Black Magic – Building GW Baneslayer in Standard

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Wednesday, November 18th – With Worlds just around the corner, Sam Black examines Green/White Baneslayer in Standard. He focuses on a selection of maindeck questions and sideboard options, and presents a pair of interesting lists. Will such strategies be on top of the metagame heap come Sunday?

Building around the curve of Noble Hierarch, Knight of the Reliquary, and Baneslayer Angel is a strategy that makes a lot of sense and has been putting up very solid results in Standard, but the lists seem to have a much wider range than most other successful decks. It’s very easy for GW midrange to splash any other color, and there are many good options at every different mana cost, as well as several different possible synergies to explore. The sideboard options are also fabulous. Like Bant in the last Extended season, it’s a powerful but undefined deck that’s perfect for exploration by people who are looking to build a few surprises into a fairly well-known format.

I’ll start by laying out the GW options for creatures by casting cost, leaving other colors for later.

At one mana, you have:

Noble Hierarch: This fits perfectly into the deck, as the plan is to play creatures your opponent will want to kill to tax their mana and accelerate to powerful threats. You’re not really planning to stick multiple threats, since any threat will end the game quickly on its own, demanding a quick removal spell, so Exalted will trigger frequently. It also provides much more late game value as a Ranger of Eos target than other accelerators.

Birds of Paradise: Better than Llanowar Elves as additional accelerators, and good at fixing Green and Black. Flying can be useful both for chump blocking and attacking over a stalled board with Noble Hierarch or Behemoth Sledge.

Scute Mob: Very slow, but extremely good in attrition matches. It’s terrible against decks like Boros, but excellent at further taxing Jund’s removal or punishing Eldrazi Green’s lack of removal.

Wild Nacatl: I hesitate to call this a GW card, since I don’t like it much without access to a Mountain, but a 2/2 for one isn’t actually a bad deal, at it’s entirely reasonable that this deck might have a Mountain. It’s interesting to consider with Ranger of Eos, in that it is probably pretty good to get, but not necessarily better than Scute Mob, and you probably don’t have room for both.

Soul Warden: This isn’t commonly played, and I don’t think it’s good enough to maindeck, and I’d only consider it with Ranger of Eos. It’s also not necessarily great against a deck like Eldrazi Green, even though they make so many creatures because they can deal so much damage in a single turn.

At two mana:

Qasali Pridemage: More Exalted, and a theoretically versatile answer. The sacrifice ability has few targets than you’d want, but some of them, most notably Eldrazi Monument, are very important. By itself it’s a solid threat that’s not terrible in any matchup, but it’s not overly exciting, especially on defense.

Steward of Valeron: A weak but functional attacker and reliable mana source, I’d usually rather have this than Pridemage if my opponent has no targets.

Lotus Cobra: More explosive than Steward, and more likely to draw a removal spell on turn 2, it loses value quickly as the game progresses and doesn’t give you mana when you need it most.

Valeron Outlander: Narrow, and very bad against non-Black opponents, being strictly worse than the first two options, but the ability is about as good as Great Sable Stag’s, given the lack of Blue in the format. I’d be most likely to want to play this in the same deck as Great Sable Stag, to stretch Jund’s Lightning Bolts too thin if they want to attack with Putrid Leech or Sprouting Thrinax.

Ethersworn Canonist: About as narrow as Valeron Outlander, this card will probably demand an answer from Jund, as it turns off their Cascade and it can also flight explosive Ranger turns from Boros.

River Boa: Islandwalk won’t often get you very far at the moment, and the regeneration makes him pretty mana intensive; on the other hand, many opponents will take the opportunity to kill it if you’re tapped out, which exactly what you want in a two-drop. I wish it was slightly better on defense, since in reality you often won’t be able to hold a mana for it early, but there are definitely games where it will be awesome.

Knight of the White Orchid: This, like White Knight, Sigiled Paladin, etc, is mentioned only to say that, while pretty good, I don’t think the mana can support this with a turn 1 accelerator. Yes, if you play a Noble Hierarch you can probably play this on turn 2 if the Noble Hierarch lives, but at that point this is basically another three-drop, and it’s not as good as a real three-mana creature.

At three mana:

Knight of the Reliquary: Powered by fetchlands, this creature is just awesome now. Early it accelerates and fixes mana while thinning the deck, while late (and sometimes early) it’s a giant monster. It’s the backbone of the deck.

Great Sable Stag: Jund is very common, but I don’t really think the matchup needs this, and it’s not necessarily that great against them anyway. It’s extremely underwhelming against most other decks that don’t include vampires.

