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Standard with Gatecrash


Adam Koska
Adam Koska

About Adam Koska

Adam is an experienced player from the Czech Republic who has a number of high-profile finishes under his belt:

  • 9th at Worlds 2009
  • 9th at Pro Tour Kyoto 2009
  • 45 Lifetime Pro Points
  • Top 32 GP Vienna 2008
  • Top 64 GP Krakow 2007
  • Three times Czech Nationals Top 8

Standard with Gatecrash

Hey everybody! In my article last week, I have mentioned some of the Gatecrash cards that caught my attention for one reason or another and today, I would like to continue exploring the new set, only this time, I’m going to be putting the cards into context and trying to brew some new decks that accommodate cards from Gatecrash. Please bear in mind that since the prerelease has happened only a few days ago, these decks are more or less just concepts that lack deeper testing. However, I think that it’s always useful to put these first ideas on paper and expose them to a discussion. After all, not a single deck in the history of Magic started as a well-tuned list and good decks always have a long testing process behind them, a process that usually started with a first draft that eventually evolved. Because the decks that I’m going to share today are mostly just the first concepts, I’m not going to include sideboards, as these are something that takes shape only around the time when the deck is finalized and also after the metagame expectations are clear.

Let’s start with some of the more obvious archetypes that are likely to play a role in the post-Gatecrash Standard format. The one that benefits probably the most from the new set is R/W aggro, not a surprising fact, since Boros is one of the five guilds in Gatecrash and guild decks tend to have some support in the guild-oriented sets. I think that the biggest push for the deck isn’t Frontline Medic or Boros Charm, but Sacred Foundry, and by quite a big margin. Before Gatecrash, playing this deck was pretty risky simply for the reason that you were running a two-colored aggro deck with demanding manacosts and without enough dual lands. Now that the deck has Cavern of Souls, Clifftop Retreat and Sacred Foundry, not having the necessary mana shouldn’t be that much of an issue anymore. This is what I feel the starting draft of a R/W aggro deck could look like:

WR Humans, post-Gatecrash Standard

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Frontline Medic
Gatecrash (Foil)

There are several new cards from Gatecrash in the deck, apart from the set of Sacred Foundries. Frontline Medic is a card that I’ve already mentioned in my last article and I stand by the claim that it is going to be quite powerful in the white aggro decks, as it allows you to attack without fear of losing any creature. This is especially important with Hellrider in the deck, since you can turn everything sideways and deal the maximum amount of damage every time and not risk a bloodbath. The fact that Hellrider has haste is also super-important here, since you can reach Battalion this way even if you miss your one-drop or two-drop or if it gets killed.

Boros Elite is another new card in the deck and I believe that it’s going to become a staple in white weenie decks. It’s another good one-drop and in a deck with Gather the Townsfolk and a plethora of haste dudes, it’s not unreasonable to expect it to attack for 3 on turn 3. And speaking of Gather the Townsfolk, this is one of the better Battalion-enablers and 4 copies should be played in most decks that use this mechanic. The interactions this card now offers cover quite a few different angles here, from Champion of the Parish to Battalion and Hellrider.

What Sacred Foundry means for Boros is what Stomping Ground means for Gruul. The R/W Humans deck is something that’s quite obvious and will surely be played in the post-Gatecrash Standard format, but whether Gruul is good enough, that still remains to be seen. However, this combination has several things going for it that might ensure Gruul its place in Standard. First of all, Kessig Wolf-Run is still one of the best spell-lands in Standard and if you’re playing an aggressive deck, it can make it almost impossible to stabilize for a control opponent, since every threat you play can deal massive chunks of damage in the lategame. And second, Gruul has access to Rancor, a card that – strictly in the sense of its power level – grants it a place among the very best Standard-legal spells. In addition, there are some almost forgotten red-green cards that could find their way out of the woodwork – Flinthoof Boar, for example. This is a sample list of a post-Gatecrash Standard Gruul deck:

Gruul aggro, post-Gatecrash Standard

Converted Mana Cost
Basic Land11
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Let’s have a look at the new cards first. I think that Experiment One is probably one of the most underrated cards from Gatecrash right now. In a green deck, how difficult can it be to play creatures that are bigger than 1/1? The answer is not difficult at all and Experiment One will usually be attacking for 2 on turn 2 and for 3 one turn later. Despite its creepy appearance, it’s also a human, which all the Cavern decks will surely appreciate. Here, this advantage is not important, but the abundance of cheap big creatures that can pump it certainly is. The regeneration ability is also a lot more important than it might seem – living through Supreme Verdict is huge, as is being immune to most removal. Experiment One does shrink to smaller proportions when he regenerates, but again, the number of bigger creatures in this deck is high, so even if you regenerate him, Experiment One is not going to remain a 1/1 for long.

