The new Standard format is shaping up to be completely and utterly awesome. I’m excited for every morning when I get to see the new spoilers, and I think that Theros will be one of the coolest sets released in the last few years.
If you haven’t noticed yet, they are lowering the power level of the format, which I consider a good thing. Creatures are getting a bit of a downgrade, but it isn’t like they’re upping the strength of the spells, so we’ll have a much more flexible range to build decks. At the moment, no card released thus far seems to invalidate any other kind of strategy, and many of them have their own unique flavor. To boot, many of them scream to have a deck built around them!
So that’s exactly what I’m going to do today!
Blue Is "Back"
With the rotation of Cavern of Souls as well as the decreased power level of the overall format, I think blue decks are going to come back in a big way. That isn’t to say that they’ll be dominant but that they’ll actually exist. While Cavern of Souls wasn’t the biggest offender in keeping blue decks down, I think that many of the threats in the format were just too diverse and too powerful for the blue mage to compete.
Even with the existence of Sphinx’s Revelation, we were in trouble. We needed to have the exact answer at the exact right time in order to keep up, and that is just a losing prospect when you’re a control deck. A world where you lose when you stumble even just a little bit is a world that I didn’t want to live in, and I’m reveling in the fact that I get to play counterspells again.
While we’re losing many of the elements that make control playable, we’re getting some new goodies to work with. Take a peek!
This is the Cancel I’ve always wanted! While it doesn’t look incredibly powerful on the surface, I can assure you that this card will see a ton of play. The ability to dig for Supreme Verdict, Sphinx’s Revelation, or even just an Azorius Charm is awesome, but when you attach a counterspell to it, things get really interesting.
While Cancel was never exciting, they have really done their best to tack on extra abilities over the years to entice us to keep playing variants of the spell. I was happy with Dissipate. I was reasonably happy with Counterflux, though it is a bit harder to cast. But I love Dissolve. I don’t think it will be format defining, but it will be a linchpin for blue-based decks for the next few months at the very least. Along with some pretty sweet spells from Return to Ravnica block, hopefully we can build a sweet control deck!
While this deck might have trouble dealing with a swarm of creatures if it doesn’t draw Supreme Verdict, it has a lot of ways to fight off nut draws from most decks. The mana base is also a bit shaky since you have to play UU and WW spells and we don’t have access to the U/W scry land just yet. That aside, this deck could be the best control deck the format has to offer.
I can see where Voice of Resurgence could be a huge problem, and it’s definitely something I will be looking into fixing over the next few days of testing. Omenspeaker can keep half of it in check for the early turns of the game, but losing the ability to play too many spells on your opponent’s turn will hinder your plan significantly.
Having all of these planeswalkers will make you feel sort of like a tapout deck in the midgame, but you need all of those counterspells to be able to get to that point. Jace, Architect of Thought and Elspeth, Sun’s Champion are both fantastic at generating small advantages against control and aggressive strategies, making it relatively safe to tap out on those turns with very little in the way of repercussions. I also like having more ways to actually win the game, as the current U/W decks in Standard have just a singleton Aetherling and some Restoration Angels.
No me gusta.
Next up we have one of my favorite cards from the set! Prophet of Kruphix is like some awesome combination of Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir and Seedborn Muse, allowing you to play creatures on both players’ turns while generating a ton of extra mana to do whatever you want to do! Take a look:
This guy has me thinking about some pretty nasty things with Prime Speaker Zegana, but I’m not even sure that is the best shell for it. Of course, you want to draw cards and use all of the extra mana that Prophet gives you access to, but playing planeswalkers and protecting them with the mana you get to untap can’t be a bad thing!
Prophet of Kruphix gives us multiple abilities that benefit tapout control as long as you can actually do something with all that extra mana. Luckily, green is a color that is ripe with creatures.
Burnin’ Down The House
Other than blue decks getting a bit of breathing room, the rest of the colors are getting some nice toys as well. While many of the current staples of aggressive decks are rotating, all is not lost. I wrote about a few cool decks last week, including a Mono-Red Aggro deck featuring Forge[/author]“]Purphoros, God of the [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author].
Along with Boros Reckoner, Ash Zealot, and Burning-Tree Emissary, it won’t be hard for aggressive decks to up your devotion so that Purphoros can actually attack/block. One of the coolest things about this style of deck is that it features creatures that are very good at doing both of these things. That is one of the reasons for the success of Joseph Herrera in Baltimore just a few weeks ago with his Big Red deck. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the early brews for Purphoros are just red decks going bigger.
