Innovations – Block Decks Shaping The Future Of Standard

Patrick Chapin “The Innovator” covers all the archetypes from the Block Constructed Pro Tour in Nagoya. How do these decks reflect the future of Standard?

Block Constructed Pro Tours are always exciting to break down, as the decks are so different from the Standard decks of the past but are
excellent glimpses of Standard decks of the future. Pro Tour Nagoya was last weekend, and today we’re going to take a look at the major players in the
Scars Block metagame. From Affinity to Jund, Rebels to RUG, Block Constructed can reveal much to us about where Standard is going.

Let’s start by taking a look at the format as a whole. This table lists the archetypes with at least five pilots, ranked in order of their success
rate. The success rate is what percentage of players playing this strategy made Day Two. Because there is a draft portion, this is certainly not a pure
indicator of how well each deck did on Day One. Additionally, it does not measure win/loss percentages, especially relevant considering it does not
measure Day Two performance at all. As always, I am indebted to Rashad Miller and Paul Jordan for their work compiling some of data used, here, and
look forward to Paul Jordan analysis that is sure to come shortly (hopefully giving us better insight into the win/loss records of each archetype).

While 36% of the field made Day Two, I don’t think that is the right place to draw the line for what makes a “successful” deck. After all, 54% of decks
have success rates above that (a function of the bad decks being more bad than the good decks are good). I think the most natural way to split up the
tiers in this format is actually into fewer categories than many other formats. Decks with greater than a 40% are listed as tier 1. Decks with
less than 33% success rates are listed as tier 2. Those in between are the thin tier 1.5.


Success Rate

% of Field







U/W Control



Tempered Steel



Big White



B/R Removal



Big Red



Grand Architect






Esper Control



Birthing Pod



R/G Midrange






U/B Control







36% (132)

100% (364)


Tier 1 Bant, Puresteel, U/W Control, Tempered Steel, Big White, B/R Removal, Big Red

Tier 1.5 Grand Architect, Tezzeret

Tier 2 Esper Control, Birthing Pod, R/G Midrange, Infect, U/B Control

Before we get into each specific deck, let’s look at one more aspect of the metagame as a whole. When I see that list of decks, I can’t help but notice
how similar in strategy many of them are. In fact, 82% of the decks listed fall under one of three categories: White Aggro, Koth, and Consecrated
Sphinx. Here is a look at the metagame from the perspective of those three macro-archetypes.



% of Field

White Aggro













It is important to note that this does mean that White Aggro is better than Koth or Sphinx-based strategies. Consecrated Sphinx is a control card, and
it is very common for control decks to be built wrong. For instance, we can’t even count how many times 5CControl was one of the best decks in
Standard, with a particular version putting up just about the best numbers for the format. However, five-color decks as a whole would often have
unexciting win/loss records on account of lots of bad versions. Still, if there is one thing we see from this chart, it is the importance of beating
White Aggro, the popularity of Koth decks, and the need to test against some amount of Sphinx decks. Whatever your gauntlet in this format, it should
have each of these three categories covered.

First up, we have the Bant midrange decks that, despite a light countermagic suite, are very much from the tap-out school of deckbuilding. Michael
Jacob made Day Two with a similar list, and this is the archetype I would have played at the PT, with the information I had. The Wellspring engine has
not been seen in Standard yet, but its time is coming. If it seems a bit slow, compare it to Think Twice. Yes, it is a bit more restrictive, since you
have to spend the mana for the Wellsprings themselves main phase; however, the life gain from Phyrexia’s Core often turns out to be more relevant than
you’d think, and in a tap-out style of play, you don’t mind the sorcery speed as much as you appreciate having access to 6-8 “Think Twice.”

