One of the most difficult decisions of the last Standard format was deciding how many answers to Jace, Vryn's Prodigy you needed post-board against decks where the only good target these answers had was Jace. It never felt like you could afford to just give their Jace, Vryn's Prodigy free reign, but at the same time, drawing a Fiery Impulse late in the game while you were staring down a Jace, Telepath Unbound was miserable. This was one of those spots in Magic where there is no clear, correct answer. It depended on the specifics of the deck you were playing as well as what you had seen out of the opposing deck. As each of us played Magic and found ourselves in this spot time and time again we developed our own answer to this question by honing our Magic intuition to understand when we wanted all our Fiery Impulses, when we wanted just half of them, and when we didn't want any at all.

And now we have to override that intuition. A new Standard environment is here, one that is going to turn everything we thought we knew about the dance of Jace, Vryn's Prodigy and Fiery Impulse on its head. That's the genius of Magic: constantly forcing us to play entirely new games with the same cards. It's why the game is so great, but it also makes our job as players much harder. The game forces us to develop an intuitive understanding and internal sets of rules to play these cards effectively against each other. Then, after managing basic competency in one environment, we are suddenly forced to forget everything we thought we knew and start again, because the cards no longer interact in the exact same way. But it's hard to reset your intuition, and natural to act the same way you would have acted previously the first time you encounter the Jace, Vryn's Prodigy/Fiery Impulse tension in Shadows over Innistrad Standard.

Eventually as you battle in Shadows over Innistrad Standard, your intuition will acclimate to the new environment and start feeding you good decisions instead of defaulting to old behavior. This process is slow and will lead to many instances of defaulting to old play patterns that will do you no good before figuring out the new world. Instead, we want to try and manually reset our intuition by actively thinking through any scenario that seems similar to one from the previous Standard.

Back to Basics

The problem with Fiery Impulse against Jace, Vryn's Prodigy was always that you had to have the Fiery Impulse early in the game to intercept Jace, Vryn's Prodigy before he flipped, often by the third or fourth turn. This caused Fiery Impulses to often be drawn too late, weakening its effectiveness. But in Shadows over Innistrad Standard, this is going to be less of a problem. Due to the departure of fetchlands, Jace, Vryn's Prodigy will not be able to become a telepath nearly as early as he used to. Not only is it harder to get cards in the graveyard to flip Jace, Vryn's Prodigy, it's very possible that Jace, Vryn's Prodigy's future role as a madness enabler will cause people to decline to activate him early to save his looting for optimal madness plays later on. This means that the window of time you have to deal with Jace, Vryn's Prodigy before he gets out of the range of spot creature removal is a lot wider, which makes Fiery Impulse and its ilk a lot more reasonable to play. However good you thought Fiery Impulse was against Jace, Vryn's Prodigy before, it's going to be better with Shadows Over Innistrad.

Spot Jace, Vryn's Prodigy removal also got better for the simple reason that Jace, Vryn's Prodigy got more important. Jace, Vryn's Prodigy is the single best madness enabler in a format with a lot of powerful madness payoffs. Letting an enabler that powerful sit around on the battlefield unchecked is a losing proposition. Before, the cost you paid by letting a Jace, Vryn's Prodigy live was not quite as high as it will be going forward (don't get me wrong, not having an answer to Jace, Vryn's Prodigy was bad before, it's just worse now). Thus, all other things equal, we should inclined to play a higher number of Jace, Vryn's Prodigy answers now. But all other things aren't held equal — as previously noted, Jace, Vryn's Prodigy will be sticking around longer as a creature, making our spot removal even better against him. As a result, there's more incentive in playing more Jace, Vryn's Prodigy answers, and we should try to reset our intuition in that direction.

Single Card Swings

Let's consider Goblin Dark-Dwellers. In this past Standard, we have grown used to using Goblin Dark-Dwellers to flash back spells like Abzan Charm and Crackling Doom. He has been an incredibly solid two-for-one spell in value-oriented midrange decks. Notice anything about the spells I mentioned?

Yeah, they are both rotating out. This isn't a surprise — the restriction on Goblin Dark-Dwellers' ability is three or less mana and the multicolor block is leaving Standard. The most powerful three or less mana spells were by and large the three-color gold spells printed in Khans of Tarkir. With these spells out of the format, Goblin Dark-Dwellers is much less appealing. If you want to flash back unconditional removal, you go from dealing two damage with a Crackling Doom to taking three from an Anguished Unmaking. Ouch. If you want to draw cards, you go from the incredibly versatile Abzan Charm to the single-minded Read the Bones. Forget your intuition that Dark-Dwellers is a powerful and valuable card and make sure to reevaluate him based on the spells you actually get to surround him with. Further note that with fetchlands leaving splashing gets a lot harder, greatly reducing the range of available options for Goblin Dark-Dwellers.

Ugin, the Spirit Dragon is rotating out of Standard. Normally, a card leaving a format is not something you need to ensure an intuition reset over. You can't fall into bad play patterns against the card in the new environment simply because you will never see the card. Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, however, is a special case. The archetype surrounding him, ramp, can continue on to Shadows over Innistrad Standard almost completely unchanged besides losing Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. When playing against the standard ramp opening of turn two, mana creature, turn four, Explosive Vegetation, it's only natural to still feel the fear of Ugin, the Spirit Dragon that this deck invoked before. However, now the main card we need to fear overextending into is Chandra, Flamecaller and not Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. Both wrath the board, but do so in substantially different ways. Five-toughness creatures that can survive a Chandra, Flamecaller get way better against ramp, as do creatures who are perfectly happy being sent to the graveyard but absolutely hate getting exiled. When playing against ramp, make sure to manually adjust your mind and deck to the absence of Ugin, the Spirit Dragon.

Anticipatory Instincts

After curving out beautifully every turn of the game prior to this, your white/green opponent passes on turn five with all their mana open and no onboard mana sinks to pour it into. What card do you play around? As we play and gain experience in a format, we develop a well-tuned intuition that helps us decipher what our opponent's holding could be when they are clearly being tricky. In last Standard, the answer in spots like this one was almost always Collected Company. Now, it could be Collected Company, but on turn five Archangel Avacyn is another likely culprit. You play around those two cards in similar ways, but there will be spots where your instincts want you to play in a manner that feels unintuitive in the current format. Taking the time to think through the range of possibilities represented by open mana in the beginning of the format will help you rewrite your intuition faster and pay you dividends for a long time.

Flash angels aside, the most important class of card to think about when it comes to open mana scenarios is removal. Abzan Charm, Crackling Doom, Murderous Cut, Utter End and Disdainful Stroke are the most notable cards leaving that we no longer have to worry about. Shadows Over Innistrad Standard is trading versatile non-damage based removal spells with upside for a lot of damage-based removal spells (Fiery Temper, Avacyn's Judgment) and some versatile removal with downside (Anguished Unmaking). Overall, the removal is getting worse post-rotation. This means it will be correct more often to run creatures out into open mana, as there's a better chance your opponent's removal won't match up against your threat. How much toughness a creature has is going to be relevant more often than it used to be when determining how resistant a threat is to removal. These are things to keep your eye on and ensure you are making mindful decisions in these areas and not defaulting to old patterns.

Thanks for reading,