While I may lack Evan Erwin's characteristic exuberance, I've always considered myself an optimist, both in life and in Magic. I genuinely believe that, while my life is great, it can really only get better over time, and I'm very much the type to always look on the bright side. When it comes to Magic, the belief that everything's great and that there's hope for every idea is what allows me to build new decks. If every time I thought of a new idea, I thought, "no, this is terrible for this reason, this reason, and this reason" I might never bother to put decks together, try out ideas, and try to fix them. I often have trouble in sealed because I look at the strengths of all my decks, and find several that I like for each, rather than looking at the weaknesses to find what I might lose to (note to self, next time I play sealed, try looking for weaknesses).
So when I read Ari Lax's Your Deck is Bad and You Should Feel Bad, aside from thinking that people should really never feel bad, I thought most of those decks were sweet. So, Mister Lax, allow me to rebut, and tell you why all these decks are awesome.
First, regarding the premise: This is a large Standard with what has evolved into pretty good mana (as long as you're not committed to casting a spell on the first turn in a multicolor deck that cares about its life total). The temples are incredible. There aren't too many dual lands that I'd choose to play over Ravnica duals, but the Temples hit that mark. Keeping a hand with none in a deck that plays several feels terrible because they're so good at smoothing your draw early, and drawing one late often feels like you drew a slowtrip (Ice Age-era cantrips that drew a card on the next upkeep).
Ari just willfully ignores this by pointing out that "there isn't even Preordain to tie the room together." Isn't there? If your deck plays four Preordains, you get to scry 8. If you play twelve temples, you get to scry 12. Yes, scry 2 is more than additively better than scry 1, but the fact that you're more likely to get to do a little scrying early to smooth your draw is huge, and you don't even have to make room or even play blue to take advantage of some free scrying is huge.
He says the removal is bad--I don't even understand. This is coming from a block where I felt like I couldn't do anything because all the removal was so good, and then adding Doom Blade, Ultimate Price, Devour Flesh, Abrupt Decay, Mizzium Mortars, Dreadbore, Supreme Verdict, etc. What on earth are you looking for in a removal spell that this Standard's removal doesn't accomplish outside of "cost one mana," and how often do you expect to get that in Standard?
I don't even know how to how to respond to the idea that the removal can't handle the wide range of threats and that playing a control deck is hard in conjunction with the implication that that problem is in any way connected to the idea that there isn't a key toughness. Removal that cares about toughness is more narrow than the awesome range of answers we have now. The only weakness of the removal, if anything, is that it's expensive, not that it's narrow. Planeswalkers inherently are going to force decks that are trying to rely on answers to jump through some hoops to deal with both them and creatures, but that's just a reality of Magic these days, that has nothing to do with not having good removal to deal with them.
But enough about the fundamentals. The claim is about decks, so let's look at the specifics.
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 3 Ghor-Clan Rampager
- 3 Scavenging Ooze
- 4 Stormbreath Dragon
- 4 Sylvan Caryatid
- 3 Courser of Kruphix
- 4 Polukranos, World Eater
You have eight accelerators that allow you to either play Polukranos, World Eater or Xenagos, the Reveler on turn 3 or play Courser of Kruphix and often get to immediately play a land off the top of your deck. Four of your accelerators can potentially allow a turn 2 Domri Rade, which will almost always be on an empty board in this format.
When you don't draw an accelerator, your hand is probably full of action or lands that let you scry away late mana accelerators to find more action, which is great, because no one can really punish you for coming out a little slower. Your high toughness creatures, versatile removal spells, and life gain punish aggressors, and while you might find yourself slow enough that other midrange or control decks can answer your threats, you'll have a high density of them (since you haven't drawn the mana accelerators) and they'll often put you up a card right when they hit the table.
Once you get going, your card advantage cards that "sometimes give you a card" like Domri Rade, Courser of Kruphix, and temples combine to make sure that each one of them almost always gives you a card--their powers are more than additive. Courser of Kruphix lets you know when to Domri, lets you play lands off the top to clear the way, and tells you when to play your temples to scry. These combinations mean that no one can ignore even your cheaper threats, which helps clear the way for your more fragile harder hitting threats.
There are matchups where some of your threats don't line up perfectly, but all of them are great cards that some specific decks have an extremely difficult time dealing with, and you can optimize from your powerful shell to have the right threats and answers in game 2.
