After taking a few weeks off FNM and Constructed Magic entirely, I performed a nice inebriated Gatherer search for ideas at some late hour last week, and for some reason synergies started popping off the page. Hedron Crab was my centerpiece of choice, and Knight of the Reliquary, Harrow, Khalni Heart Expedition, and the acceleration of Noble Hierarch and Birds of Paradise, to be faster than the UB or UW Crab decks. Ranger of Eos gave me eight Crabs, and my Bant Crab deck was up and running.
Then the eight Archive Traps were added, with a small Trapmaker’s Snare toolbox featuring Whiplash and Pitfall. Path to Exile complimented the Traps, since it essentially mills them for one and lets you play Archive for free. Jace was added for card draw, and to keep the turn 2 drops potent, as well as being a mill win condition on his own in extreme situations.
Eventually Heart Expedition and Harrow were proven too weak to stay in the deck, as they led to very clunky draws with excessive amounts of land searching with no landfall triggers to benefit from. I also had the problem of running out of basic lands when the game was winding down, when I need them the most, so that slot was cleaned up a bit and made room for Wargate. It serves as additional Crabs, Knights, and it fetches fetch lands to mill them for the same amount as Harrow and Expedition.
I ended up with this brew…
At the moment, I’m still trying to find a way to squeeze Ponder in here, since its synergy with fetchlands and ability to dig to Ranger/Crab/Knight to make the deck more consistent is very desirable. As it is, the deck is pretty lean and focused, so I’m not sure if I want to mess up an already good thing.
One of the prime reasons Birds and Hierarch compliment the Crabs is because “they” will usually use removal spells on the mana producers in the early turns, which raises the likelihood that the Crabs will stick. If you’ve got turn 1 Crab, it’s always great to lead out with it into fetchlands and whatnot, but it’s just as profitable to wait until turn 2, drop him off a Bird/Hierarch, and play the land for the turn. From there you’ve got two open, which means you can Path a Leech, or use Snare to search out an Archive Trap to get â€˜em on their turn 2 or 3 fetchland. Also, you may be wondering why there are only 3 Hierarchs and 4 Birds. I have no delusions of getting into the red zone with this deck; it’s happened once or twice in about fifty games of testing, and having Knight is a nice backup plan, but having a creature that survives an Earthquake blowout has been key in several matchups. Another trick is to use Path on the excess Birds/Hierarchs to get some more landfall triggers out of the Crabs.
In theory, Knight is a great alternate kill condition, but it usually never even comes to that. He sits back and plays D more often than not, or he gets killed quickly. His pseudo mana acceleration is also key, since you can pull off a turn 2 Knight, turn 3 hard-cast Archive Trap, which raises eyebrows, but will usually get the job done in the long run. I also toyed with Scute Mob in the sideboard for awhile, but again, this deck rarely attacks unless the game has broke down and both are in topdeck mode, and boarding into Mobs isn’t as good as boarding into War Monk , who, like the Knight, also doesn’t attack much. Having a 3/4 Lifelinker on D is a lot better than it used to be, with damage now off the stack.
One of the attractive features of this deck is how easy it is to board into a creature plan. Just take out Crab, Snare, and Archive Trap, and you have the base for a solid Bant deck. Board into 4 Baneslayer Angel, 4 Rhox War Monk, 2 Scute Mob, and some Negates, and you’re ready to give them the business. The Boros matchup is a little shaky game 1, but once Angelsong comes in I’ve had very little trouble. An early version I had of the deck actually had Angelsong main deck, and I was mauling Boros left and right. I’m just not sure if the creature sideboard is more applicable. The main reason the Boros matchup is so winnable is because they absolutely can’t play around Archive Trap without making half their lands and Ranger of Eos dead.
The Wargate package is also pretty awesome, but there’s probably a lot more you can do with it if you really put your head around it. Right now its purpose is to make the deck lean game 1, and to be the first card to sideboard out to make room for Angelsong or War Monk. If you’re up against that Crypt of Agadeem nonsense, it’s obviously pretty hard to deal with that deck when you keep drawing them cards by milling them, so Wargating out a Relic or Pithing Needle to shut them down is the only way I’ve got to beat them outside of having a gigantic mill turn. Angelsong is also pretty good against them.
