Buy Or Sell: The Early Decks Of Innistrad: Midnight Hunt Standard

Don’t sink any more time into Standard MTG decks that won’t last. Ross Merriam gives three Innistrad: Midnight Hunt Standard decks you should bail on…and three to keep for the long haul.

Old-Growth Troll, illustrated by Jesper Ejsing

After two years of broken metagames and regular bans being the norm for Standard, it appears that we are back to an ideal, dynamic Standard metagame. Yes, Esika’s Chariot and Wrenn and Seven are currently a huge part of the metagame, but there are always cards at the top of the food chain, and Standard tends to be better when those cards are four- and five-mana threats that generate card advantage rather than cheaper cards like Edgewall Innkeeper or ones that create a cascading mana advantage like Fires of Invention and Wilderness Reclamation.

This new reality means that the first weeks of Standard have been relatively open and diverse, as players scramble to explore not only the cards from Innistrad: Midnight Hunt but also to reevaluate surviving cards from older sets that may now have a chance to shine. There are several decks performing well right now, and different versions of the same archetype that we have yet to definitively separate from each other.

Inevitably, some of these decks will lack the staying power to compete once the format becomes better-defined and the decks are well-tuned. Others will prove their mettle and stick around to become major players for the next few months at least. If you’re looking to get into Standard right now, here’s my opinion on which decks are worth buying into, and which decks you should sell high on now.

Sell: Gruul Werewolves

Gruul was among the most-hyped decks in the first week of the format, but failed to follow that up in Week 2. It may have been the first shell in which Wrenn and Seven and Esika’s Chariot showed how powerful they were together, but we’ve quickly found better shells for the pair.

The main problem I have with Werewolves in Standard is that adding the second color doesn’t make a large enough difference in the overall power level of the deck. Tovolar, Dire Overlord; Reckless Stormseeker; and Kessig Naturalist are solid cards, but they aren’t that much better than Ranger Class, Briarbridge Tracker, and Old-Growth Troll. You don’t even get a significant upgrade on removal since the snow manabase enabled by sticking to a single color makes Blizzard Brawl an excellent card.

So on the balance, you’re making major concessions in consistency for a lateral move in power. That makes the deck worse than Mono-Green Aggro❄, since consistency is so important for aggressive strategies. You have to put your opponent under pressure and force them to use their cards awkwardly or you’re going to get outclassed. And any stumble makes it much harder to get or stay ahead on the battlefield.

The other option for Gruul decks is to ditch the Werewolf theme and go bigger with the mana acceleration of Jaspera Sentinel and Magda, Brazen Outlaw. But even those decks haven’t performed as well because their key payoff, Goldspan Dragon, doesn’t match up well against Wrenn and Seven. You can use the mana fixing from your creatures to play a third color, but that puts you firmly into midrange territory instead of aggro.

Last season, we were more than willing to accept the awkwardness of a two-color manabase because Bonecrusher Giant and Embercleave were irreplaceable pieces. Nothing that Gruul offers now is irreplaceable, so you should commit to either one or three colors.

Buy: Mono-Green Aggro❄

Unsurprisingly, with the depth of quality creatures at each spot in the curve, Mono-Green Aggro❄ has emerged as the aggro deck of choice. And while I don’t think this deck is a world-beater by any means, it’s rock-solid and will always present issues when it curves out and has backup in the form of cheap removal and creature-lands.

With the amount of red removal in the metagame, I like having the aggro deck with the biggest creatures, hoping to make opposing Play with Fires and Dragon’s Rages as awkward as possible. Green also offers some acceleration so you can get to your Esika’s Chariots and other top end cards ahead of schedule.

White and red aggressive decks would normally compensate by having better creatures at the low spots on the curve, but no color in Standard right now has quality one-mana creatures. Usher of the Fallen is probably the best there is, but that’s not enough to shift the balance in power. Green simply has too much depth from two to four mana for the other colors to keep up.

The major question for Mono-Green Aggro❄ is at the top-end of the curve. Most decks play the expected Wrenn and Seven, but there are some players who are opting for Unnatural Growth. I prefer the latter since it’s the best card at pushing through a stalled battlefield, especially with trample creatures like Old-Growth Troll. The metagame is also currently targeting Wrenn and Seven hard, and while it’s still powerful enough to win games, Mono-Green Aggro❄ doesn’t leverage the card advantage it generates as well as other decks. When you’re playing aggro, you want to avoid the late-game, and Unnatural Growth is the best card at ending games.

Sell: Mono-Black Control❄

This deck is right up my alley, since I love to see synergies come together to become more than the sum of their parts. But that also makes me skeptical, because I have to account for my own internal bias.

Ultimately, I think this deck is good, but requires a favorable metagame to succeed. It leans heavily on Lolth, Spider Queen and Blood on the Snow since those are by far its most powerful cards. And unfortunately, Blood on the Snow is only excellent against decks that are filling up the battlefield. Conversely, Lolth can be a liability against aggressive decks since it’ll be difficult to land it safely if you’re behind on the battlefield early on.

My current read on this archetype is that it matches up well against the Gruul decks that have been so popular since release, and solid against creature decks of all stripes. But as more creature-light, reactive strategies emerge, Skullport Merchant will quickly fade into obscurity. In any counterspell matchup, you only have so many relevant cards that they have to worry about, and not enough discard to consistently force them through.

As the metagame narrows, I’ll be keeping this deck in mind for weekends that are particularly creature-heavy. On those weekends, Blood on the Snow will consistently win games. So while I think you’ll see this deck pop up when it’s well-positioned, it won’t be a consistent player in the metagame. It doesn’t have the raw power and versatility to find success every week.

