While the Open Series took this past weekend off and the North American Grand Prix circuit was showcasing Dragons of Tarkir Limited in Atlantic City, Standard was still alive and well across the pond in The City of Lights. The format has started to settle, with the top finishers at Grand Prix Paris including quite a few established decks and not as many surprises as we've seen over the past month. That said, there were still several spicy numbers that stood out from the pack, featuring one of my favorite new cards - Collected Company.
Let's take a look, shall we?
Finalist Zan Syed took this list into battle:
- 4 Deathmist Raptor
- 4 Den Protector
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 4 Fleecemane Lion
- 2 Hidden Dragonslayer
- 2 Warden of the First Tree
- 4 Courser of Kruphix
Now while all of the elements of this deck may look familiar, what's interesting to me is putting all of them together in one place. I've played a lot of Deathmist Raptor + Den Protector decks since the Pro Tour - in fact, that's pretty much all I've played - so I'm keenly aware of their strengths and of their weaknesses.
One of those weaknesses has always been breaking through stalemates. While Deathmist Raptor and Den Protector offer a lot of resilience to removal effects due to graveyard recursion, they aren't great at getting past major roadblocks like Elspeth, Sun's Champion or a monstrous Fleecemane Lion. At the Pro Tour itself, I played Wingmate Roc as my solution to this, hoping that I could fly over the scrum on the ground. I also played Boon Satyr in the hopes that I could combine it with Den Protector to get in at least one big virtually unblockable attack to kill Elspeth, or possibly my opponent. Unfortunately, both of those plans can run afoul of removal, which happens to be plentiful in the Abzan decks that typically play Elspeth and Fleecemane Lion.
Zan's stalemate plan, on the other hand, is Mastery of the Unseen. We've seen a lot of Mastery of the Unseen before out of G/W Devotion decks, which use the card alongside a lot of mana creatures and Nykthos to churn out endless manifests. Here, the card isn't nearly as explosive, but it offers a mid-lategame mana sink that can help the deck generate enough threats to break through in a stalemate.
While I have really enjoyed the explosive finishing potential of Boon Satyr with Den Protector, I definitely think that once you add Mastery of the Unseen to the mix, it absolutely makes sense to play Courser of Kruphix instead. Not only does Mastery give the deck a way to leverage the additional lands you're sure to end up with thanks to Courser, but being able to play the lands off the top of your deck can help ensure that you get quality manifests with your activations. Courser is also a card I'm much happier to play on turn two off of an Elvish Mystic, especially in a format with more aggro and midrange than control decks. While Boon Satyr is nice as an instant speed threat or combat trick, Courser fits much better into this deck's plan once Mastery is in the mix - especially since you have more ways to grow your team at instant speed in Collected Company.
It's the combination of both Mastery of the Unseen and Collected Company here that made this deck catch my attention. I actually played several copies of each in my sideboard at Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir to combat control decks, but Zan went all out with both in the maindeck. The combination gives his deck much more staying power than the average green creature deck, especially in combination with the Deathmist Raptor + Den Protector engine - which here is even supplemented by two copies of Hidden Dragonslayer! Extra morphs make the manifests from Mastery of the Unseen that much more likely to be powerful, while Mastery itself helps ensure that you keep your Raptors in play where they belong.
Hidden Dragonslayer is a card that I also experimented with for the Pro Tour, but ultimately cut from my deck because it felt like it was just a bit too slow. But that was in a different deck, one that was looking to close games out quickly. Comparatively, this deck that has slowed down a bit and taken on more of a midrange than aggro stance, and I can certainly see it belonging here. It's worth keeping in mind that Hidden Dragonslayer is a totally fine creature to just play face up against red decks as a two-drop lifelinker to trade with Zurgo or something similar. Just because you can play it face down doesn't mean you have to!
I do feel like the full four copies of Collected Company feel like they might be a bit much with this deck's creature base. Between Hidden Dragonslayer, Den Protector, Warden of the First Tree, and Elvish Mystic, there are a lot of low-impact hits. In fact, you're only really happy to hit Fleecemane Lion, Deathmist Raptor, and Courser of Kruphix, with the value of the latter somewhat questionable by the middle stages of the game. I could easily see cutting one copy of Collected Company from the deck, or perhaps reworking some of the creature base to improve the strength of the card. The mana could definitely work to support at least one copy of Brimaz, which might be better than one of the Wardens or the fourth Courser of Kruphix.
One card I'd really like to see in the deck is Ajani Steadfast. I talked about how much I'd liked Ajani in the G/W decks I was playing last week, but I think it's even better here. Ajani works particularly well alongside cards that generate multiple creatures, as I learned when I used it with Collected Company. It feels like it could be even more powerful with Mastery of the Unseen since you can end up with a huge army of creatures, making the -2 ability an even bigger swing.
I think I might try a list something like this:
- 4 Deathmist Raptor
- 4 Den Protector
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 4 Fleecemane Lion
- 1 Hidden Dragonslayer
- 1 Warden of the First Tree
- 4 Courser of Kruphix
- 2 Brimaz, King of Oreskos
I cut one each of Warden of the First Tree and Hidden Dragonslayer for two copies of Brimaz for a little more natural power, and one each of Mastery of the Unseen and Collected Company for two copies of Ajani Steadfast to power up the team. It's possible that cutting the spells is a mistake since they make up the core of the deck's strength in a lot of matchups, but multiple copies of Mastery are clearly redundant, and Collected Company seems lackluster with so many cards that are better off coming into play face-down.
