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Return to Ravnica Standard Brews

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Adam Koska
Adam Koska

About Adam Koska

Adam is an experienced player from the Czech Republic who has a number of high-profile finishes under his belt:

  • 9th at Worlds 2009
  • 9th at Pro Tour Kyoto 2009
  • 45 Lifetime Pro Points
  • Top 32 GP Vienna 2008
  • Top 64 GP Krakow 2007
  • Three times Czech Nationals Top 8

Return to Ravnica Standard Brews

Hey everyone and welcome! Last week, I took a look at some of the Block decks and old Standard decks and tried to guess where they were heading in the new format. The „old decks“ are going to be an important part of the new format, possibly even the most important, at least in the first couple of weeks. Today, I’m going to look at some of the brand new decks, decks that use new mechanics from Return to Ravnica or center around one of the new cards. As always, I’ll be happy for your comments and suggestions – I’m sure that almost all Magic players around the globe have done some amount of RtR brewing already (you really can’t not give it a try with this set) and I’m curious what you guys think about the new format and about the new decks.

One of the most defining aspects of the post-RtR standard format is going to be, I think, the fact how good some of the new „big“ spells are and how the amount of countermagic in the format will have decreased, compared to the previous standard format. Despite Day of Judgment rotating out, there actually seems to be a rather above-average number of good sweepers to keep small creatures in check (Supreme Verdict, Terminus, Mizzum Mortars, Bonfire of the Damned) and the lategame is going to be quite a dangerous place in the post RtR format. The list of absurd lategame bombs that can end the game with a snap of their fingers is impressively long: Angel of Serenity, Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius, Armada Wurm, Sphinx's Revelation – these are all extremely powerful cards that you will face on a daily basis if you play the new standard format, since many decks will play them not just as a lone one-of finisher, but rather as three-ofs or even four-ofs. Add to that already existing cards like Wolfir Silverheart or Thragtusk and you’ll see that expensive cards, cards that cost five or more, are likely to be at the top of the format and – even though this is just a speculation at this point – the format could very well revolve around who plays more of them faster.

I remember a successful Standard deck from a while ago that was called „U/W tap-out“ and that relied on pretty much the same things like the ones that I mentioned in the previous paragraph – sweepers and powerful lategame spells. Even though it was blue-white, it didn’t run almost any instant speed cards at all and instead relied on tapping out every turn to cast something impressive and hopefully win on the back of doing more powerful things than the opponent. I’m convinced that such a strategy could work very well in the post-RtR format, thanks to the abundance of high-impact lategame cards, sweepers, and relatively few viable counterspells. This is what such a „tap-out“ deck could look like:

Bant Tap-Out

Tags: 
White
Blue
Green

Post RtR Standard

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It’s not a „real“ tap-out deck in the sense that it would literally tap out every turn to deploy a big threat, but it plays some pretty big threats nevertheless, so I think that it deserves the name. The reason why I wanted to sneak some cheap instants in the deck is Scorned Villager. Although most lists of a similar nature that I’ve seen so far rely on Avacyn's Pilgrim or Arbor Elf, I think that Scorned Villager is pretty good in this type of deck and shouldn’t be dismissed so easily. You don’t really need to ramp from one to three, but ramping from two to four (to play Ranger's Path) or even to five (Thragtusk), if you manage to flip the Villager right away, is quite important and with Sphinx's Revelation and Angel of Serenity in the deck, every extra mana counts. Think Twice and Azorius Charm are in the list to help you pass your turn and not feel too bad about it and both of these cards fill and important role here – to draw cards in the case of Think Twice and to provide some early defense in the case of the blue-white Charm, although this card can also be used for other purposes, like giving your pair of Thragtusks lifelink to ensure that your life total doesn’t dip below thirty.

From the look of this deck, you can probably tell that it’s pretty mana-hungry (most decks playing Sphinx's Revelation are going to be). That’s why, in addition to Farseek and Scorned Villager, the deck also plays Ranger's Path. Fetching two Forests from the deck might have seemed to be a poor man’s Explosive Vegetation in the pre-Ravnica world, but with the dual lands now being legal, it’s actually quite good. Unfortunately, it can’t search for a blue source without the help of a green-blue dual land, which we won’t see until Gatecrash, but there is plenty of other mana fixing, so color-screw shouldn’t be an issue. Usually, you’ll be searching for a Temple Garden and an Overgrown Tomb – a lone black-green dual land in an almost completely straightforward green-blue-white deck. The black splash is almost free, as you can fetch the dual with both Farseek and the Ranger's Path and it enables you to play a pair of Vault of the Archangel. The deck is already running a really high number of mana sources, so some copies of a land with value are needed. Unfortunately, neither Gavony Township nor Moorland Haunt (or even Alchemist's Refuge) do much in this deck, so a splash is needed. Vault of the Archangel enables you to trade your Scorned Villager for any ground attacker and can get you out of the „danger zone“, once you stabilize with a fatty and swing with it once. It’s not as good here as in a deck with Lingering Souls, but it’s still the best value land we can get out of a „free“ Farseek / Ranger's Path enabled splash.