Another nice feature of the Wellsprings is their ability to let you cash in your Beast Within. Beast Within is a very powerful card, no question. Every
time you hit a Koth, a Tezzeret, a Consecrated Sphinx, a Tempered Steel, whatever, you end up with a much smaller problem to deal with (the Beast).
However, not every problem is best solved by turning it into a Beast. Sometimes your opponent is attacking you with multiple creatures, all of which
are smaller than a Beast. Other times, you have too many reactive cards and need to actually do something proactive. Beast Within combines
exceptionally with the Wellsprings, in these instances.

The value of curving turn-two Wellspring into turn-three Beast Within is easy to see, making Elephant Ambush another trick have access to. This play
works just fine later, particularly when you are holding up UUG (representing Stoic Rebuttal). If it sounds somewhat mild to be making a 3/3 flash
creature for 2G, remember that this is just another option. Beast Within is so strong because the options it gives you are so versatile and varied.
Which would be better?

Doom Blade   1B
Destroy target non-black creature


Doom Feast or Doom Famine 1B
Choose one- Destroy target non-black creature or put a 2/2 black Zombie token onto the battlefield.

More options are better…

Beast Within also works quite well with Viridian Emissary. While Viridian Emissary is a great card—providing a clock, attacking planeswalkers,
defending the ground, and more—sometimes you just want a Rampant Growth. This format has almost no mana acceleration, so the possibility of
opening up with turn 2 Emissary, turn 3 Beast Within, untap, and draw Elspeth is just incredible against control and midrange decks. Against red decks,
the possibility of getting Consecrated Sphinx online a turn earlier to both block and start drawing extra cards is just awesome. Against White Aggro,
you generally aren’t going to make this play; however it is nice to be able to surprise people with a Sunblast Angel a turn before they thought

Being able to drop Karn Liberated a turn earlier is also pretty game. Sometimes you are able to drop Karn first, then hit an opponent’s land, ensuring
they can’t play their Karn to legend rule yours. Usually though, you’ll either be on Spine of Ish Nah duty (going after their best permanent) or start
to Scepter them immediately (and ensuring that attacking won’t be the source of Karn’s demise). We have already been seeing a little bit of Karn in
Standard, but once the Caw-Blade menace is gone, that play will increase. Zendikar is keeping Standard very fast, and I would be surprised if Innistrad
is actually a little slower than the set with Steppe Lynx, Plated Geopede, Vampire Lacerator, Goblin Guide, Arbor Elves, and more.

Consecrated Sphinx is one of the big takeaways from this deck and many others in this format. Already making an impact in Standard, it is so strong
that it doesn’t even need to wait for Caw-Blade to rotate to see more play. Yes, you can use it in Caw-Blade; however it is also one of the
best choices for Twin, U/B Control, U/G/x, and more. It doesn’t beat spot removal as well as Titans do; however it totally takes over a game very
quickly, has the advantage of flying, and pays huge dividends if it lasts just one turn (even just making it to your opponent’s main phase). Besides,
with Dismember on the rise and its huge toughness against burn, it really doesn’t die to all that much.

A narrow, hard hoser for aggro, Marrow Shards is a totally sweet card. Still, most people think that its use was just a function of how popular the
various White Aggro decks were, saying it is for Block, not Standard. Remember Kuldotha Red? Could you imagine a better sideboard for non-red decks?
You don’t even need to be playing white! The fact that you can threaten to do it all the time, no matter what land you have in play, no matter
how tapped out you may be, is just huge. Sandstorm is really not that bad of a card, and the ability to play it for free pushes it well into
Constructed. It’s generally going to be a sideboard card, but we will see more of this card, particularly once the defining creature of the format is
not a 1/2 for two. If you are having trouble with fast creature swarms, I highly recommend giving this trick a try.

Pistus Strike is basically just a function of the lack of options in the format. You really do need answers to other people’s Consecrated Sphinx in
this format, so Pistus Strike is actually the best option a deck these colors can have (once it has four Beast Within). Plummet is a much better option
in Standard, if you are ever in the market for such a thing.

