Standard Is Not Over And You Should Be Playing This Deck Now

This archetype may have arrived late to the Standard party, but with SCG Tour® Classics and a handful of other events still left to be completed, it is a huge opportunity for you to steal some Standard tournaments wins while everyone else’s guard is down! See the Players’ Champ’s stellar guide to this unbelievably powerful deck!

Kaladesh is looming, and the set looks absolutely fantastic. Brilliant new mechanics, awesome new planeswalkers, sweet new mechanics – it really feels like a home run.

However, this Standard format is not dead yet. There are still many events to be played over the next month, and there’s a deck that almost nobody is playing that is borderline broken.

Nobody except for Team MGG and friends, that is.

Team MGG worked with a small group of friends for the StarCityGames.com Invitational a few weeks ago in New Jersey – Todd Anderson, Ross Merriam, Frank Skarren, Harlen Firer, and Ben Friedman – and our testing came to most of us playing the Sultai Emerge deck. While we didn’t really have the best finishes at the Invitational, the deck was phenomenal despite being extremely difficult to play.

With a few more reps under my belt I made Top 8 of the Sunday Classic in New Jersey, with both Frank Skarren and Dan Jessup losing their win-and-ins right beside me. That same day Ben Friedman won his Regional PTQ with the deck, and the following weekend I would make a crucial blunder to punt away my Pro Tour invite at my RPTQ. Then just last weekend at Richmond, Dan, Frank and Ben would all once again play the deck, albeit with slight variations, to finishes of eighth, ninth, and eleventh.

While consistency is not something that is really rewarded in Magic when you don’t actually win the tournament, it is a very real indicator of how good a deck is. Over a sample size of a few events, our results with the deck have been remarkable, and the only thing really holding the deck back is how difficult it is to play.

Today I’ll talk all about the deck you should be playing for the remainder of the Standard season.

Sultai Emerge is absurdly powerful.

It does things that very few Standard decks I can recall could do, not limited to: putting nine power onto the battlefield on turn 3, locking your opponent out of sorcery-speed spells for turns at a time, putting a number of creatures onto the battlefield while destroying all your opponent’s creatures, and so on.

So why isn’t everyone just playing this deck?

Well, they probably should be, but a big reason the deck hasn’t caught on is that it is extremely difficult to pilot. You have many things you need to balance and sequence, as the deck requires a number of colors of mana by turn 4 and a number of pieces to come together in the right ways. Poor hands with this deck do almost nothing, and sometimes the deck will fail to reward you for working so hard to build your graveyard up. The balance to this is that you gain access to some of the most degenerate nut draws in the format that are almost unbeatable.

What makes the deck so difficult to play is how it makes you handle almost every resource available to you. You need to manage your mana, the quality and quantity of cards in your hand, the cards in your graveyard, the cards in your deck (thanks to various tutor effects), the creatures you and your opponent have on the battlefield, the timing of your flash threats and all of your various triggers, and when to play defensively or turn the corner and get aggressive.

Whew… Let’s break it down.

The Engine

This engine will look familiar to many who’ve played a lot of Standard lately, as it is the core of most of the delirium-based decks. All three of these cards do a great job of incidentally putting a lot of cards in your graveyard while also providing with you with some Impulse-like card selection.

Tip: The proper order to play these spells in is usually Vessel of Nascency, then Gather the Pack, then Grapple with the Past. Grapple with the Past has much more value in the late-game.

However, this deck is definitely not a delirium deck.

Yes, we are playing a delirium card in Traverse the Ulvenwald, but unlike Emrakul, the Promised End decks, we don’t really care about getting a wide array of different card types into our graveyard. We care much more about getting our graveyard synergy cards into the graveyard and then using them to create very powerful advantages. Traverse the Ulvenwald is a great mana fixer in the early-game, and it is very likely to have delirium in the mid- to late-game, turning it into a Demonic Tutor.

Tip: Traverse the Ulvenwald is one of the toughest cards to play in the deck, as you need to know early on whether you want to cash it in for a land early or save it for a Demonic Tutor later. More on this in the “mana/lands” section.

Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy is another card that toes the line between enabler and payoff, as early on Jace can help you dump graveyard synergy cards into the graveyard while smoothing out your draw, and after flipping, Jace, Telepath Unbound can provide you with even more tutoring as your entire graveyard is now at your disposal. Jace is amazing in this deck, as any Gather the Pack, Grapple with the Past, or Vessel of Nascency will allow you to make Jace, Telepath Unbound as early as turn 3.

Tip: The allure of a turn 3 Jace, Telepath Unbound is always tempting, but sometimes it is better to activate Jace before your turn 3 Gather the Pack if you need to discard more cards from your hand over future turns.

Grapple with the Past helps to enable your graveyard but is also yet another powerful tutor effect in the mid- to late-game which will give you access to pretty much anything you will need. It’s not uncommon to use Grapple with the Past like Traverse the Ulvenwald – mana fixer early, Demonic Tutor late.

