Standard looks much the same today as it did two months ago.
To be clear, it looks much the same, but those of us who know it well know that it’s changed forever. In addition to the natural ebbs and flows of the format, Journey into Nyx added a small handful of cards to the mix which’ve caused irrevocable changes. While we might be seeing the same overall archetypes that we’ve grown used to, the subtleties of gameplay and matchups are very different.
Let’s begin with a couple of new cards.
Anyone who remembers Oblivion Ring understands the potential in Banishing Light. More to the point, those of us who’ve seen the power of Detention Sphere in Theros Standard understand the work that Banishing Light will need to do for white decks.
A tremendous number of Standard games come down to a simple question: Detention Sphere or no?
Standard is full of noncreature threats capable of dominating a game. While this is true of most formats, Theros Block adds the additional element of Gods—creatures which cannot be answered by Supreme Verdict or many of the spot removal spells available.
My experience with control in Standard is that four copies of Detention Sphere is often not enough. Decks like Monsters and Black Devotion (particularly after sideboard) play enough must-answer permanents that your Spheres are overloaded. This is not even to mention when Thoughtseize and enchantment removal are added into the equation.
In the past, Esper decks have turned to Hero’s Downfall as a supplement to Detention Sphere, at least to better handle planeswalkers. However, this is extremely demanding on the mana and doesn’t help to answer Gods and weapons.
Banishing Light will come to stand alongside Detention Sphere as one of control’s most important tools. My hunch is that playing both spells in four copies will be overkill, but I could even be proven wrong on that! So far, some control players are choosing to only include zero or one copy of Banishing Light, but Jake Gans ran three in addition to his four Detention Spheres.
Generally speaking, straight U/W Control will need to lean more heavily on the card than Esper Control.
There’s also the entirely different question of white decks which do not have access to blue mana and Detention Sphere. For these decks, Banishing Light is a catch-all answer that saves a player the stress of having to find the right numbers of Revoke Existence, Last Breath, Ultimate Price, Hero’s Downfall, and the rest.
Banishing Light rounding out the already strong removal suite of B/W Control is enormous. I’d be quick to name it as a contributing factor in Charlie Rinehart’s victory at the SCG Open in Edison, New Jersey.
And what does Banishing Light mean for the following deck?
Where it was “rounding things out” in B/W Midrange, Banishing Light plays a unique and irreplaceable role in Andy Boswell’s W/G Aggro deck. Instead of being brick-walled by a Boros Reckoner or Desecration Demon, W/G now has an efficient answer. When its creature pressure forces the opponent to +1 Jace, Architect of Thought, Banishing Light can remove it from the table along with a small gain in tempo. When an early Pack Rat threatens to run away with the game, in some circumstances Banishing Light can nip it in the bud.
Banishing Light also has the special ability of exiling opposing Detention Spheres, a feat that Detention Sphere itself cannot accomplish. In the context of a matchup such as W/G against Esper, this has devastating consequences. Where most removal is virtually dead (think Last Breath, etc.) Banishing Light knocks the legs out from one of Esper’s most important removal spells!
I’d also like to add that the risk of a Detention Sphere/Banishing Light being removed is very high for control, but very low for aggro. Even against an opponent packing enchantment removal, Mr. Boswell has the ability to close a game quickly, perhaps before they ever draw it. Even if the opponent is fortunate enough to have an answer in their hand, removing a blocker for a single turn when they’re tapped out will sometimes be more than enough to swing the game in G/W’s favor!
Banishing Light becoming a Standard staple has a number of consequences, one of which is closely related to another Journey into Nyx card:
It wasn’t long ago that Revoke Existence was a common maindeck card in Standard. Underworld Connections, Detention Sphere, Courser of Kruphix, Gods, and weapons are just some of the permanents that Revoke nicely and neatly deals with. Add Banishing Light to that list and you have a format where Disenchant is a desirable maindeck effect.
The primary danger of maindecking Deicide is drawing it against a deck where it’s completely dead, but I’d argue that those decks are a dying breed. Andy Boswell and his W/G Aggro deck represents an opponent who, two months ago, might’ve maindecked zero artifacts and enchantments, but now, due to Banishing Light, is live to be blown out by a Deicide.
