Post Pro Tour Amonkhet, we somehow we find ourselves in the interesting position of Mardu Vehicles having been almost 30% of the day 1 metagame and yet rarely showing its face in the feature match area. This can only be good news for fans of Standard going forward, following on from the reactionary fear after #SCGATL that the deck was still too good and we were doomed to five weeks (give or take three days) of Mardu mirrors.
I do love Magic players sometimes.
At time of writing we don't have any decklists from the Pro Tour to discuss, but there were some general themes and emerging powerhouses to talk about, as well as some potential answers we can play with for Game Day, FNM and of course #SCGKY. We'll have a more detailed look at some of the fun brews from the Tour in the next article.
How Do You Stop a Sun From Approaching?
If there's one thing that has become very clear in the early days of this format, it's that Approach of the Second Sun is a real card that is incredibly difficult to interact with. Most decks just cannot do anything to prevent the inevitable ending, short of just beating down.
Aside from the expected home in U/W control shells, we've also seen it show up in Aetherworks Marvel decks (also somewhat expected) and as the win condition in the New Perspectives combo deck. Given that only blue really has a way to deal with the card when cast, how do other colors beat it?
It is, as we have seen, exceedingly difficult to just race the Second Sun Control decks. Aside from the seven life they gain from the first casting, they also have Fumigate and sometimes Renewed Faith to buffer their life totals and plenty of spot removal and countermagic to keep the pressure off. This isn't a glass-cannon combo deck. That said, the Zombies decks can provide enough pressure and resiliency to fight through the removal, and the B/W versions even have a decent amount of reach. Transgress the Mind can definitely catch the card in hand, and we can also Lost Legacy for it to really ruin the control player's day.
The combo version is even more susceptible to Lost Legacy, but also doesn't have the removal and sweepers that U/W has. That said, it can win as early as turn 5 with an ideal draw and, once again, is very hard to stop once it gets going. Unlike with U/W versions, the New Persepctives deck has an additional point of vulnerability in New Perspectives itself. Responding to Shadow of the Grave with removal on New Perspectives will stop the combo cold, and is a lot easier to pull off than stopping the Approach of the Second Sun.
But what if, like me, you want to play Approach of the Second Sun but don't want to be vulnerable to any of this? The fact that you need to get to seven mana and plow through six more cards to win the game is the built-in drawback, especially in a format with several viable aggressive decks. The answer to that question would appear to be ramping. A green base not only lets us cast Approach early, it also provides several ways to clear cards from the top of the deck to allow us to redraw and cast it again. We have the option of G/U splashing white just for the finish, or sticking to G/W and sacrificing cards like Pull from Tomorrow for Fumigate and Cast Out. I think the G/U version is better, because we also get Part the Waterveil:
There are some cards in here that are reaches, and Spring is near the top of that list. As we're probably not going to be casting Mind very often, is Natural Connection (being at instant speed) just better? I think the possibility of drawing two cards right now is better than the ability to ramp at instant speed, lacking as we have any landfall payoffs.
Baral's Expertise is going to have to do a lot of work here, both to keep the opponent off our backs and to put a number of powerful things into play. Expertise can cast a lot of this deck (though sadly not Spring any more, another small point in the favor of Natural Connection), not least of which are the two powerful ramping four-mana spells. With that said, I wish we could reliably play Engulf the Shore in this deck.
I wanted to avoid any creature-based ramp because the removal in the top-tier decks right now is so good that we are not going to get much use out of those creatures. Even using the awaken cost on Part the Waterveil is a risky prospect in the face of Unlicensed Disintegration, Never, Murder, and even Dark Salvation given that we are not going to be removing many Zombies from the battlefield. Lumbering Falls and Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger should be safe in most cases, though Oath of Liliana is a real concern.
I won't pretend to be happy about playing Haze of Pollen in my main deck, but this is an aggressive format and we do need time to get set up. Without Fumigate to reset things we are at the mercy of our own deck drawing well, and although we can do some things to influence that, we do need to prepare for the better aggressive draws. Weirding Wood over Gift of the Harvest might seem to fly in the face of that concept to some degree, but the extra card draw from cracking the Clue is important enough that I want to start there.
On Tuesday of last week, I sent the following list to my good friend Samantha who wanted to beat down with Hazoret the Fervent in Standard:
- 3 Lupine Prototype
- 3 Bloodrage Brawler
- 1 Combat Celebrant
- 2 Falkenrath Gorger
- 4 Longtusk Cub
- 4 Noose Constrictor
- 3 Hazoret the Fervent
- 3 Rhonas the Indomitable
- 2 Samut, Voice of Dissent
I really liked how Hazoret plays with Rhonas the Indomitable, and the rest of the deck was designed to just empty our hand quickly and put a lot of damage into the opponent's face as quickly as possible. Having seen the deck tech on Jund Gods, I was pretty happy to be so close to a decklist that the pros themselves had brought to battle. That said, I think this list has some obvious holes in it that need to be addressed.
