Silvestri Says – Week Zero Dragon’s Maze

How significant will Dragon’s Maze be in the first week of non-rotation tournaments? Typically, the third small set has either just made the best deck better or had little immediate impact until the format is thoroughly explored. Going over the full spoiler, popular opinion is that DGM will be the latter, and if anything hasn’t drawn a ton of excitement.

To me, this set is chock-full or role-players and sweet cards that may not have a clear place yet. People will actually have to dig into the set and metagame instead of the obvious [card]Lingering Souls[/card]/[card]Bloodbraid Elf[/card]/[card]Batterskull[/card] build-arounds. We’ll probably see some of the payoff from Dragon’s Maze a month down the line instead of immediately, though a few cards should make an immediate impact like [card]Turn // Burn[/card], [card]Far // Away[/card] and [card]Voice of Resurgence[/card]. For now I want to focus on some fringe Standard players, and how they may benefit.

Bant Auras

A lot has been made of [card]Voice of Resurgence[/card], but it lacks a clear place to slide into, and finding that home should be a lot of fun. Some people thought first of Naya Blitz, but it doesn’t hit very hard and sure isn’t easy to cast with that mana base. A deck that could actually use a bit of resilience, and in the proper colors, is Bant Auras:

[deck]4 Geist of Saint Traft
2 Loxodon Smiter
4 Invisible Stalker
4 Voice of Resurgence
3 Arbor Elf
4 Avacyn’s Pilgrim
4 Rancor
4 Ethereal Armor
4 Unflinching Courage
2 Spectral Flight
3 Abundant Growth
4 Temple Garden
4 Breeding Pool
4 Hallowed Fountain
4 Hinterland Harbor
4 Sunpetal Grove
2 Forest[/deck]

I actually like [card]Voice of Resurgence[/card] as an easier to cast persist creature, unlike [card]Strangleroot Geist[/card], which GG makes awkward at times. It also punishes people for trying to kill off your creatures in response to enchantments, and replaces itself post-[card]Supreme Verdict[/card]. It isn’t at its best here since there aren’t as many creatures to pump the tokens, but the deck puts you in a unique position to work around that. It also gives you protection against [card]Renounce the Guilds[/card] by letting you throw away a 2/2 instead of Geist.

The other major gain the was [card]Unflinching Courage[/card], which is arguably worse than [card]Gift of Orzhova[/card] on the merits. Why Courage then? Same reason I like Voice—the mana base is not equipped to cast double-mana spells nearly as well as gold cards. Getting any combination of WGU by turn 2/3 is easier than GG or WW. It also reduces the number of games in which you are forced to race, by giving you the opportunity to get by opposing flyers playing defense thanks to trample.

Plasm Capture Decks

[draft]Plasm capture[/draft]

While a [card]Mana Drain[/card] at four is probably a little too clunky to see a ton of play, any card with that much sheer power needs to be tested. Being able to pay colored costs with it also makes it a lot more reasonable for the early/midgame, since it’s much easier to cast [card]Angel of Serenity[/card], [card]Prime Speaker Zegana[/card], or [card]Garruk, Primal Hunter[/card] off [card]Plasm Capture[/card] mana. Here’s a basic Bant list with [card]Plasm Capture[/card] added into it.

[deck]2 Angel of Serenity
2 Prime Speaker Zegana
4 Thragtusk
4 Restoration Angel
4 Loxodon Smiter
4 Arbor Elf
2 Selesnya Charm
4 Sphinx’s Revelation
4 Plasm Capture
4 Farseek
4 Temple Garden
4 Sunpetal Grove
4 Breeding Pool
4 Hinterland Harbor
3 Hallowed Fountain
3 Glacial Fortress
2 Forest
2 Gavony Township[/deck]

So here you go, [card]Mana Drain[/card] is back and casting a [card]Sphinx’s Revelation[/card] after you drain a spell that’s 3 or more mana definitely brings back the bus crash for the opponent. Casting Capture into a [card]Thragtusk[/card] or [card]Loxodon Smiter[/card] + [card]Restoration Angel[/card] is less exciting, but still pretty effective. Later in the game, being able to cast a 4-5 drop for free and represent something else is strong.

Of course, you have to keep in mind that GGUU won’t always happen on T4, and multiples are clunky without a Revelation to channel mana into. Against a deck like Naya Blitz, you’ll also be completely embarrassed to have them in your hand over [card]Supreme Verdict[/card]. You could run less than the full set, but every [card]Plasm Capture[/card] you take out reduces the odds of seeing it early, where it creates the biggest swing. You could try it in any type of UG Flash deck, but outside of trying to flip [card]Huntmaster of the Fells[/card], most of what you can do at instant speed isn’t all that interesting. Although…

[deck]4 Breeding Pool
4 Hinterland Harbor
4 Rootbound Crag
4 Steam Vents
4 Stomping Ground
4 Sulfur Falls
1 Kessig Wolf Run
3 Plasm Capture
3 Syncopate
2 Searing Spear
3 Izzet Charm
4 Mizzium Mortars
4 Turn Burn
3 Snapcaster Mage
4 Wolfir Avenger
3 Yeva, Nature’s Herald
4 Huntmaster of the Fells
2 Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius[/deck]

Normally not my favorite kind of deck in the world, and it has a low inherent power level, but Capture can slide in and make an immediate impact while having enough play that people can’t play draw-go with you. You have enough instant speed options that opponents trying to play around Capture the whole game are probably just hosed with the exception of Blitz. Of course, if you want to go real deep, go ahead and slot it in Fognidoor decks and try casting an [card]Omniscience[/card] off it.

B/R Aggro

[deck]4 Gravecrawler
4 Diregraf Ghoul
4 Blood Scrivener
4 Crimson Muckwader
4 Spike Jester
4 Geralf’s Messenger
4 Falkenrath Aristocrat
4 Searing Spear
4 Liliana of the Veil
4 Dragonskull Summit
4 Blood Crypt
4 Cavern of Souls
8 Swamp
4 Mountain[/deck]

A fair number of people still dislike the Lilianas in the main deck, but the deck has performed so much better with them than without that I can’t imagine not having at least 3 MD. The kicker is that now she helps turn on [card]Blood Scrivener[/card], which can be a very big game for a deck actively trying to dump its hand ASAP. If you cut Messenger you can also go with the straight Bump builds. Cut a land or two as well, and you dodge awkward Mountain hands. Still, I think the combo of Scrivener, Muckwader, and Jester put the deck in a far better position than it was before.

[draft]spike jester[/draft]

If you really want to push the limits, you could easily play an 18-20 land Blitz-style deck and not have a single card cost more than 2 mana in the maindeck. I really like having access to [card]Falkenrath Aristocrat[/card] though, so dumping all those lands really limits the best threats in the deck. The flip side of course is that when you curve well the opponent is going to have serious issues, and the addition of Bump and Jester accelerate the damage output in the first 4 turns.

Speaking of Naya Blitz, there’s really no additions from Dragon’s Maze. Voice would be a fine add if the mana weren’t such a crapshoot, although if you wanted to sideboard a package to make it castable versus Island decks I think it could work. Why not? Frank Karsten piloted the deck with no real sideboard, and only said he missed having a few [card]Fiend Hunter[/card]s around. Blitz’s sideboard may as well be 10 blanks as is, so trying out something interesting has more value. You aren’t trying to find something better than a sideboard that adds X percentage points, the SB is starting at 0% to begin with.

Reanimator Variants

BWR Reanimator was already a fringe deck that’s just worse reanimator, save against aggro where you could SB up to 12 removal spells, 4 [card]Boros Reckoner[/card], [card]Obzedat, Ghost Council[/card], and your traditional reanimator targets. What did the deck gain this time around? Well [card]Obzedat’s Aid[/card] and [card]Breaking // Entering[/card] make more sense in this build and help power up your selective discard options. Meanwhile, [card]Sire of Insanity[/card] adds a hard-castable weapon against [card]Sphinx’s Revelation[/card] decks, and you have a better chance of working around the mana cost thanks to Rites.

