In the near future we will once again be experiencing a rotation. Normally when a set comes into Standard, an impact is obviously felt, but typically we can predict most of what the new format will look like because most of what we see is most of what we saw. That is to say that the majority of decks in a format where one set has been added will be the same decks that existed before that set. Yes, much of the time decks get a small upgrade here or there and occasionally a new deck or two enters the fray, but for the most part, the impact of the existing format is much larger than the impact of an entering set.
But in a month or two, instead of just one set entering Standard, a giant shake-up of five total sets happens. Not only will we be getting Battle for Zendikar in Standard, but we will be losing all of Theros block along with M15. This leaves us in a world where many of the existing archetypes simply cease to be. Sometimes the flagship cards are no longer around to support an archetype, while other times too many role players leave at once.
For example, it would be pretty silly to expect Monogreen Devotion to still exist after Battle for Zendikar is released. The deck loses Nykthos, the insane mana engine that brought it into existence in the first place. But other decks will fade as well. For example Abzan midrange, despite coming into existence with the Tarkir block, will probably lose too many tools to exist as it currently does.
Consider that it loses Hero's Downfall, Courser of Kruphix, Sylvan Caryatid, Fleecemane Lion, Ajani, Mentor of Heroes, and Elspeth, Sun's Champion. While it keeps many flagship cards like Siege Rhino, it is going to need to pick up a lot of replacements in just a single set to still be a consideration. Meanwhile, the movement toward Abzan Aggro will likely continue. They do lose Fleecemane Lion from their list, but otherwise get to keep most of the core of the deck intact.
One thing I like to do right before this kind of rotation is to look back at the sets that are about to leave. Amongst the tournament staples and the common-box fodder, there is always some number of cards that I had high hopes for but that never got to realize their potential. Many times this just leads to some dead ends. That would make some sense of course, as these are cards that have been around for 18+ months by this point and they have not made any waves, so what is changing that?
Technically nothing. These cards are just as powerful as they were a week ago when you weren't looking at them. What is more likely to be true is that you haven't looked for a lot longer than just a week. Maybe you stopped looking at them a few weeks after release or maybe you never even got around to tinkering with what was only an idea at the time. Whatever the case may be, now is a great time to pull out those old brews and take them for a spin.
One thing I would like to note about this act of sleeving up your old brews and enjoying them is that there are various levels of success one can have. Obviously some decks are almost purely for fun and it's totally fine to bust those out, especially in a lame-duck format, because this is a game we are playing to enjoy after all. But there can also be a competitive side to this. Whenever I am brewing in this environment, for example, I like to focus on very all-in decks that have high risk and high reward from a metagame perspective.
I don't really enjoy working on the midrange lists or control decks at this point because the metagame tends to be either established, in which case brew midrange and control decks are probably worse than the known equivalents, or is in Flux, in which case finding an edge playing either strategy can be difficult. Midrange and control lists are perfectly fine in most situations and if you really want to play one, turning to a tier one strategy is a great way to go, but if you want your brew to be successful in a time like this, you need to be doing something different, even if that thing is maybe a little worse than other things.
When a metagame is established, people have decks with plans and they show up prepared, but they do so prepared for a specific field that they expect. This is a field that has been reinforced week after week, result after result. Having something different in this world allows you to sidestep all of the cards that were aiming at the known. You gain an edge by presenting problems that your opponent might not have answers for.
For this reason, my favorite type of decks in this time are combo decks. Generally a combo deck approaches a format from a different angle than anything else, allowing it to sidestep common answers. For example, the Jeskai Ascendancy deck ignored all typical one-for-one removal and instead asked the opponent to answer a hexproof creature immediately or lose. The deck saw a bit of success when opponents were not prepared to answer this problem. Eventually, edicts began seeing play and other methods to deal with Sylvan Caryatid emerged. The deck quickly fell to a tier 3 strategy that many would claim is unplayable.
If you can be the person at the front of the line though, you have a real shot to enjoy some short success and heck, the format is rotating soon anyway, so short success sounds like success to me!
A Different Kind of Hero
Heroic as a mechanic is one that we saw in very specific spots. Monored used the ability to some nice effect, swarming its opponents for turn four and five kills. Other than that, only Blue/White Heroic really saw any success. That deck was fast, but played quite differently than monored, instead investing a lot into just one or two creatures and protecting said creatures for a few turns while the opponent saw their life total chunked away.
