As I am writing this, approximately a third of the cards in Shadows over Innistrad have been revealed. Combined with the full knowledge we have of four out of the five sets that will be Standard-legal (Dragons of Tarkir, Magic Origins, Battle for Zendikar, and Oath of the Gatewatch), this means we currently have knowledge of roughly 85% of the total card pool that will be legal post-rotation. The big game-changer that has yet to be revealed is what the rare land cycle will look like, assuming there even is a rare land cycle. Nevertheless, despite incomplete knowledge of the format, there is enough new information to get down to business and to start brewing with all the sweet new cards that have been added to the format.
Let's start things off with a little ice breaker…
Prowess decks, whether Izzet or Grixis, have gained a lot of popularity. They attack underneath ramp, have access to countermagic against Rally, and Slip Through Space doges chump blockers. Fortunately, Rally the Ancestors is rotating out of Standard. Unfortunately, Thing in Ice might make the prowess deck the new deck to beat.
The primary game plan of the deck is still the same: you play a prowess creature, then cast a bunch of cheap spells and slam your creature into combat as a 10-power unblockable monster, then do the same thing again next turn. While the deck loses Monastery Swiftspear, it gains a formidable replacement with Thing in the Ice. Thing in the Ice not only gives the deck a seven-power monster for just two mana, but it also wipes the opponent's board in the process. Opposing removal spells will be heavily taxed now that they have to kill all our prowess creatures while also trying to save removal for Thing in the Ice. Did I mention the deck also runs Jace, Vryn's Prodigy? Yeah, you might also need a removal spell for him too.
Jori En, Ruin Diver is the deck's Plan C. If the prowess creatures didn't get there and the kraken died before it was freed from the ice, the deck needs to find more prowess creatures and more krakens. That's what Jori En, Ruin Diver is for. Jace, Vryn's Prodigy can also play this role by flashing back card draw spells, but most of the card draw in the deck is cyclers while Jori En, Ruin Diver gains card advantage instead of just velocity.
Plan D is to start bashing with Wandering Fumarole. The only matchup where it will come to this is against heavy removal decks, and that's really the only place you want a creature-land anyway. Really the creature-land is here to mana-fix, but sometimes it will come to life and pick a fight, like a drunkard at the bar with nothing better to do decides to throw down just because.
Since the deck is based around cycling through its cards at a fast pace in order to trigger prowess and/or release the frozen kraken, it cannot afford to get slowed down by counters and removal unless it knows for sure that such spells have a necessary target. That's why most of them begin on the bench and only come in during the fourth quarter after Steph Curry dropped 11 three-pointers on the Jazz and we're up by 20. Also if the opponent has creatures and disruptive spells we need to stop. Rise from the Tides is an alternate win condition we can bring in if we feel like it. Sometimes the kraken needs a rest and a sea of zombies will hold down the fort in its place.
Cards to consider:
If the 90's hit "Ice, Ice, Baby" isn't your style, let's move up a few more years to Smashing Pumpkins' 1995 chart-topper.
The world is a vampire…
Once upon a time, many years ago, Vampire Lacerator into Kalastria Highborn into Gatekeeper of Malakir was among the most annoying openings you could face in Standard. This was even at a time when Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Stoneforge Mystic were legal! Timely Reinforcements was finally the dagger that laid the bloodsucking tribe to rest, but guess what? Timely Reinforcements is long gone. Guess what else? Olivia is back and she's ready to fight! And she brought Drana and Kalitas to fight alongside her!
Falkenrath Gorger is the first-turn play and grants madness to all our vampires, which works great with Olivia's ability to grant creatures haste. Indulgent Aristocrat works especially well with Carrier Thrall but can really work with any creature. Drana, Liberator of Malakir and Olivia, Mobilized for War will make our vampire tribe hit hard and fast. Olivia, Mobilized for War into a hasty Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet or Pia and Kiran Nalaar will put any opponent on the backfoot. Pia and Kiran Nalaar is not a vampire but is synergistic with the rest of the deck anyway. You can discard three cards to make Pia and Kiran Nalaar and the thopters into seven power worth of haste, attacking alongside Olivia, Mobilized for War on the fourth turn for a total of 10 damage! You don't have to, but the option is there.
