Standard Brews With Shadows Over Innistrad, Part One

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Posted March 16, 2016 by Jean-Luc Botbyl in Nerdy Bits

Shadows Over Innistrad, the latest Magic: the Gathering set, is insane. I just punted a great opportunity for a Madness pun, didn’t I? Oh well. Bad at puns, bad at writing, bad at Magic. What can I say, I’m a bit delirious right now.

GOT THERE.

Ok, let’s be done with the self-deprecation for a bit. I was trying to make the point that I really dig a lot of the cards in Shadows. This set is probably the most interesting new expansion, since, I don’t know, Return to Ravnica? Granted, I haven’t played with any of these cards yet, but they look like exciting, which, to be honest, I haven’t really been able to say about a year and a half. That said, I’ve been enjoying current Standard. I don’t play in paper (too poor for 4x Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy), but what I’ve played online has been lots of fun. I do really want to continue into the next Standard, and I’ve already started some brews. True, the full set isn’t out yet, so I’m mostly just theorizing for now. I will, however, try to post an updated article with some decklists when the full set is spoiled.

Mono Black Aggro

Relentless DeadDranaKalitas

Yes, the cards above this line of text are positioned that way for a reason. It’s the dream curve. Relentless Dead, into Drana, Liberator of Malakir, into Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet? How can you lose? Obviously that’s the best case scenario, but the more I looked into this deck, the more I realized there are a lot of powerful Black cards that have mostly been forgotten about because they haven’t had a shell. Drana obviously comes to mind. The card is just great, but hasn’t found a home anywhere, and that’s a shame. If she attacks even once, she provides an insane boost to your team. Of course, everyone knows how great Kalitas is. I don’t think I’ve ever lost a game where it wasn’t instantly removed (which, to be fair, happens a lot). This is true of cards like, I don’t know, Despoiler of Souls.

Despoiler of Souls

Despoiler is a pretty efficiently costed beater, with marginal downside and decent upside. The thing is, the cost always seemed a little bit high for the recursion. However, in a Mono Black aggro deck, I’m not not worried about that. The card can die early on, but in the late game it ensures that the deck has gas to keep pressure on, since the deck can dump its hand early, and then collapse in the late game. Despoiler helps to get in the last few points of removal, and really, in this deck, there will be ways to fill the graveyard. The only real issue that I see with Relentless Dead is that it doesn’t really synergize with other cards in the deck.

The thing with Mono Black Aggro is that there are so many ways to build the deck. There’s a definitely a straight linear strategy with a removal package that gets in early and wraps the game up. There’s versions built to synergize with Relentless Dead. There are version built around Drana or Kalitas. Hell, I can imagine a version built around Despoiler of Souls that mills itself and discards. This could be a home for cards like Mindwrack Demon or Heir of Falkenrath. It’s that variety that makes this an archetype I really want to explore in more depth once the full spoilers are out.

Blue/X Tempo

Thing in the IceAwoken Horror

Ok, bear with me here. I know that there is an actual evolution of Delver of Secrets//Insectile Aberration in this set, but, if anything, Thing in the Ice//Awoken Horror is more reminiscent of that card. As a two mana 0/4 with Defender, it’s marginally more useful than a 1/1 for one. Sure, you can’t be smashing for three in the air on turn two with this card. It’s a bit more of a slow burn, but Thing in the Ice can actually play a role before it’s flipped. It blocks well, and removing four ice counters shouldn’t be a huge issue if the deck is built around that. There are plenty of cheap instants and sorceries in Standard that dropping this on turn four and then flipping it on turn five or six isn’t unreasonable. Any time before around turn ten, Awoken Horror is way ahead of curve. It demands an answer, or it will just win the game. It’s likely to bounce entire boards, then smash for seven. That tempo swing is so delicious I don’t even know where to begin with it.

The question then becomes: where does the support come from? Blue gives the deck this package:

Clash of WillsAnticipateJust the Wind Jace, VPJace, TU

These are all great cards. Clash of Wills is exactly the type of counterspell this deck wants, thanks to its versatility. Anticipate lets the deck dig into more answers while removing counters from Thing in the Ice. Just the Wind is a solid tempo play, and another cheap way to grind towards an Awoken Horror. It gets even better with a Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy, since you can pitch it and still hold up a Clash of Wills or Anticipate on turn three. And Jace speaks for himself at this point – the card is pretty crazy. Slip Through Space is another consideration, I just didn’t have room to include it it. I really want this deck to work in Mono Blue. The thing is, it just won’t. It’s missing two things: good removal and more threats. And trust me, I looked for threats that fit the deck, but they either cost too much mana (Soulblade Djinn) or were just too mediocre for me to seriously consider (Umara Entangler).

