Innovations In Kaldheim Standard From SCG Tour Online $5K Kaldheim Championship Qualifier #9

Bryan Gottlieb examines the results from this weekend’s SCG Tour Online action. Does the emerging Kaldheim Standard metagame give him hope?

Alrund’s Epiphany, illustrated by Kieran Yanner

Heading into this weekend, I was beyond thrilled that the SCG Tour Online was scheduled to make its return. Highlighting the best decks from the SCG Tour kept me excited through a pretty lackluster Zendikar Rising Standard season. Even when the metagame settled, players were still out there searching for new angles and succeeding at their goal. So imagine my consternation when Saturday night rolled around and the decks that had found success in the SCG Tour Online satellites were almost entirely (don’t worry, Jaberwocki, I’ll get to you) the expected suspects.

Dimir Rogues? Showdown of the Skalds-based Naya or Boros? Gruul Adventures? Yawn.

Things were looking dire, and I wondered if the triumphant return of this column was doomed before I even sat down to write. And then Sunday’s $5K Kaldheim Championship Qualifier went down, and wow did the players save their best shots for the main event.

So what rose to the top in the first Week 1 tournament in ages that wasn’t played under the looming specter of Growth Spiral; Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath; and all the other generally broken ramp cards? Two Simic-based ramp decks. Of course.

Champion Kensuke Kato played a ramp deck that had variants circulating throughout the week (including from our own Michael Majors, who has more to say on the deck in his column this week) and really solidified its place as a contender in the hands of Logan Nettles, a.k.a. Jaberwocki, who played a very similar-looking list to a 6-0 finish in one of Saturday’s satellites.

Rather than mucking about with the more traditional finishers found in Lukas Twist’s deck, such as Ugin, the Spirit Dragon and Koma, Cosmos Serpent, Kensuke’s deck instead looks to the one-card combo of Emergent Ultimatum. With the printing of Vorinclex, Monstrous Raider; Tibalt, Cosmic Trickster; and Alrund’s Epiphany, there are now a number of three-card piles that close out your opponent’s chances of winning the game… if they don’t just end the game on the spot.

The existence of a Time Walk effect like Alrund’s Epiphany in the format changes the parameters for ending a game. Cards which you could previously count on to eventually overwhelm your opponent, like Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, have seen their windows for impact dramatically reduced. I’m not sure if this final represented a showdown of two types of Sultai that are capable of co-existing in the format or the last gasp of traditional ramp before it is completely invalidated by Emergent Ultimatum.

For what it’s worth, I do like the way Lukas Twist chose to build Sultai Control compared to how I’ve seen others put the deck together. The big adds in my eyes are Llanowar Visionary and additional maindeck copies of Yorion, Sky Nomad.

Versions on Magic Online and the other Sultai Control list in this Top 8 appeared to be relying solely on Binding the Old Gods for ramp. Building in this fashion makes more sense, because I believe this archetype lives and dies based on how good and how fast its Ugins and Koma, Cosmos Serpents are. Koma is a one-card check on the Izzet Midrange❄ list, and I’m in agreement that the Emergent Ultimatum decks should also have access to the card in sideboard configurations, at least until the hype around Izzet Midrange❄ dies down (and it will… the deck is entirely medium).

If you had your fill of playing against ramp decks with Ultimatums that win the game on the spot and extremely solid B-plans in the last iteration of Standard, I’ve got some bad news for you. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

So where does the expected proliferation of Emergent Ultimatum leave more traditional midrange? Sadly, I’m not allowed to swear here, but I’d really really like to in this case.

Things are bad. Really bad.

A one-hit knockout punch is not what a deck with an anemic clock like Robert Vaughan’s Jund Sacrifice wants to see across the table. To make matters worse, the deck is naturally soft against Vorinclex. It’s a shame because I like so much of what Vaughan did with his deckbuilding. The addition of Skyclave Shade as well as a return to Korvold, Fae-Cursed King was wise given how well the entirety of the format can trade resources these days. Even Kazuul’s Fury shows some great foresight that was extremely well-suited for the bogged-down battlefields that Showdown of the Skalds and Adventure-based decks can routinely create. But these decks just can’t line up with something like Emergent Ultimatum.

Remember: Never be the small midrange deck.

Pedro Urquisa Barbosa also brought a really fantastic and non-traditional build of Rakdos Midrange to the table, and while I still don’t love playing his list into a field of ramp, I do think there was a lot done to give the deck a puncher’s chance in a tough matchup.

