With the introduction of M15 to Standard this past weekend the results seem to indicate that the format hasn't changed a great deal. After all, the addition of a core set shouldn't really change the format that much, should it? Of course there are varying opinions and I do think that this format will change more than some, especially with the Pro Tour rolling around.
While there are plenty of cards to brew with, the natural tendency seems to be to continue to pick up the decks that are known quantities. For instance, I would love to see a Sliver deck do well in competitive play, but building the optimal Sliver deck just isn't that easy, so many will shy away from playing the archetype. Yes, there are now plenty of new tools that make Slivers better, but is it good enough to succeed? I have a feeling time will answer that question.
For now it seems that there aren't very many cards that go straight into the top performing archetypes in Standard. Okay, let me revise that statement. There don't seem to be many spells that go into the top decks. Yes, you can argue that there some small changes that can be made, like Sign in Blood in Monoblack Devotion, though I am still unsure this will be a permanent change.
Lands on the other hand are easy inclusions to some of the best decks in the format. Including Urborg, Tomb of Yamgmoth in black decks is obvious. Sure Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth can help a Monoblue Devotion player cast their Nightveil Specter's as well, but I wouldn't be too concerned about that. Personally I recommend just playing one copy, and understand playing two, but I'm not saying it's time to get crazy and play more than that.
I actually think that the Monocolored decks have gotten slightly worse, simply because of the addition of painlands. Okay well Monogreen Devotion did get better, but that deck hadn't been seeing much play until very recently. This Standard format has been all about being able to find a way to get a couple extra percentage points in certain matchups, because of how close in power level many of the decks are. Now some of the two color decks that were already very strong, may have gotten that extra little boost in power they needed.
You can argue that Monoblack Devotion is the best deck in the format based on results, but there are also multiple variations of Black Devotion. Personally, I don't really think there is one best deck right now, so any deck that just gained a painland got at least a little bit better. I know that painlands may not be the most efficient lands available, but hey they certainly influence the format. I want to talk about the painlands individually in terms of the specific decks they may impact the most.
Battlefield Forge: The most obvious deck Battlefield Forge impacts is Boros Burn. While the manabase was pretty solid before, Battlefield Forge is still a nice inclusion. It is particularly nice to no longer have to play Boros Guildgate or even Mana Confluence. Here is a list from this past weekend's StarCity Open, played by Eric Johnson:
I am not going to talk too much about the card choices here, as most people are pretty familiar with the deck. Stoke the Flames is another burn spell that the deck has access to, though it isn't usually cast with convoke, unless there are Young Pyromancer tokens in play. Generally though it is just a worse Warleader's Helix. Besides the fact that Boros Burn got better with the addition of Battlefield Forge, the fact that opponents are taking more damage off their lands, also makes this a better deck choice. I expect burn to continue being a major player in Standard.
Llanowar Wastes: There are certainly a variety of black/green shells in the format, but perhaps the most successful deck is simply black/green Devotion. Cutting guildgates from the deck does make the deck better. Is adding two Llanowar Wastes to slightly upgrade the manabase really a big deal? The answer is that it doesn't change the deck that much, but sometimes making a deck only slightly better is enough. Here is David Reed's list from the StarCity Open:
Besides the upgraded manabase Reed has also opted to add a copy of Liliana Vess to the main. Whether this slot is Vraska the Unseen or Liliana Vess I like playing a fifth five drop. In my experience Liliana Vess is particularly good in the Black Devotion mirror. The only other new addition is a Stain the Mind in the sideboard, which I like as a one of Slaughter Games type of effect.
Caves of Koilos: Perhaps the painland that has had the biggest impact so far is Caves of Koilos. Caves of Koilos allows the black/white manabases to become significantly better. Since there were already black/white decks doing well with cards like Obzedat, Ghost Council in them, upgrading the manabase to these archetypes is a big deal. While there are multiple black/white decks that can make use of Caves of Koilos perhaps the most popular one right now is Orzhov Control. Here is Lloyd Kurth's list from the Top 8 of the Open:
Lloyd has added the full playset of Caves of Koilos to his deck, and I like the move. The main reason I didn't like the deck before was the shaky manabase. Double white cards like Elspeth, Sun's Champion and Obzedat, Ghost Council, can be cast much more reliably. Drawing a Guildgate later in the game, would often delay the deck for an entire turn, and especially when casting Obzedat, Ghost Council losing a life or two isn't a big deal, when you will just immediately gain it back anyway. This deck has played Brimaz, King of Oreskos in the past, and I wouldn't be surprised to see some lists add him back in, because of the addition of Caves of Koilos. Besides the manabase there are not any M15 cards in the deck, but it still has gotten significantly better, and is putting up the results to prove it.
