Alara Reborn is finally here and the sound of the impact it is having on Magic can be heard reverberating in every game store at every kitchen table in every FNM and soon at every Regional Championship.
While recent sets like Conflux have been praised for "having an effect" on the format such as the way that Volcanic Fallout has changed the face of Standard Magic in some respects how Path to Exile has given decks a potent weapon the likes of which they never would have had and Noble Hierarch has spawned entirely new archetypes Alara Reborn will surpass this influence by no small margin.
First of all Alara Reborn is deep. The 80th best card in Alara Reborn is probably better than the 40th best card in Morningtide. This means that there are a lot of subtle factors to consider that are impacting the format.
In addition the set has some strong stars. Morningtide had Bitterblossom Reveillark Mutavault and Chameleon Colossus. Alara Reborn has Bloodbraid Elf Maelstrom Pulse Anathemancer and more but it also features a very high concentration of quality cards like Identity Crisis Bituminous Blast Uril the Miststalker Behemoth Sledge Meddling Mage Lord of Extinction Jenera Colossal Might Qasali Pridemage and the Blades.
There are so many new cards of quality available to players that even if 2/3rds of them end up to be second rate or worse the set may have a larger impact on Standard than any other set that's currently legal (!).
Rather than continue to hype what I believe to be an exceptional set let's get down to business. Let's talk about some of the decks that people will be playing in Standard come Regionals.
Let's cut straight to the chase. A lot of people have been asking me what I imagine Five-Color Control decks will look like with Alara Reborn. There are Standard Grand Prix tournaments coming up but honestly my top priority is winning Honolulu. I know that Block Constructed doesn't affect many people as yet so I suspect that no one will mind if I just focus on Standard in my articles pulling no punches.
I also suspect that what I imagine for Five-Color may shock you.
First of all I want to acknowledge that this is very different from the Five-Color Control decks that people currently play. I am just suggesting that this might be a direction in which they start to go. Bloodbraid Elf is new power card and while he asks much I think he is worth it. Not only is he worth it he also makes me want to play a much more aggressive style of Five-Color Control deck (that and Anathemancer exists…)
You have heard me saying it for weeks now: Bloodbraid Elf is the truth. It is in a category with Bitterblossom and Cryptic Command. It is a relatively demanding mistress as it makes it hard to use cheap countermagic situational removal and x-spells but the payoff is so high.
All you have to do is imagine flipping up a typical card like Esper Charm. It is like you are casting Harmonize except that it is essentially uncounterable and instead of the third card you get a 3/2 haste elf for zero mana which is completely bonkers (and Harmonize would have been a great card anyway even if it wasn't uncounterable and have the option to kill enchantments discard cards or attack Planeswalkers).
This particular build obviously highlights the Bloodbraid Elf trading most of the cheap reactive cards for slightly more powerful effects and ways to "cheat" the Cascade trigger.
For instance Shriekmaw is used instead of Terror because honestly I don't want to reveal a Terror to Bloodbraid or Bituminous Blast. Shriekmaw is a fine card on its own and the ability to buy the body is certainly worth something. In this case I am venturing to say that the Kitchen Finks / Bloodbraid Elf / Anathemancer beatdown combined with powerful card draw and reactive cards are enough to make up for the slight decrease in matchup percentage. Besides if you have a Mind Stone you can drop a Black mana after the Clique and still Shriekmaw it. Just remember to hold on to the right land.
I really like Shriekmaw against Boat Brew style decks anyway. The Fear creature is highly underrated. A lot of people are all about Terminate now talking about it surpassing Path to Exile as the defining removal of the format. Here's the thing: Path to Exile is only what it is because it is White and because you can do it to yourself.
Why did Nassif play Terror instead of Path? What about LSV? Terror is the standard. Besides if you think about it how much does Terminate kill that Terror doesn't really? Sculler? Demigod? Doran? What else? A Bitterblossom token? And at what cost? Terminate doesn't work with Sunken Ruins Cascade Bluffs Mystic Gate Flooded Grove or Island. You can’t even kill Forge-Tender with it and that is one of the more important cards to Terror!
