The New Standard Gauntlet

Ever since the announcement of the banning of Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Stoneforge Mystic, everyone and their mothers have been speculating on what is going to be good when the ban takes effect. My first reaction was that the new Standard will be dominated by Titans. Primeval Titan is obviously the most powerful, but I would not be at all surprised if all five Titans saw play in the new Standard. However, there is another set coming out in just a few weeks, and it is likely to have quite an impact on Standard as well. Given that there is so little time between the bannings taking place and the introduction of the new set, it makes sense to start looking ahead to what M12 will bring to the table.

I’ve also noticed that many people are just falling back on the same builds of older decks, without giving enough thought to how the new metagame will affect card choices. However, Standard has changed quite a bit since the pre–Mirrodin Besieged era, so it is necessary to come up with tech that’s better suited for the new state of Standard. Without further ado, onto the deck lists!

Valakut

This deck, along with Splinter Twin, seems to be one of the “decks to beat” in the new format. It’s a pretty safe bet that this deck will be good in the new format, but to those who think it will be too dominant or that Wizards should have banned Valakut along with Jace and SFM, I would say that other decks exist now that will help keep it in check. Valakut actually has a bad matchup against Splinter Twin, the other “best deck,” and RDW can easily race them as well. That being said, if you can’t beat a turn-four Titan, you might be in trouble. Here’s my list:

Many people have been reverting to the same kinds of lists that were played before the rise of Caw-Blade, playing Lotus Cobra, Khalni Heart Expedition, Harrow, and enemy fetches. I think this is wrong. Lotus Cobra only gives your opponent a good target for Lightning Bolt. Khalni Heart Expedition is inconsistent, is a terrible top-deck in the late game, and leaves you open to get blown out by Into the Roil. Its overall potential is greater than other 2-drops, but overall it is more inconsistent, as sometimes you will play it on turn two but not be able to cash it in for several more turns. Getting your Harrow Mana Leaked, Spell Pierced, or Dispelled is even more of a blowout. Having to play more fetches means that you have less room for Mountains, and I don’t think you want to be taking any extra damage anymore with the rise of the Red deck.

Most of the updated lists I’ve seen also run Green Sun’s Zenith over Summoning Trap, the reasoning for this being that Zenith is more versatile and more reliable, and that it’s safe to play it now due to the death of Caw-Blade, which supposedly will lead to fewer counterspells being played. What these people fail to realize is that while Caw-Blade itself is gone, U/W control certainly isn’t, and Splinter Twin will be packing plenty of counters as well, making Zenith worse. Also, Summoning Trap costs less to get you a Titan, which makes it more likely you’ll be able to cast it. The major drawback of Trap, the possibility of not hitting a creature, is also solved by simply playing more of them.

The final update that I’ve seen a lot of is running main-deck Dismembers. I could be wrong, since there seems to be such a widespread adoption of them, but I personally don’t think this is correct. Yes, they are good against Splinter Twin, but they suck against just about everything else. It doesn’t kill opposing Titans or Sphinxes, and losing 4 life to kill a creature is not what you want to be doing against an aggro deck, especially RDW. I cut those for Spellskites, which play several important roles in the deck. First and foremost, they disrupt the Splinter Twin combo without forcing you to leave up mana on your opponent’s turn and making you less vulnerable to Dispel. He’s another good blocker against RDW and other aggro decks. He also does a pretty great job of protecting your Primeval Titans, and gives you another creature to hit with Summoning Trap.

Another new target for the Trap is Solemn Simulacrum. Ever since he was spoiled yesterday, the Internet has been going crazy, and I’m just as excited as anyone. Sad Robot, or Jens, or whatever you want to call him, is one of my favorite cards, and he comes back at a time when he has quite a bit of potential. He is a perfect fit for Valakut, as the deck was always in need of a good 4-drop, and he ramps you while providing much-needed defense against aggro. Alongside Battlement and Spellskite, aggro decks are going to have a pretty hard time killing you before you drop a Titan or a Wurmcoil, which I have added in place of Avenger of Zendikar. You might ask, why would you cut Avenger from a deck that seems perfect for it? Simple. Wurmcoil costs less, doesn’t die to Dismember or Go for the Throat, and prevents RDW from burning you out. It’s a must-kill card that still gains you value if it is killed. I decided to go with a split between Wurmcoil and Inferno Titan, because against some decks, such as those playing planeswalkers or must-kill creatures like Fauna Shaman, you’re going to want him.