You might be a little soft to Master of Waves in game 1, but very few people are playing blue, and after sideboarding with Chris VanMeter's deck, you have up to six additional answers (1 Doom Blade, 2 Golgari Charm, 2 Putrefy, 1 Vraska the Unseen). These answers are even set up to deal with Hall of Triumph into Master of Waves, not that that's even all that like to be terribly impressive, since you can kill their other blue permanents first
For Ari, apparently merely being "The Rock" is a criticism, with the implication that your deck is inconsistent because sometimes you'll draw the wrong answers. However, while suggesting this, he shrugs off the difference between Duress and Thoughtseize, which is a categorical difference between this deck and some incarnations of other decks in a similar space, which is why we've seen this deck have so much success.
Your answers are extremely versatile and almost never dead. You have Underworld Connections and Pack Rat to make up for the few times when they are, and of course, that's always a much bigger game 1 problem than it is for the rest of the match.
Let's be clear about something: Your removal spells are great. Ari makes absurd claims like "Ultimate Price sucks against the last block"--ok, I suppose I can kind of grant this, but let's take a random sampling of the actual format we're playing instead of talking about random points in history; maybe the lists in this article would be a good starting point. Over half the creatures in every single deck except the hexproof deck die to Ultimate Price. Now, there are a few scattered creatures that don't, which might be a problem if we were relying on solely on Ultimate Price. Fortunately, we're not. It's a support card that's bridging to our other removal, so it will almost always do its job properly. Of course, despite this fact, that list Ari referenced doesn't even play Ultimate Price, even in the sideboard, while just speaks to how incredible the removal suite we have to work with really is.
Here's how I look at this deck:
Your mana is incredibly consistent. You get man lands in a format where that's increasingly rare, and your curve even allows you to take advantage of some random temples just because they're that powerful.
You're great at trading resources early and then pulling ahead with Underworld Connections or a threat that embarrasses theirs, as Pack Rat and Desecration Demon are usually going to be the biggest kids on the block.
Grey Merchant of Asphodel is an awesome roleplayer that counteracts your life payment in a way that's much better than anything these kinds of decks usually has access to and can incidentally blow up matchups that become board stalls.
As is always the case with decks like this, sideboarding is great for you as you get to focus your answers, and since your deck is all about answers, that will be a bigger boon for you than them.
You're a deck full of answers with a few extremely durable threats, but any time you don't need to be a deck full of answers, you become a combo deck instead. Several of your cards generate some other value when they kill something like scrying, damage to your opponent, or gaining life.
You punish people who try to play Ravnica dual lands to go fast and throw away their life total with burn, and you punish people who play tapped lands with your aggressive creatures.
Your biggest weakness is that you sometimes don't draw one of your creatures. Personally, I think Young Pyromancer has generally been good against me out of decks like this, and you can easily play and support him if that's an issue.
Ari criticizes that this is a burn deck that needs to draw lands. I'd posit that it's a burn deck that's resistant to flooding.
That nonsense about all your opponent's cards being time walks? None of that matters if you think of yourself as an attrition deck. You're not playing Lava Spike--I mean, ok, yes, you're playing Skullcrack and Boros Charm, but you're not all Lava Spikes. Yes, you're very slow at dealing the full twenty with burn, but you don't have to do that, except against decks that are going to give you a lot of time.
I agree with Ari that Shouta Yasooka's version is likely a step in the right direction. Prophetic Flamespeaker was very impressive in testing for block, and I wouldn't be surprised if we conclude that it should have been in the main deck all along.
This deck is incredibly consistent. When I play against them, I feel like they always have the Supreme Verdict on turn 4, but that's just because they almost always do. Aside from the fact that they're going to mulligan to find it (when they're in the extremely rare position of needing to mulligan with their 27 land deck with twelve temples), they get to spend the first 2 or 3 turns scrying for it. Now that you can basically play as many Oblivion Rings as you want, there's not much of a need for Hero's Downfall, so you don't need much black, and you have a million lands, a million duals, and a bunch of free scry on top of it to smooth your colored mana requirements.
Ari's right that your Detention Spheres will die, but when that happens, you're still trading cards and trading mana, which is all you're really trying to do anyway, since your entire game plan is to buy time to cast Sphinx's Revelation. Yes, you can fall behind planeswalkers, but you have Thoughtseize and counterspells to keep that from happening as well as planeswalkers of your own and Mutavault.
