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Silvestri Says – Standard Week Zero

Theros is fully spoiled, so there’s no longer any need to add “half-spoiled” disclaimers to our brews. Instead, they only have the “unknown format” disclaimer, which as we all know is oh so easy. Still, let’s make a go of it since we have just around a week and a half to make the Magic happen!

Mono-Red

In the same vein as mono-black, mono-red is always touted as the new aggro deck to beat come rotation. If it isn’t mono-red, then certainly some two-color variant with plenty of burn is. However, unlike mono-black, red has a far higher chance of becoming a real deck, since mono-red is probably around 50/50 to come together whenever the proper curve is available. Unfortunately, we lack a real 1-drop to go along with [card]Rakdos Cackler[/card] and I guess we’re going to have to go looking for him.

firedrinkersatyr
Firedrinker Satyr
Found him.

[deck]Main Deck
4 Firedrinker Satyr
4 Rakdos Cackler
4 Burning-Tree Emissary
4 Firefist Striker
4 Young Pyromancer
4 Chandra’s Phoenix
2 Chandra, Pyromaster
4 Shock
2 Magma Jet
4 Lightning Strike
4 Mizzium Mortars
2 Mutavault
18 Mountain
Sideboard
2 Electrickery
3 Burning Earth
2 Chandra, Pyromaster
2 Mutavault
2 Hammer of Purphoros
4 Peak Eruption[/deck]

The first thing I want to cover is the backlash over Firedrinker Satyr and how it’s somehow worse than [card]Rakdos Cackler[/card] or other creatures with the same type of drawback. Yes, you take damage when it battles in combat, and when it gets blasted by [card]Mizzium Mortars[/card] you’ll enjoy 4. Who cares? It blows me away that so many people were cool with playing [card]Rakdos Cackler[/card] but can’t accept a few points of damage from another 1-drop.

For this sort of drawback to matter, you first have to be in a position where the damage is going to pull a race one way or another. Unless the mono-red mirror is the most popular matchup in the new format, I’m not all that worried about it. You can easily leverage your life total, because it will be very difficult for your opponent to reach a position where he can safely start attacking back. If that does happen, you’re probably losing no matter what your 1-drop looks like.

The second test of a drawback is whether it’s sufficiently balanced by an upside. I would play this card as a 2/1 for R with no ability attached to it. Why? Because a 2/1 for R is fair value for this kind of card in red. Additionally, you have to ask yourself what real alternatives are there? If you want to play an aggressive red deck and omit this creature because he may betray you in a game during a tournament, that’s throwing away a lot of value when the alternatives are all lackluster.

Firedrinker is a fine 1-drop and even has a bit more upside than Cackler, because I can trade up if necessary. Against control where my life doesn’t matter, I can use the firebreathing and potentially get 4-5 damage out of my 1-drop. It requires a useful answer and at worst I can trade it off with my opponent’s creatures if I’m willing to sink the mana and life into it.

As for the rest of my choices, most of them are pretty standard, though [card]Chandra, Pyromaster[/card] sticks out in my 20 land deck. Just as before, I like having a pair of “late game” 4-drops that can end the game in a few turns. In Chandra’s case, this is by removing blockers when you have a strong board position or digging you out of a hole the rest of the time. Honestly, I was already thinking about using her in current Standard (loved her in bigger red decks and she was good in 20-land red), and she fits fine here.

Actually with [card]Chandra, Pyromaster[/card] and Hammer of Purphoros you have an interesting dynamic where you can up the land count safely while keeping a fair number of early creatures. This lets you keep the [card]Burning-Tree Emmisary[/card] starts while not throwing your late game out the window, and further protects against [card]Supreme Verdict[/card] and Anger of the Gods.

[deck]Main Deck
4 Rakdos Cackler
4 Firedrinker Satyr
4 Burning-Tree Emissary
4 Firefist Striker
4 Gore-House Chainwalker
4 Chandra’s Phoenix
4 Chandra, Pyromaster
1 Hammer of Purphoros
4 Lightning Strike
4 Mizzium Mortars
4 Mutavault
19 Mountain
Sideboard
1 Mountain
3 Stormbreath Dragon
4 Boros Reckoner
4 Frostburn Weird
2 Electrickery
1 Hammer of Purphoros[/deck]

Selesnya

Of course, red just happens to be the obvious place to start building an aggro deck. There’s still another deck in the forefront of people’s minds and has proven itself well in block. Selesnya aggro still has many of the best aggro creatures available, and [card]Selesnya Charm[/card] has increased value if people want to try out the God cards.

Selesnya has one of the best monsters in history on its side, and a new playground to play in.

