Standard Sultai, Origins Spoilers & A New Brew? Oh Yeah!

Gerard is a huge fan of control decks, and he looks at how Magic Origins shifts things for his favored archetype as well as what he’s planning to play at #SCGBALT this weekend.

This past weekend I traveled to Rhode Island to compete in Grand Prix Providence. The format was Standard and I ended up playing this Sultai build in the main event:

I started out doing well, but I quickly picked up two unintentional draws and a loss before being eliminated from Day Two contention. I was in a very clear winning position in my first unintentional draw and only needed about two more minutes to close out the game, but there wasn’t enough time left in the match for me to finish and my opponent decline to concede even though we had agreed earlier that if one of us was in a winning position, the other would concede. Before anyone gets all “What????” I checked with all-star Level 5 Judge Jared Sylva and this is legal, but nothing is binding.

During what would have been my second unintentional draw, I ended up conceding to my opponent even though I think the game was pretty close, but I felt my opponent was slightly ahead. We each had a loss and a draw at that point, and in my opinion it didn’t make sense for both of us to get knocked out of Day Two contention. My opponent in the first match did not feel the same way, and that’s something I want to talk about further in a future article, but for now I have too much to say to get tied up over concessions as they are a touchy topic. I want to make sure that I have enough time to talk about them in full before fully voicing my opinions, and it can be a debate that can surely go on for a while.

Even though I didn’t do well at the GP, I truly think that this Sultai build is a good option for Standard right now. In past weeks I’ve talked about how useful Satyr Wayfinder is in different Delve builds, and this deck is no exception. I ran the full four copies of Dig Through Time, which helps us find answers when we need them or one of the various threats to win the game. This list combines some of the most powerful effects from the older U/B Control shell with some of the newer midrange effects from some of the green decks. Den Protector is also especially good in a deck like this, thanks to the very powerful singletons that are most efficient in specific situations. The deck has the ability to even mill cards with Satyr Wayfinder in order to give yourself more targets earlier in the game, and between that and Digging you just see so many cards that singletons will get far more chances to shine than you would expect. The Delve mechanic is just very powerful, so I love having the ability to utilize it when I can. The deck felt very powerful in the Grand Prix, and I think it could be a contender moving forward. At the time I’m writing this article, only 120 cards have been spoiled from Magic Origins, but I think there are still a few great cards that could find their way into the deck.

The most obvious inclusion to the deck is likely to be Languish. A lot of players were disappointed that Damnation was not reprinted, since it felt like it was snubbed from both a From the Vault printing as well as Modern Masters 2015. I am not surprised that they didn’t reprint Damnation into Standard, since they have made a push towards not printing unconditional four-mana Wrath of God effects. For the past year we have been playing with conditional cards like Crux of Fate, and non-conditional Wrath is still slower in the form of End Hostilities, so I am not surprised that we got Languish instead of Damnation. At any rate, I think Languish is a great card that will likely find a home in several different black decks. I think that Crux of Fate and Languish each have different strengths and weaknesses, so it’s very likely that decks will choose to play a few copies of each rather than four copies of either. This is a sentiment that I have seen from a lot of other players who I respect online as well, which makes me even more confident in saying it. Playing a few copies of both Wrath effects is also great in this strategy where we have cards like Den Protector to bring back whichever is most effective at the time. Kytheon, Hero of Akros / Gideon, Battle-Forged leads me to believe that there will be few new aggressive strategies once Origins is legal, which makes a four-mana board sweeper all that much more important.

Some of the more talked-about cards in the set are the new planeswalkers. Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh / Chandra, Roaring Flame has been leaked for a while now, although everybody seemed to think that it wasn’t real at the time. The full cycle has been revealed recently and unfortunately I think that the best one of the bunch isn’t in our colors. I think Kytheon, Hero of Akros / Gideon, Battle-Forged is likely the best of the bunch, even if it just functions as a Savannah Lions with an added ability. People have been talking about playing him in a W/R shell that can follow him up with two Monastery Swiftspears on turn two, but even without this perfect draw I think that he will be an efficient aggressive creature.

