Don’t Miss The Opportunity!

This week Valeriy talks about a few decks that you should give a try before they rotate out of Standard, like Zombies and Delver. Check them out before #SCGCIN!

There are just a few weeks before Theros is released, and many authors have already written about their ideas for future Standard or at least about decks that are easy to transfer to Return to Ravnica + Theros Standard. This topic is interesting and relevant to many readers, but I always prefer to think about cards that are leaving rather than new ones. If you’ve never played with Thalia, Guardian of Thraben in Standard, you can play with her in Modern and Legacy in certain decks. But what about the quality Standard cards that don’t see play in Eternal formats? Do you remember Sprouting Thrinax or Kalastria Highborn?

We’re all tired of Thragtusk and Thundermaw Hellkite, but the current Standard format is full of opportunities. There are just a few weeks left to explore some of them before gods, heroes, and monsters come to take the place of vampires and werewolves.

Some opportunities have already been lost due to natural reasons. Drogskol Captain was good for a short period long ago. Angel of Glory’s Rise is unplayable right now because its game plan based on slowly filling up the graveyard is too vulnerable to Scavenging Ooze. Intangible Virtue was banned in Block Constructed but was never a Standard staple like its ban list comrade Lingering Souls. Flinthoof Boar is a staple of G/R decks right now, but do you remember when the whole cycle was clearly unplayable? Crimson Muckwader tried hard to sneak into Standard, but it fell short in B/R Zombies (where you may see Spike Jester right now).

Zombies are on their way out the door for the most part. They’ll pass the baton to Lifebane Zombie and Lotleth Troll, but there will be no more messages from Geralf. However, the brain eaters are surprisingly well positioned right now, and I have two lists from Grand Prix: Warsaw to share. The event was a couple weeks ago, but both decks were built when Kibler’s G/R Aggro deck was on the rise, so there’s no reason for them to be bad when G/R Aggro was the most popular deck on day 2 of Grand Prix Kitakyushu.

The Rookie of the Year from Chile (he’s a very good and friendly player, so I highly recommend remembering his name) built this version utilizing Blood Artist and Falkenrath Aristocrat alongside Zombies. This list is a little bit weak against Thundermaw Hellkite, but it contains a package of cards to become defensive against hyperaggressive decks and a package of cards against midrange and control strategies, which were also on the rise at Grand Prix Warsaw. There are very few answers to Burning Earth here, but that’s completely reasonable because decks with access to Burning Earth should not sideboard in the powerful enchantment against an aggressive strategy.

This list is courtesy of my fellow compatriot Sergey Golubkin, who made Top 16 of Grand Prix Lille in 2012 with Zombies. He came to Warsaw with a different deck, but he decided to play his trusty Zombies at the last minute. He fell short of the Top 64 due to a deckbuilding mistake caused by his unfamiliarity with the format; he didn’t know about the popularity of Bant Hexproof and lost to it three times due to a complete lack of appropriate sideboard options. He said that two or three copies of Devour Flesh could have easily catapulted him to the Top 32 or even higher since the deck was nearly perfect against his other opponents (Sergey was 8-0 against G/R Aggro during the two days of competition). Barter in Blood or additional Liliana of the Veils would also be fine to deal with this weakness.

Sergey’s list is much better against Thundermaw Hellkite than Felipe’s deck is due to four maindeck Doom Blades. His list also contains more maindeck removal and an appropriate anti-aggro game plan in the sideboard with Mutilate over Olivia Voldaren. Slaughter Games is exchanged for Appetite for Brains to support cheaper creatures better since Zombies wants to be more aggressive against control rather than trying to utilize planeswalkers and Slaughter Games.

Another Innistrad tribe leaving Standard a little bit short of glory is Humans. They had better times than Vampires or Werewolves, but my interest in Humans right before rotation is also caused by the fact that this tribe features two mechanics leaving Standard: exalted and soulbond. Both mechanics have something in common that makes them interesting to play with and against; the power they grant is fragile, which forces Humans players to build their decks accordingly.

Craig Wescoe W/R Humans deck from the World Championship is an amazing utilization of both mechanics, but while it was perfect in a metagame consisting of Jund and U/W/R Flash, it’s much worse in a G/R Aggro invaded one. Nevertheless, something could be done to fix this, as the deck itself is still good and interesting to play.

