The Shadows Over Innistrad Standard Gauntlet

Pro Tour Champion Shaun McLaren knows how to prepare for brand new formats! See what his testing grounds are for all of his Shadows over Innistrad decks and the #SCGBALT metagame for next weekend!

Shadows over Innistrad Prerelease April 2-3!



Danger around every corner.

Searching for fleeting answers with few to be had.

No, I’m not talking about the Shadows over Innistrad storyline, I’m talking about the feelings you get when trying to build a deck for a new Standard format.

Today I’ll try and help clear up those uncertainties as best I can. I’ll tell you what I think will be the top decks going into the new format, look at versions of those decks built by some of Magic’s top minds, and then go over how I’d build them.

These are the decks that I think best survive the Standard rotation and will be a good starting point for testing any brew you come up with. After all, what good is a brew if it isn’t beating the most-played decks?

Without further ado, let’s dive in and unpack the mysteries of the new Standard format and lay down a gauntlet!

Here we have a lovely Esper Dragons list from Shaheen Soorani, and you can read about his thoughts on the deck by clicking here.

Dragonlord Ojutai is one heck of a card and that’s not changing anytime soon.

There are very few cards that interact with it favorably. Clip Wings, Rending Volley, and Tears of Valakut are all great sideboard options, but many decks struggle to deal with it in game 1.

There are a few options, though, including Foul-Tongue Invocation, To the Slaughter, Languish, and Chandra, Flamecaller. The issue with trying to deal with it any other way is that you’ll likely run into a Duress or Silumgar’s Scorn or a removal spell on your blocker before you get a chance to interact with a tapped Dragonlord Ojutai. There are some reasonable ways to try, though, including blocking with Hangarback Walker Thopter tokens or an ambushing Archangel Avacyn. Don’t forget World Breaker has reach. I’m not sure what the criteria for getting reach on an Eldrazi is; maybe if you’re small enough to actually notice the tiny creatures with flying?

But what about the less exciting rest of the deck that isn’t Dragonlord Ojutai?

Guess what, Dragonlord Silumgar is also better than ever before! It is going to be the premier planeswalker pilferer in the coming months. Stealing Sorin, Grim Nemesis; Gideon, Ally of Zendikar; Chandra, Flamecaller; and more has never been so juicy, especially since you can declare no takesies backsies and minus them to their deaths immediately if you fear removal on your opponent’s turn.

Epiphany at the Drownyard does nautical my fancy and I’m about ready to bury it at sea.

On paper it looks promising. It scales, it’s an instant, it fills any gap in your curve, and it potentially nets you a lot of cards. The problem is it falls very short in the early-game and isn’t good enough to make up for that in the late-game. The big reason why is that it gives your opponent the final say. Jace, Architect of Thought and Fact or Fiction gave you the choice of what cards went your hand, not your opponent, and I think that makes all the difference. You can potentially cast a massive Epiphany, hit the card you need, and still not get it in your hand.

It’s possible one copy might sneak into lists, but I’d recommend just playing more consistent card draw unless you’re looking to play it for its graveyard synergy. I would steer clear of Epiphany at the Drownyard, or the only epiphany you’ll be having is that something on your poop deck smells fishy.

Here’s my updated take on Esper Dragons.

This list is severely lacking in new cards. We’ve got one Jace, Unraveler of Secrets and four Choked Estuary, but other than that… not a trace of Shadows over Innistrad.

The Dragons of Tarkir cards all synergize really well with each other, which leaves less room for new cards. The new set does seem to have difficulty fitting in with the old ones, or perhaps that’s the polite way of saying all these new cards seem underpowered. But that’s pretty much the way it always seems at first until they’re fully explored.

Shaheen Soorani’s version embraces being three colors and takes advantage of more powerful spells, which makes sense; since the format is going to be slower, we can afford to stumble a little more often with tapped lands.

I tried to focus on running a lot of untapped lands so this list can cast all the cards that aren’t Dragonlord Ojutai on-curve consistently. As for that, we only have nine white sources. But we do have plenty of ways to dig out those sources by turn 5 if we need to, including four Anticipates. Losing white hurts hardest since we have to give up access to some nice goodies like Painful Truths, Ojutai’s Command, Shambling Vent, and Sorin, Grim Nemesis.

Naturally I’m just guessing a little with sideboard, but we have access to some really powerful spells, in particular some really backbreaking three-drops like Virulent Plague or Infinite Obliteration for the mirror or ramp decks, which makes Anticipate that much more appealing since you can “tutor” them up on turn 2.

Esper Dragons is going to be one of the best decks out of the gate, so make sure you have a plan for it.

The next obvious winner from the rotation comes in the form of G/R Ramp. This little beauty is Gerry Thompson’s and you can read more about it in his article here.

