Post-M14 Standard Musings

Michael Martin shares some ideas he has for the new Standard format with M14. Read on to see if you should try one of them this weekend at #SCGRICH!

Good morning all!

Today’s article is going to be a mish mashed hodgepodge assortment of random thoughts about post-M14 Standard. I really wish I could give it a better description than that, but with so many ideas floating around my head these days it’s rather difficult to put them all into a nice little package complete with an all-encompassing descriptive "bow." The points all kind of tie together in an "I’ll segue into the next point with this cheesy transition" kind of way, so I guess there’s that.

The first event after M14 is released for me is going to be the StarCityGames.com Standard Open in Richmond; with that being so close to home, I’m almost contractually obligated to play in it. As such, it would be irresponsible not to take a look into what the set will do to Standard, so here goes.

Jund Updates

I might as well go ahead and get this section out of the way since Jund has been my go-to deck for some time when I actually want to do well in an event. Jund is the midrange engine that could be the one that keeps chugging along. The deck has mostly remained unchanged, with the only variations coming in shifts in removal and acceleration spells. At its core, you still play Huntmaster of the Fells and Thragtusk with Olivia Voldaren and removal to back them up.

So what does M14 have that could possibly raid the party?

Scavenging Ooze

If it’s an Ooze fight Junk Reanimator wants, it’s an Ooze fight it’ll get.

Right now, Jund maindecks a couple of Ground Seals as both a way to stop Junk Reanimator and a way to slow down the Snapcaster Mage shenanigans from blue-based decks. While dedicated hate is usually wrong to maindeck, the selling point has always been that it’s never a dead draw and can at least cantrip even when it has no impact on the game at hand.

However, playing a turn 2 Ground Seal against aggro is just embarrassing. Plus, drawing a card for two mana isn’t exactly breathtaking.

Scavenging Ooze gives you a much more proactive graveyard hoser that still has interactivity in other matchups. While it’s not exactly what the doctor ordered against aggro, untapping with one will give you access to a creature that can both grow and gain you life. At the very least, it trades with a Rakdos Cackler or Searing Spear, which is much more than Ground Seal could ever say.

Even with the very valid concern that holding up mana in a deck that wants to curve out isn’t always where you want to be, I’d counter that by saying that it gives Jund another late-game mana sink in a deck that is quite prone to flooding. Also, given the amount of removal in the deck (and presumably large amount of creatures in opposing graveyards), one can reasonably expect Ooze to grow to a decent size by the time you drop that Garruk, Primal Hunter

I’ll let you fill in the blank.

I definitely wouldn’t go crazy with them, but somewhere between two and three maindeck seems reasonable to me.

Lifebane Zombie

We like lists, right? Here’s a list…

Restoration Angel
Huntmaster of the Fells
Geist of Saint Traft
Obzedat, Ghost Council
Ghor-Clan Rampager
Boros Reckoner
Burning-Tree Emissary
Aurelia, the Warleader
Cartel Aristocrat
Voice of Resurgence
Varolz, the Scar-Striped
Flinthoof Boar
Acidic Slime
Angel of Serenity
Prime Speaker Zegana
Frontline Medic
Mayor of Avabruck

Etc., etc.

This card has a chance to be quite impressive. Notice that it says exile that card, meaning no more reanimation shenanigans or scavenging with Varolz. There are obviously many more cards seeing play that could technically be hit by this Zombie, but I didn’t include it if it was completely unfeasible to expect to snag it with this dead man (cards like Champion of the Parish, Experiment One, etc…).

This can obviously fit into Jund, and part of me thinks it could fit into the slots that Vampire Nighthawk has been sitting in recently; yes, it is slightly worse against aggro if they don’t have the Searing Spear, but it is still serviceable if it takes a Boros Reckoner or, dare I say, Ghor-Clan Rampager and trades with another creature in combat. Not to mention you also get perfect information. While that isn’t the reason you play it, it definitely adds a non-zero amount of value to the card.

Oh, and they threw on intimidate to give some evasion just for good measure.

