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In Development – The Stars Are Right: Concepting Decks for Rise Standard

 

I’ve been sold on the flavor of Rise of the Eldrazi pretty much since the first picture went up of Sorin and Nissa teamed up to fight some eldritch monstrosities. The story’s only gotten better since then – I’m a sucker for a good “everything you know is wrong” reveal, and Rise runs that game perfectly.

I wasn’t as sure about the set itself, though. Although the idea of being able to tune the speed of Limited seems perfectly intuitive, the same concept doesn’t apply as well to Standard. Are we really going to see people casting ten-, eleven-, or even fifteen-mana creatures in Constructed play?

Our intuition says no.

Intuition is a lovely, useful thing, but it’s just a guidepost on the way to actually knowing. I’ll refer back to the quote that I used to open my article on playtesting new decks for the nascent Alara-Zendikar Standard.

“Playtest the dumb strategies.”

There’s no requirement that the strategies actually be dumb. The core message is to put some time aside to test the decks that are made possible by a new set, even if they don’t make a lot of intuitive sense to you. Will we see people actually casting Eldrazi rather than sneaking them into play via Polymorph or Summoning Trap?

I don’t know. Sounds like something that’s worth testing.

Depending on where you look, we have from two thirds to three fourths of Rise of the Eldrazi spoiled as of the writing of this article. You can find spoilers at a number of places online, and in just a few days the prerelease will happen and you’ll be able to read the full official spoiler. In the meantime, I’ve built my prospective decks using only cards for which I have an actual image, since I don’t want my creating and testing waylaid by incorrect wordings in unconfirmed spoilers.

With that in mind, I have five deck concepts to share with you today, starting with a tweak to an existing build and transitioning into decks that move into new archetype spaces that aren’t abundant in pre-Rise Standard.

A quick word on Red Teaming

In building decks for post-Rise Standard, we need to test them against something. You can go read my full article on Red Teaming here, but the essential idea is that we need to have a concise default set of enemies to run our proposed builds against, to shake out the truly bad ideas and focus on the ones that we might be able to fine-tune into winners.

There’s some intrinsic instability in figuring out your Red Team for any new environment, as part of our goal here is to create that new environment. Nonetheless, Standard is reasonably well developed, so we can generate a useful Red Team to help in our shakedown testing sessions. For the decks below, the testing partners were Allies, Everflowing Control (i.e. U/W tapout control), Gertzen Jund, Red Deck Wins, and Boss Naya. I was also trying to keep in mind the fact that we’re likely to need to fight horrid, giant creatures in new decks that will either cheat them out or cast them, even though I didn’t have a good build for that aspect of our Red Team.

With that said, let’s move on to the decks.

Mad Lily Jund

The most obvious thing to do as we explore cards from a new set is to see how they fit into known archetypes. Jund is the default “best deck” in current Standard – it’s certainly the most prevalent, at least. As far as I can tell from the portion of the set we’ve seen so far, Jund is not going to be pushed out of contention by any reasonably obvious combination of cards. Given that I like control variations on Jund, I arrived at the following build after some testing:

Mad Lily Jund (a prospective deck for post-Rise Standard)

This is definitely a tune-up of a known archetype rather than a novel design. There are only four Rise cards in the main deck and another two in the sideboard. However, these cards do have a pretty profound impact on how the deck operates.

In the main deck, I’ve reorganized the top end of the curve, cutting Siege-Gang Commanders and some Broodmate Dragons in favor of our planeswalker pair and two copies of Consume the Meek.

Consume the Meek is a brilliant card in contemporary Standard. It’s obvious that a mass Smother rips the heart out of many decks – in testing, I five-for-oned a Boss Naya deck at one point, culling away two Noble Hierarchs, a Stoneforge Mystic, a Birds of Paradise, and a Knight of the Reliquary. It plays reasonably well with your own creatures. Sure, there will be some collateral Putrid Leech deaths, but your Sprouting Thrinaxes will simply spawn some Saprolings as they shuffle off this mortal coil. What may not be as obvious is the fact that creature lands have a converted mana cost of zero. Yes, you can bust out a Consume the Meek during your Everflowing Control opponent’s attack, killing not only their Martial Coup soldier tokens but also their Celestial Colonnade. It’s a wonderful feeling.

