Magical Hack: Saviors in Standard

In my last article you saw the best of the old Type Two. Here’s an attempt to get from there into the realm of the new Type Two you’ll be seeing at Regionals. In order to do that, I intend to talk about every card from the new set I can see having a potential effect on the Standard metagame, either by altering a pre-existing deck or tempting the creation of a new deck.

Working from a numerical standpoint, our last installment of the newly-named Magical Hack article series saw us come up with an idea of Standard right now, placing (correct) versions of the Mono-Red Beatdown deck, Tooth and Nail, and “Mono”-Green Aggro in the Tier One slot, with Control Black as a “rogue” new entrant and a definite Tier Two or higher contender, Black/Green Death Cloud practically defining “Tier Two”, Red/Green Beats looking to step up into a more “respectable” status, and Mono-Blue Control falling behind into Tier Three land, sometimes also known as the Land of Suck. Yes, even falling behind White Weenie, which doesn’t do anything special, but at least it seems to do it well enough to pretend. Whether I was mysteriously renaming my new article series because of a new hack-and-slash approach to analyzing the Standard metagame, or because of a biting sarcasm about my perceived role in the Magic: the Gathering writing community, was left unexplained for the reader to decide.

We’ve seen the old Type Two in my last article; here’s an attempt to get from there into the realm of the new Type Two you’ll be seeing at Regionals. In order to do that, I intend to talk about every card from the new set I can see having a potential effect on the Standard metagame, either by altering a pre-existing deck or tempting the creation of a new deck. Those cards are:

Akuta, Born of Ash

Arashi, the Sky Asunder

Celestial Kirin

Descendant of Kiyomaro

Enduring Ideal

Erayo, Soratami Ascendant

Hail of Arrows

Hand of Cruelty

Hand of Honor

Ideas Unbound

Kagemaro, First to Suffer

Kuon, Ogre Ascendant

Miren, the Moaning Well

Oboro, Palace in the Clouds

Pithing Needle

Pure Intentions


Shifting Borders

Skull Collector

Stampeding Serow

Thoughts of Ruin

Tomb of Urami


These of course have varying effects on reality, such as the fact that Oboro, Palace in the Clouds is very simply a second nonbasic Island that can be played in Mono-Blue decks looking to incidentally minimize the effect of Choke or Boil on their mana base, and who are willing to sacrifice a small bit of consistency with Vedalken Shackles in return. (It also “combos” with a sideboard card for Mono-Blue Control, Shifting Borders, thanks to this new version of Political Trickery being an Instant rather than a Sorcery.)


First off, last time I gave you Brett Blackman’s Mono-Green deck, but neglected to tell you that his was the only significant version of the deck that neglected to include Troll Ascetic in the maindeck, considering it a sideboard card against other Green decks and Mono-Blue and running the “janky” Wood Elves instead. These, alongside Eternal Witness, work very well with Stampeding Serow, formerly Stampeding Wildebeests. When last we saw this card, Seth Burn (conveniently, my team-mate for Team Limited, if no longer my team-mate for Constructed formats these past few years) put it to good use drawing cards, destroying artifacts, and pulling shenanigans with Spike tricks.

Seth Burn – Stupid Green Deck

4 Llanowar Elves

4 Spike Feeder

4 Spike Weaver

4 Stampeding Wildebeests

2 Uktabi Orangutan

3 Wall Of Blossoms

4 Wall Of Roots

4 Creeping Mold

3 Desert Twister

4 Eladamri’s Vineyard

1 Survival Of The Fittest

4 Cursed Scroll

15 Forests

4 Wasteland

This deck owned its Nationals meatgrinder event, and took a wild romp over part of the Standard event there as well, in addition to impacting later on in time for Worlds back when all these cards were legal. This little history lesson is here to impart you with a lesson: this deck was good then, and it had never even dreamed of Eternal Witness. Infinite Fog off of Spike Weaver for those unable to directly remove a creature from play was good then; the card of your choice every turn has to be better. Considering that there is already a deck based off of Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker interacting with Rootrunner to lock the opponents’ draw step, and that deck was actually pretty good around States (with Affinity still around), an already-excellent deck being able to perform the same trick recursively has to be pretty nutty.

