I hope you folks out there as excited as I am about Gatecrash! With the speculation that comes with each new set, we all look forward to the future of Standard as well as nice additions we can use in our more casual, alternative formats. As I write this article, many spoilers have already crashed through the gates of our tried and true decklists, filling brewers with ideas and synergies, shells and combos. I know I'm already knee deep in sweet brews for the first Friday Night Magic of Gatecrash on February 1st, and I can't wait to bring them to you!
As I'm left simply anticipating what Standard will be, though, I feel like I'm looking in on a warm, festive party from out in the dark, bleak snow. My nose is pressed up against the glass, my breath fogging the pane of glass as my saucer-sized eyes peer in at the bounty. Then that crotchety old man named "Mr. Calendar" approaches the window and raps his cane on the sill. "You just wait your turn there, sonny!"
Today's article will lay the groundwork for two decks that will be impossible to fully capitalize on during Standard's current state. The unusual situation of our current Standard is that we only have half of the color combinations we need. We know what's coming up: access to five more color combinations and the fleshing out of the shards in our decks. Esper, Naya, RUG, BUG and Webber (my name for WBR) will all become easily accessible. Color flexibility will be greater, and we will be able to more easily cast our tricky multicolored spells.
But let's not worry about the colors that will gain new depth and range in Gatecrash as the other color combos become fully supported. Instead, let's look at the fact that we already have cards that have color combos. Both cards we're building around today share one thing in common. They don't really care what color you use, just that you use more than one. Return to Ravnica (and even Innistrad block) offers us many multicolored cards to cast. This ability to cast spells across color barriers can be easily rewarded with the right tools, and each of the spells reviewed today will take advantage of that in different ways.
Although I originally thought of using them in concert, they represent drastically different game plans. So one deck will be aggro, and the other will be control. Let's take a look at the aggro deck first.
When this card was first spoiled, I got pretty excited for its role in Limited. This card is no Bonesplitter, but it felt pretty close. The equipment encouraged play of multicolored creatures in a format rife with options. With Rancor's return to Standard, though, Civic Saber's effect became much less attractive; just like that, it fell silently into binders across the world.
But what if we run Rancor and this Saber alongside each other? An aggressive deck likes adding two power for a safe, non-committal two colorless mana. Civic Saber is immune to shenanigans with which Rancor has to concern itself, like Rest in Peace and response to casting. There were plenty of multicolored creatures to choose from, but in the end, I settled on Jund. I wanted aggression; I wanted angry denizens of Ravnica waving their colorful blades in righteous anger. These creatures are cheap, aggressive, and out for blood. In congress with Rancor, the Saber could be devastating.
- 3 Deathrite Shaman
- 4 Dreg Mangler
- 3 Falkenrath Aristocrat
- 3 Hellhole Flailer
- 3 Lotleth Troll
- 4 Rakdos Cackler
- 4 Rakdos Shred-Freak
One-Drops: Rakdos Cackler and Deathrite Shaman
Rakdos Cackler is a popular choice in today's aggro decks. Mono-Red Aggro and B/R Zombies both adore this little Devil. His flexible casting cost pretty much guarantees that a turn 1 untapped land will be able to cast him in a wide variety of decks. Deathrite Shaman, however, is a little different. He rarely sees the maindeck of aggro lists, but here he's a comrade for our aggressive team as much as any other. A Civic Saber still makes him a 3/2, and his utility is undeniable. He frees up sideboard space, too, which in this day and age can't seem to hold everything you need. The Shaman gives inevitability, graveyard control, and gas late in the game, something that many aggro decks lack.
Two-Drops: Lotleth Troll, Rakdos Shred-Freak
Both of these critters are no strangers to the aggro build. Lotleth Troll is a deceptively powerful two-drop, being resistant to board sweeps and damage-based removal. His free pump can give some of your more subjective creatures more late-game value. Rakdos Shred-Freak was a nice, aggressive, and synergetic choice. Sabering him up seems very natural, and the haste is a nice added bonus. He's also easier to cast than, say, Ash Zealot, who although better objectively is harder for this deck to cast on time.
Three-Drops: Dreg Mangler, Hellhole Flailer
Dreg Mangler is another aggro staple. It punches hard, and a Saber is right at home in its rotting grip. Hellhole Flailer is a somewhat forgotten battler from Ravnica Limited who benefits greatly from the rest of the deck's offerings. His sacrifice ability becomes very powerful with even a small pump, and Rancor's trampling helps him push his big gut through. He's also a great scavenge target.
At the top of the food chain is our lovely Aristocrat. Her razor-sharp fangs dig deep into your opponent's life total, and her ability to protect herself is invaluable with all the spot removal and sweepers I've seen banging around. She's a great topdeck and a solid finisher, plain and simple; by turn 4, your opponent should be pushed to the edge of the cliff already. Give them a nudge.
Pumps: Rancor and Civic Saber
Simple, effective, and streamlined, these power-only buffs give even our feeblest creature real teeth. Trample loves extra power, so pile it on and wade into battle! I purposefully didn't play a full set of Rancor. This deck has only nine green sources, and Civic Saber is much easier to cast and equip while providing the same power boost, albeit without trample.
