With the release of Oath of the Gatewatch comes a brand new Standard format. For today's article, I want to do things a little bit differently. Since Standard isn't the format I'm currently playing (Modern is, as the Pro Tour is coming up very soon), I don't have the time to start brewing and push my research as far as I usually do. Instead, I wanted to see how people around the world viewed the new format and what they came up with. I opened my mailbox for decklists with new cards and got some interesting brews. I'm going to review two of the most interesting decks I got and see if they are a good base to improve upon.
The feedback I'm going to give is mostly theoretical; I haven't tried the decks yet, and I'll just be pointing out what I believe could be improved or changed – and it could totally be wrong. It's up to you to decide.
The first deck is a Jori En, Ruin Diver deck brewed by French blogger Moudou.
The new cards:
Prowess-based strategies acquired a serious creature in Stormchaser Mage. It's very similar to Monastery Swiftspear - it has haste and prowess - and it has evasion. Past the obvious, its casting cost is a little steep — to cast it reliably on turn two, you probably need a Shivan Reef.
Flying makes it a decent threat in the midgame in comparison to Monastery Swiftspear, who won't do much on a board clogged with Siege Rhinos and other monsters. Talking about clogged boards, it's a great way to fly over the tokens and chump blockers Rally decks will put in the way; we have seen that flyers in Abzan, like Skyrider Elf, can help the matchup a lot.
Jori En, Ruin Diver is an exciting card. It dodges Wild Slashes and will probably trade for a removal spell without losing you too much tempo. You don't want to invest three mana into a creature that would die to an end-of-turn Wild Slash. It could die to a Fiery Impulse though, but the conditions have to be met.
The other good thing is, if you play it with a mana open, you'll be able to net an extra card on the same turn by playing your second spell right away. It will probably always be a 2/3-draw a card for 4 mana (an upgraded Striped Bears, the original cantrip creature), if it survives another turn, you might (and most definitely will) net another card.
To go with the 12 Prowess creatures, Moudou decided to run four Treasure Cruise and three Magmatic Insight (a card-drawing engine that we found in U/R Sphinx's Tutelage decks), four Wild Slash as the only "interactive" cards, and eight of the new cantrip spells : Four Expedite and four Slip Through Space.
Expedite grants Abbot of Keral Keep haste (most of the other guys have haste already) and basically draws you a card for R, fills your graveyard for Treasure Cruise, and gives +1/+1 to all your prowess creatures.
Slip Through Space has the same cantrip ability but its effect is much more effective. Except for Stormchaser Mage, none of your creatures have evasion, so you'd basically have to overpower the blockers every attack. Slip Through Space gives you the chance to bypass all the tokens (Goblins and Eldrazi Spawns come to mind).
I have to say, I had to read the card a few times to make sure I didn't miss anything. I expect this card to see a lot of play and upset a lot of players even in limited. Giving a creature unblockability usually comes at a steep cost — it's either an expensive card, or a very situational card. In that case, it's cheap and replaces itself. To sum up, I think this is one of the most interesting commons in the set.
Titan's Strength completes the cheap spell suite as a way to pump your creatures even more.
Wandering Fumarole helps to fix the mana a little and would punish an opponent for tapping out. Along with Slip Through Space, it's a pretty good way to either buy some time, as your opponent will not want to tap out against one, or attack for 4 on an empty board.
According to Moudou, the deck has a hard time against Ramp decks. He tried with white for Jeskai Ascendancy but it didn't quite work out. The black gave him a way to fix his mana with the fetches and access to interesting sideboard cards.
The deck is pretty straightforward. You play your creatures, play your spells to pump them and draw more card draw or creatures, then repeat. Since it has so little ways to interact with your opponent, you want to kill your opponent before they start doing crazy stuff.
The closest deck we can compare it with is Landfall. Both decks rely on small creatures that you pump for lethal.
The deck looks good. It feels a little like a Delver of Secrets deck — if your first or second creature survives, it can go all the way. You keep drawing more cards while dealing damage and refilling your hand when it's depleted with a Treasure Cruise.
However, I could see where the deck could improve. There's no way to punish your opponent enough for either tapping out or letting you do your business and that's a reason why I can see how ramp is a tough matchup. With Landfall decks, lethal can come anytime your opponent taps out, thanks to Become Immense and Temur Battle Rage. With this deck, however - except for Titan's Strength and Wild Slash - you can't turn one mana into more than one damage, unless you have more than one attacking creature.
The other problem I could see with the deck would be when you're facing removal or not drawing your creatures early. Drawing into your creatures (when you don't have any) gives your opponent a lot of time, and since you're only grinding your damage in and only barely interacting with him, you'll probably have to mulligan into hands with creatures. Landfall and Atarka Red have pretty much the same problem, but they are packing more creatures to begin with.
