Deep Analysis – Pursuing the Best Windbrisk Heights Deck

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Thursday, May 7th – In the new Standard format, there are a number of cards that define our approach to deckbuilding. One of the strongest is Windbrisk Heights, and today’s Deep Analysis sees Richard Feldman searching for the ideal strategy to exploit the free spells it offers. If you’re looking for a fresh perspective on the blossoming metagame, this is the article for you.

Standard Challenges

The five major Standard archetypes I want to beat right now are Five-Color Control, Faeries, BW Tokens, Boat Brew, and Red Aggro. I have yet to find a build of any of those five that beats all the others, including the mirror. The keys to beating these decks seems to be:

• Being able to survive having the opponent cast Volcanic Fallout, Plumeveil, and Cruel Ultimatum
• Being able to survive Mistbind Clique and Sower of Temptation
• Being able to recover from an Ajani Goldmane pump with 3-8 tokens out
• Being able to beat lots of Persist creatures and Figure of Destiny
• Being able to survive Figure of Destiny, Hasty beats, and Flame Javelin
• Being able to beat Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender

Forge-Tender is the format’s preeminent hoser, and every major deck except Faeries plays it. This makes it a rough time to be a Red deck; I gave up on GR when I couldn’t solve this problem, even with a strong base of Green beaters.

BR Beats has access to Terror and possibly Infest, but two-drops that are just miserable: Stigma Lasher and Goblin Outlander are just fine, but a red deck needs more early action than just those two. Everything else (except Stinking Pie Sneak, which desperation led me to at one point) was handily obliterated by Volcanic Fallout and Plumeveil, and sometimes even just a 1/1 flying token. Thus, I gave up on both BR Beats and on playing Red Aggro in Standard altogether.

No Faeries player I have talked to can explain to me how to beat the Faeries mirror (except the ever-helpful “make sure you have Bitterblossom Advantage”), or how to beat Red Aggro with the Fae. That’s enough to turn me off to it, though the fact that I like Faeries against the remaining three of five decks is enough to make it my backup plan.

Naturally, I don’t like BW, Boat Brew, or Five-Color Control because they are dogs to Faeries. Perhaps only slight dogs, in some cases, but I don’t want to enter a tournament with the hope that I will mise my way past whatever Faeries pairings I happen to pull.

Five-Color Control can certainly be tuned to beat whatever you want it to beat (Firespout and Fallouts and Cloudthreshers galore! Eat that, Fae!), but doing so always seems to require sacrificing one or more other matchups to make up for it.

All this put together means I’m not happy with any of the existing choices in Standard, and it’s time to start looking elsewhere. Having ruled out Red, and recognizing that innovation on the Faeries and Five-Color Control front has been much more heavily explored than on the Windbrisk Heights front, I’m looking to the remaining two decks for where to turn next.


Both BW Tokens and Boat Brew are built to abuse Windbrisk Heights. They are more than just beatdown decks, they play creatures and spells that generate multiple tokens (Spectral Procession, Bitterblossom, Cloudgoat Ranger, Marsh Flitter, Siege Gang Commander), represent multiple creatures themselves (Ranger of Eos, Reveillark), or are difficult to remove from the board (Kitchen Finks, Murderous Redcap). All of these effects help guarantee that the decks retain the magical creature count of three required to trigger Windbrisk Heights.

The ability to trigger Windbrisk Heights has the added benefit of being good against Bitterblossom and (to some extent) walls; no matter how big a non-trampling fatty I crash into Bitterblossom, it is still going to crank out a new chump blocker every turn. With Spectral Procession, I can sneak damage past the little dorks by swarming, and can do so repeatedly if I have Glorious Anthem advantage on my opponent.

BW Tokens is laser-focused on the latter. It plays 14-16 token producing effects all the way up the curve, from Bitterblossom to Spectral Procession to Marsh Flitter to Cloudgoat Ranger. Then it pumps those up with Glorious Anthem and Ajani Goldmane, making them more deadly than mere 1/1s.

The drawback of such a narrow focus is that the BW is abnormally vulnerable to Volcanic Fallout and Plumeveil, since it does not play any creatures which (in the absence of a Glorious Anthem effect or two) can survive contact with those spells. From a removal perspective, the major upside is that the deck plays only a single one-for-one Terror target: Knight of Meadowgrain.

Similarly, Boat Brew has few one-for-one removal targets; depending on whether or not Mogg Fanatic can sacrifice itself to kill something in response, some Boat Brew builds have only Figure of Destiny to worry about being one-for-oned by spot removal.