Alright so Battlefield Forge, Llanowar Wastes, and Caves of Koilos go immediately into some of the most popular archetypes in Standard, but what about Yavimaya Coast and Shivan Reef? I will say that these decks don't go into any of the top decks but that doesn't mean they aren't important additions to the format. I expect more blue/red and blue/green based decks to appear, and I will share a couple innovative takes on those color combinations.
Shivan Reef: Okay well yes Storm makes good use of Shivan Reef in Modern, but will Shivan Reef lead to blue/red decks being more successful in Standard? This is where it comes time to brew new archetypes, here is a blue/red Artifact deck posted by Dicewraith:
This deck makes use of one of my favorite M15 cards, Ensoul Artifact. Artifact-based strategies have not been present in Standard since Scars of Mirrodin block rotated out. Now, expect to see more people attempting to take advantage of sticking Ensoul Artifact on Darksteel Citadel or Ornithopter. Having a 5/5 indestructible land by turn three, or a 5/5 flyer by turn two is pretty good.
While this list may not be a finished product I like the idea of where the deck is going, and there are plenty of slots I could see being played around with. Adding red to include Shrapnel Blast is a good idea. I like the idea of having some burn to give the deck some additional reach. This list even has Scuttling Doom Engine in it which can be an 11 damage swing if sacrificed to Shrapnel Blast.
While many may not be aware M15 actually added multiple cards that are quite synergistic in artifact strategies. Yes, this includes Phyrexian Revoker. Phyrexian Revoker sees play in legacy so it can't be too bad right? Shutting down an opposing planeswalker certainly can completely change a board state.
This deck is still a work in progress, but I recommend trying it out, and messing around with the initial artifact shell. Perhaps a more aggressive strategy with Springleaf Drum would prove more effective? The issue is that there aren't a ton of good artifacts in the format, but that doesn't mean there aren't enough to make a deck like this work.
Yavimaya Coast: I would love to see a blue/green deck become a major player in Standard, because of all the sweet and fun cards in the color combination. Here is a brew put together by rickyjcox that I stumbled across. It is called Test Yisan's Team, and I like many of the ideas that are at work, here is the list:
(Deck has since been deleted.)
This is a base blue/green strategy that splashes all the other colors in some way or another. Okay, I admit that being able to cast Chromanticore is optimistic with this manabase, but hey it's just a one-of in the board and you can't really blame someone for trying, right? This deck is not about Chromanticore it is just one of those cards that seems to stand out. In fact the idea here isn't necessarily to need to cast Chromanticore or any of the singleton creatures for that matter.
Yisan, the Wanderer Bard is one of those exciting toolbox creature cards that Standard has been missing for a little while. This card may not be Birthing Pod, but it operates off a very similar type of idea. There are plenty of searchable creatures in the deck, costing one through eight. I will say that this type of deck is very vulnerable to Supreme Verdict, but control decks seem to be losing popularity. There are a bunch of creatures in this deck that see very little play, but that doesn't necessarily mean they aren't good.
So I really like having the ability to search for Reclamation Sage, as I expect that card to make a splash in most green decks. Being able to untap Yisan, the Wanderer Bard with either Kiora's Follower or Prophet of Kruphix, allows for multiple activations each turn. Vorel of the Hull Clade may be a bit unnecessary, but it provides yet another way to add counters to Yisan, the Wanderer Bard. Searching for a big green creature is a sweet feeling, and there are a couple different search options.
Green has multiple good late game creatures. My personal favorite of the bunch here is Hornet Queen, as it provides an immediate game ending effect. The other inclusions are Archetype of Endurance, Hydra Broodmaster, and I would also add Nylea, God of the Hunt to this category. These are cards that can win the game, and are the only creatures at their mana slot. So the deck seems like it could be nice when all the parts are working, but what if they aren't?
There are definitely issues with the deck, but that doesn't mean there isn't room for playing with some of the pieces to try to get them to work. I may be missing something but having Sage of Hours in the list is clearly a mistake, so it seems that the deck is still far from a finished product. The deck also seems to not function the way it wants to without a Yisan, the Wanderer Bard.
I like having access to some sort of removal, which in this case means the two copies of Polymorphist's Jest. I'm not sure I like Swan Song, but the deck does need some way to protect Yisan, the Wanderer Bard. The sideboard adds some more sweet creatures to search for and adds to what this deck is about. Right now the deck still seems like a brew to have fun with and play some of the cards that may not be getting the love they deserve.
In its current form I don't think this deck is ready for serious competitive play but there are ideas revolving around Yisan, the Wanderer Bard that I think are worth exploring. This type of creature toolbox strategy is exciting, and perhaps a card like Chord of Calling could find a home in this sort of archetype?
Thanks for reading,Seth Manfield