Normally, I haven't been much of the deck brewing type. However, my quest to hit Mythic in Constructed on MTGArena's best-of-one queues led to me brainstorming a number of decks in order to beat the metagame. While most of them were failures, I ultimately did find success with one of those decks, which I used to climb from Platinum 2 through Diamond to Mythic.
Emboldened by my singular success, I now consider myself one of the foremost deck brewers in all of Magic's 25-year history. Okay, that's a lie. I don't think that at all. However, now that best-of-three – In other words, traditional matches of Magic with sideboarding – is thankfully going to be a ranked format on MTG Arena, I have all the motivation I need to put my newfound chops to the test and see if I can build some real bomb decks for Ravnica Allegiance Standard.
The kinds of decks that I'm drawn to are decks that are fairly straightforward in their strategy. I like decks with powerful cards on their own right but that combine together to create synergy to boost their natural power. Right now, I have two decks I can't get out of my head. Until I get smashed a bunch trying to win with these decks, it is going to be pretty hard to get me to stop thinking about them or various iterations on them.
The two decks that I'm obsessing over are Simic with Hadana's Climb and Rakdos Burn with Theater of Horrors. Two very different strategies, but ones that have a lot of linear power and snowballing potential if they get rolling downhill.
The core interaction that I'm excited about is the combination of Incubation Druid and Hadana's Climb. Incubation Druid is a serviceable two-drop mana accelerant on its own accord, but if you can find a convenient and cheap way to add a +1/+1 counter to it, then it becomes a pretty insane mana producer. Incubation Druid can put counters on itself simply by using the adapt ability, but that costs five mana. It's a good late-game mana sink, but not something that can be relied on. However, Hadana's Climb is a good, cheap play that can provide a consistent, turn-after-turn way to put counters on Incubation Druid and other creatures.
In fact, that's the core principle behind this strategy that I want to...explore...literally and figuratively. A lot of these Simic creatures from Ravnica Allegiance don't really care how +1/+1 counters are placed on creatures, they only care that it happens. While their own adapt abilities are a way to accomplish that, sometimes they are a bit too expensive to rely on. Hadana's Climb does it turn after turn, sometimes even allowing multiple uses out of a creature that otherwise could only get one use from their adapt ability.
For example, take the creature Growth-Chamber Guardian. For three mana, you can adapt this absolute unit and search your library for another copy, but it is a very mana-intensive chain to search up and adapt Growth-Chamber Guardians. On its own, I don't think this card would be good enough for constructed. However, Hadana's Climb gives you a free way to search up another Growth-Chamber Guardian every single turn, even if you're just putting the counters on the same Growth-Chamber Guardian more than once.
The same principle also applies to a creature like Sharktocrab. Is Sharkocrab Constructed-playable on its own? Probably not. But if you can grow it and lock down an opposing creature every turn with Hadana's Climb, then it's certainly within the realm of possibilities.
My only fear about this deck is that the reliance on Hadana's Climb to "go off" might be too high and the deck might not be powerful enough in games that you don't draw Hadana's Climb. The goal is to mitigate this by not playing any creatures that aren't playable without Hadana's Climb and stick to ones that are otherwise serviceable but can be made into huge threats in combination with it.
Here's an initial build idea:
Cards like Incubation // Incongruity or even to a lesser extent Adventurous Impulse should be in the deck. Incubation // Incongruity especially because it also serves as a removal spell in addition to finding our best creatures. It's not a good removal option but being able to sometimes deal with something like a Lyra Dawnbringer isn't bad for a deck like this that otherwise is relying on Sharktocrab or just building a bigger board as its main way to interact with opposing creatures.
The reason Incubation // Incongruity isn't in the deck isn't because it isn't good enough, it's because I don't yet know what needs to be cut to make room for it. In my first build of a deck like this, I think it is important to make room for all the synergies so we can see which ones perform best and which ones aren't good enough. Maybe Sharktocrab isn't good enough and needs to be cut. Maybe the Zegana, Wildgrowth Walker, Merfolk Branchwalker, Jadelight Ranger package isn't good enough and can be cut to make room for better creatures.
Until I figure it out, I want to just have it all in the deck and see how it plays out.
The awesome thing about this kind of deck is that it isn't limited to being merely a Simic deck. Having a full set of shock lands and buddy lands means that the mana is very good for a three-color deck and Incubation Druid doesn't just produce green mana like Llanowar Elves does. Conveniently, a flipped Hadana's Climb will tap for any color of mana, and that means that Incubation Druid would also tap for any color of mana, providing an outside route at finding the third color of mana, even when lands aren't cooperating.
The two cards that seem exceptionally problematic for a deck like this to beat are Settle the Wreckage and Cleansing Nova. The two colors that I am interested in adding to this base Simic package are red and white. White provides access to solid removal options and Shalai, Voice of Plenty, which synergizes well with the +1/+1 counter theme and Incubation Druid's ability to provide excess mana. Shalai also protects from Settle the Wreckage, which is not inconsequential.
The other option is pairing Simic with Gruul and building a Temur strategy. Gruul Spellbreaker has a number of synergies with this deck. It curves into Zegana admirably thanks to its riot ability, and much like Shalai it also protects from Settle the Wreckage. Red's removal options are less universal than what white can offer, but Lava Coil promises to be a powerhouse in the new format as a way to deal with a lot of the powerful creatures from the new set, especially Orzhov creatures and their pesky Afterlife abilities.
