What’s Old Is New

The finals matchup of the #SCGCIN Standard Open disappointed Brian Kibler, but the Hall of Famer found lists he liked down the standings. Get his takes on Junk Midrange and G/W Aggro ahead of #SCGKNOX!

Last weekend marked the first big Standard tournaments in which Journey into Nyx was legal. How exciting! New cards and new decks-hooray! After ten rounds
of Swiss and two of single elimination, the finals of #SCGCIN brought us the
thrilling matchup between…wait, U/W Control and Black Devotion? Seriously?

OK, so maybe the new set hasn’t proven to be the solution for all of Standard’s woes just yet. Not only was the finals a matchup between the same two decks
to beat from a few weeks ago, but the rest of the Top 16 wasn’t much better. Of the top-performing decks in the event, only a couple of them could really
be considered new, and many had few if any new cards at all.

The only Journey into Nyx cards in the winning list were four copies of Temple of Malady, while the finalist, Eric Rill, had only a single Banishing Light
in his maindeck as a fifth Detention Sphere effect, along with two copies of Nyx-Fleece Ram and one Deicide in his sideboard. Where were the Mana
Confluences? The Athreoses? The Iroases? (Pluralizing these gods’ names sure is hard…)

The optimist in me wants to say that people just haven’t had enough time with the new cards to really explore the possibilities they offer. It’s not
surprising that we see minor variations on existing decks the first weekend the new set is legal-after all, it’s not like people could have done a whole
lot of playtesting with a set that released on Friday for a tournament on Saturday. And it’s only just going to have become available on Magic Online by
the time you read this, so online testing was right out.

So let’s stay optimistic, shall we? I want to take a look at the new cards and decks that did show up at the event and see what they may mean for the
future of the format.

Let’s start with Jeff Hoogland’s latest design.

Jeff has developed something of a reputation as a deckbuilder on the Open Series, and his new take on Junk is an interesting one. I’ve been a huge fan of
the B/G color combination for a while, but it’s always felt like it came up just short against the rest of the field-in no small part due to being a
midrange deck lacking an on-color Temple. Temple of Malady is a big boon to any kind of Golgari midrange strategy, and that’s pretty clearly the direction
Jeff is going here.

When I first looked at Jeff’s list, it seemed impossibly spell-dense. Jeff has a wide range of creatures and removal, along with a Planeswalker suite
bigger than any I’d played before myself, and I couldn’t figure out where he found the room. Then I looked at the sideboard, and it hit me-he’d cut
Thoughtseize from the main deck. It’s an interesting move, to be sure, and certainly one that must have been motivated by the expectation that the new
format would be heavily aggressive.

Thoughtseize is one of those cards that is frequently (and inaccurately) thought of as completely sacrosanct, and it’s always a good idea to re-evaluate
what we hold as sacred cows. When I was playing Golgari Midrange last season, one of my most important realizations was that Thoughtseize was actively bad
in the Blue Devotion matchup, because I couldn’t afford spending mana, life, and a card on an effect that did not impact the board. With the results we’re
seeing from the first week of the format, I don’t think I’d ride into battle with a black deck sans Thoughtseize, but I can certainly imagine a world in
which that might be the case, and it’s important to keep your mind open to those kind of ideas.

But Thoughtseize is old news, as is my general hatred of the card on principle, so
instead let’s look at what’s new here. The most exciting card to me in this list is Ajani, Mentor of Heroes. My experience with G/B base midrange decks in
the current Standard is that they lack the ability to really close out a game. That’s why I was experimenting with Garruk, Caller of Beasts and Sylvan
Primordial a few months ago. I felt like the deck needed a real way to pull ahead and stay there.

Ajani can do exactly that with each of his +1 abilities, even if his ultimate isn’t especially impressive. The ability to distribute counters amongst your
creatures can help punch through a stalled board, and the impulse effect can dig you to action when you need it. It’s worth noting that Ajani can fetch not
only creatures and other Planeswalkers like Elspeth but also Auras like Underworld Connections. While Ajani’s ultimate may not be quite as universally
game-winning as some others out there, it does have real value in a deck that’s paying life with Connections (and perhaps Thoughtseize, in a less
conservative version), and it can be absolutely lights out against some aggressive decks.

