At the beginning of the year, I showed up to my first StarCityGames.com $5k event, Reveillark deck in tow. I managed to crack the Top 8, but lost to the then-rogue Faeries deck in the quarterfinals. When we went back to the $5k series in Richmond last May, I brought Reveillark again, and missed the Top 16 due to tiebreakers. When the $5,000 Open runs again next weekend, you can be almost certain that I’ll be there, playing Reveillark.
The Shards Standard rotation was not exactly kind to Reveillark. Among the biggest losses were Venser, Body Double, and Careful Consideration. All of these cards gave the deck the power level it was feared for; many decks just couldn’t win through a Body Double when Reveillark was sitting in the graveyard. However, this does not mean that the rotation killed the deck. After all, many people championed the idea of cutting the combo, and therefore the Body Doubles, from the deck entirely, and planned to win on the back of the pure quality of every card cast.
Last week, Billy Moreno wrote about his take on Toast-slaying Reveillark. His journey started from GerryT’s statement that a Reveillark deck tuned to have the same favorable matchups as Toast but with enough bombs that Toast couldn’t outlast the threats might just wind up as the top deck in the format. My impression of Billy’s deck was that it used disruption like Thoughtseize, Tidehollow Sculler, Boomerang, and Fulminator Mage to constantly keep Toast off-balance, with Reveillark as sort of a clean-up crew. While this might be a good way to beat Toast over and over, I don’t believe that it’s the right way to try to win a tournament.
Assuming that the upcoming $5k is as big as the others I’ve played in, you just can’t count on playing against Toast every round. This big tournament effect essentially boils down to the following: you should expect to play against no specific deck more than twice until the elimination rounds. What does this mean, though? It means that you need to bring a deck that is well-rounded and can beat more than just one strategy. While I don’t have ten-game sets with Billy’s deck to back this up, I just don’t think that you can expect to win, in the long run, against decks like White Weenie, Red Deck Wins, and Elves with a deck that’s sporting Boomerang, Tidehollow Sculler, and nine comes-into-play-tapped lands.
Of course, without a decklist of my own to present, all this does you no good. Therefore, allow me to present the deck I’ve been tinkering with for the past few weeks:
- 2 Mistmeadow Witch
- 3 Mirror Entity
- 4 Mulldrifter
- 4 Sower of Temptation
- 4 Reveillark
- 3 Kitchen Finks
- 3 Knight-Captain of Eos
My goal here was not to specifically pick on the Five-Color Control decks, but to make a deck that played like the old no-Combo Reveillark decks and just bury opponents with massive bombs.
Knight-Captain of Eos: Before Shards hit the shelves, I mentioned this card as applicable to Reveillark in the new Standard. In the time since then, I’ve become more and more enamored with it. The simple fact is that it serves the same role as Cloudgoat Ranger (obviously less amazingly than the Giant) against Wraths, but is also a strong defensive card. In the same manner, both abilities are very strong with Mirror Entity. Tokens give you a series of creatures to end the game with (a Reveillark trigger that brings back Entity and Captain is usually lethal when you untap) and activating the Entity for one gives you more Soldiers to feed to the Captain. Some fun things I’ve done include sacrificing Reveillark to Fog an attack, and sacrificing the creature I stole with Sower of Temptation before the Sower bites the dust.
Mirror Entity: No longer is the Entity a combo-kill. Now he’s just a powerful attacker to put pressure on controlling decks. One of the main reasons I liked to play the combo version last year was that I often found myself using Mirror Entity to kill people with my board of Mulldrifters, and I have no intention of stopping that practice. The inclusion of Knight-Captain makes this even more automatic in my mind.
Tidings: It’s no Careful Consideration, but it’ll have to do. Resolving Tidings on turn 5 often sets you up to win the game against any control deck, and there’s even a chance that it’ll set up your graveyard as you draw up to eight or nine cards. It’s more unwieldy against the aggressive decks, and it lacks Instant speed, but it’s all we’ve got for filling the tank off the top of the deck.
Mistmeadow Witch: Gone with Body Double and Venser is Momentary Blink, a much less important card to the Reveillark deck as a whole, but still a very powerful option to have. Turn to Mist is just completely lackluster, but the ability to do it repeatedly is quite powerful. The Mage’s ability is pretty expensive, and the body is pretty small, but it does what it does well enough that I like having it here. Four mana really isn’t too much to pay for two reanimated creatures or two more turns of Fog-lock, and it’s especially nice that you can get it back when Reveillark dies.
