Standard has changed a lot in the last few weeks. We’ve gone from a metagame dominated by Delver to one where different GRx Pod decks have favorable match ups against the deck at large tournament series. Now, we haven’t gotten to the point that Delver isn’t the most popular deck by a pretty reasonable margin at bigger events, but there have been a few daily events that have had more Naya decks than Delver decks at the top tables.
Now, the unfortunate thing is that there really isn’t time to take advantage of this information before M13 comes in a shakes the format up. Because of that, I don’t really want to focus on what I think the metagame is going to look like based on this week. I want to talk about some more generic things about how the format is now, and on how M13 is going to impact the format. To be fair, only 200 of the cards are spoiled at this time, but there are still a handful of cards that I think are going to have a huge impact on the format.
The most important thing to talk about is where Delver is going to have to go.
The State of Delver
I think we’re finally starting to see decks that actually attack Delver from angles that it has difficulty beating. These Naya decks just flood the board with guys, most of which are uncounterable. Most of their creatures produce two bodies, or are value creatures in some more traditional way. As a consequence, they get way ahead on cards in the midgame, and all Delver can really do is try to race with an early flipped Delver or hope to get in a few free hits with Geist of Saint Traft.
I think that the response to this is to switch back to Runechanter’s Pike and Green swords to force your creatures through Thragtusks and Huntmasters. The other important thing to recognize is how you can try to stay advantaged in the mirror without devoting too many slots to it; since these GRx decks are becoming almost as popular as Delver, you can’t focus as much on teching out the mirror. Now, before we go on to the Delver mirror, there is a card from M13 that I think changes how Delver can interact with GRx decks, and that is Downpour.
Now, this isn’t that different than Frost Breath, but it does tap down an extra guy and does so for one less mana. These Naya decks swarm the board and make it very difficult to get in with Geists, and I think the ability to deprive them of a combat step and force through a Geist hit is a huge deal, especially since the effect can be Snapped back for even more value. As these decks have developed to the point that Vapor Snag just isn’t forcing through as many hits, I think something like this may become more necessary to swing the aggro match ups back in your favor.
On the topic of the mirror, I think that the answer to the Delver mirror is just to play more Unsummons. The matchup is so much about tempo that Vapor Snag is the defining card. If you’re ahead, you just want to get more hits in. If you’re behind, you want to force them to reflip their Delver, not just lose to Swords, or just take less damage from Geist of Saint Traft. I’ve been playing one copy of Unsummon in the sideboard of my midrangey UW deck and I’ve been very happy with it, and some of my friends locally have been picking up on the Unsummons for their aggro delver lists and just smashing people with them.
The other direction that Delver decks are going in is towards Esper midrangey decks, which seem sweet to me. Being able to play both the beatdown and have the inevitability of Sun Titan appeals a lot to me. One of the cards I’m most excited to see in this kind of shell is Augur of Bolas. I mean, look at this guy. If there was a card designed to play well in a shell with Snapcaster Mage and Phantasmal Image, it was this guy.
Now, I don’t necessarily think that the metagame is in a place where this guy is that good. I think we need to wait for a place where control is on the rise again in response to these Naya decks that are reasonably soft to Day of Judgment. Once that happens, being able to filter through your deck for more cantrips, Negate, and Duresses seems very important since it lets you stick the threat at the top of your curve.
Speaking of Duress, that’s a card that has the potential to just crush Delver, since it hits most of the cards that let them stay ahead and makes sure you resolve your sweeper or Titan. I’m curious to see how the combination of Duress and Snapcaster Mage affects the format, though I don’t think it’s going to do a ton. The format is way too creature-based right now, but if control ever does get good some kind of UB Delver could be sweet!
Besides these cards, however, Delver doesn’t get too many new tools to play with, which doesn’t bode well for the menace of the format. Other decks are already on the rise, and they’re all getting new toys to play with, while Delver looks like it’s going to stay in pretty much the same spot.
The decks that I think stand to gain the most from M13 are GR aggro and GRx Pod decks. We’ve got a ton of cards that are ready and able to fill the holes that each of these decks have had in their curve. GR has been a little short of 2’s and 3’s, having resorted to Daybreak Ranger who is terrible against Vapor Snag and Wolfir Avenger, who just doesn’t do very much in a format that’s defined by Blade Splicer and Restoration Angel. Enter Flinthoof Boar.
This guy has the same stats as Wolfir Avenger assuming you’re GR, but for one less mana, which is a huge deal. Alternatively, he can come down at the same cost as Wolfir but with Haste as opposed to Flash, which seems way better to me right now. Sure, you’re going to need some way to make sure you can get through Blade Splicers, but I don’t think that’s too much of a stretch in the color of Incinerate and Ancient Grudge.
Alternatively, for the Birthing Pod decks, we get two new five drops to mess around with: Thragtusk and Thundermaw Hellkite. Up until this point, these decks have had access to Wolfir Silverheart and Zealous Conscripts which are both insane in their own right, but I think that these two newcomers deserve some discussion as well.
Now, the issue with something like Wolfir Silverheart is that it’s soft to Vapor Snag, coincidentally one of the cards which defines the format. I think that with the printing of these two, Silverheart will become a sideboard card for match ups where the game is decided by who has the giantest creatures instead of who has the most tempo and biggest board presence.