Sarkhan the Mad is a total winner in this deck as well. I combined him with Liliana Vess to let you set up the top of your deck before you use his first ability, but you don’t need to do that to make him good. In a control-oriented Jund build like this one, nearly half your cards are lands. Dark Confidant never had it so good – you’re either drawing free lands or you’re drawing something powerful. The average CMC in this deck is about 1.8, which gives you about 3.8 draws off of Sarkhan even if you can’t set him up at all with Liliana. Then, of course, there are his other abilities. You can sacrifice a Thrinax for a 5/5 dragon and three 1/1 Saprolings, or sacrifice one of those subsequent Saprolings for a 5/5 dragon. Finally, if you already have a Broodmate and pal on the battlefield, you can swing for eight damage, then cast Sarkhan and blast them for another eight to the face.

Over in the sideboard, I add in two copies of Consuming Vapors. This count may go up, as this card promises to be highly effective both against aggro decks and against Eldrazi.

The addition of new Rise cards has pretty much only powered up this Jund frame, so expect to continue to see Jund decks in the game for a while to come. I’m excited about this, as I like the deck, even if I don’t write about it often.

Real Eldrazi Green

This next deck came out of my attempts to go all-in on casting the Eldrazi. I’ll show what came of that idea in the deck after this one, but in thinking about how I wanted to cast some Eldrazi, I hit a couple issues.

First, I need effective methods to make a lot of mana.

Second, I need a deck that is reasonably resilient to having part of its mana base dedicated to lands that generate colorless mana or simply provide a discount on Eldrazi spells.

Both of these facts led me, through some amount of pondering, to this:

Real Eldrazi Green (a prospective deck for post-Rise Standard)

As I mentioned above, this deck was spawned from my efforts to make something that was “all in” on the Eldrazi idea. Over time, it became more of a dedicated Eldrazi Green deck and less and less an Eldrazi deck, dropping from four Eldrazi to two, and from four Eye of Ugin to two, and then none. In so doing, it shifted from having the high concept of “Eldrazi delivery vehicle” to one of “Elf overrun deck with Eldrazi reload.” Essentially, the two copies of Kozilek are there to give you a devastating finisher and to be a massive reload if you end up in the late game. Even if Kozilek is countered or killed, you get the four cards, and if Kozilek lives to swing, the game ends soon after.

The only other Rise cards in this build are the three copies of Mul Daya Channelers. In a deck that only has seven cards that are neither creatures nor lands, the Channelers are powerful. They’re either ramping you into big plays or being a three-mana Silverback Ape. The variable nature of this ability can be a touch annoying, but once you’re used to it, it’s no trickier than using Vampire Nocturnus.

This Eldrazi build also offers a fun transformative sideboard option – side out the Kozileks and the Eldrazi Temples and bring in the Monuments and Tectonic Edges. This is especially useful against Everflowing Control, where you can expect to face a plethora of board sweepers. Note that the U/W matchup is also the reason behind the Misty Rainforests and that lone Island, as they let you bring in four copies of Negate from the sideboard to stave off those sweepers.

The process that led to this revamping of Eldrazi Green highlights the value of pushing new concepts in testing. Even if we can’t get a specific concept to work as we initially envisioned it, an element from that concept may make its way into other deck designs, like the Kozilek reload appearing in this build.

Great Old Ones

As I mentioned, I tried very hard to come up with a workable design that goes “all in” on Eldrazi. By that, I mean a deck where the point is to ramp into actually casting Eldrazi as the primary win condition. I started my testing process with a white/green deck, then tried several red/green variations, tried mono-white for a while, and finally settled into something nearly mono-green. In general, the need to have so many lands that produce colorless or no mana at all is a big limited on the ability to have more than one color in a deck like this. Here’s the last and most successful list:

Great Old Ones (a prospective deck for post-Rise Standard)

I’m not fond of this deck, but it’s the best “all in” Eldrazi build I’ve hit so far. You’ll notice the lack of Spawn-generating creatures. I initially focused on those, but found that the Spawn do not survive long enough to power out any kind of early Eldrazi. Essentially, it’s better to have good creatures that can ramp you while keeping you in the game, such as Lotus Cobra, Borderland Ranger, and Overgrown Battlement. The first two provide ramping while being able to trade with opposing threats, and the wall is, well, a 0/4 wall.

