Attacking Standard

Posted in Top Decks on April 25, 2013

By Mike Flores

Michael Flores is the author of Deckade and The Official Miser's Guide; the designer of numerous State, Regional, Grand Prix, National, and Pro Tour–winning decks; and the onetime editor-in-chief of The Magic Dojo. He'd claim allegiance to Dimir (if such a Guild existed)… but instead will just shrug "Simic."



Make that "Attacking in Standard" (much more accurate).


I think US Nationals/Grand Prix/Invitational/other Invitational standout Todd Anderson said it best. "Wizards finally did it. Green is the best color in Standard."

Todd was referring to a specific Top 8 of all RG-based Aggro decks and Mulch-into-Thragtusk Reanimator decks, but there are even more kinds of green decks you can play, it turns out! You can trample over blockers with Rancor (or Ghor-Clan Rampager), defend your own life total with Thragtusk, or get the ball rolling on the first turn with Experiment One... and there is no guarantee you will do more than one of these things in the same deck! It turns out that Standard is rich with nuance and opportunities for strategic preparation and play... even if all we are doing is talking about attacking with green decks.

Jun'ya Takahashi's Bant Hexproof

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First up is Jun'ya Takahashi's latest take on Bant Hexproof; Takahashi was the winner of the recent World Magic Cup Qualifier in Tokyo, Japan.

So how does Bant Hexproof work?

The baseline strategy here is to play a creature that is hard to target, kill, or otherwise deal with (Invisible Stalker or Geist of Saint Traft) and cover it with buffing enchantments. Roar! A Geist of Saint Traft wearing Spectral Flight is a big game. The easiest way for most decks to deal with Geist of Saint Traft is just to put a body in front of it, but giving the already-hexproof Geist +2/+2 and flying makes blocking difficult and sets up a pretty short clock.

Geist of Saint Traft
Spectral Flight

Gift of Orzhova costs more and buffs less... but makes whatever you are enchanting into a hell of a racer. It is difficult for the opponent to try to keep pace if you are gaining points back to pad your life total.

Not every creature in Bant Hexproof actually has hexproof. Avacyn's Pilgrim, for instance, is merely a great accelerator. Turn-two Geist of Saint Traft and all that. Fencing Ace may only be a two-of, but it is a potentially spectacular key to the offense... lay a Rancor on it and it is like a harder-to-block Ball Lightning (that doesn't go anywhere). More enchantments make for a more and more disproportionate source of offense.

The big card in Bant Hexproof is Ethereal Armor. The deck is built to take advantage of running a hundred enchantments, so Ethereal Armor—already quite cheap at just —can combine with lots of fellow enchantments to make a hard-to-hit creature quite hard-hitting as well. As a bonus, Ethereal Armor plays well with Bant Hexproof's various sideboard cards. Ground Seal slows down Junk Reanimator... and helps to buff your Geist of Saint Traft; Nevermore keeps Bant Control from removing your key threats... and doubles the offensive of Invisible Stalker.

Ethereal Armor

And while not all your creatures have hexproof naturally, any of them can gain it with Simic Charm. Simic Charm, of course, can also get a blocker out of the way or make one of your double strikers really deadly for an attack.

Bant Hexproof may not be the most flexible Bant deck in Standard, but it is both fast and powerful.

Tyler Woolley's RG Beatdown

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Woolley played a straightforward Gruul-centric beatdown deck to win the Canadian World Magic Cup Qualifier in Burnaby, Canada.

This deck is fast—starting on one-drops like Rakdos Cackler and Stromkirk Noble—but also plays some pretty good offensive cards moving up the curve. Boros Reckoner is pretty peerless at three and, even if has fallen a little bit out of favor, Hellrider is still pretty terrifying. Add in Ghor-Clan Rampager and you have a situation where there really are never any good blocks for the opponent.

Woolley's deck can get some explosive draws off of Burning-Tree Emissary (say second-turn Burning-Tree Emissary + Flinthoof Boar); or maybe he can set up with Burning-Tree Emissary to Searing Spear the opposing 3/3 blocker and get in with his one-drop. The support cards in this deck are all nice and cheap and all do their jobs well. Searing Spear can take care of opposing Hellriders, Thragtusks, Beast tokens, and so on; Pillar of Flame, the errant Zombie (and will probably be increasingly important once Dragon's Maze becomes legal due to Voice of Resurgence). Of the support cards, Rancor is Gruul's crown jewel.

Burning-Tree Emissary
Flinthoof Boar

With Rancor going, every creature card is a substantial threat. Chump blocking becomes difficult and even a lowly one-drop starts hitting like Erhnam Djinn. The 3/3 and 4/4 creatures graduate to almost Dragon-like proportions. Games stay nice and short.

Woolley played a variety of interesting and useful sideboard cards. Blasphemous Act combines well with Boros Reckoner to create a combo environment. Deal 7... and that's game, boys! Blasphemous Act + Boros Reckoner will join hands and take care of the remaining 13 life (incidentally, just playing out a Boros Reckoner can help keep an opponent from doing the same to you). Skullcrack is a pretty saucy (and heretofore underplayed) addition: efficient burn card, potential tool to close out games where the red zone ceases to be relevant,... and Fog slayer!

Blasphemous Act
Boros Reckoner

Skullcrack is a glittering jewel of many shiny facets. One of them makes Sphinx's Revelation "just" a Blue Sun's Zenith (with no re-buy). Another pokes the opponent Lightning Bolt-style. But "damage can't be prevented this turn" is just filthy. It is a Counterspell for the card Fog, brilliant for those games where an opponent arrogantly taps down to one for a Planeswalker with the intention of staying alive... but doesn't. Essentially just a Counterspell with upside (very Undermine-ish) when positioned carefully.

