The recent news that Wizards released on Monday took the majority of the Magic community by surprise: both Jace the Mind Sculptor and Stoneforge Mystic have been banned from standard play. The loss of Jace was a popular debate even before the announcement, with many players wondering whether or not he'd be reprinted, though no one thought that Wizards would take such a drastic step. Indeed, most assumed that he would simply fade away with the rotation. But with Jace and Mystics appearing in an overwhelming amount of top eight decks, it's no wonder that Wizards went to such lengths. Those that play Caw-Blade may be less pleased with this news than the numerous Jace-haters; in one move Wizards has toppled the most powerful deck in standard play from its position as leader of the pack. Caw-Blade simply can't function without its Mystics.
For months Caw-Blade has been the deck of choice for most serious Magic Players. It has been a dominating force in standard play, and its loss will leave a gaping hole at the top of the ladder with many players eager to fill its boots with decks of their own design. Though the cards are available for play until July 1st, already people are wondering the same thing: what's the new deck to beat? More importantly, how do I beat it?
The first few weeks after the ban goes into effect will determine the answer to this question. With top eight spots completely up for grabs, all eyes will be on the players in the upcoming PTQs and various other tournaments. The pressure is on for all those competing. If you're attending a standard event, you should expect to see some of the following.
Valakut was on top before Caw-Blade came around for a reason, and its the first deck that comes to mind when I imagine the next PTQ I'm attending, which happens to be the first weekend in July. Valakut is an oldie but a goodie: it does its fair share of explosive damage, but fell by the wayside when Caw-Blade started stomping all over it. Now that Caw-Blade is no longer in the picture, Valakut could make a comeback as the deck to beat. With the chance to deal tons of damage in a single round (by playing land, no less), great fatties, and an army of plant tokens, what's not to fear? Most decks run Tectonic Edge these days, but there is still a powerful creature base to contend with. Once the tokens hit the field they'll get stronger with 2+ land drops per turn, and all the fatties pack a powerful punch. With Wrath effects at a slow sorcery speed, your hand of Doom Blades isn't going to do much when you've got ten to twenty 4/4 plants swinging at you. Am I the only one crazy enough to think that Torpor Orb has a spot main deck against Valakut? Their big guys may hit the field, but that's what your target removal spells are for. Let's face it: I'd rather see an 8/5 swinging at me than an army of 1/1s, especially when I know next turn that army is going to get even bigger.
Splinter Twin is another deck that's starting to make a name for itself. Its players are sold on its win potential, and with the ability to swing for a thousand damage on turn five who can blame them? This is another situation where Torpor Orb could come into play to stop the endless tapping and untapping, but let's get a little more technical. Splinter Twin is a deck that thrives on punishing its opponent for his mistakes. Tapped out to play your Oblitertor? How silly of you, please take this army of Exarchs to the face. Without an instant-speed removal spell there's not much to be done against Splinter Twin once it hits the field, unless you're lucky enough for your Spellskite to go unmolested. Frankly, I'd love to play the guy that doesn't bother nuking Spellskite before he throws down a Splinter Twin. Another interesting play against this is Suture Priest. While it certainly won't fit into every deck and would garner just as much hate as Spellskite, its mere presence could stave off an imminent loss and buy you the time you need for a more permanent answer. Soul's Attendant would also interact in a constructive way if you chose to go that route. Counter spells have potential against both the creature and enchantment, and to a lesser extent so will damage prevention (if only because War Report or Blunt the Assault on countless Exarchs would be pretty hilarious). You do want to be aware that even damage prevention won't save you for long; unless you've got some other sort of removal going on you'll find yourself facing another million copies the following turn. But none of it matters if you don't have any untapped lands. So keep this in mind when you're up against Splinter Twin: don't tap out.
With the release of NPH, another deck has been circling the rumor mill: Birthing Pod. How good is it, and is it powerful enough to win? Forums are full of debates on which version of the deck is the best; with its relative newness, nothing is set in stone, and nothing will be decided until there has been more play testing. If you're unfamiliar with the mechanics it goes like this: that cute 1/1 no one is afraid of gets bigger and meaner every turn, eventually becoming the stuff of nightmares. The deck is great because of its versatility – it can be played in any color, and if all you end up with is three mana you can still win the game. The creatures themselves are the interesting part: players stack the deck with creatures that do something when they enter or leave play, so not only are they getting bigger beat-sticks, they're also creating havoc on your side of the field. I hate to say it again but...Torpor Orb, anyone? It may not stop the actual retrieval of the creatures, but reducing otherwise nasty cards to mere Grizzly Bears can cut off your opponent's momentum. Since Birthing Pod's ability can only be played as a sorcery, removal can go a long way in keeping your opponent from completely breaking the card. It is, of course, also susceptible to artifact removal, but counters and hand disruption are relatively useless here.
I wouldn't be surprised if all three of these decks make it in a future top eight. Indeed, there was a combination Splinter Twin/Birthing Pod deck that placed in the June 11's PTQ, showing the serious potential behind the mechanics of both decks.
I'm eager to see what will be thrown at me on July 3rd.