Where the Magic happens
In Omnath’s Wake
Hello again! Well, it’s been a while since last time. Travel and bannings got in the way (I wrote a deck guide for Omnath Adventures but that did not age well) but now I’m back with some fresh decks for the new format! I have really been enjoying this new standard format, decisions matter and you really have to fight for every little advantage. So far, the format has been really diverse and almost every game I play on Arena is against a different archetype. This of course has made testing specific match-ups harder, and it’s impossible at this time to tell which is the best deck. Instead of doing that I’ll share two of the decks I’ve had most success with in the new format with a deep dive into one of them, Mono Black Aggro! I’ll also share a sweet combo deck that is unfortunately unplayable on Arena because of the long execution time (and a LOT of Lotus Cobra triggers) but if I were to play something like a paper FNM I’d be really excited to try it out. Here are my current lists:
This deck is so much fun! The base for it was published by Bryan Gottlieb on Twitter before the release of Zendikar Rising, and it really can do some messed up things. The combination of Nahiri’s Lithoforming, Lotus Cobra and Ancient Greenwarden lets you draw a bunch of cards, create a lot of mana and then repeat the process however many times you want or need. All of these cards and mana will eventually let you find Radha, Flame of Keld which you pump up with your extra mana and then throw at your opponent with Kazuul’s Fury. The earliest I have achieved this combo is turn five, but that is not very likely which is why you need a lot of interaction post-board to deal with annoying aggro decks. The deck is quite slow to get going but once you start comboing off it is very difficult to miss on the execution. As long as you do your math correctly and don’t run into too many counterspells you’ll be perfectly fine! You have a lot of problems running into counterspells though, and for that reason the Bala Ged’s Recovery are very important since they let you rebuy your missing combo pieces. That is also the reason why I added one copy of Epitaph Golem to the deck since it also lets you get back cards from your graveyard although it will take some extra work to get them into your hand. The two main reasons for this deck not being a bigger part of the metagame is first as I mentioned it is almost impossible to play on Arena since your combo turns take so long. Secondly, it is quite hard to get the combo going, and before you start comboing you have a hard time actually finding the missing pieces. It is still a lot of fun to play though and if you like doing crazy powerful things (or doing a lot of Lotus Cobra math) I would recommend trying it out!
This deck is a lot more straightforward. Put big creatures on the battlefield and attack your opponent with them. Of course, it has a bit more finesse than that but that is still going to be your main plan at one point of the game or another. It has all of Green’s best aggressive threats combined with possibly the best late game engine in Standard, The Great Henge. There are a bunch of reasons why I think this deck is so good currently. The first and probably most important is that it gets to play a lot of mana sources while still keeping the spell count high. I currently only play nineteen lands, but I have twentyseven mana sources in total if you count the Modal-Double Faced Cards in Turntimber Symbiosis and Kazandu Mammoth. This leads to you rarely missing lands early allowing you to curve Scavenging Ooze into Lovestruck Beast and Questing Beast often, while you also get to draw a lot of action later in the game. This deck is also very good against Heartless Act, since a lot of the creatures easily can pick up +1/+1 counters leaving what should be one of your opponents best cards against you almost useless. The removal in this deck is also quite good, Ram Through is an excellent card in general (even though this deck does not play a lot of Tramplers) and Primal Might is a great finisher although a bit clunky at times. The fact that Primal Might fights is a reason to be careful with them though since it can’t really deal with Deathtouch creatures. If Rogues with Nighthawk Scavenger become a bigger player in the meta game I would probably switch one Primal Might with the Ram Through in the sideboard. As the games tend to play out now, Primal Might is too important in the mirror and the burst of damage it presents can often catch opponents off guard.
