While the lack of a formally scheduled Prerelease gunslinging appointment made this weekend’s Prerelease sort of “sneak up,” I am super-pumped to get down to the business of brewing decks for the new format. I have never been a fan of rating cards with some arbitrary 1-5 or 1-10 scale, since Magic card strength is entirely dependent on context (which changes weekly, not just every three months). I find it far more useful to look at each new card and try to figure out how to use it first, what its purpose is. Most strategies will not turn out to be top tier (basically by definition). While we can certainly speculate on which strategies are more likely to turn out top tier, open-minded approach generally produces better results for building decks with new cards, as well as reading a new metagame.
Like New Phyrexia and M12, this week I’ll be doing a three-part set review, of sorts. Today, we will be discussing “updates to existing strategies in Standard,” archetypes that survive the rotation, and the new cards they gain. One set of new cards may not fully make up for four sets of losses for some archetypes that drop to tier 2 or fringe, whereas others may gain so much they climb to tier 2 or tier 1 status.
Wednesday, we will explore new archetypes made possible by Innistrad and the cards that make these new strategies possible.
Finally, on Friday we’ll discuss the rest of the cards in Innistrad that are noteworthy but don’t fall into the first two categories. This includes Legacy, Modern, and Vintage, as well as sleepers that do not yet have the right home but should be kept in mind. Additionally, highly speculative possible archetypes and new decks that need at least one more missing link to be uncovered will be found here.
We are going to look at a ton of decks today, so we won’t be getting too deep into the fundamental workings of each strategy. Instead, we will be primarily focusing on the cards from Innistrad that impact the archetype and changes other people will be making that make us want to adapt our strategy. Using this level 1 and level 2 thinking, we will start to speculate on the next level of metagame, what types of things we want to be doing given our anticipation of how others will be reacting to the changes and the reactions of others. The 2011’s (the State Championships) are just two weeks away, and being a step ahead of the metagame is a huge potential advantage. Never is this more true than when a big set is added and an entire year rotates out. The format is completely torn down, and deckbuilders have to start over from the beginning. Â
Everyone talks about how fast the metagame adapts due to the huge number of tournaments being run these days, but if you look at last year and compare the decks people played at States’ vs. the decks people play at the World Championships fewer than two months later (exact same format), it is shocking. Even the archetypes that survived changed a ton of cards during that two-month period. All those decks people came to a couple months later could have been legal at States! The metagame being different means we wouldn’t necessarily want to play the exact 75 early with our time machine, but very few couldn’t have improved on their States’ deck with a little bit more Future Sight (Precognition, not the Magic set).
Standard is losing four sets and gaining only one. This means that not only will we be looking at what Innistrad cards will have an impact, but also what underplayed cards from Scars block and M12 will see more play as a result of the rotation. A lot fewer archetypes will survive in their old forms, so we will be a little looser with the notion of an existing archetype. Still, the size of the format is not that much more than half as big as it was, meaning more playable cards are going to come from each set. This means we have an especially tall order, reviewing Innistrad’s new cards, especially given how many of the cards are more general utility than Scars block.
Jumping in, we might as well start with the villain, Caw-Blade. Yes, Jace and Stoneforge were banned, and the archetype survived. Now Squadron Hawk, Preordain, Jace Beleren, Into the Roil, Celestial Colonnade, and Tectonic Edge are rotating out. Will Caw-Blade survive without the Caw? Yes, yes it will.
At its heart, Caw-Blade is much more about the Blade than the Caw. There are a lot more creatures to replace the Hawks with than equipment to replace the Swords with, and as long as the Swords are legal, they will have numerous archetypes that revolve around them. Sword of Feast and Famine lends itself especially well to blue decks, so while the deck may contain few of the same cards as the old one, the strategy is the same at its core.
Some may object to the name that conjures up some villainy, but when I describe this new deck as Caw-Blade, you have to admit, you have a pretty good idea of what the strategy is. To call it something else is to lose that utility. Obviously the modifier “Blade” is the important one, so as soon as people have a good replacement for the “Caw” in its name, I am on board. For now, I suggest just referencing the colors (as no Hawk means we no longer have to play white).
Snapcaster Mage is without a doubt, the most hyped card in Innistrad. While I am firmly in the pro-Snapcaster camp as far as his impact on every Constructed format ever, he is not the same kind of card as Tarmogoyf. He is good value, but he is about a little value. Additionally, he is just a rare in a set with a number of great Mythics. I would be surprised if his price doesn’t drop a little (a price artificially inflated by the people who need/want their playset before States, etc.). Still, the hype says he will be a great card for every format, a claim that is totally justified. For an in-depth breakdown of why Snapcaster is so efficient, check this out .
In U/W Blade, Snapcaster makes a perfect body for carrying a Sword. He doesn’t fly, but he does have flash, an ability particularly well-suited for surprising someone who thinks they aren’t getting hit with a Sword next turn. He is obviously a built in two-for-one, but the added utility of extra removal, permission, or getting a second shot at your miser’s cards and sweet sideboard action is quite excellent.
