It is not uncommon during spoiler season for pros and amateurs alike to misjudge new cards, especially unique effects. After all, we are trying to rate these cards both in the abstract of the rest of the set (or at least some of it) and without ever playing a game with them. It is less common for those making these judgments to admit to being wrong later on.
I was very, very wrong about Collected Company.
When writing about Dragons of Tarkir I didn't include it in my article because I didn't think it had enough potential for fun. The way I looked at it, for four mana we were occasionally saving two mana, and very often none at all. Sure a deck could be built around the card, but that felt like we would be leaving too much value on the table with so many powerful creatures at four mana and up. There was a Modern deck using the Kitchen Finks combo engine that could make use of Collected Company, but other than that, it seemed doomed to be one of those cute niche cards that never sees any serious play.
Normally I love that sort of card and spend way too much time trying to make them good, but for some reason Collected Company never appealed to me. Maybe it wasn't flashy enough for me, maybe I was tired of trying to make bad cards good, or maybe I just hadn't had enough coffee that morning (smart money is on the last one, by the way). I did try a single copy in the Strength from the Fallen green devotion deck (didn't draw it enough to have an opinion) and a friend played it in Abzan Aggro, but there was no huge draw to it.
Planning as I am to attend GP Providence (which will be my first as a player), I need a deck that is both good and fun. I don't do well with blue-based control decks, so Esper Dragons or Flores Mono-Blue Dragons are both out of the running. If I can't play combo (and I can't, Heroic is the closest thing, and I really hate that deck) I want to be playing something explosive. I was looking at some form of G/W Aggro until Craig Wescoe's GP Toronto creation came across my radar:
- 4 Deathmist Raptor
- 4 Den Protector
- 3 Elvish Mystic
- 4 Fleecemane Lion
- 3 Seeker of the Way
- 1 Warden of the First Tree
- 4 Courser of Kruphix
- 3 Brimaz, King of Oreskos
By the way, at no point will we be referring to the card as "CoCo." The less I have to think about that particular person, the better.
Wescoe was able to top 8 with the deck largely based on its strong matchup with Esper Dragons and its ability to beat red decks. Courser of Kruphix is really strong here, both allowing you to get an idea of some of your Company hits and also to help clear land out of your top six. Brimaz is a game-winner on its own, and of course, every green deck under the sun is running the Den Protector + Deathmist Raptor tag team.
Having watched a good friend play this deck at a Pre-TQ this past weekend, agonizingly drawing his win-and-in against Sultai Reanimator, I am not particularly enamored with a couple of ideas. Chief among them is that although you are unlikely to technically whiff on a Company, you will often hit a Den Protector and a second Brimaz (for example) or an Elvish Mystic and a Courser of Kruphix. The Den Protector engine is only any good when you're unmorphing them, preferably bringing another one back to hand. Added to the Mystics and the often-unexciting Coursers, we find ourselves with about half our hits being less than impressive.
What Wescoe has done is ensure that Collected Company is not the be-all and end-all of the deck, playing the morph team to give him staying power and some powerful low-end drops in Brimaz and Fleecemane to ensure he can apply early pressure. You're left with a stronger deck overall, but it's one that lacks the sizzle and the game-winning punches that I like to have in my decks. Generally that doesn't come without risk, but I'm fine with taking risks.
You know who else likes to take risks? Yohan Dudognon.
- 4 Fleecemane Lion
- 4 Goblin Rabblemaster
- 4 Mantis Rider
- 3 Rattleclaw Mystic
- 4 Savage Knuckleblade
- 3 Seeker of the Way
Now this is more my style! Instead of some powerful hits and some very mediocre ones, we're hitting some real gems off every Collected Company we cast here. With Mantis Rider and Savage Knuckleblade both being hasty, we don't even have to end-step the Company to get the beats in right away. After a 9-0 start with this baby at GP Paris, Dudognon finished 11th at 12-3. Although we can attribute some of that to surprise value, this deck looks and feels sweet. The number of tricky CCC mana costs are not free, and they do put us a little more all-in on Collected Company (or our manabase), but that's the price we have to pay for an increased power level.
