Throne of Eldraine Standard
I see a rotation on the horizon and you know what that means. A well needed shake up on the standard metagame!
Over the last year there have been many decks making their way in and out of standard and with a fair amount of regularity. We’ve had Mono Red aggro with its lightning fast starts and ridiculous Runaway Steam-Kin plays, Black/White Vampires hanging around the dark alley that is the fringe playable decks waiting for those unsuspecting midrange decks to stumble their way past so it can suck the life right out of them, along with punishing their lack of removal and wrath effects. Mono Blue Tempo had its time in the sun for a bit while the metagame re-shifted after Dominaria’s release, as well as the tried and tested Golgari/Sultai builds seeing the table quite consistently.
To round out this recent metagame season we’ve had the juggernauts of Boros Feather and Kethis/four colour legends decks making their way to the top tier. But enough about the old, what’s new?
Today I’m going to take a look at what Throne of Eldraine will bring to the table both metaphorically and literally. We’ll take a look at what cards could impact the format and also some possible decklists that could end up shaping the new standard meta.
Importantly, the first thing we need to do to evaluate what the new standard could look like is to determine what makes its through the rotation from old standard and what gets thrown by the wayside in favour of the new hotness.
Let’s take this time to remember those we have lost:
It’s done with now. Let’s put it all behind us, completely forget about how Wizards created one of the most broken Time Walks ever and then made it a Buy-a-Box exclusive. I’m sure it’ll have a good home in Modern. Nexus has definitely left its mark on Standard - usually in conjunction with Wilderness Reclamation - and some of you probably got a lot of enjoyment out of it, I sure did. One thing I am sure of are the thousands of you out there that are reveling in this rotation just to wave goodbye to this powerhouse card. Only then will you be able to play Magic again as Garfield intended, rather than watching your opponent solitaire for twenty minutes then killing you. I think we can all agree it was a mistake. A powerful, powerful mistake.
I love Teferi, as did many of us. I love his time travelling story, his arc from cocky adolescent to absolute boss wizard man and his cards have never disappointed. Arguably, Teferi, Hero of Dominaria has run Standard since his introduction with his all star role in the Esper/UW control lists. He made your life hell and put you through a loop while you tried your hardest not to succumb to the inevitable. Don’t worry, you can rest easy now players.
Thank god this is gone. Just like with [Nexus of Fate] it was never fun to sit back and watch your opponent play with themselves for a huge chunk of the round. I’m not saying Scapeshift in particular was a mistake. Maybe printing it in format with a tonne of versatile, and not to mention good, utility lands and a fair few lands matter themed cards was. It was only a brief part in the standard meta but still a frustrating one and there will always be a midrange/combo deck loitering around in Standard, but hopefully it won’t be as efficient as any decks that [Scapeshift] breeds.
This was a big player from day one but did ultimately end up seeing less play over time, but no matter what reason that was for there’s no denying that Search for Azcanta was a very powerful card that offered a lot utility. Search was a pillar of the Standard metagame as it was easy to splash and dug through your deck at an alarming rate. I’m sure we’ve all sat on both sides of the table in terms of Search for Azcanta: abusing its Swiss Army knife-like qualities to serve your every need or finding yourself drowning under the card advantage it’s given your opponent.
This guy hasn’t seen much play since the downfall of Mono Red’s hayday, though it’s hard to ignore the impact it had on the Standard format. With that said, Chainwhirler still sees play in the Mono Red decks that have been teetering on the edge of top tier, thanks to the fact that it’s a silly card that can at times provide you with a nice two or three for one. Oh and it just so happens to leave behind a 3/3 First Striker.
There are many many more cards I could talk about but I don’t want to get bogged down. The cliffsnotes are: Mono Blue Tempo is done for as most of the shell came from Dominaria, the same goes for Kethis combo decks and Golgari midrange will have to change a lot to still be considered a tiered deck in any form (thanks to Ixalan rotating out). You may have noticed that the majority of cards I just touched on fit nicely in a control shell, so logically you could think that control decks have taken a hit with the rotation. Well calm down there because you may not be as right as you think you are.
There’s a smattering of decks that make it through unscathed. Namely: Esper/UW control, Boros Feather and various Simic strategies.
