This will be a roundabout way to start this column but here goes.
Back in the early 90’s when I started playing computer games there was this game called Civilization. It’s still out there probably on its fourth or fifth iteration by now. The wife and I would stay up sometimes completely overnight trying to conquer the world.
One of the important technological advances to aim for in the game was miniaturization because it got you towards automation or tanks or cars or computers. And I’m only reminded of this now because I’m writing this article from oh about 12000 feet in the air above the Atlantic on my laptop.
I’m really not a laptop guy. I like a big clunky desktop. Something with substance. But I understand the place of the laptop in this world. The connection to the world is so completely done through the Internet now that you can’t travel without a computer of some sort. But I could still take or leave it. If I need to change hotel reservations I can call. If I need to find directions to someplace I can consult a map or ask a local. If I need to change my Facebook status – well I shouldn’t be concerned with changing my Facebook status – or at least not as much as I probably am.
The wife is much more connected than I would be. And that is why I have this laptop to use on my flight from Frankfurt back to the U.S. And that brings us to the meat of the column.
Two weeks ago we looked at the Grixis and Jund Intro Packs and attempted to bring them up to scale to be playable in today’s Standard – or at the very least got them up to 60 cards (using only commons) while still maintaining the goal and plan of the deck and the associated Shard. Today let’s go through the other three.
From the Wizards’ website here’s the introductory material for the Bant deck: "The plane of Bant is a regimented hierarchy of knights aven and tough-minded rhoxes who uphold the ideals of the angels. Summon Bant's most worthy heroes then rally them around a mighty champion who will smite your planeswalker foes." It’s like the opening of Troy where you get the two armies on either side and Brad Pitt strolls out and stabs the guy in the neck. Problem is with this Intro Pack you get a Suntail Hawk to do your dirty work and not Achilles. Sux.
Here’s the listing of the Bant starter deck:
2 Akrasan Squire
1 Battlegrace Angel
2 Guardians of Akrasa
2 Knight of the Skyward Eye
1 Knight-Captain of Eos
2 Rhox War Monk
1 Sigiled Paladin
2 Steward of Valeron
2 Suntail Hawk
1 Waveskimmer Aven
2 Wild Griffin
Obviously the Bant deck wants to make an evasive attacker and reap the benefits of the Exalted mechanic which is definitely one of the stronger mechanics in the block at least when scaled out to an entire deck like this. That’s what prompts the inclusion of the Tenth Edition cards like Suntail Hawk and Wild Griffin. The secondary strain of the deck is to use as many Soldiers as possible to make combat lopsided with Knight-Captain of Eos.
Out of 24 non-land cards in the deck only ten are Exalted cards. The deck skimps on the common enablers and uses Guardians of Akrasa which doesn’t really fit in with the aggressive plan that the deck would like to ultimately take. The deck has a fairly low mana curve so I’m going to start with 22 land meaning we need to find 14 more cards.
New Shards Cards: Looking at the common choices to expand the Exalted theme you have three options: the White Sight-Casted Sorcerer the Blue Outriders of Jhess or the Green Court Archers. None of them are tremendous attackers on their own but they’re all better than the defensive Guardians of Akrasa. Replacing the Guardians we’d probably like to fit something in the same casting cost slot and Court Archers can also provide some measure of defense if absolutely necessary blocking opposing flyers like Mulldrifters and Faerie tokens. Oblivion Ring should get some love here too as it not only takes care (temporarily) of opposing creatures but also of troublesome things like Bitterblossom or Planeswalkers. I also considered Jhessian Infiltrator here being that he’s a solid unblockable Grizzly Bear perfect for all those Exalted boosts but I think the mana is too tough to reliably cast him early in the game.
More of the Same: The first card that should be considered for the maximum amount is Akrasan Squire. He’s a early creature that supports both of the themes of the deck and is a pretty decent attacker all by himself in the early going. And believe it or not I really like Suntail Hawk in this style of deck as the Exalted mechanic makes even one an aerial force to be reckoned with. Steward of Valeron is another possibility as a Vigilant attacker who actually has a benefit to not tapping to attack – powering out more of your creatures. And finally I’d like to bulk up the flying action by adding another Waveskimmer Aven who keeps the Exalted theme going as well.
Due to the increased number of one-drops adding in more “comes-into-play-tapped” land is going to limit the aggressive start we get with the deck. Five more lands get added to the deck and it should be one Island one Forest and three Plains to help with all those early drops.
