It is so nice to have a fresh and new Standard format! Players have been battling away across MTG Arena and even Magic Online, both on the ladder as well as in some independent tournaments, and the early results are starting to come in!
Today I'm going to go over what the format's early winners seem to be, examining what it is that is making them successful as well as how to counteract them.
Midrange Is Back
There were many complaints about Throne of Eldraine Standard, but I think the biggest one wasn't one that was always super easy to articulate.
Put simply, there were a ton of cards legal in the last Standard format that would completely warp the game around them when cast, essentially invalidating everything that happened in the game up until that point. Often the card would quite literally end the game (as in the case of Embercleave or Emergent Ultimatum), or create such an unbelievable cascading advantage that would simultaneously dig the player out of any hole they may have been in, as well as giving them such a resource advantage that it would be difficult for them to lose (think Yorion, Sky Nomad, Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, or The Great Henge). This would make the prior game actions feel meaningless, which is a lot of why it just wasn't a fun format.
Add this to the adventure duo of Bonecrusher Giant and Lovestruck Beast making playing traditional aggressive decks very difficult and the result is a format that buckled under its own weight. It was too difficult to do something that wasn't one of the three or four big endgames, while also being too difficult to get under anyone trying to do bigger things.
Well guess what... all these cards are gone now!
That means that it's time for cards that wanted to play in the middle of the game to have their day in the sun! And this doesn't just mean cards from Innistrad: Midnight Hunt, but also the cards from Strixhaven, Kaldheim, Zendikar Rising, and Forgotten Realms that just couldn't cut it before.
Let's get to the big winners.
There's no doubt that the format's biggest gainer from rotation is Esika's Chariot.
Esika's Chariot is an extremely powerful card, but wasn't fast enough or big enough to make anything more than a cursory impact before. This all changes for two big reasons. The first is everything explained above, as the card has more room to breathe and more time to do its thing. However, not to be underestimated is how well it synergizes with the new Wrenn and Seven. Wrenn and Seven's treefolk token with reach is already super well positioned in the format thanks to how well it stonewalls Goldspan Dragon, but even more impressive is the mana curve of Chariot into Wrenn, making the treefolk, and immediately crewing the Chariot to attack and make another treefolk.
This is going to be one of the major synergies in Standard and has been showing up in all sorts of decks early in the format.
Perhaps the only major pillar of the past format to survive rotation, there's no denying the power of Goldspan Dragon as one of the most powerful creatures in the format. Furthermore, Alrund's Epiphany is now one of the biggest and best things you can do endgame wise in the format. Untapping with Goldspan Dragon into casting a copy or two of Alrund's Epiphany is going to be lights out unless you can handle the dragon in some way.
Of course, these cards don't need to be played together. They're entirely potent enough on their own to be successful, but there's no doubt that they go together extremely well. Izzet Dragons is the most basic home, but there will be more as the format develops.
Lolth, Spider Queen is the quintessential card that was left behind in the old format that stands to shine in this one.
Planeswalkers and 4- and 5-drops in general all got much better, but Lolth in particular is a phenomenal planeswalker in a deck looking to play to the board and grind out advantage over many turns of a game. Lolth does a great job checking off many of the important boxes, providing immediate defense against Goldspan Dragon, multiple blockers to defend her, and card draw, all while playing awesome alongside a creature-value engine.
Lolth has been popping up in all sorts of midrange Black decks, from more controlling builds with Blood on the Snow to more midrange builds with Storm the Festival. It's important to note that Lolth is a very real card in this format, but it's also important to internalize the reasons why as they will help you understand the format as a whole.
Put simply, it's all about big four- and five-mana spells.
The midgame has returned to Standard Magic, which means the midrange arms race is on. You can get involved in the arms race and try to go bigger than everyone with cards like Storm the Festival and Blood on the Snow, or you can try to capitalize on the similar nature of these spells and find cards that pick them apart.
How To Beat It
So. what does one do against such reckless midrange?
Find the right answers!
Disdainful Stroke is perhaps one of the most improved cards in the entire format. Does it have a blindspot against White aggressive decks? Absolutely, but pretty much everywhere else it is an absolutely backbreaking tempo exchange that will almost always hit their key spell for a huge swing.
One of the most powerful things about cards like Esika's Chariot and Goldspan Dragon is how difficult they are to profitably interact with. You don't want to Rip Apart Esika's Chariot and leave them with four power over two bodies, while once Goldspan Dragon attacks or gets targeted they will always have mana to defend it or gain tempo. Disdainful Stroke is a clean answer that doesn't leave anything behind.
Whether Disdainful Stroke ends up being a maindeck or sideboard card remains to be seen, but don't underestimate how powerful it is going to be against the majority of the format.
It stands to reason that if four and five-mana non-creature spells are the heart of the format, then Reidane, God of the Worthy // Valkmira, Protector's Shield is going to be very powerful helping to shut those things down. Reidane also does a great job at taxing middle of the road spells like Binding the Old Gods or Burn Down the House and does so at a very maindeckable and reasonable rate.
Furthermore, with more decks relying on Kaldheim cards like Frost Bite, Faceless Haven, and Blizzard Brawl, there are many more snow-covered lands floating around, which helps bring relevance to Reidane's land tapping ability as well.
Reidane is a very solid sideboard card that is also very maindeckable if her stats are something you're looking for as well.
With Wrenn and Seven's treefolk token being a premier offensive and defensive part of the format, as well as a large amount of large and expensive creatures being major factors, bounce spells are once again going to be back in vogue.
Brazen Borrower is one of the most maindeckable and consistent bounce spells Standard has seen well, ever, and once it had rotated you could see the impact on the format immediately. Wrenn and Seven is the biggest benefactor here, but other token making cards and larger threats have been making the rounds again as well.
Something as simple as Fading Hope can have a very nice impact on the game as long as your deck is set up to take advantage of the tempo, while something like Into the Roil will probably perform better in slower, more controlling decks. Lastly Quandrix Command, perhaps the oddball of the Strixhaven command cycle, looks like it is finally poised to make some moves. The bounce option is of course great, as is the ability to counter Esika's Chariot and sagas.
Just The Beginning
The first week or two of a Standard format is all about finding out which cards are the best in the format and the best ways to build around them. That's definitely fun and we're certainly in that phase, but the phase that follows is perhaps even more exciting as you look for ways to exploit the holes in the format.
This is the time in a format where you can gain the biggest edges by both being up on what is considered "best" at current, using those tools well, but also finding the ways to move in between these pillars and find the cards that line up perfectly.
I can't wait to keep working on it!