One thing I kept noticing in testing this week was that Eidolon of Countless Battles is a lot like Sorin, Solemn Visitor, except you start with the ultimate.
Nearly every time I bestow Eidolon on a creature, the opponent is immediately forced into chump block mode, losing a creature every turn to avoid taking an essentially lethal amount of damage from the bestowed creature. And if I bestow it into Seeker of the Way, I gain life just like with Sorin's +1 ability. And if the opponent uses a Hero's Downfall to deal with it, we are left with a residual creature for the full two-for-one, just like when Sorin, Solemn Visitor leaves behind a Vampire Token.
So if I'm so excited about Sorin, Solemn Visitor, why do I not just splash black for it?
Well, quite frankly, because Eidolon of Countless Battles is better! This isn't true in every deck of course. In order for Eidolon to be great you need to be dedicated to a heavy board presence. Since last week, I decided to cut some of the burn spells in favor of more creatures in order to maximize the potency of Eidolon of Countless Battles. I've found that most matchups improve when I take this more proactive plan. In addition to Eidolon becoming more powerful, so does Wingmate Roc since the times when you cannot trigger raid are even fewer than they were before.
Here's my updated list:
I added a 25th land to compensate for losing the scry effect from Magma Jets. I also added Prophetic Flamespeaker and Brimaz, King of Oreskos, in addition to the two extra Eidolon of Countless Battles. Brimaz is about what anyone would expect him to be. He does what he does. He also lives through Anger of the Gods and Drown in Sorrow, which are important in a lot of post-board scenarios.
Prophetic Flamespeaker has struggled to find a home for most of its life in Standard. It dies to most removal spells, but that's ok because our plan is to just keep playing more and more creatures every turn. Eventually the opponent will run out of removal. Flamespeaker requires an answer immediately. Otherwise he is frequently a three-for-one after just a single attack. He lives through Drown in Sorrow, which is great post-board versus Abzan Midrange or UB/Esper Control. The best use for the Flamespeaker, however, is bestowing him with Eidolon of Countless Battles. Eight power worth of trampling double-strike? Sign me up! Oh, and if you have mana available, he will also draw you a card or two after eating the opponent's entire team in a desperate attempt to survive.
Last week I talked about the Tier 1 matchups (Abzan Midrange, Mardu Midrange, and Jeskai Tempo) and also how to beat the Caryatid version of Jeskai Ascendancy Combo. This week I am going to focus on how to win most of the Tier 2 matchups (Abzan Aggro, UB Control, Jeskai Prowess Combo, Jeskai Heroic Combo, Sultai Reanimator, and Brad Nelson's 4C Midrange deck from this past weekend).Abzan Aggro
Abzan usually starts out as the aggressor, but we have plenty of ways to turn the corner. In general I'm usually willing to trade creatures in combat. We really don't have any way to stop their pump effects other than attacking and blocking intelligently such that we don't get crippled by a Gather Courage, Abzan Charm, or Become Immense.
Keep your life total high enough so that you don't randomly lose to a pair of Siege Rhinos. Eidolon of Countless Battles is great at controlling the board, whether on offense or on defense. They often take quite a bit of damage from their lands, so racing is fairly common. We're usually on defense for the first few turns and then we turn the corner and start to race, usually with either Eidolon of Countless Battles or Wingmate Roc.
RW Sideboard-4 Goblin Rabblemaster-2 Seeker of the Way-2 Prophetic Flamespeaker+2 Glare of Heresy+2 Magma Spray+2 Lightning Strike+2 Banishing Light
Abzan Aggro Sideboard-2 Abzan Charm-1 Gather Courage+2 Sorin, Solemn Visitor+1 Bile Blight
Our plan post-board is essentially the same, but we gain access to some utility spells that allow us to Stave Off early pressure and turn the corner without having to rely on blocking. This is a favorable matchup by about a 2:1 margin, but Abzan can win if it comes out quickly and we stumble or if it chains some Rhinos together and we don't have a good way to stop them.UB Control
Ali Antrazi's version runs four Bile Blight main but no Drown in Sorrow. Some other versions run Drown in Sorrow. If you know what version the opponent is on, it makes your plays much easier. For instance, against Ali's list in game one you can cast your Hordeling Outburst on turn three after playing Raise the Alarm on turn two, but you cannot do so post-board or against a version running main deck Drown in Sorrow.
They have eight clunky card draw spells (Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time) and a clunky wrath effect ( Perilous Vault) main. And most of their removal is in the form of discard. So the plan is to punish them with pressure and to rely on the top of the deck to keep giving us more pressure. We don't have as much burn reach as the version I discussed last week, but we would much rather have the creatures in this matchup anyway. Creatures are a recurring source of damage.
Here's an interesting tip: if UB Control plays a creature off Ashiok, then use Chained to the Rocks on in. Then if they blow up Perilous Vault you get the creature under your control.
