Reclaiming Standard

Patrick Chapin, “The Innovator,” takes a look at the new possibilities in Standard thanks to all of the sweet new cards in Magic 2015. There’s so much power here if you want it, how will this shake up the entrenched Standard metagame?

When was the last time a Core Set was hitting like this?

M11 with Titans, Mana Leak, Preordain, Fauna Shaman, etc?

It’s not even because of the Avatars, which are conceptually similar to the Titans and quite good. They help, of course, but they aren’t as overbearing as the Titans were, not even close. They are good, but the power is actually spread into a lot more cards of the sets.

For instance, take this little number:

Viridian Shaman was a staple when it was printed, and Reclamation Sage is better. Now, Viridian Shaman was printed during a time when artifacts were running rampant – but Reclamation Sage lives in an era when enchantments are doing the same. I mean, just play this turn three against Courser of Kruphix and get the party started!

Reclamation Sage gives us a way to put powerful enchantment (and artifact) removal into our maindecks that gives us a nice advantage when it works, and is never dead. Its primary weakness is an inability to interact with Gods (most notably Thassa). However, it’s not going to be lacking for targets in that matchup, nor most matchups for that matter.

Against black? Hitting Underworld Connections is absolutely devastating. If they’re aggro, Gnarled Scarhide, Spiteful Returned, or Herald of Torment are all legit options. Obviously they can Lifebane Zombie it, but Lifebane Zombie is going to be impressive against a deck with green creatures regardless.

Blue? How about hitting Domestication, Bident of Thassa, and Hall of Triumph for starters? If they are control, Detention Sphere.

White? Spear of Heliod, Spirit Bonds, Dictate of Heliod, Obelisk of Urd, and of course, Banishing Light.

Green? Courser of Kruphix alone is huge, but Eidolon of Blossoms, Boon Satyr, Unflinching Courage, and maybe stuff like Strength from the Fallen and Nyx Weaver.

Red? They have tons of auras, and might even feature enchantment creatures like Eidolon of the Great Revel or Mogis’s Warhound.

Most decks in Standard have some number of targets, but there are also a fair number with just tons of juicy ones. For instance, take Naya Hexproof. Naya Hexproof received a big boost, recently, from Mana Confluence making its mana actually halfway decent. M15 keeps things going with several new options for the archetype.

Man, such a shame that the only new dual land for Hexproof is Battlefield Forge, which we’re not even really in the market for due to Bassara Archer and Witchstalker. The things this format would do with a Brushland!

Heliod’s Pilgrim is the main card that interests me for Hexproof. Sure, it’s not going to compare favorably to Stoneforge Mystic, but so what? It can help find the best aura for any given board state while providing a speed bump, and if we don’t have any creatures it gives us an extra body to throw enchantments on.

Always having the option to go get Chained to the Rocks is so strong against creature-based strategies, giving us a more reliable defense than past Hexproof decks. Spending your fourth turn doing that really isn’t bad. It’s also good for stacking Ethereal Armors, which is awesome given how much they multiply each other. Finally, it lets us play a toolbox, if we want to. It’s outside the scope of this deck, but I would love to have both Domestication and Hypnotic Siren in a Heliod’s Pilgrim deck…

As for Hexproof, there are plenty of sweet auras that are situational enough that they could make for a sweet toolbox. Maybe we even want a copy of Spectra Ward. It’s an interesting new weapon that can turn any threat into a mini-Progenitus of sorts. It does stop you from playing more auras on the creature after it, however, it doesn’t remove those you’ve already stacked up. Besides, at five mana, it’s generally the last aura to the party, anyway.

It’s not a perfect fit, however, since protection from all colors is a little redundant on a Hexproof creature… but at least it makes your creature unblockable. I have a feeling it’s not actually for Hexproof at all, though. What I’d really like to throw it on is a four-drop with lifelink, like Dawnbringer Charioteer. Put those two together and you are really doing it. Am I wrong?

Now we’re talking! Spectra Ward was made to be cast on mid-speed bombs that have powerful abilities if they live. It synergizes particularly well with Vigilance or Lifelink because the extra stats are effectively multiplied (dealing an extra two and gaining an extra two, etc).

