Preferences & Going Big With Naya

Anthony tells you why he’s looking to go big in Standard with Elspeth, Sun’s Champion along with Chandra, Pyromaster and a few other goodies from Theros.

I’m tired of playing games with these puny creatures.

I’m a big fan of Geist of Saint Traft. In fact, it’s one of my favorite creatures in Magic and the star player on the multi-sports team #teamgeist. Unfortunately, his contract has expired, and he has been relegated to the Modern and Legacy leagues indefinitely. Burning-Tree Emissary is still a very powerful card, and it isn’t very often we get a card with such a unique effect. Nowadays, however, I’ve been struggling to make that type of shell work for me. I generally spend a whole lot of time building decks that fit my play style. I feel that one of my strong points sits at the mid-midgame, and I love forcing the issue on my opponent with huge, efficient threats. Thundermaw Hellkite is a perfect example of this. In fact, the last few months of Standard epitomized my style.

When Theros first started getting spoiled, I wanted to build red decks and only red decks. I wanted to hit the ground running and end my matches with 40 minutes left on the clock. Part of this was because of the reprinting of Thoughtseize. My knee-jerk reaction was to make Thoughtseize hurt my opponents more than it would hurt me by packing my deck with hyperaggressive creatures that would punish them for not matching my board right from the get-go. I tried everything, from Burning-Tree Emissary into Young Pyromancer to splashing for Boros Charm to comboing with Ral Zarek. It just wasn’t working for me. Part of that was because of a huge conflict of interests.

It’s very tough to balance your personal game with what’s considered "best." Part of this is because of the mixed opinions out there regarding the topic. One may tell you that simply playing the best deck will give you the best chance of winning, while another may say that playing what you enjoy or what you’re most comfortable with will give you a better chance than just playing the best deck with unfamiliarity. I think the issue with both of these arguments is the absolute stance that they appear to take and the lack of context and relativity given to them. When we think of one or the other, oftentimes we explore just the surface. Why do we not go much further than that?

Just because there’s an absolute best deck in the format, like Caw-Blade, doesn’t mean that there’s no room for preference (and Caw-Blade saw multiple iterations reflecting that). On the flip side, just because we can play a deck that might completely satisfy our personal preferences doesn’t mean the context of the format doesn’t matter. As competitive players, we should always look to improve and do what we feel is the best possible action, whether it be in game, during building, when preparing for a tournament, and everything in between. The problem is actually defining what best is and understanding that in today’s Magic context heavily influences what we view as best. Even if we’re only leaning toward our personal preferences, we can find the best ways to maximize them.

One big downfall of leaning on preference is the act of using it as an excuse. We often make the decision to play a card, make a bad play, play an inferior deck, or build an inferior Sealed deck because "it’s what suits me best." I’m very guilty of this, and it’s something that I still have trouble with. Yes, it’s very tempting to play Wake the Reflections in your token deck, but is that the best thing you can be doing in that slot or are you making that decision because you want to be original? There comes a point where we need to come to a balance between what we want to do and what’s best relative to what we want to do.

This applies to all aspects of the game, including gameplay. You’ll be met with decision trees where you’ll really want to make a play but wind up making another, potentially better play because you come to an agreement that what you’re tempted to do may not be what you need to do to get the desired result. All of last year, I wanted to play Chandra, the Firebrand in any deck I could think of, but I had to ask myself "is playing her really going to improve my chances of winning in these formats?"

Is this the best thing for me to do?

Have a reason for every decision you make. You don’t have to convince others of those decisions, but make sure it genuinely and honestly makes sense to you! I’m sure that Todd Anderson got banter for playing Phantasmal Bear in Constructed, but I guarantee you that his reasoning made sense to him. Because of that, he stuck with it, and the roots for the U/W Delver deck were laid. Every deck starts out as an idea, and ideas evolve, even if you don’t have a creature with greater power or toughness!

If you never try, you’ll never succeed.

With Theros right at our doorstep, my ideas have been all over the place. This whole week has been filled with amazing discussion, ideas, brews, and thoughts on the upcoming Standard format here on StarCityGames.com (with Mark Nestico getting approximately nine thousand and one comments alone!). Today I hope to keep that ball rolling with some of the bigger cards we have available to us.

It seems to me that most of us had a hard time evaluating Elspeth, Sun’s Champion when she was first spoiled. Now the majority of us have been talking about how powerful she can be. I’m a huge fan of going big, and when I get to play such a huge, in-your-face threat that also takes out their huge, in-your-face threats, I’m sold. A couple of weeks back, I talked about Chandra, Pyromaster’s new role in the fresh Standard format. I touched on Xenagos, the Reveler, and Domri Rade. I did not fully realize just how absurd Elspeth really is at the time, and today I think that she’ll be Chandra’s tag-team partner, at least in the first few weeks.

