Card evaluation is hard. You can look at a card, read it a dozen times, and still think it is terrible…only for someone else to see something in it that breaks the format wide open. Power levels are sometimes discernible from text boxes and mana costs, but most often, you need to try the cards before you know if they are as good or as bad as they look.
The difference between a brewer and everyone else is that the brewer looks longer, deeper, and wider. Where most people stick with cards they know to be top-tier (likely because they have seen others having success with them), a brewer will consider almost anything. Most pro teams have a couple of brewers on the roster for this very reason: to find that elusive sideboard card, mirror-breaking technology, or format-busting shell. They then turn it over to the tuners to make the idea a reality.
Over the last few years I have been able to refine my searching somewhat to get a loose set of rules in place for new cards. To enumerate these rules is an article in itself, but one of them is to look for effects that break a fundamental “rule” of tournament Magic. No, I am not suggesting that you cheat. I mean to say that we are looking for ways to get around “aggro decks cannot beat a battlefield wipe” or “control decks lose to Burn.” Often the cards that do this will involve some new effect or mechanic. Like investigate.
Let Bygones be Bygones
I have seen very little chatter about Bygone Bishop, which strikes me as an oversight. At its base is a body we are happy to have in Limited, but that does not exactly blow us away for Constructed. Evasion is always nice, and flying is still the most reliable method of, well, evading. The really attractive part is the one that breaks one of those fundamental “rules” I mentioned earlier – that aggressive decks peter out and sputter once they empty their hand.
Unlike cards like Asylum Visitor and Sin Prodder that tie your card draw to a creature that needs to stay alive for multiple turns, the Bishop simply stores your card draws for when you need them. To earn these draws, all you need to do is what you were going to do anyway: cast cheap creatures. We don't even need them to resolve to get those Clue tokens, though the Bishop does need to be alive to trigger, of course. However, unlike the other cards I mentioned, we don't need to take the card draw right away. Later in the game, when we are drawing on an empty hand and have nowhere to spend our mana, we can start cracking those Clues to refuel. In theory, that sort of card draw should be enough to match what our sadistic control-playing opponents can pull off.
Tracker's Gonna Lead the Mission
Wow, that line works on so many levels.
Like any good Bishop, our Bygone friend is not coming to this battle alone. In fact, at the very same converted mana cost is another powerful creature that not only allows us to refuel later in the game but also can become very large, very quickly. We've seen the power of Tireless Tracker in multiple decks early in the season, and if we combine it with other cards that generate Clues, the power level can get even higher. Much like the Bishop, we are getting rewarded for something we were going to do anyway, in this case simply playing lands.
The reason Tireless Tracker is seeing more play than Bygone Bishop right now is because the Bishop does not interact so well with Collected Company. When we can get five or six mana in creatures for a mere four mana, and at instant speed to boot, the temptation to just jam Company in any deck with a large number of three-and-below-cost creatures is huge. It's also probably correct, given how powerful the strategy has proven to be.
Gadget or Clouseau?
I for one did not have Thraben Inspector as a card that would be so heavily played in Standard when I saw it, and yet here we are. It's a one-mana Human, which explains the success in the hyper-aggressive white decks, but it's also a 1/2 that will often become a 2/3 with ease in the decks that play it. Thalia's Lieutenant, Dromoka's Command, and Always Watching all get our favorite Inspector to the magical size we need to be relevant in this format.
The Clue is the big reason to play this card, though, setting up a sacrifice later in the game to buff our Tracker or to help us dig later on. Having that Clue early for no real additional cost can be huge later on as we can make sure we get to use all of our mana on a turn where we would otherwise leave two untapped. Better still, having two Clues to crack conveniently costs exactly the same as...Collected Company. Well, isn't that nice.
In the Company of Humans
So we like investigating, and we like a couple of Humans, and we like Collected Company. The Humans decks currently seeing play don't really do it for me, if I am being honest. Oh, sure, I know they are good, but aggro and I are not friends. How can we combine these things without just ending up on Bant Company?
Well, it turns out we can play a different color with green and white and still have a solid and powerful engine! I present to you my latest brew.
- 1 Arashin Foremost
- 3 Duskwatch Recruiter
- 2 Hanweir Militia Captain
- 2 Hidden Dragonslayer
- 1 Iroas's Champion
- 3 Knight of the White Orchid
- 1 Lantern Scout
- 4 Sylvan Advocate
- 4 Thalia's Lieutenant
- 4 Thraben Inspector
- 3 Tireless Tracker
- 2 Archangel Avacyn
- 2 Odric, Lunarch Marshal
- 1 Sigarda, Heron's Grace
My friend Mike and I came up with the shell of this deck one afternoon, and I casually mentioned that Odric Lunarch Marshal was a Human. Mike is accustomed to my terrible ideas, but this time he did not dismiss my semi-serious suggestion out of hand. When that happens, it generally means I am either onto something, or he fell asleep at the keyboard.
