Charleston was fast approaching, but I knew I would have to miss that Grand Prix. I was a bit bummed because I had been dreaming of some terrible idea involving Rakdos, Lord of Riots. The basic premise was that he was a reanimator target that was also a reanimator enabler, making all of your expensive giants castable. I put off formalizing the idea and figured I would wait until Charleston was over.
Charleston revived reanimator, and I was a little worried. You see, while reanimator already existed, the Craterhoof deck was the first one to realistically cast its fatties on a regular basis. Despite the differences in the internal engines, the hate toward the Craterhoof deck would equally impact me. The Golgari Charms to sweep the mana creatures and the Dissipate for the Unburial Rites would be just as frustrating against my deck.
So, after minimal testing with that list, I shifted toward a midrange value list. I recorded all of my testing from the Rakdos era forward, and it should be going up on the site soon. When I shifted from the combo-oriented deck, I wanted to play a value deck similar to the Makeshift Mannequin decks of the past. They had reanimation spells that were most often spent on 2/2s and 3/2s because the value from bringing those back was so high. I realized we kind of had that same shell in Standard right now, except instead of 2/2s, these things were actually big!
There was already a foundation for abusing ETB triggers. Restoration Angel is one of the best cards in Standard, bringing back Momentary Blink for UW value decks. We could very easily capture that power level and then try to emulate the Mannequin decks from past Standard. In the end, I think I captured just that, as the list reminded me very much of the deck that Brad, Brett, and myself all took to a Top 12 finish at 2009 Nationals. That deck was Jund-based, splashing for Mulldrifter. Here we ended up Naya based, splashing for our "Mannequin."
The list progressed piecemeal. First, Rakdos proved poor, so Huntmaster got a chance off the bench. Then Lingering Souls grew in value as the deck became more aggressive. The need for colorless mana was gone, so Flayer of the Hatebound became better creatures like Angel of Serenity or Armada Wurm.
When I left for the Grand Prix, that is basically what I had. Of course, all I could think about during my waking time on the plane was the list, so I began tinkering and working on a sideboard. I did not make any official changes to the list at that time, but I wrote down a ton of options that I had yet to try out. Things like Farseek, Borderland Ranger, and removal options covered my notes.
I showed up to the tournament site, where I would be rooming with Gerry and Cedric. I figured I would get their opinion on a few of the cards in the list before locking anything in. After talking with Gerry and confirming my fear that Lingering Souls was just a bunch of chump blockers much of the time, their continued inclusion was doubtful. If I were to move the Loxodon Smiters from the sideboard to the main, my mana would improve if nothing else and Smiter at least did things like trade with Silverblade Paladin.
Lotleth Trolls made even less sense at this point. Now, we really had no creature that had to be brought back from the graveyard and our mana could loosen up a lot on the black with both Lingering Souls and Lotleth Troll gone, but I would still need a 2-drop. The mana creatures were less relevant with Rakdos in the deck, so I opted to try out Farseek. A couple of last-minute games on Magic Online built some confidence in those changes, and from that point forward all of my changes would need to be based on theorycraft.
I opened up 4 sideboard slots when the Loxodon Smiters moved to the main, so I was looking for something to fill those holes. Someone suggested Golgari Charm, which made a lot of sense—it's a versatile tool. For my last two slots, I dug around in my box to see the options I had on hand. Luckily, past Conley was a genius and packed a pair of cards I would not have otherwise thought of: Triumph of Ferocity. That card ended up kicking so much butt and overperformed. The list as I registered it on Saturday was:
While I had done a decent amount of testing to arrive at the above deck, I had not actually tested this exact list. I registered and then went over to play some games with Harry Corvese who would eventually also make Top 8. I crushed him pretty soundly in about 5 straight games before he picked up his first and then retired. If nothing else, it gave me a sense of confidence going into the tournament, which is always nice.
We had a pretty good breakfast that Cedric was so kind to buy, and then I had to finish finding all of the cards for the deck. From there, my Day One went smoothly. I played against a Bant list, a GW Humans list, and then Zombies which gave me my only loss in the Swiss. The following round I actually drew against TurboFog, which was unwinnable in game 1. I should have conceded earlier to chance the win in the next two games, but when I won the second with 2 minutes left, it was assuredly going to hit time.
That put me in the X-1-1 bracket, which might have actually been a gift, as my deck apparently had pretty good matchups against anything that had a draw. For the next 5 rounds or so I would be paired against other X-1-1s, winning all of those matches. Eventually, with 3 rounds to go, I would get paired against an X-1 and leave the draw bracket, and the change was definitely apparent. In those 5 rounds prior, I battled Esper control decks and the occasional midrange strategy, but the immediate two rounds after I left the draw bracket were both BR Zombies—go figure.
The Top 8 did not go as well as I would have liked, but oh well. My first round matchup was against UW Flash, which is an extremely good one due to their lack of threat density and your abundance of it. Their removal is tempo-based rather than hard removal, making all of your 2-for-1s gain extra value.
Once I made it to the semis, I once again found myself paired against Zombies piloted by Matthew Pratser. I had beaten Matt in round 13 of the Swiss so I knew his list and at least roughly how he liked to play it. Unfortunately, in game 1, a mulligan backed by being light on mana with a ton of Thragtusks in hand did not bode well for me. In game 2, we started off with a mulligan fest. He stopped at 5 while I went all the way to 4. I actually couldn’t complain, as my hand was solid given the circumstances:
Unfortunately, that was not enough when I mistakenly put my 4th land, a Clifftop Retreat, into play tapped after surveying my lands twice and determining I had no Mountains or Plains. I had actually cast Farseek for Blood Crypt the turn before, but because my initial reaction was to grab Overgrown Tomb, I had forgotten what I ultimately fetched.
