New Standard formats are wild. People are trying all kinds of cards, new strategies are popping up daily and the format is changing faster than even William can shake a spear at. I really enjoy the process of trying out new decks and trying to build my own decks and seeing if they work (they never do). In many regards, this is the most fun time of the year to be a Magic player.
I've been playing quite a lot of Standard over the past week. With MTG Arena being the primary platform for Standard online, the speed of format shifting in the first few weeks is faster than it has ever been before. This is largely due to people being able to get cards for their decks cheaper than on Magic Online, where sometimes new Mythic Rares can cost $70 each.
It's incredible how many decks have sprung up and died over the course of just one week, and I'm both here for it and here to share my insight into it.
I've been trying all kinds of decks and, honestly, they all suck compared to Golos, and most of them can't even beat it. You could do way worse than firing up Yolo, Tireless Pilgrim at your next event.
Above is Bryan Gottlieb's Bant Golos deck, which he won the Fandom Legends Caster Cup with last weekend. That win completely reinvigorated Golos as a strategy, and it quickly became clear just how good it is and how important it is to have a plan for the mirror in your Golos deck so you can beat Golos out of other decks.
Things move quickly, however, and Bryan's original list is now outdated. Below is a more recent take on the deck, which Brad Nelson played yesterday in this week's Fandom Legends event.
I've been playing a lot with Golos myself. It's the deck I've played the most with in this format, and it was even one of the decks that I was working on during the Early Access streamer event before the set came out. I believe I'm starting to grasp how to build and play the deck for maximum efficiency.
A few points:
Play 29 lands. Bryan's original list and his recent updated version both play 28 lands, but I can't condone that in good conscience. I think 30 is closer to correct than 28, and Carlos Romao is even playing a version with 30 lands, like a boss. This deck has a massive amount of expensive plays and cards like Arboreal Grazer only function when you have extra lands in hand. It doesn't really matter if you get to ramp a land if you miss your land drop the next turn. You don't need very many spells to win the game with this deck.
Proactive sideboard cards are better than reactive ones. I've found cards like Veil of Summer to underperform, except specifically against Sultai decks that have access to lots of targeted plays like Legion's End, Casualties of War, Unmoored Ego, Assassin's Trophy and sometimes even Thought Erasure. Likewise, I have not been impressed with cards like Negate. It is often hard to hold up mana in this deck, and I'd rather just be able to tap out whenever I can and then cast my proactive hate cards when I draw them, rather than needing to hold them open every turn.
Beanstalk Giant // Fertile Footsteps is good. The card has bean quite good for me so far and I think it could easily become an inclusion in stalk Golos builds moving forward. With Beanstalk Giant in the deck, I'd lean on considering a sixth basic land. With Beanstalk Giant, Fabled Passage and (sometimes) Circuitous Route grabbing basic lands out of the deck, you can sometimes run out.
While you can sometimes just run people over with this deck, in a lot of games it takes sequencing and figuring out a long-term game plan to win. This deck exercises and thrives off the skill of planning out a game as you play it and changing your plan with new information each turn. Sometimes the plan is swarming over them with Zombies, but other times it's setting up Beanstalk Giant // Fertile Footsteps and Cast Off to one-shot them or planning to kill with huge copies of Hydroid Krasis, and you should play toward those Game Plans as the game develops. If the plan is swarming, save your Fabled Passages until you have a bunch of Field of the Deads in play to get more Zombies. But if the plan is to survive until you can use Krasis or set up Beanstalk Giant and Wrath, then perhaps it's better to get more Zombies early to soak up damage. Plan ahead and play accordingly.
Kind of like the Bee's Knees, but not nearly as cool. This phrase is in development. Cut me some slack here.
I think this card is incredibly powerful and ripe for abuse. There are no laws when you're playing Wishclaw Talisman. You can just reach into your deck and pull out whatever cards you want. That's pretty messed up.
In all seriousness, though, there are a lot of cards in the format that interact powerfully with Wishclaw Talisman, like Oko, Thief of Crowns, Casualties of War, Planar Cleansing, Teferi, Time Raveler, Vraska, Golgari Queen and so on. For example, you can use Wishclaw Talisman to find a Planar Cleansing and then cast it to destroy your opponent's entire board and prevent them from using Wishclaw Talisman.
