“Fight the real enemy.”
Her gesture wasn’t directly meant to attack one of the most beloved figures on the planet at the time, but was instead meant as a protest of her perceived grievances against the Roman Catholic Church.
The backlash was immediate, swift, and completely destroyed the promising young artist’s career. NBC was inundated with thousands of phone calls. Various celebrities lampooned and disparaged O’Connor in the media. The host of the following week’s program, Joe Pesci, held the picture up — repaired with tape — saying that he fixed it to raucous applause. Sinead faded into obscurity, but held fast to her display, and when asked if she could go back and fix her mistake she replied: “Hell, no!”
I hope you’ve enjoyed my random display of useless trivia.
My point, I guess, is that sometimes we hold up symbols in the Magic community and we try to tear them up, and in doing so, we send the wrong message of just who or what we should be fighting against.
For weeks and weeks people have been harping on the various Eldrazi decks in Modern, including me, and why Eldrazi Temple or Eye of Ugin should be banned. In that scenario it’s pretty cut-and-dried. The almost 50% of Eldrazi decks represented on Day 2 of #SCGLOU is downright ridiculous, and something like 80% of the decks in the Top 32 were Eldrazi flavors. Despite #SCGLOU being won by Affinity, it is clear Eldrazi decks are beyond represented. Expect them to die a quick and painless death when the ban list is updated.
Sometimes it’s not that clear who the real enemy is.
In Standard we’ve decided to prop up Rally the Ancestors as the primary villain of the format.
- 4 Nantuko Husk
- 3 Elvish Visionary
- 3 Sidisi's Faithful
- 4 Jace, Vryn's Prodigy
- 3 Catacomb Sifter
- 4 Zulaport Cutthroat
- 3 Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim
- 4 Reflector Mage
Sam Black is one of the single greatest deckbuilders in Magic history, and when he decides to pick up “the enemy” in pretty stock form, it’s okay to panic.
But I think we’re panicking about the wrong deck.
The wrong archetype.
The wrong card.
This is the real enemy.
- 1 Warden of the First Tree
- 3 Stratus Dancer
- 2 Den Protector
- 4 Deathmist Raptor
- 3 Jace, Vryn's Prodigy
- 4 Bounding Krasis
- 4 Reflector Mage
- 4 Sylvan Advocate
I should probably narrow it down a bit. Really give you something to go after.
You’ll notice a thread that links these two decks, and it’s in the picture right above us.
Collected Company is a fundamentally broken Magic card and one that has been secretly puppeteering the sheer dominance of Four-Color Rally decks since Battle for Zendikar became legal. With all the cogs in place, like Nantuko Husk, Reflector Mage, and Zulaport Cutthroat, it has become abundantly clear that without Collected Company in the mix, Rally decks wouldn’t be able to churn out the victories and consistency at the rate that they are currently able to.
This was all well and good when Standard had devolved into multiple Jeskai Black, Ramp, Rally, and aggressive decks in the vein of Abzan or Atarka Red.
Andy Ferguson has ended that for everyone.
His mastery of multiple Collected Company decks is one of the most astounding side stories of The SCG Tour® in the last six months, and one that people seemed to pay the least attention to. If you’ve been following closely, Andy has Top 8ed a lot of events off the back of Collected Company and has employed the Baskin-Robbins logic of doing it with 31 different flavors. It isn’t some accident that he’s Top 4ed three tournaments in the last month with Collected Company strategies, or that the metagame seems to follow in his footsteps directly after.
Rally the Ancestors, without a doubt, would not be remotely as dominant or good if Collected Company weren’t in the deck. Months ago, the deck was considered fringe at best and the card Rally the Ancestors itself was a bulk rare. Before rotation happened, my friend John Cuvelier told me about a wild Abzan Rally / Collected Company deck that abused the various new Elves like Shaman of the Pack, Elvish Mystic, and others. This was about two weeks before rotation happened. I wish I’d known about it in advance, because this deck was broken in half and would have completely altered the way Standard was played. I don’t think I ever lost a match with it, and it wasn’t ever particularly close.
