Perilous Research 06: Scars/m12/Innistrad Standard
Every fall there is a magical time when a whole block and core set worth of cards rotate out of standard and a brand new large set is introduced to the environment. The change is the largest one to happen to Standard each year and with it comes lamentations, joy, and brewing. This time around we are forced to mourn the loss of Valakut, Splinter Twin, Allies, and the Eldrazi. These are the decks that are solidly lost with rotation. All the other decks are still playable in some fashion with new cards to replace the ones that are rotating.
With the rotation we also see a few Block decks become stronger and must also consider them for the new environment. Puresteel and Tempered Steel were already making decent finishes in Standard before rotation, they will only be better after. Koth Red and Tezzeret decks are other strategic areas from Scars Block that are worth exploring for the new Standard.
There are always decks that survive the rotation by only losing a few cards, but keep their core pieces or find suitable replacements. These decks include Birthing Pod, CawBlade, U/B Control, and RDW. These decks wont look exactly the same as they used to. Some, like in the case of Pod, may even switch their basic colors around. But, their core is still the same.
We also gain new mechanics with Innistrad that need to be explored. Transform cards are interesting and the Werewolves are probably the strongest tribe straight out of the gates next to humans. Humans benefit from their being a popular creature type recently. Mages, Heros, Mirran Crusader, and Blade Splicer are all very strong humans. Unfortunately the other tribes seem to be lacking the cohesion and synergy that already exists for the Humans and Werewolves. Hopefully the next two sets will see these other tribes fully explored.
We also gained Morbid and Flashback with Innistrad. These mechanics don’t seem powerful or synergistic enough to be exhibited on their own, but they definitely fit nicely into existing decks. Morbid works wonderfully in Pod as it likes destroying its own creatures to fetch up new ones. Flashback is powerful enough to fit into any deck that can use a card with the flashback ability. I mean, who doesn’t want to play with Ancient Grudge?
So, we have our group of decks that we believe will see play in the new Standard, but lets make a nice concise list that is easily read:
- Puresteel Paladin
- Tempered Steel
- U/B Control
Some of these strategies will overlap and create hybrids. Humans and Puresteel Paladin (as he is a human) fit together very nicely at first glance as does U/B Control and Tezzeret.
However, going into a new environment there is something you want to keep in mind for the first few weeks. A lot of players are still trying to optimize their decks that contain new cards/strategies. A prime example that is popping up all over that isn’t exactly on my list is the U/B/W SolarFlare deck. For those who don’t know is an Esper Control deck that utilizes the control elements of Discard, Permission, Removal, and Card Selection to put itself in a position to either cast or reanimate a large threat to ride to a win. The deck does something extremely powerful, thats for certain. The issue is that the deck is no-where near optimal. Right now sometimes it kind of just durdles around, which is something you definitely don’t want to be doing with the likes of solid Tempered Steel, RDW, and Puresteel decks running around.
In fact, in the early weeks I prefer to play an aggressive strategy. I wanted to play Werewolves initially but they are actually a lot more complex than they seem and will take a lot of time to learn the little nuances required to pilot it properly. Looking at the remaining three aggressive decks I wanted to simply find the deck I believed could beat the other two, Werewolves, and still destroy the durdlers. With the help of Justin Richardson, an awesome player from Canada, I arrived at RDW. (Also, you can follow Justin @JustinRich236. Warning: He speaks his mind, but at least you know you’re getting the truth.)
Heres my list:
4 Furnace Scamp
4 Stromkirk Noble
3 Grim Lavamancer
4 Stormblood Berserker
3 Chandra’s Phoenix
3 Hero of Oxid Ridge
4 Shrine of Burning Rage
3 Arc Trail
4 Brimstone Volley
2 Koth of the Hammer
4 Copperline Gorge
4 Rootbound Crag
3 Kessig Wolf Run
3 Ancient Grudge
3 Vulshok Refugee
1 Sword of War and Peace
1 Hero of Oxid Ridge
2 Garruk Relentless
2 Act of Aggression
Only 3 Grim Lavamancers because without the fetchlands he is a little worse. I originally hard 4 and only 3 Furnace Scamps but, I’d often find myself drawing multiple Lavamancers and a single Scamp. If I’m going to draw 2 I’d rather have the Scamps. Stromkirk is very, very strong. The only early drop that can exchange with the Noble are the 1’s out of other red decks or a Flayer Husk/Memnite from one of the two Steel decks. He also will often bash in over turns 2-3 as decks either Durdle or play humans. Against the other aggressive decks he will stay at least on par power-wise with the creatures they play each turn so, if they do block him they will probably be trading to do so. Furnace Scamps turn into a large amount of damager for such little investment and if they don’t get to deal the extra damage the investment was minimal enough to make the loss minor. Berserkers are downright ridiculous as most decks are struggling to even put on creature on the board by turn two or three. Getting in damage is what the red deck needs to do to win. Chandra’s Phoenix is probably the loosest choice in the list. However, whatever I play on turns 3 or 4 I want to have an immediate impact. The Phoenix does this while also giving you the option to recur it later for some more hastey beats if the game does go longer than you want. The other option for this slot is actually just Volt Charge, which can do some pretty valuable work dealing damage and proliferating all your +1/+1 counters on Nobles and Berserkers not to mention Shrines or Koth. But, before we get to the non-creatures we have our last guy; Hero of Oxid Ridge. He bashes for 4 turn 4 so he passes the “impact” test. He also makes your other beaters bigger and blanks low powered blockers and is probably the only real way to come back from an opponent playing a Tree of Redemption or Timely Reinforcements.
