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Silvestri Says – New Standard

Today is my first real look at the post-ban Standard metagame with some thoughts on the front-runners Valakut and Splinter Twin, and some of the sleepers in the format.

Valakut and Splinter Twin

As one would imagine, the headlines immediately following the bannings were about the two combo decks in the format. More accurately defined as one combo deck and one loose ramp deck with a very effective kill mechanism, both of which absolutely stomp midrange and slow aggro. My aim is to touch on their current designs and look at some of the choices that were anointed as staples in wake of the bannings.

[card]Green Sun’s Zenith[/card] is one of the cards that many instantly jumped back to as a snap replacement for [card]Summoning Trap[/card]. While I’ve long held the belief in a countermagic light world GSZ was the far superior card I think people are jumping the gun in banishing all [card]Summoning Trap[/card]s to the sideboard. If anything [card]Spell Pierce[/card] has gotten better since people will cast giant spells once again and it’s usefulness against [card]Splinter Twin[/card] and Valakut ramp spells has been well documented. I definitely would run a couple of GSZ for extra copies of my green cards, especially [card]Lotus Cobra[/card] and [card]Primeval Titan[/card], but I would keep a pair of Traps around to be on the safe side. Once the metagame begins to settle out I believe control will still be around in spades and a six-pack of the two cards will become the norm.

A card I can get behind as a cornerstone of new Valakut is [card]Lotus Cobra[/card]. Cobra was impressive back when Valakut was an actual consideration instead of something only budget players on Magic Online played and it remains strong. While it dies to everything the fact remains that it’s one of the best Zenith targets and when it lives and you have a fetchland or [card]Harrow[/card] it can do things no other card is capable of. The card is certainly better then [card]Overgrown Battlement[/card] in a low-removal and low aggro format so the key to Cobra will be how many people buy into the presumed Valakut / Splinter Twin metagame. If the world really does consist mostly of those decks, [card]Lotus Cobra[/card] is going to live a very high amount of the time and enable Valakut’s best draws.

Brad Nelson mentioned that he thought [card]Lotus Cobra[/card] would get worse without [card]Jace, the Mind Sculptor[/card] to power out. While I agree it lost one of the best spells in the format to get into play, I don’t see any issue using it to power out turn four Titans or a [card]Sword of Feast and Famine[/card] plus Equip on turn three. There are still powerful things to do with [card]Lotus Cobra[/card], they just aren’t quite as herp-derp as JTMS was on a consistent basis. Coming in at a close second though has to be jamming an early [card]Inferno Titan[/card] or [card]Primeval Titan[/card] backed by [card]Summoning Trap[/card].

Some people may not like [card]Lotus Cobra[/card] in Valakut because it can potentially turn on people’s removal and isn’t as effective in Valakut as it was in RUG decks. To me this is silly because [card]Khalni Heart Expedition[/card] is a bag of soggy dog turds and [card]Dismember[/card] is going to be the most played removal spell in post-ban Standard, which conveniently kills both [card]Overgrown Battlement[/card] and the argument that you’ll make opposing removal live since having practically any non-Titan class creature in the deck will die to it. Take it a step further and realize that outside of [card]Lightning Bolt[/card], all the removal people will default to is going to kill [card]Overgrown Battlement[/card] or [card]Primeval Titan[/card] just as badly as [card]Lotus Cobra[/card].

The removal suite is going to be an ongoing update process and I’ll be surprised if people just stick to their guns one way or another from week to week. Right now the clamor seems to lean toward dropping [card]Lightning Bolt[/card] or moving it to the sideboard and main-decking [card]Dismember[/card] for some game against [card]Deceiver Exarch[/card] and [card]Spellskite[/card] while still having a one mana removal spell. While [card]Dismember[/card] is very sweet against Twin, it’s hard to justify in aggro matches and it’s sub-par against most control builds I’ve seen. [card]Beast Within[/card] was another option I’ve seen bandied about, but again I think some people are buying too much into the idea the metagame is going to be all Valakut and Twin. In that sort of meta then [card]Beast Within[/card] is a defensible maindeck choice, but in a open metagame [card]Beast Within[/card] is poor.