So, in color order, here are the packages I’ve come up with.

White:

Reflector Mage Noyan Dar, Roil Shaper Declaration in Stone Immolating Glare

 I decided to start with White because it’s probably the worst of the options for supporting colors. The thing is, it’s kind of simultaneously the best. Reflector Mage is just insane in this deck, gaining the player a ton of tempo for just three mana. Unfortunately, the other options are kind of mediocre. Noyan Dar seems like he would be great in a deck with lots of Instants and Sorceries, but he’s probably just too slow. Immolating Glare is too awkward as a removal spell in this deck. Declaration in Stone is great. Between that and Reflector Mage, it’s almost worth it to play White in this deck – I’m just not sure that three colors is manageable unless we get a new dual land cycle to tie the mana base together (which could happen).

Black:

Heir of Falkenrath Heir to the Night Duress Ultimate Price Grasp of Darkness

Black actually gives the deck more options than I have room to include here, so I picked what I think are the best ones. Heir to Falkenrath/Heir to the night is another win condition. It enables Madness (the deck is more than likely already running Just the Wind), and pitching an Instant or Sorcery isn’t even that bad with Jace in the deck. Duress gives the deck something to do on turn one, and remains relevant in the late game, disrupting the opponent. Honestly, I don’t think anything here is as good as Declaration in Stone, but the rest of what White has to offer doesn’t quite match up. Ultimate Price and Grasp of Darkness are both great removal spells anyways, and can fill the roll that Declaration in Stone would play well enough.

The cards I didn’t have include things like Kalitas and Drana, both of which add to the threat density. The thing is, both of them seem a bit clunky, since they don’t immediately give a tempo advantage, which is the goal of the deck. Drana also seems like a win-more card in this deck, since it doesn’t synergize all that well with Thing in the Ice.

Red:

Stormchaser Mage Abbot of Keral KeepFiery Temper Fiery Impulse

Like Black, Red gives the deck a ton of options I haven’t included. The ones above, however, are what I consider to be the ones most likely to be included. Stormchaser Mage is a card looking for a home, and this seems like that deck.The deck wants lots of non creature spells, so the Mage can put in a ton of work. The same goes for Abbot of Keral Keep. It’s likely to get buffed like crazy, and it provides the potential for card advantage. These two creatures have the potential to outclass anything opponents are doing for the same mana cost. Fiery Temper and Fiery Impulse fill similar rolls, as both remove early creatures. They each have their own upsides, but both would be likely to make it into a final build, considering it’s not difficult to enable Madness.

I also thought about cards like Roast and Goblin Dark-Dwellers. Both have potential in this deck – Roast is efficient removal and Goblin Dark-Dwellers is another way to gain massive tempo advantage. Dark-Dwellers is unlikely though, since the five mana is a real cost in a deck that probably wants to be light on lands. Also Brutal Expulsion, but that’s more a pet card than anything else.

Green:

Skyrider Elf  Sylvan Advocate Bounding KrasisPulse of Murasa

Green mostly adds threats to the deck. Sylvan Advocate, Skyrider Elf, and Bounding Krasis are all efficient beaters. Each of them has some upside – evasion, the possibility of growing, and gaining tempo. The only non-creature spell I would really be excited about playing in a Simic tempo deck is Pulse of Murasa. To be fair, the card is just great. At three mana, it can return a Jace or Thing in the Ice that was killed almost immediately, while simultaneously giving you a life buffer. It puts in serious work and frankly, I’m surprised it hasn’t seen more play in Standard yet. Maybe there just hasn’t been a real shell for it.

The other thing I considered was Collected Company. It could just be that I’m bad at deckbuilding, but it seems like Thing in the Ice and Collected Company are just too demanding of the deck to run both and expect it to function. I could be wrong, but for now I’m putting that idea aside. Den Protector is probably pretty good here too. The thing is, Green gives the deck resiliency, but not really removal, so if the deck were to be Simic, it would probably need a third color, which may or may not be possible in the new meta.

That’s all I have for today! This will probably be the longest post, featuring the least decks, simply because I wrote a ton about the U/x Tempo list. Anyways, check back in over the next few days for more thoughts on powerhouse decks in post-rotation Standard!


About the Author

Jean-Luc Botbyl

Jean-Luc is a grizzled veteran of We the Nerdy. Most days, he just wonders why he hasn't been formally fired. Follow him on Twitter at @J_LFett to make him feel validated.