The green, blue and black flip-Planeswalkers, on the other hand, do not seem good enough to make the cut for our 75. It really hurts me to say that, as powerful planeswalkers are perfect for this type of strategy, but it doesn’t feel like any of these three are powerful enough. They are very cheap to play, however, which makes me wonder if Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy / Jace, Telepath Unbound is better than I currently think. Between fetchlands and Satyr Wayfinder, it should not be hard to flip Jace, but I’m not sure that a card that is otherwise just a Merfolk Looter is what I want to be playing. The effects on the planeswalker side of Jace also don’t give you much to work with. As of right now, I don’t think that any of these new planeswalkers would be good enough, but Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy / Jace, Telepath Unbound is the most likely of the bunch. For the time being I will be sticking with my Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver for my planeswalker of choice.

The other card that jumps out to me as being a potential role-player is Reave Soul. It may seem strange to talk about the merits of a common removal spell after dismissing all of the new planeswalkers, but this is the type of card that could fit nicely into this type of deck. This card also has a lot of potential for use in the U/B Control and Esper Dragons decks that were previously popular. Sorcery speed isn’t ideal, but it’s still a flexible removal spell that can be cheaply used against a wide variety of targets. The card is likely at its best against Mono-Red where it is able to destroy every one of their creatures and it is a great answer to Goblin Rabblemaster specifically. It’s also worth noting that it functions as an answer to Courser of Kruphix as well since it stipulates power instead of toughness. I’m not suggesting that this should be a four-of in the maindeck, but I think that there’s a good chance one or two copies find their way into a future 75.

There’s been a lot of discussion about Day’s Undoing this week ever since Cedric spoiled the card on Tuesday. I thought that Time Reversal was the closest we would ever get to a new version of Timetwister, but this card is likely it. Whenever WotC prints “fixed” versions of cards that were previously broken, it’s hard to determine how good they are relative to their formats. The card is definitely not something that the Sultai deck wants to play for a few reasons, but I think that it could have long-term potential in a format like Modern. The problem with this card in a Sultai build is that you we don’t really have a way to take advantage of the cards in order to break the symmetry. The main decks that often play cards like Wheel of Fortune or Timetwister are combo decks that are drawing into more powerful spells and often have cheap effects to immediately make use of the cards. I don’t think that there’s a strategy that can take advantage of this in Standard, but Modern might end up being a different story. Affinity comes to mind first, but I can also see it being played in Burn since they were starting to branch out to play Treasure Cruise just before it was banned from the format.

Outside of Languish and Reave Soul as conditional removal, there’s nothing else that really jumps out at me right now. I think that both of these cards will be powerful options however since there’s a good chance that the new Gideon (or, if you insist, Kytheon) leads to a few new white-based aggressive strategies. Languish and Reave Soul are powerful options to have against an opponent who is trying to start the game with a turn-one Savannah Lions. At any rate, the set is less than halfway spoiled, so we will have to wait to see if there are any other cards that are worthy of inclusion in the Sultai deck.

This weekend I will be playing in SCG Baltimore, and I’m planning to play an Esper brew along with my good friend Shaheen Soorani. I’m going to need your confidence, support, and potential your feedback if I’m to succeed. I’ve been playing a lot of Standard lately, and unfortunately I’ve been doing a lot of losing. After not doing very well in my last few events, I wanted to find a deck that would attack the aggressive parts the metagame and I think this new Esper list might be it:

I think that the metagame right now is full of aggro and devotion strategies, so I wanted to build a list that would attack those angles. Abzan Control/Megamorph is the main control strategy that a lot of players are playing, and I think this deck has the potential to be good against all of them. Esper Dragons, U/B Control and various takes on Jeskai are a lot less popular now than they once were, and I think that it’s more important to focus on other matchups now as a result. I don’t even think we would have a bad matchup against those control decks since we have a great amount of tools to attack their game-plan, but I think it’s just something I’m not too concerned with since the decline of control.

Regardless, I would love to hear your thoughts on the decklist, as both Shaheen and myself will be playing it and I would love to see both of us in the Top Eight with it!