Descending into Pandemonium Standard on MTG Arena

Tzu-Mainn Chen
March 20, 2019
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There’s only one more week until the Mythic Invitational at PAX East, but who cares because this weekend something even more exciting is happening: Pandemonium is returning to Magic Arena! Yes, these special formats can be silly and broken - but they’re often also a ton of fun.

Pandemonium is a special Constructed format with the following rules:

  • Each player starts the game with an emblem that says, “Whenever a creature you control enters the battlefield, this emblem deals damage equal to that creature's power to target creature an opponent controls.”
    • Note that the emblem deals damage, and not the creature. That means that Deathtouch creatures won’t automatically murder an opponent’s creature when they enter the battlefield and Lifelink creatures won't gain you life.

So what’s a good way to approach a format where creatures get blasted into oblivion each and every turn? Here are some things to think about.

The First Thing Everyone Thought Of

“Wait.. My opponent can’t deal damage to my creatures… if my deck doesn’t have any creatures!” Yes, yes, this is the perfect opportunity to wreck people’s fun by importing a Tier 1 Esper Control deck to smash everyone’s homebrews. And if your event turns into a billion straight Control mirrors, you have no one but yourself to blame.

If you’re not going to play Control, you still need to be prepared. Make sure your deck can pump out early threats or protect its creatures or generate some sort of card advantage.

The Other Way to Ruin Everyone’s Day

Are you “above” playing Control decks, but still secretly want to spoil everyone’s good time? Well, this card is for you!


Yes, Tocatli Honor Guard completely shuts off the Pandemonium emblem. Giggle in glee when you play it, and is your opponent rolling their eyes on their side of the Internet? You know they are!


If you play Tocatli Honor Guard, you’ll likely want a competitive Standard deck that this card can naturally slot into - something like mono-White aggro, Boros aggro, or Selesnya tokens. If you want to deal with Tocatli Honor Guard, don’t forget to pack in a couple of Lightning Strikes or Cast Downs.

Hexproof

The life expectancy of a typical creature in Pandemonium is shorter than the amount of time it takes for me to concede when I play Mardu Amulet against Esper Control. Some hallowed creatures are immune, though.


Vine Mare is a major pain in the butt to deal with (even though it feels as if a single Torch Courier should be able to reduce the horse to ashes). Want to go bigger? How about this:

A Naya Hexproof deck has a lot to recommend about it: creatures with staying power, evasion, and a quick clock. Dealing with a Hexproof deck is more difficult, but can be done through sweepers and Edict effects (The Eldest Reborn and Plaguecrafter come to mind). If your deck has space for utility lands, Detection Tower is also a consideration.


Enrage

RAWR RAWR RAWR U MAKE ME SO MAD. The Enrage mechanic from Ixalan block made nary a splash in Standard. But since Enrage creatures generate value from any damage-based effect, they are extremely strong against the Pandemonium emblem.


Draw cards with Ripjaw Raptor, accelerate out your lands with Ranging Raptors, or create a replacement dinosaur that smashes face on its way in with Raptor Hatchling. I have doubts that a full-on Dinosaur deck will work, but slipping in a Ripjaw Raptor into your mono-Green deck or a Raptor Hatchling into mono-Red may be just the ticket.

Tokens

If you worry about all your creatures dying, just make a whole bunch of them! Token strategies have the appeal of going wide while still being able to ping down bigger creatures: a kicked Saproling Migration does four damage to your opponent’s creatures, distributed however you’d like, and oh my goodness that March of the Multitudes…


Just remember to include mass pump effects - Flower // Flourish or Unbreakable Formation - to close the game out in a hurry. Durdle too long against a midrange or control deck, and they might find that big sweeper to wreck your board.

Ravnica Allegiance Cards

The last time Magic Arena held a Pandemonium event, Ravnica Allegiance had not yet been released. With that in mind, here are some cards from that set that are worth a look for this event.

  • Gates: Gatebreaker Ram and Gate Colossus are huge threats that can be deployed on the cheap, and the Colossus’s recursive ability even gives the deck some resilience against control decks. The Gates deck is seeing some Standard Arena play, and I’m guessing it has the chops to do well in Pandemonium as well.
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    Domri, Chaos Bringer: Creature-centric planeswalkers get a boost in the format. Domri's plus ability can control your creature's sizing, which is extra critical. His minus ability draws you creatures err.. removal spells. Even his Ultimate is improved with the Pandemonium Emblem. Now your never ending Boars can kill their fliers that were their only hope!

     

  • Hydroid Krasis: This may come as a surprise, but this Standard powerhouse that scales with your mana, draws cards, gains you life, and flamples - that creature is still good in Pandemonium. SHOCKING, I KNOW.
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    Wrap Up

    You may notice that this article has more extremely hilarious commentary than decklists. That’s because I believe these wacky weekend Arena events should be less about optimal decks and more about flexing your creativity, trying out fun strategies, and delighting when the unexpected happens. Take this advice as a series of guidelines for deck building - combine a token strategy with Afterlife creatures, create a Vannifar/Hexproof deck, charge some Enraging dinosaurs through some Gates - and see where it takes you!

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