Red Decks And Planeswalkers

Chris VanMeter was off the tournament scene for a short while, returned, and won his first SCG Tour Open immediately last year! How did he do it? By putting some aggressive cards in his foes’ faces on Week One! He’s got red stacked to the rafters for SCG Columbus (and some dedicated planeswalker brews if that’s your thing too!)

The first SCG Tour events after a release are some of my favorite tournaments to play in. New cards are being tried, everyone is excited to show off their sweet new decks, and there is always just a buzz in the air that is unique to a release weekend.

The last release Open that I played in was Kaladesh, and I took the whole thing down with Team Cardhoarder’s W/R Vehicles deck.

Guess I was a little rusty.

Sadly, I won’t be making the trip out to Columbus for the Aether Revolt release and the Standard Open this weekend, but that doesn’t mean that I haven’t been wracking my brain on decks that I would like to be playing.

Get. Them. Dead.

The reprinting of Shock has rekindled my desire to try to burn people out. I felt like we were close before with the U/R Fevered Visions decks, and then they kind of morphed into Grixis Madness Burn decks.

That is a lot of damage/life loss that can go to the dome, and having ways to interact with the Saheeli Rai / Felidar Guardian combo via Fiery Temper and Shock is important for this new format. The interesting points for building a deck are trying to harness the power of Dynavolt Tower, being pure and trying to take advantage of Thermo-Alchemist, or Fevered Visions-ing your opponents out of the game.

Here is what I imagine a pure “Face” deck looks like:

This is like what we were working with pre-Kaladesh, and while the inclusion of Shock isn’t really something to write home about, having a one-mana burn spell that can go to the dome can really help change the math on a Thermo-Alchemist turn. When this is combined with things like Cathartic Reunion, Alms of the Vein, and Fiery Temper, we are looking at a lot of damage.

With just one Thermo-Alchemist on the battlefield and five mana, we can Cathartic Reunion and cast both Fiery Temper and Alms of the Vein while following up with a Shock. Eight from our spells on top of five from Thermo-Alchemist triggers, and that’s a thirteen-damage turn with “draw three cards” tacked on.

The other important aspect of having Shock over Galvanic Bombardment is the reach that it can give us against the control decks. We aren’t in a world where Sphinx’s Revelation is going to put everything out of reach, and with our two-drops forcing some interaction, we will have windows of opportunity to throw a bunch of fire at our opponent’s face and reduce them to a low enough life total that we only need to resolve something, anything to kill them.

I don’t honestly think that Smuggler’s Copter and Emrakul, the Promised End pushed this type of strategy out, but ubiquitous three-toughness creatures can be difficult to answer. With Smuggler’s Copter and Reflector Mage (which also was a pain in the neck for this deck) gone, I think that we may have a formula for this style of deck to flourish. In addition to that, Aetherworks Marvel is definitely worse now that Emrakul, the Promised End is gone. There is still Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger to fill the void, but the success of that archetype will directly influence the number of Woodweaver’s Puzzleknots we may face.

Good riddance to them all.

Giddy Up

After my article last week, I’ve had something stuck in my mind. I have been really drawn to this G/W Tokens style of deck. I love having planeswalkers and I think that Sram’s Expertise is extremely powerful. The ability to build your battlefield and then either build it more or interact without needing opposing targets to start the action feels very powerful, but the more I think about Rishkar, Peema Renegade; Oath of Nissa; Oath of Ajani; and the planeswalkers, the more I want to be blinking them with Felidar Guardian.

There is so much value. Multiple Nissa, Voice of Zendikar -2 activations. Rishkar, Peema Renegade spreading counters and ramping us. Oath of Ajani growing our team over and over. Finding value with Oath of Nissa is always a great feeling.

Once we are there, is it that farfetched to find a way to fit Saheeli Rai into the deck? I mean, Oath of Nissa helps us cast her. Do you remember Raphael Levy’s deck from last year?

It really makes sense. G/W Tokens is an extremely proactive strategy, causing the opponent to interact early and often lest they be overrun by the massive advantage we are generating.

We have six lands and an Aether Hub with one energy counter, and they just tapped out to wipe our battlefield. I guess we should tap five lands, including the Aether Hub, and float a red mana. Felidar Guardian can blink our Aether Hub, which gives us another energy. Now we can generate blue mana and use our last land to cast Saheeli Rai and win the game.

Now the question is: “How does all of this fit together?”

Here is what I know I want to have access to:

4 Felidar Guardian
4 Saheeli Rai
4 Nissa, Voice of Zendikar
4 Oath of Nissa
X Rishkar, Peema Renegade
X Oath of Ajani
X Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
X Sram’s Expertise

Sram’s Expertise even lets us cast Saheeli Rai!

We also want some removal spells and some number of two-drops. The ones in consideration are Servant of the Conduit, Walking Ballista, and Selfless Spirit. If we have Ballista, we can also play Archangel Avacyn and use Ballista as a reset, like with Hangarback Walker.