The Control archetype is the easiest to start with because most of the shell is still there. They have pretty much all the counterspells they previously had, minus Syncopate, and the hole that the aforementioned Teferi, Hero of Dominaria leaves will surely be plugged quite nicely with a splashy, game ending threat. Maybe Liliana, Dreadhorde General for example. The real big loss is in the mana: no more Isolated Chapel, Glacial Fortress or Drowned Catacombs. Losing dual lands is always a big hit for a Control deck, especially when the only other “dual” lands are the Temple Cycle. That doesn’t sound too bad as the Temples do offer a certain amount of card selection, but you will have to limit the amount you play or end up getting hampered by your “enters the battlefield tapped” lands which, especially in the early game, can cause you to effectively play a turn behind your opponent.
Looking towards the future in terms other than the mana base, - all the check lands are gone and it affects all decks in the format, it’s just something we’ll have to get used to - cards that could help the Control archetype.
This card is bonkers, straight up, let alone in a Control shell. Rankle is a very powerful and versatile card which is exactly the type of thing Control decks look for, they want to have their cake and eat it if you will. I do think that Control decks need to re-evaluate a little in regards to how heavy they learn on their removal, not to say it shouldn’t have a place because of course it should, but with a card like Rankle you may find yourself jamming it in a spot where your opponent can’t counter it but after that you might want to protect the king as it where. Counterspells and Rankle go hand in hand nicely as you’re already making them waste cards fighting over this four mana 3/3 and if you succeed and Rankle lands you can start taking apart the rest of their hand while representing a clock.
We’re losing Vraska’s Contempt but fear not! For those of you that remember all the way back Theros you may remember a card called Hero’s Downfall. It was one of the premium removal spells in the format and now it’s back, with a minor downside and then a huge upside! Have you ever been annoyed that your instant speed removal spells can’t also be creatures? Well Murderous Rider has you covered, with a great body that will have so much of an effect on the Standard meta. The two life you lose on the Adventure side is nothing in the early game and will really only be relevant against the hyper aggressive decks, so against Midrange or Control matchups this is incredible. Then the creature side kicks in and you have a hugely relevant threat that can keep you in the game thanks to the lifelink, blocks well, and if it dies it doesn’t even go to the graveyard. Couple this with a shuffle effect and the value just increases as you can find it time after time while dealing with creatures and gaining life to your heart's content.
The last card I want to look at for Control is Lochmere Serpent. I’ll get straight to the meat and potatoes real quick: This is the game ending creature that Control decks have needed for a while. The Control decks of old used planeswalkers like Teferi, Hero of Dominaria to close out a game and while planeswalkers are versatile they don’t offer the expediency a big creature does. Lochmere Serpent costs six mana, - which puts it in the perfect place on the mana curve for a Control deck - and it’s fairly straightforward to cast thanks to its single blue and black pip in the mana cost. Lochmere Serpent not only represents a three turn clock but also a tonne of utility to either confirm a connection, draw cards and gain life, or giving you a recurring threat, the key to all of this utility is the streamlined mana base. With Lochmere Serpent asking you to sacrifice lands you can’t risk running a three colour deck, the change in the metagame - and losing the check lands - means that decks will probably have to resort to a much tighter two colour set up and if that’s the case then Lochmere Serpent is the finisher that UB Control decks want. Not too many mind, you don’t want to find yourself in a position where your hands are getting clogged up with this game ending six drop only to find that you can’t cast it and not actually end the game.
Let’s move onto to Boros Feather.
Boros Feather has been dancing a merry little jig in the Standard format since War of the Spark dropped and gave us the decks namesake, Feather, the Redeemed. Taking a look at a fairly stock list of Boros Feather, the cards that it loses in the rotation are:
Adanto Vanguard - It did represent a big clock for just two mana but I think the deck will be able to survive. I think a resilient two drop is a good thing for a deck like Boros Feather to have but I don’t think it’s vital. The deck already runs a good amount of value two drops and as much as losing Adanto Vanguard will affect Boros Feather it could open the door to run more spells and lean heavier on the speed of the deck.
Sheltering Light - Sheltering Light was used almost as an additional God’s Willing with its only unique ability being to protect from Wrath effects. This is one that the deck didn’t need but was happy to acquire.
Reckless Rage - This was Feather’s premium removal spell because it was cheap and super effective in the early game. The loss of Reckless Rage may hit the deck hard and as of right now there aren’t many like for like replacements, though I’m sure Feather players will find something even if it is just moving Lava Coils to the main deck.
Clifftop Retreat - As I’ve already said, the check lands are gone and because of that the metagame will shift considerably. Feather won’t be hit by this too hard as it’s naturally a two colour deck, although it may have to trim a Temple of Triumph or two so it can keep up a decent tempo.
Moving on from the combat zone to...well, spells you’ll target your own creatures with while they’re in the combat zone. The loss of Reckless Rage does cause Boros Feather to lose a bit of versatility but there could be an answer.
