Peebles Primers – Japanese Standard

The Star City $5,000 Standard Open comes to Charlotte, NC!
The first Standard results with Morningtide are officially in! We have the Top 8 decks from the recent StarCityGames.com Standard open available here, and today’s Peebles Primers takes a look as some of the funkier offerings from a 72-player Grand Prix Trial held in Japan. In a Top 8 packed with famous names, it appears the Japanese have brought some interesting decks to the table…

Morningtide is upon us, and while others mine Extended and Limited, I’m taking today to look at the new Standard format. The information that we have available to look at comes from StarCityGames.com own Standard Open and a Grand Prix Trial in Japan. Usually it might be a little bit of a stretch to set too much stock by GPT decklists, but this particular Trial Top 8 featured many big-name pros, so clearly the competition was very tough.

In America, the big story of the new format is an old one: Red/Green “Big Mana” decks took down first and second place, and another one finished in the Top 8. The top two decklists look extremely similar to Paul Cheon from last year’s World Championships, though the winner added Mutavault while the runner-up swapped Molten Disaster out for Chameleon Colossus.

However, the decks I want to take a look at today came out of the Grand Prix Trial. The thing that makes them so special is that each is built around cards from the new set. The winner played a Kithkin Aggro deck featuring sixteen new Morningtide cards, and the runner-up played something reminiscent of the Blue/Black Mannequin deck, except this time the deck is Blue/White and built around Reveillark and Momentary Blink.

First up is the newest take on White Weenie. One of the first things to notice is that this deck plays a huge amount of lands for a deck that tops out at three and is nearly half one-drops. However, almost half of those lands serve some sort of dual purpose, whether we’re talking about extra cards or extra damage.

I believe, though, that the two new non-lands are what really make the deck shine. Kinsbaile Borderguard should come down as a 3/3 or 4/4 on turn 3 pretty much every time you draw it early, and in addition to being a formidable body, it offers you a built-in insurance policy against sweepers like Wrath of God. You don’t need to feel too bad about losing this guy and three one-drops to your opponent’s Damnation when you can simply untap and swing for three or more damage immediately.

Cenn’s Tactician is another extremely powerful card, and anyone who has seen the card in action in Limited will be able to attest to its power. While it can’t target Wizened Cenn or Knight of Meadowgrain, the Tactician can make combat extremely unattractive for another aggro deck, and can allow you to put true pressure on a control deck without spending so many cards that you won’t be able to recover from a Wrath.

The two cards together are obviously devastating. Kinsbaile Borderguard doesn’t care that the +1/+1 counters it’s holding when it dies came from his first ability, so loading him up with Tactician counters will just increase the number of Soldiers you receive if he dies. This same synergy is present if you look at the Borderguard and Rustic Clachan.

Beyond that, the only remarkable characteristics of this list are the ten disruptive cards in the maindeck. White Weenie these days has access to plenty of removal, and Sunlance is extremely attractive when the other premiere aggro deck is playing 3/3 Deathtouch creatures against you. Oblivion Ring continues to answer whatever problem you need solved, and Griffin Guide is just as good now as it always was at making people die when they didn’t think they needed to worry about your little ground guys.

So the question, then, is why this deck is better than the more-obvious Warrior decks that many people have been thinking about due to the presence of Obsidian Battle-Axe. This deck can’t boast to be the next Fires of Yavimaya, but it came out on top while two Battle-Axe decks fell in the quarterfinals.

I think that the answer is simply that the Kithkin deck is better at beating opponents. In the recent past, Elf decks were much better against control decks because they were so good at beating Wraths; they had Imperious Perfect, Garruk Wildspeaker, and Masked Admirers to all lessen the impact of a huge sweeper. On the other hand, Kithkin decks needed to rely on Gaddock Teeg to stop the Damnation from ever hitting. These days, though, the Kithkin decks have cards that emulate the resilience that the aforementioned Elf cards gave their own decks. Cenn’s Tactician needs another guy to get out of hand, but can easily force a Wrath without piling too many guys onto the board. Kinsbaile Borderguard, as I said above, leaves an attack force behind when he dies. And Griffin Guide still leaves behind the 2/2 flyer that it always has. With all of these new developments, the Kithkin deck can match the Elf deck when it comes to outlasting control.

Against other creature decks, the White deck again seems to me to have the upper hand due to how much it can interact with the opponent. This Kithkin deck has four Sunlances, three Oblivion Rings, and four Goldmeadow Harriers to mess with the opponent. The Elf deck has nothing like this, it simply relies on enhancers like Bramblewood Paragon and Obsidian Battle-Axe to punch through whatever it might be up against. Paragon- and Perfect-backed Elf tokens wielding a Battle-Axe are going to be very scary, but the Kithkin deck might simply have a Sunlance to end those shenanigans. When you pile this disruption on top of the blistering-fast starts that the deck can create, you have an extremely potent attack deck, and one that is very likely worth exploring over the weeks to come.

On the opposite side of the coin, there’s the wacky new Reveillark deck that lost to the Kithkin deck in the finals.

