1st at SCG Edison Standard Open on Sep 27th 2014
As we bid a fond farewell to RTR/THS Standard and all its mono-colored shenanigans we see how quickly everything becomes new again with both decks sitting at the final table in the wedge colors. There was also in the final a Mardu Midrange deck which in and of itself is a beautiful work of art which simply did not draw well against an amazing draw of the Jeskai tempo deck. But for us today we are interested in this Red, White and Blue beast of a list which was able to battle through 13 rounds and stake its flag first at the summit of this opening weekend.
by Bruce Gray – Casual Encounters
Since I started writing for Three Kings Loot back in February I’ve highlighted a fair number of decks. The one thing that most of these decks have in common is that I would describe them all as being “budget” decks. This means that I am interested in trying to find a relatively inexpensive way to build a deck that is still powerful and presents a number of problems for my opponents. These decks aren’t usually Tier 1 competitive decks, but they can surprise someone who underestimates what the deck can do. Today, I’m going to showcase some budget substitutions that will allow you to build your own budget deck and help you to keep your cost down. We’ll look at land, creatures, and lastly other spells in an effort to briefly touch on all the key elements of your very own budget deck.
If you routinely stop by here on The Bag of Loot you know that I have a thing for land. Basically Magic is entirely dependent on the land you draw. I don’t care how many awesome spells you have in your library, if you don’t have the land to cast them you are likely sunk (unless you’re playing Legacy/Vintage in which it seems possible to play with no land). Without access to the correct land it doesn’t matter what spells you have, you’re likely to lose. As a result, this is one of the few areas where you really can’t skimp too much. You can use things like Guildgates and Life Gain lands from Zendikar if you aren’t fussy on format, but most people want to play Standard. If you want to play Standard you need the lands. It becomes even MORE apparent in the realm of Modern where Fetches and such are super expensive. Bottom line, unless you play Casually and you and your friends don’t mind you mixing in different things, you’re probably on the hook for having the “right” land for your deck. Temples. Shocks. Mana Confluence. Nykthos. Guildgates. Pain Lands. There is a large variety of lands available, some more expensive than others, but if you want to play you need to get the right ones for you and your deck and cheaping out and just running basics just won’t cut it usually.
While you can’t cut corners on your land, you most certainly can make up ground with the suite of creatures you opt to run. Basically, at almost each and every converted mana cost along the curve you can run a variety of choices. Now, the creatures that are very expensive in a given format are expensive because they are the optimal creature for that converted mana cost in that colour. That doesn’t mean that alternatives don’t exist. These alternatives are typically much cheaper and can help keep your cost down. Don’t believe me? Let’s look at a few examples.
Let’s start with Stormbreath Dragon. 4/4 flying for 5 mana and has haste, protection from white, and a Monstrosity ability. There’s no doubt this is a premium creature and well worth the $15 a card you’ll pay as a single. However, there are other options available to you if you really wanted to run a creature at the 5 spot that was more inexpensive. Hypersonic Dragon is the same 4/4 with haste and 5 mana (although a blue and red are part of its casting) meaning it could fit the bill. Scourge of Valkas from M14 fits those stats pretty well too and is still a dragon. Both of these options are red, can fill the same hole in your deck and cost you significantly less in terms of money to pick up.
Blood Baron of Vizkopa is another 5 mana creature, this one is 4/4 with protection from white and black, lifelink, and can trigger some ridiculous bonus if you have enough life, or your opponent is running low on life. Some other options at 5 cmc are Serra Angel (which is unexciting, but still perfectly viable), Keepsake Gorgon, and Celestial Archon. These are all very playable at five and are even in Black and White so they can hold a spot in your deck. Don’t let me fool you…Blood Baron is the optimal choice, but if you’re budget is tight, these guys are viable options.
