Hundreds, if not thousands, of deck ideas are dreamed up in the weeks before each Pro Tour, only to be discarded in favor of more competitive builds. Some of those ideas, however, merit picking up and dusting off in the following weeks, as a new approach or a little more fine tuning can take them from discards to format stars.
Jiachen Tao, a member of East-West Bowl, showed up to GP Portland with Abzan Walkers, a deck he developed out of a few Pro Tour ideas he thought showed promise but didn't end up making the final cut. He was obviously on to something, as he piloted the deck to a perfect 9-0 record on day one.
The deck plays some of the most powerful midrange cards available in Standard at the moment, including Sylvan Advocates, which give it an effective flexibility.
"This deck has the ability to become aggressive. Against slower, more combo-centric decks you want to play your Sylvan Advocates, hit six lands, and start activating your creature lands to attack them for a billion," Tao said. "But usually it takes a more controlling role. Your goal is to kill their creatures, hopefully trade some resources, and eventually stick one or two big Planeswalkers."
Tao calls the Planeswalkers the deck's "card advantage machines," generating value and proving difficult to remove.
"I think not many decks are well-equipped to attack Planeswalkers right now, so that's good," Tao said. "There's not a lot of resilient creature beat-down, and not a lot of decks are playing cards like Ruinous Path or Anguished Unmaking. You generally get to gain value from your Planeswalkers for one or two turns."
The suite of Planeswalkers also influenced a key deck building decision. While a lot of green-black decks in Standard choose to play Traverse the Ulvenwald over Oath of Nissa, Tao's deck plays the Legendary enchantment. It's one of his favorite cards to come out of the recent sets, and while he agrees that most of the time Traverse the Ulvenwald is a better card, always hitting a land in early turns and fetching any powerful creature in the late game, in his deck Oath of Nissa prevails because it gets Planeswalkers.
While the twelve powerful "Super Friends" are the flashiest parts of the deck, Tao thinks the deck's true strength lies elsewhere.
"The biggest strength is actually Sylvan Advocate and the creature lands," Tao said. "We get to play eight of those creature lands and it's just such a strong card when most people can't interact with those lands."
Whether it's Planeswalkers or creature lands, Tao's list offers a take on powerful green and black cards – with a bit of white in there as well – for players looking for an alternative to Emrakul decks, but with an equally promising end.