On the Side(board) of the Gods

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Born of the Gods is here and it definitely brought some eyebrow raising treasures along with it. Most sets come with a mailbag full of goodies, but Born of the Gods has done us a solid favor by making our options very obvious. Almost everyone has tossed their two cents into the hat about what they think we should expect in the coming months. That’s all fine and dandy, but On the Side is all about taking those expectations and hopping two steps ahead of the competition so that you are prepared for the new weapons in your opponents' arsenals. Let’s talk about the new game changers.

The Prince…er King of Cats

The king has returned and his name is Brimaz, King of Oreskos. Sweet mamma-jamma, this guy is the king of white weenies and players have every reason to get excited. As the chase mythic of the set, people will be hard pressed to grab him and not very willing to let him go. Expect him for the duration of his term in Standard. He’s got that four toughness that traditionally makes red decks weep, at least before Mizzium Mortars.

As a result, the game might be up for mono-red aggro decks. Bile Blight and Drown in Sorrow are very likely to be 2-for-1’s and we know Mono-black Devotion is packing those bad boys already. Along with Gods Willing and Brave the Elements, Brimaz may actually be too much to handle for those decks because W/B in any form looks really good. But, the Barely Boros Burn decks look like they still have some punch and Chandra's Phoenix is actually incredibly resilient in the format right now, so Mortars away everybody.

Black kind of laughs at Brimaz. Bile Blight is too small, but Mono-Black has Doom Blade, Ultimate Price, Hero's Downfall, and Devour Flesh to deal with him. Black gets into trouble when the King gets paired with Spear of Heliod because it can overwhelm very quickly, but we’ll discuss that further when we talk updating already established decks.

What about UW Control decks? Brimaz and his tokens are just creatures. Issue the Supreme Verdict.

Decks with poor removal options will have the most significant trouble with the big cat. Gruul Midrange Aggro and Red/Green Devotion decks may lose the battle against a beefy body that keeps pumping out pressure and can double block like a champ. Once again, Mizzium Mortars seems like the best option and don’t discount Domri Rade. When it comes to creature battles, Brimaz can be dethroned if thrown in the ring 1-on-1 against Polukranos, World Eater or Stormbreath Dragon.

Mono-blue may have the toughest time dealing with Brimaz because he can race so well. Unless supported by Spear of Heliod, Frostburn Weird can block Mustafa profitably. It may also be time to bring back Wall of Frost and Triton Tactics since it seems like Gruul is on the upswing. White weenie decks have a really hard time shutting down Mono-blue’s devotion and that means a turned-on and very angry Thassa, God of the Sea. Also, don't forget about Domestication. Humans domesticated the house cat many millennia ago, so go ahead and steal yourself a kitty. In fact, don’t leave it in your sideboard. Mono-blue has room to compete again and Domestication should probably take the place of Cyclonic Rift in the main deck.

The Little Merfolk

The more I sit with Kiora, the Crashing Wave, the more I like her. She reminds me a lot of Tamiyo, the Moon Sage who shone brightly in a Tron-based metagame filled with Titans and Delver of Secrets // Insectile Aberrations. I think players just need a little time to figure her out and whomever does so first may very well have a tournament trophy in their pocket.

Since Kiora is a Planeswalker, any decks that already have a game plan against them should stick with it. Detention Sphere and Hero’s Downfall both work equally well. While she may be quite effective against Mono-black, against control mirrors she may only be a source of card draw and land drops. These decks may be content to lean on the -1 ability to generate a long advantage, and using a valuable Detention Sphere might actually play directly into their game plan.

So, what about decks that don’t have nice and easy "Kill Target Planeswalker" cards in their deck? Well, Tamiyo lost relevance during the blitz era of the last Standard rotation. Naya Blitz, Gruul Rush, and Jund Aggro were too fast and had too many threats for her to manage and so she was gone. That seems to be the same strategy here. While it may be harder than ever to play blitz aggro, a well placed haste creature could very well be strong enough to get in and kill her outright. Remember, she enters at only two loyalty.

Mono-blue is the only Tier 1 deck that may need some extra ammo out of the sideboard against her. They’re already equipped with Gainsay and Kiora is a blue spell. Her loyalty is so low it's hard to imagine she can’t be taken out by a well-timed Nightveil Specter or Mutavault. If she’s coming down on an empty board, that may be the time for a Counterspell, but at that point you probably have bigger issues on your your plate.

Kiora, the Crashing Wave is a real contender but I don’t think we need to worry about Krakens just yet. Your opponent may take care of killing her for you so probably no need to dedicate a slot in your fifteen just to deal with her. Just make sure you understand whether their plan is to use her for ramp, defense or OMFG Krakens and play accordingly.

Xenagos, God of Revels and Ephara, God of the Polis

These are two new Gods who look like they’re ready for action. Both are likely to see standard play (Xenagos already has) and both are dealt with in the exact same manner; Revoke Existence. I remember going through a stack of Commander playables last month and begging to the Gods of MTG that they would reprint this card because it would be so devastating in Theros block. Here is a practical list of some of the cards in Standard that Revoke Existence decimates, which also reads like a list of some of the best cards in the format.

