Currently the first SCG Open since the release of Avacyn Restored has taken place (though it is possible that by the time this article is published a second will have as well), and it seems that very little has changed. Few opted to try out many of the new cards, and there weren’t any new archetypes in the Top 32, unless you count the Human decks that weren’t WU as new.
Green-Red Aggro ended up winning in the finals to maintain its hold as the premier aggro deck in the format. I like the new take on the deck, especially the addition of Wolfir Avenger, which I think is a pretty powerful card. However, I am personally more interested in adding some new colors (and cards!) to the repertoire of this deck to expand on its capabilities. I have never been a huge fan of straight Gruul decks (on a side note who is pumped to return to Ravnica!?), and I find G/R/x decks to generally be more fun to play and to have more versatility.
By now I’m sure many of you have read articles by Brian Kibler and others about the potentiality of a Naya Birthing Pod deck featuring Restoration Angel. Unfortunately no such deck appeared at the top tables of the tournament. I’m not sure if that is because few people tried to play them or that they were poorly constructed by those who did, but I toyed with a Naya list a little bit.
Cloudshift Naya by Josh Harris
This list is similar to a list that Kibler proposed, but I added Strangleroot Geist into the mix. Kibler’s list used mana-dorks to jump from the one-drop to the three-drop, however, I feel that one of the biggest problems with the early Green-White Aggro decks was that they did just that. If you didn’t have a mana-dork, you absolutely had to mulligan. And if your mana-dork got killed, you didn’t have a play until Turn Three. This deck provides an opportunity to curve out without a mana-dork, though generally it is better to have at least one of those in your opening hand.
I do not include Birthing Pod in this list because I don’t think it is really necessary. Restoration Angel performs the pseudo-Pod function of providing additional card value while also being able to attack. Cloudshift performs a similar function as well, only at instant speed, making combat difficult to predict for your opponents. The deck also lacks an extensive chain to climb or one-of targets that are worth tutoring for, and I think part of the strength of this build is its streamlined nature.
I tested this deck against a couple of Delver builds and, as I said, found that it could have very strong starts but wasn’t amazingly consistent. Restoration Angel is certainly a real and powerful card, and when the deck curves out with its series of two-for-ones, it’s hard for Delver (or most decks really) to keep up. Huntmaster is obviously an amazing card, and the deck can generate a very strong board presence very fast and then continue to get value out of its creatures with Cloudshift and the Angel.
My issue with both this deck and the RG deck is that they mulligan poorly and sometimes don’t draw very well. I think one of the main reasons that Delver continues to be the strongest deck in the format is that decks like this (which supposedly beat it) often have to mulligan hands without mana-dorks or keep hands with mana-dorks and limited action that end up drawing into nothing. Meanwhile, Delver lists are land light, full of cantrips and library manipulation, and can get multiple uses out of their cards via Snapcaster Mage and Moorland Haunt. They have a much higher density of cards that do things, while your mana-dorks are largely do-nothing cards in the late game if you don’t have a Gavony Township, and you are also forced to run more lands (which provide similar top-deck problems later).
It is possible that this list should include some number of Swords in the maindeck as a way to make your mana-dorks more relevant in the mid to late game. For those who are interested in this sort of deck, I’d suggest trying that. I’d also suggest trying at least one Bonfire of the Damned in the maindeck, as that card is just insane.
I was initially very excited about this deck, since two of my favorite decks from competitive Standard eras past were Reveillark with Momentary Blink and Boss Naya (and this deck combines both!). However, my high hopes were dulled by the deck’s inconsistent performance in testing, so I decided to try out Sam Black’s RUG deck, since RUG is basically always fun to play (see: Animar EDH).
RUG by Josh Harris
Of the G/R/x decks, I happen to think this is the strongest. The addition of Blue provides a great deal of versatility, and Ponder helps to make sure that you don’t run out of gas or suffer too much from having to mulligan (and also can help you set up some blow-out miracles). The Swords and the Batterskull can make your mana-dorks into serious threats in the late-game, and Consecrated Sphinx will just win you the game if it sticks.
Another reason I think this deck is so strong is that I feel it is both the best Huntmaster deck and the best Tamiyo deck. By combining both mana-dorks and Ponders, you can basically flip your Huntmaster at will and gain the maximum advantage from it. As for Tamiyo, the use of mana-dorks allows you to end up with tapped creatures without forcing an attack, which means that she will have more opportunities to draw you cards. She also provides great utility against ramp, a nightmare match-up for the other G/R/x decks. Her tap-down ability can be used to keep an opposing ramp player off of six mana; keep down a titan to make sure it doesn’t attack, or hold down a Kessig Wolf Run or Inkmoth Nexus.
