We’re getting close to the full Theros spoiler. Rotation time is always daunting. There’s going to be a lot of new information to process when we approach the new Standard format. There are lessons to be learned from the previous one, but the best starting point for anyone looking to brew is Return to Ravnica Block Constructed.
We're about to lose Innistrad block and Magic 2013 from Standard, but Return to Ravnica Block Constructed merely adds Magic 2014 and Theros. This still entails some big changes, but the scope of the change is likely to be less drastic. We can look at existing archetypes and improve upon them rather than chop away at decks that have evolved to attack a specific (and no longer relevant) Standard format.
There are many cards in Theros that can be used to augment existing Block Constructed strategies. Cards like Thoughtseize, Fleecemane Lion, Elspeth, Lightning Strike, and the Temples all have obvious applications within the current selection of decks from the Block format.
However, many of the most powerful cards from Theros do not fit into an existing Block Constructed archetype. Cards like Purphorous, God of the Forge; Master of Waves; and Thassa, God of the Sea all require that new decks be forged around them.
The Theros Gods are very exciting, but it’s hard to make them into creatures if our opponent is interacting with us. Boros Reckoner remains very strong in the new Standard—a lot of decks need to make drastically unfavorable trades to get it off the table while it provides us with halting defense against most aggressive strategies, and three devotion to white and red. Frostburn Weird is a card that probably should have seen more play than it has at this point. Limited has taught us how powerful the card is, and the fact that it works well with Purphorous and Master of Waves at the same time should definitely improve its playability in Standard.
Taking a look at the late stages of Block Constructed, we see three archetypes emerge as the most powerful: mono-red, Esper Control, and GBW midrange have fought off the competition and established themselves as the best decks.
Let’s start by taking a look at a Block Constructed mono-red deck:
RTR Block Constructed Daily #5900478 on 09/04/2013
Looking forward to Theros, mono-red is going to have a lot of options. Purphorous is a very powerful effect, but it’s expensive and will likely encourage players to play with Young Pyromancer and usually a second or even third color for things like Master of Waves or Elspeth. The aggressive red strategy isn’t looking for a Purphorous, God of the Forge, but it’s certainly going to be happy with his Hammer and Lightning Strike.
Hammer of Purphorous is an exceptionally strong 1-of in this type of deck. In fact, it might be worth playing with 2 and taking the risk of drawing a second, nearly useless, copy. The card significantly weakens cards like Supreme Verdict and planeswalkers and provides us with constant pressure against any opponent.
Firefist Striker dramatically improves in the new format. Supreme Verdict is the last efficiently-costed board sweeper left. It’s no longer possible for our opponent to Rolling Temblor or Mutilate our team away. Cards like Voice of Resurgence and Boros Reckoner create a troublesome board presence very early in the game against red decks, and Firefist Striker is an excellent way to apply more pressure while blanking the most important blocking body.
A lot of players are excited about Magma Jet, but we shouldn't be hasty to assume that it’s good right now. Sure, it can snipe a Scavenging Ooze the turn our opponent plays it, but it’s almost always getting a bad trade and scrying. We should think about the 2-mana creatures that are likely to see play in the new format. Lotleth Troll, Voice of Resurgence, Fleecemane Lion, Call of the Conclave, Burning-Tree Emissary, and Frostburn Weird all match up well against a Magma Jet. It’s awesome when you evenly trade for two mana guy with Magma Jet and get to scry, but right now our Magma Jet is almost always losing in terms of cards, power, or tempo against opposing two-mana creatures. We should probably take the extra damage given to us by Lightning Strike and be happy with it. It’ll be really awkward when our opponent goes monstrous with Fleecemane Lion while we have a Magma Jet sitting idly in hand.
Here’s what a new mono-red deck should probably look like:
Green/white/black has quietly been building itself a resume of Daily and Premier Event success. The deck was widely expected to be one of the biggest archetypes at Pro Tour Dragon’s Maze, but the deck showed up in much smaller numbers than most would have presumed. Now, in the format’s final hour, the deck has brought itself back out of obscurity and started to win.
Let’s take a look:
RTR Block Constructed Daily #5936585 on 09/05/2013
Thoughtseize is likely very good in this archetype. Obzedat, Ghost Council and Blood Baron of Vizkopa are incredibly strong threats that require very specific removal spells. The combination of Thoughtseize and Sin Collector will likely leave our opponent without an answer to one of our bomb 5-drops. An unanswered Blood Baron or Obzedat is usually enough to win the game on its own.
Sylvan Caryatid is another card that probably makes this deck better. Sure, it’s worse against Supreme Verdict, Far // Away, and Devour Flesh than Gatecreeper Vine, but the possibility of turn four 5-drops is very appealing.
We’re probably going to want four Centaur Healers in the main now that we’re paying more life with Thoughtseize. I don’t want too many Loxodon Smiters, because I fear we may find ourselves getting blown out by an enemy Elspeth, Sun’s Champion. I’m already cutting at least one of these for a fourth Centaur Healer. Fleecemane Lion gives the deck another angle of attack against control strategies while making the deck better against aggressive Burning-Tree Emissary decks where you need to get on the board quickly. 4/4 hexproof indestructible creatures are a scary thing.
Gaze of Granite is probably a lot weaker now. Call of the Conclave and Advent of the Wurm have some stiff competition with Fleecemane Lion and friends in the mix. It’s no longer likely that Gaze of Granite gets a big 2-for-1 when cast for three or four mana.
We also want to change the mana base so we can take full advantage of Temple of Silence.
Here’s the GWB deck I would play if Theros were released as the set currently exists.
Esper control was (behind mono-red) the most consistently format defining deck of Return to Ravnica Block Constructed. It has access to some of the format’s most powerful cards and the existence of Supreme Verdict will remain a huge factor in the deck’s success. Let’s take a look at a recent Esper list:
RTR Block Constructed Daily #5900478 on 09/04/2013
It’s currently unclear what this deck gained besides the Temples, which are a massive buff for a deck with Sphinx's Revelation and Supreme Verdict. Detention Sphere became a lot more powerful with the existence of Gods, but it may find itself getting hit by enchantment removal that was previously overlooked. For example, Golgari Charm will likely see more play than it has in the past.
Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver is one of the best cards for the mirror and midrange matchups in a deck like this. It’s very difficult for non-aggressive strategies to get out from underneath the newest blue/black planeswalker, but the likely popularity of aggressive green-based and red decks will probably prevent us from playing the card in the main.
We’re not going to build a new Esper Control deck today because it would most assuredly be way off the mark. Control decks need to be built to attack the metagame in which they exist. We don’t even have the full list for Theros yet and it would be tremendously presumptuous to make a control deck for a completely unknown format.
Studying Return to Ravnica Block Constructed will give us a massive edge on the competition going into Theros. Don’t be caught off-guard by the existing archetypes that port well into the new Standard format. Going forward, we should keep an eye fixed on what is printed to improve the best decks from RTR Block so we can build a gauntlet to test our newest ideas against.