This deck is great at taking advantage of every aspect of the mana of this format and the versatile removal while playing a lot of incredibly powerful spells.
You get to trump all the midrange one upmanship that people who are grinding cards with Domri Rade, Underworld Connections, and Courser of Kruphix. Yes, they can get starts that grind you out with those cards, especially when paired with discard, but you are sidestepping the midrange battle entirely, and there's real strength to that.
- 4 Cloudfin Raptor
- 4 Frostburn Weird
- 1 Galerider Sliver
- 4 Judge's Familiar
- 4 Master of Waves
- 4 Nightveil Specter
- 4 Tidebinder Mage
- 4 Thassa, God of the Sea
First, the basic strengths: Your mana is more consistent than your opponents' and you can actually curve out. You can have have two or three creatures in play before they're even thinking about casting their first spell when you're on the play. This deck's best draws on the play (any draw where you're spending all your mana every turn) are almost unbeatable in most matchups.
You have some great trumps that allow you to dig your way out of anything to back up a surprisingly solid beatdown plan in a format where that's a rarity. Your sideboard allows you to completely change roles when that's appropriate.
Ari claims you can't interact with Pack Rat. I suppose that's true, and there are decks that are better against Pack Rat than you, but if you have a reasonably good draw, outracing Pack Rat isn't at all uncommon, and I'm not even sure Pack Rat is better than a random card against you on the draw.
I agree that boarding six drops (or even five drops) against Esper is horrible, but I think the counterspell plan is good. They don't solve the problem that you can't overextend into Supreme Verdict, but that's never the problem I was trying to solve. I was looking to exploit the fact that they can't ever really kill me if I counter their few threats.
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 3 Prophet of Kruphix
- 4 Sylvan Caryatid
- 4 Voyaging Satyr
- 4 Boon Satyr
- 4 Courser of Kruphix
- 4 Eidolon of Blossoms
- 4 Polukranos, World Eater
- 2 Nylea, God of the Hunt
- 2 Ash Zealot
- 4 Boros Reckoner
- 4 Burning-Tree Emissary
- 4 Flame-Wreathed Phoenix
- 4 Frostburn Weird
- 4 Stormbreath Dragon
- 4 Eidolon of the Great Revel
These decks are slightly inconsistent because they rely so heavily on Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx, but that card is also one of the few potentially broken cards in Standard. Like Mono-Blue Devotion's nut draws, if you look at a good opening hand with Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx, you can be pretty sure you've won before you even know what your opponent's playing.
With both decks, while you need Nykthos for free wins, your backup plan is just to play normal threats on a normal curve, but in a deck that's a little faster and a little more consistent than some of your opposition because you're mostly one color. The threats that you ramp into with Nykthos aren't giant uncastables, they're just 3-5 mana spells that you're looking to slam into play in large numbers. When you don't get to do that, your plan B isn't some kind of dredge style anemic beatdown with 1/2s for three, you're curving out the kinds of real, normal threats that other people actually play in this format when their plan A is to just tap lands or mana guys and put them into play the normal way.
That's a great backup plan for a combo deck .
Yes, you have some awkward draws because of the legendary nature of Nykthos, kind of, but drawing the second one is far from a dead draw. Sometimes, it's how you get your best turns. Not exactly a crippling inconsistency.
Let's start with the numbers Ari points out. You have twelve Hexproof guys and twelve auras, and you likely need double green. First of all, twelve of each half of a two card combo sounds like a lot to me, but looking at the numbers according to Magic Online's Probabilities function, if my deck has twelve creatures, twelve enchantments, and eighteen lands that matter (tap for green), and I need two lands that tap for green, an enchantment, and a creature, I'll have that 64% of the time on turn 3 and 72% on turn 4. In reality, I get to mulligan, scry, and occasionally I'll be on the draw. Sometimes, I won't need two green because I'll have a Gladecover Scout.
Those numbers are high enough that if I'm always losing when I miss, and always winning when I get there, this a great deck. In reality, I'm going to lose a very real percentage of the time that I miss, but I'm also going to play a real game a vast majority of the time that I don't have exactly those requirements met and the deck has a reasonable amount of play to it and cards that are just Magic cards that can play a game. So while you won't always get free wins, you still have a real deck when you don't.