I’ve made Craig’s deck faster and added some reach to deal with Domri Rade and hopefully the last points of damage. The sideboard contains a mix of Nearheath Pilgrim and Rhox Faithmender to exploit one of G/R Aggro’s weaknesses: life gain plus powerful threats. Jund utilizes the same idea backed by better removal, but it’s extremely vulnerable to Burning Earth, while our deck is not. I’m not sure if going defensive is the best idea against G/R Aggro, but life gain backed by Imposing Sovereign could actually work.

Have you ever imagined Fiendslayer Paladin actually having protection from black and red—or at least against Olivia Voldaren and Huntmaster of the Fells’ abilities? Standard contains a creature that actually has those, but it’s unfortunately in exchange for a pack of downsides that make an interesting two-mana creature into just a fringe role player. I had a lot of hope for Elite Inquisitor, but it was in vain. However, it’s not unplayable; Sho Ishikawa played an interesting take on Humans at Grand Prix Kitakyushu:

Ishikawa won a Grand Prix Trial with a list reviving old goodies and utilizing two nearly forgotten cards—not only Elite Inquisitor but also Riders of Gavony, who never really saw much Standard play. The card once considered as a potential substitute for the mighty Hero of Bladehold fell short of Restoration Angel. Should you give Riders another chance after the reprinting of Brave the Elements?

Why not?

It’s not as devastating on an empty board as Sublime Archangel is, but Riders of Gavony is still fine with Mutavault, especially since Supreme Verdict isn’t really popular now. Successful attacks are supported by Riders of Gavony (an elegant way to solve a stalemate against creature-based decks) and also Feeling of Dread. Feeling of Dread is a very interesting substitute to Brave the Elements because it is also good on defense; Sho Ishikawa clearly planned to use it this way often. Gideon, Champion of Justice, Celestial Flare, Supreme Verdict—is this really the sideboard of a White Weenie deck?

I remember Wrath of God in the sideboard of some Kithkin lists or even maindeck in aggressive G/W Tokens decks of that time. I’m not sure if such a transformational sideboard is optimal for a list relying on assembling a lot of creatures rather than on single powerful threats (like Humans), but take a look at the cards in the deck:

Thalia, Guardian of Thraben: fine on defense

Lyev Skyknight: fine on defense

Elite Inquisitor: fine on defense

Hey, it looks like that guy knew what he was doing!

Reverse sideboarding and cardinal change of a game plan can be very powerful, but what about having both plans in your maindeck and switching between them? Midrange decks are very popular these days, but they mostly have one main plan and one backup maindeck and switch to a better one post-board. How about aggro-control naturally fitting both plans? Yuuta Takahashi triumphantly went through Grand Prix Kitakyushu with the following list.

Delver of Secrets? Yes, this deck perfectly fits into the idea of missed opportunities. Once a menace, the little fly is nowhere to be seen now. How did Yuuta Takahashi revive an old favorite? Unsummon, Azorius Charm, and a bunch of countermagic ensure that the opponent will not touch your life total, while a pair of Runechanter’s Pikes provides a great boost for the deck’s clock.

Four maindeck Essence Scatters? Thundermaw Hellkite, you shall not pass! The deck is heavily skewed toward the G/R Aggro matchup, but it simultaneously has a great control matchup where Delver of Secrets truly shines. The deck also contains powerful sideboard cards against hyperaggressive strategies—Righteous Blow, Tidebinder Mage and even Supreme Verdict, which is also a part of a transformation into a heavier midrange deck. Eight cantrips improve the deck’s curve and ensure that you’ll always have the appropriate cards, and they can easily be exchanged for a removal package if you simply need more answers.

That’s the end of my story. There are obviously many more opportunities, like Heartless Summoning decks (which never became good), or Wolfir Silverheart decks (which actually were good from time to time), or some kind of RUG brew combining Huntmaster of the Fells and Snapcaster Mage, or . . . The list is long, and you better explore some opportunities before you miss them forever. Good luck!

Valeriy Shunkov


P.S. I apologize for not mentioning the card Opportunity in this article; you should ask Patrick Chapin for good Grixis Control list.