Sunrise, Sunset: Evaluating Older Decks Post-B&R

Darin Keener • June 16, 2020

If you're not improving, you're getting worse.

That's the reality of this new world in Magic. The move to online play means that significantly more games are getting jammed in a given day than ever. As a result, the meta in Standard and Historic is changing at an ever-faster rate. On top of that, the pace of B&R announcements has quickened considerably. We've gone from an established monthly schedule of changes to a week's warning to (as we saw with Winota, Joiner of Forces) Historic changes made with zero warning whatsoever. One click of a button or one tweet, and what you knew about a particular format isn't true any more. On top of all of this, more and more high-level competitions will be online. So instead of assuming that a significant percentage of players have access to a relatively limited number of paper cards, it's easy for an Arena player to drop a deck after a substandard outing, get a few days' practice with a completely different deck, and be ready to roll.

But I know... you aren't reading my columns because you want to just go to the top of the Metagame list and play the #1 deck listed there no matter what. You've got your favorites. You need your spice. And you've probably had that favorite or that spice burned to a crisp by Fires of Invention and stolen by Agent of Treachery in past weeks. So, can those decks rise again? Is there something old that can be new again?

I bet there is, and there are a few things that you can do to find out.

First, and this is the most obvious tip yet needing to be said, take those old decks as-is out for a few trips around the block. It's so tempting to ignore the old and busted for the new and shiny, but you're losing a huge opportunity to find out what can be good again. The first thing that I did the day after the bannings was to take my Kaheera Elementals list I wrote about earlier in the format into the ladder, and I found out it's suddenly pretty good! I raced right back to the Platinum level that I like to test my brews at and felt like I had a playable matchup against nearly every good deck in the format – with the exception of Boros cycling, which I think is a slight favorite. And apart from one sideboard change (which I'll mention in the next tip), I didn't do a thing to it.

Side note: one of my early observations of current Standard is that a lot of people bailed on Companions WAY too quickly. I still think cards like Kaheera and Lurrus of the Dream-Den are very playable in the Companion slot and ESPECIALLY as plain ol' cards-in-the-main-deck. There are a ton of very good Legendary creatures where you want three of them in the main but not four because of the legendary rule, so if you can work it out a three-mana Glittering Wish for a good card is not a terrible thing.

Second, pay special attention to the sideboard. This is the area where you'll really be able to make a difference. Apart from the usual "modify toward the meta" suggestion that you don't really need me to tell you to do, you'll additionally discover other cards that have been introduced since you last checked that can really cause the deck to do crazy stuff.

Here's an example. Ever since Gargos, Vicious Watcher was printed last year, I had memed around from time to time with a Hydra Tribal deck in Standard. It was fun but it was the Timmiest of Timmy decks: Play big Hydras, then play more big Hydras. At Sorcery speed. If anyone had anything that involved a coherent plan that could beat it, it usually didn't fare well. Then Theros provided Polukranos, Unchained, so I went back and messed with it some more. But suddenly, Ikoria included two different cards that made the deck drastically better. One was The Ozolith, which served as a functional protection spell that let you "enchant" your new Hydras with the life of the old. But the other was a sideboard card that often let you do everything that the deck couldn't do before against certain opponents: Gemrazer.

2 The Ozolith
4 Gilded Goose
4 Ilysian Caryatid
3 Paradise Druid
4 Hydroid Krasis
3 Voracious Hydra
2 Bioessence Hydra
2 Kiora, Behemoth Beckoner
2 Tamiyo, Collector of Tales
2 Polukranos, Unchained
2 Vivien, Arkbow Ranger
3 Nissa, Who Shakes the World
2 The Great Henge
2 Gargos, Vicious Watcher
4 Breeding Pool
3 Castle Garenbrig
3 Overgrown Tomb
8 Forest
3 Island
1 Temple of Mystery
1 Swamp

2 Aether Gust
2 Mystical Dispute
2 Stonecoil Serpent
1 Vivien, Champion of the Wilds
2 Negate
4 Gemrazer
2 Noxious Grasp

Most of the better decks in the format (like Temur Rec and Cat Oven/Sacrifice decks) are relying on artifacts or enchantments for some of their power. In addition, the Mutate mechanic because more effective when the difference in strength between the base power/toughness of the mutating and mutated creatures is the highest. Since most of our Hydras are in effect 0/0 creatures that get +1/+1 counters, Mutating a Gemrazer on most of them becomes a "three mana give this creature +4/+4, reach, and trample, AND destroy an enchantment/artifact" enchantment which is, to use a technical term, disgusting. Being able to side a Gemrazer in when playing against one of those deck is so good that I want the whole playset. In addition, I'm not convinced that I don't want one or two in the maindeck. I don't think I'm at that point yet, but I'm considering it. So don't neglect the sideboard favorites.

Finally, there's value in revisiting the decks in light of the previews that we're seeing for M21. It's very possible that the card that's going to provide the most value for your older decks isn't even out yet. However, playing that older deck even before the new cards are released gets to to understand the deck's weaknesses. There are a lot of decks that have a big hole that makes them not really work... until a new card has been printed that fills the hole. In terms of Hydras, we haven't seen any in the new deck yet. However, there's a new Cat lord coming out (Feline Sovereign), new payoffs for lifegain decks (and Speaker of the Heavens and Griffin Aerie already have a White Weenie deck that has a decent amount of lifegain in it), an additional toy for Enchantress decks in Runed Halo...and all of these decks have been on the edge of being really good in Standard for a while.

So don't throw out the old solely for the replacement of the new. Dust off those old deck boxes and see if what couldn't beat the previous strongest decks can suddenly find traction now, and you might even be able to get some mileage out of them in future Standards. Good luck with the old-turned-new, and as always... drive friendly!