Flow of Ideas – The New Face of Fauna Shaman: Darkvine

Monday, October 4th – Last week, I offered up three new decks. However, if the 2010’s were tomorrow, this is the deck I’d play. Not quite the usual cards you’d expect to see paired together with Lotus Cobra and Fauna Shaman, now, are they?

The moment for undiscovered Standard innovation is coming to a close. By the end of this week, the decks people have been working on and slaving over for weeks will have risen up and crawled all over the

leaving their imprint behind. You have five short days to prepare for the battle that will craft the future direction of this Standard format.

Are you ready?

For some of you, the answer is an enthusiastic

. Your deck is scratched down on paper and has been revised again and again; cards have been bought or traded for; games have been played. To those of you in this position, I applaud you.

However, this Standard format has been a particularly tough nut to crack. There are so many new tools to use and so much has changed with the loss of Alara block that the format is more wide open than almost any event like this in the past. Where do we go from here?

Last week, I offered up a glimpse of three new entries into the Standard format. However, I saved one more deck for today. If the 2010’s were tomorrow, this is the deck I’d play:

Not quite the usual cards you’d expect to see paired together with Lotus Cobra and Fauna Shaman, now, are they?

Before I explain the card choices, let me back up to the deck’s creation.

Choosing the Deck

While it’s absolutely crucial that your deck be prepared to fight against anything and everything, there’s no good way to prepare for that besides just learning how to play your deck better. Fortunately, despite the open nature of this format, there are some decks carried over from last season that will show up in numbers.

The four main decks I expect this weekend are U/W Control, Primeval Titan Ramp decks, Fauna Shaman/Vengevine decks, and Mono-Red. Some decks, like the G/R/U Comet Storm deck that did well in Zendikar block, might show up as well, but on the whole, I’d expect far less of that deck than of the others.

One by one I began to make decks and play them against the known quantities. This deck has outperformed all of my gauntlet decks by far, and, of the decks I showed you last week, only Elves has shown comparable records.

However, what pushes me toward this deck over Elves is that in a wide open field, aggro-control decks are often the best decks you can play. If you build and play them properly, you can beat both the aggressive decks and the control decks. Furthermore, at a tournament like the 2010’s, a lot of people are going to be playing unoptimized decklists. A deck like Darkvine that has the ability to command both the early game and late game is poised to do exceptionally well.

Why Black?

Darkvine may utilize the same engine as Bant versions, but the deck is actually far different. Many people are still playing the Bant version as their Vengevine deck of choice, and I think that’s going about it all wrong. You have similar mana and draw smoothing engines, but the difference comes in your Plan B.

The white adds very little to their Vengevine deck; it doesn’t actually help when things are going wrong. As with many decks around rotation, the white is just a holdover from the days of Sovereigns of Lost Alara.

Yes, you do get four more manlands if you play white, which is perhaps the biggest draw, but a G/U/B mana base has its assets, too. Creeping Tar Pit is still excellent at killing planeswalkers or closing the game, and the fact that almost all of your lands enter the battlefield untapped in a deck about tempo is a luxury I’d almost forgotten.

The Mana Base

The mana base for this deck is extremely straightforward. Verdant Catacombs and Misty Rainforest do a great deal of work here, and the Creeping Tar Pits are excellent. I had more Drowned Catacombs, but getting stuck with too many early was an issue. Eventually I whittled it further and further down, and now I feel one is the right number. Your mana is smooth enough that you don’t really need it, but one extra dual source is good to have.

For those wondering, Drowned Catacomb is better than Darkslick Shores because when you rip lands later on, you really need them to enter the battlefield untapped as often as possible, so you can maximize what you can do that turn. On the other hand, in the earlier turns, you can often play around having a land enter the battlefield tapped.

What’s perhaps more interesting is what isn’t there. Neither Tectonic Edge nor Mystifying Maze proved good enough that they were worth messing up my mana for. While you don’t have a ton of specialty lands, your mana is smooth almost every game.

The Creatures

Moving to the creatures, Lotus Cobra, Birds of Paradise, Fauna Shaman, and Vengevine don’t really require any explanation. I’m sure you’ve been on the sending or receiving end of those enough times that I don’t need to stress how powerful five mana on turn 3 or an endless stream of 4/3s with haste is. Much more interesting is what else is going on in the creature base.

First up, we have Trinket Mage. This is a card that I started with just one of to search for, but the Mage gradually proved his worth. Finding Memnite to bring back Vengevines would be worth the inclusion of a single copy on its own. However, it just so turns out that Brittle Effigy is really good in this format. The second Brittle Effigy was one of the last cuts from this deck.

It wasn’t in there because three Trinket Mages with only three targets is a problem (it isn’t), but because of how good the card is. Exiling your opponent’s Vengevine, Baneslayer Angel, Sun Titan, and so on helps you to deal with hard-to-beat threats. Ultimately, I found the second one not quite relevant often enough to warrant a spot, but it’s definitely something I’d consider adding back in if I found room in the maindeck.

