This week I'd like to talk about a new deck that takes advantage of an underestimated enchantment from Zendikar. I'm not entirely sure of this deck's origin. I saw different versions of the deck being passed around on Facebook; Mostly by Pat Chapin, so I assume this came from that particular think-tank. Most of those versions played green for creatures like Birds of Paradise and Fauna Shaman. Personally, I feel that a mono-white version of the deck could fare very well in the new Standard.
Let's talk about the plan!
Quest for the Argentum Armor
Quest for the Holy Relic has a big qualifier. You have to cast five creature spells to find said Holy Relic that you've been questing for. Luckily for us, there are a number of ways to play five creature spells without even using every card from our hand. Cards like Ornithopter and Memnite allow us to dump creatures onto the battlefield to maximize the value of a quick quest for the Holy Relic. Cards like Kor Skyfisher and Glint Hawk can bounce a zero-cost artifact creature back to our hand and let us replay it to maximize the number of counters we get on our quest. Squadron Hawk is the obvious all-star in this type of strategy. You'll always net a bit of card advantage with this one.
Activating Quest for the Holy Relic has always been a bit of a stretch. It's a lot of work for not so much pay. After you've gone through the work of casting five creatures you end up netting some random stick that maybe increases your clock by a turn. At best, you were finding a Basilisk Collar and sticking it on a Cunning Sparkmage. Luckily for us, though, that's all changed with the printing of Argentum Armor in Scars of Mirrodin. This is the type of Equipment that's actually worth working toward. Argentum Armor grants its wearer +6/+6 and targeted annihilation. This deck's best draws are actually unbeatable. It seems pretty unreal to grab and equip an Argentum Armor on the second turn and attack to destroy your opponent's land. Even if your opponent has a removal spell for your "build-your-own-eldrazi" you can simply cast a Kor Outfitter the next turn and put them further behind.
Lets talk about the cards I decided to include here. I'd like to look at each card from a strategic standpoint and talk about how it might affect what plays you should make in a given game.
Quest for the Holy Relic is certainly the most powerful thing that a deck like this can take advantage of. In order to take advantage of this, though, we need to make sure we don't cast too many "do nothing" creatures before we stick our quest. For example, there's no reason to cast an Ornithopter blind on the first turn. It can only end badly for you. Sure, you may want to cast your Ornithopter on the second turn so you have something to return to your hand with your Kor Skyfisher, but blindly casting a Memnite or Ornithopter seems like it never works out. You have to treat the Quest a lot like you would treat Glimpse of Nature in the older Extended elf decks. Using your expendable creatures to survive to a point where you draw the Quest for the Holy Relic at which point you can dump all the creatures from your hand onto the battlefield and go fishing for some Argentum which will probably win you the game. Remember, your opponent cannot cast a Lightning Bolt to deal with the quest activation's equip. You never target which creature will be equipped—if your opponent lets you search your library, he's given up any chance to cast the Bolt before the target gets +6/+6 and you get a free vindicate every turn.
Ornithopter and Memnite are easy to cast creatures that work exceptionally well with cards like Glint Hawk and Kor Skyfisher. Cards like this don't normally make the cut. In fact, I would be wary about including these cards in even the most dedicated Tempered Steel decks. This deck is different, though. Our goal is a lot more focused than other aggressive decks. We badly want to use our Quest for the Holy Relic and these cards, despite their low power level, are very good at activating the enchantment. The deck also naturally grants some help to these types of creatures. Stoneforge Mystic will give us a lot of incentive to play with a reasonable Equipment package. Cards like Darksteel Axe and Trusty Machete can make a kite (ornithopter) into a very reasonable threat.
Speaking of Stoneforge Mystic. How happy are you that you traded for them as bulk rares when I first wrote about their awesomeness? Stoneforge Mystic is a very reasonable backup plan to the normal combo. Stoneforge Mystic is mostly known for its triggered ability, but this deck actually makes very good use out of its activated ability too. Dropping an Argentum Armor onto the battlefield for seems like a pretty nice deal. Getting to the six mana we need to equip may seem like it's pretty tough, but we can even cheat that cost with our Kor Outfitters.
