Pro Tour Eldritch Moon is this weekend, and it's going to be exciting to see what the pros do with the Standard format. All the teams are working on breaking the metagame and the dominance of Bant Company, but that means mum's the word on any new technology. If your favorite author is playing this weekend, odds are that their articles lately haven't had anything new to say about Standard.
The SCG grinders have been working at the format since its inception, but they can't afford to have an off-weekend, so that leaves them all playing the safe choice of Bant Company. There's no reason for them not to; mastering the deck and the mirror match simply has a higher return on investment than reinventing the wheel. Even if they did break the format, their product would only be fruitful for one tournament until everyone else thanklessly copied it. The Pro Tour provides a unique incentive to go deep, so it's going to be a fun weekend to watch.
Eldritch Moon isn't a simple set to figure out, so the pros have their work cut out for them. There's nothing more alluring than the potential for endlessly-growing power promised by the graveyard, yet nothing more confounding to construct. Building a tribal deck like Vampires or Humans might look like a relatively straightforward process, but anyone who has done so will tell you that it's not a simple process. Graveyard decks definitely don't build themselves. They are high-performance engines that require careful tuning, a balance of payoffs and enablers that come together as something greater than the sum of its parts.
Take for example the unbanning of Golgari Grave-Troll in Modern, which opened up a floodgate of Dredge decks. They are finally gaining traction in the metagame now that more players begin to understand the archetype, but even so, months later there is no consensus build of the deck. A poignant example of the difficulty building graveyard decks was the Extended Pro Tour Los Angeles in 2005, immediately after the release of Ravnica introduced the dredge mechanic. A few Dredge cards, particularly Life from the Loam, were used as role-players and a way to gain value from the graveyard, but there was no successful dedicated graveyard deck at the Pro Tour. It was not until a few months later that the Ichorid archetype was developed and went on to dominate the metagame as the first true Dredge deck.
The difficulty of creating a functional graveyard deck is why I'm so excited to share the list I have today. Last week I scoured the internet for Standard tournament results to see what players were doing with Eldritch Moon, and I found some really exciting decklists, and this week I went back down the rabbit hole looking for more. The most promising results came from a tournament in Japan known as The Last Sun, which drew 400 players. Hiding in the 8th seed was Akira Asahara, an old-school pro renowned for his deckbuilding of creative and effective decks. He recently played a novel Thing in the Ice - Pyromancer Ascension deck to the top 8 of the WMCQ in Japan, so his deck-building muscles must be in full form, because last weekend he played a graveyard deck that looks miles ahead of the others I've seen.
The most interesting decklist I wrote about last week was a U/B Zombie deck by Yuuta Takahashi that leveraged emerge creatures on the back of creatures that come into play from the graveyard — Prized Amalgam and Haunted Dead — by essentially cheating converted mana cost and thus emerge creatures into play for cheaper than retail. This deck moves that concept to a U/G shell. Blue provides alternatives to Haunted Dead in Stitchwing Skaab and Advanced Stitchwing, and green provides access to some key graveyard enablers, Grapple with the Past, Gather the Pack, and Noose Constrictor.
A common thread of any proposed Standard graveyard deck is the mention of Gather the Pack as a great enabler. It provides card selection, fills the graveyard, and with spell mastery, can even grab two cards. It's at full power in a deck dense with creatures but with enough spells to enable spell mastery, so this deck is its perfect home. It's joined by Grapple with the Past as a unique new addition to graveyard decks: a self-mill graveyard enabler that offers card selection and grows more useful as the game goes longer and the graveyard fills up. It's deceptively powerful, functioning like a toned-down Grisly Salvage early in the game, but with valuable utility added late in the game. Gather the Pack and Grapple with the Past are the fuel that makes the engine run, and the reason this deck is cemented into green. They are supplemented by Noose Constrictor, which performs an important role as a way to discard anything that is better off in the graveyard, particularly Prized Amalgam. It also helps the deck raw convert card advantage from Gather the Pack and Take Inventory into damage, so it's a potent threat, especially against Planeswalkers. Noose Constrictor has even seen play in non-graveyard decks, but it really shines here.
Asahara's deck uses the idea of using graveyard creatures to support emerge, featuring Elder Deep-Fiend in the starring role as a way to take over the game after playing with the graveyard in the early turns. The deck is slow to get on the battlefield at first, so having a massive game-swinging effect is exactly what it needs to shift the momentum back in its favor. The genius of this deck comes in the form of Vexing Scuttler, which ties this deck together as an emerge creature that plays perfectly with its strategy. It has fantastic synergy with the green spells that fill the graveyard, and it's best for reusing Take Inventory to draw a massive amount of cards. Take Inventory is great graveyard payoff, but it normally must be drawn naturally. Vexing Scuttler provides additional access to Take Inventory, and an especially potent line of play is using Grapple with the Past to return Vexing Scuttler, which then returns Take Inventory, which can draw up to four cards depending on how many others are in the graveyard.
