The big news this week for Standard was the banning of Felidar Guardian. If your mind works the way mine does, the natural question you should ask in response to this news is: "What should White Weenie look like in a world without the Copy Cat combo?" That's the question I explore today, showing you three different white aggro decks geared to compete in a combo-free metagame.
First Stoneforge Mystic, then Reflector Mage, now Felidar Guardian. White creatures are clearly too busted for Standard.— Craig Wescoe (@Brimaz4Life) April 27, 2017
This first place I started was green-white.
In a metagame consisting of Copy Cat, this deck can't compete because it wants to tap out for threats and pump its creatures with Thanos the Indomitable. There is also a lack of good ways to keep mana open for Cast Out, apart from sacrificing clues, adding a counter to Walking Ballista, or getting Scrapheap Scrounger back.
Without needing to play cards like Thalia, Heretic Cathar as a necessary concession to the combo, we can play cards that are better suited to midrange matchups like Tireless Tracker. Depending on the amount of Toolcraft Exemplars we expect to face, it's possibly that we can replace the Walking Ballistas with two more copies of Tireless Tracker.
Manglehorn is in our sideboard instead of our main deck now that Saheeli Rai is not a major concern. It's mostly just a green Release the Gremlins now instead of the metagame solution it was projected to be. Unless people overplay it, Heart of Kiran is still a great place to be. Toolcraft Exemplar into Heart of Kiran is still the fastest opening in the format. And this deck does not slow down at all on turn three!
The three-mana plays are the part of this deck I like the most. Gideon of the Trials has impressed me so far with its ability to play offense or defense quite well – It's basically LeBron James. Rhonas the Indomitable is a bit higher variance. It's less good by itself but more dominant when combined with other creatures. It's also one of the best mana dumps in the format, turning land flood into extra pumps.
Cast Out has also impressed me so far. I rarely want to cycle it, but when I do, it gives me a chance to win a game I would otherwise have no hope of winning. The card works great with clues since you can cast it if needed or sacrifice clues if not and you didn't waste your turn. It's also one of the best answers to planeswalkers or to Glorybringer.
Prepare // Fight has been surprisingly good. The lifelink works great with the larger creatures in the deck, as does the fight on the backside. It's not hard to trade the front half for a creature in combat since it untaps the creature. This allows you to attack freely since if they block, you pump your creature to win combat and if they don't then you can still untap your creature during the opponent's combat step and block with it. Then on the following turn you can fight by casting the aftermath half to kill something else. Gideon and Rhonas never lose fights. I also like crewing Heart of Kiran and then untapping the creature that crewed the vehicle so that both can attack. Of course, the ceiling for the card is casting both halves on the same turn on the same target. This allows you to gain a bunch of life from the fight in addition to the life you are about to gain in combat.
It's still early in testing, but there feels like something is here and worth exploring. The black splash for Scrapheap Scrounger is pretty easy on the mana and I think is a necessary inclusion in order to run Toolcraft Exemplar. Lambholt Pacifist and Walking Ballista are the two biggest question marks for me in the deck. Lambolt Pacifist may be better has something like Glory-Bound Initiate if we don't expect a lot of Walking Ballistas since it does other things and still crews Heart of Kiran.
Another strategy is to just go straight mono-white.
This deck doesn't have nearly the mana sinks that the green/-white deck has, so it is much more prone to lose when it floods, but it also can afford to play fewer lands and therefore will flood considerably less. This is basically a revamping of the old Kytheon, Hero of Akros decks. Gryff's Boon is as good as it's ever been at pressuring planeswalkers and getting through those final points of damage. And Declaration in Stone in a hyper-aggressive deck is as good as it was before.
Always Watching is especially good with the exert mechanic since you get to use it every turn instead of every other turn. Vigilance thus does double duty in this deck. When you give vigilance to a creature with exert, it feels almost like giving double strike to a creature instead of just first strike. Always Watching was already one of the best cards in an aggro human deck, but it's off the charts good.
I also considered Metallic Mimic in this deck over Hanweir Militia Captain. I think that decision is close, but the rest of the inclusions feel right. A notable sideboard card that has not gotten much attention is Gideon's Intervention. It preemptively stops cards like Fumigate from ever being cast or it can keep a pair of Glorybringers from ever dealing any damage to anything. It can also stop Torrential Gearhulk. I like it in a lot of places where Declaration in Stone and/or Gryff's Boon are lackluster, namely anytime the opponent isn't playing blockers. It no longer serves a role of naming Felidar Guardian, but Runed Halo + Nevermore is too good not to give yourself access to in a white deck.
