Winning Small Ball Style In New Standard

There are new ways to fight the top tier of Standard, and Pro Tour Champion Ari Lax is ready to get you prepared! Get his lists and the strategies beyond!

I spent this last weekend at Grand Prix Pittsburgh, and I can report that
while Standard isn’t quite as Chainwhirler dominated as has been reported,
the format is super high stress.

At so many points of the game, you’re just dead to something absurd that
costs five or six mana. And your deck is full of the same cards so your
play is scripted the same way to kill them.

With Core Set 2019, I want a break from that. I want to get back
to some small ball Magic. Stick one- and two-drops, double spell a few
times, maybe have a finisher or two.

How can I do that?

Zombies Always Come Back

One of the obvious old mechanics getting a last second boost from Core Set 2019 are the Zombies of Amonkhet. What can we do
to let them relive their Pro Tour championship glory days?

There’s no point in redoing work we don’t have to. Let’s start with Gerry
Zombies deck from last week,
work backwards from last year’s Zombie deck that Gerry won Pro Tour Amonkhet with, and see how it goes.

First thing, what are we missing?

The Shadows over Innistrad and Eldritch Moon Zombies
cards were obviously a big part of the deck, but you might notice a theme.
These are the cards that supported the long game of Zombies, especially

I’m going to date myself a bit, but Shadows over Innistrad era
Zombies versus Core Set 2019 era Zombies reminds me a lot of W/B
Tokens versus Kithkin deckbuilding back in the Lorwyn days. Both
decks leaned on a couple core tokens payoffs, but W/B Tokens was built for
a grindy long game while Kithkin was built to get them dead [CEDitor’s Note: It did. Trust meeeeeeee!]. Core Set 2019
Zombies is definitely Kithkin. You have some bigger cards, but generally
your plan is make a bunch of dorks and put your opponent directly in the

You do need more than eight one-drops to do that. The two-power Dread
Wanderer and Diregraf Ghoul are obvious inclusions, but there aren’t a ton
of good one-drops past that. The full twelve might just be a bad idea on
card quality. I’m fine with trying Gerry’s Stitcher’s Suppliers because
“Dredge 6” on your one-drop looks inherently powerful, but I wouldn’t be
shocked if Festering Mummy’s ability to trade up or splashing Fan Bearer is

The thing I think Gerry missed big on was Metallic Mimic. Last year,
Metallic Mimic was the worst card in the Zombies deck, but both of the big
anti-synergies are gone. The fact it isn’t a Zombie in the graveyard or on
the stack for Diregraf Colossus or Relentless Dead is irrelevant. If
anything, you just want to have twelve Lords to bury your opponent Modern
Merfolk style and it got better because your “Zombies needing a boost”
sequences go longer if Graveyard Marshal sticks and makes some 2/2s.

I think that even with access eight good W/B duals and Unclaimed Territory,
the real reason to not splash is that you have these eight good two-drops
without doing so. Binding Mummy or Wayward Servant could be good, but you
aren’t playing that many of them over the better alternatives.

Liliana, Untouched by Death is the second big miss. As in the card isn’t
good. Here’s the actual text.


+1: Not a lot.

-2: Kill a creature if they aren’t killing your stuff. This one might be

-3: Maybe Wander in Death? You also have to untap with an unpressured
planeswalker to do this so good luck.

It’s the Chandra Ablaze or Jace, the Living Guildpact of Lilianas.

I would consider sideboarding the card to bury decks like G/B Constrictor,
but that’s about it. The only sad part is that I think without the bonus
self-mill, Hostile Desert becomes a little sketchy, giving you pretty low
value on your 24th land.

Liliana’s Mastery is your super powerful top end finisher. Play four. You
no longer have Dark Salvation as a virtual five drop competing with it.

This sideboard is basically Kaladesh‘s greatest hits, but don’t
forget the Big Boat is a Big Deal. Skysovereign, Consul Flagship was a
metagame breaker in the old Zombies days and will still be today.

Oketra’s Monument

Let’s repeat this process with another old favorite, Oketra’s Monument.
While the deck quickly faded away post-Hour of Devastation, it was
a real hit in the post-Aetherworks Marvel world. It got a couple new tools
with Core Set 2019, so what can we do to bring it back? What have
we lost?

Again, we have two lists to work from. One from Gerry Thompson last week,
one from a year ago.

Flying. That’s what you lost over the last year’s rotation. You can’t just
sit behind a bunch of Warrior tokens and clock your opponent while you
chump block. You need to go big.

