With a Pro Tour on the horizon, people are getting very tight-lipped about their super secret tech in Standard. We're only a few days away from seeing what the world's best have concocted and what will define the format for the next few months. Although I am helping a few people prepare, I still have a solid suite of ideas to share with you all. Decklists will have to wait, but you're a smart bunch. You can put something together.
Insert Cranberries Lyric Here
Boy did I choose the wrong week to take off. One of the brews I had been working on was a B/W Zombies list that was looking very promising but seemed to be about half a card off where I wanted it to be. The tuning was ongoing, but then Zac Caudillo had to go and do well with this:
- 4 Scrapheap Scrounger
- 4 Cryptbreaker
- 4 Diregraf Colossus
- 4 Dread Wanderer
- 4 Lord of the Accursed
- 4 Plague Belcher
- 2 Relentless Dead
- 4 Wayward Servant
Oh yes. Well played, Zac. Well played indeed. Since that weekend, both Matt Higgs and Sam Black have given us their take on the archetype, each going in slightly different directions. Having played with Binding Mummy in multiples I can vouch for its power, but it is at its best when you want to play an aggressive game. I think that is the best way to go, but we are not on the level of the Humans decks or possibly even the best draws of Mardu Vehicles. What we do have over them is the reach provided by Wayward Servant and possibly Plague Belcher.
Sam was not a fan of the latter, but I really like the insurance against sweepers and the fact that we can just dump those counters on a recursive or disposable body to get a huge, undercosted beater.
Watching this deck on coverage told me that the two best cards are Wayward Servant and Cryptbreaker, the latter of which should not be a surprise.
Making more Zombies is good, drawing cards is good. I also saw how good Dark Salvation was every time it was cast, and I want at least one more copy. Casting it for three mana will be the default, but one and five are also possibilities that are very good in their own right.
While Zac went with Liliana, the Last Hope in the main deck, I would not hate running Liliana, Death's Majesty in that slot. Liliana's Mastery seems expensive on the face, but dig just a little deeper and you see that we get six power over two bodies for five mana...at a minimum.
One interesting option for the deck is to play Fumigate in the sideboard, especially if we end up playing Plague Belcher. The Aristocrats-style “sweep the battlefield and kill you in the process” game plan is one of which I am a huge fan. These options would mean increasing the land count, but that might not be a bad idea anyway.
A Case for the Ol' Notebook
When Paradox Engine was printed, I made note of the interaction between it, Greenbelt Rampager, and Servant of the Conduit. I wanted to try it with Pious Evangel, but that card was just not good enough on its own. Without some solid enters-the-battlefield abilities to trigger, we needed another piece to make this interaction valuable.
Enter Rhonas's Monument. As I always do when a new set is printed, I looked back through the Standard section of the notebook for ideas that were marked as missing a piece. Well hello, Missing Piece! With Monument we can make the Servant (or anything, really) arbitrarily large, but even more importantly, we also give it trample. Servant of the Conduit also ramps us to the Paradox Engine, which is arguably the weakest card in the combo and the only one we would not normally want in an aggressive green-based deck.
So if we're running an aggressive deck with a five-mana artifact that does nothing until you have available mana, what compromises do we need to make? What is the best second color? Can we get any other combos or interactions in the deck? Most of these answers will be informed by the choice of a second color, so we should start there. The natural place to look would be black, but Winding Constrictor actually makes it harder for us to combo off. If we want to play Channeler Initiate (and I am pretty sure we do), Constrictor gets worse again.
Red and white seem to be the best alternatives. Red gives us Bloodlust Inciter and Nettle Drone as useful tap effects, while white gives us things like Glory-Bound Initiate and Gust Walker—both of which appreciate getting untapped by Paradox Engine. Of course, red has Combat Celebrant, which also fits into that latter category.
We shouldn't overlook the cost-reduction ability on the Monument, however. That alone is a reason to perhaps look at mono-green, or close to it. There are enough powerful two-mana threats in green that a turn 3 Monument could lead to casting three creatures on turn 4 and swinging for eight or more with trample.
A Second Monumental Combo
A general rule I have when looking through sets is that we can often find a way to break cost reducers. Just ask Fluctuator, a card that precisely zero people have played in a fair deck. When those cost reducers also make us go twice as wide just for casting creatures, there is almost definitely something there. Oketra's Monument does have the ability to go infinite, but it requires three extra cards in Cryptolith Rite, Aviary Mechanic, and Samut, Voice of Dissent. Is this space we want to explore?
Okay, so we can make a lot of tokens and sometimes make infinite tokens. Then what? Do we want to play something like Angel of Invention at the top of the curve? Although we won't need the anthem effect when we go off, that won't happen every game; we still need to be able to win without it. Nissa, Voice of Zendikar is a long-time friend of Cryptolith Rite and also happens to be great with a go-wide strategy. Oketra the True is also a consideration, as the condition to attack or block should be easily fulfilled.
