Man SCG Open Series: St. Louis sure was fun. Executive Producer John Douglass and 10k Champion Lauren Nolen were my companions on the six-hour road trip from Cincinnati to the land of arches. On the drive down many laughs were had as we theorized some fairly unique custom cubes which I elaborate on at the bottom of the article.
After doing commentary for @SCGLive in Providence and Indianapolis I'd watched enough Magic that I had some ideas about Standard and some brews that I could work from. The first place I started was the deck that Milton Figueroa played in Providence. His deck was a dedicated Geist of Saint Traft + Runechanter's Pike deck. I watched him steal games with the life swing provided by Moment of Heroism and Feeling of Dread and thought his deck might have something going for it.
As I played the deck I kept noticing that I needed some extra spells and added some counterspells to prey on the slower decks. As I kept playing I was surprised at how reasonable Essence Scatter was against even the aggressive decks. Past that I figured out that I basically needed to draw Runechanter's Pike every game—just Geist of Saint Traft wasn't cutting it. Centaur Healer and Thragtusk make the dream of protecting a Geist of Saint Traft unreasonable.
So I tried an Esper shell somewhat similar to the Esper Tokens deck but instead of bad cards like Talrand's Invocation and situational cards like Intangible Virtue I stuck with Runechanter's Pike as the sole way to get a huge creature into play. The deck was reasonable but it had two major issues. First the mana was clunky. I was happy when I drew Hallowed Fountain and less so when I didn't. Second the deck didn't have a good flow to it. I wasted mana frequently and didn't feel like I was maxing out on the individual cards. Lingering Souls + Restoration Angel doesn't really take advantage of either card for example.
Then I made this:
This basically turned out to be everything I wanted. I started with some different numbers streamlined some and tuned the deck to where it is today. As I said in my deck tech I don't think things are perfect but I'm very happy with the cards that are in the deck.
In general don't play anything during your turn. This makes all of your cards better! If you get to pick the card you want to play AFTER your opponent you stand a much better chance of picking the correct one. Also if you play the right card on your turn your opponent might not cooperate with you and play a card that's good against your card. No fair! If your opponent decides to be super mean and tries to play instants too you are a huge favorite because they are certain to have many more sorceries in their deck. In a pure waiting game all of your cards are good whereas only some of theirs are good.
Other than playing at instant speed you need to grind value with this deck. You can't just throw cards at your opponents to stem whatever bleeding your meanie face opponent inflicts on you. You need to trade cards at positive value or at least parity. Don't Unsummon their guy if they'll just recast it and kill you with it a turn later. The same goes for Azorius Charm. Charm the bad creatures to the top so they redraw them or wait until you have a Thought Scour to mill away the threatening creature you just put on top.
Let's talk about some individual cards
0 Geist of Saint Traft: I've been asked about this card so much that it's beginning to get frustrating. I really really hope there are no comments asking why I don't have Geist of Saint Traft in my deck. I'm not sure what the appeal of this card is for this deck. Think Twice and Geist of Saint Traft don't exactly hint at the same strategy. It's not the "free win" card that many seem to think it is. It's more like the "I lose" card because you give up a ton of value when you play this and your opponent plays a card that can block a 2/2. If your plan is to play Geist and hope your opponent doesn't have a play to match it then you can win the game with anything because your opponent's draw/deck isn't good. I don't need mythic rares to beat opponents that don't do anything!
Geist can be fairly potent in many other decks because they have dedicated space to clearing a path for the Geist. This deck isn't interested in clearing a path. This is a card that you have to play on your main phase that has little to no defensive value. I do play some in the sideboard but that's only to kill my opponents' Geist of Saint Trafts. If my opponent doesn't have their own Geists (assuredly with better support) then I don't want to bring in my Geists. Whew that felt good.
4 Augur of Bolas 2 Runechanter's Pike: The tainted cards. These are the only six cards that I have to play during my main phase. Augur of Bolas is a very underappreciated card. Or maybe I overappreciate it. Either way I am committed to playing enough instants/sorceries to making both of these cards operate at a high level. To be honest if life totals started at 40 and/or aggressive cards were banned I would not play Augur of Bolas. I occasionally side out a few. However it is one of the best cards you can ask for against a Rakdos Cackler or Thalia Guardian of Thraben.
Runechanter's Pike is primarily for games that start to get out of control. In general you'd like to be able to keep pace with your opponent's threats but games don't always play out that way. In that case Runechanter's Pike gives you an extra dimension either as an incredibly quick clock or as a nearly unbeatable blocker. It's also fairly good at coming down to kill a planeswalker— otherwise resolved planeswalkers are very bad for this deck.
4 Snapcaster Mage 4 Restoration Angel: The dirty work. Having both of these cards in the same format is basically what allows you to operate at instant speed. Last season when Delver decks started adopting the Angel I said that the Snapcaster Mage / Restoration Angel trap was the new Mistbind Clique / Cryptic Command. It's almost impossible to play around both cards.
