Down And Dirty – Test Decks With Zendi Cards, Part 3

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Wednesday, October 14th – Kyle Sanchez rounds out his Test Decks With Zendi Cards series with a look at the Standard decks he plans to run at the Pro Tour: Austin Last Chance Qualifier this coming weekend. Red/White Aggro, Bant, Control, and Mono Black Control… which will he choose for the tournament?

The first tournament of the new Standard is in, and go figure, the easy-to-build Jund deck is the deck to beat. Not because it’s the most powerful deck, but because it is the easiest for people to build. I’m with PV in that this tournament really isn’t a good representative of the depth of new Standard. People are still formulating their ideas and working out the chinks in their decks, so I’d expect some radical shifts ahead, and for Jund to be one of the first archetypes to fall, given how easy it is to hate for it.

One thing’s for sure: those Sprouting Thrinaxes are going to face many more Celestial Purges and Paths to Exile. White is just too good not to play in this format. It has the best tools at the cheapest price. However, it lacks the hand disruption to compete against most dedicated control decks.

For my final Test Decks with Zendi Cards article, I wanted to cover a few of the gems I’ve presented in the last couple articles and reveal some of my more refined lists.

This list is pretty similar to the Boros Bushwhacker deck from the StarCityGames.con $5000 Standard Open. I feel my version is a little better for a few reasons. I really don’t like committing to the landfall strategy in a dedicated aggro decks, and maxing out on Plated Geopede to combo with Kor Skyfisher just isn’t my idea of how to win Magic games. I had very similar lists including Skyfisher initially, but Cerodon Yearling is a Beast; it really pushes the point through, sneaks loads of damage in early, and doesn’t hold the curve up like Skyfisher. He also makes the post board sweeper crew that much better, giving more text lines of “Haste” in the deck.

For the longest time I was using Ancient Ziggurat in here to really keep the mana tight, but I noticed how my creatures would become duds in the mid game opposite Sprouting Thrinax, Knight of the Reliquary, and creatures with three or four butts. Enter Ajani Goldmane; it really gave this deck a facelift and an excellent “1-Up” to size up the creatures, while being able to defend against the reciprocal attack to protect the mighty Planeswalker.

This deck is really efficient. Our removal is better because we have cheaper threats to compliment them, and it’s not uncommon to see the opponent around ten life by turn 3, at which point Ranger of Eos or AjaniG swoop in to steal the game. The mana is a little clunky, making White Knight out of the board a bit of a risk, but he was fantastic and a game breaker in my Ziggurat version of the deck, and one of the few creatures that is awesome on defense and offense available to this brew.

The sideboard is committed to dealing with the “popular” decks. Magma Spray for Red decks and their Hellspark Elementals, which is a legitimate problem because they have Fallout to sweep and race us. Celestial Purge is an all-star opposite Jund and Vampires. White Knight is a stone cold killer opposite Jund if they don’t have a Lightning Bolt, which they usually use on Goblin Guide or Elite Vanguard. Goblin Ruinblaster stalls the control decks from casting Baneslayer Angel for one turn, but also fills the curve as a three-mana two-powered hasty dude.

This deck has been extremely successful for me, and it’s one I’m considering piloting in the LCQ on Thursday for PT: Austin. Rhox War Monk might be the second best creature in Standard right now. He’s better than Bloodbraid Elf and Goblin Guide, but he still falls short to Baneslayer Angel. I haven’t lost a game where I’ve stuck a Rhox War Monk, and that’s just not something I can say about Baneslayer Angel. Knight of the Reliquary is nearly as powerful, and with Baneslayer Angel they make up a very powerful trio of killer critters. With so much removal in the format, sticking a War Monk or Knight with a Green mana up for Vines of Vastwood or Negate backup is a very reliable plan to win a Standard game of Magic. Vines is also a great answer to opposing Baneslayer, making even the lone-swinging Noble Hierarch capable of taking down the busty broad.

