Hello folks and welcome to Gatecrash Standard! I hope you enjoyed the SCG Open Series stop in Atlanta and the new and exciting decks it presented! Although not as major a shift as one might see when a whole block rotates, the addition of Gatecrash helps complete the fragmented three-color shards and wedges that we've been waiting for. As such, it gives more consistency to some archetypes and creates entirely new ones that lacked either the mana base and/or spell base to effectively execute their strategies. Five new guilds mean five new strategies, new combos, and, most importantly, brand-new synergies.
I've been out of my regular "post weird decks" routine for a few weeks now, so I'd like to return with a bit of a brew. Well, ok, a lot of a brew. And synergy stirred the pot.
This decklist was conceived right after the unauthorized spoiling of Gatecrash's first five cards a couple months ago. I love spoiler season, so when I saw these high-powered cards, including a planeswalker, spoiled early, I was a bit disappointed. It really did feel like I was spoiled, like you'd told me the end of A Game of Thrones. (Don't tell me, I'm still reading. And yeah, I know I'm behind.) But just because I covered my eyes with my hands doesn't mean I didn't peek through my fingers. Sure, there was a planeswalker and two guild leaders revealed as well as a sweet splashy blue spell, but there was also this:
Wait, that's the one you saw? That niche EDH card? Yeah, but I'm all about "you win the game" cards; see my Laboratory Maniac list. This Dragon was no exception. Alright, so a deck full of artifacts. That seems easy enough. There are some really nice ones in the format that provide a lot of synergy with other artifacts. Trading Post, all but abandoned since Mirrodin Jr. rotated out, was first on my list. The Keyrunes are nice, versatile, and safe options, too. Maybe I'll add—wait. Wait. What about this card?
Resolve Primal Surge, put everything on the battlefield, and win regardless of the game state. They could be at a billion life and a thousand cards in hand, but if he sticks until my upkeep, I'm golden!
As legitimate spoilers appeared over January, I scoured the lists for new artifacts as well as what new Keyrunes I would get. With a game plan in mind and dozens of tweaks and rewrites as new cards were spoiled in the set, I arrived here.
First, let's take a look at the critters.
While they are very respectable fighters on their own, our two main muchachos are here mainly to win me the game through their upkeep triggers. The inclusion of two was very intentional. First, spot removal would like to pick this guy off, and so after resolving Primal Surge, it makes it twice as hard for them to disrupt the win condition. Six-drops can be awkward, even with 25 lands, so two ensures that the win condition is safe without flooding my opener with clumsy flying dictators, which is a problem I feel we all wish to avoid.
A very reasonable colorless Youthful Knight. In the world of Rancor and X/2 aggro decks, this guy puts an impressive wall up for very little initial commitment. As with all first strikers, they work better in multiples; two stop a Thragtusk cold, and three can stop even the most ambitious ground pounder. This little Construct has a surprising effect on your board state, and I recommend him for any of your artifact-heavy Standard brews. Yeah, I snickered, too.
The decision to include Primal Surge is unique. Although it's possible to still run nonpermanent spells, it's highly recommended to streamline your deck by leaving them out whenever possible. Unfortunately, that leaves a brewer without much removal. Building using primarily artifacts only further compounds the problem. Volatile Rig to the rescue! This able-bodied time bomb will fit the bill in a pinch. He's pretty efficient for his cost, and if he detonates, you'll have a chance to sweep the board of any small- and medium-sized creatures. The ability to rebuy him and/or sacrifice him with the artifact-loving Trading Post is an added bonus.
Now to the noncreature artifacts!
These Keyrunes are great at what they do. Each provides ramp, an artifact for the Tyrant count, and a creature on demand. Simic Keyrune even comes with self-protection, which is a welcome addition in a fairly non-combative deck. They can block when needed and provide the last few points of damage on a swept board if the Primal Surge is nowhere to be found.
Even in a highly complementary deck, Clock of Omens is one of those cards you hate to draw when you're behind but love to draw any other time. Untap mana rocks, Volatile Rigs to block, Trading Posts for more activations, or even the Elixir to duplicate its effect. A mana-less Voltaic Key would seem criminal to exclude. I bet you forget this was Standard legal, didn't you?