Other sets: The deck has the old “White Weenie” feel although in this case you’re making one BIG attacker and not trying to overwhelm your opponent with sheer numbers. It’s still a numbers game though. Most of the White Weenie creatures over the past year have been Kithkin and only really shine when placed into that thematic deck – otherwise really Goldmeadow Stalwart is worse than Jhessian Outriders in this deck. You could consider Goldmeadow Harrier as another early drop that helps your end game plan of getting one GIANT guy past all the defenses. (Doesn’t hurt that he’s a Soldier to boot.)
- 4 Akrasan Squire
- 1 Battlegrace Angel
- 3 Court Archers
- 3 Goldmeadow Harrier
- 2 Knight of the Skyward Eye
- 1 Knight-Captain of Eos
- 2 Rhox War Monk
- 1 Sigiled Paladin
- 3 Steward of Valeron
- 4 Suntail Hawk
- 2 Waveskimmer Aven
- 2 Wild Griffin
The singleton Kiss of Amesha was clunky-looking so I replaced it with Courier’s Capsules; ultimately there may be some better card-drawing to put in there. The Guardians of Akrasa and Angelic Benediction get replaced by Court Archers keeping you up in total Exalted enablers.
(Esperer is the French verb “to hope.” I know it’s conjugated wrong up there. Poetic license.) And the Esper Intro Pack is certainly high on hope: "The plane of Esper is dominated by brilliant wizards artificers and sphinxes who seek to control the very forces of nature through a magical alloy called etherium. Construct an army of unstoppable artifacts using the power of etherium and dominate all who would stand in your way." The description is pretty accurate – if you don’t see Etherium you probably aren’t going to dominate.
As I said this deck really has a lot of hope or at least it has to hope that a lot of things go right in order for it to succeed. It has to hope that Master of Etherium shows up and that he’s big enough to make a difference when he does show up and that he sticks around long enough to win games. Otherwise the deck has just a few flyers to try and carry the day. The standard old land mix gives us 17 land out of 22 or 23 so we have 13 or 14 cards to add – and the number will really depend on what end of the mana curve we end up on.
New Shards Cards: On the flip side the deck does actually give you most of the good Esper artifact creatures which means there aren’t many additional options from Shards. An argument could be made for Vectis Silencers just as an additional means of creature control but I think I’d only do that after adding a bunch more Executioner’s Capsules.
More of the Same: I think the first instinctual change is to either go “all or nothing” on Etherium Sculptor. I mean what good is he really if you get him on turn six and he just sits there waiting to block something? You really do want him as early as possible. Personally I’d rather go the other way. On top of the fact that he’s a mostly-dead midgame draw he also doesn’t help a specific number of cards to include Tidehollow Strix and Windwright Mage which you almost assuredly want four of. I’d almost prefer an extra Obelisk or two as they’re more permanent mana accelerators and they help you cast non-artifact spells as well. Sanctum Gargoyle is another card I’d like multiples of as almost everything in the deck is an artifact and there are quite a few you’d like to reuse – the Capsules for instance or the Master of Etherium or heck even a Tower Gargoyle might make a difference now and again. And speaking of things to recur the Capsules have to be increased especially the Courier’s Capsules which help you dig towards your big flyers. And finally any deck that can run Oblivion Ring should definitely be running four.
For the lands maxing out on the Panoramas is probably a good idea as you’ll definitely want to be able to cast your two- and three-color cards early on and there isn’t any real early pressure that you’re interrupting. I’d also go ahead and spread the remaining lands out evenly across all three basic types.
- 2 Cloudheath Drake
- 1 Master of Etherium
- 3 Sanctum Gargoyle
- 1 Sharding Sphinx
- 4 Tidehollow Strix
- 2 Tower Gargoyle
- 4 Windwright Mage
A lot of the singletons made way for four Hindering Light – I wanted some more options in terms of interacting with my opponent and the card-drawing counterspell is (in my opinion) underrated. My only fear is that it’s become TOO interactive and doesn’t have many ways to win. Still finding Master of Etherium and riding his back to victory seems to be the way the deck wants to go and that’s still a viable option with this deck – only now you have a little big air force to support him.
About this point in the article I’ve just been notified of our arrival into Cincinnati a town that has a warm place in my heart. I went to college there and we purposefully scheduled both our outgoing and incoming flights to go through Cincinnati if only to grab chili somewhere in the airport in between flights. Our outgoing flight got changed to go through JFK instead and now we’re being told that (due to fog delaying our takeoff) we’re actually about thirty minutes late arriving into Cincinnati. No Martha there will be no chili today. We barely make the plane to Denver. I mean “everyone in the cabin is looking at you thinking ‘oh you’re THOSE people’” kind of barely make the plane. And I bashed a guy in the face with the carry-on to boot.
