Pushing Planeswalkers In Standard

Todd continues pushing M15 power cards into high gear, trying to maximize Chord of Calling, Ajani Steadfast, and Garruk, Apex Predator as he tests out new Standard brews.

With the Magic 2015 Prerelease this weekend, people are gearing up for a new Standard. While most of the oldies are still going to be around, there are some new players that seem like they will do just fine even in such a hostile format. Many are heralding this as the best Core Set ever made, but I am skeptical. The Soul cycle are not Titans, and that’s probably a good thing, but you just know people are going to be whining in a month or two when Pack Rat keeps winning tournaments.

In my article last week, I built two decks that put Chord of Calling to good use. I’m sure it is no surprise to anyone that Chord of Calling will change how green decks are built in Standard, and could potentially bring about new archetypes with it! The card is so powerful in Melira Pod in Modern that the deck had single-handedly pushed Chord of Calling past the $30 point, though it has come down considerably since it was spoiled to be in M15 (and with new art!). I got to play with the card a bit in my VS video against Brad Nelson on Monday, and it did not disappoint! I also played a Mono Green Nissa, Worldwaker deck that should be going up Friday against BBDizzle.

The card is real.

Aside from Chord of Calling, the new Core Set does seem to have a certain… mystique to it. I can’t quite put my finger on it just yet, but I think it has something to do with flavor, or maybe just interesting card designs. Either way, Hot Soup is absolutely ridiculous, hilarious, and just plain fun. I do think it is very awesome that a lot of designers from other games (that play Magic) did “guest designs” for some of the cards. It is interesting to see what kinds of cards people with a good mind for design will make, and a brief glimpse into how those people think.

I also think it is hilarious that the masses created this:

Waste not your slots in the deck you’re building. This card is cabbage.

But enough about how the cards are designed, today we’re going to be looking over a few of my favorites in M15 and build some decks around them. Let’s get to it!

Token White Guy

This card is… something else. I don’t exactly know what kind of a deck to build around him, whether it be all planeswalkers all the time or even just casting Raise the Alarm, but what I do know is that this card seems better than Ajani Goldmane (and he was noooo slouch).

There was another card spoiled recently that hasn’t been getting a lot of press, but seems like it could be pretty awesome.

With Mana Confluence, the enemy cycle of Painlands, as well as Ravnica shocklands, dealing yourself a small amount of damage isn’t too difficult. That doesn’t even mention the fact that your opponent is probably going to be attacking you quite a bit. This card seems pretty amazing alongside Path of Bravery, letting you continually deal yourself small bits of damage, make new 1/1 Soldiers, and continue gaining back the life you lost. While you won’t always get an Anthem effect out of it, building up a small army with Raise the Alarm, Precinct Captain, and the rest of your white weenies seems pretty awesome.

I am always wary of Bitterblossom-type cards, and First Response seems like it could be very good (albeit slow). You do have the ability to create two Soldiers a turn just by casting spells or even just tapping lands to no benefit at all, which is pretty sweet. I also love the interaction with Ajani Steadfast, allowing you to either grow your team significantly or just gain back the life you’ve been losing over the first few turns.

One card that could be good in this style of deck, if we choose to go down a Nykthos route, is Mass Calcify. We want to sweep the board in some matchups and all of our creatures should be white, so having Precinct Captain and Boros Reckoner alongside Ajani Steadfast, First Response and maybe Path of Bravery means we can power up a Nykthos pretty easily. While we don’t have access to any sort of Burning-Tree Emissary shenanigans with this deck, we can slowly build our board up with permanents that are not easy to deal with.

But Nykthos is dangerous territory due to such a high density of disruption in the format, whether that disruption be Thoughtseize or just Supreme Verdict, and I’m not sure if Nykthos is actually good in the deck I’m putting together now. Simply put, we want to play things like Raise the Alarm, and those tokens don’t add to your devotion. But I did want to mention its potential with Mass Calcify. Most sweepers are not very good in Devotion strategies, but Mass Calcify is a huge exception to that rule.

While we should be adding a color to help turn on First Response, I don’t know if an enemy color is necessary. I think green adds a lot of elements to the deck, including another strong defensive creature in Voice of Resurgence as well as Selesnya Charm and some other token producers. If we want to move all-in on Ajani Steadfast, let’s try out a token strategy!

As you can see, there is a lot going on here. We are even playing a few copies of Caves of Koilos to help turn on First Response! I’m not entirely sure this is necessary, but I wanted to try it out for the sake of seeing just how easily we could turn it on. Mana Confluence acts as an easy way to trigger it on our opponent’s turn if they aren’t going to be attacking us much, but we can deal ourselves damage as well with our lands if we are of a mind to do so.

