I can’t say the Oko ban surprised me, as the only reason I could envision Oko living was purely marketing. But people overrate that and the omnipresent soundbite of “have to move new set packs,” against how much attendance drives bannings. For some perspective on a TO/Wizards side of things, bad formats aren’t actually that bad if people keep showing up to play them. If people refuse to even come play Magic, then you have a real problem and Food decks (which Oko was the poster child of) definitely made people stop coming to play. You could come play 30-40 player PTQ’s in some regions typically seeing twice that number, and a number of high-visibility tournaments switched formats on short notice. Throw in the abysmal numbers of the Standard Grand Prix batch and it’s impossible not to think this avoidance of Standard trickled down to FNM level events.
Once you look Upon that viewpoint, it becomes only a matter of Time before something drastic needs to be done. Speaking of, Once Upon a Time may end up being an even more egregious design mistake than Oko. It could easily be argued that it should’ve had 32 copies in the Top 8 of the last Mythic Championship and has been a staple of Standard, Pioneer and Modern since introduced. It is a blight upon the current Standard landscape and I’d argue not very healthy for any format.
Doing what others have suggested and only banning Oko or Gilded Goose or some combination of the current green decks while leaving OUAT simply shifts the problem. Instead of everyone playing Simic Food, they all switch to their Edgewall Innkeeper deck of choice and people get tired of watching Innkeeper cast on turn one in two-thirds of their games instead of Gilded Goose. The simple truth is that most Magic formats simply aren’t built to handle this level of consistency. Even if Standard was in a place where this isn’t a format health problem, there’s no guarantee that it doesn’t increase the level of boredom by seeing the same game state over and over and over to an unacceptable degree.
The summary of my issues with Veil of Summer is that it’s the ultimate “do they have it?” card. If they have it, you get completely blown out. If they don’t, you get to keep playing. Veil of Summer has been compared to one-mana Cryptic Command and it really isn’t too far off from that. It boggles the mind to see arguing about the power level of the card when put in those terms and when you consider this is roughly the same power level of a card like Red Elemental Blast. This is more of a sanity check than anything else, with the bonus of taking away future linear decks’ best sideboard option against decks actually trying to stop them.
What’s Next for Standard?
So what do we do now? It’s not too hard to look at the cards that survived the bannings and figure out which decks are mostly intact.
- Fires of Invention
- Cauldron Familiar/Witch’s Oven
- Edgewall Innkeeper
- Nissa, Who Shakes the World
- Wilderness Reclamation
Control and red strategies also have a chance to come back into the metagame, but I’ll be leaving those off for now. Same goes for some of the cooler strategies thrown into the bin because Oko simply turned them into Elks (Throne’s legendary artifact cycle comes to mind).
Fires of Invention
Jeskai Fires of Invention is the obvious go-to for players with tournaments immediately coming up because it largely dunked on non-Food decks. Very few decks had good answers to the Cavalier builds setting up one-shot turns and it was perfectly capable of playing a normal game against fair decks aiming to kill their Fires of Invention. I’ve probably won more games against green decks without a Fires in play at the end of the game than I have with. With Simic Food gone, decks will have a lot more sideboard space and that likely means an uptick in enchantment removal and Disdainful Stroke. The loss of Veil of Summer and Simic Food also means black decks will likely be switching back to Murderous Rider over Noxious Grasp for game one.
Despite these changes, I think the deck is mostly good to go. Having an early game with Bonecrusher Giant into Deafening Clarion into a Wrath/Cavaliers is still beating what almost all the fair decks are capable of. Having access to white also gives you easy answers to planeswalkers and cards like Embercleave (although you’ll likely have to take a hit first). You can also sideboard into a more creature-based plan for post-board games if they overload on denying your Fires. A curve of Tithe Taker, Legion Warboss and the adventure creatures is capable of winning games against removal-light hands.
Of course, other Fires of Invention shells like Grixis and Mardu could be worth a fresh look. Overshadowed by Field of the Dead and Oko decks, Fires of Invention is a ridiculously powerful card that hasn’t had much of a chance to shine. It’ll be interesting to see if it ends up in the same combo-ish niche Wilderness Reclamation fills or if Fires becomes a top-tier option.
