When Elder Deep-Fiend was first printed, it quickly became a hot commodity in Standard, teaming up with Emrakul, the Promised End and Kozilek's Return to form one of the top decks in a Standard that was otherwise dominated by Collected Company.
While Emrakul, the Promised End continued to live near the top tables until its banning, Elder Deep-Fiend has largely fallen out of the format save for the fringe U/R Emerge deck and some variants of Temur where it was mostly a role-player rather than a focal point.
And that decline makes sense when you consider that the combo of emerge creatures and Kozilek's Return needs a lot of things to go right to work. You have to assemble a reasonable body to sacrifice and a Kozilek's Return in the graveyard, all while not falling too far behind on the battlefield and having a plan for when your 5/6 is answered. You also have the Prized Amalgam part of the deck that needs a lot of enablers to set up consistently.
But after the first week of Standard post-Hour of Devastation, it looks like Champion of Wits is the missing piece of the puzzle. It gives the deck added velocity to find all the pieces of the puzzle, allows you to put the pieces that need to be in the graveyard in the graveyard, and provides a sacrificial body for the alien overlords. That would already be enough, but as a bonus you get the eternalize aspect of the card, which is an excellent late-game play, although I wouldn't expect to utilize it that often.
With Champion of Wits in the deck, everything sort of falls into place. Vessel of Nascency is the best enabler and enables delirium for Traverse the Ulvenwald, while Lightning Axe rounds out the enabler list and provides some much-needed interaction. Some lists have incorporated copies of Strategic Planning to go even harder on the graveyard plan, but this one uses its flex spots for some Traverse the Ulvenwald bullets that let you play a more normalized game.
Glorybringer is really another removal spell that is particularly good against planeswalkers, while Ishkanah, Grafwidow gives you a way to stabilize the battlefield against aggressive decks when you need more time to set up your engine. Both are more than worthy of singleton slots and I like the versatility they bring.
We saw Emerge decks thrive in a large Standard format that contained all the tools to make them work, and now that we're back to that size, it looks poised to...re-emerge.
...I'll show myself out.
- 4 Champion of Wits
- 4 Elder Deep-Fiend
- 1 Glorybringer
- 4 Prized Amalgam
- 4 Stitchwing Skaab
- 1 Ishkanah, Grafwidow