Every once and a while a deck comes along that breaks the mold. Something so new and innovative that even Chapin tips his hat in approval. This is not one of those times. This is, however, exactly what I want to be playing and the deck I'm working on for the dual Open Series weekend coming up next weekend. Losing the finals of the Legacy Open in Atlanta has lit a fire under me to make a run at the Players' Championship. I have no clue if I can get enough points to qualify, but I'm certainly going to try my hardest to obtain them.
After a couple weeks of working on Khans of Tarkir Standard, I have realized three things:
1. Goblin Rabblemaster is format-defining and could very well be one of the most powerful cards in recent history.
2. Three colors are tough to build around when hasty goblins are knocking at my door.
3. Decks with creatures and removal spells are still very good.
I love the powerful cards that have come out of Khans of Tarkir, but at the same time I don't see the necessity for playing three colors to get to play them. I understand that some of these cards will in time define Standard, but I just am not sold on playing three colors yet. I know I will eat these words in about a week, but for now I'm focusing on what I would play around these two cards:
Thoughtseize and Sign in Blood are really good together and can be a great place to be when everyone is playing comes into play tapped lands. Sure they have all of these powerful spells, but one of them is in the graveyard, and I already have more cards than you. Also, I was on the play. Rabble Red is a serious concern, but that's what a sideboard is for! Here's the decklist that I have been working on for the past week:
On the surface this deck looks like it's trying to accomplish exactly what B/W Midrange was last season. The only difference is that all the creatures got smaller and the card advantage got worse. I'm guessing Pack Rat never thought it would be replaced with Nyx-Fleece Ram. On second thought, I'm guessing Pack Rat never thought about anything more than the flesh of its victim.
The reality of the situation is Standard is shifting due to the absence of Sphinx's Revelation. Sphinx's Revelation did something very unique to the Standard format. It owned inevitability. No other card could take it away from Sphinx's Revelation, forcing every single strategy to try to go underneath the Azorius mythic. Before the time of the Revelation, inevitability shifted around as the format evolved. More importantly, sometimes inevitability didn't exist; two decks equal in power level would simply battle to try to gain control of the game.
What Sphinx's Revelation did to the format was force all decks to constantly be thinking about that matchup and warping their decks to accommodate it. This is no longer the case. Decks can now go back to not needing to worry about one spell taking over the game without fail. There will be cards that have an overwhelming impact on the game, but they are no longer unanswerable. Standard is about to become much more of a grind for positioning than a race to the finish line.
This is where Nyx-Fleece Ram comes in. Obviously this card has seen some Constructed play, but mostly as a sideboard card against extremely linear strategies like Rabble Red and R/w Burn. It could never dream of having a game 1 impact in any other matchup since all of those decks were geared towards doing something extremely powerful and trying to ignore creatures unless they couldn't.
Also. Pack Rat.
Nyx-Fleece Ram's most important role in the deck is to gain life. Thoughtseize and Sign in Blood are both exceptional spells, but the life loss does add up. There are a few ways to gain life, but it's not as easy as it used to be for Black-based midrange decks from last season. You can't just assume that the life you lose won't matter since it almost certainly will with Goblin Rabblemaster and Stoke the Flames being two of the best cards in the format.
Nyx-Fleece Ram is also a great blocker for two mana. Black midrange decks need answers to early threats, and the removal is not as good as it used to be. Bile Blight, Last Breath, and Reprisal are the only two mana removal spells that feel remotely playable. There is an argument for Suspension Field, but my problem with this card is that it's sorcery speed removal, and that causes some problems when you're trying play on curve. I would much rather proactively play my removal spell than wait on it and force myself to be off tempo for the rest of the game.
Not only does Nyx-Fleece Ram block creatures from the Rabble Army, but it also makes short work of Siege Rhino and Savage Knuckleblade. Of course you can pump a Savage Knuckleblade to get over the top of the Ram, but those are turns you're dreaming of as the deck with Hero's Downfall and Devouring Light.
Speaking of three mana removal spells that have no business in Standard, check out those Devouring Lights!
This card is actually good in a deck with defensive creatures. It's a card that you can easily play to by casting your spells, it gets to protect an Elspeth, Sun's Champion by simply activating her, and crushes many of the Khans of Tarkir threats with the added bonus of not needing to cost that much mana thanks to convoke. I'm stoked that there are more Convoke cards that look good right now and Devouring Light has been overperforming. Thanks Sarkhan for pushing all those Stormbreath Dragons out of the metagame!
The last, and easily the coolest, role that Nyx-Fleece Ram has in this deck is to attack! You don't need to re-read that last sentence because I certainly do mean attack. We need to trigger raid for Wingmate Roc to bring a friend, and Nyx-Fleece Ram is a great creature to get into the redzone and live to tell the tale. Raid is a pretty cool ability that will make for some goofy combat scenarios, and attacking for zero is just the beginning.
Once you get over how flipping cool it would be to attack with a Nyx-Fleece Ram, let's talk about the other creatures in the deck. I like to call them the "Three Four Squad".
I spent a ton of time working on B/W Midrange decks with Brimaz before the Season Three Invitational, and I can tell you that the card is the real deal when backed up with some removal. It does put some strain on your mana when played alongside Sign in Blood, so playing an extra land is crucial. The most important thing is making sure you have something to do with your extra mana.
That's where High Sentinels of Arashin comes in.
I'm still not sure if this card is bad, good, or great. It has decent stats to be able to defend against aggressive decks and flying to get past bigger threats much like Restoration Angel did. It does not, however, have flash which made Restoration Angel the threat that it was, but that shouldn't mean this card is unplayable. The one and only reason I give this card any faith is that it has a mana sink ability that seems relevant. Mana sinks are abilities on cards that can be used when you're drawing a lot of land. Last season almost every deck had a card in it that was a mana sink:
All of these cards had one thing in common and that was that they helped players do something when they had "nothing" to do. They all gave extra mana sources some relevance. One of the best mana sinks in recent memory is Gavony Township since it worked well in decks with a ton of mana accelerants. You never really felt flooded when you drew a ton of mana accelerants and Gavony Township since you could just make your whole team bigger.
