Reforging the Pillars of Standard

Posted in Top Decks on January 16, 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).

Figuring out where a new set fits into Constructed is a multi-part process, and today I'm going to look at some decks from the pre-Fate Reforged format and see how Fate Reforged might affect them. Not only is there no reason to throw away previous work, but this is a small set entering a large format, so a lot of the decks that were already good will continue to be so. I speculated last week about some of the sweeter new cards, but it's time to get down to business and look at the pillars of the format, pillars that will continue to stand.

Abzan Aggro

This might be the best deck in the format right now, and the three copies that made Top 8 at Grand Prix Denver speaks to that. The combination of Thoughtseize, hard-hitting two-drops, Siege Rhino, and Wingmate Roc is a good one. The deck doesn't really sacrifice any power in its quest for speed, as every card in the deck is good on its own, which is something that hasn't been true of every aggro deck in the past.

Here is the list William "Huey" Jensen used to make Top 8:

William Jensen's Abzan Aggro—Top 8, GP Denver

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Aggro decks have the most narrow range of cards they are looking for, and even though this aggro deck is more midrangey than most, that still holds true. The deck's high end of Siege Rhino and Wingmate Roc are unlikely to change, so we are looking for cards that cost three or less mana.

The most exciting card for this deck (and many others) is Valorous Stance. This card is flexible, powerful, and efficient, which basically hits all the metrics that matter when evaluating a card. It kills a ton of the creatures you care about (Courser of Kruphix, Siege Rhino, Butcher of the Horde, Savage Knuckleblade, Anafenza, the Foremost) while protecting your creatures from various removal spells. The second part is at its best in a deck like this, as your opponent will spend a lot of time trying to kill your creatures, and preventing a Hero's Downfall or mitigating the damage of End Hostilities or Crux of Fate is huge. Because this does miss a few important targets (Stormbreath Dragon, Goblin Rabblemaster, Fleecemane Lion), I don't think you want the full amount, but it's a strong enough card that I can see two or three being an excellent addition.

Warden is exciting, as it's a one-drop that can potentially be an 8/8 trample lifelink (or 13/13, since you can keep activating the last ability), but I don't think it fits in this shell of the Abzan Aggro deck. The most important reason is that Abzan Aggro plays a lot of lands that enter the battlefield tapped, and those essentially occupy the one-drop slot. There's a reason this deck plays no one-mana creatures, and the only one-mana spell is Thoughtseize, a card that's better on turn two or three much of the time anyway.

I'm not saying Warden of the First Tree is a bad card, because it isn't, and if there is a green-white or black-green beatdown deck, it could be awesome. A full Abzan deck just can't get away from playing Sandsteppe Citadel and Temples, and my first inclination is to leave out Warden as a result. Of course, it's possible that Warden is powerful enough to include regardless, and we will see over the next few weeks.

Incorporating Valorous Stance (and making a few other changes after talking to Owen Turtenwald, who played the same list to 12–3), here is a slightly modified Abzan Aggro deck:

Abzan Aggro with Fate Reforged

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It may not look like the deck got a lot, but Valorous Stance is an excellent card, and it will make the deck even more resilient to removal than it already is.

Gruul Aggro

Lukas Parson piloted Gruul Aggro to the Top 8, and the game plan is pretty simple: play Elvish Mystic, play a three-drop, then finish things off with a Stormbreath Dragon. It's got a lot of redundant pieces, with Elvish Mystic being the most important, and all of its cards work toward the same goal admirably.

Lukas Parson's Gruul Aggro—Top 8, GP Denver

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This deck has a little more flexibility when it comes to new cards. It's only pulling from two colors, but it has the time to play more expensive cards if necessary, and besides Elvish Mystic, I wouldn't call any of the cards irreplaceable.

Here are some of the cards that stand out to me:

The mana cost may be prohibitive here, but this card is incredible. It's like Chandra's Phoenix, but somehow less killable, as it comes back much more often and at a cheaper cost. Opponents can't really stop you from playing a 4-power creature at some point, and all you need is for it to survive until your combat step and the Phoenix will be reborn.

This is the three-drop I'm most interested in. Yasova is a 4/2 trample for three, which is comparable but slightly worse than something like a Fanatic of Xenagos, at least until you read her second ability. Stealing any creature with 3 or less power and smashing your opponent with it is insane, and will lead to some very sick turns. Yasova triggers even the turn you play her, so she does something right away later in the game, and she can come out as early as turn two and start threatening to take creatures. She is legendary, so you probably don't want to just run four, but playing a couple copies sounds like an excellent idea. For bonus points, combo Boon Satyr or the next card I'm about to talk about with Yasova and you can take anything you want.

Shaman is another hasty attacker to add to the list, and one that helps all your other creatures, combining especially well with flying ones. It also gives you a mana sink in the late game, meaning there's no point where this isn't relevant. It's a shame it can't attack into a Siege Rhino, but what can?

