Ethereal Armor For Witchstalker

A critical mass of Hexproof creatures will be available thanks to Magic 2014. Valeriy looks at how best to put them to work!

The M14 prerelease is this weekend, which means that Standard will include eight sets for the whole summer. M14 includes many good cards which will
definitely see constructed play (and probably a good portion of underrated cards, which are under the radar now). Scavenging Ooze, Xathrid Necromancer, the
cycle of color hosers… so many cards to speak about! It’s hard to cover them all at once, so I’ll look at one deck which received one of the most important
updates. Even more interesting, this update isn’t an auto-include, but a tool to carefully work with to make existing deck better.

Bant Hexproof always was a deck I’ve looked at, but I never actually tried it seriously as I disliked the necessity of cards which are out of the primary
game plan but still inevitable due to the lack of dedicated playables. I like the Modern Hexproof much better (yeah, I’m the kind of mage who likes
crushing opponents and don’t really bother on interactive games), but Bant Hexproof in Standard always needed something to meet my requirements. Voice of
Resurgence made the deck much better, but why should I bother playing just another Voice of Resurgence deck if I could try to build the best Voice deck

The main difference between Standard Hexproof and Modern Hexproof (aside from a raised mana curve) is that the Modern version has two playsets of crucial
auras (Ethereal Armor and Daybreak Coronet) and two sets of auras granting first strike (Ethereal Armor and Hyena Umbra). M14 changed Hexproof’s lack of
playables in a very interesting way as now we’re overloaded by options. However, two cards that changed the situation are both creatures, so we still lack
another good cheap aura and are unable to build a redundant and stable deck. Eight green Hexproof creatures – Gladecover Scout and Witchstalker – may allow
for an improved manabase by playing two colors, but Geist of Saint Traft is so good that I’d rather play him. The third thing to think about is that we can
try a three-colored deck in different colors, using cards which weren’t good enough for the deck. There are obvious blue, white, and red auras, which have
seen some play, but didn’t gain anything. However, red could be fine in conjunction with green, so let’s start investigating our options more precisely.

Witchstalker is a very good creature, while Gladecover Scout is very questionable. Trying to omit Geist of Saint Traft in favor of better manabase, we put
ourselves into a situation where we should play Gladecover Scout. The problem is that we also lose Spectral Flight and Invisible Stalker, and only Rancor
and Unflinching Courage help swinging through blockers. Witchstalker with Unflinching Courage is a serious threat, but Gladecover Scout requires Ethereal
Armor to be dangerous or at least effective. The questions you have to ask are: how many non-armor auras do you need for your Gladecover Scout to survive the Thragtusk hunt? Three?

Aren’t you supposed to win after casting three auras, not just provide safety for your creature?

Is Gladecover Scout even good in this deck given the context of the format?

Honestly I don’t think so, but there’s something to be done here, as the idea of sixteen Hexproof creatures deck is worth noting. Predator Ooze may be a
fine substitute for a Hexproof creature, but Gladecover Scout would be still bad in such a deck.

Red may be able to provide possible solutions: if we can’t reliably make Gladecover Scout larger that blockers, we can try avoiding them. Madcap Skills is
very good in terms of efficiency, Volcanic Strength sees play outside of aura decks (Mountain are very popular right now), and we gain access to cards
like Furor of the Bitten and Boros Charm.

Imposing Sovereign is an addition that would make us better both against aggressive decks with their hordes of small creatures and against midrange decks
with their army-in-a-can creatures like Huntmaster of the Fells. Sovereign itself may not be worth slots in the deck (there’s still Strangleroot Geist),
but maximizing the value of Madcap Skills may be worth trying.

Boros Reckoner is another upgrade. Loxodon Smiter is a fine card overall but specifically against aggressive strategies, it seems that Boros Reckoner does
the same thing better in most situations. However, Reckoner does not have Smiter’s additional beneficial interaction against Liliana of the Veil, who may
rise in popularity as a countermeasure to Hexproof.

Sideboarding Armed // Dangerous is mostly funny, but I’d like to check if they work. Both halves may be extremely useful in certain matches, and the card
seems like a fine substitute for Boros Charm if your opponent is a midrange deck without many board sweepers. Double strike is another way to maximize the
value of Madcap Skills and Imposing Sovereign, and the Lure effect can help beat hordes of spirit tokens; also imagine a “dangerous” Boros Reckoner (that’s
an interaction I’d also like to try in a deck with Kalonian Hydra and Aurelia, the Warleader).