One of the things I learned with the Red decks I was building was that Figure of Destiny takes precedence over Mutavault. It is so, so, so important to have access to three on-color mana for Figure on turn 3, and so big when you get six of that color and can make him Go Ultimate, I have just zero interest in playing Mutavault and potentially disrupting that. In fact, I have little interest in playing even off-color sources that can be “fixed” by a Filter land, because too often you are stuck without a filter on turn 3 and an impotent Figure to show for it.

The other thing I learned was just how very worth it Figure is. I had never given this guy enough credit because he’d always seemed a touch inconsistent, but seeing him go to work in Boat Brew, where every mana source helps activate him, I am now a believer.

The two unexplored flavors of Windbrisk Heights are U/W and G/W. U/W has the advantage of being able to play Wanderwine Hub, which provides four extra sources of either color of mana, but G/W has the allure of the mighty Wren’s Run Vanquisher.

I tried a GW Tokens deck, packing Vanquisher alongside Bramblewood Paragon to pump up (besides Vanquisher and Paragon themselves) Imperious Perfect, Cloudgoat Ranger, and tokens from Hunting Triad – my Marsh Flitter stand-in with a secondary ability that was much more relevant in a Bramblewood Paragon deck. Spectral Procession, Glorious Anthem, and I believe Path to Exile rounded that one out.

However, I could not get GW Tokens to beat Five-Color Control for love nor money. I just wasn’t doing anything they cared about; my only chance was post-board when I had Forge-Tenders to at least stop Fallout, but the overall matchup was just miserable.

Revisiting UW

So I went back and dusted off the UW Tokens deck I wrote about a couple weeks ago. I applied the things I’d learned in the interim, replacing Knight of Meadowgrain with Figure of Destiny and going with the 25-land, all-White-source manabase to support him. I played some sets against each of the major decks, and saw some rough edges with the deck, but some definite promise. Most of the deck’s losses came before Cloudgoat came online, and I was having to mulligan too many hands due to a lack of two-drops. I solved this by cutting a Cloudgoat and a four-drop pump effect, and was pleased with the result.

Red matchups were dicey pre-board, but I had some major pain to bring them in games two and three. Five-Color Control was eminently beatable because suddenly almost none of my creatures feared Plumeveil. Figure could attack into it and enact a trade at worst. Wake Thrasher was generally larger than 4/4 on the attack. Sygg could give himself protection from Blue. Spectral Procession and Cloudgoat Ranger could attack in and, at worst, lose a fraction of their total power while sneaking in some extra damage.

Volcanic Fallout was still strong against me, but I had Meddling Mage serving as a kind of maindeck Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender. Sometimes he’d get Terrored away, just like Forge-Tender can, but he usually stuck and was absolutely golden. I wouldn’t attack him (or one of my two Meadowgrains) into three untapped mana unless I had Path to Exile handy, but this just meant I’d have to cast my Wake Thrasher or Spectral Procession pre-combat to make the opponent choose between countering it and throwing a Plumeveil in front of my Mage.

Boat Brew was about even, but I was confident I could improve that with boarding.

The main challenge was with the BW Tokens matchup. While I had Cryptic Command to steal races, they had twice as many token producers and twice as many pump effects. I could steal wins by doing broken things like Sygg plus Wake Thrasher, multiple Cryptic Commands, or just a mix of Windbrisk Heights goodness and poor draws on the opponent’s part, but it was rough.

I tried out a couple of different boarding strategies against them, and the critical piece seemed to be playing Ajani Goldmane alongside Cryptic Command in my four-slot. Not only did it provide the swingiest pump effect available, it also gave me a convenient way to kill opposing Ajanis. However, I tried using that as my maindeck four-drop pump effect against Five-Color Control and Faeries and found it completely awful. Whenever I drew it against Five-Color Control I thought “I just need one more beater to overwhelm that wall, or a removal spell to take it out,” and against Faeries I always wished it was just a removal spell to help me deal with Sower of Temptation or, again, another threat to punch through a Bitterblossom defense.

This got me thinking about Sower of Temptation. Sower is no Ajani against BW, but it does provide a very swingy effect if it sticks, especially if it’s stealing a Knight of Meadowgrain. It also helps out against opposing Sowers and Walls. I gave it a shot, and was very pleased with its performance.

With a creature base of Figure, Meadowgrain, Sygg, Wake Thrasher, and Sower of Temptation, suddenly Reveillark became very tempting. Larking back a Wake Thrasher and a Sower, for example, sounded too good to pass up, so I tried him out instead of Cloudgoat. I got some mixed reviews, and was not sure what to make of them.

The biggest problem was that Lark was worse in conjunction with the post-board Ajani plan against BW, because he didn’t come with tokens from the get-go. He was better against Boat Brew, as both cards were vaguely three-for-ones (the tokens would block and kill an x/2 or Ranger of Eos or something, while the 3/3 would get pumped up and trade for a Figure or something) but Reveillark can potentially generate busted counterattacks when it dies, particularly if Wake Thrasher or Sower is involved. Against Five-Color Control and Faeries the only time I wanted Cloudgoat instead of Lark was when I had a Windbrisk Heights to activate, so I ended up compromising by maining the Lark and boarding the Goat specifically for the BW matchup.