The other target is Chimeric Mass. The Mass is not only good if you naturally draw it early and power it out with six or seven counters, but later on if you topdeck a Mage, it helps you have a real threat. If you’re worried about a Day of Judgment, it’s a great card to go find. The usefulness of the card is well worth its single slot.

Next up is Skinrender. I don’t know how he hasn’t received more press… he’s just Flametongue Kavu! I understand that this isn’t 2001 anymore, but a card like this still has a lot of underlying power in the right decks.

I know some have harped on Skinrender because his ability is mandatory. That’s understandable. However, in a deck where you can tutor him up at will

discard him for another creature in your deck, it doesn’t start to look like such an issue.

On top of all that, for this tournament, I expect there to be a fair number of rogue creature-based strategies, which Skinrender is superb against. It’s a card I found myself wanting to draw naturally often enough and tutor for a second time often enough to make sure I had a second copy.

Furthermore, it’s a complete ace in any kind of pseudo-mirror, as it lets you take down their Cobra or Shaman and still retain a valuable 3/3. When he’s good, he’s ridiculously good. Sure, he gets boarded out sometimes, but even against U/W, he can shrink a Sun Titan or Baneslayer down to reasonable size.

Now let’s look over at the singleton package. The Memnite is a nice target to Trinket Mage for; though you can Fauna Shaman for him if you’re in some mana constrained situation, and you need to re-buy Vengevine.

However, the singletons I want to explain are Vampire Hexmage, Frost Titan, and Molten-Tail Masticore.

If you have a Fauna Shaman going, you wouldn’t think you’d want to spend a turn tutoring up an answer to planeswalkers that often. At least, that’s what I originally thought. However, I found myself time and time again facing down a Jace, Elspeth, Gideon, or otherwise and needing to off it immediately. The fact that it’s a 2/1 first striker for two isn’t the worst; though you’re seldom going to cast him turn 2 anyway. Being able to kill a planeswalker whenever you have an active Shaman might seem like a bit of a luxury, but it has come up often enough that I want game 1 access to it.

Next up is Molten-Tail Masticore. Wow. This card
ends games.

He’s very hard to deal with, and the fact that you don’t want to draw him in multiples lends himself well to a Fauna Shaman strategy.

He’s perfectly fine if you pluck one in your draw step, and he’s also a great tutor target against pretty much any deck. Even control has issues dealing with him due to his regenerative capability. You don’t even need to risk him being Condemned; you can just sit on him and dome them for four over and over.

For a while, I had the Gigantomancer plus Necrotic Ooze combo in the slot of the Masticore and a Trinket Mage. It may sound cute, but it’s pretty easy to pull off and essentially wins you any creature stalemate. However, I cut them for Masticore after I realized Masticore just does the same thing in a one-card package. He fights off Vengevines again and again, holds his ground, and closes the game.

There are a few corner situations Masticore is not so good in, though, and that’s why there’s the one Frost Titan. For example, if your opponent casts a Primeval Titan or Baneslayer Angel, the Masticore isn’t going to help you in time. Frost Titan serves a similar role while dealing with the other half of the problems. You want two finishers, but instead of one or the other, the one/one split lets either finish the game for you if you draw it naturally, or lets Fauna Shaman find you the one that’s better in your situation.

The Spells

As far as spells go, Jace is pretty much a given, and you want all four as a source of card advantage. The Doom Blades, on the other hand, I can talk about.

Some people might run Mana Leak here. However, this format is really low on spot removal. Everyone knows that and is going to be building their decks with that in mind. Against the people who are tapping out for big threats or trying to assemble some combo, killing whatever they play without having to leave mana up every turn is really nice.

No, it can’t counter Day of Judgment or a planeswalker, and they still get to tutor with Primeval Titan, but think of what it can do that Mana Leak can’t. Besides being active in the long game and allowing you to tap out, Doom Blade is way better on the draw against opposing Lotus Cobras and Fauna Shamans as well as being good against manlands, among other strengths.


is back on Twitter, so it’s only fitting.

With all that said, most of your opponents will still try to play around Mana Leak despite it not being in your deck. Act accordingly.

The Sideboard

Moving onto the sideboard, I think a lot of the cards in it are fairly self-explanatory. Duress helps take away some of U/W’s major answers to your cards like Day of Judgment, planeswalkers, and Journey to Nowhere. The matchup is generally in your favor, but constraining them on those cards is crucial.

Obstinate Baloth is for Mono-Red and Boros.

Acidic Slime is good against the “Affinity” decks that have been cropping up, either killing a crucial artifact or dealing with Tempered Steel. It also helps a lot against the Eldrazi Ramp decks, as setting them back even a single land can often change the whole game. Skinrender is absurd against creatures as previously stated, and I want to go up to the full four against those decks after sideboarding.

