Deconstructing Constructed – From the Vault of Standard

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Tuesday, November 4th – States is nearly upon us, and it’s time to show off anything and everything resembling sick tech. Today, I’ll be covering the deck I’ll most likely be playing at States, the best decks in the format, and then some of the odder lists I’ve been working on that haven’t yet seen the light of day.

States is nearly upon us, and it’s time to show off anything and everything resembling sick tech. Today, I’ll be covering the deck I’ll most likely be playing at States, the best decks in the format, and then some of the odder lists I’ve been working on that haven’t yet seen the light of day. Before that, there’s a brief section on Extended and LSV’s victory at the Pro Tour.

Wow. Extended looks insane right now… a Top 8 of six Elf-ball decks? Just ridiculous. And then Fae and a special Tezzeret deck that looked like it got lifted straight out of Vintage, removed the restricted cards, and added some sick hosers. All in all, the format showed a decent amount of creativity and variation, despite the Top 8 being a blowout. For those of you haven’t seen the coverage yet, note that Oberg was only one game away from beating LSV and basically running that Top 8.

As far as LSV goes, congrats! One of the best American Magic player finally gets to add a PT win to his resume of accomplishments through some very tough Top 8 matches.

With Elves.


Oh, and if people complained about Sensei’s Divining Top taking up too much time, welcome to what Vintage players feel when watching inexperienced pilots try to win with Storm combo. The Elf combo deck is actually pretty intricate at times, and even on Magic Online you can see how absurdly long it takes some people to win with it.

Now onto States!

The Defending Champion
The Contenders
The Feel-Good Sleeper
The Pretenders
The Oddities

The Defending Champion

This feels oddly familiar… It really is odd to be writing about the same deck I wrote about last year for States. Faeries has come a long way since the original version* Rich Shay and I created a year ago and unleashed to little fanfare, but time (and the printing of Bitterblossom) turned the deck into a monster. Faeries was the best deck during Block Constructed, and it’s the best deck in Standard right now. It smashes Reflecting Pool decks while not scooping to the other good aggro decks in the field. Merfolk is certainly not that tough to beat, especially if you run Peppersmoke or anything like that. Kithkin wasn’t a bad match before Infest was legal and now that it’s around to give White players The Fear, things have only gotten better for the small little flash dorks.

This is my current Fae build for my local metagame, which has been moving away small aggro that isn’t Merfolk and just generally hating Five-Color Control right out of the metagame.

* 3 Clique main, almost didn’t run full Cryptic because of mana issues and one drops. Come a long way… Though at least now I don’t get any more ‘add Blink effects’ comments.

As for alternative builds, one of my friends (Orie Guo) won our Cruise Qualifier just this past weekend with this Fae list:

Orie Guo
1st – Cruise Qualifier in San Jose, California

4 Secluded Glen
4 Mutavault
4 Sunken Ruins
1 Reflecting Pool
2 Faerie Conclave
4 Island
2 Swamp
4 Underground River
4 Spellstutter Sprite
4 Scion of Oona
4 Mistbind Clique
3 Sower of Temptation
1 Vendilion Clique
4 Bitterblossom
4 Cryptic Command
2 Thoughtseize
3 Broken Ambitions
2 Terror
2 Agony Warp
2 Peppersmoke

2 Thoughtseize
2 Agony Warp
1 Peppersmoke
2 Stillmoon Cavalier
2 Vendilion Clique
2 Bottle Gnomes
2 Mind Shatter
2 Eyeblight’s Ending

As you can see, the deck runs more overall removal than my version, due to the addition of Peppersmoke into the maindeck which absolutely reams Merfolk and Fae, while not being too bad elsewhere. Otherwise, it’s your typical Fae deck which just has its way with the majority of the field for free and has an edge on non-red stuff.

For those of you who think Five-Color Control is the best deck: that’s your call, but if you play any competent Fae players you better get lucky. Maybe a really high-end Five-Color Control player like GerryT can make it 50/50, but for the vast majority of Five-Color Control players, you have a bad match. The one bad match I can definitely say Fae has is against Red builds of almost any variety. There’s no miracle board card here, nor is there really any definitive plan you can use against them to improve the match by a significant amount.

All I can really say is this: be careful with what you decide to cut when boarding. The cards that cost you life are generally the best ones in the deck, and I find more often than not that Bitterblossom and Thoughtseize both net you more saved life than the usual board card coming in. The problem is you can’t afford to see multiples of them, so it becomes a question of balance… how many Thoughtseize can you really afford to keep in? Is Bottle Gnomes absolutely better than the 4th Bitterblossom? And so on.


Reflecting Pool Control, Toast, Five-Color Control, Cruel Control… whatever you want to call it, it’s been the most hyped deck over the past month, and it put up some solid results at the StarCityGames.com events. It’ll also still draw a decent chunk of the good player populous towards it for some auto-win matches, and it also has a shot against everything else (except one or two decks).

