Every year, fall brings one of the most interesting periods in Magic. The new expansion comes out, and with it comes the task of figuring out what Standard will look like without the four sets that rotate out (in this case, Shards block plus Magic 2010). Standard is usually well defined, since it gets so much play, but the first few months with the new set are always awesome. All sorts of decks get tried, and it is usually not until after Worlds that the metagame is truly set. In order to get a jump on the new format, we can start today by trying to figure out what will survive the rotation (relatively) intact. I know we don’t have the full spoiler yet for Scars of Mirrodin, but we can certainly figure out which decks only lose a few cards and which get completely crippled, as well as look at what some decks gain from the Scars cards we already know.
First, lets look at the current crop of viable Standard decks:
It’s a little late to really debate over what is and isn’t good in current (read: dead) Standard, but this is a fairly comprehensive list of decks that I wouldn’t be ashamed to take to a tournament. Well, I probably would be ashamed to sleeve up Mono-White Lifegain, but it’s still a reasonable choice.
I really don’t know why I resisted playing Mythic for so long. I decided to battle with Mythic at the Channefireball 5k yesterday, and it was just unreal. I went x-1, but then was unable to draw in the last round and died to RG Tokens with a million Cunning Sparkmages. Still, Mythic was just so good, and it felt like it had good matchups against everything but the mirror (even the Sparkmage decks weren’t that bad with the full 4 Linvala in the sideboard). It almost felt like Faeries; I refused to play Faeries for the first half of the time it was in Standard, then I realized it was awesome and played it every time thereafter. I made Top 8 at GP Seattle, Top 4 at States, and did well at various 5k’s, and wish I hopped on the Faerie bandwagon earlier. With Mythic, I didn’t get there until too late, but hopefully I can recognize when a deck is too good not to play in the future, much like I failed to do with Mythic or Faeries. If you are planning on playing in the MOCS next week, please just play wrapter’s Mythic list (-2 Explore +2 Ponder, -2 Jace’s Ingenuity +2 Jace Beleren) and crush.
Anyways, what does Mythic lose:
Oh well, so much for Mythic. Losing Knight, Noble Hierarch, and Sovereigns pretty much just guts the deck; Birds, Lotus Cobra, and Jace are not enough to base an entire deck around, though they will all easily fit in to other decks.
Considering the fact that Jund is essentially a Shards Block Constructed deck, it isn’t too hard to figure out that it loses basically everything. I can’t say I’m sad to finally see Jund go; it was miserable to play, miserable to play against, and just not interesting really at all. Good riddance.
There are a few main engines in the Naya deck, and the most important one emerges intact. Bloodbraid might be gone, but keeping Fauna Shaman and Vengevine means that some deck in this vein is still going to be good. It is unfortunate that both of the 1-shot Vengevine triggers are leaving (Bloodbraid Elf, Ranger of Eos), since that weakens the card significantly. At least the four drop slot just got opened up! Now that Knight and Bloodbraid are no longer options, “Naya” might not even be the correct shard to play, since there is no particular reason that Fauna Shaman and Vengevine couldn’t find new friends. Cunning Sparkmage was one of the non-Bloodbraid reasons to play red, and it is likely that Lotus Cobra and Birds will see plenty of play, so Sparkmage is definitely a consideration. Of course, there is also this guy:
Koth is pretty absurd, and playing him on turn three is not difficult with a set of Birds and Cobras to help out. He does demand a bunch of Mountains, but that shouldn’t be too difficult to accommodate, and he fits the beatdown plan very well. Having access to multiple 4-power hasted guys (Koth/Vengevine) is crucial against the Jaces that I imagine will be everywhere, and adding a bunch of red mana can certainly make Fauna Shaman awesome. Powering out Inferno Titan on t4 doesn’t seem all that difficult, and Koth sticks around even if they deal with the Titan.
The only white cards that really interest me at this point are Stoneforge Mystic and Linvala, and I don’t think they are worth the strain on the manabase. Knight of the Reliquary was, but they are no Knight of the Reliquary, and playing three colors definitely rules out Koth. I know that I said I anticipate losing to Koth more than playing him, but some RG Fauna Shaman deck makes me optimistic about my chances of getting to sleeve up Koth myself.
That may look like a long list, but the only irreplaceable cards are really Elspeth and Oblivion Ring. Path turns into Condemn, Martial Coup and Mind Spring aren’t very popular anyway, and the random shroud guys can easily just be Baneslayers or Wall of Omens. Losing Oblivion Ring is a big deal, since UW was already pretty soft to planeswalkers, of which I expect to see many (*cough* Koth, though I guess I could have just said *Koth*). Elspeth might be replaced by…Elspeth, the new.