Don't get me wrong I am not saying Terminate is bad. I am just saying that it is nothing special compared to Terror and Shriekmaw. It is in the same league. If you are playing a deck that can easily cast it it is probably slightly better than Terror but even still I play a lot of Jund decks that can easily cast it but want to play Treetop Village on turn 1 which is awkward if you are trying to Terminate a Figure of Destiny.
The Pyroclasm and Broken Ambitions are essentially the worst cards to flip to Bloodbraid but it is hardly the end of the world. Pyroclasm still resolves before the Elf is in play so it is not always dead. Besides you need a certain amount of sweeping to protect against tokens and it doubles as answer to Figure unlike Fallout.
The Broken Ambitions is slightly less dead than a Remove Soul as it can still be played for zero targeting the Elf. This slight library manipulation is worth more than zero (since it is just another option) and if you win the clash you actually mill yourself which might be randomly cute with Anathemancer or even Cruel.
For the most part however I like the Broken Ambitions just so that they never know. It sucks when your opponent can play you a certain way because they know you have no cheap permission. One counter hardly changes everything but having the one makes it a kick in the pants every time.
You might be curious about the Kitchen Finks making a comeback but this is actually fairly intuitive. First of all Kitchen Finks is one of the best possible cards to flip to a Bloodbraid Elf. When you do you are essentially getting eight power over three bodies as well as four life and protection from Wrath and Counterspells. That is obviously very appealing.
Finks is solid against a number of decks right now. Red is on the rise with cards like Jund Hackblade Bloodbraid Elf and Anathemancer. That extra life can really go a long way not to mention having a body that can live through Terminate.
Without the early defense from the Finks it can be difficult to survive the onslaught of an aggressive Red aggro deck. Even when you are not playing against such a deck however it is still a fine compliment to your Bloodbraid beatdown plan.
I also think Persist is back in a big way as Terminate and Maelstrom Pulse will only further the arms race of quality removal being played by tournament players. Sure people can Path to Exile it but not everyone is playing White. What about those relying on Agony Warp Terror Terminate Pulse Wrath Fallout and so on?
Similarly while Murderous Redcap doesn't appear in this build I think he is a solid card these days and should be explored in a number of different decks but with Cryptic Command and Bloodbraid Elf (plus even Ajani Vengeant and Wrath if you wanted) it is more likely he will appear in Jund or R/W decks than in Five-Color decks. Keep in mind I don’t even use the term "Five-Color Control" to describe this deck as it is not a control deck at all. It is literally a five color Bloodbraid Elf deck.
Anathemancer makes an appearance in my deck and I know that the maindeck inclusion will surprise many. Maybe it is not right but I am a hateful man and want to win the mirror. Even though there are only two the Bloodbraids essentially "tutor" it up as they not only Cascade it into play but very likely put some number of cards that are not it on the bottom of your library increasing the percentage chance of it appearing in a given game.
Outside of the Five-Color mirror where it is obviously the blade Anathemancer has a variety of other functions. Against Faeries it is a powerful tool against Jace; it is another beater to complement Finks and Bloodbraid; and it serves as a sort of Banefire late since the Unearth is more or less uncounterable.
Against many other decks he serves as a Nekrataal that 187's Planeswalkers when he comes into play with an option to kill another Planeswalker later. Even if he can't kill it outright knocking Ajani from 7 to 4 can make a world of difference.
It may be that the metagame is just wrong for maindeck Anathemancers but I personally plan on winning the mirror and I have seen so many decks that straight up can't beat the card.
I am not sure how to beat it myself. Maybe Runed Halo maybe Story Circle maybe damage prevention or redirection spells. I don't know. I just know that the card is legit.
Maelstrom Pulse is overrated in much the same way as Path to Exile. If you were expecting Swords to Plowshares you will be disappointed. However if it is merely a tournament staple that helps define the format you are in luck. Maelstrom Pulse is NOT Vindicate. It simply isn't. But it is far better than Oblivion Ring. Not close.
Spectral Procession Bitterblossom tokens Figures of Destiny that have been Rangered and multiple Glorious Anthems are just the start. On top of that it doesn't randomly get Esper Charmed at awkward moments.
Maelstrom Pulse delivers. It just delivers what it promises and nothing more. It is a much more important card than Terminate if you ask me and it will prove itself to be nearly as important as Path to Exile… Just don’t ask it to do what it can't do.
