Off The Bench & In The Game

Join Jim as he looks at a few fringe decks that recently did well on Magic Online if you’d like to play something different at SCG Standard Open: Seattle.

There are 1362 cards legal in Standard right now.

It’s safe to say that only around 150 of them will ever see any play at all. Just like in sports, the cream rises to the top, and not everyone can make the team.

Some aren’t fast enough.

Some aren’t strong enough.

And some look like they aren’t even trying.

However, we are at the point of the Standard season now where substitutions are starting to be made. For many of the cards that are just on the cusp, toiling away at practice hoping for their day in the sun, this is a very exciting time.

Around the middle of a Standard format, once the established decks have been ironed out and the metagame has been fairly established, people often begin to complain the format has gotten old or stale. They use this as an excuse to be lazy and blame the fact they can’t win on the format. This is also the time when exciting innovations tend to happen. Players who aren’t interested in excuses start reaching deeper into the talent pool to see what they can pull out.

Formats shift, players move in and out, and there is no shortage of bench players just dying to get in the game. They’ve been watching all season, cheering on their team, and want nothing more than to contribute.


Slowly and quietly, they are starting to get their chance.

From The Grave

Such a fixture when the last Standard format was awash with Unburial Rites and Angel of Serenity, the graveyard has largely remained an irrelevant zone post-rotation. Historically the graveyard has been one of the most powerful zones for abuse in Magic’s history, and ignoring it is often a mistake. I lost in the Top 8 of an IQ last Saturday to a Junk Reanimator deck with my U/W Control deck because I was unable to keep up with his never ending stream of Angel of Serenity. While I’m not sure if that deck is ready for the big time, there are definitely other ways to go about abusing the graveyard.

While another Nemesis has gotten the bulk of press in recent times, Nemesis of Mortals is a card I’ve liked since its first introduction in Theros. In the right deck it’s essentially a graveyard-based more powerful Myr Enforcer that can provide a very fast clock for very little mana. Just like Myr Enforcer, Nemesis of Mortals plays harder for you the harder you are willing to play for it, and if you put in the work, it can very often be a two- or three-mana 5/5 that can quickly grow to a 10/10. While I was never really able to get a B/G graveyard deck to work before Born of the Gods, it looks like Magic Online user Malapropism has found the solution:

Malapropism’s deck is very interesting and contains a key link that I didn’t have when trying to build my version pre-Born of the Gods:

Having a creature to do your grave digging work helps keep your creature count high, provides you with an early blocker, and gives you something to bestow Nighthowler onto. Speaking of Nighthowler, besides Nemesis of Mortals there are actually a fair number of cards in Standard that really care about the graveyard.

All of these cards are huge threats, with Shadowborn Demon’s condition being met most of the time and Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord and Nighthowler being monstrous creatures with upsides. With 28 creatures in the deck, there’s plenty of fuel for the graveyard and plenty of threats as well.

This list is also a fantastic Whip of Erebos deck. All of the work in the graveyard gives the deck tons of options to Whip back, with Shadowborn Demon being a particularly good one. The deck also includes an Obzedat, Ghost Council to Whip for supreme late game inevitability against the slower control decks of the format.

Aside from the graveyard function of Whip of Erebos, this deck makes the best use of its lifelink ability as well. This list is jam packed with huge non-evasive creatures, and giving your Nemesis of Mortals and 9/9 Nighthowler lifelink is a great way to ensure your opponent will not be able to deal enough damage to ever kill you even if they can chump block a few times.

This deck is a very interesting and could definitely sneak up on an unprepared tournament.

Rack Dos

Another fixture of the pre-rotation format was red and black aggressive decks. While B/R Aggro did win a Grand Prix very early in the format, it has largely remained a nonissue since. That deck relied fairly heavily on one-drops and Madcap Skills (and the fact that people hadn’t started playing much removal in their devotion decks yet), and it was topped off with a very powerful four-drop that has been toiling away in the minors ever since:

Exava, Rakdos Blood Witch is a very powerful and hard to kill Magic card. It is immune to a large portion of the removal in the format and is almost impossible to effectively block. Magic Online user Jedi_Knight teamed it up with a number of other hasty creatures and put together this Rakdos brew, which he has been doing very well with in Magic Online Daily Events:

Jedi_Knight’s version of the deck has completely cut the one-drops and features a number of both Standard staples and Standard benchwarmers.

