can't seem to get this smile off my face. The latest Banned & Restricted List change announcement was released earlier this week. Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Stoneforge Mystic will no longer be legal in Standard as of July 1 (with a small exception for Stoneforge Mystic in the preconstructed "War of Attrition" Event Deck). You can read more about this here. It's strange. I've been playing a format that was so focused on Jace, the Mind Sculptor that I've almost forgotten how to evaluate the available card pool without him.
One of the biggest changes to Standard is the number of "good" creatures. Previously, cards like Phyrexian Obliterator, Mirran Crusader, Phyrexian Crusader, Baneslayer Angel, Hero of Bladehold, and many more were not playable in competitive lists because of Jace, the Mind Sculptor's existence. The risk was just too great to tap out for a threat when your opponent could simply drop a Jace, bounce your creature, and put you in a very awkward spot. As a result, most creatures that cost three or more mana needed to have an "enters the battlefield" ability or similar to see competitive play. That's all in the past now. Dust off your favorite four- and five-drops, because Standard just got really exciting.
What is the new Standard going to look like?
Valakut is a very powerful strategy that most players are already quite familiar with. As a result, I'd recommend being extra prepared for the Valakut matchup when you register for your first tournament of the new Standard. Valakut players only have a few spells that actually allow them to win the game. Playing four copies of Flashfreeze, if you're playing blue (and playing well), will usually make things very difficult for your opponents. Watch out for Summoning Trap!
Eldrazi Green is similar type of strategy that gains a lot from the exit of Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Expect a lot of players to hardcast Emrakul, the Aeons Torn after July 1. Luckily, the same types of sideboard cards that we might play for the Valakut matchup are going to shine here.
Splinter Twin / Deceiver Exarch decks have seen scattered success since New Phyrexia was released. A lot of people are assuming that this deck will become the deck to beat once the bannings take effect. It's true that the deck will remain powerful, but I'm not sure if it has what it takes to be on top. Preordain is good, but the format is going to have a lot of discard spells. The deck may suffer inconsistency issues when it doesn't have access to Jace, the Mind Sculptor to smooth out draws and protect combo pieces from targeted discard. Players will likely start playing four copies of Sea Gate Oracle and some swath of draw-a-card "cantrip" effects.
A whole slew of aggressive decks that struggled to beat Batterskull will also become competitive. Expect Tempered Steel decks, Vampires, and Mono-Red to have a lot of tournament success in the near future.
I want to design a new budget archetype that attacks the expected format in some of its weakest spots. All I need to do is find the Achilles' heel of Valakut, Eldrazi Green, and Splinter Twin. After a few brainstorming sessions I realized that all three of these decks struggled to beat land destruction spells. The decks seemed like they would flounder when facing a deck that had a dedicated suite of land destruction spells.
A few quick Gatherer searches revealed that the format doesn't have a ton of dedicated land destruction, but there seems to be enough to make a deck that's capable of doing some work on our opponent's mana base.
Invader Parasite may not seem overwhelming, but it destroys Eldrazi Green players and requires Valakut opponents to have a removal spell after they've already been Stone Rained. The card is especially strong against Eldrazi Green because they don't have any removal beyond a few copies of Beast Within. Speaking of which...
Beast Within may be the best land destruction spell in the current Standard. I recommend casting it during your opponent's upkeep so they don't have an opportunity to attack you with the Beast immediately. The 3/3 may seem scary, but a little bit of careful deck construction can make it all but useless.
Acidic Slime is also available. Not only does Acidic Slime destroy lands, but it also destroys cards like Pyromancer Ascension, Tempered Steel, and Sword of Feast and Famine. The versatility offered by Acidic Slime makes it especially strong if we're going for the land destruction plan.
Aggressive decks won't be afraid of our land destruction plan. The cards aren't bad, but we're probably just going to use our Beast Withins defensively and get creature-lands with our Invader Parasites. Because of this, we need some cards that are especially strong when fighting against the more aggressive decks in the format.
Slagstorm seems like the best option to me. It has incredible synergy with Beast Within, and it usually just wins the game when you're playing against decks that dump their hand on the table and cross their fingers. I've always liked building my decks around cards like this. Our win conditions will all have at least 4 toughness so they live through our Slagstorms whatever our opponents can throw at them.
I also want to play a set of Lightning Bolts. Regular readers of the column are probably very aware of my love for this card. I think the bannings makes cards like Lightning Bolt a lot better. Spot removal had become very weak because trading a spell for a Squadron Hawk or Stoneforge Mystic always left you down in the card attrition war. Stoneforge Mystic is gone, and Squadron Hawk doesn't look at threatening anymore.
