A Pre-Champs Primer

I’m going to be presenting this article as a lead-up to Standard States/Champs next month. The point of this article is to compile as many decklists that I can find/think up that I think are worth looking into or playing at Champs. Additionally, I will be presenting some general deck ideas or card combos to let you think about and try.

We are oh so boring!
To start off, I will not be presenting any of the following: Kithkin, Quick ‘n Toast, Faeries, Red Deck Wins, and Elves. I won’t be presenting Faeries, Kithkin, and Red Deck Wins because I believe their decks are very linear; the decklists are going to be very similar to Block constructed lists, and there isn’t going to be much variance in the lists. The most I can see coming is maybe splashing red in Kithkin or black in RDW, but other than that I’m not seeing much innovation. I’m not saying that the decks are bad, in fact I believe they’re all very good and likely Tier 1. I just think that the room for change in them is less presentable and the lists aren’t as flexible.

For Quick ‘n Toast, I’m not going to present a list for the opposite reason; there are way too many possible decklists with viable cards. I’m just going to make some points; I think the charms are great, specifically Bant Charm and Esper Charm, and if you’re not running them you should. Firespout is always great and Wrath of God will make a comeback. I’m not sure what finisher to use, but I’d definitely run one Nucklavee and at least one Cruel Ultimatum. Cryptic Command is obvious. Other than those rules, though, the possibilities are huge and I urge you to test yourself.

First off, if you haven’t read it yet, I want you to read Chris Jobin’s (aka Shinjutsei’s) individual card evaluations of Shards of Alara right here. It’s a good read, well thought out, and will probably keep cards fresh in your mind so that you can build better decks. If you feel you’re missing some cards in your deck or you’re trying to decide whether to include something or not, look it up on the list of cards.

The first deck I will present is partially a pet project I’ve been working on after being inspired by Benjamin Peebles-Mundy’s article on StarCityGames.com (on a side note, I urge you to get a premium account on SCG if you don’t already have one. It’s less than 10 cents a day for a year, and it helps significantly with Limited. I’m not a big fan of some of the articles that propose decklists, since I find a lot of the decks weak, but it’s a great place to get general ideas to fuel new lists, and the articles from actual Pro Players like Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa and Marijn Lybaert are great).

The deck uses Sharuum of the Hegemon and Soul Warden to create an infinite combo. The way the deck works is this:
- With Soul Warden in play, play a second Sharuum (so that it either returns another Sharuum from the graveyard to play, or is the second Sharuum on the board)
- By state-based effects, the two Sharuums will die immediately and then the latest Sharuum’s come into play ability will trigger. This allows you to return a Sharuum, which can return another Sharuum, rinse-lather-repeat. Combined with Soul Warden this is infinite life.

Some notes: the combo is more fragile than Lark, although it has some resistance as if they kill or discard the first Sharuum it doesn’t matter. Some people suggest splashing Hissing Iguanar to kill your opponent but I disagree; it’s not worth it to splash a 4th colour for a card that is bad on its own, and if you combo off with infinite life something has to be ridiculous for you to still lose. At worst you draw the match, probably. Also, I choose Soul Warden over Deathgreeter because Soul Warden gives you the life earlier, and obviously the number of creatures that go to the graveyard from play will never exceed the number of creatures that come INTO play, so Soul Warden is better, in my opinion.

Here’s my build:
As you can see, I’ve grafted the combo onto a solid UB Mannequin build, with white for WoG. Also, Sharuum acts as a sort of Mannequin herself, bringing back Capsules that function the same as Shriekmaw and Mulldrifter. Beseech the Queen helps you find that precious combo piece or WoG; it’s a great card.

Don’t be afraid to play a first-turn Warden. Run out evoke creatures early and often, so that you have an abundance of reanimation targets. The same goes for the capsules. If you have lots of card draw spells, use Esper Charm proactively by making your opponent discard his spells. Making them lose their removal spells is especially important. This deck is in the style of early UW Lark builds that the Japanese preferred; run lots of strong control and card advantage spells and beat down with that ridiculous power. If you combo off, sweet, but you don’t always need to.

Speaking of Reveillark, I love Reveillark. That’s why my next deck is going to be an alternative to the Sharuum build; I loved playing UBw and I like Lark’s synergy with Sower of Temptation, Mulldrifter, and Tidehollow Sculler. Even without the combo, Reveillark is still an amazing and powerful card.