Five-Color Control: This is a hard deck to generalize on, because the combination of Vivid lands and Reflecting Pool means that Five-Color decks can really be packing anything in the world. What it all comes down to in the end, though, is what sort of defenses they have to stop you from beating them with a horde of men backed up by Reveillark or Mirror Entity.
Usually this comes in the form of counterspells. Sweepers like Firespout and Wrath of God are annoying, I suppose, but Reveillark and Knight-Captain are both great follow-up plays for those sorts of cards, and a Reveillark in play might mean that a Wrath of God is actually an upgrade for your side of the table. You can expect pretty much every single Reflecting Pool deck to have four Cryptic Commands, but you need to find out what they’ve got beyond the auto-include. GerryT recommends Remove Soul, while the top-finishing Five-Color deck at the recent Cruise Qualifier is using Negate. You might also find people porting their Block decks over and running Broken Ambitions. Either way, this backup counterspell is going to be hugely important in how games play out.
If they’re packing Remove Soul, you are in much worse shape than if they’ve got pretty much any other counter. Your deck is built on creature bombs and Remove Soul is always going to stop your Reveillark or Knight-Captain at a pretty big gain for the Five-Color player. Negate, on the other hand, really only hits your defensive cards and Tidings. It might punish you for keeping a two-land plus Mind Stone hand, but it won’t do anything about the Reveillark that you’re actually planning on beating them with. Broken Ambitions is sort of the middle-of-the-road card that will be good in some games and terrible in others. You’ve got Mind Stones to ramp up your mana, and plenty of ways to draw extra cards, feeding into your mana advantage more and more. In general, this means that if you start to get ahead, the Ambitions will become worse and worse. However, if they manage to hit you with one in the early turns, you might be even more vulnerable to one in the middle of the game. And, of course, it’s the only backup counter that can stop both Tidings and Reveillark from resolving.
The reason all this matters is that you are basically planning on casting spells until one of them kills the bad guy. If they get countered, you’re no closer to that objective. Usually, the spells that really kill them are Mirror Entity, Reveillark, or Knight-Captain, but pretty much anything can get the job done alongside a Mutavault. You want to kill them quickly, but you also don’t want to throw cards away to their sweepers, so portion out your threats appropriately.
You need to remove your Wraths and Runed Halos. In exchange, bring in the Negates and the Boomerangs. I’ve never really enjoyed having counterspells in my Reveillark deck, as your game plan usually involves tapping out most turns, but the fact of the matter is that you don’t have Pact of Negation anymore, and Negate is extremely powerful against people that are going to be throwing things like Cruel Ultimatum, Mind Shatter, and various Planeswalkers at you. Boomerang, like in Billy’s deck, harasses mana, but also has applications as a way to trigger Reveillark unexpectedly, a way to break up a Sharuum loop, and an out to something unexpected like Story Circle post-board.
Red Deck Wins: I believe that RDW decks will generally look like the one from the Cruise Qualifier, mainly in the Hell’s Thunder department. The Thunder is very strong against our deck as it gives them yet another way to deal some hasty damage without the option for a Kitchen Finks chumpblock. This means that Runed Halo is even more important than it used to be, and if you expect to see a huge portion of Mono-Red decks in your tournament, I would seriously consider maxing out on Halos in the maindeck.
The rest of the deck is not really a slouch in the matchup either. Boggart Ram-Gang and Ashenmoor Gouger each have their own unique advantages when paired up against Kitchen Finks, but the fact of the matter is that you’d rather see these guys than the Flying men. Reveillark and Knight-Captain are your best ways to beat RDW, as they give you effects even if they bite it to a removal spell of some sort. Unwilling Recruit in the maindeck can be a huge problem if you’re planning on stabilizing on the back of a single Reveillark, though, so it’s always best to have options in a situation like that (such as a Mirror Entity activation for zero).
Still, it’s not like Reveillark is always going to be losing game 1 to RDW. They have some scary guys, yes, but you have scary cards for them too, and you have the ability to end the game quickly if they don’t spend burn on your creatures. You want to make sure to end the game as fast as you can; don’t play recklessly, but the more turns you wait to win, the longer they have to topdeck that last Flame Javelin.
