There are a lot of cool things about 10,000 Magic lovers gathering in a single place to enjoy an amazing weekend. The range of players you see is quite awesome and seeing all of the different ways Magic can impact someone is inspiring. That said, there are some bad things about 10,000 people gathering in one location. All of those people make for a giant breeding ground of sickness and while some may have escaped the largest Grand Prix ever without finding themselves under the weather, I was unfortunately not among them. Better to feel bad after the GP than during, at least!
But, things are on the up and up and it's time to bounce back and discuss some Magic cards! Last time, I wrote about proactive deckbuilding and left a short exercise at the end of the article that we will be discussing today. Additionally, I wanted to look at some brews that have popped up recently that might make for some nice Standard tech. I expect to shift focus to Modern next week, so let's make this one count!
Checking Our Work
Last time I ended with a decklist and asked how we could make the deck a little more proactive in such a diverse and hostile world such as Standard right now. Essentially, I wanted to be able to execute on our game play regardless of what the opponent is doing. The shell we were working with is an Esper Mentor list that looks a little something like this:
Before we look at where I wanted to take the list, let us first look at a few of the suggestions that people made in the comments. I obviously cannot go over every list, but there were a lot of similarities in what people came up with, so hopefully we cover most of it under a big umbrella. Here is a modification as submitted by Vardaris Vardaridis.
My favorite thing about this particular list is that we ditched countermagic in favor of the cheaper and more proactive discard spells. Duress and Thoughtseize do a pretty good job of protecting Monastery Mentor but they do so before the Mentor comes down. That means you can Clear a Path and then cast Mentor on curve without worrying about it dying too often. With Negate as the primary protection for the Mentor, we have to wait until at least five mana to feel like Mentor is safe.
It is possible that we don't have enough protection for the Mentor here, but the shift makes sense even if the numbers are off.
Defiant Strike is the other addition here as a cheap cantrip that triggers our prowess stuff while also just being a cheap card for our Delve spells. While its actual output is not too impressive, it does enable a lot of things and I can appreciate its inclusion for that. I think we probably want to find a more versatile instant for this role, but Defiant Strike is interesting at least.
Here is a different modification to that list submitted by Gerhard Krause:
This list is far from perfect in terms of showcasing proactive deckbuilding, but it does highlight a few areas where improvement can be had. Valorous Stance, for example, is an excellent choice for this style of deck. Not only does it protect your Mentor much in the same way that Negate does, but it also acts as removal against opposing decks trying to run their own fatties. That means that against a deck like Monogreen Devotion, instead of having an essentially useless card in Negate, we have an additional way to interact with Polukranos or Whisperwood Elemental which could be huge.
Finding these types of cards that offer us the versatility of a reactive spell without actually being exclusively reactive are a great way to hedge in a wide open format like this. Temur Charm is a great example of a fairly weak Counterspell, but one that provides a lot of versatility in situations where you actually don't need a Counterspell. The same cannot be said for Disdainful Stroke or Negate.
The shift to more planeswalkers is another thing that stands out about this particular version. While I once again agree with the intent, I am not sure that splitting up your walkers in this particular way is very good. Ashiok is a card that puts an immense amount of pressure on the opponent when it comes down on turn three, but it doesn't synergize with our damage plan very well, making it a rather awkward top deck in other situations. Ajani, on the other hand, does a good job of synergizing with our threats and acts as another himself. While the cat might be too weak to actually make the final cut, I like the thinking here of supplementing Sorin with an additional combat-oriented Walker.
That all said, cutting down on the number of Seeker of the Way does really hurt our early game from the first list. I feel like we want to produce a threat early to both be offensive but also distract a bit from our more explosive threats later on. Seeker is pretty likely to still eat a Bile Blight or Lightning Strike that would have been aimed at Mentor.
One thing that was suggested in the comments that I really wanted to see in some lists is Ojutai Exemplars. It would make us change our spell suite quite a bit to have more favorable instants lying around, but it is a resilient individual threat that feeds off of the same things most of the rest of our deck already want. Curving Seeker of the Way into Monastery Mentor, into Ojutai Exemplars leaves you in a world where your noncreature spells are generating a ton of value.
Of course, running out all of those threats at once is just asking to get three-for-one'd, so you probably want to hold something back; but the dream is exciting to think about nonetheless.
A Little More Aggressive...
