Your Standard Overlords

The reduced power of Standard overall has created some unlikely format definers. If you aren’t running the latest set of spell-like lands from Innistrad, perhaps you should strongly consider it.

Currently Standard is very low powered, at least compared to its most recent iterations. Many decks look like watered down versions of previous decks, and no deck is chock full of overpowered cards. At one point late in the SCG Open in Las Vegas, two matches at the high tables contained the following cards:

Copper Myr
Palladium Myr
Vapor Snag
Merfolk Looter
Ezuri, Renegade Leader
Buried Ruin

Not exactly the Squadron Hawks and Goblin Guides we’ve been accustomed to over the past few years. Personally, I think this is great for Magic. The games are far more interesting when players have to leverage mediocre cards against each other instead of just planning on how they are going to prevent Stoneforge Mystic or Jace, the Mind Sculptor from beating them by itself.

On top of the reduced power of the spells comes the reduced power of the manabases. Lu Cai reached the finals of the SCG Open in Las Vegas with a manabase even his mother doesn’t love. We haven’t seen 9 Mountain / 9 Island / 4 Sulfur Falls quality manabases since City of Brass was casting either Wild Mongrel or Aquamoeba. No longer do decks get free access to a set of color fixing manlands on top of fetchlands. Between those two cycles, we were looking at some of the best lands in the history of Magic. However, those have rotated, and we are left with only three cycles of fixers, two for allied colors and one for enemy colors. There are no other reasonable mana-fixing lands in Standard.

However, there is a cycle of exceptionally powerful cards in Innistrad, and I think their presence will define Standard for as long as Innistrad remains Standard legal. The cycle of Innistrad “spell lands” is very subtly format defining, perhaps more than the Worldwake manlands. Many of the better Standard decks benefit greatly from them, and some are even defined by their presence.

Kessig Wolf Run

Primeval Titan for Inkmoth Nexus and Kessig Wolf Run has been a major player in Standard since Brian Sondag unleashed the archetype at the SCG Open in Nashville. While Sondag started with Slagstorms, Wolf Run decks have migrated to Dungrove Elder, then to Day of Judgment, and then to Glimmerpost(!). However, the core of the archetype remains Primeval Titan into Kessig Wolf Run and Inkmoth Nexus. If the Titan doesn’t kill you, then Inkmoth probably will. Here is Corbett Gray’s newest take on the archetype.

I was fairly impressed with this deck, as the Primeval Titans in this deck are simply devastating. Even without Titan, there are a ton of lands that have nice effects, but the core of this deck is still Kessig Wolf Run. There really isn’t finishing power in this deck outside of that card. Myr Battlesphere is especially powerful here, as Day of Judgment is the only clean answer to a Battlesphere backed by a Wolf Run.

Gavony Township

If Kessig Wolf Run defines the format, then Gavony Township isn’t far behind. While Primeval Titan exists to make Wolf Run better, the Township works in reverse. The Township makes the cards you put in the Township deck much better. You’ve probably seen this deck a million times, but it really is one of the decks to beat after Martin Juza’s victory at GP Hiroshima

In this deck (and all decks with Township basically), the Township primarily serves as a way to mitigate mana flood. It’s the card that allows you to play 24 lands as well as eight mana creatures. While casting another five-drop is almost always preferable to activating the Township, things don’t always work out that way. In these cases, the Township is essential at helping you to apply pressure without needing to draw a spell. In all honesty, I think this deck is very flimsy, as Gavony Township is the only card that provides any amount of versatility. Everything else is pretty much a main phase threat, and it’s far more difficult to play a turn 2 Mirran Crusader than one might think. Regardless, Gavony Township is an exceptionally powerful card in this deck and likely the reason the deck is playable in the first place.

