It's not a secret that I haven't been a big fan of Standard lately. The format has felt stale almost since it began with Mono-Black Devotion ,in one form or another, firmly at the top of the heap since shortly after Theros was released. Sure, we've seen other decks rise and fall, like Mono-Blue Devotion, Esper, various forms of Monsters and the like, but Grey Merchant and friends were always there with deals you couldn't refuse, like the best card in your opponent's hand for a measly two life.
After the first week of Standard with Journey into Nyx saw Mono-Black Devotion splashing green take the title, beating Esper in the finals, it seemed as if we might be in for another few months of the same old thing. Thankfully though, recent results have shown that the new set actually seems to have shaken things up a bit with some entirely new decks putting up some impressive results. A few of those decks have me pretty excited, and I wanted to spend this week taking a look at them.
Here's the list I was playing:
I spent the vast majority of my time testing for Pro Tour Journey into Nyx working on various Constellation decks, but they all seemed to fall just a little bit short of good enough in the time I had. The version that I spent the most time working on was a midrange deck not terribly dissimilar to the one Nam played to a second place finish at the Pro Tour.
My version of the deck was more focused on Constellation synergies, though, and as a result was much more reliant on finding the specific cards that made the deck tick - Eidolon of Blossoms and Doomwake Giant. Without those, too many of the cards in the deck were too low impact to really win games on their own, which caused some serious problems with consistency. It didn't help that the mana wasn't the best, either, especially in the three color versions with Banishing Light.
In Standard though, there are answers to both of those problems. The mana is obviously much better, with the Ravnica shock lands alongside the Theros temples making it downright easy to play three colors, especially with Sylvan Caryatid. Going beyond the block format also offers a few more exciting enchantments, one of the most important of which is Underworld Connections.
As Mono-Black Devotion has shown us throughout this Standard format, Underworld Connections is an extremely powerful card. It's especially potent alongside Courser of Kruphix, which not only helps mitigate the life lost drawing cards, but also gains quite a bit of power from being able to manipulate the top card of your deck. If there's a spell on top, you can draw it with Connections and aim to hit a land to play for free with Courser underneath.
I spent quite a bit of time trying to get G/B midrange decks with Underworld Connections and Courser to work before the release of Journey into Nyx, but they didn't seem to quite have what it took. The constellation cards change all that. Both Connections and Courser are conveniently enchantments, which means they slip effortlessly into a shell built around Eidolon of Blossoms and Doomwake Giant, which provide an incredible amount of late game power.
A big part of that late game power comes from the oft-maligned Mana Bloom. As strange as it might sound, Mana Bloom is something of an all-star in this deck. It provides not one, not two, but three key elements for the deck's strategy.
The first of these is mana acceleration. While Mana Bloom isn't the most effective ramp spell early in the game because it bounces back to your hand after a single use if you play it on the second turn, the short burst it provides can make a huge difference. This is a deck that has a fairly high curve, and you're not always going to draw Sylvan Caryatid. Mana Bloom does a reasonable impression in a pinch, fixing your colors as well as accelerating your mana, even if it does return to your hand after ramping you into your four-drop.
Thankfully, your only four-drop - Eidolon of Blossoms - is one that makes you pretty happy to have a Mana Bloom in your hand. And that's the second element that Mana Bloom provides for the deck - a recursive way to trigger constellation. One of the problems that I had with a lot of my block constructed Constellation decks was that they were so heavily reliant on chaining constellation triggers together that they couldn't afford to play very many non-enchantment cards. If you drew removal spells and lands for a couple of turns, you could just completely sputter out. With Mana Bloom, however, once you get your Eidolon of Blossoms chain started, it pretty much never stops.
Last, and certainly not least, Mana Bloom provides cheap constellation triggers. During my block constructed testing, one of the cards that went in and out of my decks was Font of Fertility. It wasn't especially effective as a mana accelerator thanks to temples making it hard to play on turn 1, but it was nice to have as a cheap way to get an extra constellation trigger later in the game. This is especially important when you're trying to wipe the board with Doomwake Giant, since you want to be able to generate as many triggers as possible. The ability to play Mana Bloom for a single mana makes it almost everything I liked about Font of Fertility, with even better acceleration and other perks thrown in. Sign me up!
That said, Mana Bloom isn't all sunshine and roses, despite the name. Between the Blooms, the lands, and Sylvan Caryatid, the deck is over half mana, and it can be easy to flood out in games where you don't get Underworld Connections or Eidolon of Blossoms going. The temples help a lot, but you can't afford to play too many because the deck is very reliant on actually hitting its curve, since it doesn't have anything like Supreme Verdict to get it back in the game if it takes the first several turns off playing tapped lands.
As a result, I felt like I wanted more tools to mitigate flood, so I added another copy of Underworld Connections to the deck. I was also relatively underwhelmed by Banishing Light, especially with B/G Devotion becoming more and more the default version of that deck. It's hard to rely on removal that's susceptible to Abrupt Decay, and it's *really* awkward to get multiple copies of Banishing Light caught by a Detention Sphere, too.
