Deep Analysis – Building Midrange With Orchids in Standard

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Thursday, October 9th – Richard continues his series of articles concentrating on new deck experimentation with a look at a midrange strategy that utilizes the promising weenie Knight of the White Orchid. Will a heavily disruptive element make a stand in the new metagame? Read on to find out…

This will be the last of my “new deck exploration” articles for the new Shards Standard; after this one I’m going to leave it up to the readers which of the decks I’ve sketched out will be the one I start running through the gauntlet.

For this deck, I’m going to detail my whole process from the ground up. I had a very simple starting point: Knight of the White Orchid provides a very solid boost if you can set him up for it. What if I built a midrange deck around him?

Phase I: Choosing a Starting Point

Obviously for this deck, the Knight is my starting point – though it will hardly be, necessarily, the focus of the deck by the time I’m done with it. Every deck needs some starting point for its evolution, and for this deck, the Knight is mine.

Ideally, the Knight is a 2/2 First Strike Civic Wayfinder for two mana. This is not format-breaking, by any means, but it’s intriguing nonetheless. There are two drawbacks to the Knight’s ability: one, you have to play Plains in your deck. (Of course, that’s not so bad if you can play a nonbasic that has the subtype Plains…but have you ever read the game text of Leechridden Swamp’s Plainsy counterpart? I won’t say its name, because then you’d have something to search for. Trust me, you’re better off not looking it up.) Having to play some actual Basic Plains in the deck means we’re on a two-color path already. On one hand, that means Mutavault access (yay), but on the other hand, it means I can’t play with any Shard cards. The other downside, naturally, is that he’s just a worse Longbow Archers when my opponent doesn’t have more land than I do.

Next I try to think of what building around Orchid Knight would entail. I see the card as either a two-drop or a Civic Wayfinder, but basically never both. I mean, think about it – when are you going to play him on turn 2 when the opponent has three lands out? You basically need to either miss a land drop or play him at the four-mana mark alongside another Grizzly Bear when the opponent has five lands in play to get the bonus Plains.

So where does he get really valuable? When you’re, say, a 22-land deck with Orchids, it’s good to know you can probably keep pace with a 25-land deck or even a land-dropping machine like Five Color Control. Now, to do that, you need to play your Orchids in the midgame; you keep your two-land or three-land hand, play Orchid after you’ve missed your fourth land drop when the opponent has not, and accelerate out a Plains with which to play another Grizzly Bear. Naturally, you keep your 2/2 First Strike as part of the bargain.

Looking at Civic Wayfinder’s record, we see him at his most successful powering up Profane Command in last Standard season’s B/G Elves decks. If I lay an early Orchid for curve reasons and don’t get a Plains out of him, I can Profane Command him back from the dead to reach the five-mana mark and enable five-costers like… Reveillark, say? In a deck where I’m going to want to play a lot of Grizzly Bears for that Orchid-into-fourth-land play, I’ll probably have a lot of targets for Lark and Profane Command – plus, Orchid and Profane together imply that I’m B/W, which means I can try out the upgraded Mesmeric Fiend model, Tidehollow Sculler.

So far the deck is:

Tidehollow Sculler
Knight of the White Orchid
Profane Command

There’s a good chance Thoughtseize and Terror will end up in there as well, which still leaves me with a ton of room to try things.

Phase II: Laying Out The Options

My next step was to search through all the Black, White, and Artifact cards in Standard to pick out the ones that looked the most interesting with the strategy I was developing.

