Whipping Standard into Shape

Posted in Top Decks on November 7, 2014

By Luis Scott-Vargas

Luis Scott-Vargas plays, writes, and makes videos about Magic. He has played on the Pro Tour for almost a decade, and between that and producing content for ChannelFireball, often has his hands full (of cards).

Santiago was full of surprises.

There were a lot of Souls and Whips in the Top 8 of Grand Prix Santiago, although what is most surprising is that Savage Knuckleblade was actually tied with Siege Rhino at twelve copies each. Three of the five clans made an appearance, with Jeskai and Mardu not making the cut, and only one non-clan deck made Top 8. Today I want to take a look at some of the decks that came out of that Top 8, as well a deck that won a tournament in my hometown of Oakland. Plus, I'd feel remiss in my duties if I didn't mention Treasure Cruise at least once, so I'll talk a bit about the Legacy Delver deck that is likely what I'd play right now.

Temur

There were three Temur Monsters decks in the Top 8, and all were pretty similar. The combination of mana Elves, giant ferocious monsters, Crater's Claws, Lightning Strikes, and Temur Charms is apparently an effective recipe, even if it isn't doing anything particularly broken. All the deck is trying to do is play hasty creatures that have a great power/toughness to mana cost ratio, use them to attack the opponent, and cast Fireballs and Lightning Bolts until the opponent dies. That sounds like 1994 Magic to me (at least before people started discovering cards like Mind Twist and Winter Orb, of course), and it's pretty cool to see that it's still viable.

David Sologuren's Temur Monsters

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Pedro Carvalho played nearly the same list, while Fernando Barros found room for 2 Chandra, 4 Stormbreath Dragon, and 4 Goblin Rabblemaster, although all three decks are basically trying to do the same things.

Reasons this deck is great:

  • Savage Knuckleblade is an absurd Magic card. It's cheap, huge, hasty, and protects itself, as well as becoming somehow more giant if the situation demands it. This is basically the reason to splash blue in a red-green deck.
  • Crater's Claws is the best Fireball variant we've seen in a while. Demonfire, Banefire, and Devil's Play were all good and all saw play, but Crater's Claws blows them out of the water. The efficiency of playing this as a Shock in the same turn as casting a Knuckleblade or Phoenix is incredible, and cards are made or broken on small edges like that. Having your cheap early-game removal spell also capable of killing Siege Rhino or dealing 10 to the opponent is huge.
  • Heir of the Wilds, Polukranos, and Ashcloud Phoenix all match up favorably against most creatures in the format. Heir trades for creatures that cost more, Ashcloud is often a two-for-one, and Polukranos eats smaller creatures for free while being big enough to battle the larger ones.
  • Stubborn Denial is exactly the kind of sideboard card this deck needs to compete with decks that lean on spells. It allows the deck to keep playing threats while also stopping the opponent from doing anything relevant at minimal mana cost.

Reasons this deck isn't great:

  • If this deck doesn't have a threat on the board, all of its cards get so much worse. Temur is a clan that plays incredibly well from ahead and pretty poorly from behind, as cards like Temur Charm, Crater's Claws, and all the sideboard counterspells are all very mediocre without a damage-dealing threat hitting the opponent.
  • It's all one-for-ones. This deck is trying to play a tempo game and is susceptible to being attritioned out. Sarkhan and Phoenix are the only cards that really fight that, although Knuckleblade eventually becomes resistant to removal.
  • Cheap removal interacts well with a deck full of 3cc+ threats, and can strand the deck with useless mana Elves in play.

Temur is best when it's preying on decks full of powerful slow cards, and worst when it faces decks with a lot of efficient removal. Something like the Mardu deck from the Grand Prix Los Angeles Top 8 is not what Temur wants to see, as Murderous Cut and Chained to the Rocks are the kinds of cards that Temur is vulnerable to. It's nice that all of its creatures can attack into or past Siege Rhino, and that's a big part of why Temur can compete with all the Abzan decks in the format. I wouldn't dissuade anyone who wants to play Temur right now, although that could change depending on how many decks are packing one- and two-mana removal spells.

Whip of Erebos Decks

Rather than divide decks by clan, I want to take a look at the engine that makes up each deck, and in this case, that's the presence of Whip of Erebos.

We identified Whip as the best possible card to fight Jeskai before the Pro Tour, and I wonder if the Whip decks in the Top 8 are part of the reason there are no Jeskai decks, although I suspect the waning popularity of Jeskai has more to do with it. Regardless of that particular matchup, Whip is an extremely powerful card, and one that can quickly make games unwinnable for opponents who are attacking your life total. In fact, it can even trouble those who aren't, as Whip does a great job in an attrition war as well, so the only games where it really isn't good are the very fast ones or the ones where the player with Whip draws very few creatures.

