A First Look at Fate Reforged Standard

Posted in Top Decks on January 30, 2015

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).

The new Standard format has just started rolling, but we do have a few tournament results to look at. These results will at least give us a hint of where the archetypes that did well are headed, and the initial set of decks do tend to disproportionately affect the next few weeks of play. When there isn't a ton of data, the data that does exist gains importance. That doesn't mean it isn't real or valuable…just the opposite! These are the decks everyone is looking at, which means deck-building decisions made in these decks will have more influence than they normally would. Whether you agree or disagree with these decisions, you should be aware that other people will for sure be taking them into account, and adjusting for that is important.

For example, if multiple Abzan Aggro decks play Bile Blight, you will see more Bile Blights over the next week than you would otherwise. Card choices that are clearly dubious are less likely to be propagated, but all the plausible choices carry a little more weight.

That being said, what did do well last weekend?

There were two events, the Sunday Super Series in Seattle and the StarCityGames.com Open in Washington, DC, although the Super Series was a mixed-format event (you can check out the 3–0 lists here). The Top 8 of the Open was as follows:

StarCityGames.com Open—Washington, DC

Archetype in Top 8 Number
Sultai Control 2 (1 winner)
Abzan Aggro 2
Abzan Control 1
Jeskai Aggro 1
Red-White Burn 1
White-Blue Heroic 1

The biggest difference between this and a pre-Fate Reforged Top 8 is the presence of multiple Sultai Control decks, one of which even won the tournament. The two lists look very different, but both look pretty sweet.

First, the winning list, played by Gerard Fabiano.

Sultai Control


Gerard Fabiano's Sultai Control

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There are some interesting cards in this deck, a small sampling of which you can see here:

All this deck is trying to do is survive long enough to cast its incredibly expensive and powerful spells, and it uses a combination of removal and Dig Through Times to make sure it does. Dig will often pick up a removal spell the first time it's cast, and later the focus shifts to finding an Ugin or Garruk or the like. Everything in the deck works toward this plan, from the Satyr Wayfinders and Rakshasa's Secrets that fill the graveyard, to the seventeen removal/disruption spells that stop the opponent. Besides that, all the deck has is five card-draw spells and seven Planeswalkers, which is an impressively focused set of win conditions. There are no good targets for creature removal at all, and even though Hero's Downfall is still good, blanking the rest of the opponent's removal is a big deal.

The cards that make this deck tick are really Crux of Fate and Dig Through Time.

Without Crux of Fate, this deck could fall too far behind for its one-for-one removal spells to dig it out of a hole, and the opponent would be aware of that. Instead, the opponent can't just drop every creature without fearing Crux, which plays perfectly into all that spot removal I just mentioned.

Dig Through Time is crucial because it finds exactly what the deck is looking for at any given time, and lets the deck skimp on numbers of the more situational cards. It's also important because Dig, with the proper support, is a very efficient and powerful card. The cost is playing cards like Wayfinder and Secret, but once that cost is paid, Dig may just be the best card in the deck. It will often cost two or three mana, which is incredible, and makes it an engine worth building around (which this deck very much did).

I love decks like this, and even if Gerard is only playing Rakshasa's Secret because he won Grand Prix Baltimore with it (and it is non-zero that it is the case), the deck still looks awesome. Plus, I'm certainly not one to judge; I like sweet cards, and filling your graveyard for Dig is a valid reason to play it. I don't even know where to begin when thinking of changes to this deck, and would highly advise anyone who wants to tinker with it to play it as-is for a few matches. That's always good practice anyway, and when you have a brew like this, it's even more important. After all, who knows? Maybe the secret is in the Secrets, and maybe Feed the Clan is exactly what the deck needs to beat aggro.

I would look at moving the Tasigurs to the main deck, however, as they did a lot of work for Gerard in post-board games, and Tasigur is just an insanely powerful card.

Imagine my joy when I saw that there were not one, but two different Sultai Control decks, both of which were extremely durdly and very different. This one comes to us courtesy of Ali Aintrazi, a good dude who always has incredibly sweet decks. This one takes almost the opposite tack, and has a ton of creatures and/or Sieges to power out its big spells.

Sultai Control

Ali Aintrazi's Sultai Control

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Ali harnesses the power of green cards to generate lots of mana, which lets him play a lot of expensive spells. Ali does like his expensive spells, and this deck has some number of each of the following:

That doesn't even count Dig Through Time and Treasure Cruise, and of course he's playing both.

Ali's deck leans harder on Crux of Fate, which is funny because he also has more creatures, but Courser and Caryatid provide enough value that it's worth the anti-synergy with wraths. Hornet Queen makes Crux unnecessary most of the time, and Pearl Lake Ancient can pop back into your hand if you are going to tempt Fate, so overall this is a great Crux of Fate deck even with the twelve creatures.

