Ever bring a proverbial knife to a gunfight?
I have. For the thrill of finding some slightly underpowered cards that together make up more the sum of their parts, you convince yourself that the reason you play the deck is not that your opponents will have to read half the cards you play, but that it’s the right deck for the tournament.
This is different: I am here to hand you a tank.
Where would you find such a deck? The Standard metagame is a triangle that comprises aggro, combo, and control on the corners with midrange in the middle. For the current metagame I can leave out the corners immediately if I want a deck that is straight-up favored against all the other decks, since all these decks have some inherent weaknesses. Combo—Rally or Eldrazi Ramp—is weak to the combination of pressure and disruption or a faster goldfish as they pose little to no interaction. Aggressive decks like Atarka Red have problems against cheap instant-speed removal and sweepers backed by a clock. Controlling decks like Esper Dragons have trouble when their answers don’t line up well with the threats presented by the opponent or their endgame gets trumped.
So we turn our eye to the midrange spectrum in our search for the best deck. This doesn’t seem too far-fetched—Jeskai Black and Abzan Aggro have been carrying this mantle alternately since the inception of the new format. Specifically though, we can find some inherent weaknesses with these decks as well:
Abzan has no good 2-drops, trouble dealing with certain threats like Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy or Dragonlord Ojutai, a high curve, and extreme mana requirements. It wants to curve 1 through 5 while containing a number of enters-the-battlefield-tapped lands.
Jeskai also has weak mana as their taplands don’t provide late-game utility, and and can struggle when their answers line up poorly against the presented threats. Ever tried holding up Ojutai’s Command only to have them play a Gideon, Ally of Zendikar? Staring at your shocks while they play one 4-toughness creature after the other? Or at your Dispel while they play Explosive Vegetation into Ugin, the Spirit Dragon? You know the feeling and it ain’t good.
These decks do have their strong suits as well of course. The good news is that we can combine some of them while ditching the weaknesses!
(Or: the One-Thousand Dollar Solution. Shout-out to all the Vintage aficionados that recognize this!)
by Marc Tobiasch
Looking at this deck, everyone can see that sure, it plays all the best threats for their cost as well as all the best answers while other decks have to choose some of these and make do. The reason they do though is the mana! And as people I’ve beaten keep telling me: you must get incredibly lucky even casting your spells, or do you just play your entire collection?
Well, I wasn’t actually trying to build a 5-color deck, but again and again in playing the more Standard 4 colors I would get annoyed when I drew multiples of a fetchland since that always meant not getting the color it doesn’t find. You really only wanted to play fetchlands, battlelands, and basics to have the highest consistency and untapped lands, but you just didn’t have enough of these when playing 4 colors to cut the random taplands entirely, and you’d get draws that started with a tri-land, needed to fetch a battleland for a 4th color, and then got stuck playing taplands for a while.
While the shards like Esper had decent mana without this problem, most of the power cards from Khans block were situated in the wedges, like Abzan. So playing just 3 colors wasn’t really an option either if you wanted to play as many of the most powerful cards as possible. Since each fetchland fetches all but 1 color when you play all the battlelands, drawing multiple fetchlands will basically give you whatever colors you want, and when you play more fetchlands in general the likelihood of only drawing a single type decreases. Playing with this mana base actually feels more fluid than with Jeskai Black.
The Mana Base
When playing this deck, obviously the mana base is the most important part and fetching out a wrong land will quickly put you at the mercy of your opponent.
The order of lands you generally aim for is the following:
In this order, usually followed by a second Sunken Hollow.
This will be the course for the vast majority of your games and you will be surprised how often this will happen.
This hand lets you easily curve Jace into Mantis into Rhino while quickly flipping Jace and having enough delve fodder for a 1-mana Tasigur or Murderous Cut. You’ll notice that you can replace these fetchlands with most other combinations while maintaining this curve.
The second order of lands that comes up frequently is:
This sequence isuseful on the draw against Jeskai where you don’t want to expose your Jace to a turn-3 Kolaghan’s Command anyway while needing red to kill their Jace on turn 2. This combination lets you play a Tasigur while holding up Disdainful Stroke on turn 4 or in post-board games to Duress them while playing Jace.
A less optimal combination that comes up when you draw an awkward number of battlelands looks like this:
This either lets you play Jace or Impulse on turn 2 and Crackling Doom on turn 3, or lets you play a Mantis Rider on turn 3 depending on your hand, while both still enable a turn-4 Rhino.
In general if you draw 3 or more fetchlands, the mana base will almost always work out perfectly, while draws involving multiple battlelands (especially those not in the land order mentioned at the start of this segment) will require some sacrifices, but you don’t always have the spells to curve out in any event.
With these guidelines, the best course of action is to practice playing the deck to get a feel for those situations and which lands to get depending on your draw. When in doubt, fetch lands that include a Sunken Hollow, and any 2 lands where one produces white and the other red to set you up to play most if not all of your spells. Don’t worry unduly about green mana, since no green spell costs less than 4 mana (yes Den Protector really costs 5) and 7/8th of your fetchlands will fetch a green source.
With this in mind let’s focus on the spells:
My list is tuned for the current metagame. When you expect a different metagame and wish to tune it, I recommend leaving the above cards alone.
The Flex Slots
These can easily be changed depending on the decks you expect to face, although I would try to leave the role of the slot intact. For instance, the Valorous Stance is mainly aimed at Abzan—if you expect more Jeskai or Atarka Red you could easily make this a fourth Fiery Impulse. If you expect a resurgence of Hangarback Walker this could be a Silkwrap, or if you expect more ramp or control this could be another Disdainful Stroke or a Transgress the Mind. The point is that it should stay a cheap spell to either let you interact early or play two spells in the midgame.