Fiery Temper is ideal to discard to Olivia, Mobilized for War since you can turn it into Lightning Bolt for its madness cost. That's quite the feat that the vampire tribe brought Lightning Bolt back too, just like they had in their former run in Standard. There is no sign of Viscera Seer yet, but Indulgent Aristocrat looks good enough to earn a spot in the deck. It works especially well with Act of Treason, which happens to simply be a really good card right now with all the Eldrazi and ramp decks. It looks like they are really pushing the vampire tribe hard in this set, so I would count on this archetype being Tier 1 or at least Tier 2. Olivia, Mobilized for War is the centerpiece.
Cards to consider:
Rally the Ancestors is rotating out of Standard, as are the fetch lands. This means Reflector Mage is going to have to find a new home. Bant Company might survive, though its mana base will be much worse, barring a rare land cycle in Shadows over Innistrad that makes it work. For now, it looks like we are left with Yavimaya Coast, Lumbering Falls, and some number of Evolving Wilds, Prairie Streams, and Canopy Vistas. That's a lot of tapped lands for a tempo deck or a lot of shaky mana for a three-color deck if you choose to skimp on tapped lands. So for now we will assume two-color decks are making a return, at which point only Azorius gets to play with what many have been calling the defining card of the format – Reflector Mage. Here's where I'm beginning:
This deck takes advantage of the tempo swing Reflector Mage generates and capitalizes on it by following up with powerful planeswalkers that can play offense or defense. Gideon, Ally of Zendikar can come down the turn after Reflector Mage to start mounting an army. Then the opponent replays the creature that was bounced with the mage only to have it bounced by Jace, Unraveler of Secrets the following turn. Then guess what? You're getting attacked by a 2/3 Reflector Mage, a 2/2 Ally Knight, and a 5/5 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and you have nothing to show for your efforts other than a creature in hand that can't seem to stay on the battlefield.
I went the direction of heavy tokens as the complementary theme for this build, but you can go in a few alternate directions instead if you so choose. You can play counterspells main and/or larger creatures such as Archangel Avacyn. You can also play Archangel of Tithes or Dragonlord Ojutai. The token theme naturally has more synergy with the emblem ability on Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, but instead of running Whirler Rogue and Eldrazi Skyspawner you can run Jhessian Thief and more copies of Jace, Unraveler of Secrets. I also went with Icefall Regent over Dragonlord Ojutai because it presses the tempo theme even further. You bounce their creature with Reflector Mage, then Stasis Snare their next threat. Then use Jace, Unraveler of Secrets or Icefall Regent to tap down the original threat when they recast it. Which dragon approach is better will entirely depend on the metagame. It's also possible that Eldrazi Displacer can manage to find its way into the deck. That card works great with Reflector Mage, any of the token makers, or Icefall Regent. Stretching the mana doesn't seem worth it, though it's worth keeping in mind.
Cards to consider:
Jace, Unraveler of Secrets, Olivia, Mobilized for War, and Thing in the Ice are three of the strongest cards previewed thus far and so that's where I wanted to kick things off with this week. Looking forward, the biggest game changer will be what lands are printed in Shadows over Innistrad. We don't yet know what they'll be, but I'm hoping for something that incentivizes two-color decks. I've had about enough of these Jeskai Black, Mardu Green, Temur Purple, or whatever the cool kids are calling their decks these days. I'm ready for a return to good old-fashioned archetypes with honest mana bases. Hopefully we can do slightly better than Evolving Wilds, but I suppose I'll take whatever they give me. I'm excited to return to Innistrad. Hopefully we get some sweet green and white humans soon and maybe some flashback – I can't wait!