As prerelease weekend approaches I already have been fully immersed in brewing and preparing for the next Standard format. A LOT will change. It is time to share the information I have learned so far, and what to expect in this new format. Since the Pro Tour is coming up I have been playing a ton of Magic, and share the same sentiment as much of the community: it is time for a big change!
The most significant shift from current Standard to Shadows over Innistrad Standard has to do with manabases. The loss of fetchlands in exchange for Shadow lands means there is no longer a way to build a manabase that contains more than three colors while remaining consistent. I'm sure that players will attempt to build four-color decks, but it will be difficult, as the best fetchland in Standard will be Evolving Wilds. We also lose Khans of Tarkir, meaning there are fewer incentives to play many colors.
Considering that many of the best decks in Standard right now are four-color decks, there will be plenty of room for new archetypes to flourish. The decks that I would want to try any new brew against are the decks that will transition nicely from the current format and won't require many cards from Shadows over Innistrad. Let's start by talking about the decks that will be the most popular strategies, at least in the first few weeks, of Shadows over Innistrad Standard.
Eldrazi will be running rampant in Shadows over Innistrad Standard, and currently mono-red Eldrazi is one of the most popular iterations of Eldrazi. I expect mono-black and mono-blue Eldrazi to be players in the format, as well as other Eldrazi-based decks, but mono-red Eldrazi is the real boogeyman at the moment. I don't think mono-blue Eldrazi will be as popular because it loses Ghostfire Blade, one of the key pieces of the deck. Mono-black Eldrazi could end up being a major player, and a lot of that will have to do with how well-positioned Bearer of Silence is. If tokens are popular then Bearer of Silence gets worse. Since mono-red Eldrazi loses very little from the Standard rotation, and has proven to be a very good deck in general, that is the deck I expect to be the most popular Eldrazi deck. Here is the maindeck of Kent Ketter's version of Red Eldrazi:
Shadows over Innistrad Standard is geared towards playing very few colors, so a deck that wants only one color will be well-positioned. The Eldrazi decks want to be mono-colored in order to take advantage of colorless lands. In a way, colorless is a second color since you do absolutely need both colorless and red mana.
I don't expect the creature package to change much. Adding another copy of Pia and Kiran Nalaar or Thought-Knot Seer is about the only change I could see with the creature-base. As far as the removal spells there aren't that many slots dedicated to them.
Roast and Spatial Contortion are really strong for what this deck wants to be doing at two mana. One will be better than the other depending on how the metagame breaks, but expect to see a mix early on in Shadows over Innistrad Standard. As far as Chandra, Flamecaller, this is a format-defining card, which clearly fits right into this strategy. The card looks like it will be a formta defining planeswalker, and this deck already is playing the full four copies. As far as the manabase goes there is some room for maneuvering, as the colorless lands are not set in stone. Moving forward I would expect the colorless manabase to change a bit, but the six painlands are pretty much a necessary evil.
While Ramp has lost a couple powerful cards in Rattleclaw Mystic, and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, there are ways to Remedy these losses. There are other mana ramp options in the form of two-drop creatures, and there is a new one in Deathcap Cultivator. Hedron Crawler is another option to help turn on Thought-Knot Seer. The ability to morph Rattleclaw Mystic and the fact it produces red mana is definitely a loss to the deck though.
Ugin, the Spirit Dragon was one of the cornerstones to the ramp deck, but Chandra, Flamecaller was already a card in ramp, and adding more copies seems reasonable. The idea is that there are other big mana plays that can be substituted for Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. Here is a baseline ramp deck:
Thought-Knot Seer makes a lot of sense, especially since with four copies of Hedron Crawler. Oath of Nissa could be a four-of in the deck, but I prefer two. It doesn't automatically come down on turn one, especially since you will keep most hands with Game Trail and no basic lands. Dragonlord Atarka and Chandra, the Flamecaller are the reasons to play red, as they give the deck enough win conditions to make all the ramp worth it. While it is true that casting Chandra, Flamecaller is more difficult without Rattleclaw Mystic, Game Trail does help cast Chandra, Flamecaller. It's a tradeoff.
Ramp is a deck that many players enjoy playing with, and it is well-positioned. Splashing a different color or going straight mono-green could be viable, but this is what I expect the most popular version of ramp will look like.
