Dark Ascension previews are in the full swing, so my article is guaranteed to be outdated by the time it will see the light of day (“The light of day?” I’d rather use “never-ending nightmare”). But nothing can stop a graphomaniac from writing (OK, Mr. Sadin can), so I’m going to work with the available information and provide new ideas to my readers. I will concentrate on Standard because it’s really interesting and because everybody is writing about Modern now. I hope you have a solid choice for PTQs, and I wish you good luck, but now it’s time to look into another direction and to imagine.
Everybody is looking at the new cards, but I look mostly at the old ones. No, not as old as the namesake of this article. Malevolent Awakening would be at home in Innistrad’s horror world, but I’m going to speak about things like Stoneforge Mystic and Sword of Feast and Famine, which were set apart by a full year (Splinter Twin and Deceiver Exarch too, etc., etc.). Sleepers gonna sle… okay, attempt failed, but anyway existing cards should be getting much more attention than they usually do: you’d better look at the old spoilers before trying to find a place in Constructed for another Limited-only common Gray Ogre. The mechanics of Scars block and Innistrad are very different, so there are more chances to see Innistrad Block Constructed decks in Standard, but older cards are not to be underestimated.
… And Tempered Steel has already proven that at Worlds. The metagame probably made a full circle: U/W Delver is not Illusions, but it’s the very same powerful 3/2 on turn-2 or, as I usually name him, “this piece of … paper… never flips.” Both important tournaments of last weekend (GP Orlando and SCG Open: LA) were invaded by Delver of Secrets decks, and not without reason. “With the PT coming up, if anyone had anything amazing, they wouldn’t play it,” said Conley Woods, and he is probably right. But I’ll be very upset if we are not be paid by amazing new decks (using amazing new cards) at the Pro Tour.
My buddy just said that he played against four U/W Delver decks in a Daily Event. “I didn’t see anything like this even in the times of Caw-Blade.” Imagine: you’ve just woken up with a scream because you saw a nightmare where you were eaten alive by the Devouring Swarm of flies. This is how any card from M12 or Scars Block sees Standard. What will you need? Yes, a good flyswatter.
So, if you’re planning to play Standard tomorrow (like my friends in Moscow: SCG Invitational Qualifier is coming!), it’s time to look back at Worlds tech and to find a secure solution. I do not mean “play Tempered Steel,” I mean “I always loved mana ramp, and it’s time to sleeve it again.” Mono Red is another possible solution (that was proven by Daniel Choi’s win in the City of Angels), but I really prefer Wolf Run Ramp. You should also note the finals of GP Orlando, where Chapin’s slightly upgraded deck from Worlds fought against Conley, who decided to handicap himself by exchanging cheap (read: “good”) red removal, like that in Iyanaga’s Worlds winning list, with expensive (read “bad”) black removal. Conley is Conley, but just don’t try it at home: Galvanic Blast does the same things as Go for the Throat, but for one mana instead of two. Lastly, four Galvanic Blasts were enough to win the game out of nowhere in the finals of Worlds, while four Doom Blades are unlikely to do so.
A “secure solution” also does not mean “stupid netdecking.” Osyp Lebedowicz did not make day 2 at Orlando (I guess because someone who plays Modern occasionally told Osyp that Green Sun’s Zenith is banned), but he found another weak point of the Delver-filled metagame. Pyroclasm is a real flyswatter. This card is not legal in Standard, but Whipflare is. This card is probably the last sleeper to rise before the Dark Ascension release. Whipflare is amazing in Modern Affinity’s sideboard, and it is not worse against Delver and Geist. Tempered Steel is a problem, but really, it is not popular, and it will not be popular, while Pyroclasm is amazing against nearly every other deck.
Four Inferno Titans and ten red removal spells maindeck. That is a real flyswatter. One more fresh application of Whipflare is in Grixis Control of SCG’s own Patrick Chapin. Patrick went much deeper into U/B (compared to his deck from Worlds), so Slagstorm is unlikely to be played on turn three, while Whipflare is good. It also is worth noticing that Patrick himself is the man who woke Olivia Voldaren (and crushed the hopes of Falkenrath Aristocrat) and built another perfect flyswatter. “Only good matchup is Delver, which is fortunately half the field.” I have nothing to add to this sentence, so if you’re going to play tomorrow, just find a good flyswatter and never look back! And I’m going to search for something special, like…
The Holy Grail
The last sleeper from Orlando is Grand Architect. Shuuhei Nakamura brought sweet Japanese tech into Florida to post a 12-3 record. His decklist is unavailable, but you can see him casting Sword of War and Peace by tapping creatures in his feature match. GerryT said that he chose Runechanter’s Pike over R/W Sword because of its cheaper cost, and Grand Architect just allows better equipment. Moreover, he protects your team from Whipflare and Marrow Shards and upgrades your clock when you have nothing else.
I really like this card, and I wanted Architect to see play since he was printed. I would try to combine Grand Architect and Sword of War and Peace with Chalice of Life / Chalice of Death. While Chalice of Life looks like a natural addition to Martyr of Sands decks in Modern (they will not be anymore forced to play stupid Honor of the Pure in order to win in 25 minutes), it could have a chance to see play in Standard. And if this chance is for real, Grand Architect is the most likely enabler. Additional lifegain will be surely needed: something better than Angel’s Mercy or Whitesun’s Passage; maybe Druidic Satchel will be good, and Trinket Mage plus Elixir of Immortality surely will.
