Feature Article – Exploring Standard

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Wednesday, November 18th – Standard is proving to be an open format, and creative deckbuilders can gain a significant edge on their opponents with some wise rogue choices. Today, Nick Eisel shares a couple of interesting rogue strategies that offer a lot of bang for your buck…

I’ve been in a tinkering mood lately, and I’m really enjoying the depth of the current Standard format.

There are lots of Tier 2 decks in this format that can easily get pushed into Tier 1 with some playtesting and good hard thought about how to attack the metagame. Today, I want to share some of my more successful builds that I’ve been trying the last couple of weeks.

This is the best version of a number of attempts at a Knight of New Alara & Ancient Ziggurat deck. The main focus here of course is the trio of Duress, Sculler, and Meddling Mage. With eight ways to see their hand, you can ensure that the game is headed in your favor as you can lock out their bigger spells with Mage. I tried basically every 3-4 color iteration of this archetype and found this (or one of my Naya lists) to be the best of the bunch. This deck has a sick curve of creatures and the mana isn’t as bad as it looks on paper thanks to Ziggurat.

Tower Gargoyle has also over-performed for me in this deck, going large at 7/7 on turn 5 and then sometimes coming back from a late-game Sharuum. Of course if I had to settle for getting back a Sculler and making sure they were dead on board, I suppose that’d be a fine option as well.

After tons of testing with four- and five-color creatures I decided to move onto something potentially more potent.

A bunch of decks have been posted using Summoning Trap to put out Iona or Sphinx of the Steel Wind. The problem with these decks is that you need mana acceleration to get to six mana, and then the combo takes another 12 slots in your deck. You don’t get to play many cards outside of acceleration and combo pieces, and this makes the deck weak overall in a fast Standard metagame.

I decided to test out the sleeker combo package of Polymorph and Tokens to get Iona into play. It didn’t take long for me to get hooked, and here’s what one of my current test versions looks like.

The idea here is to Polymorph into Iona when the opponent taps out (or isn’t showing any instant speed removal mana). The tokens and Planeswalkers in the deck all function well together synergistically, as well as offering a more standard route to victory. Elspeth is great in this deck, helping tokens to get in for real amounts of damage in the air as well as making Iona an exact two-turn clock.

Since nobody is really expecting this deck, they aren’t afraid to tap out, and so it is often relatively easy to combo in game 1. If you manage to do so, this version tries to ensure a clean combo for game 2 since the opponent will likely have as much instant speed disruption as possible. Casting Silence first shuts down all that nonsense. The main issue I have with this plan is that then I’m boarding in Silence against Boros because they have Path/Bolt/Burst, and Silence is a blank on any turn you’re not comboing against Boros. The other huge issue I had with this build was that Goblin Assault sucked hardcore every game, and I wanted to be rid of it. The deck was also a tad on the slow side, so some acceleration would definitely help with all of the four-drops.

Thinking about all of this put things into perspective for me, and I realized that while the combo is awesome against most of the field, it flat out sucks against Boros. There is no fixing it with Vines of Vastwood or Silence. I just need to have a good sideboard plan against Boros and also tune the maindeck with it in mind whenever possible.

I ended up coming up with this…

This is my newest version which tries to incorporate some ideas from the initial skeleton and make the deck smoother. The mana acceleration gets me straight to four so I can start casting all of my business spells. Garruk and Conqueror’s Pledge are also a built-in free alternate win combo.

Don’t forget that Pathing a token ,especially after chump blocking, is a great way to accelerate, and since Dragon Fodder conveniently provides two tokens there’s one to Path and one to Polymorph should the need for such a line of play arise.

The rest of the deck should be pretty self-explanatory, since most of the cards just make guys or search for mana. The sideboard may look totally random, but allow me to explain.

Against Jund, I kept getting in the situation where I was just hardcasting Iona or Sphinx and winning that way, since we would have an attrition war. I decided that I just wanted to play huge men that they couldn’t really deal with. They will be bringing in Jund Charms to go with their Lightning Bolts, which makes Polymorph not the best option in the world in games 2 and 3.

For game 2 against Jund, I would bring in all 15 cards and take out Polymorphs, Elspeths, Dragon Fodders, and Conqueror’s Pledge. After doing this, we become a mana ramp deck with big guys, Day of Judgment, and Hindering Light. Jund has a hard time beating this combination, and all of the cards that get boarded out are bad in the matchup post-board assuming they saw tokens game 1 (likely) and are bringing in Jund Charms.

Against Boros, sideboarding looks like this:

Out: 4 Polymorph, 2 Iona, 2 Dragon Fodder
In : 3 Rhox War Monk, 3 Baneslayer Angel, Eldrazi Monument, Day of Judgment

Again, the goal here is to hopefully make them worry about the combo if they saw it in game 1, and the creatures coming in help gain back lost life, and also combine nicely with the rest of the deck to become a midrange “guys and Planeswalkers” deck that works very well against Boros.

As far as other matchups, I will gladly answer sideboarding questions in the forums, so ask away. The nice thing about having a sideboard like this is that you will certainly have something for every matchup, while also being able to over-board against the two key players in the format.

A few other concerns that may need to be addressed in the sideboard are as follows…

• A lack of Maelstrom Pulse or Oblivion Ring, depending on how frisky I felt or if I wanted to put a Swamp in the maindeck.
• A really rough time against Mono-Red with Ball Lightnings and Elemental Appeal. Basically bring in the Monks, Baneslayers, Sphinx, and pray to draw lots of Path to Exile.
• No graveyard answers for something like a Crypt of Agadeem deck.
• Are there any important matchups where I want both Rhox War Monk and Polymorph in my deck after board? If so, maybe I should just run 4 Baneslayer and some more cheap removal instead of Monks. This could either be good or bad for the Red matchup, since I gain one more first striker, which is important, but I also lose two “sponges,” as Monk acts as a sponge against the Ball Lightning decks.
• Am I able to consistently cast Hindering Light? Should be fine, but the Green version is new and I want to be sure.
• Off topic, but, is Harrow needed maindeck?

As always, input on any of these is welcomed.

The goal overall with the Polymorph deck is to have good game against Jund and Boros, and automatically blank a huge portion of the format simply by being able to get Iona into play very quickly. The deck also attacks from the token front, which is difficult to fight while also leaving up mana to prevent Iona from hopping into play. Give both of the builds a try, even though I’m preferring the Green-based version by a good deal so far. Also, feel free to post suggestions or changes that would help the deck, and I’ll be glad to discuss.

Nick Eisel
[email protected]

Bonus Decklist: Ascension Combo

4 Worldly Counsel
4 Silence
1 Plains
1 Scalding Tarn
4 Ponder
4 Divination
2 Misty Rainforest
1 Banefire
5 Island
3 Forest
4 Time Warp
4 Fog
4 Harrow
3 Jungle Shrine
3 Seaside Citadel
2 Mountain
4 Naya Charm
1 Plains
2 Arid Mesa
4 Pyromancer Ascension

4 Pyroclasm
4 Sphinx of Jwar Isle
4 Rhox War Monk
3 ???

I figured someone out there might want my most recent list of Pyromancer Ascension combo. I put the deck on the backburner a couple of weeks ago due to inconsistency, but it’s definitely very close to being a top contender, and it could break out if Worldwake offers some powerful new Instants or Sorceries.