My Favorite Standards (Scars of Mirrodin through Innistrad and Magic: 2013)

Hello everyone, and welcome back to Strictly Average MTG. I hope your week went well! While we sit in anticipation for War of the Spark I would like to visit an article series I started last year, reviewing my favorite Standard settings. While I won’t necessarily go in order, I do want to share with you all memories, and decks, from Magic’s past. More often than not a deck archetype is what players will remember more than anything else. Today I will be going over the first rotation after Caw Blade summer which covered the following sets:

This Standard came off the heels of a big change in Magic: the Gathering. Coverage on Twitch started increasing, with many more options than Wizards of the Coast provided. Caw-Blade was the overwhelming dominant deck of the previous Standard, and for a summer turned the game into poker. Magic tournaments were essentially a $500-$800 buy in for the deck where people played for $5,000 or more in prizes for 1st place.

It was so oppressive, in the eyes of many players as well as the DCI that both Jace, the Mind Sculptor, and Stoneforge Mystic were banned a few months before rotation in the fall. Those cards would have rotated with the release of Innistrad, and with the removal of various answers (Oblivion Ring, and Pithing Needle namely) by the release of Scars of Mirrodin things were primed for something like this to happen. Honestly Sword of Feast and Famine, and Batterskull should have been the cards banned; however hindsight is always 20-20. Editor’s note – vote Hindsite 2020

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Fast forward to the Zendikar block and Magic: 2011 set leaving Standard, and we have a breath of fresh air. A set that was designed to bring creatures to the forefront, and meant to bring about different viable archetypes, Innistrad delivered on all aspects of Magic: the Gathering making it one of the most beloved sets of all time.

Leading the way was this young lady, and for one (soon to be retiring again) club DJ things were not the same.

Me, Innistrad, and Epic Loot in Centerville Ohio

Before 2012 I was in my second stint DJing here in town. However I was only spinning every other week. It was fine as I only played Standard, and there were other nights of the week to play. As 2012 approached my interest in DJing was winding down, and rumors of a new store in the area building. The Dayton, Ohio area already had several places to play, and we all wondered if another location would hurt or help what we already had.

It turns out it only helped…in spades.

Epic Loot opened up in 2011 to much fanfare. At the time there was not a Magic store on the southern part of the Dayton, Ohio area. This allowed fans in between Franklin and Dayton a place to play not just Magic, but any game the store offered. They also opened in a storefront that previously had been a Magic location, and the timing of the post Caw-Blade era in the game helped bring more people out now that “the boogeyman of Standard” had been neutered.

Although I did not make my first appearance at opening, it was not long until I made my first visit. Upon approaching the store and seeing the Liliana art posted above on a promo poster I knew Epic Loot was going to be my store, and having Magic: the Gathering be my primary hobby was not a wrong choice. You see I spin goth & industrial music. Liliana of the Veil looks like she would show up at a club I would DJ, dance the night away, and judge me by the music I played. I had no problems with any of that. Plus the way she was presented screamed villain as those of us who watched the Adam West Batman TV series can attest: when the camera is tilted it’s time to look at the villain. Once the card was spoiled I knew exactly what I was going to play in Standard as an old friend was returning to my hands.

The decks of this era

Solar Flare

Creatures (11)
4 Alchemist’s Apprentice
3 Sun Titan
3 Phantasmal Image
1 Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite

Artifacts (3)
3 Pristine Talisman

Enchantments (1)
1 Oblivion Ring

Instants (9)
4 Forbidden Alchemy
3 Mana Leak
2 Doom Blade

Planeswalkers (4)
3 Liliana of the Veil
1 Gideon Jura

Sorceries (7)
4 Lingering Souls
2 Day of Judgment
1 Unburial Rites

Lands
4 Darkslick Shores
4 Isolated Chapel
3 Drowned Catacomb
3 Glacial Fortress
3 Plains
3 Swamp
2 Ghost Quarter
2 Seachrome Coast
1 Island

Sideboard
3 Negate
1 Consecrated Sphinx
1 Grave Titan
1 Jace, Memory Adept
1 Unburial Rites
1 Day of Judgment
1 Timely Reinforcements
1 Dissipate
1 Celestial Purge
1 Revoke Existence
1 Ratchet Bomb
1 Dead Weight
1 Nihil Spellbomb

I played Solar Flare during the Ravnica through Time Spiral days (as I talked about here), and I was so excited to have it back. Of any deck from Standard’s past that I want to play in Modern, it was this archetype. The closest I think we have is the Esper Vengeance deck, but I love Sun Titan too damn much.

