As I began exploring this Standard format to try to find powerful interactions that others may have missed, the mechanic I found myself most drawn to was heroic. It all started with my pet card from my testing for Pro Tour Dragon's Maze: Hidden Strings. Hidden Strings is an outstanding enabler for heroic, as it not only targets up to two creatures but also does it every turn and potentially twice (well, three times at best) the turn it's first cast.
The best heroes that target lots of times are the white ones, which get +1/+1 counters because they're cheap but can get huge quickly. That meant I wanted to be W/U. I liked the idea of playing lots of heroes and lots of ways to target multiples at once. In addition to Hidden Strings, blue offers Triton Tactics and Bioshift that can each target two of your heroes for only a single mana, but more importantly both actually provide excellent effects.
Triton Tactics is outstanding in a race, locking down opposing attackers and saving your creatures from burn spells. Bioshift allows you to save all the counters you built up on a creature from a removal spell (while generating extra counters) or move counters onto an unblocked creature to kill the opponent. This is particularly powerful with Fabled Hero, who can win games out of nowhere with Bioshift thanks to double strike.
The list that I tested first:
Nivmagus Elemental isn't a hero, but like the other creatures, it generates +1/+1 counters for Bioshift. There will often be times when I'm casting a spell just to trigger heroic and don't especially care if it resolves after that, and when that happens Nivmagus Elemental lets me get two more +1/+1 counters instead of whatever the spell was going to do. This is particularly awesome with Hidden Strings, which is the primary interaction I tried build around in Return to Ravnica Block Constructed.
This deck is capable of some explosive draws and can overpower much larger creatures fairly easily, but it's inconsistent and extremely weak against removal, particularly Supreme Verdict.
The next evolution is potentially even more explosive:
This is a similar basic concept with creatures and spells that target them, but here the goal is to use Young Pyromancer and Akroan Crusader to make a small army of tokens and Anax and Cymede and Phalanx Leader to turn it into a large army of tokens or perhaps an army of large tokens.
The basic engine is the same, but the method of attack is a little different. The biggest incentive isn't just that you end up with a large number of different creatures but actually that you have access to Boros Charm, the best answer to Supreme Verdict.
It's important to note with this deck that because most of your targeting spells are instants, you'll often target Phalanx Leader or Anax and Cymede with a spell that's also triggering Young Pyromancer and/or Akroan Crusader. When this happens, you'll not only want to be careful to stack the triggers such that you make creatures before making them bigger, but also if you stack the triggers that make them bigger first then the triggers that make creatures, you can allow the triggers that make the creature to resolve and then play another instant while the trigger to make them bigger is still on the stack to make more creatures in response to that so that every creature you make that turn can get pumped by all the triggers that pump them.
Red offers other powerful additions to the sideboard outside of Boros Charm in Chained to the Rocks, Boros Reckoner, and Flames of the Firebrand. Flames of the Firebrand is a situationally powerful removal spell, which makes it an excellent sideboard card, but additionally when it comes in, it has the option to target some of your creatures to get heroic triggers as well.
The next place I went to was an entirely different path for powering up my heroes. Instead of spells, I decided to try using enchantments.
I started with Boros and came up with this:
- 2 Akroan Crusader
- 4 Akroan Hoplite
- 2 Dryad Militant
- 1 Legion Loyalist
- 4 Rakdos Cackler
- 4 Soldier of the Pantheon
- 2 Wojek Halberdiers
- 1 Hopeful Eidolon
This deck is a tricky balancing act. I wanted twenty creatures, but I also wanted four Boros Charms and as many enchantments as possible to power Ethereal Armor. I wanted Gods Willing to protect my investments as well. Dragon Mantle is excellent at triggering heroic and powering Ethereal Armor. Hopeful Eidolon is an interesting piece of the puzzle, as it lets me keep my creature count up while adding another enchantment/potential way to trigger heroic. If I plan to cast Ethereal Armor, it's like a 2/2 lifelink, which is awesome.
The creature mix was the most interesting part of building this deck for me.
I started by trying to build around the synergy between Chained to the Rocks and Ethereal Armor, but that meant I really wanted to play about seven Mountains and four Sacred Foundrys so that I would consistently have a Mountain to enchant. I started with a bunch of white creatures I wanted to play, but I realized I couldn't fit in enough Plains to support a deck that was that white heavy. My mana would have to be evenly split between Mountains and Plains, so if I wanted to reliably be able to cast two creatures on turn 2, I'd need to play a roughly even mix of red and white creatures. Fortunately, the red creatures were about as good as the white creatures I wanted to play, and I was able to balance them smoothly, which explains some of the weird numbers.
