Is Innistrad: Midnight Hunt Standard An Unhealthy Format?

Is it time to ban something in Standard? Is Izzet Epiphany the best deck in the format? And is Mono-White Aggro actually legit? World Champion PVDDR and two others weigh in.

Esika’s Chariot, illustrated by Raoul Vitale

Welcome to Fact or Fiction! Today, Dom Harvey, Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, and Ross Merriam give their takes on five statements about the current state of Standard. Don’t forget to vote for the winner at the end!

Alrund's Epiphany

1. Alrund’s Epiphany should be banned in Standard.

Dom Harvey: Fact. Alrund’s Epiphany was clearly a power outlier from Day 1 but cracking the code here is harder than ‘put the good green/white cards and Faceless Haven together’ and early lists of Izzet Dragons and Izzet Epiphany were quickly eclipsed by Mono-Green Aggro and Mono-White Aggro. We knew this early data would be noisy – the true test is the decks that some of the game’s best players registered for the most important tournament of their careers and those lists from World Championship XXVII validate the doomsayers. These refined takes on Izzet and Grixis Epiphany will set a litmus test that most new decks will inevitably fail.

I think Ross Merriam, Bryan Gottlieb, and others have laid out good arguments for why Epiphany has to go but I’d add that these decks don’t have to be winning at an absurd clip to throttle the format like this. Nexus of Fate – a superficially similar card with quite different play patterns that nevertheless led to the same outcome – was never particularly good after its breakout weekend but its existence invalidated decks that couldn’t fight on its terms. Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle didn’t post impressive numbers for most of its time in Standard but any slower deck that couldn’t interact with it was disqualified.

It’s easy to ignore this issue for now because Innistrad: Crimson Vow is just weeks away but I think that makes it all the more urgent. There’s no better way to ruin any excitement for the set than for its hallmark cards to be dead on arrival because they are outclassed by Alrund’s Epiphany. In a post-Epiphany world Izzet Dragons will stick around as a more healthy pillar of the format that’s easier to attack and splashy ramp or midrange cards like Storm the Festival or Blood on the Snow may finally have some room to breathe – as well as any exciting new additions from Innistrad’s grand finale.  

Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa: Fact. This is a tricky question for me to answer, because I don’t believe it should be banned NOW, but I believe it’s very likely it should be banned after Worlds, so I’m answering Fact, but there’s a chance that new stuff shows up at Worlds and the answer ends up being Fiction. Clearly you’re not going to ban anything before you see what Worlds is going to bring, though.

If the question was “The Standard format will be better without Alrund’s Epiphany in it”, then I believe the answer to be yes. Alrund’s Epiphany (and in particular the Izzet Epiphany deck) really stifle diversity, and they make it impossible for people to play midrange decks or control decks without Blue in them. Right now, we’re a two-deck format – Izzet Epiphany and Mono Green. The reason for that is that Izzet Epiphany strongly preys on any deck that’s good against Mono-Green to the point where they become unplayable. Mono-Black Control, for example, is a cool deck, but you simply can’t afford to play it in a field of Izzet Epiphanies, you will not win any games. In this regard, it’s very similar to Sultai Ultimatum. 

There’s definitely a bar for “this is annoying but we shouldn’t ban it”, but I feel like current MTG philosophy is just embracing bans as ways to fix the format, so we might as well get it over with – I want to avoid a scenario where Standard is dead for a month because we’re “letting it adapt” and it never does, and then we have to ban the card anyway and basically wasted a month where no one wanted to play the format.

 A couple of years ago, I’d have said we would stick with it until Crimson Vow, but in this current climate, I don’t think we should have to. The format is two weeks old and you already see over ten copies of the same decks in the Top 20 of an event, so unless the format manages to adapt pretty quickly I think we should get rid of it and try to make the format better.

Ross Merriam: Fact. I went in depth on this in my article earlier this week, but suffice it to say that despite a poor showing last weekend, Izzet Epiphany is the deck that is forcing the metagame to stagnate. It’s pushing out midrange strategies en masse and leaving mono-colored aggro as the only viable way to counter it. Mono-Green and Mono-White certainly had Izzet’s number last weekend, but the reactive deck is much more malleable than the aggro decks, and should be able to come up with enough targeted answers to reclaim its top spot in the metagame.

There may be decks that can boast a favorable matchup against Izzet Epiphany for a week or two, but nothing will match this deck’s raw power and versatility over the long haul. Just rip the band-aid off now and move on.

