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Old Glories in the New Standard

2018/01/26 00:00 

    • Pierre Dagen
    • Hareruya Pros Blog

Introduction

As you might have heard if you any interest at all in competitive Magic, Wizards decided to shake things up a little bit in Standard: they banned 《Rogue Refiner》, 《Attune with Aether》, 《Ramunap Ruins》 and 《Rampaging Ferocidon》. In other words, they decided to cripple the best two decks in Standard: Green Energy (Temur, Temur Black and Sultai) and Ramunap Red.

Rogue RefinerAttune with AetherRamunap RuinsRampaging Ferocidon

Maybe they were right, maybe they were not: I do not have any strong opinion on the matter, and even if I did, it would not change the fact that you have to figure out what to do now. But at least, it is exciting, since this basically creates a whole new format for us to figure out. Remember that it is not only the bannings: we also have a new set coming in with Rivals of Ixalan, and even though it did look low-impact at first, it could shine now. In order to do that, I think there are four steps we need to take, which are:

1. Find out which decks now the level 1 metagame, i.e. which pre-existing decks can survive the rotations.

2. Try to see whether or not both Energy and Ramunap Red can adapt post-bannings in order to keep using the busted cards that are still legal, namely 《Glorybringer》 and 《Hazoret the Fervent》 (among other things).

GlorybringerHazoret the Fervent

3. See if, maybe, some old decks that had been kept in check because of the top 2 contenders could see the light.

4. Create entirely new decks, based on Rivals of Ixalan cards and mechanics.

In this article, we’ll try to cover the first step.

Level 1 Metagame: Old Decks That Are Still Relevant

This is basically the metagame for lazy people: you just look at whatever decks hold the number 3 or 4 spot before, and hope that they simply became number one after the top two got the axe. Lazy indeed, but remember, lazy people can be right…this approach would indicate a few solid decks. Namely:

Esper Gift:

This was the clear number 3 before, and it makes a lot of sense to have Esper Gift at the top of the predictive food chain. The deck does something very powerful, relying on one of the busted cards left in 《God-Pharaoh's Gift》 that does not really need a specific metagame to function well, and it even gained two powerful options in terms of come-into-play creatures with the printing of 《Dusk Legion Zealot》 and 《Ravenous Chupacabra》.

Dusk Legion ZealotRavenous Chupacabra

It is also by far the deck that will be happiest about 《Rampaging Ferocidon》 getting the axe, since the angry angry dino stopped its whole plan. A typical, adapted list would look something like this:

I love what this deck is doing. It has the potential for busted draws, but also a ton of staying power due to how every single creature nets you value. It also takes some work to adapt such a strategy, making it the perfect week 1 contender.

Blue-White 《Approach》

If Esper Gift is the top dog, then Blue-White 《Approach》 is ready to put on its big boy pants. This is another deck that did not care one bit for the cards that got banned, and it is very well positioned to fight the Gift deck: not only do you have the counterspells and 《Cast Out》 to stop any attempt at comboing out, you also laugh in the face of their grindy gameplan since you just want to win, pointblank, when you reach mana. No one cares if they are ahead on cards, value or board presence as long as they do not kill you, so just let them be cute and enjoy their interactions while you score the win.

Torrential Gearhulk

You are running 《Torrential Gearhulk》, a card that dominated the original Pro Tour Kaladesh, when 《Smuggler's Copter》 and 《Aetherworks Marvel》 were still legal, so you cannot be too wrong.

Sadly, Rivals of Ixalan has not be kind to control mages, and I cannot think of any card to add to the old version of the deck. But hey, winning never goes out of style...

Blue-Black Control

You know how to win the old Energy mirror? Play 《The Scarab God》. This dude is so powerful that Temur had to go out of his way and play a basic 《Swamp》 (and I cannot stress out enough how horrible it was to draw a basic 《Swamp》 in that deck) to cast him. Well, he did not leave, and is probably the most powerful creature in Standard, so why not play entirely around him?

The Scarab God

That is what Blue-Black Control does. You are basically trying to stop whatever combinations or tempo your opponent wants to assemble, and see who comes on top when all that matters is raw power and card advantage. At that game, 《The Scarab God》 and 《Search for Azcanta》 are fighting for the top spot...and you play both.

The deck is not really about match-ups, since you can adapt easily with more removal, discard or countermagic. If you want to pick a deck that is guaranteed to be relevant, if not busted, UB is a very safe choice.

Here is an example, but control is a lot about adapting whatever deck is on top at the moment, so feel free to tweak it. If the Pro Tour was Standard, this would be my starting point for sure.

Abzan (or not) Tokens

The story of Abzan tokens in Standard is a fairly sad one. The deck has been around a long time, giving the audience some fairly cool games to watch since it can do the craziest things when it gets rolling. It has also never been able to prove any form of dominance, because Ramunap Red would never let you start doing your thing, and Energy deck would allow you to have fun maindeck only to smash you like it was nothing postboard.

Now, the power level of Standard has declined by a lot. And Abzan Tokens has not been touched; in fact, I believe it might secretly be the most improved deck of the four. See, the deck was actually a BW deck that splashed green for 《Vraska, Relic Seeker》 because it needed something to close games after it grinded for a while. I actually feel like playing 《Vraska》 did cost a lot to the deck, making the mana quite a lot worse for an effect that was maybe a little bit of a winmore. I know, it was just a single 《Forest》; except that forest in your opener made you unable to cast 《Hidden Stockpile》 on turn 2.

Vraska, Relic SeekerHidden Stockpile

Except that Rivals brought us 《The Immortal Sun》. I do not want to dwell on and off this card for ever, since this is not a preview article, but here me out: if anyone played this against you at a prerelease, you know how miserable that made you.