It’s been a while since these decks turned to the combination of Archfiend’s Vessel and Call of the Death-Dweller, but the potential to make an early 5/5 feels important in the present metagame for both pressuring control and blocking Goldspan Dragons. Call of the Death-Dweller also incentivizes the return to Lurrus of the Dream-Den as a companion, and in a field capable of producing as much card advantage as this one, I like to see the Rakdos decks taking some steps to keep up.

Maindeck Agonizing Remorse simultaneously hits the threat-light Izzet Midrange❄ decks and can keep Sultai Ramp off its haymaker spell or sweeper. Once you’ve inserted a more robust clock, it makes sense to set up your deck to create victories in small windows rather than just try to grind everyone to dust with Kroxa. Of course, it’s nice to have that option where it still works, such as against Dimir Rogues.

So if these traditional midrange decks struggle against Emergent Ultimatum end-games, are we just supposed to pack it in and cede another format to the Simic Combine? Is it time just start tuning the Simic decks to beat the other Simic decks? I think Noriyuki Mori might be a step ahead of us all there.

This list owes plenty to last season’s Temur Adventures decks, but there are some really solid pickups from Kaldheim here. More countermagic is exactly where I want to be if my opponents will just be jamming seven-mana spells and praying. Two Saw It Coming, two Mystical Dispute, and a Miscast is a tiny package, and I suspect a lot of the intention behind it was just to protect Goldspan Dragon. Perhaps there’s room for even more disruption in future versions of this archetype.

I also love the seemingly random Alrund’s Epiphany in the list. Creating uncertainty around your foretell cards matters, especially in open-decklist tournaments. It doesn’t hurt that Alrund’s Epiphany is an incredibly powerful card and serves as a great place to dump any excess mana that a Goldspan Dragon might create.

You can tell Mori was extremely concerned about the Dimir Rogues matchup, with a full four copies of Ox of Agonas in the sideboard. Some good news here: Dimir Rogues performed pretty poorly in the event, posting only a 44% win rate. Perhaps this is where we can find the space for that additional countermagic?

Truthfully, I don’t think we’re in “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” territory quite yet, and one of the big questions Sultai Ramp will have to answer is how well it holds up in the face of unabashed aggression. Rumti’s Mono-Green Aggro deck strikes me as the fastest way to get your opponent dead in all of Standard. The bodies are massive here, and of course The Great Henge is present to let us play the long game as well.

I’m a little shocked to see Vorinclex relegated to sideboard duty here, as it’s been one of my favorite things about this archetype in my admittedly limited games. Haste plus big bodies are a proven way to punish a deck relying on a conditional five-mana sweeper like Shadows’ Verdict.

While the finish was a bit worse than Kenton’s, Timothy Thomson had my favorite aggressive deck in this tournament. The white cards are legitimately strong right now, both at generating a clock and obstructing your opponent’s gameplan along the way. Reidane, God of the Worthy gives you a proactive way to keep your opponents off Emergent Ultimatum, but the card I really like in this metagame is Drannith Magistrate. Sure, the body is mostly irrelevant, but shutting off Emergent Ultimatum, Adventure creatures, and Showdown of the Skalds represents incredibly broad reach. It’s basically a rundown of all of the present top-tier options.

Another card that isn’t present here that I’m starting to like is Glorious Protector. Picking up a little sweeper insurance is always welcome in a white aggressive deck, and if you’re stretching into Boros colors for Showdown of the Skalds, maybe you can even get a little tricksy with Shepherd of the Flock. There are a lot of ways to build white aggressive decks in this format, and I expect them to be strong once the proper build is figured out.

I ran down Izzet Midrage❄ pretty hard at the start of this article, so it might surprise you to hear that I like this take on Mono-Blue Snow❄. The big difference is Alrund’s Epiphany, and the addition of four copies is helping to create windows for Ascendant Spirit to close the game out of nowhere without ever forcing its controller to bring their shields down.

This also helps mitigate some of the softness to a card like Koma, Cosmos Serpent by allowing you to get wide in the air and punish an opponent who taps out for the big threat. Still, I do think some insurance against the card is needed, and I wouldn’t mind seeing these decks (and possibly Izzet Midrange❄) picking up a couple of copies of Ravenform in their sideboards.

It’d be easy to make up a smarmy headline about a Standard that is once against dominated by Simic-based ramp, but I do think the real picture is a little bit more complex here. Sultai Ramp established itself as top dog after this tournament, but the moves to make are clear. Challenge their key spells, increase your clock, and be thankful that Uro isn’t still around to make those efforts entirely hopeless.

I can’t wait to see what you all bring to the table next week.