As with any Blue and White based control strategy we find a stock shell with this deck sporting a trio of Jace, Architect of Thought for draw and protection from creature swarms, a set of Sphinx’s Revelation to restock your hand with options and incidental lifegain to boot, a set of Supreme Verdict to deal with Aggro creature swarms, and a set of Detention Sphere which is able to answer most every other problem the deck may face. The meat of the deck comes from its planeswalkers, where we find the duo of the light and darkness alongside a pair of Jace options. First looking at the light we have Elspeth, Sun’s Champion as a primary win condition spitting out soldiers three at a time, while also able to sweep the board of all creatures with power greater then four and should she go ultimate will pump those soldiers of hers into veritable jet planes. Next plunging into darkness we find Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver who is especially powerful against creature decks to steal away their threats by milling away the top of the library and given enough support then dropping them into play. Then we have the two Jace, Architect of Thought integral to the deck surviving creature rush Aggro and grinding out card advantage, but also a singleton Memory Adept to work against Control strategies and mill them down to no library while you sit back playing a defensive role. The potatos of the deck come from a variety of Control staples of permission, removal and draw. The permission package is two-fold using the potent Thoughtseize to strip away their threats before they can play them while also providing you with very valuable information about what their plan is, and also a pair of Dissolve as the deck only real denial with a bonus Scry tacked on to help dig through your deck for more answers. As for removal this deck is chock full of including Supreme Verdict and Detention Sphere already mentioned, but also some spot removal with a trio of Devour Flesh to abolish that huge threat when the enemy doesn’t have a swarm present and a Doom Blade able to destroy anything in RG Monsters in a pinch. As for draw power the main tool lies in Revelation and Architect, but the deck also leans heavily on the eleven Temples for Scry to help filter draws into what is absolutely needed. We wrap up with the utility player Azorius Charm which can gain a few points of life with Soldiers if desperate, filters itself into a new draw when needed, and even bounces an attacking or blocking creature to the top of its owners library to set them back and save some life.
While it’s true we are on the verge of a new Standard format in a few weeks it is certain that UW Control will be a strategy to continue going forward. Normally I would also say that with the summer here and Magic in its dog days that it isn’t important what to play, but remember that the World Magic Cup Qualifers are coming up. If you like oppressive Control strategies then I would definitely recommend this deck for you but be sure to clue into the current meta as this is always a deck that needs to be tweeked and tuned for what’s current. And good luck chasing down that glory.
1st Place at StarCityGames Standard Open on 6/21/2014
The deck is at its core a solid creature beats concoction with more then half of its slots devoted to them with an extremely low curve reminiscent of a brew we would expect from Legacy. The deck is chock full’o one drops loading up on value with them all. With two power for a single Red we find both Firedrinker Satyr and Rakdos Cackler coming strong out of the gate. We also have Legion Loyalist which with Battalion grands First Strike but more importantly Trample to your assault, and Foundry Street Denizen who when dropped on turn one can offer you so many turns of added value from each and every other creature you pop into play. On two mana you basically have the rest of the team starting on Burning-Tree Emissary to try and chain multiple creatures into play right away, Ash Zealot as a value drop with Haste to lay down the beats as fast as possible, and Firefist Striker with its Battalion trigger to neutralize any big blocker and ram additional damage down your opponents throat. There is also Rubblebelt Makka but he is really there as a cheap pump to ram through as much extra damage as possible working along side Titan’s Strength to take huge chunks out of the opponents life. The deck also has a trio of Shock and a pair of Searing Blood which help to ensure that the path to victory goes unhindered by opposing creatures.
It’s hard to say if the meta will continue to be soft to Red based decks but judging by all its success I guess you’d be a fool not to join in. I’m hesitant to say that this is the best strategy but it is always a strong strategy in the hands of a compitant mage. The only caution I would provide is that people are certainly aware of the deck and should plan accordingly. Also, don’t be one of the fools who says that it’s just a simple Red deck and I can pilot it like an expert without practice. This deck requires a precise use of its resources and knowing when to go all out as opposed to ensuring you don’t over commit is crucial. Just make sure you drive it around the block at least a few times, but most of all feel the burn.