It might not be immediately obvious why the spell assortment is what it is. It took me a little while to see it, but we're all about holding up four mana. Sure, we might be casting Collected Company in your end step, but maybe I just want to draw a card and reanimate a Fleecemane Lion. Maybe I want to Stoke your face, then untap and cast Company to hit some hasters. I'm a little dubious about the 2/2 split on Dromoka's Command and Valorous Stance, and the one-of Elspeth (which seems really out of place here) could easily become a third copy of either card.
That said, I am loath to make changes without increasing our creature count. Right now we have 22 hits on Collected Company, which gives us a very high chance of getting two creatures. I am no number scientist, but adding more creatures would seem to increase our chances to hit. I can also see some minor tweaks to the creature lineup, though I think doing so does change the nature of our list somewhat. The first of those changes would be to cut Seeker of the Way. Generally, I am not a fan of Seeker unless I am casting multiple spells per turn. Although it interacts beautifully with Dromoka's Command and can be brought back with Ojutai's Command, I feel like we can do better at the two-drop slot. I'm also losing respect for Goblin Rabblemaster. Yes it's an "I Win" button sometimes, especially when an opponent stumbles, but the card is not hard to deal with in a high percentage of scenarios.
The question then becomes not "what can we cut?" but "what can we add?" Is the Wins Above Replacement (WAR) high enough on, for example, Heir of the Wilds to warrant bringing it in over Seeker? Are we even in the right base colours? Can we stretch to a fifth? Is this the end for our Caped Crusader? Has the Clown Prince of Crime finally got the better of him? Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?
Let's start with the easiest one: colour. Adding or switching to black gives us Anafenza, the Foremost and Rakshasa Deathdealer, but it probably means more pain from our lands or cutting something else. We might be able to stretch to just adding Anafenza and hoping Mana Confluence and a couple of tri-lands (probably switching a Frontier Bivouac and Mystic Monastery for an Opulent Palace and Nomad Outpost) are enough to get us there. I am not excited by this prospect. The reward is not worth the cost; as good as Anafenza is, she doesn't have haste and is a nonbo with Mantis Rider. There may well be a deck that wants Anafenza and Collected Company, but it's not this one. Even if she does hose Deathmist Raptors.
So we've ruled out black. What options does that leave us? Well, quite a few as it turns out. We have seven slots maximum to fill, and four colours to dig through to find the optimal WAR. White gives us the following options:
Brimaz, King of Oreskos - Powerful, game-winning, and resilient, but as a legendary creature, we never want to hit multiples. Maybe a singleton, but it's hard to cast without Company.
Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit - Also legendary, and reliant on having other creatures after her. As she's almost never coming down on turn 2, that becomes less likely.
Dromoka Captain - An intriguing idea, but the flimsy starting body is a concern. Once it gets going, it's very powerful. On the short list.
Sandcrafter Mage - Marginal upside. If the body were better, this would be a front-runner, but a 2/2 for three is not exciting anyone.
Wandering Champion - Fragile, but the rummage ability will usually be turned on. Might even trade up.
Chasm Skulker - Probably not, we're hoping the game will be over before Skulker gets to a decent size.
Crystalline Nautilus - Actually better than I thought. If it had evasion, I would be all over it. The ability to act as removal should not be overlooked.
Frost Lynx - I do like tempo, and the potential to lock an Ojutai down mid-combat is appealing for sure. Strong candidate right now.
Illusory Angel - Nautilus with evasion, harder to cast but harder to kill too.
Shorecrasher Elemental - The UUU mana cost is intimidating, but it needn't be since we can always morph it. The abilities are appealing and there are other reasons to want this card…
Shu Yun, the Silent Tempest - A very powerful card that I feel is on the cusp of breaking through, but as with Seeker, I'm not sure we have enough spells in the deck to warrant the inclusion. The extra mana investment does yield an impressive result but may be tough to find. Another potential one-of.
Thassa, God of the Sea - The other reason to play Shorecrasher Elemental. No question she's a powerful card, but we need to be reliable get her active, and with Dromoka's Command and Abzan Charm being prevalent, she's less indestructible than ever. Scry and unblockable are really nice, however.
