Can Prime Speaker Vannifar Win SCG Indy?

Prime Speaker Vannifar has lots of potential with as much creature ammo as this format has! Join Owen for a look at some of the ways he’s tutoring up a sweet suite of creatures in new Standard!

I think almost everyone who saw Prime Speaker Vannifar knew immediately
that it would be a Standard all-star, but finding the best shell around it
has caused much debate. I’m excited to try a Temur version based around
Rhythm of the Wild that makes Prime Speaker Vannifar both uncounterable and
hasty. There are limitless possibilities with this Birthing Pod variant,
but today I’m going to show you the version I’ve been most successful with
and the list I would play if I was attending SCG Indianapolis this weekend:

I’ve flipped and flopped between Adventurous Impulse and
Incubation//Incongruity quite a bit, but at this moment I’ve been playing a
ton of Arena, and in best-of-one I like the versatility of
Incubation//Incongruity solely because it provides me outs in game 1 to
Tocatli Honor Guard. I have many concerns about how Adventurous Impulse
changes deckbuilding since it should lead you to play less lands, which
causes me to draw fewer cards on average with Merfolk Branchwalker and
Jadelight Ranger. It’s nice that Adventurous Impulse can do some color
fixing, but it does see two fewer cards than Incubation, something that
could easily be the difference maker if your only goal is to maximize your
chances of seeing Prime Speaker Vannifar.

Speaking of the Elf Ooze Wizard, she’s quite popular, but I haven’t seen a
single build with as much versatility or inevitability as what I’ve come up
with. The reason I’m most excited about this build is Timestream Navigator,
which can be easily searched up with Vannifar and when activated,
conveniently ends up back in my library. The combo here involved untapping
with Timestream Navigator, Prime Speaker Vannifar, and Muldrotha, the
Gravetide to repeatedly tutor up Timestream Navigator. At first I had a
list with Rhythm of the Wild to help make Timestream Navigator hasty and
better at going off, but once I realized I could activate it and tutor for
it on the same turn to ensure on the following turn I would start with it
and have it unaffected by summoning sickness, it became clear the best
option was to solely stick to the colors that help enable Muldrotha.

Kraul Harpooner has already seen Constructed play in green decks, killing
Niv-Mizzet, Parun and Crackling Drake despite green typically not having
much removal outside of the fighting mechanic and some Plummet action. This
is a wonderful tutor target since it’s an acceptable draw on its own as a
3/2 for two mana, but it can be sacrificed in a matchup where it has low
utility and transformed into one of the amazing three-drops. Lastly, with
four copies of Incubation//Incongruity you can often see these unique
creatures and not necessarily always end up with them in your hand. Kraul
Harpooner is a dead card less often since it can be put on the bottom of
your library with Incongruity or your graveyard with Jadelight Ranger, and
it can be kept when needed.

Kitesail Freebooter is a Modern staple, and this type of effect has always
been strong. I was worried I would have too many anti-creature cards, and I
wanted a more robust tutor package in case I had to face a Nexus of Fate
deck in game 1. I have considered Burglar Rat in this slot since it’s more
sacrifice-friendly with Vannifar and given the choice between Reclamation
Sage and Thrashing Brontodon, I would greatly prefer Reclamation Sage since
it can be powerful and leave behind a valuable body.

I’ve gone back and forth on Wildgrowth Walker, and it’s possible once the
best list of Sultai Vannifar exists, it could easily have four Wildgrowth
Walker maindeck. I prioritized Jadelight Ranger and Merfolk Branchwalker as
my creature package since they can provide immense value before being
sacrificed. Explore also provides card selection exactly the same way
surveil and scry does, so incorporating these also gives me additional
chances to see my hallmark card in any given game. I wanted to be able to
search up lifegain since Mono-Red Aggro has a ton of sweet tools now with Ravnica Allegience, and I can’t tell if I want Wildgrowth Walker
or Pelakka Wurm.

One awesome aspect of decks like this is if you really want to you can tip
the scales to make any matchup favorable. For instance, if I was very
concerned about my Mono-Red Aggro matchup, I would want to be sure to have
a knockout punch on every step of the curve; having Wildgrowth Walker on
the battlefield and repeatedly tutoring up explore creatures was the first
thing that came to mind, but honestly you can push it to the most extreme
end of the spectrum and possibly have a tutor chain, which involves the
best lifegain card on every spot of the curve.

Midnight Reaper doesn’t look like it’s all that special, but I always ran
one copy of Grim Haruspex in my Rally the Ancestors lists, and I see no
reason why this creature-based combo deck can’t also have a nice value
package. I will caution you that sacrificing a creature to Prime Speaker
Vannifar on the battlefield can have risk involved since the draw trigger
from Midnight Reaper resolves before the activated ability of Prime Speaker
Vannifar, so a small percentage of the time you’ll draw the card you hoped
to tutor for which can sometimes be awkward.

