This weeks’ article was going to be about diving into the Legacy format but, well, some important things happened. So, instead I will save that article for later and focus on the repercussions from that momentous event. The key point from the article was that Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Stoneforge Mystic are too powerful for Standard, and are not only warping the format but also deterring players from attending and enjoying the game of Magic. Since they only went part of the way with the bannings, I think my statement will come to pass.
Enter the one card combo machine!
Whether he’s fetching Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle or Eldrazi Temple, Primeval Titan is and will be a force to be reckoned with. Before New Phyrexia was released, Valakut was one of the ways that players were trying to beat Caw-Blade. For its time in Standard, Primeval Titan has been affecting the format. Players always have to take into account this deck when they are constructing theirs. Now that we have some banned cards in Standard, this statement is even more correct. While I am still excited about Standard once more, I fear that my prediction will be correct: Standard will now consist of Valakut and decks trying to beat it. Even if ramping into Primeval Titan proves not to be the best, if not the easiest, strategy to play, it will always be a consideration that you will have to think about when choosing a deck to go to battle with. I do not want to get into a specific deck list for this strategy today, but I do not think it is too far of a stretch saying that the deck is certainly one to beat. One thing I am sure of regarding Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle and Primeval Titan is that the deck will need to grow and evolve in order to assume the throne of tier one Standard deck, a challenge it will easily meet.
Standard right now is like Dragonball Z. This widely popular anime has been Americanized and remade so more and more fans can enjoy it. One of the repeating themes of the show is how Goku and the good guys keep defeating old enemies and teaming up with them to defeat a new evil in the universe. This happened first with Piccolo and then with Vegeta. Piccolo worked with Goku to fight Raditz, Nappa, and Vegeta. Then Once Vegeta was defeated, the Z Fighters let him join up with them in order to defeat Frieza’s henchmen the Ginyu Force. What does this have to do with Magic? Well, this season has been a story of team-ups. The whole of standard, our Z Fighters if you will, have been teaming up to defeat the evil emperor Caw-Blade. Every attempt has failed but then at the last second, as it lunges for the killing blow, Wizards in an act of pure ex machina defeats the enemy in one swift blow. But then, there in the wings, looming, the evil Valakut waits ready to strike. Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle and Primeval Titan had agreed to work with the rest of the good guys to try to defeat the enemy but now that the threat is gone, there is nothing left to stop it from reclaiming its rightful place as ruler.
Can this enemy be dethroned? As long as we accept the viability of Valakut, the logical progression is to try. This immediately led me to believe that many players will be slinging Red Deck Wins in our new format. There are already a number of players trying to use this deck to beat Caw-Blade. Once Pat Sullivan’s list was distributed to the masses online, that deck started popping up all over the place. Any feasible red deck is always a popular choice among players, but when a notable pro like Pat Sullivan makes a good showing with the deck, you can be confident that other players will be playing it. Just like Valakut though, Mono Red will need to once more reveal its chameleon-like nature and adapt to the metagame. Even Sullivan’s recent incarnation of the deck will not be satisfactory in a new format.
What other powerful cards do we have that might be able to shine in the new format?
Many players believe that this consistent combination of a seemingly endless line of threats will find a home in this new arena. My prediction is that they are wrong. As long as Valakut is king, Fauna Shaman and whatever friends she wants to bring, will fall from favor quickly. This comes from a player who loves those two cards more than anyone else I know. Though typically seen in Naya, I don’t believe that any combination of colors can reliably beat Valakut. The matchup is exactly what Valakut wants to play against and destroy every round of the tournament.
Since the Naya archetype came into being, I have been playing that deck. I played it before most knew the deck existed and achieved success with it - you could regularly find me fighting Faeries with my trusty Naya deck. When Standard rotated and many of the cards left the deck, I adapted and continued to brew with it to beat Jund. Others joined and played the deck when Boss Naya was created. Though my list was close to that, the few changes did make a big impact and so I went with it. Then something horrendous happened. Wizards printed this unprecedented, power creeping cycle of creatures called Titans. One Titan in particular, Primeval Titan, posed an insurmountable threat to one of my favorite decks of all time. Countless versions of the deck, changing colors, and hours of play testing and tournament play later, I finally threw in the towel for Naya. Though they are some of my favorite cards in one of my favorite decks, the matchup against Valakut is almost as unwinnable as is possible. No, unless the format shifts drastically into something unpredictably different, the Fauna Shamans and Vengevines will have to play elsewhere.
Maybe another two card combination could fight for the throne? There is no doubt that the killer combination of Deceiver Exarch plus Splinter Twin will still be played. The question is, how much? Is there a version that is consistent enough? Will the combo be played in a different shell similar to how it was played in RUG or with Stoneforge Mystic? These questions need to be answered but I think in the end a deck featuring these cards will have a place in the metagame.
What about a control deck, maybe something like Blue Black Control. That might be able to conquer the new Valakut beast. It is possible that a control deck will emerge that might look similar to the worlds versions of Blue Black Control. Sure we don’t have Jace, the Mind Sculptor anymore, but Jace Beleren is still fine and very playable. Add some Jace's Ingenuity and Preordain to solidify the draw spells. Don’t forget Mana Leak and most likely Spell Pierce. Certainly there will need to be kill spells like Dismember, Go for the Throat, Doom Blade, or something bigger like Black Sun's Zenith. Finish the deck off with Grave Titan, Wurmcoil Engine, Consecrated Sphinx, or some combination and you basically have yourselves a control deck. Is it good enough, that I am not sure. We could explore using Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas instead but that would require changing the deck list significantly to incorporate a lot of artifacts. It may be worth it. Thirdly in Blue Black, we could basically play Kibler’s infect deck because it doesn’t lose any cards either. With all of those possibilities plus other unexplored areas, there is bound to be some blue and black deck floating around the metagame.
Similar to the possibility of Blue Black Control without Jace, the Mind Sculptor, a white deck might be viable without Stoneforge Mystic. The block pro tour just finished up in Japan and one of the most dominant decks there was White Weenie. The equipment we have available to us is parallel in power level to the previous Mirroden block so we know that even without the enabler, those cards are still powerful enough on their own to see play. In addition to the broken equipment, you have a card drawing engine in Puresteel Paladin. Those cards together with or without the soul sisters infinite life gain combo might prove to be a viable option.
There are two more archetypes that stand out as possibilities. My personal pet as of late, Vampires, and another tribal strategy that relies on synergy, Elves, should be positioned to make a showing. Neither of these two decks loose a card but both have a little bit of a rough match up against Valakut. The interaction is not to the level of almost unwinnable like it is with a Fauna Shaman deck but certainly not what you want to be playing against every round. Both decks should be able to adapt and change so they are both viable in the upcoming months.
Banning Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Stoneforge Mystic was the right thing to do and will be healthy for the game. Innovation is now possible, creativity will be rewarded once more, and the majority of the Magic community can start having fun once again. Sure we know some of the decks that will probably be at the top but even those decks are going to need to be tested and tweaked, maybe even completely reinvented in order to succeed. Even if Valakut is the only Tier one deck, at least that deck has hate like Tectonic Edge, Spell Pierce, Spreading Seas, and Red Deck Wins that can actually stop it. Innovation needs to take place with every deck in the format. After that, there will still be room to grow and space for more decks to flourish. I for one, am extremely excited at the possibilities.
So, to sum it all up, you basically have a personalized Choose Your Own Adventure. Pick one and start up the brewery.
Until next time, Unleash that creative Force!!!
Thoughts on the new format are welcome below!