Sometimes, a deck grabs my interest so intensely that I find it difficult to play anything else. That’s what’s happened with me recently with Constellation
in Standard. I may not be playing in any upcoming events in the format, but I’ve found myself spending countless hours tuning and tweaking different
versions of the deck both on video and stream as well as when I’m just sitting around at my computer on Magic Online. In fact, right now, I’m actually
fighting the urge to fire up MTGO and play in some Standard queues so I can actually get this article written.
Actually, you’re going to have to wait. The fever is taking hold, and there are seven in the queue. It’s time to battle.
Okay, back. Waiting for my opponent to take his turn. As I was saying…
Why do I like playing Constellation so much? Probably because at its heart it’s a midrange creature deck that plays a generally honest game of Magic, but
it’s also capable of doing some incredibly powerful things. I have a certain softness for winning games in dramatic and dominant ways that goes all the way
back to when I first put Armadillo Cloak on Rith. A lot of the games that I win with Constellation have me giggling to myself like a schoolgirl at all the
ridiculous things that I’m doing.
I’ve spent the past few weeks playing basically nothing but Constellation, but that doesn’t mean I’ve been playing the same deck the whole time. I’ve been
trying out a wide variety of different Constellation builds, trying to find the right one for the current metagame. I have more Constellation decks saved
right now on Magic online than I do Modern Zoo variants, which is really saying something.
Today, I want to go over the different versions of Constellation that I’ve tried and look at the pros and cons of each, as well as talk about some
directions I’ve considered but have not yet had the chance to try.
Let’s start from the beginning, with the deck that got me started on this whole Constellation kick:
Junk Constellation has quickly become the standard to which other Constellation decks are compared, which I think is kind of funny. When I was streaming
with other versions over the past week, lots of people were asking things like “Why aren’t you playing Elspeth,” which you’d think would be fairly easily
answered by “because I’m not playing white.” It was interesting commentary on how quickly people accept the first reasonably successful version of any kind
of deck as simply the way such as deck ought to be built without really questioning why themselves.
What I realized when I was playing Junk Constellation though, was that Banishing Light just wasn’t that good. There are a lot of ways for people to remove
it, and I wasn’t very happy when I lost games to my removal spell getting itself removed, especially at a crucial time like when I was attacking and my
opponent had Abrupt Decay to free a Desecration Demon. It was even worse when I was relying heavily on Banishing Light against decks with Detention Sphere,
and I’d end up seeing my opponent free multiple planeswalkers with a single Sphere.
I cut down to two Banishing Lights, and kind of felt like I wanted to cut them entirely, at which point I started wondering why I was playing white in the
first place. If I made that cut, the only reason I had white was for a handful of sideboard cards and Elspeth in my main deck. Was it really worth it?
Cutting white could let me reduce the number of lands in the deck that entered the battlefield tapped, as well as minimize the damage I was taking from
extra Ravnica shock lands.
This was my next step:
- 4 Sylvan Caryatid
- 4 Courser of Kruphix
- 4 Eidolon of Blossoms
- 4 Doomwake Giant
- 1 Pharika, God of Affliction
- 4 Brain Maggot
The idea here was trying to see if I was able to preserve most of the power of the Junk deck while improving the consistency by cutting down to just two
colors. This also meant that I got to cut several lands that entered the battlefield tapped, as well as a bunch of shock lands, allowing the deck to
preserve its life points and run more smoothly against aggressive decks. Taking less land damage also made the cost of Underworld Connections more
palatable, which led to me increasing the number in the maindeck all the way up to four, before deciding to swap one out for a Pharika to give it a try. I
wasn’t really impressed by Pharika, since it does little to nothing on its own, and this deck already has a lot of reactive cards and mana and can’t really
afford too many cards that are weak draws.
Another thing I liked about cutting down to two colors was the ability to better use Mutavault. Mutavault is one of the best cards in the current Standard
format, and it is particularly effective against control decks, which was one of the places where I found the Junk Constellation deck struggled. Playing
fewer colors at least theoretically makes it easier to play more Mutavaults, though they can still be a stretch for a two color deck with a significant
number of double colored cost spells.
Giving up white in this list means losing Banishing Light, which as I discussed earlier I was totally fine with. The bigger sacrifice is Elspeth, which is
a powerful card that can win games on its own. In its place, I included Primeval Bounty. Bounty doesn’t have the same immediate game impact as Elspeth,
especially when you’re far behind, but it takes over almost any game if it gets a chance to get going. It’s also much less vulnerable to removal than
Elspeth is, especially against Mono-Black Devotion, where it is almost impossible for them to actually beat.