• While thinning is an overrated concept, this deck plays a high number of fetchlands while aiming to play a longer game, which makes the thinning effect of fetching have a significant impact on the game.
• A lot of your spells will deal incidental damage while trading with your opponent’s cards: Siege Rhino, Mantis Rider, and Crackling Doom are the obvious ones, but even Kolaghan’s Command and Self-Inflicted Wound out of the sideboard add to this. This adds up quickly and often puts your opponent in an awkward position when they want to apply pressure. Keep this in mind and use it to your advantage.
• When you have the choice between using a Bloodstained Mire or a Wooded Foothills to fetch your Mountain and you haven’t yet revealed that you’re playing green, err on the side of using the Mire. A surprise Rhino is the best kind of Rhino, and may throw a wrench in your opponent’s plans of racing your Mantis Rider rather than killing it when they expect you to hold up Ojutai’s Command on your next turn. That entices them to play their creature now and their removal spell next turn. Little things like this look minor but can win games.
• Your cards will likely be better than your opponents’. Don’t be afraid to trade early and often, usually the late game will favor you. While you’re not running a lot of pure card advantage, the combination of Jace, Den Protector, and Kolaghan’s Command is just filthy and will quickly grind people to dust.
• Your opponents are likely to commit to unsavory or surprised comments before succumbing when you curve your Jace into Mantis into Rhino. Prepare suitable rejoinders in advance, don’t pass up on these opportunities.
And many more—hey, you are playing 5 colors, go nuts! Just keep in mind that cards that cannot be cast with the “standard” land order will be slightly suspect. This mainly includes cards that require green mana before turn 4 and cards with double-color requirements.
You can race Abzan, but it’s usually better to play conservatively and just kill everything they play. A lot of their cards get worse when they don’t have a board presence (Gideon, Wingmate Roc, and Dromoka’s Command are the main culprits) and you don’t want to be in the position of getting your blocker killed and taking a lot of damage. If you can preserve your life total and stop them from resolving a raided Wingmate the game should be yours.
Keep in mind that there are many different versions of Abzan Aggro, so keep an eye out for unusual cards that might require you to board differently.
You have all the tools that are good against them at your disposal. Good blockers, a decent clock and cheap instant-speed removal. This matchup is very good if you preserve your life total and respect their combo. Take care when you deploy your threats, especially on the draw. Usually it is better to wait until you can keep up a mana for Fiery Impulse or Murderous Cut. Don’t be afraid to attack, putting them on a clock is important so they can’t chip away at your life total with tokens or burn you out.
If they are on the landfall version it may be that Radiant Flames doesn’t match up well against them. Swap them out for Self-Inflicted Wound in that case.
This is as grindy as you would expect. Just jam your threats, especially in game 1. They will either run out of answers, or lack an answer for your Den Protector/Kolaghan’s Command “combo” that will usually be too much for them to deal with. Don’t risk letting them flip a Jace as that is the main way to lose, and be mindful of Dragonlord Silumgar. Ojutai and possible Drifting Deaths don’t really concern you as you usually have enough time to draw into your Crackling Dooms. Save your Disdainful Strokes for their Digs if possible. Post-board you can play with more finesse as you can punch holes in their armor using discard and counterspells. Still, when in doubt—keep up the pressure.
This is mainly an attrition battle around Jace as well. While they are better equipped to win on this axis, you can usually control the flow of the game since you have more and better threats. Again the Protector/Command engine will usually overload their defenses. A lot of their cards are rather weak on their own and they will usually draw more lands than you. Make them trade their cards on your terms, keep them from flipping Jace, and let them slowly die to your incidental damage.
You will notice that play or draw has a huge impact on your game plan here. On the play you abuse the fact that they have no good answer to a turn-3 Mantis Rider when playing second. You can then leverage the fact that they will have to answer your threats during their turn and always stay one step ahead while pushing in damage. On the draw this strategy doesn’t work and having 3-mana threats that will get answered for 1 mana later on is a liability. This sideboard strategy will let you play the control role more easily and you will usually end up running them out of cards and finishing them off with a random threat at some point down the line.
The key here is to apply the right amount of pressure to race the second Ulamog while not overcommitting into an Ugin. Of course, there will be draws where their ramp spells don’t line up well or you draw a Stroke for their Ugin. These games will usually be pretty easy. At other times keep certain threshholds in mind: removing a Siege Rhino will bring an Ugin to 3 loyalty, conveniently in Mantis Rider range. So it is usually correct to keep a back-up Mantis in hand for this reason.
Tasigur lets Command or Doom kill the Ugin afterwards and a face-down Den Protector survives the sweep when your other threats force him to use the minus instead of the plus. Basically just make sure you don’t misjudge their mana and play out more than you can afford to have swept away. When they get into Ulamog range, try to set it up so that they cannot cut you off of Doom mana by having enough threats out to force them to kill those. You can often kill them the turn they play their big Eldrazi. Post-board you can usually just strip their hand of relevant spells and counter their setup or their big finish depending on the situation. Recurring discard and counterspells backed by pressure will usually put them away very fast. Note that Kolaghan’s Command making them discard can be very good, since they need a lot of actual cards to make their deck work.
If you have questions concerning other matchups or card choices let me know.
Have fun battling with this Standard all-star deck—and enjoy the funny comments it will induce while it’s still rogue.