Cards that have symmetry are often hard to build around, but they are also incredibly powerful because Magic always provides us with ways to break symmetry.
A few things to note about this card:
Whatever deck you put it into has to have a powerful top-end game plan. Even if you build your deck to use Wishclaw Talisman and prevent your opponent from using it, too—such as with Planar Cleansing—there are going to be times when that doesn't work. You might need to use it and then open up your opponent to use it the next turn. That means your deck has to be able to go over the top or do powerful things, because you need to be able to deal with your opponent also occasionally getting to use Talisman. If you can't handle or beat whatever they can fetch with the card, then you probably shouldn't be playing it.
Wishclaw Talisman has a fairly steep activation cost. It may seem like it's fairly cheap to pay three mana for a Demonic Tutor, especially split over two turns, but the reality in playing the Talisman is that it hurts worse than it seems. Because you can only activate it on your turn and because you typically don't want to allow your opponent to get any activation out of it, you often have to just add on an extra mana to whatever card you want to find with it. If you're trying to set up a Wishclaw Talisman and Casualties of War, you want to do it all in one turn, which means you need seven mana. If you do it over two turns, then your opponent gets to use the Claw.
At any rate, I've been trying to figure out how to break this card. I haven't succeeded yet, but I imagine someone else will eventually. The card is too good not to break.
Part of this is that Golos is the best deck in the format, and Golos kind of rolfstomps midrange strategies. And by "kind of," I mean that it definitely does. It's really a story as old as time, or at least as old as I've been playing Magic. Ramp decks tend to dominate midrange decks. Midrange decks aren't fast enough to clock ramp and ramp just eventually goes way over the top of them.
The other part is that the tools midrange has to work with aren't really that impressive. The planeswalkers in this format are excellent. Oko, Thief of Crowns, Garruk, Cursed Huntsman, Tamiyo, Collector of Tales, Nissa, Who Shakes the World and so forth are all some of the most powerful planeswalkers we've seen in a long time. However, the supporting cast is missing.
The midrange creatures just aren't there. The best two-drop for midrange is Paradise Druid, but while it's good, it's just a glorified mana creature. There is really nothing else. A card like Questing Beast, while strong, is just a big creature that only attacks and blocks. Midrange, traditionally, thrives on creatures that produce lasting value or generate card advantage. Questing Beast only deals damage. While it is incredibly efficient at that, it's not really what Midrange is usually after.
The best midrange deck is Simic. Not only does Simic beat other midrange decks, but it also most traditionally exemplifies the kinds of cards that are good in midrange.
Wicked Wolf, as opposed to Questing Beast, is a great example of a midrange creature. It's hard to kill, it's a two-for-one and it generates lasting value. This deck is chock full of the style of cards that normally make midrange great. It's easy to see why this is the best of the midrange bunch.
The problem is this: unlike a lot of midrange decks in the past, this deck can struggle to kill people quickly. A card like Oko, Thief of Crowns is an incredibly grindy card. Oko is better at shutting down an opponent's creatures over the course of a game than it is for quickly ending the game. Oko generates incremental advantages that snowball the longer it sits around.
Normally, this is awesome, but there are too many decks that go over the top in the long run that you don't have the luxury of wasting time against. Golos is one of those decks, and the Esper Doom Foretold deck is another. In a format full of aggressive and midrange decks, Simic Midrange would be dominant, but decks are a product of their environment, and the environment isn't suitable for this kind of strategy.
This is probably the most exciting card from Throne of Eldraine. Fires of Invention lets you do a lot of incredibly cool things, like play Casualties of War in the sideboard of your Jeskai Deck and cast it game one. This has happened to me a number of times. Thanks to Fae of Wishes // Granted and Fires of Invention, this is a totally realistic line of play.
The problem I'm running into is that this cool and powerful stuff just isn't that good. It feels like a deck like this should be dominating, but that just hasn't been the case so far.
Fires of Invention has some serious drawbacks, and those drawbacks are incredibly exploitable.
