Let’s be honest. If there’s a Standard event coming up in your near future, you should be playing Oko, Thief of Crowns. The card is approaching unprecedented levels of Standard dominance and might soon reach the same heights in Modern and Pioneer. I’ve hemmed and hawed over the question every time someone has asked me, but I guess this is the moment I’m ready to draw the line:
One of the simultaneously beautiful and troubling things about humanity is that we don’t always make the optimal choice, even when the benefits of doing so are clear. We eat unhealthy foods. We smoke. We cheat. We go to war. We play decks without Oko in them. It’s what separates us from the machines.
Maybe you care more about enjoying yourself than winning. Maybe you share cards with a friend, and they’ve already called the Okos for this weekend. Maybe you just can’t walk away from a good challenge. Maybe you’re afraid of Elk. If you’re one of these people, I’ve got your back. Let’s look at the non-Oko decks that found success this weekend and figure out if and why there’s an acceptable excuse to abandon the strongest individual Magic card in recent memory.
If we’re giving up on Oko, we must be squarely pointing at a strategic justification for doing so. In Modern, when things get bogged down on the battlefield, I always point to stack-based combo as the answer. We saw Drake Sasser use exactly this approach a few weeks ago to find an out of nowhere victory for Gifts Storm at SCG Indianapolis.
When it comes to Standard, however, it’s harder to find combo options. But Zach Allen keeps trying.
I mentioned an earlier version of this deck in my article last week, and Zach came close to showing the promise of the idea with a ninth-place finish in the Standard Classic. The Elderspell combo may not have a long-established pedigree in the format, but the pieces here mostly make sense. Every deck should be built with a razor focus on attacking Oko right now, and I think the time for Lava Coil is over. The appropriate removal spells these days are Noxious Grasp and Aether Gust. If we pick up those Oko-focused cards, I expect the combination of Ritual of Soot and planeswalkers can check the early aggression of Simic-based decks. With that task completed, we can leverage an end-game that outscales the huge Hydroid Krasis that seem to snatch so many victories from the jaws of defeat.
The insanely powerful green cards are typically able to find advantages early with Once Upon a Time, Gilded Goose, and Oko; in the mid-game with Nissa; and in the late-game with Hydroid Krasis. Having at least one stage where you can reliably outpace them, and the ability to back-door random combo kills while ignoring Oko in the mid-game, means you’ve gained agency in the back half of the game. Maybe that’s still too little to hang your hat on, and the fact that you need your answers to line up very well is scary, but if you didn’t want to live dangerously, you would have just played Oko, right?
Speaking of stack-based combo, remember Wilderness Reclamation?
Maindeck Mystic Dispute is sure to slow down the Elk gang just a bit (at least until the maindeck Veil of Summers get here), and again, the late-game scope of Explosion plus Wilderness Reclamation can dwarf what the Simic decks are capable of. These decks are finding success because they’re exploiting the fact that the hate card of choice is Noxious Grasp. I wouldn’t be surprised if that makes the key adaptation at the next big event a return to Aether Gust. If that’s the maindeck hate card instead, it’s hard to believe that there’s any room for cards like Wilderness Reclamation or Fires of Invention to find success. Right now, those cards happily sit in Oko’s singular blind spot – enchantments.
An obvious point of commonality between every deck that found success this past weekend is a lack of investments in singular threats. You either must go wide or you must mostly forgo playing creatures. Here’s one of the few players who was able to do the former successfully.
- 4 Midnight Reaper
- 3 Gutterbones
- 4 Priest of Forgotten Gods
- 4 Mayhem Devil
- 2 Cavalier of Night
- 4 Cauldron Familiar
Our own Emma Handy has been finding success with similar strategies as of late. Again, maindecks are starting to reflect the sheer desperation of our situation. Noxious Grasp is the obvious inclusion, but Claim the Firstborn hard targets Hydroid Krasis and Voracious Hydra, making opponents struggle to stabilize on razor-thin margins (good luck figuring out what X equals). Angrath’s Rampage means we are getting to the point where we are overloaded on answers to Oko and Nissa and are routinely recouping a mana advantage.
