Fate Reforged is upon us! The set has been fully spoiled, and the prerelease is coming this weekend. Fate Reforged will be Standard legal on Friday, the 23rd, at which point the format is due for a shakeup, because Fate Reforged contains some very powerful cards destined for constructed play. Rather than spawn brand new archetypes, most of these playable cards will fit into existing archetypes. Some cards will strengthen the core strategy of an archetype, while others may add another dimension to a deck. Some tier-two archetypes may be invigorated and gain a more stable footing in the metagame, while other archetypes may struggle to overcome new challenges. Today I will explore the most popular Standard archetypes, identify what Fate Reforged has to offer them, and share how competitive decklists may look come February and beyond.Abzan Aggro
Abzan Aggro currently sits as the most commonly played deck in Standard, and it has a lot of recent success to its name to back up the popularity. Lately the deck has begun to polarize itself into opposite ends of the midrange spectrum. Matt Sperling made it to the finals of GP: Denver with an aggressive version playing four Heir of the Wilds in the maindeck, while Brian Braun-Duin won a PTQ playing a more controlling version with maindeck Elspeth, Sun's Champion. These choices have a rippling impact throughout the rest of the decklists; for example, Sperling used four Abzan Charm and even a Herald of Torment to supplement his aggressive package, while Braun-Duin played an extra land and a sideboard that included Courser of Kruphix and even a Duneblast to push him further into the control role. I expect this polarization of the archetype to continue with the introduction of Fate Reforged, particularly pushing the deck towards the aggressive side.
Warden of the First Tree has caught a lot of attention lately, and it's a natural fit into Abzan Aggro, an archetype that can support the card's intense color requirements. Warden of the First Tree's inclusion will push the archetype further into the aggressive role, and it makes this aggressive role a more desirable place to be.
The archetype currently lacks a reliably useful one-drop because options like Soldier of the Pantheon and Bloodsoaked Champion quickly lose their value beyond the early turns, so they just don't have enough impact on the game. Warden of the First Tree is a reasonable card in the early turns, but it maintains its value through the game with its ability to grow into a large threat. In this sense it's very similar to the two-drop creatures like Fleecemane Lion and Rakshasa Deathdealer, which are aggressive early creatures that actually grow in value as the game develops. Better yet, unlike Figure of Destiny, the final ability on Warden of the First Tree can be used any number of times, meaning it can theoretically grow infinitely large.
Warden of the First Tree is not very mana efficient, requiring an investment of three mana before it provides a reasonable board presence, but what it does offer is a reliable mana-sink at various points on the curve. It can be slipped into play on turn one, alongside a tapped land on turn one, or next to a two-drop on turn three. Its leveling abilities can take advantage of any extra mana at any point in the game, so in this sense it is actually mana efficient. The card will help Abzan Aggro convert its resources into a board presence and further pressure its opponents throughout the game.
Valorous Stance has applications in Abzan Aggro, which can put both sides of the card to use. Making a creature indestructible has a lot of value again removal spells and in combat, but it's a bit narrow, which is why the archetype doesn't already typically play cards like God's Willing or Ajani's Presence. The second ability, in this case a removal spell for large creatures, is quite efficient from a tempo standpoint, since the target will almost necessarily cost more than two mana. It's quite practical in this Standard format, where targets include Courser of Kruphix, Siege Rhino, Butcher of the Horde, and even large Heroic creatures.
Abzan Aggro is always in the market for removal spells, which it plays in spades, because they are necessary to clear the way for its offense and to halt the opponent. The indestructible ability on Valorous Stance would be quite relevant in many situations, particularly when playing against controlling opponents where the removal spell is ineffective. These two abilities combine to make Valorous Stance a slam-dunk in an aggressive deck like Abzan Aggro, and I expect it will be worth of some number of maindeck and sideboard slots going forward.
A list post-Fate Reforged looks something like:
Fate Reforged doesn't seem to have any cards that would push Abzan Aggro towards the controlling role, but rather the shift towards aggression may push the more controlling Abzan Aggro players fully into the midrange camp. Abzan Midrange may move farther into the control role, perhaps even utilizing Ugin, the Spirit Dragon.UW Heroic
Tom Ross developed UW Heroic as a highly synergistic aggressive option with which he could attack the format, but his success brought the archetype much attention, and it quickly took on a life of its own and rose to the top-tier of the format. Recently I have read a lot of negative comments about the archetype, like that it's only effective against weaker players, and that it's easy to beat once you know what you are doing. While there are some truths to those statements, the reality is that it's a solid, focused deck that has repeatedly proven itself. Fate Reforged has provided the archetype with some very valuable new tools, so UW Heroic simply isn't going anywhere anytime soon.
Valorous Stance is the perfect addition to this archetype, which already dedicates maindeck slots to pseudo-counterspells for removal. Valorous Stance is a great replacement for some number of the narrower Ajani's Presence and Gods Willing. While it is less efficient than those cards because it costs an additional mana, the extra utility simply cannot be ignored. Numerous wise Standard minds have said that the best way to beat UW Heroic is to develop one's board presence and pressure the opponent, and Valorous Stance gives the Heroic deck some much needed creature removal that doesn't require dedicating slots to cards that don't fit the primary strategy.
Another great option for UW Heroic is Monastery Mentor. This card may seem like it doesn't fit the main plan of building a huge threat and protecting it, but that's exactly why it's so good. Monastery Mentor allows the deck to go wide with a large team of token threats, as opposed to leaning on one large one. Opponents that load up on targeted removal may find themselves at the mercy of a token army that's effectively immune to this sort of interaction. This also relieves some of the pressure on protection cards like Gods Willing. Adding another dimension to the archetype makes it a doubly threatening opponent.