I am not sure the energy package is the way we want to go. I didn't want to play Greenbelt Rampager because of the negative synergy with Lupine Prototype and Hazoret the Fervent, but Longtusk Cub has the potential to just run away with games by itself. Harnessed Lightning as well is one of the best removal spells we have. If we cut the energy package we can go up to four Falkenrath Gorger and add four Kessig Prowler to make our one-drops more consistent, even though neither of them can crew Heart of Kiran alone.
Combat Celebrant is a test, and I think it is fine to try out when we can potentially get double use out of a Rhonas pump. Bonus: It also untaps whatever we might have used to crew Heart of Kiran. The one toughness and lack of haste make me pretty wary, but sometimes the payoff will be worth it. Turning on Rhonas is not nothing, either.
Two Samut,Voice of Dissent is not only too many, it's probably the wrong five-drop when Glorybringer is in the format. Getting a five-drop stuck in our hand also makes our hand-emptying cards that much worse. Although cutting the energy theme would likely lead me to Lightning Axe over Harnessed Lightning, I don't really want to include something on the grounds that we can always just discard it to Lightning Axe.
Exemplar of Strength would also be worth considering. Channeler Initiate has the advantage of speeding up our early deployment while becoming a threat itself and should probably have been in the deck to start with.
Having seen how scary Insult can be, I am loathe to cut it. Aggressive decks have to be careful about the number of reactive cards they run, finding the balance between clearing out blockers and clogging up their hand with spells they can't cast. Injury has the bonus of only being reactive in the graveyard, so it's much more reasonable to include here.
The sideboard is a work in progress. I am very excited about the prospects of Harsh Mentor against some of the slower decks as they punish everything from cracking Clues to crewing vehicles. Sadly it doesn't care about Planeswalker activations, but that damage can be redirected to them. Prowling Serpopard is an answer to a local metagame that is heavy on control decks with as many as fourteen counterspells, but could easily be taken out for something else...like Glorybringer. I'd also really like to find a home for By Force and Nissa, Voice of Zendikar in the 75.
Build a Better Marvel
One thing that really stood out to me was how many different ways there are to play Aetherworks Marvel decks right now. We knew about Temur, Bant (sadly without Inspiring Statuary) was an emerging strategy, but Team Puzzle Quest really brought something interesting to the table with their Sultai version.
Aside from anything else, playing black in a Marvel strategy lets us play Liliana, Death's Majesty, which is one of my stated goals for the next few weeks. Seriously, that card is too good. Reanimating Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger seems like a reasonable use of three loyalty, does it not? And is that Demon of Dark Schemes I see hiding out? That makes me unreasonably happy, as I have been waiting for that card to take off. That we can cast, reanimate, or hit the Demon on a Marvel activation may be exactly the bump it needed to start seeing some play.
Remember when Ishkanah, Grafwidow was a completely fair and reasonable card that was easy to beat? No, you don't. Stop pretending. You know what's even better than one Ishkanah? Recurring Ishkanah. If all those Spiders aren't enough to give you the win via opponent's arachnophobia, they certainly do a fine job of making sure you aren't dead.
Is Sultai the best way to go? Temur does offer Whirler Virtuoso as a stalling mechanism that also produces energy, plus it has the ability to switch it up and play Bristling Hydra in the sideboard against decks that can either Lost Legacy all your Ulamog or Dispossess all your Marvels.
I have also toyed with playing a single Aetherwinds Basker as an alternative win condition with a swarm of Thopter tokens, and perhaps even Decimator of Provinces and/or Elder Deep-Fiend to make use of those Rogue Refiners. Nissa, Vital Force is an option here as well to join her BFF Chandra, Torch of Defiance as a conversion plan in the sideboard.
Do we even need blue? Abzan Marvel is something that has been on my radar for a while, with the white giving us access to Fumigate and Emeria Shepherd to go along with the G/B shell from the Sultai list. We do lose Rogue Refiner which is a big hit, but we could perhaps pick up that deficit with Live Fast? Not a great card, but it does some of the job.
The benefit to Abzan is in the ability to go longer and to sideboard into a solid Planeswalker plan with two very powerful six-mana options. We also get Cast Out, Anguished Unmaking, and Linvala, the Preserver to play with. Thalia's Lancers is an option to fetch up Aetherworks Marvel, and we could even consider Sigarda, Heron's Grace as a silver bullet!
That's all we have this week folks. As always, thanks for stopping by. Next time out we will take our usual deep-dive into the Pro Tour decklists to find those hidden gems we can take and tweak to make them our own. Until next time...Brew On!