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Seven Standard Decks in Seven Days

Written by Jeff Zandi on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Standard

Seven Standard Decks in Seven Days

Jeff Zandi

Jeff Zandi is a level 2 judge and an eight-time veteran of the Pro Tour. He has written continuously about Magic for over eighteen years. His team, the Texas Guildmages, have the longest running regular game in history, meeting at his home every Tuesday night since 1996.

When Shadows over Innistrad arrived I was thrilled. Thrilled to play Limited, that is. After a year of having mono red and near-mono red aggro decks available to me in Standard, I found the format to be particularly daunting in the shadow of a new set and with the rotation of Khans of Tarkir and Fate Reforged. I didn’t know what to do and wasn’t that excited about diving in. Then Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad in Madrid, Spain happened.

Eight different decks in the top eight including six control decks. With the exodus of mono red, it felt a little strange to be so attracted to the control decks, but attracted I was. It’s amazing that there was such variety in the Madrid top eight. After watching and reading a lot of the coverage from the Pro Tour I wanted to build every one of those decks. Between the talent level and the variety of decks, it’s possible that Pro Tour Madrid features the best collection of decks in one top eight ever. Twenty years ago, when the Pro Tour started in 1996, Wizards of the Coast commemorated the first Pro Tour event, in New York, by printing a gold bordered edition of the entire top eight’s decks. I traded in the first Black Lotus I ever owned, a beat up Unlimited edition, to Games Galore in Arlington for a set of the Pro Tour New York decks and I’ve been playing with them ever since. Wizards of the Coast should think very strongly about reprinting the eight decks from Pro Tour Madrid the same way as a commemorative product. I would buy it in a heartbeat.

With no up-to-date Standard decks built, Pro Tour Madrid inspired me to get to work. But what would I build first? The deck from Madrid that most interested me was the Finkel deck, the black/green control deck with Seasons Past as a centerpiece. Why? The first point of interest was Seasons Past. I had just won a booster draft with a slow green/white deck with Seasons Past. I loved the idea of spending a turn every once in a while reloading my hand from the graveyard while putting Seasons Past on the bottom of my library ready to be used again in the future.

My favorite control decks of all time have been builds that didn’t care much what the other player was doing. The control decks in the top eight of PT Madrid aren’t quite that. The black based control decks do care what their opponent is doing, at least to the extent that they try hard to set up a turn four Languish to undo aggressive creature decks. It doesn’t always work, granted, but I like the way the Seasons Past Control deck handles this problem. Ditto for the Esper Control deck and also for Esper Dragons to a lesser degree. The weirder control decks are the two decks that rely on Pyromancer’s Goggles to provide late game card advantage.

Rebuilding the Gauntlet

Whenever you have been away from Standard long enough for cards to rotate in and out, you generally have to start from square one. For most people that means building a new deck and heading to Friday Night Magic. That’s one way to do it. After all, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. I don’t have a collection on Magic Online that currently supports Standard play, although I know I should try and make that happen in order to get more and better constructed practice. What I do have is a pretty good cardboard collection. The best way to sum it up would be to say that I maintain a play set of Modern.

I consider it important to quickly accumulate four of every card from a new set. I can’t say that I’ve accomplished that feat for Shadows over Innistrad, but I mostly have. Expensive mythic rares are… expensive. The idea is to be able to build any deck I want to play, and then to be able to build a different deck as soon as I want to, and so on. In my experience, one deck is never enough anyway. The old Magic: the Gathering slogan insisted that all you needed was “a brain, a deck and a friend.” That’s fine, but you also need your friend to have a deck, too. I also like to play matches all by my lonesome. That means building more than one deck.

This is a good time to talk about proxies. No one is more against the use of proxies in any kind of tournament setting than I am. That’s convenient, I suppose, since I don’t play Vintage or even much Legacy. Proxies do have a place, however, and it’s at the practice table. Having four of every card is fine for building one deck at a time, but when you want to have four, five, six or more decks ready to play all at the same time, I know I’m going to have to make plenty of proxies. I make my proxies as clear, and clearly fake, as possible. Using the printer to make realistic-looking proxies is a problem, it’s just too easy to overlook one of your own proxies and accidentally enter a tournament with fake cards in your deck. I use commons and black sharpies to make my proxies. I try to use a common of the same color and, when possible, the same casting cost as the real card I’m proxying. I copy the card’s text as closely as I can, or if there is too much text I copy as many things as I’m likely to not remember about the card. The most important information to get right and to make legible are the card name, the casting cost and the power and toughness if it’s a creature. Proxies are important in the pursuit of building a gauntlet of test decks and you shouldn’t be embarrassed to use them.