Joust isn’t as elegant as Reckless Rage and it is a lot slower but it does have a higher ceiling. Unfortunately, in the current build you don’t get to utilise the power/toughness boost due to the lack of Knights, but with a creature like Tenth District Legionnaire you could easily start machine gunning down your opponent’s creatures. How about if you pair it with God’s Willing? That way you don’t have to invest as much to cobble together a removal spell. It’s definitely a lot messier than Reckless Rage, I would not suggest running more than two copies and maybe just relying more so on the aggressive side of the deck.
This is a perfect combat trick for Boros Feather: it’s cheap and super effective especially when you’re going a bit wider. With cards like Krenko, Tin Street Warboss and Legion Warboss it’s not hard to amass a small army so you’ve subsequently been applying some pressure and have done a decent amount of damage to your opponent. Barge In now gives you the option to alpha strike with so much surprise potential, early on in the meta especially your opponent will never block correctly and you’ll be able to sneak so much damage through or line up some efficient trades. The best part about this brilliant combat trick is, you don’t even need Feather! Sure, she turns everything into easy mode with Barge In, but because the deck runs a lot of cheap, value creatures you can just kill your opponent out of nowhere.
This is probably the least exciting choice. Assure//Assemble has been in the format almost as long as Feather and hasn’t been particularly high on the list of good spells to run alongside her. The deck doesn’t need a replacement for Sheltering Light but just in case Assure//Assemble is waiting in the wings. It helps its case by being and instant and it can help a Tenth District Legionnaire go absolutely bonkers, the double white mana cost isn’t the biggest issue but all in all it just feels a bit clunky. I know there are Naya Feather decks out there but they have other things they could be doing involving Season’s Growth - sidenote, it’s simultaneously a beautiful thing to watch and an absolute pain to sit there and watch you opponent do stuff for ten minutes.
Onto the Simic shells.
Simic decks have been making waves in Standard for a while, pretty much ever since Hydroid Krasis became a thing. Krasis was just the versatile value/finisher card of the deck, the real engine came from Wilderness Reclamation and Nexus of Fate: The first allowed you to play Magic on your turn and then untap all your lands to play Magic on your opponent’s turn, or more accurately, at the end of your opponent’s turn. The loss of Nexus means that the “taking turns” version of the deck is finally dead but that does leave the door open for the more traditional Simic decks to make themselves known.
On its face, Gadwick looks like a fine value creature: He draws you cards and can help detain your opponent’s threats, what more do you want?
The big problem that Gadwick has is the lack of evasion in any form whatsoever, that doesn’t make him unplayable just a bit fragile. I do think that Gadwick has some real potential when you couple him with Wilderness Reclamation though as you can tap out on your turn to get the most out of Gadwick’s draw ability and still have mana up in your opponent’s turn to protect him. You could always just drop Gadwick, the Wizened as a three mana 3/3 earlier on in the game so you can get more mileage out of him provided he lives past a turn. I don’t think Gadwick gives you as much utility as Hydroid Krasis but it does give you different utility, the main difference between the two however is that Krasis’ card draw and life gain is the result of a cast trigger and Gadwick’s isn’t. So, you may not be guaranteed the cards with Gadwick as you are with Krasis but the two can work in tandem, with Gadwick clearing the path for Krasis to smash in.
Into the Story is actually a great card for Control decks as well as Simic decks, but I think it’s going to prove itself much more powerful in a Simic Value/Ramp shell. Getting into the late game seven mana won’t be hard to come across, you might not feel good about cashing in seven mana for four cards but needs must sometimes. Having an opponent with seven cards in their graveyard is nowhere near impossible though, especially if the format is heading towards a more creature based place with a lot of trades happening. All of a sudden it becomes much more palatable to spend four mana for four cards, which can possibly leave you in a position to double spell and really start gaining traction. Again, Into the Story works really well with Wilderness Reclamation which means you won’t get punished as much for spending a tonne of mana on four cards.
