Perilous_Research

Collective Bargaining

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The letter H!ello and welcome to the first week of Return to Ravnica previews here on DailyMTG.com. Today, I'm excited to share one of the most high-impact enchantments I've seen in some time.

I never considered myself a Selesnya mage, but this card is enough to inspire a change of heart. We'll get right back into Standard analysis once we're done discussing the preview card. Last week, Delver posted some absurdly strong numbers. Has Delver's dominance of Standard waned? Scroll down for the latest Magic Online metagame analysis.

Anthem effects have been a part of competitive Magic since the beginning of time. Cards like Glorious Anthem, Crusade, Honor of the Pure, and Tempered Steel have all had their time in the limelight. Over the years, many have argued against decks that play too many anthems. Critics worry that their decks won't mulligan well and they'll often be plagued by draws where they have anthems without token production or token production without anthems. The anthem effect doesn't have a high enough impact on its own.

Today's preview card is the highest-impact anthem effect ever printed. A single copy of Lingering Souls becomes an impossibly dangerous threat. Geist-Honored Monk threatens to end the game in a single attack. In many ways, this card might be more similar to Overrun in application than it is to Glorious Anthem. Let's take a look at Collective Blessing!

Collective Blessing costs six mana, and (in the beginning) a lot of people are going to question the viability of a six-mana enchantment that doesn't do anything by itself. However, I believe this will be a Constructed staple within a few short weeks of Return to Ravnica's release. Think about the implications of giving your whole team +3/+3. Each half of Lingering Souls becomes a Broodmate Dragon. Geist-Honored Monk presents 14 points of power all by itself. Huntmaster of the Fells is 10 power. Collective Blessing massively increases the value you get out of mana dorks like Avacyn's Pilgrim; 1/1 accelerators are no longer dead cards or chump blockers in the late game—now they actually matter. The hurdle of six mana might be high, but the rewards for making it over are well worth the work involved. A lot of the time, you're simply going to cast Collective Blessing and immediately win the game. When you don't, you've just established a unique kind of inevitability.

Some of you might still be skeptical. "Is six mana too much?" one might ask. No, if this card cost less than six it would be remarkably unfair and imbalanced. The effect granted by Collective Blessing is easily worth more than six mana in a normal game of Magic. Mana Leak will be rotating out of Standard, along with Day of Judgment; Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite; Massacre Wurm; and Slagstorm. Tokens will enjoy an environment with significantly less hate than before. The rotation of Mana Leak means people are going to need to dig very deep if they want to counter Collective Blessing. Opponents will be forced to play with narrow cards like Negate, which will probably just leave them dead to the Geist-Honored Monk all by itself. We don't need to worry about people going over the top of our five-drops anymore, either, as the Titan cycle will rotate out along with Mana Leak and Day of Judgment.

I don't normally consider myself the follower type, but I'm ready to sign up for the Collective.

Collective Blessing | Art by Svetlin Velinov

Standard

The Magic Online Standard metagame seems to be in constant flux. Last week, Delver decks enjoyed an unprecedented level of dominance. The Zombie decks that had performed so well the week before were nowhere to be found. The inclusion of Blade Splicer as a four-of in both Delver and Naya Pod was just too much for the undead army. Not a single Zombie deck managed to go 4–0 in a daily event. This seems to have lulled people into a false sense of security, though. This week, hardly anyone brought Blade Splicers to the table. Instead, we saw Delver decks that were superbly tuned for the mirror, often featuring four copies of Talrand, Sky Summoner in the main deck. This gave Zombies an opening to rise from the dead and make a major impact on the Standard landscape. Here's the breakdown of decks that went 4–0 in last Saturday's Daily Events.


Delver is still enjoying a lot of success, but the deck is played more than any other archetype and its numbers are inflated a bit as a result. The Zombie decks are clearly making a comeback, and many of these lists are playing with Flames of the Firebrand—that card allows the Zombies player to absolutely destroy its Naya and Bant opponents and it gives the deck a much more reasonable path to victory against Blade Splicer.

I'd like to take a look at some sample decklists and analyze where each archetype currently stands.

Pistrullo's Delver
Standard – 4–0 Magic Online Daily Event, September 1


The latest versions of Delver have distorted their deck so they're most powerful in the mirror. Talrand, Sky Summoner is the most powerful four-drop available in the Delver Mirror. Augur of Bolas has become more common; we're beginning to see it in about half of the 4–0 Delver lists. Blade Splicer had become the three-drop of choice because of Zombies's rise to power, but Zombies's lackluster performance in the week prior pushes a lot of Delver players back to Geist of Saint Traft.

Pistrullo's White-Blue Delver list is an excellent example of what Delver decks are likely to resemble in the coming week. Many players, including Pistrullo, have drastically cut the number of Mana Leaks in their main deck. Many players still have one or two Mana Leaks, but it isn't worthwhile to play around Mana Leak as often as you might have in previous weeks. You might also expect to see some number of Invisible Stalkers in the coming week. Invisible Stalker + Runechanter's Pike is picking up a lot of steam and we're beginning to see that combination in a lot of Delver lists.

