In The Battledriver’s Seat

Valeriy Shunkov has some more interesting ideas for you, this time concerning Ogre Battledriver in Standard. Check them out before #SCGINVI this weekend!

Hello! M14 has just entered Standard, but this article is not about the results of SCG Standard Open: Richmond. There are two reasons for that. The first is that you’ll read many articles about them very soon and I don’t want to share my topic with every Magic columnist. The second is that my deadline is set precisely before the start of round 1. Honestly, the first reason is more important, as I have an interesting idea regarding a card that is universally considered a sleeper but is still homeless.

Ogre Battledriver comes to Standard at an unfortunate moment. The competition for the four-mana slot in red aggressive decks is very fierce. The Battledriver has few upsides compared to Hellrider; Falkenrath Aristocrat; and Exava, Rakdos Blood Witch. Its stats aren’t impressive by themselves, but it could be devastating in a synergy-based deck. There are some good examples (like The Aristocrats) in current Standard, so it might work.

Ogre Battledriver compares with Hellrider in an interesting way. Both are at their best with a developed board, but Hellrider requires it to be developed before it is played, whereas Battledriver is best played before the development of the board. An advantage of Battledriver over Hellrider is the ability to give haste to a single huge monster like Worldspine Wurm (okay, I actually meant Kalonian Hydra), but our hero is probably best with tokens (where Hellrider is also good), so let’s investigate. Hellrider is great at surpassing blockers because it allows dealing damage regardless, but Ogre Battledriver has no such an advantage, which means that other creatures should likely have some sort of evasion.

Yes, it’s finally time for the first mention of Lingering Souls here. Assuming you make your fifth land drop, you can attack for fifteen on turn 5. That’s not very impressive, but it could easily be enough if you didn’t waste time in vain during the first three turns. There’s also a way to give trample to your creatures (Legion Loyalist), but that’s probably a sideboard option since tokens are rarely larger than opposing creatures.

There’s a little Human theme in the deck to notch up its speed to the format, which is why Imposing Sovereign is here instead of, for example, Krenko’s Command. However, it’s not a Human deck, so there’s no question about Xathrid Necromancer. The newcomer is synergic with neither Ogre Battledriver nor Brave the Elements, while Boros Reckoner can deal damage even if blocked. The deck is aggressive, similar to The Aristocrats, but achieves the same goal with the help of different methods. Xathrid Necromancer may look like a good anti-sweeper option, but there are at least two better options: Sin Collector and "creatures you control gain indestructible until end of turn."

By the way, the oracle text of Boros Charm and Rootborn Defenses differs from their printed text now. The difference is small but still important. For example, if you have Forge[/author]“]Darksteel [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author] and your opponent has Humility, Day of Judgment would do nothing with your Arcbound Worker before M14 and will kill it now. Standard-relevant examples include Turn // Burn into Falkenrath Aristocrat.

Sideboard options ensure that you have game against removal-heavy decks (Brave the Elements unfortunately can’t save Ogre Battledriver but is better than Faith’s Shield if you don’t have one), against control, and, thanks to Tear and Paraselene, against the fearsome Hexproof decks. Rest in Peace is a bit strange since it hurts our best card, but it cuts Aristocrats into pieces and is also good against Junk Reanimator. However, if the latter becomes popular again, it could be better to play Beckon Apparition (as successful Junk Reanimator builds will surely include a ton of Abrupt Decay).

I’m happy with the main interactions, including necessary backup for Ogre Battledriver granted by Sorin, Lord of Innistrad. However, there is a place for tuning. I’m not particularly happy with Imposing Sovereign and want to try other options in its place; the Human subtheme could be suboptimal, as could Increasing Devotion.

The top of our mana curve could be filled with Geist-Honored Monk or Scion of Vitu-Ghazi (the former is probably better as it could be larger and more devastating with Brave the Elements and in the absence of Battledriver). There could also be room for Blood Baron of Vizkopa, but we only have 23 lands and each big creature drives the deck closer to The Aristocrats, which isn’t my intention. Reboarding into a nontoken deck may be justified against Ratchet Bomb, but even in that case Boros Charm seems better.

This isn’t the only way to make use of Ogre Battledriver. M14 contains another creature that takes advantage of tokens or, more precisely, makes unfair amounts of tokens with wise use. I don’t share in the overall excitement about the card, but Young Pyromancer is certainly good and won’t fail for the same reason that prevented Talrand, Sky Summoner from seeing more play—Young Pyromancer only costs two mana. Additionally, the card is red, which gets me thinking about combinations with Battledriver. The best token makers are sorceries and instants, which narrows our task down to finding the proper balance. Here’s my take:

Here we see the combination of Ogre Battledriver and Sorin, Lord of Innistrad again, but the Human subtheme is exchanged for Young Pyromancer. A side note: Pyromancer is a Human by itself, so you can try fitting in both, but I believe the deck won’t have enough room to trigger it. I still don’t have enough data to justify or dismiss maindeck Boros Reckoner, so I decided to build a spiky maindeck concentrated on a primary plan and hope that Rally the Peasants and Midnight Haunting are tricky enough to help pre-board in matchups where you need to defend yourself. Both cards are almost fine as is and are good with Young Pyromancer and Ogre Battledriver.

The possible problem of this and the previous build is our weakness to Olivia Voldaren. That’s why I put Dreadbore in the maindeck—we should have answers to troublesome permanents—but I’m not sure if additional removal is needed in the sideboard and if we need Pillar of Flame. Voice of Resurgence is everywhere, but tokens isn’t the sort of deck that’s really concerned with it. However, Pillar produces a creature with Young Pyromancer, so it may be good enough.

The sideboards are similar for both lists since they realize the same idea, but I have some other ideas. One of them is powered by a card that was widely mentioned in discussions about Ogre Battledriver: Thatcher Revolt. I tried to put it in both lists above, but the card underperformed. I then tried a deck with Battledriver and Xathrid Necromancer, as three hasty 3/1s turning into 2/2s is attractive.

That attempt also failed and led me to the conclusion that a deck exploiting Thatcher Revolt should be as fast and aggressive as possible. A more aggressive version of Ogre Battledriver is, of course, Hellrider. We obviously can’t exchange one for the other, but what if use them simultaneously? That leaves no room for Sorin, Lord of Innistrad, but the positive side of skipping him is the ability to play two colors and use Burning Earth against sweeper-heavy opponents. Lingering Souls will also be missed, but we can probably endure it.

That’s the most aggressive version I can imagine. It has some problems like Gather the Townsfolk (which isn’t perfect here and could be Legion Loyalist) and doubtful synergy between tokens and Legion’s Initiative. Most creatures in the list are red, so Initiative at least works, but you could easily fall into a situation when you don’t want to save your nontoken creatures from removal with the enchantment’s ability.

The maindeck here contains Pillar of Flame because this deck is more vulnerable to Voice of Resurgence but could use some more direct damage to the opponent. The sideboard includes similar cards as the previous ones, save for Beckon Apparition as a more aggressive graveyard hate option and Burning Earth in exchange for Sin Collector.

I’m not sure if any of these decks is good enough for current Standard and don’t know what Ogre Battledriver’s fate will be after rotation, but its synergy with Lingering Souls and other token makers of Innistrad is attractive enough to try it right now. There are probably other versions of this idea, like a U/R deck using Goblin Electromancer and Guttersnipe to support Young Pyromancer (though I don’t know if U/R Tokens could be better that U/R Burn with Nivix Cyclops) or some sort of Naya Tokens deck (Advent of the Wurm, Voice of the Resurgence, and Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice!). And don’t forget that you can simply give haste and +2/0 to Kalonian Hydra.

You have the privilege of knowing the results of SCG Standard Open: Richmond (while I submit these words with some time before the first round and plan to watch the coverage), but even if nothing similar is at the top, remember that the first tournament is just a sketch of innovation and a starting point for metagame evaluation. Standard is full of opportunities as usual, so don’t waste them!

Valeriy Shunkov