One of my biggest concerns going into a new set’s first large event is that nothing changes, the status quo is maintained, and the innovations of a few are outweighed by the consistency of the known. Thankfully, that was not the case in Atlanta this past weekend for the first SCG Tour® event with Oath of the Gatewatch. While I was thrilled to see eight very different decks and playstyles in the Top 8, I’m most excited that the Day 2 spread was so diverse.
Take a look; there were about 120 people that made Day 2 with six wins or more, and there were 31 different archetypes represented. Even the most common archetype, Four-Color Rally, was only represented by about 20% of the Day 2 population, and none of them made it into the Top 8. What’s more, fully half of the Top 8 were the only Day 2 player playing their archetype as-is. While some archetypes are admittedly similar, it means that people are digging in to find something fun and different to play in the new Standard. Good job, everyone! This is how Standard should look!
Another side note that I’ve never really considered about Day 2s of Standard Open events is this: with six match wins, every one of these decks could have easily cleared out even a large FNM.
A Standard Open is generally harder than an FNM, so all of these decks, not just those that finished in the Top 8, are solid choices for a local event. When you think about it that way, the metagame opens up way more on the local, more casual level. Chances are that some of those Day 2 competitors came up against high-win-rate decklists on Day 1, and they managed to pull through, right? All that is to say that, at least for now, the format is wide open for a variety of playstyles, archetypes, and color combinations. Just about all the Alara shards and Khans clans are represented, and colorless has enough identity to stand on its own.
Oath of the Gatewatch brings a lot of high-impact cards like Kozilek, the Great Distortion and Thought-Knot Seer, but there also subtle improvements made for archetypes that didn’t have everything they needed until the second set came out. Allies gained the cohort keyword, which we explored last week in the context of a mono-white Equipment deck; now the creature type has more tools than ever for Standard, Modern, and Commander.
As fun as that is, one creature type has proven great time and time again in Limited, but only a couple of creatures using the type have seen considerable play, and I think there is potential in it as a way to pursue a unique strategy in the format whilst combating aggro, control, and midrange strategies alike. Eldrazi are big and terrifying, but today I’m looking at their progeny. That’s right, I’m talking about Eldrazi Scions.
Eldrazi Scions aren’t just 1/1 Saprolings, 1/1 Soldiers or whatever particular 1/1 token you prefer for the sake of flavor and color identity. Scions are, at their core, useful outside of combat. They can “reduce” the mana cost of other spells or abilities, even paying the price completely. Pursuing a Scion strategy in Limited gives you a wide angle of attack, but in Constructed, it means you’re never defenseless and you always have more mana than your untapped lands indicate. Combined with the introduction of more colorless spells to spend mana on and a smoother, more exciting mana base, I believe that the Scion strategy can step out of the forty-card realm into Standard territory. This may not be a Tier 1 deck able to compete on a large level, but it’s both unique and powerful enough to get away with wins against far more expensive and tuned decks. Remember, Scions aren’t just tokens; they’re one-time lands, and that opens up a lot of possibilities.
So what new card won me over to the Eldrazi Scion path? Sifter of Skulls is pretty cool, right?
Actually, it was an old card that got me thinking about this strategy. There are a lot of GILBIC rares in Magic that are Good In Limited, Bad In Constructed; Drowner of Hope is a perfect example. These are bomb rares that, while powerful and game-altering once they resolve, are almost always eclipsed by better options in Constructed. Shivan Dragon is awesome, but Thunderbreak Regent is cheaper and better-suited to removal-heavy matches. Kytheon’s Irregulars is an outstanding Limited four-drop, but Gideon, Ally of Zendikar is far superior. Thus, these cards get relegated to our binderd, never to see another sleeve again.
Drowner of Hope has a strong lineage, but it does something blue can’t usually do: make tokens, add more power to the board than the mana cost, and provide on-board abilities that require no additional investment. Drowner of Hope has no downside, and it’s not fighting for much space in any existing deck. In fact, no deck currently supports this strategy. But with a few additions to Standard and a bit of creative deckbuilding, the Drowner can be the star of its own show.
Here comes the swarm!
- 2 Hangarback Walker
- 4 Drowner of Hope
- 1 Smothering Abomination
- 4 Catacomb Sifter
- 1 Ruination Guide
- 1 Void Grafter
- 4 Thought-Knot Seer
- 4 Hedron Crawler
- 4 Matter Reshaper
- 1 Essence Depleter
Drowner of Hope isn’t that good in a vacuum; the more creatures it can tap, the better. Thus, many of the cards in this deck produce Scions or use their expendability to your advantage. Scions provide ramp, so supporting four six-drops is a little more manageable than normal, and once you hit it, you’re refunded two of that mana back right away. The main devoid Scion producer with which most Constructed players are familiar is Catacomb Sifter, thanks to its critical role in decks like Four-Color Rally. In a deck like this, it’s three power for three mana, and the scry trigger offers a nice bit of card selection in a creature-heavy deck that can’t easily support cards like Dig Through Time or draw-centered planeswalkers like Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy or Ob Nixilis Reignited.
Hedron Crawler is what colorless ramp looks like these days. This creature can’t fight, dies to a stiff breeze, and it can be targeted by more removal than the average two-drop. Fellwar Stone’s starting to look pretty good. Still, getting ahead of your opponent by just one turn makes a big difference, and it’s worth the card slot. Chris Brickley’s finalist Mono-Green Eldrazi list sports eight mana creatures in the two-drop slot just to get to Explosive Vegetation and Hedron Archive a turn early.
