Updating Standard Decks with Kaladesh

Feature Article from Adam Yurchick
Adam Yurchick
9/22/2016 11:00:00 AM
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Kaladesh turned out to be packed full of great cards, and it's going to have a big impact on Standard. I expect we will see exciting new archetypes based around mechanics like energy and standout cards like Chandra, Torch of Defiance. That being said, Kaladesh will be just one of five sets in Standard, and the previous four compose the vast majority of the cardpool. The burden is on the new cards to prove themselves against the current top tier of decks.

Kaladesh has the immediate impact of rotating the format and gutting the top tier of many staples that they relied on, so the first step of approaching the new format is to take stock of each existing archetype by checking what cards they have lost. The next step is identifying possible new cards that could replace them, and if not, determining if the strategy can be adapted and evolved or is in any way still viable. If not the deck can be discarded, otherwise the goal is to create a new updated decklist, ultimately creating a gauntlet of decks to test against each other and against all of the new Kaladesh-driven decks.

The obvious place to start approaching the new format is from the top, Bant Company. The archetype, in all of its variations, has proven dominant throughout Eldritch Moon Standard and stretching far back into last season. Two main versions, the Bant Company “good stuff” version and the Bant Humans variations, will each evolve in different ways, but each has a strong core of cards that will allow them to persist through rotation as the frontrunners of the new metagame and the adaptability to compete with whatever new cards are thrown at it.

Bant Humans, with its synergistic focus, is bound to playing Human creatures, so it has some direction after rotation. It forgoes individually quality cards like Spell Queller in favor of synergy found in the human tribe, specifically Thalia's Lieutenant, and it will want to maximize these synergies as much as possible.

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There is an instant-speed four-mana threat tailor-made to replace Collected Company in Bant Humans, Heron's Grace Champion, which adds to the Human synergy and makes life difficult for the opponent as an instant-speed tool. I recommend playing some of them in that slot going forward, but other cheap threats like Hamlet Captain or Hanweir Militia Captain or disruption like Stasis Snare or Revolutionary Rebuff could be effective too. Knight of the White Orchid can be replaced by other aggressive sources of card advantage — additional copies of Thraben Inspector and Duskwatch Recruiter — while Botanical Sanctum is an easy swap for Yavimaya Coast.

Bant Company losing its namesake Collected Company leaves a hole in its top-end threats. Collected Company was also a key source of tempo, often generating the value of five or six mana for the price of four, as well as card advantage, producing two creatures at the cost of one card. While Collected Company was an obvious inclusion, now there is no clear path to go down. Furthermore, the loss of Collected Company eliminates the restriction of playing such a high concentration of creatures with converted mana three or less, so not only does it open up the deck to more expensive cards, it also allows the deck to play a higher concentration of disruptive spells. The deck could go in many directions to take advantage of its core of excellent cards.

One option to replace Collected Company is a direct swap for another four-drop, like Tamiyo, Field Researcher, which has already proven itself in the archetype. Bant Company has played some number of Archangel Avacyn, but it is made significantly worse with Dromoka's Command absent, making it more difficult to flip, but it's still a great threat that has a useful ability. On the other hand, the deck can play four Selfless Spirit, which can sacrifice itself to enable Archangel Avacyn, which could be a great route to go on if Avacyn the Purifier's transform trigger is well positioned against in the metagame.

One option to replace Collected Company is Elder Deep-Fiend, another powerful instant-speed threat. A Bant deck seeking to make the most of Elder Deep-Fiend might focus on creatures that work well with emerge. Without deckbuilding restrictions it could even expand into a more emerge-centric direction with Wretched Gryff or even Lashweed Lurker, and possible support with cards like Primal Druid and Filigree Familiar.

It's possible that without Collected Company a swarm of small creatures isn't worth playing at all. Last weekend, before rotation, someone did very well with a midrange Bant deck that chose not to play Collected Company, which I take as a sign that the style of deck could be very successful after rotation too, especially because the deck doesn't suffer any losses in said rotation.

It's as if this player was already preparing for Kaladesh, with Declaration in Stone over Dromoka's Command and a maindeck featuring a full four Tamiyo, Field Researcher. Gisela, the Broken Blade serves as a premier threat at four mana, and the goal here is to combine it with Bruna, the Fading Light, possibly with Thalia's Lancers helping along the way. The deck's plan in the meantime is to play a control game, with cards like Blessed Alliance and sweepers buying a lot of time. This deck seems like a prime candidate for Fumigate, which gains life to buy even more time to assemble Brisela, Voice of Nightmares.

Not only does this deck not lose anything to rotation, Kaladesh provides new possibilities. This deck is a prime candidate for Wildest Dreams, the most exciting card advantage spell since Sphinx's Revelation. Unlike Seasons Past it's not limited to specific mana costs, so in addition to being more flexible in-game it could also allow for more creative deckbuilding. I can’t help but think this deck has what it takes to win in Kaladesh Standard, so I recommend giving it a try. Here’s how I’d build it after rotation:

W/G Tokens fell from the top of the field out of the metagame thanks to Spell Queller single-handedly hosing its sorcery-speed Planeswalker gameplan, but the loss of Collected Company makes this less of a factor. As the metagame begins to widen with introduction of Kaladesh, W/G Tokens should fare well, and it looks to be strong against any new aggressive decks focused on energy or artifacts. It's also poised to gain some new tools, particularly Verdurous Gearhulk and Cataclysmic Gearhulk, adding a new dimension to its game plan.

