Breaking In: Attacking a New Format by Andrew Quinn

Breaking In: Attacking a New Format by Andrew Quinn


Hey all, just in case you’ve been living under a metaphorical rock for the past few weeks, you’ll undoubtedly be aware of the recent… let’s say “changes” that Standard has gone through. Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Stoneforge Mystic, two of the key players of the format have been banned. In this article, I’m going to offer some possible decklists to approach the format with, now that these guys have gone and what to look forward to in M12.

So, what do the bannings mean for standard? Well, first and foremost, Caw-Blade is dead and buried. The deck has seen its final dominant weekend in Magic and shall be doomed to wander through the Extended, Modern and Legacy tables for all eternity. However, the loss of this entire deck has some severe reprecussions on the format as we know it. Not only has Standard lost its top deck, some other decks stand to lose popularity from the bannings due to certain cards now becoming better or worse in light of these bannings. For example, Tempered Steel aggro decks were, in my opinion, primarily chosen for their sometimes favourable matchup with Caw-Blade and the validity of the deck as we know it is now in question. Whilst it is still a potentially powerful deck, it needs to undergo some changes before it is a strong contender again.

To me, this means that no single deck in Standard can be played card for card now, and if you plan on participating in a Standard tournament in the coming weeks, I advise you to look carefully at your deck, and if needs be, rebuild it with the expected format in mind. But, what should be on the lookout for in “new” Standard? With Nationals only 6 weeks away, the format needs to be thoroughly tested before then, so whether you’ve qualified already or plan to go to the last chance grinders (like me…), having a firm grasp of the format is key to approaching this tournament. Better yet, Jace, the Mind Sculptor was the primary reason for decks reaching such expensive heights. With decks no longer needing £300 spent on their flagship leader, this format promises to be a lot more inviting for the majority of players, with no current card legal in the format costing more than about £20.


So, without further ado, let’s look at some decks.


Whenever a format changes as drastically as Standard just has (or for example, when a block rotates), a good answer to the format is usually to play an aggro deck of some description and by far the best option for an aggro deck right now would be mono-red. The reason for this? Shrine of Burning Rage is an absolute house and without Caw-Blade being a contender, all of the main deck artifact removal should be gone, aside from the odd Acidic Slime or Viridian Corrupter. The Shrine answers a few problems that Mono-Red tends to have in my view.

Primarily, Mono-Red struggles to close out the game against other aggro decks where its burn spells would be best suited to shoot at their creatures and you could potentially run out of burn spells to finish the game with. Shrine fixes this. If you land a turn 2 Shrine on the table, then by shooting creatures with your burn spells and perhaps a couple being shot at the player, this Shrine can be cracked for 10+ damage by as early as turn 5 or 6, allowing you to win the game instantly. When we combine it with burn spells that synergise particularly well with it (such as Staggershock and Volt Charge) then that clock becomes just that little bit faster. Not only this, but recently announced for M12 is one of the greatest red creatures ever printed…

Grim Lavamancer! This guy has been insane for all the time I’ve known him in Legacy and he shouldn’t be any different in Standard. Lavamancer is a powerful 1-mana creature and one of the most powerful and influential ones in the history of the game. Just having Lavamancer in play allows you to kill the majority of creatures in the early game and when it’s not enough late game, 2 damage to the payer can close the deal for you. In addition, Incinerate will join our plethora of burn spells alongside Lightning Bolt. Chandra’s Phoenix stands to be a strong card too. So, with all of this knowledge, this is the Red list I’ve been testing with:

Creatures (12):

4 Goblin Guide

4 Spikeshot Elder

4 Grim Lavamancer

Planeswalkers (4):

4 Koth of the Hammer

Artifacts (4):

4 Shrine of Burning Rage

Spells (18):

4 Lightning Bolt

4 Incinerate

4 Searing Blaze

4 Staggershock

2 Volt Charge

Lands (22):