What puts this deck over the top is Kozilek's Return, which provides the ability to sweep the battlefield for free when triggered from the graveyard by an emerge creature. It's a great payoff for a linear deck that otherwise wouldn't be able to interact with opposing creatures, and it's ideal because it doesn't take any mana investment, so the deck can focus on its own game plan and sweep the board incidentally. This deck doesn't have much early board presence, so Kozilek's Return is exactly what it needs to stop the opponent's advance.
Evolving Wilds helps fix between blue and green, but it's better than Woodland Stream because it's a fantastic target for Grapple with the Past, which isn't guaranteed to mill a land. It's interesting the deck plays a black card, Gravepurge, with only two black lands and not even a Swamp to search for, but it's explained by the fact that in the late game Grapple with the Past can simply return a milled Sunken Hollow to enable black. The deck only needs one Gravepurge because it's easily returned to hand by Vexing Scuttler, which also happens to be a fantastic target for Gravepurge, and will inevitably give this deck an endless supply of resources. The combination gives this deck a potent engine that's essentially inexhaustible over the course of game, and ensures it will never run out of threats nor deck itself.
The Mountain in the sideboard comes in when the deck wants to actually cast Kozilek's Return, supplemented by a Nahiri's Return as a sweeper and graveyard enabler. Four Jace, Vryn's Prodigy in the sideboard is an obvious swap for Kozilek's Return against control decks where sweepers are unnecessary, because these games are more likely to come down to a grind where Jace, Telepath Unbound will shine.
With the self-mill cards filling the graveyard, the deck has great access to silver bullets due to Grapple with the Past's ability to regrow a creature, especially with access to Vexing Scuttler as additional copies of the effect. This opens up the sideboard to some powerful one-ofs, Decimator of the Provinces and Emrakul, the Promised End, as ways to Break Open the game in matchup that are likely to go long. Vexing Scuttler also provides some access to one-of spells, which helps to explain Nahiri's Wrath, so this concept could be explored further with other potent matchup-specific cards.
My favorite part of this deck is the four Lumbering Falls, which is a fantastic bonus to staying focused in U/G. It's an extra way to pressure the opponent, an extra source of value that goes a long way in making the deck competitive. It's also another great card to return to hand with Grapple with the Past as an alternative to a creature.
This deck has it all, starting with a great manabase, strong enabler, great payoffs, and a core that ties it all together as a complete package. It takes advantage of all the best graveyard cards in the format, and it does so cleanly and consistently. Whether doing all this is worthwhile remains to be seen, but this deck serves as a convincing argument that the graveyard holds the promise of breaking Standard and the dominance of Bant Company.
The pro teams have certainly come across this deck too, so if a team didn't already have a graveyard deck, now they are up to speed; if they already had one, now they have some extra insight to further their own development. I would expect graveyard decks to have a big showing this weekend, maybe a further-tuned version of Asahara's deck. I checked the invitation list, and Asahara is qualified, so I'm looking forward to seeing what he brings to the table. At this point it's a given that we're going to see graveyard decks breakout at the Pro Tour, and anyone playing Standard needs to take them seriously.
Akira's graveyard deck wasn't the only deck worth talking about, as The Last Sun had a top 8 full of interesting ideas and great players.
One card with the potential to catch Bant Company is Ishkanah, Grafwidow, which gets around Spell Queller and Reflector Mage, blocks all of their creatures, and is generally a nightmare. The following list proposes that it's good enough to be a four-of in a B/G Delirium deck dedicated to enabling and leveraging it.
The deck reminds me of classic midrange Rock: a combination of efficient threats and great disruption, the niche Jund fills in Modern. This deck makes great use of Liliana, the Last Hope, and it serves as a model of how to build B/G Delirium going forward. Note Gilt-Leaf Winnower in the sideboard, which is better than ever because of how well it plays against Spell Queller.
Spell Queller might be the best card in Eldritch Moon, and there's no reason it should be restricted to Bant Company decks. Check out this Esper version that takes advantage of its ability to exile cards by processing it with Wasteland Strangler.
For those looking for Bant Company technology, I'd look to the decklist of Shota Yasooka, one of the game's most storied and lauded deckbuilders. It's a very strong statement about the metagame when a brewer ike Shota decides to simply play Bant Company.
Shota's individual card choices, like replacing a Duskwatch Recruiter with Jace, Vryn's Prodigy, and playing three Nissa, Vastwood Seer, reveal his thoughts about the deck and are worth thinking about and trying for yourself.
What do you think of the Dredge deck? Do you have your own list to share? What Eldritch Moon decks have you been working on? Please share your ideas in the comments, and I'll answer any questions!