The Immortal Sun

All the effects are very powerful, but it is hard to find a deck that uses them all. Well, tokens does just that: not only does it love the extra cards and anthem effect, it also solves its absolute main weakness, which was its total inability to pressure planeswalkers. I basically feel like 《The Immortal Sun》 is strictly better than 《Vraska》, while making for a smoother mana.

One final note: 《Vraska》 was supposed to be a must-play, because you would instantly lose the mirror to it. Well, here comes the sun.

This would be my starting point:

Level 2 Metagame: Old Glories Do Not Want to Die

Just because some key pieces have disappeared does not necessarily mean that you should drop Energy and Ramunap Red altogether. If you look at the “best cards” from those decks, they are still here: Energy can still power out 《Glorybringer》, and Red still has 《Hazoret the Fervent》. Could not we just tweak those old kings a little to make them great again?

Red Aggro Post-Ramunap:

If you look closely at how the bannings affect Ramunap Red, you might end up wondering how the cards were chosen. 《Ramunap Ruins》 itself was indeed great, but also forbid you from playing a second colour, and 《Rampaging Ferocidon》 was not even played in every version. In other words, the core of a great red deck is still here with 《Bomat Courier》, 《Earthshaker Khenra》 and 《Hazoret the Fervent》.

Bomat CourierEarthshaker KhenraHazoret the Fervent

There is no good reason to be only red right now, and branching into other colours lets you ditch 《Soul-Scar Mage》 that was their only for the curve but is just a highly underwhelming creature that you kind of had to play. In my opinion, the natural route is adding black to the deck; you get one of the most powerful and resilient two-drops Standard has to offer in 《Scrapheap Scrounger》, and you might even try to play more artifacts in other to unlock the mighty 《Unlicensed Disintegration》, making up for the loss of 《Ramunap Ruins》.

Scrapheap ScroungerUnlicensed Disintegration

How much worse is it that the old version? Not much worse, I’d say, given that even before the bannings some MTGO grinders had a fair bit of success with Black-Red variants that one might even call vehicle decks. I went back and dug the following list than my WMC teammate Alain Bardini used to win quite a lot of tix on MTGO before Energy took over and made impossible to play a deck that would lose to 《Whirler Virtuoso》.

I like this option a lot; it is fast, consistent, and actually plays very powerful cards (which tends to make decks more reliable since you do not rely purely on curving out). I also cannot emphasize enough how good 《Unlicensed Disintegration》 is, especially if a deck like Esper Gift tries to block the way with random creatures instead of removal.

Still, you may want to try non-black options; if so, I found RW to be an interesting development since it keeps the core strategy of a low curve and 《Hazoret》, but also takes advantage of two powerful gold cards without sacrifice too much in the mana department (opposite colours being a little easier to play right now).

Relentless RaptorPath of Mettle

You do get 《Relentless Raptor》, which is a nice two-drop that should prove dominant in aggro mirrors, but most importantly, this is probably the only shell that could abuse 《Path of Mettle》. Here is a list that won a PTQ on MTGO this week:

My main concern with this approach is how high-variance it looks because of 《Path of Mettle》: if things are already going your way and you get to flip it, you could easily have the game in the bag as soon as turn 3. But assuming you mulligan a tad bit too often and they play cheap removal, your two mana enchantment could just as easily stay there looking stupid. I anticipate that this will mostly the red aggro deck that is great against other red aggro decks, but I might just be underrating 《Path of Mettle》 and how consistently you’ll get to transform it here.

Non-Green Energy

I called this “Non-Green” because, as Petr showed in his article, I doubt that the Green energy cards are good enough now.

Longtusk CubBristling Hydra

《Longtusk Cub》 and 《Bristling Hydra》 are both cards that require you to produce a lot of free energy to function. That free energy came from 《Attune with Aether》 and 《Rogue Refiner》, both of which are now on the bench. In other words, Green energy cards are either banned, or crippled. You could certainly build a green midrange deck (you always can!) and have success with it, but you’d probably be better off cutting out the whole energy package at this point.

On the other hand, there are a few cards that function well with less energy. The main one is, by far, 《Glint-Sleeve Siphoner》.

Glint-Sleeve Siphoner

This guy is quite low maintenance, and can essentially provide for himself while giving a considerable reward in the form of incremental card advantage. Since you still want at least a little bit of extra energy, it is only natural to pair it with the otter energy colours, meaning red and blue (for 《Harnessed Lightning》 and 《Whirler Virtuoso》).

Harnessed LightningWhirler Virtuoso

You will not do the busted things you used (why do you think they ban cards, exactly?), but you keep the idea of a flexible, powerful and relatively cheap shell that lets you formulate a gameplan based on where to spend your energy: you’ll put it into 《Siphoner》 against slow decks, and into 《Virtuoso》 when you are the one defending.

The main difference is that without 《Longtusk Cub》, you will not score any blistering fast wins, meaning that you should gear up for the long game...which is a good thing, since there is the perfect energy card for that in 《Glimmer of Genius》.

Here is an example I quite like:

Conclusion

Before I leave, here is a final thought on how to make energy work again. It is crazy, and I would not recommend it for a tournament quite yet, but I think it might be worth investing a little time.

Era of Innovation

You could base you deck on 《Era of Innovation》, and its interaction with treasures and 《Whirler Virtuoso》. If you are gearing for the long game, that kind of a game plan lets you generate more energy than anything else, meaning that you just have to survive for a while a then create a huge army of 1/1 thopters in one swoop. This is certainly a longshot, but I do feel like there is something here...do you?

Until next time,

Pierre Dagen

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