Cat Combo Decks
Sultai Sacrifice was likely the best deck at the end of this iteration of Standard and while that particular build is likely dead, the combo of Cauldron Familiar and Witch’s Oven is going to see a lot of play. This is why I’m hesitant to recommend normal aggro decks as they could be hitting this brickwall a whole lot. Of course, Embercleave still ignores this particular combination and there are still plenty of anti-artifact options and even Sorcerous Spyglass to shut it down.
I’d be lying if I didn’t immediately think of 5-6 potential Cat shells that could be solid choices. You have a ton of options ranging from aggro, midrange to even a controlling shell (which I would suggest Sultai often played as). Mono-Black Aggro, Rakdos Sacrifice, Jund Sacrifice, Golgari Sacrifice and even seeing if any of the other shards are worthwhile seems reasonable. It’s a pretty low opportunity cost to run in decks that instantly boosts your win rate in creature matches and opens up some interesting secondary options.
Moving onto another very popular one-drop creature, Edgewall Innkeeper would’ve been a slam dunk if Once Upon a Time hadn’t gotten axed. However, with that gone we’ll see a much less explosive iteration of the aggro decks floating around with Selesnya Adventures taking the biggest hit alongside the combo-style adventure decks with Smitten Swordmaster. Gruul Adventures also takes a big hit because OUAT was used as a mana fixer as often as it found a relevant creature.
So good old Golgari Adventures will come out the rosiest from this turn of events and likely end up as the new midrange deck to beat. You can run interaction against everyone, you have solid card advantage choices and your creatures are respectable. Without having to skew your deck to beat Simic Food, it also opens up more generalist card choices instead of Noxious Grasp. I’d also be surprised if Lovestruck Beast, Rankle, Liliana and Find/Finality didn’t all get a boost by Food being out of the picture.
Nissa decks are obvious–players who jammed Simic Food and don’t want to switch can go back to Simic Ramp decks with extra mana acceleration and leaning heavily on the Nissa/Hydroid Krasis/Mass Manipulation trifecta. It wasn’t long ago this was the default strategy for Simic and a powerful one at that. The loss of their entire midgame plan opens up a lot of counterplay, though, and without Veil of Summer Nissa is more vulnerable than ever. The good news for people who want to jam this strategy is that a one-mana card no longer counters your 8-10 mana swing spell (while drawing them a card, of course).
According to the data, Temur Reclamation didn’t actually beat Simic, so by default it’s improved due to the bans. I never played the deck seriously, so my experiences are largely from the other side of the table against it. My general take was that the deck was super dead to fast aggro strategies whenever it lacked turn-3 Flame Sweep, crushed non-blue midrange and had a lot of flexibility to deal with other situations. Bonecrusher Giant and/or Brazen Borrower simply isn’t enough of a speedbump to stop good aggro draws and in game one every aggro deck has only a handful of dead cards.
According to the MC data, it was a reasonable choice to beat up the Adventure decks and anything else that enjoys durdling, but the match against blue midrange was pretty abysmal and the same goes for Jeskai Fires. In its current form, it looks more like a deck that will pop up in the hands of masters when the meta is friendly to it and not necessarily a mainstay. Of course, maybe not having to win against Food opens up more opportunities to shore up some of the weak matches.
Perhaps the biggest winners were the Embercleave decks, all of which struggled with Simic Food (largely on the back of Wicked Wolf). Gruul lost its main mana fixer so that may be a non-starter, but I’d be surprised if people didn’t keep trying to highroll the right mix of basics in their openers. Meanwhile all the Knights decks look far more palatable as they no longer will they be plagued by Wicked Wolf on a constant basis. I don’t think the card will disappear entirely, but it’s role in the ecosystem should drop dramatically.
Mardu Knights retains a healthy-looking curve and a number of options to hedge against spot removal and, to a lesser extent, sweepers like Deafening Clarion. Unbreakable Formation, Midnight Reaper and Gideon Blackblade all excel in this role while Worthy Knight and Acclaimed Contender were solid enough for general resource advantage. Ken Yukuhiro’s Dino version with the full Rotting Regisaur lineup alongside Embercleave also looks more powerful without the threat of becoming a 3/3 Elk.
In conclusion… Tournament Grounds is back on the table! I don’t know if these bans will create a particularly good Standard, but these were the bans that needed to happen to have a clean slate and I’m happy that the real problems got hit… and it’s not like you won’t see them in other formats!