While this could fit into Jund, this also segues into my next couple of ideas, so let’s move on past my chug-a-long deck that could and into some new/old territory.

B/x Zombies

Yes, Zombies has been around a while. No, it hasn’t really gained much since Gravecrawler and Geralf’s Messenger to really push the deck forward; not taking anything away from those cards, as they’re great cards, but people moved on to bigger and faster things.

It may be time to start looking again.

Zombies lists pop up now and then in the Top 8 of StarCityGames.com Standard Opens, both in the B/W and B/R varieties. While B/R tends to fall more on the aggression/reach side of the fence, the B/W version aims for more resilience.

You basically splashed White for Restoration Angel. Now, Wizards has given you yet another Zombie that likes being blinked.

I’m no expert on the deck, as I’ve yet to take a Zombie-centric 75 to an actual tournament, but I feel that the ability to snag problematic creatures like Thragtusk, Huntmaster of the Fells, and Restoration Angel before they become problematic should help the deck. Additionally, the intimidate ability on Lifebane Zombie also gets past those very creatures if your opponent is fortunate enough to topdeck one after you strip their hand.

You know what other creature that fits into a B/W shell likes being blinked to strip an opponent’s hand?

There could be a different deck altogether that focuses solely on playing these types of value creatures with Restoration Angel and possible Cloudshift; tearing apart an opponent’s hand before they reach their desired endgame is a great way to break apart a midrange mirror. The problem comes in the fact that topdecks are incredibly powerful nowadays, but you have the option of blinking creatures in the opponent’s draw step to try to deny them that option. The problem becomes which do you blink? It’s going to really suck the first time you have an option between both Sin Collector and Lifebane Zombie blinking and choose the wrong one…

On the subject of B/W…

Path of Bravery

When I first saw this card, I apparently didn’t even read the second half of it; I just thought you needed to gain life outside of this card to get the benefit. I started looking into a possible G/W "life gain" deck with some of the newer cards (Soulmender, Voracious Wurm, Scavenging Ooze) before I quickly realized that you were basically creating a couple of mediocre vanilla creatures and hoping that was good enough.

(Spoiler alert: it isn’t!)

I quickly moved past that idea when I actually read the entire Path of Bravery card; as long as you haven’t shocked yourself more than once, dropping Path of Bravery on turn 3 and attacking with at least two creatures will grant you the benefit of the +1/+1 effect. While a Glorious Anthem effect is fine on its own, the added benefit of gaining life makes racing difficult in exactly the opposite way that a Hellrider does for R/G Aggro.

When you plan to play a deck with a Glorious Anthem effect, you need to include cheap creatures that give you the ability to flood the board. I looked at a couple of different color combinations, eventually settling on W/B for a couple of reasons.

First, I’d previously attempted a W/B aggro-disruption deck with Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Sin Collector, and Judge’s Familiar after Craig Wescoe win at Pro Tour Dragon’s Maze; unfortunately, it just seemed like a worse version of the first version of The Aristocrats, so I trashed it at the time. However, with Path of Bravery and another M14 card, Brave the Elements, it may be time for the Wescoian Dream Team to come back:

This list is based on my games with the previous iteration of the deck, but that deck played Sin Collector and Thalia main deck with Cloudshift to get multiple uses out of Collector, so this version is much different from that one. The mana base seems fine if you consider that we only really have Vizkopa Guildmage and Sorin, Lord of Innistrad maindeck that need black mana and Sin Collector and Appetite for Brains in the sideboard. In fact, I could almost see cutting the deck down to mono-white with Frontline Medics taking the place of Sorin and Thalia making her way back to the maindeck over the Guildmage.

Maybe I’m just too in love with the thought of activating the Guildmage to turn Path of Bravery into this deck’s version of Hellrider, albeit with the added benefit of the Glorious Anthem effect. This could be a bit too cute, but I thought it was worth giving a shot.