Ash Zealot Chandra's Phoenix Exava, Rakdos Blood Witch Spike Jester Stormbreath Dragon

Every creature in this deck but one has haste, and this coupled with the deck’s ten burn spells gives it a very burny feel. While Ash Zealot, Chandra’s Phoenix, and Stormbreath Dragon are all big-time players in Standard, Spike Jester is a woefully overlooked two-drop that can do a ton of damage very quickly, and we’ve already spoken about the virtues of Exava, Rakdos Blood Witch. All of these creatures hit hard and fast, and most of them are very hard to block effectively.

The only creature without haste in the deck is Lifebane Zombie, a card that’s value has gone up tremendously in the last month. With the surging popularity of G/R Monsters and the increased prevalence of Blood Baron of Vizkopa, Lifebane Zombie is an excellent threat and answer rolled into one.

Dreadbore Hero's Downfall Lightning Strike Magma Jet Shock

The deck also features a robust removal and burn suite, which is well suited to handle creatures, planeswalkers, and most importantly the opponent’s life total. This is not a deck that is going to be stopped cold by a 4/4 creature or an Elspeth, Sun’s Champion. The powerful Magma Jet, which has seen very little Standard play considering its power level, jumps off the bench and back in the game in a big way here.

R/B Aggro also has a sideboard full of answers for most of the major threats in the format. The only thing I would really like to see is a few copies of Thoughtseize for the control matchups, but otherwise I like this deck a lot. Jedi_Knight has cashed quite a few Daily Events with it, and I wonder if he (or someone else) will take it to the big stage at an upcoming SCG Open Series.

Lions & Hydras & Satyrs, Oh My!

The last deck and card we are going to look at is one that really surprises me. Last format this card was an actual all-star, making the rounds as one of the most powerful creatures in the format and forcing many decks to have good answers to it or be run over. This format it has been toiling away in the minors, just waiting another shot in the big leagues.

Voice of Resurgence has suffered from the texture of the format passing it by. With every deck either focused on devotion, R/G planeswalkers, or Sphinx’s Revelation, it just hasn’t been able to find a home. This is often a problem for powerful multicolored cards; they can be amazing, but if no deck wants to play them, they can be left on the outside looking in.

GodlikeNg decided that Voice of Resurgence has been rotting on the bench too long and whipped up a G/W Aggro deck, with which he promptly 4-0ed a recent Daily Event. Playing a bunch of resilient threats along with a smattering of tricks and removal is a tried and true strategy, and GodlikeNg followed the blueprint well. His deck contains a number of the best aggressive creatures white and green have to offer:

Soldier of the Pantheon Voice of Resurgence Fleecemane Lion Experiment One Boon Satyr Advent of the Wurm

These staple green and white aggressive cards have really fallen off the map lately. A big reason for this is that the devotion decks simply do more effective things with synergy on the beatdown front, and other decks are playing so much good removal (and Pack Rat) to deal with devotion that more basic creature decks are getting splash damage.

This deck also makes use of another card that has spent most of its lifetime in the minors: Ajani, Caller of the Pride. When I played with Ajani before, I felt like he didn’t really do enough to warrant the three mana you initially spend on him. However, I only tried him in a base white deck, and this deck has the larger green creatures that really make his double strike ability a game ender. It’s nice to see Ajani finally make it to the big leagues.

The only real problem that a deck like this has is the mana base, which can definitely be rough at times with all the double color costs. And why the hell are we playing a Call of the Conclave over the fourth Fleecemane Lion?

Plenty More

We looked at few cards today that are trying to make the jump up to the big leagues, but there are a bunch more just waiting in the wings for their day to shine. The decks that always interest me most are the ones that pop up late in a season and dominate the remaining few months. It’s fascinating to me to think that those decks were always there—all the cards were legal, meaning anybody could have played them in any of the major events that already happened, but nobody even knew they existed yet.

What cards do you think have what it takes to make the jump from the bench to the game?