Let’s have some fun!
Yeah yeah, I know, Christmas is so last week.
However, with my story last week being slightly more connected to Christmas than this, I decided to do that one first to coincide with the holliest of the jolliest of days. Now, though, I get to the fun part.
This past week we here at StarCityGames.com have been treating all of you to some different content, some of it whimsical and some of it reflective of the past year. However, like some of you, I quickly came to long for a good ol’ Standard article to dive into. Even though I really liked writing my article last week (and equally enjoyed the feedback), I know what it feels like to just want to read about actual Magic decks and games.
So instead of me rambling on, let’s just jump into it; this week instead of looking into optimizing powerful Standard strategies or metagaming against the top-tier decks of the format, I took a comprehensive look through each card available in Standard and wrote down a list of cards I want to try to build around for some fun FNM type strategies . . .
Because you can only cast Master of Waves so many times before you want to drown yourself.
Today I’m going to cover some of the strategies I found while looking around for something different; however, while I’ve come up with some off-the-wall decks, I want to go over some of the cards/strategies that didn’t make the cut and why first.
There just aren’t enough "enters the battlefield" triggers right now worth triggering over and over to warrant this. It did momentarily get me to take a long look at Lavinia of the Tenth, as I’m sure that triggering that every turn is really good against some decks, but there’s nothing close to Thragtusk or Huntmaster of the Fells right now to make me want to try this. I guess Lifebane Zombie and Sin Collector are good but just not enough to do all that work for.
While looking through the rather unremarkable list of creatures with flying in Standard, I realized that for all the work I was putting into making Windreader Sphinx work Bident of Thassa does the same thing much better. So basically I was limiting myself on my creature selection in order to get to use Warden of Evos Isle and a worse Bident when it turns out I’d be using much of the same creature base as Mono-Blue Devotion (Judge’s Familiar, Cloudfin Raptor, and Nightveil Specter) while not getting any benefit out of Warden.
I’ll pass for now.
While this is a known commodity (Cloneing Biovisionary), the thing that made it catch my eye was Artisan of Forms. With Artisan, I can set up Biovisionary clones before I cast Biovisionary and just turn them into the namesake creature when I need to. Well, this turned out about as well as you’d think, with the whole idea being incredibly slow and inconsistent. While a cool idea, this was doomed from the start.
The premise here was to play Voyaging Satyr (and possibly Greenside Watcher) with enchant land effects (like Underworld Connections and Verdant Haven) to get ahead on mana and lands. Problem was that the two cards I listed were the only two that were worth untapping and doubling up on. Security Blockade and Debtor’s Pulpit were okay but nothing to write to momma about. Quickly scrapped this as well.
This one got pretty far; I even got to a full decklist. It seemed like an okay start, with Death’s Approach giving you some action against more aggressive decks. I even went all the way up to four before giving up because the deck was just that slow. That "approach" never helped, and the deck just never did anything while dying to an opponent with just under half of their deck remaining.
Enough with the decks that didn’t make it; let’s talk about a couple of decks that I think might give you some fun at FNM this week. Let’s take a trip to Magical Christmasland, where the opponent never "has it" and we always draw what we need!
This is a deck I tried out when Voracious Wurm and company were first printed as an actual competitive deck. Though I moved on somewhat quickly when I realized the payoff wasn’t consistent enough to build around, this is definitely a deck I could see myself taking down some rounds at an FNM with.
It starts out with the much maligned step-sister of the Soul clan: Soulmender. While I would much rather have Ajani’s Pridemate and Soul Warden on the team, what we have right now in Standard to work with is Voracious Wurm and Soulmender. I’ll try to deal I guess.
Here’s a rough list to get you started:
- 3 Scavenging Ooze
- 2 Trostani, Selesnya's Voice
- 4 Archangel of Thune
- 4 Soulmender
- 4 Voracious Wurm
- 3 Soldier of the Pantheon
- 3 Hopeful Eidolon
While even I thought that the deck was incredibly underpowered, after playing with it some it actually rewards proper sequencing pretty well. That would probably be the toughest thing with this deck—figuring out exactly what order to cast which spells. Do we go ahead and play Hopeful Eidolon now to build Voracious Wurm or hold on to it until we draw a fourth land? What if we have two Hopeful Eidolons? Do we shock ourselves for this Temple Garden even though we have a Path of Bravery we want to get online as soon as possible?
