With the contents of Amonkhet fully known, all of the deckbuilders and brewers of the world are spending extra hours late at night tweaking their latest Gideon shell. Look, we know that ultimate is totally not worth it, but we just can't help ourselves.
It's not a problem until we show up to a Grand Prix with sixteen copies of the dashing planeswalker, so let's just hope it never comes to that.
Meanwhile, the rest of Amonkhet is dripping with build-around cards and new tools and toys for existing archetypes as well. It is extremely early in the brewing process, and this is the time where dreamers get to dream and test all of those obscure cards that most have already cast aside as unplayable. If you put the effort in and are crafty enough, though, few cards are truly unplayable (I'm looking at you, Bog Hoodlums).
One card that has caught my eye, not once but twice, is Approach of the Second Sun.
Like most people when they first saw this card revealed, I found the card interesting but didn't quite know whether it had any competitive viability. Seven mana for a locked-in half of a Primal Command is not exactly the deal of the century. At the same time, however, it is often very difficult to correctly evaluate a card in brand-new space like this.
Our first tool when looking at new cards is almost always to compare it to cards we are familiar with. Every set seems to have a new “Thoughtseize” or “Force Spike” or “Oblivion Ring.” We all use anchoring here to help us make a snap judgment about a card that we can't even play with yet. It is maybe the best tool at our disposal in this window of time, so it makes sense that we turn to it so quickly. But people are hardly robots, and our snap judgments, no matter how rooted in past experience they may be, have a chance at being wrong.
Like most evaluations, the power level of a new card rests somewhere along a spectrum. Let's arbitrarily assign this spectrum a scale from zero to ten. If you are looking at a new card like Cast Out and comparing it to Oblivion Ring, you might arrive at it being an 8/10 on the power level spectrum. There is still a good chance you are wrong, but if Cast Out ends up being a 7/10 or a 9/10, or even a 10/10, your comparison paid off pretty well and you are probably pretty happy with your evaluation.
Now let's go back to Approach of the Second Sun. First of all, there is no analog to this as close as the Oblivion Ring / Cast Out comparison, so our confidence level in our evaluation has to be lower based only on this scheme. Let's say I pull a number out of thin air though and eventually decide it is a 4/10. Without strong reference material, my margin of error here might extend all the way from 1/10 to 7/10. Even conservatively, we are looking at a range from 2/10 to 6/10, and a card falling into either end of this range is radically different in power level from one on the other end. A 2/10 is hardly playable, whereas a 6/10 might be an all-star card that just happens to only serve a niche function. I would never feel confident in accepting my initial judgment when it comes to this type of card and then moving on. In my opinion, as a brewer, this is specifically the kind of card you need to put into lists and get some games in with before writing it off.
Approach of the Second Sun may very well not be cut out for a job in Standard, or it might, but I know I am not gonna wait around for some other people to decide that for me. So what is the best shell to harbor this beauty?
Being that this is a seven-cost sorcery that has no impact on the battlefield, there are really only two homes worth considering. The first would be in some sort of combo shell, like we have seen out of Enduring Ideal in the past. I took a look through Standard to see if anything had the potential to make this card into a combo win condition, and while there a few cute interactions, none of it seemed priced for Standard consumption. That leaves its best home likely to be in a control shell of some sort.
Luckily for us, Approach of the Second Sun does not demand a lot out of the rest of our deck. It asks for a little bit of time to do its thing, but we don't need to specifically devote any deck slots to making the card function the way we want it to. Time is the key ingredient here, and it shall be the thing we focus most on achieving. Most control decks already make this a prime objective of theirs, so we won't need to look too far for support.
With my intuition directing me toward a control deck and not much else, it was time to do the most controlling thing I could do and build draw-go. It was not quite that simple, as I tried to put as much thought into each choice as I possibly could, but perhaps it would be better to just lead with the list and explain the quirks afterward. Oh, and for those of you who roll your eyes at the sight of a strange card choice, now might be a good time to turn away.
What we have here could best be described as U/W Control. The archetype is one of the best at manipulating long games to come out on top, and seeing as how we value time at a premium, it seemed best to align our interests with the most dependable name on the block. U/W Control looks to dominate games through a series of counterspells, sweepers, and card draw that all pull it further and further ahead as it makes land drops and never looks back. Casting a seven-mana sorcery and then waiting a few turns doesn't sound too out of line.
The first defining card in the list has to be Engulf the Shore. Engulf heavily influences our manabase, with effectively only two non-Islands in the entire 75. This not only gives us access to a sweeper as early as turn 4, but it specifically gives us an instant-speed sweeper. Most sweepers come as a sorcery, which clashes with Approach of the Second Sun. If our opponent plays two or three creatures to the battlefield, I probably need to spend my turn dealing with them rather than gaining seven life and putting a card back into my deck. Engulf the Shore allows me to clear the battlefield on my opponent's end step, which clears the way for whatever sorcery-speed nonsense I have on my own turn. Engulf the Shore normally has the distinct downside of not dealing with those creatures in a permanent fashion, but remember that all we need to do is stretch out the game and Approach of the Second Sun will win it for us.