I played a bunch of games with this version of the deck (which you can see by checking out the archives of my BMKGamingLIVE show on Twitch, and I liked a lot of what it was doing.
The biggest problem that I found was that the deck just wasn’t competitive against Sphinx’s Revelation-based control decks like Esper or U/W. And I don’t
mean that the matchup was pretty tough, but you could sometimes pull it out. I mean that it was truly terrible, and I had trouble ever winning at all.
It’s not surprising, really. These builds of Constellation are very much built around generating incremental advantages and riding those to victory. You
generally win by eking out card advantage with Eidolon of Blossoms and Underworld Connections and setting up some impressive Doomwake Giant turn, but half
the cards you’re drawing are weak or dead against control, and Giant just gets swept up by Supreme Verdict like the rest of them. Even with nine discard
spells, four Underworld Connections, and a bunch of Golgari Charms and Mutavaults, I still had trouble winning, because I just didn’t put on enough
pressure and eventually my opponent would just draw a Sphinx’s Revelation and pull the game out of reach.
That’s what lead me to put together this version:
Keep losing to Sphinx’s Revelation? Well then take it out of the equation! One of the great things about Constellation is that it is great at fighting
through removal and planewalkers and the like, thanks to all the card draw and discard and such – it’s just the Revelations that get you. When
Thoughtseize, Duress, and Brain Maggot proved to be insufficient, I decided to try even more extreme measures – Slaughter Games.
I haven’t actually had a chance to test this plan, because the only times I’ve played this deck online I’ve run into pretty much everything except Sphinx’s
Revelation decks. Right now, I have one copy of Sire of Insanity as an extra haymaker against control, since it seems pretty tough for most of the U/W
decks to beat these days, but it’s possible that I’d rather have some number of Rakdos’s Return or something similar.
One thing I like about this deck that I missed when I was playing Golgari is the number of temples it plays. While I certainly did like having more
untapped land in the two color version, I missed the amount of deck manipulation that I had from temples in the Junk deck. With no red cards in the main
deck here, there is only a very light touch of the third color of mana – four Temple of Abandon and three shocklands alongside Sylvan Caryatid and Mana
Bloom. It’s important to keep in mind that you generally want to sideboard out at least some number of Sylvan Caryatids against decks with Supreme Verdict,
so you can’t rely too heavily on them to cast splash cards from a third color. This is also a big part of the reason for the Mutavault in the sideboard, as
an extra land that has bonus value you can bring in when you’re taking out Caryatids against wrath decks.
This deck has a ton of cards in the sideboard against control, which means it doesn’t have all that many extra options to bring in against other decks.
There is some crossover with cards like Thoughtseize and Golgari Charm, but you’re still pretty heavily biased toward shoring up those matchups after
Thinking about ways to free up sideboard room for other matchups got me wondering about whether Thoughtseize should really be on the bench. While the
synergy Brain Maggot has with the Constellation cards in the deck is nice, is it really a better maindeck option? I certainly hate when I draw multiple
lands that enter the battlefield tapped and can’t even cast Brain Maggot on turn 2, or when I can’t play Maggot before my opponent is able to play a Pack
Rat that I don’t have any way to deal with. On top of that, relying on Brain Maggot as disruption rather than Thoughtseize is part of the deck’s
vulnerability to control, since it makes you that much weaker to Supreme Verdict and makes it that much harder to keep a Revelation out of your opponent’s
I decide that I wanted to try Thoughtseize instead. Additionally , I thought I’d try an entirely different approach for the control matchups. Rather than
try to win a grindy game against them and fight through their revelations with something like Slaughter Games, I wanted to experiment with a different tack
that’s worked for me so many times in the past – make them dead.
I’ve wanted to find a home for the duo of Herald of Torment and Boon Satyr for a while, since I think they’re a great way to combat control decks. The
combination of bestow, instant speed creatures, Mutavaults, and Golgari Charm – not to mention discard spells – makes this version of the deck extremely
powerful against any opponent relying on Supreme Verdict or similar effects. It’s possible that Mistcutter Hydra ought to be in the mix here in some
capacity, as well, but I wanted to start experimenting with synergistic options before going back to something like that.
I’ve played with this version of the deck least of all. So far, I haven’t been incredibly impressed by Herald of Torment in the maindeck, since it doesn’t
fit into the plan of what the rest of the deck is trying to do in a lot of matchups, but it’s proven useful for killing planeswalkers and the like, so it’s
certainly not all bad. This iteration definitely needs some work, and has me wondering whether I should try something even more fully in this direction
with a more aggressive bent overall, but I don’t really have a super clear picture of what that might look like just yet.
What do you think? What’s the best way to unlock the power of the stars?