As Magic players prepared for and arrived at Grand Prix Houston, it appeared they were caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place, pinned between the Eldrazi menace in Modern and a zombie insect devouring hosts of sacrifice fodder in Standard.
Unlike the Eldrazi at the Pro Tour, however, Nantuko Husk and Rally the Ancestors can’t take this weekend’s competitors by surprise, and according to at least some players, being the target of both main deck and sideboard hate tournament-wide just might make Rally this weekend’s hero.
On Friday, two competitors took 4-Color Rally to victory in Last Chance Qualifiers, drawn not only by the deck’s powerful interactions, but also by the quality of the individual cards.
“A lot of the times the interactions are just so powerful you feel like you can’t lose against certain match-ups,” says Minh Tran, Houston local and Last Chance Qualifier winner. “If you Collected Company and then use Jace to flash back Collected Company, I think most of the decks in the format can’t beat it.”
“You should be casting Collected Company and Reflector Mage right now,” says Alex Polyakov, another Last Chance Qualifier winner. “A lot of the times you don’t need to combo out your opponent, you can just win on board or put them out of the game with Reflector Mage.”
One of Rally’s many strengths is its versatility. While the deck can finish opponents with a mid- or late-game Rally the Ancestors or drain players to death with the help of Zulaport Cutthroat, it can also apply enough pressure with early creatures and disruption to tempo opponents out of the game, making it a capable tool in skilled hands.
“I’ve played similar decks, decks that have a combo and an aggressive version, like Elves in Legacy and Birthing Pod and Abzan Company in Modern, so I like the feel of the deck,” Tran says.
“It plays as both a combo deck and a grindy aggro-control deck getting incremental value here and there,” says Channel Fireball member David Ochoa, “and when it’s playing like the former you can just fireball your opponent out of nowhere with a few copies of Zulaport Cutthroat and Rally the Ancestors.”
In January Reid Duke won Grand Prix Oakland with a copy of 4-Color Rally, and while the deck was certainly on players’ radars before Oakland, that finish brought it to the forefront, the deck’s power and resilience forcing people to pick a side – play Rally, or play a way to beat it.
Unfortunately for those who have chosen to oppose Rally, the deck has only become more powerful with the introduction of Oath of the Gatewatch and a potent new tool – Reflector Mage.
“[Reflector Mage] is just a really really good card in general, particularly good in a Collected Company Strategy, and just conveniently enough it happens to answer the two hardest cards to beat, which are Anafenza and Kalitas,” says Duke. “It’s a little more reliable than the Fleshbag Marauder-type cards that were your best option before Oath of the Gatewatch.”
To worsen the news for those looking to take down Rally, the deck’s versatility also bolsters its resilience against cards like Hallowed Moonlight, Anafenza, the Foremost, and Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet that opponents can bring in out of their sideboards to battle Nantuko Husk and its menu.
“There’s lots of things you can do to hate out the Rally deck, but Rally also has great counter measures to all of those things,” says Duke. “For example, if people are trying to use Dispel and Hallowed Moonlight you can just play your own Dispels or Duresses. If people are trying to use Anafenza and Kalitas you can just use Reflector Mage or Murderous Cut.”
Add to that versatility a slew of diverse and potentially transformational sideboard tools, and the deck begins to confirm its role as Standard menace.
“It can rely less on these cards like Collected Company and Rally the Ancestors, which is what people are bringing in hate cards against,” Ochoa says of post-sideboard games. “Hallowed Moonlight doesn’t really do anything against Anafenza, especially when it’s smashing in for four or more damage a turn.”
Duke adds that, “as long as, as the Rally player, you’re able to find a balance between sticking to your game plan and countering what your opponent’s trying to do to stop you, then you can certainly walk that line and fight through the hate.”
Rally is powerful enough that its worst enemy might just be itself.
“My last two rounds were against Rally . . . I kind of want to say Rally,” Tran replied when asked about his worst match-up.
So is Rally really Standard’s villain, or are there decks within the walls of the Houston convention center poised to take the post Oath of the Gatewatch world by storm?
“I think maybe people at home should be rooting for the Rally deck to make sure there’s not something even worse,” Duke says. “Rally was the best deck, but you don’t want that to change because there’s an even more broken, unfair deck out there.”
That’s not just an ominous prediction; from inside Grand Prix Houston we can confirm that there are monsters looming on the horizon, and we’re thrilled – and maybe a little terrified – to tell you all about them.