So it’s been a while since I’ve focused solely on the Standard format. With the Modern format shakeups surrounding the paper prerelease of Oath of the Gatewatch, I was a little preoccupied with that format. However, we’ve settled down there, and with the past few weeks of Modern shakeups culminating in the Modern Pro Tour this weekend, I will run the slant route this week and post about the most important format for me going forward until the end of March, Standard.
With the PPTQ season in full swing, I’m focusing on attending the Standard format PPTQs near my home in hopes of qualifying for my first RPTQ. If you’ve been following my articles, you know that’s where my head is at, and to where I believe my skill is capable of taking me. Since we’ve had a couple weeks now to let Oath of the Gatewatch settle into Standard, I thought I would share my experiences with the Oath of the Gatewatch cards I’ve seen make big impacts.
This last weekend, in fact, I played 4 color rally in a PPTQ. It didn’t go so well. I was a little on the tired side, I sideboarded incorrectly a lot, which is actually probably the most difficult thing to understand with the deck, at least coming from someone with my typically control style background, played poorly in certain spots, and got plain unlucky, perhaps keeping hands that ended up being more shaky than I thought they were in the matchups I had them.
Aside from my own blunders, and even given all of the hate I faced that day, I think Rally is probably the most powerful deck in the format right now. In a world of unrefined ramp decks, and Atarka Red hate being jammed so easily into so many decks, Four Color Rally has got it going on the most. For reference, here is the list I played:
4 Color Rally
Just a couple of quick notes on the list, because I don’t want to make this article just about this deck. Liliana underperformed. I had her in there as a card for the mirror, but I A). never wanted her, and B). never cast her. The BB in the casting cost makes her probably the most awkward card in the deck. I would relegate this to the sideboard instead of just cutting it, because I think you still want her, just not in the maindeck right now.
Felidar Cub over performed. A concession to the Silkwrap and Stasis Snare decks, the guy has built in synergy with our strategy. I played against a G/W tokens deck with a lot of these enchantments, and would have loved a second.
Play either Dispel or Duress. Playing both seems fine, but is probably incorrect. Post board, they are both really looking to do the same thing, and you typically don’t sideboard them both in because that makes your Collected Companies weaker since you’re diluting your deck more. I probably to toward Dispel, since it’s better at fighting instants. Probably cut the Duresses, add 1 Dispel, and add another Felidar Cub, or the Liliana.
Ayli was fine. I don’t have a ton to say. The games in which I drew her, she didn’t impress me, but the deathtouch was relevant. She’s awkward on turn 2 because of the mana, and that alone might be incentive to not play more than 2, but Jacob Baugh proved this thought incorrect when he won the Open in Columbus this past weekend with three in his maindeck.
So if I wanted to talk about great cards from Oath of the Gatewatch, why would I go over this deck? Because it has probably the best, most impactful card, at least up to this point, from Oath of the Gatewatch in Standard: Reflector Mage.
Let me tell you the story of Reflector Mage. Here’s a guy, which just comes along. His rate is okay-ish. Certainly not stellar cost for the body. And you read it and you’re like “this card isn’t very impressive. Unsummon man, doesn’t kill anything, how can it possibly be good?”
The first time you bounce a Siege Rhino, you’ll feel a little sick, I won’t lie to you. But when you see your opponent struggle to figure out what to play the turn after since Rhino is turned off? That’s a very powerful thing. I think at least in the Rally deck, Reflector Mage is the best way to clear stupid cards like Anafenza, the Foremost off the table to give you an extra turn of breathing space to fill up your graveyard.
Not only in the Rally decks, but there are now Collected Company decks that are just playing the namesake card for value that are playing white and blue for Reflector Mage. The guy is so powerful that he singlehandedly has solidified Blue Abzan as the best (in my opinion at least) Abzan variant in this week’s meta. If you haven’t played with the card, you’re unlucky. If you’ve played against the card, you’re even more unlucky. The card isn’t going anywhere any time soon, and will be a big player in Standard at least until rotation happens in April.
Another card that has had a big impact on Standard is Cleetus…erm…Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet. Again, in this Standard, his vanilla stats aren’t very good, as he’s outclassed by Siege Rhino which will be the baseline until he’s poached out of the format, but the Oath of the Gatewatch cards are more about their effect on the game rather than their rate right now. Kalitas is invaluable to non-Abzan decks in this world of Rally the Ancestors. Not only is he good at shutting off this creature-centric graveyard strategy, getting 2/2 zombies for killing your opponents dudes is a great effect.
To be honest, I knew Kalitas had a third line of text, but I had to look it up, since he would be insanely playable with just the first two lines. But being able to go late with him and turn him into a battleship on his own so he can brawl with Rhinos isn’t bad either. It’s like the bonus question on a test you were prepared for. You know you did well, and you’re probably going to get a good grade, but this last question will put you easily in 100% territory.
