Bant Company, which sat alongside Four-Color Rally at the top of the Standard metagame totem pole before Shadows over Innistrad, has persisted through rotation to win the first large event with the new cards in play.
It was no secret that Collected Company, the lynchpin to the Bant Company and Four-Color Rally decks, would be among the finest cards of the new format. The bigger surprise is that a three-color deck found immediate success. The loss of fetchlands gutted the typical manabases that defined the format, so popular wisdom dictated that the three-color wedge world of Khans of Tarkir was over, and that two-color and even one-color decks would be the new norm.
The shift away from the polychrome Khans of Tarkir to a monochrome world will not be immediate. It's true that playing three colors is more difficult now than it was before, but the tools exist to create functional three-color manabases in Standard.
Why play three colors? No one would make their deck slower and less consistent for no reason. Multicolor cards are, by design, the most powerful and efficient cards in the game. They include some of the best cards in Standard, so they will continue to entice players into stretching their manabases to include them. Playing an additional color also means greater access to cards, so it opens up an exponential amount of new synergies and interactions, as well as additional sideboard options.
Standard is never easy, and just as things start to look clear, the metagame throws a curveball. There is still a lot to be learned, and many cards are yet to be explored. It's clear that we are just scratching the surface of what Shadows over Innistrad means for Standard. Today I will explore the top eight Shadows over Innistrad cards that are still being slept on in Standard. These cards are better than they are being given credit for, and that have the potential to do a lot more than they have already done.
Tireless Tracker isn't a secret anymore, but it's still underrepresented relative to how good it is. A creature that says "whenever a land enters the battlefield under your control, draw a card" would be one of the best abilities ever printed on a creature. Playing one land a turn means it would be a lot like Dark Confidant, only without the life loss, and things like fetchlands or land ramp would make it broken. Investigating a Clue token into play is certainly not as good as drawing a card, but it's generating a tangible source of value that can be cashed in for a card later on. It's an investment into the future, and when you're out of action and running on steam they provide that extra Jolt of energy you need to take a game home. The fact that Tireless Tracker can grow larger for each sacrificed Clue means it scales up throughout the course of the game to become increasingly threatening, so it's a great offensive tool as well a source of value.
It hasn't taken long for Tireless Tracker to make an impact, but this is just the beginning. It's one of the best creatures in Standard to find with Collected Company, but it has applications in all sorts of green decks and will be a staple until it rotates out of Standard. An Abzan deck has been successful in Magic-League events, and it uses Tireless Tracker as its primary card advantage engine:
I want to mention that Tireless Tracker is an attractive alternative to Deathmist Raptor and Den Protector in the role of value-generating creature. Declaration in Stone is now the best creature removal spell in Standard, and can be found in the majority of decks, so that makes things very awkward for Deathmist Raptor. Stasis Snare and Silkwrap support Declaration in Stone, Anguished Unmaking sees play in every deck that can cast it, and Reflector Mage is the best creature in Standard, so there are many factors working against Deathmist Raptor, and a lot of reason to store value in Clue tokens that removal spells can't touch.
Everyone was excited about Nahiri, the Harbinger when she was first revealed, but their enthusiasm waned as more flashy planeswalkers were spoiled. Nahiri, the Harbinger has been the most confounding of all the planeswalkers, mostly because its -2 ability is so narrow and situational. As it turns out, that's the wrong ability to focus on. The +2 ability is the bread and butter of Nahiri, the Harbinger, and it may very well be the finest madness enabler in Standard. Typical creature madness enablers like Ravenous Bloodsucker, Heir of Falkenrath, and Jace, Vryn's Prodigy are all more vulnerable than Nahiri, the Harbinger. It's a tough pill to swallow, because madness cards aren't efficient on their own, and it's bad to be stuck up a river without a paddle. Nahiri, the Harbinger offers a madness outlet that isn't susceptible to creature removal, and it can be used every turn.
Nahiri, the Harbinger is a solid base to build a Standard madness deck on, like this Jeskai Control deck that has found success in Magic-League events:
A key component of this deck is Avacyn's Judgment.
Twin Bolt saw minor play in Standard sideboards, but it's not efficient enough for constructed play. It's best for destroying two one-toughness creatures, but it does trade with a two-toughness creature. Avacyn's Judgment is Twin Bolt with nothing but upside, and that makes it a very exciting card in a deck with madness enablers. The madness ability is a more efficient Rolling Thunder, so it's great for picking apart the opponent's team, and it's an effective game-ender aimed at the opponent's head.
