So, a new set has hit the Standard format: What, in the short term has changed? What do you need to know? And what are you going to do about it?
Let's explore in a story of five decks.
1. Rotting Regisaur is once again the biggest bully on the block
Here is some pretty minor league Rotting Regisaur action:
Rakdos Sacrifice | M21 Standard | pokilm, 5-0 MTGO Standard League
- Creatures (23)
- 3 Midnight Reaper
- 4 Cauldron Familiar
- 4 Mayhem Devil
- 4 Priest of Forgotten Gods
- 4 Serrated Scorpion
- 4 Woe Strider
- Instants (3)
- 3 Village Rites
- Artifacts (4)
- 4 Witch's Oven
Main deck: Rakdos Sacrifice. While not "the same" as the last three cycles of Rakdos Sacrifice with their varying emphasis on Lurrus of the Dream-Den or Obosh, the Preypiercer, the main deck here is 1) fairly recognizable and 2) manages to sneak in Jegantha, the Wellspring in as a Companion (albeit at three more mana).
If there is something cool from Core Set 2021, it's Village Rites as an additional way to exploit sacrifice synergies; in particular the pairing of its low casting cost with that of Claim the Firstborn. If there is something a little tricky, a little fancy, it's Call of the Death-Dweller getting back Mayhem Devil. That Deathtouch counter is hard to beat if you can't remove a 3/3.
Outside of the starting sixty (sixty-one with Jegantha?) is the soft return of Rotting Regisaur. The main deck is just plain serviceable... And then all of a sudden comes the second angle of a gigantic Zombie Dinosaur. This strategy can already do cool things coming out of the graveyard, so discarding a card is less painful than it might be elsewhere. And Call of the Death-Dweller here is a legitimate bit of extra spice. It is hard enough for many decks to chew through 6 toughness the first time. But a second time - and with a Menace counter this go around - will just narrow the race that much more.
But any way you slice it, 7 power is a lot; "two swings" a lot in many cases, once you factor in incidental pings from Cauldron Familiar, Serrated Scorpion, and Mayhem Devil. Rakdos incorporating this old favorite from last year's Core Set moves the archetype from a synergistic chip shot deck to a legitimate heavy handed heavy hitter.
And that's just softball Rotting Regisaur!
Mono-Black | M21 Standard | marolanzi, 8th Place MTGO Standard Challenge 7/4/2020
- Creatures (27)
- 3 Rankle, Master of Pranks
- 4 Blacklance Paragon
- 4 Gutterbones
- 4 Knight of the Ebon Legion
- 4 Rotting Regisaur
- 4 Serrated Scorpion
- 4 Spawn of Mayhem
- Enchantments (4)
- 4 Demonic Embrace
It might take a second to figure out what's going on here.
This strategy - which is pretty emblematic, macro, of where a big part of the format is headed - is largely cards that were all around before Core Set 2021 was added to Standard. It's a little Knights; it borrows a little from some past aggro decks; and it actually takes advantage of the built in penalty of our Zombie Dinosaur!
Here is a card you might have in hand that you don't mind, too much, discarding. Later in the game where you're locked at zero cards in hand you can topdeck anything - a basic land you'll never need for instance - and you can transform that into 10 power of flying! Eliminate and Grasp of Darkness would see play somewhere of course. Demonic Embrace might be good enough in another aggro deck. But alongside Rotting Regisaur? This M21 aura is actually, positively, synergistic.
2. Green keeps on getting bigger
Check out the winner of the recent Standard Challenge:
Mono-Green | M21 Standard | Edel, 1st Place MTGO Standard Challenge 7/5/2020
- Creatures (28)
- 2 Gemrazer
- 2 Kraul Harpooner
- 4 Barkhide Troll
- 4 Lovestruck Beast
- 4 Pelt Collector
- 4 Questing Beast
- 4 Scavenging Ooze
- 4 Stonecoil Serpent
- Planeswalkers (2)
- 2 Nissa, Who Shakes the World
- Sorceries (4)
- 4 Primal Might
- Artifacts (2)
- 2 The Great Henge
While superficially this deck has many cards in common with the third-turn kill deck Zvi Mowshowitz was popularizing two cycles ago, it's clearly no longer a purely offensive speed demon. For one thing, the deck is packing a ton more land, some of it specialized.
For another thing, it now completely eschews the Syr Farren, the Hengehammer part of the deck. So not only is that 2-drop's spot on the curve now occupied by specialists like Kraul Harpooner, the whole angle of doubling up on Giant Growths is completely gone; along with the creatures that were most valuable for that one-two punch, like Gingerbrute.
Instead we now have a strategy that approaches the format steadily instead of only rapidly. It seeks to actually play with the opponent, and against the opponent's cards, rather than just forcing damage through in the shortest number of turns. EDEL's build goes further than even last week's moves in this direction. You will often see a Vivien, Arkbow Ranger or even Core Set 2021's new Garruk, Unleashed in Mono-Green builds. But EDEL went all the way back to Green's historically highest performing Planeswalker in Nissa, Who Shakes the World!
While Nissa might be most famous for putting some +1/+1 counters on a basic Forest, the combo with Stonecoil Serpent here is an absolute explosion of +1/+1 counters that will really get some mileage out of the trample keyword.
In lieu of the previous iterations' Giant Growths (and two mana redundancy) the most important M21 card is Primal Might. I like Nissa even more when I think about how much more oomph EDEL could get out of Primal Might than the Vivien or Garruk builds. Here is a card that can steal you a game for ; but also one where having access to the color's high ceiling of mana production can steal a very different set of games.
