First Look into the Maze

Posted in Top Decks on May 9, 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."

Midrange rules the world! (Or at least that's how it looks after the first week of Dragon's Maze in Standard.) This is what the first StarCityGames Standard Open Top 8 looked like:


Chris VanMeter's Reanimator

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Junk Reanimator (what was largely considered the top deck of the pre-Dragon's Maze Standard format)... might very well still be the best deck. At the very least, in the hands of Chris VanMeter, Junk Reanimator was able to take the first big event.

VanMeter played a fairly no-frills version of the strategy; Chris ran only eleven main-deck spells. Grisly Salvage and Mulch help fill his graveyard (ostensibly with creatures) and Unburial Rites gets them back, generally leveraging some measure of card advantage. A hard-cast Unburial Rites implies (at least) a two-for-one; and when you mill Unburial Rites into the graveyard? That gives you the one-for-one freebie. Generally speaking, you can get a pretty good return on your four-to-five mana, bringing back anything big from a Thragtusk to an Angel of Serenity.

Instead of Craterhoof Behemoth for the quick corner kill, VanMeter played with Acidic Slime to punish the mana bases of opponents trying out new Dragon's Maze strategies (possibly with suboptimal land configurations). Acidic Slime, of course, gave him some extra resistance to Bant Hexproof plus some additional value on Restoration Angel.

Craterhoof Behemoth
Acidic Slime

Restoration Angel functions with a number of VanMeter's creatures, of course; the most famous two-card dynamic duo of course being Restoration Angel + Thragtusk (where Thragtusk will cash in an extra 5 life while producing a 3/3 Beast progeny) but among the various enters-the-battlefield options—Acidic Slime, Fiend Hunter, and so on all work well with the tight 3/4—is new Human Cleric, Sin Collector.

Sin Collector

Dragon's Maze's Sin Collector is an emerging option that is seeing play not only in Reanimator but tempo decks like The Aristocrats. Sin Collector gives Reanimator decks resistance to hard-to-beat sorceries or instants like Sphinx's Revelation or contextually backbreaking answers like Dissipate.

VanMeter also sideboarded Voice of Resurgence. Voice of Resurgence is one of the best cards in the format against both beatdown and control. Against beatdown you can trade with the opposing Burning-Tree Emissary (or whatever X/2 creature) and have a little something left over for future blocking and trades. In a deck like Reanimator, with lots of Avacyn's Pilgrims and Arbor Elfs, the Elemental token can actually be a significant threat.

Ditto against control. Not only does Voice of Resurgence badly punish decks with lots of instant-speed card drawing, it gives a deck something to swing with even after a Supreme Verdict or the equivalent. It might not seem immediately obvious in Reanimator, but Voice of Resurgence can be quite the card.


Owen Turtenwald's Jund

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Owen Turtenwald nearly won both Open events, coming in 2nd in the Standard Open on Sunday morning (although he and teammates William "Baby Huey" Jensen and Reid Duke finished 1st in the Team Draft event later that night). Turtenwald's 2nd-place finish with Jund was the top finish for what many consider to be the best-performing archetype of the young new format.

Standard Jund remains... Jund. It is a mix of flexible removal cards and good, individually effective creatures following no single theme. With Dragon's Maze, the removal suite has become more flexible than ever... and the creatures are going in more directions than ever before!

Tragic Slip
Mizzium Mortars

Jund always played a mix of different sorts of creatures. You can see from this list that longtime Arbor Elf advocates Reid Duke/Owen Turtenwald cut the one-time two-of, promoting Rakdos Keyrune to a one-of. The current incarnation of Jund has a different mana base, including Cavern of Souls (see below), making Arbor Elf a less-reliable accelerator. On balance, Rakdos Keyrunedoes work. It is quietly one of the hardest-working, most underrated cards in Standard, beating up Thragtusks while simultaneously jumping you from three to five. You know, for your own Thragtusks.

This version of Jund plays an eight pack of Huntmaster of the Fells and Thragtusk, giving it good lifegain as a potential beatdown foil; in addition, it can add Vampire Nighthawk out of the sideboard to gain speed and relevance against beatdown opponents.

But the big upgrade in the creature department is Sire of Insanity.

