Peebles Primers – Reveillark in the New Standard

States is coming!
Tuesday, October 28th – With the StarCityGames.com $5K Standard Open now in the books, Benjamin Peebles-Mundy looks at his much-loved Reveillark strategy and discusses how it’ll fare now the metagame has changed. He throws the deck against a number of the successful Top 16 strategies from the $5K Open, and shares his new sideboarding plans against a handful of the major players in the format…

This past weekend was the StarCityGames.com $5K Standard Open, and I had been preparing to go for a couple of weeks. However, my roommates, my FNM and PTQ buddies, and the partial manager of a nearby store all managed to fall through, and I was left in Pittsburgh, cheering on my friends. It’s no secret that, if I had managed to attend, I would have played my new version of Reveillark, and even though I didn’t actually get to play matches in the tournament, that doesn’t mean I can’t bring you more information about the deck.

If you’ve seen the decklists from the Top 16, you know that Chris Woltereck was able to win yet another one of these things, this time playing Cruel Control. This should also come as no surprise, given that he nearly won the Cruise Qualifier just two weeks prior with the same archetype. The fact that the deck made back-to-back finals, and actually won the bigger of the two tournaments, says to me that Cruel Control is the deck to beat, at least for now.

More good news: players who don’t want to run the Reflecting Pools and Cruel Ultimatums have been given a very strong aggressive option, in the second-place finisher’s build of White Weenie. Over the course of the Block season, many Kithkin players started to trim Mutavaults to make their cheap-but-demanding mana costs easier to obtain. Daniel Samson went a step further, and removed them completely, ensuring that he would always be able to hit WWW on the third turn for his Spectral Processions. This sacrifice is part of the reason that I think that this deck will be even more popular at the upcoming State Championships; partly because the cost of a full set of Mutavaults alongside a set of Figures is pretty overwhelming, but also because it turns the deck into a truly streamlined aggressive machine.

And, of course, I’m still sitting in Pittsburgh telling everyone I know to play Reveillark. To back this up, I sat down to two sets of playtest games with my roommate and local ringer Kevin Ng. We fought it out, Reveillark versus Cruel Control and Reveillark versus Kithkin, and I’m here to tell you that you should play Reveillark at State Champs. I played the following maindeck (I’ll get to the sideboard in a bit):

Each of our sets used alternating players for who played, starting with Kevin. We used actual mulligans, because you’ll probably be taking a mulligan or two over the course of any given tournament. We also did not allow take-backs unless it was a simple mechanical error noticed immediately; again, mistakes will happen in a tournament, and if you playtest like you don’t care, you’ll wind up playing like you don’t care.

We also used exactly the decks taken from the Top 16. I’ve written before about how I do not like to modify an internet decklist before getting familiar enough with it that I know exactly what purpose each card serves, and I still feel the same way. I also think that it doesn’t make sense to try to tech out your gauntlet lists early on, as you should playtest against the same thing that everyone else will be testing against.

The Kithkin plan in this matchup is extremely straightforward: kill the bad guy. This is complicated by the fact that the bad guy is packing Wrath of God, but Figure of Destiny, Spectral Procession, Cloudgoat Ranger, and Ajani Goldmane all help soften that particular blow. Even if you play directly into the opponent’s Wrath, chances are good that you can deal ten or more damage before the sweeper hits, which means that one or two follow-up plays might be able to mop up the leftover life points you didn’t get the first time around.

The matchup is very strange from my point of view as the Reveillark player. I am playing with Wraths, Sowers, and Knight-Captains, all of which are amazing against Kithkin. However, they are all demanding on the mana front, and it’s possible to get run over well before I can really dig my heels in and stop the rush. However, if you ever do manage to stabilize, it is nearly impossible for Kithkin to turn things back around and kill you.

While traditionally the best defense against a deck like this would be Wrath of God, you must understand that it’s really only a speedbump. You should not look at a hand and think that you will be able to win simply on the back of a fourth-turn Wrath and a fifth-turn Mulldrifter. It is overwhelmingly likely that that hand is just too slow when you’re on the draw, and the best Kithkin hands will still put you in a huge hole if you’re on the play. You should also realize that your Wrath will be less damaging to their overall position if you’re on the play, as you’ll hit one less turn worth of Kithkin plays and they will have an extra card due to playing second.

