September means fall. Pumpkin spice is everywhere from lattes to muffins, leaves are changing, temperatures are dropping, and handeggs are being thrown. It also means a whole bunch of cards are about to be released, and even more are about to change in both value and playability.
Going into the SCG Tour® stop in Indianapolis and Week 1 Standard, the most important thing will not be to figure out which new cards are the best but which cards are sticking around and are now even better. What cards should you look for at for your first FNM in the new format? I have some thoughts, and they fit under some pretty broad headings.
General Principles of New Standard
No safe sweeper below six mana.
This could be a defining factor if it doesn’t change. With Tragic Arrogance and Languish both rotating, we have nothing in Standard that can safely wipe the battlefield for less than six mana. Radiant Flames and the new four-mana spell in Kaladesh (Incendiary Sabotage) both cap out at three damage. Planar Outburst is easily countered by Selfless Spirit and Archangel Avacyn.
Descend upon the Sinful is our answer at six mana, but below that we really only have Nahiri’s Wrath as a relatively safe way to clean up a swarm of creatures. Even then we are likely dead to one of the two powerful indestructibility effects in the format.
What does that mean? Much like we see with Bant Company right now, it means creature decks will be able to flood the battlefield with more security than before. Although there’s no Collected Company on which to use the mana you were holding up for Archangel Avacyn, the card is still a real problem for Planar Outburst.
Enchantments in general get better.
With Dromoka’s Command and Tragic Arrogance rotating, the only widely-played answer to enchantments becomes Anguished Unmaking. Although we lose Demonic Pact and Starfield of Nyx with rotation, the Oaths are still around. Always Watching already sees a lot of play, and Call the Bloodline is a personal pet card.
Stasis Snare, Quarantine Field and even Choking Restraints become viable removal again. Cryptolith Rite decks become scarier. The list of powerful enchantments that we get to keep is long and interesting, so the current lack of strong removal for them is a theme on which we should keep an eye.
Colorless mana: what’s the future?
Right now we are spoiled in that we can play spells requiring colorless mana in three-color decks with little sacrifice, thanks to the painlands. As they are about to rotate, will we see less of Reality Smasher and Thought-Knot Seer? More to the point, will we actually be able to abuse the Gearhulks with Eldrazi Displacer?
When assembling this article about the cards I expect to get better, I intentionally left out cards like Eldrazi Displacer and Bearer of Silence specifically because I think colorless mana is going to be at a premium. Two-color decks might be able to run a few lands to make it, and Evolving Wilds for Wastes is still a possibility, but there’s no question that it will be harder to include as things stand.
Collected Company leaves a hole.
Collected Company has dominated the metagame so thoroughly for so long that it is hard to tell what will step in to the vacuum it creates. We know that the cards in the Bant shell are so good in combination with each other that other creatures (especially at four mana or above) and other color combinations (Naya, particularly) just didn’t get much chance to shine. There will always be a creature-based midrange deck, but what form will it take? What cards that had been suppressed by Collected Company will now step into the limelight? Will green still be the de facto best color in Standard?
The Return of Red Aggro
Having lost more than my fair share of times to Atarka Red, I was not too sad to take a season off from having a powerful red aggressive deck in Standard. Although it doesn’t look to be as blindingly aggressive as previous iterations, Kaladesh looks like it could be pushing us towards some aggression in R/G and possibly R/W.
Specifically focusing on the R/G route, we have two solid one-drops in Kessig Prowler and Falkenrath Gorger to start us off. We might never cast another Vampire with madness, but the body is just fine on the Gorger. On the other hand, Kessig Prowler does have a relevant ability in the late-game to make it somewhat less useless. If you want a third one-drop, consider Skin Invasion. Enchanting your own creature might not be the most economical in terms of card advantage, but the payoff is solid. It also helps fuel delirium when it dies, if that’s a thing we end up caring about.
It’s more likely the deck will be on the curve-out spectrum as opposed to flooding the battlefield with one-drops, and there are a plethora of solid two-drops throwing a welcome party for Voltaic Brawler. Sylvan Advocate, Lambholt Pacifist, and Noose Constrictor are the frontrunners in my mind, but both Makindi Sliderunner and Snapping Gnarlid are still in the format.