For those who don’t buy into [card]Lotus Cobra[/card] then a combination of maindeck [card]Pyroclasm[/card] and [card]Dismember[/card] looks appealing, covering all your bases outside of the Red match. For those who want [card]Lotus Cobra[/card] however then I suspect people will simply lean on Valakut to kill normal aggro players and only use removal with consideration against Twin, [card]Spellskite[/card] and [card]Lotus Cobra[/card] game one (AKA: [card]Dismember[/card]). Or go one step further and completely abstain from using maindeck removal and rely on Walls and [card]Spellskite[/card] to do double-duty against aggro and Twin. Here’s one such example:

[deck]4 Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle
4 Verdant Catacombs
1 Scalding Tarn
11 Mountain
4 Forest
4 Terramorphic Expanse
1 Joraga Treespeaker
4 Spellskite
4 Lotus Cobra
4 Overgrown Battlement
4 Primeval Titan
2 Avenger of Zendikar
4 Explore
2 Cultivate
4 Harrow
3 Green Sun’s Zenith
2 Summoning Trap[/deck]

Yes, it’s a lot of lands that only produce green mana, but after getting enough miserable openers that would lose to a light breeze or [card]Spreading Seas[/card] I wanted real mana. Oh and anyone running multiple [card]Raging Ravine[/card] best hope the format really does consist of only three decks or they’ll be in for a rude surprise.

A general example of where many people believe Valakut to be headed would be this:

[deck]1 Inferno Titan
2 Avenger of Zendikar
4 Lotus Cobra
4 Overgrown Battlement
4 Primeval Titan
3 Dismember
2 Cultivate
4 Explore
4 Harrow
4 Green Sun’s Zenith
4 Forest
11 Mountain
4 Evolving Wilds
1 Raging Ravine
4 Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle
4 Verdant Catacombs[/deck]

Outside of that I’ve battled with a few Valakut lists from both sides of the table focusing on the Twin and WU / BU Control matches. The results I found for the Twin match were surprising and actually surpassed my expectations with both builds I tried out. I find that many of my friends just naturally assumed [card]Splinter Twin[/card] decks were faster than Valakut and it would be an easy win between the counters and quicker kill. What I found was that the top 20-25% of Twin hands would demolish Valakut, but if Valakut had a [card]Dismember[/card] or Twin had a lesser hand then a real game would commence.

Unfortunately for Twin, Valakut won the majority of real games on the back of having far more consist… *ACK* *WEEZE* Sorry, it just hurts to say after playing the deck again. The consistency of Valakut is actually higher than Twin in both terms of threat density and the speed in which it employs them. Without [card]Jace, The Mind Sculptor[/card] the average Twin list has no real way to power through the deck in a hurry and many lists don’t even run a high amount of filtering like [card]Augury Owl[/card] and [card]Foresee[/card]. Banking on the raw draw power of [card]Preordain[/card] and [card]Jace Beleren[/card] just isn’t a real plan when you need to kill Valakut by turn six or rely on them bricking for multiple turns.

It isn’t all lollipops and sunshine for Valakut since Twin has enough counters to make a game of it and stop Valakut from just goldfishing. However the lack of a consistent engine or any tutor to fetch up missing combo pieces just puts Twin on the back, especially when [card]Dismember[/card] is taken into account. In large part inevitability actually falls on the Valakut side since it can assemble lethal with so many different draws and it can still pack plenty of cheap answers against Twin. So while the results were slightly in Valakut’s favor, I had to concede that could simply be a byproduct of not having a strong enough Twin list. Valakut is significantly easier to design as the aggressor, in particular a hateful sideboard, where as finding the best Twin shell is spread out amongst many different choices.

