Insider Information – Standard Allies

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Friday, April 2nd – Cedric’s favourite deck – White Weenie – has recently been taking quite a pounding from another linear Aggro strategy: Allies. At first, Ced believed this was mere fluke… How could a deck running Hada Freeblade be good. On further inspection, Ced now realises that it’s a fine deck, and he shares his thoughts on its place in the format today.

Last time I checked in, I was on a White Weenie binge, which I’m sure comes as a shock to everyone. Going 8-2 at the StarCityGames.com Indianapolis Standard Open further solidified my opinion of my latest Jund-hating creation, and things were going quite well in the world. Over the past two weeks, I was beating Jund around 65% of the time and was beating U/W Tap Out and Boss Naya just enough to warrant heavy play of the deck.

However, there was an afternoon in one of my six-hour sessions in which I lost to Hada Freeblade three matches in a row. I was able to shake off the first two losses, but the third one really got to me.

Allies? Really?

Allies is a not a good deck, nor should it be. Wizards didn’t print enough good Allies, and the ones they did print were quite underwhelming. Well, that’s what I thought anyway.

And then I got paired against it again.

And then I got destroyed… again.

Granted, the White Weenie deck I was playing was designed to beat Jund and almost nothing else, but losing to Allies is like losing to TurboFog. It always leaves a bad taste in your mouth, because it isn’t a “real” deck.

It’s for people who can’t afford Raging Ravine or Baneslayer Angel.

It’s for people who don’t want to play Jund.

It’s a deck for that guy at your local FNM who doesn’t know any better. We all know the guy. He probably has some lame name too, like Caleb or Tanner!

Or Carson.

Or Roland.

Or Conrad (Kolos).

Or Forrest.

Or Preston.

This list could go on forever!

These are all the names of that moron playing Allies at your local tournament.

Well, you can add Cedric to that list too.

It probably took more losses to Oran-Rief Survivalist and friends than it should have for me to take notice that maybe Allies was an actual deck. I mean, look at this thing on paper. It looks laughably bad!:

4 Hada Freeblade
4 Akoum Battlesinger
4 Talus Paladin
4 Ancient Ziggurat

But then again, so did this:

4 Goldmeadow Stalwart
4 Wizened Cenn
4 Cloudgoat Ranger
4 Windbrisk Heights

We are in a metagame full of decks that I hate. At this point, I was willing to give anything a shot. First, I built up the list that won a Standard Premiere Event on MTGO:

I played this version a decent amount, and there were some things that I simply loathed about the deck list:

1) Violent Outburst is very bad

In Allies, Violent Outburst reads the following:

Violent Outburst
Reveal the top card of your deck until you reveal an ally with converted mana cost of two or less. Assuming your ally resolves and Violent Outburst resolves, all of your other allies get +2/+1

Now, this looks like a really great card on the surface, but don’t let her good looks fool you. Violent Outburst is a very awkward card to cast during gameplay. There are situations where you can wreck your opponent in combat, but those are few and far between, and you will be even more upset when you cascade into Akoum Battlesinger and cannot attack with it.

The positive of Violent Outburst is that is does have a nice interaction with the best card in your deck, Kabira Evangel. Because you are guaranteed to hit an ally with Violent Outburst, you can protect your Kabira Evangel from a removal spell. It’s a cute interaction, but an interaction nonetheless.

The biggest negative about Violent Outburst is that it doesn’t allow you to play the best mana-producing land in the Allies deck: Ancient Ziggurat. It should come as no surprise that Ancient Ziggurat is great in a creature-based deck, but if you choose to play Ancient Ziggurat, you cannot play very many spells. If I am going to play a spell in combination with Ancient Ziggurat, it had better be extremely high impact (think Naya Charm or Bituminous Blast) or very easy on the mana (think Path to Exile or Lightning Bolt), and Violent Outburst is neither of those things.

2) Ondu Cleric in the maindeck

Sure, there is only one maindeck in this decklist, but what is the point of having any at all? You might draw it in the right matchup, but will it be relevant? I felt this slot would be much better as a land or a different spell.

3) Only playing three Talus Paladin

Talus Paladin was a card I originally had on the chopping block from the deck without having played any games. In theory, it didn’t seem explosive enough, and I felt a card like Join the Ranks would have a much more powerful effect on the game. It turns out I was dead wrong. Talus Paladin is extremely important in the Boss Naya matchup, makes the matchup against Mono-Red laughable, and even has moments of relevance against Jund. His 3/4 body isn’t all that intimidating, but turning it into a 4/5 lets Talus Paladin dodge Bituminous Blast and forces three Siege-Gang Commander activations. I feel like playing four of these is a must.

4) Why is Path to Exile in the sideboard?

This is something that has never made any sense to me. Path to Exile is a huge liability in this metagame, as fixing and accelerating both Jund and Boss Naya is a very bad idea. Journey to Nowhere and Oblivion Ring accomplish the same thing as Path to Exile without the significant drawback. One could make a case for needing an efficient answer to Baneslayer Angel, but I have beaten a turn 3 Baneslayer Angel numerous times when playing Allies, so that argument doesn’t hold any weight with me.

5) Where is Harabaz Druid?

The-Little-Mana-Druid-That-Could should definitely occupy four slots in an Allies decklist. There are times where it can be a bit underwhelmng (cascading with Bloodbraid Elf), but if you play it on turn 2 and it goes unanswered, it is very difficult to lose. Also, if your opponent is dealing with Harabaz Druid, that’s one less removal spell being used on your other allies. It is a win-win-win card.

After playing a lot of matches with Allies, I realized that it is actually a pretty good deck but it needed some reworking. Who am I to criticize one decklist without providing another, right?

Alright, let’s get to explaining! The maindeck should not provide too many surprises. As I said earlier, if I was going to play a spell, it was going to have to be a high impact one, and Naya Charm is exactly what we are looking for. The tap-all-creatures effect is normally game-ender, the Regrowth effect allows even more card advantage with Bloodbraid Elf and Ranger of Eos, and dealing three damage is about as good as you think it would be. Yes, it can get a little awkward with Ancient Ziggurat, but the good outweighs the bad here.

Raging Ravine may look a little strange here,due to Ancient Ziggurat, but I feel that it is strictly better than a Rootbound Crag in this decklist. Rootbound Crag is going to enter the battlefield tapped a lot of the time (two Forests and one Mountain), with the upside of it being that it doesn’t enter the battlefield tapped on some occasions.

In a word… Whocares?!

Raging Ravine is always going to enter the battlefield tapped, with the upside of becoming a very angry attacker that your opponent has to deal with.

One of these cards is better than the other!

As far as the sideboard goes, we have a few cards here that definitely warrant an explanation.

1) Four Ondu Cleric

Ondu Cleric is best served against Mono-Red, White Weenie, and the Allies mirror (which does exist!). Some people have had Kor Firewalker in this slot, but I feel that Ondu Cleric gains a lot more life per game if you play correctly, and if you gain an extra five to seven life, I find it extremely difficult to lose to a Red deck.

2) Three Manabarbs

U/W Tap Out is a deck that is beginning to pick up a little steam, and I have found this to be the best answer. Once again awkward with a deck containing Ancient Ziggurat, Manabarbs is a high impact card that changes the way your opponent plays the game. An early rush of allies backed by a Manabarbs is extremely difficult for a U/W deck to beat. Yes, they have artifact mana, but that is why we are packing our next card.

3) Three Tuktuk Scrapper

The card I have easily been the most impressed with, Tuktuk Scrapper gets brought in for a few different matches. Clearly, we are going to board this artefact-killing machine against the U/W Tap Out decks that have both Everflowing Chalice and Fieldmist Borderpost, but the place where Tuktuk Scrapper is at its best is against Boss Naya. Sideboarded games against Boss Naya are about being able to beat the Cunning Sparkmage + Basilisk Collar combo. Tuktuk Scrapper makes that easy, and damages them in the process. Being able to one-up the equipment that Stoneforger Mystic can tutor up while damaging your opponent and pumping the rest of your allies in one card is exactly the kind of sideboard card that every deck wishes it could play. But you will only find that kind of value if you choose to come aboard the allies bandwagon!

Don’t worry. There is still room left!

4) Two Turntimber Ranger

This is a card that is certainly on the chopping block. Turntimber Ranger is my attempt to win a long game against Jund and control decks as a small card advantage engine. It is a little expensive for my tastes, but it is simply an experiment I am trying. Dauntless Escort is probably a better card.

5) One Goblin Bushwhacker

An infamous Ranger of Eos target, Goblin Bushwhacker is a great way to punish people for casting Day of Judgment or Chain Reaction. Casting Ranger of Eos and selecting Hada Freeblade and Goblin Bushwhacker is a great post-mass-removal play, and that doesn’t even count for the other cards in your hand.

6) One Raging Ravine

When we sideboard into all of these four-mana spells like Manabarbs, Ranger of Eos, Bloodbraid Elf, and Talus Paladin, having another land to cast these spells is a big help. Raging Ravine seems to be the best one to play at this moment.

I cannot stress enough that this is a real deck. Like many of you, I was quick to dismiss this as a pile of garbage, but once I finally played some games with the deck, I really liked how it went about winning. This deck even has a nut draw that isn’t extremely uncommon that kills on turn four and involves Akoum Battlesinger.

Allies has a great early game and a pretty solid late game due to Bloodbraid Elf and Ranger of Eos. Does it beat Jund? Yes and no. I have beaten Jund in some of the matches that I have played, but I haven’t been crushing it like I was with White Weenie. At this point in time, the matchup is not favorable, but I am still brewing some ideas up. Devout Lightcaster was not cutting it though. Jund players seem to be overly prepared for that card now.

One thing I do know is that Allies is a real deck. Someone went 9-0 with it on Day 1 of Grand Prix: Brussels, and I considered his decklist to be quite poor, with rubbish like Cunning Sparkmage and Lightning Bolt in the sideboard.

Give the deck a try. You will not be disappointed.

A quick note about the Rise of the ALIENS pre-release. I am gunslinging in Los Angeles on April 17 for Glen Goddard and company, so if you live on the west coast and want to smash my face to earn some Rise of the ALIENS packs, come on out and say hello. I’ll probably even have an allies deck with me!

I head out for Houston in a few days for Grand Prix: Dredge Part Two (Electric Boogaloo!) Wish me luck if you believe in that sort of thing and I’ll see everyone next week with a report on my adventures. I have to do better than 9th place this time. Should be easy…

Until then!

Cedric Phillips

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