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The Evolution of the New Standard

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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

The Evolution of the New Standard

Hello and welcome! Today, we’re going to have a look at the results of some of the first major Standard tournaments with Return to Ravnica. It’s been a little over two weeks since the prerelease and even in this short time, two Standard SCG Opens have taken place – first in Cincinnati and then in Providence just this past weekend –, so we have plenty of information to chew on. In today’s article, I’m going to go through some of the most successful and interesting decklists and share my thoughts about what the format looks like so far, and what the crucial aspects of the brand new format are.

Even though there are obviously some frontrunners in the new format, it still seems to be quite diverse, judging by the results of the two SCG Opens. This is the aggregate archetype breakdown of the top8s of the two tournaments:

  • 4x Zombies (2x B/G, 1x B/R, 1x Jund)
  • 4x Jund
  • 2x Reanimator (1x 3-color, 1x 4-color)
  • 2x U/W control
  • 1x U/W/R control
  • 1x G/W aggro
  • 1x U/W Humans aggro
  • 1x G/W/B midrange

Lurking closely behind the top8s were also such decks like mono-red burn, Bant control or Esper tokens.

So what does this archetype breakdown tell us about the format? Well, first of all, the variation between most decks is really big, but this was caused mostly by how few testing time all the players had and also by the fact that there was almost no solid source for decklists online, so everybody had to rely on their own judgment. However, this is something that always happens right after a major shift in the composition of a format and it’s clear that the lists are going so stabilize and consolidate in the coming weeks.

Another thing that you can notice about the composition of these sixteen decks is that only three of them could be labeled as „control decks“. Two more could very well fall into the „combo“ bracket, although neither of the two Reanimator lists really runs a full-on two-card combo engine (something that we haven’t seen in Standard since Splinter Twin rotated out). Instead, both Reanimator decks run midrange cards like Thragtusk and Restoration Angel, in addition to the „combo“ engine of Unburial Rites. But even if we label these two decks as „combo“, that still leaves eleven of the sixteen top decks in the aggro/midrange category of decks whose game plan revolves around attacking with small to medium sized creatures for the win. Some of the Jund decks use a bit of ramping (Farseek) and are a bit more concerned about the mid-game than the early-game, but none of them is a true „ramp“ deck that would continue in the legacy of Primeval Titan decks. None of these decks really try to „go over the top“.

What this means is that post-RtR Standard seems to be a heavily creature-dominated format. The only decks not playing many creatures are the „control decks“, but even these usually have a fairly proactive plan, as being „control“ mostly means „playing planeswalkers“ these days. This is probably the most successful of the control decks that we’ve seen so far, a U/W/R control list that Todd Anderson used to win the first SCG Open with:

U/W/R control by Todd Anderson

Tags: 
White
Blue

1st place, SCG Open Cincinnati

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Todd’s list is very much like the other two U/W control decks, but it splashes red for a playset of Pillar of Flame and a singleton Desolate Lighthouse. That’s it, no other cards in the sideboard, no Izzet Charms or Searing Spears, just four „Shocks“ and one utility land. The primary reason for this are Gravecrawler, Geralf's Messenger and Strangleroot Geist and even though blue-white already has some handy answers in Detention Sphere and Oblivion Ring, having a one-mana removal instead of a three-mana one goes a long way. It would never be possible without enough dual-lands, but fortunately, the mana-base is just fine, thanks to the reprinted duals.

Apart from the red splash, all of the U/W control decks seem to be quite similar. They all play Entreat the Angels as the finisher, which is understandable, as most of the lists include a playset of Azorius Charm and Think Twice, which allow you to cheaply trigger your miracles in the opponent’s turn (Terminus is obviously also present as the default sweeper card). Some lists even go as far as playing Thought Scour. The main source of card advantage in these decks seems to be Jace, Architect of Thought and all three of the top-finishing control decks play this planeswalker as a four-of. I wouldn’t be surprised to see his price go even higher than where it is right now, considering his popularity and the fact that many decks need a full playset.

U/W(r) control seems to be the first deck established in the new format and Jund is probably the next one, which can’t come as a big surprise, as the deck was almost everywhere in Innistrad Block constructed. The key pieces of all four of the Jund decks are Huntmaster of the Fells, Thragtusk, Olivia Voldaren and then loads of removal. Farseek is also present in the full playset in all of the lists, which is understandable, as it both fixes the three-colored deck’s mana (searching for any dual) and accelerates into the more expensive cards. Here’s the list that Elliott Volchesky used to post a top4 finish at the SCG Open in Providence this past weekend:

Jund by Eliott

Tags: 
Black
Red
Green

3rd place at SCG Open Cincinnati

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This particular deck runs Liliana as the only planeswalker of choice, but the other Jund lists spot various planeswalkers – Garruks of all kinds and even Vraska the Unseen, in the case of Nicholas Heal. It turns out that removal and planeswalkers goes very well together, since role-players like Garruk, Vraska or Jace are really good at taking over the board once you put out the opponent’s pressure.