How the deck works

You dig through your deck using cards like Alchemist’s Apprentice, and Forbidden Alchemy to sculpt your hand for the early game while trying to either prevent your opponent’s key spells, or keep the board clear (if not both). You want to eventually land a Sun Titan while having a Liliana of the Veil in play with two or more loyalty to keep the board clear, and get Liliana back from the graveyard on the Titan’s attack trigger. You can also cast Unburial Rites on Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite making the opponent’s creatures too small to matter. Gideon Jura and Lingering Souls also push your board state a lot.

There was even a five-color version of this deck piloted by Gerry Thompson that was dubbed by the community as Red Dawn. One of his first articles of this variant can be found here.

While Sun Titan was great during this era there were some other decks out there, and some also featured other Titans.

Wolf Run Ramp

Creatures (16)
4 Primeval Titan
4 Huntmaster of the Fells
3 Solemn Simulacrum
2 Inferno Titan
1 Acidic Slime
1 Thrun, the Last Troll
1 Birds of Paradise

Artifacts (4)
4 Sphere of the Suns

Instants (4)
4 Galvanic Blast

Sorceries (11)
4 Slagstorm
4 Rampant Growth
2 Green Sun’s Zenith
1 Whipflare

Lands (25)
6 Mountain
5 Forest
4 Copperline Gorge
4 Inkmoth Nexus
4 Rootbound Crag
2 Kessig Wolf Run

Sideboard
2 Karn Liberated
2 Thrun, the Last Troll
2 Beast Within
2 Ancient Grudge
2 Combust
2 Naturalize
1 Garruk, Primal Hunter
1 Whipflare
1 Autumn’s Veil

Have you ever tried to runaway from a problem, and then it follows you? That was me in this era. Primeval Titan followed me from the Caw-Blade era where I had a very hard time beating it to this format where Kessig Wolf Run, not Solar Flare, was the talk of the town after the first week of this format.

How this deck works

This midrange deck plays value spells and creatures to keep the opponent off their plan until you can play a Primeval Titan, and win with a Kessig Wolf Run. If your opponent does not have enough blockers or removal spells you activate Kessig Wolf Run on something not blocked, or something that will trample over for enough damage to defeat your opponent.

Even though it’s been a few years since there was a true draw-go blue based control deck, this era did provide us another option in that archetype. No Caw-Blade was more of a tempo deck. This next deck showcased the power of the last Invitational winner card Snapcaster Mage.

Dimir Control

Creatures (6)
3 Snapcaster Mage
2 Consecrated Sphinx
1 Grave Titan

Planeswalkers (3)
3 Liliana of the Veil

Instants (23)
4 Forbidden Alchemy
4 Mana Leak
4 Think Twice
4 Visions of Beyond
3 Doom Blade
2 Dissipate
1 Tribute to Hunger
1 Negate

Sorceries (2)
2 Black Sun’s Zenith

Lands (26)
8 Island
6 Swamp
4 Darkslick Shores
4 Drowned Catacomb
2 Ghost Quarter
2 Nephalia Drownyard

Sideboard
3 Surgical Extraction
2 Jace, Memory Adept
2 Curse of Death’s Hold
2 Batterskull
2 Flashfreeze
2 Negate
1 Volition Reins
1 Disperse
1 Black Sun’s Zenith

Although Solar Flare usually played a copy of Snapcaster Mage somewhere between the main deck and sideboard, it was Dimir Control that really highlighted the power of this little Wizard.

How the deck works

With the rise in Kessig Wolf Run decks, and the increasing popularity of Thrun, the Last Troll those who played Day of Judgment needed another sweeper. Liliana of the Veil, and any other edit effect was simply not enough as often times the troll was not the only creature on the field. This is where Black Sun’s Zenith came into play. This draw-go deck looked to counter most of your spells until the opponent was either locked out with the combination of Liliana of the Veil and Nephalia Drownyard, or died to one of your (very) large threats. A deck capable of clearing the opponent’s threats, this deck aimed for the (very) long game especially during the mirrors. This deck would be the mainstay of control players throughout this period in Standard.

In conclusion

There were way more than these three decks in this format of course, but I would be here until May talking about all of them. The post Caw-Blade Standard that Innistrad gave us not only reinvigorated the game, but brought both returning players as well as new to this game. The impact the Innistrad block had on Magic: the Gathering was felt all throughout its time in Standard, impacted Legacy, and truly ushered in the Modern era.

Thank you all for reading. This era was a lot of fun, and while at Epic Loot between rounds I also started learning Legacy. There were so many good memories from this time that are still with me to this day. Did you play during this era? What was your favorite deck? Let me know by leaving a comment below. Make sure to also follow me on both Facebook as well as Twitter.

Next week it is time. Time for me to show you what I think is on the Horizon in Modern.

Until then…

TAP MORE MANA!!!

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