Polukranos a 4 mana for 5/5 hydra with a ridiculous Monstrosity ability. This one is tough to replace because 5/5 for 4 mana AND has an ability is pretty ridiculous. However, there are a few options available like Deadbridge Goliath. This is probably the closest from a statistical standpoint, and isn’t a bad card and makes a suitable alternative. If you can splash another colour, Reaper of the Wilds is another solid option and much cheaper as well. A 4/5 for 4 mana is pretty close and the abilities on it make it a tricky critter to deal with…and costs a fraction of what Polukranos costs.
Soldier of the Pantheon– The aggro decks out there are not immune from having some pricey cards too. Soldier of the Pantheon is a $2 card that is a 2/1 for 1 mana. There is no doubt that they are an optimal 1 drop to kick start your beatdown with an aggro deck, but $8 for four 1 mana creatures leaves me scratching my head and my wallet empty. You could opt instead to run Favoured Hoplite or Satyr Hoplite, both 1 drops that can lead the beat down band wagon for you in place of the Soldier. They need a little more work than the Soldier, but with their Heroic triggers might give you a bigger beat stick with which to bring the pain. If you really wanted the 2/1 for 1 you can instead turn to RTR block and grab the Dryad Militant as an inexpensive option.
Boon Satyr – This super awesome 4/2 for 3 mana is a staple in Green decks, but can also Bestow for a very reasonable 5 mana…oh…and has flash. There is really nothing else that approaches this level of versatility, explosive damage, and just being down right nasty to play against. No wonder it’s $1.50 a card. However, you could run Feral Invocation if you were looking for the Flash aura effect. If you wanted the Flash effect on a creature, Briarpack Alpha probably comes closest as a 3/3 for 4 mana and a fun Enter the Battlefield trigger.
Brimaz, King of Oreskos– King Kitty is a huge threat at 3 mana and the abilities packed on him are just full on value…no wonder he’s $20 a card. However, if you wanted a card with just about as much devastating punch, Fabled Hero runs you about a $1 and packs double strike and heroic. Things can get out of control very quickly with our Hero…and the extra money you saved will bring a smile to your face as well.
Now, these are just some suggestions for substitutes in your deck to help keep the cost down. All the substitutions have significant drawbacks compared to the optimal creatures in the deck. I fully admit that a Serra Angel doesn’t stack up with Blood Baron very well, and that Fabled Hero is a poor substitute for King Kitty. However, if you’re wallet can’t handle the $80 to pick up a playset of Brimaz, Fabled Hero can do in a pinch.
Spells are a little tougher to replace. The super expensive spells and staples of a format are that way because they don’t have a substitute…or at least not exactly. The thing is spells don’t leave behind a body that can be utilized after they have been cast, so you need the impact of the spell itself to be pretty terrific. However, there are a few options for some of the spells.
Thoughtseize– This Legacy playable piece of hand disruption just crushes decks by stripping away all the most important pieces of your opponent’s hand. It really is crippling…and it is going to be in rotation for another 14 months! Yikes. However, at $20 a card is a little steep. Duress is probably the closest option and is regularly reprinted. It is a little more limited in terms of what it hits, but let’s be honest, you are almost always going to take an instant or sorcery spell from your opponent because you can find other answers in your deck to deal with creatures and planeswalkers. So, Duress is a reasonable substitute. Brain Maggot is another possible route, and it even gives you a body. Sin Collector is the last option, but for 3 mana is significantly slower and not as optimal.
Supreme Verdict- Premium 4 mana wrath effects are always key to a control player’s strategy. Supreme Verdict really has no equal because it also can’t be countered…meaning that you hit it and your opponent cries every time as they watch their board disappear. However, at $8 a card this can burn a hole pretty quickly in your wallet. The only REAL option is Planar Cleansing…but it’s a 6 mana sorcery…which feels kind of yucky. Fated Retribution is another option…but it’s 7 mana (although thankfully at instant speed). These can do in a pinch if you really want to play the control game, but you may have to alter you game strategy because you’ll need to get to at least 6 mana to have either of those spells come online.
