Great cards don’t always find great homes.
It’s not uncommon for very good Magic cards to slip through the cracks of a
format and never see much play. A great card without a deck to put it in
isn’t very useful, and sometimes these cards can go through and entire
Standard format without ever getting to see any play. Savage Knuckleblade
was a great example of this, as it was on par in power level with cards
like Mantis Rider and Siege Rhino but had no support. We can also see great
cards be a victim of their format; Shadowmage Infiltrator was a fantastic
creature, but had to exist in a Standard format where the two best cards
were Wild Mongrel and Psychatog, both cards that made Shadowmage
Infiltrator look silly.
Finding these underappreciated gems is very important because at any moment
they may become a cornerstone of their format.
When she first entered Standard, Chandra, Torch of Defiance was a pretty
big bust. Gideon, Ally of Zendikar was the preferred aggressive
planeswalker, and Chandra didn’t really slot into any of the existing decks
and was very weak to Smuggler’s Copter. Fumigate was also a pretty big bust
to start, despite being the best five-mana Wrath of God variant ever
printed, because the format was completely awash with vehicles and
planeswalkers. Since then, however, both cards have rightfully become
important pieces to Standard.
So what card has had my eye for a long time now?
If you’ve been following my articles for the past few months or so, you
know I am enamored with Adanto Vanguard. It’s one of the best aggressive
two-drops printed in a long time but has been without a reasonable deck to
call home so far. And trust me: it’s not for lack of trying. I’ve been
brewing with the card for a while now, trying it in mono-white decks and
then in G/W beatdown decks with Appeal, but nothing was really sticking. I
wanted to take the “pump the indestructible creature” plan a bit further,
however, and starting sketching out a U/W deck with a bunch of auras on
The idea was cool, but it never got past the drawing board because there
simply weren’t enough cards for the deck. The sketch got abandoned in my
Magic Online decklist folder, and I moved on to other things.
Enter Rivals of Ixalan.
While one would think the biggest boon for Adanto Vanguard in Rivals of Ixalan would be a bevy of new Vampires to party with, I
had other ideas:
Before we get to the exciting new Rivals of Ixalan cards, let’s
talk about another powerful but underutilized card that is the cornerstone
of the deck.
Sram, Senior Edificer is actually an extremely powerful Magic card. Two
mana for a 2/2 is the going rate, and it’s very hard to not draw at least
one card off of him if you’re careful. Unopposed Sram is a card draw engine
that is cheap and directly synergistic with the types of cards he wants you
Aye, but there’s the rub, isn’t it?
Auras, equipment, and vehicles are all fairly niche types. If Sram drew you
a card for each creature or artifact you played, he would be broken, but in
order to unlock his potential we need to fill our deck with less desirable
types. Sram asks a lot of you in deckbuilding, but it is quite the payoff
if the rest of the cards around him can work together cohesively when he
doesn’t show up.
And work together cohesively it does!
U/W Heroic looks and plays out more like a Modern or Legacy deck than a
Standard deck, with only twenty lands and almost every card in the decklist
costing one or two mana. You also draw a ton of cards while presenting a
fairly fast clock that is difficult to interact with. You’re not all-in
like Modern G/W Hexproof, as because you draw so many cards, one of your
enchanted creatures dying isn’t the end of the world. Playing blue also
gives us access to Spell Pierce and Negate in our sideboard, which is
critically important in a format where Approach of the Second Sun and
God-Pharaoh’s Gift are things.
Let’s go through the list piece by piece.
If we’re playing a deck based around auras, the most critical thing is that
they provide us some sort of card advantage to mitigate the card
disadvantage that will happen if our enchanted creature is killed.
Thankfully all of our auras do that at a very low cost while also giving
significant combat bonuses.
Curious Obsession is our first Rivals of Ixalan card, and it is
probably the best Curiosity ever printed. Getting a power and toughness
boost on top of the Curiosity effect is fantastic, and the drawback is
almost completely negligible. As long as you get in at least one hit,
you’ve already gotten your card back, with the potential there for so much
more. Bonus points for putting it on a creature with flying
Anyone who’s played Amonkhet Limited knows the power of the
Cartouches, with the white and blue ones being the most efficient of the
bunch. Cartouche of Solidarity provides a great creature boost as well as
another body, and the one mana auras play phenomenally well with Sram.
Cartouche of Knowledge is even better, as the card draw is already built in
and flying is very powerful in the current Standard format.
Try to sequence so you play Sram and then an aura immediately afterward
in the same turn. By never giving your opponent a chance to kill him
before you play an aura you will always draw at least one extra card.
With a lot of incidental flying, lifelink, and double strike in the deck,
our auras are extra effective as well.
Okay, so we have our indestructible creature (Adanto Vanguard), our card
draw engine (Sram, Senior Edificer), and a twelve pack of solid auras. The
concern is how good the supporting cast is. Surprisingly, it’s quite good!
