The past few weeks have been strange for me. Not because anything particularly odd has happened, but simply because I've spent them at home. I haven't been on plane since nearly a month ago, when I went to PAX East with my company to promote our games, and the last tournament I played in was Grand Prix San Diego the week before that. Coming off of a schedule that saw me flying to events nearly every weekend for a while has made the idea of staying at home for any extended length of time pretty strange.
I've still been playing Magic and tinkering with decks, but even that has slowed down somewhat. The next Standard event I'm going to play won't be until well after Dragon's Maze is released, so the current format doesn't interest me as much as it could.
Don't get me wrong—I'm a pretty fanatical deckbuilder. I remember a time in high school when I spent hours brewing up decks for Homelands/Fallen Empires Constructed simply because someone brought the idea up on IRC. (For the record, I'm pretty sure a Hymn / Order of the Ebon Hand deck / Serrated Arrows / Aeolipile deck is your best option if you happen to play that format.) But it's hard to throw myself into breaking down a format in quite the same way when I don't have an actual event to prepare for on the horizon.
Frankly, I kind of wish I did. I've been getting the itch to game lately—withdrawal symptoms, probably. I wish I could justify flying to play in the WMCQs, but after doing my taxes and seeing how much I spent going to Grand Prix last year, the idea of traveling across the country to an event with essentially no prize for anyone except the winner is especially unappealing. I'd really like to play in the World Magic Cup again, but I'm going to have to rely on hitting it big at the Pro Tour in San Diego and getting there as top American again. I understand that WMCQs may serve smaller countries well, but, personally, I miss Nationals.
Anyway, if you are going to be playing in an upcoming WMCQ or perhaps in a StarCityGames.com Open Series like the one coming up this weekend in Seattle, I do have some advice for you. I may not be in all-out Magic mode, but I have still been playing Standard now and then lately and like where I've ended up. It has Wolves and Dragons—how can I not?
- 4 Arbor Elf
- 2 Borderland Ranger
- 4 Burning-Tree Emissary
- 4 Flinthoof Boar
- 4 Ghor-Clan Rampager
- 4 Gyre Sage
- 4 Strangleroot Geist
- 3 Thundermaw Hellkite
- 3 Wolfir Silverheart
For those of you who have been watching my videos lately, this list probably looks quite familiar because it's directly from the videos that were posted just this week. I've been working on tweaking and tuning the deck for a while now since I was looking for an aggressive deck I liked that had the tools to compete with G/B/W Reanimator along with the rest of the format. I took the first shell of the deck from a G/R Aggro deck that I talked about in an article a few weeks back and have been playing it since then.
This deck has a lot going for it despite its relatively simplistic appearance.
While Standard may be full of Ravnica shock lands and M10 duals, there's still a price to be paid for playing a bunch of colors. Many of the other aggressive decks in the format are remarkably inconsistent, most notably Naya Blitz. Sure, a draw with two Caverns, two Champions, two Burning Tree Emissaries, and a Lightning Mauler may be awesome, but for every unbeatable draw you get, you have to throw back two unplayable ones. Playing two colors minimizes your mana difficulties and significantly reduces the number of hands you have to mulligan.
While you may not be able to dump your hand on the second turn like Naya Blitz decks, you can come out of the gates incredibly quickly. This is a sequence that I could have played in one of my recent videos had I not been a bonehead and messed up playing my lands:
That means at the end of turn 3, my opponent was at fifteen life, and I had a 5/5 flier, a 4/5, a 3/3, a 2/2, and a pair of 1/1s in play—more than enough to attack for lethal the following turn. This deck is capable of putting a tremendous amount of pressure on very quickly.
This may seem very similar to the last point, but it's subtly different. Many explosive decks don't actually play with individually powerful cards. All of the power of a deck like Naya Blitz comes from synergies. A deck based on synergies is much more vulnerable to disruption, and frequently doesn't play as well off the top of the deck. Cards like Champion of the Parish and Blood Artist are great when you have the appropriate interlocking pieces, but they're not great when you draw them on an empty board on turn 10. Thundermaw Hellkite, on the other hand, is awesome no matter when you draw it.
Speaking of powerful, I think this is the best Domri Rade deck I've found in Standard. Domri is an incredibly powerful card that I feel still doesn't get enough respect
A lot of people malign midrange decks, but I've made a career out of playing them and flexibility is the main reason why. Good midrange decks are capable of readily switching roles based on what kind of matchup they find themselves in, and this deck is no exception. Your cards can do all kinds of different jobs depending on what you're playing against.
Strangleroot Geist is my favorite example of this here. Against control decks, Strangleroot Geist is an aggressive, hard-to-kill threat that allows you to keep the pressure on against sweepers. Against beatdown, it's a hard-to-remove blocker that preserves your life total and frequently trades with multiple opposing creatures or spells. Similarly, Ghor-Clan Rampager can push you past blockers on offense and provide a 4/4 body on defense. Domri is a card advantage machine with a game-winning ultimate or a removal spell that soaks up some damage. And so on.