So for what it’s worth, the UR Twin lists don’t feel particularly strong against Valakut. On paper they crush Valakut since they have decent protection and a quicker kill, but in real games the deck just couldn’t consistently pull it together to crush Valakut. Drew Levin’s list was tested late in the cycle and had the best game of all the UR versions we put together largely on the back of running every draw spell in the format. Unlike every other list I’ve seen, that one actually can burn through enough of its deck to get it’s namesake combo together and win the game on a consistent basis.

As for alternative builds, RUG Life felt miserable and actually seemed to win more games with a turn four [card]Inferno Titan[/card] backed by the occasional counter then the combo itself. Grixis-Twin had a slightly better go of it largely on the back of Despise and I think that the extra power of discard and having an actual tutor pushed it back in Twin’s favor. Of course being tri-colored has the issue of being really soft against all the strategies aiming at Valakut’s shaky mana-base.

In essence that little match write-up encapsulates my problems with the current builds of [card]Splinter Twin[/card] combo. Drew Levin’s build came the closest to solving the main issue we had all during testing, which was the inability to successfully find the combo in situations where we had multiple turns of freedom and accomplished diddly-squat. All his version wants to do is filter away all the cards that aren’t combo pieces or [card]Dispel[/card] where it feels like everyone else wants to half and half between controlling UR deck and fast combo. My main suggestion to anyone investing time into tweaking the archetype is to decide exactly what you want the deck to accomplish when you don’t draw a combo piece early. Pick if you want to take a defensive stance, win with an alternate method or try to filter your way through the deck quickly.

W/U Control

Some people were obviously going to throw dirt on W/U as soon as bannings were announced which made sense in line with their view that the format was now two linears and that was it. I’m fully confident that W/U is still viable and I’d be surprised if some version wasn’t considered a top contender after a few weeks. There are two ways you can build W/U in a world absent [card]Jace, The Mind Sculptor[/card] and [card]Stoneforge Mystic[/card], the favorite way being the durdling around method. Sitting back and just grinding opponents out with 1 for 1 answers, mana disruption and planeswalkers. The other method is the way that W/U has been winning for the past four months, with aggression backed by Swords and a small suite of countermagic and creature kill.

I was trying out a version of aggressive W/U along the lines of what I top eighted a Star City Open with months ago and was very pleased with the initial results. It was a bit soft to Twin game one but that was solved with some help from Spellskite. Here was the list I was testing out:

[deck]3 Blade Splicer
4 Mirran Crusader
4 Squadron Hawk
3 Dismember
1 Deprive
4 Mana Leak
4 Spell Pierce
4 Preordain
3 Sword of Feast and Famine
2 Gideon Jura
1 Elspeth Tirel
4 Plains
6 Island
2 Inkmoth Nexus
3 Glacial Fortress
4 Tectonic Edge
4 Seachrome Coast
4 Celestial Colonnade[/deck]

My friend Le Lin who also played Caw exclusively before the bannings was testing a similar list with the old fashioned [card]Squadron Hawk[/card] plan and [card]Hero of Bladehold[/card] over [card]Blade Splicer[/card] which isn’t unreasonable. His list also had [card]Gitaxian Probe[/card], which has a number of sweet benefits and I’d like to fit a pair into my next build. In case you were wondering, yes it really was as easy as dropping the banned cards out, reupping the Sword count and then moving toward the more aggressive nature of pre-NPH Caw Blade decks.

Going aggressive solves the Valakut and Twin issues by just challenging them to race while disrupting them. Turns out [card]Sword of Feast and Famine[/card] still does a great job of coming down on turn five, giving you a real threat and then untapping you into [card]Gideon Jura[/card] or leaving open counters. In case you were wondering, yes this play is still the sweetest thing in existence when you bring in [card]Flashfreeze[/card] against Valakut. They can’t even [card]Nature’s Claim[/card] or try to get lucky with [card]Lightning Bolt[/card] anymore when you have [card]Spellskite[/card] around.