The biggest lesson we can learn from this strategy is the value of Consecrated Sphinx. If you just take 75 good cards that include some Consecrated
Sphinxes, that is a legitimate plan. Play whatever colors you want, but if you can trade with your opponent on each of the first few turns, a Sphinx
can easily just win the whole thing for you.

Pat Cox also Top 8ed the Pro Tour with this Mark Herberholz concoction. Two copies in the Top 8? Not bad! For a more in-depth breakdown from the deck’s
designer himself, check this out. The one-time best
player in America, Heezy is finally up for the Hall of Fame this year and still influencing the metagame.

Tempered Steel may have gotten more hype, but Puresteel Paladin aggro decks are generally a bit more durable and less crippled by artifact hate. While
Puresteel Paladin is absolutely incredible in these sorts of decks, they are not all-in on him and play just fine when you don’t draw him. Still, the
ability to draw a couple extra cards for essentially no cost, as well as the ability to move Equipment around for free, is awesome. We have all had the
experience of having too much Equipment in play. Puresteel Paladin solves that problem entirely, often producing eight or more mana worth of value
every turn. One amusing way to take advantage of this is to close out a game with Mortarpod. Once you have achieved metalcraft, you can rapid-fire the
Mortarpod and threaten to sacrifice all your guys Goblin Bombardment style.

The living weapon creatures are particularly cute with Paladin, as they let you have guys to carry the gear, but still draw the extra cards with
Paladin, and you can overcome the problem of too much Equipment and not enough mana with his ability. One of the best openings these decks are capable
of is the turn 1 Flayer Husk plus Memnite, turn 2 Puresteel Paladin, turn 3 Sword of War and Peace (equip immediately and attack!). I would really keep
an eye on these sorts of decks, particularly if Stoneforge Mystic is still legal after next week.

This deck is really just the same deck as the Bant deck already discussed. Consecrated Sphinx plus a bunch of good cards in a reasonable mana curve,
and call it a day. Here, we are trading the Beast Within, Viridian Emissary, some artifact hate, and sideboarded Thruns for more consistent mana. Not a
lot more needs to be broken down, as we are once against just trying to trade cards with people until we can take over a game with Sphinx; though I
would like to call attention to the four Heroes of Bladehold in the sideboard. This is a sideboard play I think we’ll see more of in the future, as it
really helps punish people that sideboard out some of their creature kill against you.

The default “best deck,” Tempered Steel, did perform well at this event (though not as well as Puresteel Paladin). White Weenie decks that are
known to be strong going into a Pro Tour tend to not do well; however this is not the first exception (Masque Block Rebels). While Elie Pichon’s list
is more “traditional” (and all in), I am much more impressed with LSV’s, which is designed to have more staying power. The theory is that you don’t
need to maximize the nut draws, since they are already so powerful. You will generally win when you curve out perfectly with a Tempered Steel. So,
while others played more 1/1s for one and 2/1s for two, LSV utilized Blade Splicer, Hero of Bladehold, and Origin Spellbomb to provide more bodies,
card economy, and durability.  

Tempered Steel is such a powerful card that you don’t actually need it to be powering up all your guys for it to be worth it. Pichon’s deck is more in
line with the Hawkward Standard decks, and using it for ideas to update the archetype is fine, but I am more interested in the robust nature of Luis’s
build (which can also be ported to Standard).

Looking briefly at the sideboard spice, it is interesting to consider Indomitable Archangel. While its ability is not irrelevant, it would be best to
remember that it is sideboarded primarily for its body. A 4/4 flier for four is a solid deal, and when you anticipate everyone bringing in lots of
artifact hate against you, having access to more non-artifact threats is great. Mutagenic Growth is a sweet trick that can be brought in to gain tempo
against people, as well as save your guys from burn or combat. This is not the last we will see of the Mutagenic Growth with no green mana plan (though
we ought to remember the Mox Opal backdoor).