Stampeding Serow can directly replace some of the “fattie” slot you’d normally see in Mono-Green Aggro decks, taking over for Fangren Firstborn, Iwamori of the Open Fist, Kodama of the North Tree, and so on and so forth… sitting in as an creature that can re-use your comes-into-play effects while being a hefty 5/4 Trampler for just 2GG. Eternal Witness recursion of used cards, especially Plow Under, can be overwhelming very quickly, while a new argument can be made for the use of the Wood Elves that brought Blackman success and the choice between Viridian Shaman and Viridian Zealot becomes trickier. The former is now reusable but the latter is able to destroy Enchantments as well, and was also included for mana-curve reasons.

Mono-Green Aggro might even be mono-Green now, with Stampeding Serow providing that extra bit of power that Meloku, the Clouded Mirror was often asked to provide; you “can” of course include both, but maximizing the use of Stampeding Serow and streamlining the deck to do what it is supposed to do better can reasonably see it cut now that you are getting a very definite reward in what you can do when you put more Lands into play, as 8 Lands allow you to recurse Plow Under every turn until your opponent dies a painful death. Even being “mono-Green”, Cranial Extraction in the sideboard costs nothing so far, being the best there is at what it does off of just one Swamp in the deck.

I can very reasonably see Mono-Green Aggro morphing to look like this:

Creeping Mold might be better suited as Wear Away instead, as the extra mana and Sorcery speed are a definite detriment in the matchups where you want to kill an Enchantment (Night of Souls’ Betrayal, Reverence, Blanchwood Armor) while the benefit of being able to use it as land destruction against Tooth and Nail probably hardly matters; the matchup against Tooth and Nail is already favorable enough that Cranial Extraction should put the nail in the coffin, especially in a deck that can cast it every turn if allowed to. Umezawa’s Jitte might not be needed maindeck, as it was only included in about half of the decks of this type, but what it can do to aggro decks when you search it up with the Top game one is probably more important than the fourth copy of either Viridian Shaman or Stampeding Serow game one. This is especially true since the same Divining Top that searches for Jittes in need can fudge the number from 3 to 4 by finding you those as well. 4 Umezawa’s Jitte is not in question, but whether in the maindeck or sideboard is.

This deck loses the Viridian Zealot two-drop, and one Land, from Blackman’s version; the first should be acceptable considering what we get back once the deck starts rolling, but the second might actually matter, especially since we are rewarded for every land drop up to number eight, and going past there can still be good thanks to Beacon of Creation.

Tooth and Nail, well, remains Tooth and Nail. I don’t see anything in the new set that really changes what you can do with a resolved Tooth and Nail, and the Green cards don’t build anything on top of this already considerable deck.

