I always get the most excited about Magic in the fall. We get the first set of a new block with new themes and mechanics to explore, cards we’ve been using for two years rotate out of Standard, and the State Championships take place right after the rotation, giving clever deckbuilders a chance to shine. While some enjoy most the chance to find glory and be crowned the best in their state, what I’ve personally always enjoyed the most is the chance to build new decks in an undefined format. I know it’s a bit early; we don’t even have the full Innistrad spoiler yet, but I like to get a head start, and there are already a lot of exciting cards that spark the imagination.
Before I jump into talking about those, I would be remiss if I didn’t take a brief look at what is leaving Standard soon.
First and foremost, there won’t be any more Squadron Hawks! While this is cause for celebration, and I hate to dampen anyone’s enthusiasm, I think U/W control is still going to be a good deck and Swords of Feast and Famine are going to be equipped to creatures for a long time to come. However, the deck will look vastly different than what we’ve been seeing.
There’ll be no more Spell Pierce, no more Jace Beleren, no more Emeria Angel, no more Into the Roil, and no more Preordain (!). Still, I think the biggest hit to a Caw-Blade style deck is the loss of some of the lands. Tectonic Edge and Celestial Colonnade allowed Caw-Blade to run a higher land count and get extra mileage with their pseudo-spell effects. Blade Splicer and Hero of Bladehold are still going to be good though, but I think U/W is going to need a lot to dominate the way we’ve seen this past year.
The next deck that will suffer greatly from the rotation is Splinter Twin, and by suffer, I mean it won’t exist at allâ€”not with its namesake card rotating out. While there’s always the chance that Innistrad will have some card that can replace this effect, it seems very unlikely.
Another deck in that predicament is Valakut. Without Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle, the deck can’t even function at all. Other ramp strategies are going to be difficult. We also lose Overgrown Battlement, Khalni Heart Expedition, Cultivate, Harrow, and Oracle of Mul Daya. All the Eldrazi cards are going to rotate, which leaves an important question: What will Primeval Titans do for fun anymore? My suspicion is that they’ll mostly move to Commander decks and trade binders.
As a side note, I play Oracle of Mul Daya and Primeval Titan in every Commander deck I can. I absolutely love both cards, and my favorite trick with a Primeval Titan in Commander is to find a Ravnica bounceland and a cycling land, then return the cycling land with the bounce-land trigger, getting the same two mana but also a card out of the deal. When I later draw Life from the Loam (another card I play in every green Commander deck), I can get quite an engine going!
Back to Standard talk, Tempered Steel, Birthing Pod, and Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas are all likely to enjoy an increase in play. Tempered Steel didn’t really lose much. Ornithopter? Okay, I lied; they lose Steel Overseer too. That is kind of important, I admit, but that didn’t stop Tempered Steel from being the most played deck at Pro Tour: Nagoya at 20% of the field. I chose LSV’s list as an example of what the deck looks like with just block cards:
While we’re at it, we also have this little number:
This list looks suspiciously similar to a deck that a few people were running in pre-Innistrad Standard:
One thing Tempered Steel doesn’t have to worry about anymore is Pyroclasm since that rotates out too. Slagstorm will have to be the replacement there, which is a turn slower than Pyroclasm but can at least kill guys after a Tempered Steel hits. Day of Judgment also didn’t exist in Scars Block but will in the new Standard, so that’s something to keep in mind.
The worst matchups for the Puresteel deck were probably Vampires and Red Deck Wins. Vampires loses just about everything and, despite Innistrad being a horror-based set, probably won’t exist as a real deck anymore. RDW loses Goblin Guide, Lightning Bolt, Burst Lightning, Searing Blaze, Staggershock, and the fetchlands, to name a few. Without the fetches, Grim Lavamancer is going to be a lot worse. In fact, I think the whole deck in general just became a whole lot worse. It’ll probably become a Kuldotha-style red like this one:
One thing I noticed looking at quite a few block decklists was that the Wellsprings saw a lot more play. I think that will be the case after the rotation too with various Tezzeret lists possibly adopting them like this:
As for the fate of Birthing Pod, it will probably have to move in a different direction than this:
- 1 Llanowar Elves
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 2 Acidic Slime
- 4 Lotus Cobra
- 1 Cunning Sparkmage
- 3 Sea Gate Oracle
- 2 Vengevine
- 2 Inferno Titan
- 1 Obstinate Baloth
- 1 Sylvan Ranger
- 1 Sylvok Replica
- 1 Hero of Oxid Ridge
- 1 Urabrask the Hidden
- 1 Phyrexian Metamorph
- 1 Phantasmal Image
You lose Preordain entirely and, without the fetchlands, Ponder looks much worse. Lotus Cobra, Baloth, Sea Gate Oracle, Sylvan Ranger, Vengevine, and more won’t even be in the format. Unfortunately, there aren’t very good replacements for any of them. That being said, Birthing Pod is a “build around me” card that only really requires some value-netting and/or silver bullet-type creatures to be a consideration. I think Pod players have the most work to do for the coming Standard environment because, though I’m sure there will be a good Pod deck, they’ll likely have to go back to the drawing board to find it. It’s definitely one avenue I’m going to explore because there’s a lot of deckbuilding potential there. I expect Birthing Pod numbers to be low just after the rotation but increase as people figure out how to best utilize it.