Sire of Insanity

Sire of Insanity is the game-changer. You will notice that Owen played only one Rakdos's Return main and one Rakdos's Return sideboard. When you historically looked at Jund-type decks you might have seen up to four Rakdos's Returns; maybe even all four plus possibly all four Slaughter Games. However the tag team of Sire of Insanity and Cavern of Souls gives Jund a reliable discard setup that essentially always crushes permission-based control decks.

All day, you would hear stories of Jund players forcing their WU[X] opponents to discard two Sphinx's Revelations and three Supreme Verdicts or whatnot. Cavern of Souls is brutal here! You set it to "Demon" and the opponent just has to shrug his or her shoulders when you cast your Sire, no matter how many Rewinds and Dissipates he or she is gripping.

Everyone discards... but you have (at least) a 6/4 down already.

It should go without saying that if you are badly behind... you might not want to drop your Sire. But if you are even or already ahead? It will often win the game for your all by itself, especially against blue decks.

RWU Control

RWU can take many shapes. There is RWU Flash with all Augur of Bolas and generally seven or eight copies of Snapcaster Mage and Restoration Angel. That deck plays with tons of instants (and the aforementioned instant-speed creatures). It plays a fluid game, casting many of its cards on the opponent's turn.

Snapcaster Mage
Restoration Angel

There are the decks—especially the decks that have been performing so well in pre-Dragon's Maze Standard events recently—that top up on Aurelia, the Warleader. These RWU decks have a big finisher; they may or may not play Boros Reckoner.

And then you have a new version like the one William Eads ran, which is like a combination of lucky charms with some unique choices:

William Eads's RWU Geist

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Before we get really deep into what this decklist plays... how about what it doesn't play?

Look closely at the twenty spells... and... that's right! Zero copies of Sphinx's Revelation! Talk about bold moves!

As the deck only played twenty instants and sorceries, Eads also eschewed Augur of Bolas.

From my perspective, this deck has three important themes to cover. The first and biggest is the lucky charms angle.

Lucky charms is a fairly underutilized infinite combo in Standard. It is an unreliable way to win if your opponent is playing Nephalia Drownyard but conditionally unbeatable in most other situations (you just have to be careful about your own card drawing).

You set up lucky charms with Boros Reckoner on the battlefield, with at least four mana open. Now, you just get your Boros Reckoner hit.

You can do this yourself with a Searing Spear or Pillar of Flame, but that will require more mana. You can just block or get the Boros Reckoner blocked as well.

Before your Boros Reckoner takes a drubbing, use Boros Charm to make Boros Reckoner indestructible. Next, give Boros Reckoner lifelink with Azorius Charm.

Ka-pow! Boros Reckoner will now take some amount of damage from combat, your own burn spell, whatever.

"Whenever Boros Reckoner is dealt damage, it deals that much damage to target creature or player."

Who or what would you like me to damage? Boros Reckoner will ask you.

"Why, yourself, of course!"

The now-indestructible Boros Reckoner will keep beating on itself an essentially infinite amount of times, damaging itself. It has lifelink from Azorius Charm. In addition to dealing infinite damage, it gives you infinite life. Wash, rinse, repeat however many times. Try not to get decked.

Now, Boros Reckoner is a superb blocker even without lucky charms (beats the green mana out of Thragtusk, etc.), as is Restoration Angel. Snapcaster Mage can defend with value as well. All-in-all, William's deck can make quite the go of defending a Planeswalker.

Enter Ral Zarek.

Ral Zarek

Ral Zarek can accelerate this deck's mana, get a big guy out of your Geist's way, shoot down two little guys, or even initiate your Boros Reckoner infinite combo. Or you can someday flip a whole bunch of coins.

Last but not least: Geist of Saint Traft.

Geist of Saint Traft

Geist of Saint Traft doesn't get universally played in RWU, but if you can get blockers out of the way with Ral Zarek or any of the many instants and sorceries that Snapcaster Mage is fiddling around with, it will kill quickly. Although you aren't gaining much card advantage, Restoration Angel can play to keep your Geist alive as well.

All in all, this is a much more offensively minded RWU than we have seen prior to Dragon's Maze... albeit an offensively minded deck that can produce infinite life!

Shout Out To Fuse Week

While certainly not a fuse-centric Top 8, Eads did give the world its first tip of the hat to fuse, with Turn & Burn. Shout out to this murderer of Thragtusk and Voice of Resurgence; one of the few cards that can swat Obzedat, Ghost Council outright; and the card that can generally pin the opponent under a two-for-one.

