BUG Or Black/Green?

Patrick Chapin, author of Next Level Deckbuilding, continues brewing in Standard with your suggestions from the comments last Monday. Check them out before #SCGVB and #SCGPROV!

Never play a bad something else.

We’re going to do a lot of brewing over the years, so it is crucial to remember the Prime Directive. There’s no need to be constrained in what we can try or think about, but when it comes down to it, if our brew is just a worse version of another deck, we have to be able to walk away.

Grand Prix Albuquerque is this weekend, and with it is an opportunity to hit the metagame from a new angle—or at the very least one it isn’t expecting.

The format has started to settle into a bit of an equilibrium, with Esper Control, Mono-Red Aggro, four different devotion decks, and a variety of miscellaneous aggro decks all seeing play. Sideboards have become more streamlined and designed to attack the format, which has become more universally known and agreed upon.

Last week we discussed the state of Standard and why this might be the time to go rogue. Earlier this week we switched into full-on brew mode, beginning with the concepts and combos suggested by readers. Today we go ever deeper off the deep end and then figure out where we need to draw the line. What is our strategy for actually arriving at an answer for this weekend?

Monday we discussed both Grixis and U/W/R Control. Esper is the control deck to beat and generally regarded as the best control deck in the semi-mirror. Attempting to sidestep the Thoughtseize forcing through Sphinx’s Revelation game, both of our lists attempted to play a planeswalker-centric Super Friends sort of game.

Among Esper’s many great attributes is its use of eight Temples. Scry lands are excellent in decks without one-drops, so only getting four in Grixis and U/W/R is a strike against them. What about the other three-color blue deck with two Temples?

What about BUG?

On the surface, it is easy to dismiss BUG. After all, it doesn’t have access to Sphinx’s Revelation for starters. To make matters worse, not only does it not have Supreme Verdict, but it doesn’t have Anger of the Gods either. You’ve got stuff like Gaze of Granite, Golgari Charm, or maybe Ratchet Bomb if you want anything along those lines.

What does green give us? Where are our Farseeks? Our Thragtusks?

Most of the green cards Team StarCityGames played in our Block Bant deck involved white, like Voice of Resurgence and Loxodon Smiter. What exactly is the green supposed to do nowadays?

Well, for starters, there are some pretty awesome Golgari cards if you can find a home for them. Reaper of the Wilds is a great finisher, suggesting a more midrangey approach. Golgari Charm and Abrupt Decay are both extremely versatile, cheap, and interactive cards that suggest we might be able to play a lot of removal without having dead cards against control.

Additionally, while Sylvan Caryatid may not be Farseek, with no Supreme Verdicts or Anger of the Gods clashing with it, it might just be better!

Jason Ross Diehl Taylor suggested the following BUG list on Monday:

Now this is the right idea! Rather than trying to build a BUG deck like an Esper deck with different colors, it is set up more like a Jund deck. This is truly a good-stuff midrange deck. From another angle, it is sort of a Golgari deck with Jace, Architect of Thought; Far // Away; and a few counterspells.

Of particular interest is the use of Sylvan Caryatid with all of these luscious four-drops. Turn 3 Jace is just stellar, and you could do a lot worse than powering out Reaper or Demon, both of which survive Doom Blade among a lot of other things. This deck is not trying to do anything fancy; it’s just a bunch of bombs backed up with a lot of versatile interactivity.

Jose Vicete Gomes Filho suggested Prophet of Kruphix, which I think sounds just awesome. To start with, it plays into the tap-out nature of the deck very well. We have a lot of powerful things to spend mana on, and being able to tap out on our turn and then get double mana by playing a big proactive threat on our opponent’s turn gives us a huge mana advantage. Have so much removal also gives us more ways to interact at instant speed after tapping out for the Prophet.

It’s not just the mana advantage either. Playing Desecration Demon after attackers have been declared is an awesome way to surprise someone that wasn’t expecting to be a snack. Just the threat of flashing down anything big enough to win an exchange is a potent threat, and we aren’t going to be short of creatures like that here.

One other creature I love with Prophet of Kruphix is JVGF’s other suggestion, Prime Speaker Zegana. It’s no Sphinx’s Revelation, but we sure do have a lot of great friends to buddy it with. Desecration Demon in particular is just super hot, giving you a frequently game-winning surge of extra cards. The Prophet gives you enough extra mana to play them but also lets you flash down the Prime Speaker when most awkward for your opponent (such as when he thought a Sphinx’s Revelation for four was a good idea).

The other big advantage to Prime Speaker Zegana is its ability to transform your Far // Aways into card-draw engines. Maybe the first Prime Speaker was merely a Reaper or Ooze for four? Far // Away lets you keep going!