Grand Prix Moscow Champion – Standard on June 15th 2014
Once again the power of fire to the face was able to propel this Tomahawk missile of a deck right to the top of the victory podium. Showing how powerful a linear strategy of simply throwing everything into reducing your opponents life total to zero really can be, this design is a well oiled machine dedicated to death and destruction. This really appeals to the little fire imp which resides in my heart and is a variation on the classic burn theme which has existed in magic since the days of Fireball and Lightning Bolt.
The deck is a little light on the creature side but has found two spicy dudes that synergize with the deck extremely well given the 26 spells that are played at instant speed. The first is Young Pyromancer which on its own isn’t a very intimidating creature but once you start slinging some spells the party gets started and guests will arrive, and don’t think that lowly 1/1’s aren’t any good because every single point matters with this deck. The other creature comes with Chandra’s Phoenix that can do some real damage as a hasty flier but also will find its way back to your hand rising from the grave whenever one of your spells blasts into the opponent. The manabase also affords you space to squeeze in three copies of Mutavault that are able to maneuver their way around any sorcery speed removal. Then we get into the burn suite of the deck which is massive. There is at one cost Shock capable of delivering a two point blast either to the player or if necessary any of his smaller creatures. The mass of the burn is found at two cost starting simply with Lightning Strike which is simply three points going to the opponents dome or one of his creatures. Next we have Magma Jet which is another flexible two points but the most important part is the Scry 2 which helps the weakness of this deck a bit as there is no real draw available to you. Against decks that play with lifegain, the true nemesis of burn, you have Skullcrack which as a surprise against Sphinx’s Revelation decks could very easily snatch victory from what would be an almost certain defeat. The flexibility of Boros Charm is almost universally wasted with the four point blast to the face as the Double Strike will rarely do more damage but if you have a sizable force you might need the Indestructible against a sweeper. The last two cost burn is a removal spell with Searing Blood which will do two points of damage to a creature but has the added bonus where if that creature dies will do an additional three to its controller. And the last burn spell is the Warleader’s Helix with a four point shot while also providing a four point lifegain as an added benefit. The last spot in the deck is taken by the removal of Chained to the Rocks which is capable of exiling almost any creature threat that is able to skirt the other options from direct damage.
I like to sit down and try my hand at brewing all sorts of formats. Pauper, sure…I love it. Modern…of course (although I don’t think I’m all that good at it!). Casual Tribal. You bet! Standard. Yes, sometimes I like to try and brew Standard, but with a budget twist. Today I have a “budget” deck list that isn’t as budget as usual. Flipping through my boxes of Standard goodies I came across a number of spicy cards that will make the deck a little pricier than normal…but I’ll suggest some alternatives to try and make some substitutions if you are playing on a tighter budget than this deck would normally allow.
I’ve been keen to see how the format has changed with the influx of Journey into Nyx cards and I’ll be honest…I’m a little disappointed. Journey into Nyx has afforded a few new tricks into some of the meaner and leaner decks, but most of the decks running around are the same old archetypes that have been dominant for months now. Mono-Black. Esper Control. Boros Burn. All of these decks are everywhere in Standard and they all have something in common. Can you see the common thread?
The common thread between all the decks is that are all packed with a gross amount of removal. Mono-Black and Esper can draw on Hero’s Downfall, Bile Blight, Ultimate Price, Doom Blade and on and on and on. Basically these two archetypes are packed with all the best removal and if they see a creature, they kill it on sight. To make matters worse, if Esper really gets in a jam, out comes a Supreme Verdict to clean up the mess. No, these decks are for sure the two main boogeymen on the scene. Boros Burn or R/W Burn, whatever you prefer to call it this week, is also jammed full of removal but of a different sort. Anger of the Gods, Magma Jet, Magma Spray, Lightning Strike, Warleader’s Helix are all viable in the Burn Deck and can burn out creatures with alarming speed and then turn their sights on you. Essentially the removal package of all three decks is what makes them so viable in the format. It’s tough to lose a game when your opponent can’t keep his or her creatures on the table. Now, there are a few decks that are capable of fighting through this barrage of death, namely the Monsters variants and sometimes Mono-Blue, but it’s a tough uphill battle for these deck on most nights. So, how can you top decks that can turn so many creatures into flaming ash? Hmmm…
One option is to play no creatures. This is why Burn decks are experiencing a relative degree of success right now. They have little to no creatures to target with removal and so Mono-Black and Esper both have a number of dead cards in game 1 before side-boarding. You could go the route of playing Planeswalkers…notably Elsbeth because she alone can produce more creatures than most decks can handle. Ashiok is another viable alternative to completely mill out your opponent and deny them the chance to play their spells by having them land in the poubelle . These strategies work…but they aren’t everyone’s style.