At the three-spot, we have Lathnu Hellion and possibly Architect of the Untamed joining our old friend Tireless Tracker. This might be the spot where Hanweir Garrison finally gets a chance to shine in either the white or green version. There’s no question that the card is strong, and in a two-color deck we can happily run Hanweir Battlements as a two-of to get the meld going. I also really like Stromkirk Occultist as an option here. The few occasions I have had it in Limited, the card has felt very powerful and has won me the game. That it can be cast with madness is only a bonus.
If I build this deck, I will want to top out at four on the curve with both Arlinn Kord and Mina and Denn, Wildborn. The former has just not seen enough play for its power level, and it has the “army in a can” effect I like to have against removal-heavy decks. Not only can Arlinn bring her own army, her night-side +1 ability also helps you break ground stalls. Don’t sleep on that day-side plus ability either; a big boost plus haste and vigilance can make a big difference on an otherwise empty battlefield.
Mina and Denn, Wildborn has all sorts of synergies with this sort of deck, especially if we play Tireless Tracker and Architect of the Untamed at three. The landfall two-drops also work nicely here. As a 4/4 in its own right, the card is hardly a slouch, but untapping and giving two creatures trample without losing a land drop is potentially excellent. One thing that does potentially work against this card is that it does nothing to boost the power of the creatures it targets. As a result, we’ll want to make sure we’re running something to do just that for us.
As an aside, we should not overlook some of the powerful Wolf and Werewolf synergies we have at our disposal. Scourge Wolf, Breakneck Rider, Spirit of the Hunt, Conduit of Storms, Silverfur Partisan…these cards have never had a chance to show what they can do. With the right pump spells and a solid mix of them and Wolves, this could be a strategy worth exploring. After all, both Zada, Hedron Grinder and Mirrorwing Dragon are in the format still!
How About That Gatewatch?
When Deploy the Gatewatch was printed in Eldritch Moon, I was sure it would become a major player in Standard. We just had too many powerful planeswalkers for it to not be a deck. Although we are losing a couple of those (Narset Transcendent and Sarkhan Unbroken), their replacements are nothing short of amazing. Deploy the Gatewatch is almost definitely much better as a result, especially as we can now focus more on Naya colors to build the deck. A black splash for Sorin, Grim Nemesis and Oath of Liliana should be easy to manage, especially with Oath of Nissa in the mix.
Speaking of the Oaths, the confluence of planeswalkers being so good and enchantments being better in general should mean that we get more use out of the legendary enchantments. I am particularly excited about the improvement in Oath of Chandra, which looks like it will at a minimum trade with a turn 2 play quite often. If planeswalkers are going to see more play across the board, the second triggered ability will also help take down opposing planeswalkers. Something like turn 4 “Chandra, Torch of Defiance, +1 to make RR, cast Oath of Chandra” is a solid line of play. Oath of Gideon is also trending upwards, combo with Nissa, Vital Force aside. If Oath of Chandra’s removal ability is good, Oath of Gideon’s protection ability might be even better. Oh, and in case it comes up, we can tutor up an Oath of our choice with Thalia’s Lancers.
Naya is not the be-all, end-all of planeswalker decks, though you’re going to have to work hard to convince me not to play Chandra, Torch of Defiance. Well, maybe the combination of Tamiyo, Field Researcher and Kiora, Master of Depths can put in that work. Kiora has only really seen fringe play in the U/G Crush decks, mainly because we have not been playing mana creatures. With delirium promising to be a key player and mana creatures being possibly playable again, Kiora is worth another look. Even if we don’t end up generating mana with the creature, Kiora can untap a blocker and the mana for removal at the same time. We could also play creature-lands (hi, Lumbering Falls) and untap those. Rough life.
Kiora might even be better in tandem with Tamiyo, Field Researcher. Having used Tamiyo’s +1 to target two attackers and draw two cards, we can then untap one of them for additional card drawing on defense. Tamiyo is so strong that she worked her way into the sideboard of the Bant Company deck, so without the restrictions placed on our deckbuilding by Collected Company I would expect to see plenty of Ms. Socks with Sandals, either in the Deploy the Gatewatch decks or in Bant-colored control or midrange decks.
