Feature Article – Decks For The New Standard

The StarCityGames.com $5,000 Standard Open Returns to Richmond!
Tuesday, October 21st – England’s finest deckbuilder, pro player Stuart Wright, wades into the current Standard format in perfect time for this weekend’s StarCityGames.com $5K Standard Open. He presents some stock metagame lists, plus a few funky ideas straight from his Standard playbook. If you’re looking for something off the beaten path, look no further!

We are at that point of the Magical year in which the Standard format is new and unexplored. There are a number of upcoming high-profile Standard events, including this weekend’s StarCityGames.com $5K Standard Open. Sure, you could just take a Block Constructed deck and play it, but anyone could do that… how dull! However, before you build a new deck, you need to work out what decks will be popular. The simplest thing to do is to look at the decks that were good before, and see what they’ve lost in the rotation. For example, Faeries was powerful in Block Constructed, and Elves was good in Standard, and both survive the format change pretty well. If you want to play a stock deck, I would suggest Faeries, Elves, or Five-Color Control, depending on what style of deck you like. There have been plenty of Five-Color Control decks floating around already, so I won’t bother with a list, but for the other two strategies I would suggest the following builds. I won’t dwell on these, as other writers have dealt with the archetypes, and I want to get onto more rogue creations.

This ain’t the most exciting deck ever made, but it certainly still works. Agony Warp is generally better than Terror, and it’s very good at protecting your Planeswalker. People tend towards more aggressive decks at the onset of a new format, so I’m not happy playing Thoughtseize maindeck. Another direction you could take would be to add White for Esper Charm, giving you a bit of a card draw and a powerful spell for the mirror. This would replace Ponder, as you’d struggling to get Blue on turn 1 with an extra color.

This deck hasn’t really gained anything, but in general you should expect decks to be weaker overall. We have lost four sets and only gained one, so being slightly weaker is fine. I added Kitchen Finks to the list because, again, I would expect a higher proportion of the field to be aggressive decks. Eyeblight’s Ending is concession to Doran, the Siege Tower, as that deck is quite similar to Elves, and having an answer to the 0/5 treefolk is helpful in that matchup. And, of course, having more elves in your deck is always useful.

Now I’ve dealt with the old boring decks, we can move onto something a bit more interesting. While you need to be able to handle the old decks, running something new has a number of benefits. First, new cards are often unexpected… while you might know how to play against Faeries and Elves, how do you play against a new card you’ve only seen in Limited? In a similar way, a lot of people have maindeck Cloudthreshers, but will anyone have cards such as Shatterstorm, even in their sideboard?

Before we get started, I’m going to go into how I build decks. People do it in different ways, so I can only tell you what I do in the hope it will be useful. I pick something to focus on, which is normally a card I feel is powerful, but sometimes I focus on a weakness in a format. For example, I really liked Furystoke Giant, so I tried to work out what strategies and cards would work with him. His ability is pretty powerful with enough creatures on the board, both as a defensive method to clear out opposing creatures, and for simply killing your opponent outright. Clearly, then, you want a lot of creatures, but you don’t just want to make a swarm of small creatures as this strategy is very vulnerable to board-sweeping spells. You need a lot of creatures in play for your deck to work, thus you can’t recover very well. Luckily, there are plenty of creatures that make multiple tokens in Red and Black. The Stokin’ Tokens deck started as a RB Goblin deck, as cards like Marsh Flitter and Mogg War Marshal provided goblin tokens, and Mad Auntie boosted them. However, it is always important not to be locked into a deck idea, and after a while I realized that I wanted to cut some of the weaker Goblins, but the synergy with other cards was preventing me doing so. I ended up removing almost all of the Goblins for more powerful cards, such as Magus of the Moon. It is important to focus on building a good deck rather than building around an idea; if Furystoke Giant had proved to be less exciting than Torrent of Souls, then it would be fine to replace it and have nothing in common with the initial idea or decklist… as long as the deck itself now works.

Building ten terrible decks and one good deck is fine, as long as you can work out which is which.

On that note, the first deck I’m going to look at is an Affinity strategy. While you don’t exactly have Arcbound Ravagers, there are enough powerful cards in interest me. The main reason I wanted to build this deck was Scourglass, as in a normal deck it is just a poor Wrath of God. However, when you play enough artifacts, it becomes a one-sided board sweeper. Once you have a reason to want nothing but artifacts, it is worth looking for other cards that work well with a critical mass. In this case, Master of Etherium. He might not be utterly huge, as he is in Extended Affinity, but he is quite often a 4/4 guy or larger that pumps all of your other creatures. There are also a number of rather powerful BUW cards that happen to be artifacts. Activating Scourglass then returning it with Sharuum the Hegemon is very difficult for any aggressive deck to beat.

Your main plan against any aggressive deck to hold them off long enough to deploy your more powerful late-game spells. This means it is fine to trade off cards like Tidehollow Sculler, as long as it slows them down. Playing against a more controlling deck is a little more complicated, as it depends on what their game plan may be. Against Faeries, forcing Scourglass into play buys you a lot of time, dealing with all their threats and enabling you to attack them directly. Even in this matchup you don’t gain much benefit from trying to be the aggro deck, so I would try and sit back and defend. Then, in the later game, you can overwhelm their counters with big threats. On the other hand, against a Five-Color Control deck you want to try and take a more aggressive stance and deploy a few creatures, forcing them to sweep the board before you make more. The Sanctum Gargoyle, while not that powerful, helps you win in these wars of attrition by getting returned by Sharuum the Hegemon, forming a functional loop along with a second copy. For the sideboard, as always, it depends what you expect, but I would certainly include Infest as it has nice synergy with Master of Etherium, often allowing all of your creatures to survive.

