On the plane of Innistrad, the Humans are in a dire state. Their angelic deity has gone mad and is now slaughtering all of their kind like cattle. Even fellow Humans have joined up with cults who worship the madness of Archangel Avacyn and demonic entities.
Things are very grave on Innistrad, but in the realm of Baltimore, it was good to be a Human, or at least a Human playing Humans.
Last weekend was #SCGBALT, and with it the release of Shadows over Innistrad. With a plethora of new toys at our disposal and some old toys getting a new lease on life due to the non-four-coloredness of Standard with Shadows over Innistrad, it seemed like the go-to deck was some form of Humans.
Four decks in the Top 8 were Humans of some variety, and with seven of the Top 16 being Humans, it’s safe to say that we likely have a contender for top Standard deck. There was definitely some variety in the differing Humans brews, but there was a core set of cards that just about every Humans deck played.
Mono-White, W/G, and W/U were the flavors of choice, but each only came with a handful of cards that were outside of the core. Archangel of Tithes was in every Humans deck except for the Mono-White Humans deck.
I’m pleased to see that my tweet from a few weeks ago already seems to be coming true.
The more I think about Declaration in Stone the more I feel like it won't be long until we see 4x in a lot of standard decks.
— chris vanmeter (@Chris_VanMeter) March 31, 2016
There was a lot of concern about the drawback of giving your opponent a Clue, which will always make me smile whenever I write that or say it out loud. Letting the opponent draw a card can be a drawback, especially if we are a slower, controlling type deck, but what we saw last weekend were a bunch of streamlined aggressive decks that are built to take advantage of the tempo gained by only having to spend two mana to remove any creature while they continue putting on pressure.
Declaration in Stone is going to be a staple in the new Standard for as long as it’s legal, which is going to make it much harder for midrange or control decks to try to stabilize with some five-mana creature while they try to bridge the gap into the late-game where they will likely have an advantage. Even something like Vile Aggregate, while feeling pretty budget on the cost-to-power-and-toughness ratio, is likely going to not cut it when they can just Declaration in Stone and continue to attack while building their battlefield with one- and two-drops.
The real “glue” card is Always Watching. As an obvious combo with Archangel of Tithes where we get basically all of her effects all the time, this enchantment really ties the room together. Our motley crew of one- and two-mana Humans won’t get the job done on their own. Thalia’s Lieutenant does help growing our army while also building our battlefield, but Always Watching does the same while also playing defense and making every other threat that we deploy onto the battlefield that much bigger.
Archangel of Tithes and Always Watching is a pretty sweet combo, but so is Dragonlord Ojutai and Always Watching, which is something that we saw just about all of the W/U Humans players put into action. Reflector Mage is also a noteworthy Human that we find in those builds, so it’s not all that surprising to see that W/U ended up being the best-performing version of the deck on the weekend.
When trying to come up with a good way to combat these Humans decks, I keep running into cards that they are already playing that foil my plans. Go-wide strategies are usually weak to some sort of mass sweeper. The issue that we run into is that, if we aren’t using Languish or Flaying Tendrils, Archangel Avacyn can come down at instant speed and counter our Planar Outburst or Chandra, Flamecaller minus activation.
It’s going to be hard to try to one-for-one them with cheap efficient removal, because all of their threats are already so efficiently priced that they have the potential to still put you on your back foot, even if you are potentially answering one threat per turn.
One deck that I think was built with the Humans deck in mind was the W/B Eldrazi deck that the majority of the Roanoke crew came with. While it did only put one player into the Top 8, it did put three copies into the Top 32, and when Brad Nelson and crew pick up a deck that not many other people came to, it’s usually worth noticing.
- 4 Knight of the White Orchid
- 2 Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim
- 4 Eldrazi Displacer
- 4 Thought-Knot Seer
- 3 Hedron Crawler
- 1 Matter Reshaper
- 4 Archangel Avacyn
Using Knight of the White Orchid as a means to catch up when on the draw is something that we’re going to have to get used to seeing, but the W/B Eldrazi deck has quite a bit else going on. Eldrazi Displacer was used and abused in the Modern U/W Eldrazi decks, and even though it’s not being broken in half here in Standard, Flickering Knight of the White Orchid is awesome and Flickering Archangel Avacyn is back-breaking. While you can Flicker Thought-Knot Seer in a pinch, it’s not always the best.
Another sweet interaction is that you can make Gideon, Ally of Zendikar a creature, attack, Flicker it with Eldrazi Displacer, and then use its zero ability to make a 2/2 token. That’s a lot of mileage.
Yet another deck that is packing a full four copies of Declaration in Stone, but we also see Anguished Unmaking making its debut. Three life can be a lot, but with Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim potentially gaining life along with Sorin, Grim Nemesis, I think it’s worth it. It’s also a card that can snag an Archangel Avacyn the turn it enters the battlefield and is a way to interact with Always Watching, which will end up being important.
The big game for the W/B Eldrazi deck, though, is in the sideboard. In anticipation of all the Humans running around, the Roanoke bunch came armed and ready with Tragic Arrogance. Previously used as a tool against the green-based Devotion decks, Tragic Arrogance hasn’t really seen much play lately. A sweet combo in allowing us to keep a Courser of Kruphix along with another creature made it a great addition to the Abzan decks of old, but here even keeping a Hedron Crawler along with something like Thought-Knot Seer or Archangel Avacyn seems like a good deal.
