You know it's coming.
Monday is the day. On Monday, November 18th, the next B&R announcement comes down and changes everything in Standard (hopefully starting with Making Standard Fun Again). After the past couple of weeks of high-level tournament results where the Oko Food decks completely wrecked everything in their path and brought with them marathon mirror matches that made
Sensei's Divining Top say, "This might be out of control", we finally get the announcement that frees us from the Six-Pack Menace and returns something resembling creativity and diversity to Standard.
To summarize my longer argument re rant in my last article,
Oko, Thief of Crowns is a mistake that can't be worked around. It is incredibly broken, and there's no amount of "let's ban something on the periphery" that's going to fix it. He's too difficult to remove in combat, leaves too much of a presence behind if you do somehow kill him, and there are too many cards in Standard that synergize too well with him. If I were the Vice President of Common Sense at Wizards of the Coast (every company should have one), I'd take the opportunity on Monday to ban Oko in every format. ALL of them. And just admit, "Hey, we screwed up. We all missed the power of this card. It's game-warping in a bad way and we're sorry." And maybe even offer an exchange program where anyone who wants can send in their Okos for a free booster or a different rare or something. Yes, it would cost some money, but I have to believe that the good will created by simply telling the truth about an error might be worth it. I doubt this will happen, but a man can dream.
My actual prediction is that multiple cards are going to be banned from the Oko/Food deck. If selling packs were no object I'd suggest banning Oko and
Once Upon a Time, but I also doubt this would happen since both cards are in the current booster packs. Because of this, my actual prediction is that Wizards will ban Oko and
Nissa, Who Shakes The World since it's an older card that will affect sales less. But the second card banned could be a lot of candidates in the deck, from
Hydroid Krasis to (less likely)
As I was considering what Standard might look like in this post-ban meta, I turned my attention to the large number of people who may have bought into one of the Oko varieties and will be facing the dilemma of what to do with those cards. Losing a Standard deck isn't suddenly a cheap thing. The rise of Oko has caused the price of any of the parts of the deck to skyrocket, and losing the strongest cards in the deck combined with the tanking trade value of everything else in the deck is a killer one-two punch.
But a deck that I referenced in passing a couple of columns ago might provide an idea for a direction to develop a new deck. A different sort of ramp/planeswalkers/big creature deck that can hop into among your remaining cards and give you a really good game. Plus, I'll admit that I love
Faeburrow Elder and it's great that the last color shard I haven't tried with him gives us the answer. So here's Bant Faeburrow!
3 Maraleaf Pixie 4 Paradise Druid 4 Faeburrow Elder 3 Kiora, Behemoth Beckoner 2 Teferi, Time Raveler 4 Risen Reef 2 Questing Beast 3 Nissa, Who Shakes the World 2 Mass Manipulation 2 Bioessence Hydra 3 Hydroid Krasis 1 Roalesk, Apex Hybrid 2 Tolsimir, Friend to Wolves 3 Forest 2 Plains 4 Hallowed Fountain 4 Breeding Pool 4 Temple Garden 2 Fabled Passage 2 Island 4 Temple of Mystery 2 Shifting Ceratops 2 Deputy of Detention 3 Mystical Dispute 2 Veil of Summer 2 Ashiok, Dream Render 2 Dovin's Veto 2 Hushbringer
Gilded Goose or
Nissa, Who Shakes The World is one of the casualties, you're going to need a different way to ramp your mana. And, as I'm going to keep screaming to the heavens,
Faeburrow Elder in the right deck is one of the best mana dorks in the format. It's pretty normal to be tapping the Elder for three mana of different colors, and depending on the planeswalker package we include, four is a distinct possibility. There's also another poor, forlorn mana dork who's been ignored up until now in Standard but may have the best body of them all:
Maraleaf Pixie. The Pixie makes two of our three colors, and getting a 2/2 with evasion for just two mana is a great deal. A 2/2 flyer for 2 mana is above the curve even without its mana ability, so it can attack effectively even after you don't need the mana in the late game or if you're in a board stall.
Replacing Oko & Finishers
The second question that has to be answered is what can possibly replace Oko. Well... nothing, really. It's getting banned for a reason. It's the best card that's been printed in forever. So if we're going to keep playing planeswalkers that affect the board, what are our options? Bant Faeburrow plays a pu-pu platter of planeswalkers along with a heck of a big finisher to go with them.
