The First Week of a Powerful New Standard
With the release of Dungeons & Dragons: Adventures in the Forgotten Realms, Standard is at its highest power level, barring any potential unbannings in the format. Even with the overall power level of the newest set being on the low-side, there are still plenty of tools that this set has to offer, despite many of the top decks looking the same as they had two-weeks ago. If you have only been doing drafts or other Limited Pre-Release weekend events, see this article as a primer for your first Standard event with the new format.
What was new?
Having creatures that dodge Bonecrusher Giant is one of the keys to success in deckbuilding in this current Standard, and that's something this deck has done in spades. Every creature in this deck either has more than 2 toughness, or replaces itself on target such as Swarm Shambler. Moreover, this deck can either play the aggressive game against decks like Sultai-Yorion with cards like Questing Beast, or can play a value-based midrange game against other aggro decks with The Great Henge and Ranger Class. This type of modal gameplay is even more showcased by the new addition, Werewolf Pack Leader. Offering a great power/toughness rate for only 2 mana, this card can also pump itself in the late game to go over the top of other aggro creatures while coincidentally also drawing more cards. Most importantly, however, this deck just happens to also blank one of the most played removal spells in the format: Heartless Act. Swarm Shambler, The Great Henge, and Ranger Class all add +1/+1 counters to your creatures, making the deck much less afraid of Heartless Act. I may be singing this deck's praises a little too much, however it is much nicer to see something new in Standard as opposed to the same-old-same-old. That being said, the deck is not without its weaknesses. Like many Mono-Green decks before it, it is extremely weak to board-wipes. Moreover, once the meta-game adapts to it, most likely by reducing the amount of Heartless Act being played, I expect the deck to fare much worse in the meta.
Many players, myself included, seemed to have missed that Nadaar, Selfless Paladin was a non-human creature. I know this because after attacking with it and triggering Winota, Joiner of Forces I am usually hit with someone asking me if Winota was bugged on MTGO, followed by a brief conversation about how the artwork just looks like a human in armor. The addition of Nadaar, Guardian of Faith and Loyal Warhound added an immense powerboost to the Winota strategy, and I expect it to continue to put up good results as players find out just the right balance between everything. As the Winota deck is quite possibly the hardest deck to build, as it is one of the few decks that requires a heavy amount of balancing between human and non-human creatures, I expect this to take some time before we see its best version debuted.
How are the old Rulers of the Format Adapting?
No king rules forever, which is especially true in Standard when rotation occurs. However, this is especially true for decks like Jeskai Cycling as they are inadvertently weakened by more decks playing Gemrazer. With Glass Casket and Improbable Alliance the deck is reliant on some of their artifacts/enchantments to be able to go the distance against decks that can generate similar value. Now, not only do the Mono-Green Aggro matchups generate as much, if not more value, via Ranger Class and The Great Henge, but their creatures just happen to answer all the value engines of Cycling as well. While it had a great run and has gone through many iterations, I unfortunately do not see that this deck can adapt to many of the new decks running around in Standard currently.
Consequently, Sultai-Yorion is a completely different story. While it may be seeing worse results against many of the new decks, that is because it has not had a chance to adapt just yet. Currently, the removal spells being played by Sultai-Yorion are Binding the Old Gods, Eliminate, and Heartless Act, many of which are bad against the Mono-Green deck currently seeing the most play. Binding the Old Gods may hit enchantments like Ranger Class and other artifacts like The Great Henge, but at sorcery speed, making it sometimes too late to answer these cards. Heartless Act also becomes blanked against a leveled up Ranger Class or a resolved The Great Henge, making it possibly one of the worst draws against the deck. Fortunately for Sultai-Yorion, this just requires a shift in the cards being played. Bloodchief's Thirst is a great option against decks playing an incredible amount of 2 mana threats even with its sorcery speed. Additionally, Mortality Spear offers an instant speed way to deal with both Ranger Class and The Great Henge before they generate an unreachable amount of value. Moreover, the one of cards such as Pestilent Haze and Soul Shatter that have been added into the deck as of recently might have to be taken out due to their lackluster performance against Mono-Green playing value 1 drops and 2-mana creatures with 3 toughness. The strength of this deck comes in how many tools exist for it in the current Standard card-pool. It can easily adapt to almost any meta-game shift and can be tinkered to almost any environment. I still expect it to play some amount of Binding the Old Gods due its synergy with Yorion as a companion, but the current removal spells in the mainboard are certain to change.
Last time there was about to be a rotation in Standard there was a ban announcement from Wizards shaking up the format to inspire new deck building for around a month or two. While the cards banned were not overly oppressive in the format, they certainly were almost omni-present. If we were to go by these last banning's as precedent I would expect that cards such as Bonecrusher Giant, Lovestruck Beast, and Emergent Ultimatum as the cards that would appear first on the chopping block. However, Stomp has recently lost some amount of stock due to the rise of some 3-toughness creatures being played such as Werewolf Pack Leader. Lovestruck Beast appears side by side in decks featuring the newer cards from Adventures in the Forgotten Realms, and I would not expect Wizards to power down decks that they would want in the limelight. Lastly, Emergent Ultimatum is one of the best finishers in Sultai-Yorion, and without it the deck would look entirely different. It would definitely shake-up the format to see it's top deck lose its best win-condition, but the shell of Sultai-Yorion is still just so strong that casting any big spell may just be enough for it to still be top-tier.
Whether or not there will be shake-up bans like there was last time is a guessing game, but I can almost guarantee if there are any, Bonecrusher Giant will be the first to go. I think Wizards may be wary of adding to the shake-up ban precedent as they continue to shift their design philosophy of Standard and how high the power level of its cards will be. Last time these bans happened, Growth Spiral and Teferi, Time Raveler were two of the biggest bannings, and both of those cards see eternal play going all the way back to Legacy. As we continue to see Standard powered down to the level of Kaldheim, Strixhaven, and Dungeons and Dragons, I expect that these shake-up bans will happen less and less.
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