Again, we’re not trying to be world beaters here, and I wouldn’t expect this deck to be favored against Mono-Black Devotion or U/W Control. Against almost any aggressive deck, as long as we can get some sort of early action we should be fine. While this might seem a bit much for a simple Voracious Wurm / Archangel of Thune deck, once it gets going the results can be quite impressive once you start casting Voracious Wurms that put Tarmogoyf to shame and getting multiple activations out of Archangel every turn. It’s just a matter of getting past the first couple of turns in a decent position.
Out of all the decks I worked on for this, though, this is probably the one I was least impressed with because it just had a hard time coming together. I could see pulling out a couple wins at FNM, but I’m much more excited about some of these next ones.
Fun With Counters
The Simic focus during Return to Ravnica block was abusing +1/+1 counters through both evolve and other mechanics. While many tried to make it work, there were always problems, namely the incredibly difficult balance between having enough evolve creatures and having enough creatures to actually trigger evolve. The other issue was what good is making big huge creatures when if your creatures are living anyway you’re probably winning regardless. This was the big issue with Master Biomancer; yes, it makes your creatures bigger, but if Biomancer is living and those creatures are living, aren’t you already winning?
However, what happens when we actually get to make use out of the counters? What if instead of randomly making creatures bigger we stole their creatures?
Simic Manipulator is a card that should be good and if it were printed ten years ago probably would have been. The problem nowadays is that it just takes way too long to get going, and by the time it does get going it’s either stealing an irrelevant creature or is staring down a bunch of giant Rats or Demons.
What if we can circumvent all that?
These two cards give us an opportunity to surprise our opponents with the ability to steal their creatures seemingly out of nowhere. Bioshift is a card that obviously needs you to have creatures with counters to be good, but then again Brave the Elements needs you to have white creatures to be good and seems to be doing just fine. While I wouldn’t overload on the card, I do think a couple in the right deck would serve us well as both a combat trick and a way to get extra uses out of Manipulator. What would that "right deck" look like?
The synergies abound in this deck; Master Biomancer never had it so good! While there are quite a bit of evolve creatures in here, Master Biomancer helps solve a lot of the issues of running so many by making them better as topdecks later in the game (small shout out goes to Zameck Guildmage here as well).
The card that really makes the deck hum is Give // Take; well, it’s mostly the Give side that does the heavy lifting here. (See? It’s better to be in the giving spirit during the holiday season after all.) You don’t mind using Give on almost any of the creatures in the deck, as the counters are almost always going to be useful.
Need to surprise your opponent and steal a creature? Give your Manipulator some counters to work with.
Need to get even bigger fatties out of your Master Biomancer? Give it some counters.
Need some mana but are missing lands? Give your Gyre Sage some counters to work with.
Need to attack for fourteen the turn after playing Kalonian Hydra? (Well, this one might be a bit greedy, as if it’s living to attack . . . ah, who cares—get greedy!)
The best part? Even if you use Give early, you don’t mind so much since Bioshift allows you to manipulate your counters based on what your needs are. And if you get low on cards? You can either cash in the Take side of the card or burn through some of the counters with Zameck Guildmage.
Drakewing Krasis may look a bit weird in here since it’s mostly just a good Limited card, but it’s here to both trigger evolve and as another creature that we can load up on with +1/+1 counters to pressure our opponents. Having both flying and trample is good when we can build it to massive proportions.
You have an Experiment One and a Cloudfin Raptor, each having evolved once, with an Ooze Flux on the board. You activate Ooze Flux, "borrowing" the counters from each creature to create a 2/2 Ooze token. When that token comes into play, both of your evolve creatures evolve again, giving you another set of +1/+1 counters to work with. Then it just becomes a matter of however much mana you have available to pump into your Ooze Flux.
Finally, you can have a Master Biomancer out (and at least one creature with a +1/+1 counter to start). Just activate Ooze Flux when the token comes into play regardless of the original size; Master Biomancer gives it two +1/+1 counters. You can now use those to create a new token. (This isn’t even getting into the ridiculousness that would occur if we were able to start putting counters on our Biomancer . . . )
How about a deck that absolutely crushes Mono-Blue Devotion?