Ajani Unyielding is also a possibility, and with the number of planeswalkers we are running, Heart of Kiran isn’t out of the question either. Let’s take a crack and see what it looks like?

4 Oath of Nissa
2 Oath of Ajani
2 Heart of Kiran
4 Declaration in Stone
3 Rishkar, Peema Renegade
4 Walking Ballista
4 Nissa, Voice of Zendikar
4 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
1 Ajani, Unyielding
4 Saheeli Rai
4 Felidar Guardian

All right, well, this curve doesn’t look all that great, and I still want to try to get Sram’s Expertise into the deck. I think it will help a lot with catching back up when we’re behind and putting us way ahead when we’re jockeying for position.

What about this?

Full disclosure: I am not good at making manabases. In fact, it is probably my worst quality in the realm of Magic: The Gathering. That being said, I know that I want a full set of Aether Hub, and Fortified Village will be great with the off-color Battle lands, but the likelihood of this manabase being 100% perfect is low.

Here are some explanations for card choices:

Oath of Nissa is the glue that holds this deck together. It can find us gas when we need it and it can find a land when we need it. It also helps us cast all our planeswalkers, of which there are thirteen, and it helps meet the color requirement for Saheeli Rai.

Oath of Nissa is the one card that makes me feel like this strategy is possible.

It’s possible this should be more, but for now I want to start with one. It gets great value when blinked by Felidar Guardian and can reduce the cost of all our planeswalkers. This lets us combo a turn earlier if needed by reducing the cost of Saheeli but can potentially lead to some double-planeswalker turns with Nissa, Voice of Zendikar and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. Also, a great combo off Sram’s Expertise.

This slot is kind of in the air. I like the synergy that it has with all the counter generators we have in Rishkar, Peema Renegade; Oath of Ajani; and Nissa, Voice of Zendikar. It also gives us a mana sink, especially when we are putting counters on our creatures and they can generate mana with Rishkar. It doesn’t really do anything with Saheeli Rai or Felidar Guardian, but it does give us a way to interact with opposing Saheeli Combo decks. Other considerations are Servant of the Conduit, Sylvan Advocate, Lambholt Pacifist, and Heart of Kiran.

Previously I wasn’t a huge fan of Declaration in Stone in the G/W decks, since games went super-long and they could just recoup the advantage and it wouldn’t end up mattering much, but now with the Saheeli combo integrated into the deck, we can close games out more quickly and make the card disadvantage not matter. Oath of Ajani and Rishkar, Peema Renegade, paired with the aggressive use of Nissa -1’s facilitated by Felidar Guardian, help with this too.

Rishkar is one of the reasons I want to play this deck. I also like him in G/B decks alongside Winding Constrictor. The ability to pump our tokens or early drops and help ramp us feels extremely powerful. Sram’s Expertise also gains a lot of value when you have Rishkar in your deck, since that combination adds seven power and two additional mana to the battlefield for only an initial cost of four mana.

Here is the bread and butter of the deck. Nissa and Gideon have been partying for some time now, and the addition of Saheeli Rai gives the deck a combo element. Saheeli also gives us the potential for sideboard cards with enters- or leaves-the-battlefield abilities, which is always nice.

Felidar Guardian plays very well with all these cards, whether it’s winning the game with Saheeli or getting extra activations out of our other planeswalkers. Generating extra tokens and getting extra -2 activations on Nissa can be game-breaking, and then they must decide which permanent to answer. Do they leave the planeswalker alone and lose to the advantage we are generating every turn, or do they leave the Felidar Guardian alone and potentially lose if we are ever able to get a Saheeli Rai onto the battlefield?

This is one of the reasons that I wanted to put the combo into this deck. Not only do we get some great value out of Felidar Guardian and Saheeli Rai individually, since they can enhance our normal gameplan, but they also add the combo element to our deck, which didn’t ever have that element before.

Jeskai Saheeli Combo is going to be extremely popular, but I wouldn’t be surprised at all if we end up seeing the combo put into other decks that already had a solid gameplan. Remember back in Standard when Splinter Twin became TwinBlade and rocked the socks off everyone? When you must respect a combo finish out of a deck that can already rumble with the best of them, then you get to create lots of uncomfortable scenarios where opponents play the game incorrectly.

Fortunately, Oath of Nissa does this perfectly by helping us find the missing pieces and fixing our mana all at the same time. Oath of Nissa revealing Saheeli Rai may just end up being the TwinBlade of this Standard format, whether it’s this list or another.

The last bonus from having a bit of a hybrid deck like this is that it lends itself to sideboarding very well. We have a removable strategy that doesn’t interfere with our normal gameplan but creates decisions for our opponent to make without perfect information. Is the combo still there? Do I have to be worried about dying if I tap out and they have six mana? These are agonizing questions that we are going to be dealing with while this strategy is available in Standard.

Will it be Splinter Twin or Jeskai Ascendancy? I’m leaning more on the former, while a lot of people are on the latter. What do you think? Is Saheeli going to capture her first Open victory this weekend?