Going into this weekend, I think most players felt like the two clear best decks in Standard were White-Blue Flash and Black-Green Delirium. Black-Green Delirium has been a very dominant deck, yet suddenly it stopped putting up strong results. There was not a Black-Green Delirium deck to be found in the top 32 decks from Grand Prix Denver. As someone who has had success with Black-Green Delirium, and enjoys playing the deck, it is easy to see why the deck has stopped doing as well. So what gives?
Aetherworks Marvel strategies have come back, in a huge way. In fact, Aetherworks Marvel is the current top dog of Standard. Red-Green Aetherworks and Temur Aetherworks have been crushing, but after a bad experience with Aetherworks Marvel at Pro Tour Kaladesh I didn't want to take my chances with that type of deck again. Black-Green Delirium has a poor Aetherworks matchup, so I didn't want to play that. This narrowed down my options significantly. As per usual Friday night before the Grand Prix rolled around and I was playing leagues on Magic Online desperately trying to figure out what deck to play.
It turns out my luck hasn't run out just yet. As I prepared myself to play White-Blue Flash for the Grand Prix, my outlook on the event was bleak, because I didn't want to play one of the most popular decks in the tournament. The luck comes into play because of who popped into my hotel room, to test some games with a secret deck. That would be Ben Weitz, one of the top deck builders in the world. I was able to coax Ben into letting me take a look at the White-Blue Panharmonicon deck, and I fell in love. Sure, playing a deck that I had very little experience with was a gamble, but it paid off in spades.
Up until now I believe most Magic players didn't view White-Blue Panharmonicon as a competitive deck in Standard. Each round of the Grand Prix it felt like my opponents didn't know what the White-Blue Panharmonicon deck did until it was too late and the round was over. Panharmonicon is a very easy card to find because of Glint-Nest Crane, so a large percentage of games involve casting it on turn four. In many ways, it is similar to Aetherworks Marvel, as a powerful artifact that dodges Natural State and can win the game very easily. Panharmonicon doesn't win the game by itself of course, but this deck knows how to abuse enters-the-battlefield triggers.
The deck is playing just about every way to get value off Panharmonicon in White-Blue you can possibly think of! The fact is there aren't many efficient ways to draw cards in Standard, but here you just play a five mana flyer that draws four cards, and gains four life most of the time with Cloudblazer, one of the signature cards in the deck. Most of the big value plays cost more than four, which conveniently puts them just out of range of Spell Queller. Speaking of Spell Queller, since when can a straight White-Blue deck get away with not playing a single copy of Spell Queller in the 75?
All of the creatures want to maximize enters-the-battlefield triggers in some way. Even Thraben Inspector is able to produce more than one clue with Panharmonicon in play. Remember that while most of the time you only need a single Panharmonicon, if you do have multiples in play the triggers snowball even more.
Glint-Nest Crane has a total of 11 hits in the maindeck. Certainly Glint-Nest Crane will miss a fair amount of the time, but it also helps find some of the deck's most important cards in Smuggler's Copter. Copter is one of the best cards in Standard, and helps with the early game here. Thraben Inspector and Glint-Nest Crane are perfect creatures to crew a Smuggler's Copter.
The other artifact that is extremely important here is Skysovereign, Consul Flagship. This card can come down and just wreck an opponent's board. One of the weaknesses of this deck is to an early planeswalker, but the fact that Skysovereign, Consul Flagship can actually deal with planeswalkers on its own is fantastic. The creatures here are relatively low power so sometimes it is necessary to crew a Smuggler's Copter and use the Smuggler's Copter to then crew the Flagship, which is an important trick to keep in mind.
There are a couple singletons here as well. The Pilgrim's Eye serves as a mana source that can be found off Glint-Nest Crane, and the singleton Thought-Knot Seer is great against the Aetherworks Marvel decks.
It may seem weird to play only a single Thought-Knot Seer, but there is a reason behind this. First of all, there aren't that many colorless sources, but secondly this deck does have an infinite combo that ends with blinking Thought-Knot Seer in order to deck the opponent. While the infinite combo doesn't come up all that often, it is super cool when it does. Of course, Panharmonicon is needed, as well as a couple of eldrazi that are known for working well together. Those are, of course, Eldrazi Displacer plus Drowner of Hope.
