And as one, the Magic-playing world sighed in relief as Siege Rhino disappeared from the SCG Tour® Top 8. The sigh turned into a bit of a moan when we realized Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy is still pretty decent, but hey, we’ll take that sigh.
My schedule has changed so that you’ll see my articles on Thursday now, and this particular Thursday catches us at an interesting moment in Standard. We’ve seen the best minds in Magic test, play, and conquer with new decks, while old archetypes have proven too inconsistent or misaligned to this nascent metagame to be effective. However, we’re also four days into the week. Many of you have already participated in Standard events since the SCG Tour® landed on #SCGBALT, and so tweaks and brand-new decks have changed the way you see the format from even just a few days ago. It’s hard to keep up at this point in the metagame, but that just means there are lots of gaps for our brews to fill!
So far, Shadows over Innistrad has provided tons of fodder for fun creations that provide lots of flavor and customization. Some decks this past weekend tried them out, with varying levels of success. When I look at a new Standard, though, I’m looking for an all-new deck, one that could never have existed in the previous format either because the cards simply didn’t exist or the metagame simply didn’t allow for it. One card embodies this, and while its best showing this weekend can be found in 22nd place, this card leaped into my heart the moment I saw it.
- 1 Nissa, Vastwood Seer
- 2 Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
- 1 Goblin Dark-Dwellers
- 4 Sylvan Advocate
- 2 Mina and Denn, Wildborn
- 2 Tireless Tracker
- 2 The Gitrog Monster
Frogs have a ha-ribbit of showing up with wild abilities, stats, and flavor. Take Omnibian, or Rapid Hybridization, or even Haze Frog! When these little amphibians jump into the game, you can’t help but smile. The Gitrog Monster takes this tradition and turns it down a serious path.
A 6/6 for five mana is no joke, even without the superfluous deathtouch; this Frog can take a licking. It provides the two-lands-a-turn clause that appears on other favorites like Oracle of Mul Daya, and the ability to draw whenever a land goes to the graveyard for any reason, including to keep itself alive, is steady advantage. Any deck that loves lands and splashing with 6/6s is bound to love this deck, but this Frog’s more than just a pretty face. It’s the start of a new deck.
These abilities scream to be broken, and that’s our goal.
First, we need to figure out a way to get to Gitting as fast as we can. Once we’ve got it out, we can draw all the removal, creatures, and spells we want to stay ahead of our opponent.
- 2 Den Protector
- 2 Nissa, Vastwood Seer
- 4 Catacomb Sifter
- 4 Deathcap Cultivator
- 2 Tireless Tracker
- 4 The Gitrog Monster
Unlike the builds at last weekend’s event, this deck was created with complete hindsight into new Standard. Regardless of the metagame, though, this deck took a few tries thanks to the sheer volume of new options available to every color. While there is a temptation to focus on new cards, lots of old cards get a second wind, and finding the right combination of old, new, expensive, and cheap spells is the joy of every brewer.
Front and center, I’ve got a set of The Gitrog Monster. The Monster is equally a value threat as well as a battlefield threat, drawing cards and threatening lethal damage in four attacks. With this in mind and given the relatively low threat density, I’ve opted to play four copies. While the deathtouch isn’t very good on most 6/6 bodies, this does line up well with the likes of World Breaker, pushing right through.
Deathcap Cultivator helps us get where we’re going. Deathtouch on a 2/1 is way better, making him a one-for-one blocker at any time after delirium is activated. The deck features all card types except artifact, so there’s a good chance we can get to it. Catacomb Sifter is at home in a deck like this. It provides one-time ramp at an efficient rate, and it passes the Reflector Mage test; it’s a three-drop that leaves something behind even if it gets bounced with an end-step Collected Company. The “dies” trigger is also not bad, and because the deck features lots of opportunities to draw extra cards, the scry is more immediately relevant.