Salvatto's Blue-Black Zombies
Standard – 4–0 Magic Online Daily Event, September 1


Zombies had an excellent week. Of the eight Zombie decks to go undefeated in Standard Daily Events last Saturday, four of them were Blue-Black Birthing Pod versions of the deck and four of them were Black-Red Aggressive versions. The blue-black versions of Zombies are incredibly well positioned. A lot of players moved away from this archetype when Green Infect strategies were becoming popular. The Infect matchup is miserable for this deck and it's unreasonable to bring this to the table if you're expecting a lot of that in your upcoming event. However, this deck has a lot to offer now that Green Infect decks are becoming less popular. The deck is strong against Delver and its matchup against decks like Naya, Red-Green, and Bant is favorable.

Salvatto has a very strong piece of tech in the sideboard for other Zombie decks. The Blood Artist war is often the most important factor when battling another Zombie deck. Salvatto can bring in two copies of Sylvok Lifestaff and one copy of Trinket Mage (Birthing Pod can grab Sylvok Lifestaff!) to massively swing the Blood Artist war. Massacre Wurm gives this deck an awesome top end that gives you excellent inevitability against green decks, other Zombie decks, and Delver.

DoctorofTime's Black-Red Zombies
Standard – 4–0 Magic Online Daily Event, September 1


Black-red versions of Zombies have become the most popular Gravecrawler archetype. Again, this deck excels against the current configuration of Delver. This is the most aggressive version of Zombies available. The deck applies huge amounts of pressure in the early turns and follows that with an incredible engine in Blood Artist and Mortarpod that threatens to grind the opponent out of the game even if he or she is significantly ahead on the board.

DoctorofTime's list seems really strong to me. Dismember is a great way to deal with Blade Splicer golems. Falkenrath Aristocrat is an incredible top end for any aggressive strategy. I'm most impressed by DoctorofTime's sideboard. Two copies of Birthing Pod are great when your opponent is playing a card-advantage-oriented deck. Birthing Pod in conjunction with Gravecrawler is a very strong engine. Skirsdag High Priest makes green decks look laughable as an endless stream of Demons begins to flood the board. Geth's Verdict ensures that a Geist of Saint Traft played into an empty board won't foretell of certain defeat.

Smitty89's Black Discard/Infect
Standard – 4–0 Magic Online Daily Event, September 1

Main Deck

60 cards

Inkmoth Nexus
20  Swamp

24 lands

Phyrexian Crusader
Ravenous Rats
Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon

9 creatures

Despise
Lashwrithe
Mind Rot
Mutilate
Sign in Blood
Smallpox
Virulent Wound

24 other spells

Liliana of the Veil

3 planeswalkers

Sideboard
Doom Blade
Duress
Grafdigger's Cage
Mutilate
Nihil Spellbomb
Sever the Bloodline
Sorin's Thirst
Victim of Night

15 sideboard cards



Smitty89 managed to go undefeated in one of last Saturday's Daily Events with a unique deck. Smitty89 is taking advantage of some powerful cards that seem to have been completely forgotten. Smallpox is one of the most powerful two-mana cards in Standard, but it hasn't really seen any competitive play since it was reprinted. Smallpox, in conjunction with Despise, Liliana of the Veil, Mind Rot, and Ravenous Rats, attempts to empty the opponent's hand in short order so the game can be taken over by a Phyrexian Crusader or Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon. This is a unique strategy that deserves some attention. Cards like Lingering Souls and Strangleroot Geist have kept Smallpox from becoming a part of the Standard metagame, but it seems like no one is playing those cards right now. Smitty89 might be on to something and I strongly suggest putting this together for your Friday Night Magic if you're looking to battle with something new and unexpected.

Goreminator's Dungrove Aggro
Standard – 4–0 Magic Online Daily Event, September 1


Dungrove Green has had scattered success for the last few weeks. The deck hasn't put up significant numbers, but its allowed multiple players to go 4–0 for a few weeks now, so there must be something worthwhile going on here.

Goreminator has produced an exceptional toolbox version of the deck. This deck takes more advantage of Green Sun's Zenith's toolbox application than any other Standard deck we've ever looked at. Green Sun's Zenith can handle just about any situation here. Goreminator includes four copies of Rancor, which combo nicely with Dungrove Elder. I was surprised to see no Sword of War and Peace or Sword of Feast and Famine in the main deck or sideboard here. Perhaps control decks have become obscure enough that it isn't worth wasting sideboard slots against them. Many people might look at this list and simply see a pile of green cards, but I strongly urge you to put this deck together and take it for a test drive. It's surprisingly difficult to play and it has a lot more angles of attack than you might expect.

Conclusions

Delver will probably start playing some number of Blade Splicers either in the main deck or sideboard in the coming week. This means that Zombie players are going to need Flames of the Firebrand or Dismember if they want to keep up. Dungrove Green seems well positioned in the current Standard format and I wouldn't be surprised if more people began playing that deck in the coming week. Blade Splicer and Bonfire of the Damned are the cards to watch this week; both seem to be much better than they were last week, yet we're seeing them in smaller numbers—expect a bounce in these numbers.

Collective Blessing is a lot stronger than it looks upon first glance. I had to stew on the card for a few hours before I truly began to unravel its full potential. Return to Ravnica Standard is already looking like it's going to be drastically different from anything we've ever seen. Until then, we'll be battling against Ponders, Gitaxian Probes, and Vapor Snags. The current Standard metagame seems to oscillate between an environment that's friendly to Naya Pod or Zombies. Will Zombie decks have an off week again next week? Will Delver continue to post impressive results? Tune in to Perilous Research next week to get the latest scoop!

Knowledge is Power!



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