Feature Article – Conflux: New Decks for Standard

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Friday, February 6th – Conflux is officially here, and it is legal in all Constructed formats as of today! Stuart Wright, England’s premier deckbuilding mind, brings us a host of cool ideas that utilize some of the more powerful cards in the new set. With both new ideas and updates to established strategies, this article is invaluable to anyone serious about Standard…

Today I’m going to talk about Standard, and the effect that Conflux has on the format. The set is still pretty new to us all, so nobody has had the time to test everything… the idea with today’s article is to provide ideas for new decks, and to suggest how one might update older decks. I’m also going to go over a few of the more powerful cards that I feel are worth building around, and others that will have a large impact on Constructed.

As a smaller set, there aren’t a huge number of cards that jump out at me and demand new decks. I’m going to start by updating some older decks. Often a deck can be just under Tier 1, just waiting for that new card to push it over the edge. This is another good reason for building new decks in the first place. Even when they turn out to be not quite good enough, when a later set adds something powerful you already have a starting place from which to develop your ideas.

Like I said above, I’m now going to take an old deck, Reveillark, and add a few different cards. In this case, the card I wanted to add is Path to Exile. I feel this card, while very good, is a touch overhyped, it is not an automatic four-of in every deck that can possible cast it, and you need to be careful using it. However, it is very powerful, and it will be featuring in a number of decks today. It also has very nice synergy with Knight of the White Orchid. If you’re running the Knight, you can afford to remove an early creature with Path to Exile because you will be able to fetch up a land with your two-drop too. When you already have fewer lands than your opponent already, then the one Plains the Knight searches up will enable you to cast Path to Exile that turn. It is also a lot more powerful if you have the ability to use Path to Exile on your own creatures in response to removal, or to setup Wrath of God.

The Reveillark deck was obviously fine before Conflux, with the main problem being surviving to the late game. Having a cheap removal spell and potential acceleration helps a lot here. Also, you do have Wrath of God, so giving your opponent an extra land doesn’t help them to overwhelm you with extra threats.

Path to Exile also has an effect on deckbuilding in general. Not only do you want at least one basic land of each color you run, you might well want two. This is so that, if you draw one of your Swamps, you still have a second to search up to cast double-Black spells. This deck has quite a few basic lands in it anyway, but this certainly comes up later in decks with three or more colors.

Next, I’m going to briefly talk about Faeries. Despite the rumors, this deck is still very much alive. It didn’t gain anything for the main deck, but I would suggest looking at Scepter of Fugue and Nyxathid for the sideboard, against Five-Color Control and Red decks respectively. The other main option is to go back to some of the old BUW deck lists and add Path to Exile. Overall, Faeries haven’t really gained very much, and a lot of other decks have got better versus the Fae menace. While Volcanic Fallout or Scattershot Archer are good against Faeries, they don’t wreak the deck. Volcanic Fallout is mostly just a cheaper Cloudthresher as you have the chance to use instants when they flash out creatures anyway, and Scattershot Archer is very vulnerable to Spellstutter Sprite past turn 1. Overall, this means that Faeries is still a powerful deck, but it did get effectively weaker with a number of gains from other decks. Also, Path to Exile gives many decks a good answer to Mistbind Clique, when before it would crush then with a virtual Time Walk. This means that it is more viable to play a deck with a poor matchup against Faeries, unlike earlier Standard formats in which the Fae outclassed the field… but clearly, if enough people do this, then the deck will become powerful again.

Next up we have another older deck updated… there’ll be crazy new decks in a moment, I promise. This decklist came from Jarvis Yu: R/W Reveillark Aggro. In the current format there are a lot of creature-based decks, which leads to people playing cards like Wrath of God and Firespout. This means that, to be a successful aggro deck, you need to have a plan against this strategy. The deck deals with this problem by having creatures that let you recover very quickly. Ranger of Eos gives you three threats from only one card and conveniently powers up Reveillark, which also gives you the ability to recover even faster. You also have a Planeswalker in Ajani Vengeant, which can be a real nightmare for decks like Five-Color Control to handle. It plays like a normal aggro deck in the early game by playing small threats, but it has a large number of late-game finishers.

We have Banefire from the new set, which is again very hard for most decks to stop. As this deck can be a bit top-heavy, you need to consider using Path to Exile on your own creature to enable you to get to five mana for Reveillark and Siege-Gang Commander. You have plenty of creatures to return with Reveillark, so removing one isn’t often going to be a problem. This deck is certainly pretty powerful, and I would like to test some other options. As you need to get to five mana, it is possible that Knight of the White Orchid, along with Path to Exile, would be good here as well. I’m also not sure having four copies of the same Planeswalker is correct, especially when you could Elspeth, Knight-Errant at roughly the same power level. Drawing one of each is better than drawing two of the same.

