New Standard starts now, so let’s jump right into the level-zero decks for this weekend.
As I said in my preview article of new Standard a few weeks ago, red is usually one of the most popular decks at rotation time due to the ease of swapping cards and being proactive for the first weeks. While everyone is trying to do cool things that may or may not be worth it, red just rolls along with a real curve and efficient burn and cleans up every year. This year though, there’s a real chart-topper in Goblin Rabblemaster, and it’ll compete with Courser of Kruphix for the title of best 3-drop in the format. This wouldn’t be enough and I’d say red was in some trouble if it were merely Block red adding Stoke the Flames and Rabblemaster, but instead it got a bunch of additional goodies and options from Khans.
Let’s look at two sample red lists:
One big key is that these decks aren’t doing anything particularly tricky or overwhelming. They bank on having solid threats, and most importantly, don’t drop games to mulligans and mana problems—while punishing opponents that do have these issues. Nearly every single relevant red card being able to swing through Sylvan Caryatid really puts a damper on my favorite two-drop and means you need a better plan for not dying early.
What Boros brings to the table is another interesting two-drop alongside a pair of sweet spells that are at the top of the class for removing blockers. Chained to the Rocks shouldn’t need any explanation at this point and is one of the best removal spells left in the format. Ride Down is quite a bit more situational, but also very scary as it not only takes down any sized blocker, but can be treated like a damage dealing combat trick as well by throwing trample down. Normally not all that exciting on a 2- or 3-power creature, but things can really ugly if Goblin Rabblemaster takes a ride on the wild side.
Owen posted a very reasonable looking list last week that I kicked around and can approve of. Overall I feel that this is one of the best baseline decks to test against anything you want to try at this point, if I were building a basic gauntlet it’d include this, Mono-Red, Mono-Black Aggro, and BUG Midrange. Odds are high if you aren’t a total dog to those four, you’ll be well off in this format even if something like Abzan or Naya end up being strong against you. There simply aren’t going to be that many people over the first two weeks with tuned lists, let alone for three-color decks that are trying to out-guess the metagame.
Whether you take Owen’s list or make one of your own, I’d say this is the most consistent midrange deck in the format. The mana can be rock solid, the threats are among the best in the format, and it has enough ways to generate card advantage. In fact, you can make a much more removal resilient version via Genesis Hydra, Xenagos, Nissa, Hooded Hydra, and Courser/scrys to stay in the game against mono-1-for-1s. Personally I prefer Nissa over Sarkhan as my 5-drop planeswalker of choice, but I’m not against just jamming all of them in the same deck and going to town. The important thing is that if you have a brew you want to test, this is one of the best starting points. A lot of people still have the important cards for this strategy and know that red will be big week one, so having a strategy with access to a bunch of good anti-red cards is a good place to be.
I posted this Temur Yisan deck as a bonus deck last week and continued to tweak it since with some feedback from friends. Honestly I’m surprised at how smooth the deck feels and just how strong it’s become by virtue of Supreme Verdict leaving and Savage Knuckleblade being printed. The biggest problem I had with Yisan decks in old Standard was how bad your UWx matchup was and there was nothing you could do about it outside of hoping they didn’t draw it. My other problem was how often the deck was an underpowered RG Monsters deck when you didn’t actually get the Yisan chain going since the creatures weren’t at their best. Now you can jam a mix of Knuckles, Polukranos, and strong fives* to play like a normal big green deck when you don’t start chaining through your deck.
Major upsides about the deck include having a strong creature base, a toolbox that gives you a lot of options, an engine in Keranos/Yisan, and great sideboard options. Right now the biggest weakness is definitely the mana base, but even that has really improved with the addition of Frontier Bivouac as a non-pain, three-color land. You won’t always have your gold costs on time, but this deck will usually get there and without killing itself in the process. Thanks to the tag-team of Knuckleblade and Polukranos, a lot of decks have to decide how to spend their limited removal, either they try to take down Yisan and hope I don’t slam giant monsters down or they let Yisan start going to work. Taking three or four turns to dominate a game is quite slow, but we just had a massive power drop-off and it’s the only way Yisan’s effect is remotely fair. When Yisan gets going the game is going to end shortly with you dominating the board.
Temur Ascendancy is a pretty interesting one as a sweet way to draw some cards and make your mana engine a bit more explosive. Being able to use all these mana dorks immediately is pretty nice and it also makes utilizing Yisan a bit easier. It may actually fit better in the slower strategy and this one just focused on Genesis Hydra, I just like bringing it up as an option.
I wouldn’t be surprised if this was the #1 control entity for the first month of the season. It provides a ton a lot of card selection and solid angles of attack. The key for me is to see if Ashiok is worth the slots or not. Right now I’m not willing to dedicate the slots to it as the deck is very tight already and I don’t like how much more powerful the red deck is. It’s probably fine against the other midrange strategies, but I also feel like Sagu Mauler fundamentally changes how that plays out as well. Unless you net one for yourself, there’s really nothing to be done against a giant Mauler. I don’t even like Dead Drop, but between that and making deathtouch tokens via Garruk at least you have some options if something slips by.
