As I write this it is Wrestlemania Sunday, aka the holiest of days for yours truly. When I say hallowed ground, I mean that in the sincerest of senses. This is a several-day stretch that I take off work every year, glue myself to the WWE Network, and absorb dozens of hours of programming, the Hall of Fame inductions, and more. In this moment I am happiest. For some of you, it is the finale of The Walking Dead‘s excellent Season Six entry that will finally reveal
It just so happens that this weekend coincides with the Prerelease for Shadows over Innistrad, so I had to prioritize.
Obviously wrestling wins.
I’ve talked about how taxing Prereleases can be in the past, so this time around I decided to sit out. Well, the cold I have made that choice for me, to be honest, but I would have done the same thing.
This gave me a rare opportunity to just relax and brew.
One small problem I’ve had over the years of Prereleasing is getting enamored with the cards I play with and wanting to functionally port them into Standard due to their perceived power level in Limited. This time around, I had a clear scope of what I wanted to achieve going forward.
The first week is upon us, and like the looming threats over the heads of each citizen of Innistrad, it’s coming whether you’re ready for it or not.
Understand the Axis Points Standard Will Rotate On
The common belief in the early-goings is that Ramp is going to be the predominant threat going forward due to the largely intact base it maintains along with the overall power level of the deck.
But you saw a pretty big gap in its armor earlier this week.
On Premium, Todd Anderson along with Brad Nelson provided a video of U/R Prowess versus a stock iteration of G/R Ramp. It wasn’t particularly close, and U/R proved that in the first few weeks it will naturally prey on these Eldrazi decks. I don’t even think Todd Anderson’s version has reached its full potential, whereas Brad Nelson’s Eldrazi Ramp deck looked very well-built for the first week. That gives you a bit of insight into how dangerous a deck like Prowess is going to be against the perceived midrange format you’re heading into.
I think the common mistake is to assume that ramp itself is the plan that powers the deck, when really it is more about becoming a potent Chandra, Flamecaller build that can capitalize on her sheer power earlier than your opponent can. In that respect, I feel that the following cards are the focal points you should be keeping in mind when you commence building your brews:
Conspicuous by their absence on my list are Collected Company and Reflector Mage. While they’re powerful and will still see play, I don’t believe they will be as prolific as they’ve been in the past. The creatures out there will be far too big and value-oriented to care if they’re bounced and combat will change greatly from Khans to where we’ll be shortly. Sure, returning a Thing in the Ice to its owner’s hand will feel pretty good, but it’s not the theory behind what you want to be doing.
Cards like Awoken Horror and Ormendahl, Profane Prince, while over-performing in testing, have real costs to activating them. This makes something like Silkwrap a significantly better removal spell (which, since it’s already a solid answer to Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy, is saying something).
Sweepers are going to be more important than we’re used to seeing. Languish, despite being a bench-rider for most of its legality, will see a pretty good uptick in playability. The early weeks of testing show interest in various Zombie- and Vampire-themed aggressive decks, and that doesn’t bode well for creatures that are short on toughness. Languish, and by proxy Chandra, Flamecaller, will be early gut-checks to aggro decks that don’t have a backup plan, not to mention being good answers to a resolved Archangel Avacyn.
Speaking of Chandra, who since her spoiling I have been touting as one of the best planeswalkers printed in recent years, her presence in the format is going to be felt, not with ripples, but with waves. Her intrinsic power level is no longer looked at as latent, and her power level is now widely accepted as a universal truth.
If the format has one pivot point at the starting line, Chandra, Flamecaller is it. She is card advantage, sweeping, aggression, and a win-condition all rolled up in one efficient package. If your deck isn’t playing her, it needs to be able to beat her. Period. This is non-negotiable for #SCGBALT.
Understand This Format’s Fundamental Differences
In formats long gone, there was usually a deck you could point at and say “that’s probably going to be Tier 1 after rotation,” and unsurprisingly it was. For us, that deck is G/R Ramp, but the ways of attacking it must change.
