After a set has been released there are sure to be plenty of new brews — some successful, others, not so much. I want to focus on decks and strategies that performed well last weekend — both updated and brand-new strategies. I was watching coverage of the Open in Atlanta and it is clear that there is one frontrunner in Standard right now, one deck I would want to be aware of going into a tournament. I am talking about Four-Color Rally the Ancestors combo. This is the list Sam Black won the Super Sunday Series Championship with, held at Wizards of the Coast headquarters in Seattle:
Most players are familiar with Four-Color Rally from before Oath of the Gatewatch was released, but the deck has actually gotten stronger with Oath of the Gatewatch. Both Reflector Mage and Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim fit right into what this deck wants to be doing, and now there is a larger variety of creatures in the deck to protect against a card like Infinite Obliteration, which is a card a variety of archetypes bring in versus Four-Color Rally. Speaking of hate cards, there are barely any playable forms of graveyard hate in Standard, so Four-Color Rally is very difficult to attack.
The number one card players point to as an answer to Four-Color Rally is Anafenza, the Foremost, but I believe that Four-Color Rally is actually advantaged versus Abzan Aggro. While Anafenza, the Foremost is an answer if it stays in play, oftentimes it just doesn't stay in play. Reflector Mage is really the perfect answer to an Anafenza, the Foremost and really helps the Four-Color Rally deck buy the time it needs to win. Personally, I wasn't sure if Reflector Mage should go into Four-Color Rally, but I can now say after seeing the card in action that it is a perfect fit, and can be played alongside Sidisi's Faithful.
Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim is essentially an additional Nantuko Husk, as its main use is as a sacrifice outlet. However, Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim is also a great blocker, as it is a very difficult creature to attack into, and you normally don't mind trading it off. As far as two mana creatures go, Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim is one that is ahead of the curve in terms of power level. The last ability of Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim barely ever comes up, but Zulaport Cutthroat makes it a possibility. My recommendation is that even if a deck had a good matchup versus Rally the Ancestors before Oath of the Gatewatch, retest the matchup to make sure that is still the case.
Moving away from Four-Color Rally, let's talk Eldrazi. There are so many different Eldrazi, and so many different directions you can go. This is a Top 4 list from the Super Sunday Series played by Yukihiro Shimokobe:
Boy, is this deck exciting. The deck plays some of the most aggressive creatures in the format and curves out beautifully. Unlike a deck like Atarka Red, this deck can still close out a late game with its creatures, and has creatures that can be used as removal or as a way to gain a tempo advantage. Reflector Mage is a classic tempo creature, and the deck also has Bearer of Silence for an edict effect. There are only two copies of Wasteland Strangler here, but there are plenty of ways to turn the card on. The removal spells exile creatures, in both Silkwrap and Stasis Snare, and Mardu Woe-Reaper and Thought-Knot Seer can exile cards as well.
Being able to exile opposing creatures is one of the best ways to stop a deck like Four-Color Rally from filling its graveyard. While Eldrazi Displacer doesn't exile creatures in the same way as the other exile effects, being able to essentially blink a creature is pretty sweet. This is an ability that can be used on your own creatures for value — just look at all the creatures here with "enters the battlefield" triggers. On the surface, the deck may look like an odd collection of creatures and a few targeted removal spells, but it is far more than that. We see the importance of colorless mana here as a way to be able to successfully cast many of the Eldrazi creatures.
There are two creatures which are clearly inherently powerful, and perhaps the best of the cheap costing Eldrazi in the abstract. I am talking about Matter Reshaper and Thought-Knot Seer. Both of these cards are great, as long as you can cast them. In this deck, Matter Reshaper has a high likelihood of putting a creature or removal enchantment into play when it dies. In order to cast these creatures there does need to be a critical mass of colorless sources, which is the tricky part. Caves of Koilos is an obvious inclusion, as it can produce both colorless and colored mana. Expect to see painlands in any sort of multicolored Eldrazi deck that requires colorless mana.
This deck has ten colorless sources total, which is a little light, but it really isn't easy to fit more into the deck without putting access to colored sources in jeopardy. Crumbling Vestige does come into play tapped, but immediately produces a mana, so it's not a true comes-into-play-tapped land. However, after coming into play and making a colored mana, it is functionally a Wastes for the rest of the game. The other colorless sources in Ruins of Oran-Rief and Sea Gate Wreckage can have a significant effect over the course of the game, but don't produce colored mana at all. The spells in this deck are clearly powerful and I think that the manabase here compliments them nicely, though I would suspect the deck has more mana problems than a typical deck in this format.