[deck]4 Experiment One
4 Soldier of the Pantheon
1 Dryad Militant
4 Voice of Resurgence
4 Fleecemane Lion
4 Scavenging Ooze
4 Loxodon Smiter
4 Advent of the Wurm
4 Selesnya Charm
2 Ajani, Caller of the Pride
1 Rootborn Defenses
1 Gods Willing
2 Selesnya Guildgate
4 Temple Garden
9 Forest
8 Plains[/deck]

While the deck is so straightforward it hurts to think about, you get a variety of some of the best creatures at every slot for the mana. The best part is that [card]Scavenging Ooze[/card] and Fleecemane Lion both get better as the game goes on, giving you eight more guys that are singular threats post-Verdict. Other than your 1-drops, every single creature is capable of ending the game in short order. You also can play a variety of almost-rans for combat tricks, which is nice when nobody really knows what to expect from you outside of [card]Selesnya Charm[/card].

[card]Ajani, Caller of the Pride[/card] was underwhelming the first time around because creatures were too big and too fast. Throw a fresh college quarterback against NFL defenses and watch them get eaten alive and that’s what happened with Ajani. Every deck that might want him either was outclassed by another aggro plan or was too fast for its incremental gains to matter. This time around it should actually have time to make a creature into a real threat and send in the flying monsters.

If you want something tricky though, you’re in luck, since Islands get a major upgrade with a number of their worst predators all leaving the format together.

Control

UW

Straight UW Control gained a handful of useful tools from Theros, and more importantly, many of its primary antagonists have left the format. This leaves us room to mess around with the previous counter and removal suite which simply wasn’t good enough without relying on [card]Augur of Bolas[/card] and [card]Restoration Angel[/card]. Now we can start creatureless and work up from there.

First, countermagic goes from barely playable to good, in large part thanks to the number of decks with easy access to good early, mid-, and late games falling off the map. [card]Cavern of Souls[/card] was an issue at times for sure, but the last month and a half of the format showed that Cavern wasn’t really keeping countermagic down anymore. Instead, it was the impracticality of leaving mana open through crucial turns.

A card like [card]Essence Scatter[/card] would normally be good against a red/green creature deck, and yet struggled to matter, because all the threats were on a similar level. Additionally, its few non-creature spells were planeswalkers that provided more card advantage and were difficult to deal with. If the crucial 2-drops or the [card]Thundermaw Hellkite[/card]s of the world were not so good, it would have been easier to leverage removal and countermagic as a one-two punch.

Now decks have lost a set of pushed creatures and can’t freeroll the mana to cast whatever amazing threats there are in each color. Suddenly, the two- and three-color strategies just splashing a threat on the curve for lack of anything good on-color is no longer possible. So now cards like [card]Essence Scatter[/card], [card]Syncopate[/card], and Dissolve all have a chance to really do work.

Dealing with [card]Burning-Tree Emissary[/card] will still be a pain on the draw, but on the play you can safely hold up a situational counter and not get punished. You can also afford to hold mana open longer without committing, whereas it was difficult to hold back an [card]Azorius Charm[/card] or [card]Restoration Angel[/card] for fear of taking too much damage, too early. Now we can run cards like [card]Last Breath[/card] and [card]Celestial Flare[/card] without getting laughed out of the room, and if red is that rough, we can run white’s version of [card yoked ox]Kraken Hatchling[/card] or Omenspeaker for early blockers.

Late game, we gained two potential alternatives to [card]Aetherling[/card]. Both [card]Jace, Memory Adept[/card] and Elspeth, Sun’s Champion can’t outright race [card]Aetherling[/card] since ‘ling can attack them, but they serve as viable win conditions that have their own benefits. I went over all of Elspeth, Sun’s Champion’s strong points in a Spoiler Spotlight. She has proven to be quite excellent at taking over the board in short order or providing yet another wrath against midrange decks. I’m very impressed with her and will likely have two in my UWx shells going forward.

This is one of my starting point UW lists:

[deck]Main Deck
2 Celestial Flare
4 Azorius Charm
1 Last Breath
4 Detention Sphere
2 Divination
1 Dissolve
2 Syncopate
3 Essence Scatter
3 Jace, Architect of Thought
4 Supreme Verdict
4 Sphinx’s Revelation
1 Aetherling
2 Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
4 Hallowed Fountain
4 Azorious Guildgate
11 Island
6 Plains
2 Encroaching Wastes
Sideboard
3 Jace, Memory Adept
2 Last Breath
1 Celestial Flare
2 Dispel
2 Pithing Needle
3 Archangel of Thune
2 Omenspeaker[/deck]

Remember that while I fully endorse the core of the deck, the specifics are going to need work. For example, I see a lot of people shrugging off Omenspeaker and while I probably don’t want it in an open metagame, if the red decks are out in force, I want 4. It blocks down nearly every single creature they play and helps me dig toward [card]Supreme Verdict[/card] which is all I can really hope for. It also isn’t an absolute disaster in other matches so I can see maindecking her. For this build I haven’t quite gone that specialized, but if I did I’d cut a counter and two removal spells to fit three in.