Additionally, after sideboarding in a lot of matchups, the numbers get a lot better for you because of your situational "hexproof" creatures Fiendslayer Paladin and Skylasher.
You're a legitimate beatdown deck, a rarity in this format, but one that can actually punch through Sylvan Caryatid and Courser of Kruphix, which are the real reasons those decks are rare in the first place.
As for the Esper matchup, I'm sure it's rough, but you do have a plan. On top of four Boros Charms to counter Supreme Verdict you have Voice of Resurgence and up to six flash creatures after sideboarding, which are joined with two Mending Touches to further combat Supreme Verdict. Detention Sphere is weak against your hexproof creatures, but it can target the enchantments, though that's not that big of a deal, and Jace is pretty ineffective because you're building a single big threat.
Aggro Decks Collectively
I don't think these decks are terribly well positioned right now. Courser of Kruphix is particularly brutal, but far from the only concern. That said, each of these decks has a real plan to attack through blockers--Mogis's Marauder, Herald or Torment, Spiteful Returned, and removal from Mono Black Aggro, Chandra's Phoenix, Firefist Striker, Eidolon of the Great Revel, Fanatic of Mogis from Red Aggro, and Daring Skyjek, Imposing Sovereign, Ajani, Caller of the Pride, Brave the Elements, and removal from white aggro.
These decks are fast and consistent, and looking to punish people for starting games on turn two or three. Personally, I'd rather play Mono-Blue Devotion if I want to play an aggro deck, but these decks aren't without their advantages--faster clocks, better reach, more removal.
I prefer to think of this as a part of the category of Courser of Kruphix/Underworld Connections based three color decks. Doomwake Giant and Eidolon of Blossoms is one way to go, but you can also go closer to a BUG or Jund shell as Owen and I have written about.
Temples offer a ton of consistency, especially if you bother to actually play twelve of them, and your central engine is incredibly strong regardless of which direction you choose to take it. You have the ability to grind anyone out in a late game, even Esper. You have great versatile removal spells and card advantage at every turn. You get to take advantage of the same kind of interactions with Courser of Kruphix that Domri offers with Underworld Connections, and step it up another level if you play Kiora, the Crashing Wave.
This is far from a bad Monsters deck. Depending on how it's built, it can feel much closer to a Black Devotion deck, except one that's far better at trading cards because it has more two for ones thanks to Courser of Kruphix and Eidolon of Blossoms.
- 1 Deathrite Shaman
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 1 Lotleth Troll
- 3 Nemesis of Mortals
- 3 Satyr Wayfinder
- 3 Shadowborn Demon
- 3 Sylvan Caryatid
- 1 Herald of Torment
- 4 Nighthowler
- 2 Nyx Weaver
- 3 Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord
- 2 Pharika, God of Affliction
This is another deck that can be built a lot of different ways. There are so many cards that work toward this strategy. I think this list is far less settled than decks we've seen more of like Mono Black Devotion, Monsters, Esper, etc. All the tools are there to do great things, the problem is that all the tools are also there to stop you. Luckily, no one's bothering with Rest in Peace, but Scavenging Ooze is just horrendous for you, and that one still sees quite a bit of play. Additionally, as Ari points out, even without directly attacking the graveyard, there are a lot of versatile answers that exile your threats, which itself can be a huge problem.
But, as Ari also points out, this deck is consistent, powerful, and does things that actually matter in the format. Regardless of exactly which direction you go, you're playing a bunch of powered up version of Impulse that find what you're looking for while making all your cards better. Shadowborn Demon is incredible, and Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord can just kill people in a way that really invalidates their removal and defenses.
My conclusion: Ari's right that you're playing Magic, so sometimes, you'll have bad hands or bad matchups, but the decks currently have a ton of play. Sideboards allow them to usefully shift their strategy without simply creating non-games the way they can in Modern. Almost every deck is more consistent than one can usually expect, either you're a mono color deck, in which case, you're already quite consistent, or you get to scry. The more you stretch your mana, the more you get to scry if you choose to. The result is that every deck is just a little slow, but that just means that everyone gets to play Magic. This is not the format Ari implies, where you're at the mercy of a handful of inconsistent decks where you just have to hope for the best. This is a format where you can expect to play a deck that will get to execute its game plan, and you'll win based on how well you can do that and how well it matches up against your opponent's execution of their game plan.