I want to compare Avacyn's Judgment to Bonfire of the Damned, which was once a Standard staple, but Avacyn's Judgment has significantly less upside and requires an enabler to make work. On the other hand, it has a higher floor by being more efficient in the early game, and it offers more timing flexibility.
We must judge cards in context, and Avacyn's Judgment is attractive because the format is littered with small creatures. White aggressive decks are now the most popular in Standard, and they are the perfect target. Early in the game, Avacyn's Judgment will contain their aggressive starts. As the game plays on, subsequent Avacyn's Judgment can be madnessed for increasingly large amounts, and they have the potential to sweep their entire board.
New battlefield sweepers are always the subject of attention, and for good reason. Destroying multiple opposing creatures for the price of one card is a way to get ahead on cards and mana, so sweepers are an important tool in the arsenal of control decks. At six mana, Descend upon the Sinful has been dismissed as too slow or inefficient compared to the usual sweepers, but Magic sets have a history of including sweepers that are tailored for that period of time, so we'd be wise to pay attention. Exiling all creatures is much more powerful than simply destroying them. Graveyards matter, and more importantly, Archangel Avacyn threatens to make creatures indestructible, which would counter the typical Wrath of God effect.
With delirium, Descend upon the Sinful is a huge tempo swing that is easily worth the six mana spent. It helps a control deck establish a blocking presence or end the game, so it supports other win conditions. The fact that Descend upon the Sinful can be cashed in for a 4/4 token even when there are no creatures to destroy means it will rarely be useless.
Descend upon the Sinful looks especially attractive in decks with Jace, Vryn's Prodigy, which threatens to cast Descend upon the Sinful from the graveyard. This control deck from a Japanese PPTQ has a variety of spell types to support delirium, and a set of Jace, Vryn's Prodigy to fill the graveyard.
This deck includes Epiphany at the Drownyard, which is a great way to enable delirium towards Descend upon the Sinful.
Drownyard Temple is an exciting way to gain value from the graveyard. It's great in decks with graveyard-enablers, including madness and delirium decks, which can unlock its activated ability. Playing a land from the graveyard is card advantage, and thus a way to make the most of discard outlets or self-mill abilities. The fact that it ramps mana by putting an extra land into play breaks the fundamental rules of one land a turn, so it's an exceptional tool in mana-hungry midrange decks.
Todd Anderson takes full advantage of Drownyard Temple in his U/R Madness deck.
This Jund deck showcases another way to use Drownyard Temple, as fuel for The Gitrog Monster!
Large flying creatures don't usually come cheap, so the 4 / 5 flying, trampling body of Mindwrack Demon is a bargain at four mana. The downside of losing four life a turn can be significant, but there is considerable value in Mindwrack Demon's ability to mill four cards. In an environment where the graveyard can be a source of value, digging four cards into the deck is an excellent effect if properly leveraged. There are plenty of things to do with milled cards, like helping to flip Jace, Vryn's Prodigy, or digging for cards to play with Goblin Dark-Dwellers or return with Kolaghan's Command, but their best use is to work towards delirium, which turns off Mindwrack Demon's downside and supports cards like To the Slaughter.
A few weeks ago I shared decks designed to take advantage of Eerie Interlude. Essence Flux, the new blue version of Cloudshift, offers similar utility, but more efficiently and on a smaller scale. Standard is loaded with creatures with excellent enters-the-battlefield abilities that beg to be reused. W/U Human decks in particular have lots of great targets, most importantly Reflector Mage, but Thalia's Lieutenant, Knight of the White Orchid, and even Archangel Avacyn are also ripe to be blinked.
Essence Flux is also useful for countering creature removal spells, and it will be especially useful for countering Declaration in Stone and preventing it from hitting two creatures. It's easier to hold up one mana than three, and what Essence Flux gives up in power over Eerie Interlude it makes up for in practical application.
A Japanese PPTQ featured a W/U Humans deck with two maindeck copies:
Cryptolith Rite is one of the impressive mana engines ever printed. It doesn't do anything on its own, but turning each other creature into a source of mana has the potential to generate a massive amount of it very quickly. A deck designed to utilize Cryptolith Rite could rush into play any of the most powerful cards in Standard.
One way to use Cryptolith Rite is to combine it with token generators.
Playing Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger as early as turn four is no joke, and it's one of the reasons why Cryptolith Rite is not something that can be ignored. This deck is just one attempt at making the most of Cryptolith Rite, and it will only become more effective as more deckbuilders tackle the puzzle.
The Standard rotation opened up a ton of space in the metagame, and Shadows over Innistrad has provided us with a wealth of new tools. The only thing holding us back is our creativity. What Shadows over Innistrad cards are players still sleeping on?