2 Teetering Peaks

4 Arid Mesa

4 Scalding Tarn

12 Mountain

The list is fairly standard, although I’ve opted to cut down from 4 Teetering Peaks due to the lack of creatures, although it is still a powerful card. Koth of the Hammer and Shrine of Burning Rage give you an incredibly powerful late game plan so you shouldn’t usually run out of steam like Mono-Red traditionally would. Some honourable mentions for the deck would include Ember Hauler, whom I chose to cut in favour of Lavamancer, since I feel that Spikeshot Elder is just a little better, however I could very well be wrong. It is worth testing both of them. Plus, the reprint of Goblin Grenade could very well impact the deck, however I’ve not yet tested it and having not played with the card before, I can’t comment on how powerful it is. With the two main creatures in this deck being Goblins (of course excluding Lavamancer) then it is definitely a possibility and something that should definitely be tested, which I will do once I obtain a set or two from M12.

Chandra’s new form, Chandra, the Firebrand, does not fit in this deck so far as I can see. She does seem to be a very strong card but I feel she is best suited for some sort of Red-based control or combo deck, probably some sort of Blue/Red concoction. Whilst she ought to be good, when we only produce red mana and we want a 4-mana planeswalker, Koth does the job a lot better than Chandra does. The fetch lands in the mana base (Arid Mesa and Scalding Tarn) aren’t hugely necessary in this huild, however playing the full set of 8 fetchlands will reduce the chances of drawing lands later in the game and will also put fuel into the graveyard for Grim Lavamancer.


Valakut Ramp.

A lot of the Pro players have commented on Valakut, claiming it to most likely be the top deck of the format, possibly alongside Splinter Twin. The deck loses nothing from the ejection of Caw-blade and stands to gain a lot. Caw-Blade was one of the deck’s biggest weaknesses and now that it’s gone it certainly stands to make a comeback.

The Chinese Nationals have so far cemented this choice with 2 copies of the deck (1 playing creature ramp and 1 not) making the top 8. In addition, the deck gets back Rampant Growth from M12, one of the best simple ramp spells ever printed and will welcome it back with open arms. I am a fan of the Valakut deck and having only narrowly missed out on qualifying for Nationals whilst piloting the deck, I believe it to be my strongest choice for the Nationals grinders, unless something better comes along (mono-red definitely seems possible).

I have a fair few ideas floating around in my head, involving Green Sun’s Zeniths, removal packages, Rites of Flourishing (another confirmed reprint for M12) and Garruk, Primal Hunter (once again, a new M12 card). Here’s a decklist that utilises non-creature ramp spells. Without using Lotus Cobra and Overgrown Battlement, our ramp is much less easily disrupted, seeing as conterspells become the only way of stopping it. Here it is:

Creatures (10):

4 Primeval Titan

4 Inferno Titan

2 Urabrask the Hidden

Planeswalkers (3):

1 Karn Liberated

2 Garruk, Primal Hunter

Spells (20):

4 Rampant Growth

4 Explore

3 Khalni Heart Expedition

1 Harrow

2 Rites of Flourishing

4 Lightning Bolt

2 Summoning Trap

Lands (27):

4 Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle

4 Terramorphic Expanse

2 Evolving Wilds

2 Raging Ravine

4 Forest

11 Mountain

In this build, I am being optimistic by using new Garruk and Rites of Flourishing. I’ve not tested these cards at all but I have a feeling that they could be good. Rites of Flourishing is fairly risky, considering that in the Valakut mirror it could become a double-edged sword and as such could not make the cut.

Lightning Bolt seems like the best removal option here. Bolt deals with basically every threat in the format short of Deceiver Exarch, Phyrexian Obliterator and 5-6+ mana creatures. Dismember could equally go in this spot, but when this deck HAS to pay 4 life for it, it becomes pretty bad against aggro decks which could very well take advantage of this. Most importantly, Lightning Bolt can help hit the opponent for the last bit of damage if you only manage to get 18 or so damage through Valakut.

Not running Lotus Cobra slows down the tempo of the deck, but as stated before, when your ramp can’t be countered by simple Dismembers and Lightning Bolts, your deck can become a lot more consistent. As such, without Lotus Cobra we can run Raging Ravine in the land base for, once again, that extra little bit of damage. One of Valakut’s major problems at times is that whilst running 16 or so ramp spells, it’s sometimes difficult to close out a game with only 8-10 win conditions. This deck shouldn’t have as much of a problem. Rites of Flourishing is drawing us 2 cards each turn, finding us a win condition a lot faster. Also, the deck plays a total of 15 cards that can end the game. Between the 10 Titans, 3 Planeswalkers and 2 Summoning Traps, there are options for near enough any matchup. I don’t believe this is an ideal list just yet, but some more testing should reveal more about how the deck should look.


