ach time a new Magic set rolls around, players across the world begin tinkering with new decks. This is especially true with how Return to Ravnica block is structured and the advent of Gatecrash. I mean, did you hear the news that there are five new guilds?!?
Guildscorn Ward | Art by Ryan Barger
However, amid all of this, it's easy to forget that there is still plenty of existing framework already in Standard. And, like it or not, the cards of Innistrad block, Magic 2013, and Return to Ravnica aren't budging. While I hope you can trust me when I say that there are plenty of new decks to come out of Gatecrash, at the same time some of the existing framework can be reexamined in context with new cards.
What does all of this amount to?
Well, this week I'm going to take a look over the archetypes that made Top 8 at Grand Prix Atlantic City just over a week ago. Now that the full Card Image Gallery is up I'm sure a lot of you are wondering, "With the Gatecrash Prerelease this weekend, which cards should I be looking for to update my decks?" This article hopes to begin to answer that question.
Let's get right to it, starting with the decks that faced off in the finals of the tournament...
At Grand Prix Atlantic City, the Bant Auras deck came out of absolutely nowhere and sent two people straight into the end of the tournament. Let's take a look at the champion's decklist:
Jon Stern's Bant Auras
Standard – Winner, Grand Prix Atlantic City
What in the world is going on here? Why are Spectral Flight and Ethereal Armor taking down the tournament? The proof is in the pudding.
Or rather, the hexproof is in the pudding.
Without being able to target these creatures (at least not without Glaring Spotlight around), you can load as many Auras onto them as you'd like with relative ease. Unless your opponent has a Supreme Verdict, Terminus, Barter in Blood, or similar, his or her life total is quickly going to fall prey to a gigantic creature. The bonus of Ethereal Armor gets big fast in a deck like this one.
So, what is this deck looking for out of Gatecrash?
Well, the first thing is another good hexproof creature, which the set doesn't deliver. However, the second thing it's looking for would have to be a good enchantment to play with—and there might just be one for the deck.
Which one? Check out this relatively innocuous card:
So, for one more mana than Spectral Flight, you're getting a weaker power bonus. That doesn't sound exciting so far.
However, it's the lifelink that's the real hammer on this card. As we all saw with Butcher's Cleaver and Invisible Stalker in Innistrad, when lifelink sits on a hexproof creature—let alone an evasive hexproof creature—it starts to get out of hand. Your primary way to beat that kind of card is to race it... an option no longer possible once it has lifelink.
Gift of Orzhova is both evasion and lifelink in a single card. On a Geist of Saint Traft, it helps ensure it can get through, and on an Invisible Stalker it quickly creates a life swing your opponent is going to have big problems dealing with.
The other card that has some potential in this deck is Simic Charm.
Selesnya Charm in the winning decklist is a versatile way to take down creatures and also pump up your creatures. Simic Charm not only pumps your creature, and not only bounces anything, but also grants your entire team hexproof. That might not seem like such a big deal in a hexproof-focused deck, but cards like Silverblade Paladin are powerful with the rest of your deck but are still vulnerable to removal. Simic Charm helps shore up that weakness. Selesnya Charm's trample is still nice, but I'd definitely consider playing both.
Where should you start? Well, I might try something like this:
Gavin Verhey's Aura Update
It might turn out that Gift of Orzhova is better as a sideboard card versus beatdown decks, but playing some main deck is reasonable to try. Also note that Breeding Pool makes this deck's mana way better, providing more untapped green sources for Avacyn's Pilgrim and Abundant Growth. Hurray for an improved mana base!
The only other deck with two copies in the Top 8 was the Jund deck. This deck relies on using many of the straight-up most-powerful cards in the format to run over your opponent. Who needs synergy when you have power?
Here's Ryan Leverone's decklist, which ultimately fell in the quarterfinals:
Ryan Leverone's Jund Midrange
Standard – Top 8, Grand Prix Atlantic City
With two of its three guilds out in full force with Return to Ravnica, this deck already has a lot of its power. However, Gatecrash definitely still has something to add to this deck. One of the largest additions might actually be Stomping Ground—the better mana it provides opens up reliably casting Strangleroot Geist on turn two, and even potentially Predator Ooze if you want to go that route.
If you're looking to help fight off the hexproof menace, Devour Flesh is a reasonable option alongside Liliana of the Veil. But rather than look at cards that could be added to this "pile 'o good cards" Jund deck—I'm sure many of you can begin to identify what top-notch cards might go here—I'm interested in investigating a slightly different direction. Could Jund take advantage of one of the Planeswalkers of the set? Domri Rade has been looking for a home, and this deck could be the answer.
The deck does end up looking quite a bit different and relies on speed and long-term card advantage to disrupt the opponent.
