Watching the Meta-Morph: The Death of Valakut Deceived Us

By Matt Rogers                                   6/7/11

It’s been a very exciting few weeks in the MTG world: hints of more graveyard play with new Jace, Memory Adept, along with the bannings of the two most devastating cards. I know I said I would deliver on an article referring to testing, but I feel that this is far too important a topic to overlook. From my perspective, Stoneforge Mystic had to be banned, there was no other option. This card was making Standard boring, and making fewer people want to play the format. I know we all love to play powerful cards and powerful combos, but it really did feel like cheating when you flash Batterskull in on turn three when they watched you search up Sword of War and Peace the previous turn. Control mirrors literally controlled the format and this is a dangerous route for MTG to ever be on. It’s very boring, and while skill intensive formats may be great for the players with abounding skill, it’s not so great for the Geoff Fletchers of this world, so something had to change to keep the mob happy. In regards to Jace, the Mind Sculptor it is harder to ascertain whether I’m happy with the ban. While I don’t feel he was too overpowered he was played in almost 90% of decks in Standard, and that just shows you that this card has a negative effect on Standard as a whole.

However, these bans have allowed something else to happen: a creature heavy format is a high possibility now and it’s exciting to see the wide range of possibilities beginning to be brewed. I’m just waiting for someone to break the format with Phyrexian Obliterator or Hero of Bladehold. It’s great to know that big creatures can hit the board and provide a real punch now.  By opening Standard up like this, Wizards have allowed new brews to jump into a double block, double core set format just in time for national tournaments. This will surely be great for the game, and allow us a very exciting nationals season.

So what has really happened in the metagame? Well the biggest note is, Valakut is back, and back with a vengeance. This deck is about to rear its ugly head (it really is ugly, who actually enjoys this deck?) once more in a format where Jace does not bounce and no silly Hypnotic Spectre birds are untapping all of your lands. This deck is strong and only improved with the addition of Beast Within. This card has made Valakut even better in giving itself more time as it tears apart your lands while it happily stacks its own.

Eldrazi Green is once again playable. This deck has great potential and is ready to annihilate once again. Overgrown Battlement no longer need fear getting bounced and in fact everything passes the Jace test, because really, what’s he going to do? Mill your creature? The format is going to have a lot more aggro decks running around so that means having walls and big fatties is a real bonus.

I think it is obvious that the best thing you can do in Standard is drop a Splinter Twin on a Deceiver Exarch. However, what isn’t obvious is the best way to do this. Right now I’m tossing up between RUG Twin, Grixis Twin, URW Twin and UR Twin. It’s hard to figure out which is really the best, and I’ll get back to you with more on it when I know.

Tempered Steel is definitely sticking around. It may no longer be able to play Swords and Stoneforge Mystic, but it doesn’t have to scramble for a way to deal with Batterskull either. This deck has great speed and now that a lot of main deck artifact removal is leaving the format, this deck could seriously prove to be a bit of a problem. As long as you build this deck around Valakut, which is more than possible, I think it could really compete in the current format.

UB Tezzeret is better, so much better. As with Tempered Steel decks, this deck needs not worry about main deck artifact removal anymore. The fact that this deck will still play blue makes it great as people are preparing for a counterspell dry format. The removal and Memoricide in black also allows it weapons against the two menaces of the format. This deck seems very good to me right now, someone go test it!

Elves are noteworthy again, no great changes in its own list but the format has adapted to make it competitive once more. This deck’s speed is competitive in this format and you definitely want to sideboard answers for this to avoid getting overrun by this phantom menace.

Finally, I think Red decks are going to explode all over Standard. These decks were on the rise before the bans and in an aggro format, their dirty goblin smirks are shining. The M12 additions that could be made to this deck are going to make it a real problem (hint, Grim Lavamancer, hint) and will put a lot of slower decks in a few tight spots. I would advise not sideboarding with regards to Red decks, but rather maindecking for Red. It’s going to hurt. A lot. Ouch.

I’m really excited about what these bannings have done to standard. The format is a lot more open and there are so many viable deck choices for all players. I feel that M12 won’t have a great effect on the Tier 1 decks in the format, given the current spoilt cards. While it may affect some lower tier decks, there shouldn’t be much for the higher decks to worry about. M12 is starting to look like it will have a high impact in relation to Innistrad, a format I’m looking forward to a lot.

So once again our metagame has changed, shifting and shaping itself into something new, something exciting and something that is ready to test the bold and meek alike. Hopefully next week there has been no massive change, and I can instead get around to talking about testing.

-Matt Rogers

(For those interested Chinese Nationals happened last weekend, top 8 lists are here and yes Valukat was back! – Editor)