The board gives you two Runed Halo, three Forge-Tenders, and the last Kitchen Finks. I cut the Tidings and Mistmeadow Witches, as they are just too slow to get online here, as well as one Sower due to their tendency to die to burn spells. If you fear something like Everlasting Torment or Manabarbs, which are real threats, then you can cut the last two Sowers for Wispmares to give you extra outs to those cards. The general game-plan post-board is no different from pre-board; you are looking to stabilize and then seal the game before they can assemble enough burn to take you out. This generally tends to favor the Reveillark deck, as Forge-Tenders, Halos, Finks, and Wraths are a lot to fight through.
Kithkin/White Weenie: While Kithkin can come out of the gates extremely fast, they have quite a bit of trouble dealing with things like Finks and Wrath of God. They do have their standard post-Wrath backups like Spectral Procession, but you have Knight-Captain of Eos. Most Kithkin decks are looking at four Unmakes as the only relevant cards once you’ve assembled Knight-Captain plus Mistmeadow Witch, and the time you gain from your Fog lock will usually let you win with your Flying guys.
Additionally, Sower of Temptation is extremely strong against pretty much anything that they can throw out there. The only card that I would expect to see that you can’t actually deal with by Sowering it is Oversoul of Dusk, and your Runed Halos, Wraths, and Knight-Captains should be able to solve that problem.
If you see a Rugged Prairie, you pretty much have to put your opponent on having Chaotic Backlash, and against your deck they don’t even need to have Painter’s Servant to kill you with it. Your only protection against this plan is Runed Halo, and potentially a Mirror Entity self-Wrath if they don’t have the Servant in play. This means that, if you can afford to, you should slowroll your Halos either until you see the Red source or you are confident enough in your ability to win without the Halo that you can name Chaotic Backlash blindly.
Sideboarding is minimal here, as this is already a matchup you’re happy to see. The Tidings again get cut because you cannot afford to spend your fifth turn on a card that doesn’t affect the board. You bring in the Runed Halos and Kitchen Finks to give you more early action, but your plan is still to overwhelm them with high-end bomb creatures. For the most part, you can play this matchup at your leisure unless they have Chaotic Backlash to deal the full twenty.
Faeries: This will pretty much never be a good matchup for Reveillark. Luckily, they’ve lost Rune Snag and Ancestral Vision, but their deck still just comes online before yours and can hold the bombs off long enough to win. On the other side of the coin, Reveillark lost Cloudskate and Venser, and those were some of your best cards against Faeries. In short, you’re both playing a worse version of last season’s matchup.
You will tend to win when they draw a hand that is only one-for-one trades. This means that the cards you least want to see are Bitterblossom (obv) and Cryptic Command (obv again). The reason, though, is that each of those cards does more than just trade with one of yours; if the Faeries player plans to go one-for-one against you, you will eventually resolve something big and they will lose to it. Even something as unassuming as a Sower of Temptation can steal Scion of Oona, use that to protect Mirror Entity, and then suddenly you’ve got a shielded team of 6/6 attackers.
In the old days, I used to simply count any Faeries matchup as a loss, and I therefore packed no sideboard hate for the deck. I figured that my chances of winning even if I spent six or seven slots on the matchup were small enough that it wasn’t worth damaging my board. However, the matchup has gotten closer, and Wispmares are worthwhile in enough other places that it just doesn’t make sense to play the No Fear game again. I bring in the Wispmares and also the Negates, and take out my Wraths and my Halos. The Negates don’t stop Mistbind Clique from screwing with your mana, but they’re additional outs to Bitterblossom if you’re on the play (slightly more likely for game two than you’d prefer), they can help defend one of your bombs, and they can force through damage if the opponent is trying to slow you down with Agony Warp or Terror.
GerryT has said that he’s going to play with Reflecting Pool until rotations take that option away from him, and it’s likely that the same is true for me with Reveillark. The card is just so powerful that I keep coming back to it. Even my Sharuum combo deck eventually became more and more like a Reveillark deck until I finally went back to playing with the Elemental.
While many people thought that Faeries was the worst matchup for Reveillark in the old Standard, the real scary deck was Merfolk. Luckily for us, Lord of Atlantis has rotated out, and the scare is not nearly as big as it once was. They still have nice tempo creatures and can run you over before you stabilize, but fish decks without Islandwalk aren’t the threat they once were. This hole makes playing Reveillark even more attractive in my mind.
Assuming that I don’t have school commitments that keep me from making the trip, I am greatly looking forward to playing in the $5,000 Open next weekend. Every one I’ve played in so far has been a blast, and I’d love to add another to that list.
As always, if you have any questions, feel free to contact me in the forums, via email, or on AIM.
ben at mundy dot net
SlickPeebles on AIM