My list differs from what is coming to be the consensus best build of this deck in that I still value Stonecoil Serpent and Gemrazer very highly in the format, especially in combination with each other. I love having both these cards in the deck though, as the Serpents are great against Rogues because of Reach. It is also largely unbothered by both Heartless Act and Drown in the Loch. It also blocks Zareth San, the Trickster and Soaring Thought-Thief indefinitely as long as it is still alive. All this combined means I've been really happy with it in that match-up in particular and in the format in general. The Gemrazers I really like in this deck for two main reasons. Firstly, there are a lot of people playing random enchantments and artifacts. Doom Foretold decks are starting to pop up, Embercleave is still a real thing (and you can often survive one hit if you can snuff it out beforehand) and in the mirrors The Great Henge is the easiest way to win in drawn out games. Not to mention that Anax, Hardened in the Forge is an enchantment and even hitting a Saga before it hits the last chapter can be very relevant at times. The second reason why I like Gemrazer so much is for the same reason I like Primal Might. There are a bunch of creatures that have low base power and toughness that get their size from +1/+1 counters, which means that mutating a Gemrazer under them just presents your opponent with a much larger threat than they anticipated. This can get you from a stalemate to attacking and since the Gemrazer always grants Trample it can really mess up your opponents plan of blocking, sometimes even just straight up giving you the win. So if you are interested in playing this deck, don’t cut Gemrazer. I’d probably start cutting Questing Beasts before looking to take them out.
Mono Black Aggro:
We are finishing this article off by looking at the deck I have spent by far the most time working on (and playing), Mono Black Aggro! The main game plan of this deck is quite simple. Make sure your opponent run out of resources and then kill them. In that order. What makes this deck fun to play is how grindy and sticky it is, it has the potential to run control decks out of cards while constantly refueling with Castle Locthwain and Lurrus of the Dream Den while also providing pressure with Nighthawk Scavenger and Skyclave Shade. When playing this deck it is important to be patient, you need to remember that there are very few decks that can go as long as this deck can. This means that you rarely need to throw all your cards on the battlefield, but rather spend your early turns making sure that the opponent has to react to you and later you start rebuying creatures. Where this deck really shines though is against aggro. Nighthawk Scavenger, Lurrus and Nullpriest of Oblivion are all relevant bodies with Lifelink while the last two also provide you with extra value from the graveyard. The best card in here by far is Rankle, Master of Pranks (Lurrus is a very close second) and it is also the most skill testing card in the deck where choosing the best options for you is not always trivial. But let’s dive into the deck and sideboard.
The mana in this deck is great, all the lands produce Black mana and you get to play an aggro deck with twenty-six lands in it! You barely ever get mana screwed and you very rarely flood out since you also get to play thirty-nine spells, and have expensive cards in the late game as well thanks to Kicker. The reason for the specific numbers are quite simple, Hagra Mauling is very medium so you don’t really want multiples however it is very good to have a hard removal spell from time to time so it made the cut for flexibility rather than power level. The Agadeem’s Awakening started out as a two-of but I quickly started adding more when I realized how it played out. I am fairly certain that four is the correct number in this deck. The downside of having to pay three life to get the untapped land is negligible and the difference between drawing this and a Swamp in the late game is just huge. Play four, trust me they are just that good. I also started out with fewer Castles in the deck, but it became apparent after playing against two control decks that you always want one, and they are not that bad in multiples as long as you make sure to aim for an opening hand with a basic Swamp.
Village Rites is a great card when you have a lot of bad creatures in play, which this deck does a decent amount of the time. It also lets you keep digging through your deck for whatever threat you need and can sometimes protect your creatures from exile effects as well. The removal might look strange at first glance, but you need to keep in mind the overall goals of the deck and the synergies within it. Grasp of Darkness is great as long as you can cast it, and since this deck doesn't mess around with a bunch of extra colors it is always castable! It hits almost everything, and rarely lacks targets. It can also be used in combination with Mire’s Grasp or mid combat to shrink creatures that are too big to kill outright. Mire’s Grasp would be something like Heartless Act if Lurrus was not in the deck, but that synergy is too much to pass up on. I have never gone lower on enchantment based removal than two cards, though Dead Weight and Mire’s Grasp have been in the deck on different occasions. Switch them out as you see fit, I like Mire’s Grasp currently because of Rogues and Bonecrusher Giant but if the meta game becomes faster with smaller creatures (say if Lotus Cobra starts coming back) I’d go back to Dead Weight.
The Flashy Rogue is likely to be the best one drop in standard currently since it does a lot of things that a lot of decks really care about. In this deck it is just a beater though, since the milling is not really important for any other card than itself. It is still very good even as just that, being able to attack for three with Deathtouch late in the game is very relevant, and it is also a card that can be cast again for some small value with Lurrus (seems to be something of a theme here). Archfiends Vessel is the only card in the deck that is specifically here because of Lurrus. If you manage to get one of these in the graveyard early and play a turn four Lurrus plus a 5/5 demon you are very likely to find a way to win the game. It also has Lifelink, which is not that impressive on a 1 power creature but it has been strangely relevant in the games I’ve played with it. I was playing four of these until I started experimenting with Village Rites, and it worked out fine but I did not like having multiples in my hand.