Same goes for the counter and removal suite, I know I want [card]Essence Scatter[/card], but I’m not sold on three Dissolve. [card]Cancel[/card] may have been on the cusp of playability, but I still want to give [card]Syncopate[/card] a shot in this world where midrange will likely exist. In Block, I found the archetypes heavily skewed either control or aggro with little middle ground. If the same is true of Standard, then I could see the swap away from [card]Syncopate[/card].

Last Breath is a way to deal with [card]Voice of Resurgence[/card] and other early drops without access to red or black removal. I also wouldn’t hate [card]Sensory Deprivation[/card] in the same role, but Last Breath means if I Verdict later I don’t feel embarrassed. [card]Celestial Flare[/card] and the full set of [card]Detention Sphere[/card]s also come in, since indestructible creatures are going to be prevalent and you need varied answers to threats. Stormbreath Dragon ducks half your removal, as does Fleecemane Lion. You need to diversify in order to survive against a field of threats that have inherent resilience to what you’re doing.

Players should definitely explore the possibilities that three-color control decks provide, sticking with UW because of mana stability is fine, but you miss out on some power cards as a result. Grixis is interesting because you have the best variety of planeswalker removal available, [card]Dreadbore[/card], Hero’s Downfall, and [card]Rakdos’s Return[/card]—plus Return doubles as the anti-Revelation card. Between Roll Dem Bones (Read the Bones), [card]Jace, Architect of Thought[/card], [card]Chandra, Pyromaster[/card], Steam Augury, and [card]Opportunity[/card] you should have no issue with draw either.

By far the biggest issue with this strategy is going to be the mana, which is not only hard to pin down, but trying to refine it really requires knowing what cards we want to run. Without a place to battle this deck against a variety of archetypes, there’s little we can do to figure things out. Still, let’s try making a baseline to tweak and build off of based on what we expect: Red decks, Selesnya aggro, RG midrange, and various flavors of UWx control.

Grixis

[deck]2 Doom Blade
4 Dreadbore
2 Hero’s Downfall
4 Anger of the Gods
2 Read the Bones
4 Steam Augury
1 Opportunity
3 Essence Scatter
2 Counterflux
3 Rakdos’s Return
2 Aetherling
4 Desecration Demon
4 Blood Crypt
3 Watery Grave
4 Steam Vents
4 Temple of Deceit
1 Rakdos Guildgate
5 Swamp
3 Mountain
3 Island[/deck]

This I suspect will be a very loose Grixis list, however the key elements are all there to make something interesting. The removal is cheap, powerful, and plentiful and you have a card advantage engine that doesn’t involve tapping out on the opponent’s turn. You also have the most ways to deal with opposing planeswalkers in the format. Plus a trump in [card]Rakdos’s Return[/card] that’s still solid against any deck that isn’t relying on dumping its hand on the field by turn four.

I suspect [card]Desecration Demon[/card] will stick out to many players, however that’s a product of the Demon’s resilience against much of the popular removal. Outside of [card]Selesnya Charm[/card], very few creature strategies can deal with it outside of combat, and while control decks will have no problems blasting it, this happens to be the only card their removal is relevant against. Post-board you can drop to zero creatures they can remove and simply max out on discard, counters, and [card]Aetherling[/card] or Jace.

As for cards I’m not including in the main deck, I doubt the metagame will reach a point where I want 3-4 [card]Thoughtseize[/card] in my main deck unless control completely dominates the first few weeks. [card]Thoughtseize[/card] is not a card you want to run as a 2-of, so unless you want to play Jund or an aggressive black deck, there’s not a lot of need or want for single discard. Right now, the life seems to matter a whole lot more than trying to stop your opponent from doing powerful things.

That’s all for this week. Next week we’ll take a closer look at some of the more unique archetypes (Maze’s End, ughhh) and three-color brews that are taking some extra time to work out the mana. If you have anything you really want to see covered, feel free to comment or email me about it and I’ll see if I can make it happen. Until then, good luck at your Theros prerelease!

Josh Silvestri
Email me at: [email protected]

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