Getting a step ahead really does matter, even when it’s as cute as this little toots. We can ramp into Thought-Knot Seer, which is much better on turn 3. Man, this card doesn’t even seem fair, especially when you hustle into it. Matter Reshaper is a timely new addition too, hitting any number of lands, creatures, or, yeah, a Hedron Crawler. I also like that you can stack its death trigger with Catacomb Sifter to scry before revealing the top card of your library. Hangarback Walker, the go-to two-drop for every deck lacking one since 2015, is less synergetic here than in other places, but it fills the gap well. In testing, I found that drawing more than one per game was a little superfluous, so here it is with two copies.
Thanks to the ability to successfully scry without much effort, I like a handful of singletons, too. Essence Depleter, a card I saw do a bunch of work in Oath of the Gatewatch’s Prerelease, seems great here. You can sacrifice Scions to pay for it, draining your opponent when you can’t get through on the ground. Ruination Guide, although highly synergetic, is only good with other cards, and it’s a great surprise to throw off combat math on offense or defense. Void Grafter is a card I’m excited to experiment with in other decks, but here, it can protect something like a Thought-Knot Seer or a Drowner of Hope. The body isn’t bad, either. So angular. Smothering Abomination requires a somewhat favorable board state, but it lets you draw a lot of cards, plus it puts a short, evasive clock on your opponent.
One of the most bizarre cards out of Oath of the Gatewatch, Warping Wail grants a Scion on demand, but it can also exile Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy, any pre-trigger prowess creature, or a mana creature like Leaf Gilder. It can also counter a sorcery like Explosive Vegetation, Infinite Obliteration, Radiant Flames, Painful Truths, or Slip Through Space. I’ve got four in here because, well, you can always do something with it.
Even if you “just” cast Warping Wail for a Scion, that Scion can do more than just attack and block, the role of most tokens. It can scry, tap a creature, or provide ramp. Ghostfire Blade makes a Scion or any other creature in this deck a bit meatier, and it’s a fine turn 1 play that your many untapped lands can sneak out. Spatial Contortion, Grip of Desolation, and Scour from Existence are all powerful removal spells for different situations, and you can scry to the one you need. The ramp makes the latter two much more attainable, and both of them are hugely powerful. Finally, From Beyond provides a constant stream of Scions to sacrifice. I like one copy, as it doesn’t impact the board right away, but it’s great that one time you need it.
Here’s a new one; no basics, but we can produce a lot of colors of mana without breaking our backs!
I’ve been testing Crumbling Vestige and I’ve been so pleased with this land. It just feels good to lay this land. It’s no Mana Confluence, but it’s common. Corrupted Crossroads is our strongest land, able to produce all three colors needed to cast our devoid spells, and it can painlessly provide colorless every other time. That’s a pretty nice ability for a Standard-legal land. Grand Coliseum comes into play tapped, and Tarnished Citadel viciously attacks your life total. Narrow, but perfect here.
Opulent Palace trades speed for pain. Spawning Bed, which can easily be accessed, provides a huge mana and creature boost. Remember that you can attack with Scions, sacrifice them to activate Spawning Bed and you’ll have three untapped Scions ready to block. Unknown Shores, whose extra mana activation is usually too much for it to see play, isn’t a problem with Scions. Also, except for Drowner of Hope, most every colored spell is three mana or less.
Holdout Settlement is less consistent, but more efficient. Tomb of the Spirit Dragon can really shine here with so many colorless tokens, and I’ve had tons of games over the past eighteen months I’ve owed to this little land. Multiple points of life every turn really add up.
Stalking Drone is probably the best stone wall for an aggro deck. It’s effectively a 3/4 for two, which will stop even the most aggressive prowess creature. That activation is super-easy. More than one Spatial Contortion isn’t really maindeckable in most metagames, so I’ve stored the rest in the sideboard. Vile Redeemer is a great trick against aggro decks as a surprise blocker and as a way to pick up the pieces after a rough combat or a sweeper.
Remember, the Scions do more than just attack! Void Grafter and From Beyond appear here for the games where more copies of those are better. If Bitterblossom would be good in a given matchup, From Beyond does the best it can to try and do that. Deathless Behemoth is a really hard threat to kill, and it can come back turn after turn, holding off a big attacker or surviving a hail of removal spells. Kozilek, the Great Distortion is too expensive for many games, but he’s a great way to recharge. Why not Ulamog? Well, most of the times I’ve cast Ulamog I target creatures, and Drowner of Hope can take care of creatures at instant speed, even if just for a moment, but we can run out of fuel.
In practice, this deck is really, well, fun. It didn’t really feel like an aggro, midrange, or control deck. If I had to pick, it feels controlling, as I found sticking Drowner was what I needed most of the time. Occasionally a 5/5 Eldrazi Scion did the trick, too. It doesn’t seem to have a bad matchup, and the sideboard makes any matchup marginally better. What I can really say is that it’s unique; like the Eldrazi, it feels otherworldly, like it belongs in another format. If you’re looking for something different, this has a surprisingly novel feel.
Eldrazi are both towering monstrosities and swarming, alien creatures. Either way, they’re horrifying.
Now that you’ve seen this set in action, what Eldrazi are you most excited to brew with?