The first thing that I thought of when I looked at this deck was the old Mannequin deck that I used to qualify for the “Win a Car” tournament at Worlds (though school commitments kept me away from the real deal). Both decks share Mulldrifter and Riftwing Cloudskate, and both hate on aggressive decks with Wrath of God and Condemn or Damnation and Shriekmaw. However, the two decks seem to diverge there.

When I played the Mannequin deck, it seemed to me that it was all about gaining an incremental advantage every turn. You used your utility creatures to get a small edge, and then you did that again and again until you were sitting there swinging with two or three little guys while your opponent was completely dismantled.

The Reveillark deck seems much more about a fast win. Part of this is the fact that the cornerstone is a very-healthy four power flyer for five mana, but the big part is that your advantage isn’t incremental when you get to the late game; it shows up fast.

If your Reveillark triggers, there are plenty of mundane things you might do with it. You could return two Mulldrifters and draw four. You could return two Cloudskates and bounce some permanents. You could return two Body Doubles and just upgrade from one Reveillark to two. However, there are plenty of ridiculous combinations you might find yourself pulling off. I’ll walk you through a particularly exciting one that takes a little bit of work to set up:

You have a Bonded Fetch in play, and you’ve been using it to set up both your hand and your graveyard. You cast a Momentary Blink on your Reveillark, and use the trigger to return Riftwing Cloudskate and Body Double, which copies another Reveillark. You bounce the Body Double with the Cloudskate trigger, giving yourself another Reveillark trigger. You respond to this with a Fetch activation, discarding the Body Double. When the newest trigger resolves, you bring back another Cloudskate and the Body Double, and give yourself another Reveillark trigger. This time you just get back a Mulldrifter and a Mirror Entity, and untap with two Cloudskates, a Mulldrifter, a Reveillark, and a Mirror Entity. Swing for thirty.

Of course that was a little bit convoluted, but the point was just to show you how you can go from zero to sixty with this deck at the drop of a hat. It’s much more likely that you’ll just Blink a Reveillark and get back two of your 2/2 flyers. However, I’m pretty sure that getting two Mulldrifters for 1W is exciting enough to get you through the average game.

I compared the Kithkin deck to the Elf deck against both aggro and control, and concluded that the Kithkin deck just might have the Elf deck outmatched. In the same vein, I want to compare the Reveillark deck to the Mannequin deck.

I think that the Mannequin deck is likely stronger against your average aggro deck, just because the Mannequin maindeck was much more hateful than the Reveillark maindeck is. Mannequin decks had Phyrexian Ironfoot, Epochrasite, Shriekmaw, and Damnation. The Reveillark deck only has Condemn and Wrath of God. However, the Reveillark sideboard is extremely hateful for aggro decks, featuring both Sower of Temptation and Teferi’s Moat. While the Mannequin deck I played could add Bottle Gnomes and Nameless Inversion, neither of those cards is nearly as impressive as either Sower or Moat. Note also that Sower has that key two power, which means that they can be brought back to life by Reveillark if something happens to them.

As an aside, this is another reason that I think the Kithkin deck performed so well in this trial. The Elf deck played by Shuhei had one “out” to Teferi’s Moat in Primal Command. The Kithkin deck could answer the Moat with Oblivion Ring, Wispmare, or Mana Tithe, or simply fly over the top with Griffin Guide. Little things like this make all the difference in the world.

One benefit of not having a ton of slots devoted to aggro matchups is that the Reveillark deck naturally has more slots to fight against control strategies. This deck doesn’t have any card that you think of as truly backbreaking against a deck like Pickles, but it does have Bonded Fetch for constant card selection as well as a ton of threats that must be dealt with. If Mannequin started hitting a control deck with a Shriekmaw and a Cloudskate, the other guy had time to find his feet and stop the bleeding. If this deck gets a Reveillark or Body Double into play, things are going to go south very, very fast for the unfortunate opponent. When the match goes to sideboards, Reveillark can pull out Teferis and Draining Whelks. The Whelk is certainly a bit clunky, but it’s huge and (obviously) combos with Reveillark, meaning that Blink can counter some spells even if there isn’t a Whelk in play.

I’m not lying when I say that I’m very excited by the Reveillark deck. Of course, it did lose the finals, but that’s not going to stop me from playing it in this week’s City Champs. I think that most people will be thinking along the lines of the decks seen at the Star City Open, meaning that I think I’ll see a lot of old decks with Mutavaults and a few people running Oona’s Blackguard. Meanwhile, I’m planning on throwing down with a deck based completely around a new addition to the format, and one that I am pretty certain is here to stay.

All in all, I think that Morningtide is a pretty exciting small set. Before I saw the results from the Japanese GPT, I was thinking that it was a relatively boring set with just a few chase lands. The fact that winning decks have been built around Kinsbaile Borderguard, Reveillark, and Obsidian Battle-Axe bodes well for the future of Standard. After all, more competitive decks can’t really be a bad thing.

As always, if you have any questions, feel free to contact me in the forums, via email, or on AIM.

Benjamin Peebles-Mundy
ben at mundy dot net
SlickPeebles on AIM