t's been a while since I've played Standard. Because of Pro Tour Journey into Nyx, my last couple weeks have been focused on Theros Block Constructed (with a brief interlude for some Modern at Grand Prix Minneapolis, where we cut Melira from our Melira Pod deck). Theros Block has some interesting things going on that may inform current and future Standard, although there are some format-specific constraints that are unlikely to carry over to any version of Standard, chief of which is the mana.
In order to take a stab at changing the landscape of Standard, it's worth taking a look at some of the powerful new engines we have available, including cards from before Journey into Nyx that haven't come into their own yet.
A Matter of Course
This combination was the most played and most powerful group of cards at the Pro Tour. A whopping twenty-eight copies of each card made Top 8, with Stanislav Cifka's Red-White Heroic deck as the only holdout. Part of the reason Caryatid plus Courser was so dominant in Block is one of the constraints I mentioned earlier: the mana fixing in Theros Block wasn't enough to support a three-color deck without help. Given that Standard does not have the same constraint, I don't foresee quite the widespread dominance of this combination, but that doesn't mean it isn't still an awesome combo. In fact, it's really a three-card combo, with the appropriately-colored Temples taking up the last slot. The start of Temple into Caryatid into Courser provides filtering off the Temple, defense and fixing off the Caryatid, and the opportunity to hit a land drop for free off Courser. Later in the game, Temples are the perfect card to play off Courser, giving you a ton of filtering at very low cost.
Okay, so these cards are awesome. What does that mean for Standard?
We have seen a number of different Standard decks utilize this combination, with the most common being a red-green base:
Decks that play Courser of Kruphix and Sylvan Caryatid lean heavily toward midrange right now, which means a concentration of powerful four- to six-mana spells. With Polukranos, Stormbreath Dragon, both types of Xenagos, and Ghor-Clan Rampager, this deck demonstrates that perfectly. The reason that the true control decks of the format aren't playing Courser and Caryatid is because of how poorly they interact with Supreme Verdict. There's no real profit in building up defenses consisting of value creatures if you are just going to Wrath them away, and the control decks do really want to Wrath. That leads to the slightly defensive Courser/Caryatid package finding most of its success in midrange, where the decks are glad to stop aggro and ramp into powerful threats, many of which are specifically aimed at control.
Another example of a midrange Courser deck is Jund, which has even more anti-control tools at its disposal (I'm including a potential sideboard to demonstrate that):
Black gives you removal but, more importantly, it gives you Duress, Rakdos's Return, and Vraska. Having a game-ending card like Rakdos's Return is nice, and as a long-time pilot of Sphinx's Revelation decks, I can attest to the fact that playing against decks with Rakdos's Return is completely different than against decks that don't have it. That one card adds a whole new dimension to the match, where the control deck knows there's no play good enough (save perhaps a protected Ætherling) worth tapping out for, which gives the red-green deck a ton of leeway.
Lastly, we have Naya. Because so many of blue's powerful cards rely on Supreme Verdict, I'm not a big fan of Bant (and haven't seen a BUG build I like either, because of how much slow control decks need Revelation and Verdict). Naya still offers good midrange options, although slightly on the aggressive side because of the powerful two-drops:
We just saw a Fleecemane Lion midrange deck win a Pro Tour, although it was backed by black removal instead of red threats. I also like the inclusion of Setessan Tactics, because I'm still convinced that card is just unbelievably good.
Moving on from Courser and Caryatid to another green engine...
An Enchanting Proposition
Things haven't changed all that much from 1993, where Verduran Enchantress promised a steady stream of cards to those daring enough to make an enchantment-filled deck. Granted, this enchantress draws a card immediately, has actual stats, and is backed by cards at a slightly different power level than those in Alpha (Regeneration, anyone?).
We just saw Nam Sung Wook make the finals of Pro Tour Journey into Nyx with an Eidolon of Blossoms deck, and any card this powerful has to be worth investigating.
Nam Sung Wook - Junk Constellation
Top 8, Pro Tour Journey into Nyx
Even though this is certainly a constellation deck, it is more of a value deck than a combo deck. Every enchantment in the deck justifies itself on its own merits, and it just so happens that a ton of powerful and versatile cards ended up being enchantments, which made Eidolon of Blossoms worth running. Brain Maggot, Banishing Light, Courser of Kruphix, and Herald of Torment are all respectable cards, and all this deck is trying to do is make them cantrip while trading them one for one with the opponent's cards. Herald of Torment is really the only card I'd be hesitant to include if it weren't for Eidolon of Blossoms, but that gives it the tiny nudge it needed.
