f you've ever wanted to flip your deck over, haphazardly spread it across the table, and inform your opponent he or she is dead, then this is the article for you.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. We can't just skip forward like that. First, let me zap you back in time to the beginning.
For this week, I asked for you to submit your favorite build-around strategies using Return to Ravnica cards. I received a lot of awesome submissions, with everything from Epic Experiment decks to Azor's Elocutors decks to Search the City decks to Fencing Ace decks and more. If you're looking for some Return to Ravnica inspiration (but not Return to Ravnica Inspiration) then you won't want to miss the end of this article. But in the meantime, there's a deck to tweak. There are creatures to cast. And, most importantly, there are libraries to flip onto the battlefield.
This week's deck was submitted by James Humphries. And how does it make its craziness work? Does it use an out-there mythic rare like Epic Experiment with a ramp spell like Boundless Realms? Is it all about bending your colors with a rare like Chromatic Lantern?
Not this time. Sometimes, big things come in small packages. Today, we're going to make it all work with the common, Axebane Guardian.
Let's take a look:
James Humphries's Axebane Ramp
The Battle Plan
James's battle strategy was creating a ramp deck, but he brings a brand new engine to the table. While recently the ramp scene has been dominated by Rampant Growth and its brethren, Return to Ravnica looks to put creature ramp back in the spotlight. James has managed to uncover something with this deck that hasn't been seen since Overgrown Battlement.
A turn-two Gatecreeper Vine or Fog Bank might seem innocuous, but leading into a turn-three Axebane Guardian provides a huge boost. That means six mana available on turn four. If you happen to cast another defender—say, Axebane Guardian—on the fourth turn, then things get really crazy... you can have enough mana for Worldspine Wurm the next turn! That kind of ramp on creatures that can block your opponent's threats will quickly put a dent in many game plans.
The big question: what is there to ramp into? James is using big Wurms and Reavers—threatening, no doubt. However, those cards can be answered. With only a little modification this deck can pose something far more threatening than a Worldspine Wurm for less mana.
Can you guess it? Do you know what it's time to unleash ?
Let's take a look, shall we?
With our new ramp-target set in mind, there are going to be many cards that no longer fit this archetype. Let's go through each, one-by-one, and see which need changing around.
As mentioned previously, the defenders—especially Axebane Guardian—are key to this deck. Axebane Guardian is certainly staying at the full four copies. His partner in crime, Gatecreeper Vine, is also worth all four slots. Not only does this Vine sit on the curve nicely, but it also ensures you can hit your land drops and move closer toward the crucial mark of ten mana.
The number of Fog Banks and Doorkeepers bears more discussion. While having some number of additional defenders is important for ramping upward, eight blue ones that don't affect your mana output is probably a little excessive. They do defend well, buying you time, however. I'd say we're probably looking for about four to six copies between the two.
So, which is better? Doorkeeper has the upside of being harder to kill with burn spells and also threatening to mill your opponent out. If the board ever hits a stall and you have a couple Doorkeepers in your defender arsenal, you can close the door on your opponent's library in just a matter of turns. Fog Bank, however, is far better at fighting against a posse of large creatures and fliers. If Delver of Secrets, large Wayfaring Temples, or Jarad are headed toward your neck, Fog Bank is the defender you want on your side.
I'm going to go with a split in favor of Doorkeepers, simply because drawing multiple Doorkeepers is better since they synergize together. (Also, have you seen how cute he is? How could you say no!?) However, if your metagame has a lot of 4+-power creatures or fliers then I would consider playing Fog Banks instead.
The original decklist featured Worldspine Wurm, Armada Wurm, and Drogskol Reaver here (alongside Slime Molding as a spell option) to close out the game. Instead of using these, I'm going to opt for Primal Surge and some large creatures that work well with it. More on that later!
As previously mentioned, the spells need to go for the purposes of fitting in Primal Surge. Goodbye Cackling Counterpart and Slime Molding, hello Primal Surge!
After careful testing, I determined this card isn't nearly as powerful without cards that produce tokens in your deck.
There's been a lot of discussion about Jace since he was originally shown off, and after seeing him at the helm of many player's new Standard decklists it looks like the cat is out of the bagel on this one. Jace is awesome—and he fits perfectly in this deck!
Traditionally, one of the problems with Primal Surge decks has been a problem drawing their namesake card. Most good card-drawing comes in the form of instants and sorceries, not permanents.
Planeswalkers, however, are perfect to fill that role. Continual card drawing, all in one permanent package. While double Jace-or-Fictioning is a common use for this card, it has other huge effects on the game as well. If you just need to buy time from a beatdown swarm to cast Primal Surge, his +1 will help out. And if the board ever stalls and you ever manage to ratchet him up to his ultimate, Jace will even cast a Primal Surge for you!
As the token pieces of this deck come out, the Primal Surge pieces come in. Let's take a look at them.
