Great cards don't always find great homes.
It's not uncommon for very good Magic cards to slip through the cracks of a format and never see much play. A great card without a deck to put it in isn't very useful, and sometimes these cards can go through and entire Standard format without ever getting to see any play. Savage Knuckleblade was a great example of this, as it was on par in power level with cards like Mantis Rider and Siege Rhino but had no support. We can also see great cards be a victim of their format; Shadowmage Infiltrator was a fantastic creature, but had to exist in a Standard format where the two best cards were Wild Mongrel and Psychatog, both cards that made Shadowmage Infiltrator look silly.
Finding these underappreciated gems is very important because at any moment they may become a cornerstone of their format.
When she first entered Standard, Chandra, Torch of Defiance was a pretty big bust. Gideon, Ally of Zendikar was the preferred aggressive planeswalker, and Chandra didn't really slot into any of the existing decks and was very weak to Smuggler's Copter. Fumigate was also a pretty big bust to start, despite being the best five-mana Wrath of God variant ever printed, because the format was completely awash with vehicles and planeswalkers. Since then, however, both cards have rightfully become important pieces to Standard.
So what card has had my eye for a long time now?
If you've been following my articles for the past few months or so, you know I am enamored with Adanto Vanguard. It's one of the best aggressive two-drops printed in a long time but has been without a reasonable deck to call home so far. And trust me: it's not for lack of trying. I've been brewing with the card for a while now, trying it in mono-white decks and then in G/W beatdown decks with Appeal, but nothing was really sticking. I wanted to take the "pump the indestructible creature" plan a bit further, however, and starting sketching out a U/W deck with a bunch of auras on Magic Online.
The idea was cool, but it never got past the drawing board because there simply weren't enough cards for the deck. The sketch got abandoned in my Magic Online decklist folder, and I moved on to other things.
Enter Rivals of Ixalan.
While one would think the biggest boon for Adanto Vanguard in Rivals of Ixalan would be a bevy of new Vampires to party with, I had other ideas:
Before we get to the exciting new Rivals of Ixalan cards, let's talk about another powerful but underutilized card that is the cornerstone of the deck.
Sram, Senior Edificer is actually an extremely powerful Magic card. Two mana for a 2/2 is the going rate, and it's very hard to not draw at least one card off of him if you're careful. Unopposed Sram is a card draw engine that is cheap and directly synergistic with the types of cards he wants you to play.
Aye, but there's the rub, isn't it?
Auras, equipment, and vehicles are all fairly niche types. If Sram drew you a card for each creature or artifact you played, he would be broken, but in order to unlock his potential we need to fill our deck with less desirable types. Sram asks a lot of you in deckbuilding, but it is quite the payoff if the rest of the cards around him can work together cohesively when he doesn't show up.
And work together cohesively it does!
U/W Heroic looks and plays out more like a Modern or Legacy deck than a Standard deck, with only twenty lands and almost every card in the decklist costing one or two mana. You also draw a ton of cards while presenting a fairly fast clock that is difficult to interact with. You're not all-in like Modern G/W Hexproof, as because you draw so many cards, one of your enchanted creatures dying isn't the end of the world. Playing blue also gives us access to Spell Pierce and Negate in our sideboard, which is critically important in a format where Approach of the Second Sun and God-Pharaoh's Gift are things.
Let's go through the list piece by piece.
If we're playing a deck based around auras, the most critical thing is that they provide us some sort of card advantage to mitigate the card disadvantage that will happen if our enchanted creature is killed. Thankfully all of our auras do that at a very low cost while also giving significant combat bonuses.
Curious Obsession is our first Rivals of Ixalan card, and it is probably the best Curiosity ever printed. Getting a power and toughness boost on top of the Curiosity effect is fantastic, and the drawback is almost completely negligible. As long as you get in at least one hit, you've already gotten your card back, with the potential there for so much more. Bonus points for putting it on a creature with flying or-gasp!--double strike.
Anyone who's played Amonkhet Limited knows the power of the Cartouches, with the white and blue ones being the most efficient of the bunch. Cartouche of Solidarity provides a great creature boost as well as another body, and the one mana auras play phenomenally well with Sram. Cartouche of Knowledge is even better, as the card draw is already built in and flying is very powerful in the current Standard format.
Tip: Try to sequence so you play Sram and then an aura immediately afterward in the same turn. By never giving your opponent a chance to kill him before you play an aura you will always draw at least one extra card.
With a lot of incidental flying, lifelink, and double strike in the deck, our auras are extra effective as well.
Okay, so we have our indestructible creature (Adanto Vanguard), our card draw engine (Sram, Senior Edificer), and a twelve pack of solid auras. The concern is how good the supporting cast is. Surprisingly, it's quite good!
