Courser Correction

Bennie Smith talks about the RUG Monsters deck he’s been having success with at Friday Night Magic. Take a look and let him know what you think!

I was a little slow getting behind Domri Rade, which in retrospect is a little mindboggling because it seems like the perfect card for a midrange creature-heavy deck. And who likes midrange creature-heavy decks more than me? By the time it occurred to me that I was wrong, Domri had jumped in price and was a stone-cold wallet killer. Eventually I got my playset, and I remember playing it for the first time and just loving it for all the reasons everyone loves it. But after a while I noticed there was an additional more subtle benefit from having Domri in a deck that’s a byproduct of its most obvious benefit and made me love it even more.

Domri Rade helps you keep hitting your land drops, and that’s awesome!

The first time you +1 Domri and you hit a creature, you feel like the king of the world revealing that bad boy and putting it in your hand. Conversely, the first time you whiff on the +1 ability, you feel crappy, especially if that’s a land sitting on top of your deck. Your instinct is to want Domri to always hit a creature when you +1, which is awesome when it happens, but you need to remember that when playing your creatures, especially ones like Stormbreath Dragon and Polukranos, the World Eater, you want to keep hitting your land drops to be able to cast them and make them monstrous.

Eventually I noticed that when I whiffed on Domri it was okay because I needed that land to cast one of my heavy hitters—I was actually happy to know I was going to draw it next turn. And when Domri hits on its +1, it also means you’re a card deeper toward drawing another land. If you like midrange, you want to hit your land drops each turn so you can play your bigger threats and activate abilities along the way, but you also want to draw gas too. So long as you’ve got mostly creatures and lands in your deck, Domri lets you satisfy both urges in a balanced way that wins games much more than if you draw too many lands or not enough lands in a row.

When Courser of Kruphix was spoiled, it set my good card senses tingling. I know that wasn’t particularly out of the box thinking, as the card was very obviously pushed and a lot of people liked Courser right from the get go. What’s interesting though has been seeing various writers’ opinions on Courser evolve after people have had time to play with it, and a common thing I see is that people are "underwhelmed" by Courser of Kruphix.

I’m sure it’s coming from when Courser "whiffs" too much, not revealing a land on top of the deck that you can play for advantage, and maybe a little bit of discomfort in letting your opponent see every card that’s coming from the top of your deck. But gaining a deeper appreciation for Courser reminds me of the mental shift I had to make with Domri—if you’re whiffing with Courser, that typically means you’ve got gas sitting on top of your deck, which is usually a good thing unless you really need to play another land in order to cast the gas.

So much like Domri, Courser satisfies those midrange urges to keep hitting land drops while keeping the gas flowing at the same time. Each of them is separately powerful both in their overt abilities and the subtle benefits to your game flow. But together . . .

Man, together Domri Rade and Courser of Kruphix are the midrange dream team! As good as each of them are by themselves, when they’re together they take things to a whole new midrange level. Need to draw gas with Domri? Courser lets you put that land on top of your deck in play and hopefully reveals a creature. Need to hit that next land drop? Domri puts that creature on top of your deck in your hand and hopefully reveals the land beneath. When these two cards are in play, your game flow is almost always firing on all cylinders.

However, there are the occasional stumbles even with this setup. For instance, when there are multiple lands in a row on top of your deck or you’ve got a nonland noncreature card on top (like another Domri). Scry lands help with some of that, but while I was looking for something more I ran across Kiora, the Crashing Wave. Having a planeswalker on top of your deck is a bad enough "stumble" to the Domri/Courser double team, but what if there are then two lands as the next two cards? Kiora would let you draw that Domri off the top of your deck and then (assuming Courser in play) let you play the next two lands right off the top of your deck, hopefully leaving nothing but diesel on top of your deck for next turn.

My next mission was a playset of Kiora, and once I acquired those I knew I had a dynamite midrange core. I just had to figure out what to play to fill it in. My initial instinct was to build a G/R Monsters deck with a blue splash for Kiora, but as I was pulling cards I realized I could run up to eight scry lands in this color combination. I absolutely love the scry lands, and they are even better in a deck with Courser and Domri so I know I wanted to run all eight of them. But running that many made me look hard at Elvish Mystic.

Now trust me—I’ve played my fair share of one-mana accelerators and have played many of them on turn 1, but the diminishing returns on the card when you don’t play it on turn 1 is pretty steep. It’s why Noble Hierarch is pretty much the gold standard—a fabulous turn one play, the exalted ability makes it a relevant play most other turns of the game too. Birds of Paradise isn’t far behind because flying makes it a pretty darn good chump blocker and occasional Equipment bearer. Outside of those two however, most other one-drop mana dudes are backup copies five through eight of the A team. In today’s Standard, all we’ve got is four copies of the B team that are stellar when you can play them on turn 1 but suck it hard when you can’t.

