Hey everyone! Brad Nelson here and I’m here to announce my full-time return to content creation here at Star City Games! Oh it’s all so exciting! Last year I took a very much needed break as I was experiencing a strong level of burnout compounded by lackluster Arena formats, and, well, you know, everything that was 2020. Luckily, though, I bounced back and Cedric so graciously dusted off my old writing chair!*
* Star City Games did not provide me with a writing chair.
So what can you expect from me on a week-to-week basis, you ask? Well, not much has really changed for me since the last time I was here. I still love Standard and focus most of my energy there. Now of course I’ll dabble in Historic from time to time when Wizards of the Coast (WotC) makes me, but the truth is I pride myself on knowing Standard like the back of my hand. Don’t ask me why I pride myself on it; just know that for the foreseeable future you’ll be in good hands if you listen to me.
My first article topic is easy — what to play this weekend on the SCG Tour Online! That’s right, the SCG Tour Online is back and the first weekend’s festivities are Standard. As you all know, Kaldheim just released and everyone’s working diligently on trying to find the best deck to play. Luckily for you, I’ve got it! The bad news, however, is you’ll have to wait a bit to see it, as I’ve got a story to tell you about a little card from Kaldheim first.
Showdown of the Skalds is one of the most talked-about cards from Kaldheim. It’s reminiscent of the powerful Escape to the Wilds, and players have been trying to put this thing into pretty much everything. They’ve tried to blink it with Yorion, Sky Nomad; sacrifice it to Doom Foretold; and, more appropriately, pair it with tiny creatures that like to attack. Even the sensational streamer Crokeyz was smitten by its illustrious allure.
- 2 Scavenging Ooze
- 4 Lovestruck Beast
- 4 Giant Killer
- 4 Edgewall Innkeeper
- 4 Bonecrusher Giant
- 4 Shepherd of the Flock
- 4 Kazandu Mammoth
- 2 Masked Vandal
Since I really only played Gruul Adventures last season, this was the first piece of homework I took home to test. It was cute, Showdown of the Skalds was good at times, but all-in-all it felt a little too clunky. I was growing more and more frustrated with the mana and felt that the deck in general was a little too slow; plus, the draws were inconsistent and they felt underpowered relative to what I was playing against. I abandoned ship and buried my nose in trying to make Sultai Control work.
Second Verse, Same As The First
It wasn’t until Michael Majors’s article that I gave Naya Adventures another spin. Oddly enough, my final product looks nothing like his, but it was his article that allowed for me to compartmentalize a lot of what I was previously thinking about the deck. Majors wrote about the inconsistent mana, the high-risk nature of the Throne of Eldraine legendary artifacts, and how some of the new cards could give a unique spin on such a rustic strategy. So I fired up Arena and gave the deck another shot.
Sadly, this take on the deck wasn’t for me. Now don’t get me wrong, this article is fueled with some of the best theories on the archetype in existence. It’s just that in practice I found the core aspects of the deck to be underpowered. Frustratingly enough, I just kept losing to the same stupid artifacts I took out of the deck in the first place!
Now I’ll be the first to admit that Shepherd of the Flock is an enjoyable card to play with in Naya Adventures. The problem is that it’s not a good card when you’re behind on the battlefield, which easily happens in today’s Standard climate. Showdown of the Skalds is a great card, and especially so in this decklist, but it’s also not a great play when your opponent is too far ahead. The combo between the two is also fantastic, but I often found myself working overtime trying to keep up with my opponent’s The Great Henge.
Going Back to the Fundamentals
That’s when I took a step back and really thought about what matchups Showdown of the Skalds is actually good in. It’s not that great against Mono-Red Aggro or Boros Aggro since it’s pretty slow. It can be fine when you’ve stabilized a bit, but I’d much rather do that with some removal and The Great Henge in matchups like these.
The same can be said for matchups like Izzet Midrange❄ and Dimir Rogues. Here you’re going to get punished hard for taking a turn off from developing your battlefield or at the very least not interacting with theirs. The mirrors are dominated by The Great Henge, so while it can be good in some situations, I’d rather focus on the more powerful card advantage war that was going on.
Is Naya Adventures just a bad home for Showdown of the Skalds? I was starting to think so, but luckily for Showdown of the Skalds, there was one style of matchup that Gruul Adventures greatly struggled with where the Saga could be of service — Esper Doom Foretold and other control strategies.
It was here where Gruul Adventures really struggled to find reliable sources of card advantage as The Great Henge rarely worked out and every other source of card advantage was often too slow and thus got hit by Elspeth’s Nightmare. At least you can throw Showdown of the Skalds out there on Turn 4 and hope you get to cast a couple of spells off it!
