This past weekend I unfortunately was unable to attend the TCGplayer MaxPoint Championship, but I was able to watch a lot of magic coverage. I am happy to see that the Standard format is starting to change, as we are seeing emergence of Mardu Midrange as one of the top contenders in Standard. That is not the archetype I want to talk about today though. I have seen various types of decks with Whip of Erebos in them, ranging from dedicated Reanimator to Green Devotion, and I think it is time to look into some different options for building around the card.
Initially when Khans of Tarkir was first released Sultai was the wedge that was seen most obviously as the color combination that works the best with reanimation, and I don't know that has changed. Sidisi, Brood Tyrant is one hell of a magic card, and should certainly not be overlooked. Let's look at a Sidisi-Whip list piloted by Christian Seibold at Grand Prix Stockholm:
For those players looking to play with Sidisi, Brood Tyrant I think that this is the direction to go. Three Elvish Mystic seems like the right number. While Elvish Mystic is extremely good if you have one on the first turn, the other forms of mana production are more important. This deck aims to play the late game, and one of the most notable exclusions from the list is Commune with the Gods. This may be a classic example of just not being able to fit everything into the deck. Another issue with Commune with the Gods is that decking is actually a real concern for these decks, as I have seen it happen multiple times, and once the deck gets a Sidisi, Brood Tyrant going plenty of cards will fill up the graveyard.
Satyr Wayfinder gets the nod over Commune with the Gods, and while I'm not confident that this is correct (as it feels like the deck wants both), you certainly never want to miss a land drop. Without Commune with the Gods, the deck absolutely needs to play four copies of Whip of Erebos because of the need to naturally draw it. Whip of Erebos is the centerpiece to the deck and I would say a huge percentage of the wins come off the back of this card. Reanimating Hornet Queen with Whip of Erebos is one of the most powerful plays in Standard right now.
Without Hornet Queen I don't think the reanimation strategies would exist. Currently I believe that many players believe Abzan Midrange to be the top deck in Standard, though there are certainly arguments which can be made against this. Hornet Queen is the card that Abzan Midrange just can't deal with, especially in game one. While Abzan Midrange has access to sweepers after board like Drown in Sorrow, this type of sweeper matches up pretty poorly against the creatures that aren't Hornet Queen, and then there is Whip of Erebos which would need to be answered as well. Hornet Queen doesn't play fair, and going over the top of your opponent with bigger threats is a great way of attacking the format.
The other big creature threats are the single Soul of Innistrad and the two Sagu Mauler. I'm glad to see these cards seeing some play, and Sagu Mauler is another way to provide big life swings alongside a Whip of Erebos. This is another card that only dies to big board sweepers, or potentially Crackling Doom. The Soul of Innistrad is meant to be dug for with Satyr Wayfinders and Sidisi, Brood Tyrant so that later in the game there will be a number of relevant creatures to get back from the graveyard.
I'm happy to see Whip of Erebos being included as more than just a one of, as it seems that the lifelink and ability to continuously recur a threat is more than enough of a reason to play Whip of Erebos over a card like Endless Obedience. When watching coverage of the TCGplayer $50,000 MaxPoint Championship I saw Justin Shortino completely dismantle his opponent, with his unique version of Abzan Reanimator. Here it is:
This may be the most dedicated reanimation deck I have looked at in quite a while. He is helping to prove that reanimation is not just present in Sultai strategies. Playing only two Whip of Erebos seems alright because of the playset of Commune with the Gods, but since you do always want to have one I might play another copy, because there is still the chance you don't find it, or your opponent deals with the first one, with something like Utter End or Banishing Light. Whip of Erebos isn't Shortino's only way of reanimating creatures though, he does have a copy of Endless Obedience as well as two Rescue from the Underworld. Between these two reanimation spells it's hard to say exactly which is better as I think both will end up being five mana a lot of the time. While Rescue of the Underworld is a delayed reward sacrificing a creature with an enters the battlefield trigger is great, and the card is an instant, so there is definitely plenty of blowout potential.
There are plenty of creatures with enters the battlefield triggers, as what is an Abzan deck these days without four Siege Rhinos. This is a good target for a big life swing with a Whip of Erebos, and there are still decks in the format such as Jeskai Aggro which have huge issues with this card. Siege Rhino also helps enable one of the other big spells, See the Unwritten. There are plenty of big creatures the deck can find off a See the Unwritten, and this is also a way of filling up the graveyard for Whip of Erebos.
