Standard is currently undergoing a bit of reconstruction after the banning of Oko, Thief of Crowns, Once Upon a Time and Veil of Summer. We are stuck with the current set of cards for another two months or so, when Theros: Beyond Death is released. Until then, the imminent Standard metagame looks to be a battle between the two major archetypes, Jeskai Fires and the Sacrifice decks.
Today we will be focusing our efforts on battling against the Sacrifice decks. This deck is built around the Cauldron Familiar and Witch’s Oven engine (collectively known as “Cat Oven”) that allows you to loop the cat indefinitely as well as gaining incremental advantage through cards such as Mayhem Devil, Trail of Crumbs and/or Korvold, Fae-Cursed King. Though the Cat Oven combo is pretty ubiquitous, unlike the now-banned Oko and Field of the Dead, it can be targeted against in a more variety of ways and without the central pieces, become a lot weaker.
In today’s article, we explore the different avenues on how players can attempt to effectively deal with the Sacrifice decks, either as mainboard or sideboard options. As we dissect each specific card choice, we hope to teach players what thought processes may go when choosing a card, how they can be good in different situations and how they fit in your overall strategy of your deck.
Embercleave is an essential part of many red-based aggro decks such as Rakdos Knights and Gruul Aggro. When combined with big creatures such as Lovestruck Beast and Rotting Regisaur, they become unstoppable and can end games out of nowhere. While not a direct answer to Cat Oven, brute strength is one of the better ways to deal with the Sacrifice decks.
Giving the equipped creature Trample is why this card is so effective against Cauldron Familiar. Usually, the cat can just chump block, prevent all damage and even be sacrificed (before damage) to Witch’s Oven to generate the Food token. With Embercleave on the opposing side, Trample allows you to deal all but one damage to the player or planeswalker.
9. Grafdigger’s Cage
This is a sideboard card prevents Cauldron Familiar from coming back to play with its ability, which makes it a quick and effective one mana answer to the combo. Outside of that, it does not have too much applications in Standard. It can affect other fringe-played cards such as limiting the use of Experimental Frenzy, Command the Dreadhorde, Bolas’s Citadel and Archlight Phoenix.
8. Tithe Taker
White is not in a great place in Standard at the moment, but should you choose to play it, Tithe Taker is an effective way to give an annoying taxing effect to Cat Oven players. This means adding a hefty cost to activate the abilities of Witch’s Oven and Cauldron Familiar themselves, as well as things like activating Food Tokens, Gilded Goose and Wicked Wolf should it come up. For example of its use, Lee Shi Tian used four copies to achieve a 5-1 record with his Mono White Aggro deck used in the Twitch Rivals tournament.
Of course, they can do all that during their turn rather than yours or easily remove it with Mayhem Devil but it will heavily restrict the way they play the deck should it stick on the board. Do remember that Trail of Crumbs and Korvold are triggered abilities so Tithe Taker has no effect there.
7. Embereth Shieldbreaker
Direct artifact removal for Witch’s Oven for one mana that can be followed up as a 2/1 creature is not a bad deal, especially if your deck is aggressively oriented or have Edgewall Innkeeper to make use of. Like Grafdigger’s Cage, mana efficiency is this card’s strong suite and is a good for decks that are on the proactive side that want to be the aggressor in the matchup. Often you may be able to target other artifacts as well such as The Great Henge.
Next up is Cindervines, which allows direct removal of Witch’s Oven and even Trail of Crumbs if required for a total of three mana commitment. Against sacrifice decks, the first ability is not hugely relevant as it is a more creature-heavy deck, but this card is amazing against decks like Jeskai Fires (Fires of Invention), Temur Reclamation (Wilderness Reclamation) and Azorius Control (Prison Realm) that also have relevant targets and play less creatures.
5. Return to Nature
Similar to Cindervines, this is a more efficient versatile card and its bonus ability can be useful sometimes.
4. Sorcerous Spyglass
Sorcerous Spyglass is a fantastic card in this Standard metagame that has a wide range of uses. At the very least, it can look your opponent’s hand which is powerful information you can use to your advantage. Naming Witch’s Oven would be the most common thing will do against the Sacrifice decks, but did you know you can use it to name:
- Planeswalkers: Loyalty abilities are considered activated abilities
- Fabled Passage: Not a mana ability – so you can prevent it from searching for lands (and your own too).