I do not put High Sentinels of Arashin on the level of Gavony Township, but I won't discard it as a Limited bomb with no Standard potential due to it having an ability that affects the board in a significant way. It also does something when you're flooding. That "something" is to pump your team and start attacking and hope you can win the game in a few short turns. Going aggressive is something a deck like this needs, and this card can help accommodate that. Don't forget: it also triggers raid.
Now let's talk about the bird of the hour: Wingmate Roc! Now this card rocks! (Somewhere a BBD just got his wings.) Broodmate Dragon was a format defining spell in its day, and this card seems extremely similar. It does have a rather steep stipulation when obtaining its buddy, but attacking isn't the most difficult thing to do when the benefit is two 3/4 fliers for five mana.
My current list might not have the exact number of ways to turn on raid for the Roc, but I can assure you that the card is very good. Every time I've played this after attacking, the game was almost over. Two three power four toughness fliers for five mana is just game defining. Not only do they control the game backed up with some removal but the ability to continuously gain life allows you to win almost any race.
One of the most synergistic cards in the deck is our solemn buddy from Innistrad.
Contrary to popular belief, you can be cheerful when casting this guy. Sorin just works perfectly with every other permanent in this deck. Nyx-Fleece Ram helps protect him for a turn when making a vampire, Brimaz, King of Oreskos and his kitty cat parade gets a significant power boost, and the vampire can rock out in combat when turning on raid. If the Rocs are out, then his plus one ability gets you out of range of being killed for multiple turns. Sadly, there have been a few games where Sorin, Solemn Visitor has underperformed which makes me believe he should be a one or two of in the deck.
Last but not least we have Elspeth, Sun's Champion to finish out the ways to win the game. Do I really have to explain why this card is good? I guess I probably should explain why I'm not playing three copies of this card in the deck. It could be possible that one more should be added over a Wingmate Roc. Only time will tell on those numbers, but for now I want to try out the new card.
Moving onto the sideboard we have some interesting choices.
This gem is specifically here for the hyper-aggressive decks people tend to play right after a new rotation. The logic behind hyper-aggressive decks is that they prey on slow and clunky three color decks. This is true which means we need to have good answers to decks like this. The correct number might end up being four, but I wanted to give a slot to End Hostilities since it is such a great tutor target for…
Liliana Vess has never been the most game breaking planeswalker, but she does seem quite powerful in this format. Black midrange decks need a card that can generate card advantage when playing so many removal spells, and that is exactly what this card is trying to do. Even if she eats a Hero's Downfall, that was a two-for-one since it got another card out of their hand. Sure that isn't the best, but it isn't bad for a worse-case scenario.
The biggest benefit to playing this card in the sideboard is that the deck can now shift to be more controlling against the other midrange decks when it needs to be. Hand disruption and card advantage doesn't always want to be followed up by a "low impact' threat. Often times a planeswalker is what you will want to cast and the options are rather limited. Liliana Vess specifically allows you to continue the same gameplan of resource denial while also being able to tutor up Empty the Pits when the final blow is necessary.
Both of these cards are very similar, making it difficult to know if one is significantly better than the other. I am starting off a 1-1 split due to Liliana Vess's tutor ability. This will allow me to sometimes deal with a non-creature threat when I absolutely have to as well as kill multiple creatures when that is what I am looking for.
Silence the Believers might be very good in this format and potentially snag a maindeck slot in the future. It just depends on how many bestow creatures see play and how slow the format actually is. Silence the Believers was one of the most powerful cards in Block Constructed, but I don't know if that says much since there are two more powerful sets that followed. Only time will tell on this card.
I originally had a Despise in my maindeck because of how powerful the card is. The only reason I cut it was due to not having enough threats to turn on raid. The maindeck needs a high density of threats, but that isn't always the case after sideboard. There is a multitude of hard to deal with planeswalkers in the format which makes me think that more discard for them is what you want to do after sideboard. I'm just not sure if playing more than six hand disruption spells after sideboard is where you want to be against decks that can attack you.
This little guy hasn't seen much play since the Pro Tour Journey Into Nyx, but his time is once again upon us. Not only is he great against decks that have highly impactful planeswalkers with few removal spells to back them up, but he can also be great against controlling strategies since he can turn on raid. The other subtle benefit of this guy is against Sylvan Caryatid midrange decks.
Thoughtseizing a Sylvan Caryatid never feels that great since you will eventually have to deal with a high impact permanent later, but casting Brain Maggot on one is great. Odds are the little guy is going to die, but the Caryatid has now lost its opportunity to have an impact on the game. Snagging a Courser of Kruphix or Sylvan Caryatid can not only have a significant impact on the game, but it also doesn't feel bad when they get it back. You never have to play around a removal spell on a Brain Maggot when taking these tempo based cards.
I am under the impression that this card could very well be the next Sphinx's Revelation. We might need more sets to force the format to interact more, but the card seems very good as a finisher. I don't think a deck like this would want to play it as a maindeck finisher, but having access to one copy seems perfect when already playing Liliana Vess. This card is my sleeper for the format. I wouldn't even be surprised if this card makes its break out debut next weekend as it just seems so powerful!
That's all I have for you guys this week. I will be playing this deck in between rounds at the prerelease this weekend, and I encourage any of you out there that are testing to proxy this deck up and let me know how it goes. I have high expectations for a deck similar to this one and am curious to hear about your findings. See you guys next week!