Oh yeah, and a quick shoutout to a couple of people who thought I was nuts for cutting Mulldrifter for Tidings / Jace. A week later, after GerryT and Sanchez unveiled models dumping Drifter, you guys sure didn’t have a problem with it, did you?

Right now, the deck seems to be ‘figured out,’ in the sense that people are aiming for a number of the weaknesses that the deck has, and it’s a lot less scary after some actual planning has been done. Kithkin doesn’t get mauled thanks to Ranger of Eos and Reveillark, Faeries generally beats it (or at least has a slight edge against it), Merfolk is close to an awful match, and the mirror is just one of the most absurd experiences I’ve ever had in a control mirror. There’s also some of the odder decks which have come out of the LCQ’s from the Pro Tour, I tried about 10 games against the Planeswalker deck, and it just felt like I had no shot. We even made a collective effort to figure out the best route through the match, and it pretty much always involved us losing.

That said, it does maim the rest of the aggro decks in the field with a burning passion, and Kithkin still needs to draw well to stay in the game the whole way. In addition, other than the Planeswalker match, everything else is still winnable — just not in your favor. No matter what I say, I can’t imagine very many people switching from this deck, so I’ll save myself some typing. I will say that I did play the Five-Color Control deck at the Cruise Qualifier, and there are three things I found as a result.

1. Mind Shatter maindeck is a beating against control, Fae, and any midrange deck.
2. Maindeck Cloudthresher is absurdly good against decks running stack control.
3. Plumeveil is the way to beat manlands. Nothing else has the staying power against the trips manland hand, except Ajani Vengeant (which is great, but dies a little too easily).

Merfolk is back and even more obnoxious thanks, to a full set of manlands and the recent upswell in UW Merfolk, with Feldman’s deck leading the way. To be fair, the deck does beat Five-Color Control pretty handily when it sees multiple manlands. In testing, and at the Cruise Qualifier, I beat multiple near-god aggro draws with some timely Wrath of God, Kitchen Finks, and Ajani Venegant action; the manlands, on the other hand? Less luck with that… it basically came down to me drawing a Thresher to kill Conclave if possible.

Faeries, on the other hand, is a far less favorable match-up than people claim it to be. I’ve never had problems with Merfolk since Lord of Atlantis left us, since you are weighing similar cards in similar strategies against each other. I’ll gladly put up my Thoughtseize/Agony Warp/Bitterblossom/Vendilion Clique up against your Sage’s Dousing/Oblivion Ring/Stonybrook Banneret/Knight of Meadowgrain all day and twice on Saturday, thrice if I have Peppersmoke in my 75.

If Merfolk has gone multicolor, then it becomes a harder match, since that brings Chameleon Colossus into the picture. If it resolves, it’s a Faeries player’s nightmare creature. At least Bitterblossom tokens can chump Doran, Cloudthresher, and the rest of those guys all day. It also heavily improves the Kithkin match, having multiple ways to clear the board and turning the deck into a pseudo-control match-up for the Kith.

As for the sick tech in Merfolk, I finally tried Deft Duelist at the urging of Orie telling me to play it in every deck he spouted. Turns out card is actually fine in Merfolk, not the most synergistic with the rest of the creatures, but quite difficult to kill off. He can battle through anything Fae put in his way pretty easily, breaks through Finks and is awesome in the mirror. The only real downside is at times it can be a pain to get WU on turn 2 with all the comes-into-play-tapped lands and Mutavault Still, if you can run him, I’d suggest throwing him in over Knight.

If I was playing a non-Fae and non-rogue deck, then I’d go ahead and run out Merfolk of some sort. I still think many versions of the deck end up as weaker Faerie builds, but at least it has a decent amount of strong synergistic cards and a legitimate strategy to beat control in man lands.

The Feel-Good Sleeper

Reveillark would qualify as a feel-good sleeper for this year at States. Lark has been talked about in a couple of articles, and championed by a few solid players as a great deck-choice due to auto blowouts of some aggro decks and a winnable control match, even if it is difficult. The reason it’s a feel-good is because you can talk yourself into playing it without making some ridiculous arguments and reaches in logic, and you can realistically get paired in such a way to make Top 8 or win. The simple reason not to play Reveillark is that many builds have a hard time against Five-Color Control, and the ones that don’t scoop hard to Faeries. Heck, even the BPM build that has issues with Five-Color Control has the same issues with Fae: they control the game and can stop the relevant spells without a massive expenditure of resources. In fact, it isn’t even close… you may as well just go grab lunch unless the Fae player mulliganed to five or kept stone-cold garbage.

