The more cards available in a format, the crazier things are going to be. More cards interact in different ways, strategies have more tools to draw from, and there are more cards to fill specific roles. Basically, there are more possibilities, and thus, more chaos. The extreme case of this would be T1 or Vintage Magic, which has the largest cardpool of any format. This flurry of power spells and artifacts hardly resembles the combat driven Magic of the last Pro Tour, block constructed, which had a relatively very small cardpool.
More practically I am thinking about Standard. Each Standard format more or less follows the same ebb and flow pattern. The cardpool is at its smallest in the fall, with the last block rotating with the induction of the new fall expansion. It grows larger with the release of the second set. The second set happened to be extra important this season because it completed the set of ten dual lands in Standard, giving every guild equal access to good mana. The third set of a block is usually the most powerful and contains the most powerful cards, and as such it often has a big impact. The third set often provides paradigm shifting cards. Third sets in recent years have given us cards including Batterskull, the broken Phyrexian mana cards, Restoration Angel, and Griselbrand.
I predicted that Dragon's Maze would have a big impact on Standard. I expected the Magic design and development teams to hold nothing back when it came to the beloved Ravnica, and Dragon's Maze being the last hurrah for that world for the foreseeable future, I knew they would be pushing things to the limit.
The set is here, and while every card is not a Legacy staple, the set is not lacking in Standard playable cards. Voice of Resurgence, anyone? The influx of playable new cards, combined with a beautifully open Standard format, plus the extra Jolt from the great mana options, equals a format with a lot of possibility.
I have been keeping a close eye on tournament results from around the world, and have seen a lot of innovation taking place. Some of it is pushing the boundaries of what is possible in Standard, for fun and profit. One only needs to glance at decks like Travis Woo's Rite Aid combo deck to realize this Standard format is not one to take lightly.
One deck has risen to the top of my mind and of the standings. This deck is a new look on an old archetype, an evolution that seems to be head and shoulders above everything else in Standard. This is not one to miss.
This a new, Junkier version of the popular "The Aristocrats" deck, so let us call it "The Aristocrats, Act 3.' This particularly list took down an MTGO Standard Premier event this past weekend. The pilot, _Batutinha_, is one of the most consistent online players and is often on the forefront of new Standard technology.
This version of The Aristocrats eschews red and all it provides, including Falkenrath Aristocrat and Boros Reckoner. The combo-kill Hadouken in Blasphemous Act that was popular in the Act 2 version has been left behind. Turning towards green gives the deck a brand new appearance, a brand new strategy, and brand new means of destruction. The underlying theme of this deck is creatures that cheat death. Call it persist, call it undying, or call it penumbra, twelve of the creatures will create another upon destruction. Doomed Traveler was a key cog for the past Aristocrats deck. This version gets to play an additional four in Young Wolf, and another four in the venerable Voice of Resurgence, which is probably the reason this deck went green in the first place. This deck may abuse Voice of Resurgence better than all others. It is packed with creatures and will consistently create a large 'Crusader of Odric' token.
The two-for-one creatures mean that battling this deck with removal is a losing proposition. The idea of going one-for-one with spot removal is just impossible in terms of raw card advantage and tempo loss. Spending mana to leave an opponent with the same board is not profitable. The situation is made only worse given that a lot of the creatures actually get better the second time around. Sweepers like Supreme Verdict and Rolling Temblor suffer from this problem, and will often leave behind a bigger army than before. Still, the sweeper plan seems like the best way to combat this deck in terms of removal. Pillar of Flame is the premium spot-removal spell against this deck, because it prevents the two-for-one value that the creatures otherwise provide.
While not exactly a two-for-one creature, Lingering Souls certainly is card advantage in creature form. The first casting creates two tokens, and flashing it back adds two more. In a deck so well positioned to abuse individual creatures, Lingering Souls is in some ways a real four-for-one. One only needs Blood Artist or Sorin, Lord of Innistrad to feel this. Lingering Souls also works well with some cards I will discuss shortly. It provides the perfect flying canvas for Varolz, the Scar-Striped to scavenge tokens onto. Lingering Souls can quickly create a flying army to end the game in conjunction with Maw of Obzedat. I'd also like to note that the curve of this deck is quite low. It is even lower than older Aristocrat versions, which played expensive spells like Boros Reckoner and Falkenrath Aristocrat. This lowered curve means that Lingering Souls actually sits near the top of it, not in the middle, and the deck will often have the mana to get the most from the card earlier in the game.