If Oko plusing on one of your creatures represents a power and toughness upgrade, you’ve taken away an important option from your opponent. Don’t lose sight of the fact that a stretch to Sultai has inflicted some noticeable harm on manabases. There are few basics and more shocklands, and when the edges are tight, sometimes that’s enough to push aggressive decks back into the picture. There will still be games that feel hopeless in the face of a runaway Oko, but with little else to worry about in the metagame, more and more tools are available to make sure these games become a rarity.
I will note that this deck also fears the inevitable counterpunch of maindeck Veil of Summer, perhaps to a greater extent than any other. Priest of Forgotten Gods, Angrath’s Rampage, Noxious Grasp… none of these are cards I’m thrilled to play into that eventuality.
- 3 Paradise Druid
- 1 Massacre Girl
- 3 Rankle, Master of Pranks
- 4 Foulmire Knight
- 2 Order of Midnight
- 4 Lovestruck Beast
- 4 Murderous Rider
- 4 Edgewall Innkeeper
By now you’ve heard the rumblings about Chris Kvartek and his incredible performance at the highest level of the game this year. Watching his play, he’s every bit as good as hyped up to be, and then some. Beyond this, Kvartek is also rapidly proving himself an agile deckbuilder, sporting an innovative take on Simic Food at Mythic Championship V, and coming back just a week later with a refined version of Golgari Adventures to lock up another Arena Mythic Championship appearance. Look at how many cards in this deck specifically account for the Simic-based lists.
This deck is outwardly hateful while still retaining its powerful core engine. With eleven removal spells for Oko, the card is just not going to remain on the battlefield, meaning the value engine of Edgewall Innkeeper can shine. And look at those four copies of Veil of Summer in the sideboard, just ready to go for opposing Noxious Grasps. Maybe a few are ready to float to the maindeck?
While Selesnya Adventures watched its favorable Simic matchup fade in the face of maindeck Noxious Grasps, Golgari Adventures will happily play the long game, rebuying Innkeepers with Find as necessary. If I had to play a Magic tournament right now and you managed to steal my four beautiful full-art foil Okos from me, this is the deck I’m locking in.
Sweepers are good against the Simic decks. Really, they are. The problem is all the cards surrounding those sweepers just don’t match up in power level. I predicted a solid weekend for Esper Dance, but that simply didn’t come to fruition, with only a single copy making it to Day 2 of the Arena MCQW. I think the deck skimps too much on the early interaction required to succeed in this format. Edmvyrus made no such mistake.
Two Mystical Dispute, three Dovin’s Veto, four Brazen Borrower, and perhaps the only Oko removal spell that can fade Veil of Summer in Prison Realm mean that this deck can again cobble together an acceptable early-game and then counter key threats going long. At least in Game 1. And at least last weekend. As maindeck Veil of Summer picks up in popularity this week, I do think this deck is headed to Struggle Street.
Which is why I include this surprising Orzhov Doom list from Weston Anderson which takes the approach of overloading Veil of Summer with more discard than should be humanly possible to fit in one deck. Weston shared this list with @ArenaDecklists, and while I’m not trying to present this as a finished product, I do think this deck represents an interesting starting point that hasn’t really been tried before.
I bristled when people called early versions of Esper Dance a “Stax” deck. Stax decks typically seek to deprive an opponent of all resources, a la the deck’s namesake card, Smokestack. Esper Dance attempted to do no such thing, despite the inclusion of Doom Foretold. It was just a control deck with a combo kill. Weston’s deck really can restrict an opponent on resources, though, and this point turns Simic-based decks’ greatest strength against them.
These decks are leveraging a suite of cards that combine in jaw-dropping fashion. Once Upon a Time becomes Gilded Goose, which makes Turn 2 Oko, which feeds the Wicked Wolf, which allows you to make sure Nissa is safe, which leads to a huge Hydroid Krasis, and the game is over before it even really started. And while these cards are singularly powerful as well, the rest of the format, especially Doom Foretold, can potentially keep pace with the individual threats. Overwhelming numbers of discard effects can force the Oko decks to play something resembling realistic Magic. Break up their curve, and maybe, just maybe, you can find a path forward in this format gone awry.
But while you’re doing this, don’t fool yourself. You should just be playing Oko.