Steward of Valeron is another inspiring creature who helps obtain the four or five mana threshold to play a three-drop with backup. There’s a handful of games where I wait until turn 2 to play Noble Hierarch, because you really want to jump to four mana most of the time and I’ve found they are much less likely to kill a turn 2 Hierarch instead of turn 1, which is pretty important for the Hierarch players to know.

Bant Charm is the real reason to play this deck. Having eight awesome answers to Sprouting Thrinax, Baneslayer Angel, Hellspark Elemental, etc. makes me feel really confident in the playability of the deck. Ajani Goldmane is equally powerful right now, even if I play him with an empty creature board. What exactly are the aggressive decks supposed to do when I play AjaniG and gain two life? Aim a Bolt n’ Burst at him? That’s “2WW: gain seven life” (why does this excite me?!). Are they going to waste attack phases on him or swing around him? That’s not very efficient either, and leads to me gaining more life to pump his loyalty even higher.

Wall of Denial out of the board has been pretty insane too. Gatekeeper of Malakir is really the only card in the format that can effectively deal with it outside of something techy like Vines of Vastwood or multiple Jund Charm pumps. It’s the great defensive stopper to enable the big boys to get in there and play.

Mind Control is another card I expect to see more and more play as Control decks become more streamlined and Baneslayer Angel rises above the current aggressive Red metagame. It’s hands down the best answer to an opposing Angel, and isn’t too shabby on a number of other creatures. However, it definitely feels underwhelming to pay five to gain control of a two- or three-drop. More counters in the form of Hindering Light and Vines of Vastwood to combat any super-heavy removal decks, and Harm’s Way as another option to board in for Vines opposite Red decks round out the sideboard.

Like I said, I really like this deck. It’s sleek, lean, plays the best creatures in the format along with an excellent techy surprise card that people aren’t playing around yet in Vines of Vastwood.

This has been another one of my favorite lists over the past few weeks, and one I keep going back to because it would be poised to do well in this environment if it weren’t for Sprouting Thrinax being so damn popular. That card is nearly impossible for me to deal with effectively in this brew, outside of using a Lightning Bolt/Terminate followed up by a Volcanic Fallout.

The basic game plan is to just trade one-for-one while getting in damage here and there with Hellsparks and Draggers, then use Drastic Revelation or Cruel Ultimatum to pull ahead. Revelation is extremely valuable in this deck, since it’s essentially a Tidings with a bonus! With so little card draw available in Standard, this deck has been very good at putting the opponent “all-in” then pulling ahead with the superior card drawing. There are also a surprising number of games where I’ll just cast Viscera Dragger and they don’t want to use a removal spell on him because he’s such an awful creature. That’s clearly not a reason to play him, but the ability to cycle to make the draws more consistent is fine, and he fills the curve when you’re not killing creatures. There’s a good chance that Bloodghast is just better in this slot, but I found the card too narrow opposite most aggro decks. He also has value when discard off a Drastic Revelation, and with all the burn in this deck it could be possible to include him in the main deck alongside something like Bloodchief Ascension.

Agony Warp out of the board has also been very profitable since it’s one of the best answers to Bloodbraid Elf. I don’t have creatures to block with to really capitalize with, so it usually ends up being a Fog plus removal spell, much like Intimidation Bolt.

Thought Hemorrhage is another card that hasn’t seen much love, but is incredibly crippling for the narrow control decks out there which only run one or two different kill conditions. Countersquall is just filler for the most part, but it fits in with this deck’s plan and lets me stay even with the decks packing Negate and Countersquall post board (since I also have Duress).

This was the list I posted in the forums last week. It resembles the PT Junk decks of old by playing great creatures and great removal, but this deck just doesn’t have any true card advantage and usually doesn’t come out the gates too quickly. This actually started as a Zombie deck with the undead all-star two-drops, but it became apparent that wasn’t going to work.

Mycoid Shepherd deserves a home since he survives Bolt and is outstanding opposite Jund decks who can’t remove him with Path to Exile. Elspeth is a card that doesn’t really fit in this deck, but is there to break any ground stalemates and to make my creatures bigger than Baneslayer Angel. Garruk Wildspeaker could just be better in this slot, since he can untap lands to protect himself with removal spells.

