An Early Frontrunner for The Deck To Beat in Shadows over Innistrad Standard

Last weekend, I was in Paris to do text coverage of the Grand Prix. As Shadows over Innistrad previews were already going on in full force, Tobi Henke and I didn’t spend much time analyzing the present Standard. Instead, we bombarded Pro players with quick questions on Shadows over Innistrad, on which decks would survive the rotation, and on which decks may be square one in the new Standard.

Three overarching themes became clear from their answers:

1. The Core of the Eldrazi Ramp Deck Stays Almost Completely Intact

Christian Calcano, Joel Larsson, Oliver Polak-Rottmann, Martin Dang, Gabriel Nassif, and Ben Stark all mentioned something to this extent. Although the Eldrazi Ramp deck can manifest itself in various color combinations, the red/green variant seems best. The main reason for this is that red offers Chandra, Flamecaller, Dragonlord Atarka, and/or Kozilek’s Return as possible replacements for Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, which is the only essential card from the deck to rotate out of Standard.

As Ben Stark said, “The World Breaker Ramp deck will likely be a deck to beat after the rotation. It’s one of the most popular decks on Magic Online now and it doesn’t lose much, so it’s positioned to only get better.”

2. Planeswalkers and Creature Removal Seem Powerful Post-Rotation

Several players pointed out that once Shadows over Innistrad is released, there will be a lot of powerful planeswalker cards legal in Standard. I already tracked down some inspiration for planeswalker decks in Paris. Moreover, creature removal such as Grasp of Darkness and Roast is strong as well. All of this points to a midrange environment. As Martin Dang said, “We might see a move toward slower midrange decks. All the new planeswalkers are eminently playable, with Arlinn Kord probably being the best but also the hardest to find a deck for.”

In such an environment, a deck with powerful planeswalkers (say, Arlinn Kord and Chandra, Flamecaller) as well as the ability to go over the top of other planeswalker decks (Dragonlord Atarka and Ulamog come to mind) should be well-positioned. The resulting Red/Green Ramp deck will likely be slow and vulnerable to hyper-aggressive strategies, but the format doesn’t seem to revolve around aggro creatures so far. After all, we lose Monastery Swiftspear, Warden of the First Tree, and more in the rotation, and apart from Falkenrath Gorger, I haven’t seen many good 1-drops in Shadows over Innistrad.

3. Moving Toward a World with Mostly 1- and 2-Color Decks

Without fetchlands, trilands, and overpowered gold cards, there will be much less of a reason to play a deck with 3 or more colors. I will provide a more detailed analysis of mana bases next week, but it’ll be tough to have a consistent 3-color mana base without losing a non-negligible amount of games to enters-the-battlefield tapped lands or painlands.

In the words of Gabriel Nassif: “Generally speaking, it’s mostly going to be one-color and two-color decks. In the new Standard, you actually have to pay a price to add a third color.” With that in mind, the fact that planeswalker decks have Oath of Nissa as a mana fixer should only make them more powerful.

An early deck to beat:

Red/Green Eldrazi Ramp

The 3 themes above can all be seen as clues that point towards the following archetype.

The deck can be built in a few ways. For instance, it is unclear how many 2-drop creatures, which ones, and how many Kozilek’s Returns you want in your main deck. Currently, I’m hedging with a little bit of everything, but what’s important is that you have access to everything after sideboard:

  • Against fast aggro decks, you can cut down on the 10 mana cards and ramp cards to focus on controlling the ground with Sylvan Advocate and Kozilek’s Return, eventually winning with Chandra and World Breaker. Since red/black madness Vampires with Incorrigible Youths and Olivia, Mobilized for War may become the prime aggro deck, I focused on Spatial Contortion in the sideboard.
  • Against control decks, which will likely take out their Roast and Grasp of Darkness in favor of discard or countermagic, you can assume a surprising beatdown role with Sylvan Advocate, Thought-Knot Seer, and Arlinn Kord, which their post-board configuration may not be set up to deal with.
  • Against other midrange or planeswalker decks, you retain a configuration close to the main deck where you max out on ramp spells and expensive high-impact cards.

The ability to transform and present a strategy tailored to any particular matchup is an aspect I really like about this deck. But more importantly, the deck contains some of the most powerful cards available in the new Standard, especially the relatively new ones from Oath of the Gatewatch. Although the deck doesn’t contain that many cards from Shadows over Innistrad, both Deathcap Cultivator and Arlinn Kord seem like nice inclusions.

Probably worse than Rattleclaw Mystic, but the morph rotates out. I’ve seen lists with Leaf Gilder in the current Standard, and Deathcap Cultivator is at least an upgrade to Leaf Gilder. Achieving delirium won’t be easy, especially early on, but if a game goes long, then it should be possible. Here is the list of card types that you could get into your graveyard:

arlinn kord

As Joel Larsson said: “It is comparable to Elspeth, Knight-Errant… You don’t have to build around Arlinn Kord at all—just like Huntmaster of the Fells, you can play it in any deck and be happy with it.” I think that Arlinn Kord can fill a similar role as Huntmaster of the Fells did in the Valakut Ramp deck that Brian Kibler used to win Pro Tour Dark Ascension.

A Wolf into a Lightning Bolt can buy enough time until your big cards come out. Later on, her ability to grant vigilance and haste will be quite useful when you cast a 7-drop. She becomes more valuable after sideboard, especially against control decks when opponents bring in more answers and games typically slow down a bit.

Finally, a few quick thoughts on card choices:

  • I chose Cinder Glade over Game Trail (the new “hand land,” “shadow land,” or “land land,” or whatever you want to call it) because this deck aims to ramp into expensive 7-mana or 10-mana cards. A tapped land on turn 1 or 2 is not the end of the world, but you cannot afford to finally top deck your 7th land only to have it enter the battlefield tapped.
  • Although I have colorless cards in the sideboard, Hedron Crawler is not needed because I can find Wastes with Evolving Wilds and Explosive Vegetation.
  • I didn’t include Vessel of Volatility because there are no great 5-drops to ramp into on turn 3. I prefer repeatable mana cards.
  • I considered a version with Ruin in their Wake and Corrupted Grafstone, along with Traverse the Ulvenwald to turn them on. This way, you don’t rely on mana dorks that fall to Fiery Impulse. I liked the idea, but I wasn’t able to get to a build that could achieve delirium, a Wastes, or a card in the graveyard consistently enough.

Based on what I know so far, Red/Green Eldrazi Ramp appears to be an early contender for the Deck to Beat in the new Standard. It can surely be beaten by fast aggression backed up with cheap disruption, but when building new brews, you’ll have to keep this deck in mind!

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