It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Gatecrash

Posted in Top Decks on February 14, 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."

Pro Tour Gatecrash will soon be upon us!

And half that tournament is going to be Standard.

Standard since Return to Ravnica has been a rollercoaster ride of different strategies: aggressive decks like Rakdos Zombies or Rakdos Red; midrange decks with and without Farseek; control decks topping up on Sphinx's Revelation; and even combo decks winning with big spells like Omniscience or Door to Nothingness. But like the name—Pro Tour Gatecrash—indicates, new set Gatecrash is set to challenge the status quo. We have seen a couple of weeks of big Standard tournaments care of the StarCityGames Open Series.

How have the Open players approached Standard with Gatecrash, and how might their innovations affect the pros (or not)?

Jund Midrange

William Postlethwait's Jund Midrange

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Onetime US Nationals standout Postlethwait won the recent StarCity Open in Edison, NJ, new cards! What is most shocking is that his Jund Midrange deck didn't even play Stomping Ground.

As Jund Midrange in Standard has been for some months, this deck is a collection of effective and flexible threats and answers: marquee creatures from one (Deathrite Shaman) to Thragtusk at the top, with tons and tons of flexible removal spells.

What I really like about Postlethwait's setup (besides main-deck Staff of Nin, which is a house), is his nigh-overload of lifegain creatures. Vampire Nighthawk on three (with all four after sideboarding); Huntmaster of the Fells on four; and, of course, Thragtusk up top. Especially given the emerging success of aggressive decks in post-Gatecrash Standard, having lots of high-value lifegain creatures can give Jund a good additional angle.

Staff of NinVampire Nighthawk

Jund Aggro

Ty Holden's Jund Aggro

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Still in Jund colors, we have quite a different deck than the one from the eventual winner.

For one thing, Ty Holden played quite a few new cards instead of Postlethwait's zero Gatecrash cards.

On one mana, Holden had Experiment One joining Deathrite Shaman as a powerful set of early drops. Of course, Holden played Stomping Ground; that new land not only helps cast Deathrite Shaman and Experiment One on turn one, but can set up Strangleroot Geist or (somewhat new) Flinthoof Boar on turn two. There is just great redundancy on three mana here; Dreg Mangler and Flinthoof Boar can both be 3/3 haste attackers for three mana.

Experiment OneDeathrite Shaman

Ghor-Clan Rampager is another signature Gatecrash card. Its "Giant Growth"–style bloodrush half is essentially twice the impact of a Selesnya Charm for the same mana; and its "regular" 4/4-creature-for-four-mana side is worth playing in a pinch.

Midrange control... hasty beatdown... Jund has got you covered!

Junk Midrange

John Pietrowski's Junk Midrange

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John Pietrowski's Junk deck tops up on one of the most powerful creatures in Gatecrash, Obzedat, Ghost Council. The deck essentially casts double Thragtusk here, jamming up the five-spot for tons and tons of 5-power lifegaining creatures.

While not a Reanimator deck,per se, Pietrowski played a minor Unburial Rites subtheme. The deck is full of value creatures anyway (Thragtusk and company), so playing Unburial Rites for one will just give you a second round on the same advantage. Lotleth Troll is just a great creature for its cost (hard to block, hard to deal with, and hard to complain about its CMC)... and you can discard creatures to it to set up Unburial Rites.

Unburial RitesLotleth Troll

Out of the sideboard we see Blind Obedience.

In addition to making for a nice combination with Rhox Faithmender (which is even more explosive with Thragtusk), Blind Obedience does so much against a wide variety of cards. It keeps creatures on the other side of the table from being able to block, turning off Restoration Angel shenanigans among other tricks; it turns off the haste on creatures like Thundermaw Hellkite or Hellrider;... and it has an interesting synergy with a card we just talked about a moment ago: Obzedat, Ghost Council.

Against an opposing Obzedat, Blind Obedience turns off about half the text. There is little point to blinking Obzedat in and out against a Blind Obedience. Sure, you can run your 2-plus-2 minor bloodletting, but you will not be able to attack with Obzedat—ever—if you keep blinking it against a Blind Obedience.

Esper Control

Chris Marshall's Esper Control

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Swap green for blue and you can spin Junk Control colors into Esper Control. While some Esper decks have already embraced Obzedat, Marshall chose to focus only on fast, value Wizards Augur of Bolas and Snapcaster Mage.

Marshall did, however, echo the use of Blind Obedience in this control deck. Blind Obedience may be even better in a blue-based control deck for two reasons... for one, the deck is full of sweepers. Blind Obedience makes all the opposing creatures slow and clunky, and then Supreme Verdict and Terminus clean them up.

Blind ObedienceSupreme Verdict

The other, somewhat subtle, reason is that blue control decks are full of so many small spells. Every Azorius Charm, every Think Twice flashback, can now subtly double as a kill spell, grinding the opponent out via Blind Obedience.