Brad Nelson and I are kindred spirits. No, we've never met, but when I saw how crazy he went over Trading Post this past summer, I knew he'd be just swell. Trading Post is built for Johnnies and Timmies (and even a greedy Spike or two), and the bazaar finds a welcome home here. There are so many things this card can do, and all of them are relevant at certain points in the game. Make a Goat to block their non-trampler? Sure. Sack this Prophetic Prism for value? Bin a Haunted Guardian for a higher impact artifact from the yard. Cool beans! What can't this thing do? Well, yes, it can't kill your opponent directly, but synergy!
The highest power mana rock Standard has seen since Everflowing Chalice, this reprint helps us ramp into a speedy Primal Surge. In fact, turn 3 Keyrune into turn 4 Lotus into Keyrune and turn 5 Primal Surge is a dream I want to have every night. Combining this with Clock of Omens gives you a fairly dumb amount of mana to power your Post, Keyrunes, or any of the ability lands. It gives you any color of mana, too, and enough to cast any colored spell in this deck (and in most decks, I'd say.)
Once a three-of and now reduced to a singleton, this very expensive but very effective draw engine combos with the Clock and does exactly what you want: grind you advantage while digging for the Surge.
As we live in a world of aggro decks, Elixir serves as a relevant turn 1 play that can buy you an extra turn or so. Bear in mind that, when used in congress with Clock of Omens, you may tap and untap this to activate it multiple times before its trigger resolves and you'll gain as much life. This potable is not a great inclusion, mind you, but we play what we can.
A late entry, the Prism offers an absolutely essential role that I was not expecting when I began drafting this list; the Prism was one of the last cards spoiled. It cantrips and fixes, meaning it will almost always be a cheap and relevant play, things this deck can sometimes struggle to produce in the early turns. Its ability to fix is fairly secondary, but this card does a great job contributing to the artifact count. I'll also take this time to point out that, for this deck, Laboratory Maniac is also a great win condition option. Drawing your deck and then landing some number of Prophetic Prisms will win you the game, too, but the Dragon is decidedly cooler. Also, in a pinch, the Tyrant brawls a lot better than a 2/2.
This card has fallen to the wayside since its emergence in M13, but that's a lot of abilities on one card. When resolving Surge, this gives me the option, if I fear removal, to just attack after resolution. Out of the eight boons this card gives, I'd say half or more will be useful at some point, and it gives each Keyrune and creature a lot more clout.
Primal Surge creates a lot of deckbuilding dilemmas, but one of the most obvious ones is how to play two Primal Surges effectively since they're nonbos in multiples. Oh, here we go! Omniscience, once resolved, allows me to durdle for days with a Trading Post and scour my deck for either enough artifacts to make Hellkite Tyrant live manually or to find the Surge, which I can then cast for free. Either way, it's a win
My land base was surprisingly difficult to construct. When I first made the list, I had all basics and a bunch of colorless utility lands. However, as it became clearer that there was rarely a need for all those utility lands and I was hurting on colors, I added some shocklands. They were a bit awkward because a lot of times I'd need to pay two life to play a colorless spells, which doesn't sit right with me. So I slimmed down on those and compromised with a bit of both.
All of the utility lands are still there, albeit in smaller quantities, and each provides helpful benefits. Desolate Lighthouse works well with Trading Post while also helping to dig you deeper for your win conditions. Alchemist's Refuge lets you resolve Primal Surge EOT, which is, like, the hugest play ever. Of course, it can just be used to make a flashing mana rock, too. Kessig Wolf Run is arguably the highest impact one; on an empty board with a ton of mana, the Run will make any Keyrune, Rig, or even a Goat token a legitimate threat. I play one Cavern of Souls, most often naming Construct (eight out of nine maindeck creatures).
The sideboard is on one hand very open and on another a bit limited. There are great utility artifacts that make it in here. One-Eyed Scarecrow turns off Lingering Souls and provides another creature that doesn't tie up mana like a Keyrune does. Witchbane Orb is great for other durdly decks that burn, mill, or target me for any reason. Grafdigger's Cage and Tormod's Crypt work side by side for different purposes. Both play as singletons because they aren't great in multiples, and each can easily be traded for with the Post, especially Tormod's Crypt. Basically, you clean out their graveyard and keep it clean.
