Brewing With M14

Pro Tour Philadelphia Top 4 competitor Sam Black talks about the Magic 2014 cards he’s most excited about and shares some preliminary Standard decklists with them.

With the last major Standard tournament before the release of M14 concluded and most of the set spoiled, I think it’s time to begin considering how the end of Innistrad Standard will look with a full eight sets.

After M14 comes out, Standard will be at its most powerful point in its cycle of varying sizes. This means some cards in M14 that allow decks to be built might build decks that are ok but aren’t good enough to compete in a strong developed field. These decks still might be good after Theros comes out even if the cards don’t do anything initially. I’d say Slivers are a prime candidate for that path.

Other cards may be strong at first but will lose most of their synergies and see little to no play after Innistrad rotates, like Talrand, Sky Summoner and Trading Post from M13. I think Xathrid Necromancer is potentially a strong candidate for this trajectory, as Innistrad has an "above average" number of Humans that can comfortably be killed off.


I’m going to try to focus here on cards that I think are reasonably likely to have immediate utility in Standard rather than cards with interesting long-term potential once the format is a little softer. Worrying about what might come next is only really useful to financial types, and I try to stay far away from that kind of thing. [Editor’s Note: That’s why we have Chas, buddy!]

The first thing I noticed while reading through an alphabetical spoiler is the return of Brave the Elements. Brave the Elements is an extremely powerful card, and thanks to the fact that gold creatures that include white count as white creatures, it’s likely to work well even in a deck that isn’t exclusively white. We already have Faith’s Shield, which means that we have to either care a lot about affecting our whole team or we have to want more than four copies of that effect. Path of Bravery is a great reason to want to Brave the Elements (and I certainly appreciate the thematic link between the two cards that both want you to charge with a bunch of white creatures), but that’s not the direction that most calls to me as a powerful deck in Standard at the moment.

I’m curious about a G/W Auras deck that moves away from the hexproof theme in order to get better mana and relies more heavily on spells to protect its enchanted creatures. There are a few problems with this. You have to have mana available to protect them, and if you have to give protection from white (or less likely green), you might knock off an aura. But there are advantages as well.

Your opponent knows that they have to do something rather than target a hexproof creature, but with protection spells your opponent might spend their time targeting the creature and fall behind on tempo because your answer is cheaper (or the same cost while you’re ahead). Protection prevents damage, so cards like Bonfire of the Damned and Rolling Temblor are no longer effective solutions. Also, Faith’s Shield can protect the Auras directly, so having access to that incidentally cuts off another direction of interaction with cards like Abrupt Decay.

One of the strongest incentives to want to move to two colors to improve the mana is Witchstalker, which offers access to a reasonably powerful creature without adding another color but which can be difficult to cast in three colors (sometimes). While this card is definitely not as strong as Geist of Saint Traft, it’s a reasonable consolation.


Another advantage to two colors is better access to Ajani, Caller of the Pride, who we’ve already seen in sideboards of these decks.

So what would this deck look like? Well, Voice of Resurgence is automatic, and Fencing Ace, already good enough, becomes an all-star. While we’re at it, we probably want Silverblade Paladin despite potential concerns of redundant double strike with Fencing Ace. We can only play so many threes between Silverblade Paladin; Ajani, Caller of the Pride; Witchstalker; and Unflinching Courage unless we want to play a lot of mana guys and very few twos, which is an option. The deck could also be built with heavily green tilted mana and Predator Ooze, but that deck wouldn’t have Brave the Elements. I think it’s a little worse, though Elvish Mystic is awesome in that deck.

I’d start with something like:

In building that deck, I was struck by how hard it is to make room for new cards in established archetypes in this format and how little payoff there is for staying two colors rather than three. This deck will take little to no damage from its lands, which will give it a leg up in racing, but it’s probably wrong to give up on Geist of Saint Traft unless you’re doing something more radical with the mana.

Elvish Mystic comes to mind here, and I think it’s one of the more significant cards in the set. This is probably a more interesting approach to G/W:

This is a Predator Ooze deck that uses Auras to get it through and Witchstalker as a backup plan to ramp into that also happens to use Auras well. Garruk is excellent when he comes down on turn 3, and this deck will mulligan almost any hand that can’t make four mana on turn 3.

I decided to include the next deck in the sideboard to give this deck a transformational plan. The sideboard plan here is to use all the mana dorks to ramp into Garruk, Caller of Beasts, which can find and/or cast Craterhoof Behemoth. Alternatively, one could just cast Craterhoof Behemoth.

I’m more confident that the deck this deck can sideboard into will be a real deck than I am that the maindeck will be. I think Garruk, Caller of Beasts and Elvish Archdruid will both see play after M14 comes out, but I think they will only see play together. There’s a reasonable chance that this kind of deck wants to splash for Beck (of Beck // Call fame), but I’m not sure it’s worth it—Beck is much weaker than Glimpse of Nature.

While I’m on green, I have to mention Kalonian Hydra, which is awesome. I’m not sure it’s good, but it probably is. Mostly, I love that they found a subtle way to create a Hydra lord that definitely helps Hydra tribal without saying anything about it and while having utility elsewhere.

Hydra tribal sounds like a joke to me, but Savageborn Hydra is an extremely powerful card, so there is a chance.

I can’t imagine playing Kalonian Hydra without Experiment One, except that hydras want mana dorks and mana dorks don’t get along well with Experiment One.

My first take:

I added black at the last second when I realized how insane Corpsejack Menace is with everything this deck is doing. This is one of the Timmyest decks I’ve ever built; if you like big huge creatures and lots of counters, this deck could definitely be for you.

Vastwood Hydra is included as something of an on-theme afterthought, but I think the card is actually not embarrassing. That’s a very serious consolation prize when it dies and a lot of instances of counters getting added to things for Corpsejack Menace to double.