Bitterblossom — White has some reasonable lifegain like Kitchen Finks and Knight of Meadowgrain, and I’m going to want to be playing for the long game in a deck with Profane and Lark.
Kitchen Finks — Speaking of, the Finks are decently aggressive and quite sturdy. I am more than fine with playing them alongside Profane Command.
Ajani Goldmane — Besides pumping Blossom tokens, he is also a great asset in a ground fight.
Ashling, the ExtinguisherAdrian Sullivan put this guy to impressive use in his Block midrange deck. I’m not sure I’ll be playing the removal to make him worth it, but he’s worth keeping in mind.
Thoughtseize — I made my position on the value of Thoughtseize in Block quite clear, and I don’t think Standard is substantially different in this regard. Definitely a major reason to play black.
Makeshift Mannequin — If I’m filling up on creatures with comes-into-play abilities, this is a nice instant-speed compliment to those. Plus, who doesn’t want to Mannequin out a Reveillark?
Field Marshal, Preeminent Captain — Hmm, a Soldier theme is always a possibility.
Flickerwisp — Cute synergy with Kitchen Finks and potentially Orchid, but I’d need more than just those two to justify such a narrow card that trades with Bitterblossom tokens.
Mobilization — If a Soldier theme seems reasonable, then maybe…
Terror, Shriekmaw, Nameless Inversion, Oblivion Ring, Unmake — Standard removal spell fare; as long as Sower of Temptation remains in the format, removal is mandatory.
Paladin en-Vec, Stillmoon Cavalier — I’d pick Cavalier before Paladin, though both have their merits. They are Larkable, punch through Bitterblossom tokens, and are good on defense against White Weenie (particularly the Cav). The Cavalier is substantially better on offense, particularly against Five Color Control, while the Paladin is substantially better against red; I’d max out on Cavaliers before Paladins.
Treasure Hunter — He’s no Eternal Witness in this deck, but Tidehollow Sculler is already an artifact; if I happen upon a few others that interest me, I’ll keep him in mind.
Phyrexian Rager, Ravenous Rats — I’ve never put much stock in generating small bits of card advantage through creatures of dubious quality paired with a cantrip or discard effect. These would each need to cost one less for me to take interest on their own; the only reason I’m considering them now is that the combination of Lark and Profane Command might be enough to let me consider a strategy of overwhelming the opponent with incremental card advantage like the old Mannequin decks used to do.
Wispmare — A thoroughly-vetted sideboard choice against Faeries.
Runed Halo — A solid answer to Demigod in a deck that might end up playing only Terror or Inversion for removal, though I’m not sure how much merit its other applications would have in a deck like this compared to its usual home of Five Color Control. Story Circle comes to mind for similar reasons.
Graveborn Muse — A really interesting draw engine, particularly if I’m running white lifegain anyway. It’s a real pity that he suffers from Rafiq syndrome; four for a 3/3 will end up trading for Firespout (and more of your guys, probably) or a two-mana removal spell far too often in this format.
Scarblade Elite — If I end up with enough Changelings…but that’s a big “if.”
Wizened Cenn, Thistledown Liege — If I end up with a Kithkin theme…
Death Baron, Lord of the Undead — If…okay, Graveborn Muse notwithstanding, probably not so much on the Zombies.
Wilt-Leaf Cavaliers, Figure of Destiny — If the manabase ends up such that I can support this much white, these are both enticing cards—Figure in particular.
Wilt-Leaf Liege — 1WWW for a 4/4 that pumps my other white creatures and is free when the opponent resolves Cruel Ultimatum is…well, it’s tough to find anything comparable for four mana in white and Black. In fact, Ashling is the only thing on this list that even stacks up to the power and toughness ratio. That said, I’m not sure that a free 4/4-plus-Glorious Anthem is enough to beat a resolved Cruel Ultimatum (in other words, I’m probably better off trying to stop it from resolving), and I’m also not sure that a four-mana 4/4-plus-Anthem is what this deck needs, but he merits consideration.
Murderous Redcap — Speaking of four-drops, here’s one I can recur for profit with Reveillark. This guy is pretty narrow, and will probably end up in the board if anywhere, but he has the potential to deal six to nine points of direct damage by himself over the course of a game in which I recur him once or twice.
Knight of Meadowgrain, Sigiled Paladin, True Believer, Ethersworn Canonist — These are some of the higher-caliber Grizzly Bears picked out from among a lot of chaff. Frankly, I’m excited by…
Ranger of Eos, Heap Doll, Akrasan Squire, Goldmeadow Harrier, Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender — If I’m playing Ranger of Eos, he needs some buddies. I mentioned Figure of Destiny above, but that guy won’t cut it by himself. Sadly, black does not bring much to the table in this department.
Fulminator Mage — I’m not so sure about this guy for the main, but with Reveillark and Profane Command backing him up, drawing him could suddenly bring a lot of LD to bear against a deck like Five Color Control.
Divinity of Pride, Battlegrace Angel — These have similar abilities, but honestly I’m pretty sure the Angel’s is just much, much better. Getting at least one Lifelink hit in the turn you play her (assuming you have another creature on the board) is a big deal in a race, and I really don’t see Divinity’s other ability triggering.
Deathbringer LiegeVindicates are saucy, but the body on this guy is not. Very sketchy, but depending on how many black-and-white cards I end up with, he might make the board.
Nightsky Mimic — As the only black-and-white cards I might want to play are Tidehollow Sculler, Stillmoon Cavalier, and possibly Unmake and one of the two sketchy five-drops (Divinity of Pride and Deathbringer Liege). That won’t be enough for Nightsky Mimic.