Pithing Needle has a billion targets right now, including Arbor Elf, Deathrite Shaman, any planeswalker, Keyrune creature activations, any utility land...the list is endless. If a named card becomes irrelevant, sack it to the Post and pick something else! Stuffy Doll and Manor Gargoyle look very similar but are used in two different instances. Manor Gargoyle comes in if they have flying and/or trample, and Stuffy Doll comes in if they don't. Stuffy Doll effectively dissuades all non-trample ground attacks, and Manor Gargoyle acts as a wall that eats Restoration Angels and Thragtusks and soaks damage from a trampler like a pro. Also, bear in mind that both function as great Kessig Wolf Run targets because both have the potential to attack. Stuffy Doll is effectively unblockable with it!
Finally, a single Counterflux comes in for a counter-heavy matchup. Although this deck can get there with Keyrunes and incidental damage, Primal Surge and his voracious Dragon counterpart will be what wins the game in most instances (at least that's the hope). Having one hard, unstoppable counter might be the key. It does mess with the Primal Surge, but if I have both in hand and the thirteen (!) mana to cast both, I can do so safely and securely and with quite a level of surprise. It's not perfect; if they have two counterspells...
There's no doubt this deck goes deep, but I have been very surprised at its good matchups. Let me give you a quick play guide with some of the archetypes against which I've tested.
R/B Aggro / B/R Zombies
This one is a bit hit or miss. Some dumb hands on my side can get away with this, so you're main goal is just to survive. If you know what you're playing against, don't keep a hand without a creature (or Keyrune). Having just one may be enough to throw off their tempo, assuming they have to kill it. Resolving a Trading Post is often a good way to stop them; the option to gain four life a turn off an irrelevant or superfluous Keyrune or land will help keep you safe. Haunted Guardian and Staff of Nin are very effective in this match, picking off nearly all of their creatures in congress. Pop your Elixirs when you have the mana to do so; unlike a Fog, there's rarely a reason to wait.
Steel the Rush actually has a fairly favorable matchup here as long as they don't draw Predator Ooze, which this deck just can't deal with. Volatile Rig is a terrible creature in this matchup with all of the undying cards, so it should be used more carefully. Killing your Haunted Guardians is about the worst thing you can do with all their Rancored X/1s.
This is also a relatively good matchup thanks to the Keyrunes, which Bant has trouble dealing with at instant speed. I have plenty of time to get my pieces online, and counterspells do little to slow me down. My only loss was when my opponent popped Tamiyo's emblem.
Obviously, don't cut the Elixirs if they are playing a Frownyard build. Side in one Gargoyle and Counterflux instead.
I've played against a couple Reanimator builds, and this deck is actually quite effective against most. I can be the aggressor, activating Keyrunes and putting them on the backpedal while they dig. By the time they animate a Craterhoof Behemoth or Griselbrand, I've gained enough life that combat is not really a problem. Post-sideboard is where I really do my work; I don't even have to worry about Deathrite Shaman, which can target only a few things in my graveyard.
I'm not sure how helpful this play guide will prove, as it's not tournament tested against decks post-Gatecrash and the introduction of new archetypes could make it obsolete, but I wanted to provide it anyway. Also, I did play one post-Gatecrash deck that may get some traction, as it has since Dimir was originally implemented.
I played one match against a mill deck, and this deck ran circles around it. Elixir of Immortality was obviously the best card against it, but it also gave Trading Posts tons of targets. It actually ran better than a goldfish game. Still, a very aggressive mill strategy plus not drawing your Elixirs could spell doom for a slower deck like this. Plan accordingly when you sideboard!
It's true that there are a lot of cards that get me; Nevermore, Stony Silence, Slaughter Games, and even Merciless Eviction get me pretty hard. However, this deck plays several lines of victory for that reason. It probably doesn't need them all, but I want them to be available just in case. You don't go super deep without leaving yourself open to some blowouts. But that's what's fun about these kinds of decks. Go deep, go big, and win with all the things.
Winning with this deck feels like this.
I look forward to playing this in real Gatecrash tournaments and seeing how the deck fares. It'll definitely be a head-turner at FNMs, and I'm sure you all will have some great times playing it even casually amongst pals. Let me know what you think of the deck in the comments!
Next week, I'll be bringing you a more serious deck that I'd love to take to an Open Series event, several of which are in my area over the next few weeks. It's a new rendition of a familiar archetype with some Gatecrash cards to help. Have a great time in the early days of Gatecrash, and don't forget to untap all your shocklands!
CaptainShapiro on Magic Online