Shout out to Turn & Burn!

Bant Hexproof

Speaking of Geist of Saint Traft, that most dangerous of Gray Ogres returned Bant Hexproof to the top tables in the hands of Alex Mitchell:

Alex Mitchell's Bant Hexproof

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Mitchell played a fairly intuitive build of Bant Hexproof modeled at least in part on Jun'ya Takahashi's victorious WMCQ deck from Tokyo. Unlike previous builds of Bant Hexproof, Takahashi did not play Abundant Growth, rather running Gift of Orzhova out of Gatecrash.

Gift of Orzhova, while spectacular in Bant Hexproof, itself got an upgrade in Unflinching Courage via Dragon's Maze. Look for most Bant Hexproof decks to make this exact swap for two reasons. First of all, although Gift or Orzhova provides flying, the difference between +1/+1 and +2/+2 is huge, especially on a 1/1 creature like Invisible Stalker or Fencing Ace. But more importantly, is much, Much, MUCH easier on the mana than , or in context... to the point that Takahashi actually played an Overgrown Tomb in his not-black deck. Ouch!

Unflinching Courage
Gift of Orzhova

Alex upgraded Fencing Ace to a four-of, cutting Loxodon Smiter entirely.

I would make a strong argument that Bant Hexproof was actually the greatest beneficiary of Dragon's Maze (among existing archetypes) as it gets to upgrade into Unflinching Courage and run Voice of Resurgence. Both cards are actually highly synergistic and working at their fullest potential here, though they can obviously both be played elsewhere.

Voice of Resurgence

Bant Hexproof's primary vulnerability is just getting all its creatures killed. It can win with just one creature, race almost anyone, but it actually has to have a creature to put all those pants on. Voice of Resurgence gives Bant Hexproof some resistance to massive removal or attrition strategies, making it the perfect inheritor to Silverblade Paladin's slot in the archetype.

Silverblade Paladin, for its upside, is just as hard to cast as Gift of Orzhova, and without hexproof or the high toughness of a Loxodon Smiter, it is much more vulnerable to cards like Pillar of Flame that are already so good against this deck.

Silverblade Paladin
Loxodon Smiter

For those of you who don't know how this deck works, it is arguably the least-interactive strategy in Standard. You basically want to start on Avacyn's PilgrimGeist of Saint Traft or a turn-two Invisible Stalker... and then start putting on the pants. Just a Spectral Flight on a Geist of Saint Traft is a pretty quick three-hit kill and very hard to interact with. Invisible Stalker can never be blocked, and you can just put Rancor after Ethereal Armor on it to finish the opponent very quickly as well.

Offensively, Bant Hexproof might be the strongest deck in Standard; it can race with Unflinching Courage and Nearheath Pilgrim, and it has to commit fewer resources to get its return than, say, a Naya Blitz or most other rush decks. The downside of Bant Hexproof is that it is highly inflexible. The versions with no Abundant Growth can do almost nothing to regulate their draws. In addition to potentially falling prey to getting all its guys killed, Bant Hexproof generally has to win with whatever guy it does draw. Sometimes Invisible Stalker would be better, sometimes Geist of Saint Traft... but rarely do you get to pick and plan out.

Nearheath Pilgrim
Abundant Growth

That said, Bant Hexproof is an offensively elite deck, and a substantial amount of the time the opponent will simply sit there and die non-interactively, with no tools whatsoever to defend him- or herself. That said, Dragon's Maze offers a good number of options that could give this strategy fits in the future:

  • Renounce the Guilds—Now WU has a way to beat even a turn-two Geist... possibly in response to pants!
  • Far & Away—This card is picking up traction in the Esper lists. It is exactly what a control deck wants against a solo Hexproof creature! Oftentimes, Far & Away will look like a one-sided Supreme Verdict. It is absolutely bonkers with Snapcaster Mage or Augur of Bolas when you bounce your own creature while killing one of the other player's!

Will midrange continue to rule the world?

I have to say, with Cavern of SoulsSire of Insanity topping off one of the most popular decks, control looks to be in trouble.

Inflexible beatdown decks are going to have a devil of a time with Voice of Resurgence and the various lifegain cards (Unflinching Courage and the entire Jund suite of Vampire Nighthawk, Huntmaster of the Fells, and Thragtusk).

Firestarter: How will you attack this metagame at Friday Night Magic ?

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