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Breaking Through – List Jumping

All right, I’ll admit it. I’ve been on a bit of an Esper kick lately. Every once in a while a color combination has so many of the powerful cards that, try as I might to brew elsewhere, it always pulls me back in. So why Esper? Like I said, mostly because of the exciting cards at its disposal. Some of my favorite cards to put into new lists right now include:

[card]Unburial Rites[/card] [card]Sin Collector[/card] [card]Lyev Skyknight[/card] [card]Lingering Souls[/card] [card]Far // Away[/card] [card]Supreme Verdict[/card] [card]Notion Thief[/card]

All of these cards offer a ton of power. Just because you’re brewing, that doesn’t mean you’re playing with inferior cards. It all comes down to configuration and inventing technology that pulls everything together. It doesn’t matter if every card in your deck is played in a tier 1 strategy, you can still bring something new to the table.

With this grouping of cards, you can already see the shell. The cards favor an aggressive value deck. I have been on the other end of the spectrum, working on Solar Flare variants and getting my fill of control, but I wanted to explore a more proactive deck, and I think there are many ways to approach it. In fact, once I start down a line like this, I often end up list jumping to explore many of them.

List jumping – This is what I call moving from list to list, exploring many possible angles and directions of a core idea. One idea sparks another and you end up in this limbo of deck exploration and list generation without actually taking any time to test anything. Later on, you take all of your lists and the unique ideas within and then condense it into a few test-worthy lists. This article is basically just that.

So, with the above cards in mind, I needed a starting point. Check out this recent version of The Aristocrats:

The Aristocrats
llabmonkey
MTGO Standard Premier – 6/9/13

[deck]Main Deck
4 Blood Artist
4 Boros Reckoner
4 Cartel Aristocrat
4 Doomed Traveler
4 Falkenrath Aristocrat
2 Obzedat, Ghost Council
4 Zealous Conscripts
2 Blasphemous Act
4 Lingering Souls
1 Mark of Mutiny
4 Tragic Slip
4 Blood Crypt
3 Cavern of Souls
1 Clifftop Retreat
2 Dragonskull Summit
4 Godless Shrine
4 Isolated Chapel
1 Plains
3 Sacred Foundry
1 Swamp
1 Vault of the Archangel
Sideboard
2 Blasphemous Act
2 Blood Baron of Vizkopa
1 Dead Weight
2 Duress
3 Mark of Mutiny
2 Sorin, Lord of Innistrad
3 Wear Tear[/deck]

The list has come a long way from its debut, but it is still an aggressive/midrange creature-based deck with a few tricks up its sleeve. The deck can go over the top with four- and five-drops, but it still has an aggressive core—able to curve out one-drop into two-drop. Previously, [card]Champion of the Parish[/card] was a one-drop that could actually apply pressure, whereas [card]Doomed Traveler[/card] cannot make the same claim.

Well, the first place I went was a Human-based shell, inspired by the creature-type synergies from older Aristocrat lists. While I don’t think those lists could afford a card like [card]Champion of the Parish[/card], with a little more commitment to the tribe, Champion could be an amazing one-drop. Going through Gatherer, I pulled out the following Humans from black, white, and blue that looked practical:

[deck]Azorius Arrester
Boros Elite
Cartel Aristocrat
Champion of the Parish
Council of the Absolute
Deputy of Acquittals
Disciple of Bolas
Doomed Traveler
Elite Inquisitor
Fiend Hunter
Frontline Medic
Knight of Glory
Knight of Infamy
Lavinia of the Tenth
Lyev Skyknight
Mentor of the Meek
Nearheath Pilgrim
Notion Thief
Precinct Captain
Silverblade Paladin
Sin Collector
Skirsdag High Priest
Snapcaster Mage
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
Thrill-Kill Assassin[/deck]