Brian Braun-Duin recently wrote an article and did a Versus video with such a deck, and his take was pretty awesome. His theory was that Assemble the Legion could be bonkers with Purphoros, abusing his "enters the battlefield" ability while still providing a point of devotion to make him a creature. Just imagine a swarm of Soldiers, all triggering Purphoros and allowing his +1/+0 ability to become very relevant.
With these things in mind as well as some of the newly spoiled cards from Theros, it got my juices flowing. While originally created by BBD, here is my take on W/R Tokens.
I chose not to splash black, which I think will make the deck more consistent. You have so many cards that are tough for control decks to deal with, and they only have so many counterspells and Detention Spheres. Rakdos’s Return is a nice card against Sphinx’s Revelation decks, but you don’t really have a way to ramp into it profitably so I don’t think it will actually be all that good. One of the greatest strengths of Rakdos’s Return at the moment is that you can use Farseek and potentially Rakdos Keyrune to amplify its effect, but I’m not sure the card is worth splashing for when you can’t make it hurt.
The different synergies in the deck make me like it a lot. And I mean really like it. This isn’t your average burn deck, nor is it your average midrange deck. Instead, it can take either role in a pinch and usually turn the tide in its favor accordingly.
With so much removal at hand, you can kill just about any creature the opponent will throw at you. Since Thundermaw Hellkite is leaving the format, Mizzium Mortars should kill virtually anything put in your way. And hey, remember how Searing Spear was rotating? Let’s give it a hearty welcome back with Lightning Strike in Theros!
My favorite part about the deck is the interaction with Purphoros. You can use Young Pyromancer to generate a ton of tokens while either killing creatures or doming your opponent, all while dealing an extra two damage per trigger. Since you are playing a red deck, it isn’t that hard to turn all of your removal into weapons for picking apart your opponent’s life total.
Along with Young Pyromancer, we have two other gigantic permanents to generate a massive swarm of tokens. Both Elspeth, Sun’s Champion and Assemble the Legion are incredibly important for beating up on control opponents and can give you valuable blockers against an aggressive deck. They both trigger Purphoros, dealing damage in massive doses to the opponent, all while gaining the advantage of his activated ability.
Aside from all the token generators, we have a few other creatures in the deck that pose reasonable bodies for the opponent to deal with while giving Purphoros some much-needed devotion. The rest of your deck isn’t really designed to take advantage of his ability to become a creature, but just a few early threats and Purphoros comes online rather easily.
The biggest boon for this deck is that it has a dual land on cycle in the first set. Temple of Triumph will help filter the top card of your deck in the early turns of the game, making it easier for you to hit land drops or draw into more action. The fact that you also have access to a potential twelve dual lands makes casting all of your spells a cinch, though I trimmed a Boros Guildgate to cut down on the frequency of drawing too many lands that come into play tapped.
Since we have access to Magma Jet again, I’m going to give it another go. I’m not sure if it will be strong enough to kill creatures that matter, but it will trigger Young Pyromancer and allow you to dig through your deck pretty rapidly to find whatever it is that you need. You can be sure that the damage from all of your burn and Purphoros will add up quickly regardless of what archetype you are playing against.
While Chandra, Pyromaster might end up getting some maindeck love, I think she is one of the best cards you can have against a control deck at the moment. She is there mostly to have something awesome to sideboard into when Mizzium Mortars is a dead card. If the aggressive decks end up being full of X/1 creatures, then we’ll reconsider her for the A team.
Once You Go Black
Last week I touched on Thoughtseize and the potential strengths of black decks in new Standard, and today I got a spoiler that gives me even more hope!
No, I’m not going to be targeting it very often. And no, I don’t care about its heroic ability in the slightest. What I do care about is having another creature that has two power for one mana alongside Rakdos Cackler, making for some incredible speed in such a slow environment. While I’m not sure about the rest of the curve, I do know that I’m going to be casting Tormented Hero on turn 1 a lot in the new Standard format. It isn’t all that exciting by itself, but what it represents makes me very happy.
