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Compulsive Research – Standard: Out with the Old, in with the New

The Prerelease is over and we’ve had a chance to play with the new M10 cards. More importantly, we also know the full contents of the set and can take a look at Standard and the way the format has changed, which decks are better, which decks are worse, and which new decks might emerge from the new Standard environment.

It’s important to look at not only what something gains or loses, but also how the environment changes. Decks don’t exist in a vacuum, and if the metagame is bad for a deck, then that needs to be taken into account. Many decks have been scrapped on the drawing board because they just couldn’t survive against the popular decks in the format at the time, but would otherwise be perfectly fine.

B/W Tokens

What it loses: Wrath of God, Glorious Anthem, Caves of Koilos
What it gains: Honor of the Pure, Harm’s Way
Environment hostility: Neutral

Honor of the Pure does pump Spectral Procession tokens, Finks, and Cloudgoat Ranger, but in this deck it’s still worse than Glorious Anthem, as being able to put out 2/2 Bitterblossom tokens or having a 3/3 Redcap (that domes for two when he comes back) is pretty huge. There are better token alternatives now. Wrath of God was a sideboard card, but in matchups where the deck boarded in Wrath, it was often the most important card you wanted to draw. Hallowed Burial at the five casting cost alternative has poor synergy with the persist creatures, and the deck is just really clunky if you try to convert it to M10.

Status: Dead.

G/W Tokens

What it loses: Wrath of God, Glorious Anthem, Brushland, Treetop Village
What it gains: Honor of the Pure, Sunpetal Grove, Harm’s Way
Environment hostility: Less hostile

Unlike B/W Tokens, G/W Tokens’ threats are mostly white, and benefit from the addition of Honor of the Pure. Like B/W Tokens, Wrath was a key sideboard card, but it might be okay with Hallowed Burial in that slot instead (bottoming your Finks isn’t as bad as bottom both your Finks and your Redcaps). Just like Faeries, a key turn-one play becomes more difficult by losing their painland. Turn one Noble Hierarch is going to be less likely, and that’s going to slow the deck down as well. The loss of Treetop Village hurts, but unlike B/W Tokens, it’s still a deck that’s essentially unchanged. Just weaker.

Status: Not tier one anymore.

Faeries

What it loses: Terror, Underground River, Faerie Conclave, rules changes
What it gains: Doom Blade, Drowned Catacomb
Environment hostility: More hostile

Terror vs. Doom Blade isn’t really a change. I suppose now Faeries can kill Esper creatures, but most Faerie decks are playing Agony Warp instead of Terror now, so the change is cosmetic.

Underground River versus Drowned Catacomb is an interesting change, and I’m not sure which is better. It makes turn one Thoughtseize less likely against control decks, but it also means a pain-free manabase against aggro decks.

Faerie Conclave is gone with the rest of the manlands, but that’s actually a net positive for Faeries, as it also means that Treetop Village is gone. But now there’s the inclusion of Great Sable Stag in the environment, which unlike Scattershot Archers or Raking Canopy, is a true Faeries hoser in green. In testing, Great Sable Stag really leaves the Faeries player with a helpless feeling, since the only answers are to tap it with Cryptic Command, kill it with Mutavault + Scion of Oona, or splash a third color. None of these options are terrific.

Stag is also good against decks other than Faeries, so if Faeries dies down in popularity, I’m not sure if Stag will go away. Adding to the hostility is the inclusion of Lightning Bolt to the environment, making red stronger. Red decks with Lightning Bolt and Volcanic Fallout got stronger, while Faeries essentially gained very little to nothing.

With mana emptying at the end of each step instead of each phase, it seems that Mistbind Clique got better, as the player can’t just float mana to their draw step and hope to draw a Terror or Cloudthresher. However, that interaction wasn’t as relevant as being able to block with something that would trade with a creature in combat, then Mistbind Cliqueing with damage on the stack. Mutavault + Scion fighting a Wren’s-Run Vanquisher? Block the Vanquisher, put damage on, and Clique the Mutavault. This is no longer possible. It’s actually more skill-intensive this way, as it forces you to make a decision whether or not you want to trade with the Vanquisher. In any case, these sorts of interactions with Mistbind Clique more than offset the benefit you gain by the opponent not being able to draw a removal spell when Cliqued during upkeep.