Not only does flash make him an excellent surprise threat, it also creates a natural synergy with Sword of Feast and Famine. Sometimes when we are attacking, we end up with some mana during our attack step and nothing to do with it. Snapcaster helps increase the number of good plays we can make under such a scenario (which is especially true if you ever hit someone with two Swords at the same time).
Snapcaster is also an excellent body, as he can surprise jump out and block, meaning people should be more careful about attacking with important creatures they can’t afford to lose. Probably the poster boy of new great creatures that get trumped by Snapcaster Mage is Geist of Saint Traft, a card that U/W Blade is also very likely to adopt.
Geist of Saint Traft is remarkably efficient and deadly. Six power and hexproof for only three mana is completely without precedent. He has a few vulnerabilities, but his raw power is so high and his ruthlessness against unprepared opponents makes him one of the starting points for the new format. Obviously sweepers and edict effects (like the new Tribute to Hunger) can fight the Geist, but he can also be legend-ruled (such as with an opposing Phantasmal Image or Phyrexian Metamorph). This may push the U/W Blade decks to adopt a couple Phantasmal Images and a couple Sun Titans. Finally, Geist of Saint Traft can just be blocked by two power creatures, especially flash ones, so anyone wielding it must be wary of using it recklessly.
A Sword of Feast and Famine makes the Geist far more likely to survive combat, and hexproof ensures little chance of getting blown out in response to equipping it. The GST puts an incredible amount of pressure on opponents and ensures that there is a heavy price for not playing creatures in this format. I don’t think the sky is falling with this guy or anything, but put me down for firmly pro-GST, a card I feel is one of the five best in the set.
Think Twice is a card that we’ll probably be seeing in a lot of different decks over the next few months. The loss of so many good cards has left blue mages struggling to find replacements. It doesn’t work with Snapcaster Mage, but it does help fill the void from Preordain’s rotation for an early spell to help smooth out your mana. Additionally, it has the right cost to give you something to do with your mana the turns you hold up Mana Leaks or Dissipates. It may seem like five mana is a lot for two cards, but the key is how low the opportunity cost is. If you were going to hold up the two mana anyway, then it is like it was free. This is what makes Think Twice such a great card in control decks, despite its power level being nothing special. Caw-Blade isn’t really that much of a draw-go deck; however, having more ways to use your mana (especially at instant speed) has great natural synergy with Sword of Feast and Famine.
Dissipate is a minor Stoic Rebuttal upgrade. While Stoic Rebuttal was often really just a functional Cancel, Dissipate is a card with a pretty healthy upside. Exiling flashback cards will be a common use, meaning often it is like it’s drawing you half an extra card. Additionally, there are plenty of recursive effects in this set, so being able to exile a Skaab Ruinator or Vengeful Pharaoh will be nice. The format is slowing way down, due to Goblin Guide, Lotus Cobra, Explore, Valakut, Steppe Lynx, Bolt, and so on all leaving, so perhaps we want even more three-mana counters. For now, I haven’t found the room (plus I expect the format to pick up in pace a little, once people’s decks start to be less terrible).
Moorland Haunt is a cool little addition that can help provide an extra couple of bodies over the long haul, picking up some of the slack from Squadron Hawk’s rotation. For an analysis of the Haunt, check out last week’s article . This build of U/W Blade doesn’t feature all that many bodies and has slightly tighter mana, so I only found room for one. If you end up playing Sun Titans (and Phantasmal Image), it is probable that you won’t want any at all. Overall, Inkmoth Nexus is generally going to be way better for Blade decks, but we can only play so many Inkmoth Nexuses.
Divine Reckoning is a card that I did not include but is certainly on the shortlist to consider. It is a Day of Judgment variant that on the surface has the drawback of never hitting their best guy but also has flashback. A deck like Caw-Blade can actually profit from getting to keep a creature. In fact, I would generally avoid playing Divine Reckoning in Constructed with creatures that don’t plan on “saving” their own guy some reasonable percentage of the time. As a Day of Judgment, it is just too unreliable. However, when you can get your Sphinx or Titan or Wurmcoil to face someone one-on-one, you are in much better shape. Frost Titan in particular is well suited to such a game. I am hesitant to include it here, however, as I think it works better with sixes than with creatures carrying a Sword.
Invisible Stalker is an exciting new option that could very well become the norm. I have intentionally included a Caw-Blade list that features no Stalkers, as I am sure there will be no shortage of those in the weeks to come. The combination of unblockable (make sure the sword connects when equipped) and hexproof (make sure the sword equips, when activated) is perfect for Sword of Feast and Famine. The biggest drawback to him is his utter deficiency in helping defend you. Geist of Saint Traft is already a miserable defender, and I’m not sure how wise it is to give up on playing any defense at all.