It feels that it's the deck you'd want to run Become Immense and Temur Battle Rage in. However, the green seems really hard to play. Unless I'm missing something, the manabase for a Temur deck playing Monastery Swiftspear on turn one and Stormchaser Mage on turn two seems quite impossible to build. You could play a bunch of painlands, but you'll lose too much life overall. Without Become Immense, and with only Titan's Strength to trigger Ferocious, Temur Battle Rage might not be at its best here.
White suffers the same problem — it's hard to splash. Moudou had a problem splashing for Jeskai Ascendancy. If there's a working manabase with a third color that is not black, I would probably try Monastery Mentor. It would probably replace Jori En, Ruin Diver in the three-mana slot, as it will probably make a bigger impact on the game as soon as you trigger it once or twice. Also, it would do something extra if you have five mana (make two tokens), while Jori En, Ruin Diver would only draw you one card.
Maybe I'm underestimating the deck, and as soon as Magic Online allows Oath of the Gatewatch to be played, I'll definitely give it a try. It's a good base to work on, but we could already see the flaws in the design we have to work on, it might come from the third color and how to make it work.
Moving on to the second list for today — a ramp deck submitted by Sam Berkenbile.
This deck may or may not be the best ramp deck around with the new set, but it has a lot of cards I like in it. Let's look at the new cards:
Before Pro Tour: Battle for Zendikar, I worked on a Demonic Pact ramp deck. I don't quite remember the exact list, but the idea was to control the early game with Disperse and Demonic Pact, while ramping to eventually play The Great Aurora and get rid of your own Demonic Pact in the process. It also ran Part the Waterveil to play again the turn after you play Aurora. Your win condition was either Nissa, Vastwood Seer, Pact or the land you animated with Part the Waterveil.
The problem with the deck was that it wasn't extremely stable and very vulnerable to countermagic. A countered Great Aurora would just make you lose the game. We also badly wanted to get to four mana on turn three, but decided not to play mana creature to have our opponents have dead cards against us. Even though the deck was fun and had some potential, it was eventually discarded.
So here we have a ramp deck that's running Demonic Pact, and a cool way to get rid of it: World Breaker. World Breaker is expensive, for sure, but its ability can't be countered, meaning that the only thing you have to do to get rid of your pact is get to seven mana and cast it. Antonio Del Moral Leon used to run Woodland Bellower to fetch Invasive Species to bounce his Pact, but it could be countered.
To get rid of the pact, we also have three Ugin, the Spirit Dragon and two Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. The deck can play as a regular ramp deck and get to Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger (or Kozilek, the Great Distortion) as fast as possible, or play a more grindy game using the powerful Demonic Pact.
Ramp gets an interesting addition to play the control game. Back a couple of months ago, it would sometimes run black for Languish and/or Crux of Fate. Now we have Kozilek's Return. Not only does it kill all the nasty tokens as instant speed, it will likely kill Siege Rhino in the midgame as a little bonus when you cast World Breaker (or any of your Eldrazi). The question is, will it be a good sweeper in the new format?
The card I'm excited the most about is Warping Wail. I mentioned above that I wished there was a way to get to four mana on turn three (to cast a Explosive Vegetation or a Hedron Archive), but didn't want to run a soft target for Wild Slash. Warping Wail fits that strategy, as you can use it as a ramp boost on turn three. You cast it at the end of your opponent's turn, make an Eldrazi Scion, and sacrifice it on your turn to cast an Explosive Vegetation.
But that's not all Warping Wail does. Its other two modes are also useful. You might not want to try to kill a Monastery Swiftspear against open mana, but the mere fact that you'll have two mana open will make them think about playing a spell to pump it.
I can also see the ramp mirrors turning into a waiting game where one doesn't want to cast Explosive Vegetations in fear of having it countered and giving his opponent the chance to play his.
The real question is, how hard is it to cast? The manabase Sam submitted has 12 lands that produce colorless, which is the minimum to play a "splash". You should be able to cast it fairly often on turn two, but will have no problem casting it later in the game.
I'm not sure about the amount of 7+ drops in the deck, as you may have a lot of wacky draws with lands and only Eldrazi/Ugin, the Spirit Dragon in hand (that you'll have to mulligan). Four World Breaker, two Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, a Kozilek, the Great Distortion, and 3 Ugin, the Spirit Dragon seems a little much, but maybe you do buy enough time with Kozilek's Return and Demonic Pact to get to 7-10 mana in time.
Also, will Kozilek, the Great Distortion be better than Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger at the 10-mana slot? Is having a mix better than having more Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger (thanks to the ability of Sanctum of Ugin to fetch the one you want)? Only time will tell.
So, try these decks at home — I'll try them as soon as I get back from the Pro Tour and I'll give you an update on the matter. Feel free to post comments, suggestions, and changes so we can make these decks as competitive as possible!
Thanks for reading!