In perhaps the least surprising Banned and Restricted announcement of all time, Wizards of the Coast banned Field of the Dead on Monday. When Wizards first announced the change to the typical Banned and Restricted list update schedule, Golos had just dominated the Standard portion of SCG Philadelphia. With Magic Online data, MPL Split decklists and the submissions rolling in for Mythic Championship V, Field of the Dead variants were the frontrunner of the Standard format.
This past weekend at the Mythic Championship, it was pretty clear that, despite being heavily targeted by the entire format, Field of the Dead could withstand its challengers. Of the 24 decks that made it to day two of the event, ten were Field of the Dead decks. Although it didn't convert many to the Top 8 of the tournament, one copy still made it through to the finals, where it lost to one of its few bad matchups: Gruul Aggro, in the hands of Javier Dominguez. The ban was well and truly deserved after a strong performance where all competition took aim almost solely at the archetype and failed to shut it down completely.
Where Field of the Dead looked strong, but largely constrained by the rest of the tournament aiming for it, Oko Food decks appeared absolutely dominant. The matchup against Golos was fixed, with the competitors largely going one of two directions: pure Simic with Disdainful Stroke to counter the expensive spells of Golos, or white for Deputy of Detention. Both seemed effective, and additionally quite useful in the mirror against the most important cards in the matchup: Nissa, Who Shakes the World and Hydroid Krasis. But perhaps more impressive was just how effective the deck was at shutting aggressive strategies out of the format. On day one, no aggressive deck beat Oko Food whatsoever. Food was so impressive, in fact, that leading up to the Banned and Restricted announcement people were speculating that there would be other bans alongside Field of the Dead.
Field of the Dead and Oko, Thief of Crowns in many ways defined what was possible in Standard. Many formats have two "poles" that define what is possible. Frequently this takes the form of the "fastest" deck and the "biggest" deck: Mono-Red Aggro and Nexus of Fate, for example. Decks might exist in between these, but they exist only as they relate to the defining tentpoles of the format. A deck like Esper Hero after War of the Spark was released naturally beat Nexus of Fate, allowing the rest of the deck to slant to beat Mono-Red Aggro with cards like Oath of Kaya and Basilica Bell-Haunt. Field of the Dead clearly defined the biggest possible thing to do in the format, but it was so resilient to being targeted because it relied on a type of permanent that could not be affected by the other defining card of the format, Oko, Thief of Crowns. Meanwhile cards that can compete with Field of the Dead's 2/2 Zombies, like The Great Henge or Embercleave, are very susceptible to becoming 3/3 Elk tokens from Oko's +1 ability.
The next major Standard event, the Arena Mythic Championship Qualifier, is this Saturday, and there isn't much time to prepare for this event. As it stands now, the clear best decks of the format are Simic and Bant Food. The key to this event will be adapting to a metagame where one tentpole has been completely removed… and trying to target the other.
What makes this so tricky is that Food lists are nearly unassailable. The way I see it, there are three major hurdles to targeting them:
Wicked Wolf is the bane of aggressive decks. While it might not look like it on first blush, Wicked Wolf is among the best Nekrataal or Ravenous Chupacabra effects we've ever seen. Normally one of the drawbacks to these cards are that while they leave behind a body, they are typically fairly small and inconsequential as the game goes forward. In a lot of ways they're closer to Murder that plays a 2/1 first strike or 2/2 for free than a threat in their own right.
Wicked Wolf, however, is both a larger body and a much more relevant one, both growing and becoming indestructible. As Ken Yukuhiro learned this weekend, a single Wicked Wolf can hold back a Rotting Regisaur indefinitely with a constant supply of food, and will eventually grow larger than it. Any deck that wants to attack on the ground is going to have to go around or through Wicked Wolf. If possible, it's better to just ignore it so that the card is a glorified Hill Giant.
If Wicked Wolf checks aggression, Hydroid Krasis checks the long game. Especially in combination with Nissa, Who Shakes the World, Krasis lets Oko Food go bigger than most other decks in the format and keep drawing cards. This is especially important because, outside of a few key pieces, Simic Food has a lot of cards that are weak in multiples and in the late game. Gilded Goose, Paradise Druid, Oko, Thief of Crowns and sometimes even Questing Beast make for poor topdecks later in the game. Many plans against Simic Food would actually be effective at running the deck out of Food except for the fact that one of the best mana sinks in the format is also in Simic colors.
Wicked Wolf dominates the early game, and Hydroid Krasis dominates the late game. But the mid-game is dominated by the crown jewel of the deck, Oko, Thief of Crowns. 3/3 Food tokens attack other planeswalkers effectively, and trade or block a good amount of the format. Any creature or artifact that attempts to go over the 3/3 Food tokens and 4/4 Wicked Wolf/Questing Beast frequently becomes an Elk token. Fortunately Oko cannot directly interact with other planeswalkers, and has almost no way to interact with enchantments. Additionally, any sufficiently wide board can simply ignore Oko and his Food tokens.
It's still early, but these are the four archetypes that I'm testing for the MCQ this weekend:
Venerated Loxodon decks fit many of the criteria I'm looking for in a deck against Food. None of the creatures are worth turning into 3/3 Elks (and +1/+1 counters work very well against being turned into Elks), they go wider faster than most of Food's draws can keep up, and no individual piece is too important to lose to Wicked Wolf.
