January 1st is an arbitrary starting point, and the behaviors that we initiate at the turn of the year will only stick if they mean something to us. For most of us, New Year's means experimenting with something new. In the world of Magic: The Gathering, the most obvious way to do this is to try out a new deck to attack the metagame from a different angle.
In an environment of powerful spot removal and effective midrange creatures (i.e., Thragtusk), there is potential for a token-based strategy with resilient angles of attack to make its mark. With this in mind, I began putting together a shell based on a very basic "combo": Burn at the Stake and a lot of creatures.
What evolved was a surprisingly effective aggressive deck in which the combo is a secondary consideration. My first iteration had some issues with the format that can be addressed with some tweaks, but I was honestly surprised at the potential viability of this archetype.
I was unsure about some of the card choices, but through playing in some two-man queues on Magic Online, I began to winnow away some of the less effective pieces to develop a lean, mean token machine.
The first two matches were both against U/W/R Flash, neither of which were running Geist of Saint Traft. To my great surprise (bearing in mind that I had not tested the deck prior to entering the queues with it), I swept both matches 2-0. It is worth noting that Mizzium Mortars was nice against Restoration Angel, but the lack of instant speed really hurt me. A single Intangible Virtue made the matchup very difficult for my opponents, especially in conjunction with Brimstone Volley.
The most significant MVP, however, was Thundermaw Hellkite. Neither of my opponents expected this card, and their failure to play around it was lethal in two separate games. Rootborn Defenses was also a surprisingly effective counter to Supreme Verdict because it not only negates the spell itself but also affects the efficacy of how they have chosen to play their early turns (anticipating that a Supreme Verdict will resolve).
I found that I didn't want to use any of the cards in my sideboard, which suggested to me that it was ill formed for this matchup. U/W/R Flash is a powerful and effective deck, though it is likely to become a more aggressive strategy including Geist of Saint Traft in the coming days, and although we did very well against it in our first foray, it would be a mistake to underestimate it. The copies of Mark of Mutiny and Zealous Conscripts seem redundant, and we might want access Ultimate Price or a similar card as an instant speed answer to Restoration Angel.
The next match was against the G/B Aggro deck that has recently become popular, which runs hits like Wolfir Avenger, Dreg Mangler, Rancor, and Strangleroot Geist. In the first game, I hit a turn 2 Intangible Virtue but hiccupped on land for a while. While at five life, I resolved a Gather the Township for five 2/2 Soldier tokens, attacked, and then finished the game with a Burn at the Stake, which cemented its place (in some number) in my deck.
Because Lotleth Troll and Wolfir Avenger can regenerate, I found myself wanting some sort of removal that doesn't actually remove the card. While Oblivion Ring is a reasonable card, I'm running a lot of cards that cost three mana (Brimstone Volley, Lingering Souls, Midnight Haunting), so I decided that it might be worth trying out Pacifism. While Pacifism is strictly worse against activated abilities (obviously), the mana cost alone might make it a viable alternative.
I played several more matches against U/W Exalted (Sublime Archangel, Geist of Saint Traft, Knight of Glory, etc.) and against various iterations of Jund, which I wasn't aware was still prevalent but apparently exists in some portion of the online tournament metagame. Finally, I played against Bant Control. I went 3-1 in those matches, losing only to Jund, and these matches taught me several additional lessons. Sever the Bloodline is quite bad for this deck, Pacifism is an excellent answer to Thragtusk despite being suboptimal against Huntmaster of the Fells, and Blasphemous Act is a solid sideboard card.
We should be very skeptical of how this deck played out at first blush, however. Simply put, a record of 6-1 in tournament queues on Magic Online is probably too good for this deck. While I had my share of mulligans, I believe that my opponents may not have played optimally in all matches.
Even the revised version of the deck that we'll discuss shortly is not a Tier 1 deck. It does, however, have the potential to establish a toehold, if not a foothold, in the current Standard metagame. While cards like Lingering Souls are not considered viable in Standard at the moment, the use of Burn at the Stake means that something as simple as a Gather the Townsfolk at five life or two copies of Lingering Souls + flashback can quickly move an opponent from fifteen/eighteen life to zero.
That's a serious haymaker.
After my initial experience in the queues on Magic Online, there were some components of the deck that needed modification. Specifically, in the maindeck, I was uncomfortable with either the presence of some of these cards or the numbers of them:
First, Ajani, Caller of the Pride is just terrible in this deck. While there are niche cases where it will make a flying Geist-Honored Monk or singlehandedly fuel a lethal Burn at the Stake, these situations are unlikely to come about.
Mizzium Mortars is undoubtedly a powerful card and I initially included it because it can deal with Restoration Angel, but the fact that it is a sorcery makes it an insufficient answer to the current metagame. Even though it might stretch the deck's mana a bit, I think that Ultimate Price might be a better card to put in its place. Given the fact that we also never want to draw two copies of Burn at the Stake unless we're playing against a slow Bant draw, we might consider dropping down to three copies of the deck's haymaker to add an additional land, as it is very important for this deck to be able to play all of its five-drops in a timely fashion.
Rootborn Defenses may be more appropriately situated as a sideboard card, but it was effective enough that I think it merits more testing in the main, if for no other reason than the fact that it simply can win the game against decks that want to use Supreme Verdict as a catchall to our army of tokens. Finally, as Krenko's Command is the weakest token generator in the deck, we should consider leaving the number of copies at two, but it will be the first card to increase in number if we find that we don't have enough token generators after further testing.
The sideboard was also hastily constructed and didn't address any of the deck's fundamental weaknesses. Both Rest in Peace and Blasphemous Act were effective, but I never really wanted to use the copies of Keening Apparition, Mark of Mutiny, and Zealous Conscripts. I think that Sundering Growth is a much better replacement for Keening Apparition because it typically will generate a creature and also has the versatility to answer Runechanter's Pike and other artifacts in addition to enchantments like Detention Sphere. Pacifism is also a phenomenal answer to Thragtusk, and although it makes me feel like I'm cobbling together a core set precon, I think that it's the appropriate card for this deck to use.
I wouldn't play this deck at a significant tournament without a lot of additional testing, but I'd gladly pick up the deck for FNM or another less serious event. In addition, with some more modifications, I think that this deck may be able to sneak into the broader metagame in some sense.