However, the speedbump that Wrath gives you is a pretty dramatic one. Even if you need to have a better fifth-turn than a flying 2/2, it doesn’t need to be that much better for you to really start to lock things up. A Knight-Captain, Reveillark, or Sower of Temptation on the post-Wrath turn will probably get it done, unless the Kithkin’s response is on the same level as Cloudgoat Ranger + Ajani Goldmane.

If there’s one thing that I want to drive home, though, it’s just how good Knight-Captain of Eos is in this matchup. You might think that he’s, you know, “obviously good,” but he’s so much more than that. There’s the face-value of two fogs from the tokens, but you also get to sacrifice you Mutavaults and your Mirror Entities. If you have stolen a Goldmeadow Stalwart with Sower of Temptation, you get to sacrifice that. You can even steal a Cloudgoat Ranger token, if the fog it gives you is more important than taking the Giant himself. However, his true value comes from the fact that he will tend to not only be the way you keep yourself from losing, he will tend to be the way you win as well.

To explain, I will relate the story of the first game of our set. On the draw, I mulliganed down to six cards, and kept. Kevin started with a Figure of Destiny and a Knight of Meadowgrain, boosted by a third-turn Wizened Cenn and backed with a Windbrisk Heights. My Kitchen Finks was Unmade, and I soon found myself at five life. My fifth turn was the Knight-Captain, though I was forced to block with my two tokens because an Ajani had made it so that I could only let one creature through. However, I was able to play a Mirror Entity on my turn, which I sacrificed to fog. I played a second Entity on the next turn, and used its ability to turn the Knight-Captain into a Soldier, and sacrificed him to fog yet again. Finally with a sixth land, I played Reveillark, and activated my Entity for x = 0 to regrow a Captain and an Entity, using my extra land to fog with a token. At this point, I was able to start casting Mulldrifters, Sowers, and Kitchen Finks, while Kevin built up an army of ten creatures, and got his Ajani up to enough counters to create two Avatars. Eventually, after Fogging every turn, I built up to enough lands to cast a second Reveillark and then a Wrath of God. I again brought back the Captain and an Entity, and while Kevin had six more tokens ready to roll on the next turn, he was dead to my Entity two turns later.

Long story short, the Knight-Captain gives you the ability to stabilize, but also simply provides three warm bodies in one card, which is exactly what you want when you’re just trying to end the game with Mirror Entity.

In those games that White Weenie did win, things usually teetered on the razor’s edge for a few turns, with a little bit of lucky pressure coming off the top of the Kithkin deck to shut things down before the game slipped away. In one instance, after weathering a few turns on the back of Knight-Captain, I found myself on one life with only an Adarkar Wastes to activate my Captain. However, I had finally assembled enough flying creatures to swing for the win in the air unless the most recent card Kevin had drawn was Unmake. It was (and, had I not made the attack, I would have lost to the Unmake on my Captain), but I still had the Captain and enough to rebuild if I lived through my next turn. After I fogged Kevin’s turn, I set up for the win on my next, but he had drawn his second Unmake in a row, and I was dead.

The White Weenie sideboard used in the StarCityGames.com Standard Open clearly aims to fight decks like the one I’m talking about with Reveillark and Elspeth. Reveillark is there to stop Wrath of God from killing your side, but I think that the Kithkin deck is already good enough at that that the five-drop will harm you more than it hurts you. Elspeth, on the other hand, is much more of a problem. The reason for this is that you will often sit there for turn after turn until you can assemble a win based on a Wrath that resets the board far enough for you to come over the top of whatever they were saving for after your Wrath hit. Unfortunately, this means that Elspeth will have plenty of time to build up to her ultimate, and while the first two abilities are strong but not lethal, you will not be able to set up your Wrath turn if all of their men are indestructible.

It is for this reason that I have changed my sideboard considerably since last week. The idea behind the new cards for this matchup is that I want them to be effective if my opponent is not on the Elspeth plan, and to have them trump that plan if they are. Two cards immediately spring to mind to solve this problem. First, Oblivion Ring to answer Elspeth before she can fire her ultimate off. In the absence of an Elspeth, using the Ring as a simple Dark Banishing will be just fine. Second, Hallowed Burial as an extra Wrath that does not worry about Indestructibility.