Also, apparently Oozes and Hydras are friends.

The other card that really interests me, as I’m sure most of you expected, is Xathrid Necromancer. I always loved Rotlung Reanimator, but the mana wasn’t great for playing B/W with most of the good Clerics that existed his first time around, and unlike many Human creatures these days, most of the Clerics were really all about staying in play and working together rather than going to the graveyard. Xathrid Necromancer exists at a time when creatures are better but in a tribe that is much more interested in what he offers. It also has the drawback that the Zombies come into play tapped, but that’s a small price to pay for the better tribe.

Xathrid Necromancer’s best friends are obviously Cartel Aristocrat and Doomed Traveler, and it can easily plug into an existing deck with those. But another direction to go with Xathrid Necromancer is to take advantage of the fact that it can upgrade large numbers of Human tokens to Zombie tokens with cards like Gather the Townsfolk and Increasing Devotion.

Xathrid Necromancer might be most at home in a B/W Tokens shell:

4 Doomed Traveler
2 Tragic Slip
4 Blood Artist
4 Cartel Aristocrat
4 Gather the Townsfolk
4 Intangible Virtue
4 Lingering Souls
4 Xathrid Necromancer
2 Path of Bravery
2 Sorin, Lord of Innistrad
1 Increasing Devotion
2 Vault of the Archangel
4 Godless Shrine
4 Isolated Chapel
8 Plains
7 Swamp
2 Tragic Slip
2 Duress
2 Appetite for Brains
2 Orzhov Charm
1 Sin Collector
1 Sorin, Lord of Innistrad
2 Obzedat, Ghost Council
1 Mentor of the Meek
2 Fiend Hunter

An interesting note here is that Path of Bravery, which could easily be outstanding in this deck, actually offers a pretty strong incentive to stay two colors to avoid taking enough damage that it becomes difficult to stay at twenty or more life. Given that this deck won’t make us take much damage from lands, Path of Bravery, Blood Artist, and a little life gain from Sorin and Vault of the Archangel should making staying high enough relatively easy in most matchups, and even where we can’t do that, the life gain should be greatly appreciated.

The exclusion of Archangel of Thune from this deck might be a gigantic oversight. It’s good with Blood Artist and Path of Bravery. It’s possible that the deck just wants to start with four Path of Braverys and several Archangel of Thunes, but five is a lot of mana. I want to try Increasing Devotion first. Still, Archangel of Thune might be outstanding here, and if it isn’t, Archangel of Thune + Path of Bravery is definitely an interaction to keep an eye on.

I’m a little sad about the number of non-Humans in this deck, but I think Zombie tokens are valuable enough and we have enough access to Humans that the Xathrid Necromancers will be good. I started with Champion of the Parish, but I decided that just wasn’t what this deck was trying to do. Besides, I think it’s important that I cut Champion of the Parish any time I’m on the fence because my inclination is to play it more often than I should.

Another option is to use Xathrid Necromancer to bridge the Human/Zombie tribal gap (possibly with Loyal Cathar) to support Gravecrawler, but I don’t think there’s enough incentive to want to play Gravecrawler in the first place in Standard right now.

The problem with playing Xathrid Necromancer in G/W/B or R/W/B Aristocrats is that it competes with Varolz, the Scar-Striped or Boros Reckoner and Lingering Souls. Varolz is the primary draw to playing green, so that doesn’t really seem negotiable, but it’s possible we could play Xathrid Necromancer in R/W/B if we wanted to push the Human theme instead of the Blasphemous Act theme. So we’d want to build off the original recipe, which these days is only really played by Brazilians over Act 2.

This deck is probably built to maximize Silverblade Paladin with Champion of the Parish and Falkenrath Aristocrat, and Xathrid Necromancer is going to function largely as insurance, particularly against Supreme Verdict.

4 Champion of the Parish
4 Doomed Traveler
4 Cartel Aristocrat
3 Knight of Infamy
3 Skirsdag High Priest
3 Silverblade Paladin
4 Xathrid Necromancer
4 Falkenrath Aristocrat
2 Zealous Conscripts
2 Tragic Slip
2 Orzhov Charm
4 Cavern of Souls
4 Isolated Chapel
4 Godless Shrine
4 Sacred Foundry
4 Blood Crypt
2 Clifftop Retreat
1 Plains
1 Swamp
1 Vault of the Archangel
2 Tragic Slip
1 Orzhov Charm
1 Zealous Conscripts
2 Obzedat, Ghost Council
1 Duress
1 Sin Collector
1 Nearheath Pilgrim
4 Boros Reckoner
2 Sorin, Lord of Innistrad

I hate moving away from Blood Artist, especially while adding another card that can generate lots of tokens, but cutting that and Lingering Souls lets me stay focused on Humans for Cavern of Souls, Champion of the Parish, and Xathrid Necromancer. This deck doesn’t have Gather the Townsfolk, but it does have 23 Humans.

It’s possible that it should have Gather the Townsfolk instead of Knight of Infamy. Knight is better with Silverblade Paladin, but Gather is better with Xathrid Necromancer. I’m building this around Silverblade Paladin (it might look otherwise since I have four Necromancers and only three Paladins, but Necromancers are much better in multiples). Really, the correct card for that slot will depend on how good protection from white (or black since it could just as easily be Knight of Glory) ends up being.

I think that covers most of the cards I’m most excited about from M14 at this point. Part of me wants to try to build a deck around Warden of Evos Isle, but I sadly don’t think there’s any chance it’s good enough in Standard. Maybe someday Bird tribal will have enough support, but I doubt it’ll happen any time soon.

Me too, Sam!

Thanks for reading,


@samuelhblack on Twitter