Using Improvise In Standard

Free spells and infinite combos are certainly possible, but that’s not where the format begins and ends! Sam Black is going deeper by taking a look at a mechanic we have a lot of precedent for! How will you use this mechanic to its fullest when SCG heads to Columbus?

The best way to find a winning deck right out of the gate, even after major bans like we’ve just seen, is to build a deck around cards and strategies from old sets that have been successful and complement them with the best cards from the newest set.

Personally, this has never been my approach, as I find Constructed much more engaging when I’m exploring something really new. To keep things interesting, I start by exploring a new mechanic and fall back on traditionally successful strategies only once I realize that I can’t beat them.

The most interesting new mechanic to me is Improvise. This is essentially the affinity mechanic, though you can only use Improvise for one spell per turn, and affinity is a mechanic we already know to be broken. I want to start by seeing how far we can push Improvise.

If you’re just playing one artifact per turn, most of the Improvise cards are pretty fair. Herald of Anguish can come down on turn 4, which is nice, but it’s not enough better than other four-mana Demons we’ve seen to really offer enough payoff for the possibility that you miss your artifact curve if that’s the best you can do. If you really want to get the most out of it, you want to find ways to play artifacts that cost zero or cards that give you multiple artifacts.

Cathar’s Shield, Bone Saw, and Ornithopter are the options available for zero-mana artifacts, and Servo Exhibition, Cogworker’s Puzzleknot, and Servo Schematic are the cheapest ways to make multiple artifacts. While these cards aren’t very powerful, I do think there’s an interesting way to combine them.

My first thought is something of a Mardu Aristocrats strategy.

The core idea is to use Sram, Senior Edificer to draw cards for casting zero-mana Equipment and then use the zero-mana Equipment to cast Sly Requisitioner, sacrifice the Equipment to Ravenous Intruder, and finally sacrifice other artifacts to Ravenous Intruder to get the Equipment back with Scrap Trawler and cast it again to draw more cards with Sram. That’s enough moving pieces that this is all basically a Magical Christmas Land scenario, especially if we can find backup cards for the important pieces. There are cross-synergies that don’t require assembling everything, but this still might ultimately be too many moving pieces.

If we want more virtual copies of Sram, Senior Edificer, we can play Stone Haven Outfitter. It doesn’t do the same thing, but it does offer a steady stream of cards if we can equip Bone Saws to Servos and sacrifice the Servos.

If we want more big finishers to play with Improvise, we can play Herald of Anguish, which even doubles as an extra sacrifice outlet. If we just want more payoff for our artifacts dying, we can play Marionette Master, which should win the game very easily, but it costs a lot of mana.

If we need more sacrifice outlets, we can play Syndicate Trafficker or Defiant Salvager, but they’re a lot weaker.

If we need more value, there’s nothing quite like Scrap Trawler, but Scrapheap Scrounger does something similar and plays well with Scrap Trawler.

If we want removal, this deck could be good at using Battle at the Bridge and Outnumber, and obviously Fatal Push, Declaration in Stone, or Unlicensed Disintegration are all great.

Rounding this out, we might come up with something like this:

This build takes advantage of the fact that Sram, Senior Edificer also triggers when you cast a Vehicle and uses Consulate Dreadnought as a one-mana artifact for Improvise and Scrap Trawler chains, while also combining it with Peacewalker Colossus to make a great attacker.

When playing this many cheap artifacts, Spire of Industry is a fantastic land, and because the deck uses so few colored spells, Aether Hub does a good job of fixing the mana. The result is that the mana in this three-color deck actually looks great.

Because the deck is so reliant on its synergies and I want to see how they play, I started with the all-in version that doesn’t play any removal and put all the removal in the sideboard. That’s not an especially realistic way to build a deck, since you don’t want to concede Game 1 to Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet, but it’s a good way to figure out which parts of the core engine are working well.

The rest of the sideboard is Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, who’s proven to be great against control decks, and a few cards I think could be interesting here. Pia’s Revolution seems like a potentially good way to shift gears to threaten control decks from a different angle, and Reckless Bushwhacker is interesting with zero-mana spells to trigger it and potentially great with Sly Requisitioner.