The reason I chose to focus on remaining as close to Mono-White as possible is Brave the Elements; if you’ve never played with/against that card back when it was in Standard before, I’m telling you the card is awesome. Think about it this way: either you can push through lethal damage for one white mana or you can counter a Bonfire of the Damned or Mizzium Mortars for that one white mana. It even serves to counter a removal spell for, you guessed it, one white mana. It’s incredibly versatile and a good reason to want to try to be as close as possible to Mono-White.

You may ask why there are no Boros Reckoners, and the answer very well may be "it’s incorrect to not have them"; my issue is the Mutavaults and how awkward it’s going to be to have multiple Mutavaults and two Plains with multiple Reckoners in hand. I could be thinking of just the worst-case scenario, but it scares me enough to not want to play them. [Editor’s Note: Used to it from my Spectral Procession / Mutavault days. It’s no biggie, Michael!]

Another direction to take the deck is simply B/W Tokens with Path of Bravery acting as a second anthem effect on top of Intangible Virtue. I’m going to avoid putting Guildmage in here as well, as much as I want to be cute…

The usual actors are all here in Gather the Townsfolk; Lingering Souls; Sorin, Lord of Innistrad; and Intangible Virtue. You’ll notice a slight Aristocrats subtheme in Doomed Traveler and Cartel Aristocrat in addition to another new card, Xathrid Necromancer. The Necromancer will allow you to turn all of your 1/1 Humans into 2/2 Zombies given that they die, which is why you see a sacrifice outlet in Cartel Aristocrat. It may be the case that this deck is just better served as being Junk Aristocrats, but having access seven or eight anthem effects in addition to Sorin and tokens has me wanting to try to focus on just tokens for now. I freely admit to being possibly incorrect in this assumption.

Wait. Wait wait wait wait!

Am I really mentioning tokens without mentioning…

Burn at the Stake

My apologies, but no, you aren’t going to make it through an entire article without me mentioning the pet deck that won’t go away. I only mention it because I feel the deck gets a giant boost from a card that is going to make waves in Standard for a while:

I saw this card weeks ago but didn’t want to include M14 cards in the article I was writing at the time, so I waited until now. Could they have printed a better card for the deck!? I mean, on turns where you have Beck // Call (Beck) active, Young Pyromancer draws an additional card for every spell you cast on top of increasing your creature count. It is everything you want in that deck and maybe, juuuuuuuuust maybe, has given me enough reason to brave an event of greater magnitude than FNM with Burn at the Stake in my deck.

There are other cards that may merit some consideration (Molten Birth, Barrage of Expendables), but honestly I’m too excited about Young Pyromancer to worry about all that jazz:

The maindeck aims to play out like a straight combo deck, with the sideboard giving us the option of transforming as the matchup dictates. We can board into counterspells and Pithing Needles against control decks or go the counterspell with Gruul War Chant / Dynacharge plan against midrange decks like Jund. I discussed the reasons for these choices in my previous article on RUG Burn if you’re interested in checking that out.

Young Pyromancer actually gives you staying power, albeit in a very fragile body; this makes the transformation-into-a-token-deck plan actually viable since you now have more than just Krenko’s Command and some random creatures to cobble together an offensive. When in doubt, just stick with the combo plan if you win game 1. See what they bring in to stop you and then react accordingly.

You’ll notice the use of Gruul War Chant over cards like Hellrider, and there’s a reason. My tokens/bears aren’t really a threatening army at all. In fact, with Hellrider I can hope that I’ve pushed through enough damage with my smaller army to finish them off with a big Hellrider swing, but that’s already a tall order and you have to hope you aren’t getting blown out by an instant speed removal spell. Gruul War Chant solves both of those problems at the cost of being absolutely useless on its own, whereas Hellrider at least gives you a 3/3 body to work with. That made me think that since there are so many similar effects in Standard, why not have a breakdown of when it’d be correct to choose one over the other?

The Four-Mana Good Red Creature (And War Chant) Dilemma

Here are the similar effects available in Standard right now:

Here are all five similar effects available in Standard molded in the same cast as Hero of Oxid Ridge: a four-mana spell that makes all your other little red creatures collectively better. Exava is a bit of a stretch here, so I’ll go ahead and put her to the side for now (I say for now because I do like what she brings to the table, but her inclusion in this list is dubious at best).