And these are just the cards I know are being played in Standard with frequency. This card is so good right now it’s even a reason to play white. W/B decks continue to look like they’re packing all the answers. Not a whole lot to explain here. If you’re playing white, this has to be at least a 2-of in the sideboard. If not, try Fade into Antiquity. You could even try Unravel the Aether just for the cheaper mana cost. Black may have a lot of trouble as they don’t have anything to combat these cards. All they can do is keep the devotion down or prepare for whatever creature Gruul is trying to slingshot with Xenagos.

Old Enemies

Sometimes new sets just don’t give us many new “build around me” cards. Theros seemed to define itself pretty clearly after the Pro Tour and so we already know what we want to play. Let’s take a gander at some quick ways we can update what we’ve already got to play with.

Mono-Black Devotion

Obviously we need a healthy dose of Bile Blight and Drown in Sorrow, but there’s another thing Mono-black has to be concerned about. Control is on the rise and that can be a very tricky matchup if the influx of Detention Spheres and Planeswalkers overcomes their stock of removal. I’m predicting the need for Ratchet Bomb and maybe Pithing Needle in the sideboard. Needle helps in the mirror match if you get a little creative with your Underworld Connections targets. I’ve also tried two Belbe, Corrupted Observer in the sideboard for mirror and control matchups . They’ve been functional, but there’s a lot of Mono-Black at my shop right now. Your metagame may vary.

Also, has everyone forgotten about Slaughter Games? Packing blue as a splash color seems much less relevant for black these days. Why not stack your deck with Blood Crypt and Temple of Malice so we can bring more goodies out of the side like Slaughter Games, Rakdos's Return, and even more Dreadbore if it looks like Bant Walkers is going be a thing. These are all powerful cards that can swing a game if timed correctly.

Mono-Blue Devotion

It doesn't seem like the Blitz red decks will be a problem anymore and that matchup was pretty good to begin with. It’s probably ok to take any Ratchet Bombs out and to start main-decking those Domestications. Wall of Frost may make a comeback along with Triton Tactics. If Brimaz looks to be an issue (and this may sound crazy), Whelming Wave is one of these cards I’m liking more and more. It’s as close to a blue wrath as we’ll get and it’s a lot easier to fire off than an overloaded Cyclonic Rift. Save a lot of guys until after turn four and then ignite Thassa the turn after the wave. That's just nasty.

Consider Nullify over Thassa's Rebuff against the new Gruul Deck if it looks too fast to combat, but overall it doesn't appear that Mono-blue has to change that much. It’s one of those decks that will rise and fall based on everyone else’s metagame adjustments. Also, it's probably time to switch from Jace, Memory Adept back to Aetherling in the sideboard because of the Planeswalker influx.

U/W Control

We’ve already talked heavily about Revoke Existence, but there’s another spell we need to pay attention to: Celestial Flare. It looks like a powerhouse card and I’ve been playing around it a lot lately. It decimates Mono-black and it's devastating in Green matchups after a Supreme Verdict, when they are likely low on cards and creatures. It’s also so cheap that it allows the new tapout control decks the freedom to cast Divination or Detention Sphere in their main phase, or keep up Dissolve and still tackle the threat on the table. It looks like Green has some legs again and that means Mistcutter Hydra must be respected.

I’m also seeing Archangel of Thune and Brimaz sideboard packages. This is very akin to the old U/W deck that switched in four Geist of Saint Traft and went on the aggressive big time. Should be a lot of fun to see what these decks are capable of.

Green Decks

I’m lumping a lot of these together because Green has the same problems across the board when it comes to adaptability. Fade into Antiquity is a must-have these days. Three mana isn’t ideal but we’ll only see more Gods in the months to come. Even cards like Detention Sphere and Underworld Connections give your opponents the time you don’t want them to have. There are some better options for those like Destructive Revelry, but having one-size-fits-all type spell could free up some slots in your sideboard if you're looking for room. Exiling Detention Spheres isn't so bad now that U/W control is relying on reshuffle effects, but timing a clever Unravel the Aether to disrupt their scry 1 seems devilish.

Hunter's Prowess seems like a card that can do a lot of work and I’m very open to experimentation, but five mana at sorcery speed is a ton of mana and Warrior's Lesson never caught on. Green already has the option of Domri Rade and/or Garruk, Caller of Beasts, and those guys are working out fine to keep the gas flowing.

I like the way green is matched up right now with the shift in things. It’s faster and angrier. With Black looking like it will shift back to Doom Blades for a couple weeks, Fierce Witchstalkers should be in your sideboard. A lot of decks just can’t beat that card and it’s also a great way to force control to use a very unprofitable wrath. Also, Plummet. Put Plummet in your sideboard. It will make sense in two weeks.

Like all metagames, these things must be monitored and tweaked regularly. The sideboard is the true testament of preparedness, but don’t be afraid to slip something crazy and unexpected in the side. One card no one expects can steal a lot of games. Understanding the fundamentals of your matchups is key to choosing the correct 15 cards, so be sure to test at least half of your games post-board.

One thought on “On the Side(board) of the Gods

  1. I believe Unravel the AEther is a far better card than both Fade into Antiquity and Revoke Existence. Shuffling back into library is virtually the same as exiling.

    All green hates in this format are monoblue’s Tidebinder Mage, Specter and Master of Waves. Just be prepare to switch into Skylasher + Mistcutter hyperaggro mode and you’ll be fine. You also need some speed against Pack Rat, and that’s why green midrange decks like Jund and Junk as we saw last year no longer exist. Ramping into Blood Baron is no longer a plan; even Gruul Monsters leans towards the aggro side.

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