I love that it lets Five-Color Control have extra answers to Planeswalkers and many people will love dealing with Glorious Anthems or Loxodon Warhammer type cards. It is a nice way to increase the count of cards in your deck that can contain Figure of Destiny (one of the defining cards of the format) while still being versatile against a non-creature deck.
In a way it is a sweeper and it actually disrupts the opponent in other ways making it difficult for them to be able to do things like commit two Woolly Thoctars or Vanquishers to the board let alone Oblivion Rings Noble Hierarchs or Anthems.
Why not more Maelstrom Pulses? It is still a three-mana removal spell at sorcery speed. There is very tough competition at the three-spot in this bad boy.
Bituminous Blast is still fairly underrated as it is a touch overshadowed by the Bloodbraid Elf and while it is not in the same league it is a quality removal spell that provides nearly uncounterable advantage a threat even against a creatureless deck (when you Blast your own guy) and a powerful answer to cards like Mistbind Clique.
I experimented with Ajani Vengeant and I must admit I do like flipping it up with a Blast but as of this build I chose not to include it. Space is so tight but it might just be too sweet not to play.
Jace over Mulldrifter is not entirely new and besides he is such a sicko when you flip him with Bloodbraid.
The Mind Stones are going to surprise some people since they don't cast Cruel Ultimatum or Esper Charm and don't seem that glamorous to flip with Bloodbraid but the truth is that this archetype already struggles for plays on turn 2 so Mind Stone is one of the better possible options. In addition there are 26 lands not counting the Stones so you don't actually count on it for Cruel Ultimatum.
The Mind Stones give you a nice play on turn 2 that is not embarrassing to flip with Bloodbraid. You may not be thrilled but early the mana is very nice and even if you flip it late at least you can cantrip making the Elf an uncounterable cantrip threat.
I don’t love the Cloudthreshers but with the decrease in Fallouts Brokens and Terros extra percentage against Fae is appreciated. In addition it is a way to have more answers to tokens without always flipping them up with Bloodbraid. He is a fine man anyway though there is no question Broodmate is still on my short list. The thing is when you flip a Finks to a Bloodbraid that is a similar impact on the board as a Broodmate most of the time and that says a lot seeing as it costs two less mana and Broodmate was one of the best things you could do.
Man I do not want to get hit by the Jund Tyrant the turn after playing Broodmate Dragon (or Ultimating Sarkan Vol for that matter…
I tried building this deck without Cruel Ultimatum but I still like it. It is just such a potent threat. Bloodbraid may be a better card but there is still nothing as powerful in Standard as a Cruel Ultimatum and it ensures that you are the "biggest" deck in the game.
This deck is not done cooking yet but if I were to play in Regionals I would play something like this and it is at the top of the shortlist for Barcelona or Seattle. My column next week will include my final recommendation for Regionals in two weeks.
If you are interested in playing Five-Color at Regionals I recommend trying a session with something like this and seeing what you learn about the format. Not all of these ideas are going to pan out but this is a good example of the type of direction I envision taking Five-Color. I have told you I am in love with Bloodbraid and I was not kidding. The card is B-A-N-A-N-A-S.
Here is another Bloodbraid Elf deck that I am toying around with.
- 3 Anathemancer
- 4 Bloodbraid Elf
- 4 Boggart Ram-Gang
- 2 Broodmate Dragon
- 2 Cloudthresher
- 4 Kitchen Finks
- 2 Murderous Redcap
- 2 Shriekmaw
I am not sure where this one will lead but I think that all sorts of Jund decks are poised to make a strong attack on the metagame thanks not only to Bloodbraid Anathemancer Bituminous Blast Terminate and Maelstrom Pulse but also cards like Jund Hackblade Colossal Might and the Jund Tyrant.
This particular build might be a little wishy-washy. Maybe it needs to be even more aggressive adapting Blades or burn. I don’t know. I just know that I like the durable card advantage beats that it offers and at the same time I like how good its Bloodbraid Elves are. Flipping a Ram-Gang or a Finks is unreal and even flipping Jund Charm is not typically dead since you can give +1/+1 counters to the creature you played the turn before. You won't be able to Jund Charm the Bloodbraid but this is typically not a problem. Besides it is randomly sweet to hose Lark and it is downright abusable with Persist creatures while still doing much to limit tokens.