Marshall also went to the Gatecrash well to supplement his creature elimination. It has been said before, but while Devour Flesh might not be quite Diabolic Edict... it is the Diabolic Edict we have. Obviously best against an otherwise-exposed hexproof creature (especially when covered by many offensive Auras), Devour Flesh works here as it is part of an overall team. As a cheap instant, it works well with Snapcaster Mage... but, of course, as part of an overall context that includes Ultimate Price, Terminus, and Supreme Verdict... Devour Flesh can help create a creatures-hostile environment that is tough to dig out of for an opponent planning to win via creature attacks.

Naya Aggro

Paul Brown's Naya Humans

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Paul Brown's Naya Humans deck incorporates many of the exciting fast drops offered by Gatecrash. In addition to Experiment One, Brown went with Boros Elite as a supplement to Champion of the Parish.

On two, he had Burning-Tree Emissary, which might be Boros Elite's best friend. You can play multiple cards on the second turn, allowing you to go for battalion quickly. Just think about how brutal Boros Elite followed by Burning-Tree Emissary + Lightning Mauler might be on the second turn... take 7! Boros Elite and Frontline Medic attacking with battalion at the same time is a big game. Boros Elite is a huge game—3/3 for one mana—and Frontline Medic ensures that your battalion will survive any possible blocks.

Burning-Tree EmissaryBoros Elite

Boros Charm can potentially do the same thing—keeping your creatures alive—including against opposing sweep spells. Boros Charm is a massive threat, of course... part Char, part Hatred, and part conditional Counterspell.

If your mana comes out the way you want it to, Naya Humans can make for one of the most explosive decks in Standard.

Richard Nguyen's Naya Zoo

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Still Naya.

Still attack-oriented.

But somehow a much different deck.

Richard Nguyen's Naya Zoo incorporates some of the same new cards (Burning-Tree Emissary) but also powerful old favorites like Thragtusk + Restoration Angel.

ThragtuskRestoration Angel

I love Volcanic Strength in this deck. In addition to pushing a creature past typical red removal, the commensurate evasion can put the opponent on a guaranteed short clock at the same time.

Unlike Brown's deck, which uses Boros Reckoner as a sideboard card only, Nguyen ran it main. Boros Reckoner at this point looks like the most influential card in the new set, challenging how we play the format at all. Like a Rakdos Keyrune, Boros Reckoner beats up Thragtusk. Like Thragtusk itself, Boros Reckoner is almost a guaranteed two-for-one. Send a Searing Spear against it, you will in all likelihood lose one of your own creatures.

One solution is to just let Boros Reckoner in every turn... which might or might not be a reasonable strategy. Taking 3 might be just what an opposing red deck wants you to do!

At the same time, Nguyen has one of the better anti-red/anti-Boros Reckoner cards main: Loxodon Smiter. Long a sometimes-inclusion at the three, Loxodon Smiter looks to get the clear nod over Centaur Healer now; it can cleanly trade with Boros Reckoner whereas Centaur Healer just forces the opponent to tap one mana to enable first strike.

Boros ReckonerLoxodon Smiter

Gatecrash Planeswalker rock star Domri Rade "only" made Nguyen's sideboard, but it can be savage in a deck like this. Forcing a fight against Boros Reckoner especially can be quite painful... your 3/3 beats up on your opponent's 1/1 and makes him or her take an extra point. Value!


Boros Aggro

Clayton Gereffi's Boros Aggro

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Dan Walton's Boros Aggro

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While not identical, these two Boros decks use many of the same new Gatecrash cards and together illustrate why straight Boros is such a compelling way to build your beatdown deck. Boros Charm is just a perfect complement to Thundermaw Hellkite. Take 10? Wow. Skullcrack is a great foil to Sphinx's Revelation; it doesn't turn everything off, but it makes the world a lot less rosy for the opposing card-advantage plan.

SkullcrackSphinx's Revelation

Of course, the showcase card is—again—Boros Reckoner.

The mana is much cleaner here: Every land in the Boros deck (minus, say, one Slayers' Stronghold) can cast it. If you have three mana on turn three, you can play down one of the most compelling threats in the format.

But—as good as Boros might be—is this the best home for Boros Reckoner?

In this Top 8, we have seen the Minotaur Wizard in both aggressive and midrange decks; we have seen it main deck as a threat, and in sideboards as a supplement. But what is the true horizon for Boros Reckoner?

As Pro Tour Gatecrash is inches away from crashing down the gates of upcoming Standard, I would guess that Boros Reckoner's best destiny might be alongside this card:

Blasphemous Act

It will be interesting to see how this card fits in a control (probably RWU Flash) shell. It is a great blocker and nigh-guaranteed two-for-one on defense. Control decks want sweepers anyway... and a well-placed Blasphemous Act gives a cagey control player an easy way to deal a combo-like 13 damage while defending/gaining value.

But as with every Pro Tour...We shall see.

See for yourself here on all weekend!

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