States And Innistrad Standard

States is coming up, and Brad Nelson couldn’t be more excited! With Innistrad’s release just weeks away, he dives into the deckbuilding process with the latest spoilers.

Did you guys know that a new set of Magic cards comes out in just eight days? I’d seen some of the spoilers from Innistrad, including some of the new flip cards, but there was so much other exciting stuff going on that I lost track. Doubling the number of Grand Prix, a new rating system, a new format for a Pro Tour, a new SCG Open schedule. All of these things made me forget about one of my favorite tournaments of the year. That’s right. States is here once again. I think it’s time to talk about new Standard!

States was the first big tournament I ever got to play in. I was a kitchen table Magic player back then, and a big tournament for showcasing local talent really interested me. I got in contact with the best player in my city and worked on building a sweet deck for the tournament.

Not only was it my first time testing for an event, but I even made it to the Top 8. This first taste of success was the reason I persevered and got to where I am today. States might not be the most prestigious tournament of the year, but it holds a place in my heart that no other tournament can match.

States is always right after the rotation, which means the oldest block in Standard goes, and the new one comes in. This time around, we lose Zendikar, Worldwake, Rise of the Eldrazi, and M11. This is probably the biggest hit to Standard since I started playing Magic. Zendikar was not only one of the biggest blocks, but its power level was what most blocks only dream of having.

Almost every Standard deck right now is fueled by Zendikar block, so the format will drastically change. No more Squadron Hawk, Goblin Guide, Lotus Cobra, Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle, manlands, fetchlands, Preordain, Splinter Twin, Bloodghast, Searing Blaze, Fauna Shaman, Vengevine, Baneslayer Angel, Steel Overseer, and many more.

It’s a huge list of cards, but the funny thing is that there is one archetype that I think will live on. They tried to ban it—to no effect. Even rotation may not be the answer. The first deck I worked on post rotation is none other than Caw-Blade!

It has more of a Puresteel shell, sure. There isn’t even a bird in this deck to give it the name Caw-Blade. It just has a really nice ring to it.

Puresteel Paladin was a deck that dominated Block Constructed for six months. It first popped up at Pro Tour Nagoya piloted by the Floridians and has been tweaked and tuned to be a powerhouse in Magic Online Daily Events. The best place to look for powerful decks in new Standard formats has always been old Block decks, and this time is no different.

The biggest problem with this deck in the past was that it had nothing to do when the deck didn’t draw Puresteel Paladin. With Puresteel, the deck was amazing, generating tons of free mana and card advantage; the opponent could never keep up. Since we don’t live in a perfect world, this deck did not make the transition to Standard because of its inability to find Puresteel Paladin every game.

Now we have Mentor of the Meek. It might not be as powerful as Puresteel Paladin in this shell, but it does enough to make it a great strategy. With both of these cards in the deck, almost every card has the ability to cantrip. I don’t know about you, but I love to draw a bunch of cards.

The real secret was finding Invisible Stalker thanks to my best buddy Jake Van-Lunen. I called him up asking him what he thought about this deck, and the first thing he said was, “That 1/1 hexproof, unblockable guy is perfect in this shell!”

Invisible Stalker gives this deck a higher percentage of good openers. He might not draw cards for you, but this has to be the best guy to hold a sword in a very long time. Turn two Invisible Stalker followed up with Sword of War and Peace will probably be enough to beat any opponent. He might not grab three friends like Squadron Hawk, but he doesn’t need to since he doesn’t get killed or blocked.

Invisible Stalker doesn’t even have to be in the opening hand to have a huge impact on a game. If the deck’s primary engine is online, the deck draws and plays so many permanents each turn. Most creature decks can’t deal with all of them once it’s in full gear. A control deck might be able to. Day of Judgment is in the format and can help cripple this deck’s ability to function sometimes. Invisible Stalker can come down post mass removal and grab every piece of Equipment left on the table with ease.

Trinket Mage and Sylvok Lifestaff don’t really need to be in this deck just yet. Without the whole spoiler, they’re just filler until I see what else might be better. Without knowing the metagame yet, I think this is the best place to start. Cards that could also go in the deck are Hex Parasite, Spellskite, Etched Champion, Hero of Bladehold, Oblivion Ring, Mirran Crusader, Apostle’s Blessing, Vault Skirge, Glint Hawk, and Blade Splicer.

Birthing Pod

Next, we should take a really good look at anything with Birthing Pod. Innistrad does not seem to have the same power level that recent sets have had. Most of the cards that seem good are creatures or planeswalkers. This means that most decks will be creature-based and give a deck like Birthing Pod the time it needs to take over a game.

