Sullivan Library – Brainstorming Standard Decks from the Alara Reborn Spoiler

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Tuesday, April 21st – Alara Reborn is coming, and it’s looking awesome. Today, deckbuilding legend Adrian Sullivan looks at some of the freshly-spoiled cardboard, and throws out a number of interesting decks for the upcoming Standard. Getting that all-important edge on the competition is vital come the rotation, so be prepared!

Most of the time, I’m a huge hater of spoilers.

When putting in DVDs from HBO, I tell my friends who haven’t seen particular episodes of Deadwood or Six Feet Under to avert their eyes. When people talk about books I’m about to read, I try to stop listening. Perhaps one story will crystallize my feelings, though.

I was living in a big apartment, and my roommate Meghan was returning from a night with her boyfriend.

“What did you do?” I asked.

“Oh, not much. He was watching the end of a movie, and so we watched the end of that, and then hung out.”

“What movie?”

“The Usual Suspects.”


This incident happened a few times. Notably, for Memento, The Sixth Sense, and Citizen Kane. After the third time, though, I knew how I felt about the whole situation. When she asked me about her relationship one day, and what I thought about how they were doing, I asked if she wanted me to be honest. She said she did, so I gave her my honest thoughts:

“Well, its clear he doesn’t care about you. He let you watch the end of The Usual Suspects and The Sixth Sense when he knew you hadn’t seen them before, and he had.”

I don’t think she quite bought my reasoning, but I stand by it.

It’s funny, then, how differently I feel about Magic spoilers. I don’t care if they’re wrong, sometimes (often). I want that edge in the events that always come far too quickly. Knowing about Oath of Druids very early gave me the time to prepare the first Counter-Oath deck that dominated the U.S. Open back in the day. Spoilers on Dream Leash helped inspire me to make Eminent Domain for States, with the three players playing it in the U.S. all making Top 4 of their respective states.

There are a million occasions when players have begun working on decks based on the mere supposition that the deck they’re working on will end up being correct. Many, many times, some small change will end up surfacing between the initial spoiling of a card, and its eventual printing. I know that for months after Eventide was printed, I was still thinking that Springjack Pasture cost 3 and Tap to make an 0/1 White Goat, and even though I had read the card, my head was still stuck in that moment in time when I read the mis-spoiled card. Every time that the details of a card are wrong, it might mess up all of the ideas that you had about where a deck should go, but when they are right, the head-start you can gain can be monumental.

And so, looking at the current spoiler of Alara Reborn, I am struck by how completely crazy the set looks like it could be. In many ways, it reminds me of Exodus; it just seems so powerful. While many people might view the set somewhat innocuously, I find myself nearly overwhelmed with the sheer number of cards that seem, to me, to be noteworthy.

Glancing at Blue/White

One of the first cards that stands out to me is a reprint: Meddling Mage. Immediately, it makes me think of the ways that Fish can be pumped up. It exactly fits the needs of my own Fish deck, which I felt needed more two-drops that could beat, (prompting the inclusion, then, of Puresight Merrow for that purpose. Meddling Mage is like Puresight Merrow’s actual talented cousin showing up to play in the Fish Company softball game — the smart coach takes the Puresight Merrow aside, and tells him, “It was great having you play, but we can only field so many people, and we need Meddling Mage out there in left field.”

Here would be the updated list:

1 Loxodon Warhammer
4 Cold-eyed Selkie
4 Merrow Reejerey
4 Meddling Mage
4 Silvergill Adept
3 Bant Charm
4 Cryptic Command
1 Giant Growth
2 Negate
1 Oona’s Grace
2 Remove Soul
2 Oona, Queen Of The Fae
3 Sygg, River Guide
1 Aquitect’s Will
2 Island
2 Adarkar Wastes
2 Brushland
3 Faerie Conclave
2 Flooded Grove
3 Mystic Gate
4 Reflecting Pool
2 Vivid Creek
4 Wanderwine Hub
1 Yavimaya Coast