Moorland Haunt

It is my firm opinion that Moorland Haunt is the most objectively powerful card in the cycle. However, format context is everything, and there simply aren’t great cards to pair with Moorland Haunt. Except for Merfolk Looter. In any event, I feel the following decklists are the stage 1 of Moorland Haunt decks and that they are filled with Slagstormish-type cards—cards that simply aren’t that good, either in the context of the deck or the format at large. First up is the runner up from GP Hiroshima, Rin Satou.

After that, we have my own Top 16 deck from the SCG Open in Las Vegas because I am a sucker for my own decklists.

Both decks recognize that you want to be aggressive and as close to monocolor as possible. Juza’s Gavony Township deck often suffers from needing both green and white mana early while supporting four colorless lands. This is not easy when you only have eight dual lands. The Moorland Haunt decks essentially use the land as the sole source of their endgame. It’s a fairly brilliant game plan, once you think about it. If you play out a bunch of creatures, then either your opponent dies or your creatures die. If your creatures die, then Moorland Haunt becomes a supercharged Kjeldoran Outpost. I will refrain from a thousand-word rant about how Kjeldoran Outpost defined Standard in 1997 and simply let you know that it was a very good card.

I think that both of these decks are excellent, and you don’t need much support for Moorland Haunt to be fantastic. I’m interested to see if it’s possible to support the Haunt with quality on the same level as Primeval Titan.

Nephalia Drownyard

Still a sucker for my own decklists.

This is the deck I used to win Arizona States, and while I feel that this particular list is outdated (JFK, aka Jon Kornacki, might be able to help with that), it is the best at showing what the Drownyard is capable of. In the early stages of the game, you mill yourself when you have unused mana, filling your graveyard for Visions of Beyond and Snapcaster Mage while milling some flashback cards. Then if the game goes excessively long, and you have a hard time killing your opponent, simply turn the Drownyards on your opponent. It really eliminates the need to fill your deck with six-drops simply so you are ensured something to kill with. Drownyard + Snapcaster Mage is sure to be a fantastic combination for a few years.

Stensia Bloodhall

They can’t all be winners I guess. In any event, I feel like there might be a deck where the Bloodhall has a place.

There are a few different directions this deck can be taken, but I wanted to maximize both Galvanic Blast and Brimstone Volley. There probably aren’t enough red spells for the Shrines nor enough lands to fuel all of the late game potential (perhaps Solemn Simulacrum has a place?). Another possible route to go is a more classic red deck, with Geistflame and Chandra’s Phoenix. In any event, if a burn deck is to be viable in Standard, Bump in the Night and Stensia Bloodhall give that deck a surprising amount of play going long.

In case you were wondering, this format is bad enough for Necrogen Censer. And that is a beautiful thing.

If Corbett Gray’s deck tells you anything, it’s that a land doesn’t have to have that much utility before it becomes stronger than a land that only produces mana. Inkmoth Nexus has been featured in decks with only a few ways to capitalize on poison for quite some time now. Nearly anything is better than a land that only makes mana. With the Innistrad cycle of spell lands, the effect you get is far more than just a random bonus. Already, I have seen the effect of the lands simply dominate games.

For the time being, my advice is to join ‘em rather than fight them. The lands are just that powerful, and the responses are just that bad. Ghost Quarter is simply not a good card, as it is terribly inefficient in all circumstances. While it does have applications, you end up getting into losing battles once you accept that you want to interact with Ghost Quarter. Some decks can use Beast Within and/or Acidic Slime to blow up lands, but the best way to interact with the lands is simply to play a strategy that is not trumped by them. One of the reasons I am so down on U/B is that it does not fight the lands effectively. Moorland Haunt is game over on the spot a good deal of the time for a U/B mage. On the flip side, aggressive decks are positioned well because the lands are quite mana intensive, and the aggressive decks don’t always give their opponents time to take advantage of the lands. Aggressive decks are also better suited to use the lands as an endgame.

Happy Battling

Adam Prosak

P.S. The changes to Worlds suck. I couldn’t write an entire article without mentioning it, could I?