Putting Spectra Ward on Dawnbringer Charioteer is already five points of unblockable, nearly-unkillable lifelink a turn. It’s a natural curve that will win games single-handedly. Obviously, they could have removal in response, but Brave the Elements and Ajani’s Presence give us a plan against Doom Blade Guy. Fiendslayer Paladin is a key part of this plan as well. Now you have guarantees that your Spectra Ward is resolving on a lifelinker, if you want.

Archangel of Thune is obviously godly when wearing a Spectra Ward, but it also just has a powerful (delayed) “enters-the-battlefield trigger.” With both Fiendslayer Paladin and Dawnbringer Charioteer, there is a good chance you can play it and gain life that same turn. Remember, it also works with Radiant Fountain, letting you play Archangel turn six and pump your team immediately.

Radiant Fountain is a cute trick that will probably only see minimal play for the next three months, being overshadowed by Mutavault; however, the card is very reasonable. People used to play Kabira Crossroads, and coming into play untapped in exchange for not producing white is a fine tradeoff… and gives us a chance to get lifegain in more decks looking for it.

An extra two life here and there can go such a long way against burn. Besides, once Mutavault rotates out, mono-color decks are going to want anything they can get to capitalize on their mana being easy. In the meantime, its best use is pumping Ajani’s Pridemate and Archangel, plus appearances in small numbers in mono-color decks that already have four Mutavaults and want help against burn.

Brimaz may not have lifelink like most of the other big guns in this deck, but he is one of the absolute best Spectra Ward targets, putting your opponent on a three-turn clock while completely locking up the ground on defense.

One Spirit Bonds?

Yes, that way we draw it, realize there should be more and add them. Obviously, I know how silly all these one Spirit Bonds decks are going to look next month. I can live with that.

Why aren’t we all-in on stuff like Angelic Accord? I guess we could be, it’s just that the above approach is basically all good cards (or cards that are pretty close to good). We don’t actually need our synergies, but when we get them, they can completely take over a game. There is definitely a lot more lifegain that we could play if we wanted, I just don’t see enough reward in it.

What does all of this have to do with Reclamation Sage?

The point is that Reclamation Sage gives us more maindeckable ways to deal with crazy stuff like this. Spectra Ward isn’t exactly the easiest card to fight and Reclamation Sage can give us good chances against what would otherwise be a hopeless board. The above Hexproof deck is notoriously difficult to interact with, and Reclamation Sage does just that whilel also providing a reasonable body and/or valuable chump blocker.

The strength against Standard’s “combo” decks is nice, but what’s important to remember is that this is just value-added. The point is to kill Courser of Kruphix, Underworld Connections, Detention Sphere, Banishing Light, Herald of Torment, and the like. As you surely knew I would do, I threw this dude in a few new brews to view what he does do.

There are a lot of ways to build G/W midrange, right now. This build aspires to do a couple things. First, it plays no enchantments (or artifacts) maindeck, attempting to blank the abundance of enchantment removal that is coming. Sure, a lot of enchantment removal is multi-purpose, like Golgari Charm, Abrupt Decay, and Detention Sphere, but some of it isn’t, and it’s not like we’re paying that big of a cost. Spirit Bonds was the only enchantment I was going to play anyway, but I kind of have a thing for that card.

We didn’t notice.

Actually, Courser of Kruphix would not be the worst option if you want to give up the whole enchantment-less thing, but we aren’t short on three-drops. Of course, Reclamation Sage isn’t exactly a three-drop, so we could definitely just add more threes. We probably have too many two-drops anyway.

That’s quite the Archangel of Thune infatuation…

Yeah, I’m not sure what that’s all about. Maybe it just feels like the format is going to have some hyper-aggro strategies at the onset that surprise people and punish the reckless painland popularity on the horizon. I don’t know, but seriously, once you are already getting wrecked by Lifebane Zombie, the Archangel is a pretty strong card. It can single-handedly win some matches, but it’s not like it’s ever dead.

Oops, I almost forgot the weekly black deck quota. Wouldn’t want to miss an opportunity to type Pack Rat, Desecration Demon, Thoughtseize, Bile Blight, Hero’s Downfall, and Underworld Connections again.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, you don’t really need to go all the way to Courser of Kruphix + Underworld Connections paradise. You could just put a Reclamation Sage or two into one of those “Abrupt Decay” mono-black decks and call it a day. My thinking was just that once Reclamation Sage opens us up to Lifebane Zombie, we might as well just embrace it.

