Normally, the list of “decks we didn’t play” is quite long for TeamCFB Ice, as we try to explore everything in depth before resorting to a stock deck. Lately, though, we’ve found that this isn’t necessarily the best approach, and having a good list of a good deck is more important than trying to come up with something new, which rarely happens. As a result, we brewed a little bit less, or spent less time on the brews we did have. That said, there were some that I felt had potential, or that at least taught me a couple of things when they didn’t:
U/W God-Pharaoh’s Gift
Originally, we didn’t have a God-Pharaoh’s Gift deck at any point during the testing process—the card just didn’t seem worth it. With its Magic Online PTQ win, the deck rose to prominence, and we hurried to try to build the best version we could in the three days we had left.
Most of the time, a random deck winning a tournament wouldn’t mean much to us. This time, however, it was different. The deck just seemed so good. Even if you don’t like the deck, you have to appreciate how well built it is—all the pieces work together. It’s a work of art. When I looked at the deck list, I thought there was a decent chance I would end up playing the deck at the Pro Tour without even playing a game with it.
The key card that made the deck work, and that we had completely missed, was Angel of Invention. It used to be that it simply wasn’t worth the trouble of getting the Gift in play, as you weren’t reanimating anything great, but Angel changed that. A 6/6 haste, flying, lifelink, vigilance that can come with two chump-blockers was enough to stabilize most boards single-handedly, and was actually worth the effort to set up.
Quickly enough, we realized that the deck was missing two things. First, a good mana base. As it was, the deck had too many tap lands. Second, we wanted some amount of interaction. The first build that tried to remedy that was EFro’s version with Eldrazi and Ballistas. It looked something like this:
U/W God-Pharaoh’s Gift
We liked the two new cards, but didn’t think Thought-Knot Seer was worth it. It was certainly good, but the mana base was too painful with the 8 Deserts, and having too many of them made all your other basic-dependent lands awkward. On top of that, I assumed adding Thought-Knot Seers would make you significantly better against U/R Control (which was one of your worst matchups), but that ended up not being the case (though it did make you incidentally better against red since it let you take their Abrades).
Ballistas, on the other hand, turned out to be perfect for the deck. They were great against red and gave you the ability to sacrificing a creature at any point, which was relevant with Gate to the Afterlife. The original versions of the deck were predictable, but with Ballistas you could add 2 creatures to the graveyard for 0 mana (one with the Ballista, one with the loot), which made it much harder for them to see your Gift coming and react to it.
The next version we tried maximized Ballistas, and even played some Glint-Nest Cranes to help find them and Gifts. There weren’t many artifacts in the list so you didn’t always hit, but the deck didn’t mind having the random body a lot of the time anyway. This is what we arrived at:
U/W God-Pharaoh’s Gift
I thought this deck was good—not as good as Mono-Red, but good enough to play. I also think it has a lot of potential, and it’s still relatively unexplored. You could play U/R Gift, Sultai Gift, a version with more artifacts to Crane for (Aethersphere Harvester? Filigree Familiar?), a version with even more self-mill and a Marionette Master combo kill—the possibilities are endless.
Every time someone asks me, “what should I play in Standard?” I answer with “I think B/G—Zombies and Mono-Red are all good options. U/R is metagame dependent, and I don’t like anything else.” God-Pharaoh’s Gift is the one archetype that I think is still unexplored enough and that can actually compete with or surpass the other four, and it wouldn’t surprise me if a version of it ends up becoming the best deck in the format. The engine is easy to assemble, not very easy to interact with, and the rewards are most definitely there.
U/R Eldrazi had a moment of fame when the colorless Deserts were spoiled, and then no one ever spoke of it again. I’m not sure why—we thought the deck was quite good, and it had a favorable red matchup. Other than Gifts, it’s the one deck I wish we had spent some more time on during Pro Tour prep.
At its core, this deck is just an R/G Monsters deck, except it doesn’t rely on mana dorks because its creatures are naturally undercosted. Instead, you get to play removal spells. We had two different versions, one with Hedron Crawler and one with Metallic Mimic. I’m not really sure which one is better. Mimic allows for more busted draws quality-wise, whereas Hedron Crawler provides you with more busted draws quantity-wise (i.e., the best draws involve Mimic, but it’s easier to have an above-average draw that is not the best with Crawler). It’s also possible to cut a number of Eldrazi Skyspawners (though they’re good with Mimic) and play some Herald of Kozilek.
The removal suite is also customizable. Abrade is best against Gift and U/R, Harnessed Lightning is bad but kills Kalitas if you have Aether Hub, Magma Spray is good against Red and Zombies, and Spatial Contortion isn’t good against anybody but is easy to cast.