Ghor-Clan Rampager is another Gatecrash four-of in this deck and while that might seem like too much because of four Hellriders on the 4-slot, the better „half“ of Rampager is the pump spell, so the mana curve shouldn’t be an issue at all. +4/+4 and trample is huge and exactly what this kind of deck needs.

Domri Rade and Skullcrack are also in the deck to round out the numbers, or rather to find out whether they are good enough for the maindeck or not. Garruk Relentless might also be ok here, but I just want to see Domri Rade in action, as right now, I frankly have no idea how good he is exactly. I have a feeling that he might not be bad, but I can’t say that for sure just yet. Skullcrack is more of a metagame call, but in an environment full of Thragtusks, maindecking a couple of Skullcracks could very well be the right decision.

The Gruul deck seems like it has a lot of raw power, but I’m a little concerned about the manabase. There are multiple double-red and double-green cards in the deck, which seems to be the norm with Hellrider occupying a spot in the vast majority of double-colored aggro decks, but here, we also have cards that ask specifically for a Forest (Arbor Elf) and specifically for a Mountain (Flinthoof Boar). Stomping Grounds go a long way towards meeting these requirements, but I’m still not entirely convinced that the manabase is good enough. I will be able to tell after some more testing.

The last idea that I have for a brand new deck came to me when I was flipping through the cards I got at the prerelease and I stumbled upon a card called Immortal Servitude. A black-white hybrid sorcery, this card has a great deal of potential and judging strictly by the value it can deliver, offers a lot more than an average Standard card. The question is how to use this potential and I think that one of the answers could be this deck:

UB combo Zombies, post-Gatecrash Standard

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Immortal Servitude
Gatecrash (Foil)

Blue-black Zombies had been a real deck for a while back in the time when Phantasmal Image was legal in Standard and you could play it for a total of eight Zombie lords, together with four Diregraf Captains (provided that you drew the Captain with your Image to have a lord to copy). Phantasmal Image has rotated out (and this particular list would kill to have it back), but Guildpact brings some other cards that could make blue-black Zombies a real thing and part of that comes from the fact that there are cards that could together form a potential „combo kill“.

The key parts of the „soft combo“ here are Whispering Madness and Immortal Servitude. The latter one isn’t quite a Living Death, but for the purpose of what this deck wants to do, it serves just fine. For five mana, you can bring back all 2-drops from your graveyard to play, which is what you’ll mostly be doing and quite often, it will lead to something close to a 10-point fireball to your opponent’s dome. How come? Well, let’s have a look at the creature base. The idea here is that you have eight creatures that ping your opponent for one when your creature hits the bucket (Blood Artist and Diregraf Captain). Then you have a sacrifice outlet in the form of Bloodthrone Vampire. And then you need some way how to get as many creatures into the graveyard as possible. That’s where Whispering Madness steps in – with a single „Windfall“, you can dump your hand into the bin and draw a fresh set of cards and if you have an attacker ready, you can do it all over again, likely discarding somewhere between three to six creatures that will later be useful. The goal is to hopefully get a lot of 2-drops into your graveyard (that’s why the deck plays a full set of Wight of Precinct Six, but more on this Zombie later) so that you can bring a large number back with the mass reanimation spell, since it doesn’t say „X or less“, but just „X“. Luckily, both our sacrifice outlet and one of the „pingers“ is on 2, so you will often be able to „go off“ by casting a 5-mana Servitude.