Another card to consider with Invisible Stalker is Curiosity. While it doesn’t work well with Inkmoth Nexus, it does provide an excellent plan in some tempo-based blue deck that wants nothing more than to go turn two Stalker, turn three Curiosity + Mana Leak. Personally, I think this is more of a card for a U/R deck with Stalkers and Grim Lavamancers. We should be on the lookout for creatures that can deal damage multiple times in a turn, particularly from pinging, as they combine well with Curiosity.
Caw-Blade is far from the only U/W strategy to get cards from Innistrad. Another deck everyone is speculating on is Puresteel Paladin and what form it will take in the new world. Mentor of the Meek is an exciting new option that in many ways serves as Puresteel Paladins 5-8. While he is not the type of card you would want to jam in every white aggro deck, he is tailor-made for white midrange decks with a lot of small creatures. Remember, it triggers on entering the battlefield, not casting, so it does work well with living weapons.
Mentor of the Meek is also quite excellent with Glint Hawk, a synergy I sadly had to cut to make room for the Human tribal synergies I wanted to try with this build. It is also very reasonable to start with a build more like Herberholz’s Puresteel Paladin deck that David Sharfman won PT Nagoya with.
The key to Mentor of the Meek is that you don’t have to try very hard to make him work. A three-drop that draws an extra card every turn without having to be unblocked and for just one mana is already a great deal, but drawing all those extra cards helps ensure you keeping having more to play. White doesn’t usually get this kind of card advantage, which means we need to understand how this changes things.
Champion of the Parish is one of the primary incentives to play a Human tribal strategy, but I have not actually added any creatures specifically for their Human status to this list. It is very possible that 18 just isn’t enough Humans to make it work playing the Champion, but it is worth trying. There is a definite tension between playing more equipment for the Paladin and more humans for the Champion. He is an excellent card in a dedicated Human deck, however; plus the sheer volume of good white weenies that are Human ensures he will be a fine man for those decks.
Angelic Overseer is a little underrated, right now, I think. Maybe it just won’t work out in practice, but a 5/3 flying, indestructible, hexproof creature for five is an awful lot of upside. It is not hard to consistently have a human in play, and it isn’t even like you need one. In all seriousness, a 5/3 flier for five is really not so bad, especially considering Lightning Bolt is gone now. I am not sure how many Humans you are going to want to make the Overseer worth it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it is as low as 10-14. The real question is going to be if her upside is even the best thing you can do for five mana. Competing with Gideon is no joke!
Sword of War and Peace is generally the preferred Sword in Puresteel decks, as they don’t have counterspells to leave mana up for. Additionally, the extra damage is valuable, as they tend to be quite aggressive, and the combination with Mirran Crusader is epic. There is definitely nothing wrong with playing more than four Swords, however.
Mikaeus, the Lunarch is another option to consider that just got squeezed on the numbers count. I think if I were not playing Champion of the Parish, I would want it, and even now, it may be right to play one, just on power. It is also worth considering splashing blue for Trinket Mage and possibly even Geist of Saint Traft (though the card is likely far less effective in a Paladin deck than you might expect). Silver-Inlaid Dagger is a sweet new option that gives you a very aggressive equipment to tutor for, letting Trinket Mage do Stoneforge duty.
Continuing our look at W/u aggro, we have an archetype that was mostly fringe, but gains a nice boost from Innistrad, Angelic Destiny:
- 4 Elite Vanguard
- 4 Mirran Crusader
- 3 Hero of Bladehold
- 4 Grand Abolisher
- 4 Champion of the Parish
- 4 Geist of Saint Traft
Again, we see Champion of the Parish alongside a bunch of Humans. Between him and Elite Vanguard, we are talking about a lot of halfway decent one-drop openings compared to the rest of the format.
Geist of Saint Traft is a fantastic Angelic Destiny target, giving you ten power in the air and with hexproof all by itself. In fact, four land, GST, and Destiny kills all by itself on turn five! Mirran Crusader was already an unbelievable target for the Destiny, but the archetype suffered whenever you didn’t get the combination. Now that you have twice as many dream targets, Destiny is a far more reliable offensive tool.
It is not clear if Honor of the Pure is the right way to go with an Angelic Destiny deck, but once you move away from equipment some (playing Destiny), it can often be better to totally stay away (for instance if we want eight maindeck enhancements). The lack of Swords makes Inkmoth Nexus of little value to us, so instead we get a little more Moorland Haunt action. It is tempting to play even more, but we really want to play Grand Abolisher on two and GST on three, and we don’t have nearly as many duals as we used to.
Grand Abolisher is a fine two-drop (and a Human) but certainly not as locked in as most of the other creatures in this build. It is very possible the Leonin Relic-Warders should be main, despite their lack of tribal synergy. Accorder Paladin is another human option that hits hard but is likely too vulnerable. It is cute that it gives a double bonus to GST when they attack together. In fact, three land, Paladin, GST wins on turn five (and by a fair bit), though obviously it is easily blocked. It is also possible that Mikaeus should be in here as a two-drop. A 1/1 for two that taps to get a counter isn’t the worst, plus he has multikicker 1: get a +1/+1 counter. When you finally factor in his ability to Ajani your team, he seems quite strong (particularly with Hero of Bladehold).
