Ideas Unbound – Gauntlet for States!

Thursday, September 30th – I had no idea that States was so soon after the Scars release! Every day brings more and more brewing, and ideas are flying fast and furious. Today, I want to look at a bunch of potential decks for States.

I had no idea that States was so soon after the Scars release! This is exciting; every day brings more and more brewing, and ideas are flying fast and furious. Today, I want to look at a bunch of potential decks for States.

Right now, Koth of the Hammer is getting a lot of press because of the power of his ultimate. Now, Flame Fusillade every turn is definitely no joke, but even though Koth’s emblem gives you inevitability, you’ve got to have a ton of Mountains in your deck to really abuse it… and in the meantime, you’re not exactly casting very many spells. The obvious solution to this problem is to place Koth at the top of the curve of an aggressive red deck:

Ember Hauler made the team over Kiln Fiend for his ability to fight Fauna Shamans, other Dragonlords, and in general anything that isn’t just a goldfish. With Goblin Guide as the only one-drop, it’s pretty important to have one-mana removal spells for cards like Birds of Paradise and Lotus Cobra, so that you can stay on curve for your turn 2 creature; thus, Zektar Shrine Expedition fell by the wayside in favor of Burst Lightning.

Unfortunately, there aren’t really any sweet red three-drops right now. The metagame is in so much flux that I don’t see much point in listing a sideboard, but I’d imagine that you’d want access to Mark of Mutiny (or some other clever answer to Wurmcoil Engine).

With Koth in your deck, the Devastating Summons/Goblin Bushwhacker package isn’t as attractive. Drawing only one half of the “combo” is also pretty unexciting, so I’m not too unhappy to see it go.

In this deck, Koth is essentially a four-mana 4/4 haste creature that doesn’t die to Day of Judgment and threatens to go ultimate for the last few points when your opponent has clogged the board up with Baneslayer Angel or Wurmcoil Engine.

In that role, Koth is definitely solid, and he’s certainly doing good work, but can we use Koth for anything better?

In my mind, Koth’s -2 ability is his most powerful. Thran Dynamo would be above the curve right now, and Koth can potentially give you access to ten mana on turn 5. This makes me want to put together a mono-red deck using Koth to ramp into Chandra Nalaar, Inferno Titan, and Destructive Force… but while that deck has a lot going on at the top of the curve, there’s not much holding it up underneath. You won’t always have Everflowing Chalice in your opening hand, and if you tried to play something like Iron Myr, you’d just be turning on all of your opponent’s removal.

On the other hand, Koth’s -2 ability is still pretty powerful when activated for two or three rather than four or five. Getting to six or seven mana first in Standard is a pretty good thing… but being first to eight or ten doesn’t get you quite as far. Eight mana won’t let you cast two big spells in one turn, and if you’re playing something like Inferno Titan or Destructive Force, it’s probably not imperative that you also cast something like Lightning Bolt on that same turn.

Conveniently, once we decide that we don’t need to be mono-Mountains, a plan involving Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle becomes quite attractive. What about a Koth Ramp deck?

Everflowing Chalice in the Valakut deck is a little bit awkward, but this deck wants to be playing the six-drops on turn 4 quite badly (to say nothing of playing Koth on turn 3…), and the rotation of Rampant Growth doesn’t exactly leave a whole lot of options.

The Pyroclasms are a nod to the fact that this deck basically doesn’t do anything to the board in the first four turns, and are a nice turn 3 play after a Harrow. Eleven Mountains ensures that Koth will have reasonable fuel for both his -2 and his ultimate, as well as providing plenty of ammo for Valakut. Wurmcoil Engine gets the nod over different Titans because of his resiliency to removal and his ability to quickly regain all of that life we lost while we were busy ramping.

There’s also a Comet Storm, because mise.

The lack of Copperline Gorge is because you want to maximize your Mountain count by running Terramorphic Expanse, but because of Expanse, you’re basically at the limit for tapped lands when you’re trying to cast a Titan.

Another option for a Koth Ramp deck would be a plan revolving around Destructive Force, but all of the Destructive Force lists I put together were essentially incapable of defeating Jace, the Mind Sculptor without a Valakut plan. Destructive Force would rather play with Inferno Titan than Primeval Titan because you can cast Destructive Force and battle with your Titan to kill theirs, which is a bit better than trying to use Tectonic Edge to knock the other guy (who still has a Titan) off his mana. However, if you need Valakut to beat Jace, you’d rather be using Primeval Titan to find and fuel Valakut, which makes your Destructive Force pretty weak.