Reid Duke's list was very weak to Bant Golos, but actually seems completely reasonable now that Golos has largely disappeared from the format. Edgewall Innkeeper in particular lets the deck play a longer game than most aggressive decks. Even if the initial wave of creatures boosted by Venerated Loxodon is handled, there's still cards in hand to keep the pressure on. Additionally, the old "Splinter Twin" combo of Guilds of Ravnica Standard, March of the Multitudes and Flower // Flourish, allows the deck to force through incredibly large amounts of damage without offering much time to react. Especially because Oko decks don't typically have access to board sweeper effects, March of the Multitudes is a great way to go bigger and wider than Oko can handle. The only countermeasure they have is, well, countermagic, and thankfully a white-green deck has access to the ultimate trump card, Veil of Summer.
The biggest innovation of more recent white-green lists is keeping Questing Beast out of the mainboard. In general, Questing Beast is pretty mediocre against Simic Food because even if it connects with the opponent the turn it's played, reducing Oko from 7 to 3 loyalty isn't really relevant, and every turn afterward it will be a 3/3 Elk. However, the card is reasonable in the sideboard against the rest of the field as a way to both pressure the opponent while attacking planeswalkers.
Along the same lines as Venerated Loxodon is Rakdos Aristocrats. While it lacks the powerful battlefields that Venerated Loxodon generates, this deck still looks to deal early damage with 12 one-drops to attack early, before Wicked Wolf can lock up the ground completely. From there, the deck uses an almost limitless amount of burn from the combination of Mayhem Devil, Priest of Forgotten Gods, Cauldron Familiar and Witch's Oven to deal the final points of damage. Even if a piece gets removed, most all of them were meant to sacrifice or be killed to begin with, and it is incumbent on the Food player to close out the game before the Aristocrats' burn reaches them.
The biggest drawbacks to this strategy is that this deck is hard. Games are often won by inches, not miles, so every point of damage is incredibly important. It's easy to lose and realize that a mistake several turns earlier changed the course of the game and put your opponent out of reach by 1 or 2 life. If this is the route you're going to take this weekend for the Arena MCQ, make sure to put in plenty of games beforehand, because there won't be time in the tournament to learn on the fly. The deck is unforgiving when things don't go perfectly, and Simic Food is very good at throwing a wrench into everyone's plans.
The opposite angle of attack is to try and run Simic Food out of resources. While Hydroid Krasis can keep them topped off, if you can continually run the Food deck out of mana creatures, their Krases are never as backbreaking as Bant Golos's were, drawing just a few cards. Sacrifice effects like Doom Foretold are particularly effective against Wicked Wolf and Veil of Summer. And finally, Teferi, Time Raveler might not be impressive against most Food cards, he does protect you from Disdainful Stroke, meaning that Dance of the Manse can take over or win the game appropriately.
The deck definitely has weaknesses. It has trouble with anything recursive, like Rakdos Aristocrats. The combination of poor mana and need for artifacts to sacrifice to Doom Foretold like Golden Egg and Guild Globe means that aggressive red or white decks can put too much pressure on the deck too quickly.
There is a very good possibility that another Doom Foretold deck exists that shores up these weaknesses. The card has been so impressive against Food decks that it makes me wonder if a white-black midrange eschewing Dance of the Manse and Teferi, Time Raveler for better mana is possible.
If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Unfortunately, sometimes that's the only option. There is not a clear counter to Oko, Thief of Crowns, and the card has seen play as far back as Vintage since releasing two weeks ago. The card is, no matter how you look at it, incredibly powerful, and probably banworthy.
The dip into black is mostly building off of the Bant version of the deck that Stanislav Cifka played at the Mythic Championship. The white splash previously was almost exclusively for Deputy of Detention to fight against Field of the Dead. While Deputy of Detention is still a good card against other Simic decks, it's too expensive to interrupt the dreaded turn one Gilded Goose, turn two Oko, Thief of Crowns start. It also dies to Wicked Wolf. Noxious Grasp is cheaper and can handle problems permanently.
Vraska, Golgari Queen is the other black card I'm trying for the mirror. The card is a versatile answer to cheaper creature decks, Oko, Thief of Crowns and a way to go long in the mirror by turning extra Food tokens, Gilded Goose or Paradise Druids into more cards, as well as providing an ultimate that can go over the top of a stalled board.
With so many decks trying to win through Edgewall Innkeeper or Knight of the Ebon Legion, Disfigure and Find // Finality allow the deck to fight these strategies in ways that the strictly Simic version didn't have access to.
Finally, I want access to a way to combat enchantments as the one permanent type that this strategy can be weak to. The best way to do that in Sultai is Thrashing Brontodon.
Beat 'em, join'em, whatever you do this weekend, there is no denying that Standard has just one tier 1 deck at the moment. Whether playing Arena on Thursday when the ban goes into effect or Saturday for the Arena MCQ, you need a plan to at least make the matchup competitive. Decks like Gruul or Golgari Adventure that were competitors only against Golos because they could punch through Zombie tokens fail completely at that task, so registering them is a mistake. Hopefully something will work against Oko; otherwise, it will be an uninteresting few weeks before the next Banned and Restricted announcement in November or, worst case scenario, January.