There are some elements of Jeff’s deck that I’m not a huge fan of. The absence of Thoughtseize aside, I’m not really sold on his creature selection, though
I’m sure it was heavily informed by his apparent prediction of a highly aggressive metagame. His mana costs are a bit heavy for my tastes, with five
creatures at five mana alongside his three five-plus-mana Planeswalkers and Advent of the Wurm as his four-drop. I have been generally unimpressed by
Advent in my experiences with it in similar decks. While it’s nice that it dodges Lifebane Zombie, it dies to both Doom Blade and Ultimate Price and is
harder to cast than many of the other options. The fact that it’s a whiff for Ajani also seems like a strike against it in a build like this one.

I’m also really not sold on eleven Temples. Sure, mana fixing is good and the scry effect is good, but at some point you’re just unable to operate
efficiently due to having too many lands that enter the battlefield tapped. Perhaps that’s part of the reason Jeff focused more on ramping to five mana
rather than four with Caryatid-he’s just assuming that two of his early lands will be Temples, so he’ll never be able to ramp into a four-drop on the third

If I were to take some of the ideas from this deck and retool them a bit, I might end up with something like this:

Cutting down on the white spells in the deck allows us to shave a few Temples and have a saner-looking mana base, while still maintaining the late game
power afforded by Elspeth and Ajani. Reaper and Polukranos are easier-to-cast four-drops than Advent that are actual creatures for Ajani’s +1 ability, and
the former is a particularly good target for +1/+1 counters since it can naturally gain hexproof.

Ajani similarly makes creatures like Sin Collector and Lifebane Zombie more attractive as sideboard options compared to spells like Duress or Doom Blade,
both because you can find them with the Impulse effect and because you can bolster them in play and turn them into serious threats.

Speaking of turning smaller creatures into real threats – this is a deck that showed up in the Top 16 that hasn’t really been seen in a while.

James Grendall took G/W Aggro to a respectable finish, and his deck was one of the few making great use out of Mana Confluence. This enabled him to play
both Soldier of the Pantheon and Experiment One in the same deck and actually being able to cast them, something that has been something of a pipe dream in
Standard since Theros released.

One card that entered Standard with a ton of fanfare but hasn’t made much of an impact recently has been Voice of Resurgence. Voice has maintained an
extremely high dollar value despite its conspicuous absence from top Standard decks, in part due to its popularity in Modern Birthing Pod decks, but
certainly in part due to the stubbornness of people who bought them at forty dollars and are unable to bear the idea of parting with them for half the

Thankfully, it looks like Voice may be poised for a resurgence of its own. The little elemental that could has faced quite a few hurtles in the way of its
success in Standard, but Journey into Nyx has offered tools to help. Mana Confluence making it possible to actually consistently cast multicolored
two-drops is one of those, and Ajani is certainly another. In a world of Sylvan Caryatids and Coursers of Kruphix, Voice can get outclassed pretty quickly,
and Ajani can provide the boost our antlered friend needs to make it over the hump.

Similarly, Banishing Light provides some much-needed removal. G/W decks can easily fall behind opposing Pack Rats or run into a Master of the Waves or
Thassa that they can’t get off the board. In fact, Mono-Blue Devotion was such a problem for many G/W decks-thanks to the aforementioned mythic rares and
Tidebinder Mage-that they went so far as to run maindeck Skylashers and Mistcutter Hydras for a while. If the results from Cinncinati are any indication,
however, blue looks like it may be on the decline, which is high time for G/W to try to shine.

What I really like about G/W is just how good its tools against Black Devotion and U/W Control can be. I’m somewhat surprised to see Ajani’s Presence here
only as a sideboard card, because it strikes me as one of the really exciting reasons to play an aggressive white deck in Standard right now. Most previous
tricks of its kind have either been fairly expensive, like Rootborn Defenses; tightly color-restricted, like Boros Charm; or only protection against
targeted removal, like Ranger’s Guile or Gods Willing. Ajani’s Presence offers protection from Hero’s Downfall and Supreme Verdict alike and is even a
passable combat pump against opposing creature decks in a pinch.

Here’s how I would built G/W Aggro if I were looking to try it out in a tournament this weekend:

The big changes here are just shifting a couple of Ajani’s Presence to the main deck in the place of a few of the removal effects, and then revisiting the
sideboard with a sizable overhaul. I feel pretty strongly that Setessan Tactics is one of the standout cards of the new set that is poised to have a big
impact on Standard. Here, it provides a tool that can outright win the game against opposing creature decks in any kind of board stall. It’s particularly
impressive against decks like Mono-Blue Devotion that are heavy on troublesome creatures but light on removal, and that’s exactly the kind of matchup in
which this deck can struggle. It’s certainly one of the new cards I’m most excited to get a chance to play with.

What about you? What new cards from Journey into Nyx excite you the most? What new cards and decks do you think are waiting to break through in Standard?