When I said it was the most important card, I clearly overlooked what is quietly Green's most pervasive inclusion across many different decks:
This newer look at Mono-Green is not simply not as fast. It's deliberately methodical. While it is not removal rich, it thrives on the notions of attrition and exchange. It can remove your creature with a Primal Might and get some value; it can Ram Through out of the sideboard and cash in the occasional Searing Blaze-like return; but it is very comfortable trading one-for-one with its own creatures and either your creatures or your removal spells. Why? Because it will win most games that are actually about trading resources one-for-one thanks to The Great Henge and late... And Scavenging Ooze any time.
The Great Henge obviously both races life totals and makes every creature worth a little bit more. But Scavenging Ooze... Does the same thing! It makes every creature you've already lost valuable; alongside whatever creatures the opponent lost. It also makes racing a pain for the opponent when playing along that axis.
If M21 did something for Mono-Green, it's this: The deck might be slower; might be far, far slower. But it can now win games the pure aggro build wouldn't have. It might not like to see a first turn Arboreal Grazer, but it's going to go big enough to overcome it, and reliably. And where an opponent who weathered the previous style's early offense could breathe a sigh of relief, this version is just setting up to eat all its fallen comrades as it cracks its knuckles for round two.
3. Aggro decks are generally more important
It's not just that we're seeing predictable updates to Rakdos Sacrifice, Mono-Black, and Mono-Green... Beatdown decks are more important in the metagame generally than they were in either of the previous two cycles.
Part of that is just that Yorion, Sky Nomad is worse than it was... Especially prior to the banning of Agent of Treachery and Fires of Invention. But part of it is the variety of ways that these decks can generate a return in a hurry.
Who knows about that better than basic Mountain?
Mono-Red | M21 Standard | jbtwist, 6th Place MTGO Standard Challenge 7/4/2020
- Creatures (29)
- 1 Rimrock Knight
- 2 Tin Street Dodger
- 2 Torbran, Thane of Red Fell
- 4 Anax, Hardened in the Forge
- 4 Bonecrusher Giant
- 4 Fervent Champion
- 4 Robber of the Rich
- 4 Runaway Steam-Kin
- 4 Scorch Spitter
- Instants (1)
- 1 Shock
- Sorceries (4)
- 4 Light Up the Stage
- Artifacts (4)
- 4 Embercleave
Or, you know, Castle Embereth?
The M21 Standard Red Deck doesn't necessarily play a lot of cards from Core Set 2021. I'd argue that it doesn't do anything exciting that it wasn't capable of doing before, or in a new way. What it does do is take advantage of a context that was carved out primarily by other mono-colored beatdown decks, and fits into a little niche. But it's an important one because of the twofold abilities of Shocking a Blacklance Paragon before it's actually ruined your day and catching the unaware with an Embercleave. You can say that Boros has the same capabilities with a higher ceiling... And to that I'd tip my hat to your Alpine Houndmaster and agree that beatdown decks are generally more important than they were a month ago.
4. There's still room for something truly spectacular
While I really liked an appreciated EDEL's build of Mono-Green, there is only one most exciting deck of the week, and it's this one:
Simic Ramp | M21 Standard | _Shatun_, 10th Place MTGO Standard Challenge 7/4/2020
- Instants (4)
- 4 Growth Spiral
- Lands (28)
- 3 Island
- 9 Forest
- 2 Castle Garenbrig
- 2 Castle Vantress
- 2 Ketria Triome
- 2 Zagoth Triome
- 4 Breeding Pool
- 4 Fabled Passage
While _SHATUN_ just missed Top 8 of the Standard Challenge, there is no seventy-five that I'm more excited to explore.
Let's start with the obvious stuff:
This is an almost perfectly composed main deck. You can tell because it's almost all four-ofs, meaning that _SHATUN_, by in large, picked the best tool for each job. And most of the time... That job was mana acceleration.
The payoffs here are arguably Nissa, Who Shakes the World (who is herself merely an enabler some of the time), big Ugin (no surprise there)... And Mass Manipulation! What a spectacular return that card is!
If I had to nitpick anything, I think I'd want a fourth basic Island for the full in Mass Manipulation. You can get all your Blue without ever having to draw any thanks to Cultivate, Solemn Simulacrum, and Fabled Passage... But that is a minor nitpick. I do think that Mass Manipulation makes for a stronger ultimate payoff than Casualties of War, while also saving the archetype on slots devoted to basic Swamp.
As well composed as the main deck seems to be, I wouldn't be crushing on _SHATUN_ nearly as much without the full devotion to the transformative sideboard we see here. Every card in the sideboard has purpose sliding into a completely different archetype. And thanks to playing Leafkin Druid instead of some fancier options main deck, we end up with a much more reliable Nightpack Ambusher deck than this probably "deserves" to be.
_SHATUN_ will win a lot of first games thanks to the overwhelming power of these cards and the Ramp concept. It's really difficult to keep pace with first turn Arboreal Grazer into second turn Cultivate. What are you hoping for? A simply not-game-over Hydroid Krasis next?
But it's the sideboard and its promise of actually covering the third turn Nightpack Ambusher that makes me grin. I have a soft spot for Simic Flash, as you know... And I never even got to run it with Shark Typhoon.
At least I hadn't, yet.