Hey Look! Post-Ban Standard! (But Aren’t They All?)

Patrick Chapin sifts through Magic Online results for the next great post-ban Zendikar Rising Standard deck. What did The Innovator turn up this time?

Bonecrusher Giant, illustrated by Victor Adame Minguez

So, in a surprising twist of fate, banning just Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath was insufficient for taking Standard to a good place.

Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath

Wasn’t it insufficient for even making the format better, or even more diverse?

True; however, while banning just Uro was a buff to Omnath decks, particularly Omnath / Lucky Cover / Escape to the Wilds decks, I am quite confident that this week’s bans will be a nerf to that archetype.

Omnath, Locus of Creation Lucky Clover Escape to the Wilds

See, now we’re actually starting to make progress. I don’t anticipate them needing another ban this month, but I’m also not sure the format will end up in a good spot. That said, if nothing else, this format is actually starting in a much better spot.

Ok, noayw that the top of the pyramid…

Oko, Thief of Crowns; Once Upon a Time

…has been cleared out…

Lurrus, the Dream-Den; Yorion, Sky Nomad; Obosh, the Preypiercer; Zirda, the Dawnwaker; Keruga, the Macrosage; Jegantha, the Wellspring; Kaheera, the Orphanguard; Umori, the Collector; Lutri, the Spellchaser

…we can finally start brewing…

Cauldron Familiar; Wilderness Reclamation

…some decks that were…

Fires of Invention

…held back by…

Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath

…the oppressive package of Omnath, Lucky Clover, and Escape to the Wilds.

As we turn, once again, back to the task of finding what’s next-most-broken, I can’t help but wonder about the experience of younger or newer players that didn’t experience either of the other two Great Imbalancings. Believe it or not, the majority of years in the game’s history have featured zero bans in Standard.

Standard dropped the Restricted List in 1997, and later that year banned Zuran Orb.

That first spike in the above graph was Saga Block, which was so broken, it included card redemptions and led to the hiring of pro players during the formation of final design. 

That second spike was full-on Affinity, including the single most disastrous set in the history of Magic from a player-size standpoint, Darksteel

That third, little blip was Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Stoneforge Mystic at the height of Caw-Blade, which was, at the time, the most dominant Standard deck in history. Stoneforge’s ban had the unusual caveat that if you played the theme deck it came in, it was still legal. 

On the note of unusual ban situations, Memory Jar and Felidar Guardian were both emergency banned, and the above chart does not include Nexus of Fate, which was only banned on Arena. Not sure what to make of it, but the majority of all cards banned in Standard since the removal of the Restricted List at the beginning of 1997 exist on Arena.

Saga block also featured “power level errata” for a bunch of creatures that were changed to include “…if you played it from your hand…”, which is not dissimilar to the companion change (though I think the companion change is likely to stick, while the power level errata was eventually removed).

But whatever, I guess it’s on to the next one. And so, while Ramp will live on, and both Mono-Red and Rogues were arguably “playable” before and will surely climb, this week, I’d like to take a look at some other decks poised to rise, now that there’s a little room to breathe.

Bonecrusher Giant Embercleave

Two of the absolute best cards in the format are Bonecrusher Giant and Embercleave, and for me, the format starts here. Obviously Mono-Red can take advantage of both, but that’s just the start. To begin with, what about incorporating two of the best green cards in the format?

Edgewall Innkeeper Questing Beast

Edgewall Innkeeper isn’t always on the same team as Embercleave or Questing Beast, but with the banning of Lucky Clover, there’s a lot more room to play. While you can still build dedicated Adventure decks, I’m talking just straight-up Gruul Aggro that happens to have a dozen Adventure creatures and a lack of good one-drop options.

While many Gruul lists had relegated Questing Beast to the sideboard (if playing it at all), that was a function of Questing Beast not being good against Omnath decks, and the splash hate it got from everybody else playing so many cards that try to line up against Omnath. With that out of the way, I expect Questing Beast’s market share to skyrocket.

Kazandu Mammoth

One way to make up for a lack of playable one-drops is with tapped lands. Kazandu Mammoth is a heckuva “tapped land,” ensuring you hit your land drops early while reducing the risk of flooding (since you can play some of your lands as three-drops that hit for five).