I want to stack Anthem effects with this deck. Once your random Warriors
are 3/3, the game has to end, right? I get that there is a nonbo with
pushing things out of Mentor of the Meek range, but killing them is a fine
consolation prize.

Angel of Invention is also a great reason to play Militia Bugler. Gerry’s
list is definitely light on hits for that card and will miss 25% of the
time. You want closer to 24 to 26 hits.

While I think Lyra Dawnbringer overlaps too much with Angel of Invention
here, I think Shalai, Voice of Plenty looks great. Your Glorious Anthem
creatures are somewhat fragile and having them die can lead to chain death
blowouts. Sometimes literally, when all your tokens die to Goblin

This leads me to Fairground Warden, which despite being yet another
three-drop is a hit for Militia Bugler that lets you access more removal.

Despite this entire deck costing three, I’m not splashing for Llanowar
Elves. Or just not yet, who knows. Mox Amber isn’t really an option, so
onward we go.

Putting it all together, let’s toot some horns.

If you end up moving away from Militia Bugler, I think not playing Legion’s
Landing is a mistake. When you don’t draw Oketra’s Monument, it acts as
similar redundant acceleration and token generation. It also lets your
Aviary Mechanic engine do something else, which is always welcome.

You probably also should be playing Leonin Warleader in this alternate
universe. It isn’t quite Hero of Bladehold, but it’s close enough to be a
valid backup plan the way Hero was.

Another pass that comes closer to a normal deck with lots of inherently
good cards plus your engine:

I did a quick search of multicolored white creatures in Standard, and it
doesn’t look promising outside of blue.

Without Spell Queller I was skeptical of a blue splash, but it seems worth
examining a bit more than I thought. Just after Rivals of Ixalan,
a W/U Monument deck popped up and the Azor, the Lawbringers it played
looked very good. I’m going to stick to Mono-White for now, but reminding
people this exists is probably a good idea.

Cats Off To Ya

You may notice I didn’t mention Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants. While it might
be good in the non-Bugler Oketra’s Monument list, I don’t think it is quite
maximized. I’ve certainly had good times with basically every past Ajani
variant, so I can’t leave this one out. It’s definitely powerful enough to
deserve a look.

I don’t think you necessarily want Ajani in these aggressive white decks.
It doesn’t push your attackers over the real threats you’re going to get
just crunched by (like The Scarab God) and doesn’t beat Settle the
Wreckage. If you’re starting to lose some ground, but still attacking it
starts at enough loyalty that it should just crunch them sometimes, but it
isn’t changing the result of your largest game loss categories.

The draw to Ajani in my mind is the -2 pseudo-Unearth. Just adding counters
is whatever; the real power is in whatever token-esque card advantage your
planeswalker can provide. Since it does cost loyalty counters, I want my
Ajani targets to be solid bodies capable of protecting my planeswalker on

This immediately brings me to Knight of Malice and Gifted Aetherborn. Both
are solid on turn two, solid again as defenders on turn four, and handle
the extra power from Ajani’s +1/+1 counters very well. Glint-Sleeve
Siphoner probably has to come along for the ride, because even if it
doesn’t block, it battles great.

Don’t worry, Aether Hub will make this mana work, right?

While a general early sign of a bad deck is that you need to play the
enters-the-battlefield-tapped duals like Forsaken Sanctuary, this is how I
would want to structure my Ajani deck: more midrange than aggro with Ajani
as card advantage and a way to beef up your two-drops. Heavy on ways to
just churn through a longer game, including removal. I think the
multicolored Guilds of Ravnica is likely to boost Ajani’s stock
with high-powered multicolor two-drops, but for now this is what we get.

I debated exploring Esper for Champion of Wits as a way to dump low drops
for immediate return with Ajani, but I’m unsure that you don’t just want to
be playing a different The Scarab God and Teferi, Hero of Dominaria deck.
You certainly have to cut Gifted Aetherborn if you go down that road as
BBWWU mana is ambitious at best.

Honestly, I might just be trying too hard here. The real king of the pride
might be the obvious good card. No need to jump through any hoops to play
weird off color two-drops into your 2WW planeswalker. Just jam and kill
them. Then you can even play Scrapheap Scrounger without fear of

I don’t know if these decks will stand up to the absurdly high power level
of midrange finishers from pre-Ixalan blocks, but I want to try.
Even if these strategies end up a bit behind the top tier, there will just
be points of the metagame where people won’t be prepared to play small ball
Magic. That’s the time you can be ready to win with it.