This is very rough sketch that is, to be fair, bad against Delver. Timely Reinforcements may end up as a necessary piece, but I hope that Contagion Clasp and Tumble Magnet will be enough to keep our life total up from opposing attacks. Liliana of the Veil is a necessary piece of protection from hexproof creatures—and she is better than Tribute to Hunger (if only it said “gain life equal to its power”) maindeck. Black Sun’s Zenith is not very good with Grand Architect, but it is good with Geist of Saint Traft, so its presence is a subject to investigation. Also, do not forget that Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas can make opponent’s equipment useless by awakening it into a 5/5 dude (which is probably a lesser threat for us).
I really like Tezzeret-based decks: “gain control over board and then somehow win.” Chalice of Death gives us a whole new dimension—and Tezzeret’s ultimate ability gains life! It was rarely relevant, but now you can search for Chalice of Life, then activate Tezz’s ultimate to reach thirty and quickly finish opponent with Chalice of Death. Other possible options for this deck are Solemn Simulacrum (just too good to ignore), Peace Strider, Sorin Markov (yes, an old one), and even Sorin’s Vengeance. The Chalice-Tezzeret deck definitely needs further and deeper work, and I will likely return to it in my upcoming articles, but now it’s time to go to the next card.
Innistrad and Dark Ascension are full of great flavorful cards, and Séance is my favorite—even over the disgustingly translated Jar of Eyeballs and Dr. Jekyll / Mr. Hyde. Is Séance an addition to Birthing Pod decks? Eternal Witness is an important element of Modern Birthing Pod decks, and Séance can do a similar job in Standard. It doesn’t give haste to creatures, so the only realistic use aside from Birthing Pod is to create chump blockers (that is a bad idea because it doesn’t help you win games). From another point of view, Pod decks became weaker without Preordain and Sea Gate Oracle, so there are games without the namesake artifact—and they are mostly about surviving before finding Pod, so the ability to create doing-something chump-blockers would definitely help you stay alive.
One more card that could find its application in Birthing Pod is Havengul Lich. Rebuying your creatures (and even without exiling them!) is great, especially in long games, where the danger of running out of certain mana costs is for real. Black in Lich’s mana cost is not good but may be acceptable. I will not provide any decklist—not because I’m lazy or unconfident with this deck—but because any appropriate card with undying will change everything. I do not expect a new Kitchen Finks, but RnD couldn’t ignore the existence of Birthing Pod when creating cards with this mechanic.
Cards from Innistrad are another type of sleeper. Many of them have already found their places in Standard (and even in Legacy); many of them will remain in their coffins because of Grafdigger’s Cage; and some of them will awaken right now. I don’t think that Cage is the new Mental Misstep, but it’s very powerful in any given format, so it is not to be ignored. But it’s also not the end of the world; it’s just another chapter in Vintage Dredge deckbuilding. An interesting interaction to think about is Secrets of the Dead and Raven’s Crime. This pair is interesting even without Burning Vengeance and Life from the Loam. I’m not sure about its practical implementation (and I’m sure that other cards with conspire are terrible), but it’s worth noticing before what I’m going to say about Standard.
The most interesting card that will not be playable in the near future is Heartless Summoning. Summoning is powerful by itself, but there is no backup plan for possible decks, so they are just naked and powerless without the enchantment in play, and this situation will not change. Havengul Lich and Culling Dais (or Flesh-Eater Imp) can recur Perilous Myr without Heartless Summoning; you can even try to play Zombo-Combo with Havengul Lich, Perilous Myr, and Grimgrin, Corpse-Born. Necrotic Ooze and Bloodline Keeper are likely to be seen in that bad company to add another angle of attack, but only three words are needed to break all the cuteness of this paragraph. These words are “Delver,” “of,” and “Secrets.” Yes, the sad truth is that the first thing to do with any potential idea is to grab a stock Delver of Secrets deck and to witness a game of Magic instead of the massacre of innocents. If you see a game—your idea may be worth additional work, like my next idea.
Daybreak Ranger was significantly overhyped right after Innistrad’s release, and now this card can have second chance—not just because Brian Kibler still has a ton of them and must sell them all to compensate for decreased PT payouts, but because this card is really awesome against nasty fliers (and it is not white or red, so they even can be equipped). I do not see Werewolves as straight R/G tribal, but as R/U/G with a few effective creatures and many effective spells.
Immerwolf is the thing to make Snapcaster Mage good in Werewolves. Mayor of Avabruck and Immerwolf to provide raw power; Snapcaster Mage and Daybreak Ranger to solve problems; good lands to cast it all (hard task); and many good instants to be able to skip our own turn without casting a spell. I’m not sure about Wolfbitten Captive, but the deck’s chances will significantly increase if a U/R spell-land is printed with a Recoup effect for a reasonable cost.
Another application of a potential Recoup-land would be Burning Vengeance. This deck is going to dominate Block Constructed right now, and it will gain at least two major upgrades: Faithless Looting and Secrets of the Dead. Cage-and-coffin will surely be a problem, but Block Constructed decks already have Naturalize against Witchbane Orb and the mirror match, so there is nothing special in playing Ancient Grudge against the new hate card and against equipments in Delver decks. By the way, GerryT speculated about Burning Vengeance in Standard even before Worlds, and his conclusion was that the deck must have a way to win the match faster than in two hours. So, keep it in mind when you try to build this deck (and you’ll try, believe me).
That is all for today. I didn’t mention many interesting things (Sorin plus Bloodline Keeper, Self-Mill in Standard, etc.), but it’s nearly impossible to write about everything, so just keep looking at new and old cards! Standard was awesome every single day since Innistrad’s release, and I hope that it will be even more interesting this winter.
Good luck at your PTQs and Prereleases!