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Innistrad in a Big Way


Rotation brings about a sense of wonder no matter what level of Magic you play—from the kitchen table to the Pro Tour, all players for these few short weeks will be focused on the same task: brewing. Over the past few weeks, a lot of people took note of exactly how slow Shadows over Innistrad seemed to be on the surface. With that came concern of exactly how much impact on Standard the set would have. It seemed we have all been so focused on exactly how much Khans of Tarkir rotating out would change things, but Innistrad showed up in a big way!

Of course, a few weeks out from the Pro Tour still, we can assume we have hardly scratched the surface of what Shadows over Innistrad has to offer, but it has already shown up in force, and that does not look to be a fluke. A few weeks back, the metagame looked to be led by Ramp, as it had the least to lose from Khans of Tarkir and Fate Reforged leaving the format. After looking at results, that could not be further from the reality of week one. While the deck was present, it is hardly the dominant force early on that was expected.

One thing that did remain true is the overwhelming amount of aggro that showed up to battle in Baltimore. Though the decks were not exactly fleshed out, the general strategy followed suit and managed to net a large percentage of the top tables once everything shook out Day 2. The surprising thing is the nature of these decks and the color combinations. White is here to stay in Standard, and that is a nice change from past formats. On top of that, there was a lot of variation—even more so than usual for the infancy of a format—and a major part of that is due to the mana. As expected, it seems the days of four-colored decks is done for now, and that is welcome to most. Instead, the two-colored midrange and aggro decks won the day—other than the winner, of course, who decided Collected Company Bant was the way to go.

As a week-one deck, I believe Jim made a great choice with this catch-all list—including a number of heavy hitters we expected out of such a list—and some new additions, including Archangel Avacyn. As Collected Company has done in the past, this deck looks to take small advantages to attrition your opponent out and finally shut the door in the midgame with a flurry of instant-speed haymakers.

Tireless Tracker is a great addition to these lists as a Vinelasher Kudzu card-advantage engine all wrapped into one. The synergy present in this list allows for the early aggression to keep up with the Humans lists and, if uncontested, those same early defenders quickly turn into problematic pressure in the mid- to late game.

While I do really enjoy this deck, there is another that I—and it seems most—are fairly fond of, piloted by Todd Anderson. Over the past few weeks, there has been question on whether Thing in the Ice was worthy of all of the hype it had received in Standard. Though this deck is probably not the final iteration of Izzet Goggles, it is a great preview of what Thing in the Ice has to offer, and I for one am excited to see exactly how different lists will make use of this Horror.

While I am mostly in love with this deck for Pyromancer's Goggles, the rest of the interactions are not to be ignored. It is nice to see someone who does not play on the Pro Tour bust out a deck like this for week one, feeling there is nothing to hide. It also doesn't hurt that this deck runs Brainstorm Brewery’s preview card Fevered Visions in the ’board as a full set, but beyond all of this, the deck just seems to use every card within the list to its best potential. Not only is this currently the best Thing in the Ice deck, it is also the best Jace, Vryn's Prodigy deck, which is a huge boon. We all knew Jace would be a player with madness in the format, but his presence in a number of decks pictures him as a Looter most of the time, whereas in this deck, he can turn on as a ’Walker as soon as turn three.

I am not sure a deck like this can sustain through every metagame, but for now, it seems to be a strong contender for exactly what Control needs to do going forward against this field. As always, it is typically a few weeks before the best control deck is cracked, but it was a nice surprise to see such a unique list come to the forefront in week one. I imagine—as we progress and the control decks know how to tackle the format—we may see this list pushed out in favor of more counters and sweepers, but for the first few weeks, this deck is a fun option if you have time to put the testing in.

Of all of the surprises this week, I think the number of copies of Declaration in Stone may have been a bit overplayed. This card is the pinnacle of an early-format card, a great catch-all that ensures, no matter your list, you will not be caught out to any creature. That being said, as we move forward, I expect the number of midrange and control decks running this card to decrease, as you can prioritize other removal higher knowing exactly what you expect to face. This card does not come without its downsides, and week one showed us just how detrimental the two-for-one this card provides your opponent can be in the long game. Aggro will probably still treat this as the go-to removal, and that bodes well for the Humans lists to continue showing up, as the aggressive curve combined with the tempo of cards like this and Reflector Mage can end the game before your opponent has any hope of stabilizing.

Archangel of Tithes truly showed the potential it has in the coming format in this deck, and I was not disappointed. Not only does this card survive most of the played sweepers, it also provides you a path to victory the turn it comes down, as an unsuspecting opponent suddenly cannot block. I am a huge fan of seeing any sort of tribal synergy in Standard, and while this card does not only play Humans, it does have a great deal of extra power by pushing as deep as it does. I did not see a deck like this coming early on, but I am very pleased that, not only does Humans have a list, it placed two different color combinations into the Top 8.

While the lists do have similar game plans, the splash does show that this deck has versatility and perhaps may even look into the remaining colors in the future as the metagame shifts and different tools are needed to survive.

Evolutionary Leap
Of course, these lists were just the Top 8. If you go deeper through the standings, you will probably find a deck for everyone. Everything from Esper Dragons to G/W tokens was represented, and even the variation between some lists labeled the same is extreme enough to consider them all unique. We typically have diversity in the first few weeks, and we saw that continue through most of the season during Khans of Tarkir block. This past season has been shaded by Rally the Ancestors, but now that the token card is no longer available, we can hope to return to a wide-open metagame.

With so many options going forward, I do not envy the Pro Tour players this time around who are attempting to crack the code to this format. I am sure we will see additional control decks arise, but with all of the angles of attack the current breakdown can provide, it may be difficult to hammer down a list that can cover everything. I am looking forward to more results next week—and hopefully even more new innovations from the Invitational crowd.

Next week, I will go further in depth on cards to keep your eye on as the Pro Tour closes in and what cards may be best to move now while the hype is still alive. I for one cannot wait for Magic Online this weekend to put Shadows over Innistrad live, and though I do want to test, I will probably just stick to Limited for the weekend as prices begin to settle. If you have any questions or comments, as always, feel free to leave them below or find me on Twitter. Tune in this weekend for more exciting Standard action. Perhaps some more sleepers such as Starfield of Nyx or Demonic Pact will make an appearance, but either way, it should be a great event to keep your eye on!

Ryan Bushard


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