Now, I realize that there are probably a lot of old decks I didn’t list, but I’m anxious to move on to my thoughts on some of the new cards. Suffice it to say, I think the block decks from the previous season are usually a good starting point for a new Standard format and often determine the early make-up of the metagame. We also have some M12 cards that are going to remain major players: the Titan cycle for instance.
The decks that are leaving change our limitations: we can tap out on turns 3-4 again; we can play our planeswalkers into one U again; and Primeval Titan ceases to be a kill me or lose the game next turn kind of card. Many other things change as well and, as the format evolves, so will other strategies that will limit us. For now, the new Standard seems one of endless possibilities.
Snapcaster Mage is one of those. Already $14 on Star City Games, the reason is clear: there is absolutely no way that this card does not see a ton of play, possibly in every format. For 1U, you get decent stats AND flash AND an amazing ability! With Phyrexian mana, you can even get value from this guy on turn 2! Play a Gitaxian Probe on turn 1, then this guy on turn 2 and flash it back; sure you pay two life, but you get a card too. Or you can play it in response to a 1cc card to flashback your Mental Misstep. The possibilities don’t stop there. The card you’re getting back doesn’t even have to be blue! From burn spells, to Creeping Corrosion, this guy does it all! What a star! I don’t know what a deck with him looks like for sure, but one direction is U/B control:
The ideal game is T1: Despise, T2: Mana Leak/Doom Blade/Dismember, T3: Liliana of the Veil or Divination, and T4: Snapcaster Mage into one of the previous spells or play a Solemn. I wanted to play around with this a little, so Morbid Plunder is kind of cute, but I actually think it could be awesome in a deck like this where you are getting so much from your creatures.
If you’re wondering where Inquisition of Kozilek and Duress are, they’re both gone after Innistrad comes in (barring a reprint in Innistrad of course), and I think Despise is going to be great. The format is going to be nothing BUT creatures and planeswalkers!
Speaking of planeswalkers, I also added the new Liliana to this list too. She’s cheap, which is huge; you can flashback cards that you dump, but also you can just kill a creature or two with her. You don’t have Jace Beleren anymore, and I think she can somewhat take up his slack. I also put some Divinations and Jace’s Ingenuity in for that reason, plus you can flash them back for even more cards with a Mage!
Black Sun’s Zenith has some poor synergy with the Mage since it shuffles itself back in, but Tempered Steel is scary, and I think you’ll want a few sweepers. Two may not even be enough. Hopefully having a ton of Doom Blades and Dismembers via your Snapcasters and the repeatable Liliana can get most of your creature suppression done.
I like Liliana of the Veil a lot, but I have to say up front that I’m a little cold on the other spoiled planeswalker, Garruk Relentless. Still, there is no denying the potential there. He shouldn’t just go into any deck though.
How are you going to transform him? That’s the first problem. Now it’s not a big problem; he has a built-in ability that will lower his loyalty (provided he doesn’t kill himself by targeting a three-power creature), or you can just make a 2/2 every turn until your opponent is forced to do something about him. BUT… And that’s a big but… A lot of creatures are going to have three-power, with Tempered Steel being the aggro deck to beat and Garruk being a tad too slow to come down beforehand. If you do manage to transform him this way, a point or two more damage will often finish him off before you get to benefit from his transformation. Still, green creature kill is nothing to scoff at… but I’m skeptical about how good this ability is going to be.
I suspect that the best way to transform Garruk is going to be to make a 2/2 Wolf and keep doing that until your opponent attacks Garruk (if they can). Even though the wolves are only ground creatures, they provide an extra layer of defense so that you can protect Garruk just enough so that it doesn’t die and get it to transform. The next step is to start using the second set of abilities, but a 1/1 with deathtouch may turn out to not be as good as the 2/2 wolves you were making.
You can sacrifice a creature to find some other creature, but you still have to cast it, and, if you use this ability right after Garruk Relentless transforms, there’s a good chance he’s dead now.
His last ability is pretty hard to use. It takes three full loyalty, and he will need at least 2 turns to build back up to this after he transforms. Not to mention only actual creatures in your graveyard, not the tokens you want to sacrifice, count toward his +X/+X bonus.
