It's been a whirlwind of a week for Magic with Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan happening and the focus being primarily on Modern. However, if you're here for a well thought out piece on Modern and how diverse the format is and yatta yatta yatta, go somewhere else. I've come to terms with the fact that people like Modern and also that nothing should be added or removed from the current environment to make it better. Modern is perfect and hopefully nothing printed in the coming sets ruins that for those who enjoy the format.
That being said, I have my eyes set on Standard for the moment with the majority of the PPTQs for the coming RPTQ season being Standard and want to answer the bevy of questions surrounding what I believe is Standard's best deck for the weekend.
It's no secret that I've become completely immersed in Rivals of Ixalan's best card, Rekindling Phoenix. I've gone to such lengths as adding it to basically every deck that can support its color requirement. Grixis Energy made use of it as being a hard to deal with threat that usually paves the way for The Scarab God to stick if answered with a Vraska's Contempt. In G/R Monsters , Rekindling Phoenix is another hard hitting threat amongst Gods, vehicles, and Scroungers, all of which are incredibly hard to deal with. All in all, I'd be ready to face Rekindling Phoenix for the duration of its legality since I can't imaging it getting outclassed when it can stand up to the likes of Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Hazoret the Fervent.
Despite all that, I think there's more potential for Rekindling Phoenix in other decks yet to be built. The deck I'm coming at you with is what I believe to be the best in the current Standard format with the best results I've had in recent memory on Magic Online.
- 4 Earthshaker Khenra
- 4 Glorybringer
- 4 Jadelight Ranger
- 4 Merfolk Branchwalker
- 4 Rekindling Phoenix
- 3 Resilient Khenra
- 1 Pia Nalaar
- 2 Rhonas the Indomitable
This deck is an evolution of the deck that Matt Tumavitch brought to the table at SCG Philadelphia where he and I played in the semifinals of the event. A derivative of the G/R Monsters deck I built for the previous weekend, this version of the deck takes a much more aggressive approach to the archetype and builds upon some of the cross block synergies we have available in Standard between the explore and eternalize mechanics.
The big bonuses to this deck over the Monsters version is the inclusion of seven eternalize creatures that you can turn over with Merfolk Branchwalker and Jadelight Ranger, giving you added value even against the most removal-heavy decks out there. One difference with this deck over the Monsters deck is that it has uses outside of just Rhonas the Indomitable activations for lands six and beyond since the eternalize costs are so high and offer so much dynamic game play. The threat of the buff from a Resilient Khenra or Earthshaker Khenra's ability to deprive a blocker can really throw an opponent for a loop.
Lots has been said about Merfolk Branchwalker and Jadelight Ranger as well at the explore mechanic as a whole, but giving selection and card advantage to efficient creatures has always been a recipe for powerful cards in Standard. I'd have loved to see an additional card or two graze into the realm of the format to make cards like Shadowed Caravel and Wildgrowth Walker have legs, but we'll have to do with these two for now.
Building from Tumavitch's version, I decided to include a card to help shore up the deck's greatest weakness, Hazoret the Fervent, with a God of our own: Rhonas the Indomitable. While it seems strange to have a deck be highly competitive and have literally no answer to a resolved Hazoret the Fervent, which is the premier threat out of the format's most aggressive deck, the number of cards this deck has that lines up so well at either stalemating or chump blocking it is quite surprising. Rekindling Phoenix shines quite bright here for that very reason since your game plan is to lock up the ground and then fly over to victory, and it does both buy time and win the race!
The most underplayed card in Standard right now fits right into this deck's game plan since there are more four-power creatures than meets the eye. Of course there's the off chance your Jadelight Ranger becomes big enough but also the times when you eternalize with either Earthshaker or Resilient Khenra you now have nine damage coming at them outta nowhere. In addition it's being an impossible to deal with threat outside of an exile effect, which are already taxed to the max when fighting against this deck.
Getting to a battlefield where you're presenting multiple four-power threats used to be an issue only solved by a card such as Bristling Hydra, but that was sometimes vulnerable to Fumigate. Now with Rekindling Phoenix, Rhonas the Indomitable can feel safe from having his friends swept up. Even in some cases where a Rekindling Phoenix dies and leaves behind its egg and is then exiled so you're stuck with a measly 0/1 creature, Rhonas the Indomitable can turbo charge that egg and have it swinging into the red zone!
