Deep Analysis – Standard Beatdown Options

States is coming!
Standard Champs are looming large, and with Lorwyn promising to shake the metagame like a Polaroid picture, Richard Feldman offers up some decklists for those beatdown fans among us. There’s the perennial Red/Green offerings, another look at the popular Green/White Kithkin deck, a few interesting versions of Haakon Aggro, and an excellent build featuring Doran, the Siege Tower…

I can’t take it anymore. I’ve been trying to stick to Extended all the way up to Valencia, but the new Standard is too exciting to ignore. For me it’s about an even mix of anticipation at what the new Lorwyn cards will do and a sigh of relief that old design staples are leaving. No more Remand, guys. No more Kird Ape. No more Char. No more Signets, no more Hierarchs, no more Court Hussars. It’s a whole new ballgame.

When a format is new and unexplored, I don’t like to start off designing control decks. The mixture of anti-beatdown, anti-combo, and anti-control cards that a control deck must play is highly dependent on the capabilities of the aggressive decks in the format. I’m as excited about Cryptic Command as the next guy, but it remains to be seen how realistic it will be to play that card in a world of Gaddock Teeg and friends.

So let’s go with the beatdown. Where to begin? A number of “obvious” archetypes suggest themselves, so let’s get the most obvious of these out of the way first.

G/W Kithkin

As Patrick Chapin put it, the Kithkin Tribe is basically Gaddock Teeg and a bunch of nut-low dorks. True enough. While Onslaught Goblins did stupid things to one another like giving them haste, decreasing their casting costs, pumping +4/+0, and throwing Shocks about left and right, Kithkin have exciting synergies like giving you Isamaru if you have a Kithkin in your hand, and giving you a Watchwolf if you have Wizened Cenn out. Creatures that pump one another have a built-in weakness to removal that is just as present in 2007 as it was in 1998. If I summon two Nessian Coursers, I have two 3/3s. I can get the same effect by playing two Wizened Cenns, but all it takes is a quick Incinerate or Slaughter Pact equivalent to show the upside of having threes written in the lower-right instead of twos with a twist.

Still, the Kithkin deck is the only one with Jackal Pup, so let’s take a look at a potential build. [Flamekin Bladewhirl? — Craig.]

I think the key to this archetype will be overcoming opposing three-toughness creatures. Without Thrill of the Hunt, it is awfully hard to attack into a Call of the Herd token with a squad of Goldmeadow Stalwart, Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender, Knight of Meadowgrain, Gaddock Teeg, and Saffi. Wizened Cenn helps with this, but you still can’t send your team into an Elephant on the back of Cenn’s +1/+1 if the opponent has Red, Black, or Psionic Blast mana open.

To work around this, I’ve maximized the size of my maindeck creatures wherever possible. Serra Avenger does a good job of being a 3/3 that costs two, and even the threat of Thrill of the Hunt lets you attack with more impunity. Against control, Thrill will continue to work its magic against Strangling Soot and Tendrils, and also has a brand new target in Nameless Inversion. Another way to solve the “Kithkin attack for two” problem is to add more mana sources and undercosted fatties like Mystic Enforcer and Calciderm, but this 20-land version is a lot more threat-dense.

It’s easy to overlook Jotun Grunt now that the Dredge mechanic has rotated out (except for Dakmor Salvage! Cue wildly inappropriate ominous music), but even when taken as a 4/4 for two with a drawback, the Grunt is a house. He’s sort of like the bastard child of Serra Avenger and Tarmogoyf; two mana for a big, non-evasive body, but can’t play him until far later than turn 2. In a Goyf fight, Grunt will sometimes be a 4/4 facing down a 4/5 or 5/6, but his graveyard-munching ability can also swing the fight around to make it 4/4 versus 3/4.

Besides the fourth Saffi, Thorn of Amethyst and Mana Tithe seem like the best sideboard options available to the G/W mage against control. Both significantly disrupt the control player’s strategy without charging the beatdown player a fortune, though keeping W open for Mana Tithe might be more of a challenge for a 20-land deck than I’d like. Stonecloaker is solid against the card Mystical Teachings, but it remains to be seen whether or not the control decks of the new Standard will be as interested in that card as they were in Time Spiral block.

“Gruul” and “Boros”

I don’t see much value in sticking to Mono-Red when you have ten painlands to work with, and at the very least, I would expect to see (nearly) Mono-Red decks splashing Tarmogoyf. I played around with various Red deck combinations, and found that R/U and R/B did not offer the same kind of gas that Green and White did. Blue adds Psionic Blast, but my Mono-Red Splash Char list was a mess compared to the R/G version. I’d much rather have Goyf, Boreal Centaur, and Treetop Village backing up my Red cards than Psionic Blast, maybe Unstable Mutation or Flying Men, and experiments like Looter il-Kor and Ancestral Vision that will be voted Least Likely to Succeed in the Champs yearbook. Black offered Shadow Guildmage and various bland removal spells that refused to target a control player’s dome, and not much else.

