Trolling New Standard

Find out why GP Melbourne Top 8 competitor Dan Unwin thinks that spoiled Return to Ravnica card Lotleth Troll is going to have a huge impact in different decks in the new Standard format.

Like most people I know, I am super excited about the Return to Ravnica spoilers. Each day, more awesome cards are spoiled. To give this article context, the most recent card that was spoiled when I wrote this was Skyline Predator. I loved Standard the last time Ravnica was legal, and so far things are looking pretty good for new Standard. Even before any of the new cards were spoiled, I was already thinking about how things will change with the rotation of M12 and the Scars of Mirrodin block.

In my mind, the biggest impact on Standard will be the void left by the rotation of the Phyrexian mana cards, Ponder, Mana Leak, the Titans, the Clones, and infect. Most of these can be found in any given Delver deck. Gitaxian Probe, Gut Shot, Ponder, and Mana Leak make up the bulk of Delver’s required instants and sorceries. The loss of these sixteen cards means that Snapcaster Mage and Delver of Secrets will suddenly become a lot worse. This is not to say that Snapcaster and Delver will simply disappear. They are so insanely powerful that decks will still play them, albeit in versions that are very different from the U/W lists running around today.

Control and ramp decks will lose their late game finishers when Karn Liberated, Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite, and the Titans rotate. However, there always has and always will be ridiculous late-game threats in Standard, so it is likely that these decks will still have access to something along the same lines. One card they might look to, even more that they do now, is Thragtusk. Thragtusk is an amazing card that has been kept somewhat at bay by the presence of Magic’s two best Clones: Phantasmal Image and Phyrexian Metamorph. With the departure of these Clones, I think Thragtusk is perfectly positioned to dominate.

Delver will definitely be the most impacted of the tier decks, with the obvious exception being Infect. I’d like to say that I’m optimistic about Infect’s prospects in new Standard, but that isn’t the type of trolling I was alluding to in the article title. I was referring to my favorite of the spoiled cards: Lotleth Troll.

The first thing that occurred to me is that he gives Zombies a much-needed quality two-drop. I have hated Zombies up until now. I have lost to it often, but every time I’ve played with it I truly hated the experience. The quality of your backup creatures was too low, and while Gravecrawler and Geralf’s Messenger are awesome, the rest of your cards were nowhere near that good. You had a lot of draws where you had a Fume Spitter and a bunch of removal, and your deck just sucked.

Birthing Pod helped to mitigate this, as it could turn a two-drop into a Messenger, but that meant that sometimes you’d have draws with too many Birthing Pods. You’d be tempted to fill your deck with Phantasmal Images, as they are awesome with Pods and Messengers. But then you’d have a hand with a Blood Artist and a pair of Images, which does just about nothing.

I also hated how the deck had no way to mitigate flood or screw. You were forced to play just lands that tap for black; you couldn’t play utility lands like Gavony Township or Kessig Wolf Run. You also ran the risk of not being able to play your quality creatures should you miss your third land drop. Sign in Blood helped a little in this regard, but not enough to make me want to play the deck.

Tangent aside, I think the spoilers so far greatly increase the quality of Zombies. Aside from being a great two-drop, Lotleth Troll also synergizes well with Gravecrawler since you can discard it to the Troll and then straight away cast it from your bin. His regeneration ability is great, and the trample could be relevant, especially when you combine it with the scavenge ability of Dreg Mangler.

Dreg Mangler is in my opinion the perfect addition to the Zombie deck. Three-mana 3/3 hasty dudes are exactly what most aggro decks want. It has the right creature type, and its scavenge ability is a good way to reduce the effects of mana flood.

Dreadbore is the last spell I want to cover for Zombies. It’s not especially exciting in any particular way aside from being versatile removal. Previously Zombies played some mix of Geth’s Verdict and Go for the Throat. These weren’t always good, but Dreadbore’s ability to pick off planeswalkers should prove relevant as well. I do love versatile cards, and this one definitely does it for me.

It should be obvious by now that I am looking to build a three-color Zombie deck. The reason I think this is possible is because of the reprinting of the sexy shocklands: Overgrown Tomb and Blood Crypt.