Another card to keep your eye on in a strategy like this is Fulminator Mage. He may not combine well with Anathemancer but he sure is a great flip from Bloodbraid Elf…
The manlands are key to this deck and many others. I see a lot of people win with decks that are essentially 6-8 manlands and 55 other cards. Keep these cards in mind as they are among the best cards in the format.
Here is another attempt at Bloodbraid Elf beats this time it's straight Gruul in the spirit of Giantbaiting.dec. I am not sure if this deck will prove more than a gimmick but I know it can be a frustrating deck to test against as its nut draws are so brutal.
Maybe the Elf count needs to change maybe it needs a Blade-core instead of an Elf one but I just don't know yet. I will tell you this: Colossal Might has been awesome and will surely prove to make an impact on both Standard and Block.
In a similar vein here is another creature-based beatdown deck that would make Brian Hacker proud.
- 2 Anathemancer
- 4 Bloodbraid Elf
- 4 Boggart Ram-Gang
- 4 Figure of Destiny
- 4 Jund Hackblade
- 2 Mogg Fanatic
- 3 Rip-Clan Crasher
- 4 Tattermunge Maniac
This deck is a bit wild as it is trying to conduct business a little differently than most Red aggro decks and despite being the same colors as the Jund aggro deck above it obviously plays out very differently.
The deck has a bit of a stompy feel to it though it may be right to add more cards like Incinerate. I just happen to like Colossal Might better right now and think that the card is awesome enough to warrant further exploration.
This deck's Bloodbraid Elf is not at its best but you do have a good shot of hitting a Haste creature making for some lethal openings. The Figures are a little sketchy but the card sure is good on its own.
The Maelstrom Pulses look a little out of place but in my experience Red aggro decks like this have huge troubles with Tokens and the ability to sweep Spectral Procession tokens let alone Plumeveils and Walls of Reverence is just to good to pass up.
A more traditional strategy that still incorporates Alara Reborn cards is that of the Fae (Newsflash! Faeries: STILL GOOD.)
- 2 Architects of Will
- 4 Mistbind Clique
- 4 Scion of Oona
- 3 Shriekmaw
- 2 Sower of Temptation
- 2 Spellstutter Sprite
I am not suggesting that you need to adopt the new tools in Alara Reborn but there is a new set out so it is at least worth experimenting a little before going back to Lorwyn Block Constructed.
I know that not everyone plays 3 Underground Rivers and believe you me I like to cast my spells more than most. I just acknowledge that one of the largest sources of problems for me as a Faeries player is when I get the "double River draw."
This build is based on conversations and testing that DJ Kastner and I have had and takes advantage of the Soul Manipulation "engine" which allows us to turn our "Remove Souls" into Cryptic Commands. The first time you counter a Lark and get back a Mistbind Clique you will know where I am coming from. It makes it far easier to set up double Scion. It is also a legitimate threat against a control deck given time.
The two Architects of Will cycle early as bad Ponders but help ensure that you have creatures in the yard to manipulate the souls of. They are actually quite solid to cast as the ability to Elemental Augury your opponent is sweet when you are ahead on board with Jace or Bitterblossom. The fact that they live through Fallout is just gravy and once you have a million mana they are a legitimate way to help you dig into action.
I am down to two Spellstutter Sprites though I could see going up to three. It is possible that four is right it is just that this card has been one of the weaker links for me lately and I don't miss them. I don't know if I need more cards to help me when I have a Bitterblossom. It is appealing to get them back with Soul Manipulation.
I don't have Glen Elendra Archmage in this build although I could see it depending on the meta. Also if the Five-Color players are really haters and play Anathemancer you could teach them a lesson and Puppeteer Clique it…
I do not think that Thoughtseize is particularly well positioned as so many people play so many cards that are all good and all do the same thing. It is possible that the format could be right for it but as it is I don't want to draw this card. Vendilion Clique has similar problems.