All that being said, I do think Garruk is a decent card. It provides a lot of options, which is nice, but there will always be a better card for a given job, and he’s likely not going to be that difficult to clear off the board. Would a worse Obstinate Baloth see play? Make a 2/2 and gain three life? For four mana? Probably not. Make no mistake; it’s the options that give this card any hope at all, but I’m still not sure about it.
The only transform card that I really like right now is Mayor of Avabruck. He’s a cheap lord with a really respectable back face that leaves creatures behind after he is killed or transformed. Plus, transformed, he’s a 3/3… for two mana. Now I know you have to do some work with all the transform cards, but maybe this guy is worth it. I mean, the Werewolves can transform on any person’s upkeep, so if you don’t cast spells on your turn, you can transform it on your opponent’s turn. While this might normally seem bad, you can build your deck to do things mostly on your opponent’s turn. Another option is to run discard so that a) your opponent will run out of spells to cast and b) won’t be able to cast two spells in a turn to change him back.
2 Mind Rot
3 Doom Blade
4 Mayor of Avabruck
4 Liliana of the Veil
3 Garruk Relentless
2 Garruk, Primal Hunter
2 Grave Titan
4 Woodland Cemetery
I don’t like this deck idea as much as the first one, but it’s mostly just to illustrate a concept. Mind Rot might look a bit odd, and I’m not sure if it’ll be worth it, but I want to try it out to see how well it helps enable transform. Most of the other choices are self-explanatory, but I think it’s worth suggesting that several cards on this list just got a lot better:
Skinrender. With combo potentially gone from the format (Pyromancer Ascension, Splinter Twin, Valakut) and Tempered Steel decks likely to surge in number, this card becomes a lot better. It can’t stop a Hero of Bladehold, which may be its primary liability, but there’s also no Lightning Bolt in the format either.
I’m not sure if this deck can actually beat Tempered Steel, though it looks decent in theory. Still, I can’t say enough how important I think that’s going to be in the first month after Innistrad is released. It’s been said that everyone netdecks these days or that nobody has any imagination anymore; while I wouldn’t go that far, I agree that innovation is sparse. Players will play Tempered Steel because it was good in Standard, REALLY good in Block, and is likely going to be pretty strong in a format that is 60% Block, 20% cards that don’t do a lot to help or hurt Steel (M12), and 20% unknown cards that they haven’t bothered to try figuring out.
That being said, I 100% do not think Tempered Steel will be even close to the best deck, but it should be in your States gauntlet for sure.
The last card I want to talk about is Olivia Voldaren. She has a lot of potential too. She is a 3/3 for four with a few really nice abilities:
She flies (I hate you Tempered Steel, I hate you!)
She can do damage to creatures (Die Signal Pest! Die!)
This makes her get a permanent +1/+1 counter.
And turns a creature into a Vampire, which enables her last ability:
Taking control of said Vampire.
Now she may still end up relegated to the sidelines in Standard, but I’d like to think that all of these advantages will allow her to fit into some deck. I think Doom Blade will get the nod over Go for the Throat, at least for a bit; Lightning Bolt isn’t legal anymore; and Into the Roil is gone too. Sure, she can be Dismembered (along with pretty much anything else save Titans, Wurmcoil Engine, and Consecrated Sphinx); Slagstorm will get her, and so will Day of Judgment and Skinrender for that matter, but I don’t think most decks will have more than a few answers to her…
Here’s a thought:
I might be stretching the mana base too much just for some Olivia Voldarens and Incinerates, but I wanted to try Olivia Voldaren, and I didn’t want to have to play just B/R to do it. A more reasonable two-color deck could be something like this:
Hey, I understand if you don’t like the idea of Olivia Voldaren in Standard (it’ll happen, you’ll see!), but hopefully you can at least acknowledge that Wizards made another great legendary creature for Commander!
I hope this article has enough decklists both new and old to whet your appetite for the coming Standard rotation (October 1st) and the State Championships (October 15th). In the next few weeks, I’m going to be playing just post-rotation Standard, including the decks I listed above, and I’ll let you all know my results. My initial gauntlet is probably going to be something along the lines of:
Birthing Pod decks
Various infect strategies
Your metagame might look different, but I’m thinking the above list will make for a good start. If you’re short on time, at least test against Tempered Steel, Tezzeret, and RDW.
On another subject, I won a Grand Prix Trial and have three byes for GP Montreal now, and, since it’s only three hours away from where I live, I’m definitely going to be there! I hope to see some of you there too. If you see me, don’t be afraid to say hi or wish me luck! My friend, Andrew Roystan, just made top 50 of Pro Tour Philadelphia and is qualified for Pro Tour Honolulu. I’d really love to go too so please root for me to top 16 the GP!
Join me in a couple of weeks to hear how my Standard testing is going and to see more decks with Innistrad cards!