vacyn Restored is on the shelves and Standard is already being shaken up. Last week, I explored the possibilities available for a deck that abused the interaction between Stonehorn Dignitary and Venser, the Sojourner. I received a lot of positive feedback. A few of you decided to sleeve up Restoration Hardware and bring it to a Standard tournament this past weekend. The deck seemed to perform well and its strength will only improve as fewer players bring counterspells to the table.
Zealous Conscripts | Art by Steve Prescott
The new Standard format is beginning to take shape. Cavern of Souls is already proving itself to be the most powerful card in Avacyn Restored. The finals of the Star City Games Standard Open in Providence was between two red-green decks, each featuring four copies of the rare land between their main decks and sideboards. It's not terribly surprising that Cavern of Souls is so good, but it might come as a surprise to learn what other card from Avacyn Restored made it into both decks.
Zealous Conscripts is quietly becoming the best non-Cavern of Souls card for the new Standard format. The possible interactions are endless. Zealous Conscripts allows its controller to take control of any permanent until the end of the turn. At first glance, players might think of it like a Threaten on a stick, which it often is. However, sometimes your opponent has a Tamiyo, the Moon Sage that's going to ultimate the next turn. Zealous Conscripts can come down and steal the Planeswalker, allowing the red player to activate the ultimate on your opponent's Planeswalker. The mere existence of Zealous Conscripts makes it incredibly difficult for players to have intentions of activating the ultimate on a Planeswalker without a counterspell in hand. If the red player has a Cavern of Souls naming Human, then an opponent will be forced to do some soul searching, but there's a good chance the opponent's own Liliana of the Veil is about to chop his or her own board in half.
Zealous Conscripts is still very easy to acquire, so I decided to build an accessible deck that included the powerful rare from Avacyn Restored.
I've seen a lot of Tempered Steel decks demolish control players who rely heavily on sorcery-speed removal. Glint Hawk Idol has always been the major player here. It attacks the game from a unique angle, as a persistent source of damage that can't be dealt with via sorcery-speed removal. Avacyn Restored introduces the latest and greatest version of Glint Hawk Idol. Angel's Tomb can repeatedly get into the red zone for 3 damage while an opponent with a hand full of Day of Judgment and Terminus watches his or her life total get whittled away.
Archwing Dragon continues this theme, making our deck incredibly strong against the mostly sorcery-speed Esper control decks that are proving themselves to be very popular in the new format. Archwing Dragon combos nicely with Angel's Tomb, giving a player the ability to repeatedly attack for 7 damage that's completely immune to the big sorceries of the format.
Perilous Myr is a great two-mana creature. It functions as a creature that provides repeated damage, but it can also do some extra damage to your opponent when the 1/1 body dies.
Chandra's Phoenix is another aggressive creature that many players will find very difficult to deal with. It helps ensure that our Angel's Tomb stays active even if we're drawing burn spells. The Phoenix applies great pressure on Planeswalkers too. It also trades with Insectile Aberration and Geist of Saint Traft, making it an obnoxious speed bump for your Delver opponents when they happen to have aggressive draws.
Porcelain Legionnaire is one of the best two-drops available to a deck like this. Gut Shot will see significantly less play now that the format seems to be more Ramp-centric. A 3-power first striker for two mana is quite the deal; I'll be happy to play four of this card until people start playing one-mana spot-removal spells again.
Stromkirk Noble was one of the most difficult-to-acquire Innistrad rares for some time. Red's popularity has fallen off in the past few months, but Human decks are more popular than they have been since Pro Tour Dark Ascension. People are playing more Humans and fewer Gut Shots, and that has to mean this card is good now. The deck desperately needed a one-mana creature, and this fits the bill perfectly.
Stromkirk Noble | Art by James Ryman
Pillar of Flame is something red players desperately needed if they're going to have a shot in a format with undying. Geralf's Messenger and, more importantly, Strangleroot Geist can be easily dealt with via this one-mana removal spell. I've played many a Magma Spray, and while this is sorcery speed, it also gives us the option of aiming it at our opponent. This is incredibly important when we're playing a deck that's constantly doing math to find the quickest route from 20 to 0.
Incinerate has been one of the best burn spells in Magic for a long time. I'll be happy to include four copies of this in my latest red creation.
Geistflame isn't as good as it was before Avacyn Restored. The format had become dominated by Delver and Red-Green Aggro decks featuring Birds of Paradise and Llanowar Elves. Geistflame performed very well against both of these decks. I still think one or two copies of this are necessary if we're playing Chandra's Phoenix with fewer than fourteen burn spells.
Brimstone Volley can end a game quickly, or it can be used as a well-timed removal spell. The existence of Brimstone Volley and Incinerate will allow you to make brazen plays that would otherwise be punished. Try attacking your Porcelain Legionnaire into your opponent's Primeval Titan; your opponent will be unable to block because an Incinerate or Brimstone Volley could lead to trading the precious six-drop for an inexpensive burn spell. This play is deceptive, though. You might actually find enough burn or incidental damage to kill your opponent thanks to those extra 3 points.
