We are entering a brand new Standard environment. Overpriced cards are flying off of shelves, speculation is running rampant, and Return to Ravnica looks like it will continue to raise the bar for Magic. This is a very exciting time for all the players, as Timmy, Johnny, and Spike are scouring the visual spoiler to prepare for the upcoming format.
One of the best and repeatable methods of determining future environments is to look at the removal suite of what’s being played. This is also a good tool to use if you are trying to brew. If everyone is playing Ancient Grudge in Modern, it’s probably not a good idea to show up with an Isochron Scepter deck. Of course, this method is only as good as our foresight. Just take current Standard. Who knew that Vapor Snag and Snapcaster Mage would be a thing a year ago?
So what’s not leaving Standard? I’m glad you asked.
Pillar of Flame: Because Celestial Purge is no more, this will probably be the most effective removal against zombies. Removing Geralf’s Messenger and Gravecrawler from the game is key, and with the scavenge mechanic on new Golgari cards, removing creatures from the game will be relevant. Standard is still going to have pesky 3/2 Insectile Aberrations running around. Arbor Elf and Avacyn’s Pilgrim don’t seem like bad targets either.
Bonfire of the Damned: The reigning champ of removal spells destroys creatures and eats player’s life totals. In order for it to be really powerful, you have to miracle it, and a very fast deck like Zombies can easily get around it. Creatures with undying, or those that can pump themselves like Lotleth Troll, are still going to be very good.
Barter in Blood: This card is very metagame dependent. If Lingering Souls and tokens become a deck, then this card gets a lot worse. It’s already bad enough that it has to contend with Thragtusk and zombies. However, in the right metagame, this could blow some decks out of the water. Liliana of the Veil also falls under this category.
Mutilate: Mono Swamp control will be a deck, for sure. What that looks like is beyond me. I imagine they will have either have Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker or Vraska, the Unseen, because blowing up permanents is always impressive. Desecration Demon is looking to be quite the finisher.
Murder: No one is playing this card, but maybe a three-mana creature kill card will be playable…
Tragic Slip: Let’s just list the one-toughness creatures that we know we can kill: Thalia, Garden of Thraben, Avacyn’s Pilgrim, Arbor Elf, Champion of the Parish, Delver of Secrets, Blood Artist, Stromkirk Noble, Gravecrawler, Snapcaster Mage, Dryad Militant, Rakdos Shred-Freak, Fencing Ace and Lyev Skynight.
Certainly impressive. But in order to get a better grasp at new Standard, let’s look at Return to Ravnica’s removal.
Dreadbore: This card kills everything except for Falkenrath Aristocrat, Geist of Saint Traft and Lotleth Troll, unless you get lucky. Anything with undying happens to do quite well here too. The card is sorcery speed, so I doubt it gets played as a four-of in most decks. However, we can either build our deck around one of the above creatures, or we can simply accept the fact that our dudes are going to get bored.
Abrupt Decay: This card is the nuts, and short of Ground Seal, Crypt Creeper or Tormod’s Crypt, this card plus Snapcaster Mage is a real thing for the next year. Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot we can do about it besides expecting things to blow up or playing fatty boom-booms.
Izzet Charm: Pillar of Flame’s little brother, I expect the Negate and Faithless Looting aspects come in handy more often, but two damage for two mana isn’t that terrible and will come in handy in a pinch.
Selesnya Charm: Possibly my favorite new removal spell. A lot of creatures have five power, including Thragtusk, a pumped Falkenrath Aristocrat, Thundermaw Hellkite and Desecrator Demon. This card plus Snapcaster Mage will make most decks think twice about packing giant monsters, or at the very least, making their creatures giant.
Supreme Verdict: Again, not much you can do about this one. Undying, regenerating and indestructible creatures will rule against this.
Auger Spree: Although this card isn’t giant and splashy, minus-4 to toughness is nothing to sneeze at. It’s fairly metagame dependent, but this is the kind of card that gets better as decks become more defined and threats are more easily identifiable.
Detention Sphere: The better Oblivion Ring, this card will be blowing people out of the water until they learn to play around it. Getting rid of multiple copies of whatever is bothering you can’t be overlooked, and I imagine Detention Sphere will be one of the premier removal spells for a long while.
