So here we are, a full week and change from the release of Magic Origins. According to my calendar, this is the point after a set release where it becomes my authorial duty to show off a sweet new Standard deck guaranteed to bring you fame, fortune, glory, and FNM wins. I take my responsibilities seriously, so this week I will be doing just that.
Well, not exactly.
Turns out I'm not really much of a brewer. I do have a list to share, but it comes with no guarantees. In fact, at the time of this writing, I haven't played a single game with it. To be honest, I don't even know what the list at the end of this article will be yet. Instead, I have in my head an idea of an interaction that I think could be powerful in Standard and a method to create a deck that features that interaction prominently.
The interaction? Collected Company with the new flip planeswalkers.
The method? Bottom-up deck design.
My first exposure to the concept of top-down card design came during Innistrad block (a time I think many magic players were first exposed to the concept). For the unfamiliar, top-down design is the idea of starting with the flavor or story of a card and then designing the card mechanics to be in line with it. The reverse, bottom-up design, would be starting with the mechanics and finding a flavor to match it. I use the term with regards to deck design to mean the idea of designing a deck by starting with a single interaction and making design decisions around maximizing that interaction (opposed to the more common method of having an idea of a general strategy and finding the set of cards/interactions that maximizes the strategy).
The basis for this exercise, as previously mentioned, is using Collected Company alongside a substantial number of the new double-sided planeswalkers. Collected Company has proven itself to be exceptionally powerful across multiple formats since its release. The flip planeswalkers represent a new tool in the Company toolbox that has the potential to make Collected Company decks even stronger in Standard. As such, exploring the strength of this interaction is a sensible mission. The first thing we need to do to begin that Exploration is decide which walker or walkers we will be utilizing.
Actually, even before deciding which planeswalkers we will be playing, we need to think about what the card Collected Company itself wants out of the deck surrounding it. First and foremost, Collected Company demands a large number of suitable targets. The low end of targets is probably around 22, but we're trying to maximize Company in this deck, so we will probably end up with somewhat more than that. Ideally the curve would be biased towards three-drops to maximize the mana boon potential from Collected Company. Also worth noting that enter the battlefield abilities play very nicely with Company.
Now we have enough information to decide which of the walkers we will be running. Right off the bat, I think we can eliminate Jace, Vryn's Prodigy and Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh from the running. Neither is really suited towards being in a creature heavy deck due to their synergy with spells. Liliana, Heretical Healer and Kytheon, Hero of Akros both synergize nicely with other creatures, though. Nissa, Vastwood Seer has an enters the battlefield trigger and gets bonus points for being in the same color as Collected Company. These three are all considerations, but playing a three color deck that wants to play a white one-drop seems ambitious, so we should choose two of these three (and since Nissa is in green, she's a given as one of the two). Liliana, Heretical Healer is more expensive which is nice for Collected Company, but Kytheon's sheer creature synergy outweighs that consideration enough for me to give him the nod.
Complementing Our Core
So we have three cards that will be making our final deck: Collected Company, Nissa, Vastwood Seer and Kytheon, Hero of Akros. Playing Kytheon alongside Nissa means we are looking to primarily utilize the planeswalker side of Kytheon as Nissa is pretty far from the kind of aggressive three-drop that would serve to complement a 2/1 for one. Gideon, Battle-Forged's ability to make creatures attack him is the ability that I think has the most potential in our creature heavy list. We can further maximize that ability by playing creatures that love to be attacked into: Deathmist Raptor and Brimaz, King of Oreskos fit that bill and play extremely well with Collected Company.
Nissa, Vastwood Seer both helps us to keep hitting land drops and really wants us to continue to do so for most of the game. To maximize her in our list, we want ways to help us keep hitting our land drops and then things to do with all of that mana. Courser of Kruphix is an easy include as a three-mana creature that helps us hit land drops (and lets us potentially get extra value out of Nissa as a shuffle effect). Knight of the White Orchid is another way to hit land drops that plays well with Collected Company, but is certainly potentially awkward as late in the game we will almost certainly have more lands than our opponent. Den Protector is a great way to make use of our mana and further enables Deathmist Raptor. Ditto for Mastery of the Unseen. Mastery of the Unseen actually synergizes with essentially everything in our deck thus far and is a home run include that really ties the whole thing together.