There were two Whip decks in the Top 8, both playing black-green with an additional color. The first was Willy Edel's, and he said the deck had a fantastic record among the four or five people who played it:

Willy Edel's Sidisi-Whip

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Willy's deck eschews the power of Siege Rhino for a different four-drop: Sidisi. Tyrants apparently have their uses, as Sidisi fills the board with Zombies and the graveyard with creatures, both of which play very well with Whip of Erebos. Hornet Queen is the biggest reanimator target, although it's eminently castable in a deck with Courser and Caryatid, which is also true of Sagu Mauler, Doomwake Giant, and Soul of Innistrad—the other large-ish creatures the deck plays. This is a value deck more than a combo deck, as all the cards provide incremental value by themselves, even if there are plenty of synergies to take advantage of.

Reasons why this deck is great:

  • Sidisi is a very powerful card. Giving you a 3/3 and a 2/2 for four mana is already a good deal (although your opponent can kill her in response to the mill trigger, meaning you don't get a Zombie), and she enables the rest of the deck incredibly well. She works with Satyr Wayfinder, Whip of Erebos, Murderous Cut, and Soul of Innistrad, and justifies the deck being blue all by herself.
  • Whip of Erebos gives the deck a very strong late game without requiring too many sacrifices in terms of deck construction. Whip decks tend to be favored against non-Whip decks the longer the game goes on, barring facing something like Mono-Green Devotion, and all Whip asks is that the deck plays a few mill cards and maybe a few more big creatures than it would otherwise.
  • Playing four Murderous Cuts is a huge advantage. There aren't very many efficient removal spells in this format, and getting four copies of a one-mana unconditional kill spell is potentially the best reason to choose this deck over another. Getting to play a one-drop and killing the opponent's four-drop on turn five is how you will win a ton of games.

Reasons why this deck isn't great:

  • Even if it isn't a big sacrifice to enable Whip, if Whip of Erebos is dealt with, this deck does end up being a little less efficient and powerful than something like a midrange Abzan deck.
  • Murderous Cut, Whip of Erebos, Thoughtseize, and big creatures make the deck susceptible to clunky draws. There are more combinations than in a normal BG deck that lead to draws that can't beat aggro.

Honestly, this deck looks awesome. The reasons to play it really outweigh the reasons not to, and it's likely the deck I'd recommend right now. It's got the right combination of efficiency, power, and synergy, and I can't point to any glaring weaknesses. I'm not saying the deck is unbeatable, just that it looks like a good place to be at the moment.

The other Whip deck looks pretty sweet too, though, and ups the Soul count in the Top 8 to an incredible four:

Eduardo dos Santos Vieira's Abzan Midrange

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This is a more traditional Whip of Erebos deck, which is to say that it is looking to cast and bring back Siege Rhino early and often. It's not incredibly different from an Abzan Midrange deck, again playing only a few cards it wouldn't otherwise to make Whip work (in this case, that's 4 Satyr Wayfinder and 2 Commune with the Gods, as well as the Hornet Queens and Soul of Theroses). It even has a minor enchantment subtheme going, with 2 Doomwake Giant and 1 Eidolon of Blossoms combining with Courser and Whip to trigger a few times per game.

Reasons this deck is great:

  • The Abzan cards are still awesome. Siege Rhino, Courser, and Caryatid still combine to provide defense, card advantage, and offense all in one small package.
  • Murderous Cut is also almost as good here as in Willy's deck, although with two fewer mill cards overall I agree with playing three instead of four.
  • Whip is also almost as good here, although again it has slightly fewer enablers. Soul of Theros is an interesting Whip target and looks like it does an effective job even without the Whip, especially in combination with Hornet Queen. While combining with a resolved Queen might seem like a win-more, having ways to go over the top of other Hornet Queens is actually relevant.

Reasons why this deck isn't great:

  • Compared to a "normal" Abzan deck, the deck does give up a little consistency in order to enable the synergies it has present. Drawing a random Soul of Theros or Doomwake Giant can be costly, and decks like this are weaker to Thoughtseize than decks with all cards that fully stand on their own.
  • Having Siege Rhino over Sidisi makes Whip and Murderous Cut worse, which is unfortunate because those are two of the best cards in the deck. Rhino is better than Sidisi by itself, but if you are building a synergy deck, maybe you should bank on that more than trying to hedge.