Deicide is substantially better than Revoke Existence. First, it’s instant speed, which can mean a tempo gain when you exile Thassa, God of the Sea or Courser of Kruphix before you untap for your third turn. It means being able to hold up mana for Dissolve, Sphinx’s Revelation, and any number of other instants in a control deck. It means blowouts during combat against Hexproof and other strategies, and it generally means disguising what you’re up to.
Second is the card’s impact against Gods, which is more than just a flavorful side effect. Against a deck like Blue Devotion, you neuter one of their best long-term tools and have a reasonable chance of taking a second copy out of their hand! Other times, you can gain tremendous value from looking through an opponent’s hand and deck, seeing what tricks might be up their sleeve or how they might’ve sideboarded.
While Banishing Light presents one more good target for Deicide, it also competes for its slot. Nonetheless, I see Deicide as a strong 1-of for control decks, and a fine consideration for something like B/W Midrange. It will probably be relegated to sideboard in decks like W/G Aggro.
Abrupt Decay is not a Journey into Nyx card, but its partner in crime—Temple of Malady—sure is. The fact that B/G was one of the last two color combinations to receive a scry land had huge consequences in Standard, but those days are over! Now all forms of B/G decks can compete on an even playing field! This comes at a time when Abrupt Decay—a card that I once proposed might be the best card in Standard—has gotten even better due to Banishing Light.
Of any deck, Black Devotion splashing green gets my strongest endorsement for the early days of Journey into Nyx Standard. Black midrange mirrors are so much about Underworld Connections that having access to Abrupt Decay and Vraska the Unseen provides a huge advantage. Just be thoughtful about what other removal you prioritize, since Pack Rat and Blood Baron of Vizkopa have the potential to be problem cards.
Jeff Hoogland’s Temple of Malady/Abrupt Decay deck is a bit more colorful. It plays in the same vein as my Junk Midrange deck from a couple of months ago, but has both Mr. Hoogland’s personal touches, and his updates from Journey into Nyx.
This deck has demanding mana requirements, and since the bulk of the early spells are black and green, it benefits tremendously from the printing of Temple of Malady. Beyond that, it features two more exciting additions from the new set.
Ajani seems tailor-made for this type of strategy. While it plays a useful role in any matchup, Ajani’s main talent is allowing a slightly slower creature deck to pound a slightly faster creature deck into the ground. First, it’s a resilient win condition in its own right, which is crucial for a deck with so many slots devoted to mana. Second, it’s a card advantage engine in games where you’re flooding out. Third, it offers a tremendous amount of board control in games where both players are amassing an army. Finally, in matchups like this, the threat of putting the game away by gaining 100 life will force the opponent to make difficult decisions, and perhaps make moves before they’re ready.
That’s my overly-wordy way of saying that Ajani, Mentor of Heroes is great for this deck! It also has a home in a number of other strategies including various builds of Naya, Bant, and straight W/G.
Jeff Hoogland included one copy of Mana Confluence in his Junk deck. Jake Gans included one copy of Mana Confluence in his W/U/R Control deck. This is a powerful card that’s useful for rounding out and perfecting a three-color mana base.
Many players’ first instincts will be to dread the life loss of Mana Confluence and the negative consequences it will have against aggro decks. However, as my extensive testing of Block Constructed taught me, it’s often the case that casting your spells on time is more important to beating aggro than a couple points of life here and there.
That said, those positioned to reap the main benefits of Mana Confluence are the pilots of two-color aggro decks. A dual land that enters the battlefield untapped with no questions asked is worth paying a high cost for. However, the fact of the matter is that in the majority of matchups and games, the life loss is extremely unlikely to change a win into a loss—it has nearly no cost at all!
Mana Confluence breathes new life into decks like Andy Boswell’s G/W Aggro as well as White Weenie (with any splash your heart desires), B/R Aggro, and Hexproof.
Those are far from all the consequences that the printing of Journey into Nyx will have for Standard, but are some of the most important.
Beyond the decks featured here, there’s still Monsters, Burn, Dredge, White Weenie, Devotion to every color, and dozens more to think about. Where, in this wide, expansive format will I head personally? I can’t answer for certain yet, but it’s very likely that I’ll find myself playing a deck based around either Abrupt Decay (Black Devotion, B/G, Junk, or Jund), or a deck based around Sphinx’s Revelation (in which case I’d likely include Banishing Light and Deicide).
In the coming weeks, I’ll be putting my effort into these strategies, and promise to keep you posted with my thoughts and updates.