Heroes & Chimeras From Beginning To End

Valeriy has some creative and flavorful Theros Standard brews for you today to help you have fun at Friday Night Magic this week!

There are just a few days before Theros is legal in Standard. The luckiest of you will be able to test your deck at StarCityGames.com Standard Open in Worcester, but I’m sure that heroes and monsters will show their power around the whole world. The level zero metagame is mostly about Mono-Red Aggro and beating it (and probably about how to make mana bases work), and I’m excited to anticipate the format’s development over the next few weeks. I’m going to present some brews today; these brews are more flavorful than powerful, but I’ll keep that environment in mind. The first days of new Standard are a festival of creativity, but the Internet puts creativity between Scylla and Charybdis almost immediately, so this article is probably the last chance to brew without restriction.

The first list for today is an answer to readers’ demands to see Fabled Hero in the heroic decks I posted last week. At that time I underestimated Fabled Hero a bit and concentrated on mass-pumping heroic effects instead; today I still think that Fabled Hero is very good on its own, but if we want to maximize its power, we need another deck.

The idea is to maximize the power of double strike and spells with two targets. Fencing Ace is a fine smaller substitute for Fabled Hero, ensuring our game plan is robust. The two-mana slot lacks the powerful Precinct Captain since I wanted the deck to concentrate more on its primary plan, even if it’s at the cost of being a little bit fragile. In reality, it’s a mimic of a Hexproof deck using heroic instead; Infect could also be an appropriate comparison, as we use pump spells and double strike to close out games quickly.

The plan is to pump our powerful beaters and make successful blocking troublesome with Madcap Skills and Imposing Sovereign. Our best draws provide as much as fourteen damage by turn 3 (Favored Hoplite, Fencing Ace, Coordinated Assault + Martial Glory), and there are opportunities to play around Anger of the Gods (that’s why Favored Hoplite is here over some other options). Additionally, Fabled Hero seems powerful enough to ensure a strong enough late game after a sweeper.

The sideboard includes obvious answers to a removal-heavy strategy—Burning Earth and Boros Charm—though the third Brave the Elements may be better than the third Boros Charm. There’s no way to save a lone creature from Devour Flesh or Away, but Brave the Elements is better against Far, Azorius Charm, and other removal used by blue decks. Also note that our deck contains Madcap Skills and pump spells, so you should use Brave the Elements neatly if opponent targets one of your creatures with Lightning Strike. I thought about Gods Willing, but Brave the Elements is much better against Anger of the Gods and creature-based decks like Mono-Red Aggro.

The rest of the sideboard contains Act of Treason against powerful green creatures, Wear / /Tear for random non-God enchantments (Whip of Erebos, Spear of Heliod, and Hammer of Purphoros are among the potential targets), and three copies of Precinct Captain for matchups where our primary plan is poor. Precinct Captain may end being a better maindeck option, but I want the deck to be as concentrated as possible -.

A quick note: in my previous article, I mentioned that Martial Glory targeting the same creature twice will cause two heroic triggers. Heroic doesn’t work this way. Whenever you cast a spell, there’s a check if it targets your heroic creatures, but there is no difference how many times you target each one. I’m sorry for the mistake.

The second brew is devoted to the idea of synergy between Phalanx Leader and tokens. Standard doesn’t include efficient cards like Lingering Souls or Gather the Townsfolk anymore, and the two best cheap token generators are Precinct Captain and Young Pyromancer. Fortunately, Young Pyromancer wants us to do the same thing as Phalanx Leader—cast spells—even if their requirements are different.

There are no Auras here, as I wanted to maintain the requirements of both Young Pyromancer and heroic creatures. I thought about Madcap Skills to help Precinct Captain swing through blockers, but I decided that Lighting Strike is better at dealing with blockers. Another important point is that there are just eleven targeting spells (which is very low amount); I expect Flames of Firebrand to target our own creatures relatively often. Anax and Cymede have first strike to minimize the effect of one damage being dealt to them, while both Phalanx Leader and Favored Hoplite are still clearly improved when dealt damage by your own spell.

This deck lacks a very efficient heroic token generator. Akroan Crusader is powerful, but there is no way you can put it in the same deck with Phalanx Leader and Precinct Captain since the mana base simply disallows it. A red-based Boros deck with Akroan Crusader and Young Pyromancer could consider playing Legion’s Initiative, but this version has to wait until Born of the Gods is released and hope that some good red heroic creatures will be printed to support existing ones.

You may have also noted two good heroic creatures in black—Tormented Hero and Agent of the Fates—but while they’re both good and could see Standard play, I failed in building a good B/R Heroes deck. Black even offers Rakdos Cackler to reduce the burden on the mana base, but the lack of mass-pumping effects makes building this deck less than ideal.

May another guild be successful in ancient times where Rakdos’ power failed? Sure, just throw Voice of Resurgence and Fleecemane Lion together with Unflinching Courage and beat red decks every time you’re not destroyed by your equal opportunity mana base of nine Plains, nine Forests, and four Temple Gardens. W/G decks will be good, but they’re a topic for another article, probably after the first tournaments since W/G is slower than Mono-Red. You have to be careful when tuning a deck like W/G that requires information about the metagame; you can’t just put three playsets of one-mana creatures, three playsets of two-mana creatures, and some other cards together. Therefore, I’m going to set Selesnya aside and try to build something to elevate my favored guild, Izzet.

I saw some good-looking U/R Control lists, but it seems that Sphinx’s Revelation is still better than Steam Augury—or they just should be played together in a U/W/R shell. My ideas are about Izzet-specific cards that didn’t see much play in previous Standard.

