The first weekend of Khans of Tarkir Standard is in the books, and I can't say that I didn't see this all coming.
Going into the first week, we all knew that Courser of Kruphix was just so damn good that it would take a real reason to not be playing it. I know that I had been looking at different Mardu strategies and was even considering a revamped version of the Jeskai deck that I had played in a previous VS Video, but ultimately I ended up on the Abzan Midrange deck that BBD had been working on.
With the Pro Tour being next weekend I know that a lot of the qualified players were intentionally avoiding playing whatever frontrunner they were currently tweaking so that they could try and preserve any edge that they may feel they have to increase their chances of catching the big wave into the Top 8 in Honolulu. This is totally understandable and something that we have to keep in the back of our mind while we evaluate the decks that did well this weekend since I definitely expect some big things coming from the Pro Tour.
I'm sure that BBD will be going over the Abzan deck later this week, but I would still like to give my impressions on the deck since I didn't really have a chance to work very much on it and just went along with his list. I think it's valuable to have multiple perspectives to tweak a decklist to its fullest potential, and I regret not putting in enough work to help refine our what we played.
The deck felt very powerful, and I learned a lot playing it this weekend. Our list was definitely off a handful of cards, and the sideboard was built incorrectly, but I feel like I got a pretty good starting point for this style of deck.
Fleecemane Lion was awesome against the non-Courser of Kruphix decks, and unlike past iterations of Monsters that I've played, this deck basically never wants to board out its own Courser of Kruphix. Cards like Sorin, Solemn Visitor and Nissa, Worldwaker are so powerful in the midrange mirrors that having the 2/4 body to help protect them is very important; not to mention that we have a lot of removal and getting in the red zone is something that Courser of Kruphix is getting more accustomed to.
If our opponents aren't on Courser of Kruphix, our Fleecemane Lions allow us to participate in the tempo battle that is likely happening. Putting a sizable body onto the battlefield early that can get in some damage and threaten to take over games with its monstrosity ability is exactly what we're looking for. The initial list had a few copies of Rakshasa Deathdealer, but we couldn't really find a configuration we liked that included the two-drop but also allowed us to play Elvish Mystic and Nissa, Worldwaker - two cards that are kind of connected at the hip.
I think a big mistake in evaluating Rakshasa Deathdealer is the same one made with the initial evaluations of Goblin Rabblemaster--they don't really have to be in an aggressive shell to shine. They are both threats that can take over the game by themselves, and cards like that can be extremely powerful when placed alongside removal and/or disruption. Rakshasa Deathdealer is a bit more mana hungry to make sure it sticks around, but the payoff is a creature that the opponent must block every single turn.
I've spent the better part of the last year in a blissful civil union with Polukranos, World Eater, but I must say that it was real nice to be casting Siege Rhino. My initial reaction to the card was that it was going to be flat worse than Polukranos, but it's actually quite close. Trample is extremely relevant and the life swing can be very important, allowing you to be both aggressive and defensive at the same time. I can see a world where I actually play both Polukranos and Siege Rhino in the same deck. We did have a full eight four-drops in this deck, and maybe Polukranos is just better than Sorin, Solemn Visitor. Sorin did some pretty awesome stuff for me over the weekend, but Polukranos would have also done some amazing things.
Murderous Cut was very good, even in a deck like this that's not completely dedicated to taking advantage of it. Being able to remove a creature and play a threat of your own in the same turn can be completely game-breaking, and Murderous Cut is the spell that facilitates this the most. Along the same vein, Abzan Charm was also amazing and allowed me to do a lot of awesome things. Exiling large creatures is the obvious mode being used, but I also got to attack my Courser of Kruphix into opposing Coursers, grow my Siege Rhino for extra trample damage, and sometimes you just want to cast Night's Whisper.
The biggest mistake in the deckbuilding process was our sideboard.. Nyx-Fleece Ram was awful all day, and I wished that we would have just jammed a full four copies of Drown in Sorrow. Glare of Heresy was great, but Reclamation Sage never felt right and neither did the Ajani, Mentor of Heroes or Elspeth, Sun's Champion.
Green Devotion decks were a rough matchup, and we likely want something like End Hostilities or Duneblast as a way to break through. Wingmate Roc and Hornet Queen are also a bit troublesome so maybe Hushwing Gryff could be a card we want too.
Last Breath was another card that we didn't include that might also be correct. A lot of the other Abzan Midrange decks that did well were starting Brimaz, King of Oreskos. I don't really like him in the maindeck here, but I could definitely see him in the sideboard as a card to make the deck a bit leaner against the aggressive red-based decks.
As for the two winning decks from the weekend, I really like Kevin Jones' Jeskai Tempo deck.
Much like the Jeskai deck I tried, Kevin was all about the burn here. I completely missed Seeker of the Way when I first built the deck though, and I must say the card is complete gas in this deck. Even without the Titan's Strength that Jadine Klomparens played in her top 8 list, Seeker of the Way put in quite a bit of work for Kevin. It's proactive and makes it a nightmare for a deck to try to race you, which is quite convenient considering you are basically a burn deck and racing you is usually going to be the best course of action for your opponents to take.