Alesha, Who Smiles at Death - One day I will make her work, but this isn't the day.
Flamewake Phoenix - As the list stands, we don't have enough four-power dudes to make this viable, but if that ends up changing (either with prowess/bolster or just bigger dudes) then the appeal goes way up. Resilience is important, and the Phoenix dodges Abzan Charm too, which is key.
Prophetic Flamespeaker - Another card that should be way better than it is based on its text box, but that one power really hurts it. Not sure it's what we want to be doing.
A shorter list, but Flamewake Phoenix really intrigues me. I haven't given up on Archetype of Aggression either, as denying my opponents the ability to trample is a powerful motivator. Since we've largely ruled out black (though I still have this urge to try Anafenza...), we'll move to green.
Abzan Beastmaster - As bad as this card looks even to me, I think there might be a case for this out of the sideboard. It's very powerful against control to the point that they have to kill it, which draws removal away from your more potent attacking threats.
Avatar of the Resolute - Despite the fact that nobody ever remembers it has reach, I don't think we want the Avatar here. Mana cost is a real consideration, and we are low on counters to pump him.
Courser of Kruphix - Not the right deck for it. Don't get me wrong, Courser is incredibly powerful, but we are looking for good offensive threats, and Courser isn't one.
Deathmist Raptor - With the lack of other morphs in the deck, we are left with the question "is a 3/3 deathtoucher for three that can sometimes be a 4/4 worth the slot?" I don't hate it, but I think we can find a better solution.
Heir of the Wilds - If we subscribe to the theory that we should only replace Seeker of the Way with another two-drop, I think we'll be hard-pressed to find a better candidate for the job. That said, I think the deck needs a couple more ferocious enablers to make the Heir worth-Wilds.
Salt Road Quartermasters - Often with this deck we want to keep mana open. The ability to threaten Dromoka's Command and Valorous Stance is potent, and it conveniently allows us to bluff both Collected Company and Ojutai's Command. Moving counters is another trick we can represent, but the value is limited after the first one.
Yasova Dragonclaw - If we can get a counter on her, she gets a lot better since she can steal Siege Rhinos and Stormbreath Dragons. As a 4/2 she's fine, especially early against Abzan Aggro, but fragile. The legendary consideration also comes into play.
So far I haven't seen anything that jumped out at me. Fortunately, we have a whole load of multicolored stuff to look at. A lot of it is higher than CMC 3, but there are still some considerations:
Anax and Cymede - We don't have enough targeted effects. Good card, never got a chance, not getting one here.
Daxos of Meletis - One of my pet cards, I just don't think this is his time. Had it not been for Courser of Kruphix blocking him all day, Daxos might have been a real contender. As it stands...he isn't.
The competition at the two slot is really thin, so Heir of the Wilds is a shoe-in. I tried the deck out a bit this past week or so and so far, Fanatic of Xenagos feels like our best bet. Stormbreath Dragon has been a challenge, but the threat of making your Hornet Nest fight something at instant speed to get blockers is a real one. I am starting to really like the idea of Frost Lynx in the sideboard as a mid-combat trick (requiring a lucky Company, of course) to take care of things like Stormbreath, but Silumgar Sorcerer might also fill that role.
Initial testing has told me that this deck is always in a better position than you think it is. The choice of spells is not accidental. For someone heading to his first GP in a month, that's a great place to be. It might not be my brew, but it is a brew. More tweaking is required, but we'll get there.
Stick it to 'em
As an aside, I posted this image on social media on Thursday evening:
Since then I have had multiple requests for the decklist, so here it is. Fair warning: This deck will make people hate you, will take most of the round, and will make you question if you are really a good person. I give you the deck I call "CounterTopless."
How do you win, you ask? Simply by milling the opponent, one card at a time. Denying them anything useful. Keeping both hands empty. Basically, you bore them to death. Don't say I didn't warn you!
Although I am preparing for GP Providence, I will still be brewing up fun decks to try out at FNM. I like to keep one night free from serious competitive play, and FNM is the best way to do that.
Thanks for stopping by my friends, and until next time...Brew On!