Grape Nuts, Flag Burner, and Turbo Balance: The World of Non-Firemane U/R/W

Put your Champs deck to the test at the StarCityGames.com $1500 Standard Open!Champs is right around the corner, and what are you going to choose? Well, just in case you’re still on the fence, Pat Chapin presents three decks, discussing the turn 6 kill of Grapeshot/Enduring Renewal, talks about the deck he’d bring to Champs because it crushes random decks, and a deck that needs a little love (and a little tuning) to work! And as an extra-special bonus at no charge… Chapin Sligh!

With States upon us, Standard with Time Spiral is the order of the day. Today, I have three Red, White, and Blue decks… and two of them are actually good! Why the third then? It is an unusual concept that someone may be bale to take to the next level.

First though, I’d like to look at Grape Nuts, a combo deck everyone has been talking about / imagining, but few are writing about (at least as of this writing).

The long line of breakfast cereal combo decks started with Fruity Pebbles, also an Enduring Renewal deck, back in Extended of 1997. While it was followed by everything from Cocoa Pebbles to Trix to Wheaties to Full English Breakfast to Cephalid Breakfast, it is the original Fruity Pebbles that Grape Nuts most resembles.

Fruity Pebbles (1.x in 1997)
4 Brainstorm
4 Impulse
4 Arcane Denial
2 Counterspell
4 Force of Will
4 Tithe
4 Enduring Renewal
4 Enlightened Tutor
4 Goblin Bombardment
4 Shield Sphere
1 Phyrexian Walker

4 Tundra
4 Volcanic Island
4 Plateau
3 Flood Plain
2 Plains
4 Island

Aside from the obvious U/R/W combination, these decks share the common theme of Enduring Renewal + “free” creature + kill card, as well as heavy library manipulation and a permission suite.

Some notable differences include:

  • The counter base is weaker in Grape Nuts.
  • Grape Nuts is all Impulses, no Demonic Tutors.
  • Grape Nuts requires four, then two, mana to go off; Pebbles needed two, then four. While Pebbles could play its Bombardment turn 2 and win turn 4, Grape Nuts must play out its Renewal first. With the perfect draw, it can win turn 4 as well, though.

All of that said, Grape Nuts is a very powerful strategy that punishes non-disruptive strategies, typically going infinite on turn 6. The combo is easy enough: Play Renewal. Play and sacrifice Cantor. Repeat and kill with Storm. Note: While Grapeshot is mostly uncounterable (except for possibly Trickbind), Wild Cantor is not (though he is immune to removal… Even Split Second can’t stop him).

Aside from goldfishing turn 6, Grape Nuts puts up token resistance with blockers, counters, and even random Grapeshots on occasion. Aggro decks tend to lose the race. Land destruction and discard are good battles. Permission, though, is Grape Nuts’ Achilles’ heel. Obviously, Teferi is your plan, but their Teferi will wreck you and they will have far better countermagic. A transformational sideboard may be advisable.

While Grape Nuts is nowhere near the monster Pebbles was (going off on turn 6 versus turn 4), they are for different formats. These days, turn 6 may be fast enough. Another point to consider is that Wild Cantor can be played for Green mana. Since Grapeshot is the only card that needs Red, and you will have access to mana of any color from Cantor when you go off, you could cut Red mana and add Green. This would hurt the random Grapeshot, but would offer access to Wall of Roots and such.

In fact, with four Gemstone Mines, there is even the option of squeezing in Red and Green, if you were so compelled. The key is figuring out a sideboard plan to beat Blue while still giving you options against Black and Red.

Even if you are not going to run a Grape Nuts-style strategy at States (and it is by no means broken) it may serve you to test some games versus the new breakfast cereal in the supermarket. It’s no Heartbeat, but it punishes the unprepared.

Up next, my personal favorite of the three: Flag Burner. Flag Burner began as a U/R/W burn deck featuring, well, all burn. Not surprisingly, this was not particularly effective versus creature decks, so Wraths made their way in.

Still, the quantum leap was the addition of Blue card drawing. That changed everything. It looks a little funny to not play permission, but really, what do you want to counter anyway?

You play control against creature decks, and you should do it very offensively. I tested versus all of my aggro decks, as well as Flores’s aggro decks, and punished them all (unless you count KarstenBot BabyKiller, which sadly has a winning percentage against Flag Burner).

Kill everything, draw extra cards, win with X-spells and Giant Solifuges.

Against control, you just point everything at their face. Playing around Spell Snare, Mana Leak, and Rune Snag is easy. Demonfire is game. And besides, what are they gonna do? Cast Teferi? That is not a hard race. In addition, they must worry about things like Solifuges, the Factory, and Blue direct damage.

Your anti-discard plan is simple: Don’t care.

Land destruction and combo are far tougher. Your race against Grape Nuts isn’t terrible, but you are almost a turn slower.

‘Vore, on the other hand, is miserable for you. You have no early action. Disintegrate for one will not cut it.