Shrine of Burning Rage starts off our section of non-creature spells as it should in any red deck. Played on turn 2 or 3 the shrine can rack up a ridiculous amount of counters and provides game ending values of damage. It also has the benefit of being colorless damage if that ever comes up (I’m looking at you Sword of War and Peace!). Incinerate is just the value burn spell that exists now that Lightning Bolt has left us. I currently have it in a 3/3 split with Arc Trail because of the amount of value you can gain from a well timed Arc Trail. Killing two low toughness blockers, like tokens, so you can get through with your Berserker and Noble is extremely valuable. Arc Trail is pretty much your maindeck way to blow out aggressive mirrors and I’m very much considering taking the split to 2/4. Next we have Brimstone Volley, a new addition to the burn repertoire from Innistrad. Let me tell you, this card does WORK. Three damage for three is acceptable, and times will just have to be used as such. However, when you are likely trading, sac’ing a scamp, or Lavamancing an opposing dude Brimstone Volley becomes Goblin Grenade level burn, going for a full 5 damage. FIVE DAMAGE FOR THREE MANA…and to think I thought Flame Javelin was the nuts back in the day. Following up Brimstone Volley we have our 2-of Koth of the Hammer. Koth is powerful, and if he ever ultimates, he’s a game ender. However, he’s more of a back-up plan and is subpar in a few match-ups.
Moving into lands most players would expect to see X Mountains and move on. But instead we find ourselves looking at mountains, green/red duals, and Kessig Wolf Run. After prerelease and getting blown out in an aggressive mirror because my opponent had the Wolf Run has made me fall in love with the card. Often times games will come down to pushing through that last 2-3 points of damage an Kessig Wolf Run will get you there. Playing green also lets us play the best sideboard card in all of Innistrad.
Ancient Grudge has a ridiculous amount of targets in the new standard environment. Equipment, Birthing Pods, Tempered Steels creatures, and even Wurmcoil Engine (one 3/3 lifelink token is a lot less scary than a 6/6 Lifelinker)! It’s printing after an artifact-based block gives you a large reason to run it if you can. It also helps a lot in the Tempered Steel match-up. If your opponent gets the deck’s namesake enchantment it becomes very hard to race or attrition them well. Ancient Grudge kills their key creatures, TWICE!. Running 3 is like running 6, immense value.
Vulshok Refugee and Dismember are for the mirror where the match will often come down to who has a Refugee and who doesn’t. Dismember also has uses against creatures that will be out of burn range early, but need to die. Sword of War and Peace is a card that can also be very swingy in the morror, but also is useful in the Puresteel match-up. You have to race their Sword of War and Peace. What better way than with your own. They will also typically have a decently sized hand because of Mentor of the Meek and Puresteel Paladin. The fourth Hero of Oxid Ridge is there to come in against the decks that are durdling or against white opponents that you know are going to be bringing in Timely Reinforcements. Garruk Relentless is probably the card in the Sideboard that jumps out the most as being an odd choice. He easily fits in with the green splash and I use him to compliment Koth against non-red Aggro decks. He makes tokens to help win the attrition war, is non-red removal for small guys, and he can tutor for the single Hero of Oxid Ridge you’ll have after swapping 2 for the 2 Garruk. Finally, after a longer attrition war, an overrun based on the number of creatures in your graveyard is pretty damned good. The final sideboard slot is a lot less exciting in Act of Aggression, but stealing an accelerated Titan from an opponent and turning it sideways at them will often just end the game. It’s also worth noting that as an Instant, Act can be used to steal opposing attacking creatures to block another of an opponents attacking creatures if you’re on the attrition plan, which is why I’m playing it over Traitorous Blood.
The actual numbers and what I take out while sideboarding in various match-ups changes a lot right now as I’m learning the deck. It’s pretty easy to know what you want to bring in. At that point you just need to identify what isn’t working in the match-up and remove those for what you want. The deck is pretty straight forward and simple to play. I have a free 10k I’m attending in Philly this weekend and this list is essentially what I plan on taking. Next week I’ll be bringing you a tournament report on how I did and we’ll discuss the decks that won and how the Meta is shaping up. For live updates on my progress Saturday, follow me on Twitter. Until next time, keep slinging that burn!