Brewing in the Wake of Pro Tour Amonkhet

Posted in How to Build on May 30, 2017

By Quinn Murphy

Quinn has been fascinated with Magic ever since Revised Edition. When he is not spending time with his lovely wife and amazing son, he's constantly brewing decks for, playing, and writing about Magic.

In the few weeks before a Pro Tour, we speculate what decks will reveal themselves in the hands of high-level players. In the light of recent shakeups, the anticipation for Pro Tour Amonkhet was particularly high.

When a Pro Tour starts, all our guesses and predictions have a chance to be proven right or wrong to some degree. I experienced great excitement seeing the brilliant Sam Black's Abzan Token deck, which utilized many cards that I mentioned in my last article.

There were zero copies of Fling in the top Standard decks, but I'll live.

My brewer's eye can't help but watch the action of a Pro Tour and start to dream about what the future holds. No sooner had Gerry Thompson directed his Zombie horde to claim his first Pro Tour victory (congratulations Gerry!) than I was sketching notes about what worked, what didn't, and more importantly from a brewing perspective—what could work.

In the few weeks after the Pro Tour, the meta-game shows us that Temur Marvel, Zombies, Black-Green Constrictor, Mardu Vehicles, and Blue-Red Control form the upper echelon of decks we've seen in GP Santiago and GP Montreal. When decks show results at the highest levels, you'll see them trickle down to your tables. Brewing will be about finding an angle where you can fit in this field of established decks using tools that are unknown or being overlooked.

We don't want to get caught up in the precise cards of each deck at this stage, as it might narrow our views and choices. A high-level view of the meta shows us three types of deck:

The Inevitable: Blue-Red Control and Temur Marvel bring inevitability to the table: the later the game goes, the more certainly their powerful cards will win the game. Each deck stalls the opponent's progress until weapons come online. Aetherworks Marvel can bring immense threats online very quickly (hello Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger and Chandra Flamecaller) but can also be used as a card-advantage engine, overwhelming an opponent with the many energy-generating value permanents in the deck.

Blue-Red Control has weaker inevitability with Torrential Gearhulk but firmer control with counter-magic (Censor, Essence Scatter, Disallow) and removal (Harnessed Lightning, Sweltering Suns).

Freight Train: Black-Green Constrictor and Mardu Vehicles start an aggressive assault with powerful, cheap creatures. Both decks then use their access to efficient removal (Fatal Push, Unlicensed Disintegration, Grasp of Darkness) to clear an opponent's blockers and threats.

Exhaustion: Zombie decks can push an aggressive pace but also maintain power deep into the late game. They can play in the early and late games unless an opponent can take advantage of the deck stumbling or attack the deck's graveyard recursion. Zombies can build power using Metallic Mimic, Lord of the Accursed, and Liliana's Mastery while also building an undead horde using Cryptbreaker and Dark Salvation.

Given this summary, where can we fit in with a brew? What tools does Standard offer us? Our best tools in this environment seem to be those that will get us under it or disrupt it. Going over the environment can work, but it's difficult to go bigger than Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger.

Anti-Censorship

Censor is a great tool that seems to define current control. Censor allows slower decks to make space starting on the second turn. Even better, when the card starts to become irrelevant, it can be cycled away.

Censor punishes decks that try to use all their mana for one spell in the early game. When you cast a spell for two mana, the Censor I cast virtually takes that turn from you and opens me up into "full" counter-magic like Disallow and Void Shatter.

But what about if your spell only costs one mana? Censor doesn't counter that, and now there is a "gap." If I can cast two spells on turns two and three, it is difficult for slower decks to contain it effectively.

The trick is having cheap cards that can put enough pressure on in those early turns to capitalize.

Deck Concept: Blue-Red Prowess

  • Cryptic Serpent
  • Stormchaser Mage
  • Soul-Scar Mage
  • Flameblade Adept
  • Censor
  • Compelling Argument

The main idea here is a high density of low-cost creatures with prowess or prowess-like abilities coupled with low-cost burn, tempo, and counter-magic. It starts fast and delays the opponent's strategy just long enough to finish them off.

Let's be Hasty

  • Glorybringer
  • Hazoret the Fervent
  • Lathnu Hellion
  • Bloodlust Inciter

Standard has a lot of great haste creatures. Haste is always easy to underestimate as an ability, but whole metagames have been defined by decks with a critical threshold of creatures who can get their damage in the turn they come into play. Haste creatures can work a lot like direct damage and leave you well leveraged to win a damage race with your opponent.

A deck I've been working on that utilizes haste and a low curve is a mono-red aggro deck I call Inciter Red:

Inciter Red

Bloodlust Inciter and Cartouche of Zeal are both great haste enablers. The Inciter is reusable and can turn cards on starting turn two! You can cast Kari Zev, Skyship Raider and get in for 3 damage immediately.

Cartouche of Zeal is the new Hammerhand providing a trio of effects: +1/+1, a target creature can't block, and granting a creature haste. For one mana, that is a great deal, even without a Trial of Zeal.

The rest is pure red: fast, cheap, and out of control.

Time for an Intervention

  • Sacred Cat
  • Regal Caracal
  • Heroic Intervention
  • Gideon's Intervention

I've been wanting to play Cat tribal in Standard ever since I saw Regal Caracal. When I looked through the list of cats, I saw there were enough for a curve, but I am going to need big cats . . .

Ok, great! But then I was still left with the problem that not being a fast deck meant needing more inevitability than pumped-up cats (sorry, kitties).

It was time for an intervention.

A deck that is going to be midrange in an environment such as this needs disruption to compete. Gideon's Intervention lets me stop a Marvel from being cast but also can prevent damage from a Diregraf Colossus or Ulamog. If we can slip it in through counter-magic, we can stop Torrential Gearhulk from hitting the table. Heroic Intervention makes our permanents indestructible and hexproof. This stops Ulamog's ability and defeats sweepers and spot removal for two mana.

Add in cheap removal from Declaration in Stone and some mana acceleration in Servant of the Conduit, and the tribal deck can put a stop to what your opponent wants to do.

Sort of like cats on keyboards.

Cats on Keyboards

I hope these brews and concepts stimulate your own thoughts as you put your imagination to work!

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