Eldritch Moon is packed with playable cards, and I'm especially excited that it is bringing some Shadows over Innistrad themes full circle, like the Vampire and Zombie tribes and mechanics like delirium. I was excited to share some decks I built and dig into the new cards today, but I'll get to them next week when the full set is spoiled, because I've been thrown completely off track by a deck that won a tournament last weekend. This deck changes everything I thought I knew about this Standard, and it provides a valuable lesson for building with Eldritch Moon. I believed that I could not possibly think of anything new to say about the current Standard format, but it continues to surprise me. As players continue to develop and refine their strategies, they are also figuring out how to use cards that haven't reached their potential, and in doing so they change the future of the format. I'm excited about the prospects of Traverse the Ulvenwald, which a player used in a brand-new way to find great success last weekend.
White/Red Human Aggro has become a scourge, dampening the success of W/G Tokens and nearly pushing W/B Control from existence. It has brought about a rise in Bant Company strategies, specifically Bant Humans, which boasts a favorable matchup against the aggressive deck with its large creatures and Dromoka's Command. A set of maindeck Radiant Flames is absolutely punishing against W/R Humans and a way to defeat the deck singlehandedly. This is a real benefit of Naya Planeswalkers and a tool that W/G Tokens just doesn't have. Backing it up with three Tragic Arrogance gets the point across that this deck is interested in sweeping the board and protecting its Planeswalkers. These sweepers are similarly effective against Bant Company decks, and they find plenty of use against decks like W/G Tokens and Sultai Midrange. This decks also preys on the fact that control decks with few creatures are on the decline, so sweepers will always find their mark.
To fit these sweepers, the deck gives up Sylvan Advocate, which has long been considered the premier green creature in Standard, and one of the best reasons to splash red in the first place because of its great interaction with Needle Spires. Needless to say, it wasn't necessary, and cutting it opens the door for sweepers to be even more effective. Without robust early creatures, the deck forgoes Dromoka's Command and instead uses sweepers to pick up the load. Nahiri, the Harbinger fills in the anti-enchantment role, and it gives the deck a card drawing engine to make up for the loss of Evolutionary Leap, not to mention another way to dig for one-of creatures.
Naya Planeswalkers looks like it is such a great choice for Standard right now and into rotation, but I'm more excited about how this deck uses Traverse the Ulvenwald. Where every W/G Token and Naya Planeswalker deck I've ever seen has had Oath of Nissa, this deck includes Traverse the Ulvenwald. It took me a while to process, but it's now clear to me that this adaptation is genius, and it's an example of how we can and should be using Traverse of Ulvenwald now and the future.
Early in the game, Traverse the Ulvenwald fixes mana by turning into a land, which is especially important in a three-color deck. With Delirium, it searches for any land or any creature, which this deck takes advantage of by using a suite of powerful but situational one-of creatures. It's both mana-fixing and a win condition, so it shares a lot of similarities to Oath of Nissa in that it smooths out draws, but it has unique advantages. In the early game, when Oath of Nissa is typically used to find lands, Traverse the Ulvenwald is a reliable way to find exactly the color of mana you need. Unlike Oath of Nissa, Traverse the Ulvenwald won't fail to find something, which is something I acutely suffered in the game that knocked me out of top 8 contention of the MTGO PTQ I played a few weeks ago. With Traverse the Ulvenwald you always know what you are getting before you cast it.
Later in the game, Oath of Nissa is a strong topdeck that helps find action, but it's far from guaranteed to turn up something relevant. In the same spots, with delirium likely enabled, Traverse the Ulvenwald becomes the best topdeck in most situations, a shortcut to the best creature in the deck. In the case of this deck, it enables maindeck one-of creatures like Linvala, the Preserver and Dragonlord Dromoka and cheap value creatures like Tireless Tracker and Nissa, Vastwood Seer.
Compared to Oath of Nissa, Traverse the Ulvenwald will more reliably fix mana early in the game and will more reliably find action later. It seems like Traverse the Ulvenwald fills the same role as Oath of Nissa, only better. There are some trade-offs, of course, because in land-heavy draws, any early Oath of Nissa will attempt to set-up the perfect piece of action on-curve, which Traverse the Ulvenwald can't do, and that's a serious loss, but more so in a deck that is looking to curve out with threats than in a spell-based control deck. Traverse the Ulvenwald usually functions like a land, so it would make sense that decks with Traverse the Ulvenwald would want less land than a deck with Oath of Nissa, which explains why this decklist contains only 25 lands compared to the usual 26 in the archetype. Traverse the Ulvenwald also doesn't help fix mana for planeswalkers in the same capacity as Oath of Nissa.
Overall, Traverse of Ulvenwald a fantastic way to fix mana early in the game, and with mana considered the biggest stumbling block of the Naya Planeswalkers archetype and Standard decks in general, it makes sense to focus on making it as good as possible at the expense of some flexibility. Traverse the Ulvenwald also makes a lot of sense in this particular deck because it plays a reduced creature count compared to the typical version, and because its controlling game plan is likely to reach the late game, it will get full value from the delirium-powered tutor.