Three pairs wrap up the creature base. Tireless Tracker had proven itself not only in the SCG Tour®‘s last event but also in my own testing with another deck, one you’ll likely see next week. The card provides incredible value, and with this deck’s propensity to play extra lands every turn, the Tracker should provide a stack of Clues tall enough to make Sherlock Holmes sweat.
Nissa, Vastwood Seer follows the same principle. As a general rule, she’s going to be a late-game play, but she can help complete the mana puzzle while I prep to cast either of my five-drop finishers. There is enough graveyard interaction for Den Protector to be solid, and if the game goes long, the Protector is going to be one of your best draws. We’ll have plenty of land over the course of the game, so casting and flipping the Protector won’t impede your ability to cast the recovered spell. In addition, the Protector is much harder to block than it used to be with cards like Anafenza, the Foremost and Siege Rhino gone.
So let me tell you about Traverse the Ulvenwald.
When this was spoiled, some folks saw it as an alternative to Oath of Nissa for their ramp decks with few applications elsewhere. I preordered a set hoping they were wrong. They were.
While Traverse is going to be a Lay of the Land perhaps 75% of the time, the other quarter is going to be filled with much rejoicing. One-mana tutors have lots of potential for combo, and this level of efficiency gives you a lot of control over your deck. At the worst, it’s replacing itself, both card-wise and mana-wise. At the best, it’s putting the best card in your deck in your hand for a single mana. Delirium is easier than you think; get yours now!
While this is clearly the best spell in the deck for the consistency and power it provides, the other spells are important, too, mostly because they destroy your opponent’s power and consistency for a great rate. Ultimate Price and Grasp of Darkness are two sides of the same coin, but I like the split to deal with a variety of threats. Dead Weight, though, is something else. For those of you who remember either Dead Weight the first time around in original Innistrad or Disfigure from Zendikar a couple of years earlier, one-mana removal against aggro decks was a game-changer.
We get that again with this reprint, and it’s an enchantment to boot, helping our delirium count. Sinister Concoction is also an enchantment, and it has the potential to turn delirium on all by itself, especially if you off one of your own creatures. Once it’s on the battlefield, you have access to a removal spell with the efficiency of a fully-delved Murderous Cut that can’t be countered, no less, and that’s no slouch. Nissa’s Pilgrimage helps close the gap from three to five mana for The Gitrog Monster, but it also provides cards in hand to make sure that, once the Monster hits the battlefield, I can play the extra Forests I put in my hand.
A playset of Ob Nixilis Reignited? A playset? This is probably a product of me playing midrange decks, never drawing one of my few threats, and getting a bit salty about it, but Ob Nixilis Reignited provides a clear path to self-sufficient victory, something lots of other planeswalkers in the format don’t provide. Moreover, because it’s a planeswalker card, it helps delirium. A weak argument, perhaps, but still.
The Gitrog Monster cares when lands go to the graveyard. That’s why we see four Evolving Wilds instead of four Foul Orchard. This also helps Tireless Tracker, which will trigger twice. Hissing Quagmires also have a tendency to block and die, so there’s more cards you can draw! From there, it’s fairly straightforward on the basic land count. Drownyard Temple seems very at home in a two-color The Gitrog Monster deck, and it has other cool interactions, such as flipping Nissa at instant speed if the land is in the graveyard.
I wouldn’t have felt confident in a sideboard I made last week, but with the metagame shaping up, there’s a bit more hope.
Languish is perhaps the most potent choice with the clearest objective: end Mono-White Humans. One hit off this can kill everything they’ve got, even through an Always Watching or Thalia’s Lieutenant boost, and Archangel Avacyn herself isn’t immune to this sweeper. It can sweep away Thopters and Thopter producers, too, which is much more relevant than I thought it’d be. Virulent Plague and Minister of Pain help on that, too, as well as taking care of Scion decks (if they turn out to be a thing) and tokens churned out by planeswalkers like Chandra, Flamecaller; Arlinn Kord; and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar.