Now that Gitaxian Probe has rotated there's actually hidden information in Magic again. You have to sniff out which of these cards your opponent might have. If they have both you're probably not having a fantastic turn for a while. Between the Angel and Unsummons your Snapcaster Mages might come into play more than once. This is easily the best Snapcaster Mage deck in Standard given its wide variety of instants and ease of casting him.
4 Unsummon 4 Azorius Charm: Removal is bad in Standard. Most of the time your opponent will be playing a deck that is very good against removal. Thragtusk and Angel of Serenity laugh at removal. I laugh at decks that are loaded with a grip of removal spells. However some people still want to attack you. Having a way to defend yourself from creatures is a good ability to have provided it doesn't come at a big cost.
Azorius Charm is one of the better cards in the deck even if it cycles a large percentage of the time. There have not been very many cycling removal spells this good and most of them are fantastic cards. It reminds me of Fire / Ice in many ways. Unsummon is worse than the Charm but it's still very functional. Because your creatures have come into play abilities Unsummoning them often gives you value. Hold the presses if you Unsummon your guy in response to a removal spell. I wouldn't fault anyone that wants to cut an Unsummon or two for the next card on our list
1 Sphinx's Revelation: This card is fantastic. My first list for this version of the deck did not have this card but I decided to try it at the suggestion of someone who was watching me stream the deck. Moving forward I'd like to add another land to the deck to help accommodate the extra copies of this card that I would love to play.
I had one particularly insane game during the Standard Open in St. Louis where I milled/bottomed both of my Runechanter's Pike and two of my Restoration Angels with Thought Scour and Augur of Bolas by turn 2. Then my opponent resolved Sigarda Host of Herons. I managed to grind out the game with an absurd number of Moorland Haunt tokens and two fateful hour Faith's Shields all made possible by this card. I cast it then flashed it back for quite a few cards and precious life points. I'm not saying that you want to cut your Pikes and Angels for Revelations because you can beat Sigarda without them. I'm mostly saying that Sphinx's Revelation is sweet and I wish I'd played more than just a single copy.
4 Thought Scour 3 Think Twice: Cantrips are important to this deck. I want to hit my land drops power up my instant-hungry cards and draw the good cards in my deck more often. Easy peasy. Every once in a while you won't have something to play that doesn't draw you a card so you have to leave Think Twice in your graveyard for a while so that you don't have to discard due to hand size. You should never lose those games.
2 Essence Scatter 2 Dissipate 1 Rewind 2 Syncopate: Ask anyone and they'll give you a different story about which counterspells are actually good. In reality none of them are Mana Leak and it's tough to get the balance right. I played a second Rewind in my sideboard primarily for matchups where I wanted a ton of counterspells. Sometimes they're the greatest (Jund!) and sometimes they're the worst (Cavern of Souls!). Seven counterspells feels like fifteen at times. I can go entire games countering every remotely relevant spell my opponents play. While you can generally beat one or two resolved bombs per game your counterspells are your first and best line of defense against your opponent's awesome cards.
23 lands 2 Moorland Haunt 0 Azorius Guildgate: The mana in this deck isn't great in case you were wondering why I don't have red/black in the deck. After that there's really not a red card I want to play (I wanted Thoughtflare for a while but Sphinx's Revelation is just better). Moorland Haunt is a must as long as I want to play Runechanter's Pike and is a fantastic value land for people that enjoy grinding games like myself. I tried playing a Guildgate once on stream and then I drew it. Also Ghost Quarter isn't a card that "deals" with opposing Cavern of Souls. Think about it.
I sideboard very lightly in most cases with this deck because I don't actually like many of the options in the sideboard. There simply aren't a ton of cards that fit with the game plan of the maindeck. I actually feel as if the deck is still short a Constructed playable or two but it's certainly functional.
3 Geist of Saint Traft: For theirs. If you side this in otherwise please make sure they don't have things that can block it and that you side out your other creatures. You cannot become threat-heavy and still maintain the efficiency of your cards. Augur of Bolas and Runechanter's Pike are bad with fifteen spells in your deck.
3 Detention Sphere: Lingering Souls is a tough card. I'm convinced that this is the best answer but it's what's available. Once in a blue moon I'll decide that I can't win with my normal game plan and switch to a removal heavy-deck that plays a bunch of awkward cards. While not a great strategy to win matches Detention Sphere can help when counterspells are worthless and you don't have the tools otherwise.
2 Faith's Shield 2 Purify the Grave 1 Erase: They all do unique things and they're the cards in this sideboard that legitimately fit within this deck's game plan. However there's quite a bit of diminishing returns on cards this narrow hence the low numbers of them. Faith's Shield is good when your Restoration Angels might be under heavy fire and they need to do quite a bit of work.
2 Supreme Verdict: Most of me wishes I switched the numbers on this and Detention Sphere given that this is a spell you can reveal to Augur of Bolas. Speaking of which it's pretty awesome when you do. Your opponent often will stop playing creatures! Past that it's important to be able to deviate from countering all of your opponents spells when that won't work. This is probably the best tool for that job. My biggest worry is that this costs double white mana in a deck with only twelve white sources. I would love a better way to solve this problem but keep in mind that twelve often plays like more than that when you don't need it on turn 1.