This is the list we had:
The 4 Metallic Mimic could also be 4 Hedron Crawlers. This is the type of deck that has game against everything because it has a proactive game plan that involves powerful cards. You have bad matchups (basically anything involving Kalitas is bad for you and Kalitas is heavily played nowadays), but you can always beat those by simply having a good draw.
Eldronas is a U/G Eldrazi deck that ran a lot of mana creatures and Rhonas. The basic idea was that you really wanted to ramp, but Hedron Crawler was a liability in the mid-late game. With cards like Channeler Initiate, this didn’t happen as often as they could actually threaten some damage.
You also got to play Rhonas, which was both easy to turn on with the Eldrazi and effective at giving them trample. Hashep Oasis was also great in this deck since it costs less to activate than the red Desert, and hit for more damage while letting you attack through bigger blockers. It seems like it wouldn’t come up often, but the combination of Lumbering Falls + Hashep Oasis was great against decks like U/R since it let you attack through Torrential Gearhulk, which is usually their only answer to Lumbering Falls.
This was the list we had:
For all its strengths, the deck had a few downsides. It wasn’t the most consistent, as mana dork decks tend not to be, and it didn’t have a lot of removal. You’re even playing Limited all-star Unquenchable Thirst to try to go around that, but if you ever need to kill a Kalitas, you’re out of luck.
The other problem was that there weren’t that many good 4s to ramp into. R/G Monsters can use Chandra, and often uses Bristling Hydra, but there’s nothing you really want to play in the U/G combination (though you can play Hydra, I guess). This would make for some scenarios in which you had a mana creature, but then ended up playing a 3-drop on turn 3 anyway, which wasn’t optimal. It’s possible that a better version of the deck uses a more green mana base and Oath of Nissa to search for either a mana creature or the big Eldrazi.
U/R Zombies, much like Temur Emerge, is a deck that I try for every PT, and every time there’s a problem with it. It seemed to me like Champion of Wits had to be broken in the deck—it looted, which you really want to do, and that also sacrificed to Elder Deep-Fiend, which you also really want to do. On top of that, if you ever discarded it, you could randomly eternalize it. Hollow One also seemed like a sick addition to a deck that naturally wanted to discard cards, that had an aggressive component, and that could use a 5-casting-cost creature to emerge Deep-Fiend.
The first version I tried was more discard based, with Hollow One:
It didn’t take me many games to figure out that Hollow One wasn’t what the deck was supposed to be about. All the things that we thought about it were technically true, and your nut draw was unbeatable (turn-1 Neonate, turn-2 discard Skaab, bring it back, return all Amalgams and play all Hollow Ones), but in practice it didn’t work out very well for two reasons:
- The deck wants to discard cards at instant speed. Past your first discard effect, you almost never tap out on your turn with this deck, and that’s a great advantage—it makes it hard for them to play around what you have and it gives you more flexibility over what to keep and what to discard. Hollow One demands you do everything on your turn, which is awkward.
- The deck needs cards in hand. The way U/R works is that you often return your Skabs multiple times, and for that you need quantity. This is the reason why Fevered Visions is so good in this deck, because you don’t care what you’re drawing as long as you’re drawing two of it. Cards like Insolent Neonate went against this plan. They enabled more nut draws, true, but they also made it so that you simply ran out of cards in your hand too early, which left you unable to return your Skaabs later in the game.
Having figured out that Hollow One wasn’t worth it, I moved to a more standard version:
This deck was better than the Hollow One version for sure, but still not much better than it was before (and it wasn’t good enough before, for the most part). Champion of Wits was OK, but 3 mana was a lot of mana to start your engine. It delayed you for a full turn compared to Voice and Reunion since you could only bring creatures back on turn 4 and then start doing really nice things on turn 5. In Voice/Reunion games, you never had time to play Champion of Wits since you spent turn 3 bringing Skaabs back, and in non-Voice/Reunion games, it was often too slow to matter.
Champion of Wits was also surprisingly unimpressive in Temur Emerge. Not that it was bad—it wasn’t—but I thought it’d be outstanding, everything the deck could ever want, and, well, it wasn’t that. That deck just isn’t very well equipped to discard cards, even if that helps with delirium, and the 2/1 body is basically irrelevant unless you’re emerging. It was overall a significantly weaker version of Rogue Refiner. At least that deck could eternalize it quite often, which the U/R deck can virtually never do.
That’s about it! Nothing crazy, or at least nothing crazy worth talking about (unless you’re interested in Ivan’s Aetherflux Reservoir + Leave // Chance deck. You aren’t, right?). Still, I think the Gifts deck and U/R Eldrazi at least have potential to be strong contenders in a future metagame.