Display of Dominance is a card I’ve been keeping an eye on since it was spoiled, watching for juicy targets for its noncreature permanent mode. Currently, it hits such gems as Sphinx’s Tutelage; Liliana, Defiant Necromancer; Ob Nixilis Reignited; Demonic Pact; Sorin, Grim Nemsis; and both Jaces. The list will only grow in Eldritch Moon.
Natural State breaks the format’s critical enchantments, including Always Watching, the aforementioned Sphinx’s Tutelage, any of the Oath Cycle, Hangarback Walker or its progeny, or Stasis Snare. One mana is really, really cheap! Speaking of one mana, Jaddi Offshoot stops some early action while leveraging landfall to some much-needed lifegain, and Pick the Brain seems like a potential anti-control card, giving them a must-counter if they have their win condition in hand, whether or not delirium is active. Transgress the Mind is more efficient, but sometimes you just want to pluck Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy.
The singleton bullet is one of my favorites: Watcher in the Web. It survives Languish, is tutorable with Traverse the Ulvenwald, and loves chewing up gobs of tokens. Being able to block a large (but not infinite) number of creatures is surprisingly helpful against low-removal decks. I present enough battlefield power through The Gitrog Monster and others that attacking into a Fog is very dangerous. This can block any Angel and some Dragons without a problem. It’s certainly worth a try!
I tested this deck against three opponents. The first one played R/B Vampires with lots of burn to back up its one- and two-drops. In game 1, he made some strong headway and then a mistake, discarding a land instead of an extraneous card, leaving me at three life with lethal on the battlefield and him with an Exquisite Firecraft in hand. The removal felt like it was there for me, but even without it, I can just overpower him before long.
In the second round, against the Kellen Pastore Mono-White Humans list, I took Game 1 handily with on-time removal and Ob Nixilis Reignited dispatching each new threat. In Game 2, he got a better start and I was a little slower, but I stabilized against a Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and took over the game from there.
In Round 3, I played against Naya Planeswalkers, which featured Thopter producers and Nissa, Voice of Zendikar. The Thopters proved a problem quickly as I had to expend an uncomfortable amount of resources dispatching Pia and Kiran Nalaar until I eventually crumbled to a 2/2 Thopter with an Arlinn Kord activation and me at four life. He got stuck on three lands in Game 2 but managed to resolve a mess of Thopters. He did his combat math incorrectly and I crashed back for exactsies, activating a Hissing Quagmire at upkeep to preserve mana sacrificed by The Gitrog Monster. Game 3 was the most one-sided, with him compiling a mess of Thopters while I flooded on five-drops.
One thing that shocked me about this deck was its ability to, well, shock me. There were tons of interactions I had no idea could occur until I played the deck out, mostly involving The Gitrog Monster. It had a good handle on typical creature decks despite the relatively small amount of dedicated removal, and there were lots of times where my play could have been even tighter to make the match closer. Overall, the deck performed very, very well and simply needs some tweaks.
Dead Weight really pulled, well, its weight. It was easy to find something to do with one mana every turn, whether it’s Traverse the Ulvenwald or a removal spell, and even if it doesn’t outright kill a creature, it’s only going to be a true blank against the slowest control. In general, actually, the removal seemed timely and well-positioned. The Gitrog Monster and Nissa, Vastwood Seer were the deck’s best players, providing lots of advantage and consistency, so they’re just fine as-is.
Tireless Tracker was a bit underwhelming, being a bit slower than I expected for this type of deck. I had plenty of ways to draw cards, and I’m just not sure that the Tracker is best without more support. Sinister Concoction was a really fun card, but it was actually too hard to use effectively in this deck. I felt the sting of the single life and discard more than I expected, so I think I’ll have to slide this to another deck for best results.
After some adjustments, I’d probably start this.
This barely picks the first wart off The Gitrog Monster. The potential for combo is just below its slimy skin. I’m sure you’ve had fun brewing with this Frog, too. What have you turned up?