Normally, that wouldn’t be so bad, as I could just look to make sure, but I was not thorough enough to account for the dark corner we were in and failed to recognize the Mountain. All the players were playing in the same conditions, so I really can only blame myself here. On the mull to 4, giving up any advantage—in this case the extra damage I took from his creatures—is too critical of an edge to give.
Ultimately, my tournament would end there, but I was pretty happy with my finish regardless.
Not Your Average Bear
Throughout the Swiss, some of the benefits of running a rogue list were apparent, as I continued to face plays that I barely cared about. So I wanted to take a second to talk about a few of the ways not to play against this list:
• Two different people both brought Slaughter Games in against me. Don’t do that. I am sure they saw Unburial Rites and reached for the card that could answer that, but it is pretty bad against the deck. Unless you get lucky and pluck multiples out of my hand, you really aren’t doing anything except taking a turn off and discarding a card.
• UW Control and Esper Control. Do not let Huntmaster flip! That 2 damage might not kill anything, but it is going at your face, which adds up, especially when Restoration Angel adds an additional element of control over your Werewolves.
• Early game explosiveness and late game resiliency are the two things you need to look for as a Zombies player. You can win with the 1-drop, 2-drop, removal plus another 1-drop curve on occasion, and you can win with your second Thundermaw Hellkite—but that parade of Geralf's Messengers is not going to get the job done on its own.
Every List is Working for the Weekend
But of course, at the end of the day, you can only care so much about a list from last weekend. As the world turns, so too do the days of our... uh, I mean the Magic metagame. It is hard to say exactly what the reaction to San Antonio’s results will be. On the one hand, a known foe in Rakdos took both first and second, so people are likely to work on that matchup. On the other hand, aside from this list, there was not a ton of new stuff going on at the Grand Prix and a midrange deck without a specific targeted hate card is hardly going to get that much sideboard attention. As a result of that, I would primarily expect people to skew their lists toward beating Zombies, but keep those lists intact for the most part.
I am sure some people will remove their ways to interact with a Sphinx's Revelation and promptly be punished for it, so don’t be that guy. Chances are, your read on the metagame last week will be accurate this week, just account for Zombies and a single new list that I do not anticipate will be hugely popular, and you are good to go.
But as with any deck looking to stay current, our own certainly needs updating. Given that mild attempt at prediction, along with how the deck actually played out last weekend, where should we begin with the changes?
Well, the first thing to do is shore up the Rakdos match up. I thought the matchup was good, but if you stumble or they have a great draw, you can still lose. Gaining some percentage points in that matchup is important going into this weekend. I would begin by getting rid of the Borderland Ranger, who was the most commonly sideboarded out card and replace him with a Centaur Healer. This is subtle, but will help out aggro matchups a bit. I would also try to fit another Healer or two in the sideboard to ensure that you have a solid 3-drop against Zombies.
+1 or 2 Centaur Healer in the sideboard
Armada Wurm turned out to be the worst fatty in the deck. Originally, I included it over other options like Angel of Serenity because of the easier casting cost. Finding WW in a solid 4-color deck was difficult. That said, at the event, I cut both Lotleth Troll and Lingering Souls, making my black that much less necessary. I think I would try to rework the mana a little bit and fit a different pair of 6- or 7-drops into the deck, such as the Angel.
As far as sideboard changes go, as I mentioned before, some number of Centaur Healer would be nice. Most of my sideboard was awesome, but there are a few cards that did not pull their weight. Zealous Conscripts came in often but never actually got cast, even in the few instances where I could do so. In theory he was going to take out planeswalkers, but in actuality, he never found a solid enough spot to do so.
Rest in Peace was good against decks like UW Flash, but I never played against Reanimator. If you think that trend will continue, this probably makes for a fine cut.
Ultimately, Olivia Voldaren, Acidic Slime, and Rakdos’s Return were all quite good for me, but none of them are essential to the sideboard. I would be sure to maintain the presence they have against certain matchups (for example, don’t cut Rakdos's Return for something good against only aggro) but the specific cards can be tailored to your tastes.
People tend to ask if I think deck X that did well last week is a good choice for the following week. Of course, when deck X is one of your own decks, that question is asked even more. In general, I am not a fan of taking a list card for card to any two different tournaments. There is always a chance to improve the list or tailor it to your own play style.
Regarding 4-Color Value Rites though (or Dark Naya, or whatever people are calling this), at its core, we have a very proactive deck without a lot of cards that can be individually hated out. Graveyard removal or disruption is a C against us at best. Sweepers are about in the same boat. Burn spells and little guys can only do so much. There is just not a heavily-played strategy or card that causes this midrange deck (similar to Jund if you need another reference) to fold up shop.
A specific deck could be made to hate out the list, but with only one week and a single copy of the deck providing data, you shouldn't worry about those extremes. I think that with the proper metagame prediction and the tuning to back that up, this list is reasonable to play for another week. Just be sure to have your game plan against Bant decks hammered out, because the matchup is more than winnable with correct lines, but abysmal if you just play your cards as they come.
For more specifics about card choices and stuff, check out the video series that should be going up on or around the time that this has and as always, thanks for reading!