In the Naya of the Storm
So let’s go ahead and finish off with a plane close and dear to my heart Naya. I think all of us have that little Timmy inside them that gets excited about giant Green monsters. I know I still do. Let’s see what the travel brochure says: "The plane of Naya is a paradise of lush growth where elvish and leonin celebrants worship the gargantuan beasts that roam the world. These ancient behemoths are yours to command an army massive enough to blot out the sun and shake the earth. Other planeswalkers will tremble in your wake." Now THAT is a vacation destination! I mean it comes with trembling planeswalkers what more could you want?
The Naya deck:
I used to regularly play Spades and one of the sayings we regularly used was “Go big or stay home” to indicate that if someone was going to trump a play they had best use a high trump or not even bother. The Naya have that same sort of philosophy coming out of the gates more slowly than any of the other decks (unless you count Grizzly Cylian Elf as a decent early creature) but punishing the opponent on the ground as a steady stream of five-or-more power creatures appear.
The Naya deck though doesn’t really play much with the five-power triggers from cards like Drumhunter or Sunseed Nurturer – instead it focuses on the five-power guys that share the abilities across to other giants. To that end it includes Giant Growths not only as combat tricks but as ways to (eventually) give your smaller creatures extra abilities. Because we want to make sure we can cast our big guys and play out any late-game boosts (not to mention Titanic Ultimatum) we’d best stick at 23 land meaning we have 13 cards to add.
New Shards Cards: For all the big guys that this deck has it’s still severely lacking in one thing: removal. Really? Only one Blaze? Bleh. It boggles the mind why Wizards wouldn’t even include one Branching Bolt in the deck. Or Soul’s Fire! Yeah that’s what I’m talkin’ about. Mosstodons have a TON of soul – don’t let anyone tell you different. I’d also like to boost up the number of five-power creatures either with Ridge Rannets or Jungle Weavers – probably the latter.
More of the Same: Because the deck focuses on big creatures the early mana development is key. You do NOT want to get stuck on four mana with this deck. So the first four-pack I’d include is the full set of Druid of the Anima. They not only push you towards getting your big guys out faster but also make sure you have no color issues in the meantime. (They also help a heck of a lot in hitting Titanic Ultimatum but that may be neither here nor there.) I’d also boost up the number of Mosstodons as trample is one of the important abilities when you’re dealing with high-power creatures – no one wants to be chump-blocked all day long.
+2 Druid of the Anima
Again this is a deck that doesn’t have a gross number of early plays so maximizing the number of Panoramas is going to make sure we have the colors right – plus the Wild Nacatls love it when you can fetch up the right basic land mix. Beyond that we’re adding green and red spells to the deck so I’m going to add two Forests and two Mountains. We can always fetch up the Plains if needed and we have Druids to help smooth out the colors as well.
Other sets: There’s always the option to look at removal spells here but I’d like to keep the focus on the five-power guys. Unfortunately there are only eight (!) five-or-more power commons in Standard outside of this set and they are unexciting for the most part – I mean do you want to water down the power of this deck by adding in Craw Wurm or Red Craw Wurm (Axegrinder Giant)? I didn’t think so. But Scuzzback Marauders (5/2 trample persist) is a little more interesting – starts out with trample only costs five and takes two removal spells (in most cases) to deal with. There’s also Oakgnarl Warrior to compete for the 5GG spot taken up by Jungle Weaver – only Oakgnarl Warrior is vigilant and tramply. But perhaps the most interesting guy to consider adding is Morselhoarder who is not only of a decent size relative to the deck but also makes casting your other big guys a little bit easier. Could you imagine making him 6/4 and using the mana to Soul’s Fire out an opponent? Timmy would love it.
- 1 Bull Cerodon
- 4 Druid of the Anima
- 4 Morselhoarder
- 3 Mosstodon
- 1 Naya Battlemage
- 2 Rakeclaw Gargantuan
- 3 Scuzzback Marauders
- 1 Spearbreaker Behemoth
- 2 Wild Nacatl
- 2 Woolly Thoctar
This deck sorely needs some early mass removal like Firespout or Pyroclasm – and then maybe the Druids aren’t the right choice and more Rampant Growths would be useful. And Drumhunter would be ludicrous helping to keep the deck in a stream of giant guys. But nonetheless this is one of my favorite upgraded decks. It’s the Timmy.
Next week the plan is to throw these decks together and let them fight it out to see who’s the king of the ring and who still needs improvements. But as this will be a shortened week for me due to my travel we’ll just have to take it as it comes. I gotta put up the Christmas tree some time ya know.
Until next week!