Kor Skyfisher is a very impressive card for its cost. The drawback of having to return a permanent you control back to our hand is actually a very nice advantage in this deck. You can grab another Equipment with your Stoneforge Mystic or pick up and replay a zero cost creature for Quest counters. Kor Skyfisher can also be used as a one-card activation team for the Quest for the Holy Relic. You can use the Kor Skyfisher to return itself to your hand. You get an extra quest counter every time you replay it. Skyfisher supplements its reasonable size by being one the best card available for finishing our quests.
Squadron Hawk seems like a perfect fit for a deck like this. We want to cast a lot of creature spells and there has never been a more expendable creature card to cast than the Squadron Hawk. Squadron Hawk is quite good in a deck like this. All the Equipment can make hawks that are usually nothing more than a nuisance into some very real threats. This deck does a very good job of turning somewhat random bodies into worthwhile endeavors.
Argentum Armor is the goal here. This is probably the most powerful piece of Equipment we've ever been able to fetch up with our Quest. Other cards like Umezawa's Jitte or Skullclamp are obviously "better" cards, but when you don't care how much mana it's going to cost you then you may as well go with the Argentum Armor.
Journey to Nowhere is the premier removal spell of the format. It permanently deals with cards like Vengevine while also smacking around the format's heaviest hitters like Baneslayer Angel and the Titans. Journey to Nowhere also has some nice synergy with Kor Skyfisher at times. If your opponent casts a legendary creature then it would probably be wise to use a Journey to Nowhere to deal with the issue. When your opponent manages to get a second copy of the Journeyed legend on the battlefield you can cast your Kor Skyfisher, return the Journey to Nowhere back to your hand and kill both copies of the Legend. It's a neat trick that comes up surprisingly often.
Glint Hawk is similar to Kor Skyfisher in its applications. It's an extraordinarily aggressive creature and it can often net us multiple creatures in play. Friends have asked me whether I would opt to play a Glint Hawk or a Quest for the Holy Relic on the first turn if I was given the choice. I feel that maximizing the number of counters on Quest for the Holy Relic is right more often than not.
Kor Outfitter can do a lot of work. Reducing the cost of equipping the Argentum Armor seems like it could swing a game in our direction a good portion of the time. Normally, Kor Outfitter lets its caster cheat on one, two, maybe three mana. Argentum Armor makes him skill all the way to six, it's pretty impressive when you think about it. Also, it provides us with another body to hold Equipment.
The Equipment package is pretty important.
I decided that I wanted a pair of Trusty Machetes so we could double equip and have cards like Glint Hawk, Ornithopter, Stoneforge Mystic, and Kor Outfitter all be prepared to survive a hit by a Lightning Bolt
Darksteel Axe seemed like another solid inclusion here. It serves much of the same function as the Trusty Machete, the Darksteel Axe may not grant any toughness, but its indestructibility will help minimize the effect that cards like Shatter and Naturalize may have.
Basilisk Collar is another card that really deserves a lot of press. It's extraordinarily difficult to race a play with an active Basilisk Collar on the table. You can even use your Basilisk Collar to play a slow game of attacking with one lifelinking flyer. Equipping an expendable blocker with the collar (looking at you Memnite) and passing the turn. It's pretty tough for your opponent to attack into a board like that and you're netting a nice little lifeswing every time your flyer gets to crack through.
A lot of people on the forums suggested that cards like Naturalize and Shatter would see play in competitive Standard decks. Fortunately, this just isn't the case. Cards like Baneslayer Angel, Titans, and Jace, the Mind Sculptor are so powerful that it seems unreasonable to assume that every person will play some number of cards that you actually want to target with Disenchant effects. Scars of Mirrodin will certainly affect things, but I don't think it's quite like our first trip to Mirrodin where deviation from the most homogenous metagame ever was always punished with poor results. These days, you can play almost anything and have it be competitive. Constructed Magic is in a really awesome place right now.
Here's how the deck looks when we do all the numbers.
The sideboard can include a few copies of Celestial Purge and four Kor Firewalker. If you can manage to trade for a copy of Sword of Body and Mind, then you could certainly find room for one of those in the main and perhaps another in the sideboard.
This deck has a lot of very exciting draws and it certainly seems very powerful. Next week I'll start playing games again. I'd love to hear what new deck ideas you folks have that work with cards from Scars of Mirrodin. I'd like to thank Pat Chapin and any other that may have helped formulate this deck concept, it looks like a lot of fun and it certainly has the potential for competitive play.