Return to Ravnica is out and the new Standard season has begun! About a month ago, I looked at which decks would gain or lose from the rotation, and made some assumptions about the immediate metagame post-rotation. This weekend saw the first big Standard tournament at SCG Cincinnati—so was I right? What did we see and what exciting brews came out to play? If you are looking for a summary of new Standard, you have come to the right place.
Are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin.
Zombies was set to lose very little from rotation, and when I switched on the coverage to see a Zombie on Zombie fight, I was a little worried Standard may have become a [card appetite for brains]brain-chomping-fest[/card]. Thankfully, this isn’t the case, but we’ll get there in a bit.
What I find interesting about Zombies is that the base shell is now being used in about three different decks. Old school Zombies was BR, and the new version in the same colors has become even more aggressive. It has increased its compliment of one-drops to 12 (making use of Rakdos Cackler) and traded in the creature-only removal for multi-purpose burn spells which are, I expect, frequently pointed at the opponent’s head.
This particular version is even running Bump in the Night, showing what the deck really wants to do—win and do so quickly.
Rakdos Aggro (a.k.a BR Zombies) by Joe Bernal
With the increase in the number of red spells, it is good to see an increase in the number of lands able to create red mana and cast non-creatures, however Rakdos Guildgate is not where I want to be with an aggressive deck. A land that comes into play tapped? No thank you. Can this deck afford to run maybe two Mountains instead? Or is the cost of Geralf’s Messenger just too restrictive for this? I don’t like it when my mana can restrict the power of my deck, and I would certainly look at alternatives to the Guildgates.
A couple of other interesting points from this list to consider: Firstly, I love the inclusion of Underworld Connections in the sideboard for the control matchups. It gives the deck extra card draw in the mid-game to find the last few points of burn before they completely stabilize.
Secondly, I predicted a lot of Zombies in the metagame, and Pillar of Flame nicely prepares the deck for the mirror while doubling as direct damage.
I have been scratching my head, and I just can’t think of when you board in Rakdos, Lord of Riots. In the mirror maybe? Perhaps someone can enlighten me.
Enough about BR, I want to move onto the other versions of Zombies which both include green to run what is possibly my new love, Lotleth Troll. He works well with Gravecrawler and the combination of trample and regeneration is surprisingly relevant, especially in the mirror.
Jund Zombies by Ryan Forsberg
Golgari Zombies by Daniel Caskey
Of these two environmentally-friendly Zombie lists, I much prefer the Jund version, but both strike me as a little bit unrefined at the moment. The use of Deathrite Shaman is awesome. A really sweet card in the mirror, you get to exile Geralf’s Messengers in response to the undying trigger and hit Gravecrawlers, assuming you get priority, while also gaining life which is, as ever, important in the aggro mirror. There are plenty of other potential targets against other decks and it functions as an oddly-shaped burn spell if nothing else. Sadly, he can’t make mana (not really) in Standard, though I’ve been tinkering with him in Modern and I’m pretty excited by his potential, but I digress. I definitely think he is, at the very least, a sideboard card for any BG zombie deck.
Moving away from Zombies now, I said in my previous article that a good way to take down the first tournament of the season was to meta against Zombies, and just take a look at what won:
UWR control by Todd Anderson
This list is well designed to attack the very aspect of Zombies that makes it such a threat—the endless ability to recover, thanks to Gravecrawler and its reach provided by Blood Artist and Geralf’s Messenger. Terminus, Pillar of Flame, and Detention Sphere all provide superb answers to these problems. Add to this Entreat the Angels, [card jace, architect of thought]Jace[/card], and [card tamiyo, the moon sage]Tamiyo[/card] to provide some good raw power and win conditions, and you have a sweet, Zombie-killing control list.
My one complaint about this list is the play set of Azorius Charm. You are rarely going to have any creatures to gain life with (given the deck runs a whole five creatures in the main) so maybe you just really need the occasional tempo, but mostly this card strikes me as a bad Think Twice. Then again, I didn’t just win a tournament with it, so maybe I’m underestimating its power.
