Four Aggressive Dogs, New Tricks

Posted in Top Decks on July 19, 2012

By Mike Flores

Rancor... Thragtusk... Augur of Bolas... new and old cards from Magic 2013 have already started proving themselves in the fires of tournament competition.

The most recent StarCityGames Open Series event in St. Louis, MO, highlighted the power, flexibility, and immediate impact of some of Magic 2013's tools. In fact, of the eight decks in the Top, you know, 8... seven of them played new Magic 2013 cards—and most, strategically.

Here is what that Top 8 looked like:

So there are a lot of narratives you might be spinning for yourself, looking at that Top 8."Where are all the Delver decks?" you might be asking yourself... Or "Is that really eight different archetypes?" The answer is a full-on "kind of!"

Like I said, seven of those eight decks played new (or old!) Magic 2013 spells, and many did so in ways that took advantage of what those cards did and how they interact with existing spells, strategies, and synergies within the context of a deck's shell. Looking for diversity? At least for the moment, Magic 2013, in a roar of Thragtusks and the fury of Rancor, seems to have quieted Standard's perceived Delver-dominance.

Let's get to it, shall we?

    Esper Midrange

Timothy Jansen's Esper Midrange

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Timothy Jansen was the odd man out in this Top 8; no Magic 2013 spells. Plenty of Avacyn Restored, mind you... just no Magic 2013.

Esper Midrange is kind of an inheritor to Standard Solar Flare. It lacks Solar Flare's overt reanimation synergies, cutting down to two copies of Forbidden Alchemy (and moving Unburial Rites to the sideboard)... but its enters-the-battlefield suite still packs the Sun Titan + Phantasmal Image combo that is so potent. Now, speaking of enters-the-battlefield shenanigans, this deck is chock full of them. In addition to Sun Titan's "pull" when entering the battlefield, Jansen had all kinds of Snapcaster Mages and Blade Splicers that can go two-for-one (or better!) when hitting play.

...and then, when you factor in Restoration Angel...

Boo-yah! What's better than a Snapcaster Mage? The same Snapcaster Mage a second time! You can save creatures or get an extra 3/3 Golem, reset a Phantasmal Image (presumably to another enters-the-battlefield); whatever. No Magic 2013... but lots of length from Avacyn Restored!

    Augur of Bolas; Talrand, Sky Summoner

Adam Prosak's Mono-Blue Wizards

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The much-decorated Adam Prosak went with the archetype he used to win an earlier StarCityGames Invitational and updated it with a brand new two-drop Merfolk (in that Invitational Prosak played Merfolk Looter).

From the top level, Adam's deck is "just" a White-Blue Delver list that is substituting Talrand, Sky Summoner in the Restoration Angel slot (although he still has Restoration Angel in the side). That is not a fair or 100% descriptive assessment, though. Adam's deck is the lowest land-count Delver we have seen, putting the twenty-land Mono-Blue Infect and nineteen-land GP-winner to shame at the low Low LOW rate of eighteen lands!

Talrand, Sky Summoner | Art by Svetlin Velinov

Adam gets away with this not just by playing lots of cantrips (Ponder and Gitaxian Probe help him dig to lands) but by running an absurd number of free spells. His deck has everything from the common four-of Gitaxian Probe to Gut Shot, Mutagenic Growth, and Mental Misstep! Zeroes, zeroes, and sometimes-zeroes!

These cards give Talrand, Sky Summoner "haste." So when you tap for Talrand, you can immediately spike some Phyrexian cheapies to get your Drake on. In the cases of at least two of those cards (Mental Misstep and Mutagenic Growth) you can actually defend Talrand. So say your opponent "lets" you spike Talrand on turn four, when you are not going to play another land (and Adam's deck, as we've noted, is even less likely to put another land in play than most Delver lists). Your opponent goes to play an end-of-turn Vapor Snag... or, God forbid, a pair of Gut Shots... and you can absolutely wreck your opponent with a Mental Misstep (or Mutagenic Growth in the latter case)! Galvanic Blast? Even Incinerate? Mutagenic Growth is going to keep your engine in play and give you a 2/2 buddy.

Augur of Bolas is like Snapcaster Mage, Jr. in this deck. Adam bends the math by playing twenty-four instants and sorceries, increasing Augur of Bolas's chances of hitting action over the typical 20/60 (or, one-in-three of my cards is an instant or sorcery, I look at three cards, et cetera). Augur of Bolas's worst crime is being less consistent than Snapcaster Mage, and lacking its flash (and, I suppose, flashiness). It trades that for better blocking. Playing both together—and alongside the new Drake engine—might make for yet another imposing dimension for Delver decks.

