Teaching Old Decks New Tricks

While others create novel decks with Eldritch Moon cards, Brad Nelson is focusing on lists with proven pedigrees! How will the new set’s cards influence the last set’s tournament winners ahead of #SCGCOL? The answers are inside!

Each and every card from Eldritch Moon has been accounted for. That’s right, all 205 new Magic cards have been spoiled for our viewing pleasure! It’s Christmas in July right now as player’s brew up crazy decks in hopes that we will have some new toys to break up the monotony of trying to use Collected Company to kill Gideon, Ally of Zendikar or vice versa. I, on the other hand, always respect learning from the past before exploring the future. That’s why today we will be studying the ashes from yesterday and then updating the decks of old to get a better picture of what tools this set might have to defeat what has ruled for so many months.

The first thing I like to do before preparing for the introduction of new cards is catalog the old ones that have been highly played since their printing. It’s not the most important thing to do, but it does give me some loose building blocks for how I want to approach the format and where I might want to start.

Now this list is extremely subjective and finding a line to draw in the sand can be difficult. That said, it’s hard to argue with the direction this list is pulling me in.

Outside of a few cards here or there, the bulk of the format’s best cards are green and white. It’s not that shocking to see that since every successful deck in this format is green, white, or both. This makes me believe that this trend will continue and that my time will be best served trying to build upon existing strategies that work instead of designing something brand new in an attempt to beat all of these cards. Brave souls will attempt this, but odds are they will be beaten by the cards that have already shown their worth time and time again.

Looking back on this list, it’s easy to see some of the more powerful ones and say they are the reason the format looked the way it did. What I’m about to say might be easily argued against, but I honestly believe the most impactful card on this list is not one that saw much maindeck play.

Tragic Arrogance changed the game. It might not feel that way, since we’ve been so used to the card that it’s become so normal in our reality, but this card turned the dynamics of matchups on its head. Let’s break this down.

The format was ruled by G/W Tokens. This deck had it all when it came to proactivity: two-drops that scaled in value as the game went on; two planeswalkers that did double duty as protectors and threats; a mythic Angel that could win the game all on its own; and Dromoka’s Command, which is arguably the closest we’ve gotten to a banworthy card since Jace, the Mind Sculptor. The rest of the deck was filled out by card advantage in the form of Den Protector; Nissa, Vastwood Seer; and Evolutionary Leap.

A strategy like this should be exploitable, and almost always is. Hell, we even had the perfect strategy to do it in the form of Crypolith Rite. These decks could get on the battlefield just as quickly as G/W Tokens, but they became almost unbeatable as they ripped through their deck with Duskwatch Recruiter and had built-in protection from Archangel Avacyn in the form of Eldrazi Displacer. Cryptolith Rite strategies had a very tough time dealing with Languish-based decks but had the edge against the creature-based decks in the format.

Well, they did, until the other creature decks in the format learned how to slow down after sideboarding and become a control deck.

Tragic Arrogance backed up by a steady stream of green creatures that gained card advantage allowed these “proactive” decks the ability to flip the switch on those trying to exploit their weaknesses. Eventually decks like Four-Color Rite and B/G Company just couldn’t cut it. There was no rock-paper-scissors because paper couldn’t cover rock.

This is the most crucial lesson moving forward. Going wide just doesn’t work in this format. Now you will get glimpses all the time that it does, but that is just one player pulling further and further ahead. Each deck was designed to gain absurd amounts of card advantage so that it could hold back resources in case the battlefield got whipped. Everyone was so paranoid of Tragic Arrogance that each deck was built to be able to handle it. This will not change!

So now begins the attempt to update known strategies with new cards while also respecting the older rules of the format. I don’t even know where to begin! Oh, that’s right, with the deck that ruled the roost.

G/W Tokens

In all honesty, I’m not sure what’s going to change for this deck. Eldrich Moon has many new cards that could give this deck issues, but it’s not proven yet if they will be successful or not. The only thing that is for certain is that G/W Tokens did not get much from the set and that we will have to wait and see if this deck is durable enough to keep up with additional hate.

The card with the most potential to fight G/W Tokens is Thalia, Heretic Cathar. The existence of this card is troubling from the G/W Tokens side, since it must be dealt with in order for the planeswalkers to be able to protect themselves. This card is also very good at invalidating Archangel Avacyn in combat the turn it comes down. I would not be surprised to see more copies of Declaration in Stone in the maindeck and Silkwrap in the sideboard of G/W Tokens moving forward. Here is where I would start.

Bant Company

Up next is my baby. For some reason I can’t get enough of this deck. I just love it! I’m known for my interest in jumping around a format all the time, but for some reason I kept coming back to this deck. Sadly it never got me the Top 8 I so desperately wanted, but even more disheartening was the fact that I think I misbuilt it for the longest time. I ended up getting attached to a version with Eldrazi Displacer over Bounding Krasis in an attempt to have a better matchup against G/W Tokens. Sadly it wasn’t until recently that I discovered that Bounding Krasis had a much better chance at beating Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, which was the most troubling aspect of G/W Tokens.

