Up and Down Standard: Amonkhet

Posted in Top Decks on May 3, 2017

By Luis Scott-Vargas

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).

Standard has gone through quite the rollercoaster lately, and not just because of the release of Amonkhet. I'm going to take a look at which Standard decks gained or lost ground, focusing on decks that existed before Amonkhet. When you add a set to an already-mature format (and this is one of the bigger formats in memory), the decks that were good before tend to stay good. With one notable exception, that's true here. In fact, a few decks that weren't good enough have a new lease on life, and I'm excited to check those out too. Let's get into it.

A Cat-astrophe Strikes

We do have to talk about the elephant (Cat) in the room. The de-facto best deck in the format, Copy Cat, just got hit hard. The banning of Felidar Guardian means that this deck certainly lost ground, and in some senses, ceases to exist altogether. While I do think that the combo element leaving means the deck needs to be rebuilt, that's not the end of the story for some parts of it. Here's what a Saheeli deck looked like pre-ban:

Copy Cat

Losses: Felidar Guardian. No Cat means no combo, which means this is but a shell of its former self. I would say I'm sorry to see it go, but I'm really not, and I'm excited for the space it opens up.

Gains: There may be something salvageable here, with the energy/value shell being a real one, but not having an instant-win button does mean opponents no longer have to live in fear of tapping out, and this deck can't come back when it's really far behind.

This deck essentially needs to be reset. I mention it because it was a (the) tier 1 deck of the format, and it did literally lose its key component, but this decklist is more for reference moving forward than any kind of suggestion as to what to play. I like that Cat has left the building, and I suspect this deck will land on its feet, but it needs a major revamp to do so.

The Wheels Keep Spinning

Mardu Vehicles was great before, and will still be great. The combination of Heart of Kiran; Gideon, Ally of Zendikar; and other efficient threats is the fun police of the format, and powerful removal like Unlicensed Disintegration rounds things out. These lists will look pretty similar to previous ones to start with, though I expect them to evolve as the format does.

Mardu Vehicles

Losses: Without Saheeli in the format, players can play removal more suited for this matchup. For example, Shock can now be replaced by Magma Spray, which may not have been the case if dealing 2 damage to Saheeli was critical. That makes Scrapheap Scrounger quite a bit weaker. Overall, this deck didn't lose much and, besides opponents being a little more prepared, is still as powerful as it was.

Gains: Cast Out is a flexible removal spell, and Gideon of the Trials is another potential threat. Depending on the mana base, Glorybringer is also an option at five, though I like that Archangel Avacyn owns Glorybringer if they both get cast on the same turn.

We don't need a clear picture of the format to know that Mardu Vehicles will still be one of the frontrunners. It suffers from being targeted a little more, but didn't actually lose anything and gained a couple interesting cards. It's also still just the most efficient beatdown deck around, and those decks are always the best at the start of the season.

Rainy Skies Return

I won't lie: I'm excited for this one. Torrential Gearhulk is one of the sweetest cards in Standard, and despite seeing some play, has never made as much of a splash as I'd hoped. That all changes now, thanks to a timely banning and the printing of one innocuous red card. Behold, the Tower of Power:

Tower of Power

Losses: Now that this deck is back on the scene, opponents may be able to prepare for it better. Cards like Dispossess could make an appearance, and I wouldn't count on Torrential Gearhulk flying under the radar. There are also better artifact-removal spells available, and getting Dynavolt Tower hit by Cast Out is a thing that will happen.

Gains: No Saheeli to worry about, which is a huge burden off this deck. In terms of cards, there are three really big ones:

Having an answer to Scrapheap Scrounger is huge, as that card has been the bane of control decks forever. This also snipes Toolcraft Exemplar and Veteran Motorist, all for just one red mana.

The impact of Censor will be felt all across Standard. It is a strong piece of interaction on turns two through five, and may even be good later. When the game doesn't line up right for it, you can just cycle it for one mana, making it exactly what control decks have been looking for. Early interaction that isn't dead late and that catches any sort of threat is a huge addition.

This is a strange one. First of all, Commit is just a fine card. It deals with any troublesome permanent or spell, and you can leave mana up for it while knowing you will get to cast it even if they don't play a big spell. It's card-neutral since the opponent skips a draw step re-drawing whatever you bounced, and it keeps threats at bay for multiple turns. Where it gets really interesting is Torrential Gearhulk, as you can play Gearhulk and cast Commit or Memory at instant speed. That's absurdly powerful and gives you a way to refill your hand at the end of the opponent's turn. You get the first crack at playing your seven new cards, and you get that option while not paying any deck-building costs, since Commit is awesome by itself.

Gearhulk is back in a big way. There are multiple exciting blue instants that make the card much better, and overall the deck has gained a ton with the release of Amonkhet. If you couldn't tell, that is something I'm very much interested in.

Snakes? I Hate Snakes

Black-Green Delirium hasn't been popular in Standard in quite some time, thanks to everyone's favorite feline. Now that tapping out for Verdurous Gearhulk is a better move, it might be time to Traverse the Ulvenwald once again. This deck combines beefy creatures, a +1/+1 counter theme, and the power of Traverse/delirium to present a good mix of threats and removal. This is midrange at its finest.

Black-Green Delirium

Losses: I suppose this deck is still very much feeling the loss of Emrakul, the Promised End, but that ship (Eldrazi) has sailed. Otherwise, black-green hasn't lost anything in particular and in fact has gained a lot of ground.

Gains: With Reflector Mage and Felidar Guardian both gone, is it time for Mindwrack Demon to shine? Probably not, but it's worth trying, and this deck could even play more copies potentially. Rhonas is an interesting Traverse target, as he provides a resilient threat and a good mana sink, and the plan of Winding Constrictor into big threats sounds a lot better now that tapping out is safer.

Black-green has a ton of different ways to build it, including the more aggro-bent with a lower curve, energy themes like Glint-Sleeve Siphoner, or bigger and more controlling. This is but one of the possibilities, and I see a lot of potential in the Blooming Marsh these days.

This new format has a lot going on, and there are many powerful avenues to go down. Some decks lost, many decks gained, and I am very curious to find out where things go (but not too curious—we saw what happened to the Cat).

LSV

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