I think that it’s clear that this deck relies on countermagic being at an all-time low (or similar levels), because getting one of your big spells caught by a timely „no-sir“ spell can obviously really hurt. Many signs are suggesting that the post-RtR Standard will have a lot less permission spells than most of the previous formats, but at the moment, nothing is sure. If the amount of countermagic actually does get to the all-time low, what happens is that the counterspells that we have left actually become better, because nobody expects them and decks aren’t prepared for them. There are still at least two very solid counterspells in Standard – Dissipate and Syncopate – and even though Mana Leak is not the king of the format anymore, these two cards still deserve some respect. Also, while Izzet Charm certainly can’t be labeled just as a „counterspell“, it can counter some spells as well for sure.

If the metagame does evolve into a world where big spells will be all over the place (and the numbers of Cavern of Souls stay low), there could possibly be room for a true control deck to prey on these tap-out decks. The best shell for such a control deck would probably be either Azorius or Izzet. The red-blue guild can take two very different paths, in my opinion. Either you can try to be fairly aggressive, presumably on the back of Delver of Secrets and Guttersnipe, or you can take a more controlling approach, making use of one of the best finishers in the format, Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius himself. A sample Izzet control deck could look something like this:

Izzet control

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Red
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This is obviously just a rough sketch, but I like some of the synergies and the general look of the deck. Goblin Electromancer is an all-star here, pushing most of your spells one league higher than where they normally would be. Searing Spear becomes Lightning Bolt, Dissipate turns into a Counterspell with an upside, Desperate Ravings lets you tear through your deck at an amazing pace and Talrand's Invocation suddenly gives you the same power for mana ratio as Loxodon Smiter, except that your three-mana army flies. Red-Blue decks traditionally had troubles with „unfair“ things like graveyard recursion, but Pillar of Flame, Syncopate and Dissipate all exile stuff and should keep things like Gravecrawler or Lingering Souls in check. There could potentially be some hard-to-remove permanents that could be troublesome for this deck (anything cheap that can’t be easily burnt), so splashing white for Detention Sphere could work, but Birthing Pod has rotated out, so the only cheap threat that you could have troubles with might be Lotleth Troll, if the opponent manages to keep regeneration mana up every turn. Adding green for Thragtusk and Huntmaster might be a step in the right direction for this deck, but I wanted to keep the mana clean and simple, so that the deck could have a late-game engine in Desolate Lighthouse. Determining what is the best way to go requires some more testing and time.

The problem of the Izzet control deck, at least for now, could be that it’s trying to be reactive. Reactive decks can only be good if you’re really sure about what are you reacting to and in an unknown or unstable metagame, the rule of thumb says that the easiest way to victory is being proactive, having a good plan how to win the game, not trying to disrupt your opponent’s plan. There’s nothing wrong with countering and killing stuff until you drop a big dragon on turn six, but in an undiscovered environment, I’d probably rather stick to some deck which is just trying to play its own game and kill the opponent without caring what cards they bring to the table. Here’s one such deck:

Standard Rakdos Aggro

Tags: 
Black
Red
Colors
Black4
Gold9
Hybrid4
Land23
Red20
Converted Mana Cost
116
213
34
44
Type
Basic Land15
Creature21
Instant8
Land8
Sorcery8
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The biggest threat to this deck is obviously Thragtusk and the fact that almost every deck plays this green beast. However, the „Thragtusk problem“ is not unsolvable. Rakdos's Return is a nice answer, making sure to force the opponent to discard the important cards – presumably including the five mana 5/3 – once they spend the early turns developing their mana. Five life is a huge boost and the lifegain from Huntmaster of the Fells can also hurt, but this deck can do a lot more damage than twenty, so even some lifegain shouldn’t be fatal for it every time. Burn decks have traditionally been successful in the early stages of most Standard formats and even though this time around, red has a formidable lifegain adversary right from the get go, it still might be a good idea to try to burn people out as fast as possible before they learn how to tweak their mana bases or to use the most efficient win conditions and while they’re still taking loads of damage from their lands. Generally speaking, it takes a lot less effort to tune an aggro deck to a satisfying shape than to tune a midrange or control deck to perfection.

These three decks are some of the first rough sketches that I’m going to be starting my testing with. I’m sure that with more time and more results from important Standard tournaments, we’ll get a much clearer idea about what’s actually good in Standard and what’s not, but every format starts somewhere and I believe that these decks provide a pretty good starting point. Be sure to let me know about your ideas and, as always at this time of the year, happy brewing!

Adam Koska

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