Exclusion Mage is one of the slots I’m least sure about since Sultai
Vannifar, unlike Temur or Bant lists that I’ve seen, has access to both
Ravenous Chupacabra and Hostage Taker–way higher impact anti-creature
slots. I’ve disliked drawing Exclusion Mage except against Mono-White Aggro
or any deck that’s drawn History of Benalia.

Plague Mare and Ravenous Chupacabra are stone cold killers against aggro
and frankly, I’m not sure any Prime Speaker Vannifar deck is worth playing
if you can’t sacrifice a two-drop to search up either Plague Mare or Goblin
Chainwhirler. Enough of the metagame is warped around Llanowar Elves,
Healer’s Hawk, and maybe even Gutterbones moving forward. Every Chord of
Calling deck in Modern that I’ve ever seen has an Orzhov Pontiff somewhere,
and I would heavily advocate against deviating from this tried and true

Plaguecrafter is a fairly high payoff for branching into black as well
since it gives you an effect similar to Vraska’s Contempt and doesn’t hurt
your overall creature count. It’s a little awkward that your opponent has
as much control over the outcome, but I can’t imagine a Ravnica Allegiance Standard metagame without Teferi, Hero of
Dominaria, and the existence of Plaguecrafter forces any deck with
Planeswalkers to respect the power of Prime Speaker Vannifar.

In my experiences in playing with Temur or Bant Vannifar lists, midgame I
would often ask, “Do we have an Eternal Witness?” and the answer was always
no. I registered two copies of Golgari Findbroker in the maindeck of my
Golgari Midrange list at Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica, and I’ve
given this card my stamp of approval as powerful and absolutely exceeding
the threshold for what I consider to be Standard playable. If you’re
looking for an Eternal Witness effect in your Vannifar decks, Findbroker is
the way to go.

Five-drops in these lists tend to be underwhelming and having tried all
sorts of crazy ideas, like Tatyova, Benthid Druid, I’ve concluded that the
new mythic rares are the most exciting. Biogenic Ooze and Mezmerizing
Benthid are two cards that I would be happy to slam turn 3 on the play –
assuming I luck into the double Llanowar Elves start – and I could see them
carrying me to a victory. I’ve won plenty of games of Limited with these
cards, and they both provide that Cloudgoat Ranger feeling when they enter
the battlefield. Honestly, five mana is where I’ve been struggling with
Prime Speaker Vannifar, so if you have any great ideas, I’m all ears.

I tried a list with one copy of Blood Operative at three and multiple Doom
Whisperer as my five drops, and I liked it because Doom Whisperer is
incredibly powerful and synergizes with a lot of what’s going on here. I
had concerns that tutoring it up wouldn’t be as impactful since it doesn’t
have an enters the battlefield trigger and sacrificing it also provides no
value, but this is offset by the fact that when you sacrifice it to
Vannifar, you always get Muldrotha, which you can then use to recast it. At
this stage in my preparation, I know exactly how good Doom Whisperer is,
and I don’t know exactly how good the new flashy mythics are; my testing
continues with the saucy new cards for now.

I will mention that although it doesn’t look like it, Prime Speaker
Vannifar and Doom Whisperer do have positive synergy together since they’re
both awesome and on-curve when played together. Playing many cards which
demand an answer can be strong since overloading what few answers your
opponent may have is a great way to break through.

Sultai Vannifar has a lot of big things going for it leading into this
weekend, and I think the biggest is that with Wildgrowth Walker, Plague
Mare, and Ravenous Chupacabra, you have an incredible tutor suite against
aggro decks. Once you sideboard you get access to the best sideboard cards
in Standard – Negate and Duress. It’s always good to have a mix here since
having only Negate makes you easy to play against and only Duress can cause
an overall lower quality of topdecks later in the game which is a
legitimate concern given that you essentially only sideboard it in when you
play against a deck which has the express goal of playing a long game.

One of the best approaches to tournament Magic is to show up with the best
strategy, but also acknowledge how the metagame might look from an outside
perspective. What I mean by that is if I think Prime Speaker Vannifar is
the best deck in the format, it’s probably not a huge secret and almost
everyone else is trying it as well. Rather than show up with the goods and
hope for the best, I like to be prepared for what might be an issue.

The biggest problems I’ve run into with the deck are Tocalti Honor Guard
and anyone who has a surplus of creature kill to keep Vannifar off the
battlefield. One way to punish Tocalti Honor Guard is to play
Incubation//Incongruity over Adventurous Impulse to give yourself access to
outs for the duration of a game. Further, the best strategy I’ve found for
punishing players who overload on removal is to stock up on Dive Down, and
I could easily see a few copies maindeck if you decide some of my tutor
targets are a bit lacking.

Standard is healthier and more diverse than it’s ever been and with this
shockland + checkland manabase, you can safely play any three-color wedge
and be successful. I’m optimistic about Prime Speaker Vannifar decks
because they really seem to be pushing the limits of what’s legal.
Currently in Standard, there’s a Man-o’-War and a Nekrataal available
alongside things like Kitesail Freebooter and almost-clone Lazav, the
Multifarious. Decks like this are usually only as good as the creatures you
can dig up, and the creatures in current Standard are absurd. What would
you want that’s not already here?