Arlinn Kord is powerful, but doesn’t seem like she’ll make it into ramp maindecks. Her plus abilities best support swarms of creatures and her other abilities don’t really support the rest of the ramp gameplan. She does work nicely with Deathcap Cultivator, though, giving it haste and allowing it to punch and then add mana or stay back on defense. Still, it’s likely just better to cast Explosive Vegetation or Hedron Archive on four mana.

Here’s a version that tries to dodge any small early-game removal spells while focusing on ramping. In recent times it has been better to embrace just running all the good early ramp creatures since removal has been weak in comparison, but it could be worth it here.

I suppose there isn’t too much to say. It’s a ramp deck. Go big!

There’s always a red aggro deck. This one is plucked from Patrick Chapin’s article found here. Stylish, affordable, fast.

First of all, good riddance to Become Immense and Temur Battle Rage.

Second, it seems like you’re going to have to scrape the bottom of the barrel looking for ways to roll over your opponent when it comes to filling the last slots of a Mono-Red deck. Which is probably a good thing, since three-color decks are not going to be as fast as they once were.

Something about Falkenrath Gorger with no ways to enable its ability just feels wrong, but I suppose being able to turn your nose up at 2/1 for one is just the privileged world we live in now.

Goldnight Castigator seems like the big payoff for red decks now. It is absolutely bonkers in matchups where they aren’t pressuring your life total. A 4/9 haste for four mana? Whaaaat. That’s, like, ridiculously ridiculous.

And if you are in matchup where your life total is being pressured? Um, well, you’re not supposed to let them do that. You’re a red aggro deck! Seriously, though, that Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and the token it made are attacking you for fourteen.

If you have two Goldnight Castigators, you’re taking double double damage and a Reality Smasher will pop you in the face for a smooth twenty.

Village Messenger is not great but has a few things going for it. It’s an amazing turn 1 creature when you’re on the play, it enables Reckless Bushwhacker, and it can tax an opponent without enough blockers and sneak through damage in the late-game thanks to menace. Also, it’s a one-drop and it’s red. Like I said, we’re scraping the bottom of the barrel in those last slots.

Behind door number four we have a fine G/W Megamorph deck courtesy of Michael Majors. It’s the same archetype he took to dominate the first Standard tournament after Battle for Zendikar was released.

Archangel Avacyn seems like an obvious addition, since it does everything, and Oath of Nissa is going to complement Gideon Ally of Zendikar, the most powerful card, by finding it and helping cast it.

One potential direction for the deck is to focus more on a token theme.

Westvale Abbey is a card I predict will see plenty of play during its stay in Standard, especially thanks to the encouragement to build two-color decks.

Just having a mana sink capable of generating a token isn’t bad for a color combination that doesn’t have access to creature-lands. Remember, you don’t have to immediately flip it as soon as you can. If you’re in a winning position, just keep making tokens and laugh if your opponent tries to Planar Outburst them while you introduce them to the indestructible Ormendahl, Profane Prince.

Westvale Abbey can be fine on its own without much support, but it becomes a very big deal when you run it in a strategy like this one. Just having a couple Secure the Wastes is enough, but this deck is super-saturated with ways to flip Westvale Abbey.

Flipping into Ormendahl, Profane Prince is going to be an instant win against red aggro decks, and it’s not going to be the only thing flipping if they have a Goldnight Castigator out.

Sigarda, Heron’s Grace is a great option against control decks running Languish and Grasp of Darkness. It also comes with a built-in token army if you have mana to spare and extra benefits like giving hexproof to the creature forms of Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and Knight of the White Orchid. It also shuts down Foul-Tongue Invocation from being cast and stops red decks from finishing you off with targeted burn.

This deck could even be pushed to focus on Evolutionary Leap further. It kind of becomes a tutor spell when the number of creatures you run shrinks low enough. Right now, in the maindeck it can only find Elvish Visionary; Hangarback Walker; Nissa, Vastwood Seer; Archangel Avacyn; or Sigarda, Heron’s Grace, all of which are fairly fantastic to play and then recycle into something new until you hit an Archangel Avacyn, which you’ll have a sacrifice outlet for if you’re so inclined to flip her.

Knight of the White Orchid is sadly missing but could easily replace Elvish Visionary, and the Evolutionary Leap package could move to the sideboard to focus more on just tokens.

Shadows and Shadon’ts

There you have it! I hope all these decks will be a good start for any brew you want to test and provide inspiration for anyone looking to pilot one of these decks.

Esper Dragons, G/R Eldrazi Ramp, Red Aggro, and G/W Megamorph.

I think that covers all the bases for an initial gauntlet. Or at least four bases. Which is all of them. In baseball.

What do all these decks have in common? They respect the mana available. Make sure to keep that in mind going forward. Don’t be afraid to try experimental three- and four-color decks, but make sure you pay special attention to your manabases.

Beyond that, test and refine. Make sure you’re beating the best decks and then maybe you’ve got a new best deck on your hands.

Which decks do you think will be the best in the first weeks of Shadows Standard? Which brews will rise up and be able to best these four decks?

Shadows over Innistrad Prerelease April 2-3!