Many people build their aggressive decks with the single-minded goal of killing their opponent as quickly as possible, but that's not my style. I want to be able to put pressure on my opponent and also have a plan for when they're the ones attacking me. This deck can do both and plays well against both Naya Blitz and Esper Control even without massive sideboard swaps. Burning-Tree Emissary is great at overwhelming your opponent and is also good at preventing you from being beat down by your opponent's creatures.
Specific Card Choices
Now that we've gotten the big picture details out of the way, I want to talk about a few specific card choices that may seem strange.
No Experiment One: The first version of G/R I saw played with Experiment One as another cheap threat, so I tried them in my first build. It didn't take long for them to hit the bench. Experiment One just isn't a significant enough threat for a deck like this. Remember what I said above about the cards being individually powerful? Well, playing four Experiment Ones, four Gyre Sages, and four Arbor Elfs in the same deck leads to a lot of draws where none of your creatures actually do much of anything. I like Experiment One in the hyperaggro decks that can make good use of it just as a 2/2 creature because their goal is to do as much damage as possible quickly, but it doesn't fit into the same deck that wants to go long enough to play Thundermaw Hellkite and Wolfir Silverheart.
No Hellrider: Similarly, the early versions of the deck I tried played with Hellrider. I consistently find Hellrider to be very overrated. First of all, it's difficult to get double red consistently early in the game, which is when Hellrider is the most powerful. Secondly, as a four-cost card it matches up quite poorly with a lot of what it can potentially run into across the table. Stuff like Boros Reckoner, Loxodon Smiter, and Thragtusk can easily come down by the time that you can cast Hellrider. Without a substantial amount of burn to back it up, it can be difficult to get good use out of Hellrider's triggers when you're attacking into a board that can effectively block.
On top of that, Hellrider is just a terrible card against opposing aggressive decks. As I said before, I like to build my decks with cards that allow me to change gears in a match depending on the matchup. Hellrider is pretty much an all-out aggressive card and doesn't give you many options when you're on the defensive. What are you going to do—block with it?
Mizzium Mortars for removal: The first removal spell I tried in G/R was Searing Spear because I wanted something that could potentially go to the face against opposing control decks. The problem with that plan is that many of the "control" decks in the format actually have creatures and many of them have four toughness! Restoration Angel and Loxodon Smiter are popular creatures in decks like Reanimator, Bant, and Esper, and sometimes Searing Spear just isn't enough.
The marginal utility of Searing Spear going to the face is easily eclipsed by Mortars' ability to clear the way past a larger blocker, to say nothing of how powerful it is when you overload it. I discovered that I wanted access to some number of Mizzium Mortars between maindeck and sideboard to handle bigger creatures and give me access to a sweeper, so I decided to just move them to the maindeck.
Some versions of G/R play with Bonfire as their removal spell, and while I can certainly understand the desire for the potential miracle effect, I'm not sold that you can rely on it. Against opposing aggressive decks, you frequently need the ability to pick off something like a Champion of the Parish before it gets out of hand. It's certainly true that Bonfire can get you back into games that Mortars won't, however, and it's a much better card against decks with a bunch of small creatures. I'm definitely going to explore playing with Bonfire instead in the future, but for now I've been quite happy with Mortars.
Two Borderland Rangers: Borderland Ranger is a card that doesn't get enough respect. This deck has a ton of reasons to want to play it. I'm playing with only 21 lands but have six five casting cost spells in my deck. Borderland Rangers help make that possible by serving as virtual lands to help me cast my more expensive spells. They also serve as extra Mountains to turn on Flinthoof Boar or give me the second red mana for Thundermaw Hellkite. On top of that, they're effectively mana sources that still let me hit with Domri, which is small but not insignificant. This deck has the highest hit rate with Domri of any deck I've played in any format so far—though you wouldn't believe it if you watched my videos.
All told, I think this is a strong deck that has solid game against pretty much everything in the metagame or at least everything I've run up against so far. I highly recommend trying it before Dragon's Maze comes out if you have a chance. I suggest checking out my videos from the past few weeks, as I play against a lot of different decks and showcase a lot of the deck's strengths.
Looking past the next few weeks, I haven't seen anything in the new set that jumps out at me as something that I'd immediately include from the new set, but Ruric-Thar, the Unbowed and Pyrewild Shaman are among the first things I'd try. I'm more excited about the Goblin than about the big Ogre, though, since this deck already has a pretty impressive high end. My first iteration of the deck had Slaughterhorn in it, so a marginally smaller Slaughterhorn that I can return from my graveyard whenever I hit my opponent is definitely on my radar.
The cost to return Pyrewild Shaman seems a bit high to me at first glance, but a creature that won't stay dead has a lot of value in a lot of different matchups. Against control decks, he's either a threat that you can play out into a potential Wrath without fear or a way to break through with your smaller creatures against bigger ones. Against opposing aggressive decks, he's something you can play and block with to stem the bleeding and potentially return for more action once you can stem the tide. It's worth noting that at three power he helps evolve your Gyre Sages a second time, which is certainly a relevant consideration when it comes to picking your creature base.
Anyway, that's it for this week. I'll start to get lost in Dragon's Maze over the next few weeks. If there are any cards in particular that you're excited about that you want to know my thoughts on, let me know and I'll try to explore them!
Until next time,