The deck is still very rough and requires a lot of tuning accordingly to the metagame and its overreaction to new cards, but I think it would be a
legitimate contender. The primary tuning objectives are the manabase, the effectiveness of Imposing Sovereign, the role of Boros Reckoner, and precise
sideboarding. I’d soon expect a rise of control as a possible overreaction to Hexproof, so it’s important to be prepared.

Another direction of building a new Hexproof deck is if we simply skip Gladecover Scout and just add Witchstalker to the existing Bant shell. However, it’s
not as simple as it sounds. We’ll encounter multiple problems, and the first of them is the demand for cutting Loxodon Smiter due to color requirements.
Adding another hexproof creature instead on non-hexproof one seems to be great at first glance, but Smiter is very good and is an important part of our
plan against aggressive decks. Witchstalker is good, but the elephant is so much better than Centaur Healer that we’ll probably be forced to put Smiter in
the sideboard. However, invulnerability to Searing Spear matters and Witchstalker may yet be better. That will solve one of our potential problems, but
would still leave another one.

The deck lacks much-needed good two-mana creature in addition to Invisible Stalker and Voice of Resurgence; some players use Strangleroot Geist but I’m not
a fan of this decision due to the strict color requirements of a three-colored deck. I see two solutions here:

Imposing Sovereign isn’t as good in a Bant deck as it would be in Naya, but it’s still a fine creature without serious color requirement. Elvish Mystic is
an additional mana accelerant, but it doesn’t aid a turn two Geist of Saint Traft quite the same way that Avacyn’s Pilgrim does.

I’m still concerned with the deck’s mana curve and I’d like to see a room for one or two small creatures, but this is subject to testing. Both Top 16 Bant
Hexproof decks from the StarCityGames.com Open in Worcester played four Silverblade Paladins, but this card wouldn’t be better than Witchstalker in any
matchup except for the mirror. The mirror match should be very relevant if this deck is as good as I hope, but I don’t think it would be worth more than
some sideboard slots – and Fog is already fine in the mirror in addition to aggressive starts.

Other consequences of an increase in Hexproof popularity may include the rise of control decks, which are overwhelmingly good against it and will not be
hard-pressed by Junk Reanimator due to the obvious popularity of Scavenging Ooze (which is, in my opinion, heavily overrated in both Standard and Modern
currently). This may lead to interesting metagame waves through the summer, making Hexproof a legitimate potential choice. However, there’s something to be
done against control. I’m not sure if it would work, but splashing for sideboarded Sin Collectors and Xathrid Necromancers may work.

Four-colored Hexproof by Valeriy Shunkov

4 Temple Garden

4 Breeding Pool

4 Hallowed Fountain

2 Overgrown Tomb

2 Hinterland Harbor

2 Sunpetal Grove

2 Woodland Cemetery

2 Glacial Fortress

4 Invisible Stalker

4 Voice of Resurgence

4 Geist of Saint Traft

3 Witchstalker

2 Avacyn’s Pilgrim

4 Abundant Growth

4 Rancor

4 Ethereal Armor

4 Spectral Flight

3 Unflinching Courage

1 Gift of Orzhova

1 Selesnya Charm


4 Sin Collector

3 Fog

3 Loxodon Smiter

2 Xathrid Necromancer

2 Nearheath Pilgrim

1 Ray of Revelation

The manabase is shaky, and I’m not sure if this deck will work at all, but Sin Collector is a very powerful tool that is able to solve many of the deck’s
problems – including not only control, but also B/G Demons with Liliana of the Veil and Barter in Blood. Yes, I know that deck isn’t very popular right
now, but it’s good against both Hexproof and aggressive strategies and is a good shell for Scavenging Ooze, so it will be well-positioned after M14 is

I also thought about a G/W/B high-end aggressive deck with access to great sideboard tools like Lifebane Zombie, but still didn’t manage to build a
good-looking seventy-five cards. Such a deck may be Hexproof-like with many auras and Faith’s Shield to protect creatures from removal (including Predator
Ooze and Azorius Charm). Elvish Mystic may help mitigate the overload of three-mana creatures in the list (like ten mana dorks and the lack of two-mana
creatures aside from Voice of Resurgence). From the other point of view, the absurd power level of Xathrid Necromancer and Lifebane Zombie may be better
used in Junk Aristocrats – even if I prefer streamlined builds. However, that’s a topic for another day

M14, despite being a Core Set, offers many interesting tools for Standard players, and some of these tools will be at their best immediately, so it’s time
to explore your creativity and then look at the best players piloting new brews at the StarCityGames.com Open in Richmond and at the amazing
StarCityGames.com Invitational in Somerset!