Hello everyone. Welcome back to Strictly Average for more musings about the great game that is Magic: the Gathering. I hope your summer has been good so far, and although we are still in that season every August makes me think of fall. As we approach fall one thing that many of us ponder is the upcoming Standard rotation with the release of the new set. This year that will be Guilds of Ravnica. Standard has been one of the oldest (with Vintage being THE oldest) formats in the game’s history, and each fall brings some excitement as a lot of new cards enter while even more leave Standard. The format is at its smallest, and for some it feels more ripe for exploring.
Today I’m going to talk about one of my favorite formats, and highlight a few decks I played, or played against, during that time. For those of you who don’t know I have only been playing the game at an FNM level or above since 2006. Even though this has been my primary hobby since I graduated High School in 1993 it wasn’t until the summer of 2006 when my daughter asked me to teach her how to play. Once we got a handle on what was in Standard at the time we started buying cards, building decks, and taking our first step into playing Magic beyond the kitchen table. To be honest those were my favorite times playing the game, and I wished they lasted forever.
With all of that said let’s dig in.
Ravnica: City of Guilds through Future Sight
I jumped into this format with about a year to go before the first Ravnica block rotated, but it was a lot of fun. These were the formats in Standard during this time:
This era has so many great options for deck building. Plentiful dual lands, powerful spells in nearly every color combination, and each deck archetype felt different from the next. Diversity is always a great thing to have in Magic, and this era had it in spades.
This deck, named when the Champions of Kamigawa block was still in Standard, was quite powerful. With card such as Remand, Wrath of God, and Condemn you were able to answer your opponent’s threats before playing your own win condition (and ususally for 3B thanks to Zombify). By discarding cards such as Akroma, Angel of Wrath you were able to utilize your graveyard as a resource to help propel you to victory. This was also one of the first decks to use Dread Return as some cards in the deck could make smaller creatures for you to use Dread Return for it’s flashback cost. Another version of this deck called Angelfire would remove the black cards, and play Red for Firemane Angel, Lightning Angel, and Demonfire among others.
Dredge was a mechanic first introduced in Ravnica: City Of Guilds, and tied to the Golgari Swarm. It’s purpose was to provide you an everlasting army that would never die as long as you had cards to draw in your deck. The mechanic was fine, and seemed quite flavorful for the set.
Then Future Sight was released, and Bridge From Below happened.
This one card powered Dredge decks to a level they have maintained since they left for Legacy. The fact that we had a future Legacy deck in Standard is quite awesome, and if you missed this Standard you missed a lot of fun. Bridge From Below only works in your graveyard, and only benefits you if your creatures die. When they do each one will trigger giving you a 2/2 Zombie token for each non-token creature killed this way. Token cards were not a part of Magic packs back then, so I had to use D&D Zombie minatures in order to represent my army. My battlefield was a mess, and I loved it! Drowned Rusalka, and Dread Return‘s flashback cost help you with killing your own creatures, and there are many outlets to discard cards, and then use your draws to Dredge back a card or two. This was the pinnacle for using your graveyard during this era, and it’s mechanic & namesake has become one of the many verbs of Magic: the Gathering.
4 Loxodon Hierarch
4 Dark Confidant
4 Wall of Roots
4 Birds of Paradise
3 Crypt Champion
3 Saffi Eriksdotter
3 Essence Warden
2 Elves of Deep Shadow
1 Ghost Council of Orzhova
1 Loaming Shaman
1 Teysa, Orzhov Scion
Now we get to the Junk (now known as Abzan) during this era of Standard. In this deck you play quality green creatures backed up by spells in both black and white. You had ways to ramp out to put multiple creatures on the field in one turn, gain a little life to stay ahead, and then combo off. The combo of Saffi Eriksdotter, and Crypt Champion allows you to either gain infinite life with Essence Warden, or if you have Teysa, Orzhov Scion you can gain infinite flying spirits, and you can do either on the opponent’s end step thanks to Chord of Calling. This deck was quite popular in it’s time for being a creature based deck that could obtain the combo quickly, and close out games in dramatic fashion. It was also supplemented by the sideboard with specific cards to hate on certain strategies it faced during it’s time in Standard. This deck could have legs in Modern, however most decks like this now are the remnants of Birthing Pod decks from Modern’s past that some of us call Faux Pod (known as Abzan Company now).
Speaking of decks that I think would do well in Modern this is one of them. This deck focused everything on your turn, and prevented your opponent from playing Magic. Having your land Boomeranged back to your hand is not fun (unless you are the one casting it), and if your opponent follows that up with an early Stone Rain then you are way behind. Once you get the super advantage any sorcery you play will be fueling a future Magnivore, and put it well out of reach of a Wildfire that you would cast. This deck was so consistent due to a lot of the cards having 3 or 4 copies each that it focused the strategy even more. Some versions of these decks during this era also played cards like Annex, and Defense Grid.
This wasn’t all for this era though. There were plenty of other decks that one would see across from them.
- GhaziGlare: A Selesnya colored aggressive deck that used Glare of Subdual, and Vitu-Ghazi, the City-Tree to keep opposing blockers tapped.
- Simic Aggro: A low to the ground Tempo Aggro deck with Plaxmanta protecting your team, and Mystic Snake countering opposing spells.
- Blink Riders: A Jeskai colored deck where cards like Momentary Blink allowed you to get extra use from creatures like Avalanche Riders, and Bogardan Hellkite!!!
- Dragonstorm: A deck based around the iconic card Dragonstorm, and allowed you to put all of your Bogardan Hellkites effectively taking them from 20 to 0.
- Izzet Tron: Cards with large mana costs require a lot of mana, and this variant of Tron was no different. YES! Urzatron lands were legal in Standard, AND NO ONE ASKED THEM TO BE BANNED!! What a world!!! With X in casting costs cards like Repeal, and Demonfire were often found here.
…and that’s STILL not everything!
For the game to have such a successful Standard era a few years after the mistakes during Mirrodin block was quite a feat, and they should be applauded for their efforts as it brought players back to the game. The best decks in this era changed very often, and although for some that may feel daunting it was a lot of fun while also being very challenging.
I went into this wanting to write about multiple Standard eras, however there was so much to talk about with this specific one I’ll make these articles stand alone instead. I hope you enjoyed reading about these decks from the past. We’re going to Ravnica this fall, and every time we have visited the plane in the past Standard has been a lot of fun.
What are your thoughts on the decks above? Did you also play during this era? If so what were some of your favorite memories of it? Please share them below, and make sure to follow me on both Facebook as well as Twitter. Make sure to also send me your questions via social media as I am doing a Q&A for my article on September 10th. Please see the corresponding posts on my Facebook page, as well as Twitter (probably easier on Facebook honestly).
Until next time when we being a new article series reviewing Planeswalkers…
TAP MORE MANA!!!
Scott Campbell, better known as MTGPackFoils, has been playing Magic since he was 17 (which was in 1993). He’s known for loving decks such as Azorius Control, Jund, and others (especially in Modern). He is a husband, father, and a former nightclub DJ.