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Frank Analysis – M15 Updates for the Top Standard Decks

The new core set is filled with a lot of exciting build-around-me cards, such as Sliver Hivelord, Ensoul Artifact, Raise the Alarm, and many others. All of these cards could spawn new deck archetypes that may change the face of Standard. But we’ll have to wait until the Pro Tour in Portland before all of the new tech will be unveiled.

Today, I will instead focus on the existing top Standard decks. After all, M15 also contains a ton of small upgrades for the top 5 Standard archetypes (which, in my view, are Mono-Black Devotion, Mono-Blue Devotion, UW Control, Jund Monsters, and Boros Burn). In this article, I will present post-M15 deck lists for these archetypes, and I’ll discuss why certain M15 cards did or did not make the cut.

First and foremost, this will be relevant for anyone who is planning to stay on one of these Standard decks in the upcoming months. My lists are going to feature various speculative additions that may provide some new ideas. In addition to that, the lists I will present will be useful as a playtest gauntlet to throw your new brews against.

Mono-Black Devotion

I like the consistency of mono-color. While splashing for Abrupt Decay or other cards has been popular and might get more appealing with the introduction of Llanowar Wastes, I prefer not to deal any damage to myself with lands. Moreover, many players have been adjusting to Abrupt Decay by playing Planar Cleansing over Detention Sphere or by adding more 4+-mana threats to their decks, so I’ll stick with mono-black for now.

M15 Cards that Made the Cut

This card is much better than Read the Bones because 2 mana is much less than 3. And sometimes, when your opponent is at 2 life, it allows you to randomly win the game. But in most of the games, Sign in Blood will act as a 5th Underworld Connections that makes it possible to run 25 rather than 26 lands. I’ve always thought that 25 lands is one too few and that 26 lands is one too many for Mono-Black. Now we can run 25 lands plus one Sign in Blood—perfect!

A second copy of Sign in Blood may also be worth it, but you have to be careful of adding too many card draw spells to the deck. They slow you down, and you can’t afford to be too clunky.

Urborg allows you to tap Mutavault for black mana, which makes casting Nightveil Specter on turn 3 more reliable. The downside to Urborg is that it may also fix mana for your opponents if they’re playing black. It may even enable Mono-Blue Devotion to cast Nightveil Specter off of a Mutavault!

But those upsides outweigh the downside. At least for the first copy. I don’t think you want to play more than one because Urborg is a legend.

I may even consider adding a Nykthos, or a Sliver Hive or Radiant Fountain to the deck now that those lands can sometimes tap for black as well. Probably still not worth it, but it’s worth considering.

Perilous Vault gives Mono-Black a way to deal with enchantments like Detention Sphere, Underworld Connections, and Chained to the Rocks. Since it exiles, it handles Thassa and Chandra’s Phoenix well. And it’s a good answer to cards that flood the board with permanents, like Xenagos, the Reveler. Of course, Perilous Vault is very expensive, so I don’t think you want multiples, but it adds a relevant new dimension, and I like to have access to that.

If this card doesn’t end up working out, then I recommend replacing it with a Lifebane Zombie, Bile Blight, or Whip of Erebos.

Liliana Vess has replaced the fourth Duress that I had in my pre-M15 version. I think she will be a good late-game threat against UW Control: Slowly rip apart their hand and eventually win the game by getting a bunch of Gray Merchants triggers via the ultimate. Alternatively, you can just tutor for Erebos and grind out the opponent that way.

In the mirror match, it’s a great late-game topdeck after a flurry of Thoughtseize and Hero’s Downfall. On the other hand, it’s slow and won’t outrace Pack Rat, Nightveil Specter, Desecration Demon, Erebos, or a pair of Gray Merchants. So, we have a card that is expensive and situational, but that does match up well against the discard and removal spells from the opponent.

I’m not sure whether or not the Soul is worth it, but for now it has replaced the singleton Dark Betrayal that I previously had in my sideboard. One way or another, this slot is only meant for the mirror match, and Dark Betrayal is only a two-mana upgrade over Hero’s Downfall. That’s useful, but rarely decisive in a game. The ability of Soul of Innistrad, on the other hand, has the potential to utterly dominate a game once in a while, so I’m trying it out for now.

M15 Cards that Did Not Make the Cut

I have a deep hatred for Cranial Extraction-type effects, and I think I would rather have the four-mana original than this new five-mana version. Mono-Black is not well-positioned to abuse the convoke mechanic, after all.

The main reason why I don’t like Cranial Extraction-type effects is that they sometimes don’t do anything. You don’t always hit a card from the your opponent’s hand, and usually their deck still functions without the card you name. For instance, if you name Elspeth, Sun’s Champion against UW Control, then they might just chain Sphinx’s Revelations into Aetherling and beat you that way. If you name Sphinx’s Revelation, then they might reveal a hand with lands and Elspeth, Sun’s Champion, and beat you with the planeswalker while you have spent mana and a card to do nothing. I hate that.