The Final List

Versus Five-Color Control:
-3 Sower of Temptation
-2 Knight of Meadowgrain
+4 Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender
+1 Sage’s Dousing

The Forge-Tenders are obviously in here to stop Fallout, but beyond that I’m not sure what I want. With one slot left over, I figured Glen Elendra Archmage would be reasonable security against Cruel Ultimatum, but then decided I really wanted something that could also stop early Plumeveils, and settled on Sage’s Dousing because it has a decent potential to cantrip thanks to Meddling Mage and Sygg. I’ve also considered Ranger of Eos, as searching up two Figures against Five-Color Control is just awesome, but that doesn’t have the game-ending power that something like a Sage’s Dousing on an opposing Cryptic Command can have.

Versus Faeries:
+2 Wispmare
+1 Sower of Temptation
-3 Reveillark

I keep fiddling with my boarding plan in this matchup, but this is the one I like most at the moment. Almost all of the games I lose to Faeries are due to them overwhelming me with speed, and Reveillark is the biggest culprit when it comes to slowing me down. Likewise, Wispmare takes out Bitterblossom – the scariest thing they have to throw at me – and Sower helps turn around tempo deficits while working against opposing Sowers.

Versus BW Tokens:
+4 Ajani Goldmane
+3 Cloudgoat Ranger
+2 Wispmare
+1 Sage’s Dousing
-4 Meddling Mage
-3 Reveillark
-3 Sower of Temptation

This is basically just me boarding into the post-board configuration that worked so well against BW before I added Reveillark. I’m not positive that Cloudgoat Ranger is the best use of my sideboard slots, but at least I know that by boarding him in, I’m putting myself into a situation I like.

I’m sure I want to take out Reveillark for Cloudgoat here, but beyond that it’s not clear to me what I should do. Path to Exile’s only useful targets are Knight of Meadowgrain and Tidehollow Sculler, and Sower of Temptation is better against both – but I fear that if I board out Path and leave in Sower, my curve will be too high after adding Ajani.

What’s weird is that I’m only boarding out Meddling Mage because I’m also boarding out Sower of Temptation. Meddling Mage naming Terror in order to protect my Sowers from everything short of Wrath is great, but Meddling Mage naming Glorious Anthem is not awesome when I already have Wispmare to take care of those (plus Bitterblossoms, obviously), not to mention the fact that Glorious Anthem is still every bit as good the turn they topdeck Terror for my Mage and can play it again. Worse, Meddling Mage is just a dumpy 2/2 with no combat abilities, so he basically shrieks in terror and hides in the corner the first time a token generator comes knocking, let alone one backed up by Ajani.

In other words, this is the plan I’m going with for now, but I feel it could be better.

Versus Red Aggro:
+4 Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender
+3 Ajani Goldmane
+1 Sower of Temptation
-4 Cryptic Command
-4 Wake Thrasher

Cryptic is just way too slow against Red, and Wake Thrasher is too fragile. I had Kitchen Finks in here at one point, but decided they weren’t such a fantastic upgrade over Ajani that I could justify them. Although slower, Ajani is much better in a race because he gives me the alternatives of attacking with huge Vigilance guys or pumping up my life total if I’m low (and more so than Finks would because the opponent will have to divert attackers to Ajani).

Versus Boat Brew:
+3 Cloudgoat Ranger
+1 Sower of Temptation
-4 Wake Thrasher

The trouble I’ve always had with Boat Brew is that I lose the attrition war, and that my three-mana Wake Thrasher is always getting killed off by their one-mana Mogg Fanatics.

I know that by bringing in four cards that sit above the three-mana mark, I am slowing myself down considerably, but this matchup always drags out anyway, and is generally decided by whose team ends up bigger at the end of the game. This is the boarding plan I’m least sure of, because I haven’t played enough games with it yet to say whether or not the “bloated curve” gamble will help me more than it will hurt me, but so far I have been able to mulligan my way to success with it.


It would be extremely premature to say this is the best possible implementation of a Windbrisk Heights deck, but I like the track I’m on here. I have solutions to all the format’s scariest cards, and I am packing quite a few of the format’s scariest cards myself. The deck’s mana has been very consistent so far, and it’s got some excellent Blue tricks that let me set my opponents up for blowouts.

It’s still got some rough edges around the board, but Blue and White have all the tools I’m looking for. I can’t say if this will be the deck that successfully takes on the Big Five at once, but I have high hopes.

See you next week!

Richard Feldman
Team :S
[email protected]