The two sketchy cards in this deck are Whispers of the Muse and Psionic Blast. Whispers is not effectively used here — but there is almost no cost, so I am fairly sure it is worth it. Think Twice is good, but all wrong for this deck.

Psionic Blast has the wonder attribute of not being Red. However, Shocking yourself can be annoying. Still, Psionic Blast is only an underachiever against aggro, and that is far and away your easiest matchup.

Ancestral Vision is a great card for this deck, as it never costs you a turn to play it. Also, you drag out games to win with Demonfire, making the wait not painful. Flores swears these should be Think Twice.

Disintegrate has made me nothing but happy. I realized I just always wanted two Demonfires, so I did the next best thing.

Giant Solifuge is unbelievable in this deck. Talk about being able to clear away any blockers!

Overall, I think Flag Burner is an excellent choice for States, as aggro and permission will be out in force. Both are great matchups, regardless of the specific colors they play. It doesn’t matter if they are Boros, Rakdos, Zoo, or Azorius – I have yet to see an aggro deck with any prayer versus Flag Burner. (KarstenBot BabyKiller is not aggro, in my opinion.)

I’m not sure what the sideboard should contain, but Cancel and Honorable Passage seem good. If you fear Grape Nuts, Trickbind is the nuts, but I don’t know how prevalent it will be.

Honorable Passage is just so good for racing another Red mage. Char? LOL. Remember, though, a Hellbent Demonfire trumps everything.

Sacred Ground is a nice option for ‘Vore and R/G land destruction, so you probably want at least three. Drifter il-Dal is janky as hell, but he might be randomly amazing against permission. Just drop him turn 1 and he’ll do twelve.

If States were tomorrow, I’d play Flag Burner for sure. Grape Nuts is worth considering, but it can too easily get screwed. While Grape Nuts is more likely to alter players’ deck building, I’d rather just win.

Flag Burner is exceptional against all aggro (even with a million “Protection from Red” creatures) and is quite good against permission and discard. Grape Nuts and other combo decks are soft matchups and ‘Vore / LD is really bad, but you have strong sideboard choices available.

Besides, Flag Burner has an excellent attribute for States: It crushes random decks.

Finally, we come to Restore Balance. This is called Cake, and it’s currently not a good deck. Remember, this build is very experimental; the basic concept is what’s important.

The basic concept is to get maximum value out of Restore Balance with Suspend cards, artifacts, enchantments, and destroying all your creatures with no hand. While Claws of Gix does Zuran Orb duty, it is Greater Gargadon that really abuses Balance, typically triggering a Wrath of God/Armageddon/Mind Twist into a 9/7 haste creature.

The biggest thing to take away from this deck is that it is not as bad as it looks. It is clunky, but it can win games. This version is not even Tier Two, but I have hope someone can do something with it.

Restore Balance (the card) is far better than it looks. If your deck is built to abuse it, it is game over if it resolves. Obviously, to take advantage of it, you need three things:

1. A way to sacrifice all creatures and lands (and play out your hand).
2. A way to survive to Suspend 6.
3. Ways to find Restore Balance (remember, transmute doesn’t work).

Of course you need to win as well, but Greater Gargadon is usually sufficient against a deck that has no lands, creatures, or cards in hand.

Claws of Gix is okay as a backup, but it is only really useful with Balance (though it randomly combos with Flagstones).

Balance will certainly not be a force at States for most, but it is a rogue strategy that is fun and deceptively “not terrible.”

Maybe a creative deck build can offer it a future.

Two important lessons I learned from it were:

1. Restore Balance (the card) is surprisingly, really good, despite Suspend 6.
2. Remand owns suspend cards. Boo.

Anyway, since there are so many obviously playable aggro decks, I predict a field of tons of bad aggro decks (and a few good ones). In addition, Blue is disgustingly good (for a change) and aside from being a strong beatdown color, it is the land destruction color, the combo color, and the permission color. Of these, permission will be the most popular, though most will be untuned.

As a result, I wholeheartedly suggest Flag Burner, as it is perfect for that field and crushes randoms. Keep in mind, the field will actually be very diverse, including Sligh, Boros, Rakdos, Gruul, Azorius, U/G, Zoo, and B/W beatdown. Also, Mono-Blue control and U/W control will be there, as will Vore, Grape Nuts, Smallpox, Glare, and random combos… And this is only the beginning.

Still, as varied as the field will be, aggro and then permission should be the most popular macro archetypes.

Before I go, here is a bonus deck list:

In addition, I’d like to mention that I’m currently of the opinion that Demonfire and Teferi are the defining kill cards that must be considered when building your deck.

Forgetting something? Nope.
Are you sure? No, nothing.
Think very carefully. Fine! Fire Whip was your idea… But Orcish Librarian is ALL ME.

Good luck at States!

Patrick Chapin
“The Innovator”

P.S. May I please test Extended now? I promise I won’t play Shred Memory in all of my decks.

P.P.S. Trickbind your Tendrils.