Evolutionary Leap In Standard

Brewing for a new Standard format is the best, and Sam Black just wouldn’t be himself if he wasn’t looking at all of the awesome sacrifice-themed cards in order to see whether there’s a viable “Aristocrats”-style deck for #PTBFZ.

We’ve seen Evolutionary Leap as a sideboard card in G/W Megamorph, but I’ve put quite a bit of work into building a deck around it. There are a lot of ways to go to take advantage of this card, so today I want to discuss some of the ones I’ve explored.

There are several basic engines that work:


Elvish Visionary and Dywnen’s Elite are both great with Leap, and eventually finding more Shaman of the Packs is a good way to finish someone off. Sylvan Messenger is another good one to Leap into. When Leap is really going, Sylvan Messenger can be too small, but it’s nice to have redundancy when you don’t have Evolutionary Leap.


This is what we see when G/W Megamorph sideboards Evolutionary Leap in. Deathmist Raptor is great with Evolutionary Leap, and even if you don’t have it, for a lot of mana you can chain Den Protectors with Leap to find new creatures.


Kalastria Healer and Zulaport Cutthroat reward you for cycling through Allies and Gideon, Retreat to Emeria, or Unified Front give you plenty of creatures to Leap away, though obviously Leap doesn’t find any of them. If you want a token-maker that Leap does find, you can use Grovetender Druids, but I’d expect them to be a little too slow. You can also just cycle through Kalastria Healers and Zulaport Cutthroats to set up March from the Tomb.

Abzan Ascendancy

It doesn’t really matter what creatures you have… if you have these two you’re basically going off since any creature becomes two creatures. You get to fill your deck with creatures that do even better than that, like Hangarback Walker or any of the others mentioned here, so really great deals will abound if you pull off the two-card combo.

Eldrazi Scions

Blisterpod and Catacomb Sifter are the best, but Carrier Thrall and others are playable. These are great cheap creatures that get you ahead with Evolutionary Leap, but the more you push Eldrazi Scions specifically the better Smothering Abomination becomes. Smothering Abomination always works well with Evolutionary Leap, but it’s particularly good in a deck with creatures that you don’t care about that can sacrifice themselves so that you can immediately get value if your opponent kills your Smothering Abomination.


Bloodsoaked Champion and Sultai Emissary are great non-tribal options. Nantuko Husk and Liliana, Heretical Healer aren’t exactly great with Evolutionary Leap specifically, but they do like to surround themselves with similar cards. Blue also has some reasonable offerings, surprisingly enough in Whirler Rogue, Eldrazi Skyspawner, and (if you go far enough) Drowner of Hope. I’ve found it best to keep the curve a little lower than those blue offerings, but Sidisi’s Faithful is good for similar reasons to Nantuko Husk and you could also play any of the blue Exploit fodder from Dragons of Tarkir limited like Youthful Scholar or Palace Familiar – but again, it wouldn’t be my first choice. Whisperwood Elemental and Greenwarden of Murasa are great top-end cards, but I’ve found it best to keep that to a minimum when you’re so good at spending mana – it’s often better to do two cheap things in one turn than one expensive thing.

The next major consideration when building this archetype is lands. Specifically, lands that enter the battlefield tapped have a huge cost in this kind of deck because you want to spend every possible mana every turn. I’ve preferred straight two-color builds, but I think that might be because I was playing Sandsteppe Citadel when I played three colors and it might be possible to avoid that and get mana untapped consistently through proper use of fetchlands and Battle lands.

An unrelated major constraint I’ve found on this archetype is Mantis Rider. It’s easy to be great at grinding but have trouble because Mantis Rider doesn’t care how many cards are in your hand if all you can do is make small creatures on the ground. It will just fly over and kill you. Wingmate Roc is a good creature to draw into that’s on-theme and deals with Mantis Rider pretty well, but it’s not easy to get WW and Wingmate Roc is very vulnerable to Ojutai’s Command, which often hangs out with Mantis Rider.

The easiest answer is to play removal, and this deck is great at using both Bone Splinters and Murderous Cut as better cheap removal than black usually has in this format. But neither can consistently answer Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy on time and can even run into trouble against fast Mantis Riders and whatever else you need to answer while keeping the engine in your deck intact. This shouldn’t be an impossible problem to overcome, but fliers have been the biggest problem for me.

The version of this deck I’ve worked on most recently is straight G/B, like this:

The idea here is to keep the curve as low as possible to get onto the board before the opponent can get set up so that you can just leave a mana up with Evolutionary Leap and attack with cheap creatures against decks with removal. Against decks that attack, you have lots of cheap blockers and can set up to gain life with Zulaport Cutthroat.

As for the exact card choices, there are a few options.


I went with Blisterpod and Bloodsoaked Champion to maximize synergy. Both are great with everything this deck is doing, but Warden of the First Tree is another great one-drop that this deck can play. The argument against Warden of the First Tree is that it’s another mana sink, which this deck really doesn’t need, but the argument in favor is that it’s a cheap play early when you’re just looking to get on the board, it can block well – which this deck is interested in and which Bloodsoaked Champion definitely can’t do – and it offers a different direction and powerful effect to Leap into in the late game.

