by Steve ‘DDT’ Giannopoulos
The Standard puzzle has pretty much been solved at the current juncture. It’s all about Mono decks (Blue, Black, Red and Green) Esper, Gruul and the odd Rakdos aggro. With only five sets to work with, the number of competitive decks is not staggering. It can be quite frustrating for a hardened rogue deckbuilder to come up with something that is both competitive and fun. We’ll end up with decks that are similar to some established ones because of too many good cards they’ll have in common and then just say :” Why don’t I just play the one that I know can win?“.
Thassa, of Monoblue Devotion fame
It’s not about wrong or right and you don’t have to necessarily be the ‘creator’ of the deck you are playing. Yes, you can take some pride in that, but no one is going to be all that impressed if the deck goes 0-3/4 at your local store event. A common mistake is to ‘force’ a slightly less pricey deck on someone. I truly am against this as it more or less limits the person’s fun based on his/her budget. Let’s face it: Magic is a luxury. It’s a hobby, much like videogames are and very much like comic books or other sorts of collections. You can generally find a good ‘middle ground’ for a Standard deck that your friend/client can appreciate, learn from and win with all the while not burning too big of a hole in their wallet.
I don’t think that the deck I am about to divulge is especially fun or cheap per se, but it is an attempt at breaking through the current meta. It should seem a little bit familiar to most of you that already played in Innistrad Standard where Bant Hexproof was viable. I decided to give it a test run at a local store to see just how it would fare. Keep in mind that it did perform rather well during the swiss portion of a Magic Online tournament recently, starting at 6-0.
Here is the decklist:
4 Sacred Foundry
4 Selesnya Guildgate
4 Stomping Ground
4 Temple Garden
1 Temple of Triumph
3 Banisher Priest
2 Boros Charm
3 Fiendslayer Paladin
2 Holy Mantle
3 Mending Touch
It is in essence all about enchanting one of your hexproof creatures and going to town. Turn 1 Gladecover Scout into Turn 2 Madcap Skills is already hard to beat. Piling up the enchantments on your hexproof dude can’t hurt unless your opponent is running mass removal or ‘edict’ effects (Devour Flesh). The deck runs somewhat less creatures than your average aggressive deck so it’s sometimes tricky when deciding to go ‘all in’ with one creature or to save up some buffs for the next creature you draw/play. Also, sometimes casting an actual second threat can seem redundant but you do get a guy to block counter attacks with (usually a Witchstalker). Surprisingly the deck does not play any maindeck Loxodon Smiters ,which have become a mainstay in most Naya/Selesnya builds. The other creatures all have some built-in removal protection or can replace themselves (Voice of Resurgence).
On the Aura side, we notice that they are basically cheap and efficient buffs. Eight of them can grant our creatures Lifelink, which allows us to edge out our opponents when we are in a damage race. Gift of Orzhova furthers the cause by giving our creature flying as well. Ethereal Armor plays nice on both offense and defense, but we clearly want to be the aggressor here. Don’t forget to count your Boon Satyrs as enchantments when you have Ethereal Armors in play though. Chained to the Rocks is very cute, but as I witnessed, it was not very easy to ‘connect with’. You sometimes keep good hands with no Mountains because they allow you to ‘get there’ quickly. You then get into situations where you have a Madcap Skills or a Chained to the Rocks in hand with no Mountain/red source. This is very embarassing and gives your opponent almost all the time in the world they need to stabilize.
Runs 8, only needs one
As far as the lands go, we can’t really ask for much. Until the ‘Selesnya Temple’ is released, we are stuck with the Selesnya Guildgate which is a necessary evil for running a tri-color deck. We have to run 4 Stomping Grounds and 4 Sacred Foundry in order to support our filthy Mountain habit. Regular Mountains would just make the mana base even worse and Temple of Triumph, while providing us with red mana would screw over our ‘Enchant Mountain’ aura. It’s not easy being Naya right now. Esper is very much the easier Shard to play (since black is strictly a backup color in that deck).
I test the deck out at a local store with what should have been more or less a soft field. Here is a run-down of the action:
VS. Mono Red
I win the die roll and keep a Selesnya two-lander. I land a turn 2 V0ice of Resurgence but am already on the defensive when he’s swinging with a Firedrinker Satyr, Firefist Striker and Mutavault. A Chandra’s Phoenix joins the party on his end. I get a third land, Temple Garden, shock myself only to play Unflinching Courage on the Voice of Resurgence. I have to attack because blocking is not even an option thanks to Firefist Striker. My damage output is < than the damage I am taking and I go down in Game 1.
Game 2 is very frustrating as I mulligan down to five with a Sacred Foundry and a Plains, but with a Chained to the Rocks and Fiendslayer Paladin in hand. I want to say it was close, but I never ever drew my third land and simply scooped up early on. My opponent always had that turn 2 Firefist Striker, so I’m not too sure how much resistance I would have provided with my Fiendslayer. Granted I would of had to use Chained to the Rocks on his Firefist Striker early (which I did), but he just had so much gas and was set with his 3 lands in play for the rest of the game.
VS. Green Devotion (with blue splash)
I’m playing against a more competent player this time (not that it really mattered in the first round) so I can better gauge if the deck is a worthy contender or a flash in the pan. Of course this is barring any form of mana/color screw. I get some early Gladecover Scout action but when he accelerates into a Garruk -3’ind an Arbor Colossus, I pretty much scoop up my cards when I fail to find Mountains for Chained to the Rocks or Madcap Skills.
Going into Game 2, I immediately side in 2 x Banisher Priests since his deck had little to no removal for those, save Polukranos. I get early Gladecover Scout beats and decide to split up my enchantment distribution with Ethereal Armor x 2. I Gift of Orzhova one of the scouts and later on I draw a Chained to the Rocks which I actually have a Mountain for.Would you looks at that? I actually attacked and won. Good old aggro!
Game 3 is looking somewhat similar to Game 2 without my red source for Madcap Skills. He gets a Garruk, Caller of Beasts into play and -3 for a Prophet of Kruphix. On my turn he untaps everything and I attack him thinking that I’m covered for whatever he will sneak into play since I have a Voice of Resurgence and can recoup whatever losses I may incur. He taps Nykthos for an insane amount of mana and flashes in an Arbor Colossus. He uses the rest of that mana to Monstrous it. My 7/7 First Strike Lifelink Gladecover Scout falls to a gigantic 9/9. Getting 3-for-1’ed was never so brutal. At least I get a 2/2 Elemental token, yay!
We play some more games for fun versus his Selesnya aggro deck. It’s pretty much split even except that, you guessed it: the Selesnya deck is just way more consistent.
VS. Nivmagus Elemental deck
I start off with a turn 1 Gladecover Scout followed by 2 x Ethereal Armor and a third one on turn 3. He starts doing some random stuff with Hidden Strings and Nivamgus Elemental + Young Pyromancer. I never ever draw land # 3 for Gift of Orzhova to just win the game . This is just not my day for drawing appropriate colored land or even an appropriate quantity of them.
In game 2, I telegraph my opponent’s play of playing a Hidden Strings on his Judge’s Familiar, which is why I play an untapped Sacred Foundry. He still plays into my obvious trap and casts Hidden Strings ciphering it onto the Judge’s Familiar. I flash in a Skylasher and block the little owl. He takes his time to read Skylasher and frowns. I try to play a Unflinching Courage on my little insect that following turn, but my opponent happened to have drawn Magma Jet. Bye bye spider guy! Just as luck would have it, I am stuck with a handful of Auras and no little hexproof dude to enchant.
VS. Junk Aggro
I noticed that I am playing against John, the same dude who wrote the Olivia Commander article. We always have some amusing matches and now since we are both 0-3 we can let loose and just joke around. It’s all about fun right? Game 1, believe I did the usual Gladecover ‘shenanigans’ and won by giving it flying thanks to Gift of Orzhova (yeah, it does that too).
The second game was rather long since I was drawing blank for quite a few turns and I had split my enchants, making it hard to attack past a Reaper of the Wilds (good card). I also had a Chained to the Rocks in hand, waiting for John to tap out so that I can hit his Reaper with it. That never occurred though and I just ended up using it on his Loxodon Smiter later on. John also stabilized back to almost twenty life thanks to a Whip of Erebos. I just know that eventually I will draw a Madcap Skills or Gift of Orzhova to finish this, but for the meantime I am stuck with a pair of useless Witchstalkers holding the fort while I attack with my 5/5 lifelink Gladecover Scout trying to force a trade with his potentially Deathtouch Reaper of the Wilds. At some point I lose an enchantment to a Golgari Charm. I decide to keep a couple of creatures in my hand fearing something like a Gaze of Granite for 1-3, which would blow up all my nonland side of the battlefield. I get him to low enough digits that I can finally draw and play Madcap Skills/Gift of Orzhova and win.
Final record :1-3
I can maybe see how this would do really well versus things like monoblack devotion and such, but it just felt really inconsistent. You always want that Madcap Skills on turn 2 and the mana seems to be working against you often. Against a few other decks, it might seems like you are going to win and then they sort of stabilize if you have no Chained to the Rocks to get their big blockers out of the way. It just never seems like you have a clear advantage in a lot of matchups. Of course I only played 4 rounds with it and I was not particularly lucky at times. I can more or less see how this can get some quick wins in, but it’s probably not something I would like to play again. I also found that maybe 2 Boon Satyrs is not enough.
To say that this is not my kind of deck would be an understatement. I sort of like the Ethereal Armor interaction with cards like Gods, God Weapons and Boon Satyr. I can maybe see myself running it in some kind of brew where enchantments really matter (hopefully next set will help with that). Otherwise, it just really feels like we are playing a strictly inferior version of the old Bant Hexproof deck . Madcap Skills is fine and all, since it gives you a sort of ‘evasion’ as well as a good pump in stats but I can’t help but feeling that we might want to go back to Bant colors and run something like Aqueous Form and some other blue cards. That way also be a dead end, but something to examine for a little while. We would also gain a 3/2 flying hexproof creature in Ascended Lawmage, however that doesn’t seem relevant enough for something we play on Turn 4 at the earliest. Fleecemane Lion can gain hexproof but I really like a turn 2 Voice of Resurgence better in most matchups. Perhaps having a couple of Fleecemanes in the sideboard can be decent.
In the end …
The deck is just not what it used to be. It’s not as fast as some of the devotion decks and is sadly not always the aggressor, which is terrible. If you fall behind with this deck, it’s very very hard to come back into the game. This is a prime example of a deck that would perform better online than it would in real life. I would dismiss it for now and wait until we maybe get something new for it in Born of the Gods.