Standard Through a Different Lens
While Jund still holds the top spot in Standard, and likely will continue doing so for a while longer, the recent surge of "tier 2" decks brought by the 5k in Nashville and various Magic Online tournaments have turned Standard into more of a melting pot. There seems to be a dozen or so legitimate strategies to walk into any tournament with, each showcasing its own strengths and weaknesses. While we haven't reached a true paper-rock-scissors style of format as of yet, we have opened the door to allow a plethora of new decks and new engines to thrive. Today I would like to share a few of the builds that came up during various testing and brewing sessions in preparation for the World championships in Rome. None of these decks may be the solution to winning every round of Standard you run up against, but they do offer some fairly new takes on archetypes that seem to be underrepresented right now.
Look at these lists more as a breath of fresh air and a few more options available rather than the format’s saviors. I don’t feel as though any one deck can muster the entire load of Standard on its back in a prolonged consistent manner, despite Jund being very close. Because of this, keeping an open mind and choosing the right deck for the tournament, rather than the format, is as crucial now as it ever has been.
Planeswalkers are still one of the best ways to develop card advantage in Standard right now due to the lack of good countermagic and draw spells. This is partly why Blightning is so good right now, as it is able to generate a 3 for 1 advantage much of the time due to taking out a Planeswalker with its damage. This should not dissuade anyone from running Planeswalkers, but rather help them to develop skills that keep Planeswalkers on the safe side of things such as Blightning.
Blue has traditionally been run in control strategies to supplement the mass removal and spot removal with card draw and countermagic. Currently neither of those departments can be appropriately satisfied, which leaves Blue looking for a job elsewhere. When we approach a new age control deck without the burden of having to run Blue, we run into something that looks like this.
For the record, we are calling this deck "Craig’s Dream". Despite the seemingly random name, I assure you the story is worth a listen as it involves some random things like illegal drug smuggling, but that is for another time.
This deck, quite plainly, looks to overload opposing strategies with a very difficult to deal with late game by throwing reusable spell after reusable spell at the opponent via planeswalkers. Despite its seemingly clumsy top end, the deck is essentially designed to stall until one of these planeswalkers can stick, at which point the opponent's resources must be shifted to dealing with the walker, allowing you to either choose to fight over it or prepare a second wave.
Day of Judgment is seeing record low play (assuming you extend its play to Wrath of God of course) which only adds to its value in the few decks actually playing it. Because of this, you can often walk players into overcommiting as they set up for an alpha strike, and then generate some extra card advantage with your sweeper. Path and Burst Lightning should still be used conservatively, as something like an unpumped Putrid Leech is going to be more than made up for by the life gain of a Sorin or Ajani. Earthquake, on the other hand, is usually better used for a low amount early in the form of a 2 for 1, unless the opposing deck is assuredly running a walker or 2. In that case, getting a few guys and an Elspeth off the table with an Earthquake is by far its best use and pilots of this deck should be aware of that.
Duress offers the deck a preemptive way at dealing with threats like Blightning or opposing walkers. Unlike other decks that can utilize the raw power of Blightning as disruption, discard spells that allow the opponent to choose their cards to be discarded are nearly dead in this deck, as the opponent will just discard creature removal. Duress allows for a clear path for any walker as well as stopping some must deal with threats, like Eldrazi Monument. In the mono-Green matchup for example, if your Duresses whiff and the opponent draws their walkers and/or monument afterward, you literally can't win. On the other hand, snagging a Nissa Revane will often slow the opponent's clock enough that you can establish control, therefore minimizing the damage a topdecked Monument would deal.
Fiery Fall and Armillary Sphere are obviously there to fix your mana and yes, they are both needed and worth it. Fiery Fall is actually quite good in this format, taking down most creatures you actually care about late, meaning less dead topdecks than if you ran the full four Spheres. Sphere is actually only better when it is in your opener, but the raw power of not having to worry about mana again makes it a welcomed sight to say the least.
In general, this deck is going to have an advantage over Jund as well as other control decks and 3 color midrange strategies. Unfortunately, the maindeck is pretty weak against both Bushwhacker and Elves despite its rampant removal, due to the pervasive nature of those strategies. Likewise, 5-Color Cascade will take this deck down basically every game that it plays. Essentially, this is the deck to play if you are expecting a room full of Jund and decks that want to hunt Jund down. It is possible to shore up many of the bad match ups with sideboarding help though, so this deck could be a true contender.
If that deck just wasn't slow enough for you, we have this concoction:
I know this deck is basically the nut low both to play and play against, but it was putting up really good results in the game 1 situations we played out. With near byes against Boros, stupid green, 5 Color Cascade, Crypt combo and a really good match up against Jund, this Bant fog list was probably the best deck we had come up with for game 1 situations. Unfortunately, as we tested out sideboard plans against it, we found that if opposing decks had the pieces in place to beat this, and properly boarded, game 2′s were much more difficult.