Some of these card have not proven themselves in a Standard environment just yet, but they have a lot of potential. Other cards are just Standard staples, so we really aren’t digging that deep. There is a heavy skew toward black and white over blue, so I instantly wanted to branch off and explore each color combination for the tribe. If I were to commit to a three-color shell, I think my list would start somewhere around here:

[deck]Main Deck
4 Champion of the Parish
4 Cartel Aristocrat
2 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
3 Skirsdag High Priest
4 Lyev Skyknight
3 Sin Collector
4 Lingering Souls
2 Restoration Angel
2 Lavinia of the Tenth
2 Obzedat, Ghost Council
1 Duress
2 Ultimate Price
3 Tragic Slip
4 Godless Shrine
4 Isolated Chapel
4 Hallowed Fountain
4 Watery Grave
3 Plains
2 Swamp
3 Cavern of Souls
1 Vault of the Archangel
Sideboard:
1 Sin Collector
1 Duress
1 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
2 Evil Twin
1 Skirsdag High Priest
1 Tragic Slip
2 Notion Thief
4 Gloom Surgeon
2 Purify the Grave[/deck]

This list has a relatively low curve, so it can fake it as a dedicated aggro deck pretty well. The deck offers a lot more play as the game goes on. You have natural synergies and combinations that generate advantage depending on the game state. Everything from blinking a [card]Lyev Skyknight[/card] before combat to change the math, to [card]Cartel Aristocrat[/card] plus [card]Skirsdag High Priest[/card] draws that churn out an army of 5/5s.

The majority of your creatures are Humans, so I think [card]Champion of the Parish[/card] should be a solid one-drop. While you can’t expect turn three 5/5s, they will get to a reasonable 3 or 4 power by that time usually. Once your late game kicks in, you have a ton of big plays and big draws that can keep your head above water, something the original Aristocrats decks were known for. I don’t think the mana is quite where I want to be, but that is generally the problem with being three colors.

Blue adds some things that black and white just cannot duplicate, but it also strains the mana quite a bit and has us only running a single spell-land in [card]Vault of the Archangel[/card]. The idea seems solid, but I wanted to see if I could capture the same feel in a two-color variant. I wanted to maintain the tribal theme for this iteration. Here is the same deck turned into just two colors.

[deck]Main Deck
4 Champion of the Parish
4 Cartel Aristocrat
4 Precinct Captain
3 Skirsdag High Priest
3 Sin Collector
2 Fiend Hunter
4 Lingering Souls
2 Restoration Angel
2 Obzedat, Ghost Council
1 Ultimate Price
1 Sorin, Lord of Innistrad
3 Liliana of the Veil
3 Tragic Slip
4 Godless Shrine
4 Isolated Chapel
2 Vault of the Archangel
6 Plains
3 Cavern of Souls
5 Swamp
Sideboard:
1 Sin Collector
2 Duress
2 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
1 Skirsdag High Priest
4 Gloom Surgeon
2 Purify the Grave
1 Fiend Hunter
1 Oblivion Ring
1 Sorin, Lord of Innistrad[/deck]

While I think this list is slightly weaker than the Esper version, it does have better mana, so it is less likely to lose to some technical thing like that. If you are beating this deck, it had better be in the ring. The numbers could easily be off, but I think this is a good place to start. But, all this exploration led me to a bit of a dead end.

Or, should I say dead start. Looking at the list above, it is Human tribal and aggressive, but it packs some punch in the late game. What if the deck was able to take that function to an entirely different level? What if that level happened to fit in another one of my favorite cards in the format right now? Dead-end, remember. Unbury it please!

A few months ago, there was a Human Reanimator list running around. The deck mostly controlled the board with some life gain and small creatures until an eventual [card]Angel of Glory’s Rise[/card] came down, either hard cast or out of the graveyard. At that point, the deck can either finish off its aggressive game plan, or it can turn into combo. Generally, the combo involves a sacrifice effect ([card]Cartel Aristocrat[/card]) a [card]Fiend Hunter[/card], and the [card]Angel of Glory’s Rise[/card] itself.