That leaves a lot of heroic stuff on the table. We have basically two entire colors that aren't even touched by one of those decks and plenty of cool heroic creatures that didn't see play in those lists. Where is the Sage of Hours love at, people?
Of the heroic creatures that never saw play, a few have always stood out to me. I have written about Battlefield Thaumaturge before, for example, as the idea of cost reduction is always so appealing. Beyond that though, Triton Fortune Hunter is a heroic creature that replaces the cards you invest into it, meaning potential for it to be an engine is quite real. Beyond those blue creatures though, there are some heroic creatures that just seemed like good rates for combat. Hero of Leina Tower is a one-drop that scales remarkably well. Fabled Hero is the last heroic creature worth mentioning here as double strike just sells big dreams. I think white heroic decks have had enough of a spotlight on them though, so I wanted to focus elsewhere for now.
As I mentioned before, the idea of turning any of the heroic triggers into an engine that we can combo off of would be ideal. Fortune Hunter is ideal in this scenario, so it seemed like the best place to start. It was important to me to not have a deck too devoted to the idea of casting a bunch of spells in a single turn, as that can be an easily foiled plan, but at the same time, I didn't want Triton Fortune Hunter to be the only card with this play pattern as then my deck can become inconsistent.
After doing some searching, I think Managorger Hydra is probably most in line with what Fortune Hunter wants while also working with Fortune Hunter. That is to say, if I had both of these creatures out at once, I could invest my cards on to the Fortune Hunter in order to draw cards, while still benefiting from the increasing Hydra. If I were to rely on something like Setessan Oathsworn though, then I would need to split my heroic triggers up and would be more likely to fizzle out.
With those two creatures as the cornerstones for a deck, it seemed like everything else should be supplemental in one way or another. Chord of Calling could be used to find either of those creatures and at instant speed even, helping to dodge sorcery speed removal. Battlefield Thaumaturge could act as a mana creature, making my combo turn need that much less mana. Hero of Leina Tower even made some sense to provide the deck with a stable outlet for stray combo pieces that don't have an engine to otherwise be funneled into.
There was an issue though. All this talk about combo pieces and things targeting my creatures, but where exactly am I going to go with that? UW Heroic already pulls off the aura angle really well and abandoning white was probably not going to help me there. What made the most sense to me was to use a series of pump spells to create some giant threat to either win in a single turn, or deal a lot of damage at the very least. We would almost be playing an infect-style of deck except trying to win through normal damage.
My initial draft is somewhat cut and dry, but it had most of the essential pieces I was looking for at the very least:
This deck looks like it would probably be pretty good against an unsuspecting control deck, but that's about it, which wasn't good enough for me. You see, against midrange you have very few ways to interact with them while they can just throw a few removal spells at your creature until you run out of Ranger's Guiles. This puts quite the pressure on Battlefield Thaumaturge to do the heavy lifting thanks to hexproof, but I still would not be thrilled. Against aggro, you don't do much to interact or recover and your racing game is not the most consistent in the world.
Aggro actually looked like it was going to be an issue for almost any version of this deck. Blue and green don't tend to have much in the way of early removal or sweepers. If we took that as a given, it would make sense then to see if we could improve our match ups against midrange and control by going a slightly different route.
If you take a look at our collection of creatures from above, you might notice they all share a specific trait that might be of service to us. Enter Collected Company:
While we lose a little bit of the selection that Chord of Calling gave us, we instead get a card that is usually cheaper and at least has the potential to net us card advantage. This is an excellent combination of things to be to fight off midrange decks who want to gain small advantages in resources over the course of a game. If we are turning one card into two threats, there is only so much an opponent can do.
Our creature count went up a little to help and we mixed up a few of our spells, but I do like where this list is going, especially with the sideboard in this case as our options begin making a lot more sense.
Battle for Zendikar is not far away and I am sure we will have plenty of new toys to play with as the set releases, but it is nice to take a look back from time to time and remember those toys that we might not have played with as much as we should have. If nothing else, it is fun to just join a 2-man queue and play some good old-fashioned Magic with a new brew!
PAX Prime takes place this weekend where I am sure we will begin hearing even more about the upcoming set and the future of Standard. If you're making it out to the event, be sure to enjoy it for the rest of us and if you aren't, well maybe you'll find me in a two-man queue with some Triton Fortune Hunters at the ready. Thanks for reading!