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In Development – Restoring Momentum or Breaking the Game?

It’s (still) third set time!

Last week, I wrote about the impact of recent third sets on the Standard environment at the time. The general take home message was “The rich get richer, unless a revolution happens.”

Or, without a metaphor wrapper, “Generally, third sets enhance the power of existing archetypes rather than building new ones. If a card or category of cards is at a very high power level, new archetypes may appear instead.”

Just a third or so of the way into Avacyn Restored spoilers, I figured it would be fun to ask where the balance falls so far. What have the new cards we’ve seen so far brought to the table?

Are the rich getting richer? Who are the winners and losers so far? Let’s take a look.

Aggro (and Midrange)

I’ve bundled aggro and midrange together, since the one real midrange-style deck, Pod/Zenith, lives at the edge of aggro as well. This combined group of archetypes includes various Naya or simply R/G aggro and Pod decks, as well as various Tokens builds.

Naya of all stripes

The various flavors of R/G/x aggro, whether they have Pods or not, have picked up some potential contenders already in Avacyn restored.

Thunderous Wrath is the obvious choice. As Owen has already told us, Thunderous Wrath is a decent card even at full retail. Although it lacks the flexibility of an actual X spell, an effective 5-mana [card]Fireball[/card] that’s an Instant is potentially a good finisher in a deck that expects to make its way up to six mana for a Titan much of the time.

I don’t think I’d want Thunderous Wrath in a true Pod deck, since it’s really expensive and doesn’t play well with the whole “Pod chain” concept of a genuine Pod deck. On the other hand, I could see going for it as a two-of in a pure R/G aggro build.

Zealous Conscripts is a perfectly plausible addition to the Pod chain as a solution to opposing Ramp decks. It’s still a little bit constrained as a solution, since you have to either have it in hand or have a four-mana critter on the field.

Rounding out the set of new options is Sigarda, Host of Herons.

I am, I admit, really excited about the Host.

What I see in this 5-mana flyer is a new [card]Kodama of the North Tree[/card], albeit with a much better complement of abilities. Like North Side, Sigarda is big (5/5 rather than 6/4) and evasive (flying rather than trample). She’s also hard to hit, but with the better version (hexproof instead of shroud). Finally, she comes with a special bonus ability that is actually super relevant, inasmuch as it means you can drop Sigarda on the battlefield all one her own and not immediately lose her to Liliana’s sacrifice ability.

Red Deck Fiends

Over in RDW territory, there are some pretty solid options.

Thunderous Wrath reappears here, with some caveats. In non-miracle mode, it costs more mana than you expect to hit with a typical RDW build, which suggests running no or maybe one or two copies of the card. On the other hand, it’s a house when you hit it for the miracle cost, so maybe you can get away with having those one or two copies.

Vexing Devil seems like a gimme in RDW builds. The fastest way to talk about the Devil’s value is to point out that Vexing Devil is not [card]Browbeat[/card]. Or [card]Book Burning[/card]. Or [card]Temporal Extortion[/card]. The basic difference between Devil and all these other “choice” cards is that both options for Vexing Devil run along the same core axis of “things that reduce my opponent’s life total.” In the first few turns of the game, either option is pretty much a happy place for the red player.

The point at which the two choices diverge in value is once we’re into the middle to later stages of the game where your opponent is choosing between 4 damage and “chump block this stupid thing with a spirit token.” That’s probably not enough to keep us from wanting Vexing Devil in our highly linear aggro decks, much in the same way [card]Goblin Guide[/card]’s drawback wasn’t enough to keep it out of the RDW business.

Finally, of course, there’s Tibalt.

Random looting might strike us as a little weird, but when you’re ending up with lands in hand (clearly not waiting to cast a Thunderous Wrath in that case), you can increase the incremental value of your hand via Tibalt. This has already been covered elsewhere, but the basic idea is that Tibalt increases the damage-per-card in your hand much of the time, can act as a damage sink himself, and builds up to some kind of offensive finishing move against your opponent.

The very concise take on Tibalt might as well be “All planeswalkers are good until proven otherwise.”

Tokens

Given the proliferation of tokens in the first two sets in Innistrad block, it’s no surprise that the four cards I’m calling out as potentially good for the archetype don’t themselves generate tokens.

On the W and W/B side of things, Angel of Jubilation seems like an obvious option. She’s a flying 3/3 Crusade for your guys, except for Sorin’s pesky vampire minions. She also incidentally turns off Phyrexian mana and [card]Mortarpod[/card], which might be relevant from time to time, but isn’t enough reason to go in on her.

What might be enough reason is the fact that she has a good chance of being a 4/4 herself just due to an [card]Honor of the Pure[/card] or fellow Angel of Jubilation.

Cathars’ Crusade is expensive, but feels like it might serve as a 2-3 of in Tokens builds, generating a sort of “Finest Hour” style impact – that is, a card that does nothing on its own, but which grotesquely enhances the power of the rest of your deck’s offensive strategy.

On the green side, Champion of Lambholt and Revenge of the Hunted both do mostly the same thing – break Tokens stalemates. You’d have to be in a W/G or W/B/G Tokens build to run them, of course, but both offer the potential of getting somewhere between massive and lethal damage through despite your opponent having their own wall of Spirits and Soldiers.

Of Wolves and Delvers

Moving away from the aggro options, we have two archetypes that have taken turns exerting pressure on the Standard metagame – Wolf Run Ramp and Delver.