I wouldn't argue against playing this deck either. I like the idea of a midrange Whip deck, even if I'd rather go a little more all-in and play Willy's deck myself. This deck bridges the gap between Abzan and Sultai, and plays like a slightly less efficient midrange deck in exchange for having a powerful late-game engine. I think that engine is worth the sacrifice and gives you enough of an edge in the matchups that matter. Plus, it won the tournament, so therefore it is the best (this is not good logic, by the way).

Jeskai Heroic Combo

And now we move back to California to take a look at the most interesting deck of last week. Ivan Jen won the StarCityGames.com Open with this deck, and it looks like infinite fun (in all senses of the phrase).

Ivan Jen's Jeskai Heroic Combo

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There are two main things going on here, and both of them seem pretty sweet. The first is that this is a heroic beatdown deck, and an incredibly low-curve one. It plays fourteen one-drops, two two-drops, eighteen lands, and a ton of enablers. That leads to incredibly fast and explosive draws, as well as huge waves of creatures thanks to Akroan Crusader. The second aspect of the deck is the combo aspect that Jeskai Ascendancy provides. The Ascendancy is a Crusade some percentage of the time, and can let the deck's 1/1s attack for massive amounts of damage while filtering through with a bunch of loot triggers. However, once you combine Retraction Helix, two creatures, and a Springleaf Drum, you end up going infinite. One creature taps itself to the Drum to add one U mana, the Helixed creature taps to return the Drum, and the cycle repeats. That makes all your creatures infinitely large, while ripping through your whole deck if you so desire (although you can choose not to loot if you are worried about decking).

Having a legitimate combo kill that fits into an aggro strategy is very interesting, and doesn't require huge sacrifices. Retraction Helix is surprisingly good in a heroic strategy, and Jeskai Ascendancy plays very well with the rest of the deck even when not going infinite. Springleaf Drum is the biggest cost, as the deck wouldn't play it without the combo, but even Drum can let the deck curve out rapidly and is certainly not a blank.

Reasons this deck is great:

  • Have you seen the decklist? How can you say that isn't great?
  • It is capable of very explosive draws, all while being resilient to removal thanks to Gods Willing and token generation.
  • Having all one-drops interacts very well with removal even without protection, as your opponent loses efficiency every time he or she trades a three-cost removal spell for one of your creatures.
  • The combo finish gives the deck a lot of reach, and lets it win games even against a ton of Siege Rhinos or a Whip deck that is going off.

Reasons this deck isn't great:

  • There are a ton of do-nothing cards in the deck when the right combinations of cards aren't drawn. This is the most synergy-based deck featured today, and as such is vulnerable to being disrupted or drawing cards in the wrong order.
  • Playing eighteen lands and three colors leads to a higher mulligan rate than other decks. Springleaf Drum helps, but even that won't let you keep a hand of blue and white lands plus Drum plus red one-drops.

This looks like both an awesome deck and an awesomely fun deck. It gets a little weaker now that it's more known, as I'm sure Ivan got plenty of wins via combo against unsuspecting opponents. Abzan decks with Hero's Downfall may have tapped out for the third Siege Rhino, assuming they couldn't die at 22 life, and that is less likely to happen now. Still, the deck legitimately pressures opponents with two different plans, and that's something I like a lot. I'd lean toward playing Willy's deck, but this looks like a fine place to be as well. I would try playing fewer Temples, as I don't think the deck wants that many tap-lands, but other than that the deck looks solid, and I'd have to play with it before suggesting any structural changes.

Treasure Delver

Grand Prix New Jersey is next week, and the biggest deck in the format is sure to be Blue-Red Delver. I'm a fan of Treasure Cruise and the rest of the deck, and were I going, I'd play this (or something very close):

UR Delver

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Granted, it's not that different from most Delver lists floating around, but there are so many locked slots that I don't think you should be looking to get too crazy. All the four-ofs are cards that are too good to mess with, and it's possible that Daze should be in that number (although I always have resisted playing the full four Dazes). All this deck is trying to do is burn through the deck, trade cards with a mana advantage (your zero- or one-mana spell for your opponent's more expensive one), and kill the opponent by accumulating incremental advantages. It helps that Young Pyromancer, Delver of Secrets, and Monastery Swiftspear are also pretty fast clocks, as having any one of them in play while you are Cruising means you probably just win. Even if you don't immediately have a threat, this deck is capable of winning long attrition battles, which is why the deck is so good. Even if you don't want to play this, this is the deck of the tournament, and you should be prepared to face it.

Reasons the deck is great:


Reasons the deck isn't great:

  • none

And with that, I'll bid you a good weekend.

LSV

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