[My Favorite Standards] Return to Ravnica through Theros blocks & Magic 2015

Hello everybody, and welcome back to Strictly Average MTG. Thank you for being patient while I was on vacation. It appears that while I was gone the Core Set 2020 previews started. What a crazy time to be playing Magic, as we have three sets in War of the SparkModern Horizons, and Core Set 2020 all fighting each other for shelf space once the core set is released. That’s a lot of cards in a short window, and depending on what format (or how often) you play you may not have things figured out to determine if the singles you are purchasing will be worth putting in your decks. I feel for anyone who is trying to decide where to optimally spend their dollars in these times. There used to be a time that this was not the case, and that’s what I’m going to talk about today.

In the past I have not only written about previous Standard formats I enjoyed here, and here. I also have written about old Standard decks in an article series titled “Speaking Casually” last year for Esper Dragons. A lot has happened since then, and even more subjects have been covered. I have wanted to get back to these types of articles for awhile so I’m going to fuse them together. For the time being, any of these old Standard decks I reminisce about will be played within this series. I’m sure as I go forward this will evolve again, but this kind of gives you all a one stop shop to view cool Standard decks from the past. Hopefully it will not only spark some ideas, but also help a friend who may have kept a deck from these eras decide how to go forward if they want to start playing again. With all of that said let’s step into my WABAC Machine.

Return to Ravnica expansions, through Theros, ending with Magic 2015

This era of Magic: the Gathering followed the very successful Standard environments impacted by Innistrad, and followed by Standards that were based around the plane of Ravnica. Starting with Return to Ravnica we were given more depth to the stories of our favorite guilds, and this was our first visit to this beloved plane with the Planeswalker card type. During preview season for Return to Ravnica we were introduced to cards such as Jace, Architect of Thought as well as Supreme Verdict which were not only powerful cards during their time in Standard, but have went on to various degrees of success in older formats such as Modern, and Legacy.


While the Standard format which features the Innistrad expansions, as well as the Return to Ravnica expansions was a lot of fun (and I may cover that in a future article) it wasn’t until we reached the plane of Theros where we started to see the powerful decks take shape. With the returning mechanic Scry, as well as new mechanics of Bestow, Constellation, Devotion, Heroic, Inspired, Monstrous, Strive, and Tribute there were a lot of options once Theros, Born of the Gods, and Journey Into Nyx were all available.

Magic 2015 then followed in the summer of 2014 to provide the last group of cards to this Standard environment. This set provided the returning mechanic of Convoke, as well as the return of Nissa, and Garruk who now had a multi-color casting cost.

While this Standard was dominated by the Mono Black devotion decks, by the time we received Journey Into Nyx there were enough deck options available for anyone to build from, and take to their FNM to battle. Today I’m going to cover a few of those.

Aggro decks:

Mono Red Aggro

Creatures (27)
 Eidolon of the Great Revel
 Akroan Crusader
 Foundry Street Denizen
 Legion Loyalist
 Rakdos Cackler
 Firedrinker Satyr
 Rubblebelt Maaka
 Ash Zealot

Spells (16)
 Madcap Skills
 Dragon Mantle
 Titan’s Strength
 Seismic Stomp
Lands (17)
17 Mountain

Sideboard (15)
 Lightning Strike
 Searing Blood
 Ash Zealot
 Seismic Stomp

Mono Red decks have always been a part of Magic: the Gathering. Nearly every Standard has one of some kind. Some are focused on direct damage spells, while others may be focused on a lot of low cost creature spells to be as low to the ground as possible. Regardless of how these decks are constructed, they look to win quickly.

How the deck works

You are the beatdown. You want your creatures on the board early, and often, until you can cast a spell to boost the power and toughness of an unblocked creature, or make sure they can’t be blocked by casting Seismic Stomp.

Some decks splashed green for Ghor-Clan Rampager, others chose black for Spike Jester, and yet others chose white as their splash color for Chained to the Rocks, and Boros Charm.

Regardless of the splash color, these decks were favored for their inexpensive assemble, and their relative ease of play during a tournament.