The three singletons all have purposes. The Tajuru Preserver is also for Eldrazi decks, as their main sweeper is All Is Dust and turning that off buys you the one or two turns you might need to win the game. The Nihil Spellbomb is for any graveyard-based decks you may come up against, and is also good against other Vengevine decks.

The most interesting card might be the one Royal Assassin. Originally, he was a Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon. What I’d do against the mirror was search up Skithiryx, then chump block on the ground for a few turns to survive and kill them in the air.

However, I found you generally just want to press your advantage and overcome their strategy. With Skinrenders and Doom Blades, you can generally even the board state, and then searching up Royal Assassin just seals the game up. They have no good way to deal with it, save for Jace, and it’s incredibly hard to overcome.

Sideboarding Guide

Here’s how I’m sideboarding in the matchups I expect to face this weekend:


-2 Skinrender, -1 Doom Blade
+3 Duress

You’re favored in this matchup. Their main route to victory often revolves around dealing with your board early via Day of Judgment and Condemn, then sealing the game with a big creature. You have seven outs to a big creature maindeck, plus Jaces of your own, so if you stop the first part, it’s difficult for the rest to follow. Try to not get your Vengevines Condemned if you can, and activate manlands instead of walking into obvious Mana Leaks.

U/G/x Vengevine

-1 Frost Titan, -1 Vampire Hexmage, -1 Chimeric Mass, -1 Trinket Mage
+2 Skinrender, +1 Royal Assassin, +1 Nihil Spellbomb

Game 1 is fairly close, but you’re advantaged. After boarding, the matchup really moves in your favor between all of your removal, a Royal Assassin end game, and the ability to shut off their Vengevines with a Spellbomb.

Primeval Titan Valakut Ramp

-2 Skinrender, -1 Vampire Hexmage
+3 Acidic Slime

This matchup hinges entirely on two things.

First off, you need to have the Doom Blade or Effigy for their first Primeval Titan. If you do, then you can open the window to push through the final few points of damage.

Second of all, Avenger of Zendikar is very hard for this deck to beat. You can sideboard EldraziMonument or something if you want to make sure you can get past an Avenger, but in general I just try to race them.  

Duress hasn’t been great against this deck in my experience, but if they’re spell heavy, it could be worth bringing them in.

Primeval Titan Eldrazi Ramp

-2 Skinrender, -1 Chimeric Mass, -1 Vampire Hexmage
+3 Acidic Slime, +1 Tajuru Preserver

Same kind of deal as Valakut Ramp, except you bring in Preserver for their All Is Dust.


-3 Jace, the Mind Sculptor, -1 Trinket Mage, -1 Frost Titan, -1 Molten-Tail Masticore, -1 Chimeric Mass
+4 Obstinate Baloth, +2 Skinrender, +1 Tajuru Preserver

You just have to attrition them. They’re going to be burning your creatures, so just use your creatures to block most of the time. Tajuru Preserver comes in just because he blocks X/2s. You can keep the Masticore in over the last Jace if you want, but I never found myself in a position where I could tutor for him, and often you wouldn’t want to tutor for him anyway.


And there you have it. If you don’t have a good deck for the 2010’s yet, I highly recommend this one. You have all of the tools to deal with the major archetypes you’re going to have to play against, and it utilizes many of the strongest engines in Standard. If you have any questions, I’d be more than happy to field them either via email or on the forums.

Next time…

But wait! We’re not quite done yet.

For those who didn’t read my article last week, I’m going to be doing a topical blend column sometime in the next few weeks. It’ll likely either be next week or the week after.

For those who aren’t familiar with what a topical blend column is, it means that you, the reader, will vote on two lists of topics: one Magic-related topic, and one non Magic-related topic. Then, I’ll take the ones which receive the most votes, figure out where they intersect, and do a column where
the two topics intersect. The idea originated with Mark Rosewater, and you can read the two that he wrote


. (Worth noting is that the second one was made to look like a thread on an internet forum, but I’d imagine somewhere during Wizards’ site redesign, the layout got messed up.)

What this means is that I need you guys to vote on these polls. Don’t be shy! Just vote for whatever you want to hear about most. (Or whatever you think would be most embarrassing. Whatever criteria you use, really.)

Originally I was going to do a small twist, but I decided to save that for another topical blend. I want to get the hang of doing one before I try changing up the formula. Running before you can walk, and all that. After switching things around a little and narrowing it down to the best topics, I ended up at twelve for each category. Here are the topics to vote on:

With all that said, I look forward to seeing what ends up winning! I’ll be back next week with the results. Until then, I hope everyone has a fun time at the 2010’s! I’ll be at the Seattle 2010’s this weekend, and I’m looking forward to them.

Feel free to give me any feedback you have in the forums or via e-mail at gavintriesagain at gmail dot com. You can also catch me on Twitter as

See you next week!
Gavin Verhey
Rabon on Magic Online, GavinVerhey on Twitter, Lesurgo everywhere else