As a final note on this deck, I’d encourage you to ignore the temptation to splash heavily. Anything that requires more than just a spare Treasure token will do more damage to your manabase than it’s worth. Having consistently powerful Blood on the Snows, Faceless Havens, and Field of Ruins is incredibly valuable in a deck that will likely be playing many long games.

Sell: Izzet Dragons

Along with Gruul Werewolves, Izzet Dragons was a go-to archetype for players looking for a solid deck in the early days of a brand-new format. It was among the best-performing decks in Standard 2022 over the summer, and has plenty of powerful cards as well as a flexible gameplan.

However, much of this deck’s power comes from Goldspan Dragon, as evidenced by how much different games are when you can freely attack with one versus the games where you can’t. Wrenn and Seven has made attacking with a Goldspan Dragon much harder, and it’s no surprise that this list maindecked four copies of Burning Hands given how popular Wrenn and other green cards are right now.

But I expect significant evolution in the metagame coming in the next few weeks, and if Izzet Dragons is already resorting to such extreme measures to keep up, I’m doubtful that it will continue to be able to do so. I may not be high on Gruul decks, but green creatures are certainly going to stay a big part of the metagame. So what do Izzet Dragons players do when other threats start working their way in? They’ll be forced to play an awkward split of removal spells and hope to draw the right ones in the right matchup. That’s a recipe for a deck with no really bad matchups, but no good ones either.

Izzet Dragons has always liked playing against the extremes of the metagame. Against aggro, it has enough cheap removal to keep up in the early-game and can use Goldspan Dragon to turn the corner in the mid-game. And against bigger decks they can play a more aggressive gameplan, backed up by cheap counterspells to punish their high curve. But a midrange-dominant metagame that can so easily invalidate Goldspan Dragon is a bad place to be.

Buy: Izzet Turns

This deck looks a lot like Izzet Dragons, but in my opinion it’s much better equipped to stay as a top deck after breaking out last weekend. Rather than try to turn the corner early with Goldspan Dragon, this deck plays a slower game with more interaction, building to a much more robust end-game of taking a bunch of turns in a row with Alrund’s Epiphany and Galvanic Iteration.

Izzet Dragons existed last season in a metagame with Dimir Rogues and Sultai Ramp (Yorion), two decks that had incredible end-games, and thus was incentivized to play cards that would end the game sooner. The current metagame isn’t as powerful going long, and so there’s space to be more controlling.

I like Smoldering Egg as the lone threat since it plays nice defense early, and can lead to some excellent turns with Alrund’s Epiphany. You also have Divide by Zero and Into the Roil as maindeck answers to pesky Treefolk tokens, no matter how large they get. And if the metagame moves away from Wrenn for whatever reason, you can easily change around the removal and counterspells to answer the appropriate threats. Izzet Dragons, despite playing a similar amount of disruption, is often limited in what answers it can play because it needs a critical mass of two-mana interaction to cast with a Treasure token when they tap out for Goldspan Dragon.

Losing the top-end of the metagame from last summer has created a vacuum in the current metagame. Wrenn and Seven and Esika’s Chariot are powerful threats, but you can go over the top of them, and that’s much easier than trying to beat them with Goldspan Dragon. Izzet Turns looks to me like the best deck to fill the role of Dimir Rogues as the premier control deck in the format.

Buy: Bant Festival

If Izzet Turns is going to be this format’s Dimir Rogues, then this format’s Emergent Ultimatum is certainly Storm the Festival. The standalone six- and seven-mana threats like Tovolar’s Huntmaster and Koma, Cosmos Serpent aren’t able to dominate the battlefield against Wrenn and Chariot, which makes ramping into a spell that puts you ahead on the powerful four- and five-mana spells the superior choice.

I was initially skeptical over how easy it would be to get to the flashback, since casting one copy seemed much too high-variance for a six-mana spell. But it’s clear over the last two weeks that games go very long, so casting four or more copies of the spell happens relatively frequently. Thus, Storm the Festival is the best late-game card in the format for green decks.

An early Storm the Festival that hits two powerful cards can bury your opponent, and the card advantage it provides ensures you can win an attrition game as well. The only missing piece to the puzzle is whether Storm the Festival can catch you up from behind. That requires hitting permanents that destroy opposing threats. Whether it’s Skyclave Apparition, Brutal Cathar, Binding the Old Gods, or Mind Flayer, you’ll want to include a healthy number of these cards as your interaction so your Festivals are as flexible as possible.

I had initially favored Sultai builds because of the power of Binding, but black has nothing else to offer the deck. Brad wrote about his experience with Bant Festival, and his list, with Brutal Cathar and Mind Flayer to interact with creatures, Elite Spellbinder to interact with their hand, and Glasspool Mimic to double up any of those effects looks great to me.

Unlike traditional ramp decks, which depend on quickly resolving a single over-the-top threat, Festival decks can play like any of the midrange decks. They just have a more powerful end-game baked in. And once you have the requisite interactive permanents to ensure that your end-game card isn’t a liability against aggro, you’ve created a deck that has the strengths of a midrange deck and a ramp deck at the same time. I expect Storm the Festival to be a Standard staple moving forward.

The new Standard format is starting to take shape, with aggro, control, ramp, and midrange strategies all taking a share of the metagame. The coming weeks will see the specific archetypes homogenize as players start to agree on the best ways to build them. We’ll also see the metagame narrow as the best decks from each category take over metagame share from the weaker entrants.

You don’t want to get caught playing one of those weaker archetypes after the metagame coalesces, so for now I’d stick with either Mono-Green Aggro❄, Izzet Turns, or Bant Festival.