"UBw Reveillark"Magic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
4 Reveillark
3 Sower of Temptation
4 Mulldrifter
4 Tidehollow Sculler
3 Shriekmaw

4 Cryptic Command
4 Wrath of God
4 Makeshift Mannequin
3 Esper Charm
2 Oblivion Ring

4 Reflecting Pool
4 Arcane Sanctum
3 Vivid Creek
1 Vivid Meadow
3 Mystic Gate
2 Fetid Heath
2 Sunken Ruins
1 Island
2 Adarkar Wastes
2 Underground River
1 Caves of Koilos

As you can see this deck has a similar non-creature base as the Sharuum combo, and relies on the Mannequin engine, which I believe is amazing and powerful. We can see why UB Mannequin was a breakthrough deck at last year’s Champs; it has a huge potential of SHEER POWER, and in an unknown meta, sheer power trumps a lot of random decks.

One of the weaknesses I find with the modern meta is its heavy reliance on non-basics. Obviously this was exploitable and exploited last T2, with Magus of the Moon, but we don’t have that anymore. One option that I want to pursue is in the spirit of the old Kamigawa/Ravnica/Coldsnap deck KarstenBotBabyKiller. If you’re not familiar with the decktype, it ran several first-turn mana dorks like Birds of Paradise, and then 8 Stone Rain effects, including 4 Cryoclasm, since at the time Islands or Plains heavily defined the meta.

Obviously the colours can’t be the same without Stone Rain nowadays, but I’ve built a list with a GBw Rock core. Here it is:
The deck is designed to punish slow draws, come-into-play-tapped lands, and Reflecting Pool mana bases. You lead out with a first turn Llanowar Elf or Birds, and then drop into a second turn Fulminator Mage, Rain of Tears, or Doran. If you’re on the play, this can mean taking out their first land immediately, or being able to swing for 5 when they likely will only have 1 or 2 mana open, without blockers. If you think your states will see heavy Quick ‘n Toast or slow control deck builds (i.e. 5-Colour Reveillark) you should give this a test. Apply pressure early and hard and don’t let up. Usually one or two beaters are enough, and then keep applying disruption. Don’t get suckered into playing more beaters and letting them stabilize their manabase.

Tidehollow Sculler helps you eliminate their early removal, card draw, or creatures so that they’re left only with higher-curve plays, which will obviously be weaker if they struggle to find lands. Decks nowadays run many lands, so rather than hope they run out, you just need to prevent them from using them. Primal Command to search for Tidehollow Sculler and putting their Vivid land back onto the top of their deck is “Savage”.

Next I want to showcase a Ponza list that my friend has created and that I have tested. The idea of a Ponza decklist is to apply mana disruption, enough removal or burn to control the table or kill your opponent, a way to get rid of excess lands, and have enough threats to beat down. Adrian Sullivan recently wrote a Ponza article on SCG, though you currently need to be a premium member to read it.

My friend took the Ponza idea and spun it to mono-Black with a double splash, rather than mono-Red. Instead of going for the ‘8 Stone-Rain’ approach that KBBK takes, he goes for slower land disruption and better threats. Here’s the list:

"Mono Black Ponza"Magic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
4 Demigod of Revenge
3 Murderous Redcap
4 Fulminator Mage
3 Shriekmaw
3 Stillmoon Cavalier

3 Raven’s Crime
4 Rain of Tears
2 Profane Command
3 Ajani Vengeant
3 Makeshift Mannequin
3 Poison the Well
1 Loxodon Warhammer

6 Swamp
1 Vivid Crag
4 Vivid Marsh
4 Reflecting Pool
2 Vivid Meadow
4 Graven Cairns
3 Fetid Heath

Well that was... unexpected
It looks like an eccentric list with some quirky choices (double splash for Ajani Vengeant???) but I absolutely demand you try the deck. GO! Test it! Land destruction is amazing nowadays. It’s easy to pinpoint their lands and reduce them to being unable to cast any of their spells without having to destroy all their lands. Raven’s Crime applies pressure and if you’re lucky they’ll discard a land turn 1 or 2 if they don’t see what’s coming. Mannequin or Profane Command on Fulminator Mage is silly. Ajani Vengeant is a great tempo cards when they’re short on lands, and Stillmoon Cavalier is great in general. Consider: Kithkin has no answer to Stillmoon Cavalier. Zero, zip, nada.

In my group's testing this has gone UNDEFEATED against 5-colour control in testing, and that's saying something. And we're not an incompetent bunch of bacon-eating Canadian noobs. We're bacon-eating Canadian noobs that test a lot. Over a large enough sample size things average out.

Next I want to try a deck that is popular since the cards were revealed, but whose success is untested, Bant Midrange! I’m a bit skeptical about it; Midrange usually only does well in an aggro-dominated environment, and if the new standard is defined by Quick ‘n Toast and Faeries, then this deck will be useless. But keep an eye on it regardless.