Thragtusk will certainly be at least a one-of in all of these Pod decks, likely with one to two extra copies in the board depending on how good Delver stays. These decks are already playing a ton of Restoration Angels and that interaction is just completely unfair, and will crush any aggro decks trying to go underneath the Pod deck while giving you resiliency to the sweeper decks that try to go bigger.
Thundermaw Hellkite fits a similar role in that it does the same sort of thing as Zealous Conscripts and Hellrider/Hero of Oxid Ridge. It gives you an open to just kill them dead. Fortunately, I think this guy is at a better spot in the curve and does a better job of it than any of those cards. This is an ETB effect, not a trigger on attacking, which is a huge deal against the Delver players of the world. This also comes with a huge body, and you can Pod into it off of a Huntmaster. Now, it is worth mentioning that I think this guy is much better in aggro Pod as opposed to going-up-the-chain Pod. If you want to hit your Sun Titan or Inferno Titan, Zealous Conscripts is way better, since it gives you the same potential to just kill someone, but also lets you go straight from Huntmaster to Titan by untapping your Pod.
So, these decks have been at the bottom of the metagame for awhile now. UW Humans used to be a huge deal, and it’s been starting to make a come back locally. Now, I don’t know if the Blue or Red splashes that we’ve seen in these decks are really necessary at this point. I think you can make a strong case for mono-white versions of these, just for the sake of consistency or to try out Cathedral of War. That said, that card isn’t the reason that I’m excited about this deck. These two are:
Now, I’m sure Ajani is obvious. You get obscene curves involving Champion of the Parish and this guy and you can very easily just kill someone on turn four. Considering you can also get real big with Angelic Destiny, I think this finally gives the white decks the reach they need to be able to compete with the other aggressive decks that are just a little bigger. Being able to jump your guys and present a one turn clock is absolutely insane, and one that Humans is well-poised to take advantage of. When you also take into account the added utility of “killing” undying creatures and Phantasmal Images, this guy is going to be a big deal for the next few months.
Now, my second choice is probably a little more controversial, but I really like Odric in this format. Sure, he’s weak to Vapor Snag, but you don’t want him against those decks anyway. You want him against the decks that clog the ground as another way to force through damage. The difference is that this time you force your team through instead of just one guy. This is a lot like Hero of Bladehold in that sense, but I think the comparison is much closer than you might think.
Sure, you don’t get guys, but your entire team is either unblockable or eats most of their team, which seems just insane to me. He’s a lot like Gideon Jura in that sense; he either forces them to make terrible attacks, starts eating their guys, or forces your team through for lethal. All of these seem pretty good to me.
Lastly, I think the token decks pick up a sweet tool in this set in Healer of the Pride. This guy seems like he could be huge if green decks start taking over, though he’s pretty miserable against Delver. Turning all of your Midnight Hauntings into Timely Reinforcements is insane, even if you don’t have any anthems in play. Sure, this one’s a little bit of a long shot, but I’m confident that there are metagames that this guy can just dominate.
This is the deck that I think people are going to be the most afraid of after rotation, and for good reason. Rancor is a terrifying card from this deck especially in a format with Mutagenic Growth. This could just be my experience in Pauper talking, but I’m pretty used to seeing this on the second turn:
Oops you’re dead? To be fair, we don’t have any of the really absurd enablers like Invigorate, and we survived a format with poison and Groundswell, but Rancor pushes this a lot harder. I mean, just think about Rancor with Ichorclaw Myr. The interaction just feels unfair. This combined with the moderate success that UG Infect has had in Daily Events recently may mean that it’s a real deck for the next three months.
Even if you don’t think that the deck is real, you can expect that some people will. The ability to turn 3 someone with any kind of regularlity is going to draw a lot of people to the deck, and it will affect the metagame in tangible ways. If there’s one thing that you take away from this, it should be that Gut Shot is going to be a very big deal in this new format as a way to pick off Poison guys, Blade Splicers, and Delvers.
A Modern Interlude
It’s been a pretty long time since I’ve played modern, but looking at the results from GP Yokohama last weekend and these spoilers, I can’t help but notice the prevalence of Islands in the format. Even looking at MTGO results, a UW Geist of Saint Traft/Snapcaster Mage deck has been dominating the format for the last few weeks. This makes me feel pretty good about this guy:
Now, the only two decks I’ve played a lot with in Modern are Ub Merfolk with Dark Confidant and UW Tron. I don’t know if the GR Tron decks that were picking up towards the end of last season are too rough for Merfolk to deal with, but I doubt it. You have infinite lords now, and all the tools to beat up on the decks that are trying to go bigger. Vapor Snag is great against Wurmcoil Engine and Splinter Twin combos, and both Spell Snare and Spell Pierce are very good cards in the deck.
It’s also important to note that Cavern of Souls is a pretty big deal, since it lets you have Aether Vial 5-8 against the more controlling decks in the format. Top your curve off with 2 or so Cryptic Commands and I think you have a deck that can dominate the field. You’re a little weak to Vedalken Shackles, but you’re going to have to board cards like Steel Sabotage and Hurkyl’s Recall against Affinity anyway, so I don’t see that being too big of a deal.
Merfolk seems very well positioned right now, and is at the top of the lists I want to start testing games with for local modern events.
Here’s hoping that we see M13 contribute further to breaking Delver’s stranglehold on the format! I’m looking forward seeing what happens in the three months before rotation!