The first week of new Standard is typically easy: a new set with some new cards to upgrade your decks with.
This is one of the toughest “Week Ones” I’ve ever seen.
The combination ofthe release of Aether Revolt and the bannings of Smuggler’s Copter, Reflector Mage, and Emrakul, the Promised End have left everyone with a lot to process. It’s been a month and a half since Jacob Baugh won the last Invitational in Atlanta. A month since we’ve gotten an influx of info on a large-scale metagame.
What’s usually the best approach in these Wild West scenarios is to play something proactive. It’s always wise to take an existing shell that’s proven successful and integrate the new cards into it. The bannings left many shells cracked and Aether Revolt has plenty of powerful cards to choose from to fill in those cracks.
Two weeks ago, I wrote about some aggressive decks I was working on. If #SCGCOL had been two weeks ago I probably would’ve played one of those lists card-for-card. Since then I’ve done a few VS videos, played the Prerelease, read the opinions and digested the decklists of as many Magic authors as I could, and had discussions with fellow Magic peers. A metagame has begun to form, even though it still out there in the Aether, waiting for this weekend to truly take shape.
The enemy. The mistake. The best deck. Week One, you should play it or have a plan to beat it.
There aren’t any Cats in bags anymore.
The common tools to fight the combo:
Basically you need to counter something, kill Felidar Guardian, deal damage to Saheeli Rai, or make their creatures enter the battlefield tapped. You also probably need to be mounting some sort of offense in the meantime before they go buck wild with Glimmer of Genius and Torrential Gearhulk.
Will I be playing the combo? Ha! No. I’m coming to beat it.
Dang, it feels good to be the beatdown.
Of decks that meet the criteria for a formula to defeat Jeskai Saheeli, I believe W/R Humans may have the best natural tools.
- 4 Expedition Envoy
- 4 Thraben Inspector
- 4 Thalia's Lieutenant
- 4 Town Gossipmonger
- 3 Thalia, Heretic Cathar
- 3 Pia Nalaar
- 4 Inventor's Apprentice
- 4 Metallic Mimic
- 2 Kari Zev, Skyship Raider
The plan is to come out quickly and make them have it.
I worked a bit with various builds of W/R Humans that aim to cast four-mana spells in Game 1, like Sram’s Expertise or Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. While I still like slowing down in post-sideboard games, I want to run them over in Game 1. Sometimes they’ll have a maindeck copy of Radiant Flames early. That’s a risk I’m willing to take.
I’m loading up on more three-drop legendary creatures than I’m typically comfortable with in Pia Nalaar and Thalia, Heretic Cathar at three copies each. Pia Nalaar is a concession to Inventor’s Apprentice and the artifact count. Thalia, Heretic Cathar is the best maindeck card against the combo, even better than Shock. She’s so good that I’m willing to have an extra copy stranded in hand at times.
While Shock is a welcome addition to W/R Humans, the popularity of Shock could prove good against W/R Humans as well. My instinct is that the faster version is the way to go. Still, the uncertainty has me bringing a backup plan just in case.
One of the best decks that didn’t get hurt by the bannings is G/R Energy.
Wow, I sure do like me an Invigorate! This time around it’s not enabling turn 2 kills in Legacy Infect; it’s a sweet upgrade to Larger Than Life! Invigorated Rampage is the instant-speed pump spell than G/R Energy has been looking for. It blends the trample and speed of Rush of Adrenaline with the numbers of Larger Than Life on one card. Oh, and it can also be split among attackers (or defenders?) to either push through damage or to hedge against a removal spell.
Highspire Infusion is tailor-made for G/R Energy. It’s a +3/+3 effect like Built to Smash was while padding your energy count. It can be used as a high-octane play on your Electrostatic Pummeler after blockers are declared. A great role-player.
The sideboard is a mixed bag featuring the full fifteen of fresh new Aether Revolt cards.
Shock is doing double-duty against small creatures and the Saheeli Rai / Felidar Guardian combo. Release the Gremlins and Natural Obsolescence are for artifacts, namely heavy artifact decks like Metalwork Colossus or Panharmonicon decks. Pretty obvious stuff.
Greenbelt Rampager, Lifecaster’s Bestiary, and Aethersphere Harvester are a package. Maybe the total package, maybe not. These are ten cards that come in when you sideboard out most of your combo elements.
