Rotation is coming with the release of Throne of Eldraine in a few weeks. Core Set 2019, Ixalan, Rivals of Ixalan and Dominaria will all leave Standard, taking with them huge swaths of archetypes. Most notably, this upheaval will destroy every combo deck in Standard. Scapeshift and Nexus of Fate both rotate, taking with them the archetypes named after these cards. Kethis Combo loses Mox Amber and Diligent Excavator. Teshar Combo was largely outmoded by Kethis Combo, but is hit just as hard with the rotation of Teshar, Ancestor's Apostle.
These strategies have been holding back traditional midrange strategies all year, as most attrition-focused decks are incapable of a stronger late-game than any of these archetypes. If the game went too long, they'd combo you out. There simply wasn't enough proper interaction to combat most of these decks while also surviving the onslaught of Feather, Vampires and Mono-Red. So now that midrange is back on the menu, what flavor of goodies are we getting from Throne of Eldraine?
Those are some excellent threats. Each one has resiliency, immediate value or both. The one exception is Chulane, Teller of Tales, which we've already gotten a chance to play with in the Brawl event this past weekend on Arena.
Anyone who has played with or against Chulane, Teller of Tales has felt just how incredibly powerful it is for someone to untap with this card in play. The triggered ability is incredible for both allowing you to generate resources and to get ahead on mana to redeploy if they ever answer your current boardstate. Chulane pairs very well with mana dorks because they ramp Chulane out ahead of time, give you mana to cast all the cards you're drawing, and are cheap ways to trigger Chulane down the road. Notably, Chulane is also a pretty brutal lock when bouncing and recasting Frilled Mystic every turn.
Korvold, Fae-Cursed King is another legendary creature we were able to test drive in the Brawl event this past week, and it played out much better than I initially expected. A 5/5 flier that draws a card and attacks as a 6/6 while drawing a second card is no joke. Korvold is a quick clock and gives you the ability to absolutely rip through your deck to find what you need to close the game out. However, the rotation of checklands and no incoming cycle of dual lands to replace them means that three colors may be very difficult, especially because Jund only has access to one scry land. Even if Throne of Eldraine Standard is not where Korvold makes his mark, keep an eye on him for future sets.
After seeing Gilded Goose and Oko, Thief of Crowns, many were wondering what the other payoffs for Food would be. Wicked Wolf is an absolutely wicked Food payoff, doing a pretty good Ravenous Chupacabra impression while also managing to look as threatening as Bristling Hydra. Because the activated ability doesn't require you to tap as a cost you can still make it indestructible after attacks, after you've already used the ability, whenever. This makes it very hard to kill the Wolf with traditional removal and allows you to sink Food tokens into Wicked Wolf to remove pretty much any size of creature, and harry your opponent as long as you can keep feeding the Wolf. This card is likely to be the core threat of Food-focused decks and is well worth working to enable.
Garruk, Cursed Huntsman generates a board incredibly quickly, punishes opponents for answering his Wolf tokens, and cleanly removes creatures while netting you a card. Garruk compares favorably to other six-mana removal and token-generating planeswalkers already in the format: Ugin, the Ineffable and Liliana, Dreadhorde General.
The selection or split of these in the top end of midrange decks will largely depend on the context of the format. If the metagame demands you answer permanents beyond creatures, Ugin is your strongest option. If opponents are deploying multiple larger threats and can't answer planeswalkers very well, Liliana can keep opposing boards in check, draw cards, and build toward a game-ending ultimate. If the format is quite adept at answering your planeswalker and you want the most up-front bang for your buck, Garruk gives you that burst value while still representing a lot of inevitability. How can players answer expensive, high-value planeswalkers in Throne of Eldraine?
Now this is a card that this planeswalker-infested Standard really needed. Swift End, the adventure part of this card, is an instant-speed answer to planeswalkers that can trade at parity or even at a mana advantage. While "Hero's Downfall that costs 2 life" may not sound like the most exciting card, this is a much cheaper answer than was previously available in the format. Removing both planeswalkers and creatures previously cost four mana or more with the exception of Deputy of Detention and Prison Realm, both of which are incredibly temporary, and Assassin's Trophy, which gave your opponent a card back in the form of a land. Not only is Swift End a permanent, instant-speed answer to opposing threats, it also comes with an extra body you can cast later: Murderous Rider. You can even just cast Murderous Rider instead of Swift End in matchups where three mana and 2 life is too expensive for removal and a lifelinking blocker is more important.
This card is incredibly flexible and has a lot of built-in value. The only downside is that the "dies" clause stops you from recurring it with Find // Finality or Golgari Findbroker, which is something a midrange deck would otherwise be very interested in doing.
So what will one of these midrange decks look like? While we don't yet have all the cards, here is where I would start for a Sultai midrange build:
Once Upon a Time is an incredible card selection spell that can fix your mana, grab removal in Murderous Rider // Swift End or Wicked Wolf, or grab card advantage in Hydroid Krasis and Golgari Findbroker. The "free mode" on it also allows you to set up Gilded Goose with pretty unreal consistency, helping you reliably jump ahead on curve. Oko, Thief of Crowns is a very early planeswalker with the ability to generate food, upgrade your creatures or food tokens into 3/3s or turn opposing threats into less threatening Elk. Oko also threatens to steal an opposing creature the turn after he comes down, which is a dominating position to be in against opposing creature decks, especially if Oko comes down on turn two.
This list is well positioned to fight other midrange decks, and the food focus can buy you the time you need against aggressive strategies. Yarok, the Desecrated may seem like a strange inclusion with not a lot of enters-the-battlefield creatures, but Yarok has a sturdy, lifelinking body that survives Find // Finality and allows you to go over the top of people when looping Golgari Findbroker and Find // Finality. It's very possible that this style of build wants Liliana, Dreadhorde General instead of Garruk, Cursed Huntsman but with the advent of Murderous Rider // Swift End I'm starting with Garruk's more immediate impact and adjusting as necessary.
Throne of Eldraine looks incredibly powerful so far and I'm excited to get back into some old-fashioned midrange slugfests in Standard. We've got another week and a half of previews to go, but I'm already looking forward to having the full set in my hands to begin building for this new format and digging into what the metagame will have to offer.
Adam "yoman5" Hernandez is a streamer, brewer and competitive player with a keen sense for what makes a deck tick. He writes about changes in the Standard metagame and the art of deckbuilding.
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