So now let's move onto the big whammies. Alright the Hornet Queen's I already mentioned, but there are also four Ashen Riders! I absolutely love being able to put an Ashen Rider into play from the graveyard or off See the Unwritten. To me this is simply an enjoyable deck to play, with a number of sweet interactions. I'm not sure that you need to run all four Ashen Riders though, as once getting to the late game the deck should have no trouble winning. The sideboarded Resolute Archangel and Reclamation Sages provide yet more creatures which can abuse the theme of creatures with enters the battlefield triggers.
Alright we have talked about two different types of reanimator, but there is another archetype that has recently been resurging and that is Green/Black Constellation, referred to the Europeans as "Enchantress." Before providing a list I actually want to provide a Green/Black Devotion list as the decks are quite similar to each other. Here is what Susan Zeil played at the TCGplayer MaxPoint Championship:
Up until recently the only deck that has successfully managed to make use of the constellation theme in the new Standard format has been Monogreen Devotion. The deck does play Whip of Erebos alongside Hornet Queen, but there are no cards that are actively filling up the graveyard. Constellation is used as a sub-theme, but the primary gameplan is that of a typical Green Devotion strategy. The Green/Black Constellation deck is much more dedicated to filling up the graveyard. While Green/Black Constellation and Green/Black Devotion may look alike on paper, they are certainly not the same deck.
This version of Green/Black Constellation was designed by Stanislav Cifka and played by some of the European contingent at Grand Prix Los Angeles. This past weekend at Grand Prix Stockholm though, was when the deck really had a breakout performance, as Lukas Blohon piloted it to a top four finish. Here is the list:
I am happy to see the full eight graveyard enablers, with the full set of Commune with the Gods and Satyr Wayfinder being present. One of the interactions I like with these cards is that they work well when you have a Courser of Kruphix in play. Say for example there is a Sylvan Caryatid sitting on top of your deck that you don't want to draw, then you will be more likely to cast a Commune with the Gods or Satyr Wayfinder to reset your top card. There are also notably only three fetchlands, so this is certainly an interaction that is worth being aware of. Of course on the other side of things if an important spell is on top, it is easy to hold off casting your Commune with the Gods or Satyr Wayfinder.
Perhaps the card that distinguishes this deck as constellation is Brain Maggot. While there are only two of them, Lukas Blohon is saying that he would rather be playing Brain Maggot than Thoughtseize. Brain Maggot is another way of adding to the strong enchantment theme. Another card that is extremely important to the deck is Pharika, God of Affliction. A deck like Green Devotion may be playing Pharika, God of Affliction, but it is certainly better here.
One of the main reasons Pharika, God of Affliction is so good here is that the mana allows for many Pharika, God of Affliction activations in a single turn. In conjunction with a Doomwake Giant in play this means that because the deathtouch creatures are enchantments, the activations can become a Plague Wing that nets you a number of deathtouch creatures. With Eidolon of Blossoms in play each Pharika, God of Affliction activation is one additional card (when exiling creatures in your graveyard). One interesting thing to note about Pharika, God of Affliction is that it's great in the deck, but in many ways it is the best card to have against a deck trying to Reanimate creatures. Being able to exile a creature in response to a reanimation spell, or Whip of Erebos activation is a big deal.
The last card I want to talk about is Murderous Cut. This is a card that has been present in all the lists I presented besides Green/Black Devotion. When playing cards like Satyr Wayfinder and Commune with the Gods Murderous Cut often is just destroy target creature for a single black by turn three. I wouldn't worry too much about the fact that these decks don't want to exile cards that you want to Reanimate later, as there is usually plenty of fodder to exile with Murderous Cut. I like playing Murderous Cut as a four-of, as removal is so important in this format, and this card can provide a huge tempo swing.
To conclude it seems that the answer to the Abzan Midrange decks may be Hornet Queen, and all these decks not only play Hornet Queen, they can Reanimate it! I am not arguing for one Whip of Erebos strategy over another, though I would personally play Lukas Blohon's deck if I were to enter an event right now. These decks do have a lot of subtle interactions which are important to be aware of, so I definitely recommend practicing with any deck aiming to abuse Whip of Erebos before playing in a big event.
Thanks for reading,