A lot of the games play out very smoothly. You get your Crab going if he’s in your opener. If not, you set up Archive Trap with the Snare, draw cards with Jace, or land a Knight. Then you Ranger for a couple of Crabs and either combo them off that turn by playing both, using Knight and fetches to mill them for 24 on the spot, or set it up on the following turn and trade Ranger for Bloodbraid Elf or Steppe Lynx. Archive Trap is really more of the end game than an early “gotcha” card. A lot of the games end with me playing the Trap two turns in a row for five mana while they’re busy trying to keep the Crab and Knight population down.
It’s also hard for decks to come out of nowhere and kill me, and the Birds/Hierarchs turn into great chump blockers which usually turns the race in my favor.
The real reason I like this deck is you just don’t care about the best creatures in the format. Tap out for Baneslayer Angel? Awesome! Ranger into a couple Crabs and mill you for 24. Got an answer to those? Then they lose because I’m milling them for 12 a turn, which is a much quicker clock than Baneslayer could ever hope to be.
Decks You Want To Face
You don’t really want to play against Jund, but it’s so damn predictable at this point that it’s a matchup in which everyone has that false sense of security. Jund is very slow when they don’t have a Putrid Leech, and some versions are cutting him for Rampant Growth, giving you even more scenarios to Trap â€˜Em. Because they are so slow if they don’t have a double Blightning draw, it’s very hard for them to win, and near impossible if you get a Jace going and they don’t have a Pulse and have to start attacking it, which buys you even more time to mill them out. A lot of the time they just have a heavy removal hand and feel good about burning Birds and Hierarchs, which protects Crab to some degree.
I’ve been boarding out the Wargates, a Noble Hierarch, and a Snare postboard against them, to bring in Negate to protect the Crabs. The only real weapon they have after sideboarding is Jund Charm, which is why I shave a Hierarch, and mana problems in this deck are few and far between given its basic nature and resolve against their Ruinblasters. If they try and kill all the mana producers it can be problematic, but then you’ve got Negates for their Blightning, and all the high impact creatures will stick. I’ve considered boarding in War Monk here, but I just don’t think you need it. The mill plan is faster and more potent than a War Monk; however, making them blow a removal spell on the Monk helps to keep a Jace, Crab, or Knight in play, so maybe there’s something there.
Boarding out a Hierarch most sideboard games feels like a copout, but it actually makes sense because once they see Crab game 1 they will stop trying to destroy the other one-drops.
This matchup is essentially a bye, and a big reason I want to play Ranger of Crabs at States. This deck has been on the rise as “the answer to Jund,” and sure to be heavily played at States given its big performance at Worlds. They’ve got all kinds of dead cards, with Flashfreeze, Angelsong, Safe Passage, Sunspring Expedition, Font, and Howling Mine all being very bad cards, and I’ve got a much more dedicated mill plan than them.
You really don’t even need to sideboard in Negate, but Path is dead against them and they’re bringing in Negate and Baneslayer most likely, so swapping Path for Negate is usually the only thing I do.
If you’ve got a group of friends who are all on the “Turbo Fog” bandwagon, you should definitely pick up some Crabs, it’s as close to a 95% matchup you’ll ever find. Mulligans don’t even hurt you that badly, because they draw you cards with Mines and Fonts.
There are several different Mono White Control and Aggro decks going around, none of which are any problem for Crabs. Angelsong after board is the trump card against the Aggro decks, and the Control versions are far too slow to put up any kind of fight. They search their library with Knight of the White Orchid, Armillary Sphere, Ranger of Eos, Path to Exile, and a lot are packing eight fetchlands, so Archive Trap is at a premium here.
I usually end up boarding out the Paths against the Control versions for Negate, and Wargates, a Hierarch, and a Snare against the quick versions for Angelsong. These sideboard plans are pretty much the same against the majority of creature-based decks (and control decks).
