Pro Tour Origins is long gone by this point and the Top 8 has been covered rather extensively from just about every angle possible. Red decks in particular have gotten quite a bit of attention as they appear to have quite a variety of viable builds and they put up such big numbers, especially at the top tables. But there are often much cooler stories outside of just those Top 8 tables.
Many people have already mentioned Ken Yukihiro's Hardened Scales deck, for example, which only finished in the Top 64, but brought a fresh new archetype into the fold. Scouring this mid-level from the Pro Tour generally has a lot of cool stuff if you are paying attention. Often these are just one-card technology or some innovative sideboard slot, but occasionally, entirely new decks are born, like Hardened Scales.
One list from this area that caught my eye was a Demonic Pact deck. While there are all sorts of ideas out there that use this unique enchantment, few of those lists are built to take full advantage. There are decks that play Necropotence, for example, and then there are decks that abuse Necropotence, with faster ways to get it out and to break the drawback. This deck was sort of the latter. The deck wanted to not only avoid the drawback of Demonic Pact, but to Recycle the enchantment, getting six or more positive effects before ever running the risk of losing the game.
Here is the list that Antonio Del Moral Leon took to a Top 64 finish at the Pro Tour:
There is plenty that I don't necessarily agree with here, but the list also features some very cool cards and interactions that no other deck really does. Demonic Pact tends to steal the show of any deck it is in just because of how powerful and interesting it is, but Woodland Bellower deserves just as much credit here. Despite being a pretty powerful mythic rare, Woodland Bellower has not found itself too many homes. Even green devotion lists that run Deathmist Raptor, Shaman of Forgotten Ways, and mana creatures don't seem to have room for a six-drop tutor. Antonio found a way to make that six-drop tutor work though.
In this list, Woodland Bellower finds two different creatures that deal with Demonic Pact; Reclamation Sage obviously comes down and acts as a Naturalize, but even more impressive is Invasive Species, which puts Demonic Pact back into your hand, allowing for additional use later. Additionally, Woodland Bellower can always find Courser of Kruphix for a consistently strong creature.
First, it is worth noting that, assuming you hit your land drops, you will have gotten two positive abilities out of Demonic Pact before turn six. This means that you can use Bellower as a means of resetting your Pact, without even walking the edge and risking losing the game should it get countered or something. Often you will want to get all three positives out of your Pact, but having a turn buffer in matchups where you are not afforded that luxury is nice.
It is nice that Woodland Bellower is not exclusively a Demonic Pact combo piece though. It can grab Invasive Species simply to reset its ability. Paying six mana for a 3/3 is not great, but sometimes that will be the key to winning a midrange matchup. I actually feel like this list does not go far enough to support Woodland Bellower outside of the Demonic Pact synergies. Where is a copy of Rakshasa Deathdealer, for example? That is a card that can take over a game against control and can be tutored up by Bellower and yet is not present. I wanted to do a quick search for other notable creatures that Woodland Bellower could grab. Originally I was going to restrict my search to just black and green cards, but I figured there was a good chance I ended up exploring Abzan, so I included white options as well (but remember that the creature also needs to still be green).
Courser of Kruphix
Shaman of Forgotten Ways
Warden of the First Tree
I must say, I included Savage Knuckleblade on this list mostly for future reference, but that idea does seem pretty sweet. Woodland Bellower becomes a Grave Titan stand-in when it is grabbing something of that power level. For now though, abusing the tutor aspect of the card felt best as we definitely want to showcase Demonic Pact first and foremost.
I quite like the small package of two Invasive Species and one Reclamation Sage as that feels like it will come up consistently without bogging down too many draws that don't involve Pact. From there I wanted to have cards that were both good to draw and offered some late game presence. Woodland Bellower is not a fast card and that is important to keep in mind when brewing around it. As I mentioned before, adding white just made a ton of sense, especially because Dromoka's Charm makes for such a natural fit with Demonic Pact.
