The Oath of the Gatewatch has been taken, and the Prerelease was a great way to kick things off. Some of the questions we encountered in Battle for Zendikar finally have answers and we get to see the other half of the block’s offerings for Allies, devoid spells, and land-matters cards. Unlike Battle for Zendikar Sealed, which possessed a strong proclivity for Eldrazi, block Sealed is a lot more of a toss-up.
In my weekend Prerelease, I participated in a large-scale event with cash prizes and wrapped up with a respectable 5-2 finish after playing what turned out to be a powerful but clumsy Esper devoid deck. The format was enjoyable, but like any Sealed event, a lead was hard to lose and there were a couple of pitched games. Still, not a bad experience.
But enough about Sealed; we’ve got lots of new cards to talk about, and we’re going to start with a casual archetype that has a chance, once again, to shine.
Equipment-based decks have been a popular casual archetype since the subtype’s inception thirteen years ago. Everybody knows a player who loves to suit up a Puresteel Paladin with a whole bunch of cheap equipment and get in the red zone. Equipment cards tend to be quite flavorful and they provide a glimpse into the plane they come from. Several have made their way into prominent archetypes, and some have been deemed too powerful and have been attacked by Wizards of the Coast’s own mythic equipment, the Banhammer.
This equipment is aggressively costed, gives lasting advantage, and is easily equipped should the first captain to hold them fall in combat. I know I saw its power firsthand in the Sealed event, with it quickly taking over any game where the opponent didn’t have removal. With enough cheap equipment, there might be a strategy that’s fast and consistent enough to make for a fun Standard choice.
While I tried making the above-mentioned Weapons Trainer work, it required too many colors and was unreliable for anything better than a 3/2 for two. If I wanted that, I’d just play Chief of the Edge and the bevy of Warriors that get the boost. Two is too many, so let’s stick to white, and we can do that. It’s OK. Be brave.
- 4 Knight of the White Orchid
- 4 Kytheon, Hero of Akros
- 2 Cliffside Lookout
- 4 Stone Haven Outfitter
- 4 Stoneforge Acolyte
- 4 Ondu War Cleric
Just 22 creatures, twenty spells, and eighteen lands. Haven’t seen one of those in a while, huh?
Before we dig into this list, let’s talk about the cohort keyword. When was the last time we had non-mana abilities that just require that you tap the creature? Sure you need to do it to two creatures, but you can do whatever you want with your mana for the rest of the turn. See Pia and Kiran Nalaar or Akroan Jailer. Both have powerful activated abilities, but unless you’re giving up a bit of your mana, you’re not able to activate them. This is how things are nowadays, and I agree with that change, for the most part. However, that makes cohort all the more powerful. Bear in mind that the Ally you tap as part of the additional cost of activation can have summoning sickness, meaning you can activate it immediately.
This is, in my opinion, why Stoneforge Acolyte is so powerful. The deck contains fourteen Allies, and Captain’s Claws also makes them. This means you can reliably get value off your one-mana 1/2 for turns after he’s lost his relevance in combat. Ondu War Cleric is a perfectly fine 2/2 Ally, but the ability to incidentally and freely gain life every turn is nice value. Stone Haven Outfitter is the central Ally of the deck. Even a lowly Bone Saw can give something +2/+1 for just one mana, the creature replaces itself on death, and it makes additional Equipment better.
Cliffside Lookout, while ultimately a poor creature, provides Ally synergy, a first-turn play that can hold Equipment, and its ability is relevant later in the game, especially thanks to an army of 1/1 Kor Ally tokens you’re working to create. Knight of the White Orchid helps make the eighteen lands a bit more manageable. Chances are you will always be at a disadvantage on land, and as a first strike creature, the Knight holds any equipment like a boss.
That leaves us just one creature: Kytheon, Hero of Akros. Kytheon hasn’t really gotten his chance to shine; a 2/1 for one is usually just fine in a pinch, even now that they’re more common. Kytheon was born into a format that had Courser of Kruphix and Siege Rhino to stop you, and even though his flipped side was great, he got outclassed by himself in Battle for Zendikar. Gideon, Ally of Zendikar is four-mana, though. Moreover, Kytheon has the most difficult flip condition of the five Magic Origins planeswalkers.