Don Huang – Top 4, Pro Tour: Philadelphia Last Chance Qualifier

10 Forest

“>Urza’s Tower

“>Urza’s Mine

“>Urza’s Power Plant

1 Boseiju, Who Shelters All

“>Sakura-Tribe Elder

“>Eternal Witness

“>Sundering Titan

“>Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker

“>Darksteel Colossus



1 Viridian Shaman

“>Sylvan Scrying

“>Reap and Sow

“>Talisman of Impulse

“>Sensei’s Divining Top

“>Tooth and Nail

“>Oblivion Stone

2 Mindslaver


“>Plow Under

“>Heartbeat of Spring

“>Viridian Shaman


“>Mephidross Vampire

“>Reap and Sow

“>Boseiju, Who Shelters All

1 Oblivion Stone

I would say the more standardized versions keep the fourth Reap and Sow in the main, and with no use for either Red or White mana, the choice of Talisman to play would be Talisman of Unity. Throwing in that Talisman can at least threaten a sideboard maneuver and cause the Mono-Red decks to worry about Circle of Protection: Red, whether you’re packing it or not. Mindslaver could be relegated to sideboard-only duty for this, putting the fourth Reap and Sow back in the maindeck, and possibly bringing the fourth Oblivion Stone in the maindeck as well. It may be more important than before to be able to break up the Stampeding Serow nonsense before it gets started. Okina, Temple to the Grandfathers can be debated, with the “for” being a favorable interaction with Sundering Titan recursion and the “against” being opponents using the same card as a Wasteland and taking two damage out of nowhere from Molten Rain. Neither of these two options should be likely to matter, as the Red decks that play LD are already at a disadvantage compared to the ones who prefer burn, which was one of many interesting questions answered by mining the numbers from the Last Chance Qualifier.

Respeck, yo!

Aside from a new sideboard option, Tooth and Nail doesn’t benefit from the new set. Arashi, the Sky Asunder is good against creatures with Flying, such as the “White Skies” versions of White Weenie, or an active Magpie from Mono-Blue, and can help stabilize a difficult game against White Weenie that might otherwise actually see them outrace the Tooth and Nail deck. Any Green deck would have to be glad to see a 5/5 fattie that can double up as an uncounterable Hurricane, and this will be something to keep in mind for Green decks of all kinds as long as it is legal. The use of Pithing Needle in the sideboard is going to be a universal decision for every deck in the format, and will become one of the “rules of the format” much like respecting Cranial Extraction is a “rule”. Literally any deck can play a Pithing Needle after sideboarding, and so respecting this card (or properly using it) is going to be key; relying on activated abilities, the way Blue decks rely on Vedalken Shackles, will not be “safe” anymore.

If it’s of a mind to, Tooth and Nail can use this to dedicate a card to nullify opposing Mindslavers, as well as anything else that seems useful. Find an opposing strategy that is difficult for you to beat thanks to a single card and its activated abilities (*cough* Jitte *cough*), no matter what deck you are playing, and from there you can decide if you’d want this more accessible but more limited version of Meddling Mage in your sideboard… or even in your maindeck. Tooth and Nail is probably fine without it, but it certainly bears mentioning. While this little gem may contribute something to Tooth and Nail, the addition of a new set definitely gains it a new predator: the Control Black decks that Saviors of Kamigawa enables, and which were already quite reasonable when correctly designed… as Matteo Bondotto’s near-qualification might attest.


Matteo Bonodotto – Top Eight, Pro Tour: Philadelphia Last Chance Qualifier

1 Boseiju, Who Shelters All

18 Swamp

1 Shizo, Death’s Storehouse

3 Yukora, the Prisoner

3 Solemn Simulacrum

4 Phyrexian Arena

4 Consume Spirit

3 Sickening Shoal

3 Terror

3 Hideous Laughter

3 Damping Matrix

3 Persecute

3 Diabolic Tutor

2 Night’s Whisper

1 Death Cloud

1 Night of Souls’ Betrayal

4 Chrome Mox


1 Hideous Laughter

2 Barter in Blood

4 Cranial Extraction

2 Boseiju, Who Shelters All

4 Greater Harvester

1 Night of Souls’ Betrayal

1 Persecute

Yeah, I'm pretty freaked out too.

As much as I like to see that this has done well, I have my disagreements with it as well. Thanks to Viridian Shaman, Viridian Zealot, and most of all Hearth Kami, Chrome Mox is worse than a Land,. It may be the proper acceleration card to get some key drops in quicker, but as a deck intending to fight a war of attrition, I’m not the biggest fan of this. Instead of trying to adjust this build, then re-adjust for the use of Saviors cards, I’ll skip directly to the punch line. Saviors does two things that matter here: it gives you a credible and multi-purpose card that can almost be said to validate the deck by itself in Kagemaro, Mutilate with Legs, and makes it even clearer that discard cards are going to have an important aspect in how Standard is going to work. There are some cards here I am rather enthusiastic about once we shake off Mirrodin block, and as a whole I’m not on the “this is the new Masques Block” bandwagon, but we aren’t quite there yet. Persecute is good, but has been known to miss the occasional important card, either artifacts, lands, or just cards of a second color… but Mind Sludge hits everything, with the extra advantage that an opponents’ Twincast won’t devastate you right back, if that is something that concerns you.