Speaking of Archangel Avacyn, I figured that she was going to be good leading into week one, but I didn’t think that we were going to see six of the eight decks in the Top 8 packing her. Making combat a nightmare, playing great offense and defense, and quickly turning the corner with or without our opponent’s help from flipping her are all reasons why she is standing out. As the format evolves, she is just going to get better. There really is no great way to play around it, much like Restoration Angel of old. It’s frustrating and I expect to lose to that card quite a bit.
The other nice thing that the black addition to these decks gives us is Virulent Plague. Going into this weekend, Mono-Red Eldrazi was still quite high on everybody’s radar and Secure the Wastes seemed to be one of the best-positioned finishers/stabilizers available. There are quite a few cards that generate tokens, and for the most part they are all pretty good. Chris Andersen finished just outside the Top 16 with his G/W Tokens deck, and I think it’s likely to pick up steam, which only bodes well for those packing Virulent Plague.
It was no surprise to me that Todd Anderson decided to go his own way and depart from the W/B Eldrazi deck that the rest of the group from Roanoke was packing. His deck, though, was a thing of beauty, a Chandra theme deck of sorts, where you can control both the Flamecaller herself and her nifty pair of shades. Pyromancer’s Goggles puts in some work here.
Artifact removal is at an all-time low right now, and if you were watching some of the same games that I did over the weekend, whenever Todd got to untap with those Goggles, things were not pretty for his opponents. There were even turns where he played Pyromancer’s Goggles and cast Lightning Axe off them, taking out two large creatures and setting himself up for some insane card-drawing action on the next turn.
Tormenting Voice and Magmatic Insight just keep getting better and better, and with cards like Drownyard Temple to further fuel the synergy, I can’t help but be impressed with the work that Todd put into this deck. Brewing is a labor of love, and when Todd catches onto something he likes, he tends to make it work no matter what.
Jori En, Ruin Diver makes an appearance. I continue to forget that she is a 2/3, which makes her miles better than I always think she is, and we also get to debut the much-hyped Thing in the Ice. I got to see it put in some work, and while I don’t think that it quite lives up to all the hype, it is definitely good and can only get better as more cards become legal in Standard with new sets.
Sideboard-wise, I really like how focused and streamlined Todd built his. Eldrazi Obligator puts a hurting on anything rampy, and Fevered Visions is a card that I have had my eye on since it was spoiled. Most Howling Mine variants, while being symmetrical, usually give your opponent the first opportunity to use any extra cards that they might get. Dictate of Kruphix was the first of its kind that allowed you to break that by flashing it in on your opponent’s end step.
With Fevered Visions, we get the first extra card, which means that we will have access to our mana with it before our opponents will have access to theirs. This comes with the drawback on the damage clause, but with a properly built deck, this is going to let us gain some serious advantage against controlling decks, all while posing a threat to actually win the game with.
One thing that is important to note is that Kozilek’s Return is colorless, so it can’t be Forked with Pyromancer’s Goggles. I’m honestly not sure how converge cards interact with it, so Radiant Flames might also not work, although Seismic Rupture is still legal, albeit at sorcery speed.
Last, I want to point out just how well Jim Davis built and played the Bant Company deck that the New York group brought to the table.
- 1 Hidden Dragonslayer
- 1 Den Protector
- 4 Jace, Vryn's Prodigy
- 1 Nissa, Vastwood Seer
- 4 Bounding Krasis
- 4 Reflector Mage
- 4 Sylvan Advocate
- 2 Archangel Avacyn
- 2 Tireless Tracker
- 4 Duskwatch Recruiter
Taking the trophy, in addition to ninth and tenth place, Bant Company has proven itself as a contender in the new format, and that’s primarily because it matches up pretty well against the Humans strategy.
Dromoka’s Command is gas, and this deck puts it to good use. Snagging an Always Watching while also killing a creature or growing one of our threats so that we can attack through some chumps is just what the doctor ordered. Declaration in Stone being sorcery-speed means that they aren’t able to interact with our Dromoka’s Commands.
Bant Collected Company shells are nothing new, but Duskwatch Recruiter and Tireless Tracker add some much-needed card advantage engines that we rarely find in decks that require so many creatures to work. Duskwatch Recruiter in particular seems well-suited in this style of deck, since we already want to play in the realm of 26-28 creatures to maximize the effectiveness of Collected Company. The back side isn’t even all that bad. A 3/3 body can get in some damage, and it allows us to play multiple threats in one turn, which will then flip it back to its front side where we can recruit some more creatures to keep building our battlefield.
Likewise, Tireless Tracker is a serviceable body that we can find with Collected Company, but it also generates advantage by just being on the battlefield while we play our normal gameplan. Effectively “Landfall: Get a Clue” is surprisingly great, and we can even use them to make our Trackers larger, which can make for some uncomfortable combat scenarios for our opponent.
Ultimately, I think that this Bant Company deck was not only built intelligently, but it was also well-positioned, and in the extremely capable hands of our Players’ Champion Jim Davis it took down the tournament.
Next weekend in the Invitational in Columbus, and with the banning and unbanning in Modern coupled with the fresh Standard format, who knows what’s going to happen. One thing is for sure, though; Humans will be there in some form, in the chairs or on the battlefield, and I expect there to be a lot of Ancestral Vision in Modern.
Good luck, everyone!