In the last several Deck Spotlight articles, I talked about Modern decks and today, for the last time in a while, I'm going to continue discussing this format, before Standard gets into the spotlight after the Pro Tour in Dublin. However, while the last three times, I analyzed some fairly mainstream strategies in Grixis Control, Living End and Bring to Light Scapeshift, today, I'm going to have a look at something more rogue - Allies.
Allies went through a brief period of popularity in Modern after Battle of Zendikar was released - new Allies like Expedition Envoy and Lantern Scout worked really well with the ones from the old Zendikar and could together produce some pretty powerful draws. However, after a few brief appearances on the SCG Open circuit, the deck faded from popularity and never really saw a serious amount of play. The reason why I've been trying to revitalize it for the past couple of weeks is that I saw several "Human aggro" decks do relatively well at various Modern tournaments and Allies are very close to that strategy. The original Allies lists from the SCG Opens had cards like Aether Vial and Kabira Evangel (a cute way how to protect your team at instant speed), but I liked the "all-in" approach of the Human decks much more. After all, if you're playing cards like Hada Freeblade and Oran-Rief Survivalist, you can't really expect to play a fair game against Karn or Primeval Titan. You need to be fast. This is the list I'm currently playing:
|Converted Mana Cost|
With twelve one-drops, eight of which can easily grow so big that they can have a fair fight with a Tarmogoyf, the deck is among the most aggressive ones in Modern and goldfishes consistently on turn four, but there are several pretty big restrictions in terms of deck construction - the prize that you pay for playing this archetype. First of all, most of the creature suite consists of cards that are really bad individually. This means that you really need to draw a critical mass of creatures (at least four or five by turn four) to do anything meaningful. This list plays twenty-six creatures plus three Gideons, so roughly half of your deck consists of creatures, but there will still be games where you simply don't draw enough creatures and it will be very hard to win. Still, this is nothing new in Modern - all synergy-based decks in this format rely on drawing a healthy mix of cards from different categories (Infect, for example, can't win on pump spells alone). But apart from relying on drawing enough creatures, it also means that the space for non-creature spells is pretty limited, so we can't play all that many cards that interact with the opponent. This is acceptable for turn-three decks like Infect, but Allies is a turn-four deck, so we need at least some interaction. That's why, after several local tournaments I played with this deck, I cut almost anything from the deck that is not a creature or removal. No Aether Vials (which don't speed you up that much anyway and just dilute the needed number of creatures), no Boros Charms main deck, etc.
Let's have a look now at some of the individual cards and what their role is.
Champion of the Parish, Hada Freeblade, Expedition Envoy
Some of the more devoted Ally decks don't play Champion of the Parish as it doesn't pump your other Allies, but also for the reason that some allies that we can run are not humans (Reckless Bushwhacker and Gideon tokens). However, you really need a 1-drop that grows large and four Hada Freeblades are simply not enough. Expedition Envoy is somewhat of a necessary evil - he gets the bonus from Thalia's Lieutenant, but otherwise will mostly be attacking for two. Envoy is in the deck so that you have something to play on turn 1 if you don't draw any of the other 1-drops and also to boost your team on turn three together with a 2-drop.
Kazandu Blademaster, Oran-Rief Survivalist
These, together with Hada Freeblade, are the meat and the potatoes of the deck - the creatures that easily grow to 4/4 or 5/5 for just two mana. It might seem weird that Oran-Rief Survivalist is the only main deck green card, but it's really worth it and without it, the synergy wouldn't be strong enough.
This card is debatable in the deck, but we simply don't have enough good Allies (until Zendikar III is released). Lieutenant still pumps your whole team and she's also great with Champion of the Parish, giving him two +1/+1 counters when she comes into play. I think that if you run Champion of the Parish, some number of Lieutenants should also be in the deck.
The card that turns any race into a joke and humiliates burn players really badly, giving you massive boosts of life and threatening to do it again next turn if the opponent doesn't kill the Scout. One of the reasons why to play this deck, especially in an aggro-heavy metagame.
Changelings are Allies too and fortunately, we don't have to go as far as to playing Woodland Changeling. Being a 3-mana 1/1 is tough, but Mirror Entity works in an amazing way with all the +1/+1 counters - even a 5/5 Kazandu Blademaster still has a base power and toughness of 1/1, so tapping four mana with Mirror Entity will mean that it becomes a 4/4 with four +1/+1 counters. Mirror Entity can easily win any board stall, but I don't think you want more than one of it (her? him?) in this deck, since the curve is so important.
Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
I think this deck has three options: playing Collected Company, playing Gideon or not playing either and running fewer lands, possibly as few as twenty or twenty-one. I think that since it's hard to be fast enough with this deck, you need some 4-drops that push your creatures over the top and Gideon can be simply amazing. First of all, his +0 ability will frequently boost a big part of your team, growing all creatures that get a +1/+1 counter when another Ally comes into play. Second, against any faster deck, Gideon threatens to attack for a ton of damage and the only way to fight that is to attack him, which means that the opponent will have fewer blockers (also good). I've been quite impressed with Gideon, especially against midrange / control decks like Jund or Grixis.
The downside of playing Gideon is that against some decks like Infect or Melira combo, you can't afford to tap out on your turn four, because you can very easily die. Against decks like that, waiting with removal mana up and then firing a Collected Company at the end of turn is much better, which is why CoCo is in the sideboard - against some attrition based decks, you want both Gideon and Collected Company, but mostly, you either want one or the other, based on how safe it is to play a sorcery-speed 4-drop.
The sideboard is still "under construction", but some cards have already proven quite good. Some decks are very good at gumming-up the ground (Melira, G/W based decks) and that's when you need to take it to the skies and call Smuggler's Copter for help. Boros Charm and Dromoka's Command both work against certain kinds of sweepers. I don't think you want too many, but they can certainly be good. The rest of the sideboard is fairly self-explanatory.
Allies are certainly not tier 1, but they can be surprisingly powerful in a metagame that's not too combo-oriented. There are several ways you can take if you want to be aggro in the Naya colors - Allies is an often overlooked possibility, which I think should definitely get more attention.
Thanks for reading and see you next time!
About Adam Koska
Adam is an experienced player from the Czech Republic who has a number of high-profile finishes under his belt:
- 14th at Pro Tour Portland 2014
- 9th at Worlds 2009
- 9th at Pro Tour Kyoto 2009
- 64 Lifetime Pro Points
- Three times Czech Nationals Top 8