There are a bunch of places for Questing Beast to call home including a Simic shell, though I’m sure that won’t be the most optimal of places for it. Four mana for a 4/4 is good, add Vigilance, Deathtouch and Haste into the mix and it becomes great. Then add on a small wall of text including a blocking stipulation, a damage stipulation and a prevention stipulation and suddenly this simple four mana 4/4 has gone from “decent” to “absurd”. If Simic decks are looking towards a more tempo based strategy then this is your premium four drop, and if left unchecked Questing Beast can handily take over a game in regards to combat. At worst you make your opponent waste a removal spell on it and with the current run of instant speed removal spells in Standard: Murder, Bedevil, and the new boys Bake into a Pie and Murderous Rider, some of these spells are fighting for the same spot and most of them on the same part of the mana curve. You do have to beware of that pesky Noxious Grasp though, a cheap and efficient answer to something as threatening as Questing Beast and will definitely be in sideboards to answer Teferi, Time Raveler. You might have to play protect the queen Magic sometimes with Questing Beast but it will pay off, I guarantee it.
The other side of the Simic coin is Flash. Simic Flash has seen a lot of play thanks to some great additions from Core Set 2020, namely Brineborn Cutthroat and Nightpack Ambusher. This is a deck that absolutely loves to play at the end of their opponent’s turn, dropping powerful value centric creatures to amass a huge advantage and forcing your opponent to play at your tempo. Throne of Eldraine is happy to oblige this U/G monster of a deck with a few cards. First all of Opt is sticking around so Standard is retaining one of the best cantrips ever printed and one of the decks best combat tricks when used in conjunction with Brineborn Cutthroat. As you’ll see from the deck below, not much has changed. There are some minor tweaks in some areas and some major tweaks in others, for the initiated Flash players out there though it won’t look a million miles away from the norm.
At first glance Faerie Vandal may look like a pretender to Brineborn Cutthroat’s throne. Vandal plays on the same part of the mana curve, has a +1/+1 counter ability and has differentiated itself little by flipping its stats, the big difference is the nature of Faerie Vandal’s +1/+1 counters. Everyone likes drawing cards right? Of course you do don’t lie. With cards like Opt and Spectral Sailor you’re going to be drawing a lot of cards, especially getting deeper into the late game, but sometimes the huge influx of card advantage that would usually bury your opponent just doesn’t come together like you’d planned. So what do you do with all of those cards that either don’t line up or are just completely useless? Forget about them and smash away with the giant threat your two mana Faerie Vandal has become thanks to all that card draw. Yes, ideally you don’t want to be sinking a tonne of mana into your Spectral Sailor to justify netting a +1/+1 counter on another creature but my point is sometimes games get to those places, so why not get to creating a game winning creature while you’re at it. You don’t want to run more than two however as a key tactic U/G Flash can rely on is its speed out of the gate and unfortunately Faerie Vandal can hinder that while you try and cobble something together. I also think it could cause you to play off tempo - trying to utilise your draw step along with casting an Opt or something in your turn for example - and going that route completely destroys the whole concept of the deck, not to mention you’re now playing to your comparatively worse two drop.
I’m still not sure about this one: on the one hand it digs you further into your deck, helping you find whatever the situation calls for or just smoothing out your draws, and on the other hand, it’s FREE! That’s right, I can’t work out if this is busted or just fantastically useful. You will only ever get one free Once Upon a Time but that’s enough - let me take this time to remind you that free spells have a tendency of being really powerful and really efficient, of course they do because free is the best type of efficient. Beyond the free version, two mana to find a threat/smooth out your mana will help make the deck so much more consistent. However, if we’re running Once Upon a Time then we can’t really run Faerie Vandal too as that’s a non-interaction, maybe if Once Upon a Time replaces Anticipate but that would be a judgement call, one that I won’t be making all that often as I’m definitely a Once Upon a Time man.
I love this card. I really like what Wizards has done with Faeries since Lorwyn block, back then Faeries were silly, broken things that came together to create one of the best and most oppressive decks of all time. The Faeries in Throne of Eldraine have all been fitted with stats and abilities that are bonkers or powerfully efficient, but then have mana costs just high enough to cost them out of playability. I’m now going to pull a bait and switch on you by shattering your illusion that I think Brazen Borrower has seen a reduction in power level from the glory days of the Fae of old. Brazen Borrower is silly enough to have seen print in Lorwyn alongside cards like Spellstutter Sprite, Bitterblossom, Mistbind Clique, Cryptic Command, I could go on. It’s a one-two punch that explains to the simplest degree how you use it: Bounce your opponent’s thing then cast your Flying threat and start bashing away. Both aspects of [[Brazen Borrower] play into the core values of the deck, help pump your Brineborn Cutthroat and provide you with either a temporary removal spell, on board presence or, most of the time, both. Sure, it can only block creatures in the air. One: Brazen Borrower will trade up a lot more often than you think it will and two: I’ve got a little tip for you, don’t block. Soak up some damage and let your giant Brineborn Cutthroat, Nightpack Ambusher pumping out wolves every turn and 3/1 flyer deal with your opponent in a swift and efficient manner. Sidenote - Brazen Borrower will see a tonne of play in Control decks that want to switch to the race plan at a moments notice for a lot of the same tempo based reasons Flash will love it.