Tip: Having an enabler in your opening hand is extremely important, and you have to consider throwing back any opener without a Gather the Pack, Vessel of Nascency, Grapple with the Past, or Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy.

The Payoff

Of course, all of this work would be for naught if the payoff wasn’t great.

Fortunately, the payoff ends up feeling like you’re playing Modern Dredge in Standard.

Haunted Dead is the piece of the puzzle that makes everything work, providing you with a discard outlet, two creatures, a way to recur all of your Prized Amalgam, and a warm body for emerging. Haunted Dead is at its best when it ends up in your graveyard off a good Gather the Pack but is also serviceable to discard to Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy or Noose Constrictor. Just casting Haunted Dead is the worst of the options available but a very reasonable fail state when you need to get the ball rolling.

Tip: It is very important to manage the number of cards in your hand to plan for future Haunted Dead recursions. Two cards is a lot, and Haunted Dead is one of the main reasons to never get past about five lands on the battlefield.

Prized Amalgam provides you with a never-ending stream of threats. How broken of a draw you have is directly proportional to how many Prized Amalgam end up in your graveyard in the early-game. Prized Amalgam also allows the deck to go wide when one large Eldrazi threat won’t do and is a natural foil to your opponent’s removal spells. Being able to bring back a Haunted Dead and a few Prized Amalgam at instant speed on your opponent’s turn is a very threatening and powerful thing to have available to you.

Tip: Prized Amalgam’s triggers are very odd. Prized Amalgam creates a delayed trigger that brings it back at the beginning of the next end step, so you will need to bring back your Haunted Dead at the end of your opponent’s second main phase to have them on your turn.

Because finding a Haunted Dead is so important, Stitchwing Skaab acts as your fifth copy of Haunted Dead. It is also very important in any post-sideboarding game where your opponent is able to play Infinite Obliteration on your Haunted Deads. With even just one Stitchwing Skaab in your deck, you now still have a way to recur your Prized Amalgams and a good chance at finding it with all of your enablers.

While the Haunted Dead / Prized Amalgam interaction is very powerful, what truly puts this deck over the top is how good of an Elder Deep-Fiend deck it is. With the ability to bring back a Haunted Dead at the end of your opponent’s third turn, this deck can present an Elder Deep-Fiend on your opponent’s turn 4 upkeep with startling regularity. Also, it does so with an end-step creature that you’re happy for your opponent to kill and put in your graveyard, rather than something fragile like Pilgrim’s Eye.

Bringing back a Haunted Dead and a Prized Amalgam and then emerging a turn 4 Elder Deep-Fiend leaves your opponent unable to cast spells that turn and facing down nine power with little to defend against it.

The other big draw to emerging Elder Deep-Fiend is that you get to trigger Kozilek’s Return both quickly and at instant speed. Sometimes your opponent will already have built up a solid battlefield by turn 4, and Kozilek’s Return will undo all of that work and leave behind a massive 5/6 creature that is immune to future Kozilek’s Returns. Because the deck is so synergy-based, it doesn’t have much room for removal or interaction, and Kozilek’s Return is your sledgehammer interaction. Kill everything. Then kill your opponent.

Tip: If you are bringing back a Haunted Dead on your opponent’s upkeep with the intention of emerging an Elder Deep-Fiend and triggering a Kozilek’s Return, you can do so with the Haunted Dead’s Spirit creation trigger on the stack so it will resolve after the Kozilek’s Return trigger has resolved. Any Prized Amalgams will also come back at the end of the turn, safe from the trigger.

Various other emerge decks also utilize the power of Elder Deep-Fiend plus Kozilek’s Return, but none do so while also being able to present such a battlefield presence as Sultai Emerge does. In matchups where Kozilek’s Return is not going to be that good, Prized Amalgam will be amazing, and in matchups where you need Kozilek’s Return, you’ve still got a full set.

Tip: The Kozilek’s Return trigger has you select if you want to use it on resolution; if your opponent has a Selfless Spirit on the battlefield, they need to sacrifice it before you make your choice. If they sacrifice it, you are free to decline the trigger, and if they don’t, you can choose to use it.

The Singletons

While the deck is a very tight package of synergy, there are still a few tutor targets for you to utilize either when naturally drawn or to find with Traverse the Ulvenwald.

We’ve already covered Stitchwing Skaab, and Noose Constrictor fulfills a similar role. It is not as good as the other synergy-based cards in the deck but provides you with a solid body that can help discard cards stuck in your hand. Like Stitchwing Skaab is the fifth Haunted Dead, Noose Constrictor is like the fifth Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy. It is also great at blocking Spell Queller and Selfless Spirit and singlehandedly beats Fevered Visions.

In a lot of ways Distended Mindbender is like the fifth copy of Elder Deep-Fiend, but it is exceptionally good against Collected Company decks as well as slower control decks. The deck wants a fifth Eldrazi and Distended Mindbender is fantastic. Just watch out for that double black – it’s the only card in the deck that wants it.

