On Tuesday night before the Pro Tour, most of Team The Only Game In Town was leaning toward playing Atarka Red.
I say “most of us,” because obviously I’m a degenerate that can’t stop brewing even a few days before the Pro Tour—thankfully teammate Tommy Ashton is the same way.
We figured our fallback plan was Atarka Red in case all of our last-minute innovations didn’t work out, so we didn’t feel too stressed about potentially wasting time.
Yes, the Magic card Collateral Damage is where it all started. I asked Tommy “Hey, can we play this in a sacrifice type of deck?” One of our conclusions was that Shocks and Lightning Bolts were extremely good in the format. Teammate Timothy Wu had been working on a Mardu Aristocrats deck in which he had the so-called “Lightning Bolt.”
I was intrigued, but eventually I felt like Nantuko Husk was very lackluster in his build with no ways to consistently get through. That’s when Tommy told me that Sam Black had apparently worked on Whirler Rogue plus Nantuko Husk at the last Pro Tour, but didn’t think it was quite good enough.
We were off the main attraction of Collateral Damage, but I was ecstatic to hear that Tommy had a sketch of what this alternative version would look like with Battle for Zendikar cards:
UB Aristocrats Sketch
I was hooked. The interaction between Liliana and Sidisi’s Faithful seemed amazing—you could easily flip her and get a pseudo-Jace, the Mind Sculptor bounce ability every turn. Tim Wu immediately pointed out that Carrier Thrall was worse than Sultai Emissary since you want the second body to be bigger than the first, and sometimes you manifest a creature rather than generate a token.
I took the list downstairs to our playing area where everyone laughed at me, but I sleeved it and started jamming against the top four expected decks: Atarka Red, Jeskai Black, GW Megamorph, and Bring to Light.
After a few games, I had discovered many sweet tricks, and I cut the Dranas since they were easily the worst cards in the deck. I fixed the mana base, and now had the following:
Foundry of the Consuls was added to give us a mana sink in case of long games or flooding, Vampiric Rites acted as an additional sacrifice outlet and grindy card, and the 4th Murderous Cut joined the list because it’s the best removal spell in the format.
This is exactly the main deck Team TOGIT members registered at the Pro Tour. Among the top 4 decks we were expecting, this configuration was getting surprisingly good results pre-board. Everyone on our team was hooked.
Before I go any further, we also tested pre-sideboard games against Abzan Aggro, but it wasn’t a strategy we anticipated players would show up with based on earlier results we had against the blue Abzan Aggro deck popularized by the SCG crew.
Trust me, the matchup is not good—Anafenza shuts off a good part of the deck and Siege Rhino paired with pressure is annoying as well. We figured taking the risk that our worst matchup will make up less than 10% of the field is probably smart.
Turns out we were pretty spot-on. If you consider that some of those Abzan builds are not even aggro, it’s approximately 8% of the field.
We didn’t test much against control mainly because we didn’t have any one list we thought was actually good—we did test against Shaheen Soorani’s Esper Planeswalkers, which didn’t seem like a great matchup. In any case, we were going to have incidentally good sideboards cards against control anyway, since we wanted Duress for Atarka Red and Disdainful Stroke for potential ramp strategies we might have missed.
Complete Disregard is for GW Megamorph and Jeskai decks—it hits Hangarback Walker and Deathmist Raptor, Jace Vryn’s Prodigy, and Mantis Rider. Going forward, this slot could become an extra answer to Anafenza, the Foremost since it was in the winning list.
Despoiler of Souls is basically an extra Bloodsoaked Champion against heavy-control strategies and the versions of Jeskai Black that are more controlling like Team Pantheon’s list. It’s actually better than Bloodsoaked since you can bring it back at end of turn immediately after a board sweeper.
Ultimate Price is an additional Murderous Cut against Atarka Red. The matchup is great since you have so many blockers—until they pump combo you. Just make sure to always have mana for removal and you’re good.
Vampiric Rites comes in against control or any long, grindy matchups.
Tips and Tricks
(Thanks to teammate Mark Jacobson for these.)
- With Cutthroat in play, you can cast Sidisi’s Faithful multiple times, bouncing itself and sacrificing other creatures to drain once per blue mana.
- With Cutthroat in play, you can use Liliana’s -X ability for 0 to return a Hangarback to drain once per turn.
- Liliana with Faithful combines to turn her -1 ability into an Unsummon.
- Look for opportunities to play Hangarback for 0 to quickly flip Liliana.
- Cast Faithful to bounce your own Whirler Rogue for more Thopters.
- You can tap Hangarback to activate Whirler Rogue’s ability to make a creature unblockable.
- Sacrifice a creature before combat damage to negate lifelink.
- You can flip a manifested Hangarback for 0 to trigger Cutthroat or Liliana.
- Likewise, you can Cut your own creature to accomplish the triggers.
- Bounce your own manifest with Sidisi’s Faithful. This is useful for spells, Hangarback, etc.
- Flipping a manifested Hangarback for 0 fuels delve for Murderous Cut and insane blowout potential.
Tommy and I chickened out of playing the deck. I felt that our testing sample size was not big enough and I wasn’t satisfied with the results of our post-sideboard games. I may or not have made a big mistake, I ended up registering Atarka Red and went 1-4 in Standard. Half of the team did play UB Aristocrats, including Christian Calcano and Oliver Tamajko, and they seemed satisfied with their choice. The deck is definitely fun to play, and difficult to pilot and play against. I highly recommend the challenge!
Thanks for reading and stay tuned for this week’s video where I will be playing UB Aristocrats.