I'm also totally digging the two copies of Steam Augury and Dig Through Time that Kevin opted to play. I was kinda sleeping on Dig Through Time, but after BBD dismantled me with the random Dig Through Times added to his Sultai Control deck, I was quite impressed.
A big issue that initially jumped in my mind when I first saw the list and the Seeker of the Way was getting through Courser of Kruphix. You have Stoke the Flames to kill it, but what else? The deck actually has quite a number of ways to get through a Courser outside of just not attacking with the Seeker of the Way and just jamming Mantis Riders. Jeskai Charm can always put Courser back on top of the deck, but Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker and Chandra, Pyromaster also let you kill or attack through Courser. There is also the play of just attacking your Seeker into the Courser.
Do they block?
You can even just use one spell that deals damage and kill it, and your Seeker will live due to the +1/+1 from prowess.
Oh and the deck has Goblin Rabblemaster and plenty of ways to clear the road? Must be!
I like Kevin's sideboard an awful lot. Narset, Enlightened Master seems awesome against the decks full of targeted removal, and Keranos, God of Storms is dutifully earning its $20.00 pricetag. The card I'm the most excited for is Ashcloud Phoenix. I'm continuing to be more and more impressed with the Phoenix and wouldn't be too surprised to see it start seeing more play in the main deck of different strategies.
With two copies of Jeskai Tempo strategies being in the Top 8 in New Jersey I definitely think that it's the real deal. Make sure you get your Mantis Riders now, even though they have already jumped in price, before they go up even further because the deck is sweet!
With it being a double Open Series weekend, we have results from New Jersey and Indianapolis to look at. The other winning deck on the weekend was an Abzan Midrange list from Samuel Valentine. This is really more of an Abzan Reanimator deck since he had a couple Whip of Erebos, but most of the time I imagine Sam was just casting his big monsters.
- 1 Ashen Rider
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 3 Hornet Queen
- 2 Necropolis Fiend
- 4 Satyr Wayfinder
- 4 Siege Rhino
- 4 Sylvan Caryatid
- 3 Nyx Weaver
The biggest payoff from this deck is how absurd Murderous Cut is alongside Commune with the Gods, Satyr Wayfinder, and Nyx Weaver. Rather than go blue here for Sidisi, Brood Tyrant like Brad Nelson and Todd Anderson opted to do, Samuel stayed the righteous course with Abzan so that he had access to Siege Rhino and Ashen Rider, which are pretty sweet cards to Whip back.
A lot of people have been sleeping on Necropolis Fiend, but I really like the card. In a deck like this, it will be a two-mana 4/5 flyer a lot of the time, and against the popular Green Devotion strategies, that 4/5 can and will kill just about every creature they have.
Hornet Queen is basically the best thing you can be doing with your mana right now, and this deck gets to reliably cast it and can Whip it back for even more value. There are few decks that can win if you get Hornet Queen out early enough and that usually involves a lot of burn or Anger of the Gods.
The last interesting card in the deck is Empty the Pits. I still think that a lot of people are underrating this card, and if you deck can cast it, it's a very powerful game-ending spell. With counterspells and control elements being almost nonexistent, cards like this that can just win the game feel like they are going to only get better and better.
Overall, I had an awesome time playing Khans of Tarkir Standard this weekend and look forward to playing some more. Unfortunately, that will have to wait another week, since this weekend I'm going to the most magical plane in the multiverse at Grand Prix Orlando. I haven't "played" a lot of Sealed, but I have been building pools like crazy and would like to share some insights into the format:
- I like to focus on an enemy color combination (U/R, G/B, B/W, U/G, W/R) and then "splash" the third for a clan and sometimes even splash an adjacent clan. i.e. Jeskai splash green for some Temur cards. A lot of times a splash is almost a free roll depending on which lands you get.
- Value seems to be king. Cards like Bear's Companion and Sultai Soothsayer have been very good and are likely worth splashing if/when you can.
- Ghostfire Blade is much better than people are giving it credit for. The +2 on the toughness is huge.
- The one-mana outlast creatures are very good, especially the flying one, Abzan Falconer.
- Even with everyone playing a bunch of lands that come into play tapped, I've been having a tough time making straight aggressive decks work.
- I've been very happy with the delve creatures, especially Hooting Mandrills.
- Play the Charms.
- Banners have felt super clunky and have only felt good in four and five color decks that are desperately trying to get to the end game with lots of expensive bombs.
- Learn the tricks and play around then sufficiently. Letting your opponent get the most out of their tricks is a death sentence.
Much like full Return to Ravnica Block Limited, Khans of Tarkir Sealed looks to be interesting, fun, and extremely challenging. I can't wait until this Friday when I get to build and battle on SCGLive with BBD for our Live GP Orlando edition of BBD vs CVM. If you're gonna be there, make sure you say hi and show me that you are representing #TeamCVM, the best team obviously.