So Close No Matter How Far

Michael talks about three decks he’s been working on in Standard. Get some ideas before SCG Open Series: Indianapolis featuring the Invitational this weekend!

Let’s start this week with a list.

Cards I want to play in Standard right now:

1. Doom Blade
2. Selesnya Charm
3. Supreme Verdict
4. Reaper of the Wilds

I’m going to talk about my attempts to build decks either based on these cards or due to the presence of these cards in Standard. I’ll explain myself as we go along.

So let’s get started.

Since Pro Tour Theros, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out interesting ways to break Standard. Like all brewers, though, I’ve run into the issue where a lot of my ideas end up being not quite ready for the big time.

Here’s the thing though—I thought the same thing about the Mono-Blue Devotion decks I’d been working on, some of which were really close to the decklists that took three of the Top 4 slots in Ireland two weekends ago. Perhaps I just don’t have enough faith in my ideas.

So here’s what I’m going to do today. I’m going to go through some of the recent ideas that I put together but felt weren’t quite good enough. These might actually not be good enough, but if just one is worth the time and someone has success with it, I’ll be a happy camper. I tend to not have faith in my ideas, presuming them to be bad, but if I’d have had enough confidence in my blue lists, I might have been able to provide you all with a list to try out before Dublin.

Let’s kick things off with Junk Reanimator.

We all remember how good that version of Junk Reanimator was; this is not that version. It began with a conversation with John Winters on Facebook where he talked about playing Whip of Erebos with Ashen Rider. I’d wondered if there was a deck that wanted to be playing Rescue from the Underworld for a while now, making me think that there was a straight B/G Reanimator list possible.

I quickly found that since Rescue from the Underworld isn’t Unburial Rites (and turning it over with Grisly Salvage is a very bad thing), you kind of have to play white in the deck in order to cast some of the threats in it. Once you do that, you open yourself up to new possibilities.

Brian Braun-Duin has been vocal about his love for not only Obzedat, Ghost Council but also the interaction with Whip of Erebos. When you add white mana to the deck, you get to play more Obzedats to combo with the Whips that you would already be playing. One of the more interesting things that made me want to try this is how Commune with the Gods allows you to not only grab a creature but also a Whip of Erebos.

This is what I drew up to try:

There are some games where this deck feels unbeatable; however, there are also games where you wonder how the deck wins any games. To be fair, every deck has draws where it isn’t running optimally, but this deck seems to have more than it should. That’s the only thing stopping me from really pushing this deck more.

You may be looking at some of the cards, namely Giant Adelphage, kind of funny. The Adephages used to be Angel of Serenitys. I realized that even though it’s decent tempo to reanimate an Angel of Serenity with a Whip of Erebos, you really don’t gain much unless you’re returning some creatures from your own graveyard into play. With Adelphage, you get to essentially keep the creature (albeit a token).

I wonder if more work on this would improve the deck, but when I envision corrections I could make, the deck ends up looking more and more like the deck that BBD ran at Pro Tour Theros.

I’ll revisit some of those card choices and concepts here in a second.

The one thing that I realized was that Rescue is the most polarized card in the deck in terms of how good it is. On one hand, you get to sacrifice a Voice of Resurgence to send it down to the underworld to pick up an Ashen Rider.

Ticket to Value Town punched.

Then there are games against red aggro where you’re at a precariously low life total with an Obzedat in the graveyard that would give you the breathing room necessary to come back, only to watch as you block with Sylvan Caryatid, play Rescue sacrificing the neo Utopia Tree, and your opponent plays the Shock for lethal. You know that you’ll win if you can just get that card back in play, but Rescue is rather infuriating.

Obzedat’s Aid would have definitely aided in returning Obzedat there . . .

This brought me to a couple of realizations. First, if I’m going to run a dedicated Reanimator deck, I probably want more Obzedat’s Aids than Rescue from the Underworlds because they do the same thing in most games but in games where you’re behind you can’t take that extra turn to get your creature back. Here’s the thing though—if you’re spending five mana to bring your creatures back (and aren’t able to flash your reanimation spell back to grind out an opponent), what’s the point when you could just cast powerful creatures for that mana cost? I can just cast an Obzedat, Ghost Council for five mana. I can just cast a Reaper of the Wilds for four mana. Why am I jumping through hoops to get a 5/5 flyer who exiles permanents?

Because of the games where you got to cast Rescue with an Ashen Rider already in play, maybe even targeting another Ashen Rider in the ‘yard.

However, if you’re freely able to do that, aren’t you already winning? The problem with the deck is the games where you draw Ashen Riders without Lotleth Troll or have Troll/Rider without any way to reanimate. You just do . . . nothing.

Second, I realized that Rescue is a decent value card that plays a similar—if much less powerful—role that Restoration Angel played when it comes to creatures with abilities. It actually plays better with Voice of Resurgence and plays the “protect your creature while getting some value” role quite admirably. Since you have to sacrifice as an additional cost to play Rescue, your opponent doesn’t even get the chance to kill off your creature in response. I would be very open to playing it as a one-of in a deck running black (like the mono-black lists running around).

I began moving the deck more towards BBD’s decklist, and I started wondering if just playing B/G is worthwhile. I know that you lose Obzedat—and perhaps that alone makes it a losing proposition—but I wondered if the stable mana would give it more game against faster decks. Yes, you lose the option of playing Unflinching Courage, but at least you’ll be able to cast your spells on time.

Another reason I thought of the deck is the fact that Doom Blade is a card you probably want to be playing right now. Against any variety of Devotion that’s not Mono-Black, it’s going to be the best card in your deck. It cleanly takes out a Master of Waves; Polukranos, World Eater; and/or Stormbreath Dragon for just two mana. You also get to play Hero’s Downfall, another excellent card that is actually better than Dreadbore for more reasons than the fact that it can be played at instant speed.