In the last week we’ve also seen this sweet Hades imitation:
Probably sitting comfortably at the top of your curve, I imagine Erebos will be the bane of existence for every wannabe GerryT casting Sphinx’s Revelation. His ability to spend life to draw cards might not seem all that good, but just imagine flooding out with an aggressive deck and think about how much life and mana you would spend to draw some threats. I think the price is pretty steep but definitely fair. Especially fair when considering it comes with a 6/5 indestructible body attached to it.
Well, I never! In that I never thought I would get such an easy, clean way to deal with a planeswalker! To be fair, we have Dreadbore already, but that is two different colors of mana. I would much rather have more monocolored answers when we are losing access to a ton of mana fixing. While Hero’s Downfall is a little expensive for killing creatures, as Murder saw very little Constructed play, it does have flexibility. When facing down Jace, Architect of Thought with an aggro deck, you’ll want to kill it immediately. This is the answer.
While mono-black does have some advantages, I feel like there is very little reason not to splash something. When all of your lands can tap for black and you get access to some sweet hosers like Blood Baron of Vizkopa, I think white might be the appropriate splash color here.
- 3 Rakdos Shred-Freak
- 4 Rakdos Cackler
- 4 Blood Scrivener
- 4 Lifebane Zombie
- 4 Xathrid Necromancer
- 4 Erebos, God of the Dead
- 4 Tormented Hero
I think maybe Evan Erwin got pied in the face a little too soon! I’m convinced Blood Scrivener will see play, and I think it will also be very good. With so few ways to gain actual card advantage in the format, especially in an aggressive deck, his ability is like a breath of fresh (or rotten) air! You get to draw cards for free just by emptying your hand, and his body isn’t so bad to boot!
I’m not sold on Xathrid Necromancer being the right man for the job and it’s possible that even something like Dead Reveler might be an upgrade, but you will want the virtual card advantage against any deck playing Supreme Verdict or potentially in defensive battles against aggressive decks. It has already proven itself alongside Cartel Aristocrat in our current Standard format, but without playing more Humans it’s unclear whether it’s good enough to make the cut in such an obviously aggressive strategy.
Rakdos Shred-Freak suffers from "not so great in previous Standard" syndrome, but I think it has a home here. Along with his double black devotion to Erebos, it allows for some startlingly fast starts alongside Rakdos Cackler and Tormented Hero. It isn’t a creature I have set in stone and I will replace it if something better comes along, but I’m thinking it just might work out!
Lifebane Zombie and Thoughtseize are some of the strongest cards in the deck, giving you powerful ways to disrupt your opponent at an efficient rate. With the rotation of Restoration Angel, Lifebane might miss a little more often than it does now, but it is so strong against any sort of green or white midrange deck that I find it hard not to include it. Its stats are impressive even without the ability attached, as intimidate is a very underrated aspect of what it brings to the table. Thoughtseize is going to be a hit, especially in aggressive decks. Trust me.
The addition of Temple of Silence can also help smooth out some of your draws, but it comes with a price. The land coming into play tapped could hinder development in the early turns of the game, but the upside seems well worth it. Blood Baron is such a house, and he will be one of your biggest trump cards in any sort of mirror match. The freebie splash on Profit // Loss also feels like a no-brainer and should help in scenarios where your opponent is trying to do something similar to the W/R Token deck listed above.
May The Gods Have Mercy
I am looking forward to playing a lot with Theros in our Versus videos over the next few weeks, so be sure to check those out. I’m not sure which brew I’ll put on the chopping block first, but all of them look like a blast. I’m especially happy with the black deck, but we’ll see just how powerful it is next week!
With current Standard wrapping up at the SCG Open in Atlanta this weekend, I can’t tell you how happy I’m going to be once I get my hands on Theros. The thematic elements of the set are outstanding, the cards themselves seem very good, and the prospect of playing a "powered down" Standard after getting monkey-smashed for the last six months is fantastic. I’m a proponent of having formats that are diverse, but the current Standard is just full of bombastic fatties that promote winning at the cost of synergy and clever design. I’m all for having a few cards that end the game on the spot, but having a format full of them is a little disheartening at times.
There will be some ups and downs over the next year as we flesh out the entire Theros block, but I have always been intrigued by Greek mythology, so this set has my attention. I’m just hoping every match of Magic with the new set feels like watching Hercules on repeat.
But at the very least, I’m looking forward to not losing every single time I mulligan to five.
Thanks for reading.