Here we see a deck that continues the direction of LSV’s list, giving up the Tempered Steel plan and just playing powerful white midrange cards. In
this format with little ramp, it is kind of sweet to consistently start making big plays a turn earlier. Instant-speed threats (White Sun’s Zenith),
sweepers (Sunblast Angel), planeswalkers (Elspeth Tirel), early must-kill creatures (Hero of Bladehold), and game dominating victory conditions (Elesh
Norn, Grand Cenobite) ensure a wide variety of powerful and proactive sources of advantage. You may not be able to solve every problem with Mono-W
Control, but sometimes all you need to do is just keep playing awesome fours, fives, sixes, and sevens, eventually overpowering your opponent.

This is another strategy that I would give a serious look, if Stoneforge Mystic somehow survives June 20, as Stoneforge Mystic would be a perfect fit.*
Standard has plenty of other big white effects to consider as well, which is good because the format is so different that you will want a different
suit of bombs.

*Article was written before June 20.

These two decks are really just the same deck, with the only functional difference being the presence of a light black splash. While everyone is
familiar with Red Deck Wins and Goblins, and many have experience with Ponza, this deck is actually the modern incarnation of Kuroda Red (not to be
confused with Kuldotha Red, despite the Kuldotha Rebirths).

Kuroda Red decks have relatively few creatures that are often selected for their ability to either help play a control game, or go on the offensive and
get a little damage in so that it takes fewer burn spells to finish someone off. Unlike a Lava Spike deck, you are generally looking to use your burn
on your opponent’s creatures, in a control role. The time you buy yourself can be leveraged into an advantage with Koth of the Hammer or Kuldotha
Phoenix, eventually ending with whatever burn you can scrape together. Using this much burn lets you have more creature removal than almost anyone
else; though against a creature-less opponent (or near creature-less), you can turn all your action towards their dome. When your burn consists of
Artillerize, Red Sun’s Zenith, and Shrine of Burning Rage, sometimes you just need four burn spells to beat someone (rather than the usual 6-7).

Volt Charge is particularly sweet in these sorts of decks. Not only does it serve as a fine removal spell that can help power up Sphere of the Suns, it
has some cute interactions with Shrine of Burning Rage (it’s like it deals five) or Ratchet Bomb (turn 2 Bomb, turn 3 Volt Charge lets you take out a
two-drop immediately). The most glamorous line, however, is the turn 3 Koth (with Sphere), followed by the turn 4 Volt Charge to ultimate Koth
immediately. This is a very dangerous option, since so many people just can’t beat a Koth ultimate, ever. This line of play is so good, in fact, that
we can use Tezzeret’s Gambit in the sideboard to increase its chances. Additionally, when you don’t have access to the added card economy of black, the
ability to board in some draw-twos is much appreciated.

Moving on now to the tier 1.5 decks, these strategies are not quite as inherently powerful as those of tier 1, but they did gain an advantage from
players not knowing how to play against them.

Kenny Oberg, of “Tezzerator” fame, sure loves his midrange blue artifact decks. Here, we see an interesting combination of Birthing Pod, Grand
Architect, and Kuldotha Forgemaster looking to just start powering out boom-booms as fast as possible. While it is easy to go nuts with Birthing Pod
decklists and play a million one-ofs, Oberg has stayed disciplined, figuring that he really just wants to find Grand Architects and Forgemasters for
the most part.

A really sweet play to remember is that you can play your Birthing Pod and immediately sacrifice a Treasure Mage (or Grand Architect) to go get
Phyrexian Metamorph and make a copy of your Birthing Pod. If you are relying on Birthing Pod for advantage in this game, this gives you a reliable way
to combat opponents with artifact removal.

Entomber Exarch is another interesting option, since Kenny can’t even cast it or shuffle it back. It is well-known as a great Birthing Pod target, but
this just goes to show the sorts of technology one can come up with, if they aren’t hindered by preconceived notions (like needing to actually be able
to cast all your spells).