I have always liked the idea of building and maintaining a gauntlet of decks for a format. Right now, my gauntlet of Standard decks is looking mighty bad. Atarka Red, dead. Abzan, dead. You get the point. I need new decks to practice with, and a guy could do a lot worse than the eight different decks from the top eight of Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad. I’m not planning to build those exact eight decks, but I hope to get my stable of Standard decks looking like a collection of solid competitive options. Of course, it’s hard to get there and it’s hard to stay there. The top eight of Pro Tour Madrid looks entirely different than the top eight of Grand Prix Toronto a week later and both of those look different from last weekend’s Grand Prix New York. The “best deck” is and always has been a moving target. That’s one reason we love Magic: the Gathering so much, it’s a living game that changes nearly constantly.

What follows is an overview, my basic approach to choosing the archetypes I saw at Pro Tour Madrid as I began rebuilding my Standard Gauntlet. You won’t be knocked out by the detail of commentary associated with each of these decks because I’ll be moving pretty fast from one deck to another. Understand that the important thing is to get started.

Which Deck to Build First?

As impressed as I was with Finkel’s Seasons Past Control deck, I had my doubts about the list. Maybe this was the kind of deck that could only win when nobody knew about it. Maybe it could never do well once it was known. Also, there’s the Jon Finkel factor. Finkel can fly a deck better than all but a handful of Magic players in the world. Like ace pilots used to say, he can “fly the box it came in.”

I started my new Standard education with Brad Nelson’s Goggles Ramp deck. Although I didn’t have great success at Grand Prix Houston with RG Eldrazi Ramp two months ago, I at least understood how the deck worked and I thought that would give me a head start towards mastering Nelson’s deck.

I’ve got the least to say about this deck because, frankly, I liked it the least. In place of Explosive Vegetation, a terrible late game draw, you get slightly less terrible late game draws like Tormenting Voice (four-of) and Magmatic Insight (three-of). These are better late game top decks because you can exchange them for other cards. With Goggles in play you get to discard a single card (land only to Magmatic Insight or any old card to Tormenting Voice) and then draw four cards. Goggles lets you copy the Tormenting Voice or Magmatic Insight without having to pay the additional cost of discarding a card twice.

The deck is decent enough in the current format because there are lots of creatures in the current format. It’s easy to play Kozilek’s Return on turn three. The board-clearing capability of Chandra, Flamecaller are not as impressive today as it was a few months ago. Why? The creature decks are getting better. Also, I think this deck accelerates its mana less impressively with just Nissa’s Pilgrimage than the Eldrazi RG ramp deck that also played Explosive Vegetation. Chandra is a little slow in either case for today’s Mono White Humans, Green/Black Aristocrats, Green/White Tokens or the even more recent Four Color Rites decks.

My favorite thing about the deck, as with the older Eldrazi RG, is exiling lands again and again with World Breaker. Of course, World Breaker isn’t the best thing the deck can do. Once you have Goggles, Fall of the Titans becomes particularly deadly. Let’s say you have six lands in play and Pyromancer’s Goggles. If the only spell you play on your turn is Fall of the Titans you can pay three for X and target up to two creatures or players to each take three damage. Because you used mana from Goggles, you will get a free copy of Fall of the Titans with the same values for X although you can choose new targets for the copy created by Goggles. That’s a total of eight damage spread around as few as two targets or as many as four. Not bad. But we can do better. With the same mana in play, if we play a two mana spell first like Tormenting Voice (we’d have even more mana left for our second spell if we played Magmatic Insight or Traverse the Ulvenwald) we can then play Fall of the Titans for its surge cost. Using Goggles mana to play Fall of the Titans, we can now target two different creatures or players for four damage each and then get a free copy of the spell targeting the same or different two creatures or players. By playing another spell first on the “kill turn” we make Fall of the Titans twice as effective.

Deck Number Two

My son and playtesting partner Lawson needed a deck, too. Lawson watched the events of Pro Tour Madrid unfold the same way that I did, but Lawson didn’t want a copy of one of the top eight decks. He had something different in mind. It’s not that Lawson doesn’t netdeck, he does, we all pretty much do these days. It’s that Lawson talks to so many more people about Magic in a given day, sees so many more decks on all kinds of Magic websites, his viewpoint is usually wider than mine. He tends to prefer a more… experimental kind of deck over whatever everybody else is playing. With Friday Night Magic nearing, Lawson sent me this list to build for him.

