Black and green are the colors to play in Standard. As many powerful tools as Esper and Blue Devotion may have at their disposal, they don’t offer the complete mastery of the format that the B/G color combination does. Let me explain why:
First and foremost, noncreature permanents are at the heart of Standard. There are the planeswalkers: Jace, Architect of Thought and Elspeth, Sun’s Champion in control; Domri Rade and Xenagos, the Reveler in Monsters; and a dozen others available to fringe strategies and rogue deckbuilders. Next there’s Underworld Connections—the card advantage engine of Black Devotion and number one tool against control. For a huge portion of Standard players, the only realistic way to answer these—and the Gods—is Detention Sphere. Presenting a noncreature threat and backing it up with a way to kill Detention Sphere is the best way to beat control.
The Black Devotion mirror is all about Underworld Connections. This is more true than ever before due to the printing of Bile Blight. So long as both players have a healthy amount of removal and can answer one another’s creatures one-for-one, then a card advantage engine like Underworld Connections is unbeatable. Having access to green means that you can destroy your opponents’ Underworld Connections while they (typically) cannot destroy yours.
Certainly, other colors can accomplish the same thing using cards like Revoke Existence or Ratchet Bomb, but these cards have a number of flaws. Generally speaking, they’re overly-specific and relatively unreliable.
B/G offers Abrupt Decay, which can be played in four copies in your main deck and represents one of the absolute best cards in every matchup in Standard. To complement Abrupt Decay, you also get access to Golgari Charm and Vraska, the Unseen.
That’s how I arrived at my deck choice for the SCG Invitational. Junk midrange took me to a 6-2 Standard record and a 10th place finish overall, and it all started with a desire to play with Abrupt Decay.
The Core of the Deck
I’ve already raved about all of the things this card can do, but it’s impossible to overstate its efficiency and reliability. It’s simultaneously the best card against an aggressive creature draw and a crucial late-game tool for a grindy matchup.
This is the card you most want in your opening hand. It’s the biggest reason to play the deck. It’s one of the best cards in Standard.
Sometimes three mana can seem like a lot, but you get what you pay for with Hero’s Downfall. In a world of Nightveil Specter, Desecration Demon, Master of Waves, Stormbreath Dragon, and Elspeth, Sun’s Champion, the ability to have a no-questions-asked, instant-speed removal spell is simply invaluable.
Like Abrupt Decay, Hero’s Downfall is both an effective anti-creature card, and an important part of your game plan against control. The fact that you can permanently remove their planeswalkers while they cannot permanently remove yours gives you a tremendous long-term advantage.
A huge appeal of Junk is that you get to maindeck more spot removal than virtually any other deck in the format, and yet you have no cards that are dead against Esper Control. Hero’s Downfall kills planeswalkers and Abrupt Decay kills Detention Spheres.
As we all know, Thoughtseize is a great card that gets played in every format in which it’s legal. In Junk, it’s your best weapon against control, it protects your game-winning threats, it answers problem cards like Lifebane Zombie, and it’s never a dead card. There’s not much I can say about Thoughtseize that you don’t already know!
For a three-color deck with a relatively high mana curve, Sylvan Caryatid does wonders for greasing the gears and making sure things run smoothly. Land a Sylvan Caryatid and any troubles with an early weenie rush or a land-light draw are over right away.
I sideboard out Sylvan Caryatid against decks with Supreme Verdict, but as a game one card it can’t be beat.
One common question that I get about my deck list is why I do not play Voice of Resurgence. When such a large portion of your deck must be devoted to mana and removal, it’s very important that each threat be potent enough to win the game on its own. Compare opening on a hand of four lands, Thoughtseize, Hero’s Downfall, and Voice of Resurgence to the same hand with Polukranos, World Eater in place of the Voice. When you have the Voice, you’ll probably get your opponent down to 14 life, but it’s very easy to flood out, or fail to close the game. With a more powerful card like Polukranos, you have a one-card army, you have a fast clock, and you have a mana sink. Despite how good and efficient a card Voice of Resurgence is, it’s not high-impact enough to earn a slot in this particular deck.