Whew! Lots of options.

Phase III: Culling Down The Pool

Looking over the support cards I liked, it’s clear that none of the tribal themes will pass muster. I don’t think either of the five-drops are enticing enough (Battlegrace comes close) to make me want to cut any Reveillarks or Profane Commands to make room, and I’m pretty sure I do not want more than four of each of those in a midrange deck, even with Orchid Knight.

Also hitting the bench are Figure of Destiny, Wilt-Leaf Cavaliers, Nightsky Mimic, and Ranger of Eos. Given the reality of the available black and white lands, if I’m playing Figure or Cavaliers, I really can’t be playing Thoughtseize (or at least not on turn one), and Thoughtseize one of the few ways I can defend myself against Cruel Ultimatum and Bitterblossom. Priority goes to Seize, so Figure is out. If Figure is out, Ranger of Eos demands that I include a lot of very unpalatable one-drops to make him any good at all, so he’s out as well. Likewise, Nightsky Mimic just won’t have the supporting cards to make it in this deck.

Cut, cut, cut. The once-enormous list of “on the table” cards is drilled down to just the ones that interest me most. Now it’s time to lay them out by casting cost and make some more cuts based on curve.

One mana: Thoughtseize

Two mana: Bitterblossom, Terror, Shriekmaw, Nameless Inversion, Tidehollow Sculler, Knight of Meadowgrain, Sigiled Paladin, True Believer, Ethersworn Canonist, Knight of the White Orchid

Three mana: Kitchen Finks, Paladin en-Vec, Stillmoon Cavalier, Oblivion Ring, Unmake

Four mana: Graveborn Muse, Wilt-Leaf Liege, Ajani Goldmane, Ashling, the Extinguisher, Profane Command, Makeshift Mannequin

Five mana: Reveillark

Sideboard: Wispmare, Runed Halo, Fulminator Mage, Murderous Redcap

Obviously that four-mana slot is too overcrowded. I want to try and fit four apiece of Profane Command and Reveillark in the first draft, but I could easily see two or three being better numbers for either or both. If I start with four Profanes and four Larks, though, that means I can only fit 2-4 more four-drops without making my curve too top-heavy. Of the remaining four-drops, I like Makeshift Mannequin the best, but I’d put it as a 3-of for now – it’s awfully clunky in multiples in the early or midgame.

So far, with 22 lands (the minimum I’d consider here, even with Orchid power), I have used up the following slots:

4 Thoughtseize
4 Tidehollow Sculler
4 Knight of the White Orchid
4 Profane Command
4 Reveillark
3 Makeshift Mannequin

22 lands plus 23 spell slots occupied leaves me with 15 remaining slots for spells. I have only eight two-drops so far, and I really want 12-16; I’ll go with 4 Terror (out of respect for Mistbind Clique and Cloudthresher; if I really need more card advantage, I can always start sneaking in Shriekmaws here instead) and 3 Bitterblossom for now. That leaves eight slots unoccupied, and I’m interested in those three-drops. To help with the Bitterblossom life loss, I’ll try Kitchen Finks, and as I really want more than just Thoughtseize and Terror defending me from Sower of Temptation, I’ll finish things off with Oblivion Ring.