Dauntless Escort: This popular choice fits the theme of trying to stick a Knight of the Reliquary or Baneslayer Angel. Despite that, I don’t like it because it’s so underpowered on its own. I’d rather fill the deck with creatures they have to kill and let them kill as many as they can. This is even more important when Path to Exile is one of the most common ways to kill Baneslayer Angel anyway.

Borderland Ranger: A 2/2 body isn’t impressive, but with Exalted, equipment, or other pump effects like Elspeth, it can be important. Even by itself it trades with Bloodbraid Elf. While it’s at it, it fixes mana and helps curve smoothly into Baneslayer Angel or active Scute Mob. It’s also important to have cards that replace themselves or somehow fill your hand to combat Blightning, or Baneslayer Angel will usually just get discarded before it ever sees play.

At four mana:

Ranger of Eos: For the same reason as Borderland Ranger with respect to filling the hand, I think this card is extremely important against Jund. Attrition in general is important. It’s a little slow against something like Boros, but I think that can be more than made up for by having access to Soul Warden. The card itself is clearly good enough to include if the deck has good targets; the argument against is that it requires space for targets in the deck, and that they might not be as good as other cards that could be played.

Emeria Angel: At four, you’re probably planning to play Planeswalkers more than creatures, but this is an evasive threat that can give you a way to attack over the ground as well as an excellent token maker. It gets out of control very quickly with Knight of the Reliquary, but again, I don’t really want to plan to have two of my big threats alive at the same time.

Guardian Seraph: A very respectable body and a reasonable effect, especially against aggressive decks, which is good, because a lot of the other choices I like to make in this deck make you weaker against those decks. This is particularly good if you’re planning to blank their Lightning Bolts rather than tax their Lightning Bolts (this is to say I would not play this and Great Sable Stag in the same deck – Also, I understand that Lightning Bolt will always be good, but you can control whether it’s killing something for 1-2 or 3-4 mana).

Mycoid Shepherd: Another four toughness option. This one lacks evasion, which means it will take a long time to punch through a Sprouting Thrinax, but it’s huge on defense and the life gain may actually be better against aggro than Seraph’s damage prevention – if they need to kill it to win. Best if there’s a Red splash for Woolly Thoctar, as the two clearly play well together.

Master of the Wild Hunt: Another solid option for taxing Lightning Bolts. This card is interesting to compare to Emeria Angel. It never creates another creature the turn it comes into play, so you never get value if they kill it immediately. It also doesn’t provide evasion. On the other hand, the tokens it makes are better, and the utility means it wins more long games, while the evasion on the angel probably means that it wins more short games. Less removal and less aggression favor this card if you’re trying to decide between the two.

At five mana:

Baneslayer Angel: Very few decks can win if this card attacks, nor can they attack into it. It’s the best five-mana creature ever printed (sorry Morphling, but it’s not close), and you should definitely play four before playing anything else that costs five mana.

Thornling: Probably better to wait until you have six mana to play this one, as there are a lot of decks that just can’t really deal with it. Not nearly as capable of stabilizing a board as Baneslayer, it can also end a game in a hurry and it’s harder to kill. Particularly excellent with Ranger of Eos for Noble Hierarchs.

Adding other colors adds relatively few real options, since Green and White’s creatures are so good, and the other color is likely to be largely a splash.

At two mana:

Putrid Leech: This undercosted monster is one of the better ways to block a Putrid Leech on the other side. It also puts the opponent on a faster clock than anything else if you’re not concerned about your own life total. It’s an awesome card, but the mana is a little awkward.

Tidehollow Sculler: Very different, much worse in combat, but it fits the theme well, in that it will usually demand (or remove) a removal spell.

Meddling Mage: Not a direction I would go in this format, given that most decks have several ways to kill it and nothing that important to deal with… It’s at least pretty cute against Eldrazi Green.

At three mana:

Rhox War Monk: This is the best way to work the “make their Bolts bad” angle, and it’s another creature that many decks can’t afford to leave unchecked for more than a few turns. It stacks up very well against Sprouting Thrinax, but not so well against Putrid Leech, unless a Noble Hierarch gets involved. This is the best argument for a Blue splash.

Woolly Thoctar: Another four-toughness option, this is better at ending a game on an empty board, but much worse against Sprouting Thrinax, since you won’t be gaining life while the tokens chump block. Seems like an awkward fit in a format with so many Elspeths, Elvish Visionaries, and Sprouting Thrinaxes.