For those keeping track at home, that puts us at nine unique card names to include in the deck. If they were all four-ofs we would have 36 slots filled and be ready for 24 lands and a completed main. In general, for broad-stroke test deck exercises like this, I like to stick to playing every card as a four-of to get a better idea of how the cards work together. The exception to this is legendary permanents, which get much worse in multiples. Since the whole idea of this deck is Collected Company into walkers, I won't be trimming those. Brimaz, King of Oreskos, on the other hand, will go down to two copies. I think 24 land is right, so we have two slots to fill. Our creature requirements have been fulfilled for Collected Company, so I'm just going to round this list out with a couple copies of Dromoka's Command, which has some decent synergy with a lot of the cards we are playing as well as a large amount of raw power.
The final list (with the sideboard I would play if my intent was to test this at a sanctioned event):
The manabase was not discussed, and was pretty tricky to build. We want sufficient Forests for Nissa, Vastwood Seer and Plains for Knight of the White Orchid in addition to the normal constraints of trying to make sure we can cast our spells, which happen to be pretty colored mana intensive. Manabases are far from my specialty so this could definitely be improved, but should serve adequately for testing. The biggest risk here is that eight tap lands might just be too many. The one-of Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx is a very speculative include that could be very powerful at times but might not be worth the slot. Worth noting that with Mastery of the Unseen, we can at times get Nykthos into the graveyard and then flip Den Protector to grab it back - a scenario which can only ever happen in games where Nykthos would be super great, so it is kind of cute that we are more likely to see our Nykthos in the games where we want it.
Big picture, this deck ended up focused around Collected Company and Mastery of the Unseen. Tons of ways to hit land drops, tons of late game play. The high number of creatures gives it a pretty solid beatdown Plan B as well. The pre-Origins Collected Company / Mastery of the Unseen GW deck was kind of a sleeper deck, and this deck shares a lot of that deck's key elements. Dragonlord Ojutai seems very, very good against our main, which might be a crippling blow to its competitive chances.
The stated goal of this exercise was to create a deck highlighting the interaction between Collected Company and the new flip planeswalkers. I believe this list delivers on that goal, providing the potential to end of turn cast Collected Company and hit two creature walkers which we could, in theory, then untap with and double transform that turn. That dream scenario play is obviously very powerful. Both of the flip walkers that we are utilizing are also very strong in the final list. Flipped Kytheon in particular is great, forcing problem creatures to swing into our creature heavy board that potentially has a Deathmist Raptor that we can easily recur later.
Knight of the White Orchid is the single card I am most unsure about in this list, mostly because it is new to me and I don't really have a great idea of how it will perform. If it doesn't work out for whatever reason, Satyr Wayfinder is the next card I would look to for that slot. Satyr Wayfinder also has the added benefit of making Den Protector and Deathmist Raptor much better, at the cost of being a weaker card overall. If you want to try this deck out, swapping out Knight for the Wayfinder might be right (make sure to adjust the mana base some, as you will need fewer Plains and total white sources).
I hope following along through this deck creation process helped to highlight one of the key strengths of bottom-up deck design: it Removes a lot of the guesswork from deckbuilding. At each step of the process we have a very specific question to answer. How do we maximize Collected Company? Okay, how do we maximize Kytheon and Nissa? Each answer cascades into a new specific question until that's it, we're done, we have 60 cards. Top-down deck design involves asking very broad questions like "what's the best way to implement a control strategy in these colors in this format?" and can be much harder to get a handle on for those of us who aren't naturally talented at brewing. The other main strength of bottom-up design is its awesome uses in improving at Magic.
At some point in our Magic lives, I think many of us have had the experience of brewing up a new deck and being really excited about it, only to have it be an utter failure. Often, watching the way it failed very directly helps us grow as both players and brewers - a happy accident if you will: the deck we thought was great was terrible, but we became better at Magic anyway, and often much quicker than we would have if we had never 'failed' with that brew. With bottom-up deck design, my goal is to seek out these kinds of learning moments on purpose instead of stumbling into them. It is a Paradigm Shift from trying to design a deck that will perform as well as possible to designing a deck that will teach me as much as possible from testing it.
If my primary school science education taught me anything, it's that the scientific method was more responsible for radically transforming society's understanding of the natural world than anything else. The idea that the quickest path to unlocking the world's secrets was to form hypotheses and test them let humanity snowball its scientific knowledge. Similarly, my growth at Magic increased exponentially when I switched from passively improving as I played to seeking out and directing my growth opportunities by testing theories. Magic is complex and difficult enough to understand that treating it like a science and actively forming hypotheses and testing them for no other purpose than to learn has greatly helped me and is the key to what success I have found.
So is this deck any good? No idea, but probably not. Failure rate on brews is extraordinarily high, and this wasn't even necessarily designed to be good. I am still more excited to test with this deck than with any other right now. Winning is great and all, but for me, Magic is all about improving.
Thanks for reading.