Side note: I've seen many players include Squadron Hawk in their post-July 1 deck lists. This seems wrong to me. Squadron Hawk's major strengths are its interactions with Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Stoneforge Mystic. There has to be something better to do with two mana. Vengevine decks would rather chain Vengevines than pitch Squadron Hawks. The only decks I could see utilizing Squadron Hawk after July 1 are Quest for the Holy Relic and Puresteel Paladin decks that can make each 1/1 flyer yield significant value.
Modern land destruction spells aren't as cheap as they used to be, so we're going to have to play a good amount of mana acceleration.
Overgrown Battlement is the best option, it combos nicely with our Beast Within. It's not a big deal to give an opponent a 3/3 when our deck has a playset of 0/4 mana producers. Things can get really absurd when you draw multiple copies of this. Explore is another excellent ramp spell that I'll be happy to include in this deck. The cantripping is especially welcome in a deck that has to work very hard to find its card advantage.
All we need now is a win condition. Overgrown Battlement allows us to get to pretty big numbers with our mana. I want at least some of our win conditions to have evasion so we can sit behind a wall and attack for big chunks of our opponent's life total.
Moltensteel Dragon and Pelakka Wurm seem like a fun duo of win conditions that give the deck a few interesting angles. Pelakka Wurm is like a Cruel Ultimatum against aggressive red decks. They will be forced to play a super-aggressive game because the game might just end for them if you get to seven mana. Moltensteel Dragon can put people on their heels very quickly. We have four copies each of Overgrown Battlement and Explore, so we might just have a Dragon in play on the third turn. It's also worth noting how good the cards are together. Moltensteel Dragon can get very scary if you're gaining 7 life every so often.
Here's how the deck looks after we put it all together:
New Standard Hatebrew
Standard (as of July 1, 2011)
I decided to include the Raging Ravines because they're not very hard to trade for and they're very good in this deck. If you have trouble acquiring them you can just replace them with some extra basic lands. If you happen to have some number of Copperline Gorges, I would also include those.
This deck seems very well positioned against the expected Standard metagame. I haven't had the chance to play much new Standard yet, but I feel like this deck may be a fun and worthwhile experiment.
A lot of my readers don't love land destruction decks, though. I think there's a way to make other competitive budget decks that approach the game from a different angle.
All this mana disruption has got me thinking about Spreading Seas again. This card was primarily used as a Jund hoser, but it's very good against decks like Valakut and Vampires. My original Pyromancer Ascension deck played four copies of Spreading Seas and I was always very happy with them. Cards like Preordain and See Beyond let you draw multiple copies of Spreading Seas when you want to and not draw any at all when they're weak.
Pyromancer Ascension might have the tools it needs to be a successful deck now. Ascension decks that play a good amount of countermagic will be very well positioned against the new field.
Deprive is exactly what you want to be doing here. We'll obviously play four copies of Mana Leak, but I also like the idea of having a few hard counters to help against Titans.
Gitaxian Probe is better here than in any other deck. The knowledge we gain combined with the ability to put counters on an Ascension with little to no work make this one of the best cards we've ever seen for the Pyromancer Ascension deck.
Preordain is the best non-Ascension card in the deck and it isn't remotely close. This is one of the best cantrips to have ever been printed. We'll obviously play four. We'll also play four copies of another must-include in this archetype, See Beyond. See Beyond is especially strong when you're playing Spreading Seas. I can't stress how strong it is to draw a lot or no copies of Spreading Seas, as needed, in specific spots of the game.
A lot of people only include one copy of Call to Mind. I prefer having two. I like being able to chain them with each other. I'd actually be interested in seeing how the deck played if it had three copies. I'll test the deck and include an updated list sometime in the near future.
I'm going to play the normal burn suite: four copies of Burst Lightning and four copies of Lightning Bolt. These cards make the deck very strong against aggressive strategies, and they give you a win condition against decks that have a different plan.
I've written a lot about this deck prior to the Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Stoneforge Mystic bannings. The only change I've made is the inclusion of Spreading Seas. I strongly suggest you try this deck against the other decks you've made for the new Standard format. I guarantee you'll be impressed.
Standard (as of July 1, 2011)
This list is VERY capable of winning a tournament. If you have access to Scalding Tarn I would include it, but I don't think there's anything else I would change, even if I had no budget restrictions whatsoever.
In closing, I'm very happy that Stoneforge Mystic and Jace, the Mind Sculptor were banned. I feel that the format had become stagnant and that it was a necessary change for the good of the game. The new Standard is a completely unexplored world, a world where Abyssal Persecutors and Kargan Dragonlords eat peoples' faces while they ask themselves, "Why can't I point at a card and return it to my opponent's hand?"
Very happy brewing!