Engulf the Shore also has a really cool interaction with Torrential Gearhulk that essentially lets you flashback every Engulf from your graveyard and still end up with a Gearhulk in your hand. Again, normally this is just a stall tactic, but in this list, all we want to do is stall.
I should quickly justify Approach of the Second Sun before moving on. This shell obviously works fine with just Torrential Gearhulk and maybe a planeswalker or two as win conditions, so what is the value in looking for a Second Sun?
Torrential Gearhulk is a great card, but for it to begin winning, you need to be defensively safe and have the ability to be attacking without risk of it dying. Remember that Engulf the Shore doesn't kill creatures, so there is a good chance we will constantly be in a defensive state. Very rarely will the ground be completely open up and our opponent without removal in hand to allow Gearhulk to win. Meanwhile, Approach of the Second Sun doesn't ask us to do anything offensively. We can simply end-step Engulf the Shore, cast Approach of the Second Sun, and then carry on countering spells and sweeping the battlefield. We never need to switch to an offensive mode. Now, Approach of the Second Sun could still end up being a weaker option than just jamming Torrential Gearhulks for days, but like I said, we won't know until we give the card a legitimate shot.
Going back to the list, we also have plenty of card draw, with many of our cards having cycling and both Glimmer of Genius and Pull from Tomorrow doing heavy lifting. Glimmer of Genius is especially useful at digging four cards deep after you have put Approach of the Second Sun back into your deck. With a cycled Censor and a few draw steps, you can easily be casting your second copy of the card within a few turns of the first. Of course, if you happened to draw the second copy, then back to back turns is all you need.
The rest of the deck is designed to just hold down the fort and buy time. Shielded Aether Thief is a card I have been messing with recently, specifically in decks containing Engulf the Shore. First, it encourages over-extension by the opponent, which plays right into our eight maindeck sweepers. Once we do Engulf the Shore, we will usually try to hold the Thief until we sweep the battlefield with Fumigate, at which point we are up our blocker again and right where we want to be. It also has a convenient outlet for our energy gain. Every block plus Glimmer allows a Shielded Aether Thief to effectively cycle itself, which makes the card less awkward in control mirrors. You do have a couple of copies of Pull from Tomorrow to discard a Thief in those matchups, but I really think we need a couple of ways to slow things down early on.
Commit//Memory has a special place in this deck due to its Timetwister half, which allows us to reboot our deck with all of the discarded cards from earlier in the game. Once again we have a cool combo with Engulf the Shore, as you can bounce all of the creatures and then conveniently shuffle them back into your opponent's deck (which is probably not their favorite place for them to be!)
Most of our other choices are just to give us a wide variety of answers to a wider variety of threats. Remember that Torrential Gearhulk flashes back instants, which gives extra value to a card like Forsake the Worldly even though we have a playset of Cast Out already in the list.
I did quickly want to go over a few interactions from Amonkhet that will help when playing this list.
- Generally speaking, you should be Disallowing the triggered ability from an opposing Cast Out rather than the card itself. This will help keep the opponent off delirium and unable to return the Cast Out to via graveyard shenanigans.
- You can cast Commit on your Approach of the Second Sun to put it second from the top. This will sometimes matter where time is limited but your life total is fine. This works because your first time casting Approach of the Second Sun does not need to be successful for the second copy to win. All that needs to be true is that you have cast Approach of the Second Sun this game, not that it has resolved.
- Be careful using shuffle effects after you have shuffled in your first Approach of the Second Sun. Sometimes you will want to shuffle up and sometimes you will have to, but in either case, just be aware of what you are doing.
- Remember that, on the stack, the new Gods are always creatures, which means Essence Scatter, not Negate.
- With both Embalm and the Aftermath spells being printed, it felt right to give Void Shatter a little love in the list, especially with Gearhulk giving it extra use, but definitely feel free to mess with the counterspell suite to your liking.
Git Up N' Git Down
I know. Some of you are a little bummed right now. You came here for brews and I gave you a U/W Control deck with a seven-drop sorcery as its tech. Where's the creativity? Where's the wackiness? Where's the Frog Horror? Don't worry, fam. I got you!
If you have tried to come up with anything fresh and innovative in the past year, there is a good chance that The Gitrog Monster has crossed your browser once or twice. Not only is the card a totally awesome Frog Horror, but it also has one of the niftiest abilities in Standard just asking to be built around. In the past, we have seen The Gitrog Monster occasionally show up, but it has never really been a consistent player in Standard.