It’s not all sunshine with the above list however. To start with, this is quite the dubious mana base. That is just eleven sources of green for Sylvan Caryatid, which is just not stable enough for Standard at the moment, missing the turn 2 Sylvan Caryatid 16% of the time (not counting the occasional Temple of Deceit into shock-land scenario). Obviously, we can add an extra Temple of Mystery, but that is still just twelve. Which brings us to the next point:

Nightveil Specter.

Jose swears by the Specter, which is certainly an extra card. I wonder if it’s possible that we are supposed to position ourselves more like a Golgari deck with blue than a Dimir deck with green. I think it’s very possible that Nightveil Specter is right, but it does clash with the basic Forests I want to play.

Here is my take that eschews Specters entirely:

To begin with, I have replaced the Nightveil Specter element with Prophet of Kruphix and Prime Speaker Zegana as discussed above. There is an upward limit of how many expensive cards we can play, but spreading out our expensive cards rather than having all four-drops leads us to being more mana-efficient in general.

Primeval Bounty is also a reasonable option, and I am probably underplaying it. Reid Duke had one in the Junk deck he was testing for Dublin, and it overperformed. With as many creatures as we have, it might be even better here. I think adding one is totally reasonable, and it’s not even clear that it needs to replace an expensive spell. Deadbridge Chant is another reasonable option but clashes with Scavenging Ooze, so I generally would prefer Primeval Bounty if you wanted something like this.

Opportunity is another option if we just want to draw cards, but we are already far enough down the Prime Speaker Zegana road that I would hope the Prime Speaker is better. If it’s not, we should just cut them both for Opportunity (but my guess is that Prime Speaker is better here).

Plasm Capture is hot, particularly with Prophet of Kruphix and Prime Speaker, but it does take us down a different road mana-wise. Playing nonblue or green lands with Plasm Capture is brutal, but we could just cut one of the Swamps and suck it up.

The bigger issue is that we are already extremely jammed at the four spot. Additionally, Plasm Capture needs a powerful instant-speed threat to punish people that don’t play into it. This is why it is so good with Sphinx’s Revelation. Here, opponents can just play nothing and waste our turn. It would work with Opportunity, but again that is a different deck.

I have also removed the Syncopates, preferring Scavenging Oozes. Syncopate is another card that works much better if you can afford to leave all of your mana untapped. This BUG deck is going to play a tap-out game unless it has Prophet of Kruphix, and Syncopate is still not what you really want in those spots. Besides, Syncopate’s big appeal is giving you something to do on turn 2, but Sylvan Caryatid and Scavenging Ooze combined with all the removal ensure we are good in that department.

I really like Scavenging Ooze in these kinds of decks anyway. It is early defense that can totally take over a game late and is a threat against control. Besides, without Sphinx’s Revelation, it’s nice to have some kind of life gain to help put away games against red decks (and help offset Thoughtseize and shock lands).

We already discussed Primeval Bounty, which can provide even more life gain, but Whip of Erebos is also an option. I am hesitant to use it, however, both because of Scavenging Ooze and just having a lot of creatures that don’t take full advantage of it. It is sweet with Prime Speaker Zegana, though, and the life steal out of the board might be worth it. Then again, we might just want the full four Pharika’s Cures. I cut down on them because of playing so much less black mana, but we could probably get away with more if we really wanted. It is also an option to cut a Forest for a Golgari Guildgate, but that is a helluva lot of tapped lands.

We have some other sideboard options to consider, such as Reap Intellect. It is unclear to me if Reap Intellect is really the right way to fight the control decks, but it does work well with Sylvan Caryatid. Acceleration powering out Mind Twists is more than the sum of their parts.

I don’t like Notion Thief here at all. Notion Thief requires you to leave your mana open, and we don’t have other ways to use that (like Restoration Angel or Sphinx’s Revelation) or other reasons we would have left our mana open with cards in hand (like Fact or Fiction or Plasm Capture).

Another sweeper worth considering is Ratchet Bomb. Creatures appear at a wide range of costs, but the card does have added versatility against planeswalkers and enchantments. I generally prefer Golgari Charm, but if you want more, it is an option, though admittedly awkward with Sylvan Caryatid at times.

While not a BUG deck per se, some of the B/G Devotion decks that have been seeing play are starting to look kind of BUG-like. For instance, here is a list that made Top 8 of a Magic Online Daily Event a little over a week ago:

This list starts from a Mono-Black Devotion shell but incorporates green for all the usual utility spells and Gaze of Granite. If you are desperate for a sweeper, it is not embarrassing.

What’s particularly interesting is the use of Temple of Mystery to give us enough green to support our removal spells while not messing up our Nightveil Specters. It is worth noting that Temple of Mystery is chosen here over Breeding Pool and with good reason. In Standard decks without one-drops, Temples are generally stronger than shock lands, so if you ever need to choose the burden is on the shock land to argue why it’s better.

