Friends, Americans, countrymen, lend me your ears! A brew has once again dominated the SCG Open Series!
Ray’s Abzan Rally the Ancestors list was enough to take down a large-scale tournament, and his neighbors in the Top Eight were filled with familiar faces and fringe archetypes that have been fleshed out and ramped up to support Magic Origins. Bant Heroic, Mono-Red Aggro, and even a Sultai Control list rounded out the octet of awesome players this weekend. There is hope, and for all of us drooling over the combo-y goodness of Rally the Ancestors, Ray made great strides on the biggest innovation we’ve seen in recent months.
- 2 Nantuko Husk
- 2 Fleshbag Marauder
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 3 Mogis's Marauder
- 4 Satyr Wayfinder
- 3 Grim Haruspex
- 3 Merciless Executioner
- 3 Den Protector
- 4 Deathmist Raptor
- 4 Liliana, Heretical Healer
The key, it seems, is filling your deck with the best cards regardless of synergy. With the exception of Nantuko Husk and Rally the Ancestors, of course, there isn’t much in this deck that “top tier” decks wouldn’t play in some form or another. Collected Company and Rally the Ancestors seem to be a natural pairing in a value-oriented Abzan shell, especially with “five” Fleshbag Marauders, cards like Anafenza, the Foremost out of the sideboard, and with the insane potential of Liliana, Heretical Healer at instant speed. He went into the Top Eight at 13-1-1, the highest record that weekend, and as he said himself he just couldn’t beat it in testing, so it seemed like a great choice. Great innovation, Ray!
This may be where we are for the remainder of this format: brewing with consistent shells based around Abzan, or at least green value cards like Satyr Wayfinder, Den Protector, and Deathmist Raptor. But let’s pretend you don’t have $100+ of mono-green treats lying around, but you like the combo nature of the format’s sweetest deck? Surely there has to be something from Magic Origins we could use.
Tainted Remedy is something we’ve seen before… sort of.
The ability to prevent lifegain is generally a red effect, though thematically it works in black, too. However, in the past, it’s generally had a condition that prevented it from being as bonkers as you’d hope. Everlasting Torment, for example, simply prevents any kind of lifegain, and it stops you too. Rain of Gore is clever, but it still requires the opponent control the source of lifegain. Exquisite Blood is expensive and in the end, it still requires you to force them to lose life in some way.
Tainted Remedy is a whole other ballgame: unlike these other similar variants, this prevents your opponent from gaining life and it damages them for every life point that would otherwise be gained, regardless of the source. Courser of Kruphix, Ojutai’s Command, and Radiant Fountain instantly lose all their benefit and start to make your opponent’s deck worse. With Courser of Kruphix, you have half a one-sided Ankh of Mishra, and an honest one with every fetchland they play. These are cards that your opponents likely already play, and so you’re punishing them for playing Magic. But for Tainted Remedy to be more than a nuisance, we need to add one last card.
Congregate targets, and it does not matter who controls the bulk of the creatures on the battlefield. So, if you’re looking to undermine your opponent, just play lots of creatures, refrain from killing theirs, then fire off a huge Congregate with Tainted Remedy for the win. Because it counts both sides of the battlefield, it doesn’t take long to make a lethal Congregate.
While you could certainly add other colors, some of the most efficient creature count boosters in the format share a color with Congregate. White seems to be the best place to start, splashing black for the Remedy.
Holy token production, Batman!
Knight of the White Orchid is the one card in Standard that makes you want to be on the draw. It had the same effect when it was Standard legal six years ago, too, and anything that reduces the feel-bad effect of going second is a winner in my book. Here, it has the potential to ramp and replace itself with a Plains if things go south, and getting some value with our creature count is probably where we’d want to be in a deck like this. Hangarback Walker has proven itself to be the sleeper hit of Standard, taking most everyone (including even an artifact lover like myself) by surprise. As this basically boils down to a control deck that doesn’t have much removal, the Walker is a great blocker and, when the time is right, it can boost a healthy Congregate on-demand. Archangel of Tithes keeps your opponent at bay. With your army of tokens, it’s a reasonable offensive choice as well, preventing your opponents from stopping all the damage coming at them. Monastery Mentor is a great choice alongside 22 noncreature spells, but I never like a bunch of them, so we’ll stick to one.