At four mana:

Rafiq of the Many: it’s unfortunate that he takes the Lightning Bolt they couldn’t use on Rhox War Monk, but he is often the most threatening four-drop if they can’t kill him.


G/W spells:

Path to Exile: White’s answer to everything, this card is extremely efficient and powerful. That said, this deck may not actually need to kill that many opposing creatures, since many can just be handled in combat, so it’s not an automatic four-of.

Vines of Vastwood: If the goal is to stick a finisher, this one-mana bumped-up Rebuff the Wicked seems like a great way to do it. Why go through all the trouble of casting another creature only to have it spend another turn summoning sick, when you can just save the first one for only one extra mana? That’s before we even get into the value of kicking it. This card has been substantially underplayed so far, but it probably isn’t a four-of because it demands a creature first – drawing too many can be a problem.

Behemoth Sledge: Trample is awesome in this format, as is making any random dork a huge threat. I can’t see playing zero of this card.

Elspeth, Knight-Errant: This is another great card in the format at the moment. Evasion is huge, tokens are significant, and Blightning, the best answer to a Planeswalker, doesn’t kill her.

Oblivion Ring: Dudes and spells that kill dudes probably aren’t enough to win a tournament these days, or at least, if it’s easy it’s worth having another option. You need answers to Planeswalkers and Eldrazi Monument, so unless you’re splashing Maelstrom Pulse (or possibly Bant Charm), you probably need a few of these.

Garruk Wildspeaker: I don’t like this planeswalker unless all of his abilities are good. In this deck, for the most part, the second ability will be the most useful, and that’s the last place I want to be with him. Extra mana and overruns will both find occasional utility, and he’s not terrible, but I personally think he’s a little overplayed at the moment and the deck can do better things.

Day of Judgment: Wrath is a powerful card to have access to, and one that people usually won’t see coming at the moment. That said, this format is amazingly bad for it. Single creatures are all huge threats, so one player rarely needs to commit many more creatures to the board than the opponent. Most likely a sideboard card, but not an unthinkable maindeck surprise.

Eldrazi Monument: The Andersons made it clear exactly how powerful this card is. It gets worse quickly as you remove creatures from the deck, but Elspeth and Garruk can go a long way toward making up for that. It’s also another way to protect a Baneslayer Angel, and you don’t need many other creatures to let an indestructible Baneslayer Angel win a game.

Other colors:

Maelstrom Pulse: See Oblivion Ring – this card does it better.

Grim Discovery: Blightning protection that helps hit five land while furthering the attrition plan.

Bant Charm: A little overpriced, it still answers Monument, creatures, and removal spells.

Negate: An unexpected and versatile answer that helps the plan, I still think I like it less than Vines unless mass removal picks up in popularity. Two mana is a lot to leave up in a deck like this.

Lightning Bolt: I assume this is one of the incentives to play Red, but I don’t think it’s at all synergistic with this deck. Path is a better removal spell, and when you’re just trying to stick a threat, three to the dome isn’t really what you’re looking for.

Ajani Vengeant: Lifegain against aggressive decks, and a threat that can be hard to deal with against control, I’ve still never liked this card as much as many others. Still, this deck can be built to protect it, and then it can be very powerful.

The sideboard options are really too numerous to mention in detail, and manabases are best examined in context, so I’ll just move on to some sample lists with sideboard considerations:

This deck is dedicated to the attrition plan. It’s little slower, which can cause problems against Boros. This is why I’m trying a maindeck Soul Warden, and the additional removal, particularly the Zealous Persecutions, should help there. Against removal-light decks like Green, you’re just planning to stick a Baneslayer or a pair of Scute Mobs (ideally with an Elspeth), and against removal-heavy decks you plan to grind them out by matching their two-for-ones with your two- and three-for-ones.

This deck is a little faster, and a little worse against Blightning. You’re hoping to stick a creature by countering some removal and win the game faster. The deck drops Ranger of Eos for speed, and to focus on Green creatures so that it can take advantage of Oran-Rief, the Vastwood.

There are a lot of other paths one can take when approaching this deck, hinted at in the discussion of individual cards, but I can’t go over everything.

The first is a list I was working on for Worlds, but I’ve since concluded to go a different direction because a few matchups were a little harder than I wanted them to be. I still think it’s a very good deck. Next week we’ll have a lot more information, having seen everyone’s best efforts, but with only 6 rounds of play, we still won’t have a clear winner. It should be interesting to try to decipher it all for States.

Until then, thanks for reading…

Sam Black