A few weeks from now when this deck is actually being played and you're sick of playing against it a whopping two to three times an Open I have some tips for how to beat it! The truth is that this deck is actually somewhat fragile. Without much in the way of pressure or ways to remove permanents something like a Huntmaster of the Fells can be brutal. Unfortunately for the deck they haven't printed Swords to Plowshares in a while. You make do with what you have I suppose.
Cards that are very very good against this deck:
Deathrite Shaman: This costs one and has a very large impact on the game. It shuts down Snapcasters makes Runechanter's Pike irrelevant is always active because I want a full graveyard and represents a real clock if not all that quick. When you play this never attack into two open mana. When you're deciding what to exile go after the spells first. You can probably beat them with a bunch of Moorland Haunt tokens if they're otherwise hurting. Many decks have the problem of this being weak from its own graveyard but any Grisly Salvage deck should probably have this card.
Cavern of Souls: The real issue is that this is probably not the colorless land you should play in your deck. Yet. I would rather have Gavony Township Kessig Wolf Run Moorland Haunt etc. etc. before dipping my toes into a card that's only good against a small slice of decks. I'm not saying this deck is the only good one with counterspells because that's not the case but the other lands do good work against the blue counterspell decks as well. Throw this out the window if you're talking about one of the few decks that have overlapping creature types. Then go nuts as your colorless land isn't a colorless land. But naming Beast makes it a colorless land. Despite our Return to Ravnica the mana isn't actually that good in Standard.
Lingering Souls: This is very difficult for me to beat. Slogging through this card while attacking is such a pain and defending from it can be just as difficult. I have Detention Sphere in my sideboard primarily to "answer" this card. In reality they just come out ahead whenever you play these "answer" cards that don't otherwise fit the flow of your deck.
Huntmaster of the Fells: The Wolf occasionally harasses me by trading for Unsummon or Snapcaster Mage but the Huntmaster himself is in danger of flipping back and forth all game. I've generally been able to handle a flip but then preventing it from flipping back is nigh impossible. The hoops I have to go through to beat this card are many.
Loxodon Smiter: This is picking up already but 4/4 is bigger than anything in this deck and it's got this uncounterability clause that's actually good. This is probably the most beatable of the cards on this list. During my first game of the Standard Open in St. Louis my opponent cast two Loxodon Smiters and a Restoration Angel. The same copies about eight times. Meanwhile Augurs and Snapcasters chipped away at his life total. The Smiter is absolutely a good card against this deck but it's very beatable.
Cards that are not good against this deck:
Slaughter Games: It can be reasonable if you hit a card from my hand but I can win without any given card in my deck. This class of card (Cranial Extraction Memoricide etc.) has historically been the most overplayed in any given Standard format. This card isn't good.
Expensive sorcery speed cards: If you can resolve one early you're in good shape but your odds of resolving one aren't great. Fortunately for this deck the expensive creatures/sorceries are very well positioned in Standard outside of their weakness here. It's one of the things that makes Magic great. If one particular strategy emerges with the best cards then there are always other strategies that line up well against them even if the cards are worse. For example nobody is claiming that Essence Scatter is a better card than Thragtusk but I'd much rather be on the Essence Scatter side of things when the two cards match up.
I don't know what the future holds for this deck but I'll enjoy attacking 400 times with Augur of Bolas until it's no longer worthwhile. You can watch me stream (usually this deck for the time being) at twitch.tv/aprosak.
Thanks for reading
P.S. In case you're wondering how Legacy went in St. Louis I'm never casting Stoneforge Mystic in that format again.
Bonus: Cube Talk
John Douglass Lauren Nolen and I came up with two cubes that I think would be very comical. The first is a "strictly worse" split cube. Every card is a split card except that one half is strictly better than the other. Cards like Counterspell / Cancel Diabolic Edict / Cruel Edict and Mogg Fanatic / Frostling fill out the ranks of what amounts to a giant troll of a cube.
However that's not the cube I'll be building
Let's talk about flip card cube. The basic idea is that you have multiple copies of every flip card in existence. Fifteen Scorned Villagers ten Thraben Militas five Ludevic's Test Subject and so on and so forth. If more variety is in order then Nezumi Graverobber and friends can also be added. However none of these cards flip into their normal flip side. That would be boring. They all flip into something different.
The best part of this is that nobody knows what you're flipping into including yourself! Most of the time you get awesome cards but there are some whammies as well. For maximum fun (not to be confused with Smokestack) comes into play cards trigger on flipping which creates some awesome flip scenarios. After some laugh-filled brainstorming JD Lauren and I came up with some ideas for cards.
Elbrus the Blinding Blade flips into Bone Saw or a Marit Lage token.
To make things even better all of the lands are utopia lands meaning that colors don't matter and making this a fantastic Sealed Deck format. In addition to basic lands you can add any amount of Moonmists to your deck and all of the Moonmists are changed to read as follows:
Flip any number of permanents.