If Stags and Fallout and burny type decks become less popular, then Faeries could be a fine choice, but right now the environment is very hostile.

Status: Not dead by any means, but a risky choice.

Swans

What it loses: [card]Seismic Assault[/card]
What it gains: Nothing
Environment hostility: Neutral

It’s a combo deck involving Seismic Assault and Swans. Without Seismic Assault, there is no combo deck. Pretty straightforward.

Status: Dead.

G/B Elves

What it loses: Treetop Village, Civic Wayfinder, Llanowar Wastes, Elvish Champion
What it gains: Elvish Archdruid, Great Sable Stag
Environment hostility: Neutral?

Elvish Champion wasn’t really a loss, and Elvish Archdruid fills that sort of role just fine as a new Priest of Titania. With no mana burn, using Archdruid to pump his fellow elves and ramp up to a Profane Command or make Chameleon Colossus big seems fine.

However, the mana is worse. There are no enemy-colored dual lands in M10, so Llanowar Wastes has no replacement (unless you want to play Savage Lands). The other possible fixer, Civic Wayfinder, is no longer an elf but now a human scout with a new name. You can still play the deck, but it’s weaker overall. And the loss of Treetop Village is fairly significant as well. If I were to play an elf deck, I would probably shift to R/G elves, as you get better mana and access to Bloodbraid Elf.

Under the new rules, Putrid Leech does get slightly worse, as you can’t put damage on the stack and then pump Leech to ensure it would kill Bloodbraid Elf, for example. By having to pump Leech before damage, it leaves it open to a removal spell like Lightning Bolt.

I’m not sure if the environment is more or less hostile. On one hand, Lightning Bolt is a one mana answer to Wren’s-Run Vanquisher (or all the creatures except for Leech and Chameleon Colossus). On the other hand, there is no Wrath of God to worry about. I’m not sure which matters more, so I’m going to cautiously call this one a wash.

Status: Not dead, but will need to be reworked.

U/W Reveillark

What it loses: Wrath of God, Mind Stone, Paladin en-Vec, Adarkar Wastes
What it gains: White Knight, Glacial Fortress
Environment hostility: More hostile

Paladin en-Vec isn’t a huge loss, although he was finally borderline maindeckable again with the rise of Jund-based decks. White Knight is a Reveillarkable target that can’t be Pulsed, but seems pretty underwhelming with Lightning Bolt likely to be the removal spell of choice now.

Losing Wrath is just huge, and the single biggest reason why I don’t think Reveillark will be able to survive in its current form. White weenie decks should be all the rage, and Hallowed Burial is a very poor Wrath to have in a deck that wants its creatures to go to the graveyard.

The deck might make a return as an Esperlark deck, giving it access to Black Knight, plus it already had Stillmoon Cavalier as a board option, but U/W Lark in its current form won’t be able to go on. But Reveillark is one of the best creatures ever printed, and there are plenty of great Reveillark targets, so I expect it to be around in one form or another.

Status: Needs to back to the drawing board to be a deck.

Kithkin

What it loses: Glorious Anthem
What it gains: Honor of the Pure, Harm’s Way, Silence
Environment hostility: Less hostile

No Wrath in the format makes Kithkin stronger. Having a one-sided Crusade makes this deck absolutely bonkers and is the early frontrunner for “best deck in the format” status. It’s not unbeatable, but if your deck can’t beat Kithkin now, you’re going to have some trouble this PTQ season.

Harm’s Way and Silence are solid sideboard cards, plus it still has access to Burrenton Forge-Tender to thwart any red removal strategies. Even so, Honor of the Pure + Wizened Cenn gets the team out of Volcanic Fallout/Jund Charm/[card]Infest[/card] range. I expect Firespout to see more play with Kithkin running around, and even Forge-Tender does a number on that.

Status: The best deck in the format.

