Assignments have been handed in, and here are the results!
Strixhaven has been out for about a week and a half (at time of writing), and that has been more than enough time for the hivemind to get to work cracking the puzzle of Standard. With Good Games Championship events firing across the country as I type, those with their finger on the pulse of the new Standard metagame stand to put themselves in a potentially winning position.
Strixhaven has found an interesting place in the format—in some cases it has generated new archetypes entirely, while in others it has supplemented the already powerful strategies that had been solidified in the previous Standard. We’ll be running through both cases today, with an eye on the new spice that Strixhaven has brought to the table.
First up, let’s take a look at a deck that has had some new life breathed into it with Strixhaven. We’ve seen Winota, Joiner of Forces decks in Standard before, but now it looks they are finally doing something on the same power level as the rest of the format. The key: Blade Historian.
Winota is actually banned in Historic due to her powerful interaction with Angrath’s Marauders, and Blade Historian offers basically the same effect in Standard (but at half the cost), offering some seriously explosive turns. A typical hand plays out something like:
- Turn one Selfless Saviour.
- Turn two Professor of Symbology, fetch whatever.
- Turn three Elite Spellbinder, put a delay on your opponent’s best card.
- Turn four Winota, attack with all (two Winota triggers), flip a Blade Historian and another Elite Spellbinder.
You’ve now got a monstrous attacking army, all of which has double strike, and half of which is indestructible for the turn. The Blade Historian is the key to all of this, since at this early stage of the game, your opponent doesn’t have blockers that are big enough to survive the first strike damage from your creatures, and if they don’t block there’s a chance they may just die on the spot.
The deck is well designed to put opponents holding removal in a real bind. If you picture the plays described above, what is an opponent with a Fire Prophecy supposed to do? They can’t point it at Blade Historian because Winota has made it indestructible. Do they wait to kill it next turn, or do they point it at your Elite Spellbinder now so they don’t take six in the air? The answer: it doesn’t matter, because you’ve got a Selfless Saviour. Woopsie!
The deck has always been looking for a non-human two-drop that can provide some card advantage, and the new Professor of Symbology fills that role nicely. The Professor opens up an interesting set of options out of the sideboard, including Spirit Summoning and Inkling Summoning for more turn-three non-human creatures before your big Winota turn, Reduce to Memory for dealing with particularly problematic creatures on the opponent’s side, or even Mascot Exhibition if the game has gone on long.
The other newcomer popping up in some lists is Shaile, Dean of Radiance (the reverse side, Embrose, Dean of Shadow, can’t be cast in this deck). Shaile serves as a non-human two-drop to get the Winota party started that then gets downright revolting once Winota actually triggers, tapping to add a +1/+1 counter to each creature that comes down that turn off Winota. Throw a Blade Historian in the mix and you’ve got a disgusting amount of damaging hurtling into the red zone on turn four.
The other quiet addition from Strixhaven is Furycalm Snarl. The new Snarl lands are at their best in two-colour aggressive decks, since they typically come down untapped in the early game but tapped in the late game and require a high density of basic-typed lands. Most of current Standard is defined by three-colour midrange and control decks running Triomes and Pathways or mono-colour aggro decks running Faceless Haven, so I suspect the Snarls won’t see a tonne of play for the moment. But Boros Winota is just the right combination to allow Furycalm Snarl to shine.
Here’s the full list, piloted to an 8th place finish at the SCG Tour Online Satellite #4 by Jake Shappell:
You might be wondering why there are only seven cards in the sideboard. It seems to me that the pilot was used to playing best of one where his sideboard wasn’t needed, and somehow managed to top 8 an event without a functional sideboard. If that doesn’t constitute a vote of confidence in this deck, I don’t know what else to tell you.
The big bad guy from last season is still here, and now tricked out with some new toys from Strixhaven. It turns out that having a 7-mana “I win” button is still pretty good in Standard.
In case you are unfamiliar with the deck, Sultai Ultimatum plays out like a ramp/control deck with a combo finish. It uses Wolfwillow Haven, Cultivate, and Binding the Old Gods to ramp to seven mana, Heartless Act, Shadow’s Verdict, and Binding the Old Gods (yeah, that card’s really good) to control opposing battlefields, before finally landing Emergent Ultimatum. The Ultimatum typically offers some combination of Alrund’s Epiphany, big planeswalkers, Vorinclex, and Kiora Bests the Sea God. If it resolves, your opponent is basically always a goner, and in spectacular fashion too.