Michael Nixon's Reanimator

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Most players I have talked to agree that of the various green decks, it is Junk Reanimator that rules Standard.

Starting on a seven-set (or full-on eight-pack) of one-drop accelerators, Junk Reanimator can play like a typical midrange deck... or harness the Unburial Rites superpowers of a black combo deck!

From the midrange side, Junk Reanimator (and Nixon's Standard Open–winning list in particular) is all about value. Its drops are almost all two-for-ones: Thragtusk being life and a body (and maybe more when recycled), Acidic Slime is a two-for-one, Angel of Serenity is some kind of cross between a huge flying Nekrataal and an insurance policy against attrition. Find two Angels and you can loop them through many a removal spell.

Acidic Slime
Angel of Serenity

Unlike many Junk Reanimator decks, Nixon went with Lingering Souls. Lingering Souls is an ace in a variety of formats; in Standard—and especially against the hyper-aggression of many of the other formidable choices in this diverse (albeit quite green) format—Lingering Souls can chump block in order to help keep Nixon alive long enough to set up the big spells.

...and those spells are quite big. Unburial Rites is a two-for-one that can assemble more two-for-ones. Or it can go big and accelerate out a Craterhoof Behemoth. Craterhoof Behemoth is particularly deadly in a build like this, with many quick Elves and lots of Lingering Souls tokens. Given sufficient small creature setup, Craterhoof Behemoth can explode out for just four or five mana (and a bit of setup) to end the game immediately.

Doing his best Tomoharu Saito impression is Frank Karsten, who didn't win his Dutch World Magic Cup Qualifier... but made some substantial strides in deck theory and innovation.

First of all, look at Frank's deck.

It is thirty-nine creatures, twenty-one lands,...and no sideboard.

Frank played a deck with evolve, soulbond, battalion, and (of course) regular old Human synergies. Every creature makes almost every other creature better. "A Searing Spear, in contrast, doesn't pump Champion of the Parish or Experiment One. Nor does it turn on Boros Elite or Frontline Medic."

Champion of the Parish
Experiment One

Frank wanted to minimize both a potential inability to play his spells (because of Cavern of Souls) and to minimize any nonbo with Thalia, Guardian of Thraben.

Frank, already a member of the Pro Tour Hall of Fame, has developed quite the reputation for playing singleton decks at big events. I actually assumed he was running some kind of joke with no spells and no sideboard, but it turns out that this time, he wasn't. Frank just found "almost all reasonable sideboard options... difficult to cast, non-synergistic, and/or inadequate."

His deck is both focused and deadly; Frank just didn't think he would improve with a Boros Charm against Supreme Verdict... at least not relative to one of his precious main-deck creatures.

That said, he softened in hindsight.

Rather than playing no sideboard, Karsten conceded that he might want three Nearheath Pilgrims and/or three Fiend Hunters for the mirror, or any matchups where Thalia, Guardian of Thraben would be suboptimal. Now, this is coming from me, but I think that by the same logic there are probably some decks where you just want the fourth Thalia.

Nearheath Pilgrim
Fiend Hunter

In any case, Karsten stormed 6–1 into the Top 8 and came away with a pretty meaningful takeaway.

"I realize that I did go a bit overboard by throwing my entire sideboard overboard. In all fairness, a sideboard of 11 basic lands, 1 Worldspine Wurm (as a good luck charm), and 3 Fiend Hunter or 3 Nearheath Pilgrim would have been better. Fiend Hunter or Nearheath Pilgrim are likely better than Thalia, Guardian of Thraben in the mirror match, while not diluting any synergies.... Even though I went overboard, there's a lesson here: Don't over-sideboard. Keep synergies intact. Don't dilute your main game plan. Ask yourself whether or not a sideboard card is truly an improvement. For a highly focused deck like Naya Blitz, sideboarding can do more harm than good."

Now this is how cool Standard is right now: Not only can you manhandle most of a room with no spells and no sideboard, it turns out that if you want to attack... you don't even have to play green!

This deck is about a week old but is still a pretty good example of the new wave of The Aristocrats decks. Brad Nelson can't stop raving about The Aristocrats: Act 2. Here is the version he used to win a recent StarCityGames Classic:

Brad Nelson's The Aristocrats: Act 2

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Where this deck differs from the original The Aristocrats is that it does not have Champion of the Parish for the crazy Humans draws.

Instead is an enhanced sacrifice suite, where Blood Artist helps put points on the board whenever you use a Cartel Aristocrat or Falkenrath Aristocrat. Skirsdag High Priest is also a big friend, helping to put big, evasive threats on the battlefield.

Blood Artist
Skirsdag High Priest

Threats on the battlefield don't have to do as much work as you might have guessed. Rather than 20 life, they only need to do 7. Why? Main-deck Blasphemous Act!

No longer just the province of just the green decks, Blasphemous Act in the main deck almost screams to be put together with those Boros Reckoners!

Of the fifteen sideboard cards Brad brought to the Classic, the most exciting has got to be Mark of Mutiny. Cast that with a Cartel Aristocrat on the battlefield? You will quickly get paid off, not just in a free attack, but maybe the opponent's best guy as well!

What will be even more fun is figuring out which Dragon's Maze cards go into any of these. So...

What do you think will go where?

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