Our final two U/W aggro decks for the day are of the Tempered Steel variety. Tempered Steel is going to be an interesting one to watch because while they did lose Steel Overseer and Ornithopter, it was one of the strongest Block decks, the format that this new format is most closely related to. While Tempered Steel didn’t gain many interesting options, they have gained some serious new problems to have to overcome, most notably the reprinting of Ancient Grudge. At least Nature’s Claim, Forked Bolt, Lightning Bolt, Pyroclasm, and Cunning Sparkmage are all rotating out!
As you can see, I am once again experimenting with Geist of Saint Traft. It is possible that this is “trying too hard,” since he doesn’t actually synergize with the deck; however he does provide a very strong backup plan against artifact hate and a follow-up to a Day of Judgment. Maybe this makes him a better sideboard card. However even if blocked, he still Fireblasts the opponent, a deal that sounds all right to me. Inclusion of GST makes removal significantly better, hence the use of six “plows.”
I am not sure of the right two-drop to go alongside Glint Hawk Idol. For now I have Phyrexian Revoker, a card that seems perfectly reasonable in the format (PWs, Swords, Birthing Pod). Mikaeus doesn’t really fit the tribe, so to speak, but he does a halfway decent Steel Overseer impression in a pinch.
Without knowing how valuable sideboarded counterspells will be, it is possible we may just want to stick to mono-W, such as:
As you can see, this archetype did not really gain a lot, but it is strong and fast and sure to show up in pretty healthy numbers at States. The printing of Ancient Grudge might just mean that we need to play a more “Origin Spellbomb” sort of style (resiliency, etc.).
The biggest advantage of black in blade decks is the synergy between Snapcaster Mage and cheap black removal. When you can reliably turn your Snapcaster into an instant-speed Nekrataal, that is a powerful plan against aggressive strategies (which have historically been a thorn in U/B’s side). Tribute to Hunger does cost three, making it a lot pricier than the other removal options, but it does answer Geist of Saint Traft, which may be a common problem. Geth’s Verdict would also be an option, if you can support the mana, though it is nice that Tribute provides a little extra life cushion against red aggro (which will likely be popular at States, if only because of how easy it is to build). Â
Without Gideon, there is extra need for cards that can build an advantage, hence the third sword. Additionally, it is very possible that we want a third fatty in here, for even more business. Liliana of the Veil is a card we will be talking a lot more about later, but here it is at least worth considering on power level, regardless of synergy with the rest of the deck. Lantern Spirit isn’t all that high on power but also might be worth a look, as it does have synergy with the deck.
Esper Blade decks are nothing new and the mana would definitely be rocky, but Geist of Saint Traft works so well with black removal (clearing a path), it may be worth splashing white into a U/B deck for him. After all, how much do you really needÂ from white? Maybe Oblivion Ring? Timely Reinforcements out of the board? Here is a possible mana base to start working with:
While U/B Blade is a potent new way to play U/B, Forbidden Alchemy might make traditional U/B control even more popular than it was. Here is a starting point that takes advantage of this powerful new Impulse/Fact or Fiction/Mystical Teachings hybrid.
Forbidden Alchemy is one of the strongest cards in the set, will find lots of homes, and will take some working with to master. To understand how powerful it is, we first compare it to Impulse, a card that is slightly “too good,” in the same way Preordain was “too good.” For one extra mana, we gain a late-game flashback that is somewhat like that of Mystical Teachings (expensive, requires black, costs a mana more than you’d expect to pay). That the flashback is seven instead of six is definitely a strike, but now we get to the good part. Instead of putting the cards on the bottom, you get to put them into your graveyard!
This is exceptional with graveyard recursion of all sorts, but most commonly with flashback cards. Even just putting a single Think Twice into your yard makes Forbidden Alchemy a cantrip Impulse, when you have the mana lying around. That it also has flashback means you will generally never run out of things to do with your mana, if you can keep hitting your land drops, since the Alchemies start chaining together. Like Impulse, it can really help dig you to whatever you need in a given board state. Like Mystical Teachings, it is library manipulation that builds you card advantage over time and can provide the backbone to your deck during deckbuilding. Like Fact or Fiction, it not only provides selection and draw but also fills your graveyard. Forbidden Alchemy is the real deal, so expect to see a lot more of it over the next couple of years.
Curse of Death’s Hold is a card that I have seen much maligned, thus far. This is kind of surprising to me; after all, surely everyone remembers how good Night of Soul’s Betrayal was, right? Curse of Death’s Hold is generally better! Yes, it costs five, not four, but its additional strength makes up for it in spades. That it is only one-way is already a massive bonus, as it is now playable in a creature deck and effectively makes all your creatures “better” in combat. That they are not legendary is just a bonus. Many decks are just not going to be able to beat two Curses (and one will be a challenge).