Delver

I was initially kind of blasé on the options available for Delver in those Avacyn Restored cards spoiled so far, but there are some solid choices…

There’s been some discussion about Temporal Mastery, mostly of the “You’ll [card]Ponder[/card] it on top of your deck and then take an extra turn!” variety. While a [card]Time Walk[/card] is certainly nice, a seven-mana Time Walk is entirely unrealistic. In fact, I may have written recently about why this is the case.

On the other hand, Restoration Angel might actually have a place as a few-of in Delver lists, perhaps replacing [card]Dungeon Geists[/card]. Although it isn’t strong on offense like the Geists, it lets the deck play even more like classic Faeries, flashing in a fairly robust threat at end of turn.

Notably, Restoration Angel lets you protect your limited portfolio of aggressive creatures and can sometimes let you double dip on [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] (assuming you have more than the four mana for Restoration Angel itself and something you need to flash back with the Mage).

But if the Geists’ effect is more your speed, then you might want to run a couple copies of everyone’s favorite planeswalker Moon Sage. Tamiyo can minimally hold down your opponent’s big beater or equipped Snapcaster, and also gives you the option to cash in for big card advantage, either immediately or once you hit her ridiculous ultimate.

Wolf Run Ramp

If you’re going to run a bunch of spells that spend part of their time being kind of overcosted, a ramp deck is a good place to do it.

Without a miracle, it’s reasonable to expect that we’ll be casting both Bonfire of the Damned and Entreat the Angels at the 5- and 7-mana marks but not much higher. That’s 2 or 3 damage from Bonfire, which is plenty good against many Tokens decks and other opposition. For Entreat, that’s either 1 or 2 Angels, which is a little less exciting, but still functional.

I suspect this will mean running several copies of Bonfire, but at most two copies of Entreat.

Thunderous Wrath, on the other hand, is pretty straightforward. As we saw in the aggro rundown, it’s crazy good as a miracle, and otherwise plausible as an Instant 5-damage Fireball. In contrast to the aggro case, however, the Wolf Run decks expect to hit six mana each and every game, so that Wrath should never spend an entire game being a dead card.

Finally, there’s Cavern of Souls, which means that your Delver and U/B Control opponents really should be trying to counter Entreat and Bonfire, since they won’t be able to counter your Titans. With Cavern there to punch a hole through any wall of countermagic, you’re likely to spend a lot more time interacting with decks that won’t actually try to counter your spells…so some big mana angel-generating options might actually be a good idea.

Life’s quirky that way.

In control

Pure control decks haven’t been a huge presence in the Standard metagame of late, although there’s a nice flip-flop dynamic back and forth between playing straight U/B Control and Esper Planeswalkers.

As it happens, both decks have a good option in…

The Moon Sage

Oh, hey. It’s her again. As in Delver, Tamiyo makes it difficult for your opponent to rely on a single-creature threat, and she can play faux Ajani and keep your opponent off of their full mana count.

…and she does have a must-stop ultimate, which means she’s going to absorb a significant amount of your opponent’s attention.

Tamiyo is an obvious enough addition to either control deck that there really isn’t much more to add on the topic.

Reforging Grixis

We haven’t seen a lot of Grixis in the metagame lately, or much of the four-color control variation that splashes green for the flashback on [card]Ancient Grudge[/card].

If that changes following the release of Restored, it’s pretty reasonable to imagine jamming a couple copies of Reforge the Soul into the deck. Obviously it’s a bit symmetrical…except that a Grixis deck with multiple Snapcasters and a bunch of flashback cards ([card]Desperate Ravings[/card], [card]Ancient Grudge[/card], [card]Forbidden Alchemy[/card], Devil’s Play, and potentially others) and maybe a copy or two of Tamiyo might be able to get even more than seven cards worth of value out of Reforge the Soul.

Combo, such as it is

There isn’t exactly a combo deck in Standard right now, but we have something that’s kind of close…

Frites (Reanimator)

Curiously enough, there are actually quite a few cards that could plug into Frites and related Reanimator builds from the new set.

First of all, there are some new fatties…

Avacyn herself is pretty badass, and awfully hard to unstick once you’ve got her into play. On the other hand, she’s actually kind of difficult to hardcast, which is not the case for the fatties that current Frites builds tend to run.

Griselbrand, on the other hand, is pretty much completely uncastable by most Frites decks…but is a crushing game finisher in a way that Avacyn might not be. While your opponent might chump Avacyn all day with spirit tokens, they’re going to be be generating card advantage like crazy for you if they take that approach with Griselbrand.

Gisela is another reasonable option, although that cost territory is pretty full.

If we turn away from the fatties, then Restored still has gifts for reanimator fans, starting with Desolate Lighthouse, which has pretty obvious applications in the archetype.

Maybe more notably, Restored brings Defy Death.

Do you want to go up to a full eight reanimation spells in a Frites deck?

Probably not, really. But it might be a solid idea to go to six spells, most likely the full four copies of Unburial Rites and two Defy Deaths as backup.

If you do end up running those Defy Deaths, the temptation to run Avacyn has to be high. Who doesn’t want a 10/10 indestructible creature?

A third of the way into the game

So far, we haven’t seen any big-time game breakers that would necessitate shifts away from the archetypes we’re already used to in Standard. Even so, there’s a lot of potential for reasonably big shifts within those archetypes.

There are still a fair number of cards left, so it’s too early to pick strict winners and losers yet.

Also, we tend to be wrong about that a lot.

I’m personally excited that the cards in Restored seem like they’re going to kick the archetypes around quite a bit, so that the Wolf Run you’ve been running won’t be the Wolf Run you’re going to run.

So to speak.

What are you looking forward to for the archetypes we know? Are you seeing game breakers that the rest of us have missed?

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