Will Omnath Keep Dominating Standard?
- Marin Magda
There was finally a good enough reason to pull the trigger and ban Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath. However, right now, the new Omnath decks appear to be much more problematic and much less reliant on Uro than the banning would suggest. Is there any chance this still balances out the Standard format?
Honestly, I was hoping that Wizards of the Coast had learned their lesson and would know better than to print such overpowered cards. I'm all for raising the power level of Magic over time, but I'm skeptical about the way that this is being done and where all the additional power is concentrated.
Sure, cards like Uro and Wilderness Reclamation weren't overpowered by themselves, but decks based in green and blue still ended up mostly broken. They're recieving so much continued support that the feeling of playing post-rotation Standard never even set in. Instead, we already have to deal with similar strategies that rival last season's most egregious excesses.
As mentioned, Uro is finally banned, but the timing was overwhelmingly off. What turned out to be the last straw was the rise of Four-Color Omnath, a deck that focuses on Omnath, Locus of Creation and Lotus Cobra, not Uro. Wizards claimed that the banning was intended "to bring these decks down to a level where […] natural metagame forces are enough to keep them in check." This earned the ridicule of many voices from the community.
"Today's update to the Banned & Restricted list impacts Standard"— Tim (BeardVsEvil MTG) (@BeardVsEvil) September 28, 2020
Agree to disagree.
Not banning new cards too quickly, before the player base has had the chance to try them out, is legitimate. But the community did have the chance to play with Omnath and figured it out almost immediately. There may be a financial consideration at play here, and it is destroying certain Magic formats, especially Standard. Just look at the deck variety on this scoreboard.
The typical Omnath deck pursues a weird kind of ramp strategy. Initial progress is often somewhat slow, with maybe a Lotus Cobra or an additional land drop. But once Omnath, Locus of Creation gets involved, the battlefield more or less explodes. One possible turn four play is Omnath followed by Fabled Passage followed by Escape to the Wilds. Either of the two creatures plus Fabled Passage is enough to generate Genesis Ultimatum mana on turn five.
When the deck gets going and the opponent doesn't intervene, they are buried in cards, lands, and landfall triggers. When Cobra and Omnath stick, it's not a rare sight to see someone chain one Ultimatum into an Escape, or vice versa, or one of the sorceries into another copy of the same. Turn two Cobra plus turn three Omnath can enable what are sometimes effectively and sometimes literal turn four kills.
Most of the earlier versions of the deck ran Felidar Retreat as a win condition, and many still do, though other options have been proposed — see further down for some. But first take a look at the following list, which serves as a pretty good starting point.
|Oliver Tiu's Four-Color Omnath|
As you can see, Tiu, who is a former Rookie of the Year and Worlds semifinalist, chose to include but two Uros in this build. Whether that's correct or not — most others ran three or four copies — is of course moot now. Though when it comes to making additional land drops, Dryad of the Ilysian Grove is better; when it comes to sourcing lands, Cultivate is better; and when you come up against aggro, something else entirely, for example Bonecrusher Giant // Stomp, is better than 3 extra life.
Uro was great at playing multiple roles and unparalleled as another resilient backup for the late game — in case someone countered all the sorceries, for instance. However, it wasn't even necessary while legal. Imagine a deck that has the colors and whose game plan fits, but that does not see the need to play such a strong card …
The New Decks
In fact, the latest top results from Magic Online from the day before the banning saw people ditching Uro almost completely.
The deck that won the Standard Challenge played 1 Uro— Zachary Kiihne (@ZKiihne) September 28, 2020
The deck that won the Standard PTQ played 0 Uro
Both played 4 Omnath
The Standard Challenge went to a variant going all-in on Ruin Crab. With seven fetch lands, plus Cultivate, Dryad, Escape, and Ultimatum, it's easy to trigger landfall. At some point, the lands start falling at a rate of three to five a turn. There are 26–33 of them in total here because Spikefield Hazard and Glasspool Mimic can also be played as such. At the same time, Mimics mean that there are up to seven Crabs here, and they are easier to squeeze into a mana-tight combo turn too.
This might be just about the most consistent combo-focused build of the bunch. Ruin Crab probably still remains underrated, since there always used to be the worry of giving the opponent a free Uro to escape. In a metagame with no Uro whatsoever, however, milling suddenly becomes a very attractive win condition.
|SunofNothing's Four-Color Omnath, 1st at Standard Challenge, September 27|
Finally, the newest version of them all integrates Omnath into Temur Adventures. The list that "lampalot" (better known as Michael Bonde, of Mythic Championship I fame) piloted to victory at the weekend's Standard PTQ already attracted a lot of attention. It does have it all: removal for smaller and larger creatures, access to silver bullets in the sideboard, even ramp — all in the form of Adventures, all of which turn from their regular two-for-one nature into a three- or four-for-one via Lucky Clover and Edgewall Innkeeper.
|lampalot's Four-Color Omnathventures, 1st at Standard PTQ, September 27|
It will be interesting to see which version proves best in the new environment. With no more broken escape cards, Standard should maybe consider the Crab builds first. However, Felidar Retreat certainly remains a viable option as well, while Scute Swarm is still undeservedly forgotten. The Adventure version might win out on pure resiliency and flexibility but is far less explosive. That deck can't ever win on turn four, and only absurd sequences allow for a turn five kill.
Uro was much more crucial for Sultai Control decks. It was the only reason why they even went into green. Without it, they'll probably be gone for good. It is unclear what, if anything, will be able to stand up to Omnath, so expect an even bigger level of format dominance. When all is said and done, Uro might have been a card that needed banning, but probably much, much earlier. Its banning now, without any other bans, may indeed exacerbate Standard's problems. There is no happy end this time around — only Omnath.
Testing for 2020 Season Grand Finals stars now.— Grzegorz 'Urlich' Kowalski (@urlichmtg) September 28, 2020
Let's hope I'll find the best deck fast. pic.twitter.com/ofbJRCrYmr
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