This version of Gruul is less of a gauntlet-type build and more the type of thing I’d be interested in playing, were I to run it at Champs.

This is not the prettiest Red deck I’ve ever laid eyes on, but it has some bizarre merits. It’s practically Mono-Red, dipping into Green for the essential Tarmogoyf, the Watchwolfish Boreal Centaur, a superior manland (to Ghitu Encampment) of Treetop Village, and a couple of Timbermares. The Timbermares started out as Stonewood Invocations, but there is some huge synergy between Mare and Gargadon against other creature decks that I think is worth exploring. Fourteen ya, thanks.

In the absence of Kird Ape, the best things for this R/G deck to do on turn 1 now seem to be Gargadon, Mogg Fanatic, Treetop Village, and maybe Martyr of Ashes. I avoided Llanowar Elves both because one of my key sources of Green is Treetop Village – which is not so good at paying for one-drops – and because I wanted Green to be more of a splash than a main color. Notice that this setup – as opposed to one featuring, say, Call of the Herd and/or Troll Ascetic – boards in Magus of the Moon for Timbermare (and two other cards) without batting an eyelash. You can curve right into Magus by playing your Green creature on turn 2, and then the fact that none of your lands tap for Green anymore will only hurt you if you draw another Green creature, or if you really needed Treetop Village to carry this game somehow. In the meantime, your opponent’s lands are all fully “colorless,” and you’re not stuck deciding between stranding Call of the Herd in your hand turn 3 and delaying the effectiveness of your Magus for the sake of keeping the Elephant option open.

R/W is the other obvious choice, offering Icatian Javelineers, Suntail Hawk, Goldmeadow Harrier, Cautery Sliver, Blade of the Sixth Pride, and Griffin Guide. If you dip more into White and move Red to the splash color (White Weenie splash Red), you open up the possibility of Soltari Priest and Knight of the Holy Nimbus, but there is no way you can play Gargadon or Mogg Fanatic on turn 1 and chase it with one of those guys on turn 2. This would also open up the possibility of Serra Avenger, but honestly, I don’t think they will be worth it. I’d rather stick with the Red base.

Comparing this deck to the R/G deck, we have:

4 Mogg Fanatic, 4 Gargadon, 4 Mogg War Marshal, 4 Keldon Marauders, 4 Incinerate, and 4 Rift Bolt in common. If you’re building a base-Red deck, I can’t think of a better core to start out with; obviously you can test and tune your way into cutting some of these for alternatives that you find superior in various matchups, but to begin with, I think this is the way to start.

The differences between the two splash colors are pretty stark. Where R/G had Tarmogoyf and Boreal Centaur, W/R has Cautery Sliver and Blade of the Sixth Pride. Point for R/G.

Where R/G had Treetop Village and Tarfire to pump Goyf, W/R has Ghitu Encampment and Griffin Guide to pump everyone. Griffin Guide is always a bit of a mixed bag; landing it can be devastating for the opponent, and having it intercepted by a removal spell – or later slapped away by a Cryptic Command – can be devastating for you. It’s tough to say if it will be worth it in the upcoming environment.

The final difference between the two decks is the two-of Timbermare (which may yet be Stonewood Invocation) versus the two-of Stonecloaker. I might be overvaluing the interaction between Stonecloaker and Keldon Marauders here, but I don’t think the manabase can reliably summon Serra Avenger, and I haven’t come up with any alternatives to the 3/2 that I like. If worst comes to worst, there’s always Ghostfire or Shock, but please don’t play Tarfire over Shock when there are no Goyfs in your deck.

Overall, I have to say I favor R/G as my Red deck of choice. Griffin Guide can be good, but Tarmogoyf is always a beating, and I like Treetop Village and Boreal Centaur a lot better than I like Ghitu Encampment and Blade of the Sixth Death By Mogg Fanatic.

Haakon Decks

Haakon plus Nameless Inversion pretty clearly wants to go in a control deck, but I bet you dollars to doughnuts people will put him in beatdown decks at Champs.

So what would a hypothetical beatdown (realistically, it’s going to have to end up as midrange beatdown) deck powered by Haakon look like?

I suspect Knight of Stromgald will need a replacement, as he doesn’t work with the curve very well. Only with turn 1 Caves of Koilos can you drop a Kithkin on turn 1 and Knight on turn 2, but I couldn’t find many acceptable alternatives. I have to say, the further and further down the list I went, the more temping Pit Keeper started to look.

