After getting a couple of e-mails and comments about my disappointing lack of a Dark Bant list, I’ve decided to start this article off with a revised test list I had. Thanks go out to Matt Nass who gave some much-needed input on various card choices and the new structure of the deck. Note that I still wouldn’t recommend this deck for a tournament above FNM, but I feel comfortable sharing it and with a few tweaks perhaps someone could get it to the next level.
As you can see I took the liberty of cutting nearly every single Blue card and mana accelerator the deck had; clearly the work of a madman! The simplest explanation was that these were the main issues (other than the mana being a wreck) holding the deck back. Cards like Rafiq and Rhox War Monk had simply outlived their usefulness and were crippling the ability of the deck to play Putrid Leech consistently. All the one-drops not only took away precious slots from good creatures, but hurt the ability of the deck to lay a tapped land on turn 1 to promote mana stability. Nothing is worse than either stranding your one drop in hand or desperately hoping to draw an untapped land on turn 2.
Spell-wise, everything expensive has been cut to reduce awkwardness with Ancient Ziggurat and having small number of lands in play. Harm’s Way beats Fallout, Firespout, Plumeveil and wins you a number of combat situations. Path to Exile is still obvious, as you have plenty of white sources and it trumps absolutely everything, so you go ahead and run that as a 4-of.
Mana-wise the deck is still a mess, but I tried to keep it within reason. Meddling Mage is the only card putting a bad strain on the mana, since it happens to be a two-drop and requiring an off-color. Both Bloodbraid Elf and Anathemancer have time before they want to hit play and Exotic Orchard is often going to produce the Red in two of the three matches you really abuse these guys in. Exotic Orchard and Vivid Grove do a good job of covering for the initial weaknesses the mana showed and Murmuring Bosk being a Forest mixed with the two basics lets Sunpetal Grove come down untapped more often than not.
Sideboard options are pretty open; this version is focused on beating Time Sieve and Combo Elves between Teeg, Meddling Mage and Thorn of Amethyst; while noting that Ethersworn Canonist could easily sub for one of these cards. A combo of Forge-Tender and Guardian Seraph will make most red players cry despite the lack of life-gain in the deck. A resolved Forge-Tender followed by Doran is almost always a win, but Seraph gives you more of a defense against burn thanks to the Urza’s Armor effect it provides.
So a quick recap of my thoughts on Standard: 5cc and Jund (of 3-5 colors) are the definite decks to beat, with Time Sieve, Faeries, Kithkin and other aggro contraptions hanging around with the possibility of making waves. Still, let’s focus on the two decks that will see significant play in most metagames beyond a doubt. They have different strengths, but a number of the same weaknesses.
Anathemancer takes both decks out behind the woodshed
Puppeteer Clique can produce pretty brutal results against both
Both give you time to develop before doing anything truly threatening
Unfortunately the general weaknesses end there, and only a small subsection of cards happen to be really strong against both decks. Anathemancer and Puppeteer Clique are both very strong in the current metagame, but the key becomes to find the correct shell to house these two in. Baneslayer Angel is another card that happens to be rather strong against both decks, though obviously its value against 5cc is more dubious. Still, there’s something to be said for the Angel, since if you can land her into play then most 5cc only have 3 MD answers to her (5-6 if she’s your only threat, since Cruel Ultimatum becomes an answer) and she finishes the game in only a few turns. For a non-creature spell though, Makeshift Mannequin has proven to be a really effective tool in either the control or aggro role.
A big reason is because instant speed recovery of your creature allows you to control the board and scare the opponent whenever they don’t have a counter in hand. Often it won’t matter if they can immediately target and kill the creature again once it comes back into play, since the damage is done and you’ve drawn your two, killed an opposing creature or dealt five damage and drawn a removal spell from your opponent. ‘Mancer and Clique are only as strong as they are in both matches because you can use their effects multiple times. Mannequin allows for the same sort of double play on effects, perhaps not as efficiently as Unearth or Persist allows, but in exchange you can time it for maximum effect.
The real question becomes: What deck/s is the best shell for these strong cards?
There are only three real choices in my mind, one is a variation on the Esper control Aaron Nicastri piloted and talked about last week. It would need to be heavily revamped against control decks, but it has a fairly strong anti-creature gameplan. Next would be a rebuild of the Grixis Demigod deck that had some niche success. Finally there’s simply doing things the Conley way with a cross between 5c Blood and Jund decks. Since this last option is rather self explanatory and changes covered already (add a land or two and move [card]Anathemancer[/card] to the maindeck over Finks and your golden), I’ll start with the Esper build.
Here’s what I envisioned as a revamped Nicastri deck.