I advocate the use of Distress rather than some of the pinpoint creature removal that Matteo’s deck was using, and taking advantage of Kagemaro means leaving your Damping Matrix at home. Akuta, Born of Ash is another maligned Saviors card that fits perfectly, as what this deck is looking for is a reasonable threat card that can survive your own storm of Mutilates, Barters with Blood, the occasional Death Cloud, and even countermagic if things work out right. (I am trying to decide on that last slot between Akuta and its main rival in my eyes, Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni, and think that it’s a little too early to make a real credible distinction between which of these two is the proper call.) Culling Scales provides an easy answer to Pithing Needle, which might otherwise stop Kagemaro, your main source of mass-removal effects, while also being quite good against aggressive beatdown decks trying to overwhelm you with inexpensive creatures and Equipment. This deck assumes that you will be seeing more controllish decks than aggressive ones, and that its powerful removal effects (such as Night of Souls’ Betrayal against Beacon of Creation decks like the one above) can solve the right problem. Card advantage is key, as is keeping up a high threat count so that one doesn’t have to worry about spending them too freely.

My version:

This is one of the two key decks I am looking at for Regionals, and you’ll likely hear more on its development and tuning in weeks to follow. There are some other Black cards I’ve mentioned looking at from Saviors, though, that didn’t make it into that deck… which hints at the other Black decks that might develop. The Magic Invitational saw Tim Aten go 3-0 with a deck nabbed from another top finisher at the Last Chance Qualifier, that being the “Rat.dec” entry from my last article’s number-crunching. It’s based around recursion of Ravenous Rats and Chittering Rats, conveniently by some Rat-Ninja action, and while Skull Collector may not be a Rat, it’s too good to ignore. The Collector allows you to do obnoxious things like the Aggro Green deck’s recursion of Plow Under to lock the opponent out of the game. In this case you do it via Chittering Rats + Aether Vial, getting the Rat back in your hand each upkeep and using it during the draw step, locking the opponent down from casting anything other than Instants, quite possibly forever. Once they’re out of Instants, that slower card goes back on top every turn until you die.

Tim Aten – Magic Invitational, Standard Portion (3-0)

(Originally seen at the Last Chance Qualifier: Philadelphia, played by Cedric Phillips and Robert Callinan)

“>Blinkmoth Nexus

“>Shizo, Death’s Storehouse

18 Swamp

“>Chittering Rats

“>Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni


“>Nezumi Cutthroat

“>Nezumi Shortfang

“>Ravenous Rats


3 Throat Slitter

“>Aether Vial

4 Umezawa’s Jitte


“>Cranial Extraction

“>Damping Matrix


“>Echoing Decay

3 Terror

Adjusting this to fit in Skull Collector, it seems easy enough to simply pull 4 Skullsnatcher for 4 Skull Collector. I can’t comment on the applicability of the sideboard, because a first pass over Standard should focus on getting the maindeck right before mixing up the sideboard issues… unless the sideboard is a key alteration in and of itself, as with Mono-Blue Control (coming up later). Either the Control Black or the Rat deck can use Tomb of Urami in place of a basic Swamp, trading off the occasional life points when it’s drawn for the option of turning a Land into a Dragon and attacking for five in the air, all at the cheap, cheap price of a personal Armageddon. And Hand of Cruelty is an excellent two-drop, which may not be very useful at the moment but is likely to come up when we are able to finally play with The Great One’s Invitational card. Kuon, Ogre Ascendant is the new Abyss, with a potentially difficult prerequisite that does not currently have a home; it’s an Abyss that can’t be dodged in any way, shape or form, so a control deck getting it out can be accomplished, but what to do once it’s in play is questionable… it’s a powerful card without a home, thanks to the nature of Black right now.

Next time we start with the Blue decks and move on from there.