Quandrix Cultivator is the biggest boon from Strixhaven for this deck, both ramping and providing a very serviceable body for four mana. Better still, Sultai Ultimatum is a Yorion deck, so you know that these Cultivators are going to get flickered for value by everybody’s favourite Sky Noodle. The body on the Cultivator is mostly used defensively in this deck, but it can definitely go on the offensive, particularly in post-board games where opponents are likely to cut all of their removal.
Professor Onyx, Liliana’s most pedagogical form to date, also makes an appearance in post-Strixhaven Ultimatum lists. She is only a one-of, but she is there to be searched up as part of an Ultimatum pile, so you’ll see her more often than that. Professor Onyx—like Tibalt, Cosmic Imposter—combos with Vorinclex to be able to ultimate straight away, meaning that your opponent can’t give you both cards, giving you a freebie on whatever third form of torture you present them with. Her second ability is also surprisingly effective at sniping your opponent’s best creature, even through protection like Selfless Saviour or hexproof on cards like Dream Trawler.
Witherbloom Command has also started showing up in small numbers, initially just in sideboards, but now also in main decks. In a format littered with Edgewall Innkeepers, Fervent Champions, and Professors of Symbology, it’s not hard to pick off an annoying creature while ensuring that you will keep hitting your land drops. There’s a few targets for the card’s second mode floating around Standard at the moment, especially in the mirror, such as Mazemind Tome or even just an Omen of the Sea that’s going to get Yorion flickered, meaning that this is a pretty neat little piece of technology overall. I’ll be curious if this starts to get picked up in greater numbers.
Finally, if you are looking for a piece of countermagic to fight Sultai Ultimatum (including in the Ultimatum mirror), decks are starting to turn to Test of Talents. It is more restricted in what it can hit compared to Negate, but the chance to just Surgical Extraction all of your opponent’s Emergent Ultimatums is very tempting.
Here’s the list that user outback@ Horie piloted to an undefeated finish at the SCG Tour Online Satellite #5:
Naya Adventures / Naya Toski
The tokens + Toski build of Naya Adventures is also a carryover from last season, proving that Edgewall Innkeeper decks aren’t going anywhere any time soon. If you are unfamiliar, this deck is built around two engines: Edgewall Innkeeper plus Adventure creatures such as Lovestruck Beast, Bonecrusher Giant, and Giant Killer; and the combination of Clarion Spirit and its tokens with Toski, Bearer of Secrets. Those shells remain intact and very powerful.
I’ve played this deck a fair bit, and it has one unfortunate weakness: Sultai Ultimatum. The deck is not quite fast enough to get under Sultai’s sweepers, and has no counterplay whatsoever to Emergent Ultimatum itself. But everything changed when the Strix nation invaded:
Elite Spellbinder, the card designed by and featuring the likeness of Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, is the perfect answer to Naya’s weaknesses. It adds an additional body to the board to help with the beatdown plan, while adding a two-mana tax to whatever spell is going to be ruining your day. I imagine this most often going to be pointed at sweepers such as Extinction Event or Shadow’s Verdict to help get the Sultai player dead before they can cast an Ultimatum, but I could just as easily see it tack two more mana onto the Ultimatum itself.
We’ve been seeing a few copies of Rip Apart show up in the sideboard of any deck that can cast it, and Naya Adventures is no exception. It’s important for Standard decks to have answers to The Great Henge and Embercleave, but it still feels bad to have to board in cards like actual Disenchant that only deal with those threats. Rip Apart solves that problem neatly, being able to neatly kill Kazandu Mammoth or Bonecrusher Giant as easily as any problematic artifact or enchantment.
Here is the list that Hideaki Muraoka played to a top 8 finish at the SCG Tour Online Satellite #5:
Best of luck to all Good Games Championship competitors this week! If you pick up any of these decks, be sure to drop me a message on Twitter @Calm_Mirror to let me know how you go!
Sam Maher has been playing competitive Magic since 2003. In the last two years he has accumulated multiple Grand Prix day 2 appearances, PTQ top 8s, and MCQ top finishes. He is generally happiest when stealing his opponent’s cards with Thief of Sanity and The Scarab God. You can follow him on his Youtube drafting channel Draft Punks and on Twitter @Calm_Mirror.