I’m also not sure about the Flamekin Harbinger. In theory, the idea is to search up Reveillark and then chain them together, but in the games I played it often felt like it wasn’t worth the effort, and it left you with a unexciting 1/1 that you needed to get killed.

And now for something completely different…

In the past, I played a Green/Black Planeswalker discard deck with Damnation at Worlds. In particular, I found that board sweepers along with Planeswalkers were a very powerful game plan. Discard also worked well with sweepers, and playing a war of attrition makes Planeswalkers even more powerful. This deck is focused on grinding people down and limiting their options. They need to deploy creatures to deal with Planeswalkers, but they don’t want to overextend into Wrath of God. Both the Scepters punish them for holding back.

This style of deck had a real problem with Mistbind Clique, but Path to Exile provides a good answer to this. Garruk Wildspeaker is insanely powerful when combined with Martial Coup, as he not only provides the seven mana, he also threatens to kill them with his Overrun effect the very next turn. I also considered Wretched Banquet as more removal, but in practice you had a few too many removal spells and the mana was rather awkward. You could also include some one-of cards to tutor up with Liliana Vess, but in general just using her to strip their hand and finishing with her ultimate is good enough. If you expect Faeries to remain very popular then you could play main deck Cloudthreshers, or if you don’t expect many aggressive decks then you could play Bitterblossom as another card that provides incremental advantage.

Another direction I considered for this deck was to replace Green with Blue. You could have cards like Remove Soul for the early game, and Cryptic Command to help protect your Planeswalkers. Jace Beleren would replace Garruk Wildspeaker and help lower the mana curve. Replacing Fertile Ground with Mind Stone might be a problem, as the deck already needs BBWWGG, so making this problem worse is a bit risky.

Now onto an old favorite of mine… the Red/Black Token deck. As they keep printing useful Green cards, I’ve finally given in and added Forests. We have a critical mass of sacrifice effects with the addition of Scarland Thrinax, so we can play Sarkhan Vol and consistently use his Threaten ability as removal. Remember that Marsh Flitter can also sacrifice some Threatened creatures, such as Chameleon Colossus. The plan is pretty much the same as before: make lots of tokens, then either overwhelm them or use Furystoke Giant to inflict massive damage.

This deck is very hard for an aggressive deck to break through, as all the creatures create unfavourable combat situations, and the sacrifice creatures can grow very large very quickly. You have a number of creatures that are resistant to board sweepers, plus cards that generate multiple threats from one card. It is possible that this deck could support Treetop Village or Mutavault as extra threats, but that would require even more non-basic lands. I find that, in general, you want to play it safe on mana when testing a new deck. It is very difficult to tell if a deck is good if you can’t play your spells, but it is much easier to see if your mana was fine and if you can afford a few of your lands to not tap for the right mana. In this deck, although Treetop Village is a Green source, the most important Green card you have is cast on turn 1; any fewer Green sources make Birds of Paradise much worse. As a baseline, any fewer than twelve sources for something that you want on turn 1 is too low, and I would rather have fourteen.

Overall, I hope I’ve given you some ideas for your own new decks. I’m sure there are other options out there which I haven’t gone over… for example, there might well still be a Mono-Red Aggro deck with Demigod of Revenge. I don’t really think that deck has gained a great deal, and Path to Exile on your Demigod of Revenge is rather unfortunate. An option would be to run Volcanic Fallout and larger creatures that don’t die to the sweeper, but this might be a touch slow. What you do get is Banefire, which is a pretty powerful finisher, and it is very hard for some decks to stop. If you plan on dragging out the game, you probably need some sort of answer to this card. Stabilizing on ten life then getting hit by two five-point Banefires in a row might be a real problem for some decks.

Even if you don’t want any of the new Conflux cards in your decks, you still need to consider adding a few basic lands, or something to deal with unstoppable burn spells. I don’t think that Standard has be utterly changed, as the tribal block of Lorwyn is still more powerful and has greater synergy than the Shards block thus far. However, all it takes is one new powerful deck to appear for the balance of power to change. In case people are wondering, I really do think Path to Exile is overhyped… don’t let the fact it is in most of these decks fool you. This is only because people seem to think it is just “W: remove a creature from the game, do something irrelevant.” I’m sorry, but when someone said this was better than Swords to Plowshares, it was pretty clear things had gone too far. Feel free to put it in all of your decks… just be careful in using it, and having the ability to use it on your own creatures will add a lot of utility.

Good luck!