Weekend #1 of Oath of the Gatewatch Standard is in the books and after watching coverage of SCG Atlanta and viewing decklists from the Super Sunday Series it's pretty clear that midrange is king. Fetch lands into battle lands and lands that enter the battlefield tapped are the most common early plays and Jeskai Black, Four-Color Rally, and various Eldrazi Ramp decks are everywhere.
Today I'm going to be talking about a deck that is a hair faster than midrange but not quite as fast as aggro. That deck is Black/Green Aristocrats. Before going any further let's take a look at the decklist.
What's so Special about This Deck?
This deck is unique in that it's a faster version of Rally the Ancestors. "But Melissa, there's no Rally the Ancestors in this deck," you might say. It's true, we aren't playing Rally, but this deck is doing a very similar thing as Rally while sticking to two colors, making it more consistent.
Instead of setting up a four-color manabase during the early turns of the game, we are casting one- and two-drops like Blisterpod and Carrier Thrall. We aren't playing a slow game the way that Rally is. We're flooding the board with creatures that give us value when they die and then combo killing with either a gigantic Nantuko Husk or lots of Zulaport Cutthroat triggers. All of this happens much more quickly than Rally or other similar decks.
Here's how a typical game goes:
Turn One: Play Blisterpod.
Turn Two: Play Hangarback Walker for one.
Turn Three: Play Nantuko Husk.
Turn Four: Collected Company, Hit Liliana, Heretical Healer and Zulaport Cutthroat. Sac a Blisterpod to Husk, flip Liliana and get a Zombie Token. Use Liliana to return Blisterpod. Have a 14-power Husk and a seven-point Cutthroat drain.
You get the idea.
Many creatures in this deck provide two-for-ones which is what makes this deck so explosive. Having all of your creatures provide value also makes it difficult for your opponent to break through with aggro creatures. In fact this deck has a great aggro matchup. Here's a breakdown of card choices.
There are twenty-six creatures in this deck, and eighteen of them generate two-for-ones. The other eight creatures in the deck are Zulaport Cutthroat and Nantuko Husk, your main win conditions.
Blisterpod and Carrier Thrall both make Eldrazi Scions when they die. They are great at getting in a few points of damage while your opponent is fetching and setting up. In this format, it's pretty easy for a Blisterpod to get in for three. That may seem insignificant but when each land they play costs your opponent a life it really does add up. Also your opponent is not going to waste their Fiery Impulse on a Blisterpod, so it's pretty likely that this guy will stick around. Later in the game these guys act as food for your Husk. What I like about them the most is that they are a free block on a larger creature. That may also not seem like much but that one extra turn you'll get can really matter.
Hangarback Walker is one of the best cards in the deck. It's been a staple in the format ever since Magic Origins was released, so I won't go into detail of why this card is good. In this deck it has some additional applications. First you can play it for zero mana to flip a Liliana or get a free Cutthroat trigger when your mana is tied up. You can also return it to the battlefield at the cost of zero loyalty with Liliana if you are in need of another "when a creature dies" trigger. This may seem like a waste of a card, but remember that Liliana does give you a zombie when she flips, so you aren't actually losing a card. Sometimes flipping her for zero mana at the cost of a Hangarback Walker is worth it, especially when you are getting back a better creature or forcing your opponent to discard their last card.
Each turn that a Hangarback stays in play is another creature for your Husk or Cutthroat. Every turn you untap with it, you are able to pay a mana to pump it immediately, thus creating an extra token as long as you have a sacrifice outlet in play. In other decks that play Hangarback Walker, opponents often have the luxury of ignoring it. Once it's big enough they can just Abzan Charm it or maybe bounce it with Sidisi's Faithful. Maybe they can chump block it and race with something else. However in this deck, opponents cannot afford to ignore it because you can just sac it at instant speed to your Husk or Evolutionary Leap, making Hangarback so much stronger in this deck than in other decks. With a Husk in play, opponents will be forced to deal with it as soon as possible, and usually on their own turn which means they aren't deploying threats of their own.
Liliana, Heretical Healer is a card that used to show up all the time in graveyard/sacrifice decks but we haven't seen much of her lately. Here, she has great synergy with Collected Company. It's pretty sweet to get an instant Liliana, block, and then sacrifice something else to make a Planeswalker.
Once Liliana is a Planeswalker, the play you will make most of the time is to kill her immediately to return your Husk to play. Husk is by far your most important card and a prime target for your opponent's removal spells. It's safe to say that your Husk will end up in the graveyard soon after you cast it. Liliana can act as extra Husks if you need them.
Besides returning Husks, Liliana also acts as an additional +8/+8 to your Husk. Sacrifice a Blisterpod or Carrier Thrall to give the Husk +2/+2, create a token, and then return the creature to the battlefield while keeping your Liliana. The zombie you create can give the Husk +2/+2 while the creature you return can give it another +4/+4. That's a lot of power and toughness for only one card, and you even get to keep an Eldrazi Scion around.
Lastly Liliana does have another ability, her +1 forces both players to discard. This ability can be a blowout against opponents with one or two cards left in hand but overall you will be using her minus ability far more. I've never seen Liliana go ultimate. She has to stay in play and not lose loyalty for four turns, and this is the type of deck where you won't be able to wait around like that.