Sylvan Caryatid is a great mana accelerator in the deck though—turn 1 scry land, turn 2 untapped land and Caryatid and you’re ahead of the game next turn. Or in a pinch if you’ve got to play another tapped land, you’re still on point mana-wise. Caryatid is a great blocker and is immune to most spot removal. Instead of Elvish Mystic, I needed backup copies of Sylvan Caryatid, and since I’ve got access to blue, I turned to Kiora’s Follower. Not only does the card provide flavor cohesion since I’m playing Kiora herself, but I also get additional game benefits outside of mana.

For one thing, a 2/2 for two is a respectable thing to play to an empty board if you got your opponent low on life before they swept the board clean. Also, a 2/2 can trade early on if you’re playing against an aggressive opponent and you need to preserve your life total or keep a planeswalker around another turn or two. I really like that it allows your really large creatures play both offense and defense, in effect becoming a copy of your biggest dude each turn as a blocker. And if you’re playing a creature that has a tap ability (say, Izzet Staticaster), then Kiora’s Follower lets you double up that effect. Sadly, there aren’t really that many creatures with nice tap abilities in green, red, and blue currently, but you can bet I’ll be keeping an eye out as Journey into Nyx is spoiled!

I had my core and my mana, so now I just needed to fill out the rest of the deck. With an eye toward keeping my creature count high for Domri, here’s what I played for the past couple weeks at Friday Night Magic:

The first night I ran this deck I actually tried Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius in the six-mana slots, and while he was okay, he wasn’t the scary powerhouse I was hoping for at six mana. After losing a long and grueling three-game match to Esper Control where Niv-Mizzet got to ping my opponent for one before being killed, it occurred to me that what I really wanted there might be Aetherling. Of course, last weekend I played mostly aggro decks and didn’t face Esper Control all night so Aetherling was subpar for me, making me still not sure what to play there. Right now I’m leaning toward Sylvan Primordial—yeah, I know it’s seven, not six, but I didn’t usually want to play Niv-Mizzet or Aetherling unless I had some extra mana up anyway.

I slipped some extra planeswalkers in the deck to see how they worked. Chandra, Pyromaster was the first to make the cut because her zero ability plays so well with the theme of manipulating the top of my deck. When she showed up, she wasn’t terrible but wasn’t particularly awesome either, so I think she’s losing her maindeck slot and might not even make the sideboard. Ral Zarek on the other hand was amazing, and his first two abilities fit really well in what this deck is trying to do. First, the Lightning Bolt ability is amazing to kill off problematic small to medium creatures, planeswalkers, and occasionally just go to the face to finish off an opponent. The tap and untap ability acts as mana ramp while tapping down a worrisome blocker so one of your monsters can crash in.

Izzet Staticaster was occasionally decent and was particularly sweet when shooting down Lifebane Zombie and Elspeth, Sun’s Champion Soldier tokens. I rarely had the chance to untap it with Kiora’s Follower (or Ral Zarek), but I still think there’s some potential there. I’m not sure how many I’m going to keep between maindeck and sideboard, but two or three seems about right.

One huge card for me was Turn // Burn. I didn’t put it in my sideboard until last Friday night’s tournament, and it did great work all night, jumping out of my sideboard almost every match. I’m strongly considering moving some number of it to the maindeck as a way to deal with Gods and Desecration Demon while also killing fast beatdown creatures like Ash Zealot.

Between the two FNMs my record was 8-3-1 in matches (the one draw was intentional thank goodness), and the deck felt very strong. I really think this might be the perfect shell for Courser of Kruphix to shine. The only times I felt particularly worried playing the deck were against a white aggro deck and a red devotion/burn deck, where my decidedly greedy mana base hurt me and if I didn’t draw an early Courser I was just dead. Scavenging Ooze is a good man, but there’s not typically enough creatures in the graveyard early enough for that life gain to bail me out of trouble. I’m strongly considering some number of Bow of Nylea and Nylea’s Disciple in the maindeck and sideboard to help out.

I won’t be playing in FNM this week since my daughter’s dance recital is Friday night, but if I were going to play this weekend, my deck would probably look like this:

Journey into Nyx is bound to have some options as well. Already the Izzet god Keranos, God of Storms has piqued my interest and seems to play right into the theme of playing off the top deck, providing a very strong enchantment-like effect while being a creature you can draw with Domri Rade. Courser of Kruphix keeps lands from being the top card of your deck, so getting a free Lightning Bolt nearly every turn is bound to be awesome.

Then there’s Ajani, Mentor of Heroes—we finally got a G/W planeswalker, and wow! What a beating! I’ve heard a little skepticism from people about him because of the notion that a planeswalker has to protect himself to be good, but I see the new Ajani to being on par with Garruk, Caller of Beasts, a card that has proven to be solid in tournament play in the past. He can boost your blockers or replace himself, both as +1 abilities, and has a starting loyalty of four that seems quite strong. I particularly like that Ajani can search up a creature or a planeswalker, which seems clutch in a deck like mine though obviously would push me from RUG to Naya if I didn’t want to go four colors.

What do you think of the deck? I’d love to read your thoughts!

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