Always look on the bright side of life
- Dr. Hans Joachim Höh
Who said Innistrad is full of evil and dangerous creatures? Looks just like a bunch of friendly humans and angels to me!
We have got another weekend of results with Shadows over Innistrad cards in the mix, before the Pro Tour cements or shakes up the constitution of the new Standard format. There were three Grand Prix this weekend, but they were all using the Limited format, which will be relevant at the Pro Tour as well, but doesn't affect the secondary market. Meanwhile on the other side of the pond SCG held their quarterly Invitational, which isn't ideal for our analytical purposes either due to being a mixed-format event, consisting of 4 rounds of Standard and 4 rounds of Modern on day one, with the same structure on day two again. The Top8 was played in Standard, but the cut isn't necessarily showing the best Standard decks, as the participants might have been more successful in Modern. Looking at the 7-1 or better decklists of either format may be misleading as well, at least without considering the total performance of their respective players. It is much easier to go 7-1 in one format for a player who loses all the rounds in the other one, putting them on the bottom of the standings, giving them much easier pairings over all. While you might have been excited about the Mono Red Aggro or B/G Company lists that were able to go 7-1 or better, the small grey numbers displaying their players' final standings (651st / 288th) should send you looking somewhere else quickly. Once you have removed this noise in the data, the picture becomes quite clear. Not much has changed since last week – White and Green still are the dominant colours. The dust hasn't settled between the aggressive Humans version with and without splashes and the midrange “Big White” deck yet, but White and Bant Company (which technically could also be called a white deck, but it has a green core splashing only a few white cards) clearly seem to be pulling further ahead from the rest of the field.
So the setting for players at the upcoming Pro Tour is clear: Find a deck that wrecks white creature decks and Collected Company decks. Solving this puzzle is also interesting for investors, as buying the key cards of a secret Pro Tour breakout deck before the Pro Tour is probably the fastest way to turn a profit. I am not sure we can find such a deck, but these are the boundary conditions to keep in mind:
Why are these decks so much better than the rest?
These decks have very cost efficient threats, most of which aren't just vanilla creatures, but have very relevant triggered or activated abilities, still giving you great options in the mid and late game. Declaration in Stone and Dromoka's Command are among the best legal removal cards in the format and at the same time those colours have historically never had a problem to get rid of artifacts and enchantments.
Now that U/R Goggles is a known quantity it is not a problem to have some amount of Angelic Purge, or Naturalize, or Reclaiming Vines (which can destroy Westvale Abbey as well), or Caustic Caterpillar (which can be found with CoCo) in your sideboard, removing the one permanent that can actually take over the game.
When you can't outclass their creatures or their removal, that only leaves Planeswalkers and big game changing spells as different angles to dominate the game. B/W midrange can apply that plan successfully against a Mono white deck, but against Bant Company (or white decks splashing blue) Dispel and Negate from the sideboard not only mess up those plans, but also do it ultra cost efficient, putting you further behind on tempo.
Planeswalkers are extremely weak in general right now due to multiple flash creatures, and Collected Company threatening their loyalty even on a clear or stable board. Control decks usually don't have a lot of blockers to put in front of their Planeswalkers, and Reflector Mage removes a single blocker for two turns, while Declaration in Stone excels at preventing a token army from chump-blocking.
Winning with a few big creatures is not easy against Declaration either. The best option control decks have is probably Dragonlord Ojutai due to hexproof, which is a partially white card as well (do you see a pattern there?). Linvala, the Preserver dies to removal, but that should be fine if you still get a 3/3 flyer and 5 life out of the deal. The Pro Tour could push both of these cards upwards, as there will definitely be control enthusiasts bringing those cards. Ojutai rotates out of Standard in six months, so the Pro Tour is your last chance to sell your copies before the inevitable rotational decline, while Linvala could still be a decent speculation target at the moment.
Red aggression with small creatures is unlikely to be good in an environment dominated by cheap white and green creatures either. Red has a lot of excellent sideboard cards for the environment though (Rending Volley, Kozilek's Return, Crumble to Dust), so maybe going a little bigger can be successful. Michael Egolf reached 13th place in the Invitational with a 7-1 record in Standard with Mono-Red Eldrazi. Thought-Knot Seer and Reality Smasher were broken in Modern due to the 2-mana lands, but they are still great cards in Standard when cast on curve. I am sure players are trying to build the best version of that deck in preparation for the PT. If you missed your chance to sell some of your copies during the Modern madness, the upcoming Pro Tour might be your next best chance. Egolf had a single Goldnight Castigator in the sideboard. If those angels would become a bigger part of the deck or sideboard, this is one of the mythics capable of a nice Pro Tour spike.
Will we just see more of the same on the Pro Tour? Or which cards and decks can beat both Humans and Bant Company?
Let us know what you think!