The first drawback is that you only get to cast two spells a turn. While that may not seem like much of a drawback—I mean you're still getting an "extra" spell from what you could normally cast on each turn—it's actually quite a devastating drawback. To fully abuse the power of Fires of Invention, you need to play cards that allow you to draw or see a lot of cards out of your deck. Otherwise, Fires of Invention doesn't do anything. The card is pointless when you're empty-handed or running out of gas. To make Fires work, you need cards, like Drawn from Dreams, to keep the gas flowing.
This "gas finding" spell uses up one of your two spells for the turn, however. Similarly, Fae of Wishes // Granted, while powerful, also uses up a spell for the turn. Since this deck is slow and based around expensive effects, the second spell often has to be a card to "catch up" against what your opponent is doing.
Decks in this format are incredibly good at grinding games out. All the planeswalkers are incredibly powerful and decks like Golos produce a board every single turn of the game. The pattern of "find more gas" and then "answer what your opponent is doing" is a fine pattern if you eventually get some reprieve to then execute "play proactive threats" for a turn. But that never really seems to be realized.
The game plan of "spend the first few turns setting up and then try to come back with Fires of Invention" is also flawed when your opponent can just play to the board early in the game and then sit on interaction for your big turn. A single countermagic spell could easily undo all your set up work. All in all, this is very exploitable.
The other flaw of Fires of Invention is that you can only cast spells on your turn. The "give your opponent a Teferi, Time Raveler" line of text seems innocuous, but it isn't. Having no way to interact on your opponent's turn means that your opponent has free reign to do whatever they want, and they know that it will always work.
They can always set up that Questing Beast and know that it won't get hit with instant speed interaction. They can play anything they want without fear of it getting countered. The aspect of Magic where your opponent has to be worried that you might be able to do something to interfere with their plan is completely lost. While that may seem irrelevant if you're doing powerful enough things yourself, I've found that to simply not be true for this deck.
Fires of Invention is incredibly powerful, it's incredibly cool and maybe it will one day be figured out. But right now, it's just not good enough.
One last note about this Standard format: Since it seems very skill-intensive and grindy, the absolute key component is proper sequencing and getting the most value out of all of your cards. This might seem obvious on the surface. "Duh, Brian, of course we want to get the most value out of our cards, you oafish buffoon," you might say, but, in reality, the concept is a bit deeper than that.
In some formats that are more about speed or one-shot combo potential, it's actually often correct to not get the most value out of your cards. For example, you might play a Teferi, Time Raveler and choose to bounce your opponent's creature instead of the Oath of Kaya that would be able to eventually kill that creature, because you value being able to spend three mana elsewhere over the card advantage of the Oath of Kaya. You're not getting the most value out of your Teferi, Time Raveler, but the tempo advantage is worth doing so.
In slower and grindier formats, however, it's pretty much always right to get that value when and where you can. Bounce that Oath of Kaya, even if you don't have time to replay it for three turns. If the game goes on seven more turns, that extra value might add up in the long run.
Of course, a scenario like this is contextual and situational, but the principle still generally applies to this format. You're going to want to make sure you can milk the most long-term value out of your cards as often as you can. Sometimes this means waiting to deploy them until a more optimal time or taking damage from creatures to drop lower in life before executing your plan to give you set up time.
Proper sequencing also ties into getting the most value out of your cards. For example, you may choose to not play a Temple on the first turn of the game if you don't know what you're up against or don't specifically know what cards you're looking to draw because you want to save that scry until later in the game when you have more information about what you need.
I think the biggest offender of people spewing value is the card Once Upon a Time. It's important to wait to cast Once Upon a Time until the first time you would want to play a card you could find from it. For example, there is no reason to cast it on your opponent's turn one. Wait until you draw a card first and then play it on your turn. That extra card provides more information about what you want to take with Once Upon a Time.
Additionally, in a deck like Golos, you can sometimes wait until turn two or even turn three to cast Once Upon a Time. If you're just going to play a Temple on the first turn, you can play the Temple, scry top or bottom and then wait until you've drawn your card on turn two before casting Once Upon a Time. That way, if you draw a Golos, for example, you can use Once Upon a Time to find land five, or vice versa.
Don't throw away percentage points.
Brian Braun-Duin is a professional Magic player, member of the 2019 Magic Pro League and recurring special guest on the Bash Bros Podcast.
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