I moved one of the Masteries to the sideboard for grindy matchups and added two copies of Glare of Heresy, which are very powerful with Den Protector to help deal with many of the major threats like Elspeth out of Abzan decks, where I feel this deck may struggle somewhat. To make room, I cut the Hornet Nests since this deck feels like it should be quite strong against ground-based attacking decks, especially with three Arashin Clerics ready to come in from the sideboard against red aggro. The addition of Brimaz should make game 1 stronger against many of the decks where you'd want Hornet Nest to begin with.
Whether these changes are an improvement on Zan's list remains to be seen, but I feel confident that his version is an improvement on what G/W lists have looked like up until now. This Standard format is not one that is kind to aggressive decks that try to rush their opponents down without burn to back it up. The megamorph shell is more naturally at home in a midrange deck, and that's really the direction these changes take things.
But if you're looking to be a little more aggressive with Collected Company, this next deck just might be for you:
- 4 Fleecemane Lion
- 4 Goblin Rabblemaster
- 4 Mantis Rider
- 3 Rattleclaw Mystic
- 4 Savage Knuckleblade
- 3 Seeker of the Way
When I played against this deck in the first round of my recent Standard video and my opponent played a Frontier Biviouac and then a Temple of Triumph, I had absolutely no idea what to expect. Having seen the list since, however, I have to say that I love what it's trying to do.
Any time Standard has a strong multicolor theme, there are always decks that push the limits of what the mana allows in order to leverage as many of the powerful cards as possible. That's how we ended up with Bant decks splashing Kessig Wolf Run or Nephalia Drownyard back in Return to Ravnica block, or decks with both Boggart Ram Gang and Cryptic Command courtesy of Vivid lands and Reflecting Pools in Lorwyn block. Gold cards, by virtue of being more difficult to cast, are typically more powerful than their monocolored counterparts, so finding a way to jam as many of them as possible into the same deck is often a viable way to find something powerful.
Khans block gave us a cycle of powerful rare tri-color creatures that have served as the centerpieces for quite a few decks. There's the ever-present Siege Rhino of Abzan, the graveyard-filling Sidisi, Brood Tyrant of Sultai, Butcher of the Horde for Mardu, Mantis Rider for Jeskai, and Savage Knuckleblade for Temur. All of these are much more powerful than the average creature of their converted mana cost, with the price that they require a heavy commitment to their appropriate clan to play.
I tried many times early on to find a home for Savage Knuckleblade, but all of the rest of the supporting cast really wanted to be cast off of Elvish Mystics, which have a hard time actually playing Knuckleblades. But it turns out if you build the rest of your creature base from other powerful multi-colored creatures, you get a ton of power without using Elvish Mystic at all.
Collected Company is the glue that holds the rag-tag band together. While the Collected Company resolutions in the G/W deck we looked at earlier aren't likely to be especially impressive, in this deck they're outrageously powerful. Cards like Savage Knuckleblade and Mantis Rider are definitely on the high end of value when it comes to three cost creatures, and you could easily Collected Company into one of each! When Goblin Rabblemaster is among your less impressive hits, you know the card is powerful in your deck.
One thing that strikes me as especially interesting about Collected Company in this deck is that you'll often want to play it during your main phase, unlike the vast majority of other decks using the card. With Mantis Rider, Savage Knuckleblade, and Goblin Rabblemaster all generating attackers the turn they hit the battlefield, you'll definitely want to think twice before just passing the turn with four mana open and Collected Company in hand. If you're able to leave up a single red mana, you have a big chance of being able to send something into the red zone that turn.
While the manabase of any deck looking to cast so many gold spells is going to be painful, I like the fact that Yohan is playing Seeker of the Way to help mitigate that damage. I've actually been more impressed than I thought I would be by Seeker in largely creature-based decks, especially those with Dromoka's Command, which Yohan also managed to squeeze in.
The cards here that I'm really curious about are the two Ojutai's Commands. I do like the fact that you can hold up mana to threaten Collected Company and potentially counter a creature with upside, but I feel like that might be a bit too fancy. This deck has a lot of lands that enter the battlefield tapped and quite a lot of power from Collected Company and its creature base already. I feel like Ojutai's Command might be better served as a cheaper form of interaction, especially since the deck is playing Stoke the Flames rather than something like Lightning Strike. While this deck definitely feels like it has the tools to press an advantage very well, it seems like it might have difficulty coming back when it's behind. This makes me think something like Lightning Strike might be a better choice for that slot.
In any case, I love the fact that a deck like this is possible. We've seen Collected Company used in any number of awesome new ways since its release, from generating tons of blue devotion to pairing Mantis Rider and Savage Knuckleblade to just a solid end step value-laden threat. It's a card that I'm excited to explore more - not just in Standard, but in Modern as well. End step Knight of the Reliquary anyone?
But that, my friends, is a story for another time.