Overall, as the Reveillark player, I would be quite happy to face this matchup multiple times in any given tournament. Tight play and good mulligan decisions are absolutely necessary here, but if you don’t do something dumb like keep a hand with no plays until the fourth turn, you should be able to win two games at something like four life.

Last week, I said that a Five-Color Control deck with Cryptics and Remove Souls was pretty much the nightmare scenario for my deck, and that’s still true. However, I want to temper that statement, because I think that I may have overstated my position. The fact is that Remove Soul is quite strong against you because it will trade two mana for four or five of yours, and the Five-Color deck is overall more powerful than you are, so these trades just help them get to the point where they can kill you. However, it’s not like you can’t beat their wall of countermagic. This list, for instance, has seven spells that stop Sower, Reveillark, Knight-Captain, and Mulldrifter from actually making it into play. It has four Wraths, a Pyroclasm, and two Cloudthreshers to deal with your guys en masse once they’re in play. It has two Bant Charms and two Condemns for targeted removal. Really, that’s just not that much, because you are just jam-packed with things they’ll want to stop. Sower of Temptation might not be that scary on its own, but when it steals a Finks and comes across the red zone alongside a Mutavault, it will put the Five-Color deck on the back foot very quickly.

All of this is to say that you’d rather play against Negate than Remove Soul, but that Remove Soul is still just a counterspell that profits only in terms of mana, and so you can probably draw and play more creature bombs than they can counter either way.

The games that we played actually surprised the both of us. Going in, I thought that Reveillark basically stood a chance, but would tend to lose rather than win. What actually happened was fairly different from that, though.

Essentially, both of these decks are built to stop the opponent from winning before they get around to winning themselves. This means that each is awkward when it comes to really putting fast pressure on the other guy, but one of them is going to have to do it. And, again to my surprise, the deck that manages to play the aggro game the best tended to be the one that won it. The two aggro games are based on Kitchen Finks, but they look fairly different from each other. First, I’ll talk about what happens when Reveillark gets ahead.

If the Reveillark player can actually start to harass the Cruel Control player with Mutavaults, Finks, and Mirror Entities, then the Five-Color deck will usually be forced into tapping mana on its own turn. This will open the door for a back-and-forth flood of mainphase plays. Usually it winds up with the Five-Color deck tapping out to kill everything that Reveillark has done up to that point, but the Reveillark follow-up demands another immediate response. Eventually, it comes down to the fact that Reveillark (the card) tends to resolve, and a resolved Reveillark tends to win the game. Even a “huge blowout” like Cruel Ultimatum when Reveillark is the only card in play will often wind up a loss for Cruel Control, because any Reveillark trigger must be immediately dealt with as it brings back a Knight-Captain and a lethal Mirror Entity. Bant Charm tended to be the best way for Cruel Control to break this cycle, as they could weather a turn of beats, force the Reveillark trigger, untap, and deal with everything with one Wrath of God.

Your goal, then, as the Reveillark player, is to force the game into a tap-out bomb war, because you have Reveillarks and they win that fight much more often than they lose it.

If the Cruel Control player gets ahead, there is no tap-out fight at all. Instead of a series of answers and responses, the Cruel Control deck simply defends its tempo advantage against the bombs of the Reveillark deck. This is usually relatively easy for the Five-Color player to do, as things like Kitchen Finks and Runed Halo (the usual aggro defenses) are just not very impressive here, so Cruel Control can save its counters for things like Sower of Temptation and Reveillark. Even a Knight-Captain will not usually turn things around like it will against Kithkin. In fact, the true power of the Knight-Captain is that making it into play means that it’s going to make it to the graveyard, and so resolved Reveillarks come that much closer to the Knight-Captain + Entity combo kill.

This means that if you fall behind, you need to blow a few bombs to stabilize the board, and then try to use your lesser spells to force the game back to the tap-out war that favors you.

Again, the sideboard plan has changed. Last week, I said that you should fight this matchup with Negates to defend yourself and Boomerangs to press your edges. The Boomerangs aren’t the worst idea in the world, especially since a card as versatile as Boomerang will be useful in all sorts of situations you didn’t predict, but in general both cards do not win the fight you should be trying to pick. You want to force the game into a mainphase battle, so you should play cards that do exactly that. This is probably the perfect place for something like Knight of the White Orchid; it’s good in a Kitchen Finks fight, it’s only slightly worse than Finks at putting pressure on, and you have a legitimate chance of firing off the ability (and of having that be a good thing).