Yes, it’s a Nivmagus Elemental deck. It lost a lot of potential tools (Snapcaster Mage and Thought Scour among them), but the environment may have lost more, so let’s give the poor Elemental a second chance. The idea is to pump it once to a 3/4 and be able to deal the last point of damage if needed—spells you eat with Nivmagus Elemental still pump Blistercoil Weird, generate tokens with Young Pyromancer, and deal damage with Guttersnipe.

Guttersnipe isn’t as reliable as Forge[/author]“]Purphoros, God of the [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author], but it’s easier to trigger and cheaper, which is important for an eighteen-land deck. I’m unsure if four Guttersnipes is correct (we don’t need to draw too many creatures early), but it’s a fine place to start.

The deck is essentially mono-red, splashing for a few important cards. Goblin Electromancer is here to help unload our hand and deal as much damage as possible as quickly as we can. Mizzium Skin and Thoughtseize are to save us from removal. The goal was to keep the deck U/R, but losing Nivmagus Elemental after so much card disadvantage is so harsh that protection spells are necessary. Mizzium Skin and Gods Willing are fine, but Thoughtseize is the most flexible answer to anything opponents could offer. This deck is fragile and is probably impossible to make stable enough for long tournaments, but if you want to have fun at FNM or in a Magic Online Daily Event, it could be good enough.

The sideboard contains a very important card against Mono-Red Aggro: Frostburn Weird. This card is just amazing and may easily be maindeckable in blue-heavy decks or Big Red. This deck contains too few lands to pump Weird reliably, but it’s still a good sideboard solution.

The deck contains just two new cards: Thoughtseize and Magma Jet (Lightning Strike is technically new, but we’ve had access to Searing Spear before). Theros offers a powerful card for the late game, but I didn’t include it because it doesn’t combo well with Nivmagus Elemental. There is, however, another version that’s less explosive but much more stable.

This deck gains its flavor points not only by playing two Greek-style monsters in the Chimera and Cyclops; it also contains a Theros card that’s very welcome to the Izzet guild. Steam Augury cast off Steam Vents is so cute, especially if you do it for three mana.

Spellheart Chimera is a Runechanter’s Pike with a body attached. Pike was a significant role player in various blue decks during the last two years, so we can expect the Chimera to be at least fine. Steam Augury helps improve the Chimera by both drawing cards and putting them into your graveyard, so this combination may see play even in a more traditional U/R/x deck (though I expect them to play no more than two copies of Chimera).

Nivix Cyclops is a very interesting option for the upcoming format. It’s almost as good on defense as Frostburn Weird but is much better on offense. Immunity to Anger of the Gods (opposing and our own) also helps. Cyclops doesn’t have any sort of evasion, but a ton of red removal spells help overcome this problem.

Nivix Cyclops and Young Pyromancer make this deck very aggressive, but there’s a chance that playing control is better idea for U/R. Check out GerryT’s latest Premium article for a list with twelve counterspells and Spellheart Chimera as the only creature aside from the lone Aetherling. Such a control shell may be much better against midrange decks once they manage to deal with Mono-Red Aggro, but my list is better against Mono-Red Aggro, so it should be fine right now.

The last small note about Izzet before getting to the end of this article is that Quicken is probably good enough to make the cut of both Izzet lists, especially if you’re going to reduce the creature count.

The last brew for today is by reader demand. Maze’s End got very few new options, but it looks like the format has become a little bit weaker, so the deck may become good enough to see play. Sadly, the deck also had a huge loss in Snapcaster Mage. This loss makes Turbo Fog Maze’s End worse than a board-control version; you need to deal with opposing threats permanently rather than risk losing to drawing lands.

New cards of choice are Magma Jet; Thassa, God of the Sea; and Hero’s Downfall. The last one may as well be Dreadbore, while the scry on the other two is very important for a deck with such a fragile mana base. Magma Jet is much worse against Voice of Resurgence than Pillar of Flame was, but it’s still super effective against early aggression and is even better with the low Gate mana base I’m proposing.

This list contains 61 cards simply because I could not resist putting a Minotaur in the Maze. Whenever you, Theseus, want to use this maze, feel free to kill the monster before.

There are just fourteen Gates here, and I believe it’s a better decision than having two copies of each one. There is no Acidic Slime in the format, Encroaching Wastes doesn’t see play, Thoughtseize can’t hit lands, and the only threat to our win condition is Ember Swallower. Yes, the opponent’s speed is a much more real threat than a 4/5 red monster, but shock lands and basics allow a much better early game and give you more time to draw everything needed in the late game. Realistically, you should have three or four Gates when you start winning the game with either Maze’s End or Crackling Perimeter. Six or seven turns is a lot, but scry, card draw, and Gatecreeper Vine could shorten it.

Note that Frostburn Weird is in the sideboard. I’ve already said enough about quality of this card, but I want to note that it could be Soldier of the Pantheon in other configurations of the deck. Soldier is not only a great Savannah Lions but is also a very efficient blocker. This particular list contains very few white-producing lands since it’s mostly RUG, but Soldier could be exactly what you want for a Bant or U/W/R version.

That’s all for today. I hope these lists help you have fun during the first week of Return to Ravnica/Theros Standard. See you next week for discussion of the StarCityGames.com Standard Open in Worcester.

Valeriy Shunkov

P.S. I understand that speaking about Selesnya and then refusing to post a decklist is unfair, so here’s one, though it’s nothing special. I want to play Unflinching Courage maindeck and draw your attention to Fade Into Antiquity in the sideboard. It’s not as funny as turning a God into a Boar, but it still works.