It is at this point we want to make sure players name the correct cards and explain the difference between activated and triggered abilities. From the Magic: The Gathering Comprehensive Rules if you are interested in some light reading:
A triggered ability is an ability that is triggered by a specific event occurring in the game. For example, Tattered Mummy is a creature with the triggered ability “When Tattered Mummy dies, each opponent loses 2 life.” Each triggered ability starts with the word “when,” “whenever,” or “at.” You don’t activate a triggered ability— it automatically triggers whenever the condition or conditions stated in the first part of the ability are met.
An activated ability is an ability that you can activate whenever you want (like casting an instant), as long as you can pay the cost. Each activated ability is formatted in the same way: “Cost: Effect.” For example, Inspired Sphinx is a creature with the activated ability “: Create a 1/1 colorless Thopter artifact creature token with flying.” Some activated abilities contain the (tap) symbol in their costs; this means that you must tap that card to activate the ability. You can’t activate this kind of ability if the permanent is already tapped or if it’s a creature with summoning sickness.
As an example, Mayhem Devil and Trail of Crumbs are triggered abilities, triggered by sacrificing a permanent or a Food token. Naming these cards with the spyglass will not achieve anything!
3. Thrashing Brontodon
Thrashing Brontodon, like Cindervines can destroy both artifacts and enchantments but the fact that it is stuck on an efficient 3/4 dinosaur body for 3 mana makes the card even more versatile. What is usually a solid sideboard card, now it is starting to be included in the main deck of these sacrifice decks as its ability works well enough with the rest of the deck!
2. Karn, the Great Creator
Karn’s passive ability prevents the activation of Witch’s Oven and sacrificing Food Tokens, but its true strength is that it can do much more than that. Its first ability works great with the legendary artifacts that gets a reduced cost, such as The Great Henge and Embercleave.
The second ability allows you to grab specific artifacts from your sideboard, such as the ones mentioned above (Sorcerous Spyglass, Grafdigger’s Cage). That is not to say you just jam this in every deck you play, but it is a strong, universal option in a Sacrifice heavy metagame.
1. Leyline the Void
When Leyline of the Void was spoiled for Core Set 2020, players did not anticipate Standard having a powerful enough graveyard deck to make it playable. Just one set later, we are seeing this card playing an important role against the Sacrifice decks.
One of the biggest draws is obviously being able to play it for free, but also prevents your opponents drawing cards from Midnight Reaper. As a rules refresher, creatures “dying” in Magic refers to them going into the graveyard but with the leyline in play, creatures go straight to the exile zone and will not trigger Midnight Reaper’s ability.
After posting the article, our kind readers have reminded us of some cards that slipped under our radar and rightfully has their place, probably among the top 10 as well:
- Cry of the Carnarium: This sweeper can remove Cauldron Familiar whether they sacrifice it before or after you cast this spell, and take down other relevant creatures (such as Midnight Reaper that and it prevents the card draw) along with it as well.
- Kaya, Orzhov Usurper: This is another card that slipped under our radar that our readers reminded us of. Kaya is a perfect design for a three mana planeswalker that can do exactly what we need here, exile Witch’s Oven or Cauldron Familiar.
- Ethereal Absolution: Another powerful, albeit slow answer to Cauldron Familiar as well as neutering your opponent’s other creatures as well. Usually played in the Fires decks or Esper decks.
- Blast Zone: A clean crisp answer to Witch’s Oven that does not occupy a spell slot in your deck. More suitable for control decks that naturally plays more lands and can afford set backs to their mana in a pinch.
- Assassin’s Trophy: A catch-all removal spell that can target planeswalkers as well.
- Legion’s End: It will be difficult to ever catch a Cauldron Familar with this, but will be devastating on the off chance you remove it without an accompanying oven. Though it is less useful than what it was before, it still has some useful targets such as Gilded Goose.
- Immolation Shaman: Can be useful in a Mono Red Aggro deck, which can also somewhat offset the lifegain by Food Tokens.
- Knight of Autumn: Another versatile artifact and enchantment removal.
We hope you enjoyed our first Metagame Monday article, similar to Wednesday Brawl, we plan to make this a permanent feature to guide players around the rapidly changing MTG Arena metagame. Do you agree with the rankings here? If you have any suggestions or would like to see a certain topic covered, let us know!