We are also pushing Ajani Steadfast to the limits here. With Triplicate Spirits, Raise the Alarm, and even Scion of Vitu-Ghazi, we are going to flood the board quickly and Ajani can turn our small army into a much bigger army. While we are a little weak to Pack Rat, we can hopefully overwhelm it if we get a good draw.

While we are a little light on lands to be playing Elspeth, I think it makes for a good top-end finisher alongside Ajani Steadfast. When you’re able to continually put counters on all your creatures and your Elspeth, you could potentially ultimate your Elspeth the turn after you cast it! While this won’t happen often, the two cards work extremely well together.

There is an argument for playing more Anthem effects, overloading on Spear of Heliod, Hall of Triumph, and even Dictate of Heliod. However, I feel like Ajani Steadfast does a fine job of filling that role, and I don’t want to have too many copies of that effect. I would much rather find ways to fit more token producers into the deck first.

I’m not sure if Triplicate Spirits is even good yet, but I have a feeling it is getting really undervalued. It is no Spectral Procession, but it can play a similar role when the board is starting to clog up. If you aren’t able to attack early on with your creatures, being able to make some fliers so that your Ajani Steadfast becomes a brick house is pretty friggin’ sweet. I suspect that you will have a tough time beating some decks without a healthy number of flying creatures, and especially so when you’re gumming up the ground with Voice of Resurgence, Precinct Captain, and Boros Reckoner.

I’m also looking at trying out a W/B token-based deck, giving us ways to interact with both Pack Rat and Master of Waves, two cards that can give this style of deck a rough time. It is possible that the above deck is working too much in a vacuum and doesn’t have the ability to stop the powerful things our opponent is trying to do, so with that in mind we could look at playing a different color besides green to help on that front… and I think black is exactly the color to do it.

Black also gives us Xathrid Necromancer, which we can play alongside a few more Humans, and also acts like a super-Voice of Resurgence in combat. It is possible that we don’t want any other Anthem effects besides Ajani Steadfast, as he will fill that role easily, which leaves us with a lot of room to have removal spells in our deck to fend of opposing threats.

This deck is less top-heavy than the W/G version, focusing more on the synergy between Xathrid Necromancer and the Human sub-theme. We are still a token strategy, but now we’re less about swingy effects and more about consistently having the right answer to their threats. Orzhov Charm can take care of any creature in the format, though that damage can be considerable sometimes. I can see a downside to playing so many lands that deal you damage against a Mono-Red opponent, but turning on your First Response and playing your creatures on time is a big game.

This deck may want some number of Path of Bravery in the sideboard to help out against red decks, but that kind of card can be dead when they have the right sideboard options like Electrickery. I’m leaning pretty hard on Ajani Steadfast here, both in gaining life with his +1 ability when we need it and pumping all of your tokens to overwhelm the opponent otherwise. If First Response ends up being a bust, Path of Bravery is the next card I want to try in that slot. For now, I just want to see if it is good. I especially love the ability to Orzhov Charm on your opponent’s turn and get a token on your turn.

Both of these decks have their downsides, but both seem like they are putting Ajani Steadfast to good use… which is what I want out of a new brew. I want to take a card and build around it. Like last week, when I took Chord of Calling and Nissa, Worldwaker to the extreme, this week I’m seeing if Ajani can be everything I want it to be. There is a bit of danger in building around a single card in Standard simply because Thoughtseize exists, but if we don’t try then we’re just going to spin our wheels until Thoughtseize rotates out of the format and Ajani, Nissa and all these other shiny new toys go with it.

While Ajani Steadfast does come with the caveat of “play a bunch of creatures,” we don’t necessarily have to overextend our board in order to make him good. One Triplicate Spirits, or even one Raise the Alarm, and we have a significant clock that our opponent will have a tough time racing. Add to this the fact that we get access to Xathrid Necromancer and First Response in order to continually generate threats and we have a solid game-plan against anyone trying to sweep our entire board away.

One major concern with this deck is the existence of Anger of the Gods. It doesn’t see a lot of play right now, but that could change in the near future if decks like these take off. I don’t expect a lot of people to be playing Anger of the Gods at the Open Series in Baltimore, but I will expect it if decks like this start off dominating the format. For now, I think everyone will just play the same old junk and hope it’s good enough, but I’m not satisfied with that. I’m going to push every new card in M15 until I have found something I like more than the rest. At the moment, I like Chord of Calling and Ajani Steadfast. Next week, I might like something else.