Selesnya Aggro

Creatures (28)
Loxodon Smiter
Fleecemane Lion
Voice of Resurgence
Soldier of the Pantheon
Experiment One
Brimaz, King of Oreskos
Scavenging Ooze
Dryad Militant
Boon Satyr

Planeswalkers (3)
Ajani, Caller of the Pride

Spells (6)
Selesnya Charm
Banishing Light
Lands (23)
Mana Confluence
Temple Garden
Temple of Plenty
Rogue’s Passage

Sideboard (15)
Advent of the Wurm
Unflinching Courage
Hunt the Hunter
Gods Willing
Archangel of Thune
Boon Satyr
Setessan Tactics

Not all aggro decks are mono colored, and this one gave quite a punch. Using one of the good cards in Dragon’s Maze in Voice of Resurgence, this deck focused on curving out from turn one while being aggressive in attacking.

How the deck works

Your goal is to put pressure on the opponent to react. Starting your first turn with Endless One, and then growing it with creatures you play in the next few turns can represent a lot of damage if left unchecked. Playing an early Ajani, Caller of the Pride should warrant a response, and if your early creatures are dealt with you should have enough mana to play two creatures your next turn to continue the attack. While the deck is light on non-creature spells they can deal with a wider range of threats than traditional non-creature spells, or provide more offense.

This deck was a solid choice as it could go toe-to-toe with some of the other decks I’ll mention here, including Azorius Control.

Some decks splashed red for Ghor-Clan Rampager, and others rebuilt it with a black splash for Blood Baron of Vizkopa, and Thoughtseize to give it more of an Aggro-Midrange feel.

Midrange decks:

Mono Black Devotion

Creatures (16)
Gray Merchant of Asphodel
Desecration Demon
Lifebane Zombie
Pack Rat

Planeswalkers (1)
Vraska the Unseen

Spells (18)
Hero’s Downfall
Underworld Connections
Devour Flesh
Abrupt Decay
Lands (25)
11 Swamp
Overgrown Tomb
Temple of Malady
Golgari Guildgate

Sideboard (15)
Erebos, God of the Dead
Doom Blade
Pharika’s Cure
Golgari Charm
Dark Betrayal
Devour Flesh

The Devotion mechanic was quite powerful, and no deck exposed this more than Mono Black Devotion. Taking on the role of “play one threat, and protect it” this deck was the villain of this Standard environment.

How the deck works

Playing turn one Thoughtseize into turn two Pack Rat was the most common line with this deck. Then on turn three making another rat with Pack Rat‘s ability can help push the tide in your favor. Packed with discard, and removal spells, you should be able to keep your opponent off tempo. Keep in mind that not only is Mutavault a rat, but that the rat copies are exact copies of the original card so the symbols in their mana cost still count towards devotion. Have you ever seen a Gray Merchant of Asphodel resolve, and drain an opponent TEN life? I have; it’s not pretty.

While green was the primary splash color due to being able to remove problematic permanents with Abrupt Decay, and Vraska the Unseen, some decks would splash white instead for Banishing Light, and Blood Baron of Vizkopa.

Jund Monsters

Creatures (26)
Stormbreath Dragon
Polukranos, World Eater
Sylvan Caryatid
Ghor-Clan Rampager
Elvish Mystic
Courser of Kruphix
Scavenging Ooze

Planeswalkers (7)
Domri Rade
Xenagos, the Reveler

Spells (4)
Mizzium Mortars
Lands (23)
Overgrown Tomb
Stomping Ground
Temple of Abandon
Blood Crypt
Temple of Malice

Sideboard (15)
Mistcutter Hydra
Rakdos’s Return
Abrupt Decay
Golgari Charm
Vraska the Unseen
Doom Blade
Mizzium Mortars

Although the black cards are in the sideboard, there are versions of the deck that have some maindeck. While this deck eschews normal Jund options in the form of discard spells, it instead relies on its very large creatures to get the job done.

How the deck works

You want to ramp out to an early Domri Rade to draw into more creatures to keep the threats coming. Your “sweeper” is Polukranos, World Eater, and while the mana to make it monstrous seems hefty, you can use Xenagos, the Reveler to help generate large amounts of mana. While there are a few removal spells in the main deck you can supplement those with cards like Abrupt Decay, and Putrefy in the sideboard as needed.

Big monster, or Stompy type decks have been a strategy among many Magic players, especially in recent years. If you’re looking for a budget deck (compared to today’s Modern prices) you can’t go wrong with this (especially with Stormbreath Dragon having protection from white).

