I know the last few articles I’ve written have been focused on Modern. There are a few reasons for this:
- The last few Opens have been Modern.
- The upcoming Pro Tour is Modern.
- Oath of the Gatewatch and Battle for Zendikar shook Modern up with new, powerful cards.
- There was a banned/restricted announcement, and a lot of talk surrounding it.
- There were no Standard events in my area until after Oath of the Gatewatch, so I wasn’t focusing on that format.
So the last couple weeks, like many people who have been playing the deck, I was just another sad Splinter Twin player. Last Wednesday was the final day locally that Splinter Twin was legal for Modern play. I decided to play Modern. A lot of people assumed I’d be on Twin, since it would have been the last time to play it. This reasoning from a spike’s point of view is incorrect. I thought this was the most outlandish assumption to make. Knowing a deck is going to be banned is the exact reason not to play that deck. There is no benefit to playing a deck that you won’t be able to use in the upcoming Modern PPTQ season if your goal is to qualify for a Pro Tour.
I took to the tournament with my new love. A slightly riskier love. Infect. I was spreading diseases like Sherwin-Williams spreads paint. Like Domino’s spreads pizza in less than thirty minutes. Like a warm knife spreads whipped butter. I went undefeated against a much softer field than I’m used to, and getting free turn 2 wins against stupid big mana decks is part of the contract I was locked in on as a fast combo player.
Really, the thing I wanted to talk about from that night, and the reason I’m bringing Modern up again (and will be the last time for a while, I promise), was when I played against my once upon a time fairy tale deck, Splinter Twin. It was in the hands of a close personal friend I’ve been playing Magic with for almost as long as I’ve been playing Magic, since around Mirrodin.
Now, as a new-to-Infect player, I’ve heard tell of Splinter Twin being a poor matchup for Infect. “But I have so much interaction with them, even post board!” I said to myself, naively. While this is true, it doesn’t necessarily mean I will be able to interact with my opponent at all. Here’s the scenario, as an example.
My hand was pretty much all spells that prevent my opponent from comboing off. I have Vines of Vastwood, Vines of Vastwood, Nature’s Claim, Nature’s Claim. Four(!) cards that prevent my opponent from winning the game with a creature and enchantment. I should feel FINE in this position. I was scared. Horrified. My skin was crawling with the fear that even these cards might not be enough to stop the combo win.
The reason I was so afraid was because of what was in my opponent’s deck, and the lands I had in play. I had Forest, Inkmoth Nexus, and Wooded Foothills with a Glistener Elf on the table. Once my opponent reached three mana, I felt fine. I had interactive cards in my hand, two lands that can cast those spells, and one was even a fetchlands, so if he went to tap it, I could fetch in response, getting a forest to counter his Splinter Twin.
But as the game dragged on another couple of turns, and my opponent played more mana, I felt more and more like Admiral Motti being force choked by Darth Vader. The more mana he had, the more he was able to interact with my interaction using cards like Dispel or Remand. I eventually found a small opening, and was able to kill my opponent through a Lightning Bolt, but just the stress playing against that deck put on me wasn’t fun. Am I sad Twin was banned? Yes. But after being on the receiving, non-Twin mirror side of the glass, I am actually glad the deck is gone. If this is what I’ve been doing to people, I deserve to have my heart ripped out of my chest and stomped on.
So, I’ve come to terms with where Modern is at. Even though it’s a very non-interactive, can-I-win-faster-than-you format, it is what it is. Even though it will have forced bannings to rotate the format because of its Pro Tour status (which I think should be revoked), it is what the loud, clamoring part of the community asked for, and as part of that community, I must accept the format’s fate.
Now that that’s over with, I can start talking again about Standard. For a few weeks now, I’ve back-burnered my Standard cards to play Modern. But I know the urge to grind Standard is returning this week, with PPTQs starting up again. I have the next few weeks mapped out with where I’ll be, but I am always scared of playing week one of any format. I feel like it’s mostly out of my control, especially with a set that is poised to be as influential and powerful as Oath of the Gatewatch, which I see as strange, because small sets like this typically have smaller impacts on Standard than the larger sets they accompany. This seems to have been reversed with Oath of the Gatewatch.