If we're ramping and playing big creatures, why not play a planeswalker that both ramps and gives a payoff for playing big creatures? And
Kiora, Behemoth Beckoner does both of these things. She enters the battlefield with a ridiculous amount of loyalty. For a mere one loyalty, you can untap anything, from land to creature. Maybe you need to get that last mana to fire off your monster
Hydroid Krasis or maybe you want to double-tap your
Faeburrow Elder for even more mana, or even untap your
Paradise Druid after attacking to turn hexproof back on and protect your mana dork from removal. Most of our finishers enter the battle field with at least four toughness, so Kiora also draws us cards to find more action.
One of our finishers wants planeswalkers that either enter with high loyalty or gains loyalty with an ability. We're going to stick with
Nissa, Who Shakes the World until she's no longer in the format, but we also have
Teferi, Time Raveler to protect our creatures from counterspells and instant removal. And once we stick a planeswalker, there's always
Bioessence Hydra. The Hydra is an absolute monster even at a 4/4 for 5 mana, but in a typical board state we're going to have one or two planeswalkers out, and ticking them up grows the Hydra as well. If we did need to change our 'walkers further, there's always
Samut, Tyrant Smasher. It's a bit janky, but playing a big creature AND attacking on the turn we play it might be too good to pass up.
Risen Reef has gone from one of the most-played cards in the format pre-Oko to virtually forgotten post-Oko. The Reef (and all M20 Elementals in general) just haven't kept up with the times and really don't get played any more in Standard.
But this doesn't mean that people don't remember getting run over and drowned in card advantage by
Risen Reef. I wouldn't be that surprised if some sort of Elementals deck returned to its former glory in the new Standard world. But people still remember playing against the Reef, and I've found that they have an unnatural desire to remove the Reef the second they see it EVEN IF there's no sign that there are other Elementals on the way to genrate card draw.
So there's a playset in this deck, but we use it very differently than before. When I play a
Risen Reef on turn 3, I'm wanting to get two things from it: a replacement card of some kind (usually a land when it's played early) and I want it to trade for a removal spell. There are so many times where I've played a
Risen Reef with other threats on the board, and the
Stomp which should have been directed at one of my dorks hits the
Risen Reef instead. It's almost like a
Standard Bearer for Standard (see what I did there)... if only psychologically. It also can do a great job as a blocker. There are many times I've played a Reef and my opponent has attacked into it with a one-toughness creature, figuring that I value the card enough to not block with it. Then I happily chunk it in front to block, and I've been able to get a creature off of my opponent's board along with replacing itself.
Replacing the Finishers
There is an outside shot that
Hydroid Krasis could get banned to try to weaken the green decks as well. If so, you're going to need some new finishers. We already mentioned
Bioessence Hydra above as a possibility.
Questing Beast should gain back some of his previous glory when he isn't pointed hopelessly at Oko for a turn before he's Elkified.
Tolsimir, Friend to Wolves is two bodies and a removal spell for five mana, and he's already gotten some play in a couple of different decks.
But my sleeper pick for a new replacement finisher is
Roalesk, Apex Hybrid. This thicc boi has so many things going for him that I'm shocked that he hasn't yet found any play. His base stats of a 4/5 flying trampler for five CMC is insane. When he enters, he leaves two +1/+1 counters on another creature, which can protect our dorks from a
Shock or turn a
Maraleaf Pixie into a real threat. And when he dies, he proliferates twice, making both the creature that just got counters as well as all planeswalkers on the board even more difficult to kill. I'm only playing a single copy now, but it could increase a great deal in a post-Oko world. Finally, we're playing a couple copies of
Mass Manipulation for removal and another way to use all of our mana in the midst of a board stall if necessary.
While the sideboard includes a lot of anti-Oko tech like
Veil of Summer and
Mystical Dispute, there are also remnants of what cards could increase in value in the new Standard.
Shifting Ceratops was the anti-control key before everything went sideways, and it may be so again.
Ashiok, Dream Render is a nice anti-graveyard inclusion (and adds an additional color for
Faeburrow Elder as a side bonus), and
Hushbringer will be good if a lot of the ETB cards make a return to prominence. Otherwise, the sideboard is very flexible and able free up some slots for the next big decks in the format.
To summarize, I'm taking a pretty big chance with this article. Lots of people have wagered on knowing for sure what will be or won't be banned at any given B&R in the past, and I may be forced to pull an Emily Litella if things don't go the way I've predicted. But I feel confident that Standard will get a big shake-up on Monday and we'll be ready for it. Get out there and play some games, send the Elk out to pasture, and as always... drive friendly!