The other alternative is to try and out aggro them by just giving them SO many aggressive targets that they are overloaded and can’t cope. This strategy is dicey at best because the format is so removal heavy from our top three contenders, so the aggro decks need to have a really strong way to punish these decks (and fast) if they hope to succeed…thus why Monsters is able to pull it all together because leaving one Polukranos or Strombreath unchecked will basically cost you the game. However, I feel like the deck I have here could sneak in and surprise a few of the big boys by overwhelming their removal suite and then making blocking near impossible. Let’s see what I’ve got.
There’s nothing earth shattering in this list. We have a number of aggressive 1 drops in Dryad Militant and Slitherhead and some ramp with the Elvish Mystic. At 2 we have Brushstrider, Kalonian Tusker, and Burning-Tree Emissary. At three we have Fanatic of Xenagos. All of these creatures are designed to put significant early pressure on your opponent and can then turn the table and smack them if they can’t deal with them quickly. Going up we have 1 Rubblebelt Raiders. This guy is actually a fun little treat that can get pretty nasty if you can get him to attack with some buddies, or give him haste with Ogre Battledriver. Ghor-Clan Rampager is a solid 4 drop, but it can also be used to pile through and give you extra reach with the trample. Finally, Savageborn Hydra is that mythic rare that everyone has forgotten about. His double strike ability is off the charts powerful and the ability to sink extra mana into him to do extra damage is key. To think, you can put 2 mana into him and up his damage by 2 points every time! Load him up with some evasion and you have a winning formula. Finally, Xenagos, God of Revels, is in here because his ability to grant something haste and boost the damage done is ridiculous.
Some would argue, why no Experiment one? I opted to replace the Expriments with Slitherhead for the simple reason that they would be a useful resource to me even if they got killed. An experiment one with 1 counter on it is still a dead experiment one, where a Slitherhead in my graveyard means something else can be bigger next turn. Also, Fanatic of Xenagos is a terrific little addition at the three slot because it comes with trample and can either be a 4/4 or a 3/3 with haste and +1/+1 until end of turn. In either scenario, I’m just fine with this card and am happy to run it.
The spells are also pretty straight forward. 4 Madcap skills make blocking an early threat near impossible and can really take a bite out of your opponent. Turn 1 Dryad Militant into Turn 2 Madcap skills and swing for 5 is stiff. They’ll need to burn early removal spells or risk ending up in big trouble. Giant Growth is in here to add some extra reach if they opt not to block thinking they are safe for a turn. Armed // Dangerous can be devastating at the right time to lure your opponent to block a patsy while the rest of your team slices and dices. Finally, as a concession to the fact that we want to be attacking lots and other aggro decks may be looking to take advantage, a single copy of Fog could very well spell the end for them.
The strategy for this deck is simple: Attack. Attack all the time because you don’t have the spell suite to sit and posture. You are banking that if you get out early and apply a bunch of early pressure that they will need to expend a lot of removal resources on your game plan instead of establishing their own…and in the process give you the chance to top deck into one of your monstrous threats to close out the game. Now, that’s the game, but let’s be real, many of these top decks have seen this game plan before and I fully prepared for it. So, don’t be surprised if you find yourself down and out to these top tier decks. However, if they draw below average, or you play a deck that DOESN’T pack as much removal you might be in good shape. We can talk about the psychology of losing, but to keep it simple, this is deck premised on an old tried and true strategy that the top tier decks in the format come prepared to deal with. You might lose out, but if you surprise them or they draw poorly you’ll make them pay…and really with a budget deck isn’t that the best part? Smashing apart a finely tuned deck with a budget deck brings great joy to my life…how about you?