Gavin Verhey's Aggro Jund
With Domri you want to minimize your spells, which definitely takes Jund in a different direction. However, you can still play a few. Generally, you want those to be spells you're pretty happy about having to leave on top if Domri peeks at them. Rakdos's Return is just so strong (especially in a deck with this many mana Elves) that it's worth having. One of my favorite spells to have to play alongside Domri is Bonfire of the Damned. I guess you'll have to leave it there. What a shame...
Although this is a much different take on Jund, we saw similar decks succeed at the beginning of the season. Perhaps with the card-drawing, creature-fighting, ability-granting Domri in its stables, it will once again take hold of the format over the more grindy version of Jund you see being played now.
Brad Nelson's Pedal to the Metal
Standard – Top 8, Grand Prix Atlantic City
Nightshade Peddler? What's up with that?
Well, while the card might look odd alone, in tandem with other cards in the deck it produces a killing machine. When Izzet Staticaster has deathtouch, it can tap to deal 1 damage to a creature—and since it has deathtouch that creature dies instantly. The same goes for any other creature with a similar ability. This works for any pinging creature, so the deck also features a full set of Olivia Voldaren. Alongside the Peddlers, they might as well be Olivia Vol-daleks: for only two mana, they can EXTERMINATE any creature around.
Since this is such a creature-based combo, Brad has included Tracker's Instincts to help find all of the pieces. But, like the Jund deck above, perhaps this deck also has potential as a Domri Rade deck. With so many powerful creatures you're trying to dig to, Domri is a reasonable fit to try. Plus, Domri lets your creatures with deathtouch fight to kill off your opponent's creatures, giving your Peddlers even more of a job to do.
If you replace the Farseeks with mana Elves, you can get the spell count down—and the dual lands Gatecrash provides help a ton with the mana base.
Another card worth trying is Prime Speaker Zegana. While she's admittedly not great alongside 0/3s and 1/1s, there are enough large creatures in the deck that she can be absolutely crushing at the right time. The ability to draw a bunch of cards, loading up your hand and potentially digging you closer to your combo, is definitely worth looking at. Plus, she's a creature, so you can find her with Domri!
The mana might be horrendous without Farseek (oh the irony—Avacyn's Pilgrim fixes the one color you don't play!) so I would start with something like this and see how far you can stretch to make the mana work:
Gavin Verhey's Domri to the Metal
Domri is a powerful card, and in such a creature-focused deck he could have a home. Is he better than a Tracker's Instincts engine? It's certainly worth a try at least!
The Red deck has taken off in Standard recently—and just in time to receive several fantastic Gatecrash cards. Let's take a look at the decklist Ari Lax used to make Top 4 of the Grand Prix:
Ari Lax's Mono-Red
Standard – Top 4, Grand Prix Atlantic City
There are two huge cards to come out in this set for Red decks: Skullcrack and Boros Charm.
Skullcrack is just the perfect Mono-Red card. A Red deck's primary game plan is to deal as much damage as possible, and so its natural enemy is lifegain. As a result, a format full of Sphinx's Revelations and Thragtusks can make it a pretty hostile environment for a Red deck.
This Billy Moreno–designed masterpiece (with the anti-damage prevention clause courtesy of me—nobody seemed to have much fun against my Turbofog deck) is just what Red decks are looking for. Revelation for four? Skullcrack you down within lethal next turn. Thragtusk? Skullcrack you, creating a total of an 8-life swing. Back in the original Ravnica block, Red decks became all about positioning yourself to Flames of the Blood Hand in response to Loxodon Hierarch—and I expect it to become a similar sequence with Skullcrack around.
Perhaps one of the scariest things for the player gaining life is that he or she has to worry about Skullcrack—even if you don't have it. As long as you leave two mana up, I'm not sure I even want to cast that Sphinx's Revelation in the first place. Maybe you'll tap out at some point and I can sneak by my Revelation, then—which drastically slows down the control deck. In many ways, it's almost like a red counterspell!
Splashing is pretty easy in this format, and Boros Charm is a great card to splash for. Doing 4 damage to your opponent's head or the ability to let all of your creatures survive from a Supreme Verdict are two fabulous modes for this deck.
Consider something like this:
Gavin Verhey's Nearly Red Deck Might Be Victorious
This is a more burn-focused decklist, but there are several ways you could take this. You could play heavier white and obtain better one-drops like Dryad Militant. You could go larger and curve into Gideon. You could go the battalion route with more creatures, playing cards like Firefist Striker instead of Pyreheart Wolf. It's also possible Boros Reckoner is a card you want.
However, regardless of the exact direction you take, Skullcrack and Boros Charm seem to both be in the future for red decks. If you're wielding lifegain, prepare to play around Skullcrack against every Red deck you face.
The Esper Control deck stands quite a bit to gain with Gatecrash, because two of its three guilds release in this set. It just made Top 8 of a Grand Prix—and it's only getting better from here. Let's take a look:
Lloyd Kurth's Esper Control
Standard – Top 8, Grand Prix Atlantic City
This deck is an extremely heavy control deck and will quite often kill you by route of Nephalia Drownyard! If you like long-game focused, heavy control decks, then this is the deck for you.
There are quite a few good new additions. Dimir Charm is a flexible removal spell that doubles for digging to the card you need, which can also conveniently set up for miracles. Devour Flesh is essentially Diabolic Edict in this deck—and in a world of hexproof creatures wielding Auras, that could be exactly what this deck was looking for. Soul Ransom is also a pretty reasonable card to play here as well, draining your opponent of vital cards while you restock.
One of the most exciting new cards in all of Gatecrash is also available to this deck: Obzedat, Ghost Council. The Esper deck doesn't want to play many creatures because they turn on your opponent's removal... but Obzedat never has to be on the battlefield during your opponent's turn! In the meantime, it's draining for 2 life and giving you some precious extra life as you're trying to stabilize. Obzedat is a great finisher for this sort of deck.
Finally, Blind Obedience is great against many of the hasted threats that people are playing to fight this sort of deck. If Falkenrath Aristocrats and Thundermaw Hellkites are giving you trouble, this will slow them down so you can take them out of the picture on your turn. Additionally, the life drain of extort just gives you a few extra life points in the midgame and helps pull you closer to victory. This is the kind of card I love playing one copy of, since it will often be reasonable to cast at some point but you never really want to draw a second one.
Perhaps you could try something like this as a starting point:
Gavin Verhey's Esper Update
Finally, we reach the other control deck in the Top 8: Red-White-Blue. Let's take a look at Matt Costa's decklist:
Matt Costa's Red-White-Blue Control
Standard – Top 8, Grand Prix Atlantic City
Whereas the Esper control deck played by Lloyd Kurth above is definitely along the more controlling axis of control decks, Matt Costa's deck can go aggressive when it needs to. Restoration Angel can close out games in a handful of attacks, and Runechanter's Pike turns practically any creature into a threat.
When it comes to multicolored cards, the only new guild for this deck in Gatecrash is Boros—and Boros is traditionally a more aggressive guild. Still, it features a few control all-stars... such as Aurelia's Fury! Aurelia's Fury can completely mess up your opponent's combat plans and can reduce his or her army to shreds. And shutting your opponent off from playing spells can be very strong as well. Note that you can respond to a miracle trigger with Aurelia's Fury and your opponent won't be able to cast the miracle spell—so much for that Bonfire!
Similar to the Esper deck, Blind Obedience is also a good fit here as a one-of. Shutting off your opponent's haste creatures and doing a little draining is something you are usually up for in this deck. Plus, since this deck attacks more, it means things like Restoration Angel can't block out of nowhere either.
Finally, I might also try one Aurelia, the Warleader. She can end games out of nowhere if you have a Restoration Angel already on the battlefield, hitting for 12 right away. Endstep flashing in an Angel, then untapping Aurelia, makes for some serious damage! While she only deals 1 more damage than Thundermaw Hellkite on her own for one more mana, the fact she can both attack and block is also a reason why I'd want to try her as a one-of over the Dragon.
So I would consider something like:
Gavin Verhey's Aurelia Blue
The Boros Initiative
Hopefully you enjoyed this overview of the most recent Grand Prix Top 8, and how Gatecrash might impact it. These are just some examples, of course—there may be other cards worth exploring as well depending how the metagame shapes up. (For example, perhaps Merciless Eviction is a sweeper worth considering if Gideon, Champion of Justice picks up in popularity.) But while you're building your sweet new decks, these are some good updated stock lists for you to throw your new decks into.
Truefire Paladin | Art by Michael C. Hayes
And speaking of new decks, in two weeks we're going to be doing Boros Week! And if you've been paying attention the past few months, you should have an idea of what that means:
Format: Future Standard (Gatecrash is legal!)
Restrictions: Your deck must be red and white and no other colors. (Overlapping hybrid cards, such as Blistercoil Weird and Dryad Militant, are okay.)
Deadline: Sunday, January 27, at 6 p.m. Pacific Time
Submit all decklists to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please submit decklists in a format that looks like the following, except with your name and deck instead of mine.
Gavin Verhey's Awesome Deck for Awesome People
I look forward to seeing what Boros brews you come up with! Please keep in mind that for this week you should send all decklists to email@example.com. There's a technical issue that is keeping me from receiving your decklists as normal, so you'll need to send them there for now.
I'll be back next week with a fresh take on post-Gatecrash Standard! In the meantime, feel free to let me know any comments you have on this article by sending me a tweet or posting in the forums and I'll be sure to check out what you have to say.
See you all next week!