So we have seen an example of a deck that uses colorless mana and is a three color deck, but it is certainly easier to play less colors, and put less strain on the mana. Just take a look at the Mono-Green Ramp deck played by Chris Brickey to a second place finish at the Open in Atlanta.
This deck shares many of the common characteristics seen in versions of R/G Ramp, but has more of an Eldrazi theme. Both Leaf Gilder and Rattleclaw Mystic help ramp into Thought-Knot Seer or a four mana ramp spell on the third turn. Decks with cheap removal are losing popularity, which leaves room for ramp decks with more mana creatures.
Some of the typical ramp cards are here, alongside some removal spells that many players may not be fully aware of. First there is Spatial Contortion, the colorless removal spell coming out of Oath of the Gatewatch, that can help deal with troublesome early threats. Previously, this type of deck didn't have removal it could maindeck, which meant it was in danger of getting run over quickly. The deck also plays Titan's Presence, which can deal with just about any threat, given the massive colorless creatures in the deck. Having a removal spell like that against a deck like Atarka Red is important for when they move in on the Temur Battle Rage plus Become Immense combo.
There is one Conduit of Ruin which can find another singleton creature in Kozilek, the Great Distortion. Kozilek, the Great Distortion makes sense as a singleton, as it's not as versatile as Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, but there will be times when refilling your hand against a control deck is important. There are many more Eldrazi waiting in the sideboard to have even more of a variety of threats for games two and three. We also see colorless lands that are typically seen in this type of strategy. Those lands, alongside Hedron Archive, can help cast Thought-Knot Seer and Spatial Contortion.
There are a variety of archetypes that can realistically find a way to fit colorless cards in. Here is an archetype that is innovative and really takes full advantage of the cheap creatures in the Abzan colors. This is the list of Andy Ferguson's Abzan Collected Company:
Yes, you can legitimately play an Abzan deck without Siege Rhino! Siege Rhino is certainly a powerful card, but this deck is more about synergy than the power of the individual cards. The deck also has Collected Company, which means there is a huge incentive to have creatures that cost less than four mana, and in fact, there aren't any creatures that cost more than three here. While the creatures aren't expensive they are still strong plays in the late game, which is what makes them so special. In fact, every creature here has some other way of being useful in the later stages of a game.
Nissa, Vastwood Seer and Sylvan Advocate encourage having lots of lands in play to take advantage of them fully. Sylvan Advocate has quickly gained a lot of popularity as a two-drop in the Abzan colors. It has a lot of advantages when compared with previous options like Heir of the Wilds or Snapping Gnarlid. Sylvan Advocate is a strong blocker even before getting to six lands, and then once it becomes larger, this deck really turns the corner. There is another two-drop from Oath of the Gatewatch that is an even better blocker: Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim. Even without its other abilities, having deathtouch is a big deal, and this deck doesn't have a problem casting her on curve.
Perhaps the biggest incentive to playing Collected Company in this deck is the ability to essentially play more copies of Anafenza, the Foremost by being able to find the legendary threat at will. Against Four-Color Rally this is a big deal, especially when backed up with an aggressive start. Anafenza, the Foremost isn't enough by itself, but Andy did have a good record versus Four-Color Rally over the course of the weekend. Matter Reshaper is the other big incentive to move towards a Collected Company shell. First of all when Matter Reshaper dies any creature it flips over comes into play immediately. Secondly, even though this deck doesn't play that many colorless sources, there are no colorless sources required when coming into play off a Collected Company.
The deck also plays a megamorph package, with both Den Protector and Deathmist Raptor. These are yet more creatures that can come into play off of Collected Company and have utility elsewhere. Den Protector in particular is important, as it helps you reuse noncreature spells, and there aren't that many in the deck. While Collected Company is the most important of them, there are only six removal spells in order to maximize the chance of hitting creatures off Collected Company. This means that there is pressure on the Dromoka's Commands to take care of opposing threats. Using a turn to un-morph a Den Protector to get back a Dromoka's Command and cast it is pretty typical. The removal here needs to be versatile, and which is why Abzan Charm and Dromoka's Command are what Andy went with.
Thanks for reading,