One-drop accelerators speed you toward hitting your large drops, and they also happen to work well with some of the new large creatures I've chosen for this deck. (More on that in a moment.) Additionally, powering you into a second-turn Axebane Guardian helps speed up the deck a lot. If you don't have a Guardian in your opening hand, getting to a Planeswalker a turn faster can make a big difference as well.
This hard-hitting duo will cause quite a few problems for your opponent. They both have the benefit of being good to cast from your hand and also excellent with Primal Surge.
Soul of the Harvest is a great creature to just ramp into naturally, causing your opponent to gnash teeth as all of your cheap creatures dig you closer to Primal Surge—and attack for 6 each turn in the process. Additionally, if your Primal Surge hits another Surge while you're going off, Soul of the Harvest will hopefully draw you enough cards to find some more action for post-Surge.
Craterhoof Behemoth will often kill opponents when you hit it off of a Primal Surge—and two almost certainly will. When cast from your hand, it is also just a tremendous threat on its own.
This is the primary card you're ramping into. One awesome thing about this deck is with all of the card draw you have, it's not uncommon to see all of your Surges. (Especially with Jace potentially putting some on the bottom.) Once you've seen all three of them, you can be sure Primal Surge will get your entire library. (Or at least almost all of it.) Bam!
Jace is fantastic in this deck because he's a permanent who draws you cards, and also has some versatility. Tamiyo has similar properties—and is usually even better. Why? Because of one little word on Tamiyo's middle ability:
Between all the mana elves, Axebane Guardians, and even Doorkeeper, Tamiyo's -2 can consistently be even more crazy than Jace's! Drawing two or three cards will often be the norm, and drawing four or more cards isn't that uncommon. She can dig you right to your gas. And, like Jace, her +1 ability helps protect you if you just need to buy time.
Tamiyo is fantastic in this style of deck. The full four is probably a little excessive because she is a five-mana Planeswalker and you don't want to see three of those staring back in your opening hand, but I definitely want to play three.
Lotus is a nice accelerator that can quickly kick you from five to eight—and if you use the Lotus to cast something right after you cast it, often it can pull you right into Primal Surge range on the following turn! It's also a good way to ramp up even if your opponent manages to deal with your accelerative creatures. To top it all off, if you hit a Lotus off Primal Surge the three mana boost can really help you cast something else (like another Primal Surge) afterward.
However, I never really want to draw two Lotuses, and it's not what I'm always looking to, so two is the number I want to play of a card like this.
Often, I don't go too much into mana base tweaks, but this is a fairly noticeable one worth bringing up. What to do with all of that extra mana? Fuel a Wolf Run, of course! Aside from helping push through a kill if you have a short-lived Primal Surge, it also just gives you something to do when you have a ramp-heavy draw. Axebane Guardian and Gilded Lotus conveniently fix your mana, and Gatecreeper Vine can go find an Izzet Guildgate to give you the red if necessary.
With all of these changes made, our deck looks like this:
Gavin Verhey's Axebane Surge
While Simic cards and their mechanic won't be available until Gatecrash, it's never too early to hop on the Simic train!
This deck can be fast, deploying a Primal Surge as quickly as turn four. While board sweepers can slow you down, your Planeswalkers (and being careful to not overextend) can help recoup the time lost from losing a few creatures. And, to top it off, this deck is an absolute blast to play. Give it a try—and you, too, can flip your entire deck onto the table.
Looking for some ideas to kickstart your Return to Ravnica deck building? Look no further! Below are several wonderful, exciting, and even downright crazy build-around decklists to pore over.
Michael Brown's Filibuster Fog
James P. Mullen's Mirror-Mad Spiral
François Lebel's Only Maniacs Live Forever
Pavel Volodin's Search the City
Jem Thrasher's Epic Storm
Sam Mueller's Collective Blessing Tokens
John De Gatis's Shrieking Discard
Erik Eichelbaum's Sphere of Safety Control
Calvin Olson's Dragon Territory
Kevin Clarkson's Aces and Deuces
Cody Hafley's Guild Feud
jtargonaut77's Curious Lobber
Walter McManigal's Dual-Casting Weird
Masato Ichimaru's Omniscience Chimes
That's another Standard deck in the books—and with the Return to Ravnica block, there will be so many varied decks to come! Let's stick with Standard for two weeks from now. This time, it's open submissions—send me the most exciting decks you have!
Deadline: Monday October 15, at 6 p.m. Pacific Time
Send all decklists via email by clicking the "Respond via Email" link at the bottom of this article
Whether it's flipping your library onto the battlefield or just attacking for 2, I'm curious to see what you all come up with! Some tournaments with the new set should be in the books by that point, so it'll be exciting to see how the format begins to shift once there are some results at hand.
If you have any thoughts on this deck or the article, feel free to either post in the forums or tweet at me. I read through everything you send my way or post, and it's always great to hear from you.
Next week, I'll be back with a look at Post-Return to Ravnica Modern to prepare you for the Pro Tour. If you're planning to follow the coverage at all, you won't want to miss it! I'll see you then!