Looking around the top Magic: The Gathering blogs there seems to be a lot of talk about two Khans of Tarkir clans in particular; Mardu and Temur. These two clans offer the most up front instantly recognizable value in the form of the powerful creatures and synergies. Both Butcher of the Horde and Savage Knuckleblade demand to be answered when they hit the table. I am not going to be talking about Mardu token combos and playing big beat-stick monsters. Today I would rather break down the graveyard strategies which are provided by the Sultai Brood.
There are several reasons why I choose to focus on this clan. First, there will always be people looking to use the graveyard as a means of gaining a resource advantage over their opponent. Whether you like to delve or are looking for a way to put an end to graveyard shenanigans we need to be familiar with what black mages will be doing this standard season and which powerful cards will be played at a reduced cost. Second, my favorite Ravnica guilds were Simic and Golgari. The fusion of these two, commonly referred to as BUG, contains serious control elements along with creatures who typically have abilities which gives the deck more finesse than your average creature deck. These two facts make it easy to switch between control and beatdown when needed on a moment’s notice. Third, I am currently living on the Thailand side of the Burmese border. I am surrounded by temples, settings, imagery which are similar to those depicted in the art of Sultai cards. Speaking of strong imagery, let’s look at a few of the new cards which will be a big part of defining Sultai decks in the coming standard season.
Sidisi, Brood Tyrant is the leader of the Sultai and thus is a good place to look in order to capture the essence of both their flavor and rules. The Sultai represent the ruthless nature of the dragon, and as a result will use whatever resources they can to get an advantage (and wealth). For us BUG players this means graveyard combos and card selection abilities.
When she is put into play or attacks, Sidisi places three cards into the graveyard and if at least one is a creature she will generate a zombie. This is a great way to generate creatures without investing cards, especially since zombies are 2/2 and can profitably block the abundant token strategies that produce 1/1. Other than creating 2/2 zombies though, what should a Sultai deck do?
The first thing is that it needs to be able to use the graveyard to its advantage. The rebirth of the delve mechanic, allowing a player to exile cards from the graveyard to reduce the colorless part of a casting cost, lead to three cards I identify as being ripe for inclusion in many decks. The first is Murderous Cut, which very well may become the standout removal spell of the block. The mana cost of 4B is not extreme for conditionless removal, but being able to kill at instant speed for only B while removing a few used cards from your graveyard is something which not only is efficient, but also makes it easy to protect yourself even while using most of your mana. This is especially key when reaching the point in the game where you switch from control to beatdown.
Empty the Pits fills the spot for Wizards’ annual flashy mana intensive mythic black card. In a deck built around utilizing the graveyard, being able to lay down an army of bodies ready to attack for lethal the next turn is quite a win condition. The biggest liability in a BUG deck is the BBBB part of the casting cost rather than the XX.
Necropolis Fiend at first appears to be overcosted, but when in combination with Commune of the Gods or Taigam’s Scheming he is a turn three play. A simple comparison to Stormbreath Dragon and his evading four power, even recognizing their differences, would say that there is something worth looking at here. The spot removal ability is only icing on the cake if you are in a pinch and need to take out a pesky creature.
I excitedly put together a deck and started testing. Sadly, I found that my dreams of delving and producing bodies seemingly unobtainable. In order to produce zombies I needed a high creature count, but the high creature count would make it difficult to control the game to get to the point where I stabilized as well as limit the slots needed to get cards into the graveyard. Frankly the deck didn’t hit hard enough, suffering also from readily available graveyard hate.
There was one card I didn’t want to give up on though, and that was Rakshasa Deathdealer. Not only is demon cat a great creature type, but this kitty certainly has claws. Hitting on curve as a 2/2 for BG, but it also can repeatedly gain another +2/+2 and regenerate for the same cost. This makes for a great threat who is good in both the late and early game, plus can repeatedly chump block to buy time while stabilizing the board state against aggressive strategies. I remembered a similar threat from Theros block, one which had vexed me to an unexpected degree. I am talking about Reaper of the Wilds.
Reaper may not regenerate, but it gains hexproof which is nearly as good and may occasionally be better. The 4/5 body also allows it to be a great blocker against most of what we see in standard, but in the event of something too big it can also gain deathtouch for a single mana, which definitely has its uses against green monster decks. The ability to scry whenever a creature dies, friend or foe, is easy to undervalue, but in a deck with locks of removal allows you to really dig for the cards you need.