This brings me to my next couple of big game cards, though they may appear smaller than what we’re used to. Here are the quick hits, starting with the Lion King himself:


A two-drop that you wouldn’t mind drawing on turn 7 is very appealing, and I wouldn’t dare try to force a competition with Voice of Resurgence, especially when I can just play both! Selesnya is filled with creatures that give all sorts of headaches to aggro and control players, and Fleecemane Lion is another addition to that decently sized list.

Next up is Bow of . . . how many freaking things does this do!?

Made by Umezawa & Co.

Continuing the trend of forcing the issue on your opponent, only this time it’s against midrange opponents more than anything, this works very well with trample creatures like Kalonian Hydra (and helps the Hydra pump other creatures too!) and could potentially get you out of trouble against hyperaggressive decks that didn’t quite get you in time. This also has applications against Scavenging Ooze by getting creatures out of your graveyard. It’s a solid role player for sure and makes your already huge creatures even more threatening.

It’s pretty clear by now that I’m looking to play huge creatures and attack with them, but how are we going to go about that? Elvish Mystic and Sylvan Caryatid are two enablers for such a strategy, and from there we can go in multiple directions. Two of my favorite options are building it similar to the Domri Naya decks of old, where we jam as many creatures as possible with Domri Rade playing point guard, and going with a slower route featuring more planeswalkers. I’m more in favor of the second option, mostly because I really, really want to play Chandra on turn 3 and Elspeth on turn 5 but also because it gives us access to some awesome incidental tools.

A rough draft of what I’m thinking:

As always, these lists are not set in stone and are far from tuned, but it just shows the crazy amount of options available to us and how all of them can intertwine with each other. I’m a big fan of having powerful role players in decks, as a strong plan B can often make or break a game for some decks. The G/W shell offers a great but not overpowered plan A and a very strong plan B conjoined by role players that don’t lose that much value as a given game progresses and are still effective when the foundation around them falls apart.

My only issue with these lists—and the color combination in general—is flexibility. You don’t really get too many micromanaging choices with the cards that you play despite them being very powerful. As much as I dislike oversimplifying, you’re mostly playing really awesome creatures and trying to kill your opponent with them. This isn’t to say that you don’t have decisions to make at all; it’s just that most of them are fairly linear. I have no real problem with this, but we can certainly expand our options.

The God cards are a very interesting cycle that we’ve never had before. For most of spoiler season, we’ve been looking to build decks around them, mostly so that we can enable devotion. Forge[/author]“]Purphoros, God of the [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author] has been highlighted as one of the best, if not the best God in the set, mostly because of how easy he is to turn on. Do we really need to try so hard to enable devotion with him though? What if we just play him as a four-mana enchantment that makes our Elspeth deal six damage to each opponent?

Here’s what I mean:

Again, a rough list, but it shows that you don’t really have to actively go for devotion to make your Gods powerful. We can easily push the spectrum of the deck toward red and add Burning-Tree Emissary and some more two-drops while keeping the Elspeth and Purphoros combo together. Doing this would also allow us to play maybe one fewer Forest since playing basic Forest in your Boros Reckoner deck is kind of awkward to say the least.

It’s pretty overwhelming how many directions one can go with the smaller card pool available to us. I can’t wait to see what everyone else comes up with as we move closer to the StarCityGames.com Open Series in Worcester next weekend. Here are a few more notes about the format and what it might look like moving forward:

– I expect a big presence of Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice in the first week; finding a way to deal with her seems to be crucial for hyperaggressive decks.

Smite is very good at handling Ghor-Clan Rampager, as Brad Nelson introduced a while back.

– I actually think that Mistcutter Hydra is a bit overrated, but if you can find a way to supplement its effectiveness instead of relying on it, then it’ll perform well.

– I do not like Polukranos, World Eater at all anymore. Yes, it has a huge body for its cost, but unless you’re up against a Burning-Tree Emissary deck, you’ll be hard-pressed to live the dream of destroying your opponent’s board and, more importantly, actually landing a hit with it. That said, it is particularly effective at dealing with tokens made by Elspeth. Will Elspeth decks want to ramp her out as soon as possible? If so, then Selesnya Charm is a concern.

Lifebane Zombie is one of the bigger answers to these big green creature decks off the top of my head. It also plays defense well against Fleecemane Lion afterward for a little while.

Tymaret, the Murder King and Underworld Cerberus have a lot going for them and are a strong consideration for going black with your red aggro decks instead of green (Burning-Tree Emissary, Ghor-Clan Rampager) or white (Boros Charm, Chained to the Rocks).

Like others this week, I want to know what you think in the comments, but this time I want to know what you think of specific cards rather than decks! It could be your favorite card in the set, a card that you think is underrated or overrated or a card that you’re sure will have an impact on any format come release weekend. I want to see your ideas and thoughts grow!

Thanks for reading.

Anthony "Pyromaster" Lowry

Twitter: @aulowry (#teamchandra)