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Standard with Gatecrash - Part II


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 - Part II

Hello everybody!

Last week, I talked about some of the new Standard decks with Gatecrash and today, I’d like to continue with a few more. While last time, the three lists that I shared were not backed by much hard data, today we’re in a slightly different situation, as the first post-Gatecrash Standard tournament has already taken place, so the assumptions that we can make are less a crystal ball foretelling and more an educated guess. However, even with a quite big event like the SCG Open in Atlanta that took place this past weekend, the results might still be affected by the usual reluctance of players to run untested decks and also by card availability, which is always an issue right after the release of a big set. Still, we have some data to analyze and I would like to start by doing just that.

So what was new in Atlanta? What new decks were on display at the top of the standings? In general, I would say that there was not really a „brand new archetype“ to be seen but several decks have undergone very interesting changes and some used possibilities that had not been open before Gatecrash. This is a brief summary of the top 8 decks and the new cards they played, not including Gatecrash dual lands:

  1. Naya Humans (Main deck: 3 Frontline Medic; Sideboard: 2 Boros Charm)
  2. Human Reanimator (MD: 4 Cartel Aristocrat)
  3. Boros Aggro (MD: 4 Boros Reckoner, 2 Boros Charm; SB: 2 Boros Charm, 4 Skullcrack)
  4. Jund Aggro (MD: 4 Experiment One, 4 Ghor-Clan Rampager; SB: 2 Gruul Charm, 3 Skullcrack)
  5. UWR Flash
  6. 4C Tokens (MD: 1 Aurelia's Fury; SB: 2 Devour Flesh)
  7. Jund Midrange (SB: 2 Glaring Spotlight)
  8. Esper Spirits (MD: 3 Obzedat, Ghost Council, 3 Blind Obedience, 2 Devour Flesh, 3 Orzhov Charm; SB: 2 Devour Flesh)

(As a side note, the Legacy Open that took place at the very same weekend didn’t have a single Gatecrash card among the top 8 decklists.)

What does this list say about the new Standard? First, it clearly shows that manabases are a lot better than they used to be in the world without Gatecrash. Seven (!) out of the total eight decks run three or more colors and that includes several really aggressive decks. Manabases seem to be greedier than ever and now that all the ten guilds are part of Standard, it’s possible to run any three (or even four) colors in a single deck and drop your creatures from turn one until you burn your opponent out with Boros Charms, Skullcracks or Searing Spears. The absence of a single dedicated control deck in the top16 might be a sign that the format has become too fast for the Sphinx's Revelation decks to cope with, although I think that we’ll have to wait a bit more to see whether this is really the case.

More colors also means that people are taking more damage from their lands. We can assume that this is a world that Burn would like to live in, but so far, the results don’t really support this thesis. There was a Burn deck 9th in Atlanta and the Boros aggro that finished 3rd is also really close to a pure Burn deck, but Cedric Phillips’ guess that Burn would win Atlanta didn’t come true. One of the reasons for that, however, is that Andrew Schneider who played the 3rd place finishing Boros ran into Brian Braun-Duin in the semis. And frankly, would you expect a burn deck to win against a deck that can easily assemble an infinite life combo?

That’s right. Brian’s 2nd place Human reanimator (and the same deck that propelled Brad Nelson to a 14th place finish) can go off and gain twenty five bazillion life in a single turn – something that we haven’t seen in Standard for some time. The key to the puzzle is the Gatecrash uncommon Cartel Aristocrat. With the Aristocrat, a Fiend Hunter and any lifegain human (Huntmaster of the Fells, Cathedral Sanctifier) in your graveyard, you go off when you get an Angel of Glory's Rise into play. All you have to do is exile the Angel with your Fiend Hunter, then sacrifice the Huntmaster / Sanctifier to Cartel Aristocrat, then eat the Fiend Hunter as well and let the Angel return, bringing back both of the now dead humans. Rinse and repeat and you’ve gained yourself quite a solid life total buffer. The combo can be even enhanced with Kessig Malcontents to deal infinite damage to your opponent, but since none of the Standard decks can deal infinite damage, it’s not necessary and infinite life should be ok as a win condition, especially since at the end of the loop, you’ll also be left with quite a big wolf pack, courtesy of the Huntmaster making an appearance every time you repeat the loop.

It’s true that you need four different pieces of the puzzle to assemble the whole combo, but then again, you’re milling yourself with Grisly Salvages, Faithless Lootings and Mulches and all you need to do is to find an Angel and summon her, either from your graveyard with Unburial Rites, or from your hand, ideally via Cavern of Souls. I think that this combo deck will provide a fresh new push for the graveyard strategies, which in turn will provoke a new wave of graveyard hate. Also, Slaughter Games do spoil your gameplan quite a bit, but four Appetites for Brains and three Slaughter Games in the board should provide some protection from the uncounterable Cranial Extraction.

