Feature Article – Elemental Combo in Standard

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Wednesday, March 26th – The current Standard metagame is awash with options. One limiting factor, however, is the prevalence of a two-mana enchantment that spews a 1/1 flyer each turn. After a brief dalliance with a Teachings deck, LSV picked up a deck from the desk of Gerry Thompson and friends. While it looks familiar, it operates on a different level… and it plays like a dream. Intrigued? Then read on!

Grand Prix: Philadelphia is done, and with that ended my Extended season. Unfortunate, as I quite enjoyed playing with Sensei’s Divining Top and friends. On the plus side, it’s pretty hard to get hit with a turn 3 Sundering Titan in Standard, a feat with which Adam Yurchick crushed me in Philly. Being that Hollywood is Standard, it seemed like a good idea to get a little familiar with the format. I hadn’t really played Standard since Worlds, although I had followed the GP coverage.

I set out to brew up a deck for Standard, and the first thing that occurred to me was a Teachings deck. I have long been a fan of flashing back Mystical Teachings, and it is usually quite a good plan. Teachings dominated Block and Standard fully enough that I expected it to be a reasonable choice in the current Standard, and was wondering why it was currently underplayed. Turns out people weren’t overlooking it, and it wasn’t underplayed. It just doesn’t cut it in Standard right now, which is unfortunate. The main reason Teachings is (currently) obsolete is the one card that’s forcing many a deck out of contention: Bitterblossom. Faeries has a nice turn 2 play that you can’t realistically beat, and if you are on the draw you don’t even have the chance to counter it. I tried a few different configurations to make the Faeries matchup favorable, but anything that beat Faeries had problems with other decks. For reference, here is the list I settled on for Teachings:

I think it’s probably a Spell Snare away from being good, but not much can be done about that. It does do pretty well against decks other than Faeries, since Teachings into Cryptic Command or eventually Grim Harvest provides inevitability against the majority of the field. You also get the excellent target of Extirpate against the Reveillark decks, which is complemented by a Tormod’s Crypt after boarding. Still, I couldn’t in good conscience recommend a deck that loses to Faeries. (Come to think of it, “loses to Faeries” actually describes just about every deck people are playing now, so maybe I could have just shipped the Teachings deck.)

My next detour was courtesy of the Innovator himself. We were chatting and he proposed that I should write about RGb Big Mana, as it has all the tools necessary to beat Faeries while maintaining a good game versus the rest of the field. Sounded good to me, but it was apparently a little too good. A few days later, when I called Chapin about a Vintage list (he told me to play Flash, I ended up winning with Tyrant Oath), he decided that RGb was actually a really good topic…for him to write about. Especially seeing that his article was going up before mine, it seemed like I was out of luck once again. For those wondering, I did some battling with RGb and it is pretty good, although Reveillark is still tough.

I still needed a deck, so I did what most of the Midwest does: Ask GerryT. Turns out he actually had a nice lil’ brew cooking, although it contained cards I avoid playing in Limited. Upon noticing that some enterprising soul in French Regionals added Flamekin Harbinger to his Reveillark deck, Gerry started the building process. What he and John Penick came up with was this masterpiece:

While the manabase looks rough, it is intentionally designed to be immune to Cryoclasm, as well as support the 4 colors needed to make the deck run. I actually played the deck quite a bit, and didn’t have as many issues with color as I expected to. The core of the Standard UW Reviellark deck is the same, but the addition of Flamekin Harbinger and Thoughtseize makes a huge difference. The Harbinger has a variety of uses:

– It completes the combo, fetching Reveillark or Mirror Entity (unfortunately, it can’t grab Body Double).
– It can allow for some useful singletons, such as Wispmare and Shriekmaw.
– It ensures a steady stream of Mulldrifters, all the while being able to chump oncoming monsters. Skipping your draw step doesn’t matter as much when you are drawing so many cards.
– And, as embarrassing as it may be, attacking with a squad of Harbingers, Mulldrifters, and Cloudskates pumped by Mirror Entity does the job more often than it really should.

The normal UW Reviellark deck can be a bit clunky, and often vulnerable to a well placed counterspell or two. Thoughtseize goes a long way in solving that particular problem, as well as just serving as cheap disruption in a deck that normally doesn’t have any. This deck has much more of a combo feel to it than the typical Reveillark deck, as you are playing more combo pieces and some light hand disruption instead of random controllish cards. Even if the deck looks a bit strange, the primary engine of the highly successful UW Reveillark deck has not been tampered with… rather, some of the less crucial parts have been swapped out for more consistency and better disruption. It may seem counterintuitive to add two more colors in search of consistency, but Prismatic Lens, River of Tears, and Primal Beyond have it covered.

The sideboard is pretty solid, as it gives you a good plan against most of the decks with which you would have problems. The only slots I might change are the Inversions. They are fetchable with Harbinger, but I really want Sower of Temptation somewhere. Cutting two of the Inversions for two Sowers might be a worthy change if there are more Reveillark and Elf decks rather than Red decks and Faeries in your metagame. It might slow you down a bit, but Aven Riftwatcher is a pretty good chumper.