If needed they give you black on turn 1, and they’ll make each of your Dragonskull Summits and Woodland Cemetery enter the battlefield untapped. Shocklands have always been at their best in aggro decks, and you also get the little added bonus of your opponents doing themselves some damage with theirs.

This is obviously a preliminary list, as there are a lot of cards yet to be spoiled. In fact, I would not be surprised if there are more great cards for Zombies. But even if there aren’t, I know that my reservations regarding the card quality in this deck have been truly alleviated.

Another deck I brewed up is also made possible with Lotleth Troll but uses him in a very different manner. I want to discard and then Reanimate Griselbrand! 

This list is a lot more complex than the previous Zombie one. Essentially, the plan is to get a Griselbrand in your bin, Reanimate it, and then draw a bunch of cards. Sounds familiar? The difference here is that the next step is to cast a Sublime Archangel and then attack for approximately a squillion damage with an exalted Griselbrand or a Lotleth Troll fuelled by a handful of unnecessary creatures. I’m not sure how often this plan will actually come together, but one of the recently spoiled cards makes it a lot more likely.

Grisly Salvage is a card that I find very exciting, and it definitely has a home in a deck like this. Being able to find a land and mill the rest is exactly what this deck wants. Should you already have a Griselbrand in hand, it can also find a discard outlet in the form of Lotleth Troll. Sometimes you won’t be on the Reanimation plan, and sometimes it’ll be late game and you’ll have a bunch of lands in play, in which case Grisly Salvage will simply just let you grab a quality creature from the top five cards of your deck.

I don’t think that Grisly Salvage and Lotleth Troll are enough on their own to warrant playing a full set of Unburial Rites and Griselbrands, so I’ve included Mulch and Liliana of the Veil in order to give you a critical mass of discard enablers.

Thragtusk is probably going to be the overall best creature in Standard, and in this deck it’ll be your backup Reanimation target. It has nowhere near the same impact of Griselbrand, but at five mana, you will probably be hard casting it a lot and then Unburial Ritesing it back, probably more than once. The life gain should give you the time you need to race your opponent or just to dig further into your deck. The 3/3 Beasts it leaves behind will get completely out of hand once it has entered and left the battlefield a few times.

The main difference between this deck and Frites is that the overall card quality is higher. Frites really only had a few ways that its games panned out. Plan A was obviously Reanimating a fatty. If that wasn’t going to happen, you could accelerate into Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite and hope that the Praetor was enough. And sometimes you’d be forced into beatdown mode using mana dorks, Lingering Souls and Gavony Township.

Plan A aside, the other modes rarely got there since you would draw too many fatties, Unburial Rites, Mulches, or lands. Return to Ravnica Reanimator, on the other hand, has a legitimate beatdown plan with Thragtusk, Sublime Archangel, Lingering Souls, and Lotleth Troll. These are all really good against opposing aggro decks, and I suspect that this, on its own, will win you a lot of your games. Grisly Salvage and Liliana actually support this plan unlike Mulch and Tracker’s Instincts.

The mana base is something that I spent quite a while on, and it frustrated me a great deal. Scars lands like Copperline Gorge and friends were perfect for Frites, as they gave you access to all your colors without pain, untapped, and early in the game. The incoming shocklands are obviously awesome, as they allow you to play Arbor Elf and Isolated Chapel. However, the pain you take from them is sure to be relevant. The power versus consistency of Evolving Wilds compared with a mix of basic and dual lands is really quite hard to work out without playing a lot of games.

With so many cards yet to be spoiled, this deck could still gain a great deal. If there is another good fatty to back up Griselbrand, I would probably look at cutting white and adding red for Faithless Looting and going all-in on the Reanimator plan. On the other hand, if Birds of Paradise are in Return to Ravnica, as they were in the old Ravnica, I could definitely see building the deck in four colors.

Return to Ravnica looks like it’s going to be awesome, and every day the new cards manage to get my deckbuilding juices flowing. I look forward to hearing what you think about these decks.

Dan Unwin

Sledgesliver on Magic Online