2 Glen Elendra Archmage
2 Reveillark
4 Condemn
3 Hurricane
4 Wrath Of God

Just the act of naming “Volcanic Fallout” is completely insane. Yes, Meddling Mage can die anyway, and then have a Volcanic Fallout follow-up, but imagine the game of Fish versus Faeries. On the play, Fish is about 50% likely to have a Meddling Mage, and the simple act of saying “Bitterblossom” can turn a metric ton of Faeries games into shoulder-slumping exercises in losing. Yes, yes, yes, Faeries can Terror or Nameless Inversion or Agony Warp the card. This, however, sets them back a full turn, and gives the Fish player yet another turn to counter the spell, if not simply lay another Meddling Mage.

Also in Blue/White land, one card that was sticking out for me like a huge sore thumb has got to be Wall of Denial.

Wall of Denial
Illusion Wall
Defender, Flying, Shroud


I’m sure many of you are shrugging your shoulders, but to me, that thing looks like a beast. Very, very few creatures can get through this sucker, and it practically reads, “shut down your best creature.” For a certain kind of deck, this kind of nearly unkillable defender is a true monster. As someone who remembers how effective Glacial Wall was at stalling out powerhouse beatdown decks like Fires of Yavimaya, I’m pretty confident that Wall of Denial will have its moment.

Red/Green Thoughts

Speaking of Fires of Yavimaya, in Red/Green, Blitz Hellion is another card that makes me stand up and take notice. As someone who always liked Beacon of Destruction and Blistering Firecat, this one definitely speaks to me.

One of the first things I got down on a piece of paper after seeing this card was a deck like this, adding in two of the first cards spoiled thus far, Jund Hackblade and Bloodbraid Elf.

Jund Hackblade
Goblin Berserker
As long as you control another multicolored permanent, Jund Hackblade gets +1/+1 and has haste.

Bloodbraid Elf
Elf Berserker
Cascade (When you play this spell, remove cards from the top of your library from the game until you reveal a nonland card that costs less. You may play it without paying its mana cost. Put the removed cards on the bottom in a random order.)

Here is the deck:

4 Figure of Destiny
4 Mogg Fanatic
4 Stigma Lasher
4 Jund Hackblade
4 Boggart Ram-Gang
4 Bloodbraid Elf
4 Blitz Hellion
1 Feast of the Hobgoblins
4 Incinerate
4 Flame Javelin
4 Karplusan Forest
4 Fire-Lit Thicket
4 Auntie’s Hovel
3 Ghitu Encampment
8 Mountain

If you want to, increasing the Black in the deck is a valid option, and you could shift the deck into a more Blightning-friendly deck. As it stands, though, the hasty options in the deck are actually scarily potent.

My first solitaire game went like this:

1 — Mountain, Figure of Destiny
2 — Auntie’s Hovel, Jund Hackblade, swing for 4
3 — Fire-Lit Thicket, Incinerate and pump Figure, swing for 5
4 — Mountain, Bloodbraid Elf cascading into Jund Hackblade, swing for 11

The second:

1 — Mountain, Mogg Fanatic
2 — Fire-Lit Thicket, Stigma Lasher, swing for 1
3 — Mountain, Boggart Ram-Gang, swing for 6
4 — Auntie’s Hovel (reveal Mogg Fanatic), Bloodbraid Elf cascading into Boggart Ram-Gang, swing for 12
5 — Mountain, Blitz Hellion, swing for 19

Obviously, the Goldfish doesn’t fight back. I do think that the crazy reach that a Blitz Hellion gives is almost ridiculous. The Bloodbraid Elf looks similarly insane.

Green/White, the anti-beatdown beatdown

Of course, most of this work gets knocked on its head by a card like Behemoth Sledge:

Behemoth Sledge
Artifact — Equipment
Equip 3
Equipped creature gets +2/+2 and has lifelink and trample.