Control decks:

Azorius Control

Creatures (1)

Planeswalkers (5)
Jace, Architect of Thought
Elspeth, Sun’s Champion

Spells (28)
Supreme Verdict
Sphinx’s Revelation
Planar Cleansing
Azorius Charm
Render Silent
Darksteel Ingot
Celestial Flare
Cyclonic Rift
Last Breath
Essence Scatter
Elixir of Immortality
Lands (26)
Azorius Guildgate
Hallowed Fountain
Temple of Enlightenment

Sideboard (15)
Last Breath
Debtor’s Pulpit
Jace, Memory Adept
Trading Post
Blind Obedience
Celestial Flare
Glare of Heresy
Ratchet Bomb

Not a lot of players enjoyed playing against this deck, yet The Azorius Senate was tasked with keeping the Pack Rat threat at bay. We were the heroes! Nonetheless this deck slowly morphed from the version in the Innistrad / Return to Ravnica to this version, and it was dominant during its time. So dominant in fact that someone even made a video before Sphinx’s Revelation left Standard.

How the deck works

Outside of playing a planeswalker, your Aetherling, or sweeping the board you are focused on countering what your opponent plays, and drawing cards. In a format without fetchlands, each time you activate Elixir of Immortality the spell density of your library increases dramatically. This is also why you see so few full playsets of cards as you could often cast two or three of the same spell that only has a single copy due to the constant resetting of your library. Jace, Architect of Thought is your primary win condition among permanents. Often times stealing the other player’s best card with his ultimate can cause a concession. If that fails, playing an Elspeth, Sun’s Champion will more often than not get the job done. When playing Aetherling though you need to keep up multiple sources of blue mana as the opponent can respond to you exiling it from play.

Savvy opponents forced the control player to deal them damage instead of conceding after the third Sphinx’s Revelation so it was a challenging deck to play as you needed to complete a match in fifty minutes or less.

To help get around this some players splashed black for Nightveil Specter, and Thoughtseize, while others splashed red for Keranos, God of Storms, and Assemble the Legion.

Maze’s End

Creatures (4)
Gatecreeper Vine

Planeswalkers (2)
Kiora, the Crashing Wave

Spells (27)
Riot Control
Defend the Hearth
Druid’s Deliverance
Merciless Eviction
Supreme Verdict
Heroes’ Reunion
Lands (28)
Maze’s End
Selesnya Guildgate
Dimir Guildgate
Simic Guildgate
Azorius Guildgate
Boros Guildgate
Golgari Guildgate
Gruul Guildgate
Izzet Guildgate
Orzhov Guildgate
Rakdos Guildgate

Sideboard (15)
Nyx-Fleece Ram
Vraska, the Unseen
Blind Obedience
Crackling Perimeter
Pithing Needle
Banishing Light

Decks based around the name of a card are quite rare, and this is one that served as a budget but fun alternative during these days of Pack Rats all over the battlefield. Definitely relegated to FNM events, this deck did make the occasional appearance at larger events which caught the attention of many in the community.

How the deck works

Maze’s End is a Turbo Fog deck that wins by using its lands as the primary win condition. You win by activating Maze’s End to put a guildgate onto the battlefield, and if you control all ten of the guildgates when this ability resolves then you win the game. While the deck is slow out of the gate (hahaha. I’ll show myself out – editor) once you have enough mana to activate Maze’s End on your opponent’s turn then you can start operating as a normal deck to a degree. While challenging to get there, cards such as Gatecreeper Vine serve as a way to ramp, and block aggro decks. Cards like Fog, and especially Riot Control, help prevent combat damage or even keep your life total as far away from zero as possible. Kiora, the Crashing Wave helped prevent damage from single permanents as well to keep you alive, or in a pinch could help you draw cards to play additional lands.

The deck is very slow for the current speed of Modern, however if you want to remember the good times this deck had it’s probably the cheapest deck in this article so if you want to have some fun it’s a good one to pick up.

In conclusion

This Standard was a lot of fun to play. So much so that I was usually playing it three or four times a week, and at bigger events if one came near. Of course this was before stores started supporting Modern so there was at least one less choice for me to play back then. While a lot of players will only think of Mono Black Devotion or Azorius Control as the only decks to play during this era that is far from correct as this format did have an archetype for everybody.

Thank you for reading. What are your thoughts on the deck above? Did you play during this time? What was your favorite deck to play?  Leave your comment below, and follow me on both Facebook as well as Twitter.

Next week I’ll talk about the cards from Core Set 2020 that I like as I’m getting the itch to play Standard again (and this time it’s for real).

Until then…


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