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Looking Beyond the Shadows

This week instead of the Week in Review, which can be summarized as Eldrazi completely dominating the Modern landscape, I want to look toward the future. Without a full spoiler list of Shadows over Innistrad we can’t lock down decks yet. We can, however, look at some of the takeaways from the current Standard format that will help shape the first few weeks of Shadows of Innistrad Standard.

What’s Staying?

Value creature decks powered by Collected Company and Jace. Despite losing some tools, I expect Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy, Den Protector, Deathmist Raptor, Reflector Mage, and Collected Company to remain the base of at least one deck. If you drop the Reflector Mage out of the equation you can drop white and all of the other cards are effectively one colored mana.

Even if we don’t see the same ridiculous mana bases, the value creature decks aren’t going anywhere and will retain enough tools to justify existing. Bigger, clunkier midrange decks with Den Protector and Goblin Dark-Dwellers may have a harder time of it. Losing Siege Rhino is blow, but one that might have happened anyway with the reduction in mana fixing. Decks like Mardu Green and Dark Jeskai are going to take big blows to the threat department, and either need to become even more controlling or slim down and focus on supporting cheaper threats.

Despite losing delve as an easy way to make up tempo and abuse an abundance of 1-for-1 trades, people will look at these and try to envision a transition to a bigger midrange or outright control deck. BR Dragons can easily be sculpted in such a fashion, and changing only a handful of cards could make BRx midrange a possibility. We’ve already seen a few cards in SoI that can slot in as cards that take advantage of just trading off cards over time. Thing in the Ice* may be the worst card in Standard to get bounced by Reflector Mage, but it remains a cheap blocker that can completely flip a board state on its own.

Meanwhile if you want to stick with the black midrange tack, Mindwrack Demon is a shoo-in for a threatening 4-drop that can help your Dwellers and assorted graveyard cards. For decks that want to run more white, the new Avacyn seems like a ridiculously powerful take on Serra Angel. It’ll be interesting to see if the flip side of her as a Purifier actually makes her better or worse.

Ramp won’t be losing all that much and can effectively be ported with the bare minimum of changes. The majority of the support for the deck came post-Origins, so as long as you aren’t completely dependent on Ugin it should be an easy fix. Chandra, Flamecaller and Kozilek’s Return can both go a long way toward filling those gaps and we have yet to see if any relevant cards are going to be revealed in the Shadows of Innistrad. What we can also note from this is that Ramp will act as a built-in limiter to how strong and popular a deck like Esper Dragons can become.

At first glance while every deck has to trim the fat, most of the established archetypes can actually live through the rotation without being devastated. Except Rally. Rally is dead. Which means we have a power vacuum for the top deck going into the new format.

What’s Leaving?

Rally the Ancestors

Mana Fixing

Popular Large Creature Removal

Delve

Core Threats

Decks like Jeskai and Abzan built around many of these core components will simply fail to exist in the future format. Sure they could be rebuilt, but if they are it’s likely they’ll become entirely new decks only sharing the clan name with their old brood. Are you really going to build a 4-color control deck without the mana base? How good is Jace in a control deck when suddenly you have to work to flip him instead of being able to consistently flip on turn 3 or 4? Is Painful Truths still worthwhile as a 4-of without easy color fixing?

Meanwhile the traditional midrange decks lose almost all the threats that have become synonymous with them. Every single deck loses at least one relevant delve card that they got to play for value.

What Improves?

Decks that were interested in playing Wastes get a huge boost because there’s no longer an incentive to spread your mana so thin. Without fetches taking up a huge amount of your mana base there’s also now an incentive to pack more colorless sources and run a card like Thought-Knot Seer or Reality Smasher as an incidental pickup. Not something you’d build your entire deck around, but rather a card that supplements your strategy and isn’t too harsh on the new mana.

Evolving Wilds is going to see a huge boost as well, partly because of how people have patterned decks for the past year and a half. While it’s easy to look at the format and say that X deck won’t function, people are going to want to put that theory to the test and not give up on having access to every type of threat and answer while getting to cheat costs on cards like Painful Truths. Evolving Wilds also helps out the Wastes decks and any slowing of the format is going to make it easier to justify playing.

Planeswalkers that needed more time to develop will likely all see major boosts in play time unless SoI really pushes a certain subset of evasive threats. One of the only things keeping Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and Nissa, Voice of Zendikar from seeing a ton of mainstream play are the power of the Khans threats. Mantis Rider made all planeswalkers rather risky investments and cards like Siege Rhino and Crackling Doom made it tough to sit back and play defense with them. We may never see a world where Sarkhan Unbroken is, well, broken. But an uptick across the board in ‘walker play is almost assured because of how strong these cards are.

Bigger threats that didn’t make an immediate impact are now only truly punished by Reflector Mage. You don’t have to worry about losing your entire investment to a 1-mana end-step Murderous Cut or Crackling Doom dinging you for 2 and binning your creature. Once again this could be linked to the Eldrazi getting better, but really it’s true of any larger vanilla minion. It’s why I think a card like Mindwrack Demon looks quite strong instead of borderline unplayable if it were released in Oath of the Gatewatch with all the unconditional removal.

Combining all of the above, there’s one particular interaction that was never really fully explored that I think could be a major player. Haven of the Spirit Dragon is one of the best color-fixers for Dragons (one of the only creature threats minimally affected by rotation) and generates colorless for Eldrazi. I can easily envision a world where the ground is covered with Lovecraftian horrors and the sky is ruled by Dragons.

With that cheery thought, I’ll end this article and look forward to the Shadows spoilers.

*Thing in the Ice is going for way too much as a rare. Go look at the price trajectories of Mantis Rider and Siege Rhino for comparable major threats in a tier 1 Standard strategy from a large set. If you need them immediately, OK, but in 1.5-2 months it’ll be worth a couple of bucks barring a breakthrough in every format.

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