G/W Birthing Pod seems like a great place to start. There are some great creatures coming out to make it a great color combination. The only problem with creating a decklist this early is that we have no clue what the rest of the set looks like. Not only are there new, amazing cards yet to be seen, but we have no clue what the metagame will look like. Let’s just talk about the new cards that can see play in the deck.

Mentor of the Meek

Mentor of the Meek also fits a deck like this very well. It helps generate a ton of cards when a hand gets clumped with low-drops and is a good creature to tutor up against a control deck. We haven’t had many good three-drops for Birthing Pod decks in the past, so having a good one now is great. This card is just one of my favorites in a long time, and it might just be insanely powerful. I guess I’ll have to wait and see at States. There is a very good chance I’ll play with this card.

Fiend Hunter

This is a very interesting card for a deck like this. Not only does it have the ability to kill a big creature like a Titan that is in the way, but it can also slow down an opponent when you are using it as a stepping stone for four-drops. If you need to go from 2-4, this seems like the perfect card to go get.

Hollowhenge Scavenger

Do you get it? I don’t think I have to explain why this card is at least cute in a Birthing Pod deck. If there is an aggressive deck out there, this guy will for sure get a slot in the deck. Not only does he help bridge 4-6, but it gain life on the way. Acidic Slime won’t get pushed out, since it will still be the best five-drop, but it has a new partner.

Reaper from the Abyss

I don’t know how good Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite is going to be in Birthing Pod. If it is not good enough, I feel that black might take over because of this card. Reaper from the Abyss works just like Hollowhenge Scavenger. The sacrificed creature turns this guy on, allowing you to kill a guy the turn you tutor for him. That is pretty cool and much more powerful than any other morbid creature out there. I feel that Elesh Norn will still be better but not as cool.

Avacyn’s Pilgrim

Avacyn’s Pilgrim seems perfect for this deck. One of the decks’ big problems has been a lack of enough white mana in the early turns, limiting its ability to play multiples of great cards like Hero of Bladehold and Mirran Crusader.

I’m not saying that those cards should be played in multiples, but the ability to produce double white more consistently is something G/W decks have lacked for a long time. Birds of Paradise just got a new buddy.

Mono-Blue Illusions

The last deck I’m going to talk about this week is Mono-Blue Illusions. I first saw this deck when I was commentating at SCG Open Richmond. It was love at first sight. The deck is not too powerful, but it’s so much fun to play with.

Not only is Standard going to drop in power level post rotation, but none of the cards in this deck rotate. It even gains Snapcaster Mage. I think this deck will go from cute to deadly next month.

If you’ve never seen this deck before, it’s really cool; the idea is to be very aggressive with all the best blue beaters. Lord of the Unreal does some very interesting things in this deck. It not only pumps any bears you have in play, but it’s the best target for your Phantasmal Images. By copying Lord of the Unreal with Phantasmal Image, your Image gains hexproof, since Lord of the Unreal gives all Illusions hexproof, and Image remains an Illusion even after copying something. This means that a Phantasmal Image coping Lord of the Unreal is a 3/3 hexproof all by himself.

Molten-Tail Masticore has never had a time to shine since it was printed. It first had to compete with Jace, the Mind Sculptor, then Dismember. It never was fast enough until it was in this deck. This card is a huge threat in a deck like this. Grand Architect’s job is to pump all of his friends first, then fuel Masticore with all the mana it needs in the late game. This mono-blue deck has reach!

I don’t think Azure Mage is good enough in this deck, but it is too much fun to pass up. Azure Mage allows you to draw cards when you don’t have anything better to do. This is fine, but not that appealing. It’s only busted when you copy it with Phyrexian Metamorph, and you have Grand Architect in play. This allows you to activate its ability with Grand Architect mana. You’ll get tons of cards quickly. Like I said before, drawing cards is my favorite thing to do.

Snapcaster Mage fits this deck better than any other. The deck puts its ability and its body to good use. This guy can become very scary when backed up by a ton of cheap creatures. Phantasmal Image can also come down and copy him when you need an extra Dismember or need to dig with Ponder.

The spoiler for Innistrad is almost finished, and soon we’ll know exactly what Standard will look like. We can’t always get a full spoiler months in advance! This is a rough idea of what I think the decks will look like, but I can’t wait to get to work.

I would like your help with States this year. It’s the one tournament I cannot wait to play. I’ve yet to win a States Championship even though my brother has three already. This is my year to take it down, and I’ll be writing about it as it approaches. Please email me at [email protected] if you have any sweet ideas about new Standard or if you think I missed anything, and I will put up any good ideas in my next article. See you next week!

Brad Nelson