That said, you still need to respect the concepts of balance and mana curve. Scavenging Ooze is perfect for this deck in the sense that it’s both a card you can topdeck on turn 8 to dominate a game or a card that you can play early and trade with a Rakdos Cackler. Junk is a deck made of mostly creatures and removal spells and the games go long. It’s not uncommon for Scavenging Ooze to grow to 6/6 or bigger in a very reasonable time frame.
Incidental graveyard hate can also be huge against the B/G graveyard deck or single cards like Whip of Erebos. Against opposing green decks, you really want to have Scavenging Ooze supremacy, and to minimize the times where your opponent has an Ooze but you do not.
Finally we get to the creature that really makes this strategy possible. Some players, myself included, experimented with decks like this before the release of Born of the Gods, but Courser of Kruphix was the exact card we were waiting for. Like Scavenging Ooze, Courser is an early drop that gives you a long term advantage. It’s simultaneously one of the best defensive cards available, and a great card advantage engine.
Courser of Kruphix combos remarkably well with Underworld Connections, scry lands, and of course, Archangel of Thune.
Why Not Jund?
In reality, I suppose the seeds for this deck were planted weeks ago, during my experimentation with Jund Monsters. There was much that I liked about the Jund Monsters deck: the green creature base, access to versatile removal, good sideboard options against control, and, of course, Abrupt Decay and Golgari Charm.
However, there were also a few things that I didn’t like. Although I may be known for my love of midrange decks, I’m actually a rather focus-minded player. Unless I’m building a hyper-aggressive deck, I lean much more on defense, and try to win the game only when I’m ready to. Along these lines, I don’t have much interest in a card like Stormbreath Dragon. If my plan is to control the board with planeswalkers and removal spells, I’d rather choose creatures which are more suited to blocking, and better contribute to this plan. Casting Stormbreath Dragon felt to me less like working towards a concerted game plan and more like throwing a Hail Mary and saying, “well, maybe this will steal a win for me!”
I set to work building a more controlling version of Jund, focused on defensive creatures and removal spells. I spent nearly two weeks working on this deck to modest success—I do believe that Jund Midrange is also a competitive strategy in Standard right now, though I very slightly prefer Junk. Here’s where I ended up:
One day I noticed something about my Jund deck: I’d cut most of the red cards! Abrupt Decay was the best removal spell anyway, I didn’t like Slaughter Games, and Chandra, Pyromaster was only good as a one-of. Once red is reduced to the splash color, you don’t want to play as many sources of red mana, and suddenly Chandra and Mizzium Mortars begin to drop even further in value.
The only thing that had me hanging onto red was Rakdos’s Return—a card I’d loved with an unreasonable passion in old Standard. However, even Rakdos’s Return wasn’t quite the same as I remembered. Underworld Connections is an excellent card against Rakdos’s Return because a Mono-Black opponent can cast it preemptively to mitigate the effects of losing their hand, or they can topdeck it to recover almost immediately.
The control decks have a tremendous number of counterspells in their deck compared to old Standard, often with multiple copies of both Negate and Syncopate after sideboarding in addition to the normal four Dissolves. Beyond the obvious flaw that Rakdos’s Return is an expensive sorcery and therefore vulnerable to permission, I also felt that I had to have so many Thoughtseizes and Duresses in my deck to beat control that by the time I was resolving Return, I’d already stripped the important cards from their hand anyway!
In short, Rakdos’s Return is still an incredibly powerful card that can be quite good at times. However, I found that it was not reliable enough to make me play red just for its sake.
What White Offers
Next I considered the option of playing straight B/G. One could build Black Devotion with a green splash, or one could build a B/G Rock deck without the Devotion theme. However, one of the things that had really made the Jund deck work were the eight scry lands. Unfortunately, B/G remains one of the two color combinations that does not have its own scry land. Given that I wanted scry lands in my B/G deck anyway, and that I’d be playing with Sylvan Caryatid, adding a third color had such a low cost that it would’ve been a mistake not to do so.
What I wound up sacrificing in red’s removal, I more than made up for in white’s late-game power.