Another option in Temur is to replace the Hadana's Climb with something like Rhythm of the Wild, which when you choose the +1/+1 counter mode is disgustingly powerful with Growth-Chamber Guardian, allowing them to function as Squadron Hawks immediately. I don't think you can really do both three-mana enchantments in high numbers, as then you start to run low on actual meat in the deck itself.
I think this Simic deck is going to be worse than other strategies like Rakdos burn out of the gates because it's going to be really hard to get it right and get the numbers right, but this is the kind of strategy I am most excited to work on because frankly it seems like a lot of fun. I love go-wide and +1/+1 counter strategies and this deck promises both.
Mono-Red is already one of the strongest decks in Standard, at least in MTG Arena. I think Theater of Horrors might prove to be the best card in the set.
One thing that I touched on last week but I feel is important to reiterate is that Theater of Horrors allows you to play lands exiled by it, which is extremely important because a lot of previous versions of this card did not allow you to do so. Being able to play land drops ensures that future turns with Theater will be valuable and it also allows you to use the ability on the enchantment to finish off the opponent or to turn it on in future turns. It is extremely important to note that Theater of Horrors also allows you to play any card previously exiled by it. So if you miss on dealing your opponent a damage during a turn where you have Theater of Horrors, do not fear. Dealing a damage to your opponent on a following turn will unlock both the card from that turn and all the cards from previous turns.
Is Theater of Horrors a better engine than Experimental Frenzy? Yes and no. I think it is superior in that you can play it turn three then it's actually quite good and it is a far lower-variance card than Experimental Frenzy, which can sometimes do more harm than good when you play it.
Experimental Frenzy has a higher total upside, but I think Theater of Horrors slots better into a burn strategy, especially since it can deal those final points of damage itself, which is not to be overlooked.
This is an extremely simplistic list that basically takes the existing Mono-Red deck and just shoves Skewer the Critics and Theater of Horrors into it. While updating an existing strategy isn't bad, this deck seems to have some holes in that it is probably too creature dense to make Theater of Horrors reliable. Runaway Steam-Kin and Ghitu Lavarunner are both creatures that don't seem to advance the strategy, and once you cut those, there is then an incentive to get rid of Wizard's Lightning as well.
If you commit to that line, then you're starting to look more and more like the Rakdos burn deck that already exists.
Another option entirely is to play a deck that isn't as all-in as the burn deck or as creature-dense as the spell deck, but rather one that takes an early aggressive hasty role but also has a significant amount of burn to finish the job.
Fireblade Artist might be the perfect creature for Rakdos. It can get in for a "quick two" early in the game, but also is a way to turn dead creatures that can no longer attack into burn spells later on in the game, which is quite potent. Conveniently enough, Fireblade Artist is also very talented not only at art, but also at turning on the Theater of Horrors stage lights, because it's ability does unlock the horror within. That's not to be underestimated.
Lastly, is the deck that I alluded to in the very start of the article. The deck that I ranked from Platinum 2 to Top 100 Mythic with is a powerful strategy called Elementals and Angles, referring to the various angles this deck can attack with. It does a great job of Angel shooting the opponent with flying creatures.
And by powerful, I mean that it is, by definition and by play, the most medium deck in all of recorded history. However, this hot medium mess of "playables" has managed to confound many an opponent along the way.
The key thing to note with this deck is that it is imperative that you play one Tranquil Expanse and one Selesnya Guildgate and never play two of either. A deck this hot medium deserves to have the most medium mana base possible, and any deviation would upset the gods greatly. Don't tempt fate by messing with perfection, and perfection in this case refers to only the most average possible decklist in every feasible fashion.
One card that I think could improve this deck is Incubation Druid. Druid would allow for faster ramp toward the Mythic Angels (and rare ones, sorry Shalai), and also serves as a mana sink itself. Incubation Druid would help Shalia activations and to unload the hand when Vivien J. Reid Duke is filling it aplenty.
One card that would go well with Incubation Druid is Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants. Ajani is a way to add a counter to the druid to power it up and a card that I already think is borderline good enough as it stands anyway. Paul Cheon hit Mythic with a version of this deck that did in fact play the Ajani, so it's not out of the realm of possibilities that it could even fit into the current build, pre-Ravnica Allegiance.
Another possible option for the deck is Angel of Grace, named appropriately because it replicates Angel's Grace, the split-second instant from Time Spiral. Angel of Grace is another Angel to pair with Lyra Dawnbringer, as well as another angle to attack your opponent from, to go with the Elementals and Angles name of the decklist. My one qualm with Angel of Grace is that I'm not sure it is needed due to all the inherent lifegain in the deck anyway, and it's another five-drop that competes with Lyra and Vivien J. Q. Reid, which is likely superior in its utility and advantage.
I'll be playing a ton of Ravnica Allegiance Standard on MTG Arena this week. I'm excited to test these ideas, and is most often the case, reject them for better ones as it progresses along. Sorry, Sharktocrab, I want you to work out, buddy, but I think we all know how this will end...
- Brian Braun-Duin