If this is going to be a 1-for-1 format where planeswalkers and Dig Through Time are the best ways to grind people out, then I think this is one of the best Divination/Dig shells you can start with. Planeswalkers are good, but oddly enough Xenagos, Sarkhan, and red planeswalkers are way better at that job than the ones available to BUG. You can take a more aggressive shell and instead lean on Nissa to get the job done, but then I think we’re talking about a different deck.
I have no idea how to build this strategy and it doesn’t feel like anyone else does either. I’ve seen aggressive plans, midrange, burn-based, token-based and even a slow control version. My biggest issue with all the midrange brews I’ve seen is that they all get stuck at three mana and talk about how great Butcher of the Horde is; ignoring that it dies to everything. Now we could have a Baneslayer Angel situation where it’s just powerful enough when it lives that it’s still worth jamming. However I’m starting to wonder at all this hype in decks that have 11-15 creatures and are talking about how great it is. If you can’t consistently trigger it, the card is just a 5/4 flyer, which is a solid rate, but hardly a game changer.
For example, here’s a version of the deck where I don’t mind having Butcher of the Horde but understand it’s just an undercosted big body.
When you put Rabblemaster, Brimaz and Butcher in the same deck alongside Hero’s Downfall or Crackling Doom, you’re basically saying that my ability to do anything early is going to be completely limited by how the colors play out and Thoughtseize. You have to be willing to commit to a color pretty hard to justify playing enough basics to do anything early. Otherwise you end up with a big mess of painlands or stuff like 12 scrys in a deck that presumably wants to interact with the opponent before turn four.
I mention it because a lot of people will be drawn to it, it fits the archetypical Jund deck role of having lots of good cards, removal, and oddly enough two of the better ways to draw cards (Sign in Blood and Read the Bones). Some people will also just gamble with the mana hoping to get there and it may even work!
If I was going for a more aggressive route, this is what I would try with Mardu.
Rabble Red is completely legit and Sylvan Caryatid and Courser both need help to beat the red deck. Caryatid blocked practically everything early in block other than Fleecemane and such. Against red it can’t block Firedrinker, most of the two-drops, and can’t stop Rabblemaster. Courser obviously holds up better, but I can’t stress how much Stoke the Flames helps clear the way. It almost singlehandedly makes Courser a non-factor, compared to Block where you usually just had to trade a guy and a Titan’s Strength off.
Jeering Instigator is a card that I suspect will be underplayed at first, but will quickly become one of the most annoying cards to deal with on the draw for many decks. Threaten is a big game when midrange is the most prominent strategy, as stealing the best blocker is a big game. Might be too expensive an effect to jam too many of and it isn’t good against mirrors, but otherwise has been better than I anticipated.
With all that said about week-one red, wow is the red deck soft to Drown in Sorrow. Forcing it to fight other creature decks is also an exercise in hilarity since the burn suite took a hit. The upside is almost all your creatures can trade with Fleecemane Lion-sized creatures early and the x/4 guys have awkward mana costs other than Courser. However if a good mana base is being employed and Drown in Sorrow backed by other removal is around, the red deck usually just can’t win. Part of the reason red decks were so good in Standard was because you often couldn’t leverage that much sideboard space against them and you definitely couldn’t maindeck it because of the Burn deck. Now there’s only one real red strategy.
You know how Prognostic Sphinx was a gigantic trump in the BUG mirror and made things really awkward for one player? Sagu Mauler does the same thing against every slow midrange/control plan. Depending on the deck it’s easier to deal with since you can trade ground creatures off with it, but it’s really rough in the BUG mirror.
I don’t think there’s quite enough good burn left for the burn strategy we’ve just come from. However Jeskai Aggro feels potentially very strong. Mantis Rider, Rabblemaster, Stormbreath, and Sarkhan are some of the best threats in the format and having 20-24 removal spells backing them is scary. .
End Hostilities is kind of loose and doesn’t translate as well as I thought it would because of creature power creep. With that said, it’s still one of the best ways to catch up against Gx midrange and beats Prognostic Sphinx/Sagu Mauler. It might be a better sideboard card, though again it depends on how much Gx midrange there is. For week one it’s probably still a good option and if midrange pushes out red during the first month the answer may be to move toward WX control strategies even if they don’t seem all that powerful.
1-2 Dig Through Time will probably be standard in any slower deck that can support UU. Dig is really good at acting like double Impulse on turn 6/7. It’s only two cards, but it’s a lot like Rev for 4+, most of the cards are irrelevant in a given situation anyway. You just want a few meaty cards like an Elspeth or Sagu Mauler—that, or you desperately need an answer card. It finds both.
All I know about playing control in this format is that I’m going to need a damn good reason not to jam all the black removal I possibly can before I touch any other color. Last Breath has been the only cheap non-black spot removal spell I respect in this format and it’s still very bad against that GR deck. At least it hits morphs.
Even in three-color decks, I’d rather have this:
Playing four Hero’s Downfall is a given and that means it’s hard to just jam a whole bunch of other three cost removal spells. You certainly can run Sultai and Mardu Charm in your midrange decks, you just have to make sure you’re properly compensating for them. Otherwise it’s easy to get choked on mana and effectively be stuck into a sequence where all you’re doing is casting one removal spell a turn.
That’s all I’ve got for this week, next week we take a look at some actual results!
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