Key To The City

Do you want to attack people in Standard? Ari does, so he has been exploring the possibilities with new Journey into Nyx card Mana Confluence in various aggro decks.

Grand Prix Philadelphia went poorly for me. I got a rebuy on a bad pool thanks to a clerical error, and I still couldn’t open a deck good enough to win matches. To be fair I played pretty bad, but my deck simply lacked the important cards in the format: removal, bombs, and bestow.

So instead of talking about an event in a dying format, let’s talk about something exciting.

Do you want to attack people in Standard? Because I know I do.

Let’s talk about why attacking people in this format hasn’t worked before now.

Part of the issue was Frostburn Weird and Tidebinder Mage shutting down any hope of early aggressive draws from breaking through.

Part of the issue was that the four-drop power level jump forced you to have removal but the removal that answers them was not flexible for scenarios where you’re just trying to apply more pressure. Basically, Dreadbore doesn’t attack, and Lightning Strike doesn’t kill Polukranos, World Eater.

But most importantly, you could barely build a two-color early game, let alone anything close to three-color.

This was a lesson learned early in the format by the aggressive G/W decks (for reference, a list from that early era). You wanted to play Experiment One and Soldier of the Pantheon. You wanted to play Ajani, Caller of the Pride and Boon Satyr and Advent of the Wurm. But you just couldn’t. The double colored spells required enters the battlefield tapped lands to cast on time, which made it impossible to play a one-drop into a two-drop. Your decision then becomes what color you want to shift toward as your main one, and from there you may as well be casting spells of only that color.

Now we can play near perfect mana splits with eight dual lands. Assume you are only playing twenty lands and that you play an even split of basics beyond your four copies of Mana Confluence and four shock lands. You now have fourteen sources of each color, all of which tap for that mana on turn 1. To put this in context, I played a deck with Experiment One off ten turn one sources at Pro Tour Gatecrash last year. Fourteen sources is more than enough to support multiple colors of one-drops, multicolored two drops, and double colored three drops.

Note that the fixing Mana Confluence provides lets you slot in Mutavault, which was a big loss for the two-color aggro decks. While the monocolored decks got to play lands that were Supreme Verdict protection, the two-color decks had to lean on specific cards to make it work. Those cards often didn’t progress an aggressive game plan in an efficient way, leaving the beatdown player open to normal attrition.

The prime example of this was how Block Constructed Esper Control often beat Rootborn Defenses by just killing all of the G/W player’s creatures with Detention Sphere and Far // Away. Boros Charm is sweet when you actually deal sixteen damage to them or counter a Verdict, but often you are just looking for another threat that it can’t provide. Now you can reach a critical mass of haste, flash, Mutavault, and Voice of Resurgence in many color combos to throw a wrench into the sweeper game plan.

Or maybe the issue was that even with two colors there weren’t enough incentives. But again, good luck casting three colors of spells. Even the control decks that did it played only a couple off-color spells, and they spent the first three turns playing tapped lands. Now that Mana Confluence exists, you get twelve untapped sources of each color. Again, these all cast your one-drops. Need an out to Pack Rat or Master of Waves? I’m sure one of the other colors has one.

Let’s look at some of the possibilities.

G/W Aggro

The threats in this list are likely selected slightly incorrectly, but that will have to change on an event-by-event basis. The biggest questions are whether you want some number of Polukranos, World Eater in the four-drop slot since you can’t actually dodge Lifebane Zombie; if Brimaz, King of Oreskos is better than Loxodon Smiter (the goal is to dodge Tidebinder Mage); and what the best extra two-drop actually is.

The synergy I’m most excited about is Boon Satyr plus Ajani, Caller of the Pride. Not only is bestow an absurdly powerful mechanic, but the surprise ten or more flying damage is an easy way to get free non-interactive wins. The double strike plus pump spell combo has appeared in multiple forms this Standard season, and I expect this boost to aggressive strategies will only make it see play more often.

Setessan Tactics is another huge gain for this deck from Journey into Nyx. You might be able to race Pack Rat, but the deck struggled against Mono-Blue Devotion thanks to Thassa, God of the sea; Tidebinder Mage; and Master of Waves being almost impossible to break through. Setessan Tactics not only kills those cards, but it can kill all of them your opponent has access to. It also can fight down a Blood Baron of Vizkopa with the right creature setup. I don’t think I would start the card, but there are definitely going to be a large number of it in the sideboard.

Something else worth bringing up is if you are paying life to Mana Confluence, you need a plan to beat R/W Burn. One such plan is kill them on turn 4 but that isn’t really possible without playing red. This deck has access to Unflinching Courage, which I would call a real nice alternative plan.

W/B Aggro

You may recognize this as the exact spell base from Josh Utter-Leyton’s Grand Prix Dallas-Fort Worth deck. I want to start by illustrating a point. The problem with these decks in the past was that your come into play tapped lands disrupted your best draws and made it near impossible to play your spells at correct points (Thoughtseize on turn 1, Orzhov Charm a Pack Rat on turn 2). Now you have additional untapped lands that make everything work. The same logic applies to the red splash version with Boros Charm that floated around at the same time.

What about if we want to go deeper on a couple awesome synergies?

This list is likely a bit short on both sacrifice outlets and incentives, but the Athreos, God of Passage and Xathrid Necromancer synergy is very powerful. If one of your creatures dies, you get a Zombie, and they lose three life or we go back to the start of this interaction.

