This past weekend was opening day for Khans of Tarkir Standard and by far the most popular strategy involved Sylvan Caryatid and Courser of Kruphix. With the TCGplayer Standard State Championships coming up this weekend, now is the time to figure out what actually beats these green decks. And that's exactly what I'll be sharing with you today!
First let's look at exactly what we're dealing with since Caryatid + Courser decks can take several different forms. Then we'll discuss how to beat them.Green Devotion
Green Devotion can be monogreen or it can splash any one color.
- Some splash black for Garruk, Apex Predator and a Doomwake Giant to tutor for against aggro decks and against Hornet Queen.- Some splash white for Banishing Light.- Some splash blue for bounce and counters.- Some splash red for Xenagos, the Reveler and Crater's Claws.
Of these options, green/red seems to be the most popular. Being able to Fireball someone out seems like a great use of all that Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx mana when you "go off." Some variants shave a few mana accelerants in favor of Stormbreath Dragon and/or Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker and end up looking more like a green/red monsters deck.Constellation
The Constellation game plan is to win through card advantage generated primarily through Eidolon of Blossoms. Most variants are Abzan, though some are straight green/black. They function as a ramp deck with a built-in card advantage engine as a way to fight through disruption. The trade-off is that, unlike the devotion decks, you can't produce 20 mana in one turn and just Crater's Claws your opponent out of the game. You have much more game against cards like Anger of the Gods and End Hostilities though.Abzan Reanimator
Another thing people are doing is ramping into Ashen Rider and Hornet Queen while having an alternate plan to cheat these large monsters into play via Whip of Erebos, See the Unwritten, Endless Obedience, and sometimes Rescue from the Underworld.Sultai Delve
While Abzan Reanimator wants to put things into its graveyard in order to Reanimate them, this Sultai deck instead wants to use those cards in graveyard to fuel delve cards such as Necropolis Fiend and Murderous Cut. Sidisi, Brood Tyrant not only helps put cards into the yard for this purpose but also is a formidable offense-generating engine on its own. I haven't seen one pop up yet, but there is likely a combination of Sultai Delve and Abzan Reanimator waiting to happen.Jund Superfriends
Jund Walkers (aka 'Superfriends') ramps into planeswalkers instead of giant monsters. The walkers make it more resilient to End Hostilities, but at the expense of being slower and having a less explosive high end. It also has more room for disruption.Temur Superfriends
Very similar to Jund Superfriends, Temur's plan is to ramp into planeswalkers. This list also has Polukranos, World Eater and Stormbreath Dragon. Hence it could just as aptly be named 'Temur Monsters.' I could also see adding Savage Knuckleblade to this deck as an additional body to pressure opposing green decks.Naya Superfriends
Like Jund and Temur, the plan of Naya Superfriends is to ramp into planeswalkers. Unlike the previous two decks, however, Naya can act as a control deck with its three Anger of the Gods and three End Hostilities maindeck. It's unclear to me whether ramping into walkers is the more powerful strategy right now or if playing board sweepers is better. Regardless, this deck allows you to do both! The important takeaway here is that if you're up against a Naya opponent that leads with Caryatid into Courser, be careful about overextending because it's entirely possible s/he is actually a Wrath of God deck in disguise.Abzan Midrange
Among all the green decks, Abzan Midrange has the least amount of mana acceleration. Its only ramp is four copies of Sylvan Caryatid. Instead of ramping, it aims to curve out with the most efficiently-costed creatures in the format, backed by some of the best disruption in the format.
