Working Within Standard’s Confines

Michael takes a devoted look at one- and two-color decks using a few possible breakout Theros cards!

Welcome back to another Standard discussion.

It’s now been two weeks since Theros’ release, and it’s pretty obvious that we’re going to have to beat both ends of the Control/Aggro spectrum. Early on in the coverage of StarCityGames.com Standard Open in Cleveland, you could already tell that people were still just jamming the same ol’ Mono-red and U/W/x decks.

What’s a Standard gamer to do?

Well, this week I want to take a look at some possibilities that can contend with both sides of the equation. It’s difficult to do, since the cards which are good against mono-red tend to be utterly miserable against control. However, can we take a look at some strategies that are strong against one, the other, or both?

Here’s the core problem with the current Standard format: the mana sucks. Yes, we do all know that, but it goes a bit further than that.

Since the mana is terrible (and the fixing requires the loss of life and/or the loss of speed), aggressive decks are going to last a bit longer than the clichéd “just long enough for people to figure out how to beat it” standard amount of time that people are spouting. Since your ability to play your spells in a multicolored deck is going to require the loss of life much of the time, red decks are going to prey on the fact that decks start out at 18 or 16 life.

Unfortunately, since the card pool is so small right now in Standard, in order to fill your deck with enough cards to profitably interact with aggro and turn the corner and win, you’re probably going to need to delve into more than two colors. When you do that, you slow your deck down, though, and you start having to pay life to bring it all together.

Once you get to this point, your powerful cards don’t matter when you’re just dead from your red opponent.

So what are we to do?

Well, for one, I’m going to suggest that, until the metagame shifts enough to push mono-red out of the first tier, decks stick to one or two colors. This means no Esper, unfortunately; yes, it wins against U/W Control, but what good is that if you can’t beat anything else?

So what are our options at one or two colors?

Let’s start out with G/W

This is obviously an untested list, as lists with a ton of four-ofs tend not to be. This is where I would start attacking the new format though if Selesnya was my thing. Playing with Naya last season, I learned the power of playing Voice of Resurgence into Loxodon Smiter against literally any strategy. A lot of decks have a hard time with both of cards and the cards that answer them differ; in other words, that Anger of the Gods is nice and all, but when I drop a Smiter instead of a Voice, you’re going to be quite sad.

The deck is highly customizable; if you want to beat control, you can easily set the deck up to do so. As it stands, I have this version set up to beat red with the maindeck Scavenging Ooze, Trostani, and Archangel of Thune. While those cards aren’t stellar against control, you can easily bring in the Boon Satyrs, Rootborn Defenses, Elspeths, and Grove of the Guardian as both a threat and another land since we’re bringing in a couple of six drops. You turn into a haymaker deck, but you have the ability to also play at instant speed with Advent, Rootborn, and Boon Satyr.

Against red, we get Unflinching Courage; whenever you get to curve your Smiter on turn two into a Courage on turn three, you really can’t lose. Not only that, but remember that you also have Trostani and Archangel, two cards I can’t see mono-red beating anytime soon. Even though you generally use Selesnya Charm to get rid of giant creatures or to push through damage, the Charms actually have a great use against mono-red and Firefist Striker in particular. The ability to flash in a 2/2 creature after the resolution of the Striker’s trigger is really nice, since the opponent usually isn’t expecting the ambush and you can pick off the Striker.

Even with the benefits of this deck, it has its downsides. Again, I can’t under-emphasize how bad Trostani and Archangel are against control, one of the two biggest decks around right now. You’ve got a decent chance of dropping game one, meaning you have to hope your board plan is good enough to win two straight games. Even against mono-red, you’re playing a two-color deck without a ton of great fixing; you still have the potential to stumble on mana, something that red decks can still capitalize on.

So with that being said, what can we do with one color that’s powerful enough to compete with control but fluid enough to not stumble against mono-red?

Well, if you were watching round three’s coverage of the StarCityGames.com Standard Open in Cleveland, you saw Daniel Novak running a Mono Green Stompy list that transformed into a midrange green deck with Garruk, Caller of Beasts. The deck had enough power to pull back from being pretty far behind against a B/W/R Control deck while eschewing a second or third color. People started clamoring to hear more about the deck after seeing the combination of Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx and Garruk, Caller of Beast take over the game.

There’s just something people love about their mono-colored lists. Mono Black control still gets talked about with literally every new set release. Mono-green just brings out this child-like joy in gamers everywhere that evokes memories of childhood decks of yore.

Seriously, just go check Twitter after that mono-green deck did its thing.

My mono-green list is different; I don’t run Reverent Hunter or Deadbridge Goliath. Maybe this is wrong, but I’ve tried focusing a bit more on the power of Nykthos.

My updated mono green list:

People asked last week about why I didn’t include Mistcutter Hydra and I told them that I just didn’t think that it was worth the slot. However, with the inclusion of Nylea, God of the Hunt and the trample that the god grants, I don’t mind running the “green Fireball on a stick”.