The deck was really lacking a solid one-drop, and once again Rivals of Ixalan delivers. Skymarcher Aspirant looks like a Vampire-tinted Savannah Lions, but while the ascend clause may look like a tacked on ability, it's actually very relevant. With an extremely low mana curve and seven cards that create two permanents for one mana (Legion's Landing and Cartouche of Solidarity), this deck can ascend as early as turn 3 and will almost always have the city's blessing by turn 4. As such, Skymarcher Aspirant is basically a Savannah Lions with flying, which is amazing.
Legion's Landing is another very powerful card that's starting to shine, providing awesome value, a midgame Rampant Growth, and late game resilience. The 1/1 lifelink token is very relevant in a deck with so many auras, and the ability to constantly make creatures once you flip it into Adanto, the First Fort means you'll never be without a creature to target.
Sacred Cat isn't nearly as exciting as Legion's Landing, but it's a nice little value one-drop that provides a good body for your auras and is resistant to removal. It's often excellent as a chump blocker in racing situations as well, as ideally you'll be putting your auras on your better creatures.
The last creature in our deck is a unique combination of power and resilience. Adorned Pouncer is a fantastic target for your auras- you haven't lived until you've put a Curious Obsession on it- which provides you with some extra punch. Against decks light on removal Adorned Pouncer can rule the battlefield with an aura or two. Against decks with a lot of removal they have to kill it, which lets you just embalm it in the midgame. A 4/4 double striker is nothing to sneeze at, giving you ample ammo in games where you need to grind.
Trial of Solidarity is the only card in the maindeck that costs more than two mana, and is effectively your finisher. The boost it provides is significant, and with eight Cartouches in your deck it's very easy to rebuy it over and over until your opponent is dead. It's a card you would like to draw but never want to draw two of, so for now we have only one copy. With all of the deck's card draw, finding it isn't too hard.
Interacting with our opponents is going to be necessary, so we've got a little bit of removal and protection as well.
The last Rivals of Ixalan standout for the deck is Baffling End, which looks to be one of the premier removal spells in the format. Having some sort of removal in your deck in Standard is almost mandatory and Unsummon was just too temporary. Baffling End also counts as a permanent for ascend, which is nice as well.
If you hadn't played Ixalan Limited, you may have been unaware of the existence of Sheltering Light, but it's a nice little protection spell with some added value. We're going to be going pretty big on our creatures, and having a way to protect the non-Adanto Vanguard ones from removal is very nice. Sheltering Light can also help protect Sram from removal and can be used as a combat trick in a pinch. Dive Down has upsides and downsides to Sheltering Light, but the dealbreaker is that leaving up a white mana is much easier than a blue.
The sideboard features most of the usual suspects.
Negate and Spell Pierce are critical parts of any anti-control plan and a major draw to the deck. Because all of your spells are so cheap, it's very easy to keep developing your battlefield and leave up countermagic on turns 3-5, which are the most important turns that a control deck will be trying to stabilize.
Tip: Make sure you consider what it is you're concerned with countering from your opponent. Don't be afraid to tap out going into their turn 4 if it helps to build your battlefield, as they can't Fumigate until turn 5 and you'll be untapped to counter Settle the Wreckage on your turn. You shouldn't be leaving up Negate each turn "just in case" instead of developing your battlefield - have a good reason for doing so!
The fourth copy of Baffling End and Slash of Talons gives you a little more removal against the tribal decks, which will be packed with creatures and have less removal. Your protection spells and Trial of Solidarity won't really be necessary there. Authority of the Consuls and Squire's Devotion are a huge boon in your Mono-Red Aggro matchup, which is quite good.
A Whole New World
I've played this deck in two competitive leagues on Magic Online so far and gone 3-2 with an earlier version of the deck and 4-1 with a list closer to this one.
I can also honestly say this is one of the most fun decks I've played in Standard in a long time. You get to play tons of spells each game, draw a bunch of cards, make good attacks, and almost all of your games are interesting. You've also got reasonable game against just about everything, with a lot of different avenues to victory.
Lastly, this deck is ridiculously cheap!
While "budget" Standard decks are a popular niche among FNM and casual players, this deck ended up being budget purely by accident. I'm playing every card I want to play, it just happens that many of them are commons and uncommons. No mythics! Buying the entire deck fromStarCityGames.com® [ CEDitor's Note: Great job there, Jim!] is well under $100, and I'm sure you can scrounge up a lot of the commons and uncommons from your store's junk box. It's even more comically cheap online, coming in at about 25 tickets.
We've only just begun Rivals of Ixalan Standard, and I am having an awesome time!