Those of you that follow my video series know that I’ve been testing Standard for the upcoming Grand Prix. Most of that time was spent relearning old lessons. Domri is good vs control decks, X/3s are good vs 2/Xs, and Elspeth is amazing.
Still, I did pick up a lot about the various decks and their respective positions in the metagame, and I’ve narrowed down my selection to 4-5 different approaches.
I did a video series with this deck, and had so much fun I kept testing it. It suffers against Blood Baron, and you don’t want to face a pile of Sylvan Caryatids, Coursers of Kruphix, and Mizzium Mortars either. The jundy green decks even have Reaper of the Wilds, which is impossible to attack through with Mogis’s Marauder and can’t really be killed.
On the other hand, the deck is consistent and contains a powerful nut draw that can race any deck in the format. If your opponent stumbles, they will die. If they don’t stumble, they will still probably die.
Spiteful Returned reminds me of Bloodghast with its aggressive set of abilities. Like Bloodghast, it doesn’t really play defense, and bestowing it is sort of like playing it with haste. The other nice thing about bestow is that it lets you develop your board without overextending into a sweeper. On top of that, it fills the two- or four-drop, letting you curve out more reliably.
There are a few quirks to this list. For one, I don’t run Demon, mostly because I’d rather attack around creatures with Mogis’s Marauder than try and plow through them with fat. I like the miser’s Gift in the main deck because, while you can’t afford to run it out on turn three against every deck, it wins the matchups it’s intended for and you can always hold it until the opponent is out of removal.
I showed Larry Swasey the list since he won a Premier with black aggro, and he cringed at the Mutavault count, but the deck requires mostly colored mana. To up the colorless count I’d need to either devote more slots to lands or decrease the deck’s consistency, both of which I’m not willing to do. The consistency is the appealing part of playing a mono-colored deck, after all, and this deck in particular hates mulling.
Without the full four Mutavault, Pack Rat loses a lot of its luster. Even if we had the full set of Mutavaults, we’d still want Rat less than other decks. We don’t need an army in a can because our whole deck is an army. While it’s awesome at converting lands into threats to mitigate flood, it opens us up to cards like Detention Sphere and Bile Blight. I’ve seen people play them in the sideboard, and that actually makes a lot of sense as you don’t really want them outside of the mono-black matchup.
This version gets to run more three-mana threats than most because it cut Hero’s Downfall. I tried 1-2 Downfalls for a while, and it always felt clunky. The one thing I miss about it is the ability to just kill a Jace, Architect of Thought, which can be tough to beat with some draws.
In the sideboard, Xathrid Necromancer and Erebos give some resiliency in the grindy matchups, particularly the black mirror where the Marauders, Lifebanes, and Gift all need to come out. It’s surprising how often Xathrid simply demanding two removal spells wins the game.
I’ve seen people try cards like Whip of Erebos and Pharika’s Cure in the Gift slot, but the evasion on Gift is relevant and it wins the game when it connects. Besides, slapping it on a Pain Seer creates a cracked out Baneslayer Angel/Dark Confidant hybrid on turn three, and that’s too awesome to pass up.
I’ll play this deck in Cinci if I see a lot of control and aggro and if I can convince myself that the green decks are beatable.
I’ve tested more all-in versions of the deck without Thoughtseize, but they didn’t have quite enough early evasion and reach to work out. Then my buddy Eason mentioned his take on the archetype:
BR Aggro, by Anthony Eason
There are a lot of reasons to like this over mono-black. For starters, Dreadbore can kill almost anything whether it’s gold or black or what-have-you, and unlike Hero’s Downfall it’s efficient enough to fit the aggro shell. Lightning Strike gives the deck some needed reach. Out of the sideboard, we have access to cards like Skullcrack to help burn out midrange and control as well as Mizzium Mortars to actually kill Blood Baron.
The downsides are there too, of course. Rakdos Shred-Freak is a miserable card, and the mana is worse with this build than the mono-black variants.
I haven’t had as much time with this deck as the other options, which makes it a great choice if I get frustrated with the format and want to audible at the last minute.
Speaking of last-minute audibles:
Mono-Red, by Patrick Sullivan
Patrick Sullivan is to Mountains as Brian Kibler is to Knight of the Reliquary, and if I was going to switch to a mono-red deck at the last second I could do worse than one of his creations. With everyone tuning to beat control, a pile of burn spells, or slower creature decks, this has a real surprise factor, and that can go a long way in a large event.
The last time I played a Burning-Tree Emissary deck I was absolutely miserable, but this deck has such a high “kill you” factor that I’m tempted anyway.
My main reservation is that the shell reminds me of the block deck, which had a real problem with Supreme Verdict. Fortunately, in game one the opponent doesn’t know they’re on the sweeper-or-bust plan, and post-board there’s a bit more reach and Hammer of Purphoros to close things out. Mutavault is a tool that the block version didn’t have, and that should make a big difference.
I talked to Sullivan for a few minutes, and while he doesn’t like playing against UW, Esper has felt like a good matchup.
“All of the matchups are like.
If they have a bunch of basics.
But if they’re f***ing around.
They usually die.”
Most control players have settled on Esper or UW at this point. Esper is favored in the control mirror and it has an easier time answering planeswalkers and creatures with protection from white, blue, or gold cards. On the other hand, the discard gives it some weak topdecks and it has a less consistent mana base.