Some people ask, “What creatures am I trying to hit with the Curse?” That is a fair question, so how about Snapcaster Mage, Inkmoth Nexus, Invisible Stalker, Azure Mage, Moorland Haunt tokens, Spikeshot Elder, Grim Lavamancer, Goblin Fireslinger, Champion of the Parish, Elite Vanguard, Accorder’s Paladin, Hero of Bladehold, Midnight Haunting, Birds of Paradise, Llanowar Elves, Avacyn’s Pilgrim, Lantern Spirit, Stromkirk Noble, Furnace Scamp, and more. When the alternatives are Black Sun’s Zenith, Life’s Finale, and Ratchet Bomb, it doesn’t actually take that much for a sweeper to be better. This is to say nothing of shrinking everything by at least “some.” Besides, -1/-1 is especially valuable in this world of Dismembers and creatures designed to beat Dismember.
Snapcaster Mage is less good without Swords, but he does provide much needed protection against Geist of Saint Traft, as well as another way to fight planeswalkers. There is no shame in using the mage to flashback a Forbidden Alchemy at a discount, if you have nothing else going on. It is very possible that a Sword or two offers such a great new dimension that it is worth the space, though that would make me want to add the Nexuses.
I have not included Ponder as a consequence of its being sorcery speed and the high volume of filtering I already have, but that could very well be wrong. Despite how good Preordain was, this doesn’t magically change the physics of Magic such that we just go sticking Ponders in every deck. To use Ponder, you really want to have ways to reset the top of your library. With no fetchlands, this is a much harder prospect. Forbidden Alchemy does do this, though, and the Drownyard gives you a backdoor method. Besides, with Snapcaster, we really don’t mind having extra spells to get into our yard early (though having to play it on your main phase is disappointing). It is important to note that in general, if we have nothing else to do, we want to Drownyard ourselves, looking for cards with flashback.
Elixir of Immortality is an interesting addition that I have been super happy with thus far in testing. Forbidden Alchemy tends to cycle you through your deck fairly quickly, and if you don’t have a plan, you can end up short on actual ways to win the game. Elixir of Immortality is a pretty solid card anyway, as five life is already a pretty potent effect, and going long, it can help win wars of attrition. Sometimes decks with this much draw risk being “all air.” Elixir is a way to trade one of those cards for a great deal more business later.
Another card to consider is a single Buried Ruin. As the deck is currently built, if you want to Elixir eventually (which you won’t always need to do), you’ll have to keep it when you Alchemy into it. How relevant this is is unclear, but a single Buried Ruin somewhere in the deck would give you a big backup. This would also combine nicely with a single Wurmcoil, so that when the game goes long, you can get a little more business (possibly that Wurmcoil you Alchemied away on turn three).
Memory’s Journey is another very intriguing option, as it never actually has to be drawn at all. Not gaining five life is definitely a drawback, and it does take two to go “infinite,” but it might be worth trying (if you don’t mind the mana). If you plan on chaining Memory’s Journeys together, you actually do need to draw it, unless of course you use one Journey and one Runic Repetition.
Witchbane Orb is an exciting new sideboard option that is primarily here for fighting direct damage. Additionally, it can work well against someone with a lot of discard (which are also the same people who might try to curse us).
Bloodline Keeper is a strange new black Emeria Angel of sorts. The ability to make a 2/2 every turn is great, and it is not unreasonable at all to flip it. This is especially valuable when you play against someone who doesn’t have a lot of removal (who will surely sideboard out their Dismember). Black hasn’t had a cheap Baneslayer this good for the sideboard in a while, so I am very excited about this new option.
Dead Weight is also a reasonable sideboard option, now that Disfigure is gone; however, I like Sorin’s Thirst better, in general. Sever the Bloodline is a little expensive, but depending on how often we think we can get multiple creatures with it, it could become worth it.
Moving away from the Snapcaster decks, our next stop are the Skaab Ruinator decks. To call them Ruinator decks is a little unfair, however, as they really are Birthing Pod decks and Ruinator is just a sweet new tutor target. I am not sure if the most common number of Ruinators will be one or two, but I suspect, at least at first, it shouldn’t be four unless you build your deck to be quite a bit different from the old Pod decks, such as with Forbidden Alchemy (which is certainly not a bad plan). While Skaab Ruinator is very much the blue Vengevine, it is not nearly as easy to just stick four in a deck, which makes me skeptical of its price tag. It is extremely powerful, but it is a niche kind of a power, not a general utility power, unlike a card like Snapcaster, Gideon, or Grave Titan.
