Phalanx & Monsters

Valeriy continues to prepare for an onslaught of Mono-Red Aggro in Standard by building some decks around Phalanx Leader and furthering his green deck ideas.

I was busy at work for a few days and didn’t check the Theros spoiler during that time. The first card I saw when I returned was this:

I immediately started searching for cheap creatures with first strike to highlight this week. Mono-Red Aggro gained another one-mana two-power creature, and my dislike will not stop this brand-new Jackal Pup from seeing play, so it’s time to prepare to beat it. Precinct Captain is one of the best ways to stop and overpower Mono-Red Aggro (and pressure control decks), but who are the lieutenants that can support the captain? I’ve seen some good White Weenie lists (shockingly, not from Craig Wescoe but from Gerry Thompson), but I want to try a different direction. So today I’ll present you with some ideas regarding White Weenie and the further development of my green decks from last week.

I remember the good ol’ days when White Weenie in its Kithkin form had Glorious Anthem and Wizened Cenn, and now we can repeat that concept (even if at lower power level) with Spear of Heliod and Phalanx Leader. The Spear gives us not just an anthem effect but also a removal spell (a bad one, but it’s repeatable and doesn’t cost a card), so we can put more effort into pushing the heroic mechanic. Phalanx Leader isn’t great for Constructed, but I think it may be worth trying. It’s not good enough as is in a deck with fast, small creatures, but its mana cost is WW—which means "two points closer to an indestructible 5/6."

That’s what we have. I splashed for Selesnya Charm because all three modes of the card are very good (and it’s probably the best spell that can target your creatures)—one of these modes is a flash creature, which is important in a world with Supreme Verdict and Anger of the Gods. Swift Justice is cheaper but not good enough (while Coordinated Assault may actually be). Ethereal Armor is weaker than I’d like, but it’s fine with Spear of Heliod and can significantly improve our non-heroic creatures if needed (though I’d seriously think about how to incorporate Fencing Ace in the list).

Also, regarding Hopeful Eidolon, I don’t think it’s good enough for Constructed, but I wanted a one-mana creature with bestow and this deck is the proper place to try it (even if it would be much better at bestow cost 2W). Eidolon gives us an excess of one-mana creatures, which is relevant in many matchups, and grants us lifelink against Mono-Red Aggro (though maybe I should simply play Unflinching Courage instead; consider it giving a new card a chance).

Possible sideboard cards include Murder Investigation (a strange one, but it may be fine with Phalanx Leader and Spear of Heliod), Keening Apparition, and Unflinching Courage. Rootborn Defenses is not likely to make the cut, as it’s too expensive to serve as anti-sweeper protection. The last card to note is Divine Favor. The difference between two and three mana is huge, and it could actually be better against super-fast Mono-Red Aggro. The nongreen mana cost may also be an upside.

I’ve mentioned Coordinated Assault—and for a good reason. Phalanx Leader isn’t the only creature that has a mass pump effect in its heroic ability. Anax and Cymede are the king and queen of Akros. Or should I say "despot and despotess?" Anyway, Anax and Cymede pump their folk and are the second of heroic creature to make our targeting spells better.

Note that Martial Glory is written in a way that allows you to target the same creature twice and gain its heroic effect twice at once. Double pumping your entire team may be the difference between victory and horrible death to Anger of the Gods.

Competition among Boros creatures is very strong, and I’ve made some odd decisions again. Favored Hoplite is a strange creature, but it helps maximize the value of our pump spells and stops an entire red army after the first pump. Martial Glory is also an interesting way to deal with bigger green creatures (which may be a problem in upcoming Standard). The sideboard should obviously include Chained to the Rocks and Boros Charm; I’m not sure about the rest, but Heliod himself would be interesting.

You may have noticed that this list doesn’t contain Firefist Striker, Boros Elite, or Frontline Medic. These cards are good, but they’re better in the fastest deck of the format. The lists above are built to be the second fastest and to work in presence of Mono-Red Aggro. When playing against Mono-Red Aggro, you’re the control deck, which affects your deckbuilding decisions. I can, for example, see Boros Reckoner in the sideboard despite it definitely being too slow for the maindeck.

I tried some other versions of Phalanx, but having Phalanx Leader and Akroan Crusader in the same deck just doesn’t work these days, so I spent some time on other ideas, including further development of the Domri Rade deck I presented last week and other green-based decks. Boon Satyr is a great card—exactly what I needed to fill the hole in the three-mana slot.

This deck has enough speed, power, and reliability to be successful in the format (especially with carefully chosen sideboard options to support Burning Earth), so I have high hopes about it. The most important problem I see is a mana-curve overload at two (partially compensated by Elvish Mystic and Scavenging Ooze) and the inability to support Experiment One. Boon Satyr is nearly perfect to grow the little Human Ooze, but another two- or three-mana creature with three points of power is needed.

Or with three points of toughness?

Sylvan Caryatid may fit into this deck very well—it stops Mono-Red Aggro, accelerates our mana reliably, and pumps Experiment One. I’m not sure about the combination of Sylvan Caryatid and Burning-Tree Emissary (and about Emissary in general), but the combination of Caryatid and Experiment One looks very efficient in a deck aiming to stop Mono-Red Aggro and cast threats relatively fast.

This version grows Experiment One more reliably and has better mana despite the lack of Burning-Tree Emissary. The cost of reliability is speed, but this exchange may be favorable. I tried versions with different sets of cheap creatures, but it’s still hard to find a good three-mana creature for a green deck. One of the most interesting attempts was the combination of Gyre Sage, Experiment One, and Renegade Krasis. However, Kalonian Hydra is simply worse than Stormbreath Dragon in a G/R shell, and threats like Ghor-Clan Rampager don’t have synergy with a +1/+1 counters subtheme.

This list has a variety of threats requiring immediate answers and Thoughtseize to ensure the opponent won’t have one in time. There’s no Domri Rade or other source of card advantage (there’s not even a B/G scry land yet!), but the power of Thoughtseize should not be underestimated. That, by the way, is why I dislike this card in the new Standard format; a very wide discard spell in a format with a variety of narrow conditional cards is strange. Don’t you think that it’s weird to print Gainsay and Thoughtseize in the same set?

Note the lack of powerful cards like Lotleth Troll and Dreg Mangler. I’d like to play both of them (and the fourth Thoughtseize), but having a reliable mana base is the first priority—at least for right now. There shouldn’t be a situation where you’re stuck with cheap cards in your hand, so I rate Kalonian Tusker a little higher than Lotleth Troll if I exchange some removal cards for additional creatures.

I saw some attempts to extend this idea into Jund colors for Exava, Rakdos Bloodwitch (or even Ogre Battledriver), but I didn’t find a version with a mana base good enough for my pickiness (even with Sylvan Caryatid, which is a must for such decks). However, I may be too conservative, and the idea of having Kalonian Hydra, Corpsejack Menace, and Domri Rade in the same deck may be worth trying.

That’s all I’ve got for today, but before I say goodbye I want to mention something. Unsurprisingly, a lot of authors will be writing about Theros right now, but there’s still a plethora of interesting and completely uncovered ideas. There’s a chance that the interaction of "use the second ability of Garruk, Caller of Beasts and activate monstrosity immediately" may be good enough with Polis Crusher or Arbor Colossus (and you can have big red-proof mana with Sylvan Caryatid and Axebane Guardian); Guttersnipe probably has more potential than people think in warm company with Young Pyromancer and Akroan Crusader; I haven’t seen a dedicated Fleecemane Lion deck yet; et cetera.

New Standard is always great for brewing, so don’t miss it!

Valeriy Shunkov