Another approach is to play red-white. I talked about a human-themed Boros deck a few weeks ago here. The only other card I would consider adding to that deck is Bloodlust Inciter as it can assist in some super explosive starts. I alluded to a different version that moved more in the direction of exert, which is what I will explore now.
The deck starts out as an aggressive human deck with the usual Thraben Inspector and Town Gossipmonger, but then instead of playing cards like Harsh Mentor or Kari Zev, Skyship Raider we play Gust Walker and Glory-Bound Initiate. These set up nicely for a third-turn Always Watching since they are nearly impossible to block profitably that early in the game.
Thalia's Lieutenant is the other way to pump the creatures to make them larger than any potential blockers, although of course vigilance is super vigilance in this deck just like it is in the mono-white version. Gideon of the Trials is also just as good in this build since it's a Human and pressures hard. It feels a lot like a tribal Human Loxodon Smiter in this deck.
Cast Out and Gideon of the Trials are basically the removal spells in this deck, but primarily Cast Out since we want to attack with Gideon whenever possible. Those aren't the only ways to deal with a creature or planeswalker though. Instead of running Expedition Envoy and Gryff's Boon we run Glorybringer and Needle Spires. Each of these cards provides a considerable amount of reach not offered by the mono-white version. And without needing to keep mana untapped to not die to infinity kitties and without needing to playing cards like Thalia, Heretic Cathar or Walking Ballista as proactive combo stoppers, we can freely tap out for a hasty dragon without fear of immediate death.
Glorybringer in particular is a great curve topper for this deck since it benefits from the super vigilance the same way Glory-Bound Initiate and Gust Walker do. With Always Watching on the battlefield it comes down, attacks for five, kills something, and stays back to block as a 5/5 flyer. That's quite the Magic card!
The sideboard has some self-explanatory cards like Declaration in Stone and Fragmentize, but there are a few interactions that might not be obvious. The first involves Oath of Chandra. Against decks with small creatures we bring in Oath of Chandra, but we also bring it in against decks with planeswalkers. For instance, consider if the opponent plays Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. If we have Oath of Chandra on the battlefield, we can cast Chandra, Torch of Defiance and use the +1 ability to deal two damage to their Gideon. Then on our end step Oath of Chandra deals two more damage to Gideon, finishing him off. That's the first interaction with Oath of Chandra. The other is simply playing it to kill their creature and then following it up with Gideon of the Trials and using the +1 ability to keep their next creature at bay. They then take two damage from the Oath, setting us up to turn the corner and start attacking with Gideon the following turn. Depending on how prevalent control strategies become, I would consider playing Oath of Chandra main.
The other key sideboard card is Selfless Spirit. Opponents will likely bring in Fumigate and/or Sweltering Suns against us as a way to slow us down and gain card advantage so they can overwhelm us with superior card quality in the midgame. We combat this by boarding out some amount of Always Watching and some of the more aggressive creatures in favor of planeswalkers and Selfless Spirit. Selfless Spirit can counter their Wrath effect or protect Glorybringer from their Harnessed Lightning. It can also transform Archangel Avacyn, the other card we bring in. So we basically have a transformational sideboard plan in which we bring in planeswalkers and creatures that match up better against mass removal spells. It will be hard to wipe our board in the face of Avacyn and Selfless Spirit, especially when half our board presence consists of planeswalkers. The name of the game will be figuring out what strategy the opponent will use against us and then react accordingly, leaving them with a bunch of wrong answers to the threats we present.
That's a tough question since the parameters of the format were just given to us days ago (hours ago from the time of my writing this article), but if I were playing in a tournament this weekend I would play the White/Red Exert deck. It has the highest overall power level and showcases two of the most exciting cards in Amonkhet – Gideon of the Trials and Glorybringer. The numbers on these decks are unlikely to be perfect, but the same will be true for each of your opponent's decks. To me this is when Magic is the most fun. It's a time when deck building is fresh and challenging and everyone is hard at work innovating and trying to figure what cards are best and what are the best ways to use them. I don't think anyone expects me to show up in Nashville without Gideon in my deck, but the really question is which Gideon will it be? Will it be Gideon of the Trials, Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, or both?