The new creature theme means that Blood Artist is even better than in past versions. Those that played against Affinity with Arcbound Ravager and Disciple of the Vault know just how deadly a card like that can be. Blood Artist pairs with Cartel Aristocrat to drain down the opposition in conjunction with the two-for-one creatures. This combination will often be enough reach to end an opponent after some early aggression. A pair of Blood Artist will be able to take out an opponent from almost any life total. Blood Artist is equally as useful against opposing creatures, and will often turn trading in combat into a poor proposition for the opponent.
To make up for the loss of Falkenrath Aristocrat, this deck turns to the new Maw of Obzedat for another sacrifice enabler. It shines with Blood Artist, but also to enable cards like Voice of Resurgence. Maw of Obzedat will also end many a game upon resolution, where it can act as a build-an- Overrun; remember, it can sacrifice itself at the end for an extra boost to the rest of the team. This past weekend, the constant Facebook statuses from _Batutinha_ thanking Maw of Obzedat for winning games let me know that the card is no fluke! Think of Maw of Obzedat as the sacrifice-enabling, game-ending titan The Aristocrats always wanted.
The addition of green also provides an unexpected but completely bonkers card, Varolz, the Scar-Striped. During DM spoiler season my readers gave me a lot of flak for not mentioning Varolz. They said it was one of the best new cards and would change Standard. Maybe the card was too confusing or too new for me to realize at the time, because my readers were spot on. The card has been proving itself in formats from Block all the way to Legacy. The Aristocrats: Act 3 is the best home I've seen for it in Standard.
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Rather than warping itself to abuse Varolz, the Scar-Striped, like many a gimmick deck does, this deck simply utilizes Varolz as a perfect card in its otherwise sound strategy. It provides a lot of value out of the graveyard in a deck positioned perfectly to abuse it. This deck actively wants to sacrifice its creatures and send them to the graveyard, and it is full of very cheap creatures. This means it will constantly create fodder and have the mana to utilize it. Adding just a few counters to a creature goes a long way. For example, spending some resources on creating a 4/4 Cartel Aristocrat creates a threat that many opponents will be hard-pressed to stop. As games grind on, Varolz, the Scar-Striped will create more and more value, giving this deck a lot of reach.
Varolz, the Scar-Striped is also yet another enabler and way to send creatures to the graveyard, and much like Cartel Aristocrat, can be quite difficult to remove. When Varolz hits play, the entire texture of the game changes. Varolz, the Scar-Striped is just the complete package in this deck, and it really needs to be played with to fully understand, as I have learned over the past month.
Sorin, Lord of Innistrad may be deadlier in this deck than it was in the red Aristocrats versions. The sheer number of resilient creatures means the +1/+0 anthem ability is quite powerful. It allows the cheap, small creatures to fight through larger while pressuring the opponent to a greater degree. It has been said that, in his Aristocrats deck, Sam Black saw Sorin as an anthem with some possible upside, where others saw it as a token generator with some upside. The anthem really does seem to shine here, and the great blockers this deck presents will often be able to keep Sorin around for another anthem shot.
Sometimes Sorin, Lord of Innistrad will act primarily as a token generator, creating a steady stream of creatures for whatever duty calls them. Whether as an attacking army, a defensive legion, or simply sacrificial fodder, the tokens are just what this deck wants.
Bringing everything together is a full playset of Tragic Slip. As Standard has evolved, Tragic Slip has become more and more of a gold-standard removal spell. It kills quite a lot of important small creatures on the early turns, including Stromkirk Noble and Experiment One, and as the game goes on, it turns into a premium removal spell for nearly anything. Standard is quite wide and open, so having the ability to remove anything is quite valuable. Nine sacrifice outlets combined with a flow of cheap creatures ensures it will be morbid whenever necessary.
This deck also boasts a powerful sideboard, one that includes new tools from Dragon's Maze.
This deck is completely nasty, ridiculously resilient, and an absolute blast to play. It is a real fun challenge to play, but is equally difficult to play against. This deck is also customizable and features some great sideboard possibilities. I recommend familiarizing yourself with this deck from both sides of matchups. This is not one that will be going away anytime soon.
Earlier this season a lot of players complained Standard was stale. With Dragon's Maze in the mix now, things could not be farther from the truth. I can't imagine what decks might evolve in the coming weeks. Standard will swell even bigger after the core set release, which brings about a small period where two core sets are legal. Things are crazy enough for now, but all bets are off when M14 hits the table! Stay tuned to magic.tcgplayer.com for all the latest Magic news and information, and we will be sure to update you when M14 hits this summer and Standard grows even more fascinating.
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