I can’t wait until that card rotates.

Liliana Vess is not getting much attention at all basically entirely because of being a reprint. If it were new, people would be all about it.

A mono-black Planeswalker? Mono-Black has been dominating. This is exactly what we’ve been looking for!

Then again, they probably just go back to the whole “Planeswalkers that don’t protect themselves suck” trap, since they wouldn’t have the benefit of remembering when Liliana was good last time. She’s not format-defining or anything, but coming down with the ability to go to six loyalty right away and often hitting multiple cards while forcing the opponent to divert attacks at her is a great baseline. That she also gives you a Vampiric Tutor option is such a different dimension than we’ve had in Standard recently. I can’t help but wonder what combo deck she might actually enable.

Where’s Gilded Lotus when you need it?!

For serious, though, this is a poor execution. It’s too inelegant. You sort-of play like a control deck, but then what? You spent six mana after double Demonic Tutoring to deal twelve damage to your opponent? Really? What if you just spend that six mana on an Aetherling and you Demonic Tutored for a Dissolve?

OK, at least now we’re doing something. Seriously, if you can go find any card you want, you don’t need to immediately jump out the window chasing some wild combo. If that combo actually straight-up wins the game, great, but when you have situational cards (like Opportunity, Aetherling, Dissolve, Drown in Sorrow, and Silence the Believers) you can just go get something that is good in your particular spot right now.

Is it worth not playing Sphinx’s Revelation or Supreme Verdict? Well, first off, I like the omission of Detention Sphere there because that one’s not exactly at an all-time high. As for Rev and Verdict, obviously they are strong cards, but maybe we can do without them. We have card draw of our own, and we don’t need Verdict to kill creatures. Perilous Vault, in particular, really changes the equation – it gives us legitimate ways to deal with artifacts and enchantments. That card is slow and cumbersome, yes, but also versatile and powerful. It would be easy to have too much of that stuff, but in moderation, it’s great.

Besides, it’s not like Esper is just dominating the tournament scene.

What about Elspeth?

I dunno…

Looks a little slow.

I will tell you one thing, Jace, the Living Guildpact is no Architect of Thought. They are totally different cards, sure, and meant for different decks (I guess), but as long as the Architect of Thought is legal, it’s hard to want to invest too deeply into Guildpacting. Esper may not be that great of a deck, at the moment, but believe you me, Jace is definitely a super-strong card. Maybe Esper gets rebuilt, maybe control takes on a new form, but regardless, Jace, Architect of Thought is one of the best cards in the format.

Jace, the Living Guildpact is, well, he’s a nice guy. He’s nice. Yeah, I know he tilts a lot when Chandra and Liliana just want to be friends, but they’re just not into him in that way. I’m just saying, he needs to figure out what makes him happy, where he belongs, companions that are actually a good fit for him.

Jace, the Living Guildpact + Liliana Vess…?

Yeah, yeah, bounce their permanent, then make them discard it. You know, since you have two planeswalkers and they are empty-handed. Look, I’m not saying Jace 5.0 is on total time-out for three months, but if you’re going down that path, work for that ultimate. That’s where the action’s at!

As for Liliana, she’s got lots of possible homes. Just think how many shades of black people play!

Liliana Vess + Underworld Connection is actually pretty sweet, since getting the best card in your deck right away can be invaluable (particularly when the best card in your deck is Rakdos’s Return).

Can we go back to Reclamation Sage, yet?

Sure. How about Mono-Green?

Well, this sure looks worse than the ninth best deck in Standard, green devotion.

Yeah, yeah. Look, the point is to try that Kalonian Twingrove guy. Two 6/6s that grow into 7/7s or bigger is sweet.

That does sound better than more Garruks…

Look, it’s different. Besides, it’s a legit threat to get with Nessian Game Warden.

Sure, since playing with Nessian Game Warden is a pretty big priority.

You’re seriously really sarcastic. Why are you trying to shut me down, bro? If we’re going to try the new cards, we have to be willing to step outside of conventional wisdom. We have to try giving the new cards a chance to shine.

For instance, this list is probably awful, but is likely to teach us some valuable things. If parts of the deck show promise, we can build more around them:

There are some mondo-mondo-combos going on in this little diddy. Whispering Madness is incredible when you have Notion Thief, but it can be challenging to make good when you don’t. Waste Not gives us another combo piece, making Whispering Madness produce several tokens, draw some extra cards, and make a bunch of mana to keep doing crazy things.