UG Infect.

Yeah, that’s right. Blue… Green… Infect! Before any of you comment saying instantly, this isn’t a valid archetype, just read what I have to say on this. I was first made aware of this deck on Frank Lepore’s TCGplayer article which funnily enough, reviews this deck. Like me, he was at first skeptical about it, considering that almost nothing outside the mana base has ever been so much as near a competetive 75 cards. However, you just have to play but one or two games with it to understand that actually, this could be the real deal. Here is the list that Frank suggested:

Creatures (13):

4 Glistener Elf

4 Ichorclaw Myr

4 Blighted Agent

1 Spellskite

Spells (24):

3 Apostle’s Blessing

4 Distortion Strike

2 Gitaxian Probe

3 Livewire Lash

4 Giant Growth

4 Groundswell

4 Vines of Vastwood

Lands (23):

4 Inkmoth Nexus

4 Misty Rainforest

10 Forest

5 Island

Sideboard (15):

4 Expedition Map

4 Mental Misstep

3 Mutagenic Growth

4 Nature’s Claim

Now then. First of all, the strategy. It’s VERY simple. Turn 1, Turn 2, play a guy or two. Turn 3, Turn 4, swing in and pump your guys to get lethal damage through in. That’s it! The deck is scarily good. It’s essentially a fairly difficult to disrupt combo deck capable of winning in a matter of 4 turns.

Whilst I don’t believe this exact list to be ideal, it is close enough for testing with and I can confirm, it is just absolutely ridiculous… Valakut can’t do anything about it pre-board, neither can Mono-Red. Control decks ought to just be crippled by it unless they have Geth’s Verdict or a very well timed Dismember or Doom Blade. I would at the very least be aware of this deck’s existence. It’s is a powerful force and once a perfect list is designed, it could be making waves at your local FNMs or even higher up… If anything, it’s an incredibly cheap option if you happen to be short on money for a new deck.


Puresteel Paladin.

This is a relatively unknown deck. The deck was first played properly at Pro Tour Nagoya to some great success, taking two players to the top 8 including the eventual winner. Now, although Nagoya was block constructed, much of the same principles can be applied to Standard. The core of the deck features a set of Puresteel Paladins and some cheap equipments that make the most of his draw ability.

In this version, the best choices are Flayer Husk and Mortarpod, being cheap living weapons so that they double up as creatures. Later in the game, if you can get metalcraft, Mortarpods and Protection Swords can be moved around your guys for free and as such make your guys extremely powerful for no additional mana investment. In addition, you could equip stuff to a single guy (Mirran Crusader anyone?), attack, and post-combat move all of your equipment onto another creature (Kemba, Kha Regent much?) and pass the turn with a pretty powerful blocker stopping your opponent from attacking. Here is the decklist that was used by Pat Cox at Pro Tour Nagoya:

Creatures (22):

4 Puresteel Paladin

4 Memnite

4 Vault Skirge

4 Hero of Bladehold

2 Leonin Relic-Warder

4 Glint Hawk

Artifacts (13):

4 Flayer Husk

4 Mortarpod

4 Sword of War and Peace

1 Mox Opal

Spells (2):

2 Dispatch

Lands (23):

4 Inkmoth Nexus

19 Plains

Now, a couple of these cards are clearly block constructed metagame calls. Leonin Relic-Warder makes the maindeck for the simple reason that Tempered Steel decks were expected to be the strongest and most abundant deck of the tournament. The full set of Sword of War and Peace makes the cut for the reason that White and Red were likely to be the most played colours of the format, as well as allowing the deck to finish games a hell of a lot earlier, with not many spells being cast before turn 3 or 4, maximising the triggers of the Sword.

