The Season Three Invitational is this weekend and many people that you might ask and other authors that you read will say that Hangarback Abzan is the best deck right now. It’s true, that it’s the most successful deck currently, but I’m not one to just blindly play the best deck, I’d rather play the one that goes one level higher and beats the best deck, which more often than not is also the most popular deck.
This is my list of decks that have crossed my mind that I feel are somewhat underrated and are good at beating the current metagame, specifically Hangarback Abzan.
Bant Heroic has been good to me over the past few months. Dromoka’s Command pushed the power level of the deck to another tier. With that said, I feel like it’s time to go back to the roots of Heroic by keeping things simple – and unfortunately, a bit less interactive. Aqueous Form is the name of the game now and is a huge player against pushing through Hangarback Walker and strategies that intend on gumming up the ground like G/R Devotion.
Battlewise Hoplite is a good creature that strains the manabase of Bant Heroic. Straight W/U Heroic supports it well and those scry triggers are definitely helpful. Mana Confluence hurts when drawn in multiples, and saving a few points here and there against the red decks is always nice. You end up filling out your deck with either more unblockable auras like Status Walk or some maindeck copies of Ordeal of Heliod, both of which are fine and situationally worth the slight dip in average card power level that we are trading off in exchange for higher consistency and good mana.
We see Cody’s deck play six total unblockablility auras between Aqueous Form and Stratus Walk. Back when the Devotion decks ran Hornet Queen Stratus Walk was much weaker, but now that Dragonlord Atarka is the only opposing blocker (and one that can often be smaller than your Hero at that), Stratus Walk gains back a little stock.
If you expect a ton of Hangarback Walker and G/R Devotion, I’d recommend W/U Heroic.
- 3 Stormbreath Dragon
- 3 Goblin Rabblemaster
- 4 Seeker of the Way
- 2 Kolaghan, the Storm's Fury
- 2 Soulfire Grand Master
- 4 Thunderbreak Regent
I don’t know if I’ve ever built a Standard deck that can beat a Crackling Doom since Theros has been legal. Mardu is basically the Jund of the Standard format. Strangely, the strategy of picking the opponent apart with discard like Thoughtseize and efficient removal spells then following up with a strong threat like Thunderbreak Regent hasn’t really picked up much favor among the pro community. I like Mardu against an open field for its ability to disassemble synergistic decks while presenting a strong proactive game-plan of its own.
Soulfire Grand Master plus Draconic Roar to gain six life is great, as is gaining an incremental two off of a Crackling Doom. Outside of your basic Dragon theme you aren’t really striving for any particular combos, but you are definitely happy to see your cards work well together, like a Draconic Roar + Stormbreath Dragon combo.
The big winners here are the Dragons themselves. Decks like Hangarback Abzan are kings of the ground game but have trouble dealing with the air, especially when those flying creatures have protection from white. Stormbreath Dragon is a card I have had my eyes on for the last couple of weeks, just waiting for it to blow past a metagame full of removal spells like Dromoka’s Commands, Abzan Charms, and Valorous Stances.
The Mardu players are diehards and it may be their time for some good finishes. I can say one thing, of all the decks that I’ve lost to in Standard in the past six months, I’ve lost to Mardu the most. If it was my style, I’d be more than happy to play it in the Season Three Invitational this weekend.
Chained to the Rocks is very good against Hangarback Walker and if you can find a way to have a healthy number of Mountains while supporting your black and white cards, I recommend those.
Jeskai Ascendency Combo
- 2 Commune with the Gods
- 2 Swan Song
- 1 Dragon Mantle
- 4 Retraction Helix
- 1 Twinflame
- 4 Treasure Cruise
- 2 Briber's Purse
- 1 Altar of the Brood
- 4 Defiant Strike
- 4 Jeskai Ascendancy
- 4 Anticipate
- 2 Day's Undoing
Patrick Hardison beat me in Raleigh, North Carolina Regionals with what looks like the same Jeskai Ascendancy Combo deck that he placed second with in the Premier IQ. His strategy is something that everyone has long known might exist since Khans of Tarkir was first released, and it has since existed in various forms for better or worse. His later iteration includes Day’s Undoing with another recent inclusion in Anticipate. Anticipate smooths over draws and finds combo pieces while Day’s Undoing serves to refill your hand when you can dump it quickly or even simply as a way to dig for your combo pieces.
I remember when Patrick cast Day’s Undoing against me while I was playing Bant Heroic. I drew my new seven-card hand and wanted to fire off a Defiant Strike at the end of his turn but I couldn’t, his turn had already ended! I couldn’t believe that the card’s drawback actually worked against me.
This Standard is definitely a creature format and all decks need a way to deal with them. Jeskai Ascendency Combo larger dodges creature removal both via its main piece being Sylvan Caryatid and by not really needing the attack step to win any given game. It’s probably a poor choice in a field of Fleshbag Marauders, Crackling Dooms, or Foul-Tongue Invocations, but if those are prominent then I really like the chances of the Jeskai Ascendancy Combo deck.
- 2 Frenzied Goblin
- 4 Foundry Street Denizen
- 4 Goblin Rabblemaster
- 4 Monastery Swiftspear
- 2 Subterranean Scout
- 4 Goblin Glory Chaser
Right after Grand Prix London, I and the rest of the VS Video team started to wrap our heads around how to beat the new kid on the block, Hangarback Abzan, that placed five people in the top nine of a 2,000-plus-person tournament. Obelisk of Urd came to mind and decks that could best utilize it were tested. Elves were sheepishly tested first, so much so that Brad Nelson wouldn’t let Todd and myself see his MTGO screen to dodge ridicule. He actually came to find out the Elf deck was decent thanks to Obelisk of Urd quickly making creatures bigger than what Abzan Hangerback could hold back.
Atarka Red in the hands of Martin Dang won Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir in no small part to its namesake card, Atarka’s Command. The strategy of going wide with Dragon Fodder, Hordeling Outburst, and Goblin Rabblemaster tokens worked very well with the blanket pump effect of Atarka’s Command.
Now we’re facing a Standard that wants to block your one creature and hopefully trade, in the instances of Hangarback Walker and Deathmist Raptor. Hordeling Outburst has faded a bit, possibly because of the threat of Languish, but I see now as a good time to go for a big swarm against other aggressive decks. Obelisk of Urd fits great here to hit for huge chunks of damage and to not simply chump attack with 1/1s into whatever Fleecemane Lions and the like you face.
One last note about the list is the absence of Goblin Piledriver from the above list, a non-inclusion that I 100% agree with. It’s hard to push through a large Piledriver even with cards like Subterranean Spirit and Frenzied Goblin. Goblin Piledriver takes work and making moving parts function in unison isn’t really what an aggressive deck wants to be doing. Perhaps it would be worth it if the protection from blue was more important, like if a Master of Waves deck was prominent. As for now, I’m down to token-makers and one-drops as my creatures of choice.
This is the first time in a while that I haven’t really liked my #1 deck going into an Invitational. Bant Heroic’s time has been waning and Hangarback Walker has proven just too popular to push through with only Gods Willing and Dromoka’s Command. I’ve found myself sideboarding in Aqueous Form in nearly every match anyway, so now is a good time to be playing it maindeck. Mardu Dragons, Jeskai Ascendency Combo, and Atarka Goblins each attempt to solve Hangarback Walker in different ways by either going above it, around it, or ignoring it.
I’d recommend these four decks, but if you don’t like them, think of this while building your deck. Hangarback Walker will be in New Jersey in huge numbers, and you don’t want to rely on plowing through it with a ground creature to win. Whatever you do, come equipped with a good answer or a good plan around it…