I also considered Tidehollow Strix, but in practice a 2/1 flyer wasn’t useful against any decks. It ran into Bitterblossom tokens or Spectral Procession tokens. I also wanted to make the Etherium Sculptor better by running more artifacts with colorless mana in their costs. Overall, this deck probably needs a few more cards to be Tier 1, but it is an interesting option for people who want something a bit different. I do like the Soul Warden combo deck, but as Peebles has already talked about it I didn’t want to simply repeat his article. You could probably build a deck somewhere between the Affinity style deck and his combo deck, but as soon as you start cutting artifacts it is probably best to cut all of them.

In a new metagame, another option is to take an old deck and update it. Stokin’ Tokens has lost quite a few cards, but the basic game plan is still intact, and there are a few cards that are interesting. The main question is this: how much do you like Goblin Assault? The main problem here is that it makes all of your other goblins attack, which often isn’t what you want to be doing. However, by playing the enchantment, you do get a lot of free tokens, and this makes any board sweepers rather weak. The second problem is that we don’t have as many good sacrifice outlets as we used to; we’re down to Nantuko Husk and Marsh Flitter. This means that goblin tokens will sometimes just run to their deaths, but remember that you can play Goblin Assault after combat if you don’t want you other guys to attack this turn. Grave Pact is my solution to this problem, as then attacking with everything is fine. It’s also important to note that you can evoke Shriekmaw and stack the triggers so that it kills a different creature to the one sacked by Grave Pact, but you can’t do this with Mogg Fanatic. Overall, it is pretty much the same deck, with the same problems: you have a lot of creature control, so beating aggressive decks is fairly easy, but more controlling decks aren’t often threatened by lots of 1/1s. The addition of Thoughtseize helps this to some extent, but you still don’t want to get paired against any Five-Color Control decks.

For the sideboard it is well worth considering some of the devour creatures such as Tar Fiend who have synergy with the rest of the deck. Another direction you could take with this deck is to move into three colors and gain Sprouting Thrinax and Birds of Paradise. This would mean cutting back on the harder to cast cards such as Grave Pact and probably minimizing red or black. With the loss of Grave Pact you probably don’t want Goblin Assault so you end up with a very different deck. While I do love the idea of Birds of Paradise in this deck the format has probably never been more hostile towards it. Pretty much everyone has Pyroclasm or Cloudthresher main so I would be loath to include it. You also have a problem with needing green sources on turn one which having a mana base full of filter or vivid lands doesn’t provide.

For this next deck, I wanted something a bit more powerful, and so I focused on an Ultimatum. I have been a little disappointed by Cruel Ultimatum, which, while providing a lot of card advantage, doesn’t affect the board enough; it only gives you an Edict and five life. Sure, you win if you untap, but I want to wreck them now. I moved onto Violent Ultimatum, which will pretty much always sweep their board or remove their manabase. This card fits pretty well in the RG Mana Ramp shell, giving you a really powerful spell to ramp into that also happens to be utterly crushing early on in the game. The main loss this style of deck suffered was Harmonize, which I’ve tried to replace with Liliana Vess. She isn’t quite the same, but she does provide card advantage. What she allows is a number of slightly situational cards to tutor for, such as the singleton Loxodon Warhammer. This gives you a number of different win conditions, so you can get the best one for each matchup, but you are still fine randomly drawing a Broodmate Dragon as an independently powerful card. The Planeswalkers give you threats against control decks that they can’t easily remove with Wrath of God. You do have a slight problem with being threat-light, but generally the Planeswalkers can kill someone on their own, so you just need to protect them.

This could support another color, and an interesting plan would be to move into white for Realm Razer, which, again, is really powerful against control decks. Wrath of God might also be helpful if people are playing slightly larger creatures, and without Magus of the Moon in the format, adding extra color doesn’t come with much of a cost.

And now for something really crazy…

I enjoyed playing River Kelpie in Block Constructed, but the main problem was that the deck was a touch too slow. In Standard, you can run all kinds of acceleration, which works well with Raven’s Crime as it gives you an outlet for extra lands. This, however, isn’t the really crazy part, as I noticed that this deck didn’t have that many Green cards… so I decided to make this a benefit rather than a problem.

Quirion Dryad is one of those cards that never quite got there in Standard, but it has been very powerful in other formats. I just couldn’t resist the synergy between Raven’s Crime and Quirion Dryad. It is very possible that this deck would be better off with something more sensible at its heart, but it has been very powerful in the past, and at the very least it gives you a quick clock. It does have some nice synergies, like Ponder with Civic Wayfinder, which isn’t game-breaking but it helps the flow of the deck.

I hope I’ve at least provided people a few ideas for the future. People often think new formats will just be Block Constructed decks plus base set cards, and then half the time an Affinity deck gets build and we wonder how it wasn’t obvious. I don’t see anything so earth-shattering this time around, but there are plenty of powerful cards spread over a lot of colors. Given the amount of fixing, you can go pretty wild, with the only real threat being Fulminator Mage… and while he’s good, he’s still just a Stone Rain you might be able to recur. If you really expect everyone to turn up with Five-Color Control decks, then you could certainly build a deck full of stuff like Fulminator Mage, Ajani Vengeant and the like, but in all likelihood there will be a sea of aggro to start with so it is better to prepare your main deck for that and work on a sideboard plan for control. A lot of control decks now seem to spend all their time tapping out, so spells like Mind Shatter can really punish them for it.

Good luck at the StarCityGames.com $5K Standard Open this weekend, whatever you decide to play. I’ll be following the results with interest.

Stuart Wright