Slicing The Meta – Hexblade

Looking for a different deck to play in Standard? Jesse Smith has come up with a new brew he’s dubbed Hexblade. Try it out this weekend at StarCityGames.com Open: Dallas/Fort Worth!

I finally had a day off and what better way to spend it than coming up with some hot new Standard ideas?! After a ton of streaming and some double queuing in eight-man queues and Daily Events, this deck has been through the wringer and back with 30+ matches in the last day or so. It took some collaboration, but the real tuning of the deck came from Mat Marr who suggested to just go all-in on mana dorks and the aggro strategy in a similar fashion to Mythic Conscription. I initially had Mana Leak in the maindeck and didn’t have as many pump spells or even Invisible Stalker. His suggestion of Invisible Stalker was an OMG moment, and what became even more OMG was the fact he also mentioned Increasing Savagery as a sidepiece to Angelic Destiny!

I was trying too hard in forcing the three mana cost creatures out on turn 2 which isn’t all that realistic. I had Mirran Crusader, who was far too hard to cast with double white that early. The real breakthrough came when we swapped Mirran Crusader out for Strangleroot Geist. You wouldn’t think of it in a three-color deck, but there are only four sources that don’t produce green in the mana base. Also, we were running into issues with Increased Savagery not being able to target Mirran Crusader. The only other “nonbo” left in the deck is Sword of War and Peace and Angelic Destiny, which is a large reason you don’t see a set of Sword of War and Peace. But the metagame has also shifted and is more diverse than ever; we’re seeing a lot more black and blue spells so the split on the Swords often ends up being useful.

It was originally difficult to stay focused on keeping the deck aggressive. One of the cards that may not appear to fit that theme is Gideon Jura, but the reason he’s in the sideboard is because you can tap out your opponents and clear the way for a Savagery strike, Geist, or something similar. The card is at the top of our curve and has been devastating every time I cast it. It’s almost worth having one more in the main, but things have been running so smoothly it’s difficult to make any cuts. These statements run similar for Garruk; he’s just so incredibly powerful if you curve out correctly that he just refills the board so well with creatures or your hand.

One of the largest obstacles and struggles was the mana base. It’s not perfect by any means, but with the Strangleroot Geist change over Mirran Crusader it really helped fix a lot of the dead card issues. A lot of the time you’ll have lands come into play tapped, but the deck can get away with this because it has lots of one and two mana options when trying to cast a mana dork. For instance, turn one Sunpetal Grove, turn two Birds of Paradise and Hinterland Harbor. Then turn 3 you are set up for a Thrun or an Invisible Stalker and a Strangleroot Geist. It would be amazing to fit a Moorland Haunt, but at some point you just end up getting far too greedy. Mirran Crusader also felt too greedy.

Despite being a “turn four” deck you can actually win in theory on turn three by just starting so aggressively versus certain decks that they have no chance to answer. The idea is that you’re the fastest deck in the format (besides Tempered Steel). Not only that, you’re the most resilient and hardest deck to interact with. There are creatures, equipment, enchantments, and planeswalkers coming at your opponent from all sorts of angles, and most of the threats are a two or three turn clock.

This deck is modeled after Mythic Conscription. Mat Marr mentioned this to me when I told him the idea is to “see how many mana dorks you can get to” and also “see what the limit is.” That last line is so smart if you really stop and think about it. Pushing a deck in one focused strategy and concentrating on that is something that is so difficult to follow, but that line of pushing the limit falls in with that focus so well it makes me all giddy! The limit ended up being nine turn 1 mana ramp sources; this was consistent enough that we always had action turn one and two and we didn’t usually end up with do-nothing hands. Nine was the number that kept the deck aggressive but well balanced.

Balance is another fantastic aspect of the deck. Every creature is a threat and as long as you can keep one or two around, you always have a chance of winning. This is what led me to Strangleroot Geist. Slagstorm and Whipflare were a bit of an issue, as were board sweepers, but Strangleroot fixed this and Thrun, the Last Troll helped some too.

After building the deck, it was brought to my attention that Ryan Miller from Pro Tour Dark Ascension had a similar list. Props to him for being way ahead of the metagame. I’m surprised no one took notice. I think my list is quite a bit more aggressive overall, but I’m happy we both came to the same conclusion on the correct mana base.

The metagame is so incredibly wide open so I’ll give a quick guide as to how I play each matchup, but things are still shifting so nothing is absolute. For those that have read through this so far, I won’t keep you waiting anymore.

U/B Control

Just recently at Grand Prix Baltimore we saw U/B Control take the metagame by storm. This is extremely good news for anyone adopting this deck because the matchup is highly favorable. Black has access to sacrifice effects and Black Sun’s Zenith, but they need those cards almost every single time you slam a creature or they’re dealing with a possible lethal couple of blows. Planeswalkers are also incredibly powerful here, as are equipment. So with the combination of all of our hexproof and enchantments and equipment, U/B Control struggles to keep up with all of our threats. Just don’t overextend into a Black Sun’s Zenith.

U/W Delver variants (including Spirits)

This matchup can be a little tough during game 1, but by no means is it completely unfavorable. With the lack of Gut Shots in the maindeck, you want some mana accelerants to really get some strong threats on the board fast. You have to consider yourself the beatdown and play it that way. Invisible Stalker with Increasing Savagery is the best curve against Delver because they have no interaction for that. Corrosive Gale out of the sideboard is something you always want to bring in as it’s often a complete blowout and only hits your Birds of Paradise. You want to stay away from the five-drops in this matchup because they’re simply too slow. Stay aggressive and low on the mana curve!

U/W Humans

This matchup is probably our best due to their lack of true interaction. Their best removal spell as a three casting cost Fiend Hunter doesn’t cut it versus Hexproof, and you’re mana dorks rarely die leaving you to go all in without disruption which means you’ll almost always race them. I like Phantasmal Image out of the sideboard to hate out Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and also copy Fiend Hunters. Gideon isn’t great because they can often swing and kill him after you drop him. Naturalize is the best removal against them, especially on Honor of the Pure and Oblivion Ring.

Kessig Wolf Run

Your only real worry here is getting chumped forever by Inkmoth Nexus and getting blown out by Slagstorm and Whipflare. They all hurt, but the change to Strangleroot Geist was spawned because of this reason. Just play smart; there isn’t a need to overextend. For example, you can turn 1 mana dork into turn 2 Sword, or simply cast Increasing Savagery on your turn 1 play and at that point your opponent can’t kill it unless they have Beast Within. As soon as you can get your creatures out of burn range profitably do so. You just don’t want to be slow about it because Primeval Titan will often win the game after a turn or two if you haven’t been able to create much threat. This matchup has gotten a lot better because they are forced to use constant red board sweepers. Your best sideboard cards are Naturalize and Phantasmal Image. At one point I had Mana Leak in the sideboard, but it’s often better to just put constant threats on the board.

U/B Zombies

The rise of Zombies is one of the reasons Celestial Purge has a home in the sideboard. This matchup is often a cakewalk because they can’t interact well with all your creatures and can’t interact at all with your enchantments and artifacts. Strangleroot Geist plays a good wall here too to set up an aggressive hexproof creature with a Destiny or Savagery. Phantasmal Image also copies some good targets in this matchup, mainly Geralf’s Messenger and Batterskull that can completely shut your opponent down.

This is about the third time I’ve ever felt the “I can’t lose” feeling going into games. The last time was Mono-Black Infect when it was in its early days. I know this may sound arrogant, but you’ll see when you play it. It’s incredibly powerful and does lots of unfair things in similar fashion to what Mythic Conscription did. I hereby dub this deck Hexblade; spread the word!