Everyone likes a good matchup guide or five, so let’s get to it:

UW Reveillark:
Sideboarding: +3 Pact of Negation, +2 Sower of Temptation, -1 Shriekmaw, —1 Wispmare, —3 Aven Riftwatcher.

Again, this is really more the mirror than anything else. You traded in Rune Snags and maindeck Wraths (which aren’t that good in the mirror) for Harbingers and Thoughtseizes. Be very careful not to let your opponent piggyback their combo off of your Reveillark or Mirror Entity, as Body Double isn’t selective about which graveyard he pilfers. Rune Snag (at least the first one) is relatively easy to play around if you have the time, and Thoughtseize can offer good information as to their plan. As long as your lands don’t all get bounced, the Thoughtseizes should give you an edge as the game goes on. Here is where the Sowers are at their best if you have them.

UB Faeries:
Sideboarding: +3 Crovax, +3 Pact of Negation, +1 Wispmare, -4 Riftwing Cloudskate, —2 Flamekin Harbinger, —1 Momentary Blink

If you can contain Bitterblossom, either with Wispmare or Thoughtseize, this is a pretty fair fight. You have more card drawing and threats than they have counters, and Thoughtseize helps immensely. Mistbind Clique is your biggest worry, as it is both a Timewalk and a huge guy. Against most Faerie lists, if you resolve a Reveillark they don’t have an easy way of getting rid of it without you getting back some dudes, so just getting out a Reveillark is pretty good. After board you have the plan of Crovax + Pact, which is hard for Faeries to maneuver around. With the threat of Pact looming, they can never be sure to stop your spells, and a single Crovax is often enough.

RG or RGb Big Mana:
Sideboarding: +3 Pact of Negation, +2 Wrath of God, —3 Aven Riftwatcher, —1 Wispmare, —1 Momentary Blink

Here you are just trying to combo out without dying, as your combo usually outraces their slow threats. Extirpate and Void are both annoying post board, but Thoughtseize again helps immensely. I am not completely sure about Wrath versus Crovax, as Crovax deals with Siege-Gang even better. Tarmogoyf and Cloudthresher seem to tip the scales in favor of Wrath, but I can see the argument in favor of Crovax.

Elves (both BG and the Mono-G monstrosity that Bill Stark wrote about):
Sideboarding: +4 Wrath of God, +3 Crovax, +2 Sower or Inversion, -1 Wispmare, —4 Riftwing Cloudskate, —4 Thoughtseize

This matchup is pretty fun, especially once the Wraths come in. It’s so hard to beat past a Reveillark with random dudes, especially once there are some nice targets in the bin. Harbinger is at his best in this sort of matchup, as it both chumps a Chameleon Colossus and gets the next Mulldrifter or Reveillark. As long as Overrun or Profane Command doesn’t randomly get you, this matchup is pretty easy.

Red Burn (or RG):
Sideboarding: +1 Aven Riftwatcher, + as many Inversions as you have, +2 Pact of Negation, +2 Wrath of God, -4 Riftwing Cloudskate, —2 to 4 Thoughtseize (depending on number of Inversions)

Your ability to draw Aven Riftwatcher is this whole matchup, as just one is usually enough to win it. One Riftwatcher plus any of Body Double, Reveillark, Momentary Blink often pushes you past the point where they can burn you out. If you don’t draw one, you usually get outraced, but Mulldrifters and mulligans can help with that. Against the straight Burn deck the Wraths are better off as another Pact and leaving in a Thoughtseize. The two life is bad, but usually you grab a 3 damage spell, so it’s better than the completely dead Cloudskate.

And if Chapin (pronounced CHAP-pin, not CHAY-pin) is right and Dragonstorm is still good, Thoughtseize is infinitely better than Rune Snag.

Gerry is one of the more “conservative” deckbuilders out there, going so far as to reject the vast majority of my suggestions. To be fair, I make a lot of idiotic suggestions, but the fact that he is playing this deck should indicate some of its value. Splashing Red for Flamekin Harbinger is better than I thought it would be, and certainly makes the deck run much more smoothly. You have a much more reliable combo without having to run multiple Mirror Entities, and it reduces the chances of you stalling out midgame. Since Shadowmoor is likely to contain a fair amount of Elementals, this deck seems like it would improve a fair amount. The “tribal” decks like Faeries and Elves are sure to suffer relative to other decks, as creature types don’t matter as much in the next block. (Yes, “Elementals” is tribal, but it doesn’t rely as much on tribal synergies as Elves, Faeries, Goblins, instead just requiring that cards be of the type “elemental.”)

Until next time!


lsv on MTGO

* In his article earlier this week, Patrick Chapin said “I guess [LSV] is planning on filling the gap in his article later this week with puns involving Paul Cheon name (as he is wont to do).” As for the “endless” puns on Cheon’s name, let’s just say our proxied UG Tron deck had Repaul instead of Repeal, and the list doesn’t end there.