I love Standard!
It's totally awesome, full of so many different decks and so many different card choices. I especially love "double Standard" weekends, like the one we had last weekend at StarCityGames.com Open Series: Dallas. What do I mean by "double Standard?" No, I'm not talking about when your mom let your bother stay up late and made you go to bed early, even when you were almost the same age and you were doing better in school than him. I'm talking about a Standard Open on both Saturday and Sunday. That's a lot of Standard!
The weekend prior at SCG Standard Open: Charlotte, I had correctly surmised that Burning-Tree Emissary was the place to be, and I should have listened to my inner Ben Wienburg and just played Naya Blitz. Last weekend I honestly thought the same thing and expected to a slew of Naya Blitz and Mono-Red Aggro (flavored with Ghor-Clan Rampagers and Boros Charms, of course). When I saw that Aaron Barich had placed in the Top 8 on Saturday and won the Open on Sunday with his Naya Aggro deck, I was a little excited that my read had been the same.
Boy, was I wrong. Let's take a look:
- 4 Boros Reckoner
- 4 Dryad Militant
- 4 Experiment One
- 4 Ghor-Clan Rampager
- 4 Loxodon Smiter
- 4 Strangleroot Geist
- 4 Voice of Resurgence
Nope. Both missing.
I almost called 911 so that we could get a search and rescue started. The dynamic duo of Burning-Tree Emissary and Flinthoof Boar has been the defining cards of aggressive, non-hexproof archetypes, and Aaron opted to leave both at home. Why? Let's see if we can deduce the reasons and determine if it was correct for just this tournament and if it may still be correct moving forward.
While Burning-Tree Emissary is explosive and powerful enough to cause your opponents to break down into tears when you play multiples, she does have one restriction. She only gives you a red and a green mana. This is the main reason that the aggressive Burning-Tree Emissary decks have been playing Flinthoof Boar in the two-drop slot. While these cards work very well together, they're only extremely explosive on turn 2, losing their impact the longer the game goes. Most of the time, it's enough to lay the groundwork for the nice beating you're about to put on your opponent, but times are changing and people are *gasp* more prepared for Burning-Tree Emissary starts.
Strangleroot Geist is a good man. He's actually a great man when you have four Ghor-Clan Rampagers in your deck. How exactly does he compare to Flinthoof Boar though? They both have haste—well, Flinthoof Boar usually gains haste—and both trigger Experiment One on turn 2, but that's about where the similarities end.
Strangleroot Geist has undying, which makes him much more resilient than Flinthoof Boar, sticking around after a Supreme Verdict to keep chipping away at the opponent. This is very relevant in a deck with Searing Spear, Ghor-Clan Rampager, and Boros Charm. Every bit of damage we can get in puts us closer to the point where we can burn out the opponent. It also makes it so that you can evolve your Experiment One another time before you start to bring out the Elephants (Loxodon Smiter) and Wurms (Advent of the Wurm) to teach your Experiment Ones how to smash even better.
Strangleroot Geist only costs two mana every time, unlike Flinthoof Boar, which is three mana to cast and grant haste. This is relevant here because both of our one-drops are awesome threats, with Experiment One able to evolve and eventually live through Supreme Verdict and Dryad Militant stopping your Reanimator opponents from milling themselves into an Angel of Serenity + Unburial Rites and your control opponents from getting Snapcaster Mage value after they have used their initial swarm of spot removal to try to stabilize. By only costing two mana, Strangleroot Geist allows us to continue to pressure our opponent with another one-drop in tandem when we play him on turn 3.
What impresses me the most about Strangleroot Geist is that he's still a resilient threat in the mid and late game. Flinthoof Boar can still present a relevant threat by taking three point chunks out of the opponent's life total, but all they need is one answer for it. Strangleroot Geist, yet again, presents a threat that the opponent needs two answers for.
Everyone is used to bringing two spears to handle monsters these days, but when it's in regards to two-drops rather than five-drops, it's a bit different. Dragon's Maze all-star Voice of Resurgence is the other reason Burning-Tree Emissary was eschewed. Another awesome two-drop that isn't castable off Burning-Tree Emissary, Voice of Resurgence is the real deal, with two strong abilities that allow you to continue to put pressure on your opponent and restrict the way opponents are able to interact with us.
Voice of Resurgence is yet another card in this deck that makes Ghor-Clan Rampager better—as if it even needed any help. It also plays well with Rancor, making it so that if they ever try to out-value you by killing the creature you are targeting with Rancor, you still get a */* Elemental token.
The Elemental token is really what makes Voice of Resurgence shine. It gets deceptively huge—presenting a reasonable clock alongside one or two other creatures—and can even evolve your Experiment One. With the power level of cards continually increasing, it's cards like this that will start standing out even more. Similar to Thragtusk, Voice of Resurgence has game against control and aggressive strategies. Unlike Thragtusk, Voice of Resurgence only costs two mana and punishes your opponents severely for playing spells on your turn, which is usually the most advantageous time for them to play their spells.
By benching the ultra-aggressive but extremely simpleminded combo of Burning-Tree Emissary and Flinthoof Boar for the more complex and resilient Strangleroot Geist and Voice of Resurgence, you change your entire game plan. Instead of vomiting everything onto the board by turn 2 or 3 and flailing about trying to kill your opponent before they can Supreme Verdict, now we get to put pressure on them while still having game if/when they have answers to our creatures. Not being "all-in" on our one- and two-drops, we get to play powerful three-drops in Loxodon Smiter and Boros Reckoner.