Given the diversity among Caryatid + Courser strategies, it is quite difficult to pinpoint a single way to successfully attack all of them collectively. Fortunately there are a handful of strategies that have thus far demonstrated the ability to combat the whole "green" plan effectively. So let's talk about those strategies now.How to Beat Caryatid + Courser Decks
Strategy 1: Aggro them out before they can set up
Whether monoblack or splashing white, black aggro decks are strong against most of the green decks. Thoughtseize and Despise allow you to strip the big green threat out of the opponent's hand before they are able to cast it; Hero's Downfall can kill the creature or planeswalker after they play it; and Mogis's Marauder allows you to attack past everything except a Siege Rhino. I personally like splashing for Sorin, Solemn Visitor because he not only makes your weenies bigger and able to size up against opposing creatures in the midgame but his lifelink also allows you to stay far ahead in the race, giving you time to draw into a lethal Mogis's Marauder.Rabble Red
Green decks are hard to stop once they get going. If you give them a few turns to set up, you'll quickly find yourself facing down a Hornet Queen, a pair of planeswalkers, or possibly even a lethal 20 point Crater's Claws! Like Black Aggro, Rabble Red's plan is to kill them before they are able to set up. Whereas Black Aggro has Mogis's Marauder to attack past a Courser of Kruphix, Rabble Red has Hammerhand to do so. It also has Titan's Strength and Dragon Mantle to make sure nothing that blocks will survive combat. Stoke the Flames and Searing Blood also offer a bit of non-combat reach, making the deck less reliant on its creatures to finish the job than Black Aggro is. The trade-off is not being able to unconditionally kill anything (Hero's Downfall) or stop it from being cast in the first place (Thoughtseize, Despise).Strategy 2: Fly over them and then burn them out
Jeskai Burn can be an aggressive deck that curves out with Seeker of the Way into Mantis Rider or Goblin Rabblemaster. Or it can be a controlling deck that points a burn spell at every creature the opponent plays for the entire game. Against green decks your plan varies.
Versus Green Devotion you generally want to burn out some of their early mana creatures, especially Voyaging Satyr. You'll also sometimes want to point a Stoke the Flames at a Courser of Kruphix in order to keep it from being able to block your Goblin Rabblemaster. There is usually a pivotal moment in the game where you switch gears and give them a couple turns to try and do their thing unmolested while you dig (literally, with Dig Through Time) for those last few burn spells to put the game away the turn before they are able to kill you. Post-board they bring in Nylea's Disciple as their best weapon against you. Fortunately we have the trump in Disdainful Stroke, which also happens to counter all of their other best cards against us, including Hornet Queen and lethal Crater's Claws.Mardu Aggro
While Jeskai Burn uses Mantis Rider to fly over the green monsters, Mardu Aggro uses Butcher of the Horde to accomplish this same objective. Mardu doesn't quite have as much burn as Jeskai, but it makes up for it with added disruption in other forms, including Thoughtseize, Murderous Cut, Mardu Charm, Devouring Light, and Crackling Doom. Post-board it can also have access to Despise if it wants the added help. The general plan against green is very similar to Jeskai Burn's plan in that it involves curving out with some threats, disrupting the opponent's mana production, and flying over for some evasive damage, and then pointing a big burn spell or two at the opponent to finish them off.
There is also a slightly bigger version of Mardu with a similar game plan:Mardu Midrange
This one likewise aims to use Butcher of the Horde to fly over Courser of Kruphix and company, but it also has Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker as the follow-up large flying attacker. It doesn't have Stoke the Flames, but it has a pair of Magma Jets in addition to the full four copies of Crackling Doom; so burning the opponent out, in conjunction with attacking for large amounts of damage in the air, is a legitimate plan for this deck against green.Strategy 3: Wipe their board with End Hostilities
Black/White offers hand disruption (Thoughtseize / Despise), strong removal against big green threats (Utter End / Hero's Downfall / Banishing Light) and multiple board sweeping effects (End Hostilities / Elspeth, Sun's Champion). Many of the removal spells can kill a planeswalker or a creature, several of which can even kill Nylea, God of the Hunt. It can even bring in Drown in Sorrow against the green devotion decks in order to hinder their early mana development (killing Elvish Mystic and Voyaging Satyr). Drown in Sorrow remains useful later in the game as a one-for-one answer to Hornet Queen, saving you from having to fire off an End Hostilities just to stop the insect invasion.Blue/White Control
This version splashes for Utter End because the mana makes it so easy to do so and the added benefit of yet another unconditional removal spell (in addition to Banishing Light) is hard to pass up. The benefit of playing blue as our second color over black is that we gain access to better card draw spells (Dig Through Time / Jace's Ingenuity) instead of Sign in Blood and Read the Bones. We also get Dissolve, Nullify, and Negate instead of Thoughtseize and Despise. I might also consider Disdainful Stroke in the board as an additional answer to big green threats. The downside of running blue over black as our second color is that we have to leave Counterspell mana up on the opponent's turn instead of preemptively casting Thoughtseize and then tapping out for Elspeth, Sun's Champion or End Hostilities.Esper Control