The Greenbelt Rampager does have good value after sideboarding, especially against decks that will have Yahenni’s Expertise or Radiant Flames. Most decks will load up on removal and try to strand you with just a handful of pump spells. This is when I like to sideboard in creatures and some grindy elements.
Tireless Tracker was the grindy creature of choice before Aether Revolt. Now I like Lifecrafter’s Bestiary in the slot. Often it’s tough to hit land drops after landing a Tireless Tracker, given the low land count of G/R Energy. Lifecrafter’s Bestiary requires only a green mana for a creature cast to gain you a card. The scrying isn’t shabby either.
When Lifecrafter’s Bestiary and Greenbelt Rampager are paired, you are really doing it. You do need an energy sink so as to never have two energy when casting Greenbelt Rampager, lest you have to put it on the battlefield. This is where Longhorn Cub and Aethersphere Harvester come in. In the last game, for your excess GG, you can draw a card and put half a counter on Longhorn Cub.
Aethersphere Harvester is good against aggressive decks as well with its lifelink and large mechanical body, another card that’s on the cusp of being in the maindeck. For the first game I still like blindsiding the opponent with the combo element, though.
Here’s an alternative list that is reaching more towards midrange without fully losing its combo elements.
- 4 Longtusk Cub
- 4 Voltaic Brawler
- 4 Bristling Hydra
- 4 Electrostatic Pummeler
- 4 Servant of the Conduit
- 4 Greenbelt Rampager
Things could go wrong for me and my aggro deck in the Standard Open of #SCGCOL. In that case, I’ll be bringing a Modern deck.
The banning of Golgari Grave-Troll has caused some waves regarding Dredge.
The obvious replacement is Golgari Thug. However, the change from a Troll to Thug means more than just lowering the number six to four.
Golgari Grave-Troll used to represent not only a huge dump of cards into the graveyard at once; it represented an alternative plan of hard-casting a creature big enough to live through a tussle with Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. Golgari Thug represents an opportunity to reuse Narcomeoba.
The absence of Golgari Grave-Troll means that green mana Game 1 isn’t as important. In fact, the only green card left, Life from the Loam, is less useful as well now that getting up to five land isn’t needed.
This begs the question if Life from the Loam is worth playing green for at all.
Life from the Loam is great with Conflagrate as another plan to end games after the creature wave is halted. Life from the Loam can find the black or blue mana you need that’s ended up in the graveyard. However, it might be the time that Life from the Loam doesn’t pull its weight.
If Life from the Loam is cut from the maindeck, all that’s left are green sideboard cards. Abrupt Decay and Nature’s Claim are great tools at dealing with sideboard hate like Leyline of the Void. Still, many people, including myself, would rather face those cards head-on and try to power through them or to hope people don’t have much in their sideboard or for them not to draw them in one of the sideboarded games.
If we come to terms that we’re comfortable losing some percentage of games to people showing up from the requisite amount of hate to beat you, then green isn’t needed at all.
The switch from Golgari Grave-Troll to Golgari Thug requires some card slots to be freed up. The best card to combine with Golgari Thug is Greater Gargadon to sacrifice the Thug on demand. After Greater Gargadon, then another synergistic card is Bridge from Below.
Last year there was enough room for four copies each of Greater Gargadon and Bridge from Below in the versions that ran the combo. Now, after the printing of Cathartic Reunion and the four slots that such a power card demands, the pickings for spare slots are rather slim.
If I don’t Day 2 the Standard Open at #SCGCOL, this is what I’ll be playing in the Modern Classic.
- 4 Golgari Thug
- 4 Stinkweed Imp
- 4 Greater Gargadon
- 4 Narcomoeba
- 4 Bloodghast
- 4 Prized Amalgam
- 3 Insolent Neonate
Smallpox is nice interaction and is particularly good in a deck that both actively wants to discard and to sacrifice. It’s a bit experimental but sounds wonderful in theory.
Without access to artifact or enchantment removal, we have to lean on Thoughtseize to preemptively catch problematic cards. The rest of the sideboard is filling up on what red and black cards do best: kill creatures.
Some matchups get worse, some better. Just gotta roll out a brew and see how it goes. Hopefully Dredge won’t be popular now and there won’t been too many Ravenous Traps going around.
Both Standard and Modern have been shaken up. No one is entirely confident if they’ve found the best deck for the given formats. All we can do is use the information we have to construct decks from what we perceive the format to be after the bannings.
For me, I’m going to be aggressive and make them have it.