Eldritch Moon meant a lot of things for a lot of decks. The Zombie and Vampire decks, which had been lacking critical components to be functional, got a boost in cards like Cryptbreaker and Stromkirk Condemned. These cards grant manaless abilities that make an impact on your hand and the battlefield, but that's not what people are talking about. For the best decks at the SCG Tour® in Columbus, Eldritch Moon meant one thing: Spell Queller.
Spell Queller has already quelled a lot of spells. Out of each deck in the Top 8 that had the manabase to support it, Spell Queller featured as a maindeck playset in each. It seems so easy: just counter whatever the heck they play on turn 3 if your hand's gas, or wait and trash their Gideon, Ally of Zendikar or Languish. Good thing I opened one of these babies in the Prerelease, because I'm not sure whose firstborn I'm gonna have to trade in to get one of these out of binders now. Spell Queller proved to be the dominant new card in this week's event, slotting into one of the format's newest terrors and one of its most tried favorites.
Now it's time to quell the Queller.
Like Eldritch Moon, Friday Night Magic also means a lot of things to a lot of different people. For some, it's their first foray into the world of Magic outside of the kitchen table. They have a deck of sixty (or more) cards, they think they're all Standard-legal (but inevitably there's a Siege Rhino or Thassa, God of the Sea rattling around in there), and they're just happy to play. I am so grateful that players can get engaged in this way.
However, for some other people, Friday Night Magic provides a fertile ground to take whatever made Top 8 the weekend before to do battle, and this is fine, too. You know who they are; you see them come in, sunglasses or baseball cap on, sitting at a table and goldfishing their freshly-bought list to try it against friends and strangers alike. Nothing wrong with that. But this Friday Night, let's try to find a way to have some fun, make something new, but also quash the most powerful card in the format.
Spell Queller is not really a brewable card; sure, you can blink it with Eldrazi Displacer in response to its trigger, sending the exiled spell into oblivion forever even if the Queller later dies, but it's just a powerful card all on its own. It doesn't need any help to be good. Today's article isn't about using Spell Queller; it's about beating it.
Let's look at the two decks that use the Spell Queller to the greatest potential.
- 3 Duskwatch Recruiter
- 4 Reflector Mage
- 4 Selfless Spirit
- 4 Spell Queller
- 4 Sylvan Advocate
- 3 Tireless Tracker
- 2 Archangel Avacyn
- 3 Thalia, Heretic Cathar
Jeff's list leverages a team of all-flying, mostly flash creatures into spells that can freely attack without fear of blockers; he had a great deck tech that featured his deck choices and how he planned to use his all-new creature base to get the job done. Most decks couldn't block his creatures, and most couldn't get around the free sacrifice of Mausoleum Wanderer, Selfless Spirit (and subsequent Archangel Avacyn flip), and the maindeck Planar Outburst to beat him. That's all without Spell Queller, which stopped them from acting on a critical turn.
For Devin Koepke's Bant Company deck and the two other Bant Company decks in the Top 8 that featured the Queller, the Queller was another spur down Collected Company Road and a blowout in the mirror. Finally, Bant Company decks can cast Collected Company to counter their opponent's Collected Company! Who knew we needed that, huh? It sizes up well, too, blocking that deck's 2/3 attackers in a pinch and providing much-needed evasion.
I'd toyed with a couple copies in lists over the last few months (originally to blast away Mantis Rider and later to swat away Hangarback Walker tokens), but I'd pretty much forgotten about the card until it appeared in his sideboard. Simple, straightforward, clean. Thankfully, Eldritch Moon brought one answer with it, too: Ishkanah, Grafwidow.
Out of all the new cards that saw play this weekend from Eldritch Moon, this is the one that impressed me the most with the way it was just able to totally about-face players from the road to death. Those who watched the coverage have the numbers memorized by now: six power and eleven toughness across four bodies is a lot for 4G. Last time we paid 4G for so much value, another Angel dominated the skies.
With Ishkanah standing out as such a clear powerhouse, it'd be easy to drift down the black or green delirium path, and if we did that, I'm pretty sure we'd end up with something very close to (but likely worse than) Todd Stevens's list. So let's take these two spells, dig really deep, and figure out another, more interesting path to victory against a swarm of fliers.
Did I lose you? Might have lost you. No worries, friend.
The best way I can think to deal with a mess of flyers or small creatures in general is provide a really big, undercosted threat that puts a really big, undercosted clock on them. Walker of the Wastes fits the bill, and both Shadows over Innistrad and Eldritch Moon provided a big boost to this overlooked Eldrazi's gameplan.
I fiddled with a Wastes list right after Oath of the Gatewatch came out, but I've been having trouble nailing down the numbers since. Now, I've got a different plan; pursue Wastes, sure, but build delirium, too. Ignore the Spider activation on Ishkanah, Grafwidow; stick to just green; and build a list that blocks fliers and gets aggressive with one very hard-to-block creature that hits for a whole lot.
- 2 Decimator of the Provinces
- 2 Den Protector
- 4 Elvish Visionary
- 2 Walker of the Wastes
- 2 Ishkanah, Grafwidow
- 2 Nissa, Vastwood Seer
This deck is about the curve; we have to be consistent to come out against Spirits and Bant Company because, well, they're better decks. There's a reason this plan got passed over; other plans are better. This one simply tries to attack a deck's weakness with innovation and focus.