Both Loxodon Smiter and Boros Reckoner give opposing aggressive decks fits. They play well with Experiment One, growing him up the chain, and also pose healthy clocks against the control decks. Loxodon Smiter being uncounterable is also really sweet, allowing us to curve out against the control decks and not walk into a Syncopate. With the streamlined nature of most of the decks in Standard right now, Syncopate is becoming more and more commonplace and is something we have to keep in mind when playing against any deck with access to blue mana.
I really like Advent of the Wurm in this deck as well. With only 22 lands, we can't afford to play an aggressive five-drop like Thundermaw Hellkite—not to mention our lands don't really support the double red anyways. Not playing Burning-Tree Emissary also rules out Hellrider. With only twelve red sources and no Burning-Tree Emissarys to filter green into red for us, Advent of the Wurm gets the nod over Hellrider.
Hellrider shines in strategies where we want to aggressively play out everything in our hands and overwhelm our opponent before they have a chance to get anything going. This deck is quite aggressive, but its game plan is more along the lines of steadily producing efficient and resilient threats and finishing our opponents with Ghor-Clan Rampager or Boros Charm. When evolving aggressive decks in a format so full of diverse answers, the key is to present resilient threats that are only answered by a small range of spells our opponents could have.
The sideboard seems very well thought out, attacking a lot of specific cards that you can expect to see your opponents use against you. Pacifism is awesome against opposing Boros Reckoners and Loxodon Smiters. I can see wanting to Pacify a Thragtusk, but that just leads you to a Restoration Angel blowout. I'd rather lean on Skullcrack against Thragtusk to try to stymie the life gain so you can burn them out with your Searing Spears and Boros Charms. Skullcrack also does some work against Sphinx's Revelation, stopping the life gain and usually putting your opponent dead or close to dead in the process.
Mizzium Mortars clears away any troublesome Loxodon Smiters and Restoration Angels, while Volcanic Strength quickly puts a creature out of Searing Spear range and lets them tiptoe past all those Burning-Tree Emissarys that we benched. Lastly, Ray of Revelation is a nod to the Bant Hexproof decks that continue to make themselves known by the headaches caused by Invisible Stalker. Winning a race against them isn't all that hard as long as you have an answer to Unflinching Courage.
Is this the end of Burning-Tree Emissary? I think that the same people who claim the sky is falling because Ryusei, the Falling Star is in Modern Masters will think so. As for me? I think she'll do just fine. This Naya deck was a very good metagame call for this last weekend, but now that it's known other decks will evolve and so will it. Pillar of Flame will be everywhere this coming weekend in Baltimore, so that's one hit against this strategy. Leaning on the power of Voice of Resurgence and Strangleroot Geist leaves us vulnerable to Pillar of Flame. Thankfully, Dryad Militant stops them from being able to flash back their Pillar of Flames with Snapcaster Mage, but even still it'll be a bumpy road.
I feel like this deck wants Domri Rade somewhere. Maybe the card-drawing, bar-fighting planeswalker is better than Advent of the Wurm and Rancor. Since we are only playing 22 lands, unlike the 24+ that other decks that used Domri Rade played in the past, we can still get by with the two Boros Charms and the four Searing Spears.
It might be time for a spot removal-heavy control deck to rear its ugly head. Maybe something like this:
This hasn't been tested at all, so the numbers are probably off, but this is where I'd start if I wanted to play a one-for-one spot removal style deck. Rather than relying on Supreme Verdict, which is sometimes too slow, we are relying on lots of cheap spot removal and cleaning up with Far // Away. Once we have traded blows with our opponent, we then get to pull ahead with Sphinx's Revelation, and rather than waiting on Nephalia Drownyard and Jace, Memory Adept to kill our opponent, we play a couple of Cavern of Souls to resolve our Aetherlings, which can kill mighty quick. It could be that we want a couple copies of Jace, Memory Adept in the main, similar to how Jace Beleren was used to steadily draw us cards when we were trading one-for-one in days of old.
Note that I want to go without Azorius Charm here. Azorius Charm is a fabulous card, but without Supreme Verdict to clean up after we send their creatures back to the top of the deck, I'd rather just be outright killing something than stalling, even if it means giving up some flexibility in our cards. Restoration Angel is another card that I'd like to try out here, possibly as a two-of.
We gain more control elements out of the sideboard, with Dead Weight filling the role of another one-drop removal spell for creatures like Champion of the Parish, Experiment One, Dryad Militant, Stromkirk Noble, Rakdos Cackler, and the mana dorks from G/B/W Reanimator (Arbor Elf / Avacyn's Pilgrim). Purify the Grave gets the nod over Rest in Peace because we want to lean on Snapcaster Mage in most games, even when we want to disrupt their graveyard. Obzedat, Ghost Council is still an all-star against other control decks and plays especially well with our Cavern of Souls, and the extra counterspells are good against midrange and control decks.
This coming weekend the SCG Open Series returns to Baltimore, and I'm torn between trying out a control deck like this one and going with the new Reanimator list I've been working on. As much as I love me some Grisly Salvage, Far // Away is far and away one of my favorite cards in Standard right now, so we will just have to see.
As for everyone's favorite little hybrid mana Human Shaman, I don't think this is the last we've seen of Burning-Tree Emissary. She'll be back, and she has a lot of friends,
Feel free to comment below, as I'd love to chat about the possibility of a one-for-one style removal deck in the current Standard metagame, and as always, feel free to follow me on Twitter. I usually post quips and updates from tournaments on the weekends.
Until next time, stay Slimey, my friends.
@Chris_VanMeter on Twitter
*Interestingly enough, there is another Chris Van Meter (last name spelled differently, mine is VanMeter— no space, capitol M) on Facebook, and I noticed from a couple comments on his page that he is referred to as CVM. Sadly, he is much more handsome than I. Cruel, cruel world!