Frontier Siege is one of the more exciting new cards to see play here, and it really does help ramp to the seven or eight mana Ali is looking to hit. The deck wants the Khans side the vast majority of the time, and some turns will even use the ability twice. Casting a Courser or Caryatid in your first main phase and casting a removal spell in the second is pretty easy to do, and you can even cast a Crux of Fate and follow it up with a creature without much more mana. It's especially good at powering out Digs and Cruises, as Siege will naturally let you play an increased number of cards, making your delve cards quite cheap. Tasigur is another great one here, and I would again look to add a second. Using his ability multiple times a turn is very doable with Siege, and sounds nigh-unbeatable.

It is funny that sometimes you will choose Dragons when you play Frontier Siege, because if you can follow that up with a Hornet Queen, you just made your very own Plague Wind. Speaking of sweet plays, also check out the lone copy of Worst Fears. I don't know how good Mindslaver is in this format, but there are some matchups where it has to be awesome. It does feel like a sideboard card to me, but don't let that stop you (Ali certainly didn't).

I can't argue against the inclusion of these eight creatures, as they have powered out big spells ever since Day One. As I mentioned earlier, they do conflict with Crux of Fate a little, but having Caryatid and Courser leads to so many more good starts. I think that it is safer to play these, especially if you expect a lot of beatdown decks, but Gerard's decision to play none gives him an edge against removal-heavy midrange and control decks. Which way you go depends on the metagame, and both of these control decks could be configured to play Courser and Caryatid, or not play them, whichever you decide is optimal. I would lean toward playing them, but that's because of how popular I think Red-White and Abzan Aggro are going to be.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, there were multiple Abzan Aggro decks to be found, the most interesting of which was played by Andrew Boswell.

Abzan Aggro

Andrew Boswell's Abzan Aggro

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Andrew sculpted the deck's mana base to accommodate a number of good, cheap creatures, which let him start applying pressure from turn one. That's a departure from most Abzan Aggro decks, and is largely supported by the addition of Warden of the First Tree to the format.

It takes some pain to play Warden, but the power level of this card justifies having four copies of Mana Confluence in the deck (plus a couple Llanowar Wastes). Andrew's deck gets to start attacking while other decks are still spinning their wheels, and hitting for 4–5 damage against an opponent who has just played scry lands sounds like an awesome plan. Soldier of the Pantheon is the backup one-drop, and I imagine it's mostly in there to take advantage of all the untapped lands this deck plays. If you warp your mana base for just one card, it's often not worth it, and given that this deck can produce W reliably on turn one, Soldier is a good choice. It battles expensive gold creatures, gains a couple life, and will likely trade for a more expensive card.

Boon Satyr is another interesting addition, and it rewards this deck's more aggressive bent. This deck is more likely to pressure the opponent's life total early, which makes a bestowed Satyr lethal more often. Even if it isn't, if the opponent is on the back foot, you can often land Satyr when the opponent is tapped out and forced to make bad blocks.

Four copies of Valorous Stance found their way into the spell section, and I like the synergy they have with many of the creatures in the deck. Keeping mana up and having the option to fire up Warden, cast Boon Satyr, or protect your creatures with Stance is just good deck building. The flexibility of Stance is what made it worth playing, and besides killing many of the creatures this deck cares about, it protects the high-value creatures like Warden, as a Warden that survives will almost assuredly take over the game.

I guess I can allow this deck to play no copies of Tasigur, but luckily the next Abzan Aggro deck needs no such allowance.

Abzan Aggro

Hunter Nance's Abzan Aggro

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The list that Hunter Nance played is much more in line with pre-FRF Abzan Aggro decks, although it does include the Tasigurs that I want to add to every deck. It turns out that a combination of efficient creatures and powerful removal is a good one, still, and Tasigur fits pretty neatly into that game plan.

I would look to play another Thoughtseize, and I still like Valorous Stance in this deck (although probably as a one- or two-of), but past that I think this is a good example of what you want to be doing in this format. Abzan Aggro is not bad against anything and gets to play a ton of the best cards in the format. It's not an overwhelming favorite against anything, either, but you can't have it all.

I like the impact that Fate Reforged has had so far, and there were plenty of other FRF cards in other decks in the Top 8. Deck building with cards with delve is very interesting, and three of the four decks I talked about today were delving (and had Tasigur). When deck building isn't obvious and contains multiple viable paths, formats tend to be much more fun, and current Standard is definitely in that space.

As for what you should play in a tournament this weekend, my answer is the same as it usually is: play what you love to play. There are so many good decks, and from all possible archetypes, that you really should just pick the deck you enjoy playing and play it until you know it inside and out. I personally would play Sultai Control, but that's just because I like casting Dig Through Time, and if your interests lean more toward Siege Rhino, or Goblin Rabblemaster, I in no way think it's a bad idea to play decks that utilize those cards. Pick what you love, practice with it, and have fun in whatever arena you choose to play it in.


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