In the Hall of the Mountain King begins playing
In the Hall of the Mountain King speeds up
In the Hall of the Mountain King speeds up significantly.
Yes, it’s happened again. I’m not one to overreact (well actually yes I am), but I’m willing to call this Standard format a bit early. Field of the Dead was dominant and unfun, so we got rid of it. Oko, Thief of Crowns was dominant and unfun, so we got rid of it, alongside some of the other problematic cards in this format. Logically, with both of the issues in Standard being solved, we would enjoy a format that is diverse and fun, and players have certainly been wishing that into existence. But, in the coming weeks, we are very likely to see the emergence and dominance of one deck. What you want to call that deck is a matter of personal preference. Cat-Oven, Sacrifice, Aristocrats. Each one works just as well as the next.
For those not in the know, this deck, which I’ll be calling Cat-Oven, is a deck that is focused around the interaction of Cauldron Familiar and Witch’s Oven. Essentially, for each Witch’s Oven you have, you sacrifice Cauldron Familiar to generate a food, which then is fed to the Familiar in your graveyard to bring it back, which triggers the cat’s enter the battlefield ability. Add in Midnight Reaper, and you’re drawing an additional card each turn. Add in Mayhem Devil, and you’re dealing 2 damage wherever you want each turn (activating Oven and sacrificing the food it creates).
Here’s a list of the more traditional Golgari version:
Golgari Cat-Oven by AliEnWaRe_
4 Witch’s Oven
4 Trail of Crumbs
And here’s the Jund list that is more popular (and in my opinion better at the moment):
Jund Cat-Oven by yamakiller
4 Witch’s Oven
3 Trail of Crumbs
3 Vraska, Golgari Queen
While on the surface this interaction may seem somewhat harmless and fairly easily to break up, it doesn’t quite work out that way in practice. In general, decks that are too strong are ones that break some fundamental rule about how a fair game of Standard magic is played. Field of the Dead broke this rule by allowing a ramp deck’s ramp cards to be extremely valuable at all points of the game and possessing a late-game setup that couldn’t be beaten. Oko broke this rule by not allowing important creatures to ever stick and possessing too much loyalty to be reasonably attacked, one of the core reasons why all planeswalkers don’t break formats. The Cat-Oven combo both invalidates traditional removal spells like Murder and removes an attacking creature from combat each turn, which are arguably the two core pieces of gameplay in a traditional game of Magic. Since the Cat-Oven combo is dealing damage to the opponent every turn as well, the Cat-Oven player can afford to sit back and simply ensure that they aren’t going to die before they kill the opponent.
In case you aren’t in the know, you do this by declaring the Cauldron Familiar as a blocker on the opponent’s best non-flying creature and then sacrificing it before combat damage is dealt, effectively removing the opponent’s best attacker, gaining 1 life, and dealing 1 damage to the opponent each turn. Traditional creature removal spells, which are core to Magic gameplay in Standard, are wildly ineffective here. Trying to go under the Cat-Oven combo through attacking is also ineffective. Since both are 1 mana spells, it’s hard to get something going before this combo is online, and perhaps even harder to stop it once it gets going.
When we understand that all of the Cat-Oven decks are trying to maximize the efficiency of this interaction, we can land on which version is likely the best going forward, especially in the context of the many mirror matches that are likely to take place in the coming weeks, especially at Mythic Championship VII which is a mere 10 days away.
The Golgari Version
The Golgari version is easily the most streamlined version of this deck, and it suffers less against its own variance. It gets to really load up on Trail of Crumbs, and play cards like Wicked Wolf to keep the deck focused. This, in my opinion, should be the level 1 for Cat-Oven going forward. You don’t really need to be messing around with another color or another core if the metagame isn’t calling for it.
The Jund Version
And this is where I contradict everything I just said by telling you that you should absolutely be playing the Jund Cat-Oven version at the moment. With the Jund version, you get access to Mayhem Devil, which is my current leading candidate for most important card in the format. It’s unassuming, but it’s a fantastic mirror breaker (it says “a player” and not “you”) and is extremely good against the decks that think they have a good Cat-Oven matchup. I cannot tell you the amount of times over the past week or two that I’ve seen people discussing their deck’s Cat-Oven matchup and it ends with “but it’s pretty rough if they draw Mayhem Devil.” Additionally, having access to Korvold, Fae-Cursed King is huge in the mirror match, as it spirals out of control and ends the game extremely quickly. In matchups where you’re simply looking to out card-advantage your opponent into the ground, Korvold reigns supreme (get it… cuz he’s a king?).
The aggro decks of this format, such as Mono Red, are simply not built to battle Mayhem Devil. The absence of Lightning Strike is felt, to be sure, but similarly the frailty of so many of Mono Red’s important cards is taken advantage of by Mayhem Devil. Usually, good decks that add another color to be better in the mirror match generally fair worse against Mono Red and similar decks, since their manabase is worse and the mirror-breaker they’ve added tries to go over the top. That is not the case here! Mayhem Devil actually makes you even better against aggro!
That Strasky Deck
Lastly, I think it’s important to acknowledge the Sultai Emry deck that Ondrej Strasky has been cooking up recently. Essentially, it’s a mashup of a Cat-Oven deck, an Adventures deck, and a self-mill deck. Here’s what I’m referring to:
I played a bunch of this deck, and it’s definitely more “sweet” than it is “good”. Your draws need to come together fairly well to have a chance against any reasonable draw from your opponent, but it does present a late game that can go over the top of every deck in the format. The only issue is, according to Ondrej himself, is Mayhem Devil and its impact on the board. Emry, Lurker of the Loch is an extremely important card for this deck, and not being able to have one stick for multiple turns really throws a spanner in the works.
There are some decks that believe they have a good or reasonable Cat-Oven matchup, but I personally have not found one yet that I believe has the consistency to do so. Because of that, I firmly believe that playing the Jund Cat-Oven deck is the best choice a player can make in this Standard format. Of course, this deck isn’t exactly a cake walk to play, so make sure you get your reps in before taking it to battle.
Until next time,
@jonahgaynor on Twitter