Brushfire Elemental

Brushfire isn’t insane or anything, as four Fabled Passage and two Evolving Wilds is hardly the same as playing a dozen fetchlands, but it’s definitely solid.

Fabled Passage Evolving Wilds

While we don’t have great options at one, it’s not like our two-drops are the best ever, either. This is definitely a little slower of an Embercleave deck, if that makes sense. That said, am I crazy for wanting to play Lotus Cobra here?

Lotus Cobra

I’m not saying you have to go all-in or anything, but like, the first Lotus Cobra might be a nice option, you know?

With the banning of Lucky Clover, I’m way less interested in Embereth Shieldbreaker.

Embereth Shieldbreaker

Besides, with how many more “fair” decks there are going to be in the format, we gotta make room for Elder Gargaroth and Ranger’s Guile!

Elder Gargaroth Ranger's Guile

I’m really not sure about Spikefield Hazard and could easily imagine it not being worth it anymore, if the field is no longer 80% Lotus Cobra.

Spikefield Hazard

Some folks have been playing Questing Beast in Mono-Green Aggro, but for me, I’m not giving up Bonecrusher Giant and Embercleave. That said, if everybody else is playing Bonecrusher Giant and Embercleave, playing a Mono-Green deck with Elder Gargaroth starts getting more interesting. For reference, here’s an example list:

I’d like to think that Elder Gargaroth being maindeckable now is one of the reasons you might move to a deck like this. That said, I suppose it doesn’t do what you want with Ram Through, which is a strike against it (or against Ram Through, more likely).

Ram Through

It’s not just green planeswalkers and Elder Gargaroth that give green creature decks such staying power, though. The Great Henge was too slow for fighting Omnath, but with so many people now poised to play “fair,” The Great Henge is a very effective way to go over the top.

The Great Henge

An interesting addition to the mono-green landscape (or any deck that can play a lot of Stonecoil Serpents and Gemrazers) is Swarm Shambler; though admittedly, the stock of both Serpent and Gemrazer has declined a little.

Stonecoil Serpent Gemrazer Swarm Shambler

Swarm Shambler is a little slow for Gruul Aggro but if you have +1/+1 counter synergies and mutate, it definitely brings a lot to the table, compared to most other one-drops in the format.

However, as I said, I prefer Gruul to Mono-Green… but those aren’t the only two aggro options as an alternative to Mono-Red. Rakdos is very appealing to me and worthy of a full article dedicated to it, right out the gate. Fortunately, Michael Majors obliges and goes deep on the archetype in his article today, so be sure to check it out.

Here’s a sample pre-ban list (but I’d play Majors’s updated build):

Just as I prefer Gruul to Mono-Green, I think I’d rather play Rakdos than Mono-Black, though I do respect the archetype and could imagine it ending up well-positioned. I just think you’re starting from a foundation with so much less raw card quality. Murderous Rider and Gray Merchant of Asphodel are just not on the same level as Bonecrusher Giant and Embercleave.

Murderous Rider Gray Merchant of Asphodel

So while I wouldn’t want to play this style while the format is so open, when it settles down a bit (a week and a half from now), I could see trying to tune it against the top couple of decks.

Getting to play so many DFCs instead of Swamps does give this list an unusual amount of staying power. With a mere fifteen dedicated lands, four of which are Castle Locthwains, you don’t even need to draw extra cards to mostly avoid running out of gas.

Agadeem's Awakening

While lot’s of decks get to play a little bit of Agadeem’s Awakening, this list also features Hagra Mauling, Pelakka Predation, and Blackbloom Rogue, giving us functionally 27 lands despite just eleven Swamps. This list also does a great job of giving us more to spend our mana on. In addition to such a high spell density, there’s a crazy amount of recursion and ability to kick mana into more advantages.

Skyclave Shade Deathless Knight Nullpriest of Oblivion

In addition to all the kicker cards, we’ve also got Massacre Wurm at the top of the curve, which probably gets meaningfully better as a result of the bans (which imply more victims for the Wurm).

Thieves' Guild Enforcer Nighthawk Scavenger

We also get to play two of the most mana-efficient threats in Zendikar Rising, Thieves’ Guild Enforcer and Nighthawk Scavenger. The more people try to play fair, the better they both get.

