For those of you who don’t know me too well, I’m one of those players who just refuses to play the known best deck in any given format. The only reason I have for this is that I just don’t enjoy playing the deck that is set, dead center, in everyone’s crosshairs before a tournament even starts. Despite each of my friends telling me that I should play UW Delver in Standard right now like everyone else, I’ve been determined to find something that beats UW Delver instead. After playing countless online games of Standard during the past two weeks, I’ve finally found something that seems to beat UW Delver more consistently than anything else, while still having a good game against most of the other decks in the format.
Here is my take on UB Heartless Summoning:
In most of its games, this deck functions much like the traditional ramp deck. Just like RG Ramp, it has Solemn Simulacrum and Sphere of the Suns—but instead of Rampant Growth it has Heartless Summoning, which lets you do some of the most inherently powerful things in the format. Also like RG Ramp, this deck usually wins in a combo-like fashion, similar to the way Primeval Titan closes out its games.
One of the main roads to victory is playing Rune-Scarred Demon and chaining it into any number of Phantasmal Images in order to win with an army of Demons. However, most games are won on the back of Massacre Wurm—which in this deck is usually even better than [card elesh norn, grand cenobite]Elesh Norn[/card]. Massacre Wurm by itself will often wipe out an opponent’s board; but when combined with Phantasmal Image, Massacre Wurm can sometimes win the game the turn it is played. If Massacre Wurm + Phantasmal Image isn’t enough to win that turn, two 6/5s (or 5/4s with Heartless Summoning in play) against a now empty board usually does the trick.
Before I discuss the matchups, I’m going to talk about some of the card choices in this list, as well as some of the cards I decided not to include:
This is the contribution from Avacyn Restored that makes this deck playable right now. Against UW Delver, the ability to play an uncounterable Massacre Wurm (or any other huge threat) is what allows you to win the majority of your games. Most often, Cavern will be played naming Demon (Griselbrand and Rune-Scarred Demon) or Wurm (Massacre Wurm and Wurmcoil Engine). Sometimes it will name Sphinx for Consecrated Sphinx, and it will occasionally be played naming Illusion.
This is one of the more unorthodox card choices in this list, but since this card absolutely shines against UW Delver and is still a live card in most other matchups, I felt it was worthy of maindeck inclusion. When playing against UW Delver, the two biggest problem cards are Delver of Secrets and Vapor Snag—Mental Misstep deals with both of them. One common play against UW Delver is to cast Rune-Scarred Demon to search for Mental Misstep, protecting it from Vapor Snag. Although it comes up less often, Griselbrand can now protect itself from Vapor Snag as well by using his ability to dig for Mental Misstep.
This deck’s manabase is extremely stable due to Cavern of Souls, Sphere of the Suns, and Solemn Simulacrum. Since the deck rarely suffers from mana issues, I felt there was room for one colorless land. Haunted Fengraf can function as a mediocre spell late in the game, while still working as a 25th land when you need it.
I’ve seen some other versions of this deck lately that run Phrexian Rager, but it’s not really a card I can get behind. I don’t like the idea of paying one mana for a 1/1 and a card, when you can be doing much more powerful things with Heartless Summoning in play. Also, this version of the deck actually functions very well with two Heartless Summonings in play, and unfortunately for Rager the second Heartless Summoning only hurts his playability.
Although this combo is cute, it’s not much more than that. With Heartless Summoning in play this works well—the issue is that the other combos in this deck also work well with Heartless Summoning in play. I built this version of the deck to still be good in the games that you don’t draw Heartless Summoning, and this combo isn’t too exciting without the namesake card.
I built this deck with the intention of beating UW Delver, and so far I’ve beaten the deck in about 75% of my matches. While this isn’t the most phenomenal win percentage, it’s definitely better than most decks in this format can boast.
If you can resolve Heartless Summoning, it makes the games