If we were to translate this deck to Standard, then there are a lot of tools that we can gain access to. Firstly, Squadron Hawk really ought to make the cut, being a very powerful flier, even without his buddy Stoneforge Mystic. Making a bunch of Hawks and equipping them with Mortarpod and Basilisk Collar seems like a pretty effective engine.

Splashing a colour is also very possible with all of the dual lands available. If we splash blue, we can utilise Trinket Mage to go and search Flayer Husk or Basilisk Collar. Splashing Green gives access to Stirring Wildwood as a valid replacement for Inkmoth Nexus and to Ancient Stirrings, a quirky little card from Rise of Eldrazi that could function as an equipment tutor, replacing Stoneforge Mystic who undoubtedly would have made the cut given the opportunity to do so.

Hero of Bladehold is a card that benefits greatly from the banning of Jace too. Hero is an extremely powerful creature, capable of game winning swings. The biggest problem with it used to be that it didn’t pass “The Jace Test” and was therefore not used when 4-drop creatures such as Emeria Angel weren’t so vulnerable to Jace’s presence on the board. However, in Jace’s wake, this Hero’s true power can finally be unleashed and I expect to see it in white-based control and aggro decks from now on.


Mono-Black Midrange.

Another creature that used to fail the Jace test and might now be a potential powerhouse in the format is Phyrexian Obliterator! This 5/5 dude for 4 is ridiculously good, even if does just end up being a 5/5 that no one will ever block or attack into. Now that Jace isn’t available to bounce him and he only really dies to Go for the Throat or Oblivion Ring (another confirmed card for M12…), he really ought to be played in some sort of Black control deck.

With Innistrad (this year’s October set for those who don’t know) probably being graveyard based in some way, and Liliana Vess potentially seeing a revitalisation in some form or another, Black may very well get some nice boosts by the end of the year that make this deck more valid. Already, Mono-Black has affected the format, sporting its first top-8 performance in a major tournament at Chinese Nationals. Until then, this is a list I have come up with, loosely based on the version from China Nationals:

Creatures (15):

1 Grave Titan

1 Wurmcoil Engine

4 Phyrexian Obliterator

4 Gatekeeper of Malakir

1 Skinrender

4 Vampire Nighthawk

Planeswalkers (1):

1 Liliana Vess

Artifacts (3):

3 Lashwrithe

Spells (16):

4 Inquisition of Kozilek

2 Despise

3 Go for the Throat

1 Dismember

1 Doom Blade

1 Life’s Finale

4 Sign in Blood

Lands (25):

25 Swamp

This is not a tested list but I think that MBC stands to be a powerful deck if anyone is willing to put the time into it. The deck’s end game is really powerful with Grave Titan, Wurmcoil Engine and Life’s Finale all pretty much destroying any aggro matchup and also a Liliana Vess to tutor up whichever win condition you prefer. Other than that, you have 4 draw spells, 5 spot removal spells and 6 discard spells and then a bunch of 3 and 4 mana creatures.

Phyrexian Obliterator is absolutely nuts, alongside Vampire Nighthawk giving you yet another card making your aggro matchup better and also the control matchup, seeing as it trades with any control win condition now that Jace is gone. Gatekeeper of Malakir is obviously good as it’s a decent body who kills a guy when he comes in, same as Skinrender who essentially functions as a fifth Gatekeeper. Lashwrithe is again, insane, being a hefty creature on the table, who’ll always be at least a 4/4 and then later you can turn that into, say, a 12/12 Wurmcoil Engine or 10/10 Phyrexian Obliterator, both of which should definitely win you the game. Other than that there’s very little to say on this deck. Once I pick up my final 2 Obliterators I will give this a go. Having played Obliterator to amazing effect in Legacy this past weekend, I’m excited to see how powerful he is in Standard.

In addition to the decks I have proposed here, some other options would include Black/Red Vampires, Blue/Red/(Black) Splinter Twin combo and many variations on Blue/(X) Control decks, however due to my lack of experience with them, I will not be posting incredibly sub-par decklists that probably suck beyond all imagination.


Preparing for the Rotation.

Now, Standard rotates in just 3 months, with the release of the new Innistrad block, but what can we do to prepare for the rotation?