Traverse the Ulvenwald isn't worth playing in a deck that won't reliably have delirium enabled later in the game, otherwise it would just be better off as a land. This deck has plenty of ways to enable it, beginning with extra copies of Traverse the Ulvenwald as a sorcery. Evolving Wilds is a land, and Hangarback Walker is an artifact creature that's easy to get into the graveyard. There are many creatures and planeswalkers in the deck, and even a couple of instants, so getting four different types into the graveyard is a reality for this deck once it enters the late game.
This deck also displays the power of Descend upon the Sinful backed by delirium. It's similar to Planar Outburst in that it sweeps the board, but it gets around the threat of Archangel Avacyn stopping it by making the opponent's creatures indestructible. With delirium enabled it makes a creature threat similar to an awakened Planar Outburst. It really is the best of both worlds and a very underplayed tool in Standard. It even exiles creatures, which I experienced in Shadows over Innistrad Standard's early days at GP Toronto in a feature match against Shaheen Soorani's Esper Control deck, where he counteracted my plan of beating his sweepers with Zulaport Cutthroat life loss by casting Descend upon the Sinful to exile them and prevent the life-loss triggers from ever happening. Eldritch Moon spoilers indicate that the graveyard will earn our attention, and anything that keeps the opponent's cards out of it and in exile is a bonus.
Any deck that uses Traverse the Ulvenwald must keep delirium in mind if they are to get full value from it, and Eldritch Moon looks to offer more support for delirium that provide even more options for enabling it. It's a great time to figure out Traverse the Ulvenwald, because it's only going to get better from here. My head is spinning with ideas for Traverse the Ulvenwald.
The first thing I did after discovering this deck was search for others that use Traverse the Ulvenwald in hoping of gaining insight. There really haven't been many played in tournaments, and those tend to be scattered one-ofs. A Sultai Midrange deck, for example, reached Top 8 of that same PTQ using a singleton copy alongside four Oath of Nissa. Could these numbers be switched?
This deck has Evolving Wilds, and an assortment of creatures, sorceries, and instants. There are issues here though, because the deck lacks planeswalkers and it doesn't include Hangarback Walker as an artifact. A black/green shell could work, but it needs to be more focused on including a wide spread of card types.
A focus on delirium leads me to Grim Flayer, which promises to both enable delirium and profit from it. It makes a lot of sense to start a Traverse the Ulvenwald midrange deck with a creature like this, and it's backed up Gnarlwood Dryad, which is very effective with deathtouch as a blocker early in the game, and it transitions into a hard-to-block threat later on.
A dedicated delirium theme opens the door to Mindwrack Demon, which is powerful but requires the correct support. The rest of the deck should be filled up with staple creatures and removal, along with a healthy number of Traverse the Ulvenwald targets, like Iskhanah, Grafwidow, a fantastic addition to the toolbox. Using a delirium-powered Traverse the Ulvenwald to search for it will convert to a 3 / 5 and three 1 / 2 bodies, which is a fantastic rate for just five mana.
This is a great place to include Distended Mindbender, which, as a toolbox target, can Decimate any opponent. The deck requires planeswalkers to enable delirium to the fullest, and Liliana, the Last Hope is right at home here as a form of board control that threatens to generate card advantage.
Ben Rubin is known as an innovative deck designer known to forsake traditional wisdom and has the courage to stand by his creations at the highest stages. A couple months ago at GP NYC he played a G/R Ramp deck built on the core of Traverse the Ulvenwald and Ruin in Their Wake.
The logic goes that Ruin in Their Wake is the best ramp spell in Standard, but it's only good with a Wastes in play. Traverse the Ulvenwald is a good way to find Wastes, and along with Evolving Wilds, these cards form the core of a deck. Instead of putting these cards into a ramp shell, which is where they have typically found themselves, Ben put them alongside a curve of quality creatures, which are not only great when played ahead of schedule with Ruin in Their Wake, but also provide a toolbox to make the most of Traverse the Ulvenwald.
A new Eldritch Moon creature that would be excellent in this deck is Decimator of the Provinces. It's the perfect way to close out a game quickly or end a stalemate, and with emerge it's not too cost-prohibitive. Without Explosive Vegetation or Nissa's Pilgrimage this deck really isn't interested in something expensive like Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, but sacrificing a creature like Deathmist Raptor to use Decimator of the Provinces as an Overrun is exactly on plan.
I'm excited about the concept this decks lays out because it could be used as a shell for all sorts of different takes, including splashes or even abandoning red in favor of another color. It's also a shell for another Traverse the Ulvenwald idea I have: using it to find pieces of the Hanweir Garrison and Hanweir Battlements combo. Incorporating the combo would add a powerful proactive element to a Traverse the Ulvenwald toolbox.
Ulrich of the Krallenhorde helps get Hanweir Garrison through, and Arlinn Kord both gets it through and pumps up a team of tokens. Galvanic Bombardment looks to be fine creature removal, and without something like Deathmist Raptor to discard, this deck isn't interested in Lighting Axe.
How else can we use Traverse the Ulvenwald? Share your brews in the comments!