I Can Be Your Hero Baby
Since the most recent rotation, we’ve seen people try to build a version of Bant Hexproof with little luck. It turns out not having Geist of Saint Traft and Rancor hurts in that department more than we thought. Yes, Witchstalker is a decent card, but Geist it is not.
However, what happens when we get away from the hexproof side of things and move more toward the double strike side? Silverblade Paladin made for some really busted sequences in Bant Hexproof, and even though our selection of hexproof creatures isn’t as good as it once was, our double strike options are actually rather nice.
The other part of this that I think people get wrong is trying to play green. Yes, it was Bant Hexproof before, but it doesn’t have to be now. In fact, I think the deck ends up being much more consistent and powerful if we stick with two colors: red and white.
It seems that without meaning to I’ve listed the decks here in reverse order of how excited I am about them. This deck actually has me quite intrigued, as it has a powerful game 1 strategy of just bashing their face in while being able to transform into a deck capable of winning longer games with Assemble the Legion and Boros Charm out of the board.
First, the maindeck: this idea initially started out as "can I build on the Two-Headed Cerberus / Dragon Mantle combo from Theros Limited?" and kind of just evolved from there. Fencing Ace and Fabled Hero are just better versions of Cerberus, but between the three we have plenty of solid double striking options. After that it just becomes a matter of figuring out how much we can go "all in" on giving our guys pants to wear. Gods Willing helps immensely in this regard, making sure our creatures are able to survive any early removal our opponents might have outside of Devour Flesh and Supreme Verdict. More on those in a bit . . .
With the primary removal spell in Standard being Hero’s Downfall, Gods Willing gives us the ability to just beat their face in without concern, knowing they’ll have to take up their entire third turn tapping out to play Downfall. Once that’s taken care of, we just suit up our creature with as many enchantments as possible and eat their face.
Honestly, this deck plays out much more similarly to the U/G Infect decks of a couple of years ago than the Hexproof decks of last season. Turn 4 kills aren’t impossible here, and with the ability to suit up with a Gift of Orzhova on our creatures, racing is also difficult.
I have a hard time coming up with a scenario where Mono-Blue Devotion wins many games outside of having multiple Cyclonic Rifts and Rapid Hybridizations (with us having no Gods Willing). Even if our main threat gets answered, Mutavault can still rumble across with some cheap enchantments to act as a final burn spell; Ajani can also make our Mutavaults fly and hit twice if we’ve gotten our opponent low enough.
You may be wondering why the Boros Charms aren’t maindeck. Well, the only card that Boros Charm effectively answers that Gods Willing doesn’t is Supreme Verdict. I expect to face much more removal than Supreme Verdict in game 1, like Hero’s Downfall, Dimir Charm, Doom Blade, Ultimate Price, Mizzium Mortars, Lightning Strike, Abrupt Decay, etc. The fact that Gods Willing only costs one mana is hugely relevant as well. Post-board when we bring in the third Mutavault and Assemble the Legion, we can play for a longer game against U/W Control, giving us time to get the mana to do stuff on our turn and still holding up for Boros Charm on theirs.
Yes, you can always go back to the same tired "it dies to removal" argument, but sometimes they just don’t have it even if we’re missing the Gods Willing. Sometimes you can just enchant your Fencing Ace with a Madcap Skills and Ethereal Armor on turn 3 and win in two turns when your opponent fails to have anything of relevance. Yes, it is more likely they’ll have something, but there’s a reason Baneslayer Angel was a $50 card in Standard—they don’t always "have it."
Plus this is an article where we live in a Magical Christmasland; did you forget? Here they never "have it!"
These aren’t all of the ideas that I wanted to explore; however, what I want to do is see what you all can come up with. If you have any ideas for strategies similar to what I’ve listed above, let me know. However, I’m not limiting this to just those ideas. Listed below are some of the other ideas I had that if you have a decklist already available or can come up with something spicy I want to see it. The best deck (or decks, as it’s my contest and I get to choose the winner[s]) will get featured in next week’s article; Matt Higgs would be proud!
– Sanguine Bond Control (life gain/removal with no creatures or planeswalkers)
Or if you have something incredibly wacky that I don’t have listed here, just let me know in your comment what the strategy is and I’ll consider it too.
Thanks for helping me wrap up this incredibly awesome year with some outside-the-box decks; while this year has been amazing in terms of both how much my readership has grown and how much you all interact with me, I’m looking forward to an even better 2014.