To a degree this deck is an extension of what we were talking about last week in Make the Play Monday - The Gray / Flores Rewards Friday - The Gray; namely a "Gray" deck based around Ojutai Exemplars.

Ojutai Exemplars is a special creature. I initially found it difficult to evaluate. I mean back in 1996 when I played my first Pro Tour people had actual Nettletooth Djinn in their decks; but in 2015 we have a higher bar for our 4/4 creatures for four mana.

Because it's not like I expected most of you to know what a Nettletooth Djinn was


Ojutai Exemplars is a creature that has a good but not outrageous size-to-mana cost rate; but not an outrageous one for a tournament card. Its closest competitors at the four -- Siege Rhino, Butcher of the Horde, and now Surrak, the Hunt Caller -- all offer bigger bodies, either power or toughness, with great upsides all.

Ojutai Exemplars can kinda sorta do more than any of these creatures, but on its face does less than any of them (with the very possible exception of the Mardu contribution). Even Butcher of the Horde can take advantage of lead-in creatures, like Goblins from a Goblin Rabblemaster or Hordeling Outburst when it comes into play on turn four; while Surrak,the Hunt Caller at its best is about as scary as a four-drop creature can be when everything is going its way. Good, bad, average, on turn four; off the top; Siege Rhino is Siege Rhino.

But when surrounded by the appropriate friends and family, Ojutai Exemplars can gain more life than Siege Rhino, at less of an ongoing cost than Butcher of the Horde, while bobbing and weaving past blockers and removal both with the Agility of Morphling at its height; Morphling of course holding the longstanding title of "best creature of all time."

Because, you know, the best creature of all time


Credit where credit's due, my Ojutai Exemplars gears all got rolling thanks to my good friend and podcast partner Patrick Chapin. I've rolled with a lot of my own ideas since, but the idea that Ojutai Exemplars should be played in a BW deck to start; or that it was the "two-color deck" version of Siege Rhino was pure Innovator.

I've tried a bunch of BW decks playing with Ojutai Exemplars already, but this is the best I've got so far:

DECKID=1235335

It's important to remember that when you are making a flexible Orzhov midrange deck, you can push your strategy into one of any number of different directions. That's the thing about a midrange deck: a lot of your choices are automatically hedges; if you really, really wanted to beat a particular kind of deck you almost always can.

For example the sideboard is somehow all over the place and loaded with cards that can potentially help win either attrition or anti-control battles (five discard spells + the fourth Read the Bones). If you really, really wanted to beat UB Control, though, you could. Fourth Mastery of the Unseen: Straight in. You know what "creature" is probably tough for them to beat (and quite the miser when coming down face down)? Erebos, God of the Dead. Lots.

Or if you really, really wanted to beat monored weenie decks, hitting that particular stationary target is about the easiest thing in the world for a BW deck in the current Standard. Four Nyx-Fleece Rams standing in front of four copies of Sorin, Solemn Visitor, with four copies of the more-or-less decidedly one-sided Drown in Sorrow? Yes please! And keep the Hidden Dragonslayers, mayhap, just for the lifelink.

But like I said, many of these choices right now are just hedges for lots of potential kinds of opponents, if smoothed out somewhat by the presence of a particular new non-Dragon Dragons of Tarkir Legendary Creature (you know, Naga).

Weak v. Strong Kung-Fu

The secret of an Ojutai Exemplars deck, I think, is having lots of spells so that Ojutai Exemplars is always running hot. You want to have offense, too; but you don't necessarily want to have a lot of creatures. In that sense, Ojutai Exemplars is kind of the anti-Deathmist Raptor, even though they can both be played with Mastery of the Unseen. I tried Brimaz, King of Oreskos plus the potentially more synergistic Monastery Mentor but landed on just the eight-pack of Seeker of the Way and Ojutai Exemplars (before a relatively late "duh" moment that had me adding Sidisi, Undead Vizier. Sidisi allows us to play some one-ofs like Drown in Sorrow and shave the numbers of Sorin, Solemn Visitor and Elspeth, Sun's Champion while borrowing from both those Planeswalkers and Mastery of the Unseen, Secure the Wastes (and in older versions, Raise the Alarm).

One of the strongest strategic plays with this deck is to just "play Ojutai Exemplars as a five" leaving open a W for Secure the Wastes for 0; this might seem like the world's worst use of a powerhouse like Secure the Wastes, but if it can save your Ojutai Exemplars from a Hero's Downfall, it's hard to imagine a "waste" of an X-spell more heroic.

Some of the details are obviously uncertain. Who knows at this point what the right balance of Ultimate Price v. Bile Blight is? Valorous Stance started as a four-of (and every single cut was trying).

Anyway, this is all where my head has been at working on Orzhov builds. I still have circa two weeks before the big 4/25 RPTQ date, and I have resolved to leave no Tern unstoned.

What did I do?


Is Ojutai Exemplars going to be a legitimate centerpiece? On the order of Siege Rhino? It's tough to say at this point. BUT! As long as your other cards are all also good, the structure of Magic at the point is at least not particularly punishing. Bile Blight, Sorin, Elspeth, Read the Bones and so on are all A+ Staples, remember; you have plenty of good spells while your mana ends up decidedly non-punishing.

Now based on our new BW brew, here are the hypoteticals for the week:


Kung-Fu 1: Red Devotion

This was a weird-ish match but I thought that this particular scenario was an interesting decision-making opportunity.

