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Return to Standard

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Adrian Posoiu
Adrian Posoiu

About Adrian Posoiu

I've started playing Magic when I was 18 years old, around the time when Mirrodin reared its head in Standard. The jump to semi-competitive play came shortly thereafter, as I started grinding local events on a regular basis. I attended my first Grand Prix in Athens 2006 and made my Pro Tour debut in Nagoya 2011. Recently, I won the Romanian Nationals and am currently set on participating at the World Championship. For those interested in what goes on outside my realm of Magic influence: I'm currently studying for a Master’s degree in Astrophysics, as I find it one of the most interesting and rewarding branches of science at the moment.

Return to Standard

After many hopes, requests and what seemed like several lifetimes of waiting, Magic: the Gathering has returned to its most popular setting. As one of the best Limited and Standard environments in history, players are genuinely excited to delve deep into the world of Return to Ravnica. While I personally will be sad to wave the Scars of Mirrodin block goodbye, I am looking forward to deckbuilding and playing with many of the new cards revealed. 

Before I start with a brief overview of what I believe post-rotation Standard will be like, let us first remember why the previous trip to the urban plane was such a success in terms of Constructed. To put it quite simply, the setup of the multicolor block as a whole led to a large degree of diversity in terms of what decks could be put together and used  in a competitive event. Due to the high overall power level of the available cards, at least at that time, and the sheer quality of the manabases, it was possible to effectively run any two or three color combination. Throughout the two years in which Ravnica was legal in Standard, archetypes of all shapes and sizes were developed and employed in tournaments. Control players rejoiced in piloting decks such as (the original) Solar Flare, U/W/R Angel Control and the Blue/Black Dralnu, Lich Lord concoction, among others. The beatdown category was no slouch, as Gruul, Zoo (G/R/W), Rakdos and Boros all made strong appearances in the format. There was even a sizeable combo representation, with Dragonstorm and Project X, the deck which relied on the interaction between Saffi Eriksdotter and Crypt Champion to gain copious amounts of life. 

When they announced that they would be revisiting Ravnica, all I could hope for was that they would be able to replicate that same variety led me to have so much fun the first time around. It's a deckbuilder's paradise to live in a world where you can expect no two tournaments to be the same and where the field is so large that you won't ever feel constrained by the presence of one or several so-called decks to beat. Even from its onset, the spoiler season did not disappoint and delivered powerful cards and cycles, both for Standard and for broader formats. The shocklands were back, ready to fuel consistent manabases for the foreseeable future and the guilds retained much of their allure, each with its own identity and overarching theme. The creatures appear strong, removal is varied and plentiful and we even have a hint of combo enablers in Epic Experiment and Goblin Electromancer, although I'm skeptical on how well the latter will manage to take off and make a mark in Standard. The set has something for every type of tournament player out there and it's up to each and every one to find their favorite color combination and archetype with which to explore the first weeks of competitive action. I would make no exception and, with the full cards list at my disposal, I began my theorycrafting session. 

To start things off, I dredged some of the format's past favorites from Innistrad block. While Snapcaster Mage never left and cards like Wolfir Silverheart and Geralf's Messenger are highlighted strongly on everybody's radar, there are still some powerful effects out there that are rather low key compared to their counterparts. Specifically, I looked at my old green/red aggro list and noticed that both Huntmaster of the Fells and Garruk Relentless were mostly discarded from grace. While the traditional aggressive shell does not appear to be optimal now, due to the lack of Stomping Ground and of proper one mana accelerants, both of the two mythics can fit very well in a more midrange or grindy control build. Although Birds of Paradise is gone for now, this doesn't mean Huntmaster cannot enter the battlefield sooner than predicted. To achieve this, Farseek seems like a suitable candidate, if the deck is not overly reliant on landing an aggressive two drop. The green sorcery also serves as efficient mana fixing for three color builds, due to its favorable interaction with shocklands.

Speaking of four mana mythics, I suggest we take a quick look at Olivia Voldaren, a creature whose 15 minutes of fame were gone all to easily and who faded from competitive play some time before the first iterations of Delver decks were developed. As a 3/3 flyer that is both red and black, Olivia is in a good position to dodge most of the spot removal that will be popular in the new age. Neither Ultimate Price nor Abrupt Decay can touch her, whereas Dreadbore is constricted by its sorcery speed and would allow the vampire to perform some activations before sending it to the graveyard. With Lingering Souls, Midnight Haunting and Gather the Townsfolk still in the format, tokens seems like a viable strategy. Provided that you can keep Intangible Virtue effects off the table, Olivia can single-handedly stem the opposing attacks and eventually grow large enough to take over the game.

With these cards under surveillance, it didn't take long for me to notice that the Jund color combination - red, green and black - offered some of the best control elements available, along with a solid suite of planeswalkers that could carry the long game. With the recent hate on Snapcaster Mage and counterspells in general, it seems that blue cannot be used at its fullest potential right now. Playing a deck that does not care about Cavern of Souls in the slightest, but retains a proper measure of board control elements, looks to be quite promising. Under these considerations, I put together an exhaustive list of cards, tweaked and trimmed the numbers on them and came up with the following:

Jund Control

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Green
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This is the list I would run if I had to attend a Standard tournament tomorrow. While it is true that control decks, as a whole, become better suited for events after a metagame has been defined, I feel that this particular color combination provides plenty of solutions across the wide spectrum of removal, discard and lifegain, that it can reasonably handle an attack on all flanks. Allow me to go into more detail with regard to the card choices and quantities, while looking at the metagame forecast that I used in my analysis. While some candidates, such as Thragtusk, were included for their general efficiency and viability against an entire field, the list also encompasses some more narrow role players who are supposed to shine in particular matchups. 