Feed the Swarm

I’m not as big on Feed the Swarm as a lot of people, it would seem. Maybe it’s just the bee’s knees against weird stuff like Doom Foretold but the loss of life doesn’t seem trivial right now.

Doom Foretold

Here’s a recent example of Doom Foretold in action, an archetype people will surely be trying to update to be a little lower to the ground for this new, more aggressive world.

Ramp isn’t dead, by any means, but I would definitely be a lot less interested in a deck built around Confounding Conundrum in the days to come.

Confounding Conundrum

Of course, if we’re going to be generous and include decks with white cards in our list of playable options, what about Bonecrusher Giant and Embercleave in Boros?

While I’m never happy to see just two Embercleaves, I will grant you that Winota, Joiner of Forces is among the most powerful cards in the format.

Winota, Joiner of Forces

Cheating down Kenrith, the Returned King isn’t as busted as Agent of Treachery, but anytime we get anything off of Winota, we’re already absolutely killing it in value.

Kargan Intimidator

Cowards can’t block Warriors. Except in chat, I guess.

Also, why aren’t we playing this card in Gruul? And maybe Rakdos? Seems great.

Basri's Lieutenant

I’ve always liked Basri’s Lieutenant, and the format sliding into a more fair direction bodes well for the Lieutenant, both as a source of tactical options in the mid-game and as a plan for trying to go over the top of other aggro decks.

Skyclave Apparition

Skyclave Apparition is a fine card that might be slightly better positioned… with the exception of dying to Stomp.

Archon of Emeria

This anti-ramp, anti-Escape to the Wilds tech is a lot less relevant now. Maybe it’s still worth it, but I doubt it.

Continuing the theme, here’s a mono-white list I like less than also playing red:

Don’t get me wrong, I “like” this deck; it’s just, if I’m playing for stakes, I don’t “like” this deck.

Luminarch Aspirant Maul of the Skyclaves Legion Angel

This list has a lot of cool ways to get an edge and I’d love for something like this to turn out strong enough. I just think there’s a little bit of a power level gap between the white cards and the cards that are not white. This deck isn’t even playing the four best white cards in the format! There’s the aforementioned Winota, Joiner of Forces and, in no particular order, Shatter the Sky; Elspeth Conquers Death; and Yorion, Sky Nomad.

Shatter the Sky Elspeth Conquers Death Yorion, Sky Nomad

I’m sure Shaheen Soorani will have us covered there, though, haha. As for Mono-White Aggro? I guess if they banned Bonecrusher Giant, Embercleave, Edgewall Innkeeper, Questing Beast, Yorion, and Elspeth Conquers Death, it would start to make a little headway towards catching up with the field.

Cue mono-white being the breakout meta sensation, crushing every shade of red…

But at the end of the day, really, when you get down to it, it’s all about Crabs*.

Ruin Crab

Ruin Crab was kind of a pretty intense metagame move to try to fight the cards that are now banned, so I wouldn’t recommend this list without some reimagining of it. Still, I can’t quit this combo:

With Teferi’s Tutelage on the battlefield, Peer into the Abyss is lethal. Setting up that combo in time was already challenging, but with the format getting more aggressive, I think our best shot is as a one-of as an added dimension to a deck, rather than its sole purpose.

Teferi's Tutelage Peer into the Abyss

This list is in that eerie in-between, not quite a combo deck and not quite a control deck. It’s kind of disappointing to have to use Shadows’ Verdict, but I guess if that’s what’s available for sweepers, you gotta do what you gotta do.

Shadows' Verdict

At least the card draw helping set things up is kind of interesting here. First of all, we can probably do without the Conundrums, once again.

Silundi Vision Rain of Revelation Frantic Inventory

Silundi Vision is solid, but hardly busted. Rain of Revelation is kind of a slow way to do it by recent standards, but with a Tutelage, you do get to mill them a fair bit. Besides, it’s pretty hot to be able to find Frantic Inventory while discarding the first one for free.

Into the Story

Into the Story is really exciting to me. Obviously, here we’ve got milling as part of our plan anyway, so it’s not that hard to turn this into a four-cost Tidings.


What I wonder is why more people don’t play this in their Rogues decks…

  • *Cleaves
  • Rebukes
  • Anax, Adventures, axorK, and atoniW
  • Bonecrushers
  • Shatterskull Smashings