One great thing about being enveloped in Magic is that you get to try new things on a regular basis. If one of the “big three” decks isn’t doing so well, I have the time and resources to give a new deck a shot. For those of you who play FNM on a regular basis, I challenge you to do the same. If you have the time to find new strategies and new decks, then do it. Don’t be content sitting on your hands and playing Master of Waves or Pack Rat. When new cards come calling, you should answer.

I will not disagree that the two decks above are very similar, but the types of interactions they have with the opponent will be very different. Something as small as adding a removal package will completely alter how certain matchups play out, because a card that was once a problem is less likely to be so. I would not want to go into a tournament filled with Master of Waves with the W/G Token deck, but I wouldn’t mind it so much if I had access to a few ways to kill it!

Lastly, I wanted to talk about the elephant-man in the room.

The Alpha and Omega

This guy is expensive, but he is also just ridiculous. I’ve always been a huge fan of Garruk in all his incarnations, but this one feels so similar to Karn Liberated (albeit worse, to an extent) and that is not something you should ignore. Karn sees regular play in Modern and was pretty awesome in a few decks while he was in Standard. Garruk gives you a way to continually dominate opposing planeswalkers, yes, but he also is just a win condition by himself. Making 3/3 Beasts with deathtouch every turn is awesome, but he has so much range in what he can do!

I think one of the best ways to utilize Garruk will be in a deck that features some sort of sweeper effect. Buying yourself enough time to get to seven mana is key, but the major problem here is that the only real sweepers in the format are Supreme Verdict and Anger of the Gods. I don’t know if that means playing four colors, or just playing Jund, but I don’t know if Garruk is something you can rely on if you’re going to try and spot-removal your opponent to death. Having Garruk and Pack Rat in the same deck does not seem like a winning proposition, though I could be entirely wrong.

The comparisons to Vraska are not unwarranted, but Vraska has the ability to kill opposing Detention Spheres and Garruk does not. But why not play both? Give yourself access to a bunch of planeswalkers that just smash up the opposing side of the board while you get to keep something around!

If you have the ability to stall the board and have removal for key annoyances like Pack Rat, Nightveil Specter, or Master of Waves, Anger of the Gods might not be a necessity but I would certainly keep it in mind. Something similar to Jund Monsters might be good, but I want to go in a bit of a different direction.

The problem with playing seven-drops and Anger of the Gods is that you don’t get access to good mana accelerators, making your deck glacially slow. However, if you find yourself losing to swarms of small creatures, we could alter this deck significantly to fight on that front. For now, we’re trying this version.

The good parts of this deck are very good. But the bad part about this deck is the manabase. Splashing that third color is going to be a little awkward sometimes, but you usually won’t need the red mana until later in the game aside from occasionally needing to Dreadbore something early on. You will deal yourself some amount of damage to cast your spells on time, but you spells are pretty powerful so it will usually be worth it.

The major drawback to this deck is that it is light on threats. A control deck won’t have too many cards they have to counter, but you have a significant number of ways to disrupt them after sideboarding. Their Detention Spheres are mediocre due to having access to Abrupt Decay as your cheap form of removal, and you also have Dreadbore and Hero’s Downfall to take care of their Jaces and Elspeths. It is possible that this deck wants access to four copies of Pack Rat, just as another way to attack them and use the dead resources that get stuck in your hand, but I won’t be certain until I’ve played some with the deck.

If you wanted, you could cut the red from the deck to do just that.

But I am a man who loves Rakdos’s Return, and I would want some way to cast it if I’m already ramping. Like most ramp decks, we’re going to be an underdog to control until we get to the sideboard, but after that we will punish them with a slew of discard effects and gigantic threats that they can’t counter or kill very easily. Most of our removal will do at least something against them, as they all have side-effects like killing Jace or Detention Sphere while also being incredibly potent against the creature-based decks.

If you love playing Jund Monsters I wouldn’t slight you for sticking to that, but this deck feels like a hybrid between a black control deck and Jund Monsters, two decks that are pretty big contenders right now. It could be possible that mixing the two isn’t what you want to be doing, as I can see where problems would crop up with drawing too many copies of Stomping Ground alongside Hero’s Downfall, but sometimes you have to gamble a little bit in order to play the spells that do what you need them to do.

Such is Standard.

I think Garruk, Apex Predator is an absurdly powerful Magic card, but that’s also the reason they made him cost seven mana. It will get stuck in your hand sometimes, and his effects might not be enough to claw you back into a game that you’re very far behind. But he is a closer, and that’s something that these B/G decks have needed. I’m looking forward to trying out all of these decks over the next few days and seeing how they perform. Until then, be sure to check out our VS videos that go up Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, as we’ll be battling it out with new Standard brews.