2 Drops: 2 Nullpriest of Oblivion, 3 Acquisitions Expert, 4 Skyclave Shade.
The real hidden trick with all of these cards is that they are at least two-for-ones. Nullpriest is the best card you can draw when you have six mana since it brings any creature from your graveyard back in play with it. It also is a pretty decent little attacker, even though you have cards that are better at that specific task. They are a bit clunky, but good enough to want in almost every game. I ended up cutting the third and fourth one for the extra copies of Village Rites and the deck has felt smoother since. Also Remember that you can pay Kicker for the Nullpriest when you cast it from the Graveyard with Lurrus, making for truly disgusting turns. Acquisitions Expert has slowly grown to become one of my favourite cards in standard. It provides very little value both on the board as a 1/2 and only forces your opponent to discard a single card of their choice (sometimes you get to pick one of their two worst) but in this deck it performs a lot better. It gives you a way to get discard out of your Lurruses, it is great fodder for both Rankle and Village Rites and can chump block in a pinch. It very rarely attacks, and that is one of the main reasons why this deck does not play out like your typical aggro decks, the one and two drops just don’t hit that hard. The exception is Skyclave Shade of course. Why people are sleeping on this card I don’t know, but simply having a recursive hard hitting threat that makes your late game land drops relevant is fantastic. Since they come back as either 3/1s or 5/3s they can be relevant attackers at any point in the game, and if they can’t attack you can always sacrifice them to one of your engine cards. Do I really have to mention that Lurrus can cast them as well when you miss land drops? No? Then I’m not going to.
Pay offs: 4 Nighthawk Scavenger, 3 Lurrus of the Dream Den, 3 Rankle, Master of Pranks.
These cards really speak for themselves but I’ll make some short notes about them. Nighthawk Scavenger is a fantastic attacker and a surprisingly good blocker, don’t be afraid to trade them off since you have six cards that can get them back into play. The lifelink makes sure you can keep activating Castle Locthwain and Deathtouch means that it always trades, it is one of the best ways of beating for example a Dream Trawler since the Sphinx can’t attack or block it without dying. Lurrus is the card that makes this deck work, the sole engine and just an incredibly powerful card (which I’m sure most of you are aware of since before the companion errata). The reason why there are only three of them is that they are clunky in multiples, three mana turns out to be quite a hefty investment in the deck and the Legendary status does not help either. The next change I am looking to do with this deck though is trying out the fourth Lurrus in the main deck. Lastly we have Rankle, and this is the card that gives this deck a real chance to win games. It turns out that having a bunch of dorky 1/1s and 1/2s with random abilities turns this into a straight removal spell and can also make sure that your opponent either runs out of cards really fast or keeps a bunch of cards stuck in their hand, depending on how aggressive your start has been. Rankle does everything this deck wants, and is probably the creature who has dealt my opponent lethal damage the most of any of the creatures in the deck. There are three in the main deck since they are quite clunky and there are a few match ups where you don’t want them rotting in your hand, which is why I'm fine with three.
This is what we can call the Anti-aggro package. Bloodchief’s Thirst also comes in against planeswalker decks since this deck really lacks planeswalker removal in the main deck. It is also excellent against any aggro deck since it is so cheap, and is the best answer in the format to Scavenging Ooze which is the best card in the format against you. Lurrus is by far the best card against aggro, since it provides lifegain, removal and extra blockers all in one card. The extra Mire’s Grasp comes in with the Lurrus to make sure that you can play removal into Lurrus+Removal as often as possible on turn five. Kaervek comes in against most aggro decks as well. It turns off all opposing X/1s and can really be a blow out to an unexpecting opponent. Just remember to board your Nullpriests and Shades out when you bring him in since they don’t go very well together.