Once I decided to go down this path, everything started to click. No longer was I trying to build a Showdown of the Skalds deck and instead I was simply tuning an already-great strategy that could easily stock up on match wins.
- 2 Scavenging Ooze
- 2 Embereth Shieldbreaker
- 4 Lovestruck Beast
- 2 Giant Killer
- 4 Edgewall Innkeeper
- 4 Bonecrusher Giant
- 4 Brushfire Elemental
- 4 Kazandu Mammoth
It’s simple — play the damn card in the sideboard! That way you don’t have to worry about revealing the wrong interaction or stupidly expensive artifacts when you’re trying to catch back up after taking a turn off to cast the Saga. It’s also worth noting that the +1/+1 counters you get from the second and third chapters aren’t particularly good in this deck in the first place!
This way of building the deck also mitigates the damage done by adding a third color to the manabase. It’s seriously not easy to deploy three colors’ worth of spells in the early turns, and especially difficult when you want to cast a white card while holding up Usher to Safety. This ignores that headache and lets us go back to playing the tried-and-true powerhouse that is Gruul Adventures.
Clearly not a whole lot needs to be said about Gruul Adventures, as we’re not really reinventing the wheel here. I mean it honestly feels a little weird to be talking about this deck in my first article back, but the reality is I don’t do this job just so I can show off cool things. I do it to help people win matches and I seriously stand behind this decklist for this weekend’s SCG Tour Online events!
“Ignore the fad, trust in Brad” #BradstheFad2021
PAQ: Potentially Asked Questions
The Akroan War?
I’m still very much sold on The Akroan War being a great maindeck card, and think it might even be better now that there’s an uptick in white- and red-based aggressive decks. There just aren’t that many ways to break serve when an aggressive opponent curves out on the play, but this is one of them. It’s also a great way to slow an opponent down while giving you the creature needed to resolve The Great Henge the next turn.
Why no Questing Beast?
I’m just going to say it — this card sucks now and has been completely replaced with Showdown of the Skalds. Down the road it might end up being a better choice than the sideboarded Saga, but as it stands I have no interest in playing Questing Beast outside of justifying a single copy for my Viviens to tutor up.
What’s the correct mix of Embereth Shieldbreaker, Masked Vandal, Wilt, and Shredded Sails?
As it stands, I’m not confident in my numbers on these cards just yet. Masked Vandal is great as it can destroy artifacts and enchantments, be searched up with by Vivien, and trigger a draw off of The Great Henge. The downside? Well, it’s never destroying the aforementioned artifact on Turn 4 when you desperately need to.
Shredded Sails is a nice one in that it can kill Goldspan Dragon as well as The Great Henge, but at the same time you really want to have answers to The Akroan War. The solution I keep going back and forth on is to add another one of these effects to the sideboard. That would be at the cost of a Dimir Rogues sideboard slot, which I’m not sure I’m comfortable doing just yet.
Is this deck good against Izzet Midrange❄?
The short answer is, “I honestly don’t know yet.” The long answer is, “I hope I don’t even need to find out.”
This brings us to the biggest question mark for this weekend: is Izzet Midrange❄ built to last? The list I’ve presented to y’all today shows a clear lack of respect for the matchup, as I don’t really have many ways to kill that stupid Goldspan Dragon. Obviously I want to, but the more answers I add to my deck for it, the more losing to it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
I also believe Dimir Rogues is favored in this particular head-to-head. If that’s true, there should be more Dimir Rogues than Izzet Midrange❄ at the top tables of this weekend’s tournaments. I could totally be wrong about this but only time will tell.
Why do you run a single copy of Masked Vandal; Klothys, God of Destiny; and Phoenix of Ash in your sideboard?
I love having situational targets for Vivien’s second ability. Sometimes these targets can swing a game singlehandedly and quite honestly a stream of 3/3 Beasts can be pretty lackluster. The stars do need to align for you to both have a Vivien on the battlefield while casting an Ox of Agonas, but crazier things have happened!
The Sideboard Guide Epilogue
The last thing I want to do today is leave you with a short sideboard guide. Now obviously there are more decks out there than just these and also there’s no uniform build for them, but I personally love jumping-off points for decks when I start playing them. Take this with a grain of salt and I look forward to catching back up with you next week!
VS Dimir Rogues
VS Gruul / Naya Adventures
VS Mono-White Aggro, Mono-Red Aggro, Boros Aggro
VS Izzet Midrange❄
VS Esper Blink (Yorion)