Esika's Chariot

2. Esika’s Chariot should be banned in Standard.

Dom Harvey: Fact. Esika’s Chariot is much more of a ‘normal’ Magic card than Alrund’s Epiphany but is so good at what it does that it will always be format-defining. There’s no playable card that deals cleanly with all of a resolved Chariot and the cards that come closest like Prismari Command are unimpressive not just elsewhere but against most other cards from the Chariot decks.

Like Gideon, Ally of Zendikar a few years ago, Chariot limits both the interaction you can justify playing as well as deckbuilding choices in the decks lucky enough to play it. When Gruul Werewolves gets to unlock the full potential of one of the best planeswalkers in years in Arlinn, the Pack’s Hope and opts for Esika’s Chariot instead, you know something is amiss. For every game where there are interesting decisions involving Chariot, there are many more where an early Chariot on the play effectively ends the game on the spot.  

I think a format with Chariot can still be interesting and diverse — but mostly despite Chariot, not because of it. For me that’s enough to prompt action.

Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa: Fact. My answer here is similar to the one before, with the caveat that, if you don’t ban Epiphany, then you should definitely not ban Chariot either. If you do ban Epiphany, then I think you just go ahead and ban Chariot as well. Izzet decks keep anti-Mono Green decks in check, so there’s a chance the format develops in a healthy way after an Epiphany ban, but Mono-Green is still very strong and oppressive to other types of decks, and if you remove Epiphany you definitely risk it dominating everything (if it isn’t already).

Ross Merriam: Fiction. It’s difficult to interact with straight up, but you can go over the top of Esika’s Chariot or get through it with aggressive, evasive creatures. It’s an excellent midrange threat, and I expect it to be a staple of Standard over the next year, but that doesn’t make it ban worthy. I’m much more concerned with cards that greatly restrict what else is possible in the metagame, and Esika’s Chariot doesn’t do that.

I would liken Chariot to Thragtusk and Siege Rhino, cards that received plenty of ire from players because they were format staples, but in hindsight were part of incredibly robust, dynamic Standard metagames in part because they could be attacked in a myriad of ways. It’s time we move past a naive understanding of dominance based on win rates and metagame percentages and look deeper at what the actual problem cards of a format are.

Expressive Iteration Memory Deluge

3. Izzet Epiphany is the best deck in Innistrad: Midnight Hunt Standard.

Dom Harvey: Fiction. We don’t know yet if Izzet Epiphany is the best Izzet deck or the best Epiphany deck – Izzet Dragons and the Grixis Epiphany deck that’s poised to take Worlds by surprise (or was…) have a chance to prove themselves and become the go-to strategy in that space. The best of those three may lag behind either of the Faceless Haven decks when the dust settles; Mono-White Aggro❄ in particular can adjust to make life very difficult for all things Izzet.

For some, this answer and my first answer are a contradiction — why is banning Alrund’s Epiphany even a discussion if the deck named after it isn’t clearly the best? Again, the issue isn’t that Epiphany is head and shoulders above anything else (though we can’t rule that out just yet…) – it’s that an entire class of deck doesn’t get to participate in the format, let alone the best deck conversation, for as long as Epiphany is around.

Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa: Fiction. I think Standard is a two-deck format — Izzet Epiphany and Mono-Green Aggro❄ are constantly vying for that title and one will be the best in each given week. I don’t feel comfortable saying Izzet Epiphany is better than Mono-Green Aggro❄ or that Mono-Green Aggro❄ is better than Izzet Epiphany. 

Ross Merriam: Fact. As I noted in my first answer, no deck can match Izzet Epiphany on power and versatility. That doesn’t mean you won’t have to bring updated lists each week, since you can’t cover every deck in 75 cards, but in the long run Izzet Epiphany will prove to be the most successful deck in Innistrad: Midnight Hunt Standard. That’s because the combo plan ensures that you can’t go over the top of it, so all Izzet players have to do is adequately prepare for the decks that are trying to go underneath them. Standard is too small a format to offer that many quality aggressive strategies, especially with such weak mana fixing, so right now it’s just a matter of preparing for monocolored aggressive decks.

There’s certainly a chance that Izzet lacks the appropriate tools to answer those decks, but it would be surprisingly easy to splash a third color if necessary, so I’m confident the right answer is out there for those who are willing to look.