My take on the Esper Mentor list is one that is a little more aggressive and one that can more easily trigger its prowess and prowess-like effects without going out of its way. I liked the package of proactive discard spells to clear the way for Mentor but then also being great trigger-enablers once it was in play.
I also just liked the idea of more threats in general. As I mentioned before, it feels like each additional threat in the deck is a makeshift Thoughtseize as the opponent has a limited number of ways to interact with these threats and they have to use one of those ways on each new threat you deploy. If my opponent one-for-ones with three of my creatures, there is a pretty solid chance that my fourth is going to live for a bit.
And when that is the case, we want to make sure it counts. Basically every creature in this deck is going to create a cascade of advantages as it sits in play. Whether you are gaining more and more life or more and more card advantage, we thrive when one of our threats is left unchecked.
It is possible I went a little too heavy on the double black spells here as our mana base is not exactly the strongest in the world. Cards like Sign in Blood and Hero's Downfall feel like a natural fit and are strong in the metagame, so I wanted to take advantage of them here. Still, if we have problems casting our cards, their relative strength is not all that relevant as is, so that is a big focus of mine throughout the testing process here.
I did not want to leave here while only discussing Esper Mentor though. As I hinted at before, I have had a lot of fun checking out ideas for the wide-open Standard. While not every idea is going to be amazing, most of the stuff I have come across has merit for one reason or another. As a deck builder, it is important to isolate these things that are working well, even if the concept as a whole has flaws. Perhaps we want to combine a bunch of partial ideas somewhere down the road and arrive at a Voltron of sorts. Heck, even if these end up on the cutting room floor, they are fun to think about!
One of the interesting ideas that we explored for Pro Tours this year was a deck that featured Scourge of the Fleets as a reset button while you drew a ton of cards off of Dictate of Kruphix. Ultimately, the deck needed some better closing speed or a format where Master of Waves was just able to dominate. Luckily, we have acquired more aggressive blue cards in the last few sets and Master of Waves is quite strong against decks not packing Bile Blight. With that in mind, I wanted to dust off the idea and see where it is at these days.
We have a sort of hybrid Blue Devotion deck here that can play a strange tempo game using early aggressive creatures backed up with countermagic and bounce spells. The interesting thing is that Whelming Wave will also reset our board. With a bunch of creatures that have abilities when they enter play though, we can pretty easily regain any advantages we lost. Eight of our creatures even reset into Counterspells which allows us to push our advantage even further.
Any time our initial tempo game plan does not pan out, we can drag the game out and win by bouncing everything in play and then squeezing advantages out of all of our extra cards. At least, that is the theory here but some testing needs to be done to actually tweak the numbers to a place where we have some level of consistency in the matter
Before Dragons of Tarkir came out, I was pretty excited by a Dictate of the Twin Gods idea that used Deflecting Palm to "combo" the opponent for a ton of damage out of nowhere. I wanted to quickly take a look at where the deck is after Dragons of Tarkir.
Previously, one of the bigger issues I faced with the deck was having a sweeper that was reliably in the mid to late game. Anger of the Gods was great at slowing down the early game, but once the opponent deployed a couple of four toughness creatures, like Courser of Kruphix plus Siege Rhino, the game quickly becomes a race that you tend to lose. End Hostilities or something similar would help this situation quite a bit. Previously, I did not fully respect Perilous Vault in the deck, but its strength has come through in recent months and I think a pair of those would be fine. Going a little deeper however, Volcanic Vision gives us a big sweeper and card advantage by recovering Dig Through Time or Treasure Cruise.
Again, while not necessarily a perfect list, I do really like what Volcanic Vision does for us in a long game. Regaining a four point burn spell, a fallen Dictate of the Twin Gods, or of course a Treasure Cruise, are all giant swings in the game that you get to pull off while clearing the board. The biggest issue for this deck has always been opposing planeswalkers though and I worry that we have not gained enough against that front. Narset in the maindeck is where I want to go next with this as both of her first two abilities are amazing in here.
If you are looking to make some modifications, the Narset swap is where I would begin but I do think this list has a lot of awesome stuff going on in it.
That is all I have this week. Next week I plan to switch the discussion over to Modern where a couple of cool ideas have been stirring in my head for a while. I think Standard is a little more diverse than Modern is right now, which is very different than what we are used to, but I still think Modern has plenty of wiggle room to explore. Until next week, thanks for reading!