How many creatures do you need to sacrifice to actually kill your opponent? The deck is an aggro deck, so you will often deal the first couple of damage by attacking with your dorks. In that sense, this particular list is just a regular Zombies list that can bash as hard as any other. Diregraf Captain is really solid on his own even without any sacrificing shenanigans. Also, Immortal Servitude can easily be cast just for value, bringing a couple of guys back from the dead. I like the flexibility of this card – when your draw is heavy on 1-drops, you trade them in the early game and then perhaps don’t have any Zombies left to bring back your Gravecrawlers, you can always cast the Servitude for 1 or 2 and start bashing again. But because of the Whisparing Madnesses and a pair of Forbidden Alchemies, you should be able to fill your graveyard rather quickly and then win with a single Servitude. Bloodthrone Vampire and two Blood Artists mean that you need five creatures total to deal seven damage and be left with a 9/9 Vampire – and that doesn’t even count the creatures you already have in play before you reanimate some. And it gets even more ridiculous when you have a Gravecrawler in the yard, since for a single black mana, you can bring the 2/1 back and then sacrifice it to deal even more damage. The lategame of this deck is very powerful and it can win even when your opponent stabilizes the board completely and is threatening to kill you.

There are several cards that might look weak, but are actually quite important for this deck. Wight of Precinct Six is a two-drop and a Zombie, so when you cast Immortal Servitude for 2, you should always bring some Zombies back (Bloodthrone Vampire and Blood Artist are both Vampires), which is important because of Gravecrawler and Diregraf Captain. Also, with three copies of Whispering Madness (which should maybe even be four), you are going to hit some creatures in your opponent’s hand, giving the Wight a chance to grow even by other means than just combat. Giving the Zombie a boost isn’t that hard to do, since creatures tend to die anyway, and a 2/2 Wight is fine, while a bigger one is just great.

Forbidden Alchemy might look like it doesn’t belong in this deck, but bear in mind that this is not your typical Zombies list that just turns creatures sideways. You have a combo plan in the lategame and sometimes you need to find your key pieces, mostly Immortal Servitude. Also, Forbidden Alchemy is one of the spells that fill your graveyard with Gravecrawlers and 2-drops ready to be reanimated, which is a more than nice side effect.

There are several cards that could easily be in the deck but I eventually didn’t include them in this first list. One of them was Nephalia Drownyard. While running it wouldn’t be that hard if you cut the remaining two Geralf's Messengers, I don’t think you really have time to mill yourself in this way – the format is quite fast, full of Hellriders and other quick creatures, so this approach would probably be a tad too slow. But what’s more important, the maindeck of this deck is a lot more vulnerable to graveyard hate than the typical R/B Zombies list and I think that the best way how to avoid being utterly crushed by Rest in Peace is to switch to a less graveyard-centered plan post-board, taking out some of the Immortal Servitudes and Whispering Madnesses and making room for some bigger beaters like Duskmantle Seer or just anything that’s good in that particular matchup.

There are several more directions in which you can take this deck. A white splash could very well be justifiable, mostly for Lingering Souls, which are great with Whispering Madness (both as a card you want to discard and as Cipher carriers) and the Bloodthrone Vampire / Blood Artist duo (although a little less so with Diregraf Captain). The manabase could be possible now as well, thanks to Godless Shrine and Watery Grave. However, I’m not sure if such a move is needed and I want to test this straight U/B version first to see if it’s powerful enough. Liliana could also fit into this deck, as you basically don’t mind discarding stuff, often quite the contrary is the case, but lowering the handsize of both players goes right against the plan to go big on Whispering Madness and I think that unlike in some other formats, Liliana is not that powerful in Standard, because there are many more small creatures running around and not many decks that would be completely hosed by an early Lili.

Before I go, let me share a few things I intend to do with Gatecrash cards in the coming months. This might not be a true „resolution“, but these are some quite cool things that could be achieved and while unlocking all of these achievements may not be within my reach, I’m at least going to give my best to try some of them. How cool would they be?

  1. Kill my opponent with Duskmantle Seer by letting them reveal an Emrakul.
  2. Give a Zektar-Shrine Expedition token doublestrike with Boros Charm.
  3. Blink an Aurelia with Cloudshift to reach three combat steps total in a single turn.
  4. Kill three or more planeswalkers with a single Merciless Eviction.

Until next time, may you have your own Gatecrash resolutions worth achieving.

Happy brewing,

Adam Koska

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