The sideboard cards you should expect to see from Cruel Control are Faerie Macabre, Jund Charm, Oona, and Jace Beleren. Given that you are planning to win on the board, and not out of the graveyard, the only really scary one of these is Oona. Those Oblivion Rings are sounding better and better…

The New Sideboard

Last week, I proposed:

3 Negate
3 Boomerang
2 Runed Halo
1 Kitchen Finks
3 Wispmare
3 Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender

This week, I give you:

2 Hallowed Burial
3 Oblivion Ring
4 Knight of the White Orchid
3 Glen Elendra Archmage
3 Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender / Wispmare

Versus Kithkin, on the play:

+2 Hallowed Burial
+3 Oblivion Ring
-3 Tidings
-2 Runed Halo

Versus Kithkin, on the draw:

+2 Hallowed Burial
+3 Oblivion Ring
+4 Knight of the White Orchid
-3 Tidings
-2 Runed Halo
-4 Mind Stone

It has long been my stance that the massive gas-up spell in Reveillark (earlier Careful Consideration, now Tidings) is just too slow against the aggressive decks, and you need to take it out to streamline things. I also believe that Runed Halo is not worth it here; you might mise but you’ll usually rather have the targeted removal of Oblivion Ring, especially if Elspeth might be lurking in their sideboard.

As for the Knights, I think that you only swap them for your Mind Stones on the draw, because you cannot expect to get mana out of them on the play, and because you will want to play a two-drop that doesn’t affect the board much more when you aren’t a half-turn behind. You don’t need to slowroll the Knights for them to be effective, though; a 2/2 First Strike can buy you a bunch of time against a deck filled with 2/2s. If you don’t like the idea of bringing in a WW two-drop, though, you can stick with your Mind Stones even on the draw.

Versus Five-Color Control:

-4 Wrath of God
-2 Runed Halo
-1 Mistmeadow Witch
+4 Knight of the White Orchid
+3 Glen Elendra Archmage

It might seem odd that I am advocating bringing in 2/2s against the Wrath of God deck, but I think that this is the right move for two reasons. First, you plan to win by putting enough pressure on them that they have to play into the game you want them to, and these creatures are good at exactly that. Second, many Five-Color players you are up against will not realize how the matchup works, and board out all of their creature control. In that case, your extra pressure is even better than you’d think, as they have removed exactly those cards that answer 2/2s for two. In essence, I believe that it’s the right move either way, but also capitalizes on a likely error many players might make.

Versus Red Deck Wins:

-3 Tidings
+3 Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender

This is obviously only relevant if you’ve decided on Forge-Tenders instead of Wispmares (which is, I believe, correct). Again, you’re taking out the Tidings that are just too slow for the matchup, and bringing in a card that will help you lock things up.

Versus Faeries:

-2 Runed Halo
-4 Wrath of God
-1 Knight-Captain of Eos
+3 Oblivion Ring (or Wispmares if you have them)
+4 Knight of the White Orchid

Part of the reason I think you want Forge-Tenders instead of Wispmares is that you can kill Bitterblossom with Oblivion Ring if you’re forced into that corner. Obviously the Wispmares are better, so you should use those instead if you have them, but it’s not like you’re completely dropping your pants if you sleeve up Forge-Tenders.

Here you bring in the Knights for the same reason you do against Five-Color Control: early pressure that can possibly cause a tap-out war. You also want answers to Bitterblossom because it remains one of the best ways for Faeries to beat you.


In the end, I still like this deck quite a bit. I would, of course, play it at States in a heartbeat, and I think you should too. Unfortunately for me, I won’t be attending States, as it’s well over six hours away from where I live and I’ll need to focus on schoolwork that weekend. However, I think that that’s all the more reason that you should play it, so that someone can carry the torch. States tends to be filled with aggressive decks, and that is exactly the environment in which this deck will thrive.

As always, if you have any questions, feel free to contact me in the forums, via email, or on AIM.

Benjamin Peebles-Mundy
ben at mundy dot net
SlickPeebles on AIM