If we want fewer moving pieces, we can give up on Sram and Vehicles and focus on the Aristocrats package:

It’s possible that Ornithopter isn’t doing enough here, but I like having an extra point in the chain with Scrap Trawler. It’s also possible that it plays really well and that it’s important to get more artifacts onto the battlefield early, and that you want four of them. Servo Schematic is another potentially questionable card, but it is six damage by itself with Ravenous Intruder. This almost makes me wonder if we want Salivating Gremlins, but I feel like that’s a bridge too far for Constructed.

Implement of Combustion isn’t a strong card, but it’s a good way to add card drawing to our Scrap Trawler chains, and while it’s on the battlefield, if we have a mana untapped, our opponent won’t be able to make infinite Cats with Saheeli Rai, because after the Felidar Guardian blinks Saheeli, when Saheeli uses its -2, we can kill it before the Felidar Guardian resets it.

Another direction we can go with Syndicate Trafficker is to try to push the +1/+1 counters by using Animation Module as one of our cheap artifacts. Animation Module forms something of a Thopter Foundry / Sword of the Meek combo with Metallic Mimic, allowing you to spend X mana to make X 2/2 Servos whenever you make a Servo or a +1/+1 counter. Metallic Mimic plays well with Sly Requisitioner without Animation Module, and Animation Module plays well with Syndicate Trafficker without Metallic Mimic. Any extra +1/+1 counters we can get in the deck make Animation Module better.

Walking Ballista offers a zero-mana artifact to return with Scrap Trawler that’s somewhat higher-impact that Ornithopter and functions similarly to Implement of Combustion in preventing an opponent from using the Saheeli combo. Implement of Ferocity plays well with Walking Ballista and smooths out our gameplan as a one-mana artifact that we want to sacrifice to Syndicate Trafficker and return with Scrap Trawler, but it also makes combat difficult for our opponent, especially when combined with Winding Constrictor, and, of course, it triggers Animation Module.

Sly Requisitioner is a little questionable here, since most of the artifacts that we’re going to want to sacrifice are tokens, but I think it’s powerful enough to carry its weight.

Zulaport Cutthroat ensures that these Servos we’re making will actually win the game.

The other color that offers something with Improvise is blue, of course, and the highlights to me are Maverick Thopterist and Metallic Rebuke. Maverick Thopterist is probably looking to replace Sly Requisitioner, since you don’t want too many five-mana Improvise spells. The primary advantages of Maverick Thopterist are that it does more right away and that it offers fliers, and the downside is that it’s not as powerful of an engine by itself. What this means is that it’s a better value play and a worse finisher, which means it wants to be paired with a bigger end-game. One obvious option is Tezzeret the Schemer, as planeswalkers obviously appreciate flying blockers.

I’m not sure if this has enough artifacts to work properly. It’s certainly leaning on Clues from Tireless Tracker and Etherium Cells from Tezzeret the Schemer.

Marverick Thopterist is an awesome creature to sacrifice to Elder Deep-Fiend, so that seems like something worth looking into pushing further.

This deck does seem pretty well-rounded and has a good mix of card types without going out of its way to make that work out. The mana’s weird, but I think it works.

Let’s see if we can push U/R Improvise with emerge:

With twelve 3/2 creatures, this deck is very good at crewing Heart of Kiran and Skysovereign, Consul Flagship out of the sideboard, and the mana-fixing artifacts, present primarily for Improvise, allow us to play a full four Sanctum of Ugin to maximize Elder Deep-Fiend, which plays well with every other creature in the deck.

This is a resilient aggro deck that’s looking to ignore the opponent’s cards thanks to Elder Deep-Fiend and a few counterspells. If the opponent can resist our onslaught of small creatures, the Eldrazi in the sideboard allow us to go bigger.

These removal-resistant value creatures really take advantage of Reflector Mage’s ban, as it’s much harder to deal with them profitably now. It’s actually possible that Reflector Mage was the main thing holding Thought-Knot Seer and Reality Smasher back, and that these should be a bigger part of our plan with a maindeck inclusion, but that will depend on how the metagame ends up looking.

Improvise definitely requires playing some weak cards, but that’s always been true of Affinity and those decks have never suffered. With so much fixing, it’s clear that these decks can play any number or combination of colors, so finding the right deck is going to take some work, but it seems like there’s a lot going on here.