The transition to [card]Dismember[/card] as the main removal for Valakut to hedge against Twin gets punished hard thanks to [card]Mirran Crusader[/card]. Even without Crusader though, I’m about 10x more interested in casting a turn three [card]Blade Splicer[/card] then a turn three [card]Jace Beleren[/card]. Anything that gets my clock going early and can potentially carry a Sword feels so much stronger then casting [card]Jace Beleren[/card]. [card]Squadron Hawk[/card] isn’t particularly strong anymore, but it carries a Sword just fine and sometimes you can just slam a couple and have a clock without needing to tap out. Trying to draw a few cards off Jace when none of them are particularly backbreaking just makes me want to play a different set of cards.

For what it’s worth, the consideration of running [card]Spellskite[/card] over Hawks did come up. [card]Spellskite[/card] might be a little too passive in the maindeck, but it’s usefulness against Valakut, Twin, RDW and UB ranges from cute to game-breaking. I would definitely have at least three in my 75 and more then likely I would run the full set in this type of build where I get the normal benefits and the lightning rod protection aspect. It can still swing a Sword around so I definitely want to try the full on four [card]Spellskite[/card] maindeck plan and see how much of a difference it makes to the clock.

On the flip-side if you want to birdle and grind the opponent into a fine paste with white and blue answer cards and Titans that can still be arranged.

[deck]4 Celestial Colonnade
4 Glacial Fortress
4 Seachrome Coast
4 Tectonic Edge
4 Plains
4 Island
2 Inkmoth Nexus
2 Spell Pierce
4 Mana Leak
4 Jace Beleren
3 Gideon Jura
2 Venser, the Sojourner
1 Karn Liberated
4 Wall of Omens
2 Consecrated Sphinx
2 Day of Judgment
2 Journey to Nowhere
4 Dismember
4 Spreading Seas[/deck]

Drew Levin – UW Proliferate

[deck]3 Contagion Clasp
4 Everflowing Chalice
4 Wall of Omens
4 Dismember
4 Mana Leak
4 Jace Beleren
1 Karn Liberated
1 Venser, the Sojourner
3 Day of Judgment
4 Preordain
4 Tezzerets Gambit
4 Island
3 Plains
4 Celestial Colonnade
4 Glacial Fortress
1 Mystifying Maze
4 Seachrome Coast
4 Tectonic Edge[/deck]

One is the more traditional type of big UW Control you would expect to see, a set of counters, tons of spot removal and some planeswalkers to close things out. Levin’s list goes a step further and uses proliferate to power up some big mana off [card]Everflowing Chalice[/card] and help out his planeswalkers a bit. While I do like his list I did eventually add a real kill condition in the format of a pair of [card]Consecrated Sphinx[/card] if only so our testing games didn’t go on forever. A couple of [card]Inkmoth Nexus[/card] were also easy adds as I wanted a 25th land and the mana is very solid even with six or seven colorless sources.

I recommend the core of his list rather than every card choice that lies within. The first version is actually far better suited to dealing with Valakut and such midrange annoyances while the latter can trump most control decks with the sheer amount of draw it features. Oddly enough the [card]Everflowing Chalice[/card] also make me want to go for a cat attack with a miser [card]White Sun’s Zenith[/card] or even just boarding a pair against any type of control strategy.

So there you go, three ways to build UW without featuring big Jace or [card]Stoneforge Mystic[/card] and at least two of them have clear plans against Valakut and Twin.

RDW

For lovers of red cards the only real decision to be made until [card]Grim Lavamancer[/card] is legal is figuring out if you want to run [card]Koth of the Hammer[/card] or not. If the answer is yes, then you have to decide if you would rather have [card]Furnace Scamp[/card] or [card]Spikeshot Elder[/card] as your secondary one-drop of choice. Outside of that Sophie’s Choice the only remaining question will be if the amount of X/4 creatures being played in maindecks will justify [card]Dismember[/card] finding it’s way into the main. For the record I think Koth is better suited as a sideboard card and [card]Dismember[/card] should see maindeck play if people are hellbent on playing [card]Spellskite[/card] in everything.

