Standard continues to evolve and there's still some free space to explore. Does anyone remember that fearsome Zombies deck? Standard revolves around Thragtusk these days; Thragtusk with red and black Thragtusk with blue and white… The card is very powerful but it's nowhere near Jace the Mind Sculptor and it costs five mana! As Thragtusk is the key midrange mirrors are very long and boring and a successful deck must be very fast or somehow exploit game length. Shaheen Soorani demonstrated a perfect example with his sideboard Nephalia Drownyard for control mirrors but it isn't very good against Thragtusk decks so let's look at methods of faster winning.
A turn 4 win isn't very realistic in this format but if you are able to win on turn 5 through the first Thragtusk and some other opposition you are in the good shape. B/R decks with Bump in the Night and Geralf's Messenger are promising but they are unfortunately not fast enough and are over-hated since they're Zombie-based. Non-Zombie R/B decks suffer from having only eight untapped black sources which is unacceptable for a deck aiming to decide the fate of the game by turn 4. So it's time to try pure Mono-Red Aggro. It has no advantage engine like Koth of the Hammer or Shrine of Burning Rage so consistency is the main reason to avoid black. Falkenrath Aristocrat is powerful but if you can't reliably cast her on turn 4 you must rely on overall card quality rather than speed—which returns us to the already explored B/R Zombies.
Hellrider is the creature of choice if we're trying to be as fast as possible. However Thragtusk's life gain and two blockers mean that you must deal combat damage too so the only realistic way to outrace Thragtusk is with the forbiddance of life gain or detain. Rain of Gore wasn't reprinted and red obviously has neither cards with detain nor Sleep effects. Nevertheless some "can't block" effects can help deal with Thragtusk's body. Crossway Vampire doesn't fit but Pyreheart Wolf and Nightbird's Clutches could help. The little Wolf is probably better in most circumstances as it can attack and doesn't die to removal and his ability to prevent the opponent from blocking in attack not when entering the battlefield is just perfectly timed.
- 4 Ash Zealot
- 4 Hellrider
- 3 Mogg Flunkies
- 3 Pyreheart Wolf
- 4 Rakdos Cackler
- 4 Rakdos Shred-Freak
- 4 Stromkirk Noble
- 22 Mountain
Chris Harris placed tenth at the SCG Standard Open in New Orleans this past weekend with this deck. I dislike his sideboard (Reckless Waif? Really?) but the maindeck is just great. Mogg Flunkies was always around but never actually made the cut among the wide selection of two-mana red creatures. Chris's list provides twelve hasty creatures to support the stupid Goblins which in contrast to Gore-House Chainwalker may attack into Huntmaster of the Fells Borderland Ranger or Snapcaster Mage. An interesting note: as Gore-House Chainwalker is a Human it's possible to play a pair of Cavern of Souls (naming either Humans or Devils) if control and U/W/R Midrange continue to be forces in Standard.
As for the sideboard mandatory tools include Pithing Needle for planeswalkers Traitorous Blood as a substitute for Wolf and Tormod's Crypt for Angel of Serenity. Debatable weapons include Flames of the Firebrand Forge Devil for G/W/x decks with eight mana dorks and Thundermaw Hellkite. I don't want Hellkite maindeck in a list with just 22 lands and a goal to win very fast but it's just priceless against Lingering Souls.
Is this deck good enough to beat Thragtusk on turn 5? Probably yes and if it doesn't nobody does. Or? There is some hope regarding Geist of Saint Traft who's a very fast clock and is difficult to deal with if properly supported. Todd Anderson recently popularized a U/W/R Midrange deck capable of providing insane pressure to counter or destroy any opposing threats. But Todd's deck despite having the tools to slow opponents down doesn't win very fast so if we want to utilize Geist of Saint Traft for speed we must upgrade him somehow.
The last weeks of previous Standard showed some Spectral Flight decks and attempts to pair Geist with Silverblade Paladin and it soulbonded with the Paladin and Wolfir Silverheart would be promising in a world full of sorcery speed removal. However big Wolfir doesn't compare favorably against Thragtusk except for in dedicated G/W Aggro decks based on two soulbond creatures and Sublime Archangel. The problem with such a deck is its lack of evasion so it will suffer heavily from Bant Control's ability to stall the battlefield and then cast a devastating Supreme Verdict. So let's look at an interesting deck with enough evasion; Ryan Harada won Hawaii States with it recently.
Even if this list was totally unplayable it's still very elegant and attractive. Aura spells are considered bad for Constructed with few exceptions protected from disadvantageous exchanges with removal (Griffin Guide). We have Rancor these days but hexproof can be used to protect our creatures from removal too. In fact the deck is sort of like Blazing Shoal Combo (or Nivmagus Elemental) with Ethereal Armor as a great way to win out of nowhere. Armor also allows Geist of Saint Traft to attack indiscriminately so we gain enough redundancy between it and Spectral Flight while Abundant Growth and Detention Sphere up the enchantment count.
There is no cheap mass removal aside from Supreme Verdict and miracled Terminus so evasive hexproof creatures could be very dangerous and hard to interact with avoiding the principle weakness of creature-based combos. An accurate pilot could post positive result even against Bant Control which plays seven sweepers: the key is to plan carefully and never overextend. It's hard since even if you exchange one creature for one sweeper you still lose auras but the possibility to win out of nowhere allows you distribute resources properly holding crucial Ethereal Armors or Selesnya Charms.
I've found the creature count too low for matches where games tend to last long and Avacyn's Pilgrim never survives so I tried playing more real creatures. Strangleroot Geist isn't a good idea for the auras deck and there are no playable hexproof creatures aside from those already used here but as we're "combo" Primal Huntbeast may fit as one or two copies. Cutting Pilgrims for two Primal Huntbeasts a third Ajani Caller of the Pride and the fourth Selesnya Charm may enable the deck to have slightly better average draws and effectively seven copies of a bad Blazing Shoal.
The sideboard Feeling of Dread helps against decks with troublesome fliers (Falkenrath Aristocrat and Olivia Voldaren) and stops early aggression from G/W decks. Unlike Modern analogues we have no strong action for the two first turns so defensive cards are mandatory. Azorius Charm would help but the Selesnya one is generally better as it pumps for lethal (trample matters!) and kills fatties while killing a creature blocking Geist of Saint Traft is rarely a good idea.
The Enchantments deck is very intriguing but a little bit clunky and unstable. I'm impressed by the idea but I can't really justify playing it aside from a Jund-heavy metagame. However I hope to see a good hexproof creature under the Simic or Gruul banner (a weaker modification of Giant Solifuge with hexproof? I'm signing up!) but pure combo or pure aggro seem to be better ways to deal with Thragtusk right now. Unfortunately there's no good combo in Standard; all types of Reanimator are more Midrange Epic Experiment is too fragile "Storm" is just not good enough.
Honestly I'd like to see some old school combo action in Standard even if it's as boring as Eggs. I like the Angel of Glory's Rise deck just because it can accidentally go infinite! Sam Black and Brian Kibler said that Modern is mostly about good creatures than anything else and this is true for Standard too just one or two turns slower. Standard is better than Modern since it has some playable Control decks but the last time when true control was public enemy number one was probably at Worlds in 2010 and there is no combo to keep powerful midrange decks in check.
Are there some good combo ideas? Anyone? Mike Flores has already covered Epic Experiment in his Premium article but something else should exist too! Primal Surge? Heartless Summoning? Splinterfright? A playable "Storm" build? I'd like to read your ideas in the comments and try them in order to make Standard a little bit more interesting and diverse.