Where We Are, Where We Are Going
We’re only two weeks into a new Standard format and we’ve already seen a slew of promising archetypes. When the mana is this good, and the spells are this powerful, such diversity is bound to exist.
At this point, I’m not convinced that anybody has produced a list that is refined to the point of being officially tier one. Sure, Zombies is close, but this deck is going to place well due to the sheer volume of people playing it regardless of how far off lists may or may not be. More than anything Angel of Serenity is not nearly as popular as its power level warrants, but that’s not relevant to the topic I want to discuss today. Right now, what I believe is important to anybody trying to grind Standard is the ability to build a deck that can deal with the high level of diversity that exists in the here and now.
This is a gross oversimplification, but currently there are two major camps for Standard decks. There are the hyper-aggressive decks such as Zombies, Humans and GW Aggro and there are decks playing for longer games like UW Miracles and Jund Midrange.
The aggressive decks want to kill you on turn 4-5 with things like Sublime Archangel, Rancor and Geralf's Messenger. The slower decks want to kill you on turn “whenever they get to it”, with “whatever card that ends up doing the trick”. Not exactly similar schools of thought, are they?
So How Do We Proceed?
In formats like this, it is of the utmost importance to battle with cards that have power levels that scale upwards as the game progresses. That is, to play cards that are good against the aggressive decks that don’t fall flat on their face in the long game against controlling opponents. Pillar of Flame is a prime example of a card that does not scale well at all. It can be very good against a Gravecrawler or Diregraf Ghoul, but it is often close to a blank against controlling opponents. Two damage just isn't a lot to get out of a card when your opponent is tapping out for fives, sixes and sevens.
The most obvious examples of spells that scale well are X spells and removal spells. The power of a variable casting cost spell clearly becomes more powerful the larger the input is for the variable, and the efficiency of a Dreadbore destroying a Tamiyo, the Moon Sage is considerably higher than that of one destroying a Diregraf Ghoul.
Another great example of cards that tend to scale well are Planeswalkers. Jace, Architect of Thought’s +1 ability does a lot of work against aggressive decks in the early game, and his -2 is very strong in long games. Additionally, ‘Walkers scale well in the sense that the more times you activate them, the better use you have gotten out of the mana used to cast them. Of course, I don’t think that I need to sell anybody on Planeswalkers.
There are a slew of other spells that scale extremely well in the Standard card pool that I have on my radar for the various brews I’m working on. Here are a few cards that I believe are probably being under-played considering how well they scale:
I’ve seen a few Bant lists that are opting to play 2-4 Azorious Charm while completely eschewing Selesnya Charm, and I’m really not sure why. In my testing Selesnya Charm has been fantastic. Against aggressive decks it trades with a great many creatures and against slower decks it is a fantastic answer to, well, any large creature. The added utility of occasionally being a Giant Growth is also worth something, if not very much.
Selesnya Charm is also nice to use on your own Angel of Serenity to permanently remove up to three problem creatures, and that’s nothing to scoff at. It’s also worth noting, even if the situation is rare, that you can use Selesnya Charm to pump an opposing creature to a 5+/X and then Snapcaster Mage your Charm to remove it from the game. Speaking of which…
I don’t know that Snapcaster is really being underutilized per se, but I haven’t seen him be exploited to the extent that he could be in this format. Much like Selesnya Charm, Tiago can be used for as little as trading with a bear and as much as flashing back a Sphinx's Revelation. Yet I’m not certain that there are (m)any decks that want four copies of this guy currently. While trading with early creatures is fine, it’s far from desirable. For that reason, I believe that the presence of the aggressive decks leaves me only wanting to play one or two.
Maybe I’m just looking in the wrong places, but I haven’t seen Cyclonic Rift very much at all. Bear in mind that this is coming from a man that was madly in love with Into the Roil, but Cyclonic Rift is one of my favorite cards printed in a long time. I discussed a potential card that was Unsummon with Overload during spoiler season and speculated that it would be too good to print, but in many ways Cyclonic Rift is just stronger than such a card.
The front half isn’t especially strong against aggressive decks, but it generates tempo, which is important. Many decks just want to live long enough to cast their Thragtusk and cards like this help them accomplish that goal. It can also be used to counter a Rancor, which is very solid. Again, it’s not a very exciting card when it’s not “kicked”, but the upside of kicking it is completely unreal. It resets aggro, it undoes Entreat the Angels, or any tokens for that matter, bounces every Planeswalker, etc... This is a very real card and I fully expect it to see a lot more play in the coming weeks.
I want four of this card in all of my decks. The life gain makes this card dramatically different from any previous draw X spell. If you’re able to make some early one-for-one trades and start casting this card against aggressive decks around turn five or six it comes close to fogging them every time you cast it and it helps you dig into more Thragtusks and Centaur Healers. Against slower decks the lifegain matters considerably less, but generating insane card advantage definitely counts for a lot.
Against aggressive decks you’ll often have to pull the trigger on this card the first turn you’re unable to make a different relevant play, which is a large part of the reason that UWx decks want four copies- when you start casting these you always want to have another one after you’ve cast all your other spells.
I’ve already blanketed Planeswalkers as cards that scale well, but Sorin is one that has been largely underappreciated. He was definitely not good enough in a land of Titans and Mana Leaks, but the format is different enough now for cards like Sorin to shine. Lifelinking blockers are pretty real against aggressive decks and control decks absolutely need to kill Sorin before he kills them. It makes a lot of sense to see him in the winning decklist from this week, though I’d rather see him in a Sphinx's Revelation deck.
For the most part I touched on cards that fit into a Bant shell, but this is largely because the Jund cards that scale well are for the most part being played in good capacity. Additionally, many of them are obvious. Dreadbore, Rakdos's Return and Thragtusk speak for themselves and I’ve already said my piece on Sever the Bloodline.
If I can get off work this Saturday I plan to battle in the TCG Player 5K this weekend in Minneapolis. I haven’t really worked out what exactly to battle with yet. Some revision of the Bant decks that have been making 9th every week on the SCG circuit or some manner of Esper Planeswalker deck is what I'm thinking right now. Four Sphinx's Revelation and two Cyclonic Rift will absolutely be in my deck- this much I know.
Until next time, good luck; high five!
@RyanOverdrive on Twitter