White / Green / Eldrazi Green
There are also lots of White/Green creature-packed decks going around, and they’re a bit scarier than Jund because they’re faster, but their lack of removal is their downfall. They can’t really deal with the Crab plus Knight combo, and I’ve got plenty of chump blockers to stop the important attacks. Again, it’s the same sideboarding plan to bring in Angelsong. However, I’ve found Path to Exile to be pretty awful in these games, so I usually board out 2 Path, a Hierarch, and a Snare against them for the Angelsong.
Naya is a totally different beast to Jund. Coimbra didn’t fare so well in the Standard portion of Worlds, but he won the whole shebang so I’m sure there will be a mild uprising of Naya decks out there this weekend. Bolt plus Path gives them cheap answers to Crab. Other than Path, they don’t have many ways to deal with Knight, and he usually ends up locking down the board since he’s always bigger than Woolly Thoctar. Ajani Vengeant isn’t very good against Crabs, but can really hammer you hard if they accelerate into it with Hierarch, and they can also use it to nearly lock out a Knight, forcing you to skip using the tap ability to stay back on D.
They don’t have any sideboard shenanigans to worry about, so they’re basically just a big dumb creature deck. Boarding in Angelsong again is the right choice here, for the Wargates, a mana dude, and a Jace. I don’t like boarding out Snare in here because they’ve got Ranger of Eos and Arid Mesa, and milling them for 26 or 39 out of nowhere usually wins the game. Naya is a deck that taps out during its main phase a lot, and that’s when this combo is deadliest. Game 1, most decks put you on Bant, so they don’t worry about the potential “mill 24” off a couple of Crabs out of nowhere, backed up by Ranger of Eos. I haven’t tested it yet, but Rhox War Monk might also be pretty good in here. He’s bigger than Wild Nacatl, Bloodbraid Elf, and Ranger of Eos, so holding off the Thoctar is the only problem. If they ever tap out for Baneslayer Angel they will lose pretty quickly. If the pancake flipper is needed, Jace is the first to go.
There are several different Cascade decks going around right now. If you’re up against the Spread â€˜Em, the matchup is very good. I’ve got a bunch of mana producers, and I’m very quick against their removal-light deck. Day of Judgment could be a problem if they make my lands Swamps or Islands, but I’ve played against that deck several times and had no problems. Negate definitely needs to come in though, most likely for 2 Wargate, a Hierarch, and a Snare.
If they’re playing the Esper Charm and Blightning-based Cascade deck, they are also very removal-light and will succumb to an early Crab plus Knight. They are also very slow, with their earliest plays coming down on turn 3, and they don’t impact the board whatsoever. Here, I’d make the same sideboard as for Spread â€˜Em.
This is another near-bye matchup. Their deck is designed to take care of the creature hordes, so they have a lot of removal, but are stone dead to three Archive Traps, which is surprisingly easy to pull off despite their Double Negatives. This is the one matchup where Jace can win it all by himself too. They’ve got plenty of burn to chuck at him, but he usually stays out of burn range after a couple of turns in play. Negate comes in for the Paths, and you can board out a Hierarch for a Pithing Needle to stop their Ajani Vengeant.
Decks You Don’t Want To Face
This is pretty scary game 1. You can randomly Trap them out of the game since they never stop searching their library, so all isn’t lost. They are another deck that taps out a lot during their main phase, and it’s entirely possible to race them by milling if you’re on the play. It’s rough if you’re on the draw, but this is where the Birds and Hierarchs pay dividends compared to other Crab builds like LSV’s. He was using a straight U/W Control version, and it’s much too slow opposite Boros most of the time. Some of my initial builds had Angelsong in the main deck and I was rolling by Boros easily, so doing the standard Angelsong board against them is very good.
This is where Rhox War Monk is huge. Jace sucks in this match, so I’ve been taking Jace out for War Monk, and the games haven’t been remotely close, with Angelsong and Rhox keeping me alive long enough to put their entire library into their graveyard.
This matchup isn’t bad… it’s just a little scary at times. If they are on the play and have Lynx into Geopede into Goblin Guides and Bushwhackers, it’s very hard to win game 1, but the sideboarded games are pretty lopsided. The real problem is that they have lots of cheap Crab killers, with Path, Burst Lightning, and Bolt making up a very tough to handle 12-slot of removal. They’ve also got Earthquake in some versions, which was one of the reasons I’m going Bird over Hierarch. Another card to look out for is Manabarbs, so make sure you bring that Hierarch back in if you see it.
