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New Standard Technology for Esper, Bant, and Red

Hello!

Over the last few weeks we’ve had a ton of Standard Grand Prix, as well as some innovation from pro players at the Standard Super League. Today I’m going to analyze three interesting card choices from those tournaments:

Monastery Mentor in Esper Dragons

During week 1 of the Standard Super League, Josh Utter-Leyton played a very interesting Monastery Mentor Esper deck:

 Wrapter’s Esper

This is an Esper deck, but it’s not a Dragons deck. I think it’s a cool build, and it probably served as inspiration for the deck that I want to talk about:

Ricardo Nunes Martins’s Esper Mentor-Dragon

Unlike Josh’s build, this is actually an Esper Dragons deck, but it has Monastery Mentor in it, which I personally prefer. I played against the deck twice—once in the Swiss and once in the Top 8, and I was very impressed by Ricardo’s build.

The idea behind Monastery Mentor is that it’s good in the mirror and good in the Bant matchups, or against any deck that can’t remove creatures very easily, such as Heroic. It’s one of the few cards that can match up to Deathmist Raptor. The deck might look like it doesn’t have enough spells, but between Anticipate and Dig/Cruise, you can generally keep the cycle going.

Mentor is also different from Young Pyromancer. It escalates very quickly and doesn’t actually need that many spells to take over the game. Playing Mentor requires more white, but it also lets you play Sorin, which is fantastic against Esper and can also be reasonable against Mono-Red if you have the right draw. The addition of Mentor and Sorin means your Dragons are now much stronger against all the edicts in the format, so this is a card to keep in mind if the metagame gets too warped by Foul-Tongue Invocation or Merciless Executioner.

When I played Esper against Ricardo, I wasn’t expecting Mentor to be that good. I did have a lot of removal, after all. But my opponent had counterspells, Sorins, and more Thoughtseizes than I did, as well as his own Dragons, so it’s not like my Downfalls and Foul-Tongues were dead cards that became live because of Mentors. If you can set up a turn where you go, say, Mentor + Thoughtseize + Anticipate, you demand an answer and you get two 1/1 prowess guys that also have to be answered, because they will eventually win the game.

After board, it made things very complicated for me, because I didn’t want any Bile Blights or Ultimate Prices in my deck, but if I didn’t have them I ran the risk of flat-out losing to a turn-three Mentor.

Mentor does have a few downsides. Namely, it leaves you vulnerable to cards that were ordinarily bad against you, such as Dromoka’s Command. It also gives them a good Ashiok target if that’s widely adopted (and I think it should be). Regardless of that, I was impressed enough with them that I think they’re worth trying out, and I’ll certainly do so before I play a Standard tournament again.

Ajani Steadfast in Bant Megamorph

Ben Weitz Top 8’d GP Toronto with this build of Bant Megamorph:

This is close to Craig Wescoe’s original build, but it has one card that stands out: Ajani Steadfast. Ajani strikes me as particularly good because this deck has a lot of board stalls. It runs Mastery of the Unseen and a ton of creatures, so the -2 ability on Ajani is always going to pump a lot of guys and it could make all the difference in any sort of mirror matchup. Against Esper, it makes every guy you have a threat, and if it pumps your 2/2s and 2/4s twice it gets them past Ojutai, which is a big game. The +1 ability is, of course, very good against Mono-Red.

The really cool interaction, however, is with Dragonlord Ojutai. Ojutai is not as good in Bant as it is in Esper because there aren’t many ways to protect hi without Scorn, so a lot of the time it just dies when it attacks. If you +1 Ajani, however, you give Ojutai vigilance and first Strike, which makes it unkillable and basically unblockable. You also hit for 6 points of lifelink and draw a card in the process. I can imagine many games going turn two Caryatid, turn four Ojutai, turn five Ajani, and that is good enough to flat-out win against a lot of people.

Going forward, I don’t expect Bant Megamorph to be an incredibly popular deck due to the resurgence of RG Dragons. Stormbreath in particular is a big problem for this deck. If it does get played, however, then I’d expect Ajani Steadfast to be the norm in Bant Megamorph, rather than the exception—I think it helps a lot with what the deck is trying to do.

Impact Tremors in Mono-Red

You can always count on Tom Ross to innovate aggressive decks that have remained the same for months. His latest escapade is his SSL Mono-Red deck featuring Impact Tremors:

Tom Ross’s Mono-Red Aggro

Impact Tremors is a very weird card, because it’s always going to be a little bit awkward and disruptive to your curve. To get good use out of it, you need to play it early, but that means you’re not playing a creature and therefore not attacking the following turn—so you wasted a point of damage. If you play it late, however, then you are not going to have many creatures to follow it up with.

The key to Impact Tremors is that it works with two mechanics in the deck—tokens and dash. If you can set up a turn where you go, say, Impact Tremors + Dragon Fodder, then that’s 2 damage. If the card manages to deal 2 more, then it’s already a decent burn spell. If you topdeck a Hordeling Outburst after that, that’s 3 more and we’re already into “very good” territory, because the card stays in play. In this regard it’s like a planeswalker, it does something good and you don’t even lose it.

Since dash lets you play the same creature over and over, it has the potential to deal much more, as you don’t even have to attack with the guys. Because it works so well with dash, Tom has two Mardu Scouts, though they come at the expense of his Zurgos—he has only 2 of them, which is the fewest I’ve seen in any Mono-Red list. I’d be surprised if you couldn’t cut a card for a third one.

The upside on Impact Tremors is clearly great—you could deal 6 or 7 points of damage with it throughout the game, perhaps even more, and win through board stalls. The downsides are that it’s a lousy topdeck, it can only go to the face, it doesn’t block, and it leaves you more vulnerable to Dromoka’s Command than you were before. My inclination is that the downsides outweigh the upsides, and I don’t think the card will see much play in the future.

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