Secure the Wastes is one of those not-so-fancy Magic cards that has a huge impact on a game. It’s more powerful than Raise the Alarm when X is greater than two, and in the late stages of the game it can provide an insane amount of attacker repellant or an army in a box for offense. Raise the Alarm appears here too for a bit of redundancy and mana efficiency, but Secure the Wastes is clearly the king of the hill. Congregate is an excellent four-of here; even if you have to target yourself, you’re likely gaining an astronomical amount of life. Tainted Remedy, likewise, is a four-of to increase the likelihood of having both it and Congregate in a late-game hand.
Elspeth, Sun’s Champion is perhaps the best token-producer in the format, a title she’s held for nearly two years. Mixed with the small Devotion theme and the potential advantage that comes stapled to Knight of the White Orchid, she can come down early. No Sylvan Caryatid or hail of counterspells required! You’ll find a copy of each anthem effect (except Hall of Triumph, which doesn’t help Devotion or Thopter tokens). Spear is perhaps better because of its Reciprocate clause, but Dictate of Heliod will end a game that’s otherwise in a holding pattern. Damnable Pact, while somewhat difficult to cast, is exactly the late-game recharge you might need if you had to spend your resources in the midgame. It can also be pointed at your opponent as an overcosted Blaze if it will kill them.
Playing with cards like Knight of the White Orchid and Archangel of Tithes forces my manabase to be predominantly white; almost every land produces that color, and the others have to do serious work to keep up. I’ve gotten in the habit when building my “X deck splashing black” to include an Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth instead of a basic Swamp. Especially in a token deck, it lets me “splash” Empty the Pits, if I wanted to, though I decided that was too ambitious this time. Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx got its biggest boost yet from cards like the Knight and Archangel of Tithes, and I’m happy to churn out more Warrior tokens from Secure the Wastes thanks to a glut of mana.
Last Breath is a solid removal spell with an unfortunate side effect. Or is it? With Tainted Remedy in play, you’re punishing your opponent so hard for every two-power creature they play. Goblin Rabblemaster, Courser of Kruphix, and every Magic Origins Planeswalker will breathe their last underneath this spell, and with Tainted Remedy, they lose four life too! Not only are you exiling a creature at instant speed for two mana, you’re Flame Rifting them. Man!
Nyx-Fleece Ram answers the critical problem of “how do I stop an aggro deck without a cheap sweeper or removal?” Nyx-Fleece Ram adds to the creature count and slowly and surely gains you life to help keep you out of burn range. Enlightened Ascetic is Reclamation Sage for decks without Forests. One card that concerns me is Virulent Plague, which undermines the main creature-building plan this deck employs; using the Ascetic to answer it lets us benefit from the part that is a creature when we don’t specifically need that answer, pushing it above something like Cursebreak or Erase. Hixus, Prison Warden, like most Reciprocate effects, is often a trap. You have to take damage before it even triggers, and then if they instantly kill Hixus, you suddenly have to deal with a jailbreak. However, against another token strategy where you can pad your life total and win the long game, Hixus might be where we want to end up. I could be wrong, but I feel like he warrants a try. I’ve added a copy of both Heliod, God of the Sun, and Athreos, God of Passage. Athreos makes cards like Archangel and Hangarback Walker particularly scary and heavily detracts from the benefit of killing them. Remember, they’re not gaining life back due to Tainted Remedy, so that three life really hurts. Finally, I added a final copy of Damnable Pact, as I could see certain games where you’d want two.
I was excited to test this deck; I’d been testing a mono-white control deck for a while, so I had most of the pieces on-hand. I was only able to get four casual matches of testing in, but it was at least against four different decks.