Rounding out the deck is a variety of removal spells best fit for the format. Abrade is in there as the better Lightning Strike since we're seeing more and more Heart of Kiran as well as Aethersphere Harvester. One newcomer to the format in terms of playability is Struggle. This card saw highly fringe play last Standard format as an answer to various graveyard strategies. While that bonus still exists for this card, its stock has gone through the roof with people maxing out on copies of The Scarab God. The rise of Struggle is also why I think we've seen a lack of God-Pharaoh's Gift decks around, since the reign of terror implemented from Harnessed Lightning is nearly at its lowest point.
On top of being the home for many of Standard's forgotten all stars, this is the first deck I've seen that makes terrific usage for sideboarding in Carnage Tyrant as an additional hard to deal with threat against the more controlling decks in the format, whether they be actual Jim Davis playing U/B Control or the variations of Grixis Energy that we've seen be quite prevalent at Team Constructed events. This dino is resilient in all the ways the deck is not. The maindeck has an insane resilience to sweeper effects as well as one for one removal because of the inherent value the cards generate. Carnage Tyrant, however, is one of the worst cards against a sweeper but shrugs off even the most targeted removal such. Think Vraska's Contempt or Cast Out, spells that are traditionally fantastic against this deck. Furthermore, with the decline of Temur Energy and no card as good as Rogue Refiner, the amount of Vizier of Many Faces, which was a trump card against Carnage Tyrant for blue mages, has drastically fallen by the wayside.
A card I've been sleeping on since the release of Ixalan is Atzocan Archer. While it looks like a marginally playable Draft uncommon with some minor synergies with enrage, this little 1/4 that could does a fantastic job at sniping some of the best aggressive cards in the format:
The two most aggressive decks in the format, Mono-Red and Mardu Vehicles, all have highly powerful one-toughness creatures and can finish the game with an Unlicensed Disintegration if the opponent deals with the early threats and has to fight the heavier hitters with a creature of their own. Atzocan Archer does a fantastic job at not only picking off an important aggressive creature but blocking some of the more problematic attackers. While seemingly innocuous, I believe it was the key addition to the deck to help soften up the early game from the aggressive decks and give this deck the time to set up when it comes time to start fighting the later game cards, like Hazoret the Fervent.
Here's a brief sideboard guide against some of the top decks at the moment for those of you who might not have the hours to spend figuring it out during the week and are looking to play the deck in some PPTQs coming up!
Here we're just trying to stabilize the battlefield as fast as possible, and you should always prioritize removing their creatures rather than developing your own if given the option during turns 1-3. Otherwise you give them the ability to leverage various cards (like Shock) as huge tempo swings.
VS Grixis Energy
This is a match all about value, and you just have to be able to beat them down in the early game while managing their ability to draw cards off of Glint-Sleeve Siphoner. While we're removing Magma Spray since it literally only has one target, it's important to have the full amount of Abrade to hit their early energy outlets. Struggle is at its best here dealing with both The Scarab God and opposing Glorybringers easily.
VS Mardu Vehicles
We're fighting a similar fight here like against Mono-Red, but they're a bit more vulnerable to removal than red is, and we need to only truly worry about Heart of Kiran since very few of our early game cards line up well against it aside from Abrade. They typically play fewer than four Hazoret the Fervent, which gives us some breathing room in addition to their manabase being an abomination. Typically, I've seen Mardu lose to itself more than anything else so just do what you can and let the dice fall as they may!
VS Approach of the Second Sun
People generally look at me funny when I think that this deck is favored against Approach decks and mention how good cards like Fumigate and Settle the Wreckage are against it. While I can honestly laugh when I hear that they feel like the matchup is solved by them playing four copies of Fumigate, Settle the Wreckage can be a bit annoying but by no means is it lights out. One common play line you should learn to take is just to not attack with all your creatures that are resilient to Fumigate when they leave four mana untapped as to not get got by those cards. Time and time again I'll just be sure to attack with two of my three creatures or even one depending on the situation. They do have to cast a seven mana sorcery at some point and that's somewhat difficult even with the seven life buffer it provides. You shouldn't be worried about the creature plan they might bring to the table since you're still packing removal in the form of Glorybringer and Chandra, Torch of Defiance. My best advice might sound harsh, but the best statement to remember when playing against a Fumigate/Settle the Wreckage deck is "Don't attack like an idiot" and you'll be fine.
Overall I've been very impressed with the deck and the package of Rekindling Phoenix and Glorybringer as a whole. That one-two punch is something we're going to be seeing for a while, and I can't wait to venture into the lands of Dominaria and see what that world has to offer for a deck like this. In the meantime though, it's time to dust off the old Modern decks in preparation for next weekend where I'll be bringing you all the details about what I plan on bringing to the table for SCG Indianapolis!