One of these two cards can take this new Standard staple out. The other is a dread, er, dead card.

Basically, I just thought that running cheap removal to clear the path into either Reaper of the Wilds or Desecration Demon might be a workable plan, similar to last year’s Jund Midrange decks that just killed what you played and followed it up with a powerful threat.

Here’s where I went with the deck:

I really like Reaper of the Wilds; the card is just contextually awesome in this Standard format. Basically, it’s Supreme Verdict or bust as long as you know to play around Celestial Flare. Far // Away is a concern as well, but that’s about it. Desecration Demon has already shown its mettle even in a world where Doomed Traveler, Voice of Resurgence, Thragtusk, and Huntmaster of the Fells saw a ton of play. Now, if you can remove the rather vanilla creatures available in Standard using your suite of removal, you have a really cheap 6/6 flyer.

What I like about this deck is that it doesn’t fall prey to the shortcomings that the Devotion decks do; it just has powerful cards that don’t rely on synergies or other cards to be powerful. While a single Thoughtseize or Doom Blade will dismantle Mono-Blue Devotion’s game plan, the cards in this deck are either repetitive enough or powerful enough to easily step in and pick up the slack. The threats—other than the singleton Polukranos—are immune to Doom Blade as well.

I cooked this up before I saw Willy Edel’s Pro Tour B/G list; however, this build differs from that in that I’m not trying to build devotion at all. I did consider it, but I think that having independently powerful cards is going to be where you want to be at in the next week or two.

The reason?

Esper Control is going to be a deck to contend with due to its perceived positive matchup against the Pro Tour-winning decklist (that is if it didn’t win in Seattle this past weekend; my deadline to submit is before the Top 8 is decided). With that, I’m going to want a deck that doesn’t rely on maintaining a board state to make my powerful cards as powerful as they can be.

Reaper of the Wilds doesn’t need help to be awesome . . .

I will say that none of the threats really line up well against a Supreme Verdict, but post-board you have a full playset of Thoughtseizes in addition to Mistcutter Hydras, Rescue from the Underworld, Golgari Charms, and Underworld Connections. Your plan is simply to grind the opponent out, and with Rescue and Golgari Charm, you have plenty of protection against both spot removal and Supreme Verdict.

My obsession with Doom Blade also led me down a different path. I started looking into a B/W aggressive deck that uses Vizkopa Guildmage and Path of Bravery in addition to Archangel of Thune to push through a ton of damage seemingly out of nowhere. The deck also has access to both Thoughtseize and Doom Blade. However, the deck didn’t really work as well as I’d hoped, and I started trying to shift the deck more towards a B/W Humans list centered on Xathrid Necromancer.

As I usually do when brewing, I busted out Gatherer and did a search for Human; I was actually surprised at how many red creatures are Humans. I started looking into different ideas, some more aggressive than others. I decided that I could go one of two routes:

1. Aggressive unleash creatures like Gore-House Chainwalker (Human) backed by Exava, Rakdos Blood Witch (Human) with Tymaret, the Murder King and Tormented Hero (Human)

2. Less aggressive, grindier deck with no one-drops and Barrage of Expendables

I think that the first idea is invalidated by another deck idea that I had: a close to Mono-Black Aggro list with Mogis Marauders. When I was looking into that idea, though, I read [author name="Ari Lax"]Ari Lax’s[/author] article last week about his Pro Tour Theros list. Since many of my ideas are already in his list and he probably spent more time tuning it, I’m just going to repost his list and give my backing since it looks really spicy:

One of the main reasons I wanted to run this creature list is the immunity to Doom Blade. Nullifying the control/midrange decks’ ability to interact early by running creatures immune to their cheap removal spell gives you an additional edge against pretty much any deck containing black. I’ve been waiting to play Spike Jester for a while now too.

Since idea number one wasn’t the direction I wanted to go, I decided to move more towards the grindy deck running Barrage of Expendables. Here is where I went with the idea:

While there are some games that this deck feels like it could be powerful, there are other games that you feel like a crappy red deck. Now, I’ll admit that this probably makes the deck somewhat decent since you get to play as an aggro deck if you’re not playing as a Human sacrifice deck.

You don’t know what you got until it’s gone though. I really missed having Blood Artist, which would have made this deck run a lot smoother. Unfortunately, as it stands right now, I don’t think this deck is ready for anything more than a fun night at Friday Night Magic.

While I don’t have a new exciting list for Selesnya Charm, I really want to run that card in a deck for the next couple of weeks; the main reason for that is the ability to exile the Gods. Selesnya Charm just takes out so much in this format in addition to being able to push through damage and/or just put a creature into play. I know most people say that Azorius Charm is the best Charm, but I actually believe that Selesnya Charm is arguably better seeing as it’s situationally powerful and never dead.

There are other ideas going around this ol’ noggin, including a deck centered on Varolz, the Scar-Striped and a Naya deck running Assemble the Legion; Elspeth, Sun’s Champion; and Forge[/author]“]Purphoros, God of the [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]. I haven’t gotten a chance to put any of these ideas in action in games, so I don’t want to just throw them out there yet.

The three decks I talked about at length are the three I’ve run in actual games, and while I don’t think the Human Barrage or Junk Reanimator lists are ready for a more serious tournament than FNM, I think there might be something to the B/G list. If you’ve tried similar decks, please post them in the comments; perhaps we can work out the kinks. If you’ve got a weird list that you’ve discarded due to feeling it might not be good enough, go ahead and post that as well. I love seeing kooky and weird ideas, and maybe we can work on them together.

Michael Martin

@mikemartinlfs on Twitter

Mikemartinlfs (at) gmail (dot) com