Tightening Up Our Playtesting Decklists

GerryT has been doing a lot of brewing and playtesting for Standard with Return to Ravnica. Find out what he’s thinking about playing at SCG Standard Open: Cincinnati, the first tournament featuring the new format.

It’s hard to believe it’s been almost a month since spoilers started and I wrote this. Since then, Brad and I have been jamming brew versus brew, and we’re starting to get a larger picture of the format. Zombies is about as good as everyone is saying it is, and it has the tools to adapt and fight whatever threat arises.

What about the other decks though?


I know you guys like controls decks, and so do I. I’ve been pleased with a couple lists so far, but testing all the possibilities seems difficult. I’m also a little out of the loop as far as building control decks goes, as I’ve never subscribed to the ‘tap-out’ school of thought; it just never appealed to me. If I was making a conscious effort to play control, it was because I wanted to grind my opponent out and react to whatever they were doing, not just to drop a fatty. Obviously building a tap-out deck is a possibility, but I want to play hard control.

When approaching the Zombie matchup, there are two different ways to go about it. You can small ball them with Pillar of Flame, Annihilating Fire, and other removal spells, or you can go over the top as quickly as possible with Entreat the Angels or Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius. Personally, I’m more attracted to the small ball option, as that one isn’t nearly as reliant on miracling an early Terminus.

Black has nothing that exiles Gravecrawler or Geralf’s Messenger aside from Sever the Bloodline, which is too slow. Additionally, its win conditions are expensive or not that good to begin with. It does have good anti-control cards though, which might be something worth looking into for the future. However, if I’m playing black, it’s probably just to splash for things like Lingering Souls and Unburial Rites.

Green is probably the only color worse than black from a control standpoint. You get some ramp spells and color fixing, but all of your good cards are either Thragtusk or gold. Then again, Thragtusk might be worth the third or fourth color a lot of the time.

The one thing I’ve learned from playing control in R2R Standard is that you need a good answer to Thragtusk. It’s way too difficult to grind someone out when they draw multiples of that guy, so we need a good solution. The obvious one is brick walling it with a bigger threat, and realistically, the best man for the job is your own Thragtusk. Tamiyo, the Moon Sage is another good one.

This list has everything I want. In order to beat Zombies, you should be stopping their early rush with Augur of Bolas or Snapcaster Mage / Pillar of Flame. Annihilating Fire subs in as Pillars five and six. You can hold off additional threats with Jace, Architect of Thought, especially once you start casting Thragtusks. At that point, you can stabilize completely with Niv-Mizzet or go on the offensive and burn them out with Kessig Wolf Run or Devil’s Play.

Mizzium Mortars is fantastic at killing early beefy green guys and wiping their board when you get a chance. Things like Armada Wurm exist so you can’t lean too hard on Mortars, which is why I have a Blasphemous Act maindeck and probably more in the sideboard.

I like Syncopate as a two-of because it stops things like Thragtusk and Armada Wurm and is also good in control mirrors. You don’t want to have zero protection against something like Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker, for example. RUG isn’t the type of deck to go over the top, so an opponent playing Grixis will make short work of you with their more powerful cards.

Jace and Tamiyo are a fine tag-team that can handle the little swarms and the big beaters. I can’t imagine playing blue (or any control deck in general) without them. For those of you who have yet to play against the new Jace, you are in for a rude awakening. That card is fantastic, almost to the point of being obnoxious.

Is white better than green?

As you can see, this deck is very similar to the RUG Control deck. Rather than Annihilating Fire, we have things like Azorius Charm, Detention Sphere, and Oblivion Ring (the latter included because I want to Oblivion Ring their Detention Sphere), as they are much more efficient at their jobs.

Snapcaster Mage didn’t make the cut in this version because most of the cheap spells are gone. Tiago is only as good as the spells he’s flashing back, as the body is largely irrelevant. In this case, he doesn’t have many good targets. Augur of Bolas still does because you don’t mind if he draws you a Terminus.

Instead of Thragtusk, we have Terminus and Entreat the Angels, both fantastic cards capable of putting you very far ahead. Entreat in particular allows you to go over the top of many decks, like Selesnya. However, I didn’t want to be all-in on the miracle plan.

The miracle deck doesn’t want to play small ball with Zombies by casting spot removal spells. It wants to delay death with cards like Feeling of Dread, eventually winning after using a big Terminus or Entreat the Angels. Small balling in between there completely defeats the purpose of being all-in on the miracles. You don’t just want to win big with miracles—you have to.

There are miracle decklists out there, and I’m not the one most qualified to talk about them anyway. Just know that splashing Pillar of Flame into them when you could and should play Feeling of Dread or something similar is wrong.

Grixis is still an option, mostly because blue and red work so well together. It has synergies and solid cards against Zombies.

As was pointed out in the comments section of our playtesting video, Rakdos Keyrune was a large oversight. Most of the Keyrunes have irrelevant bodies, but the Rakdos one blocks nearly everything, including Thragtusk. Then again, it seems like they always have Gavony Township, which is the reason I wasn’t sideboarding something like Hover Barrier. Still, it’s probably worth trying out.

I think this is the best Gilded Lotus deck for right now. In order for the Lotus strategy to function, you probably need to cast a very good spell off the Lotus in order to not fall behind. The most obvious ones include Oblivion Ring and Lingering Souls, but Grixis has some solid ones as well. Just be thankful we don’t have to mana burn anymore.

Esper probably has the best home for Gilded Lotus in that you have the best three-drops to cast off it, but I don’t want Lotus in my Esper decks. All my Esper decks end up being aggro-control or Solar Flare variants, neither of which wants a Gilded Lotus. Maybe there’s some five-color variant that plays Lotus in addition to the Lantern, though it’s tough to fit everything you want.


I like these decks a lot. In the article I linked to at the top, I said:

"Until I see something of Titan or Elesh Norn quality, I probably won’t try to mess around with [Reanimator]."

Well, Angel of Serenity was spoiled, Reuben Bresler informed me that it was much better than a large Fiend Hunter, and now I like the strategy. With most of the fatties, you need to untap with them in order for them to be good enough. If Zombies is pressuring you and kills your Griselbrand, you probably can’t afford to pay the seven life because you’ll be dead on board. At that point, it’s no better than a Kindercatch.

With Angel of Serenity, you get a lot of insurance. For starters, you can exile some of their guys in play, then even if they kill the Angel they have to spend a turn replaying their guys. Additionally, you can target another Angel in your graveyard or play so they can’t ever break your chain. Even if you don’t have another Angel, you get a Time Walk and maybe a Thragtusk out of your graveyard.

Then you probably cast Unburial Rites and do it all over again.

She’s fantastic and definitely the premier Reanimation target at the moment. In my first article, I noted that Jarad’s Orders was probably too slow. However, there are situations where I could see Angel of Serenity not doing enough against a highly advanced Zombie board state. For that reason, I tried out this list in a playtesting video that should be going up shortly:

Deathrite Shaman is solid as a Birds of Paradise proxy, a mini threat, and a mini Thragtusk, but you don’t want to draw multiples. If I could figure out how to splash Faithless Looting, then perhaps I could play two or three since I’d likely have more lands in my graveyard.

The Jarad’s Orders into Unburial Rites targeting Angel of Glory’s Rise is a real thing though. If you’re playing Zombies, you probably need some graveyard hate. As Brad will attest, Deathrite Shaman is probably where you want to be as opposed to Tormod’s Crypt, Cremate, Crypt Creeper, or whatever.

If Zombies is the most obvious best deck, then Reanimator is probably the second best obvious deck. You have raw power, a solid engine, and the capability to overpower Zombies and control. This deck is on my short list of things to play at the StarCityGames.com Standard Open in Cincinnati.

I want to explore Reanimator without the one-drop accelerators as well. While they do give you a nice boost, they take up valuable deck space and aren’t good draws late game. Since your deck is so small, you don’t get the opportunity to play removal for things like Deathrite Shaman.

I posted this in my second R2R article, but it bears reposting:

With Angel of Serenity over Griselbrand and potentially a Thragtusk splash, I like my chances against any deck in the format. Figuring out how to build these four-color mana bases will likely be one of the most interesting things in Standard in a while.

Geist of Saint Traft

This guy’s still badass but needs a little help. Brad is convinced that White Weenie splashing Geist and Spectral Flight is a real thing, and I don’t necessarily disagree with him. Bant also looks like it could be a deck, but I have no idea how to build that one.

As it stands, there are just too many creatures in the format for Geist to be truly awesome on its own. However, give him some help and I’m sure he’ll pay dividends.

Delver of Secrets

I’m not sure where this guy stands. You can’t play enough things to make Geist of Saint Traft good, as you need a higher land count without Ponder. At that point, your Spectral Flights aren’t triggering your Delvers and neither are your 22 lands, so it’s actually not that great of a card anymore. If you want to play Delver, I recommend trying U/R, probably with Goblin Electromancer and Guttersnipe, as that one seems to have the best early results.


Earlier this week, Ari Lax laid down the gauntlet in his article, which you can find here. His gauntlet was this:

Reach-Based Aggro

Mono Red
B/R Zombies

Threat-Based Aggro (ala traditional White Weenie)

B/G Zombies
G/W Humans

Midrange Value Decks

Junk / G/W


U/W Miracles
Grixis Control
Five-Color Walkers
"Mono"-Black Control

Graveyard Combo

Unburial Rites

Decks that I like so far include variations of Zombies, Reanimator, and Esper, although Grixis and RUG aren’t that far behind. For Cincinnati, I’m leaning toward playing Reanimator or Esper, if only because those seem like the most fun. Brad’s got a sick, sick, sick Zombie list though, so you should watch out for him in that tournament.

Until then, enjoy the Prerelease! I can’t even remember the last Prerelease I played in, but I know I’ll be at this one.


@G3RRYT on Twitter

‘What guild am I?’ Leave me alone, I’m not done with my research.

*goes back to notebook*