I just can’t imagine actually wanting to play this deck when people are not simply preparing for matches against control, although this one does attack from a different direction than Reflecting Pool decks. It seems the same as debating as if you wanted to play Kithkin or Red deck… you know you have some terrible matches and just decide to roll with it anyway. In other words, you choose it because you feel very comfortable with the deck and can play it very well. That does give you a legitimate reason to play the deck, but it’s also an indictment on not learning a more competitive deck.

Speaking of which, Kithkin has to be the other feel-good sleeper team. A lot of people who like Kithkin think it just constantly gets underrated and slammed for reasons that don’t even make that much sense anymore. Is your plan seriously just trying to run Kith out of cards? Keeping the board clear for multiple turns in a row? I mean really, good luck with that. Nearly every control player who has ever thought they would just run me out of resources eventually would’ve been much better off just playing an Oona and trying to run me over. I have four Unmake or Oblivion Ring in the deck. I have eight ways to make a bunch of tokens, four Figure of Destiny, at least four to six ways to easily fetch / recur the guys you just Wrathed away, and possibly Elspeth. Do you really want to get into an attrition war? Maybe if you’ve got Tidings and Cruel Ultimatum in hand… otherwise, no.

Aggro mirrors are also a bit of a joke in the current metagame; you play a huge swarm, they play small guys and a few spot removal spells. Not really fair until post-board games, and they still need a good draw.

So what’s the problem? The same old problem there’s always been. Variance and the fact that the Five-Color Control decks can evolve again to beat the deck pretty easily; oh, and that Fae still exists and you still only have a slight edge (if that) against them. When I was mauling overconfident Five-Color Control players, the deck had become more inbred and developed toward beating other control decks. A quick switch back to a few more hosers, Plumeveil in games 2 and 3, and a few beefy finishers like Broodmate Dragon and Oona can change things in a hurry. The switch from Mulldrifter to Tidings also means it becomes a lot harder to just run them out of gas, since not only do they draw more cards, but it’s likely they’ll hit another draw card off it.

The variance issue stems from the fact that the normal Kith cards end up trash in a lot of matches, while the tokens and Windbrisk Heights do the majority of the work. The Painter’s Servant / Chaotic Backlash trick is actually pretty good at giving the deck reach, and really good for the mana involved. Two-card combos that basically end the game for 7 mana (split up, of course) have been viable in every format before, and this one is no exception. Would I maindeck it? Not 100%, but I’m leaning toward yes. Not only do you get the combo, but you also gain Flame Javelin for some much needed depth and non-creature ways to get damage in against Fae and Five-Color Control.

It won’t shock me if Kithkin wins some States; like I said, it’s been constantly ridiculed and underrated since the Block Constructed season came to an end. However, I can’t say ‘I would play this over Faeries or Merfolk’ in good conscience, although I will cheer for everyone wrecking people with Painter’s Servant and Chaotic Backlash.

The Pretenders

The G/B/X is over. None of these decks are as good without Tarmogoyf, and they certainly aren’t better choices than Faeries, Five-Color Control, Merfolk, or even Kithkin. If you have some super-refined build that trashes the field, more power to you, and please share the love. For everyone else thinking about playing it, don’t bother. Even with Thoughtseize and Tidehollow Sculler you don’t have the same interaction as the other decks. You don’t have the early game of the other aggro decks, and the end-game reach is still Profane Command or bust. Doran was also absurdly hurt by Agony Warp’s printing, giving them very few ways to get in for damage early against any sort of blocking scheme. Agony Warp and two blockers can take down Doran and a buddy on the cheap. Scion wins the Bitterblossom war, and you still have zero good answers to a Mistbind Clique played in your upkeep.

More aggressive Elf decks used to be able to make an argument for viability, but the lack of any other solid two-drop than Vanquisher not only hurt the curve but removed a valid late-game threat that wasn’t Chameleon Colossus. It can run the same manland plan against Five-Color Control that Merfolk uses, which is even better thanks to Treetop Village, but it has no real way to protect them and even fewer answers to boarded Plumeveil.

And no, Troll / Warhammer is still not a valid strategy to beat aggro. It is a gimmick. In fact, that’s what we call a tempo sinkhole: when you have Warhammer with anything else. Before you could at least run a 3/4 or 4/5 guy out and have a reasonable shot of it living… now that crap gets hit by Unmake, Flame Javelin, Sower, or Oblivion Ring. In fact, the resurgence of Oblivion Ring makes this an even poorer plan than usual, since Kith and Merfolk can just Ring the Warhammer. As a result, you now have 7-8 invested bad cards to beat up on a Red deck, which now may or may not be playing White (a.k.a. answers) to supplement itself anyway.