Whimsical? Sure. Right up to the point where Lawson plays two Part the Waterveils on back to back turns and puts handfuls of +1/+1 counters on one of his lands and kills you with it. Like most ramp decks, this three color monstrosity is soft at the start of the game and gets better as more land magically appears on the battlefield from Explosive Vegetation and (gulp) Nissa’s Renewal.

The first question is can the deck stop the weenie hordes? I wasn’t surprised at all to hear Lawson report that weenie decks, and Mono White Humans in particular, were his hardest matchup. Lawson doesn’t have Languish, he has to wait until he has five mana to clear the board with Planar Outburst. It’s not that hard for him to get to five mana with four copies each of Deathcap Cultivator and Hedron Crawler.

This deck looks random, it’s composed of so many strange parts, especially where the planeswalkers are concerned. Obviously Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy peps up any blue deck. One hundred dollar Magic cards are like that. Unfortunately, a turn two Jace can easily be killed by attackers because Lawson doesn’t have much in the way of defense. He needs those mana dorks to help him play Planar Outburst in a couple of turns. Kiora, Master of the Depths seems a little out of her depth against creature decks as well. However, when the opponent isn’t bearing down with a herd of aggressive cheap creatures, both of these planeswalkers shine in this deck. Jace helps you dig for your next play. Kiora helps accelerate mana or can help you find your next land or mana dork from the top of your library.

Now let’s talk about what’s super-fun about this deck. The main thing is obvious, it’s fun to play Time Walk for not six, but nine mana to put a pile of +1/+1 counters on a land. It’s also really fun on turn three to play Pieces of the Puzzle to dig for more instants and sorceries. Whenever you are in a matchup that doesn’t put incredible time pressure on you, Pieces of the Puzzle actually feels like cheating. That’s pretty impressive work for a common that hardly anyone even knows about. Another fun thing about the deck is that it runs four copies of Ojutai’s Command. I wish that it could counter something besides a creature spell, it would be amazing if its spell-countering mode was really a Counterspell. All the other modes are just perfect for this deck, especially draw-a-card-return-Jace-to-the-battlefield at the end of your opponent’s turn.

I’m not really trying to sell you, or even sell myself, on this deck, but it definitely has its fun and innovative points.

The Third Deck

Disappointed with Red/Green Goggles, I wanted the next deck I built to be a sure thing. Since I was still very much in a control mood, I felt certain one of the Esper decks would be right up my alley, but which one? Shota Yasooka’s Esper Dragons deck looked good to me, I like the combination of control spells and big flying win conditions, but I wasn’t crazy about the mana base. I went instead with Seth Manfield’s Esper Control deck, and I’m really glad I did.

The thing that I loved most about this deck, and I knew I loved it before I built it, is the same thing that I love best about the deck two weeks later. It kills creatures. What is the clearest and quickest path to clearing the board? I guess it would be a deck that plays a mana-accelerating mana dork on turn two so it can potentially wipe the board with Kozilek’s Return or Languish on turn three. Turn three, however, isn’t the best point to clear the board, or the most crucial. Turn four is. Also, playing mana dorks so that you can accelerate into a spell that also kills your own mana dork is not ultimately advantageous. It happens, you have to do sometimes, but it’s not the best plan ever. While this deck can’t clear the board on turn three, it can do the next best thing and that’s to make sure it can clear the board on turn four.

It’s true, this is a three-colored deck, but white is clearly the third color. The most important color in this deck is black. There are fifteen black mana sources and four Evolving Wilds to help pull them out. With powerful fetch lands just barely leaving the memory of Standard play, I’m thrilled with how good a job Evolving Wilds does in this deck. The mana base is perfectly proportioned to make it easy to figure out which way to go in the early turns with your land drops. A lot of times, a turn one or two Evolving Wilds is all it takes to make your Prairie Streams and Sunken Hollows enter the battlefield untapped for the rest of the game. In a game against the most hard core creature aggro deck in the field, Mono White Humans, I was happy, on the draw, to keep a hand without Languish. I had two Evolving Wilds, a pair of Sunken Hollows and a pair of Anticipates. With this hand I was able to see nineteen cards deep into my deck by turn four. There are no guarantees in life, and certainly not in Magic either, but I like the way this deck propels you quickly towards a turn four Languish when you need it. If there were more fetch lands available, as there were two month ago, then Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy would probably be more important. The other factor that makes turn four more than soon enough for Languish is the fact that this deck packs four each Grasp of Darkness and Ultimate Price. It’s very likely that you will side out some copies of Ultimate Price after game one but when it’s game one and your opponent is packing a pile of white weenie dudes, you’re thrilled to have plenty of spot removal in the two-slot.