I admit that Duress and Thoughtseize increase the likelihood of hitting, and that got me close to adding Stain the Mind to the sideboard. However, my hatred prevailed in the end.

Since Mono-Black Devotion is not an ultra-fast aggro deck, I expect that the loss of 3 life is going to be too harsh. Moreover, it doesn’t even reliably kill everything you want to kill. Bile Blight was worth it due to its 2-for-1 potential and its ability to deal with multiple Pack Rat or Elspeth tokens. Ulcerate is lacking there, and I think it just falls short.

Even if it’s the Mono-Black mirror match after sideboard where you have Thoughtseize and Duress and your opponent is discarding cards himself to Pack Rat, this is way too situational and the payoff is not there. You are going too deep with this one.

Mono-Blue Devotion

Good old Mono-Blue. The list hasn’t changed much since Pro Tour Theros, and I think it is well-positioned in the metagame as long as red decks remain popular.

M15 Cards that Made the Cut

If we play a 4-mana Jace maindeck (which is a big if, as a 3rd Rapid Hybridization, another 1-drop flyer, or a Domestication may just be better in that slot) then the new one may fit this deck better than the old one. The -3 ability of Jace, the Living Guildpact goes well with the aggressive tempo plan of Mono-Blue typically, bouncing a pesky blocker to clear the way for your attackers. In contrast, the +1 and -2 abilities of Jace, Architect of Thought are more controlling or defensive, so they are not as good of a fit for the game plan of Mono-Blue Devotion. At the least, I think the new Jace is worth trying.

Polymorphist’s Jest in the sideboard seems like a strong card against any creature deck. It may allow you to ambush a bunch of Pack Rats and a Desecration Demon, take down a Thassa plus Nightveil Specter, or deal with Mistcutter Hydra. I see massive blowout potential, so I added two copies to the board.

Military Intelligence seems worse than Bident of Thassa because attacking with two evasive creatures only gives you one card as opposed to two. Moreover, it doesn’t do anything if you only have one attacker, and it only adds 1 devotion to blue. However, two mana is pretty cheap for a threat that lives through Supreme Verdict and that can give you a ton of value.

I think you would like to have 3-4 Bidents against UW Control if the card weren’t legendary, and the singleton Military Intelligence can act a poor man’s Bident of Thassa that gets around the legendary clause. If testing reveals that Military Intelligence is a strong threat, then you might even want to run more than one against UW Control. I could imagine that a proactive plan with enchantments is better than a reactive plan with counterspells.

Void Snare is like a Cyclonic Rift that cannot be overloaded or played at instant speed, but that costs half the mana. For tempo-based matchups where you are unlikely to hit 7 mana, I’d rather have Void Snare than Cyclonic Rift in the sideboard.

M15 Cards that Did Not Make the Cut

Skulker has built-in Verdict protection. Its card draw ability combos well with Bident, and its tokens are nicely boosted by Hall of Triumph. However, 1/1 for 3 mana is horrible as far as base stats are concerned, so overall, I don’t think it is better than any card currently in the deck.

Quickling is a sweet counter to a spot removal spell. It can bounce Master of Waves for value when you have Hall of Triumph in play. It can evolve Cloudfin Raptor at instant speed. And a 2/2 flyer is a better body than Tidebinder Mage or Frostburn Weird. Nevertheless, it only adds one devotion to blue, and having to bounce a creature may be detrimental to your aggressive tempo plan. I feel the downsides outweigh the upsides here.

UW Control

This is a version with Detention Sphere over Planar Cleansing. Given that Abrupt Decay seems to be declining in popularity online, this seems like the best route.

M15 Cards that Made the Cut

There are none. I just didn’t see any cards that were appealing enough to add to the deck.

M15 Cards that Did Not Make the Cut

Worse than Planar Cleansing, if you want to go that route.

Worse than Mutavault.

Worse than Nyx-Fleece Ram.

Although this might be better than Fiendslayer Paladin if your opponent has Frenzied Goblin or Firefist Striker in play, it is probably going to be worse in pretty much every other situation. Still worth considering, though.

Against Jund Monsters, this can hit Polukranos (if they don’t board all of them out, that is) and Mistcutter Hydra after sideboard. However, I still think it’s worse than Celestial Flare because it cannot target Stormbreath Dragon.

Worse than Jace, Architect of Thought in this deck. And I don’t think you want more than four Jaces.

There are situations where this could be your 5th Supreme Verdict, but your opponent will still get several excellent draw steps, and once they have seen this card with Thoughtseize, they will play in a way that turns Aetherspouts into a glorified five-mana Griptide. Not good enough.

I’m not sure this is even better than Opportunity, and I don’t think Opportunity deserves a slot either.

Against decks with Thoughtseize, there is an argument to be made in favor of this Soul over Elspeth or Aetherling. However, being able to draw two cards off of a Detention Sphere is merely a consolation prize, and this Soul is still a much worse finisher than the other 6-mana cards.