So how does this deck cope in the current metagame? From all these anti-aggro cards, you can probably tell that its chances tend to be pretty good against creature decks. Being „bigger“ than the „small“ aggro decks, Jund can completely demolish any archetype which relies on creatures above anything else. Traditionally, decks full of removal tend to be weak against control and I think that this holds true even this time around, but fortunately for Jund, Duress was reprinted in M13, so if you want to be prepared against control, it’s easier than in the almost discard-free world of pre-RtR Standard. And as for combo (Reanimator, in this case), if you want to beat it, you will – even without Nihil Spellbomb, there is still enough graveyard hate around in Cremate, Grafdigger's Cage, Deathrite Shaman or even Slaughter Games. All in all, I must say that I really like Jund’s position in the new Standard.

Next, we have Reanimator, the only true „combo deck“ in the format. The base three colors are green, black and white, since you really need the engine of Grisly Salvage, Mulch and Unburial Rites. Lingering Souls obviously also come in handy when you’re doing a good deal of self-milling. In addition to these three colors, red is also very much viable, mostly for Faithless Looting, but possibly also for some removal like Dreadbore. This is the four-color list that Chris Weidinger piloted to a 2nd place finish at the first post-RtR SCG Standard Open:

Four Color Reanimator by Chris Weidinger

Tags: 
White
Black
Green

2nd place at SCG Open in Cincinnati

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Angel of Serenity is a staple in the vast majority of all the Reanimator decklists that you could find anywhere and can enable a never-ending loop of recurring Angels, once you hit seven mana (which shouldn’t be that hard with all the Mulches in the deck). The three color version is a little better prepared to actually hardcast the Angel, as it runs Avacyn's Pilgrims and Arbor Elves and I have to admit that this approach seems a bit better to me, especially since you also have space in the manabase to fit in Gavony Townships and just go aggro with all your small dudes. The three color version generally tends to be a lot more midrange, with stuff like Restoration Angel (guess that she’s still good with Thragtusk, even if she can’t blink Angel of Serenity) and Borderland Ranger. If you’re interested in „going off“ more often, then the four-color version is probably the deck for you: with a set of Faithless Looting, you’re bound to find your Unburial Rites a lot more often, which means that you can even play some threats that you would have a hard time hard-casting, like Grislebrand. However, be prepared for a bit less of stability. It’s always been like this: if you push harder in the „power department“, consistency comes out a bit short and you’re also going to suffer more from hate. If you increase the consistency, your power level is bound to be lower, but hate cards generally won’t hurt you as badly. The three color versus four color version of Reanimator clearly shows how this dilemma works.

The last of the „big four“ decks in the new Standard is Zombies. As the results have shown, you can either take the path of black-green or black-red. Or you can accept the motto „greed is good“ and include all three colors, resulting in a „Jund Zombies“ deck, probably close to what Ryan Forsberg piloted to a 6th place finish at the SCG Open in Cincinnati:

Jund Zombies by Ryan Forsberg

Falkenrath Aristocrat
Versions:
Dark Ascension (Foil)

The manabase is a bit ambitious, since you can’t really play any land that doesn’t produce black, but with eight red sources, eight green sources and a Cavern of Souls that can occasionally name „Vampire“ in order to land a Falkenrath Aristocrat, it’s actually not the worst manabase ever and could work. Sure, sometimes you won’t have red for your burn spell, but we’re talking about trading consistency for power here again and if the power that you get is high enough, than the calculated risk might pay off. It certainly seems to have paid off for Ryan in Cincinatti.

There are numerous ways how to build a Zombie deck in the current format. I’ve already mentioned that choosing the right colors is a lot harder than it was before (and it wasn’t even that easy in the first place), but there are more decisions to be made when constructing a Zombie list. How aggressive will your curve be? All the color combinations now have access to aggressive one- and two-drops that aren’t Zombies. Are you going to include them or will you put all the emphasis on the Zombie tribe? Rakdos Cackler and Rakdos Shred-Freak are both pretty efficient and likely better than some of the Zombies that often fill their respective slots, but how many Zombies can you cut before you hurt the deck too much? If you look at some of the decklists that have been finishing well lately, you’ll find out that even the top Zombie players haven’t really found a consensus just yet.

I’m sure that we’ll start to understand the format better eventually and with every result of a major Standard tournament, we’ll have a chance to correct our opinion on where the format is going. Right now, I think that the four archetypes that I’ve talked about today are the most important ones. How the format will evolve, we’ll see.

Thanks for reading and see you next time,

Adam Koska

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