Whether you’re testing for an upcoming Magic the Gathering Standard event or putting together a deck for FNM, you’re going to need a few starting points. What decks should you be looking to build and test with and against?
Step one for me is to look at Ravnica Block Constructed, where the big players are Mono-Red, Esper Control, and GWx Aggro. These are all solid places to start.
You might also look at the previous Standard format to see which archetypes, if any, are not losing much from the rotation. For example, is there enough of a framework left for a RG Domri deck to be viable, and does it gain any replacements from Theros?
Another point of entry is to build around the gods from Theros, which have strict deckbuilding requirements since you’re looking to reach six devotion by turn four or five. Cards like Frostburn Weird and Nightveil Specter gain extra value in these decks. The deck that curves Ash Zealot into Boros Reckoner into Purphoros, God of the Forge, almost builds itself.
Week one of the new Standard format will be full of untuned decks and less-than-ideal card choices. Players will be looking to jam their favorite new pet cards from Theros. For this reason, I like having a proactive strategy that will punish opponents for stumbling.
Let’s start with the simplest, mono-colored concepts that just try to goldfish the opponent by turn five. The most appealing colors are red, white, and black, thanks to these new two-power one-drops from Theros:
Red Deck Wins
This list doesn’t mess around with any cute synergies or situational cards. It just wants to deal 20 as fast as possible. It’s also dirt cheap to put together, so expect some amount of Mono-Red for week one, and build your deck accordingly.
This archetype takes a big hit, losing Champion of the Parish, but has a lot of cool things going on compared to your average “swarm” deck. Soldier of the Pantheon has built-in protection from many creatures and spells. Calvary Pegasus takes advantage of most of the good creatures being humans anyway. Heliod and his Spear suffer from being legendary, but are desirable enough that you want to have more than one in the list. Brave the Elements is a nice way to protect against Anger of the Gods and alpha-strike through opposing mono-colored decks.
This list contains some cards that I’m not too excited to be playing, but the payoff of reaching Erebos’s devotion requirement is huge. The black god has two unique abilities that reward you for being a fast, aggressive deck. And a 5/7 is gigantic.
Two-Color Aggro and Midrange
A problem that will arise with any two-color aggro deck is the manabase. Any combination of colors will have access to one set of shocklands and one or two sets of comes-into-play-tapped lands (Gates and possibly Temples). The fastest aggro decks want to curve out and avoid having too many Guildgates. Hybrid cards will ease this situation somewhat, since, for example, you can play Temple Garden as an untapped white source that can be used to cast Burning-Tree Emissary on turn two.
These two-colored decks will be slower than the mono-colored decks, but they get to pack more powerful cards and have planeswalkers to provide card advantage and difficult-to-answer threats.
This GW Aggro deck, an evolution of Craig Wescoe’s Pro Tour-winning Block Constructed list, is full of efficient creatures and is more resistant to Supreme Verdict than most. Fleecemane Lion starts off as a Watchwolf, but I see its monstrous form being one of the scariest threats in the Standard format to come. It also has access to Unflinching Courage as one of the better sideboard plans against other Aggro decks.
This is a natural progression of Kibler’s RG Domri deck that dominated the end of the last Standard format. Temple of Abandon replaces Rootbound Crag; Stormbreath Dragon replaces Thundermaw Hellkite; and Burning Earth still punishes greedy manabases. Domri Rade is worse at fighting early without Strangleroot Geist, so I think Kalonian Tusker is necessary and is a fine two-drop on its own. In lieu of Kessig Wolf Run, Boon Satyr, Polukranos, Stormbreath Dragon, and Mizzium Mortars all provide mana sinks for when you flood out or simply reach five to seven mana in the later stages of games.
Jund and GB Rock decks lost Thragtusk, Mutilate, Disciple of Bolas, Olivia Voldaren, and several good planeswalkers in the rotation but could be kept alive thanks to Desecration Demon. The undercosted 6/6 will no longer be held back by Spirit tokens and the multitude of creatures in Standard that had two lives.
A lot of new Theros cards have potential here: Read the Bones seems like the best early-to-midgame card draw spell in the format and is a great upgrade from Sign in Blood; Sylvan Caryatid is now the only real two-mana ramp spell (Mana Bloom doesn’t cut it) and can perform double duty as a Hexproof blocker. The jury is still out on Polukranos, World Eater, but I think it’s powerful enough to see play. Thoughtseize combined with cheap removal will act to slow down your opponent. The question is how much life can we afford to be paying between it and Read the Bones?
Jund, Junk, BW, BWR, or even a four-color deck are also reasonable variations on the core of four Desecration Demon. Rakdos’s Return and Dreadbore are great reasons to want red. Obzedat, Ghost Council; Blood Baron of Vizkopa; and a third dual land in Temple of Silence are the advantages of Orzhov.
Building an initial list for Control is difficult when the format has yet to be defined. But if you posit that this will lead to a higher percentage of aggro for the week-one field, then Control might be well-positioned to prey on aggro decks.
The basic shell for UWx Control still exists and is still very potent: Sphinx’s Revelation, Supreme Verdict, Detention Sphere, and Azorius Charm. I really like the new six-mana Elspeth in this deck and how she teams up with Jace, Architect of Thought, to handle 4+ power creatures while he weakens the smaller ones.
Other avenues to explore are Bant Control (a.k.a. Team SCG’s deck from PT Dragon’s Maze), Esper Control (again, look at Esper in Block Constructed), and UWR. Blue-based Control will certainly gain from Cavern of Souls leaving the format, but there are plenty of new threats coming in. Between Fleecemane Lions, Dragons, and indestructible Gods, Celestial Flare seems primed to make an appearance in these lists.
Between Block Constructed decks, updating decks from the previous Standard format, and the straightforwardness of building around gods, the foundation for Theros Standard has been laid. Good luck at your local tournaments, and tune in next week when I start to dive into some brews.