Golgari Twist

Posted in Top Decks on November 29, 2012

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."

Top Decks took a break last week on account of the Thanksgiving holiday in the US, so this week we are actually going to try to catch up on the last three Standard Grand Prix. Two weeks ago, we had Standard Grand Prix in both Bochum, Germany, and Charleston, South Carolina. This past weekend saw a Standard Grand Prix in San Antonio , Texas. So... lots of exciting results!

BR Aggro may be the It Girl sunning herself under the current Standard spotlight. Taking two of the three recent Grand Prix titles (with two, if not three, Top 8 finishes in each of the three), black-red is a deck you must be ready for if you want to compete in the current format.

Jon Bolding's BR Aggro

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Bolding's winner from Charleston takes a number of eye-catching turns. On the one hand, it is a Cavern of Souls–driven deck with quite a few Zombies. In a sense, this can be taken as a preemptive counterstrike against a room full of Dissipates and Essence Scatters. Diregraf Ghoul and Gravecrawler are both X/2 creatures that only cost a single black mana. Black and red ancestors like Jackal Pup, Sarcomancy, and Carnophage probably look down on the low downsides and substantial resilience of these creatures with fangs glittering ear-to-ear. Geralf's Messenger rounds out the Zombie theme as one of the most efficient threats available in the format... a combination of damage and resilience and damage again that is all the more attractive when it can't be countered.

Jackal Pup

That said, Bolding was no slave to the Zombies-linear. He did not litter his deck with random two-drops and making his spell selections purely on creature type. Instead, he stretched out his horizons at the two to include Knight of Infamy (a creatures with substantial advantages of its own)... but really changed the game by allowing for a higher curve with tons of haste.

At the four, Bolding ran both Falkenrath Aristocrat and Hellrider. Falkenrath Aristocrat packs a punch equal to its mana cost, and does so in a hurry. Moreover, this Vampire works well with creatures like Gravecrawler and Geralf's Messenger, borrowing their ability to play in the graveyard to enhance its durability. Hellrider works well with armies in general. Together, these four-drops put tremendous pressure on decks with primarily sorcery-speed removal. Even if the opponent is able to remove them, he or she is going to take a ton of damage first.

Falkenrath Aristocrat

Thundermaw Hellkite is more of the same... but packs the punch you'd expect from a five-drop. Thundermaw Hellkite erases the idea of sitting behind Lingering Souls tokens and even does little things... like pulling a Restoration Angel down into Searing Spear range.

As we said: breakout.

Tyler Lytle's BR Aggro

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On the way to taking down Grand Prix San Antonio, Lytle seems to have borrowed quite a bit from Bolding's winning list: his land and creature configurations were identical.

The big shift in this deck is in the spell slots. Likely in anticipation of mirror matches, Lytle moved Pillar of Flame to the main and upped the Pillar of Flame count to the Maximum Number. Pillar of Flame is, of course, one of the best possible answers to a Gravecrawler—meeting it at similar speed and taking care of it permanently—and that goes double for Geralf's Messenger. You can't avoid the Messenger's painful enters-the-battlefield ability, but not having to deal with it in combat (twice!) is certainly a plus.

Pillar of Flame

In addition, Lytle added Vampire Nighthawk to his sideboard. While Vampire Nighthawk can be destroyed via Brimstone Volley or Searing Spear, it dodges Victim of Night and is too big for a Pillar of Flame. If Vampire Nighthawk doesn't go anywhere, it makes for a hell of a blocker, trading with almost anything and racing brilliantly either on offense or on defense.

Vampire Nighthawk
Victim of Night

Some other BR Aggro decks:

Tomaš Vanek's BR Aggro

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Mark of Mutiny and Zealous Conscripts work well with Falkenrath Aristocrat and Bloodthrone Vampire here; steal opponents' best guys (presumably best blockers), get in for a ton,... leave them with nothing!

Mark of Mutiny
Zealous Conscripts

Kamil Napierski's BR Aggro

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We see a similar, if somewhat less pronounced, steal-and-sacrifice theme here. Note that sacrifice effects work well with the morbid on Brimstone Volley!

Bloodthrone Vampire
Brimstone Volley

Craterhoof Combo and Reanimator Decks

Martin Juza's Craterhoof Combo

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Martin Juza won Bochum with a combo Reanimator innovated by former Player of the Year Brad Nelson (Brad finished Top 16 with a similar list in Charleston the same weekend).

While some Reanimator decks have played with Craterhoof Behemoth, most of the decks of such a stripe we have looked at this season have essentially been green-white-X-[Y] Thragtusk + Restoration Angel decks that happened to be able to hit some extra value via Unburial Rites. Most of those have topped up on Angel of Serenity... but, sure, we've seen a Craterhoof Behemoth or three.