Spells and Land
Enter Captain’s Claws. The way Kytheon is worded, he can attack equipped with two Captain’s Claws and flip himself at the end of combat. No expended card, no nonsense. Once he’s flipped, all of his modes go great with the deck’s strategy. His ability to untap any creature is particularly useful with cohort, and making them indestructible helps them block even the most terrifying attackers. He can take some punishment if you have to +2, and he carries Equipment after a Kozilek’s Return wipes out the rest of your board (we gotta be realistic here.) All in all, Kytheon, for once, is a better choice for this deck than Gideon, Ally of Zendikar.
Choosing the right equipment is important, and after some testing, this combination seems to be close to correct. Bone Saw and Captain’s Claws are excellent. Bone Saw, with its rock-bottom cost, provides an efficient boost with Stone Haven Outfitter. Captain’s Claws is a great midgame choice. So that leaves the late game, and Strider Harness gives white haste, an ability all but absent from that color. The equip cost is low, but with a high casting cost, I eventually shrank it down from three copies to one. The remaining equipment, Ghostfire Blade, provide a very large bonus despite being tuned to equip colorless creatures. Vulshok Morningstar was a long time ago, but the fact you can lay this Equipment down along with a creature thanks to its low casting cost makes it an equipment card you can slide into play without having to spend your turn.
From there, we have eight instants. Lithomancer’s Focus is a powerful pump spell that hasn’t been well-aligned with a given deck yet. Now, though, Lithomancer’s Focus provides a very large pump for white, and the damage protection is great when sparring with the new medium-sized Eldrazi from this set. It’s easy to keep just one mana up, and the results can keep you in the game. It’s nice that it automatically protects a creature from both sides of a Kozilek’s Return, a spell I believe to be the single largest threat to this deck going into the new Standard. Valorous Stance is along the same lines, but it’s also great at killing Siege Rhino, Anafenza, Dragonlord Ojutai, or, yes, most Eldrazi. On the defensive side, it can also protect your equip investments, much like Lithomancer’s Focus.
This deck plays a paltry eighteen lands, but I can justify that low number. First, this deck is one color, and every land provides that color. Second, the deck has only one card that costs three mana, and it is very much a late game card. Finally, cards like Knight of the White Orchid, Stone Haven Outfitter, and Stoneforge Acolyte thin the deck out, meaning you’ll have whatever you need more frequently. Sandstone Bridge providing both a stat boost and vigilance is cute; I can attack and tap a cohort Ally that turn!
Out of the sideboard, I need defense against decks with lots of low-cost creatures that could block my plans. Silkwraps handle Hangarback Walker, a particularly tough creature to overcome, as well as any number of first-turn threats. Searing Light, a card I played with great success this Prerelease weekend, complements Lithomancer’s Focus, but it can do so even if you don’t control a creature. Hidden Dragonslayer pairs lifelink with power-boosting equipment, and it can act as a removal spell late in the game. Alongside Mastery of the Unseen, the Ghostfire Blades can now cheaply equip again. Given the small manabase, a single Make a Stand seems like enough. Even though it’s great against cards like Kozilek’s Return, you never really want two in your hand.
In between Limited matches this weekend, I tested this deck against a handful of Standard decks, including two different ramp lists, a red aggro deck, and a prowess-related deck. It had great game against the latter two while struggling with the ramp deck. If the ramp deck missed its critical pieces, I steamrolled them, but if they got online, I had trouble beating a resolved Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. I could get past a single Eldrazi, even Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. It was tough, but it was still possible. I was pleased with how the deck held up, and the list I’ve shared today takes these adjustments into account.
I discovered that the lines of play were similar in turns 3 and 4, but after that, they drastically changed depending on what I was facing. The first couple of turns are about speed and mana efficiency; after that, you either keep the gas pedal to the floor or you start to conserve your resources. This was surprising and refreshing, and the deck was a great time to play. Moreover, this deck is surprisingly inexpensive. No single card costs more than five dollars, and the majority of them are under a buck, making this a quality choice for the budget player. Every creature and equipment performed well, and it’s very close to a complete list.
On that note, I think it could use some improvement, and I wish to actively seek help from you all. What could give this deck some game against the ramp decks? I played a Rogue’s Passage in the mono-white list I broke up to build this one, and I was very pleased with it. Maybe there’s a white spell I’m overlooking that can help? Or is it possible that another color, perhaps blue or black, could help get my armed creatures get to the other side of the board?
This is only one of the Equipment decks I’ve built, and while I won’t bog you down with more now, I can’t promise I won’t return to one in the near future. Suit up and get aggressive!