Overall, this seems like the best build of Valakut to me. The addition of Rampant Growth from M12 allows you to play twelve 2-drop ramp spells, which makes the deck much more consistent. I tend to prefer consistent decks to explosive ones, and in my opinion, playing Rampant Growth, Simulacrum, and Trap over Khalni Heart Expedition, Harrow and Green Sun’s Zenith will make the deck less vulnerable to hate and bad draws. In my testing so far, I’ve almost never had to mulligan because the deck now has so much redundancy. I’m pretty sure that Summoning Trap is going to be a safer bet than Green Sun’s Zenith in this new metagame, but only time will tell which one is better.

Splinter Twin

Along with Valakut, Splinter Twin is one of the new defining decks in the format. Every deck now needs to have a plan against a turn-four combo kill, which is why everyone is jamming four Dismembers into every deck they build. That doesn’t make this correct, but it goes to show how scary the deck is. Here’s my list:

I’m not really a big fan of Tectonic Edge in the deck, as it is far more important that you have Red sources than it is to blow up a land. Tectonic Edge also seems like it will be at an all-time low in Standard, as it is useless against the mirror and terrible against aggro decks. Even against Valakut, blowing up a Valakut doesn’t really matter if your opponent has a Titan in play. Another card that has seen a lot of play that I’ve cut is Gitaxian Probe. It’s a fine card, and it’s okay in the deck, but I felt that it was the least important card in the deck and I needed room for Spreading Seas.

Spreading Seas is my pick for the existing card that will be most improved in the new format. It’s great against the mirror, as it hits Red sources, and against Valakut, you can hit Green sources and leave your opponent unable to cast his spells, or turn off Valakut later on. It also helps fill the 2-drop slot in the deck, which was always one of its weaknesses, while still replacing itself as Gitaxian Probe did.

I’ve also gone with Frost Titan over Inferno Titan and Consecrated Sphinx, because Frosty is exactly what you want against Valakut. Inferno Titan has gone down in value, as there are fewer small creatures and planeswalkers (such as SFM and Jace) that you want to kill, and Consecrated Sphinx is not what you want to be doing against a Titan. Frost Titan also does a much better job of winning the game on his own than Sphinx.

The deck doesn’t gain much from M12, but one card that I think is worth considering is Azure Mage, which seems like a great sideboard card against Blue control decks and serves as a replacement for Spreading Seas. It comes down on turn two, dodging most counterspells, and allows you to draw cards at instant speed if you ever don’t use your mana for a counterspell or have run out of gas. Against most decks it seems too slow, but against a control deck, that won’t be an issue.

Red Deck Wins

This is probably the deck that gains the most from the bannings and the release of M12. It seems to me that RDW was already the best it had ever been thanks to Goblin Guide, Lightning Bolt, and Shrine of Burning Rage, and it was only being kept in check by Batterskull and Sword of War and Peace. It also gets a lot of new cards from M12. Here is what I think the new RDW should look like:

This deck gains a lot from the new set, the most obvious being Grim Lavamancer, arguably the best Red creature of all time. It’s pretty convenient that we have fetchlands to fuel him as well, and he will likely be killing a lot of Lotus Cobras and Fauna Shamans in the near future, as well as just doming your opponent for 2. He also seems like a great replacement for Spikeshot Elder, which always seemed to underperform. Stormblood Berserker is also a great new addition, and frankly I’m surprised at how little he has been discussed. It’s basically a Red Scab-Clan Mauler with a better ability, and in a deck that plays twelve 1-drop creatures. I’m sold. This guy hits a lot harder than Ember Hauler, so I think he’s a good replacement.