Once M12 is legal then things are a little more interesting in the sense that RDW goes from being very good to having an embarrassment of riches. At absolute worst we get another top-5 red creature of all-time and [card]Incinerate[/card] to join our [card]Lightning Bolt[/card]s, Shrines and Blazes and at best we finally get a playable Chandra. It really could be the best Standard legal red deck since Tempest-Era Sligh. As the deck stands it’s merely great and likely a tier one deck even when people finally realize they need a real sideboard plan against red again.

GW Aggro

People seem to pigeonhole this archetype into [card]Fauna Shaman[/card] and [card]Vengevine[/card] and I don’t think that assumption holds true anymore. Fact is [card]Fauna Shaman[/card] and [card]Vengevine[/card] are both going to be miserable until enough pilots pick up control decks to battle with again. Even then nothing is guaranteed because the increase in [card]Dismember[/card] usage and possibility of cards like [card]Mirran Crusader[/card] taking center stage could keep the deck down. Instead I wanted another shell in which I could take advantage of the Swords with and still have a reasonable shot at racing people.

[deck]4 Forest
3 Plains
4 Arid Mesa
4 Verdant Catacombs
1 Misty Rainforest
4 Sunpetal Grove
4 Razorverge Thicket
4 Dismember
2 Eldrazi Monument
4 Sword of War and Peace
4 Hero of Bladehold
4 Mirran Crusader
3 Blade Splicer
4 Squadron Hawk
3 Nest Invader
4 Lotus Cobra
4 Birds of Paradise[/deck]

The concept of the deck was simple enough; power out a turn three [card]Sword of War and Peace[/card] and Equip, a [card]Hero of Bladehold[/card] or a turn two [card]Mirran Crusader[/card]. Any of these starts can race the faster decks in the format and even if they have the removal spell there’s enough redundancy that you can keep a fast clock up. So while it can’t always net these draws the fact is that [card]Sword of War and Peace[/card] can deliver a huge amount of damage very quickly regardless of deck when powered out by [card]Lotus Cobra[/card]. Even a turn four Sword can still deal an extra six damage and let’s you slide right by [card]Squadron Hawk[/card] and [card]Wall of Omens[/card].

While the deck is straightforward the combination of [card]Squadron Hawk[/card], [card]Blade Splicer[/card], [card]Hero of Bladehold[/card] and equipment come together to give it an actual shot of surviving a [card]Pyroclasm[/card] or [card]Day of Judgment[/card]. An alternative build could make this into a full-on Eldrazi Monument deck, but I like the current iteration. It isn’t as reliant as stocking up on a full board and [card]Sword of War and Peace[/card] can be deployed and taken advantage of quicker than Monument can. Instead of the normal build-up or attrition war G/W usually wages, this build just wants to dump strong threats on the table and then maximize the damage.

Hopefully this has given you some ideas and insight into the new metagame. Next week I’ll be covering UB Control and Tezzeret and since MTGO switches the banned list early, hopefully I can test out a few other brews I’ve been working on in time for my next article. Until then, enjoy your holiday weekend!

Josh Silvestri
Email me at: joshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom

15 thoughts on “Silvestri Says – New Standard”

  1. Melbourne_junkie

    Absence of Preordain in your UW list is disturbing. I understand that running a full set of 12 cantrips (+Wall, +S.Seas) is too many ‘non-action’ slots, but surely your deck is going to be better and run more smoothly featuring Preordain over *something*. Especially given Jace is gone and the wrong cards no longer become the right ones.

    Definitely agree w/not dropping ‘trap.

    How did you find Augury Owl in the Twin decks and which tutor are you referring to in Grixis? Liliana?

    Nice article on the whole though.

  2. No love for Luminarch Ascension in the UW Proliferate list? It seems like a no-brainer.

  3. Almost everything here I disagree with, to some extent.

    Why run Squadron Hawks in UW when you don’t have JTMS to turn them into real cards and you don’t have any need for a handful of 1/1 flyers because Valakut keeps midrange Aggro out of the way? Why have you not considered UB Control here, since UB was (prior to SoFaF-Stoneforge Control decks) superior to UW, and is probably more so now since Valakut and Twin are both hurt by black’s discard and extraction effects?

