I haven't been paying much attention to Standard in the last couple of weeks, but with Grand Prix Madrid in Team Constructed (Standard-Modern-Legacy) coming up next week, I had to be ready to sit in the booth and know what I'm talking about.
Jack Kiefer had an 11-4 run at the GP with his brew, and Ben Seck, more widely known as TBS, lost in the PTQ finals with a list close to that. I had to play Standard to catch up and that list looked fun to play, so I gave it a go.
I remember the last Standard events I followed, my teammate Jérémy Dezani played a White-Black Tokens list similar to this. I'm not sure he was running Crested Sunmare, but I was excited to attack with Horse Tokens. The deck is quite easy to understand. It's packing:
- Vampires and Vampire token generators. The deck revolves around having a lot of Vampires in play (thanks to Queen's Commission, Call to the Feast and Legion's Landing) to enjoy the boost from Legion Lieutenant and Radiant Destiny. Dusk Legion Zealot is a free (doesn't cost a card) Vampire that will help you find more lands or more vampires. Martyr of Dusk is a 2/1 for one that makes a 1/1 lifelinker when it dies. It helps you keep the pressure going and leaves one lifelinked on the board after mass removal. All these lifelinkers have a purpose: fuel…
- …Crested Sunmare. The curve of the deck ends with a mythic rare that had not quite found a home yet, mostly due to the presence of the now-gone Rampaging Ferocidon. One lifelink damage is enough to enable the Sunmare to trigger, on your turn or your opponent's. Once that happens, the game is usually in the bag, as they usually won't be able to deal with both creatures at the same time. The Horse Token is indestructible as long as mama horse is in play. If she stays in play, more baby horses will spawn every turn.
- Removal spells, because a deck without removal in today's era would be madness. A mix of Fatal Push, Thopter Arrest and Ixalan's Binding.
- And obviously, lands. Eight white-black duals, plus seven utility deserts. Shefet Dunes works as an additional Glorious Anthem effect.
The sideboard has a few good options, including Duress, Profane Procession and the very exciting The Immortal Sun, that works as a more versatile Radiant Destiny (in addition or instead of it in certain matchups). In most matchups, you'll try to keep the synergy of the deck intact and sideboard as little as possible. In some other matchups, you'll want to take out the Radiant Destiny to aim for a longer game and board in the slower cards of your sideboard (such as Profane Procession and The Immortal Sun).
By now, you should have the basics and watched the videos (all taken from the same league)!
Let's move on to my conclusions about the deck.
I played a couple of leagues with the deck on Magic Online. I had fine results, mostly 3-2's, a 4-1, but no 5-0.
This deck is fine but I wouldn't consider it tier 1. You don't have to play a million games to know what's up with it, the good and the bad points.
Here's the breakdown:
The deck has insane synergies. Play your cards on curve, and you'll have a bunch of huge tokens followed by an unbeatable Horse generator, all this while staying at a healthy life total and with the ability to take care of your opponent's creatures.
The problem is, the deck is all about synergy. Cards like Radiant Destiny don't do anything on an empty board. Queen's Commission is quite a weak card on its own. And so it is for most cards in the deck. A Lieutenant without a Legion to command is just another Grizzly Bear. It is true for most decks when you build them: when weak card + weak card = strong synergy, be ready to be in the situation where you have: weak card + land, or weak card + wrong other weak card = bad Limited deck.
It's not necessarily a bad thing, if your strategy is winning every time you put it together (depending on how often you do that). However, it's not always the case with this deck. Just like most synergy decks, the deck hates to mulligan. It has drops at every step of the curve, and missing a land drop is often crucial. Drawing no token generators, early threats or removal only make your Radiant Destinies useless.
Some decks are also built to beat you (meaning that even when you put everything together, you're going to lose). I have had the hardest time against Grixis Energy. They have Glint-Sleeve Siphoner that you have to deal with right away to not to fall behind, ways to easily take care of Legion Lieutenant, making it hard to rely on it, and ways to deal with Crested Sunmare, also at instant speed so you don't get to make a token (Harnessed Lightning, Vraska's Contempt). Top that up with cards that are ridiculously good against you if you want to go aim for the late game, The Scarab God that you'll have to get rid of fast, Confiscation Coup or Hostage Taker that will steal your The Immortal Sun… You can't take out removal spells because you need them for the Siphoners and you can't dilute your strategy otherwise your deck will lose to itself. You'd like to board in many cards, but you just don't have the room.
As it is, the deck is good when it works, but feels miserable when it doesn't. It's extremely satisfying to win with Horse Tokens though! Maybe I am a little harsh on this deck and it could deserve a second look with a couple of improvements (that I haven't found yet). The league I recorded is representative of most of the other leagues I played, with its good draws that feel like the deck is unbeatable—it's the "oh, if only I had an extra land" games and the miserable "had nothing going right" games that are frustrating. I'm all for synergy decks, but it feels this one is falling just a tad bit short of being amazing.
- Raphael Levy