Catacomb Sifter is another great support spell for the deck. It's usually a four-of in Rally the Ancestors decks and it gives you the ability to cycle bad cards to the bottom of your deck at very little cost. In Black/Green Aristocrats, the scrying is more important than it is in Rally decks. In Rally decks, you have more options and game plans so your cards are more useful in general. In Black/Green Aristocrats, you are really looking for specific cards to go off. You're not going to need your third Blisterpod when you're looking for a Husk or Cutthroat. So in this deck the Sifter plays a very important role.
There are very few noncreature spells in this deck, but they are all really important. The first spell I'd like to discuss is Bone Splinters. This is the deck's only removal spell. Outside of Bone Splinters, this deck does not interact with the opponent at all. Furthermore, sometimes you don't have a Husk in play, but desperately need a sacrifice outlet. Maybe you need to flip Liliana. Maybe you need your Hangarback Walker to die. Sometimes you just need to sacrifice one of your creatures but can't. That's where Bone Splinters comes in. Since Bone Splinters is your only removal, it's important to use it wisely. Anafenza, the Foremost and Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet are your main enemies. Anafenza and Kalitas just shut the deck down entirely so if you suspect your opponent is playing one of those, you must save your Bone Splinters for that. Besides those guys, there aren't too many creatures that shut you down. In a midrange format, having a one-mana way to kill most creatures is great.
Another option for this deck in the removal slot is Fleshbag Marauder. Fleshbag Marauder is great in a format full of Eldrazi Ramp. However in a token-heavy or Rally-heavy format, Bone Splinters is much better. Depending on your metagame, you may want a few Fleshbags in your deck or at least your sideboard, but keep mana curve in mind because you don't want the deck clogged on three-drops.
Collected Company is a four-of in the deck and is what makes the deck so explosive. This is a staple in both Standard and Modern and I'm sure you don't need an explanation of how it works. In a deck with so many value creatures, Collected Company can really gain you a ton of card advantage.
Evolutionary Leap is the last spell in the deck. This card has appeared in sideboards before but has usually been too slow to justify a maindeck slot. This format seems a bit slower than pre-OGW so the value of it has gone way up. Evolutionary Leap ensures that you never run out of gas in a grindy matchup. Imagine a board of Blisterpod, Carrier Thrall, Zulaport Cutthroat, Evolutionary Leap and two untapped green mana. Your opponent has some creatures in play that are much bigger than yours. How can your opponent profitably attack into you? You will end up plus two life, have two Eldrazi Scions, and two more creatures in your hand. The next turn you can cast those two creatures and still keep some green mana up. You are now in a winning position where your opponent can't attack you without giving you free value and Cutthroat triggers.
Evolutionary Leap also gives the deck the consistency it needs to give it the edge over Rally the Ancestors decks. Between scrying with Catacomb Sifter and getting creatures off of Evolutionary Leap, you really can find what you need fast. It can be mana intensive at times which is why there are only two copies. As long as you keep one or two green mana up at all times, having Evolutionary Leap on the battlefield makes your opponent play much differently.
The last card that deserves a mention is Rogue's Passage. This is a card that I feel most people forgot about. Most Nantuko Husk decks have a hard time actually killing with Husk because it gets chump blocked all day. Rogue's Passage gets around that. Since our deck is only two colors we can get away with playing it without ruining our manabase. You will never find a Four-Color Rally deck running this card.
As I said above our main enemies are Anafenza, the Foremost and Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet. We literally can't play Magic with these cards in play. Oath of the Gatewatch provides us with Grasp of Darkness, a two-mana instant removal spell that can kill both of these guys. I'd also suggest a few copies of Kalitas of our own for opposing Rally decks.
We have plenty of hand disruption options for our control and ramp matchups. Duress and Transgress the Mind are both considerations here.
I've always liked Minister of Pain against Atarka Red. Sometimes it's hard to deal with an army of tokens. Minister of Pain not only kills all the tokens but also is a sacrifice outlet. Be sure to also have Duress for this matchup so you don't randomly lose to a Temur Battle Rage.
Sometimes you need to grind out your opponent. While this deck does that very well why not play additional cards in our sideboard to grind them out even more. For these slots I suggest a third Evolutionary Leap and a couple of Nissa, Vastwood Seer.
Here's my proposed sideboard:
4 Grasp of Darkness
2 Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
1 Transgress the Mind
2 Minister of Pain
1 Evolutionary Leap
2 Nissa, Vastwood Seer
Why Play This Deck?
It may be hard to justify playing this deck over a deck like Rally. While Rally is a more powerful deck and has a better long game, Black/Green Aristocrats is faster, more consistent, and more explosive. What I really think gives an edge is that Rally is much more prone to Counterspells than Black/Green Aristocrats. Most decks are splashing blue at very little cost and Disdainful Stroke and Dispel are everywhere. A timely counter can be game over for Rally. This deck doesn't have one key spell that must resolve.
Another positive for this deck is that it's very budget-friendly. While the list I proposed has Wooded Foothills, it can operate fine without them. Hissing Quagmire and Llanowar Wastes are very easy to get, and many of the rares were printed in products like Event Decks or Clash Packs. With the costs of Standard rising, it's refreshing to have access to a strong deck that won't break your wallet.
That's all I have for this week. As always, thanks for reading and feel free to leave a comment if you have any questions or feedback.
Until next time,
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