    Valakut shouldn’t run Lotus Cobra because it’s not trying to out-do a Stoneforge Mystic opening play. Furthermore, Misty Rainforests and Lotus Cobras are absolutely horrifying draws in the late game, which happens quite a bit if UB is the defining control deck of the format. You’re much better off, especially post-M12 when Rampant Growth is back, running a build that nullifies the defining removal card Dismember and has the ability to play every land/fetcher off the top of the deck to trigger Valakuts in the end game. You’re right that KHE is a pile of crap, though.

    GW Aggro is unplayable as long as Valakut is in the format, has a mediocre game against Twin, and Control decks will pull it to pieces until it picks up Vengevine strategies again. As far as Aggro goes post-ban, RDW is the one and only as it has the Shrines to have a long game edge, but also is the only one with the requisite clockspeed to kill Valakut and Exarch-Twin on a good day.

  4. I’m reasonably sure Dismember is the best spell or second best spell in Standard. At absolute worst it’s the best utility card, but it just does SO MUCH.

    @Indigo: Because you have to equip a Sword to something. As I said in the article, I’ve considered other cards (most prominently Spellskite) and if one of those performs better I’ll move Hawks to the board. Speaking of UB Control, there’s a deck that has issues with Hawks if UW has more than blanks in hand.

    I don’t get the Valakut issue in the sense of cards being horrifying late-draws. The entire deck is one horrifying bout with variance. Moving it a few percentage points in either direction in terms of consistency is a drop in the bucket sadly. If we lived in the world where people think 4 GSZ is real and always resolves then I’d have less concerns.

    As I said, I’ll be covering UB next week. Fact is it was a lot harder finding a build of UB that held up against Valakut, Twin and other control decks. Focusing it purely to smash combo / ramp is one thing, but you quickly run out of room to handle other threats. UW Swords on the other hand maimed Valakut quite handily and was easier to tweak.

    @Jim: Not my list. And I think Luminarch is OK, but nothing special. Proliferate merely makes the card playable in the first place.

    @Melbourne: Preordain felt stronger when I was looking for specific cards. Now that most of my cards are already aimed at a given target and I run a higher number of cantrips I don’t feel the need for it as much. You don’t get punished as badly for having an OK card instead of the exact answer you need. I think the card still goes in some UW lists, but just like Jace Beleren I think some builds could choose not to run it and be fine.

    Augury Owl was the best 2-drop draw / search card for Twin I’ve seen so far. You can take that as meaning to run no 2 mana draw or jam Augury Owls. You care about 3 cards in the entire deck in the average match-up. In that case having a scry 3 to clear out garbage is usually just better then drawing 2 random cards off the top.

    We ran a miser Diabolic Tutor and boarded Vess. Both outperformed expectations by a fair margin. Ultimately value doesn’t matter versus getting the winning piece of the puzzle.

    @SK: Bolt will still be legal w/ the M12 cards for a short while.

  5. Mario Lourenco

    What about the love Chancellor of the Tangle has been having from some players in Valakut?

    What do you think about that card?

  6. with m12 coming soon i’d rather play the more consistent overgrown and rampant growth with explore, over cobra.

  7. Red Deck Wins stands as the deck to improve the most so i would look to that to move up in play count the most, with the various cards available it becomes a very hard deck to deal with if you can’t board/slow it down. I do not think it will be the new top deck but i expect it to really pose a problem to many more decks with the release of M12. I know im going to be flamed mercilessly for mentioning this but with the addition of Goblin Grenade will Goblins emerge from wherever they went and actually become viable? I play every week with a friend who runs nothing but goblins and Valakut and i cant remember how many matches I’ve scraped through with 1-3 health and no way for him to deal any more damage to me.

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