While Modern is more important to me at the moment because of #PTOGW, I can't turn down a Standard event after a new set has been released. Plus, I'm still on the SCG Tour® Leaderboard somehow -- I gotta take advantage of those two byes.
The last two times I was in this spot, I wrote about my deck of choice. However, this time I'm not locked into a deck quite yet. Two decks currently have my attention.
G/R Eldrazi Ramp
- 4 Hangarback Walker
- 4 Sylvan Advocate
- 4 World Breaker
- 1 Kozilek, the Great Distortion
- 2 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
The main departure from previous lists is my inclusion of two Wastes. At first, I was running Brad Nelson's Crumbling Vestiges from his recent VS Video, but I was running out of lands to fetch with Explosive Vegetation and Nissa's Pilgrimage very early. There were also multiple times where I had ten mana but didn't actually have the colorless mana necessary to cast Kozilek, the Great Distortion!
The deck has fifteen green sources, and while that's a tad lower than I'd like, it's enough because you only need one to get the party started. Now we have four additional basics from Brad's original list, some of which are fetchable via Map the Wastes and Explosive Vegetation. Having reliable colorless is important because of Kozilek, World Breaker, and whatever colorless monsters we want to play in the sideboard.
My Cinder Glade might look somewhat odd because other people don't seem to play it, but if your only colored source is a Wooded Foothills, you'd prefer to fetch that over a Forest or Mountain. In the VS Video Brad did against Tom, not having that Cinder Glade cost him a couple times. With the additional basic lands, it shouldn't cost me very often, if at all.
At first, I tried Ruin in Their Wake and couldn't get it to work effectively. You can build a manabase with Evolving Wilds and Fertile Thicket, but it rarely came together for me. On top of that, you have to shave green sources and your powerful lands like Sanctum of Ugin and Shrine of the Forsaken Gods to fit in all the Wastes.
One of the most awkward parts of the whole thing was where I'd actually accelerate with Ruin but end up a mana short to cast a big spell because I didn't have a Shrine of the Forsaken Gods. The Sanctum of Ugins are too important for grinding and the Shrine of the Forsaken Gods are too important for the incidental ramping they give you. If you have to cut either of those to fit in Ruins, then it doesn't seem worth it. In those games, if I had a Shrine instead of a Ruin, I would have been in the same situation mana-wise, but I wouldn't have had to spend the mana to cast the ramp spell.
Instead of accelerating on the second turn, perhaps we need a different way to bridge the gap. Mark Nestico's Sylvan Advocates are pretty tight, especially with Map the Wastes putting it out of "flashback" Kozilek's Return range, and they go well with the sideboard beatdown plan with Reality Smashers and Thought-Knot Seers. Rather than focus on accelerating, we can simply play a stopper that will not only buy us time. At that point, it slows the game down enough to make it feel like we accelerated in the first place, but is also a potent threat in the late game.
The big question mark is the Rally the Ancestors matchup. I believe that it's pretty bad, assuming both players get to do their thing. Using land destruction like World Breaker and Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger to blow up their white sources is basically your plan. There are some games where you can catch them with their pants down with Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, but that doesn't seem likely. All they need is a Nantuko Husk in play to sacrifice all their things and potentially kill you with a Rally on the following turn.
Alternatively, they can simply cast Collected Company at your end of turn, attack down your Ugin, and proceed with the game. Those games are easier to win because their graveyard is likely empty and you're close to resolving an Ulamog, but again, it doesn't happen very often. They even have Catacomb Sifter and face-down Grim Haruspex to further put a wrench in your plans.
Kozilek's Return is great some of the time, but they can often set up a board position where they get to draw a bunch of cards with Grim Haruspex and/or drain you a few times with Zulaport Cutthroat. At that point, a Rally is probably lethal.
We could change the Wooded Foothills to Windswept Heaths, add a Canopy Vista, and sideboard a Plains and four Hallowed Moonlights, but I don't like that plan. Hallowed Moonlight does not KO the Rally deck, nor does it even really make a dent.
Keeping mana open, especially in a (mostly) sorcery-speed deck, is not easy, nor is it free. If they can sniff out your Hallowed Moonlight, which should be relatively easy ("What is he splashing white for? Why does he keep leaving open two mana?"), they can simply add to the board instead of casting their Collected Company or going for the kill with Rally. They could also fire off a Collected Company at your end step to bait out the Hallowed Moonlight, untap, and Rally or whatever they actually wanted to do.
I considered the splash, but I don't think it does anything.
Overall, the matchup does not seem good, but I haven't gotten in enough games against it to say for sure. I think the land destruction aspect is the best way to go, so I'm sideboarding Crumble to Dust, both for Rally and the mirror match.
There are also many ways to build these ramp decks and I don't think I have enough time to figure it out.
With all the worrying about the Rally deck, it should be no surprise that it's my other option. Similarly to the G/R Eldrazi Ramp deck, there are too many ways to build this deck and I don't have enough time. That said, I think it's possible that even if my lists aren't good, it's going to be harder to get Rally wrong.
