oday's Top Decks is about Giants. Giant creatures. Fatties!
Standard currently allows us several routes to obtaining such giants. You can cheat one into play with an Unburial Rites. You can buff otherwise little guys. You can do both (as little guys often end up getting buffed downriver of some Unburial Rites). Or you can do it the old-fashioned way... by tapping the appropriate colors and cost total in the top right and just cast your giant of choice. And this week? There is even a particularly exciting new giant to talk about!
Grand Prix Results... Giants and More Giants!
The "good" news for Top Decks readers is that we have talked about almost every kind of deck that appeared in these recent Top 8s over the past several weeks. At a macro level, Grand Prix Verona and Rio echo a metagame structure we have seen over and over... Standard as a hugely varied format that allows for both Gruul- and Rakdos-based fast aggro decks (and Naya and Jund fast aggro decks); multiple flavors of Jund Midrange; a variety of RWU Midrange and control decks (both focusing on Boros Reckoner and not play it at all); and even an infinite combo deck in the form of Human Reanimator!
But it is not Human Reanimator we are going to look closely at in this first section.
Arguably the most successful strategy of this past weekend's Grand Prix was good old Junk Reanimator. Jund Reanimator both won Grand Prix Verona and earned two spots in the Top 8 of Grand Prix Rio. Let's look at the Verona-winning decklist:
Mike Krasnitski's Junk Reanimator
Standard – Winner, Grand Prix Verona 2013
Mike Krasnitski played a fairly recognizable version of straight Junk Reanimator. When other Reanimator strategies are doing everything from producing infinite 2/2 tokens (while gaining infinite life) to milling out the opponent by producing limitless mana to power up limitless activations of Undercity Informer, the Grand Prix Verona champion went with the classic.
What some top players have chuckled about RE: Humans Reanimator is that you have this deck that plays main-deck Huntmaster of the Fells (and sometimes even Cathedral Sanctifier!) yet will often get out of the gates too slowly to contend with the new generation of super-fast decks starting on Champion of the Parish or Experiment One, and closing out victories with Ghor-Clan Rampager. One advantage that Junk Reanimator has is that it is so fundamentally solid, especially at just throwing bodies out in front of potential attackers.
Krasnitski's version of Junk Reanimator can come out with a first-turn Avacyn's Pilgrim or Arbor Elf, and go straight to Centaur Healer on turn two. Centaur Healer isn't the most exciting card in every context, is in fact somewhat poor against new beatdown headliner Boros Reckoner, but does a great job as a speed bump; the 3 life is often relevant in putting distance between whatever life total you are at (or whatever life total you would be at) and 0 against the aggressive strategies. There is no shame in trading with a Flinthoof Boar, especially with the additional 3-life value addition.
Krasnitski chose to play with all four copies of Restoration Angel; Restoration Angel is not played in Junk Reanimator 100% of the time, but it is impossible to argue with the four-drop's efficiency in general. The "bad" ETB (enters-the-battlefield) piggyback is an on-curve flicker of a previous-turn Centaur Healer, possibly save it during combat, and click up another 3 life points. Of course, the more attractive lifegaining ETB comes when you pair Restoration Angel with Thragtusk.
Unlocking this achievement gives you an extra 3/3 body and 5 life—more than a Centaur Healer—while keeping your 5/3.
Krasnitski played four copies of Thragtusk as well. The game plan in this deck can actually just come out like a regular old Midrange/Ramp deck... Elves powering out big threats quickly, bobbing and weaving with Restoration Angel...
...or we can talk about the "Reanimator" namesake.
Krasnitski's deck can come out with Mulch and Grisly Salvage, simultaneously ensuring land drops and filling the graveyard. You can put a Thragtusk into the graveyard on turn two, then bring it back at a discount via Unburial Rites on turn three.
...and a Thragtusk is on the relatively low end of what Junk Reanimator can produce. Angel of Serenity is a powerhouse threat that actually can keep your game flowing even against a relentless amount of removal or attrition. Angel of Serenity can "hide" creatures (whether Mulched down or previously destroyed); multiple copies of Angel of Serenity, in concert with a Cavern of Souls, will flatten a control deck given sufficient time. They kill one, you get the other one back, etc.
...and of course Angel of Serenity is a heck of a triple–Faceless Butcher on offense!
Angel of Serenity is not the top of this deck's power level, either.
Although Krasnitski played a middle-of-the-road and highly flexible Junk Reanimator (instead of a dedicated "Craterhoof Combo" deck), his Grand Prix–winning deck still featured the mighty Craterhoof Behemoth.
Mike could mill down Lingering Souls (and bring them back with the flashback discount); he would, of course, have Arbor Elf and Avacyn's Pilgrim to start. A fast Craterhoof Behemoth via Unburial Rites can easily win the game on the spot. All your guys gain +X/+X, your Craterhoof Behemoth has haste. Crash, kaboom, &c.
The Debut of Prime Speaker Bant
Although neither deck actually won the StarCityGames.com Standard Open in Indianapolis last weekend, two copies of a new giants-making enterprise, Prime Speaker Bant, made their ways into the Top 8.
This exciting new archetype is essentially a GW Ramp deck splashing blue for the highly anticipated Gatecrash Simic mythic rare, Prime Speaker Zegana.
John Mytinger's Prime Speaker Bant
Standard – Top 4, StarCityGames.com Open, Indianapolis
John Mytinger earned a Top 4 slot with his Prime Speaker Bant.
This version echoes many of the design elements of previous Standard Ramp lists and has more than a little in common with the Junk Reanimator we spent the first half of this article discussing.
The defining early game of Prime Speaker Bant is all acceleration... Mytinger played seven one-drop Arbor Elfs and Avacyn's Pilgrims, as well as all four copies of Farseek. Unlike a Reanimator deck, Prime Speaker Bant needs to actually cast its threats, and because many of them are so pricy... getting lands and other mana sources out is of paramount import, and early!
Rather than playing Centaur Healer, Prime Speaker Bant runs Loxodon Smiter as its big three-drop. There are good things about both options. Centaur Healer is undoubtedly the more effective with Restoration Angel and quite the speed bump. You can trade with 3/3 creatures unless a Frontline Medic is involved, and while both a 3/3 and a 4/4 are bigger than a 2/1 or 2/2 like Lighting Mauler or Burning-Tree Emissary... you would probably rather flatten one of those with the creature that gained you 3 life rather than the simply huge alternative. That said, Loxodon Smiter is actually set up to trade with a Boros Reckoner (instead of forcing its controller to casually tap a mana) and wins quite a few fights outright. Rather than trading with a Flinthoof Boar or Boros Elite, Loxodon Smiter, you know, smites it. More importantly for its inclusion in this archetype, Loxodon Smiter combines well with both Garruk, Primal Hunter and Prime Speaker Zegana. The extra point of power can equate to an extra card when activating the Primal Hunter's -3 ability and, of course, when Prime Speaker Zegana enters the battlefield.
Most of the rest of the deck is composed of Bant "good stuff"—all creatures you can easily imagine contributing in a Standard match, acceleration, or unambiguous threats.
In terms of support cards, Garruk, Primal Hunter serves a similar role with Prime Speaker Zegana—both are huge, potentially card-advantageous threat permanents that thrive on having a large creature already in play... which brings us to Mytinger's only spell outside the ubiquitous Farseek: Selesnya Charm.
Selesnya Charm is one of the hardest-working cards in Standard. It shoots Thundermaw Hellkite out of the sky, keeps Olivia Voldaren from wreaking too much havoc (or getting very big at all), and simply wins fights on the battlefield... but when you already have a Tarmogoyf, it can be the difference between a good Concentrate out of Garruk, Primal Hunter or turning your Planeswalker into a kind of full-on Wheel of Fortune. Because Garruk, Primal Hunter and Prime Speaker Zegana help you draw cards based on how big your creatures are, a spell like Selesnya Charm—which can boost power—can prove valuable not only as a combat trick, but feeds into the one thing this deck really wants to do: draw tons and tons of cards (preferably tons of giants).
Chris O'Bryant's Prime Speaker Bant
Standard – Finalist, StarCityGames.com Open, Indianapolis
Chris O'Bryant made it all the way to the finals of the Standard Open with his Prime Speaker Bant!
O'Bryant's deck is substantially similar to Mytinger's—one more creature (an Arbor Elf) and one fewer land (a Sunpetal Grove), but essentially trading mana for mana there. One Garruk Relentless over one Garruk, Primal Hunter draws O'Bryant's deck slightly away from the focus of this deck, but gains a bit in speed. O'Bryant can "get the jump" on another Garruk deck, playing his Garruk faster, make a Wolf, and still force a Garruk trade.
That said... mana for mana and Garruk for Garruk.
The biggest difference is in the "Spells" section: O'Bryant did not play any copies of Selesnya Charm, and instead opted for the greater versatility (if greater volatility) of three separate singletons. Oblivion Ring was created to be versatile; it is. The blue cards are both a bit different...
Syncopate is largely unexpected. That means that if the opponent doesn't put you on it, you can potentially blow him or her out.
Cyclonic Rift clears the way. It is like the Next Level Oblivion Ring. There are few battlefields that can become convoluted enough that an overloaded Cyclonic Rift can't help dig you out.
Obviously, if they were true tier-one cards, both of these spells would see wider play... but they don't. Playing cards like Syncopate and Cyclonic Rift as one-ofs—especially in what is essentially a creature deck—can get the opponent; rarely will he or she see one of these coming until it is too late.
Singleton Cyclonic Rift and singleton Syncopate aside (as they can be thought of completely aside; Mytinger played the contextually relevant Selesnya Charm instead), the only legitimate blue card in the Prime Speaker Bant main deck is Prime Speaker Zegana itself. Is a "splash" for a six-drop creature "worth" it?
I think there are both good and bad things about going in this direction. From the "good" side, it's hard to argue against a Thragtusk-into-Prime Speaker curve. You draw a ton of cards, Thragtusk itself is quite resilient so can hopefully "guarantee" you at least a 3/3 piggyback, and the potential upside on Prime Speaker Zegana is absolutely huge. It is like a Sphinx's Revelation that can attack for 6. With absolutely no creatures on the battlefield, Prime Speaker Zegana is still a cantrip that might pull you out of a woeful situation, although you will probably feel kind of bad paying that amount of mana for that particular effect.
That said, adding four Breeding Pools can be a risk in a format where some of the best decks are Naya Blitz, Experiment Jund, or the various other Burning-Tree aggro decks. For that matter, bloating the curve at six can also raise an eyebrow. There are many decks where making these concessions is a non-factor, but it is important to realize that going all cool and raising the power level to this degree comes with a cost. It's just a matter of whether you are willing to pay that cost.
Mytinger and O'Bryant did, and they finished brilliantly!
It's funny, of course, when you realize that Prime Speaker Zegana isn't even the top of this deck's curve.
So... which giants are you planning to summon tomorrow night at FNM?
Michael Flores is the author of Deckade and The Official Miser's Guide; the designer of numerous State, Regional, Grand Prix, National, and Pro Tour–winning decks; and the onetime editor-in-chief of The Magic Dojo. He'd claim allegiance to Dimir (if such a Guild existed)… but instead will just shrug "Simic."