Skaab Ruinator is just a good target for Birthing Pod; it is hard to imagine playing a Pod deck without blue, leaving us questing for the third color. For a thorough analysis of the Ruinator, refer back to my preview article on the card here . It is possible we actually can support four colors, but I’d rather start with a more consistent take. Birthing Pod decks, like most toolbox decks, take more work to develop than most other types. The difference between the third and the fourth Doom Blade is not nearly as important as the difference between the first Razor Hippogriff and something else. Here are some rough sketches for all three U/G/x combinations:
- 1 Solemn Simulacrum
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 1 Archon of Justice
- 2 Acidic Slime
- 1 Frost Titan
- 1 Sun Titan
- 1 Wurmcoil Engine
- 1 Sylvok Replica
- 1 Razor Hippogriff
- 1 Viridian Corrupter
- 4 Viridian Emissary
- 1 Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite
- 1 Phyrexian Metamorph
- 1 Blade Splicer
- 1 Stonehorn Dignitary
- 1 Phantasmal Image
- 1 Skaab Ruinator
- 3 Avacyn's Pilgrim
- 1 Tree of Redemption
- 1 Mayor of Avabruck
Of the three U/G/x combinations, Bant has the best mana without question. Avacyn’s Pilgrim makes up for the loss of Sylvan Ranger and Lotus Cobra in a way that the other two can’t even begin to compare to. Additionally, Scars lands are inherently much stronger than M10 or Innistrad lands, so getting to use eight instead of four is awesome.
Mayor of Avabruck is far from a lock to make the cut, but it is nice to be able to turn your one-drops into business. His ability to take over a board is actually quite strong against opponents without removal. He is probably better suited for a deck with a lot of instants, like some new version of Next Level Blue, however.
In such a deck, you can just play him and then on your next turn not do anything (which is what you want to do anyway), flipping him and giving you a source of advantage every turn without spending any extra mana. A 3/3 that makes a 3/3 every turn is going to trump just about anything that early. This may or may not be a good home for him, but he is so strong that it is worth at least considering him in this context. Remember to count the +1/+1 to your Pilgrims!
Tree of Redemption makes up for the loss of Obstinate Baloth in some ways. It is unfortunate to not have the extra solid body to fight with, but Tree of Redemption gains an unreasonable amount of life, making it likely to be a universally adopted Pod target. That it is so great of a blocker is kind of insane; plus remember you can reset its toughness with Venser. I am not yet sure how red decks will adapt, but if they don’t do something, they are goners, as this card will beat them nearly singlehandedly. My first guess is that some sort of Doom Blade type is the solution, but I’ll admit that the prospect of twisting a Tree of Redemption’s image is more than a little alluring.
Venser is mostly here as a holdover from the old format and could easily go, but he does work well with a lot of the creatures, not surprisingly. Besides, giving your guys unblockable is not the worst, from time to time. Be careful of getting too tricky with the new Pod decks, though. Often, all you are going to want to do is make Skaab Ruinator as fast as you can.
Last season, Michael Jacob and I favored RUG Pod, a deck that is reeling from the loss of Lotus Cobra. While Bant Pod mostly survives the rotation, RUG and BUG are going to need to be reimagined without the Cobra to bring it all together. Here is a first attempt at RUG. Be gentle!
- 2 Llanowar Elves
- 1 Solemn Simulacrum
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 2 Acidic Slime
- 2 Inferno Titan
- 1 Sylvok Replica
- 1 Viridian Corrupter
- 1 Hero of Oxid Ridge
- 4 Viridian Emissary
- 1 Urabrask the Hidden
- 1 Phyrexian Metamorph
- 1 Tormentor Exarch
- 1 Phantasmal Image
- 1 Hollowhenge Scavenger
- 1 Skaab Ruinator
- 1 Tree of Redemption
- 1 Daybreak Ranger
- 1 Mayor of Avabruck
As you can see, we have many of the same new bullets as the Bant build, though we do get more cool toys (at the expensive of the mana base). First, we have Ancient Grudge, which I think is perfectly reasonable as a sideboard card in the new format. Certainly sideboarding four of these will be devastating to Tempered Steel and other Scars-centric builds.
Daybreak Ranger is probably a surprise to many readers, but after playing with this guy at the Prerelease, I can assure you he is no joke. The ability to deal two damage to a flier is actually halfway decent, especially considering RUG Pod’s former weakness to fliers like Chandra’s Phoenix. Besides, being able to lock out Glint Hawk Idols and Inkmoth Nexus can help make up for not having a Sparkmage to go get.
Flipping the Ranger is actually not hard at all, assuming he lives a turn, which turns him into a board-dominating threat that threatens to start picking off creatures immediately. A 4/4 body is no joke in the new format, and there are so many creatures he can fight and beat I think he will surprise you. Additionally, Daybreak Ranger is likely to show up in lots of other places where decks have plenty of creatures and both red and green mana. A definite sleeper.
Hollowhenge Scavenger is not “for sure” good enough, but without Razor Hippogriff, I would rather be safe than sorry. States is known as an event that always has an unusually high amount of red, so it’s probably a good move. Morbid is obviously adorable with Birthing Pod, since any morbid creature you find will be active from the creature you sacrificed to get it.
The format is looking like a pretty reasonable format for Arc Trail, so I would suggest experimenting with that as some token support, especially given RUG’s historical weakness to fast creature assaults game one. Rolling Temblor is also a solid new option out of the sideboard, helping make up for the loss of Pyroclasm.