Whispering Madness’s power is directly linked to how many cards people have in hand, regardless of which combo you pull off. This is where Dictate of Kruphix and Master of Feasts come in. It’s really dubious combining Thoughtseize and Dictate of Kruphix, but we really are just trying to use our discard to protect our combos (and power them). Master of Feasts is a pretty hilarious target for your Whispering Madness

The point is that this deck probably sucks in its current form, but experimenting with the various combos and new enablers for the old combos can show us the way to possible crazy new worlds we might be living in. This means keeping an open mind, but it doesn’t mean we can’t try new cards in less crazy ways. For instance:

Frenzied Goblin is great! That’s literally exactly what we were looking for. It’s a cheap, fast threat that keeps the beats coming. Maybe spending the mana to activate it is a little expensive in a deck with this few lands, but I want to try Frenzied Goblin in every red deck I can. The only thing that has me pumping the brakes a little is that it matches up poorly against Mutavault.

Wow, is the format ever going to be different three months from now.

Playing two dozen one-drops is pretty crazy, but every single one can be a serious threat (or at least remove a blocker). Hell, maybe we even want Legion Loyalist in here too!

Akroan Crusader and Satyr Hoplite got a nice boost from M15 from Hammerhand and Inferno Fist.

Two new auras worth considering for tournament play is pretty interesting, as red is starting to be overflowing with this kind of stuff. Hammerhand is the one that really excites me. Even though the abilities aren’t things we normally spend a card on, you are getting three abilities for one mana. This card generates some serious tempo.

Just think, you’ve got some creatures, but your opponent just brick-walled you with a three-drop. You can drop one of your Heroic guys, Hammerhand it, and you not only remove the blocker for this turn, you also add three more power to the attack. That really is not half bad.

Inferno Fist is a little less exciting, though it is also a bit more obviously something we’d be at least interested in. I wouldn’t be surprised if this one proves too slow to be worth it. That said, it is a fun way to get removal and Heroic enablers at the same time. It’s not in Hammerhand’s league, but what is?

You know what card I absolutely love with Hammerhand?

Seriously, this combo is ridiculous. Both cards are good on their own, but they each have three ways they help the other. Giving Flamespeaker haste is sick for a surprise four damage, but given how cheap both cards are you can also easily also get some card advantage out of it. The extra stats are great with double strike, of course, but four toughness is also way more than three in the current format. The removing a blocker is absolutely awesome for playing a tempo game with the Flamespeaker, making sure he gets through.

I’m not sure the best home for this combo, but it is definitely one to experiment with that will take us down a different path than the usual “best cards.” Flamespeaker is already a pretty crazy red card, since this isn’t the way red cards are usually good, but its power level is quite high. Hammerhand is a similar experience, in that it is unusual to be pushed, and yet, here we are.

What we need is a Flamespeaker deck that uses him for all of his abilities, not just as a sick Scroll Thief. While the card can be used in stuff like the list to follow, it has so much more to offer:

Yeah, yeah, it’s like drawing a card. Good job, blue mage. I will admit it’s pretty sweet to Polymorphist’s Jest when they block your Flamespeaker, but come on.

Actually Circle of Flame is pretty fun with Polymorphist’s Jest as well. And so is Izzet Staticaster and Electrickery. You know, Polymorphist’s Jest might actually be a sleeper. People are definitely sleeping on it, and yes, it is objectively weaker than Sudden Spoiling – but that one was a sleeper too. It’s also not that much worse, and it is in a color combination that really, really needs it. This has got to be the best way in U/R to deal with big creatures.

You don’t need to go all ape-spit and play twenty ping effects, either. Just play the good ones (or mostly good ones) and you can build some serious instant-speed Supreme Verdicts.

Circle of Flame is a little dicey, but stacking these does get pretty sick. Remember, it only triggers on non-fliers, so even if you have Polymorphist’s Jest, you don’t get to kill their fliers. Do it before they declare an attack and they won’t attack.

OK, the prerelease is this weekend, which means I will be back all next week with a set review. You think we’ve done a lot of deckbuilding over the past few weeks? You haven’t seen anything, yet, so let me know which cards to brew with first!

Here’s a Sliver deck on the way out.