Overall, I think this build, like Oberg’s Tezzerator list from PT Berlin, benefited greatly from surprise value and will not likely gain widespread
adoption (though surely Kenny would continue to win with it).

These two builds show the spectrum of Tezzeret decks in Block, ranging from two-color and consistent to four-color pushing the boundaries. Hall of
Famer Tsuyoshi Fujita is a man after my own heart. As crazy and elaborate as his deck seems, it is really just another Consecrated Sphinx deck. Most of
the cards are reactive, looking to buy you time to take over a game with one of your big threats. Tezzeret forces you to solve some problems with more
restrictive cards (like Tumble Magnet, Ratchet Bomb, and Gremlin Mine), but the payoff is that you get to play four copies of Tezzeret (a pretty good
card, I’ve heard).

While tactical possibilities are rich, strategically, these decks are very straightforward. Trade as much as you can and gain an advantage from one of
your eight “good cards.” While your bombs can win on their own very easily , there is an awful lot of card advantage found throughout both lists. Scrapmelter, Trinket Mage, Treasure Mage, Wellsprings,
Horizon Spellbomb, Karn Liberated, and more all ensure a variety of ways to try to make up for playing over half mana.

Remember, it takes a lot of mana to power decks like this, and when you are facing an opponent with only 21-25 mana, it is like they have implied card
advantage out of the gate. They have about one more business card every seven or eight cards. That means you need to get ahead by a card just to catch
up with their opening hand and then get ahead another card in the first several turns for parity.

This is why it is so important to play the Wellspring engine and use some answers that can give you two-for-ones. This is also another reason manlands
and other utility lands are so good. If you can trade one of your lands for one of your opponent’s business cards later, it is as though you just made
up a card. Playing more mana does let us play more powerful spells, but it is not without a price.

Infect strategies performed quite poorly at the PT, primarily as a result of the widespread adoption of Dismember, as well as the lack of quality New
Phyrexia updates. This list just plays some guys, clears the path, and doesn’t really do anything fancy. I highly recommend avoiding this strategy,
which serves as a good reminder that it is important to avoid just copying decklists that Top 8 events. Gaudenis did go 8-1-1 with the list, but I
would consider him to have run well above expectation for the strategy. Still, this is not all doom and gloom. If you play some sort of black infect
strategy in Standard, there are a lot of good ideas here that can be explored. Mutagenic Growth, Virulent Wound, Piston Sledge, Whispering Specter, and
Gitaxian Probe all give us plenty of food for thought.

This final list was not a major archetype at all. In fact, Toshiyuki was the only pilot. However, since 100% of the pilots made Top 8 of the Pro Tour
with it, it deserves a closer look! This is not all that far from the Big Red decks discussed above; however Toshiyuki took a more aggressive approach
in a format where most red mages were going the exact opposite direction. Keeping opponents off balance can go a long way towards making up for slight
decreases in card quality.

The interesting part about this deck is that it helps showcase the possibility of using Kuldotha Rebirth for value. The all-in Kuldotha Red decks using
Memnites and Mox Opals to power out turn 1 Rebirths obviously make great use of the card; however just Rebirthing on turn 3 (sacrificing a Wellspring)
is just great value (especially if you play both of those cards as a follow-up to a turn 2 Wardriver). Between the Wellsprings and the Panic Spellbomb,
it is easy to consistently turn Kuldotha Rebirth into better than a 3/3 worth of bodies for one mana. Any possible port to Standard would look much
different; however I think we will be seeing more Rebirth for value in the year to come.

I hope you enjoyed this journey into Block Constructed. Even though it is not going to be a major format this year, the technology we can unearth can
be very useful for helping pioneer the Standard decks of tomorrow. What will the Standard of tomorrow look like? That all depends on what, if anything
happens June 20. Either WotC does something or they don’t. See you next week!

Patrick Chapin
“The Innovator”

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