Phase IV: The First Draft

Now that I have my spells put together, it’s time to get a manabase assembled and take a look at how the deck might play out. Like so:

4 Mutavault
4 Fetid Heath
4 Caves of Koilos
5 Plains
5 Swamp

4 Thoughtseize

4 Tidehollow Sculler
4 Terror
4 Knight of the White Orchid
3 Bitterblossom

4 Oblivion Ring
4 Kitchen Finks

4 Profane Command
4 Reveillark
3 Makeshift Mannequin

I’d love to play Leechridden Swamp, but it will keep me from casting turn-1 Thoughtseize. Likewise, I’d like to fit Windbrisk Heights (how cute is that with Bitterblossom?), but 5 Plains is about the bare minimum number I can play and be comfortable with Orchid firing in the late game when I’m trying to power up a game-ending Profane Command.

Okay, so let’s poke holes in this list.

First, what is my game plan to beat Faeries? Well, Tidehollow Sculler can slow them down and apply a bit of pressure, I can stop Bitterblossoms using O-Ring and Thoughtseize, and I can…um, hm. Man, I really don’t have many good ways to put pressure on them, do I?

Looks like I might need Stillmoon Cavalier after all. He’s immune to all their removal, and is virtually unblockable. I can supplement him with Paladin en-Vec, also known as Cavaliers five through eight, or I can go with Knight of Meadowgrain, who is more vulnerable to removal, but a real beast in a race. Given my eight reanimation spells, I’ll err on the side of Meadowgrain’s fragility not being a deal-breaker and go with him. So let’s say I sub in Meadowgrain and Cavaliers two for my current three-drops, Kitchen Finks and Oblivion Ring. I think those are both steps in the right direction, but removing O-Ring puts me down on answers to Sower of Temptation…where else can I turn to fit a removal spell in?

One option is to bring Murderous Redcap in from the sideboard pool as a replacement for Mannequin. That does some interesting strategic things. First, putting that much direct damage at my disposal means that I have a realistic chance of burning opponents out from the single digits via recurred Redcaps and Profane Command. Second, it gives me a Persist creature against sweepers after having removed Kitchen Finks. (Granted, a fairly dumpy one, but a Persister nonetheless.) Third, it means that I now have a maindeck source of recurrable removal without having to replace Terrors with Shriekmaws.

However, that’s a pretty radical option. A more conservative route is to just replace Mannequin with the Oblivion Rings I had in there before. That lowers my curve, gives me answers to Bitterblossom, Demigod, and Chameleon Colossus again, and gives me one less double-coster to potentially get colorscrewed on.

So now how do I attack Faeries? I have the same disruptive tools as before, but now Stillmoon Cavalier and Knight of Meadowgrain provide me with offensive packages I can use to race. No one ever has as good a matchup against Faeries as they think they do, so I wouldn’t be surprised to need even more drastic changes down the line, but at least I have a reasonable strategy in place at this point.

Against Red, the name of the game will be stopping Demigod and fighting like mad to stick a Knight of Meadowgrain. With Thoughtseize and Oblivion Ring (plus Profane Command, depending on my mana situation) to accomplish the former and eight reanimation spells to pursue the latter.

Against Five Color, the plan is to disrupt their hand with Thoughtseize and Sculler, and win through attrition thanks to Bitterblossom, Mutavault, and a host of aggressive two-for-ones like Orchid, Profane, and Lark.


At the end of the day, I ended up with a B/W Midrange deck, an archetype near and dear to my heart. Note that Knight of the White Orchid is no longer integral to the deck, even though he was my starting point. If he doesn’t work out to be as good as I’m hoping he will be, I could easily cut him for two or three extra lands and a couple of extra spells – maybe even fit a Mannequin or two back in.

How will this deck play out? That depends. Of the decks I’ve laid out in my past three articles, which should I begin testing next week? I leave it up to you, dear readers.

Until next week!

Richard Feldman
Team :S
[email protected]