Aside from Prowess decks, there aren’t numerous ways to invalidate G/R Ramp like there were before. Esper Dragons could disrupt them and counter the bulk of their spells, but three-color decks are going to succumb to their mana enough to make them a bad choice for the first few tournaments. Sure, they can perform well and there is no denying the power level of Dragonlord Ojutai or Dragonlord Silumgar, but is sacrificing consistency for strength the best thing to do when the new aggressive decks will only be boasting one or two colors? Rally the Ancestors and Atarka Red no longer existing only helps G/R Ramp, and there’s no longer Mantis Rider to punish slow or fumbled starts.
But that doesn’t mean it’s unbeatable. I actually believe that, while it will be heavily represented at #SCGBALT, it will not take home the first title.
Your first-week decks will no longer have to allocate spots to graveyard hate (unless you’re terrified of Relentless Dead) or multiple ways to deal with Siege Rhino. Dispel and Negate seem like fine maindeck inclusions, and there are a bevy of cards that wouldn’t have been good a few weeks ago but are now going to see a touch more play.
As for Shadows over Innistrad, it brings cards to the table that will fundamentally change the tempo at which you’ve played Magic for the last few years.
Goldnight Castigator is cartoonishly large and will see play immediately. Its large, hasted body will often provide more pressure than it deals damage to you and will only be removed through hard kill spells rather than combat or burn most of the time. A 4/9 (4/5 for all intents and purposes) flying, haste creature is something we’re not used to seeing, and time will tell of its playability, but initial testing has shown it’s better than people think it is, especially with a lot of emphasis being placed on G/W-based midrange decks to get the most mileage out of Archangel Avacyn.
Speaking of Archangel Avacyn, she’s the real deal. Her price tag will increase, as she’s the next evolution of power creep in Magic. Yes, she’s legendary, but she will warp the format and completely alter how you proceed with attacking, blocking, and levying your resources. Her very existence in Standard will disallow mistakes and force considerably tighter play, or else she will kill you. If your opponent plays a white source, chances are they are playing Avacyn and you must respect that.
Understand if Your Deck Has the Tools to Compete
Right out of the gate, after testing, I was able to see that R/B Vampires is more of a pipe dream than a contender. Maybe the builds just weren’t right, but Olivia, Mobilized for War was weak and Falkenrath Gorger was underwhelming, as were the various madness-enabling creatures. Truthfully, the best performer in the deck was Chandra, Flamecaller.
That meant it was time to shelve it and move on to other things. Facing it a few times validated my beliefs and allowed me closure. Brew number one was a failure. This give perspective on what works and what cards are necessary.
First and foremost, it is my opinion that Negate is a maindeck-worthy card. There are plenty of great cards that it just acts as a stone cold foil to, and it will be played in abundance. From planeswalkers to removal, it answers just about everything that is going to be relevant in your first few tournaments.
Cards that you thought would be good or that should theoretically still be good have dipped in power level. One such staple is Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. Games centering around one-drop à two-drop à three-drop à Gideon are going to be less frequent, not to mention Anafenza, the Foremost leaving, thus stunting the aggressive capabilities of Gideon significantly.
However, a former spell that has seen in-and-out time in the spotlight, Secure the Wastes, breathes life into Gideon and takes him from the kind of threat you can win with solo to an impressive Anthem and win condition. In short, pairing the right cards together is going to be important. This will give you an early edge.
The last part is understanding how a card from SoI plays out in your deck. Oftentimes newer cards are added with the expectation that they will either be very good or very bad, but the ones that fall in between are where you can get yourself into trouble. For example, while testing U/R Tutelage, I tried Engulf the Shore. It was fine. It wasn’t great. Occasionally it was a blowout, but there were times it did absolutely nothing. I was sure that it was good enough to warrant a slot, but in reality it didn’t belong in the main and I relegated a single copy to the sideboard, whereas my silver bullet Startled Awake had been extremely impressive. Fevered Visions was getting sideboarded in a lot, and I decided to play it in the main instead.
Being fluid with your card choices and making sure it has the tools needed to be competitive takes time, but with plenty of testing, note taking, and willingness to bend on cards that might not be good enough, you can tune your deck to be far more effective.
As I write this, Wrestlemania is starting, so that’s my cue to exit.
Good luck this weekend at #SCGBALT, and if you’re not attending, may you crush all of your FNMs or local tournaments.
If this ‘Mania isn’t good, you won’t see me next week. I’ll be too busy picketing outside WWE’s HQ in Stamford. [Carpool? – Ed.]