I think almost everyone who saw Prime Speaker Vannifar knew immediately that it would be a Standard all-star, but finding the best shell around it has caused much debate. I'm excited to try a Temur version based around Rhythm of the Wild that makes Prime Speaker Vannifar both uncounterable and hasty. There are limitless possibilities with this Birthing Pod variant, but today I'm going to show you the version I've been most successful with and the list I would play if I was attending SCG Indianapolis this weekend:
- 1 Biogenic Ooze
- 1 Deathgorge Scavenger
- 1 Exclusion Mage
- 1 Golgari Findbroker
- 1 Hostage Taker
- 4 Jadelight Ranger
- 1 Kitesail Freebooter
- 1 Kraul Harpooner
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 4 Merfolk Branchwalker
- 1 Mesmerizing Benthid
- 1 Midnight Reaper
- 1 Plague Mare
- 1 Plaguecrafter
- 1 Ravenous Chupacabra
- 1 Reclamation Sage
- 1 Timestream Navigator
- 1 Wildgrowth Walker
- 1 Lazav, the Multifarious
- 1 Muldrotha, the Gravetide
- 4 Prime Speaker Vannifar
I've flipped and flopped between Adventurous Impulse and Incubation//Incongruity quite a bit, but at this moment I've been playing a ton of Arena, and in best-of-one I like the versatility of Incubation//Incongruity solely because it provides me outs in game 1 to Tocatli Honor Guard. I have many concerns about how Adventurous Impulse changes deckbuilding since it should lead you to play less lands, which causes me to draw fewer cards on average with Merfolk Branchwalker and Jadelight Ranger. It's nice that Adventurous Impulse can do some color fixing, but it does see two fewer cards than Incubation, something that could easily be the difference maker if your only goal is to maximize your chances of seeing Prime Speaker Vannifar.
Speaking of the Elf Ooze Wizard, she's quite popular, but I haven't seen a single build with as much versatility or inevitability as what I've come up with. The reason I'm most excited about this build is Timestream Navigator, which can be easily searched up with Vannifar and when activated, conveniently ends up back in my library. The combo here involved untapping with Timestream Navigator, Prime Speaker Vannifar, and Muldrotha, the Gravetide to repeatedly tutor up Timestream Navigator. At first I had a list with Rhythm of the Wild to help make Timestream Navigator hasty and better at going off, but once I realized I could activate it and tutor for it on the same turn to ensure on the following turn I would start with it and have it unaffected by summoning sickness, it became clear the best option was to solely stick to the colors that help enable Muldrotha.
Kraul Harpooner has already seen Constructed play in green decks, killing Niv-Mizzet, Parun and Crackling Drake despite green typically not having much removal outside of the fighting mechanic and some Plummet action. This is a wonderful tutor target since it's an acceptable draw on its own as a 3/2 for two mana, but it can be sacrificed in a matchup where it has low utility and transformed into one of the amazing three-drops. Lastly, with four copies of Incubation//Incongruity you can often see these unique creatures and not necessarily always end up with them in your hand. Kraul Harpooner is a dead card less often since it can be put on the bottom of your library with Incongruity or your graveyard with Jadelight Ranger, and it can be kept when needed.
Kitesail Freebooter is a Modern staple, and this type of effect has always been strong. I was worried I would have too many anti-creature cards, and I wanted a more robust tutor package in case I had to face a Nexus of Fate deck in game 1. I have considered Burglar Rat in this slot since it's more sacrifice-friendly with Vannifar and given the choice between Reclamation Sage and Thrashing Brontodon, I would greatly prefer Reclamation Sage since it can be powerful and leave behind a valuable body.
I've gone back and forth on Wildgrowth Walker, and it's possible once the best list of Sultai Vannifar exists, it could easily have four Wildgrowth Walker maindeck. I prioritized Jadelight Ranger and Merfolk Branchwalker as my creature package since they can provide immense value before being sacrificed. Explore also provides card selection exactly the same way surveil and scry does, so incorporating these also gives me additional chances to see my hallmark card in any given game. I wanted to be able to search up lifegain since Mono-Red Aggro has a ton of sweet tools now with Ravnica Allegience, and I can't tell if I want Wildgrowth Walker or Pelakka Wurm.
One awesome aspect of decks like this is if you really want to you can tip the scales to make any matchup favorable. For instance, if I was very concerned about my Mono-Red Aggro matchup, I would want to be sure to have a knockout punch on every step of the curve; having Wildgrowth Walker on the battlefield and repeatedly tutoring up explore creatures was the first thing that came to mind, but honestly you can push it to the most extreme end of the spectrum and possibly have a tutor chain, which involves the best lifegain card on every spot of the curve.
Midnight Reaper doesn't look like it's all that special, but I always ran one copy of Grim Haruspex in my Rally the Ancestors lists, and I see no reason why this creature-based combo deck can't also have a nice value package. I will caution you that sacrificing a creature to Prime Speaker Vannifar on the battlefield can have risk involved since the draw trigger from Midnight Reaper resolves before the activated ability of Prime Speaker Vannifar, so a small percentage of the time you'll draw the card you hoped to tutor for which can sometimes be awkward.