Mistcutter Hydra

One of my concerns with running this deck is the lack of power against control; sure, you can drop a Garruk, Caller of Beasts and be in business, but none of the other cards really scare a U/W/x deck. Even a resolved Worldspine Wurm is relatively easily ignored by Azorius Charm or Detention Sphere. Post-board, we up the power level of the deck with Sylvan Primordials and Mistcutter Hydras. The Boon Satyrs give you some reach post-wrath in addition to putting additional pressure on your control opponent without overextending.

The power level of this list against aggro, though, is rather sizable. The ability to throw a ton of creatures in front of your opponent’s, ones that tend to be larger than theirs, and then follow it up with Nylea’s Disciple and Polukranos is tough for them to deal with.

I’ll say this: I’ve been incredibly impressed with Polukranos in this list. Imagine having to miracle your Bonfire of the Damned every single time you cast it. Not very impressive, right? Well, since the cost and ability seem similar to a Bonfire of the Damned, people thought about it as a non-miracled Bonfire.

Polukranos, World Eater

Well, the difference between that and the way Polukranos actually works is that you start out with a 5/5 body, you play it in a mono green hypermana deck (that’s capable of going Ludicrous Speed with its mana), and Polukranos gets proportionally bigger with the amount of mana you have available. I’ve had clogged boards that I’ve simply activated Nykthos a couple of times (through Voyaging Satyr), activated Polukranos for 15+ damage to wipe their side of the board, and attacked with a 20/20 on a clean board.

Sure, if Polukranos was played in a regular deck where the most you could hope to invest in monstrous is seven mana, it’s not that stellar. I mean, it’s still good, but not something you’re excited about running. However, the first time you activate Polukranos for over ten and realize how absurd it is, you’re going to love having all four in your deck regardless of it being legendary.

Polukranos gives mono-green the ability to interact with your opponent’s board. You don’t usually have that with green.

What about the style of deck that Mr. Novak was running?

Here’s a list from Magic League courtesy of Valeriy Shunkov article last week:

I think it’s rather well known that my love for Nykthos is strong enough to say that I don’t want Mutavaults because of my desire to max out my Nykthos count; however, I can completely understand the numbers in this list. If you’re looking at just putting a ton of numbers on the board and turning the team sideways, this is definitely the route to take this list.

However, I still don’t want to give up on Nykthos just yet.

What if we want to branch out to a second color? Well, I’ve already talked about what a G/r Nykthos deck would look like last week, so I won’t go there. What can we do with other colors?

Travis Woo actually took on a Simic Nykthos deck that he posted on Facebook involving Beck // Call. I’m definitely a fan, as I was thinking about splashing blue but for Master Biomancer instead of Beck // Call. His list tends to aim more for a combo approach, which I’m obviously a fan of, but I was looking more for the added consistency of being able to just make your mana dorks formidable threats. Here’s my thoughts:

This deck extends to blue for both the benefit of Master Biomancer as well as the card drawing power of Bident of Thassa. Master Biomancer pulls double duty with Kalonian Hydra, tag teaming to bring you giant creatures rather effortlessly (since you’re just going to do what you normally do, cast spells and attack to do it). Nylea makes sure that your huge elves and satyrs don’t get chumped blocked twenty ways to Sunday in addition to being a great mana dump.

Master BiomancerBident of Thassa

The other benefit is the added sideboard options; you gain access to the wonderful options in blue. First, you get both Jaces. Jace, Architect of Thought is great against red decks here because you can drop it on turn three and prevent the opponent from being able to profitably apply pressure. Both Jaces can come in against control to play a longer game, though I’d probably only bring in the Memory Adept so that Garruk remains strong.

Master of Waves is a card that I think will be jumping off when we get more cards in our card pool for Standard. Right now, it’s in here due to the ability to put four power on the board against mono-red in addition to having protection from red. In all reality, I think Master of Waves is going to be insane, so much so that I keep looking for ways to make it happen now.

You know what I think will be a formidable combo at some point in Standard?

Master of WavesFrostburn Weird

Unfortunately, I don’t think the card pool is strong enough to constitute a blue devotion deck yet. I could be proven wrong, but I think we’re still a set or two away from really putting something nice together. Whatever the deck ends up containing, Frostburn Weird will be a huge part of the equation.

That’s what I’m working on right now for Standard. Until the mana magically gets better, I don’t see three color decks making a huge impact. The only exception I could see right now would be Naya or Jund with Sylvan Caryatid and/or Manaweft Sliver, but even then I don’t think the mana is good enough.

Last week we got some good decklists for Nykthos, so I want to pose another challenge: if you’ve got a Master of Waves deck that you’re trying out, please post it in the comments. I’m totally ok with outsourcing this one because I can’t come up with a workable solution but I really want to make Master work.

I look forward to seeing your suggestions!

Michael Martin

@mikemartinlfs on Twitter

Mikemartinlfs (at) gmail (dot) com