I’ve already mentioned that Gatecrash has helped three-color aggro strategies tremendously, because the new set of dual lands contributes to much better manabases. This is especially true for various Naya decks, as these colors have some really good synergies, but until now lacked the two key dual lands – Sacred Foundry and Stomping Grounds – to make the mana work, so most Naya decks had to be content with a more midrange approach. However, now that these duals are available, I expect many Naya decks to adopt a full-scale offense plan, getting the deck closer to the Modern Zoo deck than anything else. This is an example of what such a deck could look like:

Standard Naya Zoo

Converted Mana Cost
Basic Land1
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Three different sets of one-drops, one in every color. Does that seem inconsistent? Well, I admit that it might be, but on the other hand, Experiment One is as close to the banned-in-Modern Wild Nacatl as it gets and having a one-drop with 2 or more power is essential. Boros Elite is not as good as you might expect it to be and sometimes will be left with no support in an environment so full or removal, but still, it’s a one-drop and will often be able to attack for a surprise 3 damage thanks to a hasty Strangleroot Geist.

Most Naya decks like to have Avacyn's Pilgrim as the default one-drop, but that’s not the case in this particular deck. What you’re trying to do here is to get as much damage from every card as possible, so the one-drops in particular need to have the biggest damage output possible. The deck is capable of dealing massive chunks of damage on turn 3 or 4 and is probably the deck where you’re going to use the „doublestrike“ mode of Boros Charm more often than anywhere else. Giving your attacker +4/+4 and trample with Ghor-Clan Rampager’s Bloodrush ability and then boosting it with doublestrike should deal 12-16 trample damage on average, which is something that most other aggro decks are not capable of and should punch a hole even in life totals of decks that try to gain some life with Thragtusks and Huntmasters.

What I also like about this deck is that apart from the manabase, it doesn’t run a single rare, which is quite extraordinary for a competitive deck these days. It’s true that there are twenty-one rares among the lands and it’s impossible to play this deck without the corresponding dual lands, so this is not exactly a budget deck, but if obtaining the duals is something that you want to do anyway (which might be a good idea, as they are going to be very useful in Standard and in Modern in the years to come), then you don’t have to invest almost anything else in the deck.

Another approach to the Naya concept can be a more midrange build. There are two decks that seem like a very good incentive to do just that – expensive Boros mythics that offer a lot of value, but you need to pay for it. These cards are called Aurelia, the Warleader and Aurelia's Fury and this is what a sample Naya midrange list centered around them could look like:

Standard Naya Midrange

Aurelia's Fury
Gatecrash (Foil)

I’m not a huge fan of Aurelia's Fury in the Boros decks, because it’s really expensive to cast and usually won’t do anything unless you inject five or more mana into it. However, this particular list has a total of 33 mana sources (24 lands, 4 Pilgrims, 1 Arbor Elf, 4 Borderland Rangers), which should ensure massive outpours of Fury in the lategame. Aurelia's Fury can serve several different purposes, but mostly, it’s going to be a finisher – at the end of turn, you tap down their blockers and hit them with all the remaining mana, then you slam an Aurelia (in the ideal scenario, of course) and attack for a million. Is it just a coincidence that Aurelia and her Fury work so well together, almost like a one-two punch? I don’t think it is.

Speaking of Aurelia, this card is awesome and I think that we’re bound to see it quite a lot in the post-Gatecrash Standard format. I’ve already heard opinions that she is on the same power level as Titans, and I must say that I quite agree with that. The only thing which is holding her back a bit is that the new Standard format seems to be blazingly fast and there’s often no time for a swingy six-drop. However, this particular Naya midrange list does the best to stall for time with lifegain cards like Huntmaster and Thragtusk or roadblocks like Loxodon Smiter and Experiment One and also has enough mana ramp with Avacyn's Pilgrim and others. Basically, I think that in this deck, we give Aurelia the best conditions to shine, as she can often enter the battlefield on turn 5 and already have enough strong creatures in play to close the game right away. The deck lacks Geist of Saint Traft or Boros Elite for repeated combat triggers, but even high power creatures like Loxodon Smiter, Thragtusk and Thundermaw Hellkite should be sufficient to end the game on the spot, once you get a free additional attack step and a Rorix to attack with.

Right now, only a few days after the release of Gatecrash, Naya, Jund and Boros seem to be among the most popular archetypes and blue decks, especially of the controlling kind, seem to be pushed back. I do think that there are ways how to build a good control deck in the current Standard, but these decks are a bit less „obvious“ than the green and red based aggro decks that have swarmed Standard right now. Building a good reactive control deck requires a lot deeper knowledge of your enemies than building a straightforward aggro or combo deck that always does the same thing. I’m sure that the Pro Tour that’s on the horizon will provide us with a lot more answers to the questions that the current evolution stage of Standard has introduced. Until that time, enjoy the fresh Standard format and give creativity a chance!

See you next time,

Adam Koska

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