At the risk of inducing deja vu, there were some bans in Standard last week.
Some oppressive cards have been relegated to older formats and there’s now a lot more breathing room in the format for new decks and ideas to see serious play. Oko and Veil of Summer in particular were keeping down a wide range of strategies and counter-play to green decks, which should hopefully relinquish their stranglehold on the metagame. Of course, there’s only one real way to find out, so let’s get to building!
Sultai Cat – Baker Neenan
While the Sultai Cat deck that showed up and dominated the Pro Tour was playing all three of the now banned cards, none of them were entirely crucial to the core engine of Cauldron Familiar, Witch’s Oven and Trail of Crumbs. That continuous flow of card draw and life gain paired with Wicked Wolf and Massacre Girl allow the deck to out-grind anyone while steamrolling aggressive decks.
There’s also a lot of ground to be gained by incorporating cards that were previously driven out of the format by Oko’s presence. Feasting Troll King is an extremely above-rate beater when it isn’t getting elk’d that takes over combat and turns the game on a dime, while seamlessly fitting into our overall grindy game plan with its extra supply of food and repeated recursion. It also serves as a nice enabler for The Great Henge, which was another card being held down by Oko’s presence that goes absolutely berserk when we start recurring cats every turn.
The maindeck Thrashing Brontodons hint at another facet of this format’s early stages. This format is overflowing with potent build-around enchantments and artifacts. Trail of Crumbs, Witch’s Oven, The Great Henge, Fires of Invention, Wilderness Reclamation, Doom Foretold, Experimental Frenzy, Lucky Clover, Embercleave and The Circle of Loyalty are all potentially game-changing cards to be able to take out of commission in game one when our opponent is generally most reliant on them. Which is more than enough to push an already reasonable card into maindeck status.
Golgari Adventures – Baker Neenan
This is another deck that lost cards to the bans but gained even more from cards that were effectively unbanned with Oko gone. As much as you’ll miss having Once upon a Time to dig towards Edgewall Innkeeper in your opening hand, getting to play Lucky Clover now that Oko’s gone makes up for that by providing a full eight broken payoff cards to pair with the Adventure cards. Lucky Clover also opens up new angles of attack for us, like chaining Smitten Swordsmith to burn our opponent out through board stalls, or shredding our combo or control opponent’s hand with Reaper of Night. The latter in particular allows us to swing in our favor matchups like Temur Reclamation that previously excelled at exploiting our mediocre clock and weakness to Flame Sweep.
Previous iterations of the adventures archetype turned towards Massacre Girl and Liliana, Dreadhorde General as their top end, which cleaned up nicely against Food opponents flooding the board with small creatures. As I mentioned earlier with regards to Thrashing Brontodon, the new shape of standard is being defined by combining permanents into engine pieces to go over the top. Which is where Casualties of War now shines cleaning up all the pieces at once, particularly with Veil of Summer no longer around to punish us for committing to this kind of hay-maker interactive spell. Any number of creatures can easily be stalled out by the defensive creatures in Foulmire Knight and Lovestruck Beast to buy time for a clover kill, and Casualties of War wipes out any creative solution our opponent could possibly come up with to circumvent that problem.
Grixis Scions – Baker Neenan
Alright, time to go off the rails a little bit. The veil ban made it safe to Duress and Thought Erasure people again, but controlling decks decks are likely to get fed into the meat grinder against the engine pieces, mana cheating and recursion available to the field. Instead, our goal is to clear their hand of answers then slam a threat that immediately takes over the game and win before they can draw one. The Royal Scions does a ton of work here, allowing Rotting Regisaur and friends to steamroll over blockers and looting away spare lands and dead discard spells to make sure we always have a threat ready to go.
Due to the nature of playing one-for-one discard spells, our deck will tend to struggle against opponents who can handle our individual threats before they get out of control. That’s where the Sarkhan sideboard plan comes in, replacing cards like Rotting Regisaur and Embercleave that are vulnerable to removal with a steady flow of planeswalkers that can generate a lasting advantage even if they’re killed, or animate into dragons and end the game immediately if they aren’t. On the other hand, we have some issues against aggro decks that can punish us for spending early turns on discard spells and snowballing threats that leave us behind on board. Fortunately, Enter the God-Eternals gives us a way to immediately stabilize the board after taking off early turns to trade cards out of their hand and prevent a reload, then crack back before they dig their way out.
Dimir Citadel – Baker Neenan
Bolas’s Citadel and Thought Erasure are a tried and true combination for going over the top in previous Standard formats, and are back on the menu without Veil of Summer and Oko around to keep them in check. Narset also benefits immensely from not having sudden 3/3s from Oko and Nissa waiting around every corner to stop her from getting a second minus off, and can resume her role as an above-rate card draw spell that occasionally soft locks your opponent for free.
The linchpin to this archetype though is Enter the God-Eternals. Ready access to life gain is crucial to leverage Citadel properly but with current manabases trying to play Esper for cards like Oath of Kaya or Elite Guardmage is just too costly. Enter slots into the overall trend of reactive hay-makers being much more effective with Veil of Summer gone and with reliable access to it off Narset lets us shred aggro decks despite our fairly greedy build.
Cry of the Carnarium also gains quite a bit from fewer 3/3s hanging around, but more so from just having a shell where it’s playable. While the card is quite strong, the lack of decks that both aren’t playing a bunch of one-drops and are capable of casting a double black spell early in the game has kept it out of the spotlight. While Cry wasn’t directly hit by Veil of Summer, it proved too difficult to build a deck that could utilize it without being overly exposed to blowouts from Veil. With Cauldron Familiar decks rising up and aggro decks looking to sneak back into the meta with Wicked Wolf on the downswing, this is prime time to put them back in their place.
Standard right now is defined by powerful build-around engines pumping out free cards, mana or in some cases both. The crucial thing to keep in mind when building decks right now is not just how to leverage your own engine pieces, but how to cleanly disrupt your opponents’ without going too far out of your way, or cut the game short before they can get online.
Until next time, happy brewing!