It it weren’t for Skullcrack, this could be a good sideboard card against RW Burn. However, seven mana is too much for a card that effectively gets countered by a two-mana card that your opponent will be holding up at all times in the late game.

Jund Monsters

This is a stock list with some speculative cards to try out.

M15 Cards that Made the Cut

The new Souls might fit well in Jund Monsters, as the deck contains 34 mana sources. (That’s including the mana creatures and Xenagos.) The red Soul seems like the best of the bunch: It is a good late-game threat and a mana sink that matches up well against Hero’s Downfall and that can take over the late game against Mono-Blue Devotion. I’m only running one for mana curve reasons, and I’m not 100% sure it is better than the 3rd Scavenging Ooze or the 4th Ghor-Clan Rampager, but it’s worth the try.

Two copies of this pain land allow for a better mix between enters-the-battlefield-tapped and enters-the-battlefield-untapped lands. If you take only 1 damage from Llanowar Wastes over the course of a game in which Overgrown Tomb would’ve cost you 2 life, then I would chalk that up as a success.

However, you can’t add too many pain lands to the deck, especially when black is your “splash” color. If you only draw a single black source during the early stages of a game, then you don’t want that to be a Llanowar Wastes.

My list strikes a compromise between all these considerations with 9 shock duals, 6 Temples, and 2 pain lands. This feels like a good mix to me.

This has replaced the second Golgari Charm in my pre-M15 list. Reclamation Sage is less flexible, but I like that it leaves a creature behind after destroying Detention Sphere or Banishing Light.

A fine late-game threat against slow decks with planeswalkers. Jund Monsters and UW Control come to mind. Garruk takes a slot that would otherwise be occupied by the second Rakdos’s Return or the first Sire of Insanity. Rakdos’s Return is also pretty good against planeswalkers while being more flexible, so it’s possible that the sorcery is better than the planeswalker, but it’s worth testing at least.

I had 4 Mistcutter Hydra in my pre-M15 list, but Genesis Hydra has replaced one of them. It’s mediocre against Mono-Blue Devotion, but it seems great against UW control. After all, the trigger happens when you cast the spell, not when the Hydra enters the battlefield. Just like cascade, it provides a good way to get around countermagic while presenting multiple threats. When X=4, there’s approximately an 80% chance of hitting a 2-, 3-, or 4-mana threat. And in the remaining 20%, you’ll usually find an Elvish Mystic or Sylvan Caryatid as a consolation prize. While UW Control players can take care of a Mistcutter Hydra with a single Celestial Flare, they typically need two cards to deal with Genesis Hydra.

M15 Cards that Did Not Make the Cut

It might be appealing to play Polukranos and then draw 5 cards, but that’s basically a two-card combo to create an Opportunity, which is mediocre. The combo with Ghor-Clan Rampager is nice, but once you make a monster that big, you might as well finish the game with Flesh // Blood, and that split card has been slowly but steadily removed from most Monsters lists in favor of more reliable cards.

It is a cute blocker for an opposing Polukranos and combos nicely with your own Domri Rade. However, this is all a bit too situational for my liking.

Potentially very strong against enchantment-laden decks like constellation and hexproof, but those decks are not a big enough factor in the current metagame.

RW Burn

Any gauntlet should contain a deck with Lightning Strike. I could’ve also put Mono-Red Aggro here instead, but I like RW Burn a little better.

M15 Cards that Made the Cut

This is a 5th Warleader’s Helix that synergizes with Young Pyromancer. You can’t have too many four-mana cards for mana curve reasons, but 4 damage is a lot, so one copy seems fine.

Battlefield Forge is a big boost for this deck. Burn players have always been looking for mana fixers, but Boros Guildgate and Mana Confluence used to be the best we had. Battlefield Forge is a big upgrade to those lands.

The mana base looks good now, with 11 Mountains for Chained to the Rocks and 12 white sources total. One option is to cut a Mutavault or a Battlefield Forge for a Temple of Malice, but I didn’t do that because repetitive damage sources greatly aid the game plan of RW Burn and because I like to have enough white sources.

This is a speculative sideboard card that can answer three big problems for this deck: Master of Waves, Gray Merchant of Asphodel, and Nylea’s Disciple. It’s still rather narrow, but it could be good.

M15 Cards that Did Not Make the Cut

I considered replacing Toil // Trouble in the sideboard with this enchantment. Aggressive Mining has a lot of potential against UW Control in the late game. Once you have 6+ lands in play, this gives you 4-6 extra cards, which might be enough to overwhelm your opponent.

The reason I decided against it is that many of the lands in this deck provide a lot of value: Mutavault can attack and Temple of Triumph can scry. Depriving yourself of the ability to play these lands could be harsh, especially if the game goes long. Moreover, extra lands are useful with Chandra’s Phoenix, and sacrificing lands makes your opponent’s Syncopate better. I’m not certain, but I don’t think Aggressive Mining is good enough.

Discussion

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