The “fog every turn” premise is not a new one, and this list looks to capitalize on the same strategy. Unlike other fog lists however, this one just relies on its normal draw engine to also win with. This may seem slow and/or fragile, but with 8 counterspells and giant swingy spells like Font of Mythos, it actually can function pretty quickly and smoothly. The early turns are basically used to gain some life and establish your mana, allowing you to ignore fogging until a bit later. 8 counterspells allows you to dodge Blightning backlash as well as protect your Howling Mine effects from things like Maelstrom Pulse. Still, even without a counterspell you often can get around a Pulse by not playing multiples of the same draw engine.
It is important to stay above roughly 10 life so that you need not worry about countering every burn spell, especially if they happen to be uncounterable like Resounding Thunder. Your 10 gain life lands help in this department, although admittedly at the cost of tempo.
The only cards that actually matter from an opponent in game 1 are generally planeswalkers that do something outside of combat. Ajani Vengeant, for example, is a huge pain, and one of the reasons the 5 color cascade match up gets worse after board despite you having Mindbreak Traps. So long as you can keep a healthy stream of cards coming in though, basically every deck planning to win with a creature has a tough time in game one, outside of Vampires which can utilize Malakir Bloodwitch to decimate you once they realize you run no Wrath effects. This is also the main reason for the 6 pack of counterspells in the sideboard. Between Ob Nixilis and Bloodwitch, there are at least two creatures that need to be dealt with before reaching the battlefield.
If you are expecting a ton of aggro decks, or even decks like BGW junk or Sphinx control decks (without Ajani) Bant fog is a legitimate route to victory. Be sure and test plenty of post-board games though, as you will often need to adapt to a new game plan. There is also the possibility of turning into a turbo mill strategy, so I would also suggest checking out that possibility.
For a more traditional look at Bant, we turn to this list:
This deck really came about due to the power of River Boa. The little snake that could is extremely powerful against most of the popular strategies right now. Ignoring the fact that he has islandwalk, River Boa is able to hold off multiple attackers at once, and then swiftly turn on the offense when the time is appropriate. Obviously he becomes even more insane with a Behemoth Sledge on him. In addition, he is one of the few creatures (along with Stag) that can safely swing past a Wall of Denial.
Mind Spring may seem a little out of place, and it definitely is not a card we would like to have in this sort of deck, but the environment does not have many options available for late game card advantage. We already are pushing our 2 Ranger of Eos as hard as they will go without running sub par cards, which leaves the big X spell as the filler card. Some games it will be slow and lumbering, other times it will draw 4 cards off of a topdeck and win you the game. This inconsistency is not exactly ideal, but its upsides seem to outweigh the bad.
Baneslayer Angel, despite rumors of its death, is still an amazing creature. The key to using her in such a hostile environment is to provide other creatures alongside her that deplete the opponent of removal. Rhox War Monk, Scute Mob, and anything wearing a Sledge satisfy that role, making the act of sticking an Angel realistic. Against some decks like Elves, or Boros, an Angel will often give you a legitimate way to win, as the ground is typically clogged up in those matchups
I prefer Hindering Light right now over Negate despite the extra versatility Negate provides. Hindering Light having a cantrip attached is very important for a deck looking to take over with one of many powerful cards. That extra card is going to present a must deal with threat or at least get you that much closer to one. Negate is still fine against Planeswalkers and thus takes a few slots in the board.
Quest for Ancient Secrets is seen in 2 of the above lists and for good reason. Despite its seemingly narrow application, the Quest arms you for any and all Mill strategies, fog strategies, and can also be used preemptively against Crypt combo decks of various sorts. While we have an established metagame at the top of the bracket, with Jund, Boros, Green, 5 Color, etc. the decks fighting to take those out are plentiful and just off the radar. I feel like having a versatile sideboard aimed at not only taking out the top dogs, but prepared for the random decks you will face during the other half of the tournament is essential for big tournament success right now. Another card in the sideboard, Great Sable Stag, demonstrates this perfectly as he is awesome against Black aggro decks and Blue control decks alike. Just something to think about when throwing together your 15 right now.
Alright, that’s it for this week. World’s prep continues and the Standard format is sure to unfold even more during its unveiling. Again, it seems like developing a palate with many options is the best tool one can have going into any tournament. Jund remains the top deck but that is in no way a given and it just takes a few more results to move the metagame even further away from it. Keep building and innovating and good things are bound to happen. Thanks for reading!