Now, as I said, you may not call this a true budget deck, but most of the value is in the mana base. Stomping grounds are steep. Temple of Abandon also cost a pretty penny. However, you can sub out the mana for Gruul Guildgates and basic lands if you need to without much difficulty. The other high priced item on this list is Xenagos, God of Revels as he could run you somewhere near the $6 range depending on where you are looking. This is usually more than I want to spend on a single creature in a deck, so I could replace him with Gruul War Chant to make blocking totally ridiculous and near impossible if I wanted to give this more of a true budget feel. Otherwise everything else on the list is somewhere shy of $2 a piece meaning the deck is generally pretty affordable and packs a pretty mean bite.
So, before you head off to your next FNM and want to give something a little different a try…something that seems like it’s missing from the Standard Meta as the big boys all eye up each other, you might want to give this Gruul Aggro Budget a try and see if you can surprise a few of them. I know that I can hardly wait to try it out.
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.
We all watched the Pro-tour with baited breath not all that long ago. For starters, Congratulations must go out to Patrick Chapin. I doubt he’ll ever read this article, but the truth is what he accomplished is tremendous. To defeat the world’s best players and win a Pro-tour is the stuff dreams are made of (although he made it look frighteningly easy!). However, in amidst all the talk of Block Constructed decks, did anyone notice that there were hardly ANY of the mechanics from Theros block on display? A block committed to the Devotion mechanic by virtue of being tied to the Gods of Theros…and it was virtually totally ignored. There were very few creatures carrying the Monstrous ability. Constellation got some love…most in the form of Eidolon of Blossoms. Inspired? Tribute? Bestow? These hardly even got a sniff. In the end it was wars waged as Elspeth tokens crushed Elspeth tokens and Thoughtseize and Brain Maggot crippled the hands of countless players. No…the mechanics of Theros were sadly underplayed and it felt…I don’t know…deflating.
Well, I’m here today to try and restore our faith in the little used mechanics of Theros and present a budget worthy Casual Brew that can grind down an opponent (or multiple opponents as the case may be) and find a way of getting you a win from seemingly out of nowhere. The mechanic I’m thinking about is the Inspired mechanic because it is so tempting…so poised with potential…that to not attempt to build a deck would just be wrong.
Now, we have seen that some of the mechanics in Theros are very powerful. Devotion powered out crazy amounts of elemental tokens with Master of Waves, drained buckets of life with Gray Merchant, and pumped out dizzying amounts of mana with Nykthos. No, Devotion is pretty safe. Monstrous is the same way. With Stormbreath Dragon and Polukranos running around still Monstrous is a thing and they may be joined by Fleecemane lion as staples of this mechanic. Bestow and Heroic have shown to be invaluable in Draft giving these decks new reach and greater power than ever before. No, these three mechanics are just fine despite not being played much at the Pro-tour. However, Inspired and Tribute, both Mechanics from Born of the Gods have hardly got off the ground.
It makes perfect sense for why Tribute has been largely ignored. In almost every instance the cards carrying Tribute present an option for your opponent to dictate the terms of the creature. This means that you are no longer in control and if you are looking for a desired effect, well, I can assure you that you won’t get it because your opponent is out to put the screws to you. Snake of the Golden Grove is a perfect example because you either get 4 life…or a 7/7. Let me assure you, 100% of the time you will give your opponent the life gain. However, if you REALLY needed a 7/7 to help you block…well…tough, you are out of luck.
Inspired on the other hand actually holds some promise. This is actually an ability that you could use because the only requirement is that the creature untaps. Simply untap. It seems so simple…but yet getting your card to actually untap is pretty tricky. The most common ways of tapping it is by virtue of attacking with it and then on your next turn untapping it. The problem is that usually if you go into combat, something dies meaning you could very well lose your inspired creature. Other options exist like Spring Leaf Drum, Retraction Helix, Epiphany Storm and Claim of Erebos which all allow the creature to tap without combat, but this is extra work for you and harder to set up. So, how to maximize your chances of Inspired without as much set up cost to your deck?
