Flores Friday – Boros Update, Ghost Whatever Update, Zoo Update

Today’s Flores Friday sees Mike take three of the more popular decks in the current Standard environment and update them for the ever-evolving metagame. Boros, Orzhov, and the ultra-efficient Zoo all receive the Flores treatment, each with one eye on practicality and the other on the prize. If you were one of those players trying to port Raphael Levy’s Gaea’s Might Get There deck from Extended to Standard, then this is the article for you!

I imagine that a lot of players probably tried to port Gaea’s Might Get There over to Standard

following Raphael Levy momentous Grand Prix run this past Extended season; I know that I did. You

might recall that I predicted Boros Swiftblade to be a tournament Staple back in my Ravnica set review

(nice to get one right… even if it’s a year belated). Boros Swiftblade is just really exciting

because we have awesome Standard pump spells like Brute Force and Griffin Guide in R/W, Red, and White

respectively, now. Okay, okay. Don’t ask me to explain why it’s so awesome to play a +2/+2 Aura over

the +3/+3 that won a Pro Tour last year, or why Giant Growth is all of a sudden the best now that it’s

in a color famous for terrible creatures, that can actually do three without having to tag someone, but

it’s very exciting. Admit it, you’re excited.

The first Planar Chaos Boros Update looked about like this:

I played this quite a bit before Grand Prix: Kyoto, to superb results. I expected that the metagame

would shift to B/U Control, which would be good for Boros. “Budget” Boros was always awesome

against non-U/W Control decks last year, and even won a fair amount against U/W, especially in Game 1.

Today’s U/W no longer has any of the big weapons that punished Boros… Descendent of Kiyomaro; Miren,

the Moaning Well; and the tap-out Kamigawa Dragons. B/U with Damnation – from a beatdown and burn

perspective – is just U/W without any good cards. You see, Boros doesn’t lose to Counterspell… not

just Counterspell, anyway. You have to control the board; tap wrong and you get burned out.

Boros also doesn’t lose to Wrath of God… Well, okay, it does… but not just Wrath

of God. The unique advantage that decks like, say, This Girl and Firemane Control were and are able to

command over the beatdown / burn school is borne of a three-pronged proactive defense. Permission is

the least important point on that triangle (This Girl only played Mana Leak, and only in the

sideboard while Angelfire only plays Remand usually). Wrath is there for when the opponent

over-commits, whereas Lightning Helix and Firemane Angel control the board while managing life total

and (pre-emptively) “countering” burn spells. Long story short, I figured that beloved U/R/W

was a deck of the past (it certainly didn’t put up numbers at Worlds) and that the meta would shift to


As you probably know if you’ve been reading my articles in 2007, I have become a fan of both hybrid

and linear – and specifically hybrid linear – strategies. The Sliver suite in this deck is light – only

eight Slivers – but well positioned. Boros as a top-down strategy is a “fair” one – fair as

any superb burn deck – but largely non-interactive; some of last Honolulu’s versions ran Lava Spike! As

such, whatever Bear is whatever Bear in the abstract. If your goal is to slide by or burn away

potential blockers, Sinew Sliver is actually better than Soltari Priest or Knight of the Holy Nimbus.

Sometimes Sinew Sliver is 3/3 or even bigger, and offers numerous beneficial synergies. Not only does

Cautery Sliver help finish games, but Cautery Sliver and Sinew Sliver can Voltron to take out the

aforementioned Soltari Priest!

Quick Card Rundown:

Boros Swiftblade – This is the center of the deck. This card is the axle that leads to

every Brute Force and Griffin Guide.

Question: Who doesn’t run Char?
Answer: Julian Levin (see below)

Icatian Javelineers – Chapin got me onto these guys at the beginning of Time Spiral. I

think they are better than Magus of the Scroll if you are only going to play one, just because the deck

needs White mana early.

Lightning Helix – LOL. This is like the best card ever.

Savannah Lions – Staple. This is the only Hound of Konda poor Boros has left.

Brute Force – Seven ya, brah.

Cautery Sliver – Half of the Sliver package.

Griffin Guide – This card is good with everything, great with Boros Swiftblade.

Rift Bolt – Staple, more or less.

Sinew Sliver – Other half of the Sliver package.

Honorable Passage – Mirror… Less up side than Worship, but less expensive, less

gimmicky, and less likely to fall prey to the false trump. I actually like this card quite a bit

against Bogardan Hellkite, which is a solid consideration, especially in the absence of Temporal


Threaten – This is 98% for Spectral Force. U/G usually has to tap for Spectral Force, so

you can bogart it, and worst case scenario, nug for eight and double Time Walk. Usually they are either

dead or you sacrifice the guy to Greater Gargadon.

Greater Gargadon – This card has been short list for me since Pat Sullivan dissected it in

Teddy Card Game’s Time Spiral review. I really like Greater Gargadon always – and it makes for really

exciting turns – but it is particularly incredible when playing attrition fights with Flagstones of

Trokair and Griffin Guide.

Ronom Unicorn – You have to run something.