Elspeth is the reigning queen of Standard. U/W and Esper Control, which are built to have the strongest possible late game of all decks in Standard, turn to Elspeth as their win condition. She dominates opposing creature decks, has a huge impact on the board the first turn she comes into play, and clocks an opponent remarkably fast, so they have little time to draw an answer.
Where I’d tried other six drops like Primeval Bounty, Deadbridge Chant, and Sire of Insanity, none of them had the same power level and universality that Elspeth has. Having such a powerful planeswalker is perfect for a deck that can back her up with discard spells and answers to Detention Sphere. She’s a perfect two-of curve topper.
Obzedat is a similarly powerful card, and preys on the current Standard metagame. The Esper deck lists that we’ve seen dominate over the past three weeks commonly have zero ways to remove a resolved Obzedat from the table (at least in game one). A hard-hitting attacker that cannot be answered with sorcery-speed removal and puts the game on an unblockable clock is a total nightmare for control players (I’m speaking as someone who has lost a lot of games to Obzedat in the past).
Any non-blue midrange or control deck is going to be inherently disadvantaged against Sphinx’s Revelation decks before sideboarding. However, having access to a card like Obzedat gives you a realistic plan for winning the first game of the match. All it takes is a lucky opening or a well-placed Thoughtseize and you can easily steal a game away from a deck that would otherwise be a tough matchup.
Remember those Obzedats? Remember those Coursers of Kruphix and Scavenging Oozes? Not counting the Archangels themselves, my recommended deck list has ten repeatable sources of life gain! With the possible exception of Elspeth, Sun’s Champion, there’s no better way to break a creature stall in Standard than with Archangel of Thune. This card, if not answered right away, is quite simply unbeatable.
For obvious reasons, Archangel of Thune is a nice addition against aggressive decks like Burn and White Weenie. It’s at its absolute best against decks like R/G Monsters, since it does a nice job of trumping even the biggest of green creatures in a drawn-out war. Mono-Blue cannot remove it, and only has a narrow window in which to race it. Control players have a number of ways to answer the Archangel, but it at least has the quality of demanding an immediate answer, since it can frequently represent 20 or more damage when it stays in play for a turn or two. Vanilla creatures like Loxodon Smiter or Desecration Demon are not threatening to control players at all out of a deck like Junk.
Another common question I get about my deck list is why no Blood Baron of Vizkopa? I simply think that it compares unfavorably to Archangel of Thune. Archangel is way better in every matchup besides Mono-Black and White Weenie. In fact, Blood Baron is rather pathetic against Monsters and Blue Devotion whereas Archangel of Thune is your single best card. Even against Mono-Black, the advantage of Blood Baron is that it cannot be targeted with removal, but you have Thoughtseize and dozens of other creatures that your opponents need to spend their removal spells on anyway. When the Archangel does live for a turn, it’s far better than Blood Baron. After sideboarding, both are equally vulnerable to Lifebane Zombie and Erebos, God of the Dead’s anti-life gain ability. It would be a mistake to choose the weaker five-drop with the goal of improving the Mono-Black matchup when Mono-Black players have so many cards to neuter Blood Baron anyway.
The last white card in the deck is Sin Collector, out of the sideboard. Sin Collector complements Duress and Thoughtseize as a way to attack the hand of a control player. After sideboarding, when you and your opponent are trading off resources, it’s surprising how much a 2/1 body is worth. A few attacks and your opponent will have to start thinking about using removal on the Sin Collector. Equally important is the fact that they risk losing their Jace, Architect of Thought any time they use the -2 ability.
Beyond its application against control, Sin Collector is also a great tool against Burn. Being able to strip a Warleader’s Helix from their hand is just as good as gaining 4 life. The body can trade with a Mutavault, and the ability to see their hand gives you greater flexibility in planning out the game.
As is normal with a deck like this, Junk Midrange is not format-breaking. Most of Standard’s top decks are close matchups, and you certainly need to work for your wins. That said, I think that this color combination offers the tools necessary to tackle any problem in the format, and the deck list I’ve offered has an effective plan for every matchup. I recommend giving Junk a try, and checking back with my column once in a while for updates.