Well, firstly, it’s key to note that coming out of a rotation, the top decks around are likely going to be ones that don’t lose anything from the rotation, which don’t necessarily need to use anything out of Innistrad in order to correctly function. Due to the power level of Scars block as a whole, this seems less likely than in previous rotations, where the likes of Jund and Valakut survived the rotation without so much as a dent in them. The decks most likely to stick around will be varying forms of Infect strategy (although the UG list loses all 3 of its pump spells so it’ll probably not survive), Tempered Steel-based aggro lists, Puresteel Paladin decks and Mono-Red (of course…). Bearing this in mind, we can definitely prepare for the rotation.


Finance and Investments.

So, what am I going to be investing in before the rotation? Well, first of all, Planeswalkers. Planeswalkers form the backbone of a lot of decks, no matter how strong or weak they are. Jace, the Mind Sculptor is a perfect example of this, with Legacy decks actually being built around him as the solitary win condition, minus the odd man-land or two. So, if I were you, I would make sure that you have your playsets of Koth of the Hammer, Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas and Gideon Jura, as they are easily the strongest Planeswalkers around. Karn Liberated gets an honourable mention here, but a playset of him is a little bit overkill. Two seems to be enough for now.

The new Jace, from M12 (Jace, Memory Adept) is not very good and is unlikely to make much of an impact. However, al evidence so far points towards Innistrad being a graveyard-themed block and as such, new Jace may not be so terrible. The ability to mill 10 cards from your own deck and hit some sweet Flashback cards may actually be a good idea, so my advice would be to snatch up a playset of these bad boys for as cheap as you can. Jace, Memory Adept is very much an example of a card that seems to be amazing as long as there are other cards in the format to support him, much like Primeval Titan. Primeval Titan isn’t a particularly good card by himself, but when he’s combined with Valakut, Eye of Ugin/Eldrazi Temple and some other utility lands, he ends up being pretty damn good. The point with Jace is, he may not turn out to be any good, but you can’t be too careful.

Other Mythics.

Mythic Rares are always the most powerful and expensive cards, unfortunately. Other than planeswalkers, there are some mythics that will prosper very well in the next block. As I said before, White and Red strategies appear to be the best decks coming out of the rotation. As such, Sword of War and Peace ought to be some ridiculous anti-metagame tech against these decks. Similarly, Hero of Bladehold and Hero of Oxid Ridge should be pretty strong players in the metagame. Although a fairly narrow card, I would once again like to bring up Phyrexian Obliterator, who should be pretty strong depending on what support Black gets in Innistrad, so he is a pretty good card to look at investing in. So far, black has received a load of good support in the last 2 sets, including Smallpox, Grave Titan confirmed to be sticking around, Life’s Finale, Dismember, Distress, Despise and so on, so if you ask me, it feels like some sort of trend.

Non-Mythic Rares.

There are a fair few non-mythics that you ought to make sure you have sets of. Near enough any rare that fits into one of the archetypes I’ve mentioned, stands to increase in price, so I would make sure you get a hold of Tempered Steels, Puresteel Paladins, Blade Splicers, Infect dudes, Mirran Crusaders, Grim Lavamancers and so on. The biggest piece of advice I can give you for this section is to make sure you stock up on your dual lands. The cycle of Duals from Scars block are very good and as such, will be seeing play for the next 15 months until they rotate. They each vary from £3 to £5 depending on the colour combinations and you might even find someone at a tournament willing to trade them for less than that, so they’re not really that difficult to get a hold of. In addition, the traditional core set duals will be sticking around, so make sure you have a full set of those too. The main reason being that with this rotation, we lose nearly every good piece of mana fixing available to us. Enemy colour combinations not only won’t have any dual lands available but won’t even have access to Terramorphic Expanse and Evolving Wilds. Even allied colours will only have 2 cycles of dual lands available to them, so these will be even more important than they used to be. So, here’s hoping for some good fixes in Innistrad :D.


So, that’s all from me for this article, I hope I’ve given you some food for thought. Over the next six weeks I’ll be practising for Nationals as much as I possibly can and I shall no doubt be writing up some reports on drafting techniques and some more updated constructed reports. So, until next time!

Andrew Quinn


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