I also screwed around with versions with main deck Ronom Unicorn and Knight of the Holy Nimbus,

sideboarded land destruction transformations, and even Cloudchaser Kestrel, but the above was my main


One of the issues with this build is that it is essentially built on the 20/20/20 model… 20/19/21

actually. Have you ever played with 21 lands? It’s like cheating! I am so used to mulligans to five

with Boros and winning by the skin of my teeth (Please topdeck! Please be there! One time!).

The major design tension in the deck is between the top-down and “how might I lose?”

camps. Top-down, the deck wants pump for the Swiftblade, especially as said pump is effective with

everyone else. You don’t really have the option of playing Soltari Priest because he doesn’t

play well with Brute Force. The other issue is that the deck “only” has twenty creatures.

This is more of an issue in this version than previous Budget Boros because instead of just having good

burn cards, the deck is more contingent on playing cards that are only good with a creature in

play (and in some cases, a creature that has gotten through).

One of my favorite stories is from Pro Tour: Charleston, when Pat Sullivan and I agreed never to

fight again. We were working on the Boros, ostensibly for U.S. Nationals, and Pat wanted one less class

of burn cards whereas I wanted the burn cards over Leonin Skyhunter. “I only ever lose if I don’t

have a guy,” Pat said. “But…” I countered. “But… is that Tsuyoshi


Pat and I ran up to Tsuyoshi and asked what was better. He asked that we make our respective cases

for Leonin Skyhunter versus Volcanic Hammer. Fujita paused for a moment, narrowed his eyes, and rubbed

some imaginary beard. “Hmm…” he concluded. “Depends on the metagame.”

I decided at some point that I wanted to try to give Orzhov a chance. Now I know I bag on

Orzhov-ish decks various, but I actually did pretty well with the Bats version at Charleston… Plus,

there has to be some reason that some many donks are always playing it in every format up to and

including Extended.

This version is based on Olivier Ruel Top 8 deck from Pro Tour: Honolulu. There is a considerable

amount of discard, so the deck proved very effective against various Blue control (especially with good

Sudden Death replacing mediocre – against control – Umezawa’s Jitte). One of the main new cards that I

thought would be good was Stonecloaker. Pat Chapin talked up Stonecloaker for another format, and it

seemed even better in this deck with its synergies with Ravenous Rats and Shrieking Grotesque. Plus –

and this is no minor concern on Magic Online – you draw Stonecloaker and it is on against

Dredge. Even if they get one of their admittedly respectable engines, they usually only have access to

one card that matters short term. If you have time, you can play Stonecloaker like a buyback spell.

I believe I actually heard Sean McKeown suffer a brain aneurism watching me summon Pillory of the


I actually think both of these decks is defensible, but when I built them, it was before Kyoto, and

therefore before the now Staple establishment of Sulfur Elemental. Sulfur Elemental doesn’t completely

dominate either deck, but it is certainly annoying to lose Javelineers and Lions for no good reason,

especially on Split Second; at least I don’t have Soltari Priest in the Boros. The Orzhov probably has

too many 2/1 creatures, which means that it can be dominated potentially by 3/3 aggro, which Orzhov

with Jitte and Shining Shoal had to think about less. Another consideration is that you want

to play Sudden Death now, and that card is worse than Last Gasp (more of a compromise card last year)

facing beatdown.

An interesting solution was recently posed by Barn Julian the N’Sync Intern, a.k.a. Mother Superior

IV, Truth Teller and Lie Spewer. Remember when I said that I – like everybody else – was inspired by

Levy’s run? Here is IV’s take:

This deck has had considerable success on the MSS in the hands of Julian and his junior network,

and won at least one qualifier so far.

“So me and my friend Scrubbles decided, for some reason, to go to a JSS (MSS) in Northfield,

NJ. We didn’t really know where it was but it happened to be ten minutes from AC so since we didn’t

have a ride we bussed it to AC with a bunch of dirty gambling addicts. At 9am we go there and we’re

pretty sure we were a lock to finish 1-2 netting us both invites and 500 bucks. He plays the Zoo deck

and I play Dragonstorm because we don’t have two copies of Zoo and I volunteered the handicap.

“We don’t lose a round in the Swiss and we position ourselves in different brackets (when we

are paired in the last round). Anyway, I mull to five in both games in the quarters against Angelfire

(which should be an unloseable matchup) while Scrubbles beats U/G and is facing off against U/R ‘Tron.

Scrubbles bashes him despite several terrible misplays involving Magus of the Scroll. The opponent

leaves in a fit. We later find out he quit Magic as a result.

“The ‘Tron opponent wasn’t some terrible local. He plays (or played) DI MTGO and was

constantly in Karsten’s PE articles in Online Tech.

“Anyway, the Zoo is good against ‘Tron and Dralnu because they’re so slow and have limited

removal. Wrath of God isn’t enough.

“The reason it’s not that great versus Angelfire is the combination of Helix, Wrath of God,

and Lightning Angel… and it’s still not that bad.

“There aren’t any mid-range decks right now, so Zoo is really good.”

One thing that is cool about Julian’s deck is that instead of murdering his creatures, Sulfur

Elemental is really good in his take on Zoo-over-Boros, especially against control. It’s a great

combination with Swiftblade and Watchwolf, and, per usual, runs circles around permission.

CURRENTLY WATCHING: Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Season Four, Disk Five “Who Are You”