Rogues having been steadily rising in Zendikar Rising Standard since the banning of Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath made milling opponents a lot less self-destructive. However, since Omnath, Locus of Creation is still legal in Standard, naturally, my thought is, what better time to bring a Rogue strategy to Pioneer?
Where both Uro and Omnath are legal?
Yeah, they’ll never suspect it!
Thieves’ Guild Enforcer, Merfolk Windrobber, and Soaring Thought-Thief can quickly fill opponents’ graveyards, but the biggest pickup in Pioneer is definitely Thoughtseize, which also helps power up your soft-mill plan a surprising amount.
Thoughtseize also helps pick apart the removal options available to the opponent, and you don’t need many turns of Soaring Thought-Thief, Nighthawk Scavenger, or Glint-Sleeve Siphoner to really snowball an advantage.
Glint-Sleeve Siphoner has a solid evasion ability and puts you up a card after even a single attack. There’s no reason this list has to be all Rogues, but it is nice to get that Soaring Thought-Thief bonus. Besides, you never know whom you might need to rely on to sneak Zareth San, the Trickster onto the battlefield…
Okay, I’m not sure we can actually afford to go up this high on the curve in Pioneer; but I’ll definitely keep an eye on how the games play out to see if this might actually be a realistic option. We do have Deathrite Shaman to cast it ahead of schedule…
- 3 Deathrite Shaman
- 3 Glint-Sleeve Siphoner
- 2 Brazen Borrower
- 4 Thieves' Guild Enforcer
- 4 Merfolk Windrobber
- 4 Nighthawk Scavenger
- 4 Soaring Thought-Thief
Being able to use Deathrite Shaman for mana so reliably because of our mill is a big opportunity. It’s also great graveyard hate for combating Uro without completely turning off our mill theme. I’m only starting with three for space considerations and because of our lack of fetchlands.
Six green sources (besides other Deathrite Shamans) isn’t a ton, but we’ve got a little time to set things up. I definitely prefer using Botanical Sanctum instead of Blooming Marsh in order to keep our Swamp count up for Castle Locthwain. Another Pioneer upgrade we get is Fatal Push, though it’s not like it’s that big of a deal compared to Bloodchief’s Thirst.
The instant speed of Fatal Push has me leaning towards it over Thirst, but depending on the metagame, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to get another Thirst in there. The big thing is not wanting to be over-reliant on cards that kill twos and below. Even with our Drown in the Lochs, it’d be nice to have access to some amount of Heartless Act, Eliminate, or Hero’s Downfall.
Even though it’s a little slow, I’m not sure we shouldn’t be considering Extinction Event. It’s an excellent card, but our creatures being so split is going to make it a little tricky to really set up the blowout battlefields where we kill multiple creatures and none of ours die.
We have a ton of great options for removal if we’ve got enough of a read on the metagame to narrow in a little.
Holy moly, would it be a nightmare if anybody played Witch’s Vengeance against us… It’s probably not worth paying for the extra aggression of mono-black staple Self-Inflicted Wound, however. We’re aggressive but we’re not that aggressive.
This is not the time for Ultimate Price, in my humble opinion.
While the Standard lists usually play Anticognition or Lofty Denial, something’s got to give to make room for Thoughtseize. We could easily end up trimming a few more creatures for a few more permission spells but I wanted to err on the side of proactivity out of the gate. It’s also not out of the question to bring in even more discard, like Duress.
When you’re relying this much on curving out and have this little permission, Opt starts to dip a little. I’m kind of inclined to skip this type of stuff in favor of staying as tempo-positive as possible.
Am I crazy for wanting to bring this psycho back into the mix? All I want to do in this world is exile people’s Uros and Omnaths with Lifebane Zombie…
One other threat we should really consider is Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy. Its card quality is top-notch and Thoughtseize and Drown in the Loch are actively good with him (as opposed to how most Dimir permission cards would be).
Honestly, I could really get into Pack Rat. This is definitely on the short list, and makes a great two-of if we only have room for a couple of extra twos.
While cute, Metallic Mimic is pretty fragile and not actually at its best when you’re already counting on casting a one-drop first.
While I love where your heart’s at, Icon of Ancestry is just too slow for our purposes and our deck is just too diverse a collection of cards.