I almost added Desecration Demon, but I was disappointed to discover you can’t sacrifice your own creatures to it. I also looked at King Macar, the Gold-Cursed, but I determined that Banisher Priest’s immediate creature removal is probably better in a deck that is to some extent just trying to beat down.

I looked at Maw of Obzedat as well, but that’s digging a little too deep.

Seriously, we need another sac outlet.

R/G Aggro

Inspired by the deck that inspired the aforementioned Pro Tour Gatecrash Jund Aggro deck, I wanted to build a deck that curves Experiment One into Burning-Tree Emissary and a 3/x creature. After looking at it, I was fairly unimpressed. The deck last year leaned heavily on the three toughness of the Emissary-castable creatures, Flinthoof Boar and Mogg Flunkies. In a creature-light world of Mono-Black Devotion and Esper Control, you may be able to Experiment One into Burning-Tree Emissary and Brushstrider, but good luck if your opponent plays a Frostburn Weird.

There might be a time for this deck, but with the cards we know, I don’t think it’s now. It needs something that just can’t be provided by the current set of red and green cards.

Jund Aggro

The mana in this deck is almost certainly way off, but it combines a lot of awesome things.

It has the most aggressive creatures in the format. Experiment One, Spike Jester, and Fanatic of Xenagos are on a completely different level of hitting hard and fast compared to the rest of the format. It’s possible Dreg Mangler deserves a spot, but I’m unsure if it or Fanatic of Xenagos is actually better and wanted the bestow of Herald of Torment in the auxiliary three-drop slot.

It gets to play eight virtual removal spells that are great when you just need aggression. Ghor-Clan Rampager is a four-damage burn spell or kills a blocker. Gnarled Scarhide is a 2/1 for one or "kills" a potential blocker. You don’t have to play cards like Doom Blade that are situationally embarrassing; you just get to bash.

Most importantly, it gets to play a ton of flexible bestow and bloodrush cards. Your cheap cards have extended utility into the late game. You have built-in sweeper resistance beyond the haste mechanic. Once you reach the mid or late game, all of your cards deal immediate damage. The only issue is that these mechanics don’t synergize with Experiment One, but Experiment One isn’t really a card you expect late game value out of anyway.

Naya Aggro

An interaction my Pro Tour team was very high on for Pro Tour Theros was Ghor-Clan Rampager plus Boros Charm. Recently Brad Nelson rediscovered this combo to win an Invitational Qualifier. Previously this deck struggled with mana issues related to the number of multicolored spells you had. Often you wanted to play two spells at four mana and found yourself tied on mana due some weird arrangement of lands or having to curve out around a Temple.

The best part of this interaction is that it is flexible. You can be base G/R for Burning-Tree Emissary backed by pump spells (Selesnya Charm) and more powerful creatures (Voice of Resurgence). You can be base white for Brave the Elements as additional Falters. You can be a solid three colors for a setup similar to the above G/W deck. The correct choice isn’t clear, so feel free to tinker with anything and everything. Naya has a lot of powerful option at its disposal in this format.

Naya Hexproof

Knowing basically nothing about the new set, this would be the deck I play on the first weekend of the new Standard format.

Mana Confluence is a huge addition for you. The hard to kill three-drops cost double white (Fiendslayer Paladin) or double green (Witchstalker), which combines awkwardly with Temples, two-drops, and the fact that this is a deck that often wants to take a risk on a land-light hand with all the pieces. Additional untapped lands that make everything work out are exactly what you need, and the life loss is counteracted by Unflinching Courage and Fiendslayer Paladin.

You also gain the most from the other Mana Confluence decks. Giant lifelink guy is very well positioned against creatures, and all of the high-threat-quality aggro decks push your bad matchups out of the format. Esper Control can’t really handle hyperaggressive decks that are stacked with flash or haste threats, and Mono-Black Devotion is going to have to move toward spot removal over Devour Flesh to handle an influx of one-drops. Hexproof is also very good against Mono-Blue Devotion and R/W Burn, the natural counters to a lot of these untuned aggressive decks that are spewing off their life total.

Most of the other new cards are relatively unexciting, but I could see Mogis’s Warhound potentially making the cut. It isn’t great, but it’s an Aura that can carry other Auras if you need it to.

Hexproof has had a few great finishes lately, and I expect it to have more in the near future. Be ready with your enchantment removal. I’m hoping Archetype of Endurance gets someone at least once.

Four-Color Aggro

I already know this list is off the deep end. There is no way the life total math actually works, especially if you play Eidolon of the Great Revel. I just want to point out we can very nearly free roll multiple splashes in our aggressive red decks. There is likely some combination of cards that makes you aggressive enough to bowl over some of the midrange decks you might struggle against at times in exchange for a worse mirror match.

G/B Dredge

I had to mention it, didn’t I?

I would play Mana Confluence in some nonzero quantity in G/B Dredge just to smooth out the mana, but I don’t think I would use it to splash. You can try Ghor-Clan Rampager, but my immediate thought is that this was easily possible before and costs you a lot of life when you already have ways to push Nighthowler through that do other things.

I really enjoy the way Mana Confluence opens up Standard. I especially enjoy that leaving the card for Journey into Nyx flipped the typical progression of Standard formats. Theros cards were given a chance to shine right off the bat by weakening the cards from Return to Ravnica block, and only now that Theros is fully developed are the older cards allowed to show their full potential. That isn’t to say there weren’t negative side effects associated with this setup, but overall it’s a great new way to make new cards matter.