Collected Company remains the defining card of Standard after rotation. Bant Company has taken an early lead as metagame front-runner and is setting the pace heading into the Pro Tour. Shadows over Innistrad has made an immediate impact on the format with an assortment of aggressive Human creatures, which have produced Mono-white Human Aggro along with variants splashing blue for Reflector Mage, the best creature in Standard, or green for Tireless Tracker, which might be the best creature in Shadows over Innistrad. One of my favorite new decks combines all of these elements into one package:
This deck combines the best of the Human aggro deck—its aggressive starts featuring lots of one-drops like Thraben Inspector, Town Gossipmonger, and Kytheon, Hero of Akros followed by Thalia's Lieutenant—with the best aspects of the Bant Company deck: casting Collected Company for multiples of its best three-mana creatures — Reflector Mage and Tireless Tracker. They're both humans, so they are a perfect fit alongside Thalia's Lieutenant, and Collected Company is ideal in a deck dense with cheap creatures, so the deck is a natural merger of the strategies. This is a great option for someone who wants the best of both worlds.
Archangel Avacyn has thrown her hat in the ring as the best card of Shadows over Innistrad, and she cements white as the best color of post-rotation Standard. White pairs particularly well with black, especially because of gold cards like the new Anguished Unmaking and Sorin, Grim Nemesis.The combination has spawned various B/W midrange decks, including B/W Eldrazi and B/W Control. These decks will continue to evolve with the fledgling format, and in some form will be a key component in the metagame going forward. Perhaps taking the B/W strategy in a more aggressive direction would make it more competitive:
The deck surrounds Archangel Avacyn with other robust fliers in Mindwrack Demon and Drana, Liberator of Malakir, which are supported by Hangarback Walker and Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim as early plays. Gideon, Ally of Zendikar provides another threat and adds a Planeswalker element to the deck complemented by Sorin, Grim Nemesis. The rest of the deck is disruption, headlined by Anguished Unmaking. This deck is built based on the age-old principle of powerful creatures backed up by efficient disruption. I prefer its balanced approach, which is decidedly proactive but retains the ability to disrupt the opponent.
Making the most of Archangel Avacyn means focusing on its ability to transform, which requires another creature dying. It makes perfect sense to pair the card with sacrifice outlets like Nantuko Husk and Ayli, the Eternal Pilgrim, which forms the backbone to an Aristocrats shell with Zulaport Cutthroat:
Hangarback Walker is a perfect source of sacrifice fodder for this deck. Tireless Tracker is an all-around excellent creature that is comfortable amassing +1/+1 counters and attacking the opponent as it generates value. I like how this deck is loaded with excellent creature disruption like Declaration of Stone and Ultimate Price, so it's perfectly capable of playing a fair game of aggression backed by creature removal. Painful Truths provides a ton of fuel for a deck that doesn't have cards like Collected Company or Rally the Ancestors.
R/G Eldrazi Ramp, which many expected was the deck-to-beat after rotation, struggled early on, but it has now found success with an Open win. It has the tools to go over the top of every other deck in the format, and it has already established itself as a part of the metagame online, so I expect it will earn its place in the overall metagame going forward. One issue with ramp decks is that they utterly fail in games they lose, and overkill the opponent in games they win. Making the deck more midrange and more "fair" might make it more consistent, like this example that splashes blue:
Sylvan Advocate and Eldrazi Skyspawner provide a great base for a midrange ramp deck that is capable of executing a fair gameplan and winning with normal creature aggression. I've always been attracted to Drowner of Hope in these strategies. It's great at stabilizing the battlefield or pushing through the last few points of damage, and because Eldrazi Scion can be sacrificed for mana, it's essentially a mana ramp spell that helps push towards Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger.
Standard currently revolves around old cards we already understand, like Collected Company and Explosive Vegetation, and around the new Shadows over Innistrad cards that build decks themselves, like Thalia's Lieutenant. That doesn't mean that there aren't a ton of other great new cards available, and many of these cards are going to change the way we think about Standard. To be clear, the new set is still fresh and unexplored, and there's still a lot of potential to be realized. Rest assured that the Pro Tour will contain new decks using new cards in new ways, and that our picture of the metagame will be altered in a few days time. I've gathered the most innovative decklists that I could find from Magic Online and paper tournaments around the world, to share some insight on other ways we can build decks in the new Standard.
A strategy that I have high hopes for is B/G-based Delirium strategies. Traverse the Ulvenwald functions like Lay of the Land, but it's hiding something more powerful than Worldly Tutor that's an incredible tool later in the game. A card that finds mana when you need it early in the game and then finds threats later on is a very good card, and Standard has the tools to make it work.
This deck makes full use of Mindwrack Demon, which is a very easy way to enable delirium and power up Traverse the Ulvenwald. This deck also contains Gather the Pack, which is another great way to fill the graveyard and turn on delirium. Once Traverse the Ulvenwald is powered up, it requires a selection of potential tutor targets. Traverse the Ulvenwald is great alongside one-of creatures like Den Protector, which can re-buy it to find another creature, The Gitrog Monster, and Woodland Bellower, which is especially powerful now that it can find Tireless Tracker.