I have long been a proponent of making combat as absolutely miserable for my opponent as I can manage. This means I pack decks full of combat tricks, death touch, first strike, double strike and haste, basically ensuring that my opponent really has to think twice before blocking ANYTHING. Well, Inspired gives you even MORE incentive to pack your deck as full of nasty tricks as you can find so that no one is keen to actually block. With this theory in mind let me share with you a little deck list that I’ve put together to exploit the Inspired mechanic.
The game plan behind this deck is actually pretty straight forward. You are looking to do everything you can to drain off the life of your opponent without attacking , but the creature base in the deck is actually aggressive enough that you can start on the beat down path and not actually take your foot off. All the while you are looking to exploit the Inspired Mechanic as much as you can wrangle.
For 1 drops we have Tormented Hero which is a solid 2/1 for 1 black. Sure, it comes into play tapped, but play him turn 1 and attack turn 2 and you’re pretty golden. Also, when he is targeted he does exactly what you want the deck to do and that is drain the life of your opponent. At 2 we have a couple of bears, namely Sun Guide and Pain Seer. These are both aggressive enough that they can come down early and swing in, hopefully triggering the Inspired trigger on either of them. Baleful Eidolon and Spiteful Returned are technically 2 drops, but are really there for the Bestow ability to basically make something totally unpalatable for your opponent to block. Spiteful returned is also triggered just by attacking, making him just extra value. The last 2 drop is Cartel Aristocrat because when you are missing a way to sneak through, Sacrifice a creature and get in there. At the 3 drop spot we have the bread and butter. Scholar of Athreos is an awesome mana sink and a solid blocker to plug up the ground. Servant of Tymaret is a wily little 2/1 with regenerate that I WANT to block with and need to regenerate in order to trigger the Inspired ability when it untaps after regenerating. The 4 drops are really there as Bestow creatures apart from King Macar, but at 5 we have Gray Merchant and he is a sure fire way to drain out a bunch of life all at once. The spells are pretty tame in a Gods Willing to protect something or more importantly to allow a creature the ability to sneak in for free. Necrobite presents an awful combat trick for your opponent. He will need to play around a situation where you have 3 mana up or risk trading something for a deathtouch creature…who now regenerates. Whether this is Tormented Hero’s heroic trigger, or regenerating a Pain Seer, there is going to be value generated. The last one is Asphyxiate which is a poor man’s Hero’s Downfall. Same casting cost…but much slower and more conditional. Not my first choice, but acceptable considering the financial cost of a playset of Hero’s Downfall.
Some would say that this looks like an Extort deck from Gatecrash and I can’t disagree…except I prefer this model to relying on the Extort mechanic of Gatecrash because Extort rewards you for durdling around with spells and paying the extra mana to drain the life. In this deck there is no need to durdle around. If you have open mana sink into something…like your Scholar of Athreos, attack with your Servant of Tymaret, or cast a Bestow creature to make blocking totally undesirable. You are being proactive and engaged instead of being rewarded by casting derdling spells and hiding.
This deck is weak to decks packed with fliers or with control elements like counter spells and plenty of targeted removal. Oh, and it still gets run over by the pack rat/desecration demon game plan prevalent in Standard, so don’t take it there. Where does this deck shine? Multiplayer variants of all sorts. Free for all, Two Headed Giant, Grand Melee…if any of these formats match what you like to play then this is a cheap and efficient deck that will do work. Life drain is absolutely brutal in multiplayer matchups and this deck is no different.
So, I have done my part to restore faith in the mechanics of Theros…particularly Inspired. Now it is up to you to go forth and Inspire that same belief in your opponents and drain the life right from their souls…without ever attacking! Enjoy frustrating the heck out your opponents because you can bet I’ll be enjoying every minute of it.
Thanks very much…and until next time keep it fun, keep it safe…keep it Casual.
Bruce Gray – Casual Encounters @bgray8791