One last quick note, re: Adam's deck...

I made much mention of his low land count, but Prosak did run an extra Cavern of Souls in the side. While there is no general agreement about Insects, Humans, or Merfolk; Delver of Secrets, Snapcaster Mage, Augur of Bolas, and Talrand all be Wizards!

    Odric, Master Tactician in...

Blake Kettle's Naya Humans

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The Naya Humans deck is not so far off from the other Naya decks in the format (or this Top 8, for that matter). The focus is—as you can probably tell—on Humans versus other creature types, and as such, Kettle's deck gets serious mileage out of the full number of Cavern of Souls.

Odric, Master Tactician | Art by Michael Komarck

Particular non-Humans like Angelic Overseer enjoy a buff thanks to Humans being around (they almost always are), or, like Restoration Angel, are too good not to play. Restoration Angel has a lot of good work to do in this list, from getting an extra 3/3 out of Blade Splicer to the mundane task of keeping Thalia, Guardian of Thraben alive through assassination attempts.

Odric, Master Tactician is an odd inclusion in Kettle's main deck. For one, it is competing with the already impressive Huntmaster of the Fells, Hero of Bladehold, and Restoration Angel at the four. All three of those creatures are good enough to take over a game, and of them, Odric, Master Tactician is most like Hero of Bladehold... which Kettle did not play four copies of.

That said, Kettle's deck has lots of ways to do something significant, and that thing is putting bodies on the battlefield. Avacyn's Pilgrim to Blade Splicer to Odric, Master Tactician is enough guys for the proposed turn-four attack... where the opponent either won't block at all or will block Odric or the Golem token in such a way as to get blown out.

At this stage—one week in and talking about a rare card—it is unclear how many decks like Naya Humans would really want Odric... but we can probably guess more, not less.

    Rancor in Mono-Green Aggro

Michael Alakayleh's Mono-Green Aggro

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Rancor might be overshadowed by the spice of Augur of Bolas or the Sky Summoner, or the sheer cross-archetype applicability of Thragtusk, but it is hard to imagine a more appropriate or high-impact home than the Mono-Green Aggro deck.

Rancor | Art by Kev Walker

Dungrove Elder has been a respectable pillar of the Standard metagame since reigning Player of the Year Owen Turtenwald's States win, scaring all kinds of archetypes out of the game before they could be explored. Dungrove Elder disappeared for a while amid the rising popularity of Delver of Secrets, but winked back in the hands of Todd Anderson around the time of Pro Tour Dark Ascension.

Dungrove Elder has always had a problem. It has some insane upsides, don't get me wrong; but even in a mono-Forests land base it has this problem of never getting in. Everything from a Birds of Paradise that has done its duty to an active Moorland Haunt can keep Dungrove from ending a body in two swings. But not while Rancor is around.

Problem? Meet solution.

Predator Ooze was historically in much the same spot, albeit coming from the other side of the metagame. While Dungrove Elder could potentially go down in a fight (however unlikely at some point) but never fall to point removal, Predator Ooze could neither die to removal nor generally in combat... but was abysmal in the face of the format's defining "removal" of Vapor Snag. Well, if we are shifting to a less-Delver world with consequently dramatically fewer Vapor Snags, Predator Ooze... still needs a way to get it's potentially massive (and-hard-to-kill) frame through to the other side of the red zone.

Rancor again!

See what he did there?

Rancor is "always" good. It is the green Goblin Guide that doesn't give the opponent cards, provided you have a body/buddy for it; but when you have a huge fella who can't bust through? When you're trying to race but your opponent has a steady stream of unimportant assets? Rancor is something special; something else.

    Thragtusk in Naya Aggro

Thragtusk has so many useful elements built in on its face. It has a decent body for its cost; nothing to write home about for green, especially when it comes to toughness, but then again, you might not mind letting it die. Getting a Thragtusk killed via Incinerate, in fact, is kind of like the anti-Lash Out. You not only get paid back on the life side, but the removal your opponent just used didn't really remove-remove much of anything. Thragtusk's wording makes it especially useful against the hyper-efficient racer Vapor Snag, and it's appearance right after the printing of Cavern of Souls makes it both harder to preempt (despite its price tag) and difficult to answer after the fact. In unofficial polling against many of this Top 8's successful Magicians, Thragtusk was considered quite impressive, and there is no reason to believe that should change anytime soon.

Thragtusk | Art by Nils Hamm

Now, Thragtusk is hard to stomach when you are blowing removal on it, but what if Thragtusk's own controller is the one removing it? Many of the top decks of this Top 8 posed that very dilemma to their opponents.