I kind of assumed game one was going to be a blowout. He came out with turn one Monastery Swiftspear and turn two Temple of Abandon + Monastery Swiftspear (which led me to believe on some level he was the Pro Tour deck); and then he played another Monastery Swiftspear on turn three! I played my first spell -- a decidedly heavyset Hero's Downfall -- in response to a buff spell, and followed up with Ojutai Exemplars... Which was immediately killed by Stoke the Flames.

But then I pulled another Ojutai Exemplars that lived, and that was it.

It turns out if your opponent is a mono(?)red deck and you get to untap with Ojutai Exemplars with a bunch of noncreature spells in hand it is awfully hard to lose. You have lifelink to keep pace with their potential burn spells, first strike to deal with any shenanigans, and can even tap big guys to get through potential blockers or keep them from braining you.

So game two I was pretty surprised by the appearance of a turn two Generator Servant. (That is very differently scary from a Monastery Swiftspear!) (Game one being all Monastery Swiftspears topping up on an Ashcloud Phoenix.)

My turn two here was obviously Seeker of the Way, which has miraculously made it to our untap.

The plan was Mastery of the Unseen + Scoured Barrens to really get the digs in on Monored (gain four life and all that). But as you can see our draw step has given us an interesting sideboard card: Hidden Dragonslayer.

The bad guy's land -- and thanks to Generator Servant, 4/4 Dragon -- are all tapped.

We've got our Seeker of the Way and the two lands he came on. Our hand is:

Sorin, Solemn Visitor
Elspeth, Sun's Champion
Hidden Dragonslayer
Mastery of the Unseen
Mastery of the Unseen
Caves of Koilos
Scoured Barrens

Kung-Fu 1: Play your turn three.


Kung-Fu 2: Traditional Jeskai Ascendency

Another sideboard game as you can see by the Abzan Advantage in our graveyard. All Abzan Advantage did was get his Purphoros, God of the Forge (we didn't have a beater on the battlefield at the time, but didn't want to waste the opportunity).

We got smooshed by two gigantic guys in game one.

Basically it seemed like everything was okay -- he only had two guys and I was sitting behind three guys with him on one and a bazillion beatdowns tapped -- but apparently Briber's Purse has text.

Wow, it's been a while on this version!

He basically survived on one long enough to find Retraction Helix, made one of his "1/1" Goblin Tokens capable of bouncing stuff, and kept bouncing the aforementioned Briber's Purse, untapping the tap-bouncing Goblin via Jeskai Ascendency while embiggening both.

The last couple of cycles his Briber's Purse came down with X=1 and none of my three guys (you know, one more guy than he had) could block. So then ka-pow. :(

Anyway, here we are in game two.

Gotta tell ya, the Kung-Fu side has been feeling pretty good. He has the machinery but has been skating by on the battlefield.

We have lots of guys; and many will be tapping to attack next turn. We only have one card in hand, but it's a doozie, and we have her twin doozie on the battlefield right now. He's all tapped so there will be no additional shenanigans this turn, but it is probably important to point out he has five cards in hand thanks to a freshly-resolved Treasure Cruise.

Anyway, his currently 4/3 Goblin Token (only creature on his side of the battlefield) is on its way towards our currently three-loyalty Elspeth, Sun's Champion. We do, however have four potential blockers -- a Seeker of the Way and three 1/1 Soldier Tokens -- to potentially intercept.

The question?

Kung-Fu 2: How, if at all, do you block?


Kung-Fu 3: UB Control (or do we call this Silumgar Control now or what?)

In game one we got stuck on lands and by the time we got anything rolling he had Silumgar, the Drifting Death on the battlefield. Have you noticed how many ways we have to deal with Silumgar, the Drifting Death in game one? Gazed a sec at my Elspeth, Sun's Champion and Secure the Wastes in grip right before conceding into sideboarding.

Anyway, for game two we have all the one mana discard in, the fourth Read the Bones, and of course End Hostilities. Man does having End Hostilities in your deck feel awful when you are the beatdown!

But you gotta do what you gotta do.

To start game two we laid Seeker of the Way to start. He hit Dismal Blackwater to go to 21 and followed up with basic Island; on the other hand, he only has six in grip.

Our turn three pull is a third Seeker of the Way. We have a land drop and can do pretty much whatever. But which whatever should we pick?

Our hand:

Hero's Downfall
Read the Bones
Ojutai Exemplars
Seeker of the Way
Seeker of the Way
Caves of Koilos

Kung-Fu 3: What plays, in what order, do you make for turn three?


Kung-Fu Boilerplate

This is Make the Play Monday!

This is a column dedicated to making decisions (kung-fun and otherwise). Our belief is that better decisions lead to better results long-term (in Magic and in life in general, actually). Ergo we present tactical positions like the three described in this edition to do just that: Improve readers' results long-term.

So the next time you are faced with a min-max'ing situation like whether you should double down on offense or build a resource advantage, hopefully you will be better armed.

So I'll ask you to submit your responses to today's three plays:

1. Play your turn three.
2. How, if at all, do you block?
3. What plays, in what order, do you make for turn three?

...in the comments below.

We will discuss the possible solutions on Friday.

As with every Flores Rewards Friday, I will bring my own opinion as well as bringing along a Celebrity Guest.

And as with every week, we will select one lucky reader who agrees with my take, and one who agrees with the Celebrity Guest's, for $25 gift certificates, furnished as always by TCGplayer.com.

Sound great?

Comments, below!

LOVE
MIKE