Days of Future Future: Khans of Tarkir

Posted in Latest Developments on October 10, 2014

By Sam Stoddard

Sam Stoddard came to Wizards of the Coast as an intern in May 2012. He is currently a game designer working on final design and development for Magic: The Gathering.

Welcome again to the Days of Future Future, where I share some of the decks we created in our Future Future League and give you some insights into what we were thinking when trying to balance Standard.

As usual, I want to add a disclaimer that many of the cards in the decks you will see are different from the final version that saw print—in some cases the versions in our decks were more powerful, in some cases they were less powerful.

Monastery Swiftspear | Art by Steve Argyle

These decks represent months of fine tuning for sets, where cards are constantly in flux and may not look like what you are used to when seeing competitive decklists. It doesn't always mean that the decks weren't good; often it just means that our metagame was different or the cards in the decks functioned differently. Our goal is to test everything—to try and catch things we might not eyeball as being too strong, since those are often the cards we end up most regretting in the future.

With that, let's get started.

One of the first decks we tried out was the "morphs matter" deck. After all, the mechanic was taking up a lot of complexity space, and it probably wouldn't be worth including in the set unless it had some chance of being a "thing" in Standard. I don't know how strong it ended up being, but various versions of the deck in our testing ended up as tier 1 or tier 2 decks.

Morphs by Ian Duke

Of course, this being a wedge block, a lot of our effort went into making sure that three-color decks were working at about the right power level. The goal was to make it so people would play them when Khans of Tarkir came out, but they wouldn't be the strongest thing in Standard for the next eighteen months. We spent a lot of our time tweaking those decks so they were worth playing, despite the inherent inconsistency and downside of playing a more complex mana base. As an example, here is one of our early Jeskai control decks meant to fight aggro decks, with a few powerful late-game cards like Keranos.

Jeskai Control by Ben Hayes

One thing we found in our testing is that without Sphinx's Revelation, there were a lot more options for control decks. One popular deck we found was Mardu, which did a great job of playing a ton of removal, then using Planeswalkers to get card advantage.

You might notice Liliana of the Veil in this decklist. While she didn't make the cut for Magic 2015, we did try her for quite a while and found her to be (unsurprisingly) one of the strongest cards in all of Standard. After playing with her for a long time, we knew we were either going to have to print hate cards for her in Khans or replace her in M15. We went with the latter option.

Mardu Control by Adam Prosak

We tried a number of different decks with each clan. Abzan, for instance, tended to work best as midrange decks, so we played decks similar to the kinds of decks you saw at Pro Tour Theros—putting in the most efficient creatures we had in Khans.

Abzan Midrange by Ian Duke

The Sultai decks tended to be graveyard-based decks that took advantage of Sidisi, to make tokens, and Soul of Innistrad, to get card advantage. For a long while, Sidisi made a number of tokens equal to the creatures milled, but we found that the swingyness of cards like Commune with the Gods and making three or more Zombie tokens was just too high.

Queen Sidisi by Max McCall

Finally, we have the Temur decks, which tended to look a lot like the base RG Monsters deck in Theros block, taking advantage of some blue additions like Savage Knuckleblade, Surrak Dragonclaw, and Stubborn Denial.

Temur Fires by Gerry Thompson

That isn't to say that each clan only has one good way to build a deck. This version of Jeskai, for example, is incredibly different from the first one I posted earlier. Instead of a control deck, it's an aggressive deck that wins with burn.

Jeskai Burn by Adam Prosak

Then, here's yet another build that focuses less on burn and more on the prowess mechanic (then known as kung fu) to win the game.

Jeskai Kung Fu by Adam Prosak

Another version of our Temur decks ended up closer to the control end of the spectrum, taking advantage of the fact that most of the deck's creatures had 4 toughness and could survive an Anger of the Gods.

Temur Midrange by Gerry Thompson

Our Abzan decks also had variations. This one takes many cues from the Abzan deck earlier, but focuses much more on Planeswalkers to win the game.

Abzan Control by Adam Prosak

Moving beyond just the wedges, we found a number of decks that existed outside that pattern. This deck by Gerry Thompson is, in many ways, similar Jason Ellis's deck from Pro Tour Journey into Nyx.

Mono-Black Aggro by Gerry Thompson

Mono-red decks were a big part of our gauntlet because they naturally prey on decks with complex mana bases.

For instance, we had this deck that looks quite a lot like many of the mono-red decks that were performing well in Theros Block queues on Magic Online.

Mono-Red Heroic by Adam Prosak

Red-white was another favorite. This particular list gets many of the advantages that the Mardu decks above have in terms of strong removal, but also gets to have a lot fewer lands that enter the battlefield tapped.

RW Midrange by Ben Hayes

Control decks were also a huge part of our gauntlet. Because there was no four-mana wraths in the format, the decks diversified what exactly they were doing to fight creature decks. Most of the white variants, of course, played End Hostilities, but blue-black also succeeded by having powerful one-for-one removal then using a combination of card advantage and huge Empty the Pits to lock the game down.

UB Control by Adam Prosak

We also made sure to look at the decks that were doing well in the real world, and port them over. Pro Tour Theros let us know how real a threat Mono-Green Devotion was, so we built versions of it in the new Standard, taking advantage of all of the powerful X spells we had—in this case Hooded Hydra and Crater's Claws.

RG Devotion by Gerry Thompson

That's it for this week. There were a ton of other decklists that came out of our FFL, but not all of them are quite ready to share just yet. We'll see how Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir goes, and see how close we were in our analysis of the metagame. Using that data, we will adjust "Blood" and beyond to compensate for any cards that we missed.

Until next time,

Sam (@samstod)

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