While State Championship deck lists won't be available for a little while, we still have a StarCityGames.com Standard Open's worth of data to mine. There isn't nearly as much as there was last week, but there are still gems within the more streamlined lists we have started to see.
Of the decks I touted as forerunners last week, this was the one I got to work with the most.
The deck performed as expected against the various Temple Garden decks. I don't know how they ever expect to win a game against the cards you play. There was a reason those decks weren't playable last year with old Delver around, and you punish them in the exact same ways. They make a threat and you can either punish them on tempo with Unsummon or card advantage with Snapcaster Mage.
The issue I've noticed is the Zombies matchup needs work. Specifically, the deck has issues with Lotleth Troll. If they just play that card with mana up, they can easily beat you to death with it. You have Unsummon, but that only answers it if you put down a clock.
It's likely that this last point is the main reason Zombies is an issue. Cards like Augur of Bolas and Snapcaster Mage aren't real threats in that matchup. You can't try to chip shot them down to burn range as they will race and draw out all your burn with threats. You need real clocks to race back and turn your tempo spells into something tangible. Delver, despite losing a lot of reliability, was just as good as before as it gave me a way to do this.
I felt like I was missing Geist of Saint Traft. One of the main ways Delver beat Zombies last year was racing back with that guy and using the cheap bounce and removal to eke out a path for it. I don't see why anything would change this season. The only issue is making the mana work, but based on my experience with the three-color list from my gauntlet it should be simple. You also have to keep the instant count high enough for Delver of Secrets, but cutting Augur of Bolas seems logical. Snapcaster Mage also is a non-threat, non-spell, but Thought Scour makes that card significantly more powerful. Between filling your graveyard and providing a cheap spell to flashback for value, Thought Scour lets Snapcaster Mage lives up to its full potential while Augur of Bolas is just a good card.
I was also impressed by Talrand, Sky Summoner. I always felt Delver lacked a big, punishing end game, but this guy gives you one. He wasn't enough last year, but people are mostly playing fair now. Card advantage gained is no longer immediately negated by a Birthing Pod or Primeval Titan. There are also far fewer copies of Bonfire of the Damned to one shot your army. I would definitely go up to three Talrand the next time I play the deck. The card was just as capable of beating Thragtusk as Dungeon Geists, and was better at beating your opponent. The legendary supertype was hardly an issue under the Umezawa's Jitte rule: if your Talrand on the battlefield is holding up the one in your hand, odds are it won you the game.
Talrand also promotes the use of Unsummon over Cyclonic Rift. While Rift is by far the more powerful card, getting to seven mana can be difficult. Talrand gives you a reason to want the one drop and the self-bounce. Turn 5 Talrand with Unsummon open lets you set up to go aggressive or gain value and save your threat in response to removal, which is exactly the flexibility this deck needs. If I wanted a fourth copy of that effect it would be a Vortex, as drawing multiples can leave you with too many low impact, high utility spells, but I feel the first three copies are better off as the more efficient spell.
Another minor spell note: I hated Desperate Ravings. This deck rarely has a lot of late game bricks and can't get full value out of the random discard. Think Twice is the better card to mill into with Thought Scour by a large margin.
You also may want some amount of countermagic main. I can get behind Syncopate over Dissipate here as the mana efficiency is important. You can also turn a Syncopate for zero into a Drake, which may or may not turn out to be relevant.
Here is an updated, or more accurately extremely altered, list.
The shift from twenty-three to twenty-two lands here is more a consequence of not knowing what to cut than actually wanting the last land. The unknown land should probably produce red mana for Pillar of Flame in some fashion, and given that I can't imagine wanting ten Innistrad duals that almost assures that it will be another basic Mountain. Ten white sources is likely enough for Geist, with nine to support the two Azorius Charms also seeming to be about the right count.
Azorius Charm also provides more game against Zombies. Not only is it extremely powerful when racing Zombies, but it deals with Lotleth Troll in a significant way. Stopping two attacks and resetting any counters on it should be more than enough to make it just a two drop. Yes, I did cut Think Twice to fit it, but the interaction with Thought Scour takes a back seat to just Geisting people when that card is in your deck.