The mix of removal spells tries to cover every angle, from Wolfir Silverheart to Geist of Saint Traft, without going overboard on any aspect. Although this color combination has access to several sweepers, I chose to omit most of them from the 75 based on the reasoning that their impact will not be as strong as intended. Creatures with undying, as well as Thragtusk, have a natural resilience to mass removal and the opponent is often able to swing back for considerable damage in spite of us having 'cleared' the board the turn prior. In addition, it is difficult to handle a soulbound Silverheart with either Mutilate or Bonfire of the Damned, with them requiring that one breaks the link between the creatures before attempting to sweep. While Terminus and Supreme Verdict do work around some of these problems, the cards available in Jund colors seem sketchy at best. I've still included Bonfire in the list, mainly due to the raw power of the miracle spell, but relying on it to clear critical waves of attackers may leave players unsatisfied.

If there's one thing to be certain about in the first week of Ravnica Standard, it's that some people are hellbent on playing Black/Green Zombies. The recurring nature of Gravecrawler and Geralf's Messenger, as well as the natural resilience of Lotleth Troll make it difficult to grind out an advantage against the deck without using the proper tools. That's why I've started all of my control lists, be they Jund or UWR, with a full set of Pillar of Flame. For the low, low price of one red mana, we can completely wipe the memory of a troublesome zombie from memory, be it of the Strangleroot or Messenger version. Even when discounting the exiling clause, Pillar can hit most of the low end drops present in any aggressive strategy and can double up as planeswalker killer in those matchups that do not overly rely on interaction in the red zone. The synergy with Snapcaster Mage would make those matchups better still, but even without the blue addition I believe Pillar of Flame is well worth the inclusion.

Ultimate Price is the one spell I can't quite form an opinion on, since it seems excellent in dealing with large threats like the aforementioned Silverheart and Thundermaw Hellkite, but has a great whiff potential if either the Troll or more green/white multicolored cards rise in popularity. I have relegated them to the sideboard in favor of some copies of Dreadbore and Abrupt Decay, both of which are more versatile - the trait to have in an undefined metagame.

There is a large discrepancy in how effective some cards are against tokens, compared to their utility against single threats. I mentioned Olivia as the de facto solution to Lingering Souls, with Bonfire of the Damned coming in as a close second. On the other hand, the two mana removal spells do little to establish board control, leaving you vulnerable to multiple spirits. Nonetheless, the versatility I mentioned in the previous paragraph comes into effect here as well. Although Abrupt Decay isn't the best answer to the tokens themselves, it can handle Intangible Virtue and help keep the creatures small enough to be swept away or pinged to death. In addition, Dreadbore's attention is best directed toward Sorin, Lord of Innistrad or a threat such as Geist-Honored Monk, which makes it worthwhile to use in terms of card advantage.

I've been questioned if the full set of Duress is worthwhile, or if other cards would be better suited for the role. I believe that having access to a one mana discard spell is something I want of every starting hand with this deck. It is obviously powerful against opposing control strategies, where nabbing troublesome planeswalkers or late game haymakers such as Sphinx's Revelation can save you a lot of trouble, but it is also deceptively efficient against certain beatdown as well. While I would sideboard out Duress against Zombies and mono-forest decks, in game one I can ensure the fact that I don't lose my flipped Huntmaster of the Fells t an otherwise dead Abrupt Decay (which they also sideboard out) or I can preemptively send a Rancor to the graveyard without the added headache of having it enchant a Gravecrawler prior.

The last aspect I want to tackle is the deck's struggle against hexproof creatures. According to how popular Geist of Saint Traft and Sigarda, Host of Herons turn out to be, there might be a need for more sacrifice effects added to the maindeck or sideboard. As it stands, I'm relying on the three copies of Liliana of the Veil, with little else in the way of non-targeted interaction. In theory, Huntmaster of the Fells can serve as a good roadblock for the Geist and, with the recent departure of Vapor Snag, tempo decks cannot easily clear the way for a measly 2/2 with no combat abilities. Sigarda, on the other hand, will prove problematic if she ever hits play. Using Farseek to ramp into a massive Bonfire of the Damned is a solution that supplements Liliana, but I must agree that this build is soft overall to the legendary angel.

Although local events will be in full swing by then, the first large scale Standard tournament on European soil will go down in Bochum, Gemany at the begining of November. The continent's most reputed players and deckbuilders will convoke there and I plan to share the stage with them. Whether I will be piloting an update of the Jund Control list remains to be seen, as the metagame has yet to take root, but I will do my best to work on an optimal build by the time the Grand Prix shall take place. I'll keep you posted on the new developments and hopefully provide a video to supplement the theory.

Until that time, I hope you enjoy the wonders of Return to Ravnica.

Adrian

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