Removal: Searing Spear and Ultimate Price
If you'll notice, despite the fact that we have a fair amount of hybrid mana, most of the mana you'll spend in this deck will need to be colored mana. Using simple yet broad removal spells will help give your mana base a bit of a breather. Searing Spear is right on point for this deck, and Ultimate Price still hits a surprising number of targets.
My mana base is pretty stock, emphasizing black as our main color. Being able to cast our one-drops on time is very important to the aggressive nature of this deck, but we also need to have enough depth to reach to either side of our pivot. My only utility land, Kessig Wolf Run, provides a Rancor-on-steroids effect for when I resolve that one durdly Rakdos Shred-Freak late game that still somehow needs to actually kill them.
Golgari Charm and Abrupt Decay are safe and reliable choices for any B/G/X sideboard. The ability to protect yourself from sweepers and knock out mana dorks or that one problem enchantment makes the Charm one of the more far-reaching Charms available, and Abrupt Decay can double as an anti-aggro card or problem NCP removal for those pesky Oblivion Rings, Detention Spheres and Runechanter's Pikes.
Crippling Blight is a great answer for life-gaining creatures like Centaur Healer and Thragtusk in this deck. A lot of control decks just hope to rip into these guys early against aggro and stabilize. A 3/3 body is tough to crack through, but a 2/2 that can't block ain't no thang. Having a one-mana removal spell is also fine to silence their mana dork or growth creature, like Champion of the Parish or an opposing Lotleth Troll.
For the control matchup, we have seven cards designed to manipulate and pacify your opponent's hand. Our five spot discard cards perform two valuable functions. First, we get to see their hand. Without Gitaxian Probe floating around, the opponent's hand is now very much a hidden zone again. Aggro decks are always balancing the need for over-the-top aggression while being cautious not to overextend into a wipe, and our discard spells let us take a look at our opponent's outs. Second, this lets you remove whatever threat stands in your way; now you can execute a cleaner game plan and, in many cases, it will be the nail in the coffin that shuts a control deck's defenses down.
Our three discard spells provide different functions. Duress, a perfect tool against any would-be trickster, is difficult to counter effectively and draws the counter if you are tired of playing around it. Duress is such a buzzkill for control players, but it should only be sided in when you know you'll have targets at nearly every juncture. Appetite for Brains is a bit narrower, but it can be just as backbreaking. Exiling the Thragtusk that made them keep can be devastating. So many control threats break the four CMC barrier that a well-timed Appetite will leave you fully sated.
Slaughter Games is just a panic button for a must-answer-before-they-draw-it threat. My single foil copy from the sideboard has saved me in many games throughout its tour of duty, and it'll find a cozy home here, too. Underworld Connections is also nice in those long control matchups. Against many decks, you won't even have to worry about the one life, and the Shaman can always give it back to you.
Sideboarding was intentionally made fairly straightforward here: cut the removal for discard in control matchups and slim on the appropriate spells (and creatures, if need be) for removal in hyper-aggressive matchups. Choose Appetite for Brains and Crippling Blight for the midrange decks and Golgari Charm for the sweeper-heavy U/W/X Control matchups. You all are big kids; I know you can do it.
Let's slow the clock down a bit and look at a slower yet inevitably powerful deck option that orbits another multicolor matters card.
Admittedly, utilizing the Pyroconvergence proved to be more difficult. No one likes a five-mana enchantment that often does jack-diddly the turn it's played. Still, I thought there was potential. Unlike Civic Saber, I was a bit bound to a color here, but that did at least give me a starting point. Although I toyed with a creature-heavy deck, that seemed suboptimal; I'd be killing the opponent with my creatures on turn 5, not casting a durdly NCP. With that I moved to spells being central, and USA became the colors of choice. Our Charming friends offered depth, utility, and synergy, so I started there and built from the ground up. Make it to turn 5, spend a turn casting Pyroconvergence, untap, then dominate.
Normally a fairly synergetic combination, Electromancer is not as good as he is elsewhere, at least in the traditional sense. He is a multicolored spell for the Pyroconvergence, and he shrinks some of my loftier counterspells to more manageable costs. He also provides my Sphinx's Revelation a bit of a boost. Guttersnipe acts as a similar effect to Pyroconvergence, speeding up the inevitability of their demise while providing a relevant 2/2 body on the backpedal. Guttersnipe is a bit of a lightning rod, begetting an awful lot of removal, but better him than me, I suppose.
Snapcaster Mage lacks the nifty multicolored synergy, but the ability to rebuy your spells is just too good to turn my synergy-centric nose up at it. After some limited playtesting, I have seriously considered moving up to a full set, but I still haven't decided. Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius is my favorite of Ravnica's five legendary guild leaders, and he is perfect in a deck like this. Resolving him with two mana open (or while your opponent is tapped out) is a wonderful feeling, and untapping with him pretty much means game over. He is a ton of fun, and I recommend giving him a try in your U/R/X decks, too.
