POST-BAN STANDARD

Posted in Feature on January 5, 2005

By Alex Shvartsman

Ding-Dong, the witch is dead! One of the most hated Standard archetypes of all time has been kicked out of the format.

Arcbound Ravager

Affinity decks have plagued the metagame ever since Darksteel expansion set added Arcbound Ravager and Skullclamp into the mix of artifact cards provided in Mirrodin. Skullclamp was soon banned, but this did little to alleviate Affinity's dominance. In fact, it may have actually hurt other decks more, while Affinity got itself a Cranial Plating around the same time that they lost the Skullclamp. Few decks - even those designed specifically to beat Affinity - could overcome "the draw" - anytime that deck got an above average start it was practically unstoppable.

The new banned list takes no chances with any variant of Affinity whatsoever suriving this time around. DCI banned the two main culprits that the deck revolves around - Arcbound Ravager and Disciple of the Vault. But they did not stop there - all six artifact lands have also been banned, just to prevent any other kind of future abuse players might come up with. The era of artifact decks dominating Standard has ended six months ahead of Mirrodin block rotating out of Standard.

Now what?

Removing a major force like this from the metagame will have a significant impact upon what is being played in Standard. While some of the other viable decks will remain in vogue, the field is now open to archetypes that could not compete against Affinity, but might prey upon the other popular choices, such as Tooth and Nail or Mono-Red Ponza.

Control decks were not nearly fast enough to compete with Affinity (not without the help of March of the Machines anyway), but now they have an opportunity to re-join the metagame. A mono-blue control deck navigated by Terence Merle des Isles recently won the Paris regional in France. He played the following list:

Mono-Blue

Creature (1)
1 Meloku the Clouded Mirror
Other (4)
4 AEther Spellbomb
60 Cards
Meloku the Clouded Mirror

This deck can not deal well with a weenie rush, even after sideboarding, but there seem to be few, if any, weenie decks viable in today's metagame. Instead, this deck is very good at winning matches against other control decks and against combo strategies such as Tooth and Nail. Vedalken Shackles is a very powerful card that, once again, was too slow in the Affinity-driven metagame, but can truly flex its muscles now. The deck's win condition is Meloku - one of the most powerful cards printed in Champions of Kamigawa. I expect to see this card show up a lot, both in Standard and Block formats. In fact, Mike Pustilnik even plays it in Extended, with a fair amount of success.

With Affinity out of the equation, perhaps the most obvious choice is Tooth and Nail. This deck was good enough to win before the new bans, and it will remain good enough to win now - though it will certainly have to adjust a little. For example, most Tooth and Nail builds should be running at least one Boseiju to combat the abovementioned control decks.

Ponza has played an important role in this winter's metagame because it was one of the decks with a fair chance of beating Affinity. Will this deck transcend to the new metagame? Little red men followed up with some land destruction and creature kill are rarely not a viable strategy. However, the deck's focus will need to change somewhat. Cards like Electrostatic Bolt are no longer very attractive. Instead, it will need to concentrate more on defeating control decks, so perhaps more weenie creatures and land kill will replace some of the burn spells and artifact hate to keep this archetype tier 1.

An archetype that was not viable previously but might gain in popularity now is White Weenie. Savannah Lions and Hound of Kondra once again make white the undisputed leader of the one-drop. Although this deck may become fashionable for a while, it is likely to remain tier 2 for now.

A much more promising archetype is Death Cloud. Here is another deck list from the Paris regional, this one from the top 16 as played by Hugues Joneaux:

Death Cloud

Much like The Rock in Extended, this deck's main strength is resilience. It can stand up to pretty much any other achetype and is capable of pursuing a very different game plan depending on whether it faces an aggro or a control opponent. This particular version's weakness is its near-obsessiveness with creature kill. That is probably the main reason why it did not get into the control and combo-dominated top 8.

To me, any time the metagame changes is the best time to play constructed Magic. You can try out new decks, face off against some unexpected strategies, and maybe even carve out a place for yourself in the annals of Magic history by inventing a new archetype. Explore the new metagame, experiment and most importantly, have fun.

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