A few weeks back, I posted Armada regular Matt Newnam’s Isperia deck, citing it as an example of a good deck that strikes the balance between being fun and fair. One criticism was that the deck is full enough of staples that it’s not particularly interesting, so I put out the challenge to come up with one where the General matters more and not include more than 10 staples. We might have difficulty agreeing on exactly what the Top 50 staples are, but we all kind of know one when we see one.
I approve of the idea of avoiding staples, especially since I have so many decks. I like doing different stuff, which is why I carefully select which decks I carry with me at any one time. Forum commenter Devon Rule captured the sentiment well:
“If I only owned one deck, I can see it ending up so full of cool staples that you can guess half my deck by looking at my general. One of the reasons I like having a number of decks built is to play all the cool staples while also running fun and interesting cards I’ve never seen anyone else use.”
Drew Wale and Sean Patchen had the time to ship to me lists, so we’ll discuss them (apologies to anyone else who may have sent me a list—I checked and double-checked before writing this piece, and these were the only two that I found). Since they’re trying to cut a path to new frontiers, there will probably be choices that aren’t as good as those format staples, so I don’t want to look at their choices in light of those, I want to look at them in the light of how interesting they are unto themselves. We’ll also run a staple count to see if they beat the under.
Azorius Signet: White/blue being notoriously bad at mana ramp, mana rocks are a fine inclusion.
Champion’s Helm: Drew is playing six legendary creatures counting the General, which might be a minimum for getting best value out of the Helm. One thing I like about the Helm is its equip cost of one.
Darksteel Ingot: Staple #1.
Sensei’s Divining Top: Staple #2.
Sol Ring: Staple #3. If you’re going to spend your staple slots, it’s not a bad idea to do it to produce mana.
Sword of Light and Shadow: A popular card, but well enough down the list of Swords that I wouldn’t call it a staple. It will do something that this deck (well, these colors) can’t do well: get dudes back out of your graveyard. Swords, being colorless, are the last word in color-pie breakers.
Adarkar Valkyrie: We got pretty excited about her when she came out, but I haven’t seen much of her recently. I’ll add that I’m a little happy that Drew chose the Angel theme for this deck because I generally like Angels as a tribe, having done them for my Karador deck.
Admonition Angel: Good board control, and combined with the next card, can keep you in control for a while.
Aegis Angel: One of the M12 cards that I really like for the format. Combine with Clone (a definite staple) for more protection. I’ve seen, in a casual game one afternoon, Rite of Replication kicked targeting this.
Augury Adept: Very clever card choice, A+ value that I’m going to try to work into a deck. One of things we find in EDH games is that there’s always some to attack, especially early game and you don’t really feel too bad about hitting them with this or Shadowmage Infiltrator.
Blinding Angel: This was one of the All-Stars of my Merieke deck (which I’m starting to feel like needs to get rebuilt). Being immune to getting attacked is huge.
Chancellor of the Spires: I like this card because you have to think about playing it. I dislike its first ability since it can really screw over other players after mulligans are resolved. I think if I were to play it, I’d choose to not use that ability. I’ve been in a game when it happened, and it was a drag for everyone.
Consecrated Sphinx: Staple #4.
Conundrum Sphinx: Richard Garfield smiled when this card got made. It’s a fun choice that adds additional gamesmanship to play.
Deepchannel Mentor: The biggest Merfolk ever (not counting changelings) makes your blue guys even better.
Drogskol Reaver: Especially since there is a little additional life gain in the deck, I like this choice even more.
Emeria Angel: Solid value card. I’d rather they were Spirits than Birds, but then that’s just being picky.
Luminous Angel: There they are!
Magus of the Moat: Flying matters in this deck, so there’s good reason to make it matter more in play. Protecting yourself especially from the inevitable Avenger of Zendikar hordes or other swarms of green creatures makes a great deal of sense, even more so because the Magus is less vulnerable than its hyper-expensive enchantment cousin (by the by, between English and Italian, there are 29 in stock right now—get them before they’re gone!) to the ways green has to deal with it.
Mindshrieker: This was such a house in my Dark Ascension Prerelease Sealed Deck that I’ve considered working it in somewhere. I think part of its value is also controlling the top of opponents’ decks—when this is on the battlefield, they have to be careful about Topping and Tutoring.
Nevermaker: Solid tempo choice. Costing someone a draw can be a quite powerful weapon.
Pride of the Clouds: Like Radiant, Archangel, this one can get pretty silly pretty fast, only this one does it cheaper. This made me immediately scroll down to see if Drew listed Storm Herd, which he didn’t. The forecast ability might be okay, but I think the real power in this guy is just dropping him on the table for two.
Sphinx Ambassador: We can see that there’s a Sphinx sub-theme to go with the Angel one. More gamesmanship works for me.
Sphinx of Jwar Isle: Solid value, fits the sub-theme. Shroud, while obviously not hexproof, is still worthwhile.
Sphinx of Lost Truths: I thought we’d see more of this one played, especially in blue/black decks that want to get guys into the graveyard.
Sphinx of Magosi: Saw some play right after Rise of the Eldrazi was released, but haven’t seen it much since then. In a control-ish blue deck of any kind, it’s a pretty good value.
Sphinx of Uthuun: Everyone at Armada just calls this “FoF Sphinx.”
Stormtide Leviathan: Another great way of keeping the Green hordes off your back and then also battle them for 8.
Victory’s Herald: Do not underestimate the piles of life you can gain with this card.
Walker of Secret Ways: OK, Drew has both found a card that combos well with the General, and that no one else in the history of the format has ever played. Another A+.
Wandering Eye: Likely another one that no one’s ever played with but can make an impact in this deck.
Sharding Sphinx: I’m not sure what’s going on with this except for the fact that it fits the Sphinx sub-theme, since there are no other artifact creatures in the deck.
LEGENDARY CREATURES (5)
Aboshan, Cephalid Emperor: Another clever choice for reinforcing the value of air superiority.
Geist of Saint Traft: Remember that the token doesn’t have to attack the same player or planeswalker that the Geist is attacking.
Reya, Dawnbringer: I see Reya played in a fair number of decks (though certainly not enough to call it a staple), but it brings back creatures a disproportionately low number of times. That probably has something to do with Reya’s cost and by the time she gets cast, answers abound. As a side note, I created a legendary weapon called Dawnbringer for my Four Kindgoms of Therduin RPG campaign some years before this card came out. I still think Dawnbringer is a better name for an item than a person, but YMMV.
Cloud Cover: A very interesting and unusual choice. The optional nature of the ability gives you quite some flexibility. I’d like it to cost one less, but you can say that about any card, I suppose.
Coastal Piracy: This card was a house in the earlier days of the format, and I’m happy to see Drew picking it. Goes especially well when your guys can’t be blocked.
Day of the Dragons: I keep trying to find a deck for this to go in, and I like Drew’s inclusion here. Sure, it costs seven, but it’s all upside for you.
Equilibrium: Sure, this can be some kind of infinite combo card, but it’s another card I like for its ability to play with. You can absolutely make a mess of using it.
Field of Dreams: Obviously this goes with the General, but extra style points for the Legends card.
Flood: Simple, direct, and no one plays it. Kudos.
Gravitational Shift: One of the ‘obvious’ cards in this deck, it nonetheless is a great choice.
Levitation: This might be unnecessary, since most everything has flying anyway.
Moat: Still only 29 left in stock!
Telepathy: I like that Drew is committing to getting his General onto the battlefield and using its ability.
Ghostway: Loved this card since it came out. I think I immediately picked up about six foil copies online. Especially in a deck without too many tokens, it’s the right response to a board sweeper. Also not to be underestimated as a defensive tactic: Attack with your guys, deal damage, then use this to bring them back untapped.
Mirrorweave: I once saw someone use this to make all creatures into Primeval Titans, then battle and drop about 20 lands onto the board. There are a limitless number of cool tricks you can do with this card.
Peek: More commitment to the General.
Spy Network: I would play this card simply for the artwork. Makes me wish it was a permanent of some kind.
Venser, the Sojourner: White/blue isn’t my favorite color combination, but I’d play them just to play this card.
Austere Command: I’m going to call staple #5 here. Nonetheless, one of the best cards ever for board control.
Dimensional Breach: This would get Drew a Chasm penalty in the Armada League, but the main reason I don’t like it much is that you go last in putting something onto the battlefield. Seems like you’re putting yourself a step behind everyone else.
Rite of Replication: Staple #6.
Sudden Disappearance: It’s a sorcery, so you can’t use it like you can Ghostway. As discussed last week in my Dark Ascension review, I really like it, again for some flexibility and necessity of clever use.
NON-BASIC LAND (15)
Prahv, Spires of Order
BASIC LANDS (23)
Extremely well done by Drew. Interesting and eminently playable deck, and the staple count at a healthy six. I’d consider sleeving up this thing and giving it a run. I hope that Drew has already done so and will give us a report.
While there are some similarities to Drew’s deck, Sean’s is slightly more aggressive. He’s chosen a Spirit theme and has also gone with a small Sphinx sub-theme. The ‘list’ he frequently mentions is MTG Salvation’s Top 50, which is an interesting statistical breakdown of the most played cards in the format. Sean’s also been good enough to give us his own comments, which I’ve put in italics.
Basalt Monolith: The first card on the list being an infinite combo card doesn’t give me a good feeling.
Crystal Ball: Well if Scroll Rack gets to have his sibling, I suppose Sensei’s Divining Top should get his too. I like this more in “Top of the Library Matters” decks, but it’s still reasonably good in any deck.
Elixir of Immortality: We might end up in a few situations where we are drawing more than we can play. Elixir lets us reuse those cards we are forced to pitch. It is indeed a clever way of getting more mileage out of your library. I wonder how favorably it compares to Archangel’s Light. Obviously, the Elixir can get used infi times.
Grim Monolith: This is part of getting aggressive early and infinite combo later.
Marble Diamond: Mana rock.
Pilgrim’s Eye: This is a mana-fixer more than a mana rock. It allows us to have a mana source that the Commander can tutor for.
Sky Diamond: I guess people use so many artifacts that these are still ok to play and be original? Some props for going old school with the mana rocks.
Venser’s Journal: The more you draw the more life you gain, the more you draw. I think people often undervalue slow, steady life gain.
Wayfarer’s Bauble: More mana fixing.
Well of Lost Dreams: Well of lost dreams isn’t quite as good as Drogskol Reaver will be, but if you’re gaining life, why not draw some cards while you’re at it? I’d like to see this card work, but I’m not sure about it. It seems like committing resources at weird times, but I’m open to the idea that it could indeed be very good.
Archon of Redemption: Almost everything in the deck flies, so we will be gaining a lot of life. Love this guy. Again, slow, steady life gain.
Celestial Crusader: Most of the tokens we have are white and the split second isn’t a bad keyword. Excellent choice for the deck. I’m pretty fond of creatures with flash.
Drogskol Captain: Protection from removal is key for all aggro decks. Especially at his cost, he’s quite good in this deck.
Drogskol Reaver: New in Dark Ascension so it’s not a staple. It may very well turn into one in the future. Normally I wouldn’t center a deck around a card in the 99, but this Commander can tutor for it. With Drogskol in the deck we are going to want a life gain theme. It’s quite difficult in this format to have a single build-around non-General, but Sean’s point is valid. With Isperia, he can tutor for the Reaver. In this deck, it doesn’t even have to attack to gain value.
Magus of the Moat: I don’t suspect he will live very long, but while he does the world is yours. As I mention in Drew’s deck, this is pretty good defense.
Nikko-Onna: Enchantments are not going to be an issue with this girl around. Inspired choice. I’m interested to see how many Arcane spells there are here.
Serra Ascendant: I was surprised this didn’t make the staple list. 6/6 flying lifelink for 1 mana was an easy include. Dropping this turn 1 puts a target on your head, but what I’ve found is that the life you gain makes up for the amount of hate you draw. Once the game has equalized, people tend to not hold this one against you.
Sire of the Storm: I have never really seen this guy in action. But, with Drogskol Reaver being a Spirit and most Spirits being flyers I though adding an Arcane/Spirit element to the deck would give it some originality. Drawing two cards off of this guy pays for the extra mana you spent to cast him.
Sphinx of Lost Truths: Hopefully we can afford the kicker. If not, triple loot is still some good digging power. Again, I think the power of this guy might be in a different deck, but he’s reasonable supporting the theme.
Sphinx of Magosi: I like to draw cards and beat face, this does that for me. Can’t argue with that sentiment.
Sphinx of Uthuun: Fact or Fiction is on the list, but I can tutor for this with the Commander anyway. Go back to the shadow. “Go back to the shadow. The dark fire will not avail you, flame of Udun! YOU SHALL NOT PASS!”
Victory’s Herald: Most of the creatures are going to fly anyway, but we cannot lift up the rest of the team while we gain a ton of life. Beatings and lifegain might be the name of the group next time I play Rock Band.
Wispmare: Tutor-able enchantment removal isn’t terrible. Too bad it’s an Elemental and not a Spirit.
Windborn Muse: I don’t like getting hit nearly as much as I like hitting others. I’m sure there’s a psychologist that would make something of Sean’s comment—but I’m pretty sure I agree with him.
Windbrisk Raptor: This and Victories Herald turns Drogskol Reaver into Edric, and we know how good Edric is. I’m pretty sure Sean’s opponents are going to try to not let that happen too often, but when it does, it will be epic.
ARTIFACT CREATURES (1)
Sharding Sphinx: I like to keep a few cards in my deck that become large threats as the game goes on. Sharding Sphinx left unchecked will win games. I get that it’s self-additive, but it seems more at home in more of a control deck than an aggressive one.
LEGENDARY CREATURES (6)
Keiga, the Tide Star: I am curious as to why this isn’t on the list. I won’t complain too much since Keiga is an all-star. Keiga was indeed a superstar in the early days of the format. I think she’s just run into “been there, done that, there are new shinies.” Maybe there’s a “Back to the Classics” deck idea running around.
Kira, Great Glass-Spinner: As I mentioned with Drogskol Captain, protecting your creatures is really important in aggressive strategies. Outstanding inclusion in the deck. One-for-one spot removal is a little less popular in this format, but it’s always a good idea to make your opponents have to work to blow up your stuff. Perhaps this deserves a spot in my “Lighten Up, Francis” deck.
Kiyomaro, First to Stand: With all the card draw we are trying to accomplish, Kiyomaro. I’m not sure if Sean’s comment got cut off there, or he felt it was enough to just say “Kiyomaro.” Like “Denny Crane.”
Myojin of Cleansing Fire: I figured I should include at least one Myojin in a spirit themed deck. For sure. I’m still waiting for the Myojin-Proliferate deck.
Oyobi, Who Split the Heavens: What is better than one Spirit? Lots of Spirits. Lots of big Spirits. We’re not talking little 1/1s here, we’re talking 3/3 flyers.
The Unspeakable: He’s big, he’s expensive, and he lets me recast Terashi’s Grasp to my heart’s content. I love the flavor that you can Peer Through Mists and Sift Through Sands to get this guy. Kamigawa Block is often maligned by players, but I think flavor-wise, it was pretty good.
Cradle of Vitality: Now we are getting into the win conditions. If we are gaining a lot of life, we might as well transfer that into dealing a lot of damage. I like the activation cost, but the casting cost seems a little ungainly.
Gravitation Shift: Ground token decks are usually a bit faster than those in the air. We can slow them down a bit with this. Can’t say much more about this card than we’ve already said.
Island Sanctuary: You have to be careful with this card and make sure you can draw more than one card a turn. I absolutely heart this choice, and am going to get one altered so that I can play with it.
Power Artifact: There is no way to tutor this card up, so I don’t think the Monolith combos will go off too often. It’s it here to give the deck a way to win the game when all else has failed. Stylistically, I’m not a fan, but I understand it’s just a matter of taste.
Soothsaying: I am not sure why so few people have heard of this. I like rearranging the top of my deck. Agreed. This card doesn’t need piles of mana to be pretty good.
Teferi’s Moat: In the best-case scenario, only you can attack. This and Magus aren’t nearly as powerful as the original moat since one is limited and one is easy to destroy. Keep your Plant tokens off of my face!
Test of Endurance: Sure Felidar Sovereign is probably better. However, at least with this one you have to accomplish something aside from getting 6 mana and not making enemies. When people ask me why this card isn’t banned, I feel like we haven’t done a great job of making them understand why cards get banned. The foremost reason this particular card isn’t banned is that is doesn’t often get played. If it doesn’t get played, it can’t warp the format.
Blue Sun’s Zenith: I can only assume this will eventually make the list. It is good card draw and an alternate win condition. When I was picking up some foils for decks last week, I noticed that these were only $3.99, so I grabbed a bunch of them.
Counterlash: I really just want to see this spell in action. Me too. I’m quite interested to see how much play it gets. Especially since it counters anything, it seems quite worthwhile.
Crib Swap: It’s a Spirit exile spell. Awesome? I’m definitely looking at a deck that primarily uses exile instead of destroy. With all the recursion in the format, it seems rather powerful.
Dismiss: Counterspells are only good if they do something else. This one draws a card. Sean is echoing a sentiment I’ve long held. One-for-ones are not that great in this format. Your counterspells have to do other things too.
Disrupting Shoal: With a pretty standard curve and plenty of blue cards, there is a chance you might be able to use the alternate cost to cast this. This one might be a little narrow for my tastes, although simply paying the X is an option.
Overwhelming Intellect: Now this is the late game counter spell you are looking for. Drain their hand and fill your own. I have a long-standing affection for this card. Every time I play it, I like saying something cheeky like “You know I’m smarter than you, right?”
Spell Crumple: Checked three times to be sure this wasn’t on the list even though Hinder was. I dedicate this spell to Zur. Tuck is Reasonable Protection. The question is which General are you going to hold it for?
Stream of Consciousness: A little bit of graveyard hate, since we all need some in our decks. “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked…”
Kirtar’s Wrath: A wrath that gives Spirit tokens. It’s amusing that white cards are the ones that are angry. Or at least the gods are.
Ribbons of the Reikai: Distant Melodies or Flow of Ideas are both probably better draw spells. However I would like to stay on theme while increasing the usefulness of The Unspeakable. I imagine that this can occasionally net a large number of cards.
Rout: Another one I had to double check. Instant speed Wrath of God is a good spell in many white decks. Super-popular back in the day, less so now, although I imagine its potential as an instant might gain it more love when people think about it.
Storm Herd: Since there is a large focus on flyers, we might as well be able to make a lot of them. A format-defining $1 rare. $2.99 in foil, and only 2 in stock!
City of Brass
BASIC LANDS (20)
Kudos to Sean for going the extra mile by including zero staples into a deck that’s quite playable and looks quite fun to play. I’m a little worried that it might be a touch slow out of the gate for one that seems on the surface aggressive, but I think it can get there—especially with any of the mana rocks at the start.
Thanks to both Drew and Sean for showing us that you can Embrace the Chaos while thinking outside the box. The idea of not using the cards everyone else is using is quite attractive and deserves further investigation.
As you’re reading this, I’m likely winging my way to Honolulu for the Pro Tour. Be sure to check out the live coverage all weekend, as I join Brian David-Marshall, Rich Hagon, and Rashad Miller on the team for first-of-its-kind coverage of the Pro Tour!