Against creature decks, control decks have two jobs. The first job is to keep you from dying. This deck does that job very well with its collection of spot removal and board-clearing spells. The second job of the deck is solidly taken care of with eight planeswalkers and one uncounterable, hexproof 5/5 flyer. The winning, however, doesn’t come in a hurry. I found it easy to learn how to not die with this deck but learning how to win with it came a lot more slowly.

The lineup of planeswalkers in this deck is beautiful but it took a while to understand them. The most enigmatic is Narset Transcendent. I never opened one of these in a Dragons of Tarkir sealed deck or booster draft so I had never played the card before. It looks, on the surface, like a lot of effort for not a lot of return. That’s not true. Narset is very powerful but she’s been waiting for the right deck. The best deck for Narset would be one where her first ability would hit the greatest number of times, a deck with neither too many lands nor creatures. Well, this deck has twenty-seven lands, probably the most of any competitive deck in Standard right now. However, it contains only one creature card and it could probably do without even that one creature if it had to. The bottom line is that slightly more than half of the cards in the deck will go straight into your hand (after you reveal them to your opponent) when you use Narset’s first ability. Because she starts with six loyalty it’s not that hard to get her to her ultimate, an emblem that requires that your opponents only play creature spells. Mono White Humans isn’t hurt by this emblem but every other deck in the format is. The expert-level ability, meaning the one whose value eluded me for the longest time, is Narset’s second ability. Let’s say you didn’t need to play Languish on turn four but you were able to play Narset. Your aggro opponent must now decide where to send their damage, to your face or at Narset’s six points of loyalty. If your opponent is getting close enough to killing you they will choose to send all the damage at your face. That’s fine. On your next turn you can minus Narset giving the next instant or sorcery you play rebound. Now you play Languish and clear the board. Languish resolves and is exiled until the beginning of your next upkeep step when you will wipe the board clean again, you know, for free! Was your opponent likely to pour out a bunch of creatures after your first Languish? Probably not, but knowing that the second Languish is waiting will keep your opponent at bay for an entire turn. This is just one of the many ways that this deck helps you take control of the game against creature decks.

It’s pretty funny, actually, the way that each of the planeswalkers in the deck has one thing in common, they all enter the battlefield with a lot of loyalty counters. Six each for Narset Transcendent and Sorin, Grim Nemesis. Five each for Ob Nixilis Reignited and Jace, Unraveler of Secrets. The ultimate abilities of Narset and Jace have such a chilling effect of the game after they happen that your opponent can hardly ignore them. This may make them choose to attack your planeswalker instead of you. That’s a good thing. The other thing these planeswalkers have in common is that they each want to put cards into your hand. Narset is fifty-fifty to give you a card each turn. Ob Nixilis always gives you a card in return for a point of your life. Jace gives you the best of the top two cards of your library, more or less, and Sorin gives you a card and punishes your opponent by damaging them equal to the converted mana cost of the card you draw (and reveal). Oh, and all of these card advantage plays involve adding loyalty to your planeswalkers. It’s pretty crazy.

The hard part is figuring out when to try to win. You don’t always have to try hard. Sometimes, after you gain control of the board and maintain a fistful of creature removal, you just draw Sphinx of the Final Word and win that way. Other times, you get Sorin high enough to subtract nine counters and cover the board with 1/1 black Vampire Knight creature tokens with lifelink and win on the next turn. Sometimes your opponent concedes because he can’t handle all the card advantage and the essentially slow pace with which you eventually kill them. Against better opponents, I learned that I could not afford to waste time even while gaining such an advantageous situation with the planeswalkers. It took me a while to remember to use the four copies of Shambling Vent to (a) help keep my life points out of range of my opponent’s anger and (b) to help me actually win the game. I also had to learn to use my planeswalkers purposefully. It’s easy to have a row of planeswalkers on the board in front of you and to use them to just draw cards. You will do plenty of this, but don’t do so without considering your other possibilities.

They may seem like strange cards in this deck, but I really like the two main deck copies of Spell Shrivel. They usually feel like true Counterspells to me in most cases. However, late in games, when you and your opponent each have giant amounts of mana in play, you do wish you had a different card. I can see how a hard counter like Broken Concentration, the deck’s mana base supports double blue easily enough later in games. However, Spell Shrivel is so good on turns three through eight that I wouldn’t want to replace it in the main deck. It’s often extremely relevant that Spell Shrivel exiles the card it counters. The last thing I want to say about this deck is how fun it is on turn six to use Dark Petition (don’t worry, you’ve got spell mastery) to go get a Languish and then play the Languish immediately. Or, on turn five, it’s also enjoyable to play Dark Petition to go get the win condition (Sphinx of the Final Word) and then use the three free black mana to play Ruinous Path to get rid of a crucial creature or planeswalker from the other side of the board.

I have not mastered this deck, which means I haven’t done that much winning with it, either, but it is powerful and consistent. I highly recommend that you try it.

The Fourth Deck

Yes, it’s time for a creature deck. The best creature deck at the Pro Tour was the Green/White Tokens deck that took Steve Rubin all the way to the championship. I built it exactly to his Pro Tour Madrid specifications:

Friends, this is one hell of a great creature deck. The best creature decks have stuff to do on every turn. This deck does that masterfully. Thraben Inspector arrives on turn one, a chumpy 1/2 Squire-like thing, except that he only costs one mana and he arrives with a Clue token. You couldn’t possibly put a free card in the form of a Clue token with any creature any cheaper. After an incredible weekend in the sun at Pro Tour Madrid, Thraben Inspector has already been kicked to the curb by most GW decks. I don’t have enough experience with the deck to tell if that’s the right move or not. I think it’s worth examining this deck from its first successful form from the Pro Tour championship finals before making massive changes. Thraben Inspector is the little engine that could and even if it has no further use in Standard beyond Mono White Humans, it will always have the finals of Madrid to look back on.

Turn two? Sylvan Advocate or Hangarback Walker. That’s a lot of business on turns one and two. Turn three is for Nissa, Voice of Zendikar. If you really did hit an Inspector on turn one and an Advocate on turn two, and you are on the play, it’s entirely possible that you play Nissa and remove two counters to put +1/+1 counters on your two creatures. Boom, you’re swinging for five on turn three. Not too shabby. Turn four? Turn four is for the big dog, Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. In my mind, this card became awesome as soon as someone explained that I could just play it and remove all the loyalty counters and put an irrevocable +1/+1 effect into play for all my creatures. Like Always Watching, or Glorious Anthem before that, or Crusade before that. Of course, Always Watching would be in this deck too, if, like its predecessors, it pumped all of your creatures. Always Watching only pumps your non-token creatures. This is a token deck, so Always Watching is not a great option. According to a friend who borrowed this deck from me to play at GP New York, Gideon is the most important card. The most common play first use of a turn four Gideon? Make the 2/2 Knight Ally token. If you don’t think you can defend the Gideon properly you might choose to immediately remove four loyalty counters and make the Gideon emblem. This will become even more important in sideboarded games when your black opponents bring in Virulent Plague. In most game one situations, however, my friend reports the best move is usually to play Gideon and make a token. On your next turn, you plus Gideon and attack with him. He hits so hard as a 5/5 your opponent is more or less forced to chump block if they can. That’s good news for you because your Gideon, now with five loyalty counters, is difficult to kill, even more difficult now that your opponent has used one of his creature to block it.

This is the angry creature deck that can play like a finely tuned control deck. The creatures in this deck can indeed attack swiftly and overrun your opponent quickly, but the deck also has the ability to recover from Languish and rebuild its forces. What if, on a late turn, your opponent clears the board with Languish? You might just decide to fill up the board at the end of their turn with Secure the Wastes. Secure the Wastes is such a good card against control decks that control decks sometimes use it as a sideboard option against other control decks. That’s a ringing endorsement.

Oath of Nissa has revealed itself to be such a good turn one play that the deck greedily desires the fourth copy. It powers you into whatever you need next, be it land, creature or planeswalker. Oath of Nissa was okay in Red/Green Eldrazi Ramp but it’s even better in Green/White Tokens.