These games are usually one-sided. I either punish their 8 fetchland manabase by Trapping them, or they Mind Sludge me and completely ruin my day. This is another deck that seems to tap out a lot, with Nocturnus, Gatekeeper, along with Sign in Blood and Malakir Bloodwitch, so you usually have some time to set up a big Crab turn. Depending on how many Disfigure they have main deck, the matchup can be fair to troublesome.
The real problem card is Mind Sludge, which is why I don’t want to play against this deck. I don’t have a good answer for it game 1, and Negate is the first card I bring out of the board for them, along with potential Marsh Casualties and Duress. I’ve been boarding Jace out against them, but I may want to bring in War Monk too. If Monk does come in, I’d want to board out the Wargates, a Hierarch, and a Snare. I board Jace out because I want to give them as little value as possible out of their Hexmages, which they probably cut post board, but fewer Duress targets is also a deciding factor.
Mono Red Burn
I’ve yet to play a single game against this deck due to assumed scarcity, but should you find yourself up against the Red menace this weekend, I’d guess you’re in pretty bad shape. You might be able to race them with the Traps since they’ve got upwards of 16 fetchlands in some builds, but Jace is particularly ineffective against them since you’re just shortening your life span by giving them more cards. I’ve also got a moderately painful manabase, which makes their deck that much better. They’ve got Fallout, Earthquake, Bolt, and Burst, which makes for a very troublesome game of Magic.
Rhox definitely comes in here to buy you some time. However, I’m not sure if I want Angelsong or not. They don’t have very many creatures, but if I’m facing down a pair of Geopede I’d want something to save me ten damage. Honestly, I’d probably just take Jace out for Monk and leave the Songs in the board. I need to be quick against them, and I need all the Crabs n’ Traps I can get, so I’d probably want to leave Wargate in. If they’re playing Hell’s Thunder and Hellspark Elemental, I’d also probably want the Pithing Needle and Relic. Needle also doubles as an answer to Zetkar Shrine, so the Wargate package might be pretty decent in here.
If I were really worried about the Red deck, I’d choose to Wargate for some Sunspring Expedition or Dragon’s Claw, but I don’t expect the Red deck to be very popular (despite it being clearly a solid choice for the current metagame).
This is a pretty funny match. I’ve played against this deck twice, but I doubt the pilots on the other end were playing it right because I won both fairly easily. They mill themselves a bit, while I save up to mill them a bunch in one turn. They don’t have much removal, but putting a Crab out there on turn 1 isn’t a good idea because you ideally want to wait until the turn they go off them mill them for the win.
This is where the Wargate package is at its best. Tutoring up a Relic or Needle is literally game over against them, so while game 1 is nigh unwinnable, game 2 is heavily in my favor. Path to Exile may seem good because they’ve got so many graveyard-centric creatures, but I’d board them out for the Wargate toolbox.
All in all, I’m very excited about this deck and have already convinced several to pilot it alongside me on Saturday. This is one of the favorite decks I’ve built in a long time, and hopefully I can get some miles out of it. Who knows, if States goes well, I might even make the trip to St. Louis the week after for the StarCityGames.com $5000 Standard Open! This is a really fun and complex deck to play, and I’m pumped to be excited about Standard again.
If you’re going to play this deck this weekend, hit me up with an email or stay tuned to my Twitter. I’m still going to try and squeeze Ponder in here, and I might have some sideboard changes that you might want to know about.
This deck also isn’t for the lighthearted mages that just want to attack and beat the opponent down. You’ve got to do a great deal of logistics and planning to pilot this brew perfectly, and figuring out how much time you have, and making those tight plays to squeak by, is essential if you want to take down a championship. Make sure you goldfish it and get a good feel for how the deck works, what turns are important, exactly how many cards you’re going to mill them over the course of a few turns, etc. Keep in mind that this deck is incredibly explosive and can win games out of nowhere, so putting yourself in the position to win is very important.
As always, any questions about matchups, or how to pick up a girl using a baloney sandwich, should be directed to the forums…
Thanks for reading,