Building white control decks in a format with Elspeth Tirel, Gideon Jura, and Baneslayer Angel is pretty difficult. There are only so many five-drops that you can really play, and all of them are associated with different plans. Baneslayer Angel beats almost every aggro deck, but the aggro decks have figured that out and started packing answers to the Angel. Like Baneslayer, Gideon is also a house against creature decks, but Gideon is particularly powerful when you have additional planeswalkers in play.

Elspeth, meanwhile, poses a massive threat by herself. Normally, I wouldn’t be on board with playing four copies of a five-mana non-Jace planeswalker, but the double Elspeth draw is pretty absurd: You play Elspeth and -2. They do something; you untap, -2 Elspeth again, play your second Elspeth, and +2. Now you’re threatening ultimate with a bunch of blockers ready, and your opponent is in very bad shape.

However, Elspeth doesn’t really play that well with others. You’d like to use Gideon to protect Elspeth, but Elspeth is all too willing to blow Gideon up along with everything else. But that might be okay, really; even if you’re down a Gideon after an Elspeth activation, your opponent is down his entire board, and you still have Elspeth and can reset again in a few turns if necessary.

I don’t think that playing a true control deck is really want you want to be doing in Standard right now. There are very few ways to establish true long-term control over the game, and there are so many cards that pose a huge danger to controlling strategies. Beating recurring Vengevines is pretty difficult, and you also have to be ready to face inevitability from Koth and Valakut.

I think the tap-out approach is better. You can be reasonably confident that if you tap out for Elspeth Tirel, your opponent will be unable to pose a bigger threat. Gideon and Jace are almost as good. And with Volition Reins, you can be certain that your opponent won’t be able to trump your planeswalker. You can also get some virtual card advantage from an all-planeswalkers strategy:

Day of Judgment loses a lot of value when you have Condemn and Wall of Omens because it starts to become tricky to get multiple cards out of your Wrath. However, Wall of Omens is basically too good not to play, and you want Condemn to be able to fight Vengevine. It’s true that this approach to deckbuilding is soft to something like a Fauna Shaman, but you’ll definitely have Day in the sideboard.

The Mana Leaks act as catchalls in the early turns, much as Remand used to; they buy time and keep the board mostly stable until you can start slinging planeswalkers. Stoic Rebuttal and Negate are a concession to the fact that killing with Elspeth, Jace, or Gideon will take a while, and you might need a hard counter for a Titan going long.


Now, we get into the ports from Zendikar Block Constructed that abuse Lotus Cobra. Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa deck from Pro Tour San Juan reminds me a lot of the Turbo Land decks from last summer. Paulo’s deck has tons of land, tons of card drawing and manipulation, and tons of velocity. The rotation of Rampant Growth and Time Warp make playing Turbo Land virtually impossible, but the Lotus Cobra/Oracle of Mul Daya/Jace, the Mind Sculptor engine remains intact:

Whenever I played Turbo Land and cast either Oracle or Jace on turn 3, I felt like it was pretty difficult to lose. The loss of Rampant Growth is unfortunate, but Growth was the worst ramp effect anyway; going down from ten to eight isn’t the end of the world.

The choice of spells here reflects a more aggressive format; the Lightning Bolts and Mana Leaks serve to power you through the early turns when you can’t ramp up to your four-mana bombs. Comet Storm supplements the Lightning Bolts to act as removal for Titans, planeswalkers, and opponents, and makes going to the head a very real possibility in the late game.

Avenger of Zendikar trumps virtually every creature in the format, and Deprive protects you in games where you’ve ramped into Avenger and are just battling. It’s possible that the Mana Leaks are too awkward in the games where you have Cobra or Explore, but in the games where you don’t have either, Leak is the next best thing you can be doing on turn 2. Most importantly, it also allows you to battle Jace when you’re on the draw.

The biggest reason I’m attracted to this deck is because of how powerful your sideboard can be. You get access to Goblin Ruinblaster and Spell Pierce against control decks, and you get more red removal spells against the aggressive decks. You can even go back to Roil Elemental if there’s a green aggressive deck that doesn’t have Doom Blade or Lightning Bolt. All Is Dust is another option. You can really sculpt this deck to beat whatever sort of deck you want after sideboarding.

Personally, I’m most excited about the Lotus Cobra/Jace decks, but there are so many potentially powerful decks that I’m eager to see what the coming weeks bring. What about abusing Fauna Shaman along with Squadron Hawks and Vengevine? Or all of the Quest for the Holy Relic decks that Patrick Chapin been talking about for the last few days?

What has you most excited for States? Let me know in the forums!

Max McCall
max dot mccall at gmail dot com