Sphinx’s Revelation- Ok, there is no equal to this card. Mass card draw AND life gain is a Control player’s dream come true. However, the most important piece is always the card draw because it gives you access to more resources. Divination is the cleanest way to get access to some of the card drawing power of Sphinx’s Revelation, but Jace’s Ingenuity from M15 will be another option that draws 3 cards for 5 mana at least at instant speed meaning you can jam it on your opponent’s turn. After that, you can play poorer spells like Inspiration, or the more expensive Opportunity, but you’re still longing to get a Sphinx’s Revelation and run it.
Hero’s Downfall- Instant speed spot removal of creatures AND Planeswalkers is huge. However, Black has lots of good removal right now ranging from Ultimate Price to Bile Blight to Doom blade. This means that Black decks should have no issue dealing with creatures…pick your removal spell of choice and go to work. Planeswalkers are tougher, but you can always resort to fighting them directly which always gives you at least one option.
Planeswalkers- I have no substitute for a Planeswalker. Honestly, they represent 3 (or 4) potential different spells and abilities that you just can’t replace in your deck. You can try but prioritizing which of the abilities are most pertinent to you and your deck and substituting for cards that recreate that effect, but you still need to pay for it while the Planeswalker can replicate that effect for free turn after turn. No, there’s no real option to playing these guys if you want to emulate a Tier 1 deck, but lots of decks can also run just fine without a Planeswalker (just look at Mono-Black Devotion decks that typically run no Planeswalkers).
Well, there we have some options to help limit the damage done to your bank account while still allowing you to play and have fun with some solid decks. Of course the options available go up significantly when you start shifting formats from Standard to Modern, but so do the price tags on the optimal cards. I hope this was helpful to you guys and that it gives you a few options to go out and brew some of your own decks using some of these alternative pieces.
Thanks for reading and until next time Keep it fun, keep it safe…keep it casual.
Bruce Gray @bgray8791
Another weekend of SCG Standard has passed and sitting at the top of the heap we find a successful jumble of acceleration into monstrous beasts and powerful planeswalkers. What we find there is essentially the GR Monsters shell that’s been prevalent in Standard for quite a while, but dipping into White for additional planeswalkers and some removal options. And judging by the popularity of this archetype in the Theros Block format it looks like it has quite a future ahead.
It is no stranger that the most prevelant duo of Green mana dorks both in Standard and Block is Sylvan Caryatid into Courser of Kruphix. This not only fixes your mana and even effectively draws you additional cards but also gains you vital life points which are so crucial in this aggressive metagame. The downside is that Courser provides your opponent with nearly perfect information which can foil you bluff when playing off the top of your deck. As an additional accelerent there is also Voyaging Satyr which won’t help if you are missing a color but will still allow you to gain extra mana. All of that goes towards powering out some monstrous fatties quickly so you can activate their Monstrosity abilities and close out games quickly. The two we find in the deck are Polukranos, World Eater which also acts as much needed removal in this deck and also the hasty flier Stormbreath Dragon which peeled off the top is often the recipie for certain doom. If those monsters are the meat of the deck we then find the fine wine pairing in the foursome of planeswalker to accompany them. The main player is party animal himself Xenagos, the Reveler who not only brings his satyr buddies with him but also helps acheive Monstrosity fast with his ramping ability. Next to join the party is Ajani, Mentor of Heroes who has a dual purpose between pumping up your creatures and digging into your deck to find more threats, but also when protected can threaten its ultimate to bolster a diminishing life total. There is also a major contribution from Elspeth, Sun’s Champion with her legion of soldiers following her, but be wary of her second ability as your bombs tend to be destroyed as well as the opponents. And why not a misers Chandra, Pyromaster as well to add a little card advantage to the deck and her first ability helps slip your big boys past their chump blockers handily. The rest of the deck is rounded out by some varied pieces of removal. There is Keening Apparition which is able to destroy any enchantment the opponent presents to the board such as Chained to the Rocks or even Underworld Connections. As a great sweeper Mizzium Mortars is able to be overloaded to deal four damage to all the opponents creatures and cast aside any would be blockers for your giant monsters. Then the last piece of the puzzle comes with the flexible Selesnya Charm that can either pump and grant Trample to a creature to rampage for a win, exile a creature that has power greater then five, or even add another threat to the board with a vigilant knight token.