Against Atarka Red
One opponent hadn’t updated his Atarka Red list for Magic Origins, but it was still a solid deck. We played a match that consisted of swarms of tokens and careful combats. I had to play around Atarka’s Command all the time, both for the +1/+1 pump and the lifegain hosing, which made the game particularly tense. Archangel of Tithes was, thankfully, the ace in the hole for me. A flying, five-toughness creature proved difficult to kill, as Roast, Stoke the Flames, and Rending Volley can’t kill it. Even if he wanted to attack into it and coax me into blocking, he wouldn’t have the mana to follow it up with a burn spell. Knight also proved to be a must-kill target as the first strike held critical players like Goblin Rabblemaster back. At one particularly tense moment in our second game, we had each amassed an army of tokens and were staring each other down. I was at nine and he was at sixteen after an early Mana Confluence bled him down. After a third Hordeling Outburst, he had eight Goblin tokens and a Foundry Street Denizen, and I had six Raise the Alarm Soldier tokens, three white Warriors, a Knight of the White Orchid and no Tainted Remedy. As he passed the turn back without attacking, I had to take a gamble. Did he have Atarka’s Command? I felt like he would have attacked if he would, giving his team a huge pump if I blocked. I hesitantly tapped four mana and revealed Congregate, targeting myself. I gained a whopping 38 life, going to 47, and untapped with enough pressure to push back hard.
Against Sultai Planeswalkers
I wasn’t sure how I’d do against a control deck, but we’ll give it a shot.
After deciding to be on the draw to leverage a potential Knight of the White Orchid, it paid off, providing two lands as he used Kiora to get a second land out on his fourth turn. While he added cards like Courser of Kruphix and Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver, I kept casting token generators. Hangarback Walker in particular was a hassle for him, as he didn’t have the Bile Blights or Languish in the maindeck to handle massive amounts of tokens, nor the flyers to effectively block the Thopters. While I did resolve a Tainted Remedy, I was scared of Sultai Charm destroying it in response to Congregate so I never cast it, opting to beat him down with a high-power Secure the Wastes. I followed it up with a Dictate of Heliod, which he cast Sultai Charm on, but it was only delaying the inevitable.
Game two went about the same; I cast two Elspeths, which both met Hero’s Downfall, but the tokens she left me with were still enough to be a problem.
While we didn’t play a boarded game, the fact that Bile Blight wasn’t in there probably contributed greatly to my success.
Against U/G Devotion
This match went to three games after I kept a Plains/Urborg/Nykthos hand and drew two Archangel of Tithes in game one. Game two, however, was much closer. I took the play and cast on-curve threats, including a turn-two Knight of the White Orchid and Spear of Heliod to get my beats on. Archangel on four made his high-devotion Master of Waves look silly, and because he never drew the Nykthos to attack through the tax, I won with a pair of Knights eating away his Elemental tokens.
In the final game, he got me against the ropes with his early pressure, and a convenient Harbinger of the Tides kept me off-tempo with Archangel of Tithes. I resolved a couple Raise the Alarms that helped me trade off his 2/2s and I stabilized. I stuck a Secure the Wastes for five and untapped enough to cast a Damnable Pact for four, putting me back in control. It was grindy, but he never found a Master the Waves or Collected Company, helping me overwhelm him with tokens.
Against Jeskai Aggro
In dropping by a massive Sealed PPTQ this weekend at my local shop (103!), I scouted out some players to test with. One borrowed a deck between rounds and sat down to battle. I got myself a copy of Tainted Remedy early and beat him down with some Warrior tokens and a Knight of the White Orchid. He couldn’t find much in the way of removal. At seven life, he cast an Ojutai’s Command to try to gain life and draw an answer; having forgotten that Tainted Remedy prevents lifegain, he scooped up for game two.
After he landed a turn-two Jace, I realized I had no maindeck way to deal with it. He flipped it a few turns later, casting Dissolve on all my threats and sticking two Harbinger of the Tithes to bounce my Hangarback Walker and Archangel of Tithes. It was over pretty quick.
Game three went much the same way, though I got more creatures that time. The round started for Sealed and he packed up the deck, though his position was far better than mine.
The deck was poorly matched, and counterspells make this deck a challenge as I’m often off-tempo anyway. Likewise, no removal at all is probably a mistake, as it would have made many of my other games easier. Let’s rehash.
There’s likely another color you could add to spruce this up. Green gives you the power cards I mentioned earlier, and red give you extra token producers like Dragon Fodder and Mardu Charm. How have you explored Tainted Remedy? Maybe there’s even a Modern deck that can run this effect?