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Standard is awesome!

January 3, 2012

The Dark Ascension prerelease is barely a month a way which means the current Standard format is not long for this world but I thought I chip in a couple of words about Standard as it’s a format constantly on players minds.

For starters, I just want to put it out there and say the current Standard format is pretty freaking awesome.

It’s no secret that I’m a pretty big fan of Standard as a format in general but I have to say that the current one is one of the best in recent memory. That is particularly remarkable considering only one set of the Innistrad block has been released so far. If we go back and look at previous Standard format at this point of the year we have witness formats that have been “plagued” by a dominance of a single deck (see Valakut, Jund, Faeries) mostly due to the limited card pool.

But we have seen a recent change in that trend as Wizards brought down the powerlevel that had been steadily rising over the last couple of years. As the powerlevel was brought down with Scars of Mirrodin it means that its presence in the Standard format founded last fall was not as profound as previous block has been in the past.

Anyhow, we now have a Standard format without a single really dominant deck or archetype which is fantastic. There are a bunch of viable decks that doesn’t really have any super lopsided matchups. There has been an constant evolution in the meta since day 1, decks and strategies have appeared, disappeared and later seen returning again to the cream of the crop of the format. And to booth a constant evolution of technology and evaluation of cards.

All in all some very good signs of a healthy format. If I have to complain about something it would be that the options for combo decks are still sort of shy but considering the still relatively small card pool that is understandable. If wait for another set or two that issue will most likely be some what fixed.

Now for some comments about more in-depth stuff regarding Standard:

The big bad wolf

When I look for decks to play for a format I usually look for the most powerful things you could be doing in terms of raw potential. It is a rule of thumb that I have and it has worked out pretty well for me so far. If you ask me, I think the single most powerful spell you can be casting in Standard right now is Primeval Titan.

The big bad wolf

Yes, the big bad wolf of last year has once again returned to the grand scene after the rotation. Primeval Titan doesn’t however pose as much of a threat as he did when Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle was still around but he is still sort of a big deal in Standard.

Even if the opponent can deal with the threatening 6/6 trampeling body immediately the package of lands Primeval Titan brings to the battlefield with him can easily put the game over the top for the green mage regardless. Usually it’s the perfect pair of Inkmouth Nexus and Kessig Wolf Run that does the tick but I’m also a very fond of Glimmerpost. Just being able to gain 4, 6 or 8 life (depending on the number of Glimmerpost already in play) in a single move can be enough in some matchups to swing it in your favor.

The point I’m driving towards is that Primeval Titan is probably the most impacting spell in Standard relative it’s mana cost (hence I’m not looking at you White Sun’s Zenith for infinite). A resolved Primeval Titan warps the game it like few other spells can.

An exciting feature of Primeval Titan this time around is there are a myriad of shells you can put the package of Primeval Titan and his lands in. Last season with Valakut there weren’t that much in the way of variation between Valakut decks. The little variation that could be seen often was often which 4 out of the 6 viable ramp spells did you run or if you ran Lightning Bolt, Dismember, Pyroclasm or nothing in the removal slot.

But today the variation severely greater. You could have a classic RG Ramp shell with a lot of removal like the World Champion had at Worlds. You could have a Birthing Pod-engine like Reid Duke sported at the Invitational. You could have a more controlling GW shell taking advantage of white sweepers and powerful Planeswalkers like several Japanese did at Worlds. You could be sporting a ton of artifact threats and take advantage of “the little Sol Ring that could”, Palladium Myr like Travis Woo advocated early in the season. You could also take advantage Dungrove Elder like the PotY Owen Turtenwald did at States.

As I said, there are a ton of options and the exciting thing is that no take is really strictly better compared to the rest. It’s very much up to personal preferences which version you should be running and the current flavor of the meta. Right now I personally am quite fond of utilizing Dungrove Elder. Since Worlds the number of control decks has been on a rise and I like the extra dimension of threats Dungrove Elder provides the deck against control deck. You are a little worse set up against random aggro decks but your plan A (resolving Primeval Titan) is usually good enough to get you there anyways against those kinds of decks.