ONLY A 3/3? *sniff*
"Boring Bant"Magic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
4 Stewards of Valeron
4 Rhox War Monk
4 Stoic Angel
3 Kitchen Finks
3 Rafiq of the Many
2 Vendillion Clique
4 Chameleon Colossus
4 Gaddock Teeg

4 Bant Charm
4 Sigil Blessing

2 Treetop Village
4 Seaside Citadel
3 Vivid Grove
4 Reflecting Pool
3 Wooded Bastion
3 Flooded Grove
3 Yavimaya Coast
2 Brushland

Some things this deck can do are ridiculous. EOT Vendillion Clique, then cast Rafiq, bash for 8 damage in the air? I know that since it was revealed that Rafiq is a 3/3, his playability is hugely diminished, but his sheer power is something that cannot be resisted. Attack with a Chameleon Colossus with Rafiq in play, and if you pump the Colossus that’s 20 damage to the dome, immediately. That’s ridiculous.

Finally the last deck I want to discuss is Jund Tokens/RBg Torrent. This is a variation of the previously popular (and powerful) RB Tokens deck in the previous T2. Here’s a list (credit to Shinjutsei):

"Jund Tokens"Magic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
4 Sprouting Thrinax
4 Nantuko Husk
4 Marsh Flitter
3 Shriekmaw
3 Furystoke Giant

4 Bitterblossom
4 Dragon Fodder
4 Gilt-Leaf Ambush
3 Torrent of Souls
2 Sarkhan Vol

4 Reflecting Pool
4 Savage Lands
2 Vivid Grove
2 Vivid Marsh
1 Vivid Crag
4 Sulfurous Springs
4 Fire-lit Thicket
4 Twilight Mire

The key to Tokens is building up critical mass for an alpha strike. Playing this deck is a true sign of manliness; you have to sit there and take slaps to the face and punches to the gut until you’ve built up enough little men to stomp an opponent. The huge thing I love about this deck is its ability to win out of nowhere. Your opponent maybe stabilized at 20 life and loads of blockers but you still can take him down with Furystoke Giant or Torrent of Souls in one turn. Try to avoid trading and build up your men. Trade your life for more cards and time so that when you draw a game-ender you’ll have enough Tokens to take advantage of the fact. If Gargadon was still in Standard I’d definitely include Grave Pact and Soul’s Fire or Rite of Consumption, but without Gargadon I can’t advocate it.

And that’s all the decks I have to showcase for today! Now onto some brief ideas;

Goblin Assault + Grave Pact: I know Goblin Assault has been widely lambasted by critics and I myself do not like the card either. However if you get Goblin Assault and follow it up with Grave Pact you’re in for major lulz. Leaving a creature back and blocking your puny Goblin token doesn’t become as tasty when they have to sacrifice a creature as well. Worth looking into, I think.

The new “Wish I could be Affinity” decks, with Etherium Sculptor, Master of Etherium, and Salvage Titan, are something to take a look at. I like how Salvage Titan is generally removal resistant, but I feel that going balls-to-the-walls with a turn one Titan is too risky. Other than the obvious Master of Etherium, I think more consideration should be made for Glaze Fiend. I’ve had plays where, after playing a Glaze Fiend and Etherium Sculptor in the previous turns, I could swing for 8 or 10 with a single Glaze Fiend and then have a ridiculously huge Master of Etherium.

Personally I’m going to say that right now I would not play the artifact decks until more tweaking and adjustments are made. It’s too Wrath-able, too Firespout-able, too Condemn-able, all three of which are popular cards.

In terms of Sideboards, these days I would sideboard Condemn and Negate in almost any deck that could run them. Condemn is for the Demigod matchup, and is a great all-around spell. Also it can screw over the random artifact deck you run into. Negate is just great against control; it helps you force through your spells, is easy to cast, and counters Cryptic Command, Wrath of God, Cruel Ultimatum, and all the Charms.

Similarly, there’s been discussion about Gaddock Teeg, and I consider him to be a lot like Magus of the Moon. He’s a cheap 2/2 creature that disrupts heavy casting cost cards like Cruel Ultimatum, Wrath of God, Cryptic Command, and some X spells like Profane Command and Broken Ambitions. However unlike Magus of the Moon, he doesn’t shut down an opponent from playing solutions. In the old meta Magus could only really be dealt with by using Firespout or Slaughter Pact (at least, in the decks that cared about Magus), as the rest of their removal spells were usually unplayable. However, Gaddock Teeg dies to the aforementioned spells and more, including the popular Shriekmaws and Nameless Inversions, and thus I think it makes him a lot worse than Magus of the Moon. I can’t advocate running him maindeck or even sideboard.

Regardless of what you run, remember that Champs and States aren't about winning big cash or international recognition, but more about having fun and building new decks. This WILL be the testing ground for all deck ideas post-Shards, both new and old, just as it has in previous years. If you want to bring something rogue, build it! Do it! After all, what's the point of a block rotation if there's no innovation [/rap]?

Thanks to Daljo628 for the banner.


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