Out of the remaining four, you may remember Instigator Gang from the original Boros Aggro decks in Innistrad Block Constructed. The effect is immediate and has the potential to be insane (when the gang flips), but Hellrider singlehandedly took the gang out of the picture due to both the haste on Hellrider and the fact that the damage is direct, taking combat out of the picture if the opponent is low enough.

So we can throw out Instigator Gang as a slightly worse Hellrider.

That leaves Hellrider, Gruul War Chant, and Ogre Battledriver.

The newest addition, the Battledriver, is actually quite unique in its ability. Not only does it give your other creatures haste, but it also boosts their power by two. This has the potential for some pretty sick blowouts (Goblin Rally alone would be nuts), but I’ll remind you of a similar card from years ago that saw no play despite being in a popular tribe:

Both cards suffer from the same issue: they’re not curve toppers. Sure, they may be the highest casting cost card in your deck, but you don’t cast them and win the game like you do with a Hellrider or Gruul War Chant. You have to cast them, they have to survive the turn, and then you have to cast more creatures to gain the benefit. Even then you’re still subject to the combat step with both, meaning the effect you’ve gotten by waiting that entire turn still isn’t as good as Hellrider or Gruul War Chant.

The reason Hellrider has caused so much consternation over the years is because of its ability to end the game the turn it’s cast in the deck that’s play it (read: red-based aggressive decks with reach). Gruul War Chant is similar but also adds the ability to work around blockers. Battledriver does none of the above.

You know the one Hellrider esque effect that I didn’t include from the upcoming Standard format?


I’ll admit it: I initially dismissed Slivers due to the lack of a critical mass of good Slivers (and a second "Muscle Sliver effect"); however, the tandem of Thorncaster Sliver and Manaweft Sliver has changed my perception.

Slivers is a tribe that really relies on having a critical mass to overwhelm the opponent. In other words, you have to be able to start loading the board early or risk losing before you get a chance to play that Megantic Sliver. You have a new Muscle Sliver in Predatory Sliver and a couple of Slivers at two mana cost or less, and that’s about it.

I want to try the deck, but it feels as if you’re going to need more than just the Slivers available in M14 to make it work. Mutavault is amazing in the deck, as is Cavern of Souls, but the lack of one-drop Slivers bothers me.

So how do we build this deck? Patrick Chapin already voiced his opinion on the subject in a Premium piece; his version was earlier before Manaweft and Thorncaster were spoiled and was a very straightforward linear aggro deck. Unfortunately, with the exception of the two aforementioned Slivers, not much has been done to lower the curve; we still only have one (on color) Sliver to work with at the one-mana slot.

This likely means that we’ll have to move out of the Sliver tribe if we’re going to build a Sliver deck. Sacrilegious, I know, but I think it must be done. The thought that immediately comes to mind is to move towards a higher top end and compensate by playing mana dorks at the one slot. This means at the very least Avacyn’s Pilgrim and possibly Arbor Elf / Elvish Mystic, but the issue lies in the fact that you have to move the mana base towards a more green-centric focus. As it stands now, green only provides us with Manaweft and Predatory Sliver (unless we’re willing to play the six-drops), so it isn’t going to be the main color.

However, if it must be done…

To be honest, Cavern of Souls clears up a lot of concern that I have about the mana base regardless of our "main color." One Cavern by itself will essentially clear up any mana issues since the Slivers only have one colored mana requirement. This doesn’t alleviate the green mana requirement for the mana dorks, though, since I’ll probably never want to play a turn 1 Cavern naming "Human" in a Sliver deck. We’ll have to keep this in mind as we construct a mana base.

My main issue is the fact that one timely removal spell ruins Slivers’ ability to amass a critical board presence. Until that gets solved, I can’t imagine taking this deck beyond FNM.