As you can see, I’ve used the Changeling Mechanic to work in Goldmeadow Stalwart, Hound of Konda. Between the four Nameless Inversions that work well with Haakon and the four Mirror Entities that do the same, it only took four Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tenders (and yes, I do think this will need that much help with Red) to justify the inclusion of The Other Kithkin, You Know, The One Who’s Not Gaddock Teeg But Still Looks Worth Summoning. That’s TOKYKTOWNGTBSLWS for short, which sort of looks like “Tokyo Town” followed by some gibberish if you cross your eyes a bit… know what? I say we start calling Goldmeadow Stalwart Tokyo Town from now on. (Tune in next week to see if it sticks.)

The rest of the deck looks fairly straightforward. I don’t think Militia’s Pride is worth maindeck inclusion, as you will not be doing much attacking against other beatdown decks. It does seem a reasonable measure against mass removal, though, so I included it in the board. Against control, Oona’s Prowler is kind of like a souped-up Ravenous Rats that gives you a discard outlet for Haakon. Against beatdown, she will often be worse than Ravenous Rats, dying easily and giving back no card advantage in return. Whenever you have Haakon, Hidden Horror will be an ace. Whenever you don’t, he will be Hidden Horror – which is to say, pretty much garbage.

This deck’s premise is simple, and – to be honest – terminally flawed. As Smallpox, Hidden Horror, and Oona’s Prowler are some of the only ways you can discard Haakon as a beatdown deck, this list is B/W pretty much exclusively for the rinky-dink combo of Smallpox into Flagstones of Trokair, and a quality Knight to reanimate in Mirror Entity. Sure, once you have Haakon in the ‘yard, your late game is a delight; himself a recurring 3/3 for three, the Scourge brings back not only Nameless Inversion to keep the board clear, but also as many Mirror Entities as you can shake a stick at. However, I’ll go on record as saying it doesn’t appear to be worth the trouble.

If you don’t mind losing the Flagstones and Mirror Entity, an alternative build would be:

Compare this to the B/W version. You sacrifice Isamaru and Mirror Entity for Tarmogoyf and Call of the Herd. (Where’s Basking Rootwalla to go with Hidden Horror when you need him?) Treefolk Harbinger can fetch Nameless Inversion, so if you’ve already got Haakon in the yard, you have a redundant way to find the other combo piece.

There’s also some minor synergy between Woodland Changeling and Gilt-Leaf Palace, Treefolk Harbinger, and Haakon. He’s alternately a free land untap, a tutorable Grizzly Bears, or a recurring Grizzly Bears. Huzzah!

The Doran Deck

Pretending I have too much dignity to call this deck “Doran Doran” lets me sleep at night, so I’ll come up with something more dramatic instead.

I like the potential of this archetype a lot. At its core, it is a B/W/G “good stuff” deck, combining some of the best two-word cards in the colors: Llanowar Elves, Gaddock Teeg, Saffi Eriksdotter, Tarmo Goyf, Jotun Grunt, and Phyrexian Negator. Not only am I defying the Legend Rule to play four Doran – the only way I’m losing with a cheap 5/5 alive and kicking is if he’s wearing Temporal Isolation – I’m also playing four Treefolk Harbinger to tutor him up. Remembering that if Doran is in play, Harbinger is effectively a 3/3, and that he can always fetch Nameless Inversion or Mirror Entity if I’m already holding Doran, the Wall of Wood seems a lot more reasonable. I rounded out the deck with two copies of Riftsweeper, who is another two-drop, an Elf (for Gilt-Leaf Palace), and an answer to Greater Gargadon all in one.

I like Stonecloaker better in this deck than I do most of the others I’ve listed, as there are a lot of creatures worth rebuying. Treefolk Harbinger only costs one mana to recast and comes with a free tutor effect. It is similarly useful to return Jotun Grunt and Riftsweeper to my hand, to reset age counters and shuffle back in midgame Gargadons. As mentioned earlier, one of the only times Doran’s legend rule can get me into trouble is when he is wearing Temporal Isolation; returning him to my hand deals with that problem easily.

This is probably the deck I’m most excited about (and not just because I want to cast and flashback Doran-Powered +2/+2 Thrill of the Hunts, or beat with 5/5 Forbidding Watchtower), though I am concerned about the excessively painful manabase. There are 12 White, 12 Black, and 12 Green mana sources as it stands, and dipping below that on any of those counts seems risky. If worst comes to worst, there are always Gemstone Mines, Terramorphic Expanses, and those two-counter, comes-into-play-tapped (ugh) Tendo Ice Bridge reprints, but hopefully it will not come to that.

There are a lot of things I like about beatdown in the new Standard. Red is less look-at-my-2/3-for-one and more sneaky-dangerous (Keldon Marauders is about to fade away! Why even worry about him?), midrange decks have to get creative to compensate for the loss of Dark Confidant and friends (though I don’t think Haakon is the answer), and I didn’t even get to any of the non-Kithkin Tribal options. At any rate, there are plenty of options!

I’ll likely be back to take a look at what the control decks can do to combat these aggressive strategies after a look at the aftermath of Valencia next week.

Stay tuned!

Richard Feldman
Team :S
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