Exclusion Mage is one of the slots I'm least sure about since Sultai Vannifar, unlike Temur or Bant lists that I've seen, has access to both Ravenous Chupacabra and Hostage Taker--way higher impact anti-creature slots. I've disliked drawing Exclusion Mage except against Mono-White Aggro or any deck that's drawn History of Benalia.
Plague Mare and Ravenous Chupacabra are stone cold killers against aggro and frankly, I'm not sure any Prime Speaker Vannifar deck is worth playing if you can't sacrifice a two-drop to search up either Plague Mare or Goblin Chainwhirler. Enough of the metagame is warped around Llanowar Elves, Healer's Hawk, and maybe even Gutterbones moving forward. Every Chord of Calling deck in Modern that I've ever seen has an Orzhov Pontiff somewhere, and I would heavily advocate against deviating from this tried and true strategy.
Plaguecrafter is a fairly high payoff for branching into black as well since it gives you an effect similar to Vraska's Contempt and doesn't hurt your overall creature count. It's a little awkward that your opponent has as much control over the outcome, but I can't imagine a Ravnica Allegiance Standard metagame without Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, and the existence of Plaguecrafter forces any deck with Planeswalkers to respect the power of Prime Speaker Vannifar.
In my experiences in playing with Temur or Bant Vannifar lists, midgame I would often ask, "Do we have an Eternal Witness?" and the answer was always no. I registered two copies of Golgari Findbroker in the maindeck of my Golgari Midrange list at Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica, and I've given this card my stamp of approval as powerful and absolutely exceeding the threshold for what I consider to be Standard playable. If you're looking for an Eternal Witness effect in your Vannifar decks, Findbroker is the way to go.
Five-drops in these lists tend to be underwhelming and having tried all sorts of crazy ideas, like Tatyova, Benthid Druid, I've concluded that the new mythic rares are the most exciting. Biogenic Ooze and Mezmerizing Benthid are two cards that I would be happy to slam turn 3 on the play - assuming I luck into the double Llanowar Elves start - and I could see them carrying me to a victory. I've won plenty of games of Limited with these cards, and they both provide that Cloudgoat Ranger feeling when they enter the battlefield. Honestly, five mana is where I've been struggling with Prime Speaker Vannifar, so if you have any great ideas, I'm all ears.
I tried a list with one copy of Blood Operative at three and multiple Doom Whisperer as my five drops, and I liked it because Doom Whisperer is incredibly powerful and synergizes with a lot of what's going on here. I had concerns that tutoring it up wouldn't be as impactful since it doesn't have an enters the battlefield trigger and sacrificing it also provides no value, but this is offset by the fact that when you sacrifice it to Vannifar, you always get Muldrotha, which you can then use to recast it. At this stage in my preparation, I know exactly how good Doom Whisperer is, and I don't know exactly how good the new flashy mythics are; my testing continues with the saucy new cards for now.
I will mention that although it doesn't look like it, Prime Speaker Vannifar and Doom Whisperer do have positive synergy together since they're both awesome and on-curve when played together. Playing many cards which demand an answer can be strong since overloading what few answers your opponent may have is a great way to break through.
Sultai Vannifar has a lot of big things going for it leading into this weekend, and I think the biggest is that with Wildgrowth Walker, Plague Mare, and Ravenous Chupacabra, you have an incredible tutor suite against aggro decks. Once you sideboard you get access to the best sideboard cards in Standard - Negate and Duress. It's always good to have a mix here since having only Negate makes you easy to play against and only Duress can cause an overall lower quality of topdecks later in the game which is a legitimate concern given that you essentially only sideboard it in when you play against a deck which has the express goal of playing a long game.
One of the best approaches to tournament Magic is to show up with the best strategy, but also acknowledge how the metagame might look from an outside perspective. What I mean by that is if I think Prime Speaker Vannifar is the best deck in the format, it's probably not a huge secret and almost everyone else is trying it as well. Rather than show up with the goods and hope for the best, I like to be prepared for what might be an issue.
The biggest problems I've run into with the deck are Tocalti Honor Guard and anyone who has a surplus of creature kill to keep Vannifar off the battlefield. One way to punish Tocalti Honor Guard is to play Incubation//Incongruity over Adventurous Impulse to give yourself access to outs for the duration of a game. Further, the best strategy I've found for punishing players who overload on removal is to stock up on Dive Down, and I could easily see a few copies maindeck if you decide some of my tutor targets are a bit lacking.
Standard is healthier and more diverse than it's ever been and with this shockland + checkland manabase, you can safely play any three-color wedge and be successful. I'm optimistic about Prime Speaker Vannifar decks because they really seem to be pushing the limits of what's legal. Currently in Standard, there's a Man-o'-War and a Nekrataal available alongside things like Kitesail Freebooter and almost-clone Lazav, the Multifarious. Decks like this are usually only as good as the creatures you can dig up, and the creatures in current Standard are absurd. What would you want that's not already here?