With such powerful cards as Chandra, Flamecaller, Oath of Gideon, Oath of Nissa, Goblin Dark-Dwellers, Kozilek’s Return, Kozilek, the Great Distortion, and Reality Smasher only just scraping the surface of impacts to Standard and Modern, it’s like there’s another rotation going on here. Some of these cards rival the power level of Khans of Tarkir, Fate Reforged, and Dragons of Tarkir, which is something that we thought was waning with the relatively much lower power level of Battle for Zendikar.
That being said, I will be monitoring coverage closely this weekend at the Open. I will be looking for innovations on a Prowess based tempo deck. I feel like this kind of creature-based aggressive, tempo-ish, combo-ish deck is right up my alley for the past few standard seasons. I played U/W Heroic to some successful results last year, I’ve been playing the Standard legal Splinter Twin variant with the Become Immense and Temur Battle Rage combo and tearing up IQs, and one mana cantrips are just fun to play with. This archetype has gotten a lot better with cards like Slip Through Space, Expedite, and Stormchaser Mage.
While everyone is planning to play their Eldrazi decks, or smash realities with some kind of colorless splashing Abzan deck, I will be one of the people looking to smash faces with small creatures backed by cute cantrips and interactions.
There are a few different color combinations these decks could go with. Each one though will probably start with red. Red is the primary color in these decks because of the very powerful Prowess creatures that come with it, the extremely good removal that has proven to be the best early interaction this standard in most cases, cards that play well with Prowess in Titan’s Strength and Temur Battle Rage, and the new card Expedite.
The decision on the second color gets interesting, because you could pretty much go with any color. White gives good synergies with the red cards with Monastery Mentor, Seeker of the Way, and Defiant Strike. You could possibly play Feat of Resistance as well.
Blue lets you play with the new Stormchaser Mage, as well as Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy, Treasure Cruise, Dispel, Disdainful Stroke, and the new card Slip Through Space. While not a very creature focused splash, it does at options that play very well with Prowess.
Black is similar to blue, but instead of counterspells and Treasure Cruise, you get cards like Duress, Murderous Cut, and Painful Truths. Still synergistic cards with Prowess, and cards that let you gas back up, but a little lighter on the creature side than Blue.
Green, while still doable, is probably the worst color to splash if you’re looking for a pure Prowess deck. If you go with Green, I’d wager it’s similar to what R/G Landfall would look like. More just a combo deck than a synergistic tempo deck. Really the only cards you get that play with Prowess from Green are Become Immense and Den Protector.
I think my play style would dictate I choose either Blue, and go for some sort of tempo strategy, or Green and just stick with the more R/G Landfall strategy I’ve had success with in the past. Since that’s been done in the past, I want to give you what I would run if I were to play at a Standard event this first weekend of Oath of the Gatewatch, and had access to cards I needed.
I think the maindeck is self-explanatory. We’re just trying to cycle through our deck to see as many cards as possible while playing a tempo game to take over the early game and attack for large chunks of damage to outpace our opponent’s removal.
The sideboard is an example of how powerful manabases are in this format. We can splash a fourth color for more card draw and hand disruption for control decks or grindy, long games. The colors we are in I think provide the best sideboard options, as well. Hallowed Moonlight is a slam dunk against the Rally decks, and Thunderbreak Regent is a thick dude that is good at beating stalled board positions. The Duresses and Disdainful Strokes are a beating against the ramp decks, and Boiling Earth is for the incoming tide of tokens. We use Boiling Earth over Virulent Plague because of our own Monastery Mentors.
I hope this is an actual archetype in the upcoming post Oath of the Gatewatch standard. I want to get as much value out of my Treasure Cruises as I can while I am still able to play them. Part of me want to jam a couple of Become Immense and Temur Battle Rages in here as well, but I’ll have to see if this 4 color variant is even the direction I am comfortable in taking the deck.
Good luck to everyone who is battling or did battle in the new Standard. It’s wild out there!
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