Here's what the deck that I'm playing looks like now:
I'm not completely sold on the sideboard right now. I adopted BBD's Obzedats because they seem like a good tool against U/W and Esper that are otherwise really tough matchups, though I haven't really played enough to feel confident it's the right choice. Golgari Charm, Thoughtseize, and Doom Blade are all excellent, and Nyx-Fleece Ram has been surprisingly good - so much so that I've gone up to three and would even consider a fourth. I'd also like to fit in another Doom Blade because it helps to shore up matchups against big green creature decks where Doomwake Giant is too slow, but I'm not sure what exactly I would cut. I wonder if I could get away with just playing Ultimate Prices over Bile Blight, but I seriously hate losing to Pack Rat, so I haven't made that swap yet. I'd also kind of like to fit a single copy of Extinguish All Hope, but again, not enough room.
I've had a ton of fun playing this deck over the past week or so. It's incredibly powerful when it gets going, and has all kinds of cool lines of play that make for really interesting games. There's definitely a lot of room for improvement too and a lot of different directions you can take the deck to customize it to a given metagame. I kind of wish I actually had Standard tournaments to play in right now, because this is a deck I'd love to have a chance to play in a big event.
So, too, is this one:
- 3 Keening Apparition
- 4 Stormbreath Dragon
- 4 Sylvan Caryatid
- 3 Voyaging Satyr
- 4 Courser of Kruphix
- 3 Polukranos, World Eater
Justin Crandall got a chance to play this in a big event - the Standard Open in Indianapolis - and he made the best of his opportunity, taking down the whole thing in an impressive showing. There are a number of things I really love about this deck, and that's even once we get beyond the color combination. Mmmmm….delicious Naya…
My favorite part about this deck is how Justin has managed to move away from what many consider to be sacred cows in the format. This is a creature deck with both red and green mana, and yet there is not a single copy of Domri to be seen. I'm sure that's due in no small part to the breakdown of the deck's card types - only twenty-one creatures, which is a bit tight for Domri's +1 - but also due to what the Standard format looks like right now.
In a world of black decks with Hero's Downfall, Desecration Demon, and Lifebane Zombie - along with Abrupt Decay in many cases - Domri just isn't the powerhouse that he has been in the past. A big part of the power of Domri is in the effectiveness of his fight ability and his ultimate. If the former isn't effective because you're constantly afraid of removal or your opponent's creatures are 6/6 fliers that outclass everything in your deck, and the latter almost never happens because every control deck has easy answers to get him off the board beforehand, Domri just doesn't cut it, I'm sad to say. Spending your early turns to maybe draw a card or two before your opponent dispatches your planeswalker isn't a winning proposition.
Instead, Justin played a suite of planeswalkers that are more expensive, but more immediately impactful. The new addition to the lineup is Ajani, who can do Domri's job of providing more fuel for the fire a lot better than the little kid with a mohawk can. I especially like the tag-team of Ajani and Xenagos, which allows you to pump out a constant stream of creatures that you can turn into real threats with Ajani's +1/+1 counter ability to get them by opposing blockers like Courser of Kruphix and Sylvan Caryatid.
The coolest piece of technology in Justin's deck, though, is Keening Apparition. Keening Apparition has so many targets to keen at in Standard right now it's incredible. Hell, look at the deck we just talked about - two mana basically kills any card in there. Even outside of constellation decks, there's Courser of Kruphix, Underworld Connections, Herald of Torment, any number of creature pumps in those annoying Hexproof decks, and the real motivation behind including the enchantment-hating banshee - Detention Sphere and Banishing Light.
This deck leans on planewalkers to beat control decks, and they in turn lean on enchantments to beat planeswalkers. That dynamic breaks down in favor of the Naya deck when they have a cheap, proactive tool to protect their key cards from the only removal they're vulnerable to in the matchup. And the real cherry on top is that Keening Apparition is a creature, so you can dig it up with Ajani to help protect himself!
While I like the general structure and the concept behind this deck, there are certainly some individual card choices I question. First and foremost is Voyaging Satyr. I just don't get it. While I can see that this deck may want a little bit of help with colored mana to cast things like Mizzium Mortars with Overload, I can't buy that hedging there is more important than the cheaper acceleration provided by Elvish Mystic. This is a deck with eight temples. You're going to have draws with multiples, which means you won't be able to play a Voyaging Satyr until turn three, at which point it's barely accelerating you at all.
Replacing Voyaging Satyr with Elvish Mystic also dramatically increases the potential power of your best hands. While Crandall's version of the deck can never double accelerate into anything earlier than turn 4, playing Elvish Mystic opens up the possibility of turn 1 Elf, turn 2 Caryatid, and turn 3 five-drop! With both Stormbreath Dragon and Ajani in the deck, that seems like a situation I'd want to be able to aim for.
I haven't actually played enough games with the deck to get a feel for the sideboard, but Anger of the Gods seems pretty questionable. Maybe the idea is to morph into some kind of more controlling deck against opposing creature strategies, but I have to wonder whether playing a card that kills your own mana creatures in a deck that really wants to ramp into things is better than just playing more cheap removal. You can probably cast Chained to the Rocks as often as you can cast Anger of the Gods, for instance, and you don't have to worry about wiping your own board to do it. On top of that, you have the added bonus of being able to dig for it with Ajani, since it's an aura. Seems pretty sweet to me!
All that being said, this is the version of Naya I'd like to try moving forward:
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 3 Keening Apparition
- 4 Stormbreath Dragon
- 4 Sylvan Caryatid
- 4 Courser of Kruphix
- 3 Polukranos, World Eater
What do you think? Are there any sweet decks out there in Standard that you have you eye on?