As ever, Block can be a good indicator of Standard decks of the future and, surprise surprise, we see a midrange Jund list finishing well.
Jund by Lauren Nolen
Unlike in Block, this list gets to make use of Thragtusk, and with the playset of [card huntmaster of the fells]Huntmasters[/card] and Pillar of Flame it is yet another deck determined not to lose out to the brain-eating menace. In fact, much of this deck is well suited to dealing with Zombies—[card olivia voldaren]Olivia[/card] provides an effective sniping unit, Strangleroot Geist provides an early road block, Wolfir Avenger provides surprise kills and a mighty defense. One major potential problem for this deck is its mana, something the designer was obviously aware of and respected by adding a full set of Farseeks and a few Rakdos Keyrunes.
The deck is obviously comfortable against Zombies as the sideboard has little for the match, probably bringing in just the Cremates. There is, however, a good arsenal for control and the mirror with Rakdos’s Return, Liliana of the Veil, Appetite for Brains, and Underworld Connections. Note how Underworld Connections keeps cropping up in lists—please can someone combine it with Arbor Elf for all the value?
And Now for the Good Stuff
It’s time for the brews! Not all are completely new ideas, but they certainly stood out from the crowd for me.
First up, my personal favorite: Frites
This one really isn’t new. It didn’t make it onto my list of winners and losers from old Standard as it wasn’t seeing much play anymore, but in summary it didn’t lose its engine, just its major targets (Grave Titan, Inferno Titan, and [card elesh norn, grand cenobite]Elesh Norn[/card]). What I didn’t see until this weekend was what it gained for the engine—Grisly Salvage is everything the deck wanted from Tracker’s Instincts and so much more. You look at an extra card, don’t have to splash blue, and can always dump the fatty—selecting a card (land or creature) is entirely optional. I was perhaps a little too excited when I saw this card in action in the feature match. This card makes the deck so much more consistent that it may well be a serious contender in Standard in the upcoming months.
As for replacement fatties, Griselbrand is a favorite reanimation target in Legacy, so why not in Standard? Angel of Serenity provides the alternative blowout option. I like the use of Centaur Healer, Lingering Souls, and Thragtusk to stay alive while you do your thing. This deck goes even deeper on the staying alive plan in the board with two Rhox Faithmenders. I will be looking to play this deck at an FNM soon.
4-Color Reanimator by Chris Weidinger
Second, we have the deck my friends are talking about more than any other: Azorius Aggro.
This deck is like the UW Human decks of old, but seems to have misplaced its Moorland Haunts—seriously where are they? Anyway, it has replaced Hero of Bladehold with Sublime Archangel, which can certainly provide similar power to get the job done.
Feeling of Dread and Spectral Flight offer mechanisms to get Precinct Captain through and make Champion of the Parish bigger (or you know just stick Flight on a Geist of Saint Traft, that normally works well). Knight of Glory, Elite Inquisitor, and Riders of Gavony provide some hefty Zombie protection.
I’d prefer to see [card thalia, guardian of thraben]Thalia[/card] in the main, especially if the UWR Control list becomes heavily adopted, and she’s actually pretty good against Zombies. I definitely also want to add Moorland Haunts to the list for a bit of reach, but this is a solid starting point:
Azorius Aggro by Andrew Shrout
Lastly, before I finish I just want to mention a Selesnya list by Ryan Gerhart that finished 20th. I have a not-very-secret passion for GW, and this list includes Call of the Conclave and Armada Wurm who are just all about the raw power. With Arbor Elf and Avacyn’s Pilgrim to power-out some powerful three-, four-, and five-drops this deck is certainly a good choice for midrange beats at the moment.
This was the sort of list I was hoping to bring to you after my Call of the Conclave spotlight article, but hadn’t actually found the time to work on. So, if you were looking for a GW beats deck, then try this list out—but add another Township (or two). Until next week, as ever, feel free to tweet @onionpixie and say hi.