Frank Analysis – Standard Brews with M15 and Thoughts on Standard in the Fall

While testing for Pro Tour M15, I brewed up and tested a lot of decks. Some of them were good enough—I wrote about those decks here. Others were reasonable, but just lacked one or two cards to be competitive. And some turned out to be horrible, even if they contained interesting M15 cards.

Today, I’ll go over the last two categories. For these decks, I’ll provide lists, discuss their appeal and shortcomings, and examine their viability for Standard in the fall. But first, let me lay the context for the post-rotation Standard.

A Preview of Standard in the Fall

In little over a month, Return to Ravnica Block and M14 will rotate out of Standard, and Khans of Tarkir will enter the fray. Although we don’t know what will be in Khans of Tarkir, we do know the makeup of the present Standard and Block Constructed, so we can speculate by looking at the top decks in those formats. (By the way, the new block and rotation structure announced by Mark Rosewater earlier this week seems good to me since more frequent rotation leads to more innovation, but its effects won’t be felt until a year from now.)

Most current top Standard decks won’t survive the rotation. Here’s a quick overview of the decks that, at least in the form we know them, will be dead:

One minor note regarding Mono-Black Devotion: Nikolas Labahn piloted a Mono-Black Devotion deck to the Top 8 of a Theros Block Constructed Grand Prix, showing that Mono-Black Devotion may stick around after the rotation. However, since he didn’t have access to Return to Ravnica block or M14, he based his deck around Abhorrent Overlord, Gray Merchant of Asphodel, Whip of Erebos, and Pyxis of Pandemonium. So, it looks nothing like the Standard version. Pack Rat, good riddance.

Certain decks that are popular in Standard right now may linger around in one form or another after the rotation. The most important ones, in my view, are the following:

I’ve alluded to Block Constructed several times. Block is traditionally is the best source for ideas on the post-rotation Standard format, as it always establishes a solid foundation. I wrote a detailed overview of the Theros Block Constructed metagame in the Grand Prix Manchester coverage, complete with average deck lists and all, so if you want to learn more, I recommend you check that out. The very quick summary is that GBW Midrange, GWR Midrange, and GBU Midrange were the three most popular decks. Without a Supreme Verdict to stop the turn-2 Sylvan Caryatid plus turn-3 Courser of Kruphix opening, green decks dominated, and Fabrizio Anteri took the trophy at that Grand Prix with the green all-stars. As M15 hasn’t brought back Wrath of God, I recommend stocking up on Sylvan Caryatid and Courser of Kruphix if you want to get ready for Standard in the fall.

With all that in mind, let’s move on to the brews that I promised in the introduction of this article.

Brew #1: Artifact Aggro

The idea of this deck was to start with Ornithopter and to add cards that work well with it. Ensoul Artifact, Illusory Angel, and Military Intelligence all qualify. Military Intelligence demands more cheap flyers, which led me to Cloudfin Raptor and Judge’s Familiar. Ensoul Artifact and Illusory Angel demand more cheap artifacts, which implies Springleaf Drum.

Once you have Drum, you want additional cards that synergize well with it, and Daring Thief is one of the best. But you need more ways than just 4 Drum to activate inspired, which led me to Chief Engineer, which in turn demands high-cost artifacts like Scuttling Doom Engine.

So that’s the idea behind the construction of this deck. However, I went 3-7 against the field in testing and found that the deck was lacking in power. Chief Engineer and Scuttling Doom Engine were very weak if you drew one without the other, but cutting them led to a snowball effect. Without Chief Engineer, Daring Thief was not good enough. Without Daring Thief, Springleaf Drum was not good enough. And so on. So, the deck had some strong synergies going for it, but it was just missing a few cards to be viable.

Could this deck work post-rotation?

It very well might. We lose Cloudfin Raptor and Judge’s Familiar, but those are easily replaced by Hypnotic Siren and Triton Shorestalker. The loss of Mutavault is more impactful (it may lead players to favor two-color or three-color decks over mono-colored decks in general) but all of the Ornithopter synergy cards remain. If a card like Cranial Plating or Razormane Masticore is reprinted in Khans of Tarkir, then I could see an improved version of this deck (possibly with red for Generator Servant and Shrapnel Blast) as a contender, so keep an eye out for that.

Brew #2: Aggressive Mining

The first card that came to my mind when I saw Aggressive Mining was Necropotence. Both allow you to trade resources for cards. And both have a harsh drawback, forcing you to give up either your draw step or the opportunity to play lands. Of course, Necropotence is much better, but I had hopes that Aggressive Mining would be good enough in the right deck.

The above deck is what I brewed up. The idea was to go Elvish Mystic on turn one, Burning-Tree Emissary into Chasm Skulker on turn two, and Aggressive Mining on turn three. Then, on turn four, you convoke out Nissa’s Expedition, draw cards with Aggressive Mining to pump Chasm Skulker, and go to town. Eventually, you Chord into Reclamation Sage to kill your own Aggressive Mining so you can play lands again, and eventually win the game with Borborygmos Enraged.

The deck also features the synergy between Daring Thief and Stoke the Flames, and I loved the addition of Deathrite Shaman because I had Aggressive Mining and Evolving Wilds to get lands into my graveyard.

Unfortunately, the deck was horrendous. I tested a total of ten games against gauntlet decks (Mono-Black Devotion, Mono-Blue Devotion, and U/W control) and I won exactly zero of them. The synergies are cute, but in most games, when you don’t have the perfect draw, the drawback of Aggressive Mining was too severe. I don’t see a promising future for this deck in the fall.

Brew #3: G/B Graveyard

This deck had been around for a while in Standard, but M15 added Soul of Innistrad, Llanowar Wastes, Urborg, and Chord of Calling. The deck can be built in various ways (with Endless Obedience or Strength from the Fallen, for example) but we preferred the above build. All in all, the deck was fine, but it didn’t win enough for us to consider it at the Pro Tour.

How about the future of this deck in the new Standard?

It loses several important cards in the rotation: Grisly Salvage, Overgrown Tomb, Jarad, Lotleth Troll, and Shadowborn Demon most notably. As a result, it will be a bit harder to achieve a full graveyard and the payoff for doing so is also lower. However, using Satyr Wayfinder, Commune with the Gods, and Nyx Weaver to turn on Nighthowler and Nemesis of Mortals is still a viable plan. Chord of Calling worked well with Satyr Wayfinder and Nyx Weaver, and that synergy remains. It’s also worth pointing out that the presence of Elvish Mystic and Llanowar Wastes in M15 gives a speed boost that was unavailable in Theros Block Constructed. If Khans of Tarkir has a green or black card that works well with the graveyard, then we should pay attention to this style of deck.

Brew #4: Slivers

Sliver Hivelord is at odds with Mutavault, but since it protects your board from Supreme Verdict and can be cast via Sliver Hive, we wanted to build around it. We chose not to run the full set of Venom Sliver and Thorncaster Sliver, at least not in the main deck. Even if the combo is brutal against creature decks, drawing them against UW Control was awful.

Our version has Chord of Calling, along with a few tutor targets, although we capped the number of 4+ mana at 13 for curve reasons. The mana base is focused around green lands for Chord of Calling, while ensuring you have enough turn-1 sources for Galerider Sliver and Striking Sliver and a good mix between Temples, shock duals, and pain lands. The mana base couldn’t support Syphon Sliver or Hive Stirrings.

The deck was a lot of fun to play, but the main problem was the huge inconsistency. Sometimes you don’t draw the right lands or the right mix of Slivers, and then you lose. We were unable to patch this up, and threw out the deck.

The deck’s chances in the post-rotation Standard are very slim. We lose Galerider Sliver, Predatory Sliver, Manaweft Sliver, Blur Sliver, Bonescythe Sliver, etc., and then the whole deck falls apart.

Brew #5: White Weenie

This is a Soldier version that we built to test whether Obelisk of Urd plus Raise the Alarm would be worth it. It worked reasonably well and went roughly 50-50 against the field in testing in pre-sideboarded games, but we felt that the sideboard options for this mono-colored deck were lacking and expected that it would get much worse in games two and three.

That said, White Weenie is always a reasonable strategy, and turn-one Soldier of the Pantheon, turn-two Raise the Alarm, turn-three Obelisk of Urd remains a possibility after the rotation. Launch the Fleet and Brimaz are also excellent at making Soldier tokens. While the deck loses a number of cards (Boros Elite, Dryad Militant, Precinct Captain, Azorius Arrester, Brave the Elements, and Mutavault), there are possible replacements in Theros Block (Favored Hoplite, Hero of Iroas, Phalanx Leader, and a red splash for Akroan Crusader, for example).

It is worth pointing out that Stanislav Cifka made the Top 8 at the Theros Block Constructed Pro Tour with a R/W Heroic deck that would be a good fit for Raise the Alarm and Obelisk of Urd, so there may be a future for this archetype after the release of Khans of Tarkir.

Brew #6: Zombies

Conley Woods battled with a version very similar to ours at the Pro Tour. He wrote about it here. In our testing, we found Zombies to be solid against UW Control, but underpowered in every matchup when it comes to racing.

Looking to the future, the problem is that many of the key Zombies will rotate out: We lose Slitherhead, Lotleth Troll, Lifebane Zombie, Dreg Mangler, and Jarad. Unless Khans of Tarkir brings a ton of new playable Zombies, it seems very unlikely that we will see Necromancer’s Stockpile again.

Brew #7: Infinite Angels

As Melira Pod in Modern has shown, Chord of Calling is a very potent card when it comes to setting up a combo. With that in mind, I looked at creature-based combos in Standard, and arrived at the above deck.

To set up the combo, you need Felhide Spiritbinder, Aurelia, the Warleader, and two mana-producing creatures on the battlefield. You attack with Aurelia and the Spiritbinder, tap your mana producers in response to the Aurelia trigger, and then untap your Spiritbinder and mana producers. You copy Aurelia, sacrifice the original to the legend rule, and keep the token around. Felhide Spiritbinder hits your opponent, and then you can repeat the whole process again with the Aurelia token.

To be fair, I never got around to trying this deck. It seemed like a lot of fun on paper, but creature-based combos don’t match up very well against Thoughtseize, Hero’s Downfall, or Supreme Verdict. And since Felhide Spiritbinder and Aurelia, the Warleader will rotate out of Standard, we won’t see this combo again. However, if Khans of Tarkir offers a good two-card creature combo, then Chord of Calling remains a strong card to set it up, and Yisan, the Wanderer Bard and Ajani, Mentor of Heroes can also help out, so that will be something to keep in mind.

Hope you enjoyed this look at Standard brews with M15 cards and my early thoughts on Standard after the rotation. See you again in two weeks!

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