Another option is to just play all three colors together in a more dedicated way. Esper has access to the unconditional removal (Hero's Downfall / Utter End), to the hand disruption (Thoughtseize), to the Counterspells (Dissolve / Disdainful Stroke / Negate), and to the superior card draw (mostly Dig Through Time). I'm not sure why this list runs three Divination and zero Read the Bones, but maybe without Sorin, Solemn Visitor the life loss is too much against red decks. To compensate for this problem, it runs three Nyx-Fleece Rams and a Resolute Archangel. For what it's worth, Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver is great against control decks, so this deck looks like it has a great game one against green decks and a great post-board plan against most other decks in the field. Having the best sideboard options is usually one of the primary advantages of an Esper Control deck, and that fact certainly holds true right now for Esper.Jeskai Control
Frank Lepore talked about a Jeskai Control deck not too long ago that looks like it has what it takes to beat up on most of the green decks. End Hostilities is the key reset button but Anger of the Gods is also great against the devotion green decks. In addition to these wrath effects, he also has ways to force through damage without having to attack on the ground. Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker can attack in the air, conveniently killing Nissa, Worldwaker in one hit, or it can simply put the opponent on a quick clock, all while surviving End Hostilities (unlike Stormbreath Dragon). And of course on an otherwise empty board you can cast Sarkhan and -3 it to kill Courser of Kruphix and have the planeswalker stick around to administer the beat down. Elspeth, Sun's Champion can also provide a steady stream of chump blockers before going ultimate and allowing the remainder of tokens to attack for lethal in the air in one or two hits.
William Jensen in his Howl of the Horde Spoiler Spotlight article recently talked about a slightly different version of Jeskai Control:
Like Frank's version, Jensen aims to wipe the green deck's board and then kill with Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker and/or Elspeth, Sun's Champion. Jensen's deck, however, has an additional path to victory: Narset, Enlightened Master and/or Howl of the Horde. These cards each make the burn mode of Jeskai Charm much more relevant. And given the amount of card draw in the deck, including that generated from Narset, it is not uncommon to actually burn the opponent out for the full 20 damage.Conclusion
As you can see, there are several different green decks based around the powerful Sylvan Caryatid + Courser of Kruphix combination. Perhaps the best way to think of all the green decks collectively is by lining them up along a spectrum in terms of mana production. At the one extreme you have green devotion decks with a high density of mana production but only a few actual threats and/or disruption. In the middle you have the midrange 'Superfriends' green decks that have a medium amount of mana production and a medium amount of threats and disruption. Then on the farthest end of the spectrum you have Abzan Midrange with Sylvan Caryatid as its only mana accelerant and every other card in the deck is either a threat or a disruptive spell. Looking at the collectivity of green decks in this way will help you to understand your overall plan against each one without having to individually test extensively against each one.-->
Today I shared with you some of the different plans that have been successful thus far at fighting off the green menace: (1) aggro them out, (2) fly over them and then burn them out, or (3) wipe their board with End Hostilities. I suppose a fourth option would be to beat them at their own game by playing your own Sylvan Caryatids and Courser of Kruphix. To do this you would need some trump, or at least overall solid plan, for the mirror. If you're a green devotion deck, casting a 20 point Crater's Claws will break a stalemate real quick. If you're a midrange version, casting a disruption spell (Thoughtseize) or a sideboarded Disdainful Stroke could Thwart an opponent at an opportune time. Hornet Queen has also been known to kill planeswalkers, attack past ground creatures, and play great defense against large green monsters. Lastly, if you're the no-ramp Abzan deck at the far end of the spectrum, your best plan will generally be to pressure the opponent with a cheap threat (Fleecemane Lion / Brimaz, King of Oreskos) and back it up with tons of disruption (Thoughtseize / Hero's Downfall / Drown in Sorrow / Despise / Utter End / etc.).
Whether your plan is to beat the green decks or to join them, hopefully today's article has helped you to figure out exactly what you want to be doing in Standard. Tell me in the forum how YOU plan to beat the green decks this weekend. If you successfully convince me that your deck is the best, then I'll play it at Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir the following weekend.
Good luck to everyone playing in the TCGplayer Standard State Championships this weekend!
Craig Wescoe@Nacatls4Life on twitter