RW Sideboard+2 Chandra, Pyromaster+2 Hammer of Purphoros+2 Banishing Light-4 Chained to the Rocks-2 Hordeling Outburst
UB Control Sideboard+3 Drown in Sorrow+3 Jorubai Murk Lurker+1 Perilous Vault+1 Prognostic Sphinx+1 Negate+2 Disdainful Stroke+1 Hero's Downfall-4 Treasure Cruise-4 Despise-4 Thoughtseize
If you are 100% sure they have Jorubai Murk Lurkers and that they are definitely bringing them in, then you could leave in a couple Chained to the Rocks instead of Hordeling Outbursts. Not everyone has them though, so I would take my chances with the Outbursts.
Hammer of Purphoros is very good. Unless the counter it, Perilous Vault is their only out to it. They will likely board out Thoughtseize and the Hammer dodges Despise if they happen to leave that in. Don't scry lands to the bottom once you have Hammer of Purphoros on the battlefield.
Prognostic Sphinx is one of the toughest cards for us to beat, and they'll often tap out on turn five for it. If they do, that's our window to resolve Eidolon of Countless Battles and get a big hit in. Or it lets us resolve Hammer of Purphoros.
Wingmate Roc is pretty bad with the hammer plan, but it requires a counter or a Vault, so I think it's a little better than Hordeling Outburst which dies to Drown in Sorrow or Bile Blight.
Pretty much every game feels like it can be won by either side and hinges on a few key decisions.4C Midrange
This matchup felt pretty good. In addition to their mana being a bit awkward, their cards don't line up especially well with ours. They want to play big boom booms and kill our boom booms. Unfortunately for them, our threats go wide instead of big, so their removal is not great against us. And Eidolon of Countless Battles and Wingmate Roc still rule the board, even over Siege Rhino and Butcher of the Horde.
RW Sideboard+2 Glare of Heresy+2 Banishing Light+2 Chandra, Pyromaster-2 Raise the Alarm-2 Seeker of the Way-2 Hordeling Outburst
4C Midrange Sideboard-3 Chained to the Rocks-1 Murderous Cut-4 Crackling Doom+2 Utter End+2 End Hostilities+4 Anger of the Gods
One game I had my Chain (on Rhino) Utter Ended but still won easily. Wingmate Roc and Chandra are great! So many of our threats require End Hostilities on their own. It's possible I boarded wrong from the 4C Midrange side because the matchup felt great, especially post-board. Maybe their best plan against us is to just keep their one-for-one removal and try to race?Jeskai Prowess Combo
We don't have a lot of ways to disrupt them game one, so our plan is to pressure them and force them to find all their combo pieces quickly. Remember if their resources are tight, having a chump blocker or two could buy you another turn.
RW Sideboard-4 Chained to the Rocks-1 Goblin Rabblemaster-2 Wingmate Roc+3 Erase+2 Lightning Strike+2 Magma Spray
Combo Sideboard+2 Negate+2 Gods Willing-2 Stoke the Flames-2 Jeskai Charm
Erase gives us a cheap instant speed way to disrupt their combo, which forces them to play a more fair game. And our cards match up way better in a fair fight. It's possible we also want Banishing Light or Glare of Heresy here, but I think those will clunk up our hand more often than they'll be useful. If the opponent has shown a willingness to run out the Ascendancy before they are able to combo off, then maybe board in Banishing Lights. Otherwise just rely on Erase and pressure.Jeskai Heroic Combo
This version may be a bit outdated, but it has a different feel than the other two Ascendancy combo decks.
RW Sideboard+2 Glare of Heresy+2 Lightning Strike+2 Banishing Light+3 Erase-4 Wingmate Roc-1 Chandra, Pyromaster-2 Brimaz, King of Oreskos-1 Hordeling Outburst-1 Wind-Scarred Crag
Combo Sideboard-2 Jeskai Charm-2 Seeker of the Way+1 Erase+2 Negate+1 Disdainful Stroke
Banishing Light and Erase should be enough to keep ascendancy from ever staying on the board. Without it, this deck is much more vulnerable than the token version. Chained to the Rocks is good against this version because their primary plan is to attack with a large monster. Same logic with Glare of Heresy. We can actually just fight them as a creature deck most of the time. This matchup is favorable, but they can randomly get us if they find the combo and can protect it with Gods Willing or whatever. Erase makes things difficult for them.Esper Control
The plan here is similar to the UB Control matchup: keep pushing pressure until they run out of removal. Don't overextend into End Hostilities. Remember that it kills all auras on the creature as well, including a bestowed Eidolon of Countless Battles.