After playing the deck some, I found that Chained to the Rocks really hurt against control decks and moved them to the sideboard, but I still considered them an important part of the deck and stuck with the mana base that supports them, which had actually worked surprisingly well for me.
Fiendslayer Paladin is another important part of the sideboard since against red decks the deck naturally has a large number of enchantments to put on it. It's a very easy way to steal wins.
Akroan Crusader is a little weak. But there are some matchups where making blockers is important, and it generally plays well with Akroan Hoplite. I started with more of it, and that was too many 1/1s. It's very bad to draw two, but I like having it in the deck as early heroic option.
My next evolution was to try to move down to mono-white. I was beginning to feel like Mutavault was just too good not to play, and I didn't feel like a two-color deck could afford it. The options are fairly limited in mono-white, but it led to this:
- 3 Banisher Priest
- 4 Fabled Hero
- 3 Favored Hoplite
- 3 Phalanx Leader
- 4 Precinct Captain
- 4 Soldier of the Pantheon
- 4 Hopeful Eidolon
I started with four Phalanx Leaders and Favored Hoplites, but I felt like it was just too much. Because I can only target one creature with each of my spells, additional heroic creatures don't really help me; I just need one to get a trigger. Beyond that the others just sit around with useless text. On the other hand, because they want a lot of support in terms of how I build my deck, I don't want to go through all the effort to be able to support them and then not draw any.
I only have two copies of Chosen by Heliod mostly because it just doesn't look like a powerful card and I think drawing multiples can be bad, but I always find myself hoping to draw it as often as possible since it can provide quite a bit of value for "free." It's quite possible that this deck actually wants four.
This deck ran into the same problems of being inconsistent because it needs the right mix of spells—except it had the additional problem that extra heroes were almost entirely worthless.
The next step was to experiment with green.
- 2 Dryad Militant
- 2 Fabled Hero
- 4 Favored Hoplite
- 4 Soldier of the Pantheon
- 4 Voice of Resurgence
- 4 Hopeful Eidolon
This deck moved away from the heroes somewhat and looks to get more power directly from more powerful cards in the form of Voice of Resurgence and Unflinching Courage. Between Unflinching Courage and Hopeful Eidolon, this deck has a lot of lifelink (and even more after siding in Fiendslayer Paladin), which is nice in a format as aggressive as the Magic Online metagame is right now.
This deck looks very weird, particularly the part where it's splashing Firebreathing, which isn't exactly the most intuitive splash, but it's just such a good enabler. And with all that life gain, I don't think the pain lands hurt me all that much, plus a big part of the incentive is Boros Charm of course.
Still, realizing how small and awkward my red splash was, I had to consider the alternative of not splashing it, which led to this:
This gets access to Rootborn Defenses to make up for the lack of Boros Charm and cuts the red to make room for some good cards like Ranger's Guile and Selesnya Charm. I have Ranger's Guile in the sideboard to grind out people who don't plan to block, and I think it could be quite good.
Looking at green made me go back and consider another take on the Young Pyromancer heroic shell, this time using Warriors' Lesson instead of Triton Tactics and Hidden Strings. Warriors' Lessons is likely the best of those because the payoff of drawing two cards while triggering two heroic abilities is so high.
That led to:
I still get to use Bioshift because I can cast it with green mana, but it's not at its best here because I only have eight creatures that make +1/+1 counters. Fortunately, I can still use it to trigger two heroes when I don't have any counters.
It's amusing that I like the green deck more than the blue deck because it has better card draw, but that's what's happening here. Outside of that this deck should play very similarly to the R/W/U Heroes deck discussed above.
Unfortunately, I didn't feel like any of these were quite ready for the Pro Tour, but I think several of them are great for certain play styles, metagames, or just for players who want to do something different and awesome.
I'm not sure what I'll be playing instead, but you should be sure to check out what I and the rest of TeamSCG end up with on the coverage of Pro Tour Theros this weekend. You can follow some of our exploits preparing at Durhamstown Castle on our team page at http://www.teamstarcitygames.com/!