As if Naya creature decks didn't already have an absurd stall-curve! Avacyn's Pilgrim into Blade Splicer is elite defense; Huntmaster of the Fells has been called the best creature in Standard by more than one Pro Tour winner. Curving into Restoration Angel there was bad enough, but Thragtusk into Restoration Angel essentially gives you the enters-the-battlefield bonuses of both Blade Splicer and Huntmaster of the Fells... alongside a fully recharged Thragtusk!

Lance Behrens's Naya Aggro

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    Thragtusk and Elvish Visionary in Birthing Pod

This Bant Pod deck can do essentially the same thing as the Restoration Angel combo, but while leveling up a Planeswalker. Venser's "blink" ability applies to any creature with an attractive enters-the-battlefield ability, of course, but is a full-on soft lock with Stonehorn Dignitary, allowing Bant to keep opponents out of the red zone until something is done about these troublesome permanents.

Forget about having to go ultimate with Venser (although, of course, that might be awesome, too), especially in a world featuring uncounterable Zealous Conscripts (make your Venser too big and you will not only lose it but give the opponent an unbeatable emblem). You can amass critical mass while the opponent is busy not killing you (as he or she can't attack). Successfully dodge Bonfire of the Damned and you might be able to get there with a simple activation of Venser's middle ability.

Stonehorn Dignitary—You can't attack...
Venser, the Sojourner—...indefinitely...
Venser, the Sojourner—...or block!

That doesn't seem very fun at all, now does it?

Well it's not like Stonehorn Dignitarys grow on trees. How do you get to your bullet Rhino? The obvious answer is Birthing Pod. Birthing Pod can chain you up from a lowly Blade Splicer or Thragtusk token up past Avacyn's Pilgrim, Strangleroot Geist, Blade Splicer, to the crowded and mighty four-of divide from Solemn Simulacrum to Huntmaster of the Fells in Caleb's deck or the much-discussed Dignitary here, profiting at many points.

Once you are up to the five, Thragtusk again shows off some serious Magic: The Gathering, leaving a body as it helps you chain up to Sun Titan or Wurmcoil Engine and the eventual table-snapper of Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite.

Joshua Kincaid's Bant Pod

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Caleb Durward showed off the latest in a long line of innovative lists with his Open-winning Naya Pod deck.

Everything we said about Thragtusk applies to Durward's deck, and from the Magic 2013 pile, the Survival of the Fittest-breaker added Elvish Visionary. Elvish Visionary has much the same role as Strangleroot Geist in step-profit Birthing Pod plan, but is obviously much easier on the mana. In particular, it can be difficult to play your second turn Cavern of Souls on "Spirit" to accommodate a curve that will likely include no other Spirits, but Strangleroot Geist is greedy on its green.

Interesting reversal here is Wurmcoil Engine over Inferno Titan at the six; Wurmcoil Engine has been hot and cold in Standard, lately frowned upon as Vapor Snag fodder... but with Thalia, Guardian of Thraben taxing low-land Delver decks and Thragtusk making life difficult for racers and Vapor Snag in general, the prospect of leaving a pair of 5/5 bodies as you chain up to Grand Cenobite has to be resurgently attractive.

Caleb Durward's Naya Pod

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    Ajani, Caller of the Pride in Green-White Aggro

Austin Fritz's Green-White Aggro

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Austin Fritz's deck touches on many of the elements we've seen in some of the other Top 8 decks. He doesn't have a major Birthing Pod theme with only one Birthing Pod, but he can still pull off many of the Thragtusk tricks when it does come up. Certainly his Restoration Angels get along just as well with Thragtusk.

Ajani, Caller of the Pride | Art by D. Alexander Gregory

Rancor is just as awesome here as it is in Mono-Green Aggro. In fact, the ability to put Rancor on a flying creature or in combination with certain brand-new white Planeswalkers is a dimension that StOmPy didn't show us yet.

And speaking of that Planeswalker...

I am reserving my judgment on this card in this deck at this point; just because most of the cards in Austin's deck speak for themselves, and given the timing of the tournament, it is hard to think he had access to the full palette of every mythic rare his green-white might have actually wanted. It is not hard to imagine what Ajani does in a team of efficient attackers, and the prospect of double strike with either a Rancor or—my God—a Sword buff should be frightening to anyone who has ever had to make a difficult block. I have to say I like the look of Sword of Body and Mind in Austin's sideboard even more than the more popular ones in his main... as the prospect of a Millstone Wolf-machine gives the deck quite the extra dimension. Especially if we are talking about a world where a progressive Thragtusk defense can really put the kibosh on the old damage route.

So... Magic 2013; "only" one dastardly Delver deck in the most recent Top 8. What do you think? What do you say?

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