Rotation means no more Evolutionary Leap, Dromoka's Command, or Hangarback Walker, so the deck has completely lost its ability to flip Archangel Avacyn without the opponent's help. It's not particularly effective in this strategy otherwise, so moving forward the deck needs to look towards alternative 5-mana creatures to top its curve. One option is Cataclysmic Gearhulk for board control, which will work well combined with varied permanent types, particularly Planeswalkers. Alternatively, Verdurous Gearhulk can be used to apply immense pressure on the opponent, or to turn any 3/3 Lambholt Pacifist into 4/4 that can attack on their own. The deck could use Angel of Invention for its anthem ability and its versatility as a token-generator or large flying threat. Even Nissa, Vital Force is an option, and an exciting way to generate card advantage in a world without Den Protector.

Another new card I like in W/G Tokens is Servo Exhibition, which serves as a useful two-drop producing tokens that that protects Planeswalkers and are great to pump with the +1/+1 counter ability of Nissa, Voice of Zendikar or the anthem emblem of Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, and it's useful for pushing towards towards transforming Westvale Abbey.

Fliers can be a problem for this deck since they pressure Planeswallkers so well, so Aerial Responder is a useful tool against cards like Selfless Spirit, Spell Queller, and Thopter Tokens. Its primary function is to hose new aggressive decks like W/R Artifacts and R/G Energy. It's also completely unreasonable with +1/+1 counters from Verdurous Gearhulk.

Delirium decks, whether black/green or the even more popular Jund variation, hold up well into rotation, but they have to contend with the loss of Languish removing their ability to control the battlefield. A card like this is without direct replacement, so the deck will need to adapt. The loss of cards like Kytheon, Hero of Akros eliminates the hyper-aggro white deck Languish shone brightest against, and the loss of Collected Company means there will be less decks focused around small creatures, but new aggressive artifact and energy decks are poised to take their place.

Delirium decks can adapt in various ways, like relying on spot removal, or by playing more Ishkanah, Grafwidow as an alternative form of board control. I like the idea of exploring a new tool, Harsh Scrutiny, an alternative form of creature disruption. Discard has always been at home in black/green decks like Jund, so it makes perfect sense here, and is even a sorcery to keep delirium counts balanced.

Blue/green-based emerge decks, including Temur Emerge and Sultai Emerge, suffer significantly from the loss of Gather the Pack and Jace, Vryn's Prodigy, which were potent graveyard-enablers that were also graveyard payoffs in their own way. There are some new tools, however, that are arguably even more effective and powerful graveyard enablers, so they can be used for a new breed of powerful graveyard-oriented deck in Kaladesh Standard.

Jace, Vryn's Prodigy filled the graveyard and filtered draws attached to the body of a creature that could be sacrificed to emerge costs. Minister of Inquiries is faster and more powerful as a graveyard enabler, even without any energy support. It effectively mills six cards for the cost of one mana, and the remaining body is perfect to enable an emerge creature like Elder Deep-Fiend.

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Like Gather the Pack, Perpetual Timepiece can start enabling the graveyard on the second turn. It doesn't act as quickly, but as the game goes on it will continue to fill the graveyard and dig far beyond Gather the Pack.

In a deck focused on the graveyard and filled with Haunted Dead, Prized Amalgam, and new tool Scrapheap Scrounger, milling cards can be as good as drawing them, so it's easy to imagine how these self-mill cards could be effective.

The blue/red Thermo Alchemist-Thing in the Ice deck is a major winner from the loss of Dromoka's Command, which pressured Fevered Visions, countered burn spells, and contained its few creatures — it was about the biggest nightmare imaginable for the deck. The deck also holds up well to rotation. Galvanic Bombardment is an easy replacement for Fiery Impulse, but the powerful and efficient Exquisite Firecraft has no direct replacement. Collective Defiance is similar, but the stock decklist is already playing that alongside Exquisite Firecraft. I propose replacing Exquisite Firecraft with Chandra, Torch of Kaladesh, which has similar impact as a four-damage removal spell, retains the ability to damage the opponent, and features the massive upside of card advantage or mana generation.

The decks that lose in the rotation are those that have a void that can't be filled. Ramp decks like R/G Ramp lose Nissa's Pilgrimage and Explosive Vegetation without equal replacement, which also eliminates their ability to effectively use Shrine of the Forsaken Gods. They will be forced to reinvent themselves using artifact acceleration like Hedron Archive and the new Cultivator's Caravan, or leverage the graveyard with cards like Corrupted Grafstone or even Splendid Reclamation. U/G Crush of Tentacles similarly suffers from losing land ramp but can't leverage artifact or creature acceleration.

The biggest losers are Languish decks like W/B and Grixis Control, which will have to reinvent themselves if they want to compete, potentially with Harsh Scrutiny. Eldrazi suffer from the loss of painlands with no replacement, but they are still among the most powerful creatures in the format and were particularly restricted by the three-mana requirement of Collected Company and the proliferation of Reflector Mage, so they could be a factor in the metagame. What existing archetypes do you expect to rise to the top, and how will they replace the cards they have lost? What new cards are going to excel in Standard? Share your ideas in the comments, and I'll answer any questions.

-Adam




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