While both are fine options, I spent my efforts testing a different animal entirely.
I like this deck because it has a sweet curve and a good, diverse selection of disruption and win conditions. Quicken acts as an early game cantrip, sort of a more efficient Azorius Charm that combines with the deck’s sorcerys to make some cool plays. I love being able to hold up countermagic and Divination, or kill a Mistcutter Hydra before it gets the chance to deal damage.
Assemble the Legion is good enough against most, but it especially shines against black devotion because they have no actual outs and it can easily overwhelm cards like Pack Rat and Desecration Demon. Unfortunately, blue decks can brick it with Jace, and I used to run Spear of Heliod in the board for just that situation, but the popularity of Revoke Existence has led to cutting the second Assemble for an Aetherling. You just can’t depend on your enchantments in the control mirror anymore, and I’ve seen some players cutting Detention Sphere post-board for that very reason.
Render Silent looks cute on the surface, but it does a lot of subtle things. Against decks trying to bait countermagic, you can nuke their entire turn for only three mana. A lot of decks like to lead with Thoughtseize, and there Render Silent is a blowout. Plus, as with most underplayed cards, there’s always a chance the opponent blunders due to unfamiliarity.
One card I haven’t had a chance to test fully is the maindeck Pithing Needle. Before, I had Warleader’s Helix in that slot because it let me hold up countermagic and could kill a Mutavault and keep a Domri Rade from ultimating. While Needle is more narrow, it’s efficient enough to be played alongside counters and stops all the Domris and Mutavaults from doing their thing. Against UW, it can stop Jace from bricking Assemble, allow you to Supreme Verdict an Aetherling in game one, or hit Elixir of Immortality to deny them that measure of inevitability. My buddy Matt Gorski has been running a third Jace in that slot and that seems fine too.
Like the mono-black deck, I made a video with UWR and the viewers had some fine ideas, including Counterflux. It gives inevitability against UW control because that deck has so few win conditions. While Negate is more efficient for forcing through our own threats, that’s less necessary if the opponent can’t win the game.
Overall this is a 45% deck with a below average power level but a consistent draw and lots of play to it. If I ran it, I would almost certainly Day Two, but I’m not sure how deep I’d get vs. tougher competition.
I’ll jam this deck in Cinci if a ton of black devotion decks show up. Without the presence of Desecration Demons to feast on, the poor game one against Burn isn’t worth it.
The midrangy green decks have kind of a one-threat-per-turn strategy going on that doesn’t appeal to me, regardless of how well positioned the archetype might be. I tested Esper Midrange, but decided I was taking too much pain from the mana base.
During the Standard PTQ Season, I worked with Josh Silvestri on a UW Ephara shell, and I still think it has promise.
Unlike UW control, this deck can pressure an opposing planeswalker and punish a stumble. It can switch roles to fit the matchup. Against control, you have enough threats to pressure their life total, and when they tap low you can slip in a planeswalker to swing the game. Against aggro, those same threats become road blocks for the opposing creatures, and the core of Precinct Captain and Soldier of the Pantheon is particularly versatile for applying early pressure or stymieing aggression.
The main difference between this and earlier versions is the higher curve and planeswalkers. In almost all matchups I wanted to draw Elspeth more often, and upping the land and Jace count just makes sense at that point.
The maindeck Supreme Verdicts look a little strange, but remember that the cards you lose to tend to be larger creatures, especially ones with protection from white. A bonus to Supreme Verdict is that the WW-esque nature of the deck hides their presence, and your opponent will overextend.
Lavinia of the Tenth has always been good enough, but it didn’t have a midrange-y UW home until Ephara was printed. With the UW god in play, Lavinia becomes a five-mana Cryptic Command with a 4/4 body attached. It’s especially potent against RG, and its ability to shut off planeswalkers shouldn’t be underestimated.
I’m not certain about the four Fiendslayer Paladins in the board, as I haven’t gotten to test the burn matchup yet. In theory, they’re good enough against the black/red aggro decks to be worth running, but I wouldn’t want them if the matchup turns out to be really good regardless. On the flip side, if the matchup turns out to be bad then I might want them in the main deck over the Boros Reckoners, which are mostly there to 2-for-1 RG decks.
If more sideboard space magically appears, I’d love to fit in some number of Judge’s Familiar. It’s an awkward maindeck card as it forces you to overextend into sweepers and doesn’t provide much of a clock on its own, but when combined with other one-drops and a Spear of Heliod it can absolutely overwhelm people in the early game. The matchup where I want access to it is mono-black, as it makes a lot of the black removal clunky and awkward and they don’t really run sweepers.
Overall I love how the deck plays. It’s incredibly well positioned, and aside from some final tuning my main question is whether I’ve managed to fix the consistency issues. Earlier versions would lose to Blood Baron or flood or not drawing Detention Sphere in the right matchups, but the extra Elspeth and maindeck Supreme Verdicts should help.
Looking over my options, I’ve noticed a trend towards Elspeth decks and aggressive decks that can go under the great white planeswalker. Heck, even upticking for three 1/1s doesn’t necessarily stabilize the board against mono-black, as some amount of Bile Blight or evasion can still punch through.
Whatever I settle on, I’m looking forward to slinging some cards.