The initial combo is simply to have Drowner of Hope and Eldrazi Displacer in play along with a copy of Panharmonicon. Here is the puzzle: It is turn six, and the opponent is tapped out, your board is Thraben Inspector, Eldrazi Displacer, Panharmonicon, six lands, and you have Drowner of Hope in hand. How do you win right away from here?
For those that aren't familiar with the deck, it isn't easy. Clearly though the turn starts with casting Drowner of Hope to create four 1/1 Eldrazi Scions thanks to Panharmonicon, which is the key. From there, it is possible to continuously blink Drowner of Hope, netting a Scion each time. You can blink Drowner of Hope as many times as you want, which essentially creates infinite Scions. The Scions can be sacrificed for infinite mana. From there, the infinite mana can be used to blink the Thraben Inspector a billion times, and then sacrifice the clues generated to draw cards until finding the single Thought-Knot Seer. The Thought-Knot Seer can then be cast and you can blink it infinite times so that when it leaves play from the blink the opponent is forced to draw cards until they deck out.
This combo does involve a few different moving pieces, but the nice thing about it is that all the cards are good on their own. We are not playing cards like Woodweaver's Puzzleknot that needs Aetherworks Marvel to turn it into a good card. Eldrazi Displacer has a natural home in a deck that abuses enters-the-battlefield effects, and beyond that Eldrazi Displacer is great against White-Blue Flash because of the ability to blink the opponent's Spell Queller and counter their own spells.
White-Blue Panharmonicon is a grindy deck, like many others in Standard right now. The format involves lots of back-and-forth, tricky games. This deck rewards tight play. There was one game that stands out from any other for me from the past weekend. I started out the tournament a perfect 12-0, only to lose two rounds and get paired against Corey Burkhart playing Red-Green Marvel. I never lost a match to Aetherworks the whole tournament, but Corey's version was the most difficult version I had come up against.
Emrakul, the Promised End is actually not that difficult to deal with, which is why Red-Green Marvel is traditionally a good matchup. However, lately many of the lists have started running Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger as well. Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger is a much more difficult-to-answer creature, because it automatically gets a ton of value by exiling two permanents. Between main and sideboard Burkhart ran four copies of Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, and a World Breaker, so I no longer felt I had the edge in the matchup.
During game two, I was forced to face down Emrakul, the Promised End, and Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger in play at once, and was down to a single copy of Wastes at one point. I had to call on my luck and ask my deck for a Reflector Mage off the top, since nothing else would do it. If I don't instantly draw the last copy of Reflector Mage in my deck (I actually sideboarded one out) the game is over, he attacks me with Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger and my library would be gone. As it turned out, I did draw the Reflector Mage and when Burkhart didn't draw well his next couple of draw steps I somehow stole the game.
I probably had about a one percent chance to win that game, but the important thing to remember is to never give up. Sometimes you are losing and you need to play to draw the exact card which could help get you out of a bad situation. That match took a lot out of me, including (from my point of view) an unnecessary judge call that held up game three. Moving forward, if players start to maindeck Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, rather than just the four copies of Emrakul, the Promised End I worry that the matchup between White-Blue Panharmonicon and Red-Green Aetherworks will continue to lead to some crazy back and forth games.
As far as the other matchups go, the easiest matchup is Black-Green Delirium. They aren't able to put enough early pressure on you, and then the insane card advantage generated off Panharmonicon takes over the game. The late game of the Panharmonicon deck is also why I like the White-Blue Flash matchup. The games do tend to be close though, and Archangel Avacyn is tough to answer. A large part of the reason for the two Stasis Snares is Archangel Avacyn, and they are the only permanent removal in the deck. If the game stalls out, though, the cards in White -Blue Flash aren't as impressive as yours. By the way, I love whenever the opponent casts Reflector Mage and I'm playing a deck with almost all creatures with enter the battlefield triggers.
The toughest matchups for White-Blue Panharmonicon are the aggro decks. While I believe that these matchups are heavily based on the die roll, and most vehicles lists are slightly favored against you. However, there are lots of sideboard cards dedicated to the aggressive matchups. I plan to go deeper into how to sideboard with the deck in the future, so keep an eye out for more on White-Blue Panharmonicon! For those looking to play something unusual, that can compete at a very high level, this is it.
- Seth Manfield