This past weekend gave us the first taste of the new Standard format and it was… vanilla. The games themselves looked fun and while Collected Company ruining the day by netting double Reflector Mage still happened, there was also a game involving Nahiri, the Harbinger at 28 loyalty counters that wasn’t just for the rub-ins. Besides, it was week 1 and card availability and time were a major factor in dictating deck choices. To sum this Open up:
The baseline strategy was Grizzly Bear aggro backed by Glorious Anthem and Serra Angel. The deck that won was made up of a bunch of 2/3s, Man-o’-War, and a fight spell. Not exactly the overpowered war machines I got when Battle for Zendikar hit shelves. Standard’s power level is definitely lower compared to the perfect mana, efficient tri-color cards, and cheap delve spells in the previous format.
Let’s look at Jim Davis’s winning Bant Company deck.
Duskwatch Recruiter and Tireless Tracker are two low-key additions out of Shadows over Innistrad. Recruiter in particular surprised me and is one of those cards that eventually makes perfect sense—cheap Werewolves play nicely with Collected Company and Archangel Avacyn. Duskwatch Recruiter in particular has a useful front side to keep the creatures coming and on the back is a 3/3 that lets you throw multiple creatures onto the board. I already knew Tireless Tracker was a solid play, but it’s yet another way to keep the gas flowing.
While the power level of the deck feels firmly medium, especially compared to Rally, there’s a lot to appreciate here. By cutting the Den Protector/Deathmist Raptor package, Jim snuck in even more relevant card advantage creatures and Archangel Avacyn. The curve of the deck came down with fewer morphs while keeping a large number of mana sinks. Dromoka’s Command over Declaration felt absolutely wrong in other decks, but feels amazing here to eat the endless sets of Always Watching. In a world full of Grizzly Bear decks, the CoCo Reflector Mage deck is king.
So now that this is a known quantity, people will figure out how best to ignore the value this deck generates either by going around it, utilizing a swarm of even bigger creatures, or by utilizing cards like Languish and Radiant Flames in conjunction with counters or discard to fight the Collected Company itself. Going under it may also be possible as the Humans deck’s best chance of winning looks to be curving out and winning before getting dogpiled under all the card advantage Bant can generate. Boarding into a slower deck certainly didn’t look to be doing the Humans players any favors.
Speaking of medium decks—this entire tournament may set the record for the most midrange-y decks in the Top 64. It’s absurd how many decks were jamming this Human core.
The fact is that people underrated how fast the Humans decks could be and the deck full of Grizzly Bears trucked everyone. It helps that the natural curve of the deck involves a multitude of Archangels, which have shown to be quite good. As the metagame progresses, perhaps you’ll see a move away from the linear Humans plan.
For now, though, Humans is clearly the deck to beat by sheer numbers and it acts as a baseline for the format. It throws an endless stream of fodder at you with ways to make the various Humans intimidating, and forces your deck to interact with Archangel of Tithes and Avacyn, especially when Always Watching is on the table. Regarding Declaration in Stone, development may come to regret giving white such an easy way to interact with any creature or token.
Thing in the Ice was going to be a hit if only someone could figure out the right build for it. As it turns out, when the metagame is filled with decks that can’t attack past a 0/4 and relies on filling up the board, Thing in the Ice is suddenly one of the best things you can be doing. Just looking at the Top 64 decks and Day 2 metagame breakdown, it becomes very clear how Todd Anderson with UR Removal nearly took the tournament down. It has a painless draw engine, great madness cards, and Icee and Jace are great 2-drops when the opponents only have a handful of removal spells to spare. Better still, if they board in more spot removal to get you, Todd swaps his creatures for Fevered Visions and wins via Owls and various burn.
Is this deck good? It certainly looks like it lined up against the Humans decks nicely. But who knows if the deck was actually great or if it was the guy with 27 SCG Open Top 8s crushing people. Moving forward? I have no idea. It’s doing a lot of sweet things and a simple 0/4 wall is actually well positioned. Reflector Mage is still one of the worst things you’ll see, which will limit the overall effectiveness of this strategy, but it definitely looks interesting.
I’m not even going to attempt to go over all the various builds from the Open because nobody could agree on anything regarding deck construction, which made for a whole lot of choices and numbers that may or may not make sense. For the most part, Hangarback Walker and a pair of Gideons were consensus choices, though a fair number jammed the full playset, which is awkward when you consider how bad Gideon was for the tournament.
Moving forward, I expect Languish to play a far bigger role in the deck if only because the Humans deck is cheap to throw together. If you own nothing it’d probably run you around $400, but realistically, it’s lower if you got your orders in on the more obvious SoI power cards before they spiked. While supply will eventually catch up and bring down the price on cards like Declaration, good luck on Avacyn. She’s quite possibly going to hang out at 40-50 for a good long while, though thankfully she feels more like a 2-of than a 4-of.
Besides that, life gain was severely lacking in many of these lists. Kalitas seems like a gimme for the deck if there’s a high quantity of white midrange decks hanging around. Linvala is also my jam from last week and only looks stronger now. She’s the bigger and badder Angel of the bunch and still blocks an Archangel pumped by Always Watching. She also gains life and provides an immediate board presence. Not to mention the value if you run her in the Eldrazi deck alongside Displacer.
Speaking of which, BW Eldrazi had a good showing and some solid pilots chose it for the weekend. The amount of discard allows you to pick apart decks like Bant Company or Ramp. Transgress and Thought-Knot Seer go a long way toward ruining any deck that relies on certain pieces. While I stuck with mono-white, I’ll concede that Anguished Unmaking, discard, and Shambling Vent can easily be worth another color. You can even jam a few Sorin in your 75 for the games that go long.
What’s more interesting is the omission of Reality Smasher for Avacyn. Apparently, a 5/5 haste trampler isn’t good enough in a world of all creatures. I do actually like the variety of threats, even though Gideon looks poor without Secure the Wastes.
I’m trying to gauge exactly how grindy or big I want to be when the world has clearly shown that Grizzly Bear beatdown is a respectable option.