[deck]4 Faithless Looting
4 Izzet Charm
4 Breaking Entering
4 Unburial Rites
4 Boros Reckoner
3 Obzedat. Ghost Council
2 Sire of Insanity
3 Griselbrand
4 Dreadbore
3 Mizzium Mortars
4 Sulfur Falls
4 Steam Vents
2 Godless Shrine
4 Isolated Chapel
4 Clifftop Retreat
3 Blood Crypt
3 Watery Grave
1 Dragonskull Summit[/deck]

While the Blitz match isn’t amazing until you sideboard, removal spell into [card]Boros Reckoner[/card] still goes a long way toward dealing with the best draws aggro has. Additionally, a turn four or five [card]Griselbrand[/card] will still stabilize and kill the opponent outright. Still, a lot depends on actually drawing the cards you need, since you can’t mill yourself for 4-5 cards at a time. Perhaps [card]Farseek[/card] and [card]Grisly Salvage[/card] are too good to give up on. Can we get away with a five-color reanimator without taking a major hit?

[draft]Grisly Salvage
Unburial Rites

As well as Breaking // Entering.

This feels like a strong base to start with if we wanted to try. Really, the first major question is if you want white as a splash color or a primary color to stick with [card]Angel of Serenity[/card] and various Selesnya creatures. You could get away with just splashing for Rites with the extra stuff Breaking // Entering gives you, and you gain the closest thing to [card]Glimpse the Unthinkable[/card] around. This also makes [card]Griselbrand[/card] a whole lot better if you run the full set due to the haste clause on Entering.

By switching the primary focus, you do lose out on [card]Angel of Serenity[/card], which definitely hurts in the mirror any time you need to clear the board to live. Your mana also gets worse, but oddly can still run [card]Arbor Elf[/card] since your primary base will still have at least 12-14 Forest plus [card]Mulch[/card] to help. So assuming you go down that road, your best reanimation targets become:

Sire of Insanity
Craterhoof Behemoth[/draft]

Assuming you end up with some combination of ten of those, you already have 26-30 slots filled up, leaving little for much beyond defense. A lot depends on what you want the creatures to accomplish. [card]Loxodon Smiter[/card] was the best of both worlds in that it could block and kill the majority of the format without trading or dying to [card]Searing Spear[/card]. Without that as an option, you move toward less effective answers or more expensive ones. [card]Armored Skaab[/card] blocks all day, but will never be able to take down threats. [card]Lingering Souls[/card] remains an option since you’ll often be flashing it back, but is a stop-gap at best.

Alternatively, you could follow the BRW route and simply banish the rest of the creatures that aren’t winning the game or gaining you a bunch of life, and run some combo of [card]Mizzium Mortars[/card], [card]Dreadbore[/card], [card]Drown in Filth[/card], [card]Victim of Night[/card], or a host of other options. I throw this out there because the Reanimator decks before the Junk version took over were largely 4-5cc and didn’t care as much about brawling. I couldn’t tell you this throwback is better than what we have, but Breaking // Entering is such a tailor-made card for this type of deck that I absolutely want to test multiple shells of it.

That’s all I’ve got for right now, since without clear upgrades I don’t want to waste a lot of effort testing against non-existent strategies. That the aggro baseline, Naya Blitz, gains nothing from DGM makes this process a bit easier, and I suspect Jund Aggro and Blitz will both be best positioned for the weekend as a result. Tweaking decks takes time and usually a fair amount of games while these two decks are just jam lots of powerful threats à la classic B/R, or go underneath you with [card]Burning-Tree Emissary[/card] and friends. Right now both of these strategies are very powerful and most decks aren’t configured to beat them.

Michael Jacob has been playing Gerard Fabiano’s Grixis Control online to success, and it looks pretty interesting. It gets belted in the Revelation mirror and sometimes can’t keep up with nut draws (as is the issue with Esper). But in his words, it “beats the average draw of everybody,” which realistically is a good place to be, considering that most people treat mulligans as a cardinal sin when playing aggro in this format. I’ll be interested to see what marks the first week of the new format, and whether aggro, Jund, and Junk Reanimator retain all the top slots while people are adapting.

Josh Silvestri

Scroll to Top