The core game plan is obvious – ramp, stall, cast Eldrazi. You can use Expedition Map to find Eye of Ugin, and Eye lets you find your Eldrazi. The ideal win is to get Spawnsire out and then continue to ramp into activating its ability, which then lets you vomit out the Eldrazi trifecta from your sideboard.

I’m definitely dubious about the viability of this build, but it’s the most successful one I’ve hit on so far, so I wanted to share it as is. Being an “all in” deck it naturally leans much more heavily on Rise than the first two builds, incorporating a twenty-nine cards from the set.

Realms Uncharted

Realms Uncharted is a card with clear potential in Extended and Legacy, but its applicability in Standard is less apparent. In deciding to test the utility of Realms, I once again wanted to push the concept as much as I could. That led to this deck:

Realms Uncharted (a prospective deck for post-Rise Standard)

Fully pushing Realms Uncharted as the core of a deck means having four copies of Realms backed by four copies of Grim Discovery. Unlike in a Gifts Ungiven deck, you can’t build your graveyard recursion into the four-card package, meaning that you can’t get away with having just one or two copies of Grim Discovery. However, having four copies of Discovery leads to some interesting changes in how you play. For example, you can pretty cavalierly trade your Borderland Rangers for opposing creatures, knowing that you can Grim Discovery to get them back along with a land, and the Ranger then gets another land, which is pretty nice.

A typical Realms package might be Eye of Ugin and Eldrazi Temple paired with some combination of Khalni Garden, Tectonic Edge, and Gargoyle Castle, depending on what’s worse for your opponent. This is a control deck with the plan of winning on the back of either its planeswalkers or searching up your Eldrazi-related lands and then finding and casting one of its Eldrazi.

The ability of this deck to fill your hand with lands makes Ob Nixilis another decent finishing option, and explains how the Gladeharts in the sideboard are actually a decent tool against aggro builds.

Interestingly, the analogy with Gifts Ungiven intuitively led me to think of any Realms Uncharted deck as naturally fitting into the control role. However, the realization that Realms Uncharted puts two lands into your hand led me to rethink that position, which in turn led to the next deck.

Uncharted Fall

So what happens if you have eight cards that let you continually fill your hand with land, and you combine that with the landfall mechanic? You get this:

Uncharted Fall (a prospective deck for post-Rise Standard)

This deck uses Realms Uncharted and Grim Discovery to power no less than fifteen landfall cards, beginning with Lotus Cobra acceleration and capping out in Rampaging Baloths. This deck combines aggression with endurance, as the Bloodghasts keep coming back, and the Grim Discoveries mean you can freely trade with your opponent’s blockers or overextend into a Day of Judgment. One of the fun side effects of this build is that it makes Realms Uncharted into a very aggressive card – you can trade your Bloodghast for their blocker, then main phase a Realms and landfall it back into play right away.

The Khalni Gardens may seem suspect, since they’ll almost never be able to attack for damage, barring the occasional support from Oran-Rief, the Vastwood. However, remember that in post-Rise Standard you’re going to be playing against decks that run Consuming Vapors. As a consequence, you want to have some random creatures in play that you can sacrifice instead of having to lose your Ob Nixilis or Rampaging Baloths. This comes with the added bonus of giving your opponent 1 life rather than 6 or more.

Out of the aeons

As always, it will be exciting to see which deck lists rise to the top in the first month following the release of Rise of the Eldrazi. The five lists I’ve written about in this piece represent just a few of the possible directions to go with the cards in the wake of the influx of nearly 250 new cards into Standard. Hopefully they’ll spur your deck building ideas, whether that means trying to tune one of these designs or taking the general concepts to heart and picking one new aspect of Rise to push in your own design and testing process.

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