Is this crazy? It’s certainly frisky. Depending on how many creatures your opponents are packing on the average, it’s not unreasonable to think we’ll make some bigger-than-average Nighthowlers to put on our evasion creatures Turn 4. It’s almost surely too slow, but figuring out an additional smart way to get paid for the milling could be the extra little bit this strategy needs to get over the line.
Even though the damage does add up, I’m still inclined to start a couple of copies of Agadeem’s Awakening. The added dimension it gives us from what would otherwise normally be a land is just excellent.
I guess I could imagine playing Aether Hub, but you gotta work pretty hard to even get anywhere with it and Glint-Sleeve Siphoner. Besides, we really need a critical mass of Swamps and Islands. Watery Grave does help, though.
If we wanted another Dimir multicolored land, Drowned Catacomb might be the one. We’d probably want to dump the Botanical Sanctums, but Zagoth Triome still works. If we cut the Deathrite Shaman package, more basics, some Catacombs, and possibly a couple of Fetid Pools might all be solid.
Choked Estuary and Sunken Hollow are just worse Drowned Catacombs for our purposes. Choked Estuary is only untapped when we would have been able to come out untapped anyway if we had a Drowned Catacomb; i.e. we drew an Island, Swamp, or Watery Grave. Then later, it enters tapped when Catacomb would have been untapped.
Sunken Hollow is just a much weaker Drowned Catacomb unless you really value it counting as an Island or Swamp. If we were going to play anything like that, though, I think Fetid Pool would be a much better option.
Speaking of improvements on the mana…
We gotta be careful how much colorless we pick up but Mutavault is such a strong card and having the added threat that even gets the Thought-Thief bonus is a nice added option for how relatively minimal the opportunity cost is.
Even if we end up helping some of our opponents some of the time, the potential to improve our Mutavaults and Ipnu Rivulets, along with just casting multiple black cards in the same turn, has me definitely interested in an Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth over a Swamp. It still untaps our Castle Locthwain, so we’re good there.
Graveyard decks present an interesting challenge to Rogues. Lots of traditional graveyard hate would be completely at odds with our A-game. We’re not without options, however. The aforementioned Cling to Dust is a fine part of a plan and Grafdigger’s Cage is actually really well-suited to our needs.
Beyond that, I like a mix of permission to give us a lot more answers to combo, and then a few removal spells and a small but diverse package of threats that hit from other angles.
Liliana, the Last Hope and Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet are really high in card quality, they’re versatile, and both work well alongside the rest of our crew. The more speculative experiment is Vantress Gargoyle (and a threat I could easily imagine ending up being an automatic four-of in the maindeck).
I wanted to start with Glint-Sleeve Siphoner, as it seems better on Turn 2, but depending on how quickly opponents are helping us fill their graveyards, the Gargoyle does hit like a ton of bricks.
While Rankle, Master of Pranks is a fine card and, I suppose, not completely out of the question, I doubt it’s going to be worth committing four mana to compared to other potential options (or, you know, just playing cheaper cards).
Likewise, Gonti is just a little too luxurious, even if the card would be super-sweet to bounce with Zareth.
Notion Thief is quite a bit fancier, but it’s also just a surgical tool for a completely different surgery than what’s called for here.
Obviously this looks pretty weird in a deck without artifacts…
Or a deck at all.
…but it is a 1/4 creature for two that has lifesteal. It doesn’t line up well against Mono-Black Aggro, so it’s probably a non-starter, but I’d still keep it in mind if the format shifts back to all white and red aggro.
While there are plenty of other one-drop Rogues in the format, both Thieves’ Guild Enforcer and Merfolk Windrobber are super-on-plan. Once you add Thoughtseize and Deathrite Shaman into the mix, we probably don’t need to settle for such modest one-drops.
Gosh, it would just be so swell to want to build around Faerie Impostor and Quickling in some deck that really capitalizes on Zareth and bouncing your own creatures for profit. Unfortunately, there really aren’t that great of Rogues to bounce, and even if we do it, that’s a serious tempo hit in a format like Pioneer.
Besides, not only are these bounce-worthy creatures not as good as the stuff we’re already doing, the creatures doing the bouncing are not really Tier 1 cards, either.
If we were willing to get deeper into green, we could Rogue Refiner, but again, how slow is this format in our imagination? Are we at the point of imagining ourselves just activating Yisan, the Wanderer Bard every turn?
It’s gonna take a lot to justify Rogues if people turn their focus to beating it, but so long as it’s an under the radar strategy, it’s fun, has a unique playstyle, and packs a lot of great synergies.