Throne of Eldraine Standard is here – let’s cover what I’ve learned from the first week of the format! Today I’m going over what didn’t work for me, and next time I’ll cover what did.
Things That Feel Awful
So let’s start with the bad, because I’m actually pretty pumped about the format so far. Sure, there are some bugbears, but overall I’m actually pretty happy at what a fresh coat of paint did for many of the archetypes that are being ported over. However, some did not quite make the leap intact…
Gruul Aggro is a deck I’ve seen a fair bit of, sometimes producing a respectable, but worse clock than Mono-Red while not being considerably better in the late-game. Other times it simply never had a red mana source until turn four (or it came into play tapped) and rolled over and died. The tradeoffs for better creatures and Domri simply don’t feel like they line up properly yet.
Nearly every Sultai Midrange deck I’ve run into thus far can be broken down into one of two camps. One is Golgari Midrange with a splash of Oko and occasional piece of countermagic. The other are jank ramp decks that revolve around Oko redeeming their abysmal early game and providing the lifegain to stabilize against faster aggro strategies. My big issue with both is that neither seems to have a clear way to deal with Golos or other ‘big’ decks going over the top of your plan.
The creature-based midrange builds at least can jam a huge threat on turn three like Rotting Regisaur and threaten a turn 5/6 kill which makes a huge difference if they miss on Teferi, Time Raveler or you cast discard to clear the way first. However, every time I play a more linear deck and see a turn two or three Oko into Questing Beast I smile because I know unless my hand is total garbage they’re going to lose to whatever trump I have. Whether that be Golos into Field of the Dead, Nissa into Hydroid Krasis or just more creatures into The Great Henge, the decks are super soft to engine strategies game one and often remove threats after boarding.
There could be a Sultai deck that is simply superior to a two-color iteration and isn’t punished heavily by mana issues. However, at this time the only reason I see people splashing is so they can play Oko and have an easier time with matches they should, by in large, already be winning.
With all that out of the way, I will say that Oko itself could end up the new T3reri of the format when you jam it on turn two or otherwise clear the way for it on turn three. Not only does going to six loyalty make it very difficult to deal with outside of direct means, the ability to gain loyalty while converting otherwise garbage early drops into 3/3’s or turning your opponent’s big scary beastie into just a 3/3 is a huge swing. It almost feels like an overdue apology for constantly undertuning Kiora’s loyalty numbers and making her unplayable.
Fires of Invention Decks
My guess is that there’s a legitimate Fires of Invention deck buried somewhere in the pile of garbage that is the average 60 of this deck. My problem isn’t so much the namesake of the deck, but rather just how unplayably bad the deck is whenever someone interacts with it and forces you to play a legitimate game of Magic. Truly a disgraceful tactic I understand, but some people lack the moral fiber and scruples we’ve come to expect from living in a society. For cases like this the general builds I’ve seen equate to ‘bad 4c planeswalker deck’ or ‘bad Grixis Control deck,’ neither of which interests me.
I’m not trying to downplay how strong the actual card can be–it can be ridiculously powerful–I’m just looking at how easy it is to play a very poor shell for the engine and still feel like you’re accomplishing things when it falls apart against prepared opponents.
Things That Are Sweet But Not Quite Good Enough
The Great Henge
The Great Henge is a solid engine that largely functions as either a win-more card or absolutely bodies any other creature strategy. Obviously, the ideal scenario is Turn 3 Dino, Turn 4 The Great Henge into Growth-Chamber Guardian, which sets up all future turns while giving you a 1G 3/3 that netted you two cards. Don’t forget that in the late game where mana isn’t an issue you can adapt in response to the Henge trigger and end up with 5/5’s that fetch another and draw a card.
The problem with most of the Great Henge decks is that they’re either too reliant on it or don’t need it in the first place. Moving forward, I’d like to see a deck that takes advantage of it without making huge concessions to get it into play on turn 4. That’s why the Golgari base build seems like the strongest starting point since Rotting Regisaur is a reasonable 3-drop on its own and enables an early Henge. What I want is another solid three or four-drop that lets you get away with that kind of play. Spawn of Mayhem was close, but not quite there. Questing Beast is a very solid threat and something you’ll be playing anyway, but four power is basically the bare minimum you need to consider casting Henge to begin with.
Lovestuck Beast is an obvious answer, but the question then becomes if you have enough 1/1’s to otherwise make use of the body if they just kidnap the poor Human. Storrev, Devkarin Lich is an interesting one if you don’t mind playing a slower game, and that may in fact be the answer. Being aggressive with Henge is fine, but you can play a midrange-esque build and still go deep with the card with just a few creatures. Is playing The Great Henge better in that type of build than a card like Garruk, Cursed Huntsman? Time will tell.
4 Temple of Malady 4 Overgrown Tomb 2 Fabled Passage 11 Forest (347) 4 Pelt Collector 4 Gilded Goose 4 Growth-Chamber Guardian 4 Incubation Druid 4 Yorvo, Lord of Garenbrig 4 Rotting Regisaur 4 Questing Beast 4 Once Upon a Time 3 The Great Henge 2 Find/Finality
Speaking of Golgari Midrange, meet the frontrunner for anyone who believes in the philosophy that there are no bad threats, only bad answers (unless you’re Golgari). Cards like Vraska, Golgari Queen and Murderous Rider are very well-situated in the current format and have other uses besides deleting Oko, Teferi and Rotting Regisaur. You also have a ridiculous bounty of creatures with impressive P/T to mana ratio and sometimes more than that (see Questing Beast’s neverending story of abilities). To top it off, you can also jam the adventure cards for more 2-for-1 trades and utility.
VTCLA 5-0’d a league with a Golgari build that looked well-built.
8 Forest (347) 4 Overgrown Tomb 9 Swamp (339) 4 Temple of Malady 4 Gutterbones 4 Knight of the Ebon Legion 4 Pelt Collector 4 Blacklance Paragon 2 Order of Midnight/Alter Fate 3 Midnight Reaper 4 Murderous Rider/Swift End 4 Questing Beast 4 Spawn of Mayhem 2 Assassin's Trophy Sideboard 1 Disfigure 1 Drill Bit 3 Duress 3 Find/Finality 2 Garruk, Cursed Huntsman 3 Noxious Grasp 2 Vivien, Champion of the Wilds
As for red decks, I tried out a handful and while all of them ran fine, none of them particularly impressed me in the face of actual blockers and sweepers. In a higher number than I would’ve expected, I felt like my opponents could stack their deck starting on turn three and not have a chance of winning. Of course, this takes into account that a lot of people have strong lifegain options maindeck right now, which could change as the meta develops. Still, I’m happy playing my various ramp decks with a 0/3 blocker on turn one and Archway Angel in the sideboard.
Things That Feel Busted
Once Upon a Time
Once Upon a Time is exactly as amazing as you thought it was, and it reinforces how ridiculous it is that R&D continue to roll the dice with free cards. The ‘drawback’ here is that you draw it in your opener and when you don’t you have a below market rate version of Commune with Nature, but since you hit lands as well you’ll rarely ever whiff. Despite this ‘drawback,’ it increases the consistency of your T1/2 plays by a noticeable amount (Karsten has mathed it out) and in ramp-style decks can help filter to the payoff cards later. Even if the card’s alternative cost wasn’t castable before turn 2, I’d think it was quite powerful, but casting it on turn one is *chef kiss.*
As for the decks that felt good in my initial weekend of play, I’ll be covering those next time. Spoiler Alert: Golos, Tireless Pilgrim and Field of the Dead strategies are still powerful and Golos in particular may be the build-around we’ll see as a primary pillar in the metagame.