M12 also gives us both Incinerate and Shock, which is now unplayable. When Shock is unplayable, it gives you a little perspective on just how good the Red Deck has gotten. The inclusion of both of these is important because it almost certainly means that Lightning Bolt will not be in M12. Incinerate also gives the deck an upgrade to Arc Trail, which has also gotten quite a bit worse with the decline of Fauna Shaman decks. It’s also an instant, which is very relevant against Splinter Twin, as it is yet another card that can combine with Grim Lavamancer to take out an Exarch. Many people will likely run main-deck Dismember to deal with it, but this is just wrong. You should generally be able to just kill an Exarch with burn, and Dismember is bad against almost every other deck. It should certainly be run in the sideboard, though, as an answer to both Deceiver Exarch and Kor Firewalker, which is likely to see play in sideboards of U/W control now that Red has gotten so good.

Another interesting reprint in M12 is Goblin Grenade. I don’t think this card should be run in traditional RDW, but it is possible that depending on how the metagame shapes up, there could be a Goblin deck that could be good enough. Here’s a possible list:

Another option is to go with an even faster version similar to the Kuldotha Red decks of last year.

Whatever the best build ends up looking like, you can be sure that RDW will be a force to be reckoned with in the new Standard.

U/W Control

When the bannings were announced, people rejoiced at the death of Caw-Blade. But what most failed to realize is that U/W is still quite good without Jace and Stoneforge. In fact, the banning of Jace will likely lead to the rise of previously forgotten planeswalkers, such as Venser, the Sojourner, and Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas in U/W and U/B control, respectively. Here’s my U/W list:

Venser, the Sojourner has never been better. This deck has five good targets for it, so it will never do nothing. I think that had Jace TMS never been printed, Venser would have already been seeing quite a bit of play, and it certainly will now that he is gone. Sun Titan also shines in this deck. (Get it? Sorry, couldn’t help myself.) He gets back lands, locks them out with Tectonic Edge, rebuys Jaces, and brings back any Wall of Omens, Spreading Seas, or Oblivion Rings that have died. He also gets blinked by Venser for twice the reanimation fun! I’ve already said why I think Spreading Seas is going to be good in Splinter Twin, and it seems great in this deck as well. Between Seas and Wall of Omens, it’s also no longer necessary to run Preordain, so Shaheen Soorani has been vindicated.

This is another deck that gains quite a bit from M12. Oblivion Ring is the latest card to be spoiled from the set, and it fits perfectly into this deck. I mean, what doesn’t this card do? It takes out important creatures like Titans, Fauna Shamans, and Grim Lavamancers, planeswalkers like Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas, and random artifacts like Shrine of Burning Rage and Birthing Pod. It also happens to work quite well with both Venser and Sun Titan, as does Solemn Simulacrum, another perfect fit for the deck that provides even more defense against aggro.

Another interesting new card from M12 is Stonehorn Dignitary. In case you haven’t seen it yet, this is what it does:

Stonehorn Dignitary {3}{W}
Creature – Rhino Soldier
When Stonehorn Dignitary enters the battlefield, target player skips his or her next untap phase.
1/4

This guy seems insane with Venser. Not being able to attack ever again is pretty ridiculous against most decks. However, he isn’t too amazing when you don’t have Venser, which makes him a little less exciting. I think that Solemn Simulacrum is probably a stronger card in the main deck, but this guy is certainly a great sideboard option against aggro decks and Splinter Twin, against which he is good even without a way to use his effect repeatedly.

There are many other routes you can go with U/W control, such as a Super Friends–like build or one with a Proliferate subtheme with Contagion Clasp and Tumble Magnet. However, I think this build is the strongest, and it has game against all the other major decks in the field. Look for U/W control to rise from the ashes of Caw-Blade and take Standard by storm.

Conclusion

The bannings of Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Stoneforge Mystic were intended to bring some diversity to Standard, and I think that they have greatly succeeded. Despite some saying that Valakut will take over without Jace to keep it in check, I don’t believe that any one archetype is going to become too dominant. Other than the decks I wrote about, there will also surely be several other viable decks, such as Vampires, Fauna Shaman/Birthing Pod decks, U/B Tezzeret, and maybe even Elves or Tempered Steel. It’s also very possible that some yet unspoiled cards from M12 will lead to the rise of brand-new archetypes. And for the first time in many years, it looks like we’re going to have a ramp deck, a combo deck, an aggro deck, and a control deck that are all going to be very powerful, and that sounds like a pretty sweet format to me.