This week I'm going to talk about the deck Team Lone Riders (Michael Bonde, Thomas Enevoldsen and I) all played at Pro Tour Kaladesh. All three of us played the same 75 and two of us went 7-3 with the deck in the tournament. We had the smallest team in the event, but we posted the second highest Constructed win rate of any team (behind Dex Army). We didn't break the format or anything, but I do believe we succeeded in finding the best white aggressive deck, which is no small feat considering Red-White Vehicles is a Tier 1 strategy competing for that title. With the changes I suggest today, the deck will continue to be well-positioned moving forward.
This is the deck Thomas Enevoldsen and I each played to a 7-3 record at Pro Tour Kaladesh:
The main deck felt like it was close to perfect. It's aggressive with a good curve of cards that synergize well together and are individually the most powerful and versatile aggro cards available to a deck with this mana base. The one change I would make is to move the third and fourth copies of Stasis Snare from the sideboard to the main deck. In order to make room, I would cut the Key to the City and the fourth Aerial Responder.
The sideboard required a bit of guesswork for the Pro Tour since we didn't know how much of which decks to expect in the tournament. Now that the metagame is a bit more predictable, I would want four copies of Transgress the Mind in the sideboard, a suggestion Doug Tice recommended after testing the deck. Transgress is the best card available against Aetherworks Marvel (to my knowledge, at least) and is also good against control decks. To be able to cast them more reliably, I would replace the Plains and Blighted Fen in the sideboard with two Swamps.
This is the version I would recommend for Grand Prix Providence this weekend:
I'm considering Fumigate for the sideboard as an alternate plan against GB Delirium. I'm also not sure whether Fragmentize or Anguished Unmaking is better for the sideboard. Fragmentize is more efficient at killing Aetherworks Marvel whereas Anguished Unmaking can also kill Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger and can be sideboarded in against GB Delirium as an answer to Liliana, the Last Hope or most of their other threats.
Toolcraft Exemplar is the best first turn play in the format and this deck can attack with it for three on the second turn more consistently than any other deck in the format. That is one of this deck's major selling points. We have the greatest number of untapped white sources (18), which is more than Red-White Vehicles since they have to play a bunch of Mountains. We also have lots of ways to have an artifact on the battlefield to turn it on by the second turn as well.
Speaking of turning on Toolcraft Exemplar, Thraben Inspector enters the battlefield and produces a clue Token, which counts as an artifact for the Toolcraft Exemplar. Our two one-drops therefore work very well together. One of our premier openings is first turn Toolcraft Exemplar into second turn Thraben Inspector and another Toolcraft Exemplar. This represents an immediate three points of damage and another seven the following turn. If Always Watching is the third turn play, make that an attack for 10 on the third turn!
Another premier follow-up to a first turn Toolcraft Exemplar is Smuggler's Copter. This likewise provides the artifact to trigger the Exemplar and will also represent a six point attack the following turn, as long as we have any other creature to play the following turn. We also get to loot away a card in our hand with the Copter.
This deck actually has a third premier follow-up to a first turn Toolcraft Exemplar, namely Scrapheap Scrounger! The Scrounger triggers the Exemplar immediately and likewise represents an additional three points of power for the following attack. I mulligan pretty aggressively with this deck since it has so many explosive openings, especially when it leads with a first-turn Toolcraft Exemplar.
Selfless Spirit will not turn on the Toolcraft Exemplar but is a fine second turn play in the absence of any of the other cards already mentioned. If I have Stitcher's Graft I'll often play that and a Shambling Vent on the second turn to turn on the Toolcraft Exemplar, assuming I have something like an Aerial Responder for the third turn. If not, I'll play Selfless Spirit and then play Stitcher's Graft the following turn. By attacking with the Selfless Spirit we Recoup those extra two points of damage missed from not having an artifact on the second turn for the Toolcraft Exemplar, so it's kind of a wash either way. Selfless Spirit provides us with a flying body and protection for our more important threats such as Aerial Responder and Smuggler's Copter. It can also protect their entire team from Fumigate, Kozilek's Return, or Radiant Flames.
Aerial Responder is one of the most underrated cards in Standard, especially in conjunction with Stitcher's Graft. It's so hard for black-red decks, green-white deck, or red-white decks to race a huge flying lifelinking dwarf and we often have Selfless Spirit to protect it from the first removal spell. Between Selfless Spirit, Smuggler's Copter and Aerial Responder, we have plenty of flying threats to finish the job that Toolcraft Exemplar started.
Gideon, Ally of Zendikar is our curve-topper of choice. I had Gisela, the Broken Blade for a while and she was good, but Gideon was a bit better against the midrange and control decks and we felt we wanted a little more help in those matches as opposed to against the aggro decks since we were already pretty good against those (in no small part to Aerial Responder).
Our removal spells of choice were Declaration in Stone and Stasis Snare. Declaration in Stone is better against Black-Green Delirium decks since it can hit a second-turn Grim Flayer on the draw or it can clear out all the Spider Tokens produced by Ishkanah, Grafwidow. Stasis Snare is better against Emrakul, the Promised End and against Smuggler's Copter. Both removal spells are great right now. Exiling is especially potent against the Grixis Madness deck. Declaration in Stone taking out multiple copies of Prized Amalgam can provide the necessary tempo to close the door before they can dig deep enough into their libraries for answers to our threats. These removal spells can also hit anything no matter how big, including a giant 8/8 Verdurous Gearhulk or Eldrazi found off Aetherworks Marvel.
Our pump spells of choice are Always Watching and Stitcher's Graft. Stitcher's Graft provides an artifact for Toolcraft Exemplar while also having its drawback negated by the vigilance provided by Always Watching or that naturally occurring on Aerial Responder. It can get our creatures out of range of many of the red or black removal spells of the format (Grasp of Darkness, Galvanic Bombardment, Fiery Temper, and in the case of Aerial Responder even Lightning Axe). Always Watching also gets our creatures out of range of Liliana, the Last Hope, which is otherwise one of the best cards in the format against our deck. It also helps us win Smuggler's Copter battles easily since the +1/+1 bonus keeps their Copter from being able to block and trade with ours and the vigilance keeps theirs from being able to attack into ours. It also pumps our Aerial Responders big enough to attack into and threaten to block opposing Smuggler's Copters. We had four copies for a while but eventually cut down to just three copies since vigilance is redundant and so we really only want to draw one copy each game.
I played Key to the City at the Pro Tour and it was an excellent way to replace excess lands and force through the final points of damage, but it was the least necessary card in the deck. We often had uses for excess lands and already had Smuggler's Copter to replace them. It was especially good against decks that would eventually gum up the board with things like Spider Tokens, but I think it's the correct cut to make room for more Stasis Snares since those solve more problems. We originally had Gryff's Boon in that spot but replaced it with Key to the City since half our creatures already had flying and Key to the City was yet another artifact to turn on Toolcraft Exemplar.
This is our toughest matchup and the only deck I had a losing record against at the Pro Tour. I went 1-2 against it, defeating Eric Froehlich and losing to Shuhei Nakamura. EFro's version is tough, but not nearly as tough as Shuhei's since he neither splashes for Radiant Flames nor runs the full playset of Liliana, the Last Hope. Either way, there are a few keys to this matchup. First is to basically never ever loot away Declaration in Stone since that is our best answer to Ishkanah, Grafwidow and also the best card to leave in hand to punish them if they ever play two copies of the same threat (which they will often be forced to do since we apply so much pressure). The other important thing to do is to get Always Watching down as quickly as possible so that our one-toughness creatures are out of range of Liliana, the Last Hope. This turns their best card into just an ok card against us.
On the Draw:
IN: 2 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, 2 Swamp, 3 Archangel Avacyn, 1 Anguished Unmaking
OUT: 4 Selfless Spirit, 4 Toolcraft Exemplar
On the Play:
IN: 2 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, 1 Swamp, 1 Anguished Unmaking
OUT: 4 Selfless Spirit
I went 1-1 against this deck at the Pro Tour, barely losing to Yuuya Watanabe. There are a few different versions of Marvel decks and his version had Spell Queller, which was pretty good against me. He also had Descend upon the Sinful as his sweeper, which is conveniently the only one that does not get countered by our Selfless Spirits. We are fast, so we can often force them to quickly find and resolve the Marvel by their fourth turn but also force them to hit a wrath or Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger off the first Marvel activation. This will happen a decent amount of the time, but our pressure makes them have it right away whereas many other decks in the format are at their mercy. Post-board we bring in Transgress the Mind, which we ideally want to cast the turn before they get to four mana. This gives us the maximum probability of hitting their Aetherworks Marvel and forcing them to find another copy right away or die to our pressure.
IN: 4 Transgress the Mind, 2 Swamp, 1 Anguished Unmaking, 2 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
OUT: 4 Declaration in Stone, 1 Plains, 4 Stasis Snare
If they are a creature-heavy version, board out an Aerial Responder and three Always Watchings instead of the Stasis Snares.
The games will often get to a point where they feel like things are getting out of control, but it usually amounts to them just spinning their wheels since our cards match up well against what they are doing. Don't leave your Aerial Responder naked to a Voldaren Pariah transformation. Save your Declaration in Stones as long as possible to hit multiple things. Use Stasis Snare to combat their Copters and Elder Deep-Fiends. Use Selfless Spirit to protect against Kozilek's Return or to save Aerial Responder from Lightning Axe. Stitcher's Graft on Aerial Responder is basically our trump in the matchup.
IN: 1 Aerial Responder
OUT: 1 Always Watching
Don't die. Block. Race. Consider what pump spells they could have and play smart. Try to get them to use their best pump spells to win combat rather than to mangle our face.
IN: 1 Anguished Unmaking, 2 Blessed Alliance, 1 Aerial Responder, 1 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, 1 Swamp
OUT: 4 Scrapheap Scrounger, 2 Stitcher's Graft
Game 1 is a pseudo race. Kill Depala immediately, use Stasis Snare on their vehicles, and punish them with Declaration in Stone any time they play two copies of the same threat. Game 2 they bring in Lightning Weaver and Galvanic Bombardments. When they go low, we go high, bringing in our higher end control cards.
IN: 1 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, 2 Swamp, 3 Archangel Avacyn, 1 Aerial Responder, 2 Blessed Alliance
OUT: 4 Toolcraft Exemplar, 2 Selfless Spirit, 1 Smuggler's Copter, 2 Stitcher's Graft
Control matchups are about pressure and resilience to their removal. Scrapheap Scrounger and Gideon really shine in these matchups whereas our removal spells do not. Transgress the Mind is the best way to fight Torrential Gearhulk, which is basically their only creature.
IN: 2 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, 2 Swamp, 3 Archangel Avacyn, 4 Transgress the Mind
OUT: 4 Declaration in Stone, 4 Stasis Snare, 1 Aerial Responder, 2 Stitcher's Graft
Overall I think this deck is still good and still under the radar. We didn't break the format, but we found a deck that has a strong plan against the field. If you're a white weenie fan, I think this deck is slightly better than Red-White Vehicles and the best Toolcraft Exemplar deck in the format. It might even be the best Smuggler's Copter deck too! We'll see in Providence.