To be honest, the Den Protector in this list might just want to be something else, as its value with Woodland Bellower is low and without multiples to chain and Deathmist Raptors to rebuy, the card loses some coolness points. That aside though, this list is similar to the Abzan aggro decks that have been around for a while but we have a higher emphasis on the midgame, and specifically on resolving Demonic Pact.
Our early game is actually less consistent than traditional Abzan aggro. We only have four total copies split amongst Fleecemane Lion and Deathdealer instead of the normal seven to eight. Beyond that, we have no Elvish Mystics or anything to accelerate us through early game mana issues. Instead, we give that up to have the Demonic Pact engine, which may or may not prove worth it after more testing. On paper, Pact is a single card that provides you with something like five or six cards worth of effect. The drawing and discarding portions are quite literally a four-for-one unless the opponent had a small hand and then a four point drain is certainly worth a card, maybe two. This creates a huge swing in the game, so we are not as set on creating small swings early with additional copies of two-drops and whatnot, but would rather dedicate those slots to enhancing the Demonic Pact package.
There is likely an aggro Abzan list that eschews Woodland Bellower but still runs four copies of Pact. Dromoka's Command would probably be an essential four-of in said list to give you an out to Demonic Pact. Command is especially nice because you get an additional positive effect while removing your Pact, eliminating the card disadvantage that a typical Naturalize would stick us with.
Dromoka's Command just seems like a sweet card in general with pact, even outside of an aggressive shell. There are so many red decks running around, as we mentioned earlier, that even the prevent damage mode of the charm is quite strong right now. If we wanted to eliminate Woodland Bellower but keep a midrange Rock feel, I think Command is probably the way to go.
This list could use some further tuning, but I love a lot of what is going on here. While the curve is a little higher than I would like, we do get to interact with Thoughtseize, Sylvan Caryatid, and occasionally Dromoka's Command early on. From there though, we get to just punish aggro. Languish will often be a blowout, but even just one-for-one removal backed by immense life gain and card advantage from Pact is going to be tough to fight through.
And when I say immense life gain, I mean it, assuming you draw just one of each of your life gain cards - that is Courser of Kruphix, Siege Rhino, and Demonic Pact. If our opponent manages to kill Courser immediately, we are still talking eight or nine life gained from those spells plus plenty of value beyond the life gain too. Eight draw-twos and Courser also help us to find things that shut a game down, such as Languish, Elspeth, or Ugin in the late game.
This strategy might not be perfect against aggro, but we gain access to up to five more sweepers in the board along with some other bits of removal and planeswalkers that support our primary plan. Meanwhile, our maindeck has a ton of haymakers against opposing control and midrange decks because of the slight hedging we do against aggro. Outside of Languish and Sylvan Caryatid, every card in our deck has to be dealt with or provides us with an advantage against control in some way.
Imagine a Demonic Pact resolving for example. That card just rips control apart if not dealt with immediately and we have access to four of them that we can push through countermagic and removal with. I do suspect that we probably want to up our threat count even more after board though, so we have various planeswalkers and hand disruption to aid our main deck packages. It is possible we want some number of edicts for Ojutai and whatnot, but for now I am trying to avoid that route and instead rely on hand disruption and planeswalkers to deal with dragons.
As far as strategies that didn't quite get there, the biggest one was probably Riptide Chimera. While in theory, the ability to bounce Pact every turn, or whenever you want, is nice, the reality is that you don't want to bounce it except for every 3rd turn and a 3/4 that needs to stick around for a turn to deal with your Pact is not the most reliable way to get it back into your hand before losing the game. Helm of the Gods did fit nicely into that shell though, so I am sure I will continue to explore it.
Standard is a lot of fun right now and there are still all kinds of brews yet to be touched by people so be sure to get out there and have some fun with the format before Theros rotates. Eldrazi coming back is cool and all, but you gotta love a good format when it comes around and right now is one of those times. Happy brewing!