Throne of Eldraine is right around the corner, and rotation is coming with it.
Between old cards that never got their chance to shine due to format constraints, and new cards entering — there’s a lot of room to break things wide open at the start of the format. Let’s take a first look at these new tools, and how we can turn them into the broken decks we’re looking for.
Gruul Aggro – Baker Neenan
With no duals coming in Throne of Eldraine to replace the checklands, it will likely be prohibitively difficult to support Esper mana for the next three months. Controlling Teferi decks are going to be tough to support, and any other heavily interactive decks will be hard pressed to keep up with the Field of the Dead and Hydroid Krasis decks. As we’ve learned over the past few months these decks have a nigh unstoppable endgame but little capacity to protect themselves in the early game.
So with that in mind, now is an excellent time to be hard focused on killing people, with little regard for a grindy game or susceptibility to removal. And if your opponents lack the tools to punish you, Embercleave represents an obscenely efficient conversion of mana to damage to close out the game at lightning speed.
Trying to get Embercleave down to exactly two mana isn’t really necessary, but it does need to be castable and preferably for less mana. To that end, Chandra, Acolyte of Flame and Legion Warboss pump out a stream of expendable attackers to cheat out the equipment while being legitimate threats in their own right. This lets us play more big hay-makers to put our equipment on and fewer low impact early drops to curve out with. They also pull double duty as enablers for one of those hay-makers: Lovestruck Beast. This guy is a massive body, with the weakness that if your 1/1s get picked off he becomes useless, something we prevent nicely by threatening to make two more every turn.
This is also a nice home for Magic’s newest rate-monster: there’s no real way to profitably block a Questing Beast but it your opponent so much as tries, the combat tricks will blow them all the way out of the water. Beast also threatens to burst them down from hand if they ever tap-out to add to a stalled board in the midgame, pressuring them to delay their own development. And if they do hold up that removal spell for too long, we can capitalize by setting up Colossus plus Embercleave on a Gruul Spellbreaker to combo off and bypass their kill spells completely.
We’ve got to go back to the drawing board for the sideboarded games because our opponents are likely to load up on removal. In order to counteract that we’re going to be swapping out our combat tricks for Veil of Summers and planeswalkers. This has been a tried and true strategy in aggressive decks for years. Baseline aggression from our low curve (plus the threat of sudden demise since they’re still in the dark) should keep them off balance so we can stick a planeswalker or two and take over. With mono-red and white decks lacking in good options for an early curve thus far in a smaller Standard format, this seems poised as one of the most explosive aggro decks on the block.
Golgari Stompy – Baker Neenan
This aggro deck loses the combo finish to blow out board stalls that our Gruul deck had. But it’s better at beating up aggro mirrors by virtue of what I like to call the “Slightly Bigger Creature Theory” — which is as unbeatable as it is silly sounding. Basically, 3/3s are bigger than 2/1s and 7/6s are bigger than everything. So if they try to go under you, your fatties cause their blocks to quickly fizzle out and they lose. If they try to throw a change-up with planeswalkers and a higher curve, nothing can block profitably so you turn and kill them before they can get off the ground.
Similar to Embercleave, Rotting Regisaur is soft to the interactive strategies that I expect to be largely absent in the coming months, but is extremely good at winning the game before your opponent can enact their own gameplan. It’s other weakness, running into opposing chump blockers, is solved nicely here by the trample applied by Vivien, Arkbow Ranger, an excellent beat-down card that similarly has been largely absent in a meta full of Esper.
Overloading on one-drops and dumping our hand helps us avoid the drawback of Rotting Regisaur and ensure Vivien always has a target for her plus ability, and there are plenty of solid one-drops to make this possible. Every creature in our deck is non-human, so Wildwood Tracker is reliably turned on as a 2/2 attacker and makes a nice new addition to green aggro decks to pair with Pelt Collector. Knight of the Ebon Legion is stretching our mana, but the card is too busted not to play and it scales well enough into the mid and late game that casting it off-curve is fine. That scaling also helps us transition smoothly from a low curve beat-down deck in game one to a more grindy midrange deck in game two.
Our opponents who didn’t bring aggro decks will know to be prepared for them, so as they bring in defensive measures, we seamlessly transition into a grindy midrange deck and bury them in card advantage. Finality and Cry run some nice insurance against someone trying to go wide enough to get a clean attack through the big stuff, and Finality cleans up midrange board stalls the same way it always has. Garruk is absurd in the cleaner board states that come when your opponent is more focused on killing your threats instead of just playing their own , so I prefer him here over Liliana. The one Biogenic Ooze is a little worse than other sideboard options, but it gives you a target for Vivien’s ultimate in game one for when you’re light on threats.
Bant Oko – Baker Neenan
It wouldn’t really be standard if there weren’t four Teferi, Time Ravelers jammed in here somewhere would it?
The curve of Hero of Precinct One into Oko, Thief of Crowns seems to have largely slipped under the radar thus far in spoiler season. But these two quickly pump out an obscene amount of power while leaving Oko with plenty of loyalty, so you can get aggressive without much fear of him dying on the crack back. That kind of nut-draw potential puts a tight squeeze on our opponents, who stand to get run over if they don’t have an immediate answer but can’t get too reactive without succumbing to Teferi and Hydroid Krasis going long.
Gilded Goose also pairs excellently with Oko for fast starts, but if you don’t have him reloading your food supply, you need to get the most you can out of that first free use. Nissa, Who Shakes the World is a prime candidate, as she quickly takes over the game when played ahead of schedule and produces more than enough mana to make up for your mana dork going dead.
Deputy of Detention helps you catch up from behind against creature swarms, Trostani locks down attacks nicely and the incidental life gain from food tokens, lifelink, Krasis and Guardmage helps seal the deal from there. That’s hopefully a comprehensive enough plan to compensate for playing a bunch of tapped lands and few high impact early plays, particularly when compounded with extra removal and Tolsimirs post-board.
Veil of Summer might be a bit redundant with Teferi, but the card is pretty obscene so it’s likely worth running some just to max out on average power level in grindy games after board. And if someone does try to play any kind of UBx deck into you, those and the Tamiyos should make the matchup ridiculously lopsided.
The main thing missing from this list is a way to go way over the top of Nissa mirrors and Field of the Dead decks, but none of the options are particularly appealing so I’m holding off for now. If Oko really is the truth we’ll reconvene and come up with a plan in a few weeks.
That’s all for now, but we’re just days away from some sweet Throne of Eldraine action and the set looks extremely promising. I for one cannot wait to play with these new cards! If you’re working on these decks and have any input feel free to hit me up on Twitter to discuss.