Primeval Bounty

A six-mana do-nothing enchantment? Really digging deep there huh, Michael?

Perhaps, but the enchantment itself seems incredibly powerful if you untap with it. Primeval Bounty seems like if you untap with it and aren’t immediately in danger it will simply take over the game. Against aggro, it serves as an endgame that both gains you life and ends the game, simultaneously keeping you alive and keeping them dead. Against midrange and control decks, it turns each of your creature spells into card advantage spells and all of your other spells into ways to beef up the army you’re producing.

I know that I’m likely reaching a bit here, but I can imagine a midrange deck that reaches a board state where you are around parity or worse, drop Primeval Bounty, take your knocks for a turn, untap, and take the game over. If you’re behind, it’s obviously not great to drop when you’re at exactly six mana, but as long as you’re not dead I’d say drop it and use your next turn to catch back up. Remember, it gains life, puts creatures into play, and makes those creatures quite formidable.

The deck would have to require a good mix of creatures and spells, meaning (likely) some sort of midrange deck. Because of my love of the colors, I’m thinking of RUG:

I’ve wanted to build a RUG Midrange deck for a while, and this alleviates a lot of issues I previously had. But is this just a worse version of Jund? My first concern is the loss of Rakdos’s Return, which is a huge loss no doubt. You also lose Olivia Voldaren, which again isn’t an insignificant loss. Other than that, you are almost the same deck with Turn // Burn, Ral Zarek, and your Olivia Voldaren replacement, Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius. You also get the Izzet Staticaster / Nightshade Peddler combo.

So which is better?

Well, you’ll definitely miss the Return in the control and midrange matchups. There’s no getting around that. If control is rampant, Jund is going to be better simply due to the presence of Rakdos’s Return and Liliana of the Veil.

However, it’s not like you’re just dead to control by any means, and in my opinion the ability to play the Staticaster combo gives you slightly better game against the lower end of the aggro-midrange-control spectrum, which is what we’re seeing now in Standard more so than control decks. In Peddle to the Meddle, you had the ability to pair Olivia with Nightshade Peddler; in this deck, you have the same option with Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius. Also, when you untap with Niv-Mizzet, you get to cast a mini Sphinx’s Revelation at the end of every one of your opponent’s turn while still dealing them damage.

Primeval Bounty is another good value curve topper, and it gives your cheaper spells usefulness in the late game. You know what I’m talking about if you’ve played Jund and drawn Farseek on critical turns later in the game. While a permanent Giant Growth isn’t exactly lighting the world up, it is additional upside. Also, if you draw Zhur-Taa Druid, Nightshade Peddler, or Izzet Staticaster late game, you get the smaller creatures and a 3/3 Beast. That was one of my biggest concerns with running the combo: drawing them late game by themselves and them being completely useless.

Primeval Bounty could easily be something else like Progenitor Mimic or more Garruks, but I want to give it a shot.

Speaking of enchantments that if cast on a clear board will dominate the game:

Lest We Forget Older Cards

Before I go, I want to list out some cards from older sets that in the excitement for the new set might have been forgotten long ago or recently put on the shelf in favor of newer stuff:

Grimoire of the Dead (If you’re thinking about Rise of the Dark Realms, try Grimoire first.)
Angel of Glory’s Rise (If Reanimator isn’t on top, Rest in Peace isn’t ubiquitous; Human Reanimator should be good.)
Delver of Secrets
Gyre Sage / Increasing Savagery
Spike Jester / Bump in the Night / Vexing Devil (There’s a deck here…)
Deadeye Navigator
Gruul Ragebeast
Skaab Ruinator
Slayer of the Wicked (If you’re playing a deck that rolls over to Olivia Voldaren…)
Sublime Archangel
Wolfir Silverheart (If people are excited about Kalonian Hydra, why have we forgotten about this?)
Assemble the Legion
Heartless Summoning
Temporal Mastery

That’s all for this week; thanks for reading!

Michael Martin

@mikemartinlfs on Twitter

Mikemartinlfs (at) gmail.com