One possible approach we could take would be to add Panharmonicon and just go ham on the enters-the-battlefield triggers. That would also suggest the addition of Eldrazi Displacer to help us go infinite, though it should be pointed out that the Monument triggers on casting and not on creatures entering the battlefield. Nonbos make me sad. That build would de-emphasize the Monument and look to be more of a Fabricate deck with cost reduction, but that in and of itself is not a bad thing. It also plays nicely with Master Trinketeer, another pet card of mine.
By way of caveat, the tokens we make on the turn we go off will all be tapped unless we play yet another piece to untap them. While this won't be an issue most of the time, there is the very real chance that they could all just get Fumigated (disaster) or otherwise be removed (less annoying). As a result, it's best to end the loop with Aviary Mechanic in your hand. We currently don't have an effect that will help us win the turn we go off, with the exception of perennial combo-enabler Paradox Engine.
Doing the Splits
If we're looking for interactions to break, recent rules changes are often a fine source. Exploiting rules loopholes has led to some of the more disgusting decks of Magic's past and even more very fun, janky decks the likes of which one would expect to find in my hands on any given Friday.
The changes to split cards may have completely ruined the ability to do things with the Expertise cycle, Isochron Scepter, and cascade effects, but they did open the door to some other options. For example, we can now use Torrential Gearhulk to do a couple of things we aren't used to doing at instant speed.
Like a Timetwister effect, for example.
One of the drawbacks to cards like the Memory half of the above card has always been that you invest a boatload of mana for your opponent to draw seven cards and have first crack at using them. Not only does Torrential Gearhulk break that by letting you end-step a 5/6 with a free draw seven, you can always just cast the front half in a pinch.
What else does this fun trick let us pull off? Well we can use Spring to ramp, but that feels a little redundant if we already have Gearhulk mana. Wouldn't we rather just draw two cards with Mind? Not to say there won't be a time when we want land number seven, but it's not the best use of resources. Okay, how about the Fight half of Prepare? Instant-speed fight effects are very rare—I can think of only one spell that does so--and we will have a pretty beefy target in Torrential Gearhulk that should be able to tussle with most things on the other side of the battlefield.
Perhaps the most intriguing option is Reduce, as we get to tap down three of the opponent's lands in their upkeep and lock them away for an additional turn. The card comes with the added bonus of the front half being solidly playable, and U/R is a color combination that both wants us to fill the graveyard with spells and stall the game out. Definitely a plan on which I have my eye.
I am Not Making Another Spice Joke
I sometimes like to look at new cards and figure out how they would have been worse back in 1997 when I started playing. Yes, that's probably weird. Take Sandwurm Convergence, for example. There was a time not too long ago when that card would still have cost eight but would have given you a Wurm token on your upkeep and the flying creature clause probably wouldn't be there or would require some sort of cost. Fortunately, we exist in this new timeline where eight-mana enchantments are now more than likely to win you the game.
Obviously, the problem is that it costs eight mana. There are two obvious ways to get around that: ramp and Aetherworks Marvel. Ramping into anything is fairly uninteresting, and Marvel can just cast Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. Well, that's disappointing! I was really hoping we could start calling wurmsign early and often, but I am not interested in cutting power level to do so. But what if I told you that we don't need to get it out early?
There is growing opinion that the format is about to be ripe for midrange decks to take over. There are two proven ways to win the midrange mirror match: get to two-spell-one-turn territory first, and have more inevitability than the opponent. There are few cards in Standard that are better at ending a game than Sandwurm Convergence. If we do settle into a midrange grindfest over the next few weeks, having this card at the top of our curve is an excellent way to win the war. The first ability alone shuts down Glorybringer, Heart of Kiran, Archangel Avacyn, Archfiend of Ifnir, and even Drake tokens. A free 5/5 every turn will eventually grind the opponent down even if we have nothing else going on, but in a deck that is almost certainly drawing to planeswalkers and is sitting on removal galore, the win could very well be sooner than later.
The green decks that want this will be either Jund or Abzan, possibly Sultai. As with most grindy decks we would look to trade one-for-one early, just diminishing the opponent's resources slowly as we build up our mana base. Cards like Ob Nixilis Reignited and Chandra, Torch of Defiance will act as the tide-turners to help us gain advantage without investing mana. Then we close the door with Sandwurm Convergence. A time-honored game plan to be sure but one that definitely suffers if enchantment hate becomes more prevalent. Green does have ways to recur permanents (Nissa, Vital Force being the best), and white has both Restoration Specialist and Emeria Shepherd to bring it back as needed.
And So We Wait
That's all we have time for this week folks. As always, thanks for stopping by. This coming weekend will be like moving the bus from in front of the newly-renovated house. What will shape Standard? I cannot wait to find out. Personally, all I really want to do is just jam Liliana, Death's Majesty in everything. More on that in a future article, but the next you hear from me will be the Pro Tour Brew Review next week.
Until next time...Brew On!