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Insider: Lessons From a Lame Duck Format

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Battle for Zendikar is knocking on the door as we wrap up the last week of events for Theros block Standard. This week we will look at SCG Standard results, as well as consider what lessons carry over to the new Standard.

You Still Get To Play Khans Block

This is an important thing to remember, especially when you keep in mind Siege Rhino specifically. The most inherently powerful card in Standard keeps most of its support pieces, while trading out some removal along the way.

Khans also has a bunch of other things lurking in it. Anafenza, the Foremost is still a 4/4 for three, meaning that she will hit play a lot faster than some punk Eldrazi. Jeskai Ascendancy has borderline too-good synergies with the awaken mechanic, meaning your lands get to untap and generate mana once they come alive. There's still the hot mess of Sultai Dredge.

Spell Lands Are Really Good

It's been a long, long time in Magic since I've seen lands like the blighted cycle. The last really good cycle like this was all the way back in Odyssey. These lands are going to be fixtures of Standard, even if the white and red ones are pretty trashy. I played many a Barbarian Ring in my day, after all.

Mana is so good in Standard right now that decks can pack 1-4 spell lands and not really feel the downside. When the activation results in Explosive Vegetation, Inspiration or Diabolic Edict, all uncounterable, I'm really psyched. On top of that, Mortuary Mire is a downright nasty attrition card, buying back those aforementioned Siege Rhinos.

U/W Control Is a Strong Early Contender

Jim Davis and Michael Bernat both placed in the Top 8 of SCG Milwaukee with typical lists of U/W Control. This is a showcase deck for Jace, Vryn's Prodigy and helps cement its value in the Origins set. The deck packs a pile of removal and a few planeswalker finishers. Neither player even bothered with Dragonlord Ojutai, instead making Elspeth, Sun's Champion do all the work.

This is a logical place to start in the new Standard because it retains so many great components. One loses Banishing Light and Last Breath, but we gained a few good white cards in their stead. While Gideon doesn't spawn instant armies, his steady stream of 2/2s come out far earlier. I anticipate seeing a straight swap here. Even the counterspells get traded in. Dissolve rotates out, but Scatter to the Wind gives us a counterspell that also spawns a blocker/finisher at higher mana levels.

Another card to keep an eye on in this list is Ojutai's Command. In the maindeck, it only buys back Jace, but isn't that enough? Postboard, it'll bring back an Arashin Cleric and gain more life along the way, which should be a huge roadblock for red decks and any looser-looking Allies decks.

This deck currently runs Radiant Fountains. It will lose that four-of, but in its place the deck can take its pick of spell lands. Does it want to draw extra cards with Blighted Cascade? It can make tokens with Spawning Bed or Foundry of the Consuls. It can stash mana with Mage-Ring Network. This is a great time for lands in Standard, and a deck like this that can get the most out of spell lands is great. It gets more power because the deck benefits from drawing lands and will also have the mana and time available to cash in on Foundry or the like.

Mono-Red Will Be Less Dominant

Theros Standard was bookended by Mono-Red in various incarnations. No more, as things like Foundry Street Denizen, Eidolon of the Great Revel and Stoke the Flames exit. Goblin Rabblemaster is gone.

That said, we've still got guys like Lightning Berserker and Zurgo Bellstriker. I see these cards slotting into a Boros deck more than pure mono-red, though. The other factor is that the top end of the mana curve in the format is very rewarding. A deck that can live against Mono-Red can conclusively put the game away with an Eldrazi or similarly obscene spell.

It's Really Hard to Predict the New Standard

Ingest decks are heavily seeded. It reminds me of the U/G Madness deck from a decade ago, where all the parts were just handed to you by Wizards. There are logical blue and black cards at every step of the mana curve and we've got powerful spells to reward you for ingesting the opponent.

There's also a strong Eldrazi spawn theme that culminates in ramping to an Eldrazi. We have not seen this strategy since the original Zendikar, where ramping into cards like Kessig Wolf Run became pretty annoying after a while. There are certainly a ton of great spells to ramp into.

When I look at the spoiler, nothing jumps out as being powerful enough to build around. It reminds me of Theros in that way, but this is more hopeful. The power level has been increased a bit and the themes are more clear. It will take some time in Standard to see if the seeded Ingest deck and Allies, among others, stand out as playable and good decks.

This is where I figure the brewers will have free rein for a few weeks, which is sheer fun. I have not looked forward to a new Standard for a long time compared to BFZ; we should see some pretty wild lists to get started.

Jeskai Aggro Still Looks Dangerous With Soulfire Grand Master

Jeskai Aggro looks like a Mantis Rider deck backed with burn, but that's only one plan and it looks worse without Rabblemaster around. No fears, though. The deck is capable of obscene things with a Soulfire Grand Master and about eight mana.

A copy of the deck placed in 5th in this weekend's SCG Open. It packs a full four Ojutai's Command to get a lot of protection for its Jaces and Grand Masters. Now it can slot in Brutal Expulsion as well. The endgame for this deck looks positively sick now, especially because Brutal Expulsion can end up as a de-facto counterspell lock against a deck that intends to resolve big ramped-up fatties.

Bonus Modern Discussion: Keep an Eye On U/W Control Here, Too.

Phil Silberman won the Modern portion of the SCG with a U/W permanent-based control deck that I've seen pop up on the fringes of Modern. I bring it to your attention because the list is downright cheap to build by Modern standards. No Snapcaster Mages, no Celestial Colonnades, no Cryptic Commands. In their place are some goofy uncommons and Sun Titans.

This is a deck that loves the long game. It looks kind of janky, but it can cycle through a lot of the deck by not paying W to cast Court Hussar--that lets you buy it back with Emeria, the Sky Ruin or Sun Titan. That means you can find a Path to Exile when you need it (and I imagine that this deck needs them a lot).

I would make some minor tweaks to it; the Gifts Ungiven looks really out of place, especially compared to something like a Restoration Angel or Phantasmal Image. But I've got to love a deck that runs a pair of Pilgrim's Eye. Talk about a beating of a card against Jund!

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