You know the deal by now. The SCG Tour® comes to Indianapolis this weekend featuring Kaladesh Standard. It's going to be big. It's going to be the only major Standard tournament before the Pro Tour. It's going to shape how pros approach the format leading into the Pro Tour. And hopefully I don't throw away my tournament trying to make Fevered Visions work.
Let's get right to it.
This week I'll be talking about three cards that you might be sleeping on. We all know Gideon, Ally of Zendikar is still busted, and Smuggler's Copter is going to be great, but what about some of the more synergistic stuff that people are going to be building decks around? What about the cards that look pretty mediocre on paper but are actually quite good? Hopefully this article shows you just how good those cards can be, and will be, in the new Kaladesh Standard.
Eight Gearhulks and a...Plan
First up, a personal favorite of mine:
All right, I know the deck I talked about last week (12 Gearhulks and a Dream) was a bit clunky, but one thing really stood out to me: Refurbish is awesome. Ever After might be too slow and too cute, and it makes the manabase horrid, but the idea behind the deck is the key takeaway. Now, after cutting black from the deck, I have it close to where I want it to be.
Let's start with the obvious: Combustible Gearhulk is a lot better than I gave it credit for originally. The punisher mechanic is not exactly desirable, but both effects are powerful. In a lot of scenarios, your opponent will only be able to choose the “draw three cards” mode. Otherwise, the odds of them dying from the damage are just too high.
So what do we want to do with three extra cards? Removal is high on that list, which led me to play more cheap removal like Galvanic Bombardment. The fact that you can chain them to kill bigger creatures, or just discard one early to make the rest better, is great in a deck that tries to cycle early on. Cathartic Reunion and Tormenting Voice are working overtime here, discarding Drownyard Temple, Fiery Temper, or a Gearhulk to bring back with Refurbish. The only question I have right now is: do we need more?
I've tried versions that played maindeck copies of Lightning Axe and Nahiri's Wrath, but losing those resources later in the game just wasn't worth it. If planeswalkers end up flooding the format, I could see playing two or three copies of Nahiri's Wrath in the maindeck. You have cards that you don't mind discarding, but there is certainly a point where you can't afford to discard stuff anymore. Ideally, we want something that can help turn the “draw three” from Combustible Gearhulk into tempo. Nahiri's Wrath might be exactly what we want, but I'm not convinced just yet. But perhaps that's just because of my horror story playing against Emrakul, the Promised End.
One big contention at the moment is Chandra, Flamecaller versus Chandra, Torch of Defiance. Personally, I wanted a big spell to ramp into (that could gain back lost tempo) with Drownyard Temple. Spending your third or fourth turn bringing back a land isn't ideal, but having a big follow-up that can clean the battlefield or present a fast clock is nice. Chandra, Torch of Defiance is significantly stronger in a deck featuring a bunch of cheap cards (think Thermo-Alchemist) or a deck that can take advantage of the constant two damage (also Thermo-Alchemist). If you're planning on ramping, I think Chandra, Torch of Defiance could be good, and I might just be an idiot for not playing it, but Chandra, Flamecaller has done everything I wanted it to do and more.
If a lot of people bring Smuggler's Copter in aggressive decks, Cataclysmic Gearhulk is a bit worse than it looks on paper. It won't exactly win games on its own, but it is a solid roadblock that can slow down your opponent's development. I think it is balanced, since there are so many aggressive cards from Kaladesh that are also artifacts (so they can choose to save one of their creatures and one of their artifact threats), but not overpowered.
I haven't found a different artifact for Refurbish that I'd rather play, so for now, Cataclysmic Gearhulk is going to get the nod. Even if it gets rid of one creature or one artifact from the opponent, it has done its job. All you need from your early spells is to buy time, and Cataclysmic Gearhulk is just another method of doing that.
There's a chance this deck should be focusing on Hedron Archive, Kozilek's Return, and ramping into Emrakul, the Promised End. It isn't hard to shrink Emrakul's cost, thanks to Tormenting Voice and Cathartic Reunion as well as just playing a bunch of planeswalkers that are likely to die. Combustible Gearhulk and Cataclysmic Gearhulk counting as two card types also makes it easier. But for now, this is where I'm at. I just wanted you readers to have as much information as I do.