We’ve seen him in Jeskai Black and Mardu Green, as well as even being included in some Abzan lists for those that just don’t ever want to lose to Rally. Again, he’s probably the new king of Standard once Siege Rhino bites the dust.
The third card I wanted to talk about is, I think, flying way under the radar. Overshadowed by Kalitas right now because of the prevalence of the Rally deck. Chandra, Flamecaller is insane-o busted. Please, do yourself a favor and pick up your copies right now while they’re ONLY ABOUT TEN DOLLARS. This card is insane. When people like SCG Invitational champion Erik Smith are saying she’s probably as good as Elspeth, Sun’s Champion was, you know she won’t be at ten dollars for long. She just hasn’t had a chance to shine because again, Siege Rhino and Rally are kind of stealing the limelight right now. She has the ability to beat stalled boards either by attacking for six, or just wiping the small guys off the face of the earth. She has the ability to draw you cards, and who doesn’t want that?
People read the plus ability and think it’s poor, because those creatures can’t defend Chandra. But if you’re worried about defending Chandra, you can just minus her to kill whatever you’d like. If the board is empty and you’re worried about your opponent’s Gideon attacking your new fiery planeswalker, just kill him with elemental tokens! Out of gas? Just draw cards! She’s absolutely not a one-to-one analog to what Elspeth did to her Standard format, but Chandra is the new Queen, and may she live long.
Finally, I want to talk about probably the biggest stinker in Oath of the Gatewatch up to this point. Kozilek’s Return had a lot of hype surrounding it during preview season. While there have been Eldrazi ramp variants seeing some, albeit minor, success in Standard, no one has really been able to harness the power that Kozilek’s Return was deemed to have. Grants it’s the best board wipe to play alongside your Goblin Dark-Dwellers, 2 damage isn’t great against non-Atarka Red or Tokens decks. I think you’d much rather play Radiant Flames unless you’re truly very concerned about Reckless Bushwacker attacks.
Even when it is being played, Kozilek’s Return is placed mainly in decks that can’t take advantage of the last half of the card. Again, I understand that Goblin Dark-Dwellers is a powerful card, and you add versatility to your deck by adding a sweeper to the Dark-Dwellers armory, but red has better tools to play with right now if you have no plans of ever triggering the last half of Kozilek’s Return.
Before I go, I want to try my hand at doing Standard deck power rankings. Since the Columbus Open, here are what I feel are the best 5 decks in Standard right now going into next weekend.
1 – 4C Rally
2 – Abzan Blue
3 – RB Dragons
4 – Atarka Red
5 – Jeskai Black
4C Rally is still the best deck in the format. Playing the value creature deck that can just combo out on opponents is strong. With it performing so well against all the hate cards people are playing is just a token of how powerful the deck is.
Abzan blue plays Reflector Mage, the best card in Oath of the Gatewatch, and Stubborn Denial, the best counterspell in Standard when Ferocious. Alongside traditional Abzan threats, this is the Abzan variant I’d play this weekend.
RB dragons is the gotcha deck this weekend. It’s the consistent 2 color beatdown deck trying to prey on the inconsistent 4 color decks. It also has a positive rally matchup thanks to it’s blitzkrieg of furious storms.
Atarka Red can’t ever be counted out. It’s been played since Atarka’s Command became Monastery Swiftspear’s boyfriend. Reckless Bushwhacker makes the deck insane on the go-wide strategy, but it is easily hated going this way because of Arashin Cleric trading so well against tokens.
Jeskai Black’s fall from grace is mainly due to its poor matchup against Rally. I do think though that Jeskai Black played with Mantis Rider instead of Monastery Mentors is probably the way to go for the coming weeks. You can’t beat Rally going late unless you’re able to get a Mentor to go absolutely insane or just load up on all the hate cards. Jeskai has the tools, and like I said, Kalitas with Mantis Rider pegging away may be what turns the matchup back to Jeskai black.
A final thought for this weekend’s Modern Pro Tour, be on the lookout for my favorite sleeper meta card right now. I’ve had a lot of discussions with Jason Clark about this card, and I have finally turned him! Spreading Seas is probably the best card in Modern that you’re not playing right now. Worried about the big mana lands decks like Tron and Eldrazi? Worried about Inkmoth Nexus? Blinkmoth Nexus? Playing against a three, four, or five color deck? I would look for Spreading Seas next weekend as the big breakout card for blue decks.
That’s all for this week, I’m looking forward to maybe playing in a PPTQ this weekend, the Pro Tour, and of course, the sporting event of the year, Super Bowl L.
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