Tip: Distended Mindbender plus a Kozilek’s Return in the graveyard is almost an unbeatable combination against Bant Company. Stack the Mindbender trigger to resolve first, so if they want to cast their Collected Company before they lose it, you can sweep away the creatures with Kozilek’s Return.

Ishkanah, Grafwidow, while one of the best creatures in the format in other delirium decks, is perhaps one of the worst cards in the deck. Ishkanah is great at stalling out the game, but that is not usually in this deck’s gameplan. Nor is getting seven lands onto the battlefield to activate her ability. When things are going wrong and you need to buy some time, having an Ishkanah is great, but she is often sideboarded out in slower matchups and is merely a speed bump.

The Lands

The mana in Sultai Emerge is very challenging. You need green mana on turn 1, blue mana on turn 2, black mana on turn 3, and double blue mana on turn 4, while sometimes needing double black as well.

Your ideal manabase will look like this:

This is for most of the game, as you almost never want to play any more than five lands. All other lands are usually relegated to discard fodder for Haunted Dead.

Unfortunately, it is not often that you will have your ideal manabase. You will have painlands dinging you left and right, plus the need to use Traverse the Ulvenwald and Grapple with the Past at every stage of the game to massage your mana into working correctly, and the further need to plan out your land drops for the first four or five turns of the game. Oftentimes you will need to play a painland and take an extra point of damage to have the right colors available on the following turn.

Tip: When you have delirium but still need to get a land with Traverse the Ulvenwald, don’t forget you can get any land! A Sunken Hollow can save you a lot of damage.

The mana requires a lot of work, but you have all the tools you need at your disposal to make it work. All that is needed is proper sequencing (and mulliganing if necessary), and the power payoff is huge.

The Sideboard

Sideboarding with a deck like this is very difficult. There are so many moving parts in the maindeck that removing a large number of any of them will make the deck cease to function. Still, we get a sideboard, and in it the tools to deal with a variety of matchups.

Pulse of Murasa shines against any hyperaggressive deck trying to get you to zero life as quickly as possible. It exists for U/R Thermo-Alchemist, Mono-White Humans, and any burn matchups.

One of my favorite cards in the new set, Collective Brutality is also fantastic against hyperaggressive strategies. It also has even more utility than that, being an excellent card against Bant Company. Selfless Spirit is the only card they really have that can put a dent in your Kozilek’s Return plan, and Collective Brutality can kill Selfless Spirit while also stripping them of their namesake card.

A fantastic tool against other midrange or graveyard decks, Transgress the Mind often comes in when Kozilek’s Return comes out. The exile effect is very relevant against other delirium decks, and this is also one of the best cards against you.

Sometimes you just need to kill stuff, and Ultimate Price is sadly one of the best ways to do that for two mana in Standard. It answers the aforementioned Selfless Spirit, as well as aggressive creatures out of Humans and Burn, and can also take out a Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet in a pinch as well.

No, that isn’t an error. Casting Kozilek’s Return is rarely something you want to do, as your mana is already rough enough without a Mountain messing it up, and the front side of Kozilek’s Return doesn’t kill enough creatures. However, there are some matchups like Mono-White Humans where the front side is actually good and you bring in the Mountain.

To The Slaughter is used primarily against planeswalker control decks and is capable of creating some amazing blowouts. It is also good against U/R Thermo-Alchemist if they have things like Thing in the Ice or the difficult-to-kill Stormchaser Mage alongside Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy.

The last few sideboard cards are really just of the season-to-taste variety. You should be favoring cards that have a large impact in narrow matchups because you can only bring in so many cards.


Sultai Emerge is perhaps one of the most difficult decks I have ever played in Standard, but also one of the most absurdly powerful. In each tournament I’ve played with the deck, I’ve made numerous mistakes and still have a fantastic record. I can only imagine how good this deck would be with more time and practice; despite the constant complaining about Bant Company, this format definitely ends unfinished and unsolved.

Replacing Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy and Gather the Pack won’t be easy, but the core of the deck remains for Kaladesh Standard, and it’s hard to imagine this deck not being a major player for as long as the core of the deck is legal.

Challenge Thursday

There will be no Challenge Thursday this week, as I am taking the week off from streaming while Nicole and John move in, but we can still take a look at last week’s deck:

The Challenge was “(Modern) Transpose Formats! Temur Emerge,” but thankfully @81Gallant81Jordan was kind enough to loosen it up to just “Play Emerge in Modern” after a disastrous first League. I ported over an old deck I used to play in Standard and added Haunted Dead and Distended Mindbender to it and we were off to the races.

While clearly a worse graveyard deck than Dredge is while still losing to the same hate cards, this deck was an absolute blast to play. We won a number of matches and good times were had by all.

Next week I resume streaming and Challenge Thursday returns!