Back in Control
Unless you’re Shaheen Soorani, you haven’t been playing much control recently. Or rather, you haven’t been winning with control much recently. Instant-speed interaction and flash threats make it hard to rely on sorcery-speed removal and card draw, leaving traditional control in an awkward spot. B/W and Abzan both put forward respectable efforts as control decks late in the season, but the only real counterspells were Spell Queller and the Negates out of many Bant sideboards.
If the counterspell is back, we might well see a resurgence of Scatter to the Winds. Cancel is never going to be good enough, but a Cancel that can also make a threat for you is significantly better. We’ve barely seen any blue cards previewed thus far, and we’d be naive to think that there will be no love for this strategy. Ceremonious Rejection alone is enough to make me think blue decks are going to be happy with this set.
Two cards I really hope to see in our hypothetical blue control build are Fathom Feeder and Sire of Stagnation. While the former does an excellent job of holding down the ground and occasionally drawing us a card, the latter can simply end games, especially in control mirrors. Although U/B currently lacks any meaningful mass removal, these two do such a great job of anchoring each end of the curve that they should find a home somewhere.
Of course if we’re going to play control, we need a finisher. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better candidate for that job than the nearly-forgotten Sphinx of the Final Word. If you untap with this card (and let’s face it, you probably will) I cannot imagine you will lose the game very often. The only thing missing is a built-in way to draw you cards, but let’s not get too greedy.
Not feeling the Sphinx? Can I perhaps interest you in a Docent of Perfection, then? With cards like Take Inventory in the format, it shouldn’t be difficult to flip it and start actually winning the game in short order. Adding a chump blocker to each removal spell can also help you catch up from behind, a position that is all too familiar for control decks.
Life on the Grind
Okay, let’s be honest. Really, we want to just sit there for multiple turns and grind out value. Who doesn’t love value? One of the first things I want to do is build around Aetherflux Reservoir, and that likely means I am once again sleeving up my old friend Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim. Gaining life might not be a great strategy on its own, but when we have a payoff and that lifegain is attached to a solid body, I am even happier to play it. Ayli fills a similar role to Fathom Feeder in the early-game and then gives us a way to quickly pad our life total in the late-game.
All these artifacts tell me that delirium could be even easier to obtain than before. Whereas right now we almost need to be building a deck around getting to four card types, the prevalence of artifacts in Kaladesh will make it easier to hit incidentally. That likely means that Ishkanah, Grafwidow gets even better. Although universally accepted as powerful, she has yet to dominate. I think that could be about to change. That you can sacrifice her for a hefty chunk of life with Ayli is not to be sniffed at. I am picturing an Abzan Legends deck with Thalia’s Lancer to tutor Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim; Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet; Ishkanah, Grafwidow; Gisela, the Broken Blade; Bruna, the Fading Light; Gonti, Lord of Luxury; and maybe even Aetherworks Marvel and some Oaths to go along with removal and the aformentioned Aetherflux Reservoir.
Harness the Storm has to be breakable. I saw someone play it in a 36-pack Two-Headed Giant Sealed event with a slew of Galvanic Bombardment and Take Inventory. It was both impressive and decidedly unfair. Cheap spells, Fevered Visions, Harmess the Storm, and maybe Metallurgic Summonings? I’m in.
Heron’s Grace Champion has a lot going for it. Solid body? Check. Enters-the-battlefield effect? Check. Relevant creature type? Check. Conveniently costing the same as Collected Company has, until now, been anything but convenient. Come rotation, though, we could well see that change. Do not sleep on this card. Besides, the Game Day promo is gorgeous.
If delirium is going to be better, will Whispers of Emrakul become a hated card in the format? Can we get to delirium quickly enough that the effect is still powerful?
Poor Drana, Liberator of Malakir. She’s still just not quite good enough. For that matter, neither is Olivia, Mobilized for War. What is it with me and an irrational love for Mardu-colored female legends?
Ever After is far, far too good to be unplayed in any deck. We may be losing the explosive potential of Dragonlord Kolaghan as a target, but we are gaining those lovely Gearhulks. There’s also Angel of Deliverance, a card with an absolutely absurd text box.
That’s all we have this week, folks. As always, thanks for stopping by the LAB. Next week I hope to take a long look at the full list of the set and talk about some of the initial ideas I am looking at. Spoiler: one will be Naya Walkers. Until next time…Brew On!