One small change that I made to Black’s list that I think might be worth mentioning is the use of Phyrexian Metamorph over Phantasmal Image. I haven’t played enough games with the deck to be sure if this is correct; however I feel that the extra mana is worth the versatility this card provides, especially because it’s a one-of. Being able to copy a Sword or Batterskull can really put away games for you, and if you copy a creature, you can actually equip it.
I should also say that I tried using burn spells (namely Pillar of Flame) over Vapor Snag early on, but I found that it wasn’t all that effective. Snag provides some really amazing tempo swings and allows you to handle a variety of creatures and swing annoying board positions. I would include some number of Pillars in the board though, since I could see Undying creatures being a problem for this deck, and having a real removal spell is often better against small, aggressive decks where you really want to be playing more of a control game.
Another issue I had with the burn spells is that fixing all three colors of mana in this deck can sometimes be an issue. You almost always have Green and Blue, so casting Snag isn’t a problem, and you will be able to find Red a little later, so casting Bonfire or Huntmaster at the right time works out. However, you don’t always have Red early (or you might have to mess up your curve to get it), so you end up sitting on a burn spell that you want to be casting against opposing early drops.
As I just alluded to, the mana-base in this deck isn’t the best. This is the one spot where I really think that the Green-Red deck is the best, as Naya could have similar mana problems (though this was often mitigated by the fact that you get to play eight on-color Scars lands). Evolving Wilds helps and can be used to improve your Ponders as well. Borderland Ranger might be a card worth considering for this deck, however I like it considerably less than any of the cards that are in the deck currently, and I think most of the time the mana works itself out. Having Ponder helps here as well. Cutting the Kessig Wolf Run for a Shimmering Grotto might be the answer to some of these issues; however, I think Wolf Run is a very powerful card in this deck, especially when combined with Sword of Feast and Famine.
Since I have started testing this deck more seriously than my previous Naya deck and actually plan to use it in events, I have started working out a sideboard as well.
This list isn’t finalized, as I haven’t gone over what I want to take out in each match-up and have only really considered what cards might be good to have. This is something that’s incredibly important to think about, which I feel most players overlook. If you have six hate cards in your board for a match-up, you have to be able to take out six cards from your maindeck as well. Additionally, this list may change based on how the meta continues to evolve. That being said, I’ll try to explain some of my choices here.
Negate is probably one of the most important cards here, followed by Jace, Memory Adept. Both are good against the true control decks, which are not favorable match-ups. Once Esper wipes the board a couple of times and starts dropping planeswalkers, you’re in a really bad position. Negate stops all of the things you care about and Jace allows you to attack from an angle that is hard for them to combat.
Frost Titan as a one-of is really just for the ramp match-up. I wanted a similar Tamiyo effect, but I didn’t want my hand to get clogged with legendary cards, and I wanted something that could also act as a more direct win condition. Playing Zealous Conscripts here is another possibility as well, however, I opted for the card that is basically always good in the match-up versus the card that can sometimes win you the game and sometimes wait in your hand (or be ineffective if your steal doesn’t win you the game, and you fall behind afterward).
I think most of the other cards here are fairly self explanatory. The one-of Combust is probably the card I am most on the fence about. I initially had two Mental Misstep but decided to make room for other cards. I didn’t think running one Misstep was worth the slot, and I felt like I was likely bringing too many cards in against Delver already. Combust serves as another card that is useful against Delver, and it answers Hero of Bladehold, which can be a problem card. I’ll have to see the card in action more before I can really know.
Other things that might be worth running are Wrack With Madness, if you are concerned about Zombies and Phyrexian Obliterator, or Flashfreeze to have some more counter magic against ramp decks or Red-based aggro decks. Cavern of Souls doesn’t stop you from countering burn spells or sweepers. Arc Trail may be worth considering, but I feel that Bonfire does a much better job of accomplishing the same thing. Furthermore, many of Delver’s creatures have hexproof, so what you really want against them is a sweeper.
Anyway, I hope these run-downs of the Naya and RUG decks are helpful for anyone who is looking to play them. Alternately I hope that maybe I gave some of you enough reason to switch over to one of these newer decks and give it a try.
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