Upon Shadows over Innistrad's release, Khans of Tarkir and Fate Reforged rotated out of Standard. No more Siege Rhino, no more Rally the Ancestors. In essence, the format was wide open.
The results of Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad didn't really paint an accurate picture of how Shadows over Innistrad Standard would unfold. Bant Company and White-Green Tokens, the two decks that squared off in the finals, are the only decks that stayed relevant throughout the season. White-Green Tokens wound up being the best deck of the format, to the surprise of many; without the presence of Rally the Ancestors, powerful yet underplayed Oath of the Gatewatch cards like Nissa, Voice of Zendikar and Oath of Nissa were able to do some work.
At this point, it might be worth noting that Standard rotations occur less frequently than before; in a world where players openly celebrated when Dragons of Tarkir rotated out of Standard, allowing them to get out from under the shadow of Collected Company, Wizards made an announcement that Standard would rotate slower, with expansions getting an overall longer lifespan in Standard. The change in policy isn't all downside, but the tournaments leading up to Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad were an exciting time; Siege Rhino had been a pillar of Standard for what felt like forever, and then it was gone. Anything was possible! That feeling comes around less now, which is both a bummer and likely necessary to Standard's survival.
Standard, and Magic, is in a tricky spot at the moment. The above-linked Aaron Forsythe piece is a rollback of , and at Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad, Wizards announced a total gouge of the Players' Club, turning it into something completely unrecognizable and laughably unable to support professional players. Whether or not Organized Play is obligated to keep putting money into the professional circuit is a matter of opinion, but the approach Organized Play took was sweeping and drastic in equal measure. It amounted to a bait-and-switch, sparking sweeping outrage in the community. Like Metamorphosis, that change was also undone. 2016 was truly the year of Oh Wow You Don't Like This, Jeeze We'd Better Walk That One Back.
Good stuff happened at Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad too, though! Steve Rubin and Seth Manfield both made Top 8, with the former taking home the first-place trophy. That's nice!
In Shadows over Innistrad Standard, enemy-colored decks got the cycle of enter-the-battlefield tapped uncommon lands from Shadows over Innistrad and creature-lands, while allied-colored decks got the Battle for Zendikar cycle of dual-lands and the Shadows over Innistrad dual-land cycle that Game Trail and Port Town hail from. Both cycles of allied-colored lands are facilitated by basic lands, and are the only ones that (conditionally) enter the battlefield untapped, which is a big deal. Additionally, the Battle for Zendikar cycle of dual-lands synergize with the Shadows over Innistrad cycle; for a time, allied colors was the bees' knees in Standard.
Westvale Abbey and Smuggler's Copter function similarly in that they're powerful cards that can facilitate any deck by virtue of being colorless. Smuggler's Copter doesn't go in control decks and Westvale Abbey is a tough fit in most four-color decks, but in most cases the two cards can do anywhere. The more decks you can slot a card into, the more value it carries.
Luis Scott-Vargas described the deck he made the Top 8 of Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad with as a Westvale Abbey deck. Plans B-Q were plenty viable (it was a good deck), but plan A was to gum up the board, activate a Westvale Abbey, triggering Zulaport Cutthroat in the process, and hope that Ormendahl was enough to get the job done. Steve Rubin's White-Green Tokens deck played Westvale Abbey too, and the land even did a great impression of Kjeldoran Outpost in Seth Manfield's Grand Prix-winning White-Black Control deck.
There's always been a breakneck aggressive deck in Standard to keep the controlling decks honest and to keep midrange decks relevant. In most Standard formats, it's been mono-red, but recently Standard's done a great job of supporting aggressive decks in all colors. Standard thrives when there's a low-budget, competitive, aggressive deck, and Thalia's Lieutenant and Declaration in Stone make white aggressive decks possible. The mono-white aggressive decks of today have a human tribal focus; Thalia's Lieutenant is a cheap Glorious Anthem on a stick that grows tall as the game progresses. It's a fantastic card in human tribal decks.
Declaration in Stone was a polarizing card during Shadows over Innistrad preview season: many players dismissed it out of hand while others hailed it as the next Path to Exile. It ended up functioning kind of like Path to Exile, but as control players quickly learned, Declaration in Stone is at its best when an opponent's life total is under too much pressure to get any time to crack their clues.
When Ravnica hit the scene in 2005, Golgari Grave-Troll and its dredge ilk were viewed as more of a curiosity than the flag-bearers of a broken mechanic. It was hard to conceptualize how to make the mill-yourself archetype work; seeing the graveyard as an additional resource was harder to envision then. Eventually, players started to put the pieces together; dredge was tough to make work in a limited cardpool but shone bright in Extended and the Eternal formats (thanks, Bazaar of Baghdad!). This heralded the first crop of cards that were "too good for Standard" in their time. Prized Amalgam and Thing in the Ice are part of that illustrious group.
Prized Amalgam has seen some play in emerge decks, and Thing in the Ice won a Standard Pro Tour, but the latter took a long time to catch and hasn't made a Top 8 since Pro Tour Kaladesh, while the former hasn't really seen success in Standard, only fringe play. However, both cards have made their mark in Modern, especially Prized Amalgam, the backbone of Modern Dredge's current iteration. The proud tradition of cards too good for Standard continues, and as the Standard cardpool grows, look to cards like these to see Standard play in niche roles. Cross-format players tend to steadily trend upwards in price, though all bets are off if Wizards re-bans Golgari Grave-Troll.
Magic's color pie is laid out pretty clearly. Each color does certain things, and is unable to do other things. Red can't deal with enchantments, for example. Likewise, green doesn't usually get to draw cards. Duskwatch Recruiter and Tireless Tracker eschew that framework, and their strong sales prove that when cards defy the color pie without sacrificing power, they become format-defining cards. Even Thraben Inspector, a card that looks unassuming on its face, has been a given in any white Standard deck the entire time it's been legal — its creature type (human) is hugely relevant, and the clue it makes not only makes it card-neutral but it also turns on stuff like Toolcraft Exemplar and can be sacrificed to Pia Nalaar.
Duskwatch Recruiter and Tireless Tracker are much more straightforward — they're better cards. Duskwatch Recruiter in particular seems like something that was pushed in order to make at least one non-mythic double-faced card relevant in Standard. Mission accomplished.
Tireless Tracker's play declined sharply once Kaladesh knocked Collected Company out of Standard — a common theme throughout these retrospectives is just how much Collected Company warped Standard around it — but while Collected Company was around, Tireless Tracker represented one of Collected Company's best possible hits, a way to maintain card advantage as the game progressed.
There are few cards that accomplish as much as these three creatures, few cards that are relevant on any turn. Tireless Tracker could be a three-drop or a four-drop, the latter choice guaranteeing at least one clue. Duskwatch Recruiter is a two-drop as printed but functions just fine as a five-drop when you factor in its activated ability — Duskwatch Recruiter is the rare double-faced card that's best sunny-side up.
Tomorrow's our Eldritch Moon recap, brought to you by me. See you then.