Kozilek's Return is a card that you can maindeck, like in this list, or you can have access to it out of the sideboard. This deck doesn't need to sideboard in a lot of cards very often, and having a Pyroclasm-type effect is nice against any aggro deck and will be reasonable against most decks in the format because of its lategame utility.
Ramp and Eldrazi carry over well after rotation and there are other archetypes which need a bit of work in order to successfully adapt. Collected Company is a card that has been proven to be powerful — the question becomes how does it translate now that the cheap creatures it can find have significantly changed? The duo of Den Protector and Deathmist Raptor is still around, and is known to go well with Collected Company. Here is a version of Bant Company:
This deck has many similarities to the current version of Bant Company, but upon closer inspection there are some significant differences. There aren't any Eldrazi Skyspawners in this list. With Wingmate Roc gone the value of Eldrazi Skyspawner goes down, and at the same time there are new creatures that may be better.
Bygone Bishop gives the deck lategame reach and is a solid body on its own. Since the deck is full of cheap spells, mana sinks for later in the game are certainly important. The other creature that isn't typically found in Bant Company is Hidden Dragonslayer. Hidden Dragonslayer is great against the big creature decks of the format, which are some of the most popular decks.
Declaration in Stone is a nice piece of removal that can be returned with Den Protector as another way to deal with huge creatures or armies of tokens. I don't expect this to be a four-of in most decks since it does give the opponent some card advantage, but it should be a solid role-player in many white decks.
The biggest difference between the Shadows over Innistrad list and the Bant Company deck we have become so accustomed to is the mana. Playing three or more colors isn't going to be easy in Shadows over Innistrad Standard. The deck does have six Plains, which help turn on the Shadow lands. Whichever way the mana is sliced it won't look pretty, but this configuration has been effective. There are no Prairie Stream or Canopy Vista, though there are other ways the manabase could be built to incorporate them. The key is not having too many lands come into play tapped, and that isn't easy to pull off. Three-color decks are going to have a tough time, and it could be that decks like this will opt to cut down to two colors moving forward.
It looks like there are going to be a variety of midrange strategies once again, but it is still unclear how many aggressive strategies are viable. I won't go too far into detail here since I already stated in my column last week what I think the most popular aggressive color combination will be. Black/red has a number of tools at its disposal, and I would look for a combination of vampires and madness cards to become the new flavor of aggression. Here is the list I have been advocating:
With Dragons of Tarkir staying Standard-legal, there should be a variety of powerful dragon decks. B/R Dragons retains a lot of its appeal, and while Jeskai Dragons and Esper Dragons still have plenty of tools, they do suffer from being three-color decks. Many blue-based dragon strategies catch splash damage from the loss of Dig Through Time. Here is a W/U Dragons list I have been working on that's has been performing well:
This is not a pure dragon deck, but Knight of the White Orchid plays nicely alongside ramping out a big five-mana dragon. The mana is still a bit weird with both Silumgar's Scorn and Knight of the White Orchid side-by-side, but that's why there are four Evolving Wilds and only one Haven of the Spirit Dragon.
This is a tempo deck that finishes the job with dragons. Jace, Vryn's Prodigy isn't as absurd here as it used to be since there are less options in terms of flashing spells back. That said, it plays nicely alongside Ojutai's Command, and looting is still powerful. There are two copies of Declaration in Stone, which is a removal spell Jace, Vryn's Prodigy can flashback.
Why not add in Reflector Mage here too? The card has been proven to be powerful. I'm convinced just about any deck these days with blue and white should be playing Reflector Mage. Reflector Mage into Gideon, Ally of Zendikar shows that the deck can win even without the dragons. Reflector Mage and Icefall Regent combine to make it hard for the opponent to actually find a real threat capable of attacking you. While this deck can sit back and hold up countermagic, it also has the ability to apply pressure in a variety of ways. Dragonlord's Prerogative is essentially the replacement of Dig Through Time. The deck needs some all-purpose form of card advantage, and while it does require six mana, after casting Dragonlord's Prerogative, it is rare to lose from that point.
These are just some of the strategies players will try to exploit using known combinations of cards and decks that have proven to be successful. Next week I'll talk about some more brews coming out of Shadows over Innistrad, as there are many more cards from the new set that will have an impact on Standard but don't fit into a preexisting archetype.
Thanks for reading,