Luckily for me, that time is in the past and a new card has made it too obvious that the flash elements of the deck are the best elements of the deck!

It’s not breaking news telling you that this card is amazing. This has to be without a doubt the most-hyped card coming out of Eldrich Moon and for good reason! It’s a counterspell that you can get off of Collected Company, because that card needed to get better! Seriously, it did! Not only that, but it lives through most of the format’s removal by having three toughness for Kozilek’s Return and two colors for Ultimate Price. Sadly, it dies to Dromoka’s Command, but what doesn’t!

Now, we all know this card doesn’t actually counter spells. It exiles them until it is removed, which means it’s going to die constantly and they will get to resolve their spell. That’s if they aren’t dead already! It’s not going to be played because it can stop spells. It’s going to be played because it gives the controller an unbelievable tempo advantage that might be enough to win the game straight-up.

Did someone forget about me already?

That’s right. We can’t press our luck too much when it comes to this card. That’s why, even though Spell Queller is certainly going to see play, it shouldn’t be viewed as the card that pushed Bant Company over the edge. It will just be a card that’s good in the deck.

Again, the card I’m most afraid of from Bant Company’s side is Thalia, Heretic Cathar. There are ways around this card, but not many if she isn’t dealt with. One thing that will alleviate the sting of a turn 3 Thalia, Heretic Cathar is how well Duskwatch Recruiter’s backside plays with both Bounding Krasis and Spell Queller. I can see it coming up often that you will be forced to play a two-color tapped on turn 3 so you can set up Collected Company, but that will be fine thanks to Krallenhorde Howler’s (I totally didn’t have to look that up just now) ability to reduce costs.

Bant Humans

Bant Company and Bant Humans fought constantly for who was the better deck this past season. Now, there wasn’t enough data to objectively argue this debate, but one thing that is clear is that Bant Humans has a much better chance to beat Thalia, Heretic Cathar by playing her!

Knight of the White Orchid finally has even more of a reason to see play. Thalia, Heretic Cathar is going to do some serious damage when on the play, which is why I believe any deck able to play Knight of the White Orchid should, since it is such a natural trump to the three-drop. That’s even the reason why I would play a third copy of the two-drop in my sideboard!

One card that hasn’t gotten much love from the rest of the world is Heron’s Grace Champion, and I don’t understand why. Sure, it’s not cheap enough to find with Collected Company, but it shouldn’t be! This is a card that not only pumps the team for a potential attack or defense but gains a whole lot of life in the process.

Lifegain isn’t the readily available in this format, so a swing of this magnitude shouldn’t be scoffed at. Now, maybe this card might end up not as valuable to this deck as Archangel Avacyn, but I would be surprised if it isn’t played at all, especially after Lantern Scout was played way more often than I thought it should have.

One thing you might have picked up on after looking at both of these Bant Company decks is that neither list has four Tireless Trackers, even after I spent so much of this article talking about how Tragic Arrogance was warping the format. I would like to say that my defense for cutting these cards is simply due to how I initially approach a format gaining more cards.

Almost every time a new set is introduced, the format speeds up ever so slightly. I’m confident that will be the case in this format, which means I don’t want to be stuck with excess Tireless Trackers in my hand, since I don’t believe I will be able to utilize all of the Clues produced. I instead want to play cards better-prepared for faster games in the maindeck and find the perfect amount of cards for the sideboard that will help fight attrition-based games after both decks bring in Tragic Arrogance or Planar Outburst.

G/B Midrange

Now this is the starting point for me on this archetype, but I believe it will change to adapt to its surroundings.

The big question is how good Grim Flayer actually is. It’s easy to see that it interacts well with Liliana, the Last Hope, since getting early damage through with the card seems easy, but is that good enough to justify not playing Languish in the maindeck? Will this card be good enough in a world of Dromoka’s Command and Hangarback Walker?

These are the questions we will have to ask ourselves in these first weeks of testing, but the answers should be easily found once the games actually get played. My gut says that Grim Flayer won’t live up to the hype and we will find that Den Protector is too powerful with Liliana, the Last Hope and Languish not to prioritize in the maindeck, but I don’t want skip over this mythic two-drop before giving it a shot.

W/U Spirits

The last deck on my list for today is an archetype that popped up in the last few weeks of this format. Not surprisingly, this W/U Flying deck got a few new toys from Eldrich Moon in the form of additional Spirits, which makes me believe this will become a true contender moving forward.

Selfless Spirit is the most exciting card out of Eldrich Moon for this deck. Not only does it interact well with Archangel Avacyn by sacrificing itself in the end step, it allows this strategy to completely blow out opponents with Planar Outburst. This is a strategy I’m unfamiliar with, but I do see why people were slowly gravitating toward it at the end of the season. One card that I’m unsure should be cut from the deck is Eldrazi Skyspawner, but something had to go to make room for Spell Queller, which will most likely end up being a better card. Only testing will tell, though!

Run the Gauntlet!

This concludes my initial gauntlet for Standard moving forward. Next week I will be back with strategies that might be able to combat these decks, but for now I’m excited to get to work on the decks that already proved themselves last season. .