Last time, I talked about some of the new cards from Amonkhet and today, I'll try to put things into perspective with some decklists based around the new cards.
Every set brings new mechanics and build-around-me staples, and this time is no different. But in addition to brand new keywords, sets also affect older cards that are already part of the Standard pool and with Amonkhet, I think the overlap is fairly big. Two of the keywords in the set - cycling and embalm - care about the graveyard, and so does Delirium from the Shadows over Innistrad block. We haven't seen Delirium dominate Standard since Emrakul, the Promised End was banned, but the mechanic is still very strong and now that it gets incredible enablers in Cast Out and other cycling spells, chances are that it could see a lot more play again.
There are many questions regarding these delirium decks: which colors should they be? Should we go for a more aggressive build, like with the "B/G delirium" decks from the current Standard season or for a more controlling one? At this point, the only thing I know for sure is that I want to play white because it has the best Delirium enabler (Cast Out) and green, since it offers the most actual Delirium cards (Ishkanah, Grafwidow and Traverse the Ulvenwald). Both black and blue as the next color options have some things going for them: blue has Drake Haven to really push this whole "cycling" theme, but might be lacking in terms of answers to some of the current lightning-fast threats. Black has Liliana, Death's Majesty as another build-around-me card, which could be great with some of the heavy-hitters we're going to be looking for with Traverse and also, more importantly, has Fatal Push as means of early defense. Therefore, my first version of Delirium control is Abzan and this is the list I'm currently working with:
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This is an attempt at containing all the proactive strategies in Standard and coming up with a sensible late game plan of having more powerful threats that blank opposing removal like Fatal Push or Oath of Chandra. The reason why such a path could now be manageable, while before Amonkhet it hardly was, is in several cards that match up really well against some of the most problematic threats in the format. Dissenter's Deliverance is a perfect answer to Heart of Kiran (that also manages to get Dynavolt Tower, a key feature in a completely different matchup), while cycling and getting you closer to delirium in other matchups. Cast Out is likely the best answer to Gideon and also a perfect delirium enabler. Lay Bare the Heart, while looking like a poor man's Transgress the Mind, is actually quite good in my opinion: the only widely played cards that it can't take are Heart of Kiran and Rishkar, Peema Renegade. Apart from that, it takes almost everything (and no, planeswalkers are not legendary cards). Most importantly, it clears the way against 4C Copycat, so that you can tap out for a 5-drop without risking imminent death.
A few more remarks before we move to the next deck: Corrupted Grafstone becomes much better thanks to all the 1-mana cycling that can get it online right from the start. The singleton Walking Ballista might feel a bit weird, but it might be necessary when you have to tutor something up against 4C Saheeli and are afraid of them having the combo and killing you. The Gitrog Monster might be a bit too cute, but I wanted something that generates card advantage and it's really easy to start drawing cards in this deck thanks to Evolving Wilds and the cycling lands being able to hit the graveyard.
Next I've tried to see where we can take the "Exert" mechanic. It does feel a bit more like a keyword for Limited than Constructed and the vast majority of the cards with this ability look like material for draft and sealed, but there are a few noteworthy exceptions in red and white, and while I think they are too few to build a deck around, they might find a home in some shell that shares the same interests with them: that is attacking and never looking back. There's obviously already a deck in these colors that is aggressive enough and it happens to be the most powerful deck in Standard: Mardu Vehicles. Could it be possible to take the "Mardu" part out and focus more on Exert than on Vehicles?
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The cornerstones of this deck are definitely Glory-Bound Initiate, Glorybringer and Always Watching. With the three-mana enchantment out, creatures with Exert can use their ability every turn and keep attacking without any trouble at all. A turn two Glory-Bound Initiate, turn three Always Watching gives you a 5/5, lifelink, vigilance attacker that can charge into the red zone as early as turn three. This particular line of play, while obviously being soft to any kind of removal, seems so powerful if it works out and requires so little effort that I really want to make it work. Always Watching is already a fringe playable card, but this particular interaction makes it incredible. Glorybringer also goes completely berserk with Always Watching out and can start picking off the opponent's creatures one by one every turn, while being a 5/5 haste, flying, vigilance threat at the same time.
Once we get this core, it's time to think about where to take it from here. Always Watching requires a low curve and eight one-drops are a bare minimum, I think. Since because of Always Watching, we're not really interested in producing tokens, the new Gideon seems strictly better than the old one. Still, the power of Gideon in an aggressive deck is so high that I would probably run at least five of them in total. Don't worry about drawing too many of them: if you have an active Gideon in play, chances are that the opponent is not winning the game regardless of how many excessive planeswalkers you have in your hand.