Merfolk

What it loses: Adarkar Wastes
What it gains: Glacial Fortress, Harm’s Way, Silence, Merfolk Sovereign, rules changes
Environment hostility: Less hostile

Merfolk has always been a deck kind of hanging out on the edges, popping up every now and again, making an appearance, then going back inside. But Merfolk really got a boost and we might see it hanging around the top tables a little more. No Wrath reduces one worry of the deck, and having another Merfolk Lord in Merfolk Sovereign gives the deck eight lords to make giant bashy creatures with. In addition, Wake Thrasher gets a lot better with the removal of mana burn, so you can pump him to the moon (if you’re not worried about tapping out) EOT, then make him unblockable.

Harm’s Way is a solid card (and could be maindeckable), and Silence is a potential sideboard card. With so much of the mass removal being red, any deck with access to Forge-Tender is benefiting.

Status: Sneaky good. Possibly tier one.

Jund Cascade Aggro

What it loses: Rules changes
What it gains: Lightning Bolt
Environment hostility: Neutral

Really, this deck is essentially unchanged. The mana base didn’t use any painlands, so the mana’s the same. Putrid Leech gets a little worse, but not enough to make it unplayable. The deck gets Lightning Bolt, which is, well, it’s Lightning Bolt. This is one of the few decks in the environment that can just throw four Lightning Bolts in the deck, shrug its shoulders, and move on with its life. It may need to find some answers for white-based decks, but the deck looks to be what it is. Paladin en-Vec was a troublesome sideboard card for them, but I don’t think that card saw a lot of play despite Jund’s popularity (even though Paladin en-Vec was very, very good at the end of this Standard format). So they can leave their Snakeforms at home now.

Status: Unchanged for the most part. Decks that use cascade are going to continue to be very good.

R/B Aggro

What it loses: Incinerate, Sulfurous Springs, Terror
What it gains: Lightning Bolt, Ball Lightning, Dragonskull Summit, Doom Blade
Environment hostility: More hostile

I think Ball Lightning might be a little overrated, but the deck does what it does: try to do 20 damage as quickly as possible. Play guys, burn faces, and hope the game doesn’t go long. Anathemancer gets worse because people will likely be playing more basics to support the new cycle of dual lands.

The problem is that this deck has a ridiculous time beating the white-based creature decks. Kithkin has a better clock and a better late game, and when a deck running four Ball Lightning is not the beatdown, things aren’t going to go well. However, the deck does do a good job beating a lot of the decks that beat Kithkin, setting up a bit of a rock/paper/scissors scenario a few months down the road.

R/G might actually be the way to go, eschewing the Anathemancers and Terminates for Bloodbraid Elf. Casting Bloodbraid Elf into Ball Lightning sounds like a pretty bad time for the opponent, and if I’m playing an aggro deck, I’m going to have to find reasons not to play Bloodbraid Elf.

Status: A little scary with the white menace, but a player in the environment.

BONUS DECKLIST

I happen to love this Standard format with 10th Edition, and I’m sad that I won’t be able to play with certain cards come next week. However, there is a Thursday night Standard event under the 10th Edition Standard that provides one final opportunity to play the cards you know and love, but are rotating out.

I give you a nostalgic decklist, designed to celebrate 10th Edition and what we’re losing as we head into the new Standard. My only regret is that I didn’t discover this deck in time for Regionals or Grand Prix: Seattle, as I’m pretty sure I have broken the format:

Broken Deck

Terror and Severed Legion were very late additions and aren’t really maindeck material. There was also much controversy over 2 Shock 2 Incinerate, but I feel like 2 and 2 is right for them.

Dwayne St. Arnauld, a local Seattle PTQ ringer, has agreed to take on my “Farewell to 10th Edition Challenge.” He will play this deck at this 16K event on Thursday and we will see if he can win a match. The DCI doesn’t allow wagering, but we’ll find some legal way to reward Dwayne if he does indeed win a match. Dwayne’s a very, very solid player and will likely be the best player in the room, but will also likely be playing the worst deck (and the most nostalgic) deck in the room as well. Can he win two out of three games in a five-round tournament? Tune in next week to find out!

Yours nostalgically,
Zaiem
zaiemb at gmail dot com

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