Your Plan A, however, which was significantly better and more reliable, was just an outright slaughter from Collected Company that let you instantly put creatures on the battlefield to defeat your opponent.
That is when I should have known the combination had no business existing simultaneously.
Flash-forward to today. Bant Company has just dominated a Classic in the hands of someone who understands the archetype better than just about anyone. Two decks in that Top 8 were Four-Color Rally decks. Four decks in that Top 8 had Collected Company as the lynchpin.
Now we’re getting somewhere.
Donnie Wise is a Magic player giving you the answer of how to beat Collected Company and Rally the Ancestors decks in a world where people willingly decide to play Ramp decks despite knowing full well that they are going to be dogs to the “best” deck in the format.
Good for them.
This version of Jeskai Black, to date, is the best version I’ve seen to date when it comes to combating Four-Color Rally and Collected Company strategies. His deck has all of the tools needed moving forward to be a serious contender.
Mantis Rider is one of the most-bemoaned cards in Standard when it hits the battlefield against these slower instant-based decks. Reflector Mage can do a lot of work in stemming the bleeding from Mantis Riders, but its haste and ease of casting aren’t as much of a temporary Band-Aid as an answer. Backing up the Rider is Dispel.
Let’s take a moment and see what Dispel counters:
Maindeck Dispel in Jeskai Black isn’t a novel concept, so Donnie didn’t really reinvent the wheel with this one, but he’s bringing things back to Jeskai’s roots with Seeker of the Way to provide pressure and force these decks on their heels. Jeskai Charm is another powerful option that can add to the clock in tandem with Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy giving it Flashback, or even Goblin Dark-Dwellers.
In short, this deck has all the ways to beat the two de facto best decks out there.
The card I advocate the most in this Jeskai Black variant, however, is absolutely Chandra, Flamecaller. Since Chandra was released, I’ve done my best to feature her in just about everything that could support her. My early attempts at G/R Ramp and Jeskai played her, and I’m glad to see she’s finally getting the widespread acclaim that she deserves.
Chandra’s underrating was because people had a hard time evaluating her. At six mana, Elspeth, Sun’s Champion is still on the minds of most players, and Chandra finds herself compared to her rather unfairly. Chandra provides a hodgepodge of abilities that need to be evaluated in the moment rather than in the abstract. The Flamecaller can put a very short clock on an opponent or begin drawing copious cards to fuel your hand. Aside from the obvious, her battlefield-wiping option plays very well when you need a reset. She’s the best top-end in Standard today, and her impact cannot be understated.
Noted by its absence, Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet isn’t found in this Jeskai Black deck because it focuses much harder on violent, overpowering starts and finishes rather than trying to control the tempo of the game like the traditional versions of Jeskai. They win quite often, but maybe that’s why Four-Color Rally and Company decks are still at the top of the heap. If those controlling Jeskai decks with all of their tools were so good, wouldn’t they knock it off the hill?
The fact that they haven’t in all of this time means that we need to change our approach or keep succumbing to the same failure. At its core, Donnie’s Jeskai deck is fighting the fight against Collected Company while still having the ability to answer Rally the Ancestors. This is paramount to becoming a deck that can withstand the best deck of Standard.
If I had to suggest anything to Donnie, it would be to cut a single Kozilek’s Return for perhaps another Dispel, since his triple Soulfire Grand Master in the sideboard along with all the targeted removal probably do a fine job against Atarka Red, and a third Dispel probably wouldn’t be too bad against them either. I’m sure Donnie knows better than I do, but going forward, I’ll be working on his deck as the best answer I’ve seen to the direction the format is going.
Now that we’ve identified the card that we need to be taking into account rather than the ghost of one, we can truly begin to fight it. Collected Company has proven itself to be the defining card of Standard, which means it’s time to face it head-on.
In order to defeat Rally the Ancestors and Collected Company, especially if you plan on attending Grand Prix: Houston or the Classic in Philadelphia, focus on new strategies rather than the ones that have proven so far to only be effective some of the time.
Fight the real enemy.