Stitcher's Graft is an interesting card and one that I've been wanting to try for some time. +3/+3 is a lot for such a cheap cost and in this deck, there are multiple ways how to sidestep the disadvantage of not being able to untap it during the next turn. With Always Watching, you can ignore the drawback altogether, because your attacking creature is never going to be tapped in the first place. Glory-Bound Initiate works particularly well with the Graft, as lifelink on an 8/8 attacker is simply impossible to race. If you don't have Always Watching, you can pair it with an exert creature - that way, both effects make you not untap the creature next turn, but the turn after, it's going to untap as normal, so you basically just cheated on one of the two effects. Also, you can equip the Graft to a creature you don't mind sacrificing: either one of the one-drops or Scrapheap Scrounger, which doesn't have the slightest problem with being sacrificed, promptly brought back from the dead and then re-equipped and ready to charge again.
Exert is an interesting mechanic in that it's hard to say how much to push it, because there are not that many obvious "combos" with it. Blessed Alliance can help you untap exerted creatures, but that's a fairly defensive card and I'm not sure how much I want it in an aggressive deck like this. Then there are more possibilities in other colors, like Arlinn Kord, but I'm really not sure if I want to play another color and some sub-par creatures just to push a mechanic that requires fragile creatures to not die to removal and then attack. That's why I went for the list that only relies on creatures with exert to a smaller extent and has them be more like a "bonus" in an otherwise linear deck.
As I've mentioned earlier, Drake Haven is a card that I really like and I think it might turn out to be an archetype staple for multiple different decks. Pairing it with cards that cycle is the synergy at hand, but because the enchantment says "discard or cycle", it actually works with a lot of cards that don't have cycling. Two of my favorites are Noose Constrictor and Geier Reach Sanitarium. The Wild Mongrel with reach lets you turn any card in your hand into a 2/2 drake for a single mana and the curve of turn 2 Constrictor, turn 3 Haven, turn 4 four 2/2 drakes, attack with a 6/6 Constrictor, can lead to quite a few wins. The trouble is that Noose Constrictor doesn't really fit into any existing deck, but there are tools in the new set how to make the card work, I think. Honored Hydra, for example, is basically the second coming of Roar of the Wurm and cards with the actual keyword "madness", such as Fiery Temper, are still in the format.
Geier Reach Sanitarium goes into a completely different direction - by allowing you to "loot" every turn, it gives you a steady supply of Drake Haven triggers - and also while being a land, which means it's basically a "free" part of the combo. A 2/2 Drake every turn could prove to be a problem for any control deck, should there ever be one in the metagame.
Just as Noose Constrictor and Geier Reach Sanitarium show two ways how to use the card Drake Haven, I think there are also these two basic directions in which you can take the decks playing the card. It looks like a great lategame card that can give you inevitability, but also as a way how to pressure the opponent together with cards like Lightning Axe or Bloodrage Brawler. Here are my first two attempts to see what such decks could look like if we choose the Temur wedge to be our colors.
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Even though these two decks have some cards in common, they could hardly be more different from one another. The first one is basically R/G aggro that splashes Drake Haven, Fevered Visions and possibly some sideboard countermagic. I think it's possible to take it even further in the "reckless aggro" route, possibly adding Hazoret the Fervent or even Rhonas, the Indomitable. Drake Haven and Fevered Visions should make it harder for the deck to run out of steam, but at this point, it's hard to even say whether the splash is really worth it.
The second deck is perhaps closer to the Temur Tower control decks that we already know of, only this time, the engine card of the deck is Drake Haven. Another game plan the deck has is dumping a ton of lands into the graveyard and then getting them all back with Splendid Reclamation. This could theoretically be made possible thanks to the new cycling lands, Evolving Wilds, Collective Defiance and a ton of cards that make you discard stuff. Going "turn 1 Evolving Wilds, turn 2 Cathartic Reunion, discard two lands, turn 3 cycle a land and/or kill something with Lightning Axe, discarding a land, turn four Splendid Reclamation for four lands" seems ambitious, but not completely unimaginable (you can also play the Reclamation after you stabilize the board) and gets you from four mana straight up to eight, which is a number that Pull from Tomorrow can make you appreciate.
All of the above decks are just first drafts, but I think they contain some potential and new synergies. Now it's time to test the new ideas and see which ones turn out to be worth it and which ones not.
That's all from me for today, 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