This is where I'm at:
- 2 Catacomb Sifter
- 4 Elvish Visionary
- 3 Grim Haruspex
- 4 Nantuko Husk
- 3 Reflector Mage
- 3 Sidisi's Faithful
- 4 Zulaport Cutthroat
- 1 Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim
- 4 Jace, Vryn's Prodigy
If you want to get in-depth on this archetype, check out Ari's article from yesterday.
Rally won the last Standard Grand Prix and is being hyped as the best deck in Standard, at least prior to Oath of the Gatewatch. Things are certainly going to change, but by how much? That's kind of the question right now. With Rally getting so much hype, will people want to latch onto the cool new thing or will they want to try a brew with some new cards? Both Ramp and Rally are great against brews, and neither deck is truly affected by hate cards.
My last-minute testing will likely decide my choice. If Ramp can't beat Rally consistently, then I'll probably play Rally. I'll rely on Michael Majors for a good list, and hopefully that doesn't include the Palace Familiars I've seen him proxying up. [Copy Editor's note: I have some bad news for you…]
Anyway, there's not much of a difference between this deck and other Rally decks out there. Reflector Mage and Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim are both solid pick-ups from the new set, but it's hard to tell if they are actually upgrades. Reflector Mage has been unbelievably good in a bunch of different spots, and while Ayli has been medium, there are definitely games where you go nuts with her.
Trimming on Catacomb Sifter could be dangerous. The scry effect is necessary at times to find a second Rally the Ancestors off your first Rally. Something had to give to make way for Reflector Mage, but cutting part of the engine is probably not correct. It's possible that Reflector Mage is better off in the Fleshbag Marauder / Merciless Executioner sideboard slot.
You can make bold choices with your Rally decklist by streamlining things to Esper splashing Collected Company or Bant splashing some of the black cards, but I don't think it's wise. The deck is successful for a reason, so doing something like cutting Elvish Visionary (or even Catacomb Sifter) is kind of ludicrous to me. Each card in the deck does something so powerful and unique that you kind of need them all.
Sidisi's Faithful gives you time, gives a bunch of different lines off Rally, fills holes on your curve, and is a sick fourth-turn play alongside Grim Haruspex. It's also the only card in the maindeck that deals with Anafenza, the Foremost or Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet on the cheap, allowing you to have a potentially big turn.
Catacomb Sifter helps you scry toward the missing combo piece.
Nantuko Husk is your sacrifice effect that saves your creatures from exile effects.
Liliana, Heretical Healer is incredibly powerful, and it's entirely possible that it's worth skewing the manabase just to fit her. Evolving Wilds does its job well but is entirely medium most of the time, so those could probably go for some Wooded Foothills or something.
Right now, the deck wants WWUBG, which is a tall order, so adding another colored mana symbol to those requirements seems suspect at best. It's also very difficult to curve out with Liliana, as many of your best curves involve a Battle land into basic into basic. In those situations, if you are able to cast Liliana, that means you're missing a color, which is definitely bad for business.
Rally and G/R Eldrazi Ramp aren't very exciting deck choices, but I'm trying to win!
Despite there being sweet Eldrazi Aggro decks and Reckless Bushwhacker and a bunch of other awesome cards, I don't feel like any of those decks beats both Rally and Ramp. I do think a Jeskai or Esper deck could be tuned to beat them though. Counterspells help, but Monastery Mentor is not nearly as backbreaking as it once was thanks to Kozilek's Return. Granted, cards like Dispel and Duress help against that, but that's only if you can also keep them off a seven-mana monster.
Against Rally, it's possible that a Reflector Mage on Monastery Mentor buys them enough time to play out their spells, get a board advantage, and either value you out or put together a lethal Rally. Monastery Mentor just got a whole lot worse, but it's not like we have any better options.
Infinite Obliteration isn't cutting it. By the end of the SCG Classic at #SCGCHAR, I wasn't even boarding in Infinite Obliteration against Rally anymore. Preventing them from combo-killing you is fine and all, but I would still probably lose to a value Rally anyway.
I've got a long drive ahead of me, and that's when the Jeskai/Esper brewing will commence.
For now, I leave you with a Boat Brew of sorts.
The sideboard is likely medium, but the rest of this deck is... Also medium.
I find it hard to believe that such a deck could beat G/R Eldrazi Ramp or Rally, let alone both. However, this type of deck would have been pretty good during the majority of last season. There's always a chance the metagame swings back around at some point. Either way, Gideon and his Oath are pretty awesome together and Reckless Bushwhacker is very powerful, so here we are.
If I miss the mark on the metagame entirely, it shouldn't be the end of my tournament. My current plan is to figure things out as best I can, and if that fails, I'll trust in Michael Majors. Regardless, I'll be playing something proactive and powerful, so even if I've got the wrong cards, I still have the right plan.