If you’re looking for something a little bit different in the final weeks before Standard rotates, I have just the thing!
“Fun,” and “different,” are one-hundred-percent guarantees with this deck. However, it’s also a competitive strategy that has great matchups against much of the Standard field. It’s a challenging deck that rewards practice, intimate knowledge of the deck, and tight technical play. It’s also highly customizable for anyone looking to improve the deck, gear it for an expected metagame, or simply make it their own. Without further ado, let me introduce:
The Wanderer Bard
The Wanderer Bard is the deck I played last weekend at the SCG Open in Washington, D.C., but the story starts long before that.
I’ve worked a lot with Prophet of Kruphix, ever since the printing of Theros. As you might guess, decks built around Prophet are explosive and capable of some really wild turns—in short, tons of fun. My experiments with Prophet spanned the release of multiple sets, varying gameplans, and every color combination you can imagine. They ranged from goofy “just for fun” decks all the way to competitive tournament decks, approaching (though maybe not quite reaching…) the win rates of established, successful strategies.
It might come as no surprise, then, that I was very intrigued when M15 was spoiled and I saw Yisan, the Wanderer Bard. Not only does he strike the same chord as Prophet—being a tricky and off-beat card for a green creature strategy—but he also combos incredibly well with the Prophet herself. I wrote an article with some initial brews.
I tried these ideas out and was surprised to find that they weren’t half bad! They were capable of some extremely powerful things. I could sometimes assemble combos like Archangel of Thune, Fathom Mage, and Horizon Chimera. What stuck out most, though, was how good Yisan turned out to be.
In further testing, I honed in on the fact that Yisan was a tiny bit to slow on his own, but that he was downright insane with Prophet of Kruphix and Kiora’s Follower! After more and more fine tuning, I wound up with a deck that played four copies each of Yisan, Follower, and Prophet, and was narrowed down to a sleek, two-color mana base. This is the shell that stuck.
I tested the deck a lot as a potential choice for Pro Tour M15 in Portland, with a lot of help and encouragement from Jamie Parke. The deck had an objectively high power level, and was doing well against opposing green decks, Mono-Blue, and all miscellaneous decks and brews. I was praying that it would be good enough to register for the tournament.
Unfortunately, it was not to be for the Pro Tour. While The Wanderer Bard had a lot of good matchups, it was an underdog against the black decks (I’d say 40%-60%). Worse yet, it was quite bad against Supreme Verdict decks unless you could devote ten or more sideboard cards to correcting the matchup. For the highly-competitive and clearly-defined metagame that we expected, it was a dealbreaker that The Wanderer Bard was an underdog against two of the most popular strategies.
However, in today’s Standard, I feel strongly that this is no longer a dealbreaker. The success of Jund Planeswalkers, G/W Aggro, and Rabblemaster Red has really broken open the format and created a diverse field where general resiliency and overall power level are the most important factors. Pack Rat decks are still popular, but they don’t make up 30-40% of the field like they have in the past. Supreme Verdict decks are actually pretty unpopular right now (relatively speaking). I felt the time was right to unveil the Wanderer Bard at last week’s SCG Open.
So how did it go? Well, in a ten-round event I went 6-4. The long and short of it is that I lost to the three Pack Rat decks that I faced, but beat basically everything else. (A series of unfortunate events led to a very close loss against Rabblemaster Red, although I don’t feel that that’s a bad matchup for the deck). My wins against opposing green decks and all of the other aggro decks were fairly convincing. I didn’t have a standout record by any means, but I still feel that the deck is very competitive. As I mentioned above, The Wanderer Bard is an underdog against Black, but it’s not so lopsided that 0-3 is a record I’d expect every time.
Let’s get into the deck list:
I’ve seen some Green Devotion players go as low as 22 lands, but I think it’s a mistake to skimp. 23 should be the minimum, and I actually prefer 24. After all, what’s the point of going to all this trouble to ramp your mana if you’re going to miss land drops anyway? You always want to hit your third land drop, and usually your fourth and fifth as well. What’s more is that opponents in Standard attack your mana creatures aggressively. Black decks can Thoughtseize your mana guys or spend Bile Blights and Devour Fleshes to set you back. If you lean too heavily on them, you wind up losing a lot of games without even getting to play. That’s not even to mention Supreme Verdict and Anger of the Gods!
The colored mana requirements of The Wanderer Bard are also a little steep relative to other Green Devotion decks. You need blue mana on turn 2 to play Kiora’s Follower, and you have double-blue costs higher in the mana curve. I think it’s unacceptable to play Mana Confluence in this type of deck, with aggro and Burn being as popular as they are right now, but I didn’t want to skimp on colored mana sources either. This is one of the reasons that I only played three copies of Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx, the other reasons being that The Wanderer Bard has a slightly lower curve than other Green Devotion decks, and that the matchups where you really need help are the ones where they don’t let you get a critical mass of permanents on the battlefield.
Four Elvish Mystics goes without saying. Your absolute best draws feature either turn 2 Yisan or turn 3 Prophet of Kruphix (via a second mana accelerant). Moreover, it’s the one-drop that you always want to search for with Yisan.
I’m also a fan of four Kiora’s Followers. It allows you to activate Yisan twice in the same turn, and allows you to untap Nykthos for some very explosive turns. Other factors that can come up include Follower providing blue devotion for Nykthos, and untapping blockers. I won one game by attacking with my 10/10 Scavenging Ooze, then untapping it to ambush an attacking Pack Rat!