Elspeth Tirel 3WW
Planeswalker – Elspeth
+2: You gain 1 life for each creature you control.
-2: Put three 1/1 white Soldier creature tokens onto the battlefield.
-5: destroy all other permanents except for lands and tokens.
The new version is worse than the old, mostly because of the additional one mana in the casting cost, but it still seems worth checking out. The double Elspeth draw seems really hard to beat (t5 Elspeth –2, t6 –2, play a second Elspeth, +2 it, gaining you 6 and threatening to Ultimate the next turn), and planeswalkers are often better than they look at first.
The loss of Oblivion Ring and the switching of Elspeths both seem negative right now, but that isn’t the final verdict. We don’t have all the information on the new cards, so there might be some more sweet UW cards, and the cards that rotate out might help UW more than hurt it. Not having to face Cascade, Blightning, or Mythic makes counterspells way better, and should increase the viability of UW overall.
That isn’t a very long list, and many ramp decks don’t even run Bloodbraid to begin with. Ramp has to be one of the best strategies in post-Scars Standard, mostly because of how little it loses. It makes sense that there are multiple ramp hosers in Scars (the 1W guy that stops library searching and the guy that hits you for 3 when you play multiple lands come to mind), since it is going to be one of the obvious decks to beat. Koth could be sick here too, though Ramp doesn’t use his +1 ability very well, since the deck isn’t beatdown and doesn’t have many blockers. Even if Ramp gained nothing (which is unlikely), it would be a top dog, and as such as expect it to be quite popular.
Oddly enough, Mono-Red loses a bunch of very similar cards, which will drastically change the way the deck plays. The deck itself will survive, I’m sure, but it no longer can just shrug off creature removal by relying on Unearth guys and Ball Lightnings. Goblin Guide is still unreal, but the rest of the creature base is likely to be made up of “real” things like Plated Geopede and Kargan Dragonlord. Of course, the red deck also looks like it is developing a pretty nasty Koth…
Looks like the black version of the deck is heading…to the graveyard. Hedron Crab, Vengevine, Renegade Doppleganger, Fauna Shaman, and various looters (well, I guess just Enclave Cryptologist now) still might combine for some action, though the loss of Extractor Demon stings. This deck felt like a tenuous inclusion at best, and now I would probably advise against trying to make it work.
These are some big losses, though Ponder is much more important to the deck than Time Warp. Most people look at Time Warp as THE engine, but that really isn’t the case, and I often side out some or all of my Warps anyway. Losing the best cantrip the deck had access to is way worse, and casts serious doubt in my mind on the viability of the deck. Steady Progress might be an interesting addition, but I suspect that it isn’t enough to make up for the loss of Ponder.
Time Warp is still a loss, even if Ponder is more important. Not being able to win in the face of an overwhelming board is tough, and further reduces the likelihood of anyone successfully turning into a Pyromancer at a Standard tournament post-Scars.
Might as well save the best for last, right?
Half of the Soul Sisters are leaving, which may or may not be enough to cripple the deck. Losing the powerful 4-drops is pretty tough too, since Elspeth and Ranger are much of what gave the deck a solid lategame. Conley is the guy to ask about the viability of this deck, though it looks to me that it will be tough to make it work without the 4-drops and Soul Warden.
Standard Gauntlet, Post-Scars
The decks that survive, either whole or in part:
Valakut Ramp – This loses the least, making it one of the strongest contenders in the new format.
NayaFauna Shaman – No longer necessarily Naya, Fauna Shaman decks are sure to be among the new crop of decks, since the Shaman-Vengevine synergy is too powerful to ignore.
UW Control – I don’t like how vulnerable this deck is to planeswalkers, especially with Koth in the format, but there are so many good controllish U and W cards that I imagine some way to build this deck will be good.
Mono-Red – A more creature-based version is what it will look like, but the same strategy of Mountain, Lightning Bolt, go, will live on.
Jund, Mythic, and Pyromancer seem pretty dead to me, and Soul Sisters as well, though I will be the first to admit that I have no idea about what really makes that deck tick.
There will hopefully be a slew of new decks, all filled with exciting cards from Scars, and I for one look forward to trying to build some of them. Of course, I will probably fail, but I have plenty of friends who know how to build decks; my niche is tuning them and making them awesome, not building them from the ground up. In one short week we will have the entire Scars spoiler available, and that means Set Review time! Join me next week as I start going over every Scars card, leaving no stone unturned and no pun unsaid!
(and one more time for good measure: Ding-dong, Jund is dead!)