Dead Weight, which functions as an efficient removal spell against small creature, is an easy way to get an enchantment into the graveyard to help enable delirium. Dead Weight can be found alongside all three of the Traverse the Ulvenwald decks I'll share today, and it can be expected to accompany the card where it is found going forward.
Opening up the B/G Delirium shell to other colors increases access to creatures and support cards.
A small splash for blue opens up access to Dragonlord Silumgar, which is a powerful top-end creature that will take over most board states. This dragon splash is especially interesting because it's paired with a singleton Haven of the Spirit Dragon. This land can be fetched by a delirium-fueled Traverse the Ulvenwald, so it makes for a more well-rounded tutor toolbox. This deck also features Oath of Nissa as a delirium enabler because it's an enchantment that enters the graveyard when an additional copy enters play.
Red offers Dragonlord Atarka, which is a haymaker against a field dominated by small creatures, but more importantly Goblin Dark-Dwellers, which is an excellent midrange tool that also benefits from a stocked graveyard. It's great for casting Traverse the Ulvenwald from the graveyard to find another creature.
On the topic of Dragons, Dragons of Tarkir lends Standard its powerful Dragon creatures and support spells, and the post-rotation format offers new deckbuilding space to explore. While Esper Dragons has been the most popular take on the tribe so far, last season B/R and even Grixis Dragons found success as a way to fight back against Collected Company decks, which were weak against flying creatures. This updated approach applies the same principles of aggressive flying creatures backed by disruption:
This deck expands the instant-speed package of Silumgar's Scorn and Draconic Roar into a full-fledged flash strategy with creatures that can be played on the opponent's turn, including Dimensional Infiltrator and the new Rattlechains. These also happen to be aggressive flying creatures and perfect two-mana plays to begin a curve ending in dragons Thunderbreak Regent and Icefall Regent. Stratus Dancer and Silumgar Sorcerer give this deck an incredible amount of Counterspell ability and a high density of flying creatures. This is certainly one of the more unique decks I've seen this season, but it's due to its focus and consistency. The deck plays a lot of great cards and is capable of impressive draws, so it's a deck I'd recommend exploring if it looks appealing.
Do you like Dragons, but "focus" isn't your strong suit?
This deck mashes Dragons with a a Grixis Madness package including Lightning Axe, Jace, Vryn's Prodigy, and Heir of Falkenrath as enablers and Fiery Temper and Incorrigible Youths as payoffs. I'm not sure whether to call Sinister Concoction an enabler or a payoff, but it's certainly a powerful way to destroy a creature. If you have ever wanted to cast Draconic Roar, reveal Avaricious Dragon, and then copy the spell by activating Geistblast from your graveyard, this is the deck for you.
Players have been working to abuse Dark Petition for as long as it has been in Standard, but it has been a struggle to make the deck a part of the competitive environment. A new format rotation means a lot of new space to work in, and Dark Petition is beginning to make its mark in Esper decks with Starfield of Nyx. Typically Dark Petition decks have been forced to use Silumgar's Command or Disperse, or in the case of the new Esper decks, Angelic Purge, to eliminate it before being forced to choose mode four and losing the game, but it's a time consuming process. Crush of Tentacles offers the same ability, but while simultaneously erasing all of the opponent's progress.
Surge turns Crush of Tentacles into an effective win-condition, so this deck doesn't require any creatures or other dedicated ways to kill the opponent.
Nahiri, the Harbinger is one of the best cards in Shadows over Innistrad that still hasn't caught on with many Standard players. It's not obvious how to use it, but it is beginning to see success in a variety of different decks. Andy Ferguson was the player who brought Bant Company to the public eye season as one of the top decks in Standard, so it would be wise to pay attention to his efforts with Nahiri, the Harbinger in the new format:
Ferguson uses Nahiri, the Harbinger to help him control the battlefield, and especially punish his opponents from tapping their creatures by attacking him. With the inevitability of Deathmist Raptor and Den Protector, Ferguson is happy to settle into a longer game, where he can use Nahiri, the Harbinger to filter through his deck and eventually reach its ultimate ability, which will find Dragonlord Atarka and swing the game.
Nahiri, the Harbinger's ability to draw fresh cards and filter out useless ones is valuable in a control deck like Mardu:
This deck is loaded with ways to destroy creatures, including Languish, which is extremely effective against the current metagame defined by small white creatures, Collected Company, and Archangel Avacyn, which Languish destroys despite Indestructibility. Grasp of Darkness is similarly effective. Ruinous Path, Ultimate Price, and Transgress the Mind will deal with anything else. Playing situational and reactive cards can go sour when you have the wrong cards at the wrong time, but Nahiri, the Harbinger joins Chandra, Flamecaller to give this deck the ability to filter its draws and tailor its hand. Having access to carefully selected disruption is a very effective way to beat an opponent you're prepared for, so a deck like this can be very successful in a defined metagame.
There's a lot more to Standard than Thalia's Lieutenant and Collected Company. Shadows over Innistrad has provided us with dozens of new tools, and we're just beginning to explore them in the context of the wider Standard format. This weekend's Pro Tour brings the brightest and hardest-working Magic minds in the world together to solve the format, so I expect we'll have plenty of more new exciting decks to discuss next week.