I wanted a ninth mana accelerant, and was tempted to go with Voyaging Satyr because it can untap Nykthos. However, it does come up once in a blue moon that you’re stuck on blue mana and use Yisan to get Sylvan Caryatid. Moreover, Caryatid is simply a great card: it blocks well, dodges Bile Blight, and gives you more resilience to Drown in Sorrow.
I originally built the deck without Burning-Tree Emissary, but after the hundredth time that I wished I could search for it, I decided to add one copy. It comes up a lot that you want to continue ticking up Yisan while casting another spell in the same turn (or activating Yisan again via Kiora’s Follower). As always, Emissary is great with Nykthos and great with Chord of Calling. It’s well worth its slot.
Scavenging Ooze is your go-to two-drop in the late game. No other creature for three mana or less can dominate a game like Scavenging Ooze does. In a deck with 34 creatures, there’s never a shortage of food for it!
Reclamation Sage is probably the most important “silver bullet” creature in the deck. Blowing up Detention Sphere, Domestication, Courser of Kruphix, or any of two dozen other gamechanging enchantments in standard is an ability that it’s crucial to have access to. One in the main deck and a second in the sideboard shouldn’t be changed.
Courser of Kruphix is a card that’s totally fine to draw on its own, and also your go-to three-drop for Yisan. I wouldn’t go below two Coursers, but playing three or four is also a fine consideration. I’ll have more on this when I discuss possible changes to the deck.
Polukranos, World Eater is a lynchpin of the deck; all Green Devotion strategies should play four. Turn 3 Polukranos is your gameplan against aggro, plain and simple. It’s also your best out to cards like Master of Waves, and your best mana sink in the late game.
The fact that it’s legendary means you need a couple more four-drops to search for with Yisan, just in case you already have Polukranos in play. One Nylea, God of the Hunt is a great late-game card, and great against any deck that’s not killing your creatures. Having access to one Nylea’s Disciple is also a huge boon for the deck. Not only does it singlehandedly give you a gameplan against red decks, but even against decks like Monoblack and Monoblue, the extra time it buys you is frequently exactly what you need to put the game away.
Finally, we come to the heavy hitters: the six-drops. Aetherling is your plan against control, and the fact that you have a lot of ways to put it into play at instant speed makes it more deadly in this deck than in any other. Prime Speaker Zegana is for basically any other matchup, and represents your best engine if you can’t get Yisan going at full capacity.
Ways to Customize the Deck
The twenty-four lands and thirty-three creatures that I’ve named above represent the shell of the deck, which I recommend not changing. That leaves three flexible slots, which you can do with as you please. Here’s what I chose for last weekend’s open:
Prime Speaker Zegana number two: The deck functions just fine with one Zegana, but my tournament experience has taught me never to skimp on late game power, so I decided to add a second copy. It’s not bad to naturally draw one Zegana.
Plasm Capture: Having access to one no-questions-asked permission spell is very valuable. Plasm Capture also plays well with Prophet of Kruphix and can lead to some pretty insane blow-outs. It’s also just a pet card.
Negate: Also, the presence of one or two maindeck permission spells really changes the dynamic of your control matchup. Often, you come out fast and get ahead, but don’t have much to draw into that your opponent can’t simply clean up with Supreme Verdict. Sometimes, one well placed permission spell is all you need to swing the game. What’s more, Negate is insane against the Jund Planeswalker deck that’s become so popular; it counters nearly thirty cards out of their deck! I knew I wanted access to four Negates in my seventy-five for this event, and I think any deck with access to blue mana should consider doing the same. The Wanderer Bard in particular desperately needs to have an answer to Mizzium Mortars the turn the opponent hits six mana, but having Negate in your deck gives you a great plan for winning the Jund matchup.
How to Improve the Black Matchup
As I’ve mentioned, the biggest problem with the deck is that it’s a little soft to Pack Rat decks. The heart of the issue is that you can play a card like Nylea’s Disciple to beat Burn, or Skylasher to beat Mono-Blue, or Aetherling to beat control, but there’s no single card you can add to your deck to dramatically improve against black decks.
Consequently, my approach for this tournament was simply to crush all the matchups that I could easily crush (four copies of Nylea’s Disciple, for example), and take my chances against black. That said, there are some things you can do to get a few extra percentage points in the matchup.
The problem with green decks against black decks is that your deck is basically split between mana and expensive threats. Depending on your hand, the black deck can either attack your mana or your threats, and either way you’re in trouble. So the way to improve the matchup is to have as many potent cards that cost three or four mana as you can possibly fit. Three and four mana is the sweet spot where you can still reliably cast your spell (in a relevant time frame) even if your mana creature gets killed.
Probably the best example is Kiora, the Crashing Wave. In past versions, I’ve had as many as four Kioras in my 75. Other planeswalkers (Jace, Architect of Thought; Jace, Memory Adept; or Nissa, Worldwaker) are good also, but Kiora is best against black.
More copies of Courser of Kruphix would also help. This is a particularly appealing option since Coursers also help a lot against Burn and Rabblemaster Red.
I encourage you to keep the shell of the deck as is, but experiment with the sideboard and those last couple of maindeck slots. Try out the deck, make some changes, and make it your own. It’s a good choice for a Standard tournament as long as the field remains open and diverse. If you’re sick of playing the same decks that’ve been around for a year, The Wander Bard might be for you!