Monastery Mentor doesn't require the deck to make any major fundamental changes because it's such a natural fit into the shell. Supporting the Heroic creatures are a huge suite of noncreature spells that will also trigger Monastery Mentor, and in fact they will trigger Monastery Mentor all the while triggering a heroic creature! Cards like Defiant Strike and Stratus Walk are a natural fit with Monastery Mentor in any shell. UW Heroic also comes with multiple ways to protect Monastery Mentor right in the maindeck, which makes it difficult to Remove and a game-winning plan without the help of Heroic creatures.
Here's how a post-Fate Reforged UW Heroic deck might look:
Jeskai Tokens has a lot to gain from Fate Reforged. First and foremost Monastery Mentor is a token-generator, so what better deck for it than a tokens deck? Hordeling Outburst and Raise the Alarm trigger Monastery Mentor and its Prowess tokens, as do the burn spells like Stoke the Flames and Lightning Strike, as does even Jeskai Ascendancy. Monastery Mentor could very well replace Goblin Rabblemaster, which can be unreliable and even slow. Monastery Mentor provides its controller with considerably more control, but also speed and power. Monastery Mentor could also be played alongside Goblin Rabblemaster as another must-answer three-drop threat that will leave a trail of board presence behind if eventually dealt with.
Valorous Stance also has a place in Jeskai Tokens. It's excellent for protecting important creatures, particularly Monastery Mentor, Goblin Rabblemaster, Mantis Rider, or Seeker of the Way. In this archetype it may be a removal spell first and foremost, because it deals with Siege Rhino, a card that previously gave the archetype fits.
Soulfire Grand Master is mana intensive, but it might be great in Jeskai Tokens because it combines so well with Stoke the Flames, which can be cast for free, and Treasure Cruise, which can be cast for just one mana. Copying either of these will generate a huge advantage.
Here's a sample list:
Mardu debuted at the Pro Tour as a creatureless control deck, then rose to popularity as a tempo deck. It may reinvent itself yet again, because it has gained a ton of potential new tools from Fate Reforged.
Mardu Midrange could go in a number of different directions. One option is to go toward a more token-centric strategy that utilizes Monastery Mentor, which is excellent with the deck's extensive removal suite. Brutal Hordechief could supplement this route with its lifedrain ability, while Outpost Siege could provide much-needed card advantage or a Boggart Shenanigans effect for extra damage.
Mardu could move towards an aggressive fliers route with Flamewake Phoenix. The deck already plays Butcher of the Horde, and often Stormbreath Dragon and/or Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker, all which will trigger the Ferocious ability. Ashcloud Phoenix provides extra redundancy and value from the graveyard and allow it to exhaust the attrition of any opponent.
I recommend checking out Craig Wescoe's article from last week for his Mardu Skies decklist!Abzan Reanimator
Whip of Erebos strategies have been among the top Standard strategies for nearly all of its history with Khans of Tarkir, a natural reaction to a midrange format susceptible to nearly endless value from the graveyard and the tempo of Murderous Cut. Tempo and value from the graveyard are combined into one package in the form of Tasigur, the Golden Fang, which looks to be a natural fit into Whip of Erebos strategies.
Tasigur, the Golden Fang gives the archetype a proactive way to utilize delve. It's primarily a sizable piece of board presence that holds up well against the format, especially Siege Rhino and Stoke the Flames, but it's also a must-answer card advantage engine that, given enough time, will take over the game with its activated ability.
Tasigur, the Golden Fang is particularly gruesome with Satyr Wayfinder and Commune with the Gods, both of which all but guarantee it can be cast on turn three. It can slot right into any of the various Whip of Erebos strategies, which can easily activate the ability with Green mana. Tasigur, the Golden Fang is also a graveyard enabler in a sense, since it will slowly but surely fill the graveyard with Delve fuel and reanimation targets.
Here's Martin Juza's Grand Prix Manila Top 8 list adapted to include the new legend:
UB Control has filled the role of true control deck in this midrange format, but it has been an uphill struggle that has garnered little widespread support and success. Control decks like this one are best when the metagame is settled and predictable, which is perhaps why the deck has found its greatest successes only recently, which includes its win at Grand Prix Denver and at least a handful of PTQ wins, including wins at both PTQs in the Ohio Valley the weekend before last.
UB Control gets some true gifts from Fate Reforged, most importantly a true board sweeper in Crux of Fate. The ability to cleanly destroy every creature in play is valuable against essentially every Standard opponent imaginable, from Boss Sligh all the way to Narset Control, and it's a boon to the archetype. Previously, perhaps the best way to beat UB was to Overload the board with impunity, attempting to overwhelm their targeted removal package, but Crux of Fate means that the archetype is no longer easy to play against.
Because one sweeper wasn't enough, Ugin, the Spirit Dragon provides UB control with a great equalizer that deals with creatures, planeswalkers, and enchantments alike. Between the lack of permanents, the necessity for a sweeper, and the high land count, UB Control takes advantage of this card in a way that puts other archetypes attempts at doing so to shame.
Here's how the list might look:
Fate Reforged is filled with excellent cards sure to make their mark in Standard. Now is a great time for brewing brand new decks, but it's also important to update existing archetypes, as these decks will be the benchmark against which all new brews are measured.
What new Fate Reforged cards do you think fit into existing archetypes? What did I miss? Are there any decks below the radar that got a big boost from Fate Reforged? Share your thoughts in the comments!
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