These cards are here for the slower match ups like control and some combo decks. Agonizing Remorse is a staple at this point, but I could see shifting these to Duress instead if you find the exile clause to be less relevant (though Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger is on the rise at the moment). Liliana is a great card against control since she, like Liliana of the Veil, keeps your opponent low on cards and therefore low on options. She has also been surprisingly effective at killing shark tokens for some reason. These often come in alongside the rest of the hand disruption spells and can often be a win condition all on her own. At the very least she keeps your opponent distracted while you set up Lurrus or Agadeem’s Awakening. The innovation I’m most proud of is including the Pelakka Predation as the fourth Agonizing remorse. The reason I have made this change (since it is a strictly worse card on the front side) is because I needed a card to put in when I did not want a Hagra Mauling. Since I have counted Hagra Mauling as a land I really can’t board it out without disrupting my own mana base too much. Since Pelakka Predation often is good when Hagra Mauling is bad this felt like a great inclusion to the sideboard.
1 Rankle, Master of Pranks, 2 Soul-Guide Lantern.
These are the kind of boring must haves in the sideboard, the Rankles come in against control or midrange as a way to punish their expensive creatures and sorcery speed cards like Felidar Retreat. The Lantern is here as the answer of choice against other graveyard decks. It serves as a cheap answer to Kroxa while also being able to keep other problematic cards out of the opponent's graveyard. It is possible though, that one or both of these should be swapped out for Tymaret, Chosen from Death since getting cards out of your own graveyard is relevant against Rogues. But I think that the Lantern’s ability to combine with Lurrus as a card draw engine makes it worth bringing.
And as promised, here comes a quick sideboard guide. It will look a bit different from most other sideboard guides, since I really don’t think you gain much knowledge from how I sideboard against particular match-ups but more how I approach sideboarding in general. But anyway, here it is!
Against Aggro (faster than you): the goal here is to become a more streamlined deck and make sure that you are alive when you can start casting your more expensive spells.
+ 1 Mire’s Grasp, 2 Bloodchief’s Thirst, 1 Lurrus of the Dream Den, 2 Kaervek the Spiteful.
- 2 Nullpriest of Oblivion, 4 Skyclave Shade.
Against Aggro (same speed, mirror match etc.): here the goal is to become the “bigger” deck. You want to take out cards that are low impact and put in cards that can win you the game or answer your opponent’s best cards.
+ 1 Lurrus of the Dream Den, 2 Liliana Waker of the Dead, 2 Bloochief’s Thirst, 1 Rankle Master of Pranks, 2 Soul-Guide Lantern (only if they run Lurrus and/or Kroxa).
- 4 Acquisitions Expert, 2 Village Rites, 2 Archfiends Vessel (if you bring in Soul Guide Lantern).
Against Control/ Midrange: the goal is to run them out of cards and use Castle Locthwain and your graveyard to overwhelm them in the late game.
+ 1 Pelakka Predation, 3 Agonizing Remorse, 2 Liliana Waker of the Dead, 1 Lurrus of the Dream Den, 1 Rankle Master of Pranks.
- 2 Mire’s Grasp, 2 Grasp of Darkness, 1 Hagra Mauling, 1 Archfiends Vessel, 2 Village Rites.
That’s it for this week, next week I’m going to write about how I approach deckbuilding and some common mistakes I make myself and see others making! As always I want to hear your feedback, either on twitter @Valkyrii_gmg or over mail @firstname.lastname@example.org. Remember to take a look at FantasiaNorth.com for your gaming needs, stay safe and take care!
Drafting Zendikar Rising!
The plans for this week got changed, mainly because I love drafting and couldn’t wait to jump into some draft queues. Also, Wizards released this statement on Twitter leaving my brewing stranded for the week:
To start this article off though, I’ll have to make a few corrections to the previous article as I discovered Lithoform Engine can’t copy permanents while they are in play. Turns out reading the cards is important for some reason. The other things I wrote about that card still holds true though, it is very powerful despite this but is much slower than I previously thought. Also on that note, Bloodchief’s Thirst is not an instant which I discovered in my Arena pre-release after leaving up mana for it! This means two things for me, firstly and most importantly I have to read new cards more carefully, and second this is not going to replace my Fatal Pushes in the older formats.
But this is a text about drafting Zendikar Rising, and to do that in as clear a fashion as possible I’ll show you three of my draft decks (I have probably done about fifteen at this point) as well as my conclusions on those decks and the format in general. At the end of the article I’ll give you some rankings and which cards have overperformed/underperformed for or against me.