RW Sideboard-4 Chained to the Rocks+2 Chandra, Pyromaster+2 Hammer of Purphoros
Esper Sideboard+4 Drown in Sorrow+1 Bile Blight+1 Disdainful Stroke+3 Prognostic Sphinx-1 Treasure Cruise-1 Dissolve-4 Thoughtseize-2 Sorin, Solemn Visitor-1 Hero's Downfall
I considered bringing in Banishing Light for their planeswalkers, but I think that is generally not the plan we want to be on. Instead we just want to power through all their cards with more creatures. Prognostic Sphinx can be a real problem since we have no good ways to get rid of it. Our plan against it is to race and/or apply enough pressure to the board to force them to wrath it away.
Draw Hammer of Purphoros. That's our best plan for this matchup. Game one is fairly even; we might even be a little ahead. Post-board I think we're a little behind but it's pretty close. This matchup, like UB Control, is close.Sultai Reanimator
I've heard people tell me this is our toughest matchup, but that has not been my experience (with either build). Sure, the games that get out of hand can end up looking like a lopsided Massacre, but there was usually a pivotal point in the game where it was very close and they topdecked the land they needed to cast Hornet Queen the turn before they were going to die or they hit a Hornet Queen off of Satyr Wayfinder to bring back with Whip of Erebos or whatever.
I can usually beat the first Hornet Queen, either by just running all my guys into it or by slowly pinging off the insects with Chandra's +1 ability. Also if they don't have (or save) the Murderous Cut or Hero's Downfall for our Prophetic Flamespeaker, we can win any kind of race when it's bestowed with Eidolon of Countless Battles! First strike gets past insects, trample gets past chump blockers, and 16 points of damage a turn is pretty much impossible to race, even with Whip of Erebos in the equation.
RW Sideboard+3 Erase+2 Chandra, Pyromaster+2 Banishing Light-1 Chained to the Rocks-4 Hordeling Outburst-2 Brimaz, King of Oreskos
Sultai Sideboard+1 Bile Blight+1 Sultai Charm
+3 Drown in Sorrow+1 Pharika, God of Affliction-3 Elvish Mystic-2 Sagu Mauler-1 Soul of Innistrad
Banishing Light and Erase are great ways to prevent Whip of Erebos from sticking around. It's the one card we really want to get rid of as quickly as possible. Hornet Queen is their next best card and we bring in more Chandras to deal with that. If we get flooded by drawing all our Erases, we can use one on a Courser of Kruphix. So I am not hesitant to bring in all five answers to Whip.
Hushwing Gryff is a card Robert Hatch suggested for this matchup. It stops Hornet Queen, Sidisi (sort of), and Satyr Wayfinder. It also turns off our Wingmate Roc, but that would likely be the card we're replacing with the Gryff anyway. I don't think such a narrow answer is necessary though. Besides, they have removal spells to kill it, so it's not like drawing one will automatically translate to victory. If it has applications in other matchups I could maybe see it, but I suspect that it would hurt us as much as our opponents in most other matchups (because of Wingmate Roc).Bonus: Updated Jeskai Tempo
Kevin Jones' new version of Jeskai Tempo incorporates many of the powerful elements of RW Tokens, including Hordeling Outburst and Wingmate Roc. We are still the stronger Wingmate Roc deck though because we have Raise the Alarm to more reliably trigger raid. We also have the fourth Wingmate Roc. The matchup is different enough from the Matej Zatlkaj version that it is worth re-testing and posting updated sideboard plans from each side.
RW Sideboard+2 Lightning Strike+2 Chandra, Pyromaster-4 Seeker of the Way
Jeskai Sideboard-4 Seeker of the Way-4 Jeskai Charm-1 Stoke the Flames+2 End Hostilities+2 Anger of the Gods+2 Disdainful Stroke+1 Dig Through Time+1 Narset, Enlightened Master+1 Keranos, God of Storms
There is no way to know for certain whether they will bring in their heavy wrath package. I'm assuming the primary reason for End Hostilities is Green Devotion, though it does seem good against us. Either way, our plan is basically the same: jam threats until the opponent is dead or runs us out of cards.Conclusion
My testing this week has shown that I want to be more proactive with RW Tokens. Instead of trying to be a midrange deck that uses burn spells to control the board before raiding a Wingmate Roc, I want to be playing threats and attacking. This makes us better against the control decks but also against the Siege Rhino decks since Eidolon of Countless Battles basically dwarfs all the creatures in the midrange decks.
RW Tokens has great sideboard options that allow it to adapt to whatever the opponent is playing and it also has some of the most powerful and hard to deal with threats in the format. You need sweepers to handle our wide token production. You need point removal to handle our Prophetic Flamespeakers. You need enchantment removal to deal with our Eidolon of Countless Battles. And there is basically no way to keep us off raid for Wingmate Roc.
Oh, and did I mention the deck is a blast to play?
Craig Wescoe@Nacatls4Life on twitter