The deck was really lacking a solid one-drop, and once again Rivals of Ixalan delivers. Skymarcher Aspirant looks like a
Vampire-tinted Savannah Lions, but while the ascend clause may look like a
tacked on ability, it’s actually very relevant. With an extremely low mana
curve and seven cards that create two permanents for one mana (Legion’s
Landing and Cartouche of Solidarity), this deck can ascend as early as turn
3 and will almost always have the city’s blessing by turn 4. As such,
Skymarcher Aspirant is basically a Savannah Lions with flying, which is
Legion’s Landing is another very powerful card that’s starting to shine,
providing awesome value, a midgame Rampant Growth, and late game
resilience. The 1/1 lifelink token is very relevant in a deck with so many
auras, and the ability to constantly make creatures once you flip it into
Adanto, the First Fort means you’ll never be without a creature to target.
Sacred Cat isn’t nearly as exciting as Legion’s Landing, but it’s a nice
little value one-drop that provides a good body for your auras and is
resistant to removal. It’s often excellent as a chump blocker in racing
situations as well, as ideally you’ll be putting your auras on your better
The last creature in our deck is a unique combination of power and
resilience. Adorned Pouncer is a fantastic target for your auras- you
haven’t lived until you’ve put a Curious Obsession on it- which provides
you with some extra punch. Against decks light on removal Adorned Pouncer
can rule the battlefield with an aura or two. Against decks with a lot of
removal they have to kill it, which lets you just embalm it in the midgame.
A 4/4 double striker is nothing to sneeze at, giving you ample ammo in
games where you need to grind.
Trial of Solidarity is the only card in the maindeck that costs more than
two mana, and is effectively your finisher. The boost it provides is
significant, and with eight Cartouches in your deck it’s very easy to rebuy
it over and over until your opponent is dead. It’s a card you would like to
draw but never want to draw two of, so for now we have only one copy. With
all of the deck’s card draw, finding it isn’t too hard.
Interacting with our opponents is going to be necessary, so we’ve got a
little bit of removal and protection as well.
The last Rivals of Ixalan standout for the deck is Baffling End,
which looks to be one of the premier removal spells in the format. Having
some sort of removal in your deck in Standard is almost mandatory and
Unsummon was just too temporary. Baffling End also counts as a permanent
for ascend, which is nice as well.
If you hadn’t played Ixalan Limited, you may have been unaware of
the existence of Sheltering Light, but it’s a nice little protection spell
with some added value. We’re going to be going pretty big on our creatures,
and having a way to protect the non-Adanto Vanguard ones from removal is
very nice. Sheltering Light can also help protect Sram from removal and can
be used as a combat trick in a pinch. Dive Down has upsides and downsides
to Sheltering Light, but the dealbreaker is that leaving up a white mana is
much easier than a blue.
The sideboard features most of the usual suspects.
Negate and Spell Pierce are critical parts of any anti-control plan and a
major draw to the deck. Because all of your spells are so cheap, it’s very
easy to keep developing your battlefield and leave up countermagic on turns
3-5, which are the most important turns that a control deck will be trying
Make sure you consider what it is you’re concerned with countering from
your opponent. Don’t be afraid to tap out going into their turn
if it helps to build your battlefield, as they can’t Fumigate until
and you’ll be untapped to counter Settle the Wreckage on your turn. You
shouldn’t be leaving up Negate each turn “just in case” instead of
developing your battlefield – have a good reason for doing so!
The fourth copy of Baffling End and Slash of Talons gives you a little more
removal against the tribal decks, which will be packed with creatures and
have less removal. Your protection spells and Trial of Solidarity won’t
really be necessary there. Authority of the Consuls and Squire’s Devotion
are a huge boon in your Mono-Red Aggro matchup, which is quite good.
A Whole New World
I’ve played this deck in two competitive leagues on Magic Online so far and
gone 3-2 with an earlier version of the deck and 4-1 with a list closer to
I can also honestly say this is one of the most fun decks I’ve played in
Standard in a long time. You get to play tons of spells each game, draw a
bunch of cards, make good attacks, and almost all of your games are
interesting. You’ve also got reasonable game against just about everything,
with a lot of different avenues to victory.
Lastly, this deck is ridiculously cheap!
While “budget” Standard decks are a popular niche among FNM and casual
players, this deck ended up being budget purely by accident. I’m playing
every card I want to play, it just happens that many of them are commons
and uncommons. No mythics! Buying the entire deck fromStarCityGames.com [ CEDitor’s Note: Great job there, Jim!] is well
under $100, and I’m sure you can scrounge up a lot of the commons and
uncommons from your store’s junk box. It’s even more comically cheap
online, coming in at about 25 tickets.
We’ve only just begun Rivals of Ixalan Standard, and I am having
an awesome time!