Speaking of Red, what a fall the color has taken since it last was running things (at Nationals a short time ago). The one thing a Red player has going for him is he can beat Fae with some amount of consistency, which is far more than most people can say for themselves. On the flip-side of the equation, you get curb-stomped by every other deck that looks at you funny. Every Five-Color Control deck runs Finks and ways to beat Demigod, Kithkin certainly never respected the deck before and won’t now*, and – if Feldman’s results are to be trusted – even Merfolk can slap you around. Does that really leave any good matches?

* Now you get to Ranger of Eos up double Forge-Tender. Have a good time with that.

I will, however, make an exception for the R/W decks, which seems to have a better time with decks but a far worse time with its manabase. If you can shuffle ‘well,’ then perhaps you can make a case with that deck. It has a sort-of legitimate stable of two-drops, and the use of Ajani Vengeant is actually warranted. I’d like to stuff the Backlash combo in there anyway, just because you already are gambling pretty heavily with being able to cast your spells. If you can, you might as well be able to completely level the opponent.

Red will win at least one States, because that’s just what people will do. However, unless you have a really good plan against other aggressive decks and Five-Color Control potentially running huge walls, life-gain, and discard, you’ll likely be done in by the 5th round.

I’d like Red if it had any good two-drops. Blood Knight is sorely missed here, since all of the replacements for it are garbage, and we can’t just add a Green splash for Tarmogoyf to right the ship. If I’m forced into playing Mono-Red, it’d look something like this.

The deck is configured to be more of a beating against other aggressive decks, willing to play an attrition war with them if need be. Vithian Stinger and Murderous Redcap may seem out of place at first, but they are ridiculous against Faeries and Merfolk if they make it into play. Chandra Nalaar is also one of those overlooked Planeswalkers… she can blow the crap out of any just about any commonly-played creature without dying. Her ping ability not only is free damage against control and Fae, but it represents the immediate threat of an ultimate. Post-board you don’t care if you go long; you have Firespout to help sweep the board and Sigil of Distinction to make your guys huge ASAP. Even Sigil equipped to Ghitu Encampment or Vault each turn is commonly a four- to six-power attacker.

Against control, you still run a formidable number of creatures that attack thanks to the eight manlands, but you can also run long and eventually win off Chandra, Hell’s Thunder Unearth, and other small incremental burn. Post-board against control you can configure it to be a ‘go big’ deck, with Demigod of Revenge and Manabarbs being huge threats against control. Even if the first thing control does is Esper Charm Manabarbs, that’s still three damage and possibly an opening to sneak in another poke or two.

Versus Faeries, a little bit of paragraph A and B are both true. Ghitu Encampment can be a major downer for Fae to beat in combat without the help of Agony Warp or Terror, and Stinger, Fanatic, and Chandra are all amazing. On the flip-side, you still want to go ahead and dump Hell’s Thunder in a hurry for Demigod, and likely get Manabarbs in the game as well.

This is a steep deviation from common Red decks, so try not to write if off too quickly.

The Oddities

The Planeswalker deck, you can check out the Deck Tech on it here.

This is such a weird deck, I’ve only tested a little against it, but there are a few things I noticed. The first is that Mind Stone is terrible and that the manabase really wants some basics, not only for less pain, but so it can run Rampant Growth. The second is that Murderous Redcap doesn’t really fit in with the deck. I understand it likes an early defensive guy, and I’d really like either Kitchen Finks or Plumeveil in there. The third and final thing is that it smashes Five-Color Control into dirt. Five-Color Control has problems with one resolved Planeswalker, let alone the potential for two or three. Against creatures, it does alright if it can Wrath the board… if it can’t, it usually won’t be living too long. Faeries also seems to absolutely wipe the floor with this deck thanks to Thoughtseize, Vendilion Clique, and counters of various sorts.

The deck is pretty expensive, but people looking for a fun deck that can win something might end up playing it. Try not to be too shocked.

This was something I had been kicking around, but I couldn’t really get it to work properly. Some sort of elf combo, any kind of elf combo… it just needed to work. Unfortunately I couldn’t get anything to replicate the insane mana production / draw your deck model, even with Ranger of Eos fetching Heritage Druid plus Nettle Sentinel, which was the stone cold nuts.

So here’s the version that was at least somewhat working. The premise is simple: get a bunch of tokens on the table and then cast Tar Fiend on turn 3-5, devouring most of the team to Mind Twist the opponent and have a 12/12 on the board. Turns out most decks can’t beat that unless they get very lucky very quickly. Predator Dragon is another option, but since that usually couldn’t swing for the full twenty and left the opponent with a grip, he would usually get toasted once you passed the turn.

I’m sure some sort of valid elf deck can exist with Heritage Druid, so there’s a starting point.

There are still some other decks around, like Tokens and such, but if you want my most up-to-date list for them just ask in the forums or e-mail me. This is already about eleven pages long, so I’m done. Plus, I gave you the best deck in the opening two pages.

Good luck at States, and have fun!

Josh Silvestri
Email me at: joshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom
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