Going Under the Defense and Over the Top in Post-Rotation Standard

The Dinosaurs are about to go extinct once again. Vampires will soon have a final stake/nail hammered into their cold hearts/comfy coffins. Fall is coming, the season named for all the sets that are falling from Standard each year. This year, we’re losing Ixalan and its Rivals as well as M19 and Dominaria.

To make up for their departure, we’ll get Throne of Eldraine cards before long, but as of this writing that’s still a fairytale mired in myth and uncertainty. There’s value in focusing on the known part of the card pool. In fact, this year, there’s extra value: Starting on September 9, MTG Arena will offer special “Standard 2020” events featuring Guilds of Ravnica forward in Best-of-One play. It’s the ideal way to get ready for the upcoming rotation.

How to Approach Standard Rotation

Smaller formats also serve as the ideal testing ground to illustrate a larger concept: It’s often a good idea to start out by staking out the range of possible options, particularly to check out the extremes. A narrower range means a higher probability of finding the end points of the spectrum. It also means less valuable real estate in between.

There are essentially two strategies in Magic: you either go under the opponent’s defenses or you go over the top of their game plan. In an established environment, you will be able to tell from experience Who’s The Beatdown by about turn two. In unfamiliar territory, identifying your role is not that easy—whereas nothing is as easy as losing a game in which you play the wrong one. Running a deck where you won’t have to worry about any of that is a recipe for success.

Going Harder/Faster

For example, the history books are full of Pro Tours where the most aggressive deck dominated. Think of the five White Weenie decks in the Top 8 of Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica or the six red decks in the Top 8 of Pro Tour Hour of Devastation or the six Mardu Vehicles in the Top 8 of Pro Tour Aether Revolt. Consider Martin Dang’s victory at Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir, or Joel Larsson’s victory at Pro Tour Magic Origins, both, again, with red. More recently, recall Aaron Barich winning that Open in Worcester with Chandra’s Spitfire.

What all of these tournaments had in common was that they featured a brand-new Standard. Brand-new and firebrands go well together. People tend to treat a fresh format like a blank canvas, where you can try out whatever takes your fancy and won’t have to contend with opposition. In a way, it isn’t a bad approach: If you don’t know what opponents will be doing, you’re often better off maximizing your own deck’s output. That works well when what you’re maximizing is the number of turn four kills.

It does not work well when your experiment steers all too experimental and involves durdling. This description typically covers enough decks in a new format for the aggressive strategy to excel early on. It may even prove particularly pertinent now, because the lack of untapped dual lands slows down all kinds of competition.

Here’s what I’ve been testing on the aggressive side:

Mono-Red Cavalcade

19 Mountain
4 Chandra's Spitfire
4 Footlight Fiend
4 Legion Warboss
1 Scampering Scorcher
4 Scorch Spitter
2 Tin Street Dodger
4 Chandra, Acolyte of Flame
4 Light Up the Stage
4 Shock
4 Cavalcade of Calamity
4 Heartfire
2 Mask of Immolation

4 Experimental Frenzy
4 Fry
4 Lava Coil
3 Tibalt, Rakish Instigator

I stole the list from SaffronOlive, and I haven’t seen a reason yet to change anything about the main deck. The plan of winning quickly via Cavalcade of Calamity isn’t new, and this version, just as prescribed, takes it to the extreme. But Olive’s innovations, especially Heartfire, have been impressive for me as well. With a little help from Chandra’s third ability, it’s not uncommon to burn someone out from a double-digit life total.

Cavalcade of CalamityChandra's SpitfireScorch Spitter

Then again, I spent way more time on the other side of the dichotomy…

Going Bigger/Stronger

It’s just as promising to build the deck with the highest top end, the biggest lategame, and the most inexorable inevitability. Multiple factors went into the thought process behind the following design. The chain of logic isn’t neat because of a wealth of interconnections and mutual dependencies. I’ll try to give an outline anyway:

  • Field of the Dead remains a powerful source of automatic wins. The loss of Scapeshift hurts, and possibly even more so the loss of Elvish Rejuvenator. Cavalier of Thorns can help, but the best option to ensure the battlefield presence of Field of the Dead is Golos, Tireless Pilgrim.
  • The best way to get early utility from Field of the Dead has always been to cast Circuitous Route with five lands already in play. To still be able to do so reasonably early requires a full set of Growth Spiral and Arboreal Grazer in the future.
  • To run four copies of Arboreal Grazer has proven wrong even in decks with 29 lands. The math simply doesn’t work out. We need more lands. Otherwise some sloths will have no effect upon entering the battlefield.
  • We also want more lands to satisfy Field of the Dead. In particular, we’d like to fit 20+ different land cards into the deck. This, in combination with the mana requirements, means we should probably resign ourselves to the fact that the vast majority of our lands will enter the battlefield tapped.
  • We need our lands to do more than trigger Field of the Dead to avoid flooding.

What all of this boils down to is the use of Guildgates—lots of them—and Guild Summit. Guild Summit is the most broken card draw engine around. In fact, with the following deck you’ll often win by drawing the whole library.

Goloscopy 2020

4 Field of the Dead
1 Plaza of Harmony
1 Temple of Mystery
1 Thornwood Plaza
1 Island (335)
1 Forest (347)
1 Mountain (343)
1 Breeding Pool
1 Steam Vents
1 Stomping Ground
1 Gateway Plaza
2 Simic Guildgate
2 Gruul Guildgate
2 Izzet Guildgate
1 Orzhov Guildgate
2 Azorius Guildgate
1 Boros Guildgate
2 Selesnya Guildgate
2 Dimir Guildgate
1 Rakdos Guildgate
2 Golgari Guildgate
4 Arboreal Grazer
4 Golos, Tireless Pilgrim
2 Hydroid Krasis
1 Archway Angel
4 Growth Spiral
4 Guild Summit
4 Gates Ablaze
4 Circuitous Route
1 Command the Dreadhorde
1 Jace, Wielder of Mysteries

Trying to fit all of the required support and engine parts into 29 spell slots proved tricky. In the past, similar decks would simply run down the library and then chain Nexus of Fate ad infinitum. That’s no longer an option going forward.

Activating Golos remains an absolute power play. It often wins in tandem with Field of the Dead when the ability reveals more Circuitous Route, more Growth Spiral, and more Guild Summit. But some opponents actually can defend against Plan A, the ever growing army of Zombies, and that’s where Golos comes in.

Golos, Tireless Pilgrim

It is in these situations that Plan B becomes relevant. Then Jace, Wielder of Mysteries steps in, takes over, and bows out. Without Jace, deploying even just a second Guild Summit can already be a dangerous proposition, because you might not be able to make enough land drops to kill with Zombies before running out of cards. With Jace, the third Guild Summit typically wins the game on the spot.

Further notes:

If you enjoy killing all the creatures, replacing them with Zombies of your own, and drawing all the cards, then you might want to try out this deck. I will definitely be joining the Standard 2020 queue on MTG Arena next week, and I’m looking forward to what others have brewed up. See you there!


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