You can find Westvale Abbey hanging around like an emergency parachute in all kinds of creature decks these days, and why not? It’s a great answer for a board sweeper late in games. A lot of decks are trying to use the Abbey but no deck in Standard is better able to abuse it than Green/White Tokens.

I haven’t played this deck against the Four Color Rite decks that ran all over Grand Prix New York but I understand that the more important that Cryptolith Rite becomes to the deck, the better Green/White Tokens appreciates having a full set of four Dromoka’s Commands. While plenty of players are moving from Green/White Tokens to the Four Color Rite deck, the tokens deck has plenty of game against the more complex four colored deck. On the other hand, the Four Color Rite deck does do Green/White Tokens one better. Like the tokens deck, Four Color Rite comes at you like a creature deck, then turns into something clearly harder to beat in the later turns. Green/White Tokens gives you lots of control options in the late game, but becoming a combo-kill deck isn’t one of them. Four Color Rite has that kind of late game power, and it doesn’t really have to wait until all that late in the game. But that’s another deck for another time. I can’t build everything all at once.

Deck Number Five

Unhappy with Red/Green Goggles, I decided to try the Red/White Eldrazi Goggles deck that finished eighth at the Pro Tour. Here’s what it looks like:

I immediately liked this deck better than the other Goggles deck because it has more red spells. Instead of ramping mana, this deck kills things. On turn two, and you really never need to do this on turn two, you can play Lightning Axe targeting something big and discard Fiery Temper to the Axe playing it for its madness cost targeting something a little smaller, or maybe just targeting your opponent’s face. In reality, the early turns for this deck are a lot like the other Goggles deck. You play Magmatic Insight on turn one or you play Tormenting Voice on turn two with the purpose of improving your hand.

The real reason this deck is better, overall, than Red/Green Goggles, is the additional game that it brings with a collection of ten primarily Eldrazi creatures. These are just good card advantage creatures in this deck. Matter Reshaper always gives you something back when it dies. Thought-Knot Seer takes away a hopefully important card from your opponent’s hand and gives them a random draw later if and when it leaves the battlefield. Eldrazi Displacer is here to hold down one or two would-be attackers on the other side of the board. Better yet, the Displacer can pop Goblin Dark-Dwellers out of and back into existence to provide additional enters-the-battlefield triggers. It’s a very powerful thing, the ability to play Lightning Axe for just one mana to take down a five toughness creature. In a vacuum, Lightning Axe is a net card loss spell, but this deck turns card disadvantage into card advantage… eventually.

Pyromancer’s Goggles are an experiment that’s just about run out of steam. Admittedly, they don’t require this deck to play any cards that wouldn’t be in there anyway, but the fact is, the three copies of the Goggles themselves can get in the way in games against aggressive decks. You just don’t have the time to get the cool combos going. When you do, it’s great. Activate Goggles and play Tormenting Voice discarding Fiery Temper and then pay the madness cost to kill something with the Fiery Temper. Because you don’t have to discard a card for the copy of Tormenting Voice created by the Goggles, you essentially draw four cards for the low, low price of one card (not including the Fiery Temper) and just two mana.

This deck has midrange written all over it. I like that you have stuff to play all throughout the game, but the simple fact is, your spells are not that powerful on a pound-by-pound basis. I hated drawing two Goggles. I don’t think there is really that much synergy in this deck. The Eldrazi creature part of the deck doesn’t have much to do with the nearly mono red part of the deck. In some cases, it’s not the cards, it’s the current format. When I played Red/Green Eldrazi Ramp a few months ago, I was amazed how easy it was to get to Chandra in games, it never seemed to matter that it cost six mana. That deck had a lot of ramp in it, for one thing, but it’s also just a different format now. It seems like Chandra takes way too long to get in play to help against the decks for which it is most needed. In games where Chandra happens easily, the card seems a little superfluous. I found this deck fun to play and decent enough against creature decks. I lost game after game to both versions of Esper, both the planeswalker version and the Dragons version.

Deck Number Six

With five decks built, it was finally time to build the white deck:

This is the top fuel dragster of the current Standard environment. Turn four kills are not only possible but according to opponents, not nearly rare enough. Unfortunately, like the top fuel dragster, Mono White Humans is intended to go very fast but only in one direction, straight ahead. If you miss, with a less-than-wonderful draw or because your opponent clears your board, you suddenly are driving a rather weak kid’s deck. Everything that makes it dangerous on turns one through four make it a rather pedestrian affair on turns eight, nine and ten.