- 4 Diregraf Ghoul
- 4 Dreg Mangler
- 4 Geralf's Messenger
- 4 Gravecrawler
- 2 Knight of Infamy
- 4 Lotleth Troll
- 4 Rakdos Cackler
I didn't mention this last week as I was so excited about Joe Bernal's black-red list (and still rightfully am), but Crippling Blight is a good card for this deck. It may even belong in the aforementioned burn-inclusive list as it "kills" everything short of Olivia, and to be completely honest I can imagine using it on that style of threat and having the game end immediately. I don't think the Deadbridge Goliaths featured in this week's Top 8 list fit at all with what you are doing, but if you aren't afraid of fizzling out late game this is a good list for Geralf's Messenger.
- 4 Angel of Serenity
- 3 Arbor Elf
- 4 Avacyn's Pilgrim
- 2 Borderland Ranger
- 1 Centaur Healer
- 1 Deathrite Shaman
- 4 Restoration Angel
- 4 Thragtusk
I can't vouch for the three-color mana base being stronger than the ability to Faithless Looting into more turn 4 monsters, but all Reanimator decks should have a non-zero number of Restoration Angels in the main deck. It blocks all the aggressive threats and helps you win games without your true engine online. Dan Jordan is a great player and smart man. Listen to his deck list.
Do we have a nut draw? Avacyn's Pilgrim, Lingering Souls, flashback plus Intangible Virtue. Avacyn's Pilgrim, Lingering Souls, Garruk Relentless, Thragtusk. There are even extra copies Angel of Serenity in the board to go way over the top. Check, we have several.
Answers for Falkenrath Aristocrat and Olivia Voldaren? Selesnya Charm, Oblivion Ring, flying blockers for Aristocrat, Sever the Bloodline, Angel of Serenity, sometimes Garruk Relentless. Maybe a little light, but check.
Beat Zombies? Well, we might be a bit slow out of the gates, but there are a ton of ways to clog the board and gain life. Thragtusk, Vault of the Archangel, Sorin, Lord of Innistrad, and a bunch of one-drops to push in quickly. Check, seems like enough for game one.
Answers to Reanimator? Three Deathrite Shaman and the main deck removal. Check.
This deck is amazing.
It's possible there is a little too much mana in the deck. Twenty-five lands, eight mana guys, and four Borderland Ranger. Even counting the Innistrad ability lands as spells, that's over half your deck that is just mana. Some of these cards can be trimmed down.
What spells do I want to add? Restoration Angel plus Thragtusk is an absurd interaction, but as the only real thing to do with Angel I'm not so sure. I would just cut a Borderland Ranger or two for extra copies of the removal spells and maybe the fourth Intangible Virtue. As mentioned above, I can easily see dying to Olivia Voldaren.
The only card that really concerns me with this list is Rakdos's Return. It's easy for the midrange mirror come down to them putting you on nothing in hand then riding their two for ones to a decisive victory. Sphinx's Revelation is also a problem, but less so as it doesn't affect the board by killing a Planeswalker. The cards you discard are also more likely to be two for ones than the cards they draw.
It's possible the answer to this is splashing our own copies of the card. I can also see wanting access to Bonfire of the Damned, a mainstay of the Red-Green decks from last season. I can see a parallel between the two decks just based on the number of mana sources, and this deck can take advantage of brawling into a cleared board. Of course, this could just be stretching too hard and might involve a switch to Farseek, but I don't think we have seen how far we can stretch manabases just yet.
- 2 Angel of Glory's Rise
- 1 Angel of Serenity
- 4 Avacyn's Pilgrim
- 1 Borderland Ranger
- 3 Falkenrath Aristocrat
- 4 Fiend Hunter
- 4 Huntmaster of the Fells
- 3 Restoration Angel
- 1 Thragtusk
- 1 Zealous Conscripts
- 1 Griselbrand
On the subject of stretching manabases, this is the latest version of the Humans Combo deck I have talked about on and off the past month or so. Larry Swasey has been putting a lot of work into the deck as well, and as the person who played it I will let him take charge in writing about a lot of the more specific interactions. That said, I want to touch on the broad idea of why this list is good.
You are a midrange deck first, combo deck second. This means that you are less vulnerable to spot answers like Dissipate or hate cards like Grafdigger's Cage. If they have a Rest in Peace in play, your deck still has the creature base that Jund used to dominate the end of Block Constructed: Falkenrath Aristocrat, Restoration Angel, Huntmaster of the Fells. All the graveyard element gives you is inevitability. If they keep trading cards, you can just set up an instant win. Even just having Unburial Rites gives you a huge advantage going long as a two for one getting back your best guys. Usually, those are also two for ones or unbeatable threats.
