I sense…a disturbance in the Standard format. As if millions of players cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. Something terrible must have happened. We are on the precipice of a new Standard era, one where WotC isn’t afraid to ban cards in Standard if they prove overpowered. While this may seem like an overreaction to the backlash against the revamped rotation schedule – which they promptly dashed, this is a stark reality for us all. Now banning announcements will be held on the Monday after the pre-releases as well as five weeks after the Pro Tour. This gives them twice as many opportunities to correct mistakes they may have made in their (lack of) testing so that the format doesn’t see the same dominance that UW Flash and GB Delirium have had in recent months. This also means that, like Modern, Standard tournament staples are now riskier to invest in. If a deck seems completely overpowered after the Pro Tour, it may now become safer to build Tier 2 archetypes in the event that those stronger decks get hit with the ban hammer.
But where does this leave our current Standard? We lost three heavy hitters in Emrakul, the Promised End, Smuggler’s Copter, and Reflector Mage, although the last one makes little sense in a post-Collected Company world. Either way, the fact remains that the current Aetherworks Marvel/UW Flash/GB Delirium roshambo match that is Standard has been seriously shaken up. Without Emrakul, Aetherworks Marvel and Delirium lose their inevitability. Without Smuggler’s Copter, UW Flash loses its most aggressive threat and BR Aggro loses its card filtering, Without Reflector Mage, UW Flash and Panharmonicon lose their main method of keeping the board clear for their threats like Gideon, Ally of Zendikar.
While losing these cards don’t necessarily kill the archetypes, it does hinder them to the point where they’ll be scrambling for replacement parts. While GB Delirium wasn’t hit by the Emrakul ban nearly as hard as Aetherworks, it will still have to decide whether it wants a giant creature to act as a finisher, or if it wants to tone itself down back into a dedicated midrange role. Barring a shift toward going wide with Decimator of the Provinces or a ramp package for Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, the more likely scenario is the midrange route. In order to do this, the Emrakul slots would have to be something that’s mostly value like an extra Noxious Gearhulk, or something incredibly grindy like Seasons Past. Of the two, I think Seasons Past is the more likely solution since resolving it allows you to restock your hand with value spells to push through the opponent’s dwindling resources. What also helps this plan is that without Smuggler’s Copter, it’s much more difficult for aggressive decks to get going, so you’ll most likely have the time to fire off a Seasons Past to put away the game.
For UW Flash, the loss of Smuggler’s Copter and Reflector Mage might be enough to force it to revert back to the early Spirits shells that were popular toward the end of the pre-Kaladesh Standard season. These decks ran pretty much the same shell as the current Flash deck minus the Copter, so it seems like a natural fit. And while it’s nowhere near as powerful, if the deck is truly hurting for a vehicle, either Sky Skiff or Heart of Kiran from Aether Revolt can potentially fill in the void of cheap fliers that can’t be affected by sorcery speed removal. Shifting to a Spirits shell also helps replace the hole Reflector Mage leaves with Nebelgast Herald. While it doesn’t bounce the creature, having multiple flash Spirits can keep an opponent’s threat locked down while developing your own board.
Finally, we have Aetherworks Marvel. Losing Emrakul was a huge blow to this deck, which is particularly painful since it marked thefirst time in ages that we had a dedicated combo deck in Standard. It was a deck I championed even as the Kaladesh spoilers were first being posted, so I took this one a little personally. However, I am undeterred in keeping the Marvel dream alive. We do lose Emrakul, but at the same time, in my experience there have been plenty of times where casting an Emrakul wasn’t game over on its own. As Marvel gained popularity, people starting shifting toward more sorcery speed removal to interact with Emrakul, and unlike Temur Emerge which could recur Emrakul with Grapple with the Past, once they killed an Emrakul it stayed down. But you know what giant, game ending creature doesn’t die to sorcery speed removal? Ulamog! By upping the Ulamog count in the Marvel deck, we trade off the ability to ruin the opponent’s plans with Emrakul for a potential three-for-one.
What makes Ulamog so backbreaking is that the vast majority of removal spells seeing play right now either destroy or shrink, but Ulamog’s indestructibility and sheer size protect him from these cards. Declaration in Stone and Stasis Snare have been on the downswing lately, namely because they were either too slow or they could be interacted with, so Ulamog can easily carve a niche in the deck. Moreover, this leap over to Ulamog might see a reversion to the classic GR Ramp decks that dominated pre-Eldritch Moon since they could reliably hardcast Ulamog, which is something Aetherworks decks tend to struggle with.
The bannings have certainly changed the core structures of the previous top dogs, but what they have also done is open up the floor so existing archetypes that were otherwise pushed out have a chance to shine. For example, now that Emrakul is out, decks that would get obliterated by having their turns taken, such as Metalwork Colossus and Dynavolt Tower decks, can stockpile their resources to their heart’s content. Emrakul held these decks back considerably, since the opponent could attack a Colossus into Emrakul, then use the Colossus in their graveyard to sacrifice all of their artifacts. In Dynavolt Tower’s case, they could use the Tower to burn their opponent while using up all their energy reserves, effectively rendering them helpless. While Ulamog is equally difficult to deal with for these decks, the fact that it doesn’t actively obliterate your entire game plan and undo turns of effort makes it much more manageable for these decks to operate.