I have noticed, however, that things go better with this deck the better the driver is. That’s a ray of hope, because if it matters who’s playing the deck, that means that skill is a factor with this deck. Isn’t there skill required to play all decks? In general, yes, but Mono White Humans does its thing so dramatically, so effortlessly, so automatically that after a few good games in a row you start to think the deck is doing it all by itself. It’s not brainless, no deck works if you don’t play it correctly, but let’s face it, turn-one-monster-followed-by-turn-two-monster isn’t extremely skillful. These creatures don’t give you extremely difficult decisions to make. The turn four kill is available for Magic players of all, and I do mean all, skill levels.

What happens after turn four if your opponent is still alive? That’s where the skill comes in. This version only plays one Gideon, Ally of Zendikar in the main deck but has more in the sideboard. Sideboarded games get a little more interesting, no doubt about it. Gideon makes games more interesting. I have friends who insist that once Kytheon gets flipped the game is a lot harder to lose even if you don’t get the optimal draw. That hasn’t been my experience with the deck.

We used to call a deck like this a “better bad deck.” What we meant was that it was a deck that could win even in the hands of a less-experienced mage. That’s what was supposed to make it a “bad” deck. The concept was that if a deck could win in the hands of a novice, then if a “better” player played it they could find those nooks and crannies in the game that a newer player wouldn’t find and therefore make the deck a “better bad deck.” If you like the deck, don’t feel insulted, this is how mono red decks have been characterized many times in the past. Many opponents have been burned to the ground by decks they thought were beneath them.

The cool kids aren’t completely wrong when they complain about the Mono White Humans deck. It does what it does very well, but it’s as draw dependent as any deck in years and it gives its pilot fewer decisions to make than any other deck in the format.

The Seventh Deck

I didn’t rest on day seven, there was still one more important creature deck I needed to build. It’s LSV’s deck from Pro Tour Madrid.

My son played Rally the Ancestors/Collected Company decks for months. When Fate Reforged went away, taking Rally the Ancestors with it, he was sure the Aristocrats deck was dead. Not so, reports Pro Tour favorite son Luis Scott-Vargas from the top eight of Pro Tour Madrid! Even with the success of this deck at the Pro Tour, my son still wasn’t convinced. All he could see were the fairly pale-looking replacement creatures in the deck, cards like Loam Dryad and especially Blisterpod. On the other hand, another new card, Duskwatch Recruiter, got an immediate thumbs up.

This deck provides a lot of different lines of play, too many for me to understand at first. Like its predecessors, and it’s more recent incarnation as Four Color Rites, this deck cobbles together the parts it needs as the game goes along. You attack in for damage whenever you can and use your creatures as blockers when you must. The skill level of the deck is very high but the learning curve isn’t too steep. The first step is playing patiently and remembering all of your triggers. Catacomb Sifter isn’t in the deck because it’s a game-winning bomb. It’s in the deck because it’s two creatures for the price of one (so don’t forget to put a Scion token into play) and because it lets you scry for one each time a creature dies. If you forget your scry triggers, any of them, you’re hurting your chances for success.

What’s really new about the deck, compared to older Aristocrat decks, is Cryptolith Rite. It’s not the best possible turn two play, but once you have it on board you’ll start to understand how good it is. Cryptolith Rite helps turn an opportunistic creature deck into a kind of control deck. With Rite in play, your untapped creatures give you chances to do more things during your opponent’s turn. Tap three guys and activate Duskwatch Recruiter. Tap four and play Collected Company. Tap five and activate Westvale Abbey!

If you like creature decks, it really comes down to what level of interaction you would like to have with your opponent. If you want the most straightforward path, play Mono White Humans. If you want more choices but still want to attack a lot, go with Green/White Tokens. If you want to play a creature deck that plays like a control deck you should strongly consider Black/Green Aristocrats. Is LSV’s deck completely outdated and functionally replaced by the Four Color Rite decks from Grand Prix New York? Probably. Things are moving pretty fast in Standard these days and that’s a good thing.

Seven Standard Decks in Seven Days

I built seven different decks in seven days and I’m still behind the curve. That’s okay, I’m further down the road than I was before. I’ll keep working on my gauntlet of test decks. My son and I are battling in a Standard PPTQ this weekend. Wish us luck.

Thanks for reading.

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