Cyclonic Rift: While it’s not technically removal, this Into the Roil/Evacuation is going to see a lot of play. The upside is huge, and the ability to bounce anything, even planeswalkers threatening to ultimate, at instant speed is just too sweet.
Ultimate Price: We’ll have to wait and see what creatures start swinging into the red zone, but I imagine Ultimate Price will see play in several places. It’s certainly no Abrupt Decay, but it will get the job done.
Dying to Brew
Now we can begin to formulate a plan. With cards like Mizzium Mortars, Bonfire of the Damned, Auger Spree and Mutilate, creatures with high toughness are going to be surviving much longer than creatures with low toughness. Abrupt Decay will ensure cheaper threats are going to die a lot. And on top of all that, Selesnya Charm is going to make sure that fatty boom-booms get exiled. So creatures with a toughness of five or greater, a power of four or lower, and a mana cost of four or more will give us the longest impact. Undying, regenerating and indestructible creatures and creatures with flash or haste can live to fight another day.
We can began to build our decks to fit these needs or pack enough countermagic and protection to ensure our creatures survive. At the very least, let’s not build our deck so that it hinges on creatures that, if they were to die, would invalidate our chances of winning. Some of those creatures are:
Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice
Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord
Geist of Saint Traft
Archon of the Triumvirate
You clearly can see some decks already starting to form and patterns starting to emerge. But theory only gets us so far. The fairly obvious choices will be zombies, some kind of U/W Control with Miracles, a Grixis control deck, and a midrange Jund or Naya deck featuring Wolfir Silverheart. But there are always less obvious decks just around the corner for those who are willing to look.
This deck is built to showcase Nivmagus Elemental. A lot of people don’t know how to evaluate him, or they say he’s terrible, but I think he just needs a little love. Niv wants to be eating our spells. Because this is typically counterproductive, Burning Vengeance and Guttersnipe ensure we will get in for damage whether our spells get devoured or not. Left alone, Burning Vengeance can take over the game by itself, so we don’t even necessarily need our creatures. I admit the manabase is a little sketchy, but Lingering Souls is the best way to clog up the board and slow the opponent down long enough for us to take over. I can’t wait for Watery Grave and friends to show up in three months.
Bant for Life
Featuring 14 creatures that get around some of the removal in this set, this deck is aimed at clogging the board and never letting go. Arbor Elf into Lyev Skynight into Restoration Angel is sick beats, and other aggro decks will be hard pressed to get around being detained for multiple turns in a row. In addition, this deck gains life like nobody’s business. Imagine this sequence: Turn 2 Farseek, Turn 3 Trostani, Turn 4 Thragtusk, Turn 5 Restoration Angel! Things get even more absurd when you add in Rhox Faithmender and Drogskol Reaver.
Elves of Gavony
I admit it, I love little green men. But usually some Pyroclasm effect stops them from overrunning Standard. That won’t happen this time around! (At least for the next three months.) But if you look closely, you’ll see these elves either are good at replacing themselves (Elvish Visionary) or they want their friends to be dead. I know Corpsejack Menace is not an elf, but when combined with Gavony Township, things get out of control for your opponent very quickly. Rancor makes any of these creatures a threat, and Arbor Elf can help you draw multiple cards when combined with Underworld Connections.
More little green men! Except that these aren’t elves, but we’ll deal. Quirion Dryad continues to be a powerful creature, and with RTR unleashed in all its multicolored glory, I expect to see a lot of these running around. Mayor of Avabruck and Snapcaster Mage typically don’t go well together, as the spell you flashback flips the mayor back over onto its normal side. However, any token copies of the Mayor can’t flip, so I wanted to see if the populate mechanic and Cackling Counterpart could work. Faerie Impostor is amazing with Snapcaster Mage. And with Alchemist’s Refuge, we can drop it in at instant speed to be used as a blocker or save a creature from a removal spell.
I hope these lists get your brain going. Return to Ravnica is going to be amazing, and I can’t to see what people come up with.
— Kevin Castle
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