One other deck that was played for all of three weeks before being promptly beaten back by Smuggler’s Copter aggro was Mardu Gearhulks. This deck grew in popularity due to MtG Goldfish, and effectively plays like a reanimator deck by discarding Combustible Gearhulk, Noxious Gearhulk, and Cataclysmic Gearhulk, then bringing them back over and over through Refurbish and Ever After. Having played against the deck with Aetherworks, I can say with conviction that the deck is a real contender, but since the Smuggler’s Copter decks had such an early and consistent clock, the deck couldn’t really get going because they were dead by the time they could set up. Noxious Gearhulk is subpar when you can’t target the opponent’s biggest threats like Copter and Gideon, so it fell off to the wayside. However, I think that if any deck takes up the mantle of big, grinding midrange deck, I think this is the deck to do it. I would even say that it could take over GB Delirium’s place in the metagame since it not only goes bigger, but because Fatal Push will be so prevalent, having a creature base completely unaffected by it feels like where you want to be.
Going forward post-Aether Revolt, it appears that combo will also be a defining force in the format. For the first time in ages, we will actually have three (THREE!) infinite combos in Standard. The first, which we already had in Kaladesh, revolves around Panharmonicon, Eldrazi Displacer, Drowner of Hope, and Thought-Knot Seer. Here you use Panharmonicon to double the EtB trigger of Drowner of Hope to generate six tokens which you sacrifice for six mana. You then use Eldrazi Displacer to blink the Drowner over and over, netting three mana each iteration. From there, you use your infinite mana to blink Thought-Knot Seer so the opponent draws their entire deck from its “leaves play” trigger. While losing Reflector Mage hurts, this deck does gain access to many of the Revolt cards that have EtB triggers, such as Deadeye Harpoonist and Airdrop Aeronauts, that combo well with Eldrazi Displacer. What’s interesting is that by blinking a Revolt creature with Displacer, when it returns to play it’ll trigger from seeing itself leave the battlefield!
Another infinite combo comes in the form of Wandering Fumarole and Crackdown Construct. This combo works by animating the Fumarole with Crackdown Construct in play, then repeatedly activating the Fumarole to switch its power and toughness infinitely. Since each activation gives the Construct +1/+1, we have an infinitely large attacker. What’s also fun about this is you can do all this mid-combat after the opponent has declared blockers. I expect this to see at least some play due to how easily splashable it is. Anyone running Blue and Red can realistically jam this into their decks with little consequence, and with cards like Built to Smash and Invigorated Rampage it won’t matter what kind of blockers the opponent has because you’re going to trample right through them.
The final and easily most hyped combo is Crazy Cat Lady, I mean, Saheeli Rai-Felidar Guardian combo. We effectively have sorcery-speed Splinter Twin in Standard again! With both of these in play, you can use Saheeli’s -2 ability to make a copy of Felidar Guardian, which in turn blinks Saheeli so you can activate her -2 again and again until you have infinite attacking cat tokens. I absolutely love this combo, and I think that this is going to be one of the top contenders going into the Pro Tour. As well, because you’re in Jeskai colours, you can easily splash the Wandering Fumarole combo in there as a backup plan. This is not unlike when Pyromancer’s Ascension players in Standard would run Deceiver Exarch and Splinter Twin in their sideboards as Plan B.
One of the last archetypes I think will make a showing in the new Standard is RW Vehicles. While losing Smuggler’s Copter is painful, the deck gets three brand new tools to get themselves off the ground. Siege Modification, Peacewalker Colossus, and Consulate Dreadnought are poised to be the glue that makes a Vehicles deck actually possible in a post-Copter world. Consulate Dreadnought is by far the scariest card in a mana-to-power ratio, and while Crew 6 is a lot of power to animate it, we fortunately have several means of ignoring it. With Siege Modification and Peacewalker Colossus we have ways of bypassing the crew costs for vehicles, which enables us to run far more vehicles cards without worrying about keeping creatures around. Couple these with Start Your Engines and we have the potential to build an entire deck without creatures. For example, a curve of Turn 1 Consulate Dreadnought, Turn 2 Heart of Kiran, Turn 3 Cultivator’s Caravan, Turn 4 Start Your Engines is an attack for a whopping 22 damage without having to tap any creatures whatsoever. While not the best deck defensively, I think this has the power to really hammer away at a slower metagame.
Bannings always hurt, and while they aren’t usually as format warping as these ones will be, I think that Standard will have the tools to really diversify and move away from the Three Deck metagame. Aether Revolt brings a lot to the table, especially for combo players, and despite losing one of my favourite cards in the format, I remain optimistic. These bannings have only weakened the existing decks rather than kill them entirely, so fans can still play them with minor substitutions. We have a multitude of viable combo decks and the interaction to stop them. I’m actually excited to see how things change in the next few weeks, so buckle up, Standard players. We’re in for a hell of a ride.
Tonight at FNM, do you want to earn points for byes at future Eternal Extravaganza Main Events? Now you can, when you play BIG Modern at Hairy Tarantula North. Each week players who go 3-1 or better will earn EE Points and the Top finisher will have their decklists submitted and put on http://eemagic.com