In Standard, the mana is better and you likely have enough options that you don't need to reach into three colors (although there are valid reasons for going down that path if you so desire).
Here's a Mono-Green Eidolon deck that 4–0ed a Daily Event on Magic Online. If you are going to look at Eidolon decks, you might as well start with the simplest version possible.
This is secretly (or not-so-secretly) a Mono-Green Devotion deck that operates under the same principle as Nam's Pro Tour deck: Eidolon makes a couple other solid cards (Courser of Kruphix, Boon Satyr, and Nylea) all slightly better, so there's not a big cost in running it. This deck does want to go off, but it cares more about green mana symbols than drawing a million cards. It'll pick up two or three cards off an Eidolon, and given that Eidolon costs , that's enough to make it worthwhile.
I like the idea of going off, though, so I want to take a look at a deck we tested for the Pro Tour that uses Eidolon as part of a broken-ish engine.
Aside on the term "broken-ish":
Ever since I described the play of Rewind into Restoration Angel as "broken-ish" to Eric Froehlich (Efro) during Pro Tour Gatecrash testing, "broken-ish" has signified something sweet, kind of powerful, but ultimately not actually broken. Countering a spell and casting an Angel or Snapcaster is more than you normally get in Standard for such little mana, but at the end of the day it isn't broken, just broken-ish. Needless to say, the term gets used a lot while testing these days.
The broken-ish engine I'm talking about revolves around one of the stronger combo cards in Journey into Nyx:
There are many cards that dump massive quantities of creatures into your graveyard, and those cards conveniently pick up resources you are looking for, all of which combine to giving your creatures massive amounts of power and toughness at very low cost. Here's the core of all the Strength decks we tested:
4 Strength from the Fallen
4 Eidolon of Blossoms
4 Satyr Wayfinder
4 Commune with the Gods
3–4 Kruphix's Insight
Members of the supporting cast included:
Pharika, God of Affliction
Courser of Kruphix
Nylea, God of the Hunt
Whip of Erebos
Herald of Torment
All the deck is trying to do is dig for more and more enchantments, often while putting out random creatures to get pumped by Strength from the Fallen. It draws a lot of cards, as Commune with the Gods and Kruphix's Insight make sure you always have enchantments to play, and attacking with 10/10 Satyr Wayfinders on turn four is not all that difficult.
We ultimately settled on playing the more consistent BUG list, but we would have loved to play an explosive Enchantress deck, and it almost got there. There is still hope, as not all has been extinguished, and opening the card pool up to Standard gives us some more options:
Mono-Green Strength from the Fallen
If you notice, that deck is only fifty-five cards. That's a problem, and one not easily solved within the confines of mono-green. I really couldn't find another enchantment I wanted to play, and adding something like Burning-Tree Emissary or Kalonian Tusker would call into question the whole reason behind playing an enchantment deck to begin with. Sorry, Leafcrown Dryad, you are not quite good enough for the big leagues (trust me, we considered it).
Given that we are splashing a color, I like moving into black, which gives us a deck very similar to the Dredge deck Conley Woods has been working on for months. Black-green is a natural combination for this deck, as there are powerful enchantments in both colors.
Dredging the Fallen
This deck picks up a lot of power from the black cards, with Nighthowler providing the main incentive (and Brain Maggot not being too far behind). Because of the low land count, this deck won't go as big as other Eidolon decks, but you don't need too many large Strength activations before your opponent is just dead anyways.
The last card I want to mention also touches green, as did all the decks I looked at today. What can I say? It's easy being green these days.
This might seem like an unassuming card, but the main implication here is that Black-Green Devotion is now a real thing. Before Journey into Nyx, Black Devotion could splash any color it wanted but green, due to the lack of the appropriately-colored Temple. Now that the Temple exists, black can show its proper devotion, and can splash the incredible card that is Abrupt Decay.
Abrupt Decay kills any creature early, which is why the deck can justify running four, but more importantly, it kills Detention Sphere and Underworld Connections. I can't imagine trying to win the mirror when my opponent can kill Connections and I can't, and for that reason I anticipate this being the most dominant Black Devotion build for the time being. The deck can certainly evolve to make itself less vulnerable to Abrupt Decay, but until it does, I'd recommend packing your own if you are planning on playing it.
As for me, I'm heading back to Atlanta for the Grand Prix. As strange as it sounds to go to Atlanta back to back weekends (with a trip home in between), that's my cunning plan. It's Sealed, although the closer my sealed deck looks to Block, the happier I'll be.
Luis Scott-Vargas plays, writes, and makes videos about Magic. He has played on the Pro Tour for almost a decade, and between that and producing content for ChannelFireball, often has his hands full (of cards).