started using Inversion as a way to keep a slow start from falling too far behind in life and just killing obnoxious creatures.

Goblin Assault ultimately didn’t make the cut, because in this version of the deck there simply aren’t enough ways to remove blockers or pump to get by them. One build that has been suggested before that may be looked into is a straight R/B build which gains Grave Pact, turning Goblin tokens into pingers unless they want to sacrifice their creatures to deal with the little 1/1 annoyances. The lack of a defensive option with the card can also make for moments where you had only two 1/1 in play or no defense for the first 3 turns.

For the sideboard, I would suggest a little more creature removal and Thoughtseize. Other options for the tri-color builds are Naturalize against pesky enchantments and Jund Charm against graveyard centric decks (or functioning as a 3rd turn sweeper, which can then be followed up with your own army). Fulminator Mage is the other obvious choice against control, possibly buying you a turn, but I haven’t had a whole lot of luck with LD in this format.

Billy Moreno posted his take on a more Devour-based token deck last, week which could be of interest to some people. I haven’t really tested with such a build (outside of Predator Dragon, which may be worth it as a one- or two-of), so I won’t comment on those.

Five-Color Control / Toast V3

A ton has already been said on the subject of Toast, so I won’t rehash it all here. Most likely Chapin or GerryT will write yet another comprehensive article on it this week, so look for that. My experiences, mostly against the deck, have been the following:

a. The deck absolutely crushes normal aggressive strategies. Even the ones that think they’re being tricky by running stuff like Negate. The only aggressive plans I’ve found to consistently work against the deck are Kithkin (# of Wrath and draw-dependent), Tokens (too many threats to beat consistently), and Five-Color Merfolk, which combine 8-10 counters with Thoughtseize and some huge threats. Oh, and all this is under the assumption my opponents have played optimally, which is hardly a given. Although I will say many of the decisions seem straight-forward against aggro decks, compared to older control decks. Usually, whatever ensures survival for the next few turns is correct; the lack of tutors and instant-speed draw really reduces options.

b. Discard can whomp the deck something awful. Thoughtseize, Tidehollow Sculler, and Vendilion Clique can combine to surgically cut out the heart of many Toast hands. This is especially true if they only had one on-hand answer for a threat like Doran or Mistbind Clique.

c. The Charms have given a Five-Color Control player easy answers to every major threat in the format. Thankfully they can’t run all of them, although three different Charms in the same deck won’t be unheard of. Seriously, instant speed Pyroclasm, artifact destruction, enchantment destruction, grave removal, discard, and an easy answer to 90% of creatures in the format. Literally the only thing I’ve found that Charms can’t solve are Planeswlakers. This leads me into…

d. Planeswalkers can absolutely destroy a Five-Color Control player, if given the opportunity. I expect Jace Beleren to see the biggest uptick in play, easily fitting into Faeries without disrupting the curve and providing a draw method to take over for the missing Ancestral Vision. That said, I’ve also won with unanswered Chandra and Sarkhan Vol in games I absolutely shouldn’t have been able to win otherwise.

The deck does live up to most of the hype, but it has a few weaknesses which can be exploited.

Faeries V4

This is pretty much a basic Fae list, until the metagame is clearer. A little bit of everything for everyone, although Fae gets beaten up by losing Rune Snag and Ancestral Vision in the rotation. At the moment, for your standard B/U build I’ve got this, taking advantage of Agony Warp to race and otherwise stop nasty alpha strikes from doing a ton of damage. In a way, I want the 4th Scion, if only so I could maximize the number of times I win races after blowing the other guy out by resolving Agony Warp or Cryptic Command.

I’ve talked about my thoughts on Planeswalkers already, and specifically Jace in his role against control, so let’s shift focus to the sideboard. Previously I would’ve thought about a splash for Firespout, but with Infest available now you can stay two-color and have a valid sweeper against Kithkin and Tokens. Flashfreeze gets to replace Broken Ambitions against the decks it can be used as a counter against – Doran in particular – and the rest of the board is rather self-explanatory if you followed Block Constructed at all.

Misc. other stuff V5

There are a host of other decks, most of which don’t have an agreed-upon shell yet. However, I think there’s one archetype that may end up being strong enough and different enough in the format to warrant looking at.

The logic behind the deck was basically ‘stay alive until you get Empyrial Archangel online.’ Why? Because it then became very difficult for any non-Five-Color-Control deck to actually go about winning the game. Sure, aggro could eventually deal eight to it, but usually after exhausting a healthy amount of resources in the game, this is unlikely. Really, the only late-game way that consistently could trump Angel was getting Figure down and then getting it to the Akroma state. This deck is very much a work in progress, but with so much life-gain, effective spells, and strong finishers against aggro, I think it has real potential.

I could drone on and on about the other decks, but I need to leave myself something for next week to talk about, along with maybe one last peek at Extended before the PT. So if something interesting pops up on the radar, I’ll be sure to report it. Until then…

Joshua Silvestri
Team Reflection
Email me at: joshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom