I didn't want to play U/W/R at Grand Prix Atlantic City.
After the StarCityGames.com Invitational in Los Angeles, my dismal 3-3 record in Standard had me looking at other options. It felt like the time was right to further explore Zombies. I saw players like Sam Black, Max Tietze, and Jim Davis pick up B/R Zombies and get annihilated and thought maybe there was something they missed. After all, the deck continued to perform in the hands of other players.
The Brazilians are all about #edelgenius on Twitter, meaning Willy Edel of course. He kept it tame for a few years, but now he's back with a vengeance. Several new innovations in various formats (although mostly pertaining to various Jund decks) can be attributed to him.
He posted his updated Standard decklist on Twitter a few days ago:
- 3 Deathrite Shaman
- 3 Dreg Mangler
- 4 Gravecrawler
- 4 Hellrider
- 4 Lotleth Troll
- 4 Thrill-Kill Assassin
- 2 Thundermaw Hellkite
- 3 Vampire Nighthawk
I would have liked or +1ed his tweet if I could have. Of course, I could have retweeted, but then everyone would have my secrets.
The deck was good but needed a little fine-tuning. It was clear what Willy was doing with the list: making a bigger Zombie deck that had an edge in the mirror with Lotleth Troll and playing things like Deathrite Shaman, Thrill-Kill Assassin to fight U/W/R Flash. Izzet Staticaster and Pillar of Flame can be huge pains for normal Zombie decks, and Willy didn't want those cards to be very good against him.
By cutting Geralf's Messenger, he gets access to Rootbound Crag, which is basically the perfect fixer. You could always play eight Badlands or eight Bayous and hope to draw a mix. Sometimes it doesn't work out and you draw just the Badlands, Bayous, or Swamps part of your deck. Trust me, you need Taigas.
Cutting Messenger is incredibly liberating. Suddenly things like Hellrider are easy to cast! Playing Mountains in order to cast Searing Spear becomes a reality. No longer will Thundermaw Hellkite rot in your hand or stare at you angrily when your fifth land is a Guildgate.
I liked that Willy's deck could transform into a control deck after sideboard against other aggressive decks, but it didn't seem very effective. Huntmaster of the Fells just didn't do enough. In combination with Thragtusk, it could get you somewhere, but Huntmaster by itself wasn't the roadblock necessary.
After messing with Willy's "real" deck, I decided to do some brewing.
This deck was loosely modeled after Adam Prosak's deck from the StarCityGames.com Standard Open in Columbus. It's got the same Lotleth Trolls and removal, but its game plan is much different. I wanted to take normal Jund, make it a little more aggressive, and also give it a draw engine to overpower similarly minded decks in the midgame.
Despite looking very janky, I won with this deck the most out of any non-U/W/R deck in this article. It was solid, but I couldn't tell if the Veilborn gimmick was better than just playing "real" cards.
I liked my Duress + Rakdos's Return sideboard plan versus control. Azorius Charm was about the only thing they could do to my precious Troll, and Duress could put a stop to that. If I knew they were holding Snapcaster Mage or Sphinx's Revelation, I could clear out their hand.
Instead of that plan coming to fruition, I played against a U/W/R Flash opponent in an eight-man where he systematically tore me apart. He used his mana every turn, made every land drop, and Sphinx's Revelation was something I couldn't overcome.
All I could think was, "Wow, his deck looks good."
It was time to try something new.
Angel of Glory's Rise has been a thing since Arcology was crushing Daily Events with it, but Christiano7 got my attention with an all-in combo version. After a few hours of gaming, I came to this list:
- 4 Angel of Glory's Rise
- 3 Geist-Honored Monk
- 3 Goldnight Commander
- 3 Izzet Staticaster
- 1 Lightning Mauler
- 2 Zealous Conscripts
The goal is to get something that makes some dudes (Geist-Honored Monk), something that gives your dudes haste (Lightning Mauler / Zealous Conscripts), something that pumps your dudes (Goldnight Commander), and something that brings them all into play from your graveyard (Angel of Glory's Rise).
A turn 4 kill isn't impossible, but most of the time this deck will settle for virtual turn 4 kills where your board position is so dominant your opponent can't win. The actual killing comes on turn 5 or 6.
Unfortunately, Mono-Red Aggro kills you on turn 5 every game! Without a way to kill Hellrider or kill them before Thundermaw Hellkite forced through the last points of damage, I could almost never win. Cathedral Sanctifiers and Christiano7's Pillar of Flames could buy me some time, but it wasn't enough. Instead, I turned to Rolling Temblor and Supreme Verdict, and those were much better.
In today's world, Reanimator wants to kill Ash Zealot, Deathrite Shaman, and not much else. Thalia, Guardian of Thraben I suppose? Most of those decks play other creatures, so you're better off playing sweepers.
One thing that felt like it might be good when you're milling yourself a bunch is Feeling of Dread, which could function like a Moment's Peace. The main issue was that I was using my mana every turn and didn't necessarily need it game 1 against the slower decks. It was also too slow against Mono-Red because I'd buy a turn with it but not progress my game plan at all. Post-board, the hate comes in and the games slow down so it gets much worse.
I liked the feel of the deck, as it's just a pile of velocity, but when you're getting beat up by Mono-Red consistently despite siding in eight cards, it might be time to give up. That said, matchups against anything slower felt pretty good.
I tried Human Reanimator with Nightshade Peddler, Mulch, and Grisly Salvage as well, but I hated it. The backup plan of Peddler/Staticaster was fragile at best, and neither of them was very good on its own. Again, it was time to move on.
Andrew Shrout, Magic grinder extraordinaire, got second at the recent StarCityGames.com Open in Columbus with an odd-looking Bant/Naya deck. As it turns out, he had most of a Naya deck and most of a Bant deck, so he played Sealed Deck with his friend's binder.
Despite his unconventional deckbuilding methods, his deck didn't look half-bad. Some theory and some more gaming got me to this point:
- 2 Angel of Serenity
- 4 Avacyn's Pilgrim
- 4 Borderland Ranger
- 4 Centaur Healer
- 4 Restoration Angel
- 4 Thragtusk
You want to beat midrange mirrors? Play something like this that can side into Ranger's Path + Omniscience and crush them with your vastly superior Angel of Serenity loops. That said, Naya might still be able to beat you with Kessig Wolf Run and/or Thundermaw Hellkite. It's a funny world we live in...
Aside from Kessig Wolf Run, I didn't think the red added much to the deck. Huntmaster is a fine card, but it doesn't do enough and certainly isn't worth splashing for. You could sideboard Pillar of Flame, but if you can't cast it on time, it's mostly useless. Once that crutch was gone, design space opened up.
The only thing I was unsure about was Loxodon Smiter versus Centaur Healer maindeck. Make no mistake, there are enough red decks to warrant playing maindeck Healers, but is a 3/3 that gains life better than a 4/4 that is almost impossible to kill?
Much like with the Human Reanimator deck, I got beat up by Mono-Red Aggro several times. I didn't remember Hellrider ever being such a problematic card. How was I getting crushed so badly despite playing Centaur Healer maindeck? It was mostly Pyreheart Wolf's fault.
Awkwardly enough, Loxodon Smiter might be better against Mono-Red because it doesn't get Speared and kills them faster. Centaur Healer might be the better "racing" card, but if you're in the position to be racing, it's probably because of Thragtusk. That five point buffer is going to give you a turn, but Centaur Healer gives you half a turn maybe. I'd rather try to kill them before they can assemble double Hellrider, overloaded Mizzium Mortars, or multiple Thundermaw Hellkites.
Playing more Rhox Faithmenders might be a good idea.
Also, Bant Control can mostly play the long game better, especially with Nephalia Drownyard providing an unstoppable win condition. Between Drownyard and Wolf Run, Josh Cho and I were talking about Ghost Quarter as a potential answer, but I like Acidic Slime better.
Moving on again...
Maybe this deck is actually good?
It's similar to the Human Reanimator deck in terms of what it's trying to do and when. I'm unsure as to what turn it normally goes off and how well it fights through disruption, namely Izzet Staticaster, but it seems to be doing quite well.
This is what I'd play if Grand Prix Atlantic City were tomorrow:
The Spears are because everyone keeps telling me to play them (but can't give a good reason). If I wanted to put a card in my deck, it would have a purpose. Right now, killing Thragtusk easily (which isn't necessary), tapping out to bait them into attempting to transform Huntmaster (again, not necessary), or trading up with Izzet Staticaster post-board (still not necessary) are the main uses I've found for it.
Spear is "ok" and slightly better than Pillar of Flame versus non-Zombie decks, but it's a marginal upgrade. There have been plenty of decks 4-0ing Daily Events with four Spears and zero Pikes, which makes sense in a metagame with no Bant Control. Instead of using Runechanter's Pike to deal your opponent a ton of damage, you draw your deck and Spear them out. Then again, Bant rarely does well online, which is probably why this version viable online.
In real life, I'm not sure that's the case. For a Grand Prix, I want to beat Bant, especially in game 1, so I feel like two Pikes are necessary.
The Gisela is pretty sweet as it's a fatty finisher like the Angel of Serenity and Drogskol Reaver that I played before, except this one is better positioned. It also turns your Staticasters into killing machines and dodges most of the commonly played removal. As always, there is a caveat, and that is Thundermaw Hellkite. It's possible that despite Thundermaw tapping Gisela, Gisela should prevent enough damage that their alpha strike won't kill you.
My only other odd inclusion is going hard on Grafdigger's Cage instead of Rest in Peace. That's nearly bitten me a few times when facing down Reanimator decks with Deathrite Shaman or Angel of Serenity though. The main draw to it is the fact that Human Reanimator has Ray of Revelation or War Priest of Thune in their sideboard, so they're basically kold to it. Perhaps they should switch to Detention Sphere or something?
If you're more worried about beating a wide field than beating a select few decks, you can cut a Pike, Jace, and Staticaster for other things. For example, fitting the fourth Pillar of Flame into the maindeck or sideboard might not be a bad idea.
No other deck has felt remotely close to as good as U/W/R variants have felt for me, but that could just be a play style thing. After all, I don't subscribe to the theory of jamming threats until your opponent dies.
In this format, U/W/R might be the best I can do. That's probably not such a bad thing, but I'm more than a little disappointed in myself. Good luck in Atlantic City or at the StarCityGames.com Open Series in San Diego. Prove me wrong and show me some awesome brews this weekend!
@G3RRYT on Twitter