Thundermaw Riding Hood & The Big Bad Lifebane Zombie

CVM tells you about the G/R Aggro deck he played to the Top 16 of #SCGKNOX and brainstorms a B/R Zombies list. Take a look before #SCGSLC and #SCGNY!

Last weekend a large group of us from Roanoke invaded Knoxville for the StarCityGames.com Classic Series to sling some Standard cards for glory and Open Points. Going into round 8 of the nine-round tournament, Brad Nelson, Brian Braun-Duin, Matt “Googs” Gargiulo, Josiah Friend, and I, all having the same employer, luckily dodged each other for our win and ins.

Googs and Brad ran worse than you could imagine, while BBD and I got paired against our absolute worst matchups: BBD with Junk Reanimator against Bant Hexproof and me with G/R Aggro against G/W Trostani.

All of us but Josiah bricked (congrats on the Top 8!) and Brad, BBD, Kenny Castor, and I won our last rounds to place in the Top 16, exacting our dominance over #SCGKNOX!

Last week I said that I wasn’t planning on going to any events that weekend and was just going to focus on getting some other work done. I was all ready to dig my heels in and put my figurative nose to the grindstone until BBD said he wanted to go to #SCGKNOX and there was a car going with room for me.

I couldn’t turn down an opportunity like that!

This weekend is a “double PTQ” weekend for me, and I wanted to use Knoxville as a way to test out the Jund build that I planned on playing in them. Then I saw Brian Kibler G/R Aggro deck from Worlds and instantly fell in love. The deck is everything that I want a deck to be in the current Standard meta: powerful because of the streamlined nature of the deck combined with the innate power level of the individual cards; not reliant on one specific strategy, which allows for fluid and flexible sideboarding; favorable versus Jund and U/W/R Flash strategies; and plays Thundermaw freaking Hellkite. Brian Kibler deck tech really sold me on the strong points of the deck, and I highly recommend it:

I played the exact same maindeck, with two cards different in the sideboard.

The numbers on everything in the maindeck felt almost perfect; however, I did find myself wanting another red source most of the time. It’s very possible that one of the Forests should be a Gruul Guildgate or that the Kessig Wolf Run isn’t worth being in the maindeck. I do want to board a 25th land because of the alternate sideboard card that I played and was happy with, so it’s possible the Kessig Wolf Run should just move to the sideboard.

Strangleroot Geist ended up being much better than I thought it would be, especially in game 1s. I ended up sideboarding it out a lot, which is something that you normally wouldn’t do if it were something like Burning-Tree Emissary. Flinthoof Boar fulfills its role admirably, often attacking for three on turn 2 and fighting random creatures that your opponent may have with Domri Rade. Domri Rade is also extremely good in this deck. With 29 creatures, most of the time you have about a 50% chance to hit a creature, although you have to not be afraid to board some of him out when you’re bringing in Burning Earth and/or the burn spells. Once you start to dip down around 22-25 creatures, having four Domri Rades isn’t all that powerful.

My favorite card in the deck—and possibly the format—is Thundermaw Hellkite. Many times I killed my opponent from fourteen out of nowhere. Hellkite attack, Hellkite attack, Ghor-Clan Rampager, you’re dead. Thundermaw Hellkite always finds its mark, clearing a path for itself through Lingering Souls and any other flyer that happens to sit in play trying to impede its Lava Axeness. Best of all, Thundermaw Hellkite dodges Lifebane Zombie.

Lifebane Zombie is a very powerful card that I think is going to have a lasting impact on Standard for as long as it’s legal, similar to how cards like Dismember; Jace, the Mind Sculptor; and the Titan cycle had an impact on deckbuilding during their time in Standard. If a creature is vulnerable to Lifebane Zombie or interacts poorly with it in general, it’s probably not going to be good enough.

Even though three of its primary prey will be leaving with the next rotation—Thragtusk, Restoration Angel, and Huntmaster of the Fells—there will still be plenty of Return to Ravnica block all-stars that we can snag. Obzedat, Ghost Council; Blood Baron of Vizkopa; and Angel of Serenity are all awesome cards that will continue to see play in the next format, in addition to there being actual Gods in Theros. I imagine there will be at least one green and one white God, and getting to snag them bad boys out of your opponent’s hand will be very nice!

Ruric Thar, the Unbowed is the card that I played in my sideboard that differs from Brian Kibler list, and I was very happy with it. I didn’t really like Gruul War Chant, and I wanted another card that would be awesome against Jund and U/W/R Flash. I know that Lifebane Zombie can snag a Ruric Thar from your hand out of Jund, but we don’t want him in the early game and are mainly aiming to cast him off the top of our deck when we draw it. I was able to draw him off a Domri Rade once against one of my Jund opponents, and it was absolutely backbreaking.

Burning Earth is as good as you think it is against Jund and U/W/R Flash, especially when paired with Thundermaw Hellkite. You are able to do a lot of damage very quickly, and opponents often get into a position where they are dead to your Thundermaw Hellkite or Hellrider and also dead to Burning Earth if they cast a spell that stops them from dying to your creatures. Having Arbor Elf and Elvish Mystic to ramp into Burning Earth is nice, but I feel like if there were a Mind Stone in the format, a Kuroda-Style Big Red deck with Burning Earth in the main, like Adam Laforest’s deck from Grand Prix Calgary, would be very powerful:

As of right now, I am leaning towards playing the G/R deck again in the PTQs this weekend, but I will be playing around with a couple options this week while I’m preparing. I do like Lifebane Zombie a lot, and I really want to try to find the best Lifebane Zombie deck. Maybe it’s time for a return to B/R Zombies. Your deck is completely immune to opposing Lifebane Zombies and is aggressive enough to take advantage of the damage you can sneak out of a Lifebane Zombie with its intimidate.

We still have our one-drop Zombies with Diregraf Ghoul and Gravecrawler. We still have a lack of awesome two-drops, however, leaving us with Blood Artist, Knight of Infamy, Spike Jester, and Blood Scrivener to choose from. I think I like Blood Artist and Knight of Infamy the best, but Firefist Striker might actually be an option too. We still have Geralf’s Messenger, and now with Lifebane Zombie we are solid at the three-drop slot. Hellrider and Falkenrath Aristocrat are still options for the four slot, and Thundermaw Hellkite is the only five-drop that I would even consider.

With the reprinting of Doom Blade, we have the awesome instant-speed two-mana removal spell we’ve always wanted. Ultimate Price was never able to kill cards like Huntmaster of the Fells and Boros Reckoner, and we always had to use our Searing Spears on those troublesome dudes. But now we can just Doom Blade most of our problems away. Depending on how many—if any—five-drops we want to play, I think we need to play 24 or 25 lands. Mutavault synergizes with Gravecrawler very well, but it might be too much with Geralf’s Messenger in the deck. Let’s see where we’re at.

There’s a good chance that we need two more red sources and that we want another two-drop instead of Thundermaw Hellkite, but this is what I’m starting with to test out B/R Zombies. Gnawing Zombie could possibly be good since it lets us turn three mana into a one point life drain when we have a Gravecrawler.

Lifebane Zombie also fits very well into Jund, as proven by multiple players at the World Championship and Sean Weihe with his StarCityGames.com Minneapolis Standard Open-winning decklist. I started with a list very similar to this when I was preparing for Knoxville. Lifebane Zombie is very good against most decks in the format; however, it does feel a little clunky in the Jund deck. With Farseek, Lifebane Zombie, and the plethora of awesome four-drops in the deck, some hands just don’t feel like they flow well.

I really like Stephane Gerard’s list from Grand Prix Calgary, which eschews Farseek for the full suite of nineteen creatures and a bunch of awesome removal spells. Garruk, Primal Hunter is glaringly missing from the list, but without Farseek I’d rather just cast all these awesome creatures on curve and pressure my opponent that way.

It’s important to note that U/W/R Flash is still a force to be reckoned with, but the good news is that they are down to three copies Sphinx’s Revelation and are still very soft to Burning Earth. The current evolution of U/W/R Flash is chock full of ways to handle previously problematic creatures with Azorius Charm and Turn // Burn, but they usually only have one or two Detention Spheres to handle Burning Earth.

These are the decks that are currently on my radar for the PTQs I plan on playing in this weekend, but they are also the decks that you should be looking at for the double SCG Standard Open weekend in Salt Lake City.

  • U/W/R Control
  • Jund
  • G/R Aggro
  • Naya
  • R/G Aggro (Burning-Tree Emissary)
  • Big Red
  • Junk Reanimator
  • B/G Control
  • Bant Hexproof

As you can see, the format is very robust, and options are the name of the game. The key is finding something that has an edge against the majority of the popular decks and can utilize powerful sideboard cards to shore up the other matchups, which are hopefully the less popular decks.

That’s all for me for this week. Good luck to everyone battling in Salt Lake City and Albany this weekend, and thank you to everyone who came up and talked to me in Knoxville. I got to sign some cards and playmats and just chat with people who enjoy my content. That is the most rewarding thing because I really am just another one of the “guys” and when I hear that people enjoy content I produce it really makes it all worth it.

See ya later!

<3 CVM

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P.S. Don’t forget that you can redirect damage from your Burning Earth to your opponent’s planeswalkers!