The Angel enters the battlefield, bringing every Human back, [card]Fiend Hunter[/card] and [card]Cartel Aristocrat[/card] with it. From there, you exile the Angel to the [card]Fiend Hunter[/card]. Then, you sacrifice all of the Humans you see fit, including the Fiend Hunter. This will bring back in the Angel and allow you to start the chain again. This combo lets you abuse infinite enters-the-battlefield or leaves-the-battlefield triggers. What if those lists were a little more aggressive? Taking the idea a little bit further, check out this list:

[deck]Main Deck
4 Champion of the Parish
4 Cartel Aristocrat
4 Precinct Captain
2 Skirsdag High Priest
3 Sin Collector
4 Fiend Hunter
2 Obzedat, Ghost Council
2 Angel of Glory’s Rise
4 Lingering Souls
3 Unburial Rites
4 Liliana of the Veil
4 Godless Shrine
4 Isolated Chapel
2 Vault of the Archangel
7 Plains
2 Cavern of Souls
5 Swamp
Sideboard:
1 Sin Collector
2 Duress
2 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
1 Skirsdag High Priest
4 Gloom Surgeon
2 Purify the Grave
1 Fiend Hunter
1 Oblivion Ring
1 Sorin, Lord of Innistrad[/deck]

This is what I first arrived at, and although I was not a huge fan of some aspects, it looked decent. Angel is basically just your equivalent to [card]Patriarch’s Bidding[/card], resetting the game with you back on top. However, what I quickly picked up on is that I had no real way to finish a game with my “infinite” combo. My best option was to end up with a very large [card]Champion of the Parish[/card] and to [card]Sin Collector[/card] every instant and sorcery from my opponent’s hand. Was that enough? Some of the time, I am sure, but I wanted a little more than that. I went back to look for my best options. If I wanted to stay black/white, these were probably the best available cards, but each has a flaw:

[card]Blood Artist[/card]- Solid but does not return with Angel, meaning you need to have one in play to combo.

[card]Doomed Traveler[/card]- Infinite 1/1 Spirits is good, but you still need to dodge wrath effects and the like for a turn.

[card]Cathedral Sanctifier[/card]- Infinite life does not win the game, even if it strongly correlates. Also, this is a vanilla 1/1 which is not exciting in an aggro deck.

[card]Goldnight Commander[/card]- Requires that you have a non-summoning-sick creature that gets through to win. Also an unexciting 2/2 for four mana.

None of those options seems great. [card]Doomed Traveler[/card] was probably the best option from among those, but it had plenty of baggage that kept it from being great. Reanimator lists from before had haste options like [card]Falkenrath Aristocrat[/card] that just killed the opponent that turn, or were built to hide behind the defensive build and just gain infinite life before later winning with a [card]Griselbrand[/card] or whatever.

The more I thought about these options and splashing another color just to get the benefit of a cool finish, it just felt forced. If we had the likes of a [card]Huntmaster of the Fells[/card] in our list naturally, so be it, but contorting the deck to better take advantage of the backup plan while actively hurting the plan A isn’t ideal.

Stripping your opponent of removal spells, making a giant [card]Champion of the Parish[/card], and then leaving a [card]Fiend Hunter[/card] in play with an Angel tucked neatly away underneath to protect against top decks was more than likely going to be enough. The deck could certainly do something better than that, but not without hurting the aggro plan, so before I try anything else, I wanted to start here.

Wrap Up

If you haven’t guessed by now, you can probably expect a smattering of videos with various versions of these lists in them as I explore the format a little bit. Modern Masters will take up much of my Magic time for the next week, but whenever I get a Constructed itch, [card]Sin Collector[/card] will probably not be far behind. As for now, it’s off to Houston where I hope I can find a [card]Pack Rat[/card] waiting for me. Thanks for reading!

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