The Last Days Of Standard

Bennie Smith recounts his recent Standard exploits by looking at the many flavors of Hangarback Walker decks he’s tried out recently, and he looks forward to Battle for Zendikar Standard by starting to draft new decks off of the few spoiled cards seen so far!

What a refreshing change of pace! In years past this was a tough time to be a Magic fan —typically Standard was feeling a bit played out and stale, and to make matters worse on that front all of our excitement begins to get siphoned towards thinking about the future as we got previews of Khans of Tarkir. But instead of feeling played out and stale, Magic Origins injected a ton of great ideas into Standard and my excitement is actually heightened because I have so many new ideas and so little time to give them all a try before the format rotates!

Like most of the Magic community, I’ve been gaga for Hangarback Walker. I was fortunate enough to realize early on that it would be a card I’d want to play quite a bit, and while I didn’t preorder a set when the card was rock-bottom, I did nab four copies just as the price started to rise. Given its price now, I certainly feel lucky!

Hangarback Walker Of Today

One of the first things I wanted to try Hangarback Walker in was a Jeskai Ascendency deck. Jeskai Ascendency is an absurdly powerful card, and I’ve watched friends play the deck and have been impressed with how powerful the card can be when things are running good. I’ve also seen how bad the deck can be when there is no Jeskai Ascendency on the table, so I’ve shied away from playing it until now. Hangarback Walker does two things here: first, it can buy you time early in the game to draw into your Jeskai Ascendency, and then once you’ve drawn Jeskai Ascendency either the Hangarback Walker itself does crazy things with Jeskai Ascendency untap triggers or the horde of Thopter tokens go crazy with Jeskai Ascendency +1/+1 triggers.

And not only do we have Hangarback Walker we can jam into the deck, we also get Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy – who doesn’t mind a few extra triggers to untap with himself, and once his spark ignites he can make use of all the spells that end up in the graveyard over the course of the game.

I also wanted to get the experience of pointing Stoke the Flames at my opponent’s face before it rotated out of Standard. Lord knows I’d experienced plenty of Stokes pointed at my ugly mug.

So about a month ago I brought this to FNM:

I don’t recall the sideboard except that I know it was rather mediocre and needed some work. I went 2-1-1 with the deck and really liked what I expected to like: Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy (when it lived) went a long ways towards ensuring you drew Jeskai Ascendency, and when you drew Jeskai Ascendency it was hard to lose. I cranked a Hangarback Walker up to having ten +1/+1 counters with untap triggers and then attacked after I’d cleared away the blockers with burn spells. And casting Stoke the Flames with convoke when you had a Jeskai Ascendency in play — and then flashing it back with Jace — felt really, really good.

What I didn’t like was Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh despite the theory that she’d be really excellent in this deck. I don’t know, but she just felt really underwhelming. Also, I wasn’t entirely happy with Treasure Cruise alongside Jace.

I haven’t revisited the deck since then, though in recent weeks Patrick Chapin and Chris Lansdell have written about the concept so if you’re interested in digging into the archetype a bit more be sure to check them out.

Instead I moved on to another deck I wanted to try out. Back when I first wrote about Magic Origins Standard I brewed up a deck I called Waste Not Wide, putting Monastery Mentor into the Waste Not/Dark Deal discard engine. I was originally drawn to Dark Petition for that deck, but more recently I decided to try Hangarback Walker in the deck instead. If you can protect Monastery Mentor with discard, go wide with Monk tokens and then go nuts with Sorin, Solemn Visitor’s +1 ability, Hangarback Walker could do the same sort of thing with Thopter tokens. This is the maindeck that I sleeved up a couple weeks back for FNM:

I went 2-1-1 with this deck – hrmm, the same as with Hangarback Jeskai…coincidence? It played a little more clunky than I would have liked — too many times I drew copies of Waste Not but no discard or had a hand clogged with Ultimate Price when my opponent was playing nothing but multicolored creatures. But the very last game gave me the Magical Christmasland I was looking for. On the play I cast Waste Not on turn two, then on turn three I cast Dark Deal getting one 2/2 zombie, two black mana, and some new cards, one of which was another Waste Not, which I played and ended my turn. On turn four I played another Dark Deal and this time struck gold — my opponent had drawn a bunch of lands and a few creatures he couldn’t cast yet, so I ended up with six more 2/2 zombies and twelve black mana which I used to make a 6/6 Hangarback Walker. He played a creature on his turn, but I was able to untap, kill his blocker and swing in for eighteen, killing him on turn five. Wow, what a rush! Most of my games didn’t go that way — typically I’d get an early Hangarback Walker to play defense, and when it was dealt with I’d play Monastery Mentor plus a discard spell to make a Monk and with any luck ride Mentor to victory over the next few turns. Monastery Mentor is a potent card in older formats, but man it can be really good in Standard too if you can protect it.

I’ve got two more Hangarback Walker decks I want to try out next. The first idea is to pair up Hangarback Walker with Nantuko Husk. Hangarback Walker is a great card, but one way to deal with it is to either just never kill it or to exile it, and Nantuko Husk gets around both of those angles. Also, Hangarback Walker and the Thopters it makes can make Nantuko Husk lethal in a hurry if you don’t have a blocker to worry about. Early on I wanted to run Dictate of Erebos in the maindeck, but I found that forcing my opponent to sacrifice creatures could get awkward when they had their own large Hangarback Walkers and I decided to move the Dictates to the sideboard, running Priest of the Blood Rite instead at five mana. Here’s what I’m trying out:

I wanted to dip into red for some early burn and Kolaghan’s Command, with the idea of being able to get back a Hangarback Walker from the graveyard in the mid- to late-game and play it as a 3/3 or 4/4 to feed a Husk. Also, Kolaghan’s Command plus Den Protector can do some nice work at grinding out a game.

A singleton copy of Evolutionary Leap provides another sacrifice outlet for value, and Reaper of the Wild and Shadows of the Past can potentially provide lots of extra scry action to keep the gas flowing. I was a little bit worried about fliers before I turned to Priest of the Blood Rite and filling the air with 5/5 flying demons. Scuttling Doom Engine is a powerful card that hasn’t found a good home during it’s time in Standard, but in a world reliant upon Thopter tokens as chump blockers, maybe it’s his brief time to shine? Not to mention with five sacrifice outlets (not including Kolaghan’s Command) it’s pretty easy to launch that six damage right at your opponent’s face to steal a game from nowhere.

If the red underwhelms I might just go with Abzan since Abzan Charm and Dromoka’s Command do such lovely things with Hangarback Walker.

The final idea I want to try is to revisit the Temur Sabertooth combo idea, but now with Hangarback Walker to dump all that infinite mana into. Sure, Genesis Hydra does good work when the deck is firing on all cylinders, but when your opponent seems intent on killing all your early dudes Hangarback Walker can step in and hold the fort while Genesis Hydra rots in your hand. Something like this:

For the uninitiated, the infinite mana combo is this: Temur Ascendency on the battlefield gives all your creatures haste. If you’ve got seven green devotion to activate with Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx you can tap Voyaging Satyr to untap Shrine (using two mana to activate it again), spend two mana to activate Temur Sabertooth to bring Voyaging Satyr back to your hand, and then two mana to cast Voyaging Satyr (with haste!) to do it all over again. With all that mana you can also do silly things with Polukranos, Genesis Hydra, and Dragonlord Atarka.

Mainly though, this will be my last hurrah in Standard with Courser of Kruphix. I have to admit I’m feeling a bit panicked about having him rotate out. I have played so many different decks featuring four copies of this amazing fellow, gaining me life, being an excellent blocker and a not insignificant attacker, helping me both make more consistent land drops and draw into more gas. He’s been a card I’ve loved having in my opening hand, and a card I’ve loved ripping off the top of my deck in game after game after game. I’m not entirely sure how to best wean myself off Courser of Kruphix — should I cut back slowly or just quit cold turkey?

Or maybe hold out hope that he moves with me to Zendikar? I mean, he’s bound to love Landfall right? Right?

Coursers forever!

Hangarback Walker of the Future

I didn’t start out making a Hangarback Walker deck featuring spoiled new cards from Battle for Zendikar, I swear! You may recall I wrote about Oblivion Sower when it was first spoiled, and thinking how nice that card is going to be in a Villainous Wealth deck. Well once we got a few more goodies spoiled during PAX weekend I knew that not only did I want to ramp into Villainous Wealth, but Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger made a pretty good Plan B. Nissa’s Renewal struck me as a great ramp backup to Oblivion Sower, and while you don’t get a giant Eldrazi on the board for your ramp, gaining seven life isn’t a bad way to make up the time and mana you’re spending on that spell. Also, Nissa’s Renewal guarantees a ramp from six to nine mana, which is just one mana away from casting Ulamog, while Oblivion Sower is likely only to get you one or two extra lands unless you managed to exile some lands earlier with a Villainous Wealth.

Here’s a sketch of what I see sitting in my deckbox of the future:

Eldrazi Wealth

4 Hangarback Walker
4 Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy
4 Den Protector
4 Nissa, Vastwood Seer
4 Deathmist Raptor
3 Explosive Vegetation
1 Hedron Archive
2 Nissa’s Renewal
4 Oblivion Sower
3 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
3 Villainous Wealth
4 Yavimaya Coast
3 Sunken Hollow
3 Polluted Delta
4 Island
1 Swamp
9 Forest

With six ramp spells costing six mana, I naturally thought of Explosive Vegetation to jump from four to six mana It occurred to me that drawing a Hedron Archive is probably better than a second or third (or fourth) Explosive Vegetation so I swapped one in.

Once I figured out the top end of the deck and how I planned to get there, I started looking at what my early plays should look like. Den Protector, Deathmist Raptor and Nissa, Vastwood Seer all seemed like solid inclusions. I also liked Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy to help draw the right mix of ramp and gas, and the option of being able to flash back a Villainous Wealth for another go at my opponent’s library seems backbreaking.

Then of course it made total sense to throw Hangarback Walker into the mix. A solid early play, he’s obviously nuts drawn later when you’ve got a ton of mana and are just hoping for something to use it all on.

I’ve had a lot of success with Devotion-fueled Villainous Wealth decks so I’ll be curious to see how pivoting to more of a ramp/Eldrazi plan plays. One thing I do know — using Nissa cards to ramp into Eldrazi seems totally befitting of a villain playing a Villainous Wealth deck. Yep, dust off the evil laugh y’all…

Mine is an evil laugh

So what new cards from Battle for Zendikar have you most excited to play?

New to Commander?

If you’re just curious about the format, building your first deck, or trying to take your Commander deck up a notch, here are some handy links:

Commander write-ups I’ve done
(and links to decklists):

Zurgo Bellstriker (Bellstriking Like a Boss)

Dragonlord Ojutai (Troll Shroud)

Karrthus, Tyrant of Jund (Dragons, Megamorphs, and Dragons)

Dromoka, the Eternal (One Flying Bolster Basket)

Shu Yun, the Silent Tempest (Tempests and Teapots)

Tasigur, the Golden Fang (Hatching Evil Sultai Plots)

Scion of the Ur-Dragon (Dragon Triggers for Everyone)

• Nahiri, The Lithomancer (Lithomancing for Fun and Profit)

Titania, Protector of Argoth (Titania’s Land and Elemental Exchange)

Reaper King (All About VILLAINOUS WEALTH)

Feldon of the Third Path (She Will Come Back to Me)

Sidisi, Brood Tyrant (Calling Up Ghouls with Sidisi)

Zurgo Helmsmasher (Two Times the Smashing)

Anafenza, the Foremost (Anafenza and Your Restless Dead)

Narset, Enlightened Master (The New Voltron Overlord)

Surrak Dragonclaw (The Art of Punching Bears)

Avacyn, Guardian Angel; Ob Nixilis, Unshackled; Sliver Hivelord (Commander Catchup, Part 3)

Keranos, God of Storms; Marchesa, the Black Rose; Muzzio, Visonary Architect (Commander Catchup, Part 2)

Athreos, God of Passage; Kruphix, God of Horizons; Iroas, God of Victory (Commander Catchup, Journey into Nyx Edition)

Kurkesh, Onakke Ancient (Ghost in the Machines)

Jalira, Master Polymorphist (JaliraPOW!)

Mishra, Artificer Prodigy (Possibility Storm Shenanigans)

Yisan, the Wanderer Bard (All-in Yisan)

Selvala, Explorer Returned (Everyone Draws Lots!)

Grenzo, Dungeon Warden (Cleaning Out the Cellar)

Karona, False God (God Pack)

Child of Alara (Land Ho!)

Doran, the Siege Tower (All My Faves in One Deck!)

Karador, Ghost Chieftain (my Magic Online deck)

Karador, Ghost Chieftain (Shadowborn Apostles & Demons)

King Macar, the Gold-Cursed (GREED!)

Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind ( Chuck’s somewhat vicious deck)

Roon of the Hidden Realm (Mean Roon)

Skeleton Ship (Fun with -1/-1 counters)

Vorel of the Hull Clade (Never Trust the Simic)

Anax and Cymede (Heroic Co-Commanders)

Aurelia, the Warleader ( plus Hellkite Tyrant shenanigans)

Borborygmos Enraged (69 land deck)

Bruna, Light of Alabaster (Aura-centric Voltron)

Damia, Sage of Stone ( Ice Cauldron shenanigans)

Emmara Tandris (No Damage Tokens)

Gahiji, Honored One (Enchantment Ga-hijinks)

Geist of Saint Traft (Voltron-ish)

Ghave, Guru of Spores ( Melira Combo)

Glissa Sunseeker (death to artifacts!)

Glissa, the Traitor ( undying artifacts!)

Grimgrin, Corpse-Born (Necrotic Ooze Combo)

Jeleva, Nephalia’s Scourge ( Suspension of Disbelief)

Johan (Cat Breath of the Infinite)

Jor Kadeen, the Prevailer (replacing Brion Stoutarm in Mo’ Myrs)

Karona, False God (Vows of the False God)

Lord of Tresserhorn (ZOMBIES!)

Marath, Will of the Wild ( Wild About +1/+1 Counters)

Melira, Sylvok Outcast ( combo killa)

Mirko Vosk, Mind Drinker ( Outside My Comfort Zone with Milling

Nefarox, Overlord of Grixis (evil and Spike-ish)

Nicol Bolas (Kicking it Old School)

Nylea, God of the Hunt ( Devoted to Green)

Oloro, Ageless Ascetic (Life Gain)

Oona, Queen of the Fae (by reader request)

Phage the Untouchable ( actually casting Phage from Command Zone!)

Phelddagrif (Mean Hippo)

Polukranos, World Eater (Monstrous!)

Reaper King (Taking Advantage of the new Legend Rules)

Riku of Two Reflections (

steal all permanents with
Deadeye Navigator + Zealous Conscripts


Roon of the Hidden Realm ( Strolling Through Value Town)

Ruhan of the Fomori (lots of equipment and infinite attack steps)

Savra, Queen of the Golgari ( Demons)

Shattergang Brothers (Breaking Boards)

Sigarda, Host of Herons ( Equipment-centric Voltron)

Skullbriar, the Walking Grave ( how big can it get?)

Sliver Overlord (Featuring the new M14 Slivers!)

Thelon of Havenwood ( Campfire Spores)

Varolz, the Scar-Striped (scavenging goodness)

Vorosh, the Hunter ( proliferaTION)

Xenagos, God of Revels (Huge Beatings)

Yeva, Nature’s Herald (living at instant speed)