This is my first article on Shadows over Innistrad with the benefit of actually seeing the entire set. Here are some early thoughts after a few days of battling with actual decks instead of paper tigers.
1. BR Vampires is a solid week-1 deck—but a solid list isn’t out there yet.
Figure out if you want to attack and race, win via board advantage, or play an Aristocrats-style synergy deck. Don’t slowly morph your deck into midrange by adding heavier cards to your deck like Kalitas and Thunderbreak Regent. If you want to win via flooding the board, make sure your curve actually reflects that. Running random burn spells over Ultimate Price or other removal doesn’t make a lot of sense unless you can rely on getting your opponent to a low life total.
On Olivia vs. Drana: Olivia, Mobilized for War has on-curve stats and a real benefit later in the game. If you use her ability once, then you’ve come out ahead. Drana is a fun card, but basically unplayable if you don’t curve out, and many Vampire decks only run a single playset of 1-drops. Hitting with her once isn’t even the equivalent to one Olivia usage if you only attacked with one other creature.
2. Languish is great against Vampires, but the best threats in this format are Languish-proof.
Archangel Avacyn “dies” to Languish, but can also play around it thanks to flash and her backside is large enough to survive Languish. Goldnight Castigator bashes you for 4 and shrugs off all the black removal besides Ultimate Price. None of the scary planeswalkers care that you wiped out a pair of creatures if you left yourself open to Sorin, Grim Nemesis or Chandra, Flamecaller. You do kill most of the Eldrazi using it, but it’s unfortunate that it doesn’t actually take out Vile Aggregate or Reality Smasher.
The problem with Languish is that you have to do so much maintenance to make sure it works properly. It absolutely crushes aggressive decks like Vampires, but everyone else has creatures that shrug it off or enough play to avoid it. Without Dig Through Time, the creature-heavy decks don’t get punished for just sitting back in the midgame.
3. WG Humans is the best aggro deck.
WG Humans (deck list below) is one of the better decks at being aggressive while remaining resilient to damage-based sweepers. Languish is a little too strong for your average creature, but even then you have a number of ways to help rebuild your board quickly. If you get out an Anthem effect, your army can also get out of range of the majority of sweepers. Normally this would be where I talk about getting trumped by Eldrazi going over the top with Abbey or Drowner of Hope, but the Humans deck has a trump of its own. Archangel of Tithes completely crushes the Eldrazi deck and easy access to exile removal means that Ormendahl, Profane Prince isn’t game over.
In fact, that’s one of the scariest aspects of the deck. I can’t remember a white-based aggro deck having removal this efficient and in these numbers. Path to Exile and Oblivion Ring come close, but you have 3 solid main-deck options and really good sideboard removal.
Sigarda, Heron’s Grace is also very underrated, overshadowed by a vengeful Avacyn. She’s big enough to rumble with all the other flying menaces in the format, provides a great mana sink, and she protects your smaller creatures.
5 toughness, gold, and flying eliminate many of the commons ways to deal with her. White may be able to do it without much fuss, but the rest of the colors are going to have to rely on more expensive or conditional options. Of course, you may also want to save it if she gets to live for a turn, since Westvale Abbey is an ever-looming threat. Speaking of which:
4. Westvale Abbey is the best land in Standard.
In a play, Westvale Abbey would be Chekhov’s Gun. When you play it early in the game, it shifts the entire feel of the match and expectations for what will happen in the future. In a Magic context, the flipside of the Abbey—Ormendahl, Profane Prince, is Greater Gargadon on steroids. Both have a ticking clock attached to them and both can pressure the opponent into a sequence of plays without ever actually hitting the board. Opponents have a bit more control over when Abbey can activate, but the pressure it exerts on them is very similar. In exchange for a longer leash on your 9/7, Wizards threw in flying, indestructible, and lifelink—and a Vitu-Ghazi mode in the meantime.
Both aggro and midrange mirrors can and will revolve around controlling the number of creatures on the board and whether or not Abbey is on the table. The days of Collected Company and Eldrazi boards staring each other down are over. If you’re a deck without a reasonable answer to the Prince, then you had better be planning on winning the game before it’s relevant. Control decks have it easier, but even they have to be concerned with exactly how many answers they have. The kicker is that in these matches the Abbey player doesn’t have to go all-in—just pumping out Humans every turn may be enough pressure against a deck like Esper Dragons or BW Control to force a response.
Here’s a pair of decks on different ends of the spectrum that take advantage of Westvale Abbey.
On the other side of the spectrum:
In both decks you have a realistic shot at utilizing them in a useful way. Against control strategies, Westvale Abbey can produce a steady stream of 1/1s and Secure the Wastes can always threaten to generate an army to utilize it. The opportunity cost of running 1 or 2 in your slow board control deck or midrange deck is so low that it’s silly not to unless you run into the issue where you can’t realistically use the flip ability. In that case, Blighted Fen or some of the many colorless utility lands clearly have some value.
Next time, I’ll go deeper into some of the 3-color monstrosities and Collected Company, so check back for that next week!