Workhorse Spells: Azorius Charm, Izzet Charm, Sphinx's Revelation, Thoughtflare
These eleven cards do a ton for this deck, allowing early removal, digging, and sturdy stabilization. Azorius Charm is a lot of power on one card. Nixing an attacker ties them up for a turn and gives you the opportunity for another land drop and handcrafting, it easily cycles, or in the odd case where you have multiple creatures and/or Guttersnipes, it can swing a race in your favor with its lifelink mode. Izzet Charm's counter mode stops a lot of preparatory spells, stonewalls Sphinx's Revelation cold, and is a huge tempo gain. Its Faithless Looting mode is a fine durdle, too, and the two damage mode will be relevant against super-aggressive decks. Paired with the Pyroconvergence, it's effectively a Flame Slash.
Sphinx's Revelation is as good as advertised. Bant/X decks probably use it to greater effect, sure, but its power level shines in any deck that can reliably cast it for X > 3. Don't be afraid to use it for less, though; I have gotten a lot of value making it a six-mana Concentrate + Vital Surge. Thoughtflare is another forgotten card that I've been trying to squeeze into a number of decks for months. It provides a startling amount of card advantage by giving you four cards you need for five mana, and it's even cheaper if you have the Electromancer on your side.
Answers: Supreme Verdict, Essence Backlash, Counterflux, Fall of the Gavel
One of my favorite parts about making synergetic decks is that I get to root through cards I never use and give them a second life. Contrarily, Supreme Verdict is a bit of a U/W/X staple, seeing play in almost any deck that can support it as an unstoppable out to creature-heavy starts from your opponent. I can cast it on turn 3 if need be with an Electromancer out, which isn't totally irrelevant. The three counterspells are multicolored and varied, providing different but synergetic functions.
Essence Backlash might see a good deal more play without Cavern of Souls floating about in Standard, but it is a huge life swing on any big target. On Thragtusk, it negates their life gain (or might kill them if they are casting it to stabilize), and it helps put you back in the driver's seat against aggressive decks. Remember, Essence Backlash will deal damage even if the spell can't be countered, so feel free to target that Loxodon Smiter or Caverned Griselbrand for maximum damage! Now if someone would just try to cast a Worldspine Wurm…
Counterflux is a nice, no-nonsense counter for anything your opponent might try to resolve. If it ain't Caverned, it's getting countered. Also, note that you can overload it so it needs no targets in case your Pyroconvergence is out and you just need two more damage. Fall of the Gavel is a bit loose, I admit, but with the Electromancer out he's reasonable. The opposite of Essence Backlash, you're stopping your opponent's threat and gaining life off it, helping pad yourself against fast races and greedy opponents. So far, I haven't been disappointed with this card in this context.
Nothing special in the land department. I tried to limit my colorless land, as I found that I needed every drop of color to make my turns progress smoothly, so I stuck to just a single Desolate Lighthouse.
As with Cutlass Jund, our sideboard for this deck is fairly polarized to generic archetypes. Izzet Staticaster is great against Tokens, Zombies, G/W Aggro, Reanimator (lots of mana dorks and Lingering Souls tokens), and Mono-Red Aggro. Resolving a couple of these can spell doom for a lot of decks. Detention Sphere will often come in for the same matchups since it deals with tough NCPs as well; it's not my favorite inclusion, but it is a nice multicolored answer for a lot of permanents. Purify the Grave is a throwback to my Burning Vengeance deck from a few weeks ago. Guttersnipe still makes it hurt, and the cheap, instant nature of Purify the Grave gives it a lot of depth.
Judge's Familiar is a card I was very excited to add to the deck since there's a lot of decks where this will be a powerful pest. It lets you develop your board (albeit minimally), activate your Pyroconvergence, and keep up effectively a free counterspell for those over-the-top spells your opponent might cast. Also, one evasive damage a turn, especially starting turn 1, can add up. I imagine him being best against Bant Control, which relies on Farseek and other draw and ramp spells to get up to their rumblers. Hitting a Farseek with this seems like a huge game to me, but maybe I'm just overexcited to use a flying Cursecatcher.
A single Witchbane Orb can protect you from bizarre decks or the mirror match—Bonfire, Jace, Memory Adept, and Door to Nothingness can't scratch you. Also, the Orb does a number at removing Blood Artist's fangs. Our pair of Runechanter's Pikes offers us either a huge defensive creature or an additional win condition against tough-to-close decks.
Testing was fairly limited for both of these, but these lists reflect a bit of playtesting, so bear that in mind if you're off to build.
I'm super pumped to see what else Gatecrash has in store for us. New color combinations will deepen the repertoire of each of these decks. Perhaps Gruul or Boros will have synergetic offerings to each respective deck? Rest assured that I'll be bringing you some crazy brews and off-the-wall Standard decks once our guild roster is fulfilled. Happy FNM, and until next time, don't forget to untap!
- Matt H
CaptainShapiro on Magic Online