Amonkhet is looking to spice things up for our favorite Frog, though, as we have some new cycling lands that work especially well with The Gitrog Monster's triggered ability. There actually are quite a few powerful cards lying around Standard that all key off lands. Obviously Tireless Tracker and Sylvan Advocate have not been forgotten about, but what about Splendid Reclamation? The card is clearly powerful, but does it have the right cast to support it these days?
Once again, I was not concerned with necessarily arriving at the best possible list for Standard right away, but rather I wanted to explore the possibility of both The Gitrog Monster and Splendid Reclamation to see if they had any ground to stand on (literally, in this case). Neither of these cards will work in a random deck that they are just dropped into, the way that a removal spell might, so I wanted to explore how we could take advantage of the power of these two cards in a home built especially for them.
At first, I naturally went toward a shell that was oversaturated by lands and ways to get those lands into your graveyard. Grapple with the Past; Liliana, the Last Hope; and even Crawling Sensation were typed into my word processor at some point, but I felt I was spreading myself too thin. Splendid Reclamation and The Gitrog Monster both have some powerful interactions to showcase, but we don't need to be all-in on either. Often, with fringe cards like these, going all-in on such cards is how people come to scoff at them. When a list is completed dedicated to making The Gitrog Monster work and then the deck fails to do anything, it makes the poor Frog look bad. When it is just another member of a highly synergistic cast, though, perhaps we can tap into its moments of brilliance without putting all of the pressure on it.
Thus, I dialed back on the all-in nature I was exploring and instead began moving toward more of a midrange shell. Amonkhet has given this style of deck a lot of new tools, thanks to Aftermath being strong and cycling allowing us to play more extreme answers that aren't just dead against the wrong matchup. I still want ways to put lands into the graveyard; I just want those ways to be reasonable in places where neither the Frog nor Splendid Reclamation is involved. Here is where I landed.
This list has most of the elements of a strong midrange Jund list. We have a lot of spot removal, a few sweepers, some hand disruption, and a pair of cool planeswalkers to bring us home. Cards like Tormenting Voice are extremely good with both of our land-loving build-arounds but don't stick out as especially strange, considering their popularity among all sorts of decks.
In fact, pretty much all of our land-ditching outlets feel free or at least fit in well with what we have going on.
- Tormenting Voice provides filtering and a way to prevent too much flood with our 28 lands.
- Collective Brutality offers a lot of versatility and can get rid of two lands at once.
- Evolving Wilds and the cycling lands both end up in the graveyard very naturally and on either player's turn, which is especially noteworthy for The Gitrog Monster.
- Liliana, Death's Majesty casually mills us for two whenever she asks for some Zombie assistance.
- Hissing Quagmire rumbles in combat and dies.
- Blighted Fen gets its Edict on in the mid- and late-game.
- The Gitrog Monster has a built-in land sacrificing trigger just for being alive.
- Chandra, Flamecaller discards our hand and replaces it with even more cards.
- Turn 1: Evolving Wilds.
- Turn 2: Untapped land into Tormenting Voice or cycling a land.
- Turn 3: Evolving Wilds plus Tormenting Voice or cycling a land.
- Turn 4: Splendid Reclamation for a quadruple Rampant Growth.
None of those outlets feels wrong in our deck, even in the absence of our splendid duo, but they were still chosen with those two in mind, and I think that is a good place to be. But we didn't just work in some extra lands and discard effects into a midrange shell. We have some pretty cool interactions and a late-game plan that pulls us over the top of most other midrange decks.
First of all, we have Splendid Reclamation and the value it can gain. It has some extreme synergy with a Tireless Tracker in the late-game, as you can reasonably make four to eight Clues off it in a single transaction. Additionally, all of those extra lands make for quite the large Ribbons Aftermath of Cut. We get to use Cut as a solid removal spell and then let it loom in the graveyard, waiting to dish out some serious damage.
Reclamation also has quite the Magical Christmas Land scenario as well (something I am not unfamiliar with).
Meanwhile, The Gitrog Monster is enjoying its little Froggy self too. Not only are lands being discarded and sacrificed pretty regularly, but Liliana, Death's Majesty brings a Zombify with it right away and that will almost always be used on The Gitrog Monster when it is available.
Naturally, this deck will need to be massaged as the metagame forms. Specific types of removal will become more important than others and we shouldn't have a problem making some swaps. I also am rather intrigued by Heaven//Earth in the metagame but didn't feel confident enough running it in the maindeck here, so we will have to see if it ever makes sense to try that out in the starting 60.
Once we have some games in with this shell and the metagame begins to take shape, we can decide whether to lean more heavily into our land package with cards like Grapple with the Past or to slide into a more typical Jund midrange shell with fewer land synergies. In either world, I am pretty happy with this as our starting point.
That's it for the brews today. Amonkhet is pretty deep on new and exciting stuff for Standard, so if neither of these lists was your cup of tea, don't worry, because there will be more! Until next week, thanks for reading and find some time to brew!