One deck that I didn’t mention was Mono Red. There will always be a Mono Red deck in Standard, it’s just one of those things like the tide or the sun setting. Sure, the loss of Fanatical Firebrand and Lightning Strike will impact the deck quite a bit but there will always be something else you can plug into the spots left behind. For example, the decklist below has utilised the new Fervent Champion to replace Fanatical Firebrand, along with Scorch Spitter from Core 2020, and i’ve opted for the new burn spell Slaying Fire to take up the mantle of Lightning Strike.
Fervent Champion isn’t a slam dunk one for one trade with Fanatical Firebrand, mainly because Fervent Champion doesn’t allow you to access your Spectacle cards at a moment’s notice. What it does give you is a one mana 1/1 with Haste and First Strike that does really well in multiples. Having a creature with First Strike means that you can represent more pressure when attacking - and it’s even better with the power bonus from other Fervent Champions - but it can also offer you a bit of sneaky utility when blocking. Blocking with a 1/1 doesn’t seem to enticing even when that creature has First Strike, however with the implementation of a burn spell you could easily find yourself dealing with an opposing creature quite cleanly and retaining your 1/1 First Striker. The bottom half of the card doesn’t really apply unless Red decks are going to make a shift towards equipment, that would be a big investment that I think would be to the decks detriment.
Slaying Fire is definitely not a like for like replacement for Lightning Strike. They deal the same amount of damage and Slaying Fire even has a higher ceiling, but that extra one mana in the cost can be a big deal. The reason Slaying Fire will see play in Mono Red decks is because of that high ceiling. You’re always going to have mountains to pay for the mana cost which means, as long as you can actually cast Slaying Fire, it’s always going to deal four damage. This is important as there are a lot of four toughness creatures about of late. Crucially, it gives you a faster clock on your opponent and when you’re doing Runaway Steam-kin shenanigans being able to chain spells together and every now and again hitting your opponent for four with Slaying Fire, the game’s bound to end pretty quick.
Other additions that have made it into the new Mono Red: Robber of the Rich and Torbran, Thane of Red Fell. Torbran is a bit of a punt in all honesty, you don’t actually need a copy in the deck but he will help get the job done quicker. Also, Torbran functionally blocks and attacks as a 4/4 because he counts himself as a red source, which is always a good bonus.
The moment I saw Robber of the Rich I knew he would have a long career in Standard and this seemed like a great place to try him out. Robber does almost everything Mono Red wants: Gets in fast thanks to the Haste, he can help hold off those pesky flyers thanks to the Reach - side note, flyers can be a real issue for Mono Red and you don’t really want to be wasting too many of your burn spells on them. The best part about Robber of the Rich is that big wall of text underneath his great keywords. Netting cards from your opponent’s deck is fantastic any way you cut it, just cutting them off from accessing whatever card you got is very powerful. Robber adds to this by allowing you to cast the card and granted, there are stipulations: having less cards in hand than your opponent, having attacked with a rogue this turn blah blah blah. That’s exactly why I think it will play well in Mono Red, a deck that tends to be able to vomit it’s hand whenever it wants, allowing you to manipulate the hand size stipulation. Running four Robber increases your chances of attacking with a rogue which checks that box and, my personal favourite part, it’s not legendary! Having multiple triggers in the same turn will feel unfair I’m sure and get you so far ahead in the game. There’s probably a shout for sideboarding these out in the mirror because maybe the hand size stipulation won’t be met or they just kill it on site but only time, and testing, will tell.
To round this article out, I wanted to touch on the Knight tribal deck people think will appear. I’m sorry to disappoint you but I really feel that it’s a theme thing and nothing else. There’s a load of Knights with decent abilities but not enough that play well together to assemble a critical mass. As I write this I’m having those clairvoyant flashforwards to all those times I get absolutely rolled by the men riding horses waving pointy sticks, so I’m not saying it’s completely out of the question but I am saying that it won’t dictate the Standard format and will probably sit on the fringe, only being brought out when you haven’t got another, better deck to run at your local FNM.
I Hope you enjoyed this look at some of the possibilities the new Standard metagame has to offer. Get out there and start brewing, with all of these sweet new cards dripping in flavour there must be something that gets your deck-building juices flowing and you never know what you’ll come up with.
Happy gaming guys!