Moldgraf Monstrosity is an amusing option and not actually out of the question. The prospect of sacrificing an Inferno Titan to get it is not that appealing; however, it is a fantastic get when you sacrifice your opponent’s Titan from Act of Aggression + Birthing Pod. This combination is so powerful that I think if I played two Act of Aggressions main, I would run it (which I would only do if enough people played 6s). Trample is underrated, and getting back two creatures if he dies he actually quite strong.
Finally, we come to BUG Pod, an archetype that will likely be explored by many out the gate, though most with a very different bent than this list:
- 2 Solemn Simulacrum
- 1 Phyrexian Rager
- 2 Acidic Slime
- 1 Frost Titan
- 2 Wurmcoil Engine
- 1 Skinrender
- 2 Treasure Mage
- 1 Massacre Wurm
- 4 Viridian Emissary
- 3 Spellskite
- 1 Sheoldred, Whispering One
- 1 Phyrexian Metamorph
- 1 Entomber Exarch
- 1 Skaab Ruinator
- 1 Morkrut Banshee
As you can see, I have gone a very non-traditional route with this build, not because it is likely to be the best, but because it is a more useful list for showing some of what is possible. If you want a more tournament-ready build, replace the Heartless Summoning + Treasure Mage package with Birds, Elves, and a few more good targets at each spot, plus maybe a Reassembling Skeletons.
Heartless Summoning is one of the most exciting and scary cards from Innistrad. In many ways, it is an indestructible Lotus Cobra! Yes, giving your guys -1/-1 is a significant drawback that needs to be worked around, but a Sol Ring for only two mana is bonkers, not to mention the turns where you play two creatures. For instance, imagine playing a turn-two HS plus maybe a Spellskite (which is mostly in here as a two-drop you can sacrifice to get Skaab Ruinator even if HS is in play). Then, on turn three, you play a Treasure Mage plus a good four-drop (like Entomber or Solemn). Follow this with a turn-four Wurmcoil, and you are rolling. With two Treasure Mages, two Wurmcoils, a Titan, and a Massacre Wurm, you are not going to be short on insane turn fours when you draw HS. Additionally, turn-two HS into turn-three Acidic Slime is pretty excellent and makes most any six devastating, the following turn.
Heartless Summoning is only used in moderation in this build, but it is a card that we will be exploring in greater detail Wednesday. (I can’t wait to get to those HS decks!) Suffice it to say being able to produce multiple mana a turn from a card that costs only two should be enough to sit up and take notice. That it can actually be abused is an entire other story… Despite how relatively under the radar it is, Heartless Summonings is definitely one of my picks for one of the top cards from Innistrad. This card is definitely setting off alarms.
Treasure Mage and Solemn Simulacrum, as well as Birthing Pod, of course, mean enough shufflers to take advantage of Ponder. It is very probable that we should be playing four, but I’m hesitant because of our lack of blue mana on turn one.
Morkrut Banshee is a new card that is worth considering in Pod, but it is not clear how much you need this effect. To me, the real question is going to be how many Hero of Bladeholds do people play. If four toughness is the thing, than Morkrut Banshee is your guy. She does seem like a fantastic way to buy enough time to get to a six when you are working your way up the chain.
That is it for our green decks for today, as basically every other existing green deck has been invalidated by the loss of Lotus Cobra, Explore, Summoning Trap, and Valakut. This means that green decks are going to have to be totally reimagined from the ground up. Every top-tier green deck was basically either a Lotus Cobra deck, an Explore deck, or both.
What new linchpins will green start to work around? Garruk, Primal Hunter is probably at the top of my list, though it is hard to get away from Birthing Pod. Pod was already such a strong card, and Skaab Ruinator is just remarkable with it.
As we have been mentioning, red decks are always popular at States. While Goblin Guide, Lightning Bolt, and Searing Blaze leaving means red lost its three best cards, at least it does have some new options to work with.
Remember, mono-red was one of the most popular archetypes in Scars block, so there is a foundation to build on, though those were slower, bigger red decks.
That both Timely Reinforcements and Tree of Redemption exist make it a challenging time to be a red mage, but it is an easy deck to make workable in a hurry. People enjoy this sort of strategy, and it is often very good against untuned lists (which there are a lot of at States).
If red is your thing, there are the tools for it. It is just not well positioned, and I would switch if you are not generally a red mage. You will surely see plenty of suggested lists in the week to come. I would just run Patrick Sullivan exact 75, in the dark, if I were going to run a mono-red deck. Until his red review later this week, here is a list to start with.