I don’t think it’s clear that eight is the exact right number of one-drops. I think Blisterpod is the best, and once you have all the other pieces to make it good it’s just so efficient. I like the two power from Bloodsoaked Champion when I’m trying to attack, and I really don’t want to spend my second turn activating Warden of the First Tree. That said, Bloodsoaked Champion has diminishing returns, since if you have just one copy you can already spend all the mana you want bringing it back multiple times and sacrificing it again and again to Evolutionary Leap or Nantuko Husk, so I could definitely see playing a mix of that and Warden of the First Tree.


Hangarback Walker’s outstanding in this deck since the sacrifice effects mean that you don’t need to worry about it getting exiled and the fliers are important for blocking. Zulaport Cutthroat has been great but, like Blood Artist, it’s pretty weak against opponents who have a lot of cheap spot removal, which is fairly common in this format. I could definitely imagine trying a build without it or looking to sideboard it out.

If you’re looking for additional two-drops, on paper, Sultai Emissary looks better to me than Carrier Thrall. But in actual play scenarios, I’ve found that to very much not be the case. You want the ability to come up, which means that you want the front half of the creature to be big enough to matter. The extra power before it dies is huge. Moreover, because of Smothering Abomination, Eldrazi Scions are a lot better than they look –the manifest just isn’t that much better most of the time.


Catacomb Sifter is great, and Nantuko Husk does a lot of good things like letting you sacrifice Hangarback Walker whenever you want or letting you sacrifice your board when you have Zulaport Cutthroat. It also makes Smothering Abomination a lot better since you can just sacrifice anything that would normally die. That said, the second copy you draw adds very little, and its value goes down when you have an Evolutionary Leap on the battlefield since you can already sacrifice things whenever you need to. These make it a kind of weird creature to try to Leap into but a good creature to draw one copy of. Nissa, Vastwood Seer, and Liliana, Heretical Healer are both great creatures to Leap into. If you have a Leap on the battlefield, you can easily flip Liliana and you’ll definitely have creatures to return from your graveyard. You’ll also have a great use for the extra Forest from Nissa, Vastwood Seer, and you’ll be closer to flipping it when you find it in the late game. Both are great cards in the deck, but it’s hard to make room for everything and they were cut as a consequence of deciding I needed more removal.

Grim Haruspex is another option, but the nontoken clause makes it much worse than Smothering Abomination since I’d like to primarily sacrifice tokens with this deck. It also offers a much worse body than Smothering Abomination, and I just didn’t feel like I needed more versions of “draw a card once you have an engine going.” The fact that Wild Slash and Silkwrap answer it and not Smothering Abomination is also pretty significant.

Expensive Creatures

I’m topping out at Smothering Abomination since Whisperwood Elemental felt too clunky. It’s a great card, and the deck definitely likes the extra insurance against sweepers, but I just want to keep things leaner than that.

Gilt-Leaf Winnower and Sidisi, Undead Vizier are both reasonable alternatives, but I think they’re just too expensive. Tasigur is an option since I’m good at Delving but I think Murderous Cut is a better way to use that cost-reduction capability, especially given how little I’m able to use the mana sink from Tasigur – even if I don’t have something else to do with the mana, which is unlikely, paying five mana for a Blisterpod is just horrible.


I’m not using my graveyard at all and I’m putting a lot of things in it, so Murderous Cut is great. At the same time, sacrificing a creature is sometimes an advantage and it is almost always a very low cost, so Bone Splinters is great. I didn’t want to play enough Murderous Cuts that they’d really get in each other’s way, but at the same time, instant-speed removal is great against Atarka Red whereas sorcery-speed removal is almost pointless, so playing a lot of Murderous Cuts is certainly a bit of a concession to that matchup. Additionally, while I often have a creature I’m comfortable sacrificing to Bone Splinters, the more you have to do that the harder it gets, and drawing multiples when you don’t have a creature is catastrophic. At the moment, I feel good about the split.

Ruinous Path is a consideration because it would be nice to be able to kill planeswalkers, but mana is just so valuable in this deck that I don’t think it’s worth it. There really is no way we would ever Awaken it, and we’d prefer to spend less than three mana if that’s an option.


Game one is weak against Atarka Red-style decks that tend to be very good against blockers because of Temur Battle Rage, but after sideboarding in both Duress and Ultimate Price it becomes very hard for them to get through. Liliana, Heretical Healer is also great against them because they can’t kill it with Wild Slash, and if you have another creature they can’t attack into you without letting you flip your planeswalker.

Because the creatures don’t have a lot of power, we give control decks a lot of time. The idea is that this isn’t a problem because we’re generating so much value, but if they have Jace, Telepath Unbound with some sweepers they can sweep your board enough times to actually stop you from making any real progress. Duress is a big step forward in sideboarding, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Transgress the Mind is wanted as a supplement.

Ruinous Path is there to answer planeswalkers out of a deck like Abzan, which can block well enough that you might to be able to kill a ‘walker easily by attacking.

Plummet is there primarily for Mantis Rider, but you’re happy to have extra removal spells against any Dragon that you can target too. Nissa’s just there to help grind in slower matches after sideboarding, especially in places where you want to cut your removal spells; there, the obvious first step is -3 Bone Splinters, -3 Murderous Cut, +4 Duress, +2 Nissa, Vastwood Seer.

That’s the best I’ve been able to come up with, but I haven’t explored G/U, so something like this might be good:

I think this version is underpowered, and I’m not sure what the best way to address that is. I’m focusing on evasion and trying to be a tempo deck because the lack of removal, but the deck might just not be capable of enough damage output as-configured to play that way.