I don't think it is time for Mulldrifter Faeries but you never know. With the right Mannequin core it is possible. Honestly I am just fantasizing about a Bloodbraid Elf/Faeries deck. You could still have Spellstutter Soul Manipulation and Cryptic for permission as all can work with Bloodbraid. Seems like a stretch but how else can you play all the good cards? No I am not advocating splashing Spectral Procession Noble Hierarch and Reveillark…
This build incorporates more than just the 3 Zealous Persecutions and 2 Identity Crisis that are offered by Alara Reborn. It also adjusts to the world of Maelstrom Pulse as that card has the potential to devastate this archetype. Perhaps it is too chicken of me but I have cut many cards down to three ofs so as to alleviate the problems of Maelstrom Pulse.
Zealous Persecution is highly underrated right now and I suspect it may turn out to be huge even beyond a B/W Tokens mirror card. I mean it is pretty sweet against Faeries essentially Plague Winding them while adding a lot of damage to the turn. It is also a potent combat trick against any sort of a White aggro deck and can even theoretically beat a Volcanic Fallout in the right circumstance.
The key to the card in my opinion is that it "counts as removal" in one regard but happens to also "count as a Crusade."
Identity Crisis may not be right for the maindeck but I just love the card and obviously live for the dream of Windbrisk Heights that bad boy on turn 4. It is obviously unreal against Five-Color and Lark plus does interesting things against Faeries. I think it is better than Head Games a card I like a lot.
It should also be noted that White Orchid and Path help surprise ramp you up very quickly. It is not unrealistic to think that your opponent Wraths on turn 4 and you Path one of your creatures in response untap and put a hole in their head Amnesia style like it is 1994.
It is really nice to have a way to punish them for doing things like casting a Mulldrifter Broodmate or even Cruel Ultimatum. I suspect Identity Crisis will prove important many times in the next couple of years.
I am not going to include a R/W Boat Brew list as I have not yet seen a compelling reason to add anything from Alara Reborn though it is quite possible that people will try to include Anathemancer (and maybe Sculler) or Bloodbraid Elf (and who knows what other Green?).
I don't have a good build of Little Kid G/W or G/W Tokens though I acknowledge that it may be out there. I am not sure where to take Doran B/G Elves and miscellaneous Noble Hierarch decks like Bant or Ziggurat but there are a lot of possibilities to explore.
I have some ideas for Swans but don't have enough data to suggest any bold ideas beyond the list in my article a few weeks ago though it may be nice to incorporate the Soul Manipulation engine somehow.
Planeswalker decks have taken a big hit with Maelstrom Pulse Anathemancer and Bloodbraid Elf being added to the mix. They are still powerful cards but this might not be the time for the dedicated 18 Planeswalker deck.
It is comically easy to build a U/W Lark deck with Meddling Mage but it just doesn't inspire me. I love Pikula no question but this new chick just isn’t what the format calls for. There is too much removal.
Putrid Leeches Behemoth Sledge Uril the Miststalker random Juzams Double Negative Cerodon Yearling Lord of Extinction Glory of Warfare Lavalanche Jenara Wargate Trace of Abundance and many more cards all deserve a look but there are just too many hot new cards to use them all yet.
I also think some existing cards are going to improve their stock namely Martial Coup Knight of Reliquary and Exotic Orchard not to mention Kitchen Finks and Boggart Ram-Gang as we said. I am a little curious about some weird Blade deck that really abuses Knight of New Alara possibly in conjunction with Wilt-Leaf Liege and Mirrorweave to try for the quick turn 4/5 kill by attacking with a bunch of 88/88s.
There are just so many ideas that I want to explore I hardly know where to begin. As such I am just starting from a foundation of Five-Color Faeries Spectral Procession Figure of Destiny Wilt-Leaf Liege and Bloodbraid Elf and working outward.
I am out for now but watch for bonus articles of mine throughout the month on the free side of StarCityGames.com that are based on excerpts from my Strategy Guide that drops at the end of May. It is an extremely useful resource that is designed to be of maximum value to tournament players (and aspiring tournament players) based on 15 years of playing competitively and learning from masters ranging from Jon Finkel to Kai Budde Gabriel Nassif to Mark Herberholz Erik Lauer to Mike Long and Alan Comer to Zvi Mowshowitz.
See you guys then!