The sideboard is a trainwreck, like always. It is nearly impossible to build an ideal sideboard when you're completely in the dark as far as what the format is going to look like. You want answers to certain types of permanents you might have trouble dealing with, like artifacts, enchantments, or lands, so I think cards that can deal with two different types of permanents are important to include. Structural Distortion might be too slow, but Fragmentize is just an awesome card.
As for the Emrakul, the Promised End and Kozilek's Return “package,” it is mostly theorycrafting. I wanted an over-the-top spell against control decks and a cheap sweeper against R/W Artifact Aggro, but I could see some midrange strategies where you want to bring in both. Hopefully, it works out.
This card looks like it should be good, but the same could be said for Despoiler of Souls. And as you probably know, that card saw very little play. Outside of a dedicated, aggressive black deck, it was too difficult to cast and didn't have enough of an impact. It was also tough to bring back from the graveyard. So why should Scrapheap Scrounger be any different?
For one, the Scrounger is easier to cast. Being able to play a 3/2 for two colorless mana is a big deal in a lot of aggressive decks. But it also comes back at a lower cost. Only having to remove one creature instead of two is sweet, since it can come back so easily. We also didn't have access to Prized Amalgam (or a good aggressive black deck) for most of the time that Despoiler of Souls was in Standard. It could be great, but Scrapheap Scrounger is better on two fronts already.
The third aspect that makes Scrapheap Scrounger better than Despoiler of Souls is that it is an artifact. When the format contains multiple cheap, aggressive cards that need an artifact to make them better, Scrapheap Scrounger is a no-brainer. When you lead off with Inventor's Apprentice into Scrapheap Scrounger, a lot of slower decks are going to be on the back foot right out of the gate. With all three of these things in mind, I think that makes Scrapheap Scrounger a fantastic card.
So, what exactly can we do with Scrapheap Scrounger?
A few things:
1. This deck is aggressive but doesn't have a lot of staying power. If your opponent is able to build a battlefield presence with Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and use some removal spells to slow you down, it might be lights out. And God forbid they play Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet and you can't deal with it.
2. Having burn spells as your generic removal is going to be great in a lot of scenarios, but you'll find yourself on the bad end of some exchanges. Smuggler's Copter discarding Fiery Temper to kill an opposing threat is awesome, but getting Incendiary Flow stuck in your hand is going to suck.
3. It is likely you need to change this deck significantly, but a lot of the best elements are here. I was very surprised at how good Bomat Courier felt. If they didn't deal with it in the early-game, it could threaten to draw two or three cards. If they did kill it, it let some of your later threats potentially take over the game.
4. Hanweir Battlements, and possibly Hanweir Garrison, might be good enough for the maindeck. It is tricky to keep the numbers of artifacts and creatures right, though. In testing so far, Hanweir Battlements giving all of your later threats haste was a huge deal, but the obvious downside is that it doesn't tap for colored mana. With so many artifact threats, that might not end up being such a big deal. I'd like to try one or two in the maindeck.
Overall, I think this deck is a real contender and could be one of the best aggressive decks in the format, but it will take some more time to find the right numbers and also weed out some of the weaker elements. I like a lot of the stuff this deck is trying to do, but it just doesn't feel quite right yet.
As far as Scrapheap Scrounger is concerned, there is another archetype that puts it to work.
- 4 Scrapheap Scrounger
- 4 Cryptbreaker
- 2 Distended Mindbender
- 4 Haunted Dead
- 4 Prized Amalgam
- 2 Stitchwing Skaab
- 4 Voldaren Pariah
Here we see Scrapheap Scrounger working overtime. Not only does it apply a lot of early pressure to the opponent, it can also be used to trigger Prized Amalgam over and over. This makes sweeper effects like Fumigate much worse, while also making Voldaren Pariah much better (not that it needed it).
In the previous Standard format, we didn't see too much of this deck, and I don't really know why. It is resilient to removal while also playing some game-breaking cards that not a lot of people could deal with. Distended Mindbender is huge against many of the format's slower decks but also gives you a reasonably sized body at a very low cost. Sacrificing something like Haunted Dead or Prized Amalgam is almost free and in a lot of ways helps turn on the rest of your graveyard-related strategies.