I’m not sure I love cutting down on Underworld Connections so much, but there is a lot of red online these days. I do think there will be more in paper than there has been, but Mono-Red Aggro is always overrepresented online, perhaps due to the ease of building the deck.

I’m not sure how realistic it is to add blue here, but you could at least consider it. The biggest hurdle of course is that the best straight blue card is Jace followed by Aetherling, both of which are double blue.

Continuing in the vein of B/G decks, Skyler Ronna made a good point about Reanimator having access to Obzedat’s Aid. It is an easy reanimation spell to miss if you are just looking at black and green, but adding white is very appealing anyway because of Angel of Serenity and Obzedat, Ghost Council (if you can make the mana work).

Here is an attempt at Junk Reanimator:

The mana base is a little bit suspect but could at least serve as a starting point. It’s also so unclear to me which cards we want four of and which can be trimmed.

There are a couple of notable creatures that I have not included which might just be silly to not play. For instance, is Lotleth Troll just obviously supposed to be here? It is incredible with Obzedat’s Aid if you have an Angel of Serenity or Ashen Rider. If we went that road, I’d want to Ride harder and have all the Aids.

I didn’t include Nemesis of Mortals either, but maybe it is a better graveyard payoff than some of the others, perhaps Varolz. Varolz does clash with Angel of Serenity and at times even Obzedat’s Aid.

One other nice feature of Obzedat’s Aid is that it can also reanimate a Whip of Erebos, perhaps flipped by a Grisly Salvage. If you were just going to reanimate an Obzedat anyway, now you go real big. As a reminder, Whipping an Obzedat and then exiling it cheats the system, and you get to keep Obzedat (who also happens to have lifelink).

Also notable absent is Reaper of the Wilds. Is it just too good to not play here? I don’t know. It is a great backup plan but doesn’t really do anything directly for our strategy.

Speaking of Reaper of the Wilds, you guys were absolutely right. That is a great idea for Jund. Desecration Demon is great, but it is a bit more of a beatdown sort of thing, whereas the kind of Jund decks we were looking at are more controlling in nature. Here is a possible tweak to incorporate the Reaper:

I have also incorporated another of your suggestions, Mistcutter Hydra, as well as slightly upping the mana count. With Scavenging Ooze to help offset life loss, I actually wouldn’t mind another Read the Bones either. It just works so well with the control game Jund wants to play. Of course, no one says Jund has to be controlling. For instance:

I think if you are going to go to all this trouble you might as well move all in and combine Kalonian Hydra with Exava for the total blowouts. With Lotleth Troll, Scavenging Ooze, Dreg Mangler, Polukranos, and sometimes even Stormbreath Dragon, we aren’t short on guys Kalonian Hydra can power up.

Looking ahead to this weekend, I think my plan is to test BUG and B/G decks and depending on the results either go with one of those or fall back on Esper or some other Thoughtseize / Hero’s Downfall midrange deck.

I do want to touch on just a couple more good points raised in the comments on Monday. First of all, why no Ral Zarek in Super Friends? I think he is a totally fine option and starts to veer squarely into "good" territory if you are on Izzet Staticaster anyway. Dealing three damage doesn’t match up particularly well in the format right now, and we already have so many four-drops. That said, if you moved away from sweepers, maybe got more aggressive, Ral Zarek would be perfect. Otherwise, I think he could just be a random one-of, letting you have one more walker in play at the same time.

Also on the U/W/R front, the prospect of Boros Reckoner + Boros Charm + Azorius Charm to gain an arbitrary amount of life is not super appealing at the moment. The combo has always been hard to pull off (as your Reckoner also has to get damaged after you have all three, which is what people are avoiding anyway). Besides, the format is full of removal (breaking up the combo) and decks that can win through the combo (such as Ashiok, Jaces, etc.). As if that wasn’t enough, people are even maindecking Skullcracks these days.

Speaking of Skullcrack, from the looks of it more and more people are playing pretty close to straight burn decks. For example:

This isn’t the fastest Lava Spike deck I have ever seen, but if the format is full of shock lands and Thoughtseizes, it does have purpose. Besides, really this is just a combo deck hitting from an unusual angle.

If I were to go this route, I would want another Anger of the Gods and more Boros Reckoners to strengthen the aggro matchup. Wear // Tear is cute, but maybe we can live without it?

As I said, I am most interested in BUG or B/G. My B/G starting point would be Kibler’s list:

Since moving away from Experiment One, I like the looks of his G/B Aggro deck quite a bit more. This build really is very much cut from the same cloth as the B/W Midrange deck Paul Rietzl and I played in Dublin. It is a little more aggressive, with Dreg Mangler instead of Read the Bones, but I prefer that with the direction the format has taken.

Both SCG Standard Open: Providence and Grand Prix Albuquerque are ripe for someone taking the format by surprise, and it might as well be us . . .

Patrick Chapin
"The Innovator"

Next Level Deckbuilding