Here's the main deck I'm thinking about now:
Jacob's Zealous Burn
I want my sideboard to give me plenty of options. Shrine of Burning Rage will make a control matchup into an absolute nightmare matchup for your opponent. Geistflame is exceptionally strong against decks with both Birds of Paradise and Llanowar Elves, so I'd like to be able to go up to four after sideboarding. Arc Trail continues this theme. I wanted a very large, hard-to-deal-with threat with evasion to punish slow draws from the Ramp decks. I thought about Moltensteel Dragon, but the Ramp decks are already likely to bring in Ancient Grudge, so that makes it surprisingly easy to deal with. I decided an extra copy of Archwing Dragon and Zealous Conscripts achieved what I was going for. The deck needs a way to deal with Sword of War and Peace besides instant-speed removal. I added a play set of Manic Vandals to the sideboard for this express purpose.
Here's the sideboard:
4 Shrine of Burning Rage
1 Archwing Dragon
1 Zealous Conscripts
1 Brimstone Volley
4 Manic Vandal
2 Arc Trail
I'd like to talk about how the deck should play out against the expected decks of the metagame and give you some sideboarding tips.
This matchup should be pretty easy. Esper Control decks are heavily dependent on sorcery-speed removal like Day of Judgment. They will already have a great deal of trouble dealing with the aggression presented by a turn-one Stromkirk Noble, but things start to get really out of hand when you're swinging for 7 a turn with Archwing Dragon and Angel's Tomb. Geistflame is particularly weak here. Remember to slow roll your Zealous Conscripts for kill opportunities or Planeswalkers about to ultimate if you only have one in your hand.
-4 Pillar of Flame
-3 Perilous Myr
+4 Shrine of Burning Rage
+1 Archwing Dragon
+1 Brimstone Volley.
+1 Zealous Conscripts
This matchup can be difficult depending on both players' draws. A lot of the time, Angel's Tomb, Chandra's Phoenix, and Archwing Dragon will be enough evasive damage to race opponents out of the game. They can cause us a lot of problems if they have more Strangleroot Geist than we have Pillar of Flame or if they draw multiple copies of Huntmaster of the Fells. They're likely to have three or four copies of Ancient Grudge after sideboarding, making our Angel's Tomb and Porcelain Legionnaire into huge liabilities after sideboarding. I've set up the sideboard in a way that we're able to take out all our artifacts against Ancient Grudge decks and fill those slots with cards that are exceptional in the matchup, like Arc Trail and Geistflame. Sword of War and Peace can also be a huge problem here. Luckily, we have Manic Vandal after sideboarding and it should be difficult for them to play and equip the Sword on the same turn through all our removal.
-4 Angel's Tomb
-4 Porcelain Legionnaire
+4 Manic Vandal
+2 Arc Trail
Red-Green Ramp is much easier than Red-Green Aggro, they will have a lot of trouble dealing with Angel's Tomb and Archwing Dragon in Game 1 and Archwing Dragon will continue to cause them problems in Games 2 and 3. You want an aggressive start against them, but it's important not to offer up juicy two/three-for-ones via Whipflare or Slagstorm. Zealous Conscripts is your best friend in this matchup, often winning the game the turn it's cast. Porcelain Legionnaire is resilient against Whipflare, but very susceptible to Ancient Grudge. Good Ramp players will be hesitant to sideboard in too much artifact removal and dilute their deck against something unknown. We're going to want a few ways to deal with artifacts against Batterskull and Sphere of the Suns.
-3 Perilous Myr
+3 Manic Vandal
+1 Archwing Dragon
+1 Zealous Conscripts
Delver should be a very strong matchup for this type of deck. Zealous Conscripts is weak against Delver, but the general plan of attack that a red deck presents is very difficult for it to deal with. After sideboarding, the Delver deck is going to have Timely Reinforcements; if you can do your best to not have more creatures in play than it and use spot removal on your opponent's endstep then it shouldn't be a huge problem. Sword of War and Peace is especially hard to deal with out of the Delver deck because the deck has so many hexproof creatures. The matchup is probably pretty poor if your opponent has a Sword draw. Try to empty your hand as fast as possible and put your opponent in a racing situation.
-3 Zealous Conscripts
-2 Archwing Dragon
+4 Manic Vandal
+1 Brimstone Volley
I really like this take on red in the current Standard metagame. Control decks are relying heavily on sorcery-speed removal and aggressive decks are soft to flying creatures. I strongly recommend putting this together if you're a fan of red and you're looking for an accessible entry into the world of sanctioned play. As always, hit the forums or shoot me an email with questions or comments.
Pro Tour Avacyn Restored is this weekend in Barcelona. Make sure to catch all the action right here on DailyMTG.com. Will ChannelFireball continue its streak of dominance at the Pro Tour level, or will one of the new emerging teams prove itself to be the new boss? Pro Tour Dark Ascension had three Hall of Fame players in the Top 8 and at least one other future Hall of Fame inductee. Thousands of viewers from around the world tuned in to watch epic matches between players like Jon Finkel, Jelger Wiegersma, Paulo Vitor, and Brian Kibler. I'm excited to see all the action unfold, and you should be too!