Unburial Rites
Angel of Serenity

This deck has shifted the focus of the deck primarily to Craterhoof Behemoth. It is all about playing out mana creatures (including Somberwald Sage, so you can actually cast your Craterhoof Behemoth). All these little guys are out there, maybe they link arms with some Lingering Souls Spirit tokens, and... Boom! Everyone is Overrunning.

Somberwald Sage
Lingering Souls

The main deck features Mulch, Tracker's Instincts, and Grisly Salvage to fill your hand and fill your graveyard for Unburial Rites and Lingering Souls.

Now, while the main deck is designed to go big and hasty with fists flying, as with Falkenrath Aristocrat, Hellrider, and Thundermaw Hellkite, Craterhoof Behemoth murders players who are armed only with sorcery-speed removal. If you let this deck get to the Craterhoof, it may already be too late.

Thundermaw Hellkite
Craterhoof Behemoth

That said, like many Reanimator decks, this one can find itself exposed against cards like Cremate, Ground Seal, or Rest in Peace. It is also quite reliant on its many mana creatures. If there are no Arbor Elves or Avacyn's Pilgrims on the battlefield, Craterhoof Behemoth might just be a hella expensive Thundermaw Hellkite (that doesn't fly) (and without most of the upside).

After sideboards, Juza can flip back to a more traditional creature deck, Reanimator or not. Thragtusk plus Restoration Angel? It's in there! Cavern of Souls can put you into a position of dominance against a control deck. And Angel of Serenity? Casting it has never been easier, thanks to Somberwald Sage. Small note that we will see again in a moment: Loxodon Smiter can come down turn two if you've got the right one-drop.

Morgan Chang's Four-Color Reanimator

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We have seen four-color Reanimator decks that have primarily touched red for their fourth color; Chang's deck touches blue for Forbidden Alchemy instead of Faithless Looting. Blue gives you some interesting options, like sideboarding Supreme Verdict (which Selesnya beatdown deck is going to expect that from Reanimator?) and Evil Twin. If Thragtusk is so great, what is even better than best? More!

Forbidden Alchemy
Evil Twin

Conley Woods 4-Color Value Rites

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Pro Tour superstar Conley Woods cracked the San Antonio Top 8 with a four-color Reanimator that did in fact touch the traditional red... but his deck didn't look particularly like other Reanimator decks beyond that.

Borderland Ranger? Huntmaster of the Fells? Bonfire of the Damned? Many of Conley's card choices look like Innistrad Block Naya choices.

Borderland Ranger
Bonfire of the Damned

Armada Wurm? That is quite a different top end than we have seen in other Reanimator decks!

Conley's deck isn't really a core-Reanimator deck. There is no Mulch, no Tracker's Instincts, no Grisly Salvage. The deck kind of catches up or gets ahead with its Reanimator theme, rather than focusing on it as the central strategy. From that perspective, it is almost like black is the fourth color rather than red.

Pretty telling: Conley played Rest in Peace in his sideboard. If it was going to come down to graveyard contest, Conley would be willing to concede that battlefield

Contrasting GW Aggro Decks

Despite being a strategy that is fairly restrictive in its spell selection—besides Ben Rasmussen's on Faith's Shield, neither of the Top 8 green-white decks played a main-deck noncreature spell outside of Rancor and Selesnya Charm—GW Aggro has proven to be one of the more diverse playgrounds for customization in this format. The creature selection is diverse... everywhere from a hyper-concentration on low-cost (if high-impact) one-drops to white-blue-like flash subthemes. Each of the different green-white decks focuses on, and can consequently do, different things (and will punish opponents for doing and mis-doing different things). Consider:

Peter Kelly's GW Humans

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Kelly's GW Humans deck has a very low land count—only twenty lands—that affords it the ability to play tons and tons of little Humans (and their pets... say, an owl). This deck will almost always have a one-drop to start off with the initiative, and can pour more and more pressure on an opponent, even using seemingly weak cards.

Judge's Familiar
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben

Champion of the Parish gets bigger and bigger from the first turn, here; and the combination of Judge's Familiar and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben can be deceptively disruptive, especially to decks that rely on their two-slot to find or draw lands.

Hot combo is Fencing Ace + Rancor, with Fencing Ace doing a fair Boros Swiftblade impression... especially when linked up with Selesnya Charm. Silverblade Paladin is "only" a three-of in Kelly's main, presumably in deference to his only playing twenty lands.

Ben Rasmussen's GW Humans

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Rasmussen also played quite a few Humans (starting on Champion of the Parish as well), but played the full four Silverblade Paladins as well as dipping into the more conventional midrange powerhouses of the format... two Restoration Angels main and two Thragtusks in the side.

Champion of the Parish
Silverblade Paladin

The hot Hot HOT combo in this deck is Precinct Captain + Rancor. As Precinct Captain starts out with first strike, it is pretty tough to contain this little combo outside of removing the creature (you need a blocker with 5+ toughness to avoid a mini-blowout)... and the trample from Rancor makes for an aces combination. Any time the Precinct Captain connects with an opposing player... hilarity (and Saprolings) ensue.

Precinct Captain

Both green-white builds ran Mayor of Avabruck as a kind of mini tribal Crusade that doubles as a severe penalty for control players, especially those without instant-speed interaction.

Although he did not make Top 8 in any of the Standard Grand Prix we are discussing today, I would argue from watching and playing Magic Online that the most influential green-white build of the recent weeks is actually Brian Kibler's Top 16 deck from Charleston. Kibler, the two-time Pro Tour Champion/Hall of Famer/Kickstarter superstar/heartthrob played an extraordinarily unconventional green-white deck that eschewed many of the accepted cards and strategies in favor of ones "no one" had been playing.

Like Rasmussen—in advance of Rasmussen, really—Kibler played Faith's Shield... but unlike either other green-white deck (or almost any green-white Standard deck you may have seen before) his low spell count did not include a Rancor! Wow.

Brian Kibler's GW Aggro

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Instead, Brian played a suffocating and progressive game of end-of-turn threats and feints, with multi-turn setups using the heretofore unexplored Yeva, Nature's Herald. He controlled the battlefield with a combination of the size of soulbonded Wolfir Silverheart and the savvy of Ulvenwald Tracker.

Yeva, Nature's Herald
Ulvenwald Tracker

Brian played only twenty-three lands but an eight-pack of one-drop accelerators; as with some other builds we have looked at today, this helped him ramp into a turn-two Loxodon Smiter. Brian ran Thragtusk and Restoration Angel, but did not max out on either. A very, very different take.

Reid Duke's Golgari Twist

From this writer's perspective, the most impressive deck of the recent Grand Prix belonged to back-to-back Top 8 competitor Reid Duke. Making any Top 8 is obviously impressive, although Reid's doing so on consecutive weekends is not the reason I like the deck so much. It may not have won consecutive Grand Prix, but... it's special. Its tuning—which Reid quickly credited to Draw-Go creator Andrew Cuneo and, especially, Sam Black—is a rare gem. If Caw-Blade hadn't happened so recently, I would have said this was the most impressively assembled deck in three years!

Reid Duke's Golgari Twist Bant Control

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Reid Duke's Golgari Twist Bant Control

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So what's so special about it?

Week over week, Reid more-or-less added Augur of Bolas to the main. Like Lytle and his shift on Pillar of Flame, Augur of Bolas makes for a fine blocker of Gravecrawlers. But the deck's special something remained and resounded.

The secret to this deck's tuning comes from Farseek. Farseek can find the one Overgrown Tomb (you know, the Golgari Twist). The one Overgrown Tomb—whether searched-for, drawn, or reassembled on a second go-round—pairs up with the one Nephalia Drownyard to annihilate other white-blue or Bant control decks. The combination is inevitable. The deck assumes it will play many, many turns, so assembling it is more-or-less inevitable. Oh, and they have another shot!

Overgrown Tomb
Nephalia Drownyard

What about the errant Liliana activation, or a Ghost Quarter? What if the combo breaks up?

This version of Bant Control runs (1) all four copies of Sphinx's Revelation main and (2) Elixir of Immortality. Ostensibly, that allows the deck to Sphinx's Revelation more than four times in a game, but for purposes of Overgrown Tomb + Nephalia Drownyard... it allows for more and more pairings.

Sphinx's Revelation
Elixir of Immortality

There are other cool beans built in. Consider the addition of Alchemist's Refuge in the second build... as a reaction to the Craterhoof Combo and other sorceries-punishing strategies, Alchemist's Refuge let Reid play Supreme Verdict during his opponent's attack in order to save tons of life points. Sigarda, Host of Herons is just an awesome card that we will likely see more and more of before the year is out (I mean, how do you plan to kill her?).

For those of you who love diversity, there are lots and lots of different decks in Standard right now. Go pick one and crush FNM tomorrow night! For those of you who love great deck tuning... we have that, too! The options are plenty—much fun and fortune to be had in Standard.

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