Mtg, Standard

Two Failures and a Success: Iterating and Innovating

Last Friday, I was all ready to try out the Sultai Hadana’s Climb deck that I wrote about previously. I had a plan for the major decks, wrote out a sideboard guide, and thought that it was a good meta call if Izzet Drakes and Red or White Aggro decks were popular. But everything changed on Friday morning when I came across a deck titled “Bant Walls.” Now to understand my fascination with this specific list, you need to know that the first deck I built when I picked up Magic again, during Dragons of Tarkir/Battle for Zendikar Standard, was an Assault Formation deck. The deck was a blast; I 4-0’d a couple FNMs and I have been waiting for another Walls deck to be viable. When Arcades, the Strategist was spoiled, I knew that it would only be a matter of time before I built a deck around him. I figured it would have to wait until Azorius and Simic guilds join Standard with Ravnica Allegiant, but when I saw this decklist I couldn’t wait until then to give it a shot. I threw it together and took it to FNM.

Illustrated by Even Amundsen

This is the list I played to an unexciting, but expected, 1-3 record:

There’s not a whole lot to digest from this decklist, but the main innovations to me are the Karn, Scion of Urza and Treasure Map package. As I’ve said before, I am a huge fan of this combination – I was even trying to jam it into Boros Angels. This two-card combo turns Karn into a real win condition and lets you rifle through your deck to find what you need. Vivien Reid is another tool to find whatever you might be missing, (usually Arcades, the Strategist) and takes care of pesky fliers like Crackling Drake, Niv-Mizzet, Parun, or Doom Whisperer. Even though I lost a lot of games, these ten cards were a powerful engine that give the deck a lot of grind. I would retool the sideboard quite a bit, and even though I don’t have high hopes, I do have an updated decklist:

Adding Zahid, Djinn of the Lamp gives us another alternate plan of actually winning the game, and the Seal Aways in the sideboard are replaced with Tocatli Honor Guard, an important tool against Golgari. I think that the aggro matchup is likely very good even without access to the Seal Aways, so I don’t mind cutting those for now.

Though I don’t expect this deck to break the format, it is a lot of fun and has reignited my desire to brew artifact-centric decks, highlighting Karn and Treasure Map.

However, the more immediate concern was what to play at the PPTQ the following day. I couldn’t in good conscious bring the walls deck, so I fell back to the deck I have the most experience playing in this Standard format: Boros Angels.

The tournament started off badly, with a loss to Jeskai Control. Then I lost to Izzet Drakes and then had a bye. During my bye, I started thinking about my deck and if the changes I had made to try to increase its consistency had actually solved any of the problems the deck has. I decided that no, they did not. Although the Karn, Scion of Urza and Treasure Maps do work together to grind games against Control and other midrange decks, the average draw of the Boros Angels deck just isn’t good enough. It’s best draw is absurd, but hoping for the absurd draws over the course of any event just isn’t where I want to be. I finished the event 3-3, and I was ready to brew up something new.

I started by taking my favorite pieces from Boros Angels and putting them together: Adanto Vanguard is a control deck’s nightmare, Aurelia, Exemplar of Justice is obviously very powerful, and Tocatli Honor Guard single-handedly wins games against Golgari, and Karn and Treasure Map stay in the Sideboard for grindy matchups. My next question was how can I gain some consistency and card advantage in white, but stay relatively proactive and aggressive? My answer was a 3-drop that has been huge in Modern, but hasn’t seen real success in Standard yet: Militia Bugler. Bugler can grab Aurelia, and that was a good enough reason for me to see what else Bugler can grab. As it turns out, there are a lot of good white creatures with power 2 or less, including Trostani Discordant, Shanna, Sisay’s Legacy, and Emmara, Soul of the Accord. Sweet, we’ve got a fun little aggro deck brewing… Wait, what do most of these creatures all have in common? That’s right, they are all legendary. Now if you think like me, you might know the next question I asked. Can we seriously make Urza’s Ruinous Blast work? Turns out the answer was yes. I filled out the curve with some other Legends, including Multani, Yavimaya’s Avatar (it’s a 0/0!) and Vivien Reid, and ended up with this:

This week I traveled back to my hometown to visit family and didn’t have any time to test the deck, but I knew that the core of it was powerful, so I decided to play it at the PPTQ on Sunday. Only 17 of us showed up, but we still had five rounds and a Top 8 to look forward to.

Round 1: 2-1 vs Mono Red

We traded the first two games, where both of us had a chance to do our aggressive thing and run the other over. In Game 3, I cast back-to-back Urza’s Ruinous Blasts, one of them just to clear a Rekindling Phoenix so I could keep attacking with Lyra Dawnbringer. Urza’s Ruinous Blast exiled the bird, and though my opponent cast three Experimental Frenzies and combined Lava Coil with Goblin Chainwhirler to take down Lyra Dawnbringer, my Shalai, Voice of Plenty was able to cross the finish line with my opponent at exactly three life.

Round 2: 1-1 vs Golgari

Game 1 was over pretty quickly, as my opponent stalled on three lands for a few turns, found his fourth land a little late, and conceded to my board. For Game 2, I brought in the Karn, Scion of Urzas and Treasure Maps. And I’m glad I did, because my opponent boarded out almost all of his win conditions and controlled the game. However, he never pressured my life total and was close to decking himself with his own Karn. He eventually won the game with a single card in his library, on turn 2 of turns, and we never got a chance to play the third game.

Round 3: 0-2 vs Golgari

This is the only match where the deck really stumbled. My opponent had running removal spells for my creatures in Game 1, and my Urza’s Ruinous Blast got stuck in my hand, and I died to some explore creatures. In Game 2 I mulliganed into an okay hand, but got stuck on lands and got destroyed by a Doom Whisperer.

Round 4: 2-0 vs Jeskai

This match was the opposite of the previous one, as my slightly above average draws punished my opponent’s bad luck. In Game 1, I had an aggressive start while he played three taplands followed by two Treasure Maps. He had to aggressively scry to try to hit land drops, and couldn’t impact the board. Game 2 was the opposite, as I conservatively played to the board to play around a sweeper. He stuck a Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, and I figured I was pretty behind. However, my follow up Trostani Discordant resolved, and Shanna, Sisay’s Legacy attacked down the Teferi. My opponent drew for his turn, smiled and shook his head, and showed me that the four cards he had been holding were all lands, and I was able to escape a tough matchup with a win. For three or four turns he only drew lands between his draw step and Teferi, which was extremely unlucky for him.

Round 5: 2-1 vs GW Tokens

Because of the unintentional draws during the day, tables three, four, five, and six are all win-and-ins. In Game 1 against GW Tokens, my opponent gets off to a pretty fast start, with Emmara powering out a Venerated Loxodon followed up with History of Benalia. I have a small, unassuming board, but Urza’s Ruinous Blast leaves my opponent with just an Emmara against my board of stuff. When he starts to rebuild, I get a window to cast Resurgence and attack for lethal across the two combat steps. In Game 2 I died to Nullhide Ferox into Lyra Dawnbringer into Trostani Discordant. Game 3 was a lot more exciting, as I mulliganed into a hand that just needed to draw lands, and I missed for a couple turns in a row. Luckily for me, my opponent also missed on lands for a few turns, and even hid one of my creatures under a Conclave Tribunal. When I Urza’s Ruinous Blasted a few turns later, I got my creature back from under the Tribunal, and went on to win the game and match!

Top 8: 2-1 vs Mono G Stompy

I was the sixth seed in the Top 8, with my friends and teammates getting the second and fourth seeds as well. It was a good day for us! I knew that my opponent was on a Mono Green deck, looking to ramp out Steel Leaf Champion, Ripjaw Raptor, and Vine Mare. If I got behind, only Urza’s Ruinous Blast could get me back into the game, and my game plan was just to Blast and try to race. I lost Game 1 quickly to a bunch of dinosaurs and Goreclaw, Terror of Qal Sisma. In Game 2 I got out ahead, and the air-force of Aurelia, Exemplar of Justice and Shalai, Voice of Plenty forced a Game 3. In Game 3, my opponent opened on Forest into Commune with Dinosaurs, and whiffed. I played a tapland and passed. My opponent played Adventurous Impulse, found a Forest, played it and passed. I played land, Emmara, and passed. My opponent played a land and a Steel Leaf Champion. I played my third land, Tajic, Legion’s Edge, and decided to attack with both creatures. My Tajic got eaten, but I pushed through three damage and got a lifelink blocker. This ended up making all the difference, as towards the end of the game I was able to attack in the air for exactly his life total, and likely would have died to giant dinosaurs the following turn.

During this match, the “soft lock” of Tajic and Shalai came up big, as the only removal in my opponent’s Mono Green deck was Savage Stomp. Tajic prevented the damage to Shalai, and Shalai made it so that my opponent could only target her. I expected this to come up in games against red decks, but it was huge in Game 2 in this series as well.

Top 4: 1-2 vs Jeskai

In Game 1, I stumbled a bit too much and my opponent cast two copies of Deafening Clarion against my hand of two drops. Adanto Vanguard couldn’t get me there. In Game 2, however, Adanto Vanguard did great work, and a timely removal spell on my opponent’s turn 5 Lyra Dawnbringer sealed the game for me. Game 3 was a bit of a back and forth, but eventually my opponent stuck Lyra Dawnbringer again, and I didn’t have removal for it in time. He had a very creature heavy draw, with two copies of Crackling Drake flanking Lyra. I drew Multani, Yavimaya’s Avatar a few turns too late, and couldn’t handle his air force.

Overall, I was very happy with the deck’s performance. I feel like I was able to add consistency, power, and an ability to go wide to the core of white aggressive cards that I brought over from Boros Angels. Trostani Discordant was very powerful, especially when paired with Shanna, Sisay’s Legacy. And Urza’s Ruinous Blast, was, well, ruinous for my opponents. I easily won all but one game where I cast it (the only loss being the 40 minute game against Golgari), and this is definitely an archetype I am going to refine for the last month or so of the format.

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