The sideboard is a plan for the numerous Jund decks out there, with Day of Judgment and Quest for the Gravelord coming in. Quest in particular is very troublesome for the Jund decks to deal with, and might be one of the best ways to break the mirror match. In here it compliments Wrath, but I’ve also been very successful killing a Thrinax so I can Maelstrom Pulse to activate the Quests.

It feels like we’ve got several forms of Identity Crisis going around, with Voices of the Void and Mind Sludge both being acceptable cards to put the opponent “all-in,” but nothing does it quite like IC. Too bad we don’t have any hideaway lands to cast it for free, like in the old Standard. Unfortunately the format is currently far too fast to warrant such cards in main decks.

This was one of my attempts to try a proactive permission creature base featuring Bolt-proof Sculler and Meddling Mages complimented by Duress, Vines of Vastwood, and Hindering Light while supporting the more important creatures down the curve. Unfortunately the mana is pretty awkward, and the format is too fast to enable such a game plan at this point, but the potential is clearly there. This is one I’m definitely going to keep on the shelf until the format slows down a bit. There’s just no reason to play this build over the Bant one I suggested earlier.

I really like this deck, and it’s been testing great against most decks. There’s somewhat of a clot at the three-slot, but it’s pretty unavoidable given how necessary those spells are. Putrid Leech is clearly the best two-drop in Standard right now. Knight of the Reliquary is up on the list of three-drops, Bloodbraid is the best thing you can do with four mana, and Baneslayer is the defining creature that is forcing all these aggro decks to be super fast to race them before they tap out on turn 5.

The mana in here is a little sketchy, but I’m playing all the most powerful spells in Standard so their power should make up for that… right? This is another one of my contenders for the LCQ. It’s a bit slow for my tastes, but it plays a great control game against the aggro decks and switches nicely to the aggressive deck opposite more controlling decks. Jund Charm is really awesome right now. You can size up a Leech to be bigger than Angel, it provides an Instant speed board sweeper for the turn they cast Bushwhacker, and even removes all of those cards that start with Hell from the graveyard to take away Red deck late game plays.

The sideboard is another Day of Judgment/Quest plan along with Tidehollow Sculler plus Duress to become a more disruptive aggro deck post-board. I can’t emphasize how huge Quest for the Gravelord is against Jund, and it’s one of the reasons I prefer my Vampire deck I talked about a couple articles ago to all the Nocturnus/Bloodghast rubbish going on. It really is a one-mana 5/5, and I’d expect to see many more in main decks in the weeks to come, given the creature-dense battlefields we’re dealing with.

Before I go, I wanted to throw out a junky brew that a lot of people have been trying to make work.

I tried and tried and tried to build a good MBC deck, but y’know what would always happen? They’d land a Planeswalker, I’d have to tutor up a Pithing Needle, they’d blow it up, and I’d lose. All that aside, I really like casting Diabolic Tutor on turn 4. Most aggro decks assume an Infest or such, but I’d always go for Mind Sludge and blow them out. Sorin Markov is also freaking awesome in here, and showed me he could see some serious play down the line. There were a number of games where I’d drop a Nightmare, they’d be at some bloated life total and unimpressed with my 9/9 that eats Angels for breakfast. Next turn I’d drop Sorin, put them to 10, Doom Blade their Angel, and kill them. Dream scenario? Sure, but this deck doesn’t have a way to deal damage early on, and he gives this deck a fighting chance no matter what life they’re at.

The real backbone of this deck is Armillary Sphere, Tendrils of Corruption, and Sign in Blood. That’s a pretty decent core to start building around for a MBC deck. There are just too many problems this deck can’t answer appropriately and those Mono Black Mages will have to wait a minute because this just isn’t its time to shine. If Nantuko Shade was reprinted maybe we could have a nice proactive early game to build upon, but there just isn’t much in the form of Black dudes these days.

Thanks for reading, and see you in Austin!