Elvish Visionary is the first step on the curve to righteousness. No one ever gets excited about a 1/1 that replaces itself, but Elvish Visionary is in there this time around. Other considerations for this slot were the new Primal Druid, a Viridian Emissary variant that acts finds an extra land when it inevitably bites the dust, but I admittedly wouldn't have as much control over that, and a 0/3 doesn't slow down an army of 2/1s.
We're making a lot of lands, so Nissa, Vastwood Seer seems like a no-brainer, helping you hit the curve with the relatively low 22 lands in the deck. Ishkanah, Grafwidow is fantastic, of course, and combined with the singleton Decimator of Provinces, you can emerge Ishkanah, bash with the boosted Spiders, and smash for thirteen.
Walker of the Wastes plays off the Wastes used by Ruin in Their Wake, and it's very easy to get it to come down on turn 4 as a 7/7 or an 8/8. From there, we can keep putting Wastes onto the battlefield until this thing can close. Reality Smasher costs the same amount, but I've found the haste more relevant than the protective discard clause. Changing the sizing just helps it block better and live through combats more frequently when I don't have buckets of removal to throw at my opponent. Den Protector gets back whatever I want. Yeehaw!
Traverse the Ulvenwald is a wonderful Magic card. It can find a Wastes to work with the Walker of the Wastes or to pair up for a turn 2 Ruin in Their Wake, and later in the game (or even just a few turns later), it can find any threat you want. Traverse the Ulvenwald lets you play fewer copies of your bulkier threats. Walker of the Wastes would normally be a four-of, but with Traverse, I can always get one if and when I need it. To get it to its maximum power level, though, I need card types. Alchemist's Vial helps get us there while acting effectively like a colorless Elvish Visionary, preventing one attacker from coming through.
Spatial Contortion has all the right text. It gets past indestructibility, costs two mana, and kills creatures with three or less toughness. With the exception of a pumped Sylvan Advocate and Archangel Avacyn, this can kill most creatures in either the Bant Company or Spirits decks. It was very intentionally chosen to dodge Selfless Spirit's sacrifice ability as well; an indestructible 5/0 Spell Queller still dies. If you find you don't need that two mana to kill something, Grapple with the Past is a really nice combination of Grisly Salvage and Corpse Churn, letting you get any land or creature back and fuelling your graveyard as you go.
In the sideboard, I conceded most of its cards to deal with Humans, Zombies, and Vampires, with the most important piece being Kozilek's Return. You'll side in the expensive It of the Horrid Swarm in Game 2 to give yourself ways to activate the five-damage trigger as well. Warping Wail is great for countering Planar Outburst, Infinite Obliteration, or Jace, Vryn's Prodigy before the flip. Aerial Volley, as mentioned, helps with Spirits, but Warping Wail can also exile some of the smaller ones.
I was able to get in four matches with this deck, the first against a Dragon deck with Thunderbreak Regent, Incendiary Flow, and Draconic Roar to burn me out when creatures couldn't do the job. In two games, I was more consistent than he was and managed to stop his flyers with Ishkanah before he could meaningfully impact my life total.
The second match, against a Mono-White Humans deck, went poorly in Game 1 but ground out to two long deciding games, eventually giving him the win.
My third match was against a Spirit list similar to Jeff Hoogland's that featured Spell Queller. This is where the deck really shone; the removal lined up really well in Game 1, and Walker of the Wastes did exactly what I expected, putting too much pressure on my opponent. Even resolving a Declaration in Stone that hit both copies of Walker of the Wastes, a hard-cast Decimator of the Provinces closed the gap.
Match four, against Bant Company, was a grind in two games, but the Collected Company deck edged me both times.
The deck set out to defeat Spell Queller, and while it tested against only two decks that played it, it controlled both very well. Ishkanah, Grafwidow was just as good as I hoped, but delirium was considerably less reliable. Nissa, Vastwood Seer didn't do much of anything, and the emerge mechanic in general was a bit ambitious for a deck without many creatures. Instead, I think we should add more graveyard interaction, more things to buy time, and remove those things that were too expensive or clumsy to function reliably.
Here's a second take.
Maybe this has what it takes, in one form or another, to keep the Queller quelled and in general keep flyers at bay? Ishkanah, Grafwidow might very well be the answer.
Comments from Last Week
- Tyler Shank
I think Tyler might have answered the main issue with discard-heavy decks: a way to close the game quickly before your opponent has enough time to draw back the cards and respond. In Magical Christmas Land, if you turn 2 Lupine Prototype, turn 3 Tormented Thoughts, turn 4 Mindwrack Demon, you'll have already binned three card types at least. His delirium penalty will be paid, and they'll have five turns to stop you (and five less cards to do it with).
On the Zombie note, there are some sweet combos like Gisa and Geralf and Fleshbag Marauder for a looping sacrifice effect...Haunted Dead is secretly fantastic, and Liliana, the Last Hope and Jace, Vryn's Prodgy both are synergistic with Zombies and their combined creature reduction make combat extremely awkward for opponents.
- Aaron Elias Newbom
This is my hope, too; Haunted Dead, thankfully, did not sneak past me. Unlike the other Zombies in Shadows over Innistrad, this one leaves a friend behind in the likely instance that the 2/2 dies. Plus, the Spirit enters the battlefield untapped, ready to block right away so you can recover from your lost tempo. Moreover, Haunted Dead's activated ability can't be quelled by Spell Queller. Take that!
Spell Queller is here to stay, so no matter what you brew, if your friends are playing it, you'll have to play around it. Have you figured out a way to brew with this format-warping Spirit, or have you figured out a better way to fell the Queller?