My first draft of the new format had me playing a bunch of Blue and Green cards with a Black splash on the back of a Reclaim the Wastes and a Clearwater Pathway. My first pick was a Legion Angel, but did not manage to draft White and instead ended up here:
I don’t know if the black splash was correct, but given I had two free ways of getting Black mana I figured I’d try it out. It turned out fine, I got punished in one of the games for drawing a Swamp when I needed Green but overall the Deadly Alliance was very good when cast (as expected). But as I mentioned, I’m not sure whether it was correct or not. The Risen Riptides were excellent, especially when paired with Shell Shield, which also performed far above my expectations. The Riptides also made the Reclaim the Wastes play better than it would in a non-kicker shell. The biggest take away from the draft though is that you have to pick the Double-Faced Lands very aggressively. I didn’t end up with any, so going forward they went up in my pick order. Thieving Skydiver ended up as the only non-land rare in the deck and it was fine, the floor as a 2/1 Flyer for two mana is decent and I ended up kicking it without targets just to trigger the Riptides twice. I did never end up stealing anything with it but the card is fine even without kicking it and when you actually get to steal an artifact it will be insane. The dream of course would be stealing a Lithoform Engine.
Looking back at this deck there are a couple of lessons to take away from it. The Living Tempest and Springmantle Cleric were both mediocre at best, and I would recommend trying to avoid playing them. Risen Riptide is an excellent card in a deck with a lot of Kicker but it is not a very contested card in the draft portion. This means you will probably be able to pick them up towards the end of the packs (after pick 7 or so) meaning that you can prioritize the kicker cards themselves over the angry waves. Merfolk Falconer is really good and the 4/4 body on a flyer is no joke in this format. The creatures in general are quite small meaning that this is not a bad blocker by any means, and it closes the game out very quickly. Lastly, the Cunning Geysermages are also very good but you will need to pick these up early as they have great synergies in all the Blue decks meaning that every Blue player at the table will be looking for them.
Draft 3 (I think)
My first seven wins of the format came through this monstrosity of a deck:
It had everything I could imagine wanting in this format: lots of Modal Double Face Cards (MDFCs), bomb rares and a good curve to keep me from dying early on. The splash in this case I am sure was correct, the power level of Phylath, World Sculptor is through the roof, the Valakut Awakening helps both with the splash and is a good card if the Red mana is already in place. I even got the Pathway in the middle of pack two as a free Red source! Verazol, the Split Current is also a bomb and if you get one you should just pick every kicker spell you can find. A lot of people miss the fact that it also copies permanents, meaning that if you for example cast a Gnarlid Colony kicked you can remove two counters from the snake and get two 4/4 tramples! Another easy to miss part about the card is that it gets a counter for each mana spent to cast it, not equal to the X in the casting cost, meaning that if you play 6UG it is an 8/8 not a 6/6.
Lesson learned from the earlier drafts about the MDFCs as this deck contained 7 of them instead of 0 as my first deck did. Where I have ended up on these is that the worst spellsides (Jwari Disruption, Malakir Rebirth, Tangled Florahedron etc.) should still be picked at about the same time as you would pick the best commons like Deadly Alliance or Roil Eruption. If we keep going up the quality of the spells (the spell side is really what decides how high to pick them) cards like for example Khalni Ambush or Umara Wizard are pretty much bomb level cards and should probably be picked above a lot of the rares! The same goes for situationally very powerful cards like Makindi Stampede or Kazuul’s Fury where the spell side can basically win you the game when you cast it, but if you draw it early you can just play them as lands! Another secret trick about them is that they are excellent splashes and splash enablers, since they never get stuck in your hand. All of these are very good, and I have to apologize to Malakir Rebirth for being so negative about it last week, since it is much better than I gave it credit for. To finish this discussion off, Spare Supplies is a fine card but this deck did not need it. It is good in decks which have problems getting late card advantage like the Gruul Landfall decks or Boros Warriors, but here I should probably have played a generic two drop creature in its place just to make sure I survived until Verazol or Phylath came about.
About my tenth draft was the first time I got to draft what is in my opinion the best deck in the format, BW Clerics/lifegain. I ended up going 6-3 in the arena queues with this one and once again I had access to a bunch of MDFCs. Here is the deck: