Tuning The Best Deck In Standard For #SCGATL

Will #SCGATL feature the same contenders we’ve seen for a while in Standard? Michael Majors thinks he’s found the best deck, and he’s ready to update it with Oath of the Gatewatch!

By now, it is abundantly clear to me that Rally the Ancestors is the best deck in Standard.

It is incredibly rare for a Standard deck to contain the culmination of elements that Rally the Ancestors decks offer. Creature-based combo decks are historically powerful, as can be seen by Birthing Pod’s ban in Modern. Rally the Ancestors is capable of playing an aggressive short game that puts a great deal of pressure on its opponent while also going incredibly long. Its namesake not only creates insta-kills but can be used for incremental value in the midgame.

Rally also makes subtle use of Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy, and perhaps the best use of any deck in the format. While Rally doesn’t play a great deal of spells, the ones it has are absurdly impactful, and no other deck is able to use a Looter effect as effectively as Rally does for filling up its graveyard.

Up until Oath of the Gatewatch, Four-Color Rally was easy to build, with the majority of lists looking fairly uniform. Here is the last list I played, at the Standard Classic in Charlotte:

I’m more of a fan of Murderous Cut than most, as my philosophy towards Rally the Ancestors is to approach the deck as a creature deck first and a combo deck second. Having access to removal to slow the pace of the game down and handle problematic permanents like Anafenza, the Foremost was incredibly important to me.

With the release of Oath of the Gatewatch, we now have a problem.

That issue is that Rally has been given several great options that make constructing the deck quite difficult.

If you haven’t gotten a chance to play with Reflector Mage, you are certainly in for a treat. I hesitate to claim that Anafenza is no longer a problem, but let’s just say I’m going to be more than comfortable registering a Rally list at #SCGATL with zero maindeck Murderous Cut.

The absurd aspect of Reflector Mage is that its ability is so powerful, even creatures with enter-the-battlefield abilities are severely hampered by the Azorius creature. Siege Rhinos are certainly annoying, but if our opponents have to take a full turn off before putting the pressure back on, that’s a huge amount of breathing room as the “token control” deck.

Reflector Mage in general has made Rally significantly better at managing the battlefield. While previously it was fairly easy to lock up the ground, Reflector Mage can buy time in the skies in addition to shutting off powerful utility creatures like opposing Jaces and Anafenza. Between Sidisi’s Faithful, Reflector Mage, and Fleshbag Marauder, it can be overwhelmingly difficult for your opponent to gain any traction in simply attacking you.

Speaking of making it difficult for an opponent to attack you, we have another huge standout in Oath:

I believe Mr. Thompson said it best in his recent Premium article:

“When I first saw this card, I thought it was from a Commander product.”

Ayli just oozes raw stats. A two-mana 2/3 (you’ll notice how many of our creatures are now immune to the front end of Kozilek’s Return) with deathtouch is awesome at brick-walling the small stuff while having the potential to trade up. Ayli also grants the deck another sacrifice outlet, insulates the deck in an additional manner from both fliers and various forms of reach, and makes Rally more immune to hate.

Let me explain that last part a bit more.

When talking about Rally and various matchups with others I frequently get asked how to beat X/Y/Z hate card. A popular point of discussion is often Infinite Obliteration.

I think Infinite Obliteration is terrible against Four-Color Rally.

For starters, there isn’t even really a universally accepted “enemy number one” when it comes to a creature to name. My opponents have led on Zulaport Cutthroat, Nantuko Husk, and Catacomb Sifter! My opponents have cast Infinite Obliteration upwards of four times in a single game that I’ve won!

Rally is simply not a deck that is capable of having a single (or even multiple) holes punched through it.

If you are casting Infinite Obliteration against me and not actively killing me, I will find a way to beat you.

Perhaps my favorite case of this in a tournament thus far was having almost every single one of my creatures in my deck stripped, but by locking out the battlefield I was given enough reprieve to tick up a Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy to an emblem and repeatedly have my Sidisi’s Faithful bounce itself to eliminate 30 cards from my opponent’s deck in a single turn.

The point is: Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim supplies an additional aspect of both redundancy and diversity to the Rally deck.

If you don’t think that her 1WB “ultimate” ability will ever happen, then you are in for an unpleasant surprise when it beats you.

So all of this may sound great, but how do we actually put it into practice?

Unfortunately, it’s quite difficult. I don’t think I have it right, nor that anyone will for quite a while as there are simply so many powerful options for building Four-Color Rally after Oath of the Gatewatch.

My general philosophy toward the deck (which is heavily showcased in the way I sideboard) is that drawing multiple singular “pieces” of the deck is better than drawing several copies of anything specifically. For this reason many of my sideboard plans involve heavy shaving.

This is also why my current list is rather aesthetically displeasing:

One of the big points that I made the last time I wrote about Rally was that the worst land in the deck was basic Plains. Previously, in non-sideboarded games, the only actual white card in the deck was Rally the Ancestors. Clearly, Ayli and Reflector Mage have changed that.

In an effort to support this major shift in the mana requirements of the deck, I’ve thrown the deck on its head quite a bit by minimizing the Green to only Collected Company.

The first thing you’re likely to ask is “Where are your Catacomb Sifters?” Your concern is not unreasonable and I may be incorrect for excluding them, but there are two major points to be made.

One is that Rally does not have the greatest mana, so making an effort to actively improve it is a boon to the deck. Two is that, as a whole, the archetype is far more cohesive and filled with individually powerful cards that are able to go toe-to-toe with other decks now. For this reason, Catacomb Sifter and its ability to pinpoint individual cards is a missed, but non-essential, function.

Palace Familiar is a little goofy. On some level (particularly when trying to dig for early land drops) the card is worse than Elvish Visionary. That being said, Rally is generally rather weak to fliers and Palace Familiar does help shore up that weakness. Our Owl friend is also quite capable of pressuring opposing planes walkers.

I’m also generally less wary of not being able to enable Palace Familiar as Rally now has access to so many different sacrifice effects.

Speaking of, you may have also noticed my singular copy of Liliana, Heretical Healer. Liliana is not by any means an unheard-of aspect of Rally up until this point. She is a powerful utility creature that is more than capable of completely dominating games when she gets flipped, especially by utilizing her Jace, the Mind Sculptor impression with Sidisi’s Faithful.

Previously, simply casting her was ridiculously difficult, but with the adjustment of the mana, acquiring BB is much more in line with reality.

The last thing I want to touch on is the sideboard, specifically the copies of Anafenza, the Foremost.

You may note that I spoke earlier about how Reflector Mage is likely to crush Anafenza’s ability to fight Rally consistently. Well, that’s probably the case here too. Especially now that she is harder to cast, I probably need to fight a reliable way to fight the mirror. Maybe this involves even going as deep as Hallowed Moonlight or looking towards the more new-age Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet.

The last thing I want to talk about is more of an idea in a decklist rather than a cohesive 60. I know Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim and Reflector Mage are exceptional, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t taken a hard look at some more obscure innovations for Rally from Oath.

Cliffhaven Vampire might secretly be a monster.

His ability not only turns Ayli into a machine gun, it effectively doubles up the damaging effects of Kalastria Highborn and Zulaport Cutthroat. As a result, this variation on Rally has the potential to kill opponents extremely quickly.

It’s easy to notice that a lot of the smaller choices made in this decklist are about maximizing the combo element and draw engines of the deck. While this is somewhat at odds of what I talked about previously in regards to Four-Color Rally, this Esper version certainly has a more focused and cohesive gameplan. As a result of this heavier reliance on specific creatures, I’ve included Corpse Churn.

Corpse Churn is a card that fascinates me in its potential applications for Rally the Ancestors. Not only does Churn effectively dig into and fill up your graveyard for larger Rally casts or fueling Murderous Cut, but it also grants additional utility by being functional copies of key creatures when they are most relevant.

Of course, another huge draw to this deck is the mana. It looks so good that I tried to screw it up by going deeper and playing Matter Reshaper.

I’ll just be the one to say it: I don’t think it’s going to happen. Would Matter Reshaper be incredible in Rally if it didn’t have a “color” restriction? Absolutely, but then again we do frequently call the deck Four-Color Rally. There’s a huge cost to trying to play this card, and with there already being so many great options present, I do not think it comes close to being a reasonable payoff.

I’m undoubtedly a bit wary of pulling the trigger on a Rally the Ancestors deck without Collected Company at the start of the Oath Standard format, but this is 100% something that I’m going to explore in the future.

While I don’t know exactly the 75 I will be playing at #SCGATL this weekend, I can tell you that I will be casting Rally the Ancestors. What have you been testing for the debut of Oath of the Gatewatch Standard?