So…go big.

The purifier of worlds

A close second to Primeval Titan in the category “powerful spells in the format” is the Grand Cenobite herself, Elesh Norn.

In few word she can be described as a “wrath on legs” or a bad ass Crovax, Ascendant Hero, which is nothing to take lightly. She comes down, killing most of the opponents business or rendering it impotent and provided you with a steady 4/7 body with Vigilance. And oh, did you notice that she pumps up your guys to? The last part is usually rudimentary as the opponent are often reeling from the “wrath”-effect and the big body but shouldn’t not be forgotten.

The purifier of worlds

The thing that I think pushed over the top is she is actually very useful against the Primeval Titan decks.  Just being a big fatty that is good against aggro decks is not that unique but the fact that she shuts down the the means that the ramp decks normally utilize to trump the control decks, Inkmouth Nexus.

When I have been playing control in Standard recently, I have found it relatively easy to just deal with the fattys the ramp decks busts out. However, if you wager in the presence of Inkmouth Nexus in the scenario above it’s suddenly can get very tricky to manage everything nasty your opponent tries to do. But if you have a Elesh Norn on your side, a lot of that stress can be reduced. Elesh Norn at worst can trade with any threat the ramp decks can put out and while she is in play Inkmouth Nexus is a non-issue.

She also fills a similar key role against opponent sporting Moorland Haunt, which is another card that can otherwise give control players a heap of trouble.

Powerlevel-wise I think Primeval Titan and Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite is fairly close but I’m favoring Primeval Titan in that clash of the titans because Elesh Norn is more of an answer really and does not pose as much threat in ending the game as a Primeval Titan typically do. That said, Elesh Norn is still a hell of a spell.

If I’m playing a white deck in Standard right now and am running enough mana sources so that I could be reasonable be casting a 7 mana spell, I would fore sure have a least a copy of the Grand Cenobite somewhere in my 75…and probably more than one.

On a side note I’m kinda glad that Elesh Norn has proved to be a force to reckon with lately. The issue here is the Titan cycle from the core set. While I think it’s a very exciting cycle of great cards, they are borderline too good in the sense that they forces out other 6, 7 and 8 drops from seeing play when they otherwise had the potential to do so. But regardless of the presence of the core set Titans Elesh Norn has proved it’s worth in Standard. So you know…kudos!

Not a mirage, but an illusion

I don’t think there is a deck in Standard right now that I can justify labeling “the best deck” because I don’t feel nor can see such a dominance from a single deck to do that. But, say someone would point a gun to my head and force me to pick a deck as “the best deck” I would have to go with Uw Illusions.

Illusion or not, still very threatening

When I’m piloting Uw Illusions it feels like I have at least a 50/50 matchup or better against any deck that isn’t fundamentally faster than you are. Ilusions had a bad showing and Worlds because the local meta contained a lot of Red Deck Wins style of decks and off course Tempered Steel, primarily championed by the Channelfireball crew, i.e. decks that are fundamentally faster than Illusions.

Those sort of deck are some of the worst matchup you can face as a Illusions player but they aren’t impossible to play against by any means. Also the fact that the current meta has sort of shifted away from these kinds of decks also fuels my claim about Ilusions in Standard right now.

I know that I’m sort of contradicting myself here after praising Primeval Titan decks earlier but the truth is that I had slightly better results recently while piloting Illusions compared to Primeval Titan decks. Even though I don’t think you have the same level of potential in a deck like Illusions compared to a deck with Primeval Titan, the actual output has proven to be overall a nudge higher.

That said, I do enjoy casting Primeval Titan more than attacking with blue weenies and the face of Standard has been ever changing. I would be surprised if that phenomena would be changing any time soon. Illusions time in the sun might fade sooner than later.


And there you have it, my two cents about Standard. It has been a great time playing Standard recently and I hope that trend will continue after Dark Ascension.

Until next time…

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