The sledge will find itself fighting for a place against Loxodon Warhammer. Warhammer has the obvious benefit of being played in nearly any deck that wants to run it. Sledge is pretty heavily limited because of its color requirements. Warhammer provides a bigger damage punch. Sledge provides a fairly hefty defensive heft, taking many creatures out of range of common removal, once this hammer is hefted.

If we’re going to go White/Green, I feel like the new Viridian Zealot is a great inclusion as well:

Qasali Pridemage
Cat Wizard
1, Sacrifice Qasali Pridemage: Destroy target artifact or enchantment.

Imagine this update of Daniel Samson’s Richmond $5k 3rd Place deck:

3 Heartmender
4 Kitchen Finks
4 Llanowar Elves
4 Safehold Elite
4 Qasali Pridemage
3 Wilt-leaf Cavaliers
4 Wilt-leaf Liege
4 Wren’s Run Vanquisher
3 Shield Of The Oversoul
2 Behemoth Sledge
3 Overrun
10 Forest
1 Plains
4 Brushland
4 Wooded Bastion
3 Windbrisk Heights

The Qasali Pridemage pushes the deck into White more than it ever has been before, and a full 12 sources are included to help make this reasonable (including 1 Plains to go fetch should anyone be Pathed there). While a Loxodon Warhammer could also be fit into the deck, in protracted games, Behemoth Sledge makes any solitary creature Volcanic Fallout-proof, once it is on, and in this current metagame, that seems pretty important. While not as fast as Armadillo Cloak, it is deeply reminiscent of the card, and is even more demanding of an answer over a long game.

It almost seems that a deck like this could benefit from Reborn Hope, as well:

Reborn Hope
Return target multicolored card from your graveyard to your hand.

On the other hand, this might distract too much from the deck’s attempt to be beating down rather forcefully. (As an aside, I have to tell you, casting Overrun off of Windbrisk Heights is awesome.)

Black, the missing color

I would be remiss to ignore Black, one of my favorite colors, generally speaking.

Of course, Terminate is the big reprint that is drawing all of the press, and well it should. My own build of the Rock for Pro Tour: Valencia ran it, inspired largely by Owen Turtenwald inclusion of it in his terribly named deck, “Chocolate Rain,” a Red Deck Wins variant that splashed Black solely for Terminate, at least in the main.

With Planeshift out of Extended, losing Terminate was definitely a blow. One thing that Terminate has always had going for it is the sheer power of it. Don’t regenerate. Instant. Hit any creature. And only for two mana! A card like Path to Exile is going to be the automatic comparison, and rightly so. While I’m still not a huge fan of Path (though I grudgingly recognize its utility in the right decks), for many decks it will be Terminate that will be looked to as the default standard of creature removal, essentially because the card is so, so good at its job.

Its counterpart, Putrefy, sees an “almost” replacement in Maelstrom Pulse. Part Oblivion Ring, part Vindicate, part Putrefy, Maelstrom Pulse is going to have many people going nutty for it.

Maelstrom Pulse
Destroy target nonland permanent and each permanent that shares a name with that permanent.

The big question for this deck is what you’ll put it into. It could be that the card could serve as a replacement for other elimination that is commonly put into an Elf deck. The problem with that, of course, is that it is a sorcery, so it doesn’t do very well against Mistbind Cliques and friends. By that same token (harhar), it can wipe out a token army, whether put to it by Boat Brew, BW Tokens, Faeries, or Kithkin. Personally, though, I’ve kind of started imagining it as more of a control deck’s solution to problems, rather than a beatdown deck’s.

Overall, I’m excited for the set. It’s overwhelming, like I said, but a part of the fun at the beginnings of new sets is the feeling of being overwhelmed, as well as that joy in having an edge against everyone before the hive-mind figures out everything…

Until next time!

Adrian Sullivan