I've gotten a bit of time in to test Standard in the past week. While I am no pro, no brewer, and no serious tournament competitor, my testing group quickly spotted a few trends for the coming Standard. This week, I'll be sharing the most financially relevant findings with you.
Everything is better with Hangarback Walker.
Start every list with 4x Hangarback Walker. You're welcome.
Seriously, the card is particularly good in this environment. Let me count the ways. Beside the fact that kill spells and blocking don't stop it, there are few ways to sweep away tokens. We don't have a Goblin Sharpshooter around, after all. It's colorless, so even Ultimate Price doesn't pick it off. Abzan Charm ended up being pretty good against a large one, but a Hangarback with two counters on it that just hangs around can still be a big pain.
Whether we were playing red aggro, Bring to Light, Abzan, Jeskai, Esper Planeswalkers or any other strange brews, they were always improved with four Hangarback Walkers somewhere in the 75. Luckily, the fact that this is in the event deck means that you can pick up copies at a slightly cheaper price soon. Get your set if you lack them for Standard play.
Abzan is still very strong, but not in the way you think.
Abzan remains a powerhouse color combination, but Sultai Aristocrats is a new and very dangerous home for the color combination. Imagine that your opponent starts like this:
And that's about where you'll die in short order. One of the striking things for us was that the removal in this block is so bad right now. Everything is sorcery-speed or it's small Shock-power burn spells. This is not an era of Dismember or Path to Exile. In fact, I'd even wish for Last Breath!
In a format with weak removal, going all-in on a Nantuko Husk is a lot less risky. You don't even have to run discard spells main, not that you have many good ones to choose from. Husk is like another Bone Splinters; it transforms a small creature into a kill spell, even leaving the Husk around for more action. With Zulaport Cutthroat, games can end very quickly. I had one testing game where I had back-to-back Siege Rhinos on turns four and five and lost at the end of my fifth turn.
Actions: Abzan Ascendancy was reprinted, so it has a low threshold for a climb. It's not a bad pickup, though--the card is a year old at this point. Llanowar Wastes has also been reprinted a bunch, but black-green has few good mana fixing options. It cannot rely on fetches or BFZ duals. We don't even have the enemy manland for it yet! Aristocrats cannot wait for tapped lands, so it needs four Wastes. Good to get these now.
Managorger Hydra gets big very quickly.
We found that Managorger Hydra would get to be a 5/5 or larger by turn 5. I thought this thing was terrible but I was quickly disabused of this notion. Aside from Hangarback tapping down each turn, there's nothing that can outrace the size of a Hydra. This performed well in Sultai and Abzan shells.
One factor for why it did better than we thought was that many Standard decks are trying to string together a few cheap spells at once, or especially, to set up a big play. If you had to point an Abzan Charm at a Siege Rhino, the Hydra would grow right alongside it.
Actions: If there's a breakout card from Origins, this is it for me. Sitting at $2.50, it's attractively priced for pickups. I'm targeting them in trades.
Bring to Light is great (when it works).
The Bring to Light deck is sort of an endless Siege Rhino engine. It uses the namesake spell to summon a dumb rhino or to get a Languish. When it works, the deck is great. You're playing five colors, so you can crack off a Radiant Flames, use an Abzan Charm and then Bring to Light a Siege Rhino. It's great fun when it works. You even have Jace, Vryn's Prodigy to fix draws and recycle Bring to Light.
It takes tremendous work to get the deck to work correctly. For example, sequencing the mana is a big pain. It was often a group discussion about what the right play would have to be. This is going to be a hard learning curve and I doubt people will have practice by the first SCG event. When it works, you fire off a Languish into a Rhino and it's amazing.
On the other hand, there are decks that just don't care about Rhinos. Red aggro is one of them. I had games where I'd have the Bring to Light to kill a token army, only to fall to Lightning Berserkers dashing out afterward. I'd get a Siege Rhino down and then Atarka would command her goblin rabble to kill me the next turn. Since Standard right now looks like a lot of either playing Siege Rhino or playing cards that beat/ignore it, you'll have to be prepared for people who can pick off your threats like that.
Actions: BTL is $7 right now and that's simply too much. It's an expensive deck to put together, which will limit the demand of a newly-printed rare. This deck is interesting, and it certainly makes Jace worth more, but it's too raw right now to say whether we've seen the best lists yet.
Ingest is not a deck.
I tried it. Ulamog's Nullifier isn't enough of a payoff to deal with running low-powered ingesters. There's very little else worth processing after you've ingested it.
Eldrazi Ramp is probably a deck, but we don't know what it looks like yet.
First off, Nissa's Renewal is a positively huge spell to resolve. It opens the gates to any Eldrazi you'd like. It's nasty to flash back off of Jace. We couldn't strike a balance in the ramp decks of how you'd get to ten mana, or what to do with it when you got there, for that matter. Desolation Twin is a quick kill against a bunch of decks, but Ulamog was better at milling out the token decks we'd made that could just push a From Beyond token into rampaging Eldrazi.
The tools to build this deck are all there, but there is just nothing in Standard that makes it easy to build. Maybe it has Leaf Gilder in it. Maybe it ramps with From Beyond. It's possible that it could be a monogreen deck jamming Nissa's Pilgrimage.
Actions: When you see this deck do well, look at the architecture around it and not the ramp targets. The most important part is how to ramp up to Eldrazi mana (and what happens when you can't get that mana or can't get a monster). I believe that From Beyond is a critical part of it, but past that, it's very hard to peg what else this deck contains.
- Landfall Aggro (in Jund flavors) can kill blisteringly quickly, but it is easy to stall. Hangarback Walkers can run them out of landfall triggers. Rarely, you'll use the "extra land" mode of Atarka's Command, too.
- We tried Jeskai Ascendancy with the awaken creatures and it works as a proof-of-concept, but most of the awaken spells are just rotten. You can trigger Ascendancy quite a few times in a turn, though, since it untaps all of your animated lands.
- Red aggro will still kill you.
- U/W Control really lost a lot of power because its best removal is now in the form of enchantments like Silkwrap--a card that Jace can't touch.
- This is a frustrating format to brew in because everything we tried seemed to be 2-4 cards short of being a good deck; the engines that exist in Standard are clunky.
- Because the format is so wide open, it means that cards will shoot up in price when a good strategy finally emerges.
- I really miss the temples.
Next week is the release and we'll see these cards in the wild for the first time! Plenty to talk about then.
(P.S. I skipped decklists because they were either nothing special or nothing you can't find without a little looking)