As you can see there are some significant changes and I’ll admit I may have put the deck too close to 5cc range to justify playing it. Right now my opinion of Kitchen Finks is so low I don’t even consider the card valid for 90% of decks and I gladly take Plumes over it every day of the week. Finks just doesn’t get the job done against other Green creatures, losing to the 2-drop you want to trade or beat (Putrid Leech) and just not being very effective against Red or Jund, both places where the card is supposed to shine. Plumes will almost always at least trade with a creature or eat a Shriekmaw or Pulse. The latter usually sucks, but can be worked around much easier thanks to Soul Manipulation and Mannequin. In fact that’s one of the main reasons this switch isn’t much of a downgrade in any match except B/R.
Baneslayer Angel moved to a 4-of because it often just ended games on turn 5 against certain decks. Sure the 5c Blood deck could Pulse it, but if it doesn’t have that, it can’t even touch the Angel until Cloudthresher comes online. It also creates an interesting attacking dynamic when Makeshift Mannequin is involved after they’ve killed the Angel once. Speaking of coming back from the dead, Puppeteer Clique stealing Anathemancer and sniping the other evoke creatures opponents have is pretty sickening. I couldn’t see running a 3rd one due to the situational aspects of Clique, but I’ve been content with the duo.
The lack of Cryptic Command can be directly linked to the mana curve of the deck and the idea of Soul Manipulation itself. What I was constantly finding was if I had a choice between Cryptic Command or Soul Manipulation, the latter would win out nearly every time for maximum value. Clearly Cryptic Command has some unique uses, but countering early drops was more of the deck’s issue rather than stopping late-game cards. Runed Halo is a dual answer to problems the deck has; if played early against Jund it shuts down Putrid Leech or Anathemancer with no further resources needed, while against 5cc it shuts out Identity Crisis or Cruel Ultimatum.
Sower of Temptation got moved to the sideboard because the card sucks against 5cc and died more times than I can count in every non-Kithkin match. You may think that a non-issue considering the recursion, but its increased vulnerability to Fallout, Shriekmaw, Cloudthresher and other cards combined with a need to stay alive is quite awkward.
Path to Exile is there to play Great Sable Stag duty as well as keeping Putrid Leech in check, since this deck is designed to enter the late-game with most aggro the extra basic is a non-issue for the gain of all purpose spot removal.
Identity Crisis is a much underrated card at the moment and one of the biggest cheats this format boasts. If you can live long enough to resolve one, aggro typically can’t recover and obviously 5cc folds. The drawback here is you don’t have the infinite discard plan that the Nicastri version boasted for post-board games. For that version the problem was you would cripple the 5cc deck, but would be unable to put the game away for such a long time that you could lose to decent topdecks. With the addition of Anathemancer you gain a much quicker clock and some built-in counter protection so the need for 8-9 slots to be saved for discard is unneeded.
This version really has a rough time with Elves combo on the draw and really can’t stop a good Faeries player with a decent anti-control sideboard. For this Esper control variant, viability is based entirely on facing fair creature decks and control mirrors. It’s designed to abuse CIPT triggers and recursion elements and that strategy is inherently slow and mana hungry, you need to be willing to open yourself up to counter strikes from opponents while balancing counter mana and that can become very difficult. 5cc might be the better deck on the whole, but this deck can clearly gain percentage in certain matches by the very nature of Soul Manipulation.
As for the 5cc vs. Esper pseudo-mirror, you have a much better match than the original build. You have a lot more options when it comes to creatures and forcing through damage while still keeping an ‘I win’ button* in the deck with Identity Crisis.
Vendilion Clique, Baneslayer and Anathemancer combined with recursion can put a major damper on the opponents removal supplies for post-board games. Especially if they aren’t familiar with the match, in which case they could remove a number of their anti creature cards which further strengthens your plan. Sideboard plans aren’t 100% ironed out, but are mostly self-evident if you look at the weak cards in each match.
*Which notably can be forced through with something like EOT V. Clique, untap, Crisis, backed by Broken with this plan. If you really wanted to force it, Thoughtseize or Duress could also be added and make it very lethal, but you open yourself up to Runed Halo blowouts.
For the Grixis version I don’t have a concrete list, though it definitely would involve Sedraxis Specter and Demigod of Revenge for their anti-control capabilities. A rough once through would probably give you rough numbers of these spells:
A big problem with this set-up is the weakness it has against larger creatures. You really are relying on Shriekmaw and counters to handle and large creature the opponent can throw at you and Putrid Leech is a big issue. Part of the reason I like Magma Phoenix is that it gives you an option to beat a singleton large creature while clearing the rest of the board out. Unfortunately all of your best sweeper options deal damage to you, with the exception of Infest. Cruel Ultimatum is the end game option for this deck and combined with Mancer has the potential to end the game in a two turn shot.
Next week I’ll have a better handle on this version as I spent much of the past week focused on revamping the Esper version.
Email me at: joshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom