Untapped: Breathless Ajani

This week Matt offers up two fun Standard decks to try at your next FNM and provides the exciting details of the next deckbuilding challenge.

It’s taken me a long time to realize it, but I’m a Johnny at heart.

Even though my heart says I’m a Timmy and my ambition tells me I’m a Spike, I’m closest to being a Johnny. I feel like Harry Potter fighting the Sorting Hat’s proclivity to send the Boy Who Lived to Slytherin.

Maybe the Hat was right.

Sorting Hat

The “synergy” that I bring every week is thinly veiled combo jargon. I love value engines, build arounds, and tricky switch flipping. I may not like the classic infinite-combo-Johnny style, but I’m not far off. The gears still spin the same direction.

I love enablers; scouring a new set’s spoiler for neat artifacts, enchantments, niche planeswalker interactions (like how Pyromancer’s Gauntlet makes Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded and Ral Zarek also hit harder), and creatures with fun activated abilities is one of my favorite ways to spend an idle hour. This love of facilitators started early in my Magic career with release of a fun and very flexible artifact:

Simple, elegant, sexy. Reduction across the board for whatever card type you needed, great in multiples, and offers the possibility of potentially free artifacts! What’s not to like?

There’s actually a fair amount not to like it turns out; it doesn’t do quite as much as you wish, being little more than a Rampant Growth and a utilitarian infinite combo enabler. I discovered that there are two important traits facilitators should possess; they need to be strong and/or need to have another use. For those of you watching at home, our current Standard environment has two such facilitators, each performing similar but different functions.

Heartless Summoning is a super reducer, hacking turns off casting meaty creature spells. Warden of Evos Isle, a nigh-unmentioned Wind Drake from M14, performs a similar reduction while also being a semi-relevant body. Heartless Summoning decks generally want more than just four copies, so adding more reducers on the simple stipulation of requiring flying shouldn’t affect my plan much, especially in blue and black.

Let’s put our thinking caps on.

The creatures are the star of this show, as they should be. The only full playset is our Slim Drakes (here’s hoping that sticks); just like Heartless Summoning, we want to hit it early, but as Warden of Evos Isle doesn’t have a penalty and is more likely to be killed by removal, you’ll want them often too. Shadowborn Demon with Heartless Summoning is an actual Murder that leaves a 4/5 behind. If you sacrifice it, who cares? You still traded their best creature away, and if it does stick around, you have a massive, evasive beatstick. In my opinion, 4/5 is the perfect size for a creature in Standard right now; it can stop 4/X aggro creatures in Rancor decks, it doesn’t die to Mizzium Mortars, and it dodges Selesnya Charm while still packing a wallop in combat.

Windreader Sphinx is a natural fit with all the deck’s flyers. It comes down as early as turn 4 (Summoning into Warden on 3), and it immediately starts generating you card advantage if you have able flyers. Falkenrath Noble is a Bog Imp + Blood Artist at the same price point with a Summoning, and it’s still great at giving value when you get wrathed. Bloodgift Demon, one of the classic Heartless Summoning choices, still meets every requirement to make it in; let me tell you, a 4/3 flying Phyrexian Arena on 3 will scare a lot of decks.

Evil Twin, the only non-flyer, can become one or copy your opponent’s best creature. Even coming in as a Shadowborn Demon for UB is great. Desecration Demon, a 5/5 flyer for BB, is about as efficient as it gets. Getting it out sooner also means your opponent won’t have as many creatures out, and the Demon can keep them behind. Griselbrand, the flagship of the deck, is pretty close to game ending when he resolves. If you’re even a little ahead, he restocks your hand, and if you’re behind, he provides the best blocker in Standard. The mono-black requirement is fairly steep, I’ll admit, but I can’t turn my back on Grizz.

The spells are fairly simple; four copies of Heartless Summoning, of course, and nine removal spells round out the suite. Warped Physique is a nice, versatile removal spell I’ve been very impressed with for its versatility and power. Rarely will it be too small to kill a problem creature. Far // Away is a devastating tempo blow with either half cast, and together it can provide that respite you need to stabilize. Liliana of the Veil is helpful because of the deck’s draw power, which her +1 turns into a looting effect. Furthermore, some cards, like Heartless Summoning, are bad late game or in multiples and are easily tossed aside. She never lets me down.

Really, there’s not much in the lands and sideboard that amaze. In practice, I’m hoping this deck, although weak to hyperaggro, can develop enough advantage fast enough to overpower anything but the best draws. Most of these monsters can hold a battlefield by themselves, so making them cheaper and faster seems like a good path to victory. The consistency that having eight total reducers brings encourages me. Maybe this deck can soar above your local competition?

The next deck stems off a desire to use an underutilized, super-awesome value engine that came to us in M14. There’s nothing particularly combo-y about this deck, but I feel like it’s the best way to make Primeval Bounty the center of attention.

This straightforward deck has a dozen mana dorks plus Elvish Archdruid to push to Garruk, Primal Hunter or Primeval Bounty as quickly as possible. Once you’ve resolved either, you can take over the ground game or churn out value with every card you draw. I love Primeval Bounty for the same reason I love Druidic Satchel; you never know what you’re going to draw, but no matter what it is, you win. There will be times when all three choices are beneficial, and choosing the right one (when you’re lucky enough to have the choice) will be a little mini-game in and of itself.

Every mana dork becomes four power, recast Rancors make its target huge, and even a simple land drop gives you a free Vital Surge. Ajani’s Chosen also provides serviceable Cats to defend you or push through when the time is right. Being able to turn a Rancor into a 4/2 creature is pretty handy when you have it. The Chosen stack too, so attaining kitty-cal mass should prove pretty simple. As a fun side note, this deck is Primal Surge friendly. Just throwing that out there.

In the sideboard, several enchantments get their chance to shine; Ground Seal, an actual haymaker in this deck, is featured in a full suite. It can easily tag in for Pacifism against a low-pressure deck as a permanent draw spell. Rest in Peace interferes with Rancor, so I couldn’t play it. Triumph of Ferocity is also a great side in for slow matchups. Resolving this on 2 with a mana dork against a player that doesn’t have early drops can still net you a card. One power is higher than no power, after all, and Rancor helps seal the deal. Rootborn Defenses also comes in for control matchups or even against midrange. The deck is soft to Bonfire of the Damned, and this will add a Beast or Cat to the count too.

Nevermore, technically castable on 3, is as good a sideboard card as any. The two miser singletons, Curse of Exhaustion and Gavony Township, come in for combo-heavy or control matchups and non-wrath matchups, respectively. Township can swell your mana dorks to mythic proportions in no time, but you might not find you need it for every matchup. For fear of staring at the Township in the opener of a deck that needs green mana, I relegated it to the bench.

I tested both decks this week and had a bit of a mixed response on each. Breathless Summoning was a bit spotty, and the list you see above was heavily adjusted after some playtesting. The deck produced some very awkward draws, leaving me to choose to mulligan for a Summoning or keep a midrangey hand with a bit of removal and overcosted Demons. It was not effective against Naya, Mono-Red Aggro, or planeswalker decks, which often had simple, easy ways to swat my team away.

A Johnny’s Dozen did better, but it utterly depended on the seven big cards. The sideboard proved to be very effective against the control decks I faced; a Jace, Memory Adept mill deck, Esper Control, and a slow planeswalker Jund build. If a mana dork got killed, I was often in trouble, and keeping an opener in this deck was heavily reliant on being on the play or draw and what I was fighting. But in the end, making Cats was fun, and Primeval Bounty pulled its weight once it was out. For the U/B deck, I may not recommend it as readily, but it was still fun to cast flying fatties for pennies on the dollar.

Let’s catch up on last week’s challenge! I requested decks that break a fundamental rule of Magic deckbuilding: card copy limits! Many of you sent in great decks that built on existing deck styles, and some built around all-new ideas.

Battle of Wits brews were probably the most submitted deck idea, and Battle of Wits decks are, frankly, hard to judge. If you’re not limiting yourself to the standard deck size or the card copy limit, deck construction becomes surprisingly arbitrary. A few dozen of this, two playsets of that; it makes for some bizarre-looking decklists. Still, one particular attempt caught my attention.

Battle of Wits by Johnny Dodge

35 Breeding Pool
40 Battle of Wits
30 Farseek
10 Ranger’s Path
20 Arbor Elf
20 Elvish Mystic
25 Hinterland Harbor
15 Island
15 Forest
35 Fog
10 Alchemist’s Refuge
15 Think Twice
20 Thragtusk
10 Clone
15 Simic Charm
7 Clone
8 Simic Charm

This U/G Wits deck, appropriately built by a brewer named Johnny, has as clear a plan as possible. Still, that’s a 315-card behemoth. Johnny’s done the math though; you’ll average about a Battle of Wits in each opener. A score of Thragtusks gives an alternative win condition if something happens to a resolved Battle of Wits too. Clones are smart as well. Everyone else is playing the best creatures they can get away with, so getting the best thing you can for 3U is respectable to me.

Besides Battle of Wits, the ideas were all over the place. The next one is also a control deck, but it takes a fading mechanic and hits you over the head with it, offering a great answer to any creature-based deck.

Terminus Control by Don Thiebaut

12 Farseek
5 Bramblecrush
18 Terminus
6 Sunpetal Grove
6 Nephalia Drownyard
5 Temple Garden
2 Breeding Pool
2 Hallowed Fountain
2 Godless Shrine
2 Overgrown Tomb
5 Pithing Needle
5 Rest in Peace
2 Psychic Spiral
3 Witchbane Orb

Don’s list is thick with Terminus; if you think about it, the more likely you are to draw a card, the better miracle gets, right? Well, let’s go with it. This clean, tidy package utilizes the best sweeper available (if mana cost isn’t considered) and offers a reliable, steady win condition by way of Nephalia Drownyard. Bramblecrush hits anything your Terminus can’t. The deck is simple but well thought out.

Although I’ve normally done two in the past, there were so many good ones I had trouble choosing. This submission was the only one of its kind.

Bring the Pack! by crimsonred77

25 Timberpack Wolf
5 Descendants’ Path
5 Temple Garden
4 Sunpetal Grove
4 Forest
5 Immortal Servitude
3 Garruk, Primal Hunter
4 Overgrown Tomb
5 Woodland Cemetery
4 Immortal Servitude
5 Ready // Willing
3 Ray of Revelation
3 Rootborn Defenses

Timberpack Wolf, generally a worse version of Predatory Sliver, comes tearing through here. Descendants’ Path is a nice touch, providing a free boost to the already extant team of Wolves. Garruk is a clever addition, allowing you to draw a mountain of cards from any of your massive wolves. The sideboard is full of great answers. Ready // Willing, which perhaps should be maindecked over the Servitude, plays double duty, while Ray of Revelation punctures a Detention Sphere with ease. It’s certainly not the flashiest deck I read, but I wanted to spotlight an aggro deck, too Way to reach for it, crimsonred77!

I brewed a wide variety of decks myself, ranging from 46 Voice of Resurgence and 14 Cavern of Souls (it was boring) to aggro and midrange decks. I eventually landed on a control deck choc-a-block with dedicated hate.

Reglintless by Matt Higgs

10 Slaughter Games
9 Izzet Staticaster
8 Farseek
7 Sever the Bloodline
2 Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker
8 Stomping Ground
6 Watery Grave
5 Woodland Cemetery
2 Sulfur Falls
2 Kessig Wolf Run
1 Blood Crypt
10 Duress
5 Witchbane Orb

My job is to stop you from doing your job. Nicol Bolas comes along as a finisher when you’re ready, but otherwise I’m draining everything you have and pinging your creatures to death, leaving you in a wasteland of spells. Duress from the sideboard is particularly important to pluck out defensive spells or retroactively undo your Slaughter Games. It also gives me a peek at your hand so I know what to snatch!

Without further ado, here is our next doozie of a challenge.

Commander for Coppers

Today we’re going for a bit more of an endurance challenge, but don’t worry; there’s something on the other side of it for you!

This week’s challenge involves a format I don’t touch on much here, but I’ve been noodling on it ever since I started our Untapped challenges. There are hundreds and hundreds of legendary creatures across the history of Magic, and EDH/Commander has given us the outlet to express our own creative flair. Some commanders are utilized more frequently than others, though, so let’s dig down a little bit and pull up some generals that haven’t commanded as many battlefields.

  • Format: Commander
  • For this challenge, you will first select a commander around which you will build your deck. The commander you choose must cost $0.99 or less for a NM/M copy based on StarCityGames.com pricing. Any set or version of the chosen commander that fits that criterion is acceptable.
  • Using normal Commander deckbuilding rules (99 cards + your commander, no duplicates except basic lands), you will construct a Commander deck in which your chosen commander plays a central part. I’m not looking for decks that use a commander just for its color identity; instead, I want to see a commander that is integral or synergetic in regards to the deck’s desired function.
  • The cards you put into the deck should directly support the commander. Naturally, staple utility spells are acceptable (i.e., Rhystic Study, Sensei’s Divining Top, Wrath of God); just make sure there are plenty of support cards too.
  • Card synergy is more important than card knowledge. In other words, it doesn’t matter if you don’t know that Sol Ring is a better version of Ur-Golem’s Eye; what matters is that your strategy is clear, unique, and well supported. When explaining your deck, there’s no need to go into exhaustive detail either. I can usually figure it out and generally enjoy the prospect of doing so.
  • No sideboard is required.
  • As with my Standard challenges, I will be looking for four things: originality, adherence to the theme, synergy, and playability.

Finally, here’s the fun part; the chosen deck’s author will be awarded a copy of the Commander they utilized in their challenge entry! If available, this copy will be foil, and I will sign it for you if you’d like as a commemoration of your victory! Upon the completion of the contest, I will email you to request a mailing address for your prize. Hopefully, having a shiny copy of your leading lad, lass, or beast will encourage you to craft/improve the deck for real!

I’m really excited to read the entries you’ll submit this time; there are about 250 commanders that fit that price point right now, so I imagine I won’t see a single overlap.

You’ll have longer to submit this entry; Commander decks generally take longer to make than Standard decks in my experience. Make sure to get submissions for Commander for Coppers in by Saturday, August 17, 2013 at 11:59 PM PDT. The prize should arrive by the end of August. You can send your submissions to [email protected]. Remember, you can submit a deck multiple times, but bear in mind I will only take the most recent submission as your submission for the week. So if you change your mind and submit another deck or tweek a previously submitted one, I’ll only review the most recent email.

Thanks again for coming along for the ride! Make sure to swing by next week, and don’t forget to untap!

– Matt

CaptainShapiro on Magic Online

[email protected]