I'm always on the lookout for efficient cards, and a one-mana removal spell that kills Goblin Rabblemaster, Heir of the Wilds, Seeker of the Way, and Elvish Mystic is worth considering. This deck doesn't play Lightning Strike because it doesn't fit into the curve nicely, but Wild Slash just may be what it wants. Casting a two-drop and a Wild Slash on turn two after a Mystic is very good and leads to the kind of starts that Lightning Strike couldn't enable.

Gruul Aggro with Fate Reforged

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Fanatic of Xenagos got exchanged for the new three-drops, and Shaman of the Great Hunt and Wild Slash fill in for some number of Xenagos and Ashcloud Phoenix. The exact mix of threats this deck wants isn't clear yet, but trying all the possibilities is the best place to start. They have nice synergy with each other, and combined with Wild Slash, they may make this deck more powerful and efficient at the same time.

Blue-Black Control

This is the winning deck, and happens to be one of the decks I have enjoyed playing. I wrote about it last week but somehow managed to overlook one of the cards that's going to make the biggest impact, which makes me want to go over it again.

Andrew Brown's Blue-Black Control—Top 8, GP Denver

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The deck is extremely simple: kill or counter everything your opponent plays, cast Dig Through Time, and maybe win at some point, if you feel like it. Every card draws cards, counters spells, or deals with threats, and even the three win conditions can play defensively if need be.

Cards from Fate Reforged that could impact the deck:

I can't believe it didn't occur to me to mention this before, because this is one of the most impactful cards in the set. In my defense, it started talking about Dragons and I moved on, as this deck has no Dragons in it whatsoever. Giving blue-black a five-mana board sweeper is huge, and between this and Perilous Vault, UB does a great job of punishing those who overextend. Perilous Vault usually takes two turns, so your opponent could be confident in playing lethal if you didn't have one in play, but now that Crux of Fate is around that no longer is a good plan. If opponents slow-play their creatures, spot removal gets them, and that's part of why this is such an exciting addition. It will be funny whenever UB is facing a deck like RG and there is a Stormbreath Dragon fighting alongside non-Dragon threats, but even with that drawback, this is an excellent card.

I said this last week, but I like the idea of using Jeskai Sage as an early game speed bump, and that it can threaten Planeswalkers and grow mid-combat makes it even better. Crux of Fate even gives UB a way to kill off its own Jeskai Sages and cash them in for cards.

Ugin is so powerful that every slow deck will be looking at potentially playing it, and this deck is the best example of that. Its 28 lands and ton of draw spells means it will hit eight mana, and using Ugin as a combination board wipe + game ender is a solid plan.

UB Control with Fate Reforged

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Sidisi Whip

Whip of Erebos is one of the defining cards of Standard, and the Sultai version of the deck is the most linear. It plays plenty of ways to mill itself, and even more ways to take advantage of such, with delve cards, Sidisi, and Whip of Erebos all using the graveyard as a resource. Here is a recent list from Magic Online:

portaro89's Sidisi Whip

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I'm not saying I picked this list just because it had two Treasure Cruises, but it sure didn't hurt.

If there ever was a card more clearly appropriate for a Sultai graveyard deck, I haven't seen it (although the next one is pretty interesting as well). Tasigur comes out for a low cost and gives you never-ending value if the game goes long, which is what this deck works toward. Tasigur is not a card I want a bunch of, because he is legendary and because he fights for space with other delve cards, as well as being an expensive engine in the late game.

Torrent Elemental is exciting. Assuming you can get it to the graveyard for free, there are multiple ways to exile it, at which point it's just a bonus card in your hand until you cast it. It also has a very relevant effect, as tapping down your opponent's team is huge in the board-stall games that this deck gets into. Whipping this into play and bashing with your whole team sounds amazing, and doubly so when you can cast it from exile the turn after. You don't want a lot of finishers like this, but the power level here is quite high.

On the other side of the spectrum, Monastery Siege offers a setup card, and one that can be used as a bit of protection if need be. The primary mode of this is Khans, as drawing and discarding every turn is exactly what this deck wants to do, but if you are flush with card draw and mill effects, playing it as Dragons and slowing down your opponent is perfectly fine. It interferes with Thoughtseize, creature removal, and even cards that target Whip of Erebos. It doesn't stop them forever, but paying two mana can cost your opponent ten or more mana over the course of the game, which can be worth a card.

Sidisi Whip with Fate Reforged

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Even though I felt like Treasure Cruise had to go, this deck is well-poised for the later stages of the game. Courser, Caryatid, Wayfinder, Sidisi, and Murderous Cut make sure you get there, and Whip plus all the new finishers make sure you win once there. Monastery Siege is an interesting one, as I could see wanting more, but I don't know how often you can pay three mana without adding to the board, so I am going to start with two. This deck got a lot from Fate Reforged, and hating it out just keeps getting more difficult.

Even though Abzan Aggro added the fewest new cards, all of these decks got some new toys to play with, and all of those toys fill important roles. Figuring out which are good and which aren't is the most fascinating moment of the new format, and the only way to do that is battle and see what happens.


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