If you want to win midrange mirrors, go big.
- 2 Arbor Elf
- 4 Avacyn's Pilgrim
- 4 Borderland Ranger
- 4 Huntmaster of the Fells
- 4 Restoration Angel
- 4 Thragtusk
Bonfire is another way to "go big" in midrange mirrors. Other writers and I have mentioned it as a "sleeper" waiting to go from role player back to dominating the format again. If it happens, it will be in a shell like this with mana creatures and big threats to support it.
Potential adjustments: A non-zero number of Wolfir Silverhearts may be warranted, and Kessig Wolf Run vs. Gavony Township should be debated. I also am not sure you need the full nine ramp spells and four Borderland Rangers. We can easily fit more threats in here.
Also, more Cavern of Souls. Always more Cavern of Souls. Let's just go over this one more time. Dissipate is a real card. Syncopate is a real card. Counterflux is even a real card. Why let them be good when you don't have to?
On the same subject, this is coming close to going the biggest. While I haven't talked to the pilot about this, I assume this list is derived from one Travis Woo posted a couple of weeks back on Facebook and in an article.
The idea is that between Angel of Serenity and Sphinx's Revelation, you have the best end game anyone can present in this format. The rest of the deck is just ways to get there. Thragtusk happens to be the best way to do so and one of the best ways to randomly kill someone.
The changes I really like compared to the original list are going down to three Sphinx's Revelation and adding more Planeswalkers and Farseek. Not only are the Planeswalkers potent threats the original list passed up, but Farseek gives you a legitimate nut draw of turn 3 Jace, turn 4 Thragtusk or Tamiyo. When the other option is 29 lands, I'll go for the nut draw.
That said, I would never show up with less than two Cavern of Souls in my deck. Despite all the spells not interacting ideally with it, you want to be able to stick your Angels and Thragtusks through a Dissipate.
It's possible that this isn't the case if you move from Angel of Serenity to Entreat the Angels as your huge finisher. Angel of Serenity is the more reliable card and much better against aggro, but I would rather have Entreat the Angels for the mirror and it is generally more powerful against decks you aren't prepared for. See last week's section about the free Entreat wins being one of the big draws to UWR Miracles.
- 4 Ash Zealot
- 4 Gore-House Chainwalker
- 3 Hellrider
- 3 Mogg Flunkies
- 4 Rakdos Cackler
- 3 Rakdos Shred-Freak
- 1 Stonewright
- 4 Stromkirk Noble
- 20 Mountain
The only thing I have to say here is that Nightbird's Clutches seems perfect to me. This is a creature-based red deck, not a burn-based one. You need ways to push through a lot of the midrange bodies that would otherwise create unprofitable trades for your 3/2 Gorehouse Chainwalkers and other random bodies. Two seems like the ideal number, as you don't want it every game and would hate to draw more than one most of the time.
Of course, this may also be an echo of my unreasonable love for Feeling of Dread from last year. I do think this deck has a more legitimate case for playing the Falter effect, but it might still be a bad card trying to make a bad deck good.
The addition of extra early bodies also makes Hellrider amazing. I would feel more comfortable with another land to actually cast the card with, but it should provide enough reach to end a lot of games on turn 4. This card is extremely powerful and has seen relatively little play this year, most likely due to the fact that Izzet is not especially aggressive and that Rakdos wants to make BBB for an even more powerful card. I expect to see much more of this card once Stomping Grounds and Sacred Foundry enter the format.
Notes for next week:
Bonfire of the Damned wrecks most of what the Junk midrange deck is trying to do, including gunning down both of its planeswalker threats.
In case I didn't say it enough, more Cavern of Souls.
Aggro should be able to kill before Thragtusk hits or punch through it. See Falkenrath Aristocrat for most of this.
Restoration Angel is amazing. I can only assume it doesn't make deck lists as people don't want to play it over something that looks flashier (reverse pun intended). This card will win you games just as an instant threat or Plumeveil on top of all the Thragtusk nonsense.
Geist of Saint Traft is sorely underrepresented. I expect the next hole to fill in the metagame involves casting that card and forcing it through the relatively clunky blockers that people are playing. Not dying to Angel of Serenity is yet another huge plus of the card. Also note that people were still ripe to be ambushed by Snapcaster Mage as Mystic Snake this week.
And with that, I'm more or less off to the Pro Tour. Stay tuned. I'm extremely excited about this event.
- Ari Lax
@armlx on Twitter