As he then went on to say something else, I assumed the latter and added it. To say I have not been disappointed is not entirely accurate, because every time I see him on a Collected Company, I find myself being sad I won't draw him any time soon. I have added a second and many of the creature choices were made with an eye to maximizing the abilities that Odric can share with the team. I don't think more than two is necessary, but one felt like I always wished I could draw it to win the game.
Sigarda, Heron's Grace is surprisingly good against a lot of things. She protects most of the deck from Bounding Krasis and Reflector Mage, the tokens she makes are Humans, and giving us hexproof protects against a bunch of stuff you might not think about: Thought-Knot Seer, Sphinx's Tutelage, discard spells, Fall of the Titans, and even Foul-Tongue Invocation. She also hits for four and gives the team flying when Odric is on the battlefield. Minor bonuses.
Iroas's Champion was not a card I even remembered when we put the shell together, and I have Roger (the Limited Torpedo) to thank for reminding me that it not only exists, but is also a Human with double strike. Thanks, I'll take it. Adding in this card has made me more inclined to cut the Needle Spires and Sylvan Advocates for more untapped lands and more Humans. It's been that good.
Hanweir Militia Captain is the first card I cut against decks with sweepers, but against other decks it's just a monster. I do wish we could get some trample into the deck somehow, just to make sure that a transformed Captain is likely lethal, but we can settle for an Abyss every turn, right? That was rhetorical, folks. We can settle.
Hidden Dragonslayer is obviously good against opposing super-sized Sylvan Advocates and any other giant non-indestructible monsters, but it is also a Human and gives us lifelink. I like gaining life (hence the lone Lantern Scout in the list) almost as much as I like drawing cards, but not quite as much as I like value. Hey, look, lifelink and value in the same neat package!
The real reason to play this deck, though, is Thalia's Lieutenant. If you've ever played the Humans deck, you know how good a late Lieutenant can be. An early one isn't exactly bad either. It goes without saying that the card is even better when your deck is mostly Humans. Now that we agree on that, let's think about what happens when you Collected Company into two of them. Yes, that is a large number of counters. Very large. It is also quite easy to get your creatures out of range of a Radiant Flames this way.
Sideboarding and Potential Changes
Vryn Wingmare does a lot of work against ramp strategies and is also good against midrange decks and the Todd Anderson Goggles deck. Bringing them in does make Odric better, but it also makes Collected Company a lot worse, so those should come out. Very often you will want the third Dromoka's Command and the Declaration in Stone playset against the same decks, so cutting the full slate of Company is the way to go. If the opponent has sweepers, you can also cut the Hanweir Militia Captains as they are terrible in those matchups.
Sigarda is for any matchup where the hexproof is more relevant than Avacyn's indestructible, or where you need the self-hexproofing. Be careful of siding in too many misses for your Collected Company, though. Also don't forget that during combat, if you have both Sigarda and Odric, your entire team has hexproof. Well, that and flying.
Graf Mole and Bygone Bishop will often come in together, along with the extra Lantern Scout, against aggressive decks. The Mole especially is really good, blocking very well and hopefully keeping your life nice and high. Bishop is a bit of a nonbo with Company, but we won't always draw them and the extra Clues are important when we need Mole. I also often side Bishop in when I bring in the Wingmares, since the Companies come out.
If we do indeed cut the Sylvan Advocates, we have four slots to fill with Humans. Kolaghan Forerunners gives us trample (and haste if we dash it) with Odric, which is something the deck has been lacking. Having huge Westvale Cult Leaders that get chump-blocked can be frustrating. We can also look at Consul's Lieutenant for the Anthem effect, an extra Duskwatch Recruiter because why not, and Citadel Castellan for vigilance and beefiness.
The second Odric might be too much. I have only lost one game in which I resolved him (to a very lucky double Shaman of the Pack Collected Company hit from the all-in Abzan Elves deck) and I often find myself wanting him, but I have to wonder how often I will draw the second one and start creating new obscenities in my head. Last time I did that, bad things happened. Worth the risk? Probably. Card is really good, folks.
Arashin Foremost is being tested right now. It is almost always just better than Iroas's Champion (except when we have to search out a Mountain with Evolving Wilds), but we don't really have enough Warriors to target with the attack and enters-the-battlefield triggers. That said, without the triggers we still have a 2/2 double striker for three. We might be able to find room for a couple of Dragon Hunters, which could help the ramp and Esper matchups too, but knowing where to cut is the challenge.
I have had a lot of success with this deck so far, and it's a great deal of fun besides. The explosive potential of the Company hits in this deck are possibly better than any other Company deck out there that isn't Elves, and although we don't have the tempo swings of Bant Company, they don't have the turn 4 kill potential that we have. Give it a try and let me know how it fares!
As always, thanks for stopping by, and until next time...