I'm not sold on Stitchwing Skaab, and the deck could probably get away with a fourth copy of Key to the City, but the shell in insane. I would not be unhappy playing this exact 75 at #SCGINDY this weekend. It is a coherent strategy that mostly survived the rotation and got some ridiculous upgrades. Smuggler's Copter and Scrapheap Scrounger make this archetype much better while also giving you a bit more punch against the control decks in the format. One of the biggest drawbacks from previous versions playing stuff like Relentless Dead was that you couldn't apply enough pressure. Losing Jace, Vryn's Prodigy does suck, but Smuggler's Copter is more than happy to take the spot. And you might even like it better.
The cool thing about this deck is that it can play a lot of games at instant speed. Thanks to Key to the City, you can choose to spend your early turns looting away Prized Amalgam and Haunted Dead, only to have an incredibly explosive turn later on. This makes it so you don't mind holding up mana for Negate, Ceremonious Rejection, or Summary Dismissal after sideboarding against decks trying to go way over the top of you.
Energy, in general, is going to be a tough mechanic to grasp at first. The fact that most Energy-related cards are self-contained (they fuel themselves) is awesome but also makes certain cards a bit tougher to evaluate. If your opponent kills your creature before you use the Energy it creates, it could create a snowball effect that supercharges some of your threats later in the game.
All cards that make and use Energy are new to us. It will take some getting used to, but I think you'll find that it won't take long for us to figure out just how good some of these cards are. For example, Bristling Hydra is probably one of the best cards in the set. It can protect itself, pump itself, and even create Energy that you can immediately use on your cheaper creatures.
The downside to Bristling Hydra is that it doesn't have evasion and could do virtually nothing on a stalled battlefield. But if you are putting a lot of pressure on your opponent in the early turns and run them out of resources, Bristling Hydra does a great job at cleaning up. And, of course, hexproof is pretty good on a creature that naturally curves into Verdurous Gearhulk.
- 4 Verdurous Gearhulk
- 4 Bristling Hydra
- 4 Longtusk Cub
- 4 Servant of the Conduit
- 1 Thriving Grubs
- 4 Voltaic Brawler
- 2 Pia Nalaar
It may seem like the Energy theme here is more of a standout than Bristling Hydra, but I wanted to make it clear that I think Bristling Hydra is the real deal. Once you get the Energy engine started, your opponent is forced to deal with every creature you cast. But at the end of the day, it is going to take a sweeper like Fumigate to get rid of Bristling Hydra. At a certain point, spot removal no longer works.
Aside from Bristling Hydra, this deck showcases just how powerful Arlinn Kord can be. Alongside Verdurous Gearhulk, Arlinn Kord makes for some big, hasty damage against opponents who won't see it coming. Of course, that usually means keeping her “unflipped,” but that shouldn't be a huge issue. Wolves are traditionally worse than doing two extra damage and keeping open the ability to give your next creature a boost and haste.
Running 23 lands could be a concern, but we're really playing a virtual 27 with Attune with Aether. That might mean cutting a land, but I wanted most of my draws to be smooth. Alternatively, we could also cut an Attune with Aether and add in another creature. I don't want to flood out, but fixing your colors while also generating two Energy is nice. Plus, if you play something like Longtusk Cub on your second turn, you could use that Energy immediately to make it a 3/3 blocker.
This deck will likely struggle with Fumigate, but I'm hoping decks like U/B Zombies or various Smuggler's Copter aggro strategies will push people away from big sweepers and more towards spot removal. When that happens, Bristling Hydra will steal the show. Until then, we're going to have to rely on Arlinn Kord and Chandra, Torch of Defiance to make sure we don't just auto-lose to decks playing Fumigate.
Well, that's all for me this week. Out of the entire Kaladesh preview season, there are certainly cards that will overshadow the ones I listed above, but you should definitely keep these on your radar. I don't know just how good they're going to be, but I wouldn't be surprised if any variations on the above decks took down #SCGINDY.
Energy is a mechanic that will require a lot of exploration. Refurbish is likely powerful enough to see play in Modern, but we'll have to settle for putting Combustible Gearhulk onto the battlefield on the fourth turn. And Scrapheap Scrounger just has a lot of moving parts. Figuring out how each of the above strategies will impact Standard will be important.
While the above decks might not dominate the spotlight, thanks to some of the format's more powerful cards, I do think they have a lot of potential, and I'm excited to see just what they can do.