Iymrith, Desert Doom

4. Dimir Control has what it takes to compete in Innistrad: Midnight Hunt Standard

Dom Harvey: Fiction. Why would I believe this? The deck hasn’t put up any strong finishes for pundits like us to make sense of and I’m not sure what it has going for it on paper. The interaction is weaker than usual in a format where the threats are varied and strong. You don’t enjoy the free wins that any of the powerful proactive strategies in the format can count on. Memory Deluge is a fantastic card but I doubt this is a better home for it than any of the Izzet shells. So far, the closest thing to a successful Dimir Control deck is a light, unproven black splash in Izzet Epiphany. I want Shaheen Soorani to live his best life but this ain’t it.

Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa: Fiction. There are just too many different things to answer; one deck is all spells and you need to interact with them or you lose, and the other deck has creatures, creature-lands, enchantments, artifacts and planeswalkers, all of which you have to answer to be able to compete. This is just too much for any control deck to handle — if you play all removal, you’re still going to lose to e.g. Ranger Class, and you’re definitely not going to beat Alrund’s Epiphany, and if you play a bunch of anti-spells cards, you’re just going to die to Werewolf Pack-Leader.

Ross Merriam: Fiction. I don’t think any control deck has what it takes to compete in this Standard environment, because of the squeeze between Izzet Epiphany and the aggressive decks. They tax you on completely different types of disruption. You need sweepers and removal against aggro, which are useless against the often creatureless Epiphany decks. And the counterspells that you need to beat Epiphany are a liability against aggro decks.

Every game is going to be an exercise in drawing the right half of your deck, and failure to do so is a game loss. Even with powerful card selection from Consider and Memory Deluge, I’m not interested in playing that game (especially with Dimir which has weak removal). Power Word Kill doesn’t hit Goldspan Dragon, Infernal Grasp is a liability when drawn in multiples, and Bloodchief’s Thirst forces you to tap too low anytime you need to kick it, which is quite often with how many powerful three-drops are around.

The one benefit to going Dimir is the access to discard spells as another angle of attack, but Izzet Epiphany has built-in resilience to them with foretell on Alrund’s Epiphany and flashback on Galvanic Iteration and Memory Deluge. This one is a hard pass for me.

Luminarch Aspirant

5. Mono-White Aggro❄ has what it takes to compete in Innistrad: Midnight Hunt Standard

Dom Harvey: Fact. It would be odd of me to write an entire deep dive on the deck if I didn’t take it seriously and I think everyone else should too. The deck certainly has its weaknesses — another unconditionally playable one-drop would go a long way — but it has a shockingly wide range of tools for taking aim at any given target. Izzet decks of every stripe and even Mono-Green Aggro❄ are prone to quite clunky draws and Mono-White Aggro❄ is perfect for punishing these. After Dominik Prosek won the MTGO Standard Challenge on Saturday the deck took over the Challenge on Sunday, making up half of the Top 8 and a third of the Top 32. Yoshihiko Ikawa and Rei Sato will be flying the flag for Mono-White Aggro❄ at Worlds and I expect the deck to be a fixture of the format beyond that, especially if Innistrad: Crimson View brings that missing piece. 

Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa: Fact. I think there are two decks in Tier 1, but Mono-White Aggro❄ is the third best deck in the format in my mind — it would come in at Tier 1.5. I think it’s a bit worse than the other two decks and suffers from a concentration of power in the three-drop slot (you have the tools to do anything but all the strong cards cost three), but it’s a legit deck that can compete in the format, it’s just not exactly as good as the best two (but it’s very close and totally playable).

Ross Merriam: Fact. I was initially skeptical of Mono-White Aggro❄ because it lost the critical mass of one-mana creatures, especially Giant Killer which provided much needed interaction. But Reidane, God of the Worthy and Elite Spellbinder are still excellent threats in the metagame, especially when the green decks are topping their curves with noncreature spells.

Players have had to resort to extreme measures like Battlefield Raptor to fill out the low end of the curve, but with Maul of the Skyclaves and Luminarch Aspirant any body will do, so I think I overrated the loss of the previous one-drops.

Even if we see Alrund’s Epiphany get the axe, Mono-White should still match up well against Storm the Festival decks and other control decks, so I expect it will stick around. As is, it’s solid against both the other top two decks. Either way, it’s a fine time to sleeve up some Plains, so long as they’re the wintery kind.