- 21 Mountain
Reckless Waif is pretty underrated right now. While he won’t be able to fully replace Goblin Guide, he is actually a pretty badass dude. A lot of opponents won’t be able to stop him from flipping when you play him on turn one, giving you a Wild Nacatl! Even if he doesn’t flip the first turn you play him, it will not be long before you won’t want to play anything during your turn anyway. Until then, he is still hitting for one, which is what all your other guys do. You gotta ask yourself, how often do you think it will be nighttime? Anyone that has played in the Prerelease can tell you it becomes night more often and faster than you might guess. Â
Even if it was night only half the time, think about how much value you are getting. He is 1/1 or a 3/2, which averages out to 2/1.5. That is better than an Elite Vanguard, a card red would kill for. While he is not always the best topdeck, most one-drops are not going to be what you want to draw later. If you can consistently get it to become night, he starts getting into the lower bound of Wild Nacatl range pretty quickly. A lot of people are sleeping on this one, but he is definitely a winner (and a card I will surely lose to quite a bit).
Stromkirk Noble is less exciting, but still respectable (and more appealing to me than playing two-drops). He definitely works better in burn heavy builds, especially those with Arc Trail. Spikeshot Elder is not really much of a RDW card right now but is excellent if your build has more of a Goblins or Sligh feel to it.
Brimstone Volley is a very strong new weapon that is worth working for. Furnace Scamp turns it on, as does Goblin Grenade, if you go that route. Regardless, even when it deals three, it is fine. That it can deal five without that much trouble is very exciting.
Traitorous Blood is not the most exciting replacement for Mark of Mutiny, but it is fine. Without Splinter Twin, there is a lot less reason to “must” play Act of Aggression. Geistflame is a fantastic sideboard card that will get lots of play for the aggro semi-mirrors.
In addition to RDW, both Goblins and Kuldotha Red could be players in the new format. Here is a possible hybrid:
As you can see, Curse of Stalked Prey is an exciting new option for enhancing token decks. Turn one Kuldotha Rebirth, turn two Stalked Prey is actually very dangerous.
Kuldotha Red has a few strange sort of advantages compared to other red decks. First of all, it misses Goblin Guide less than they do, by far. Second, Goblin Grenade is actually pretty powerful, as far as finishers go. Finally, it was the best red aggro deck from the previous Block format, so there is evidence to suggest that it could be advantaged.
It hardly counts as an existing archetype, but it is possible that we will see a new R/B Vampire deck. The loss of Zendikar removes so many key components, however, that any R/b Vampire deck to emerge will bear little resemblance to its previous generation relative. Here is one possible attempt, though this list looks so crude, it is hard to want to play it instead of RDW:
So the primary incentives to stick to the Vampire tribe are Rakish Heir and Bloodline Keeper, plus Bloodlord of Vaasgoth, I suppose. Bloodline Keeper is just fantastic on its own and will see plenty of play on its own, let alone in a Vampire deck where it is the best Vampire Lord since Vampire Nocturnus. In addition to tapping to make a threat, it doesn’t take much at all to flip him and totally dominate a board.
I’m a bit more skeptical of Rakish Heir, but the effect is decent. I would be so much more excited for him if there were good one- and two-drop Vampires, as Vampire Interloper and Bloodcrazed Neonate are decidedly mediocre. The Bloodlord is technically a lord, but he is just not as good as the four-drops.
Speaking of Olivia, she is a total sicko that can just take over a game by herself. I think it is really interesting that she is in the same set as Bloodline Keeper, since they are both so much better than most of the B/R aggro cards. Her ability to pick off creatures attached to a 3/3 flier is already very enticing. Then you factor in that she starts getting big really fast, not only drinking the blood of your opponent’s creatures, but also nibbling on your guys, if need be. You don’t actually have to kill the creature for her to get the counter, so one to your Rakish Heir is just fine, which you could do on your turn and your opponent’s! Incidentally, she is the primary reason I am still on Doom Blades instead of Victim of Night, but that might just be silly. The mana cost is a non-zero issue, of course. Oh wait, she can also Control Magic a creature every other turn?!
Liliana of the Veil is hardly exploited at all here, instead just serving as a removal spell that is actually amazing against control instead of sucking. One thing I keep coming back to, however, is with so many of our key cards being good outside of a Vampire deck, why are we actually playing Vampires? Yes, the Bloodline Keeper is a great lord, and Rakish Heir is “okay,” but we are playing a lot of really sketchy Vampires to stay on theme.
What if we just played B/R midrange, with Bloodline Keeper and Olivia, as well as Liliana and the removal? That is a different deck, but it is another direction to consider. Diregraf Ghoul is a much more exciting one-drop, but obviously that has nothing to do with Vampires. In fact, there are so many incentives to play Zombies, I am guessing that Zombies overtakes Vampires as the black aggro deck of choice. Vampiric Fury is a cool enabler, but there are just no Vampires worth pumping.
Okay, obviously we are running heroically long, so join me on Wednesday, as we continue to review Innistrad and the Standard format to come. Which of the decks listed today is most interesting to you? What are you expecting to see Wednesday? Is there anything better than brewing with a brand new format? See you Wednesday!
Top 15 cards leaving Standard:
14. Sea Gate Oracle
13. Into the Roil
10. Jace Beleren
8. Goblin Guide
5. Lotus Cobra