So here we find that the GR Monsters deck which has already been a force in Standard continues to have room to grow and adapt as it proves it is a major player in Standard. What really interests me with this list is that the core of the deck is all from Theros Block and will undoubtedly continue to be a force into the next rotation of Standard. If you are looking for a deck to invest in as a long term prospect then this is undoubtedly the one.
One of the shining pillars of the Theros Block Constructed format is the awesome White planeswalker Elspeth, Sun’s Champion though that doesn’t necessarily lend itself easily to just White deck choices. This deck was one which realized how to harness that incredible power while finding support for it in other colors. What emerged was a Gruul based Naya deck that went down a very Aggro beatdown route. There are strong ramp elements to power out monstrous creatures and incredible planeswalkers working hard to seal the deal as fast as possible. And although there are different combinations to build this deck there are key elements which emerge from all of them.
It all starts with the trio of ‘mana’ dorks with Voyaging Satyr and Sylvan Caryatid into Courser of Kruphix. These three are crucial to the plan of deploying huge Midrange threats well ahead of the curve, and those threats come in the form of some truely monstrous beasts. The first of which we find Polis Crusher which is a fine beatstick as a 4/4 for four but also has a relevant ability in this format with Protection from Enchantments, and when you activate his Monstrosity becomes a 7/7 that destroys enchantments the damaged player controls which with its Trample should connect often. The next step on the Monstrosity curve comes with Stormbreath Dragon which with Flying and Haste will often be a surprise to skirt around sorcery speed removal, and against control style decks blasts to the dome of your opponents equal to their cards in hand when he becomes monstrous. There is also a one of Polukranos, World Eater as a value five power four drop that can go monstrous to act as additional instant speed removal for the deck. Yuuki chose to run with a trio of planeswalkers but it all centers around a full set of the decks namesake Elspeth, Sun’s Champion which unchecked by the opponent will easily start to dominate the board with its soldiers, remove large threats en masse or even beef up and raise your entire army to the air with her emblem. He also went with a pair of Ajani, Mentor of Heroes to strengthen your soldiers, it can gain some advantage by finding any of the decks 28 creatures or planeswalkers, and given enough time even gain you 100 points of life. The other planeswalker we find in the deck is Xenagos, the Reveler who’s ramping ability in conjunction with the decks dorks will help power out the big monsters quickly unless you need him to bring some of his satyr friends to the party, or if you do get to ultimate with him with 45 creatures and lands in the deck the top seven is bound to share a bounty of wealth. The deck is wrapped up simply with White based removal using the catchall enchantment answer Banishing Light to remove a plethora of permanent threats and also Chained to the Rocks which is the reason why we find the deck with a substantially larger amount of Mountains then in similar decks of this style.
There was also another RG Elspeth list by Andrea Mengucci which finished in sixth place. While it did follow the same line of attack there are some fundamental differences starting with the manabase where Andrea not using Chained to the Rocks opted for much less Mountains and went for Temple of Triumph instead of Mana Confluence and a singleton Plains. In order to add in a varied array of spells he cut a Voyaging Satyr and the singleton Polukranos from the creatures but was able to pack a more robust removal package. He decided upon only two Banishing Light and then went with direct damage with a set of Lightning Strike, a trio of Destructive Revelry and a singleton Magma Jet. He also opted to forgo Ajani to go up to three Xenagos instead. While neither list is necessarily better then the other they do play along a slightly different line and you should run with the one you feel compliments your style of play better.
I have very little doubt that we will see this as one of the top decks at the Grand Prix in Manchester. We have already seen in Standard that this combination of Green and Red monsters is a winning style. And with the addition of Elspeth to that equation there is little to prevent the raw power of this deck from shining. I expect that we will see this not only as a superstar in the Block format but also continuing into the next Standard season as well. I would definitely stock up on the cards for this deck if you enjoy this style of Midrange monster beatdown.
The opening strategy is focused on your mana dorks to come and ramp to the fatties. We find full sets of Elvish Mystic, Sylvan Caryatid and Courser of Kruphix all of which can speed you plan up by several turns. Also, removal aimed at them means less removal to deal with the big boys. As far as those ‘big boys’ are concerned there is Polukranos, World Eater and Stormbreath Dragon who’s ability to become Monstrous will often spell certain doom for your opponents well before they’re ready to deal with them. Then there are a few support creatures with Reaper of the Wilds with a Scry ability helpful when the opponent is removing your creatures or chumping with his, Ghor-Clan Rampager which can turn a game saving chump block into a game ending surprise, Scavenging Ooze with incidental lifegain and graveyard hate, and Xenagos, God of Revels pushing the beatdown plan into high gear. Speaking of Xenagos we find the same standard package of Planeswalkers as in Gruul with Domri Rade and Xenagos, the Reveler which both are invaluable in a creature heavy deck both accelerating and digging for them while also working hard to control the battlefield. The addition of Black is what allows an interesting one of Vraska, the Unseen which can spell certain doom if her assassins are able to infiltrate through the enemies defenses but will most often be used as removal of various types of threats. And speaking of removal the deck is completed with a minor removal suite which consists of a pair of Dreadbore and pair of Mizzium Mortars but is also somewhat supplemented by the Monstrous ability.
Oh burn…ever since the printing of Lightning Bolt there have been Red mages looking to blast their spells straight to the dome. Each block there is always a Mono-Red or R/x deck that is straightforward, efficient and appeals to highly aggressive players. This deck is just one like that exactly.
While this deck is Boros by strict definition Red is the primary color with White a splash to add a few excellent cards. The creature package is is set with a tight curve building from Ash Zealot which can be a highly effective beater and the First Strike coupled with burn allows you some utility. Boros Reckoner has always been interestingly unique with his ability often making combat math complicated enough to hold off enemy attacks from even happening. Then with seventeen burn spells in the deck and additional help from Chandra her bird Chandra’s Phoenix is able to attack with impunity knowing that getting it to rise from the grave back to your hand is an almost guarantee. There is also a pair of Stormbreath Dragon which help the deck just go straight over the top when the games start to run long and can also be a huge surprise you’re dead. Because of the primarily Red base to the deck it can squeeze Mutavault into the manabase easily to get additional ground pounders. Then we find Chandra, Pyromaster who is the only source of card advantage in the deck and if you can ultimate it is doubtless that she’s going to hit the paydirt on that roll of the dice, and incidentally can prevent a big blocker from thwarting your attack while building loyalty. For straight removal we have Standards newest best impression of a Swords to Plowshares in Chained to the Rocks which should not have issue with the enchant Mountain clause given 15 copies in the deck. The rest of the deck consists of a plethora of burn spells which can double as either removal or damage right to the dome. We find a mix of Lightning Strike and Searing Blood as simple burn for the deck while the others carry some utility with them. Magma Jet helps to filter through your deck which is a key ability for this style of deck as draw isn’t one of these colors strengths. Warleader’s Helix is a beast of removal with four damage it’s able to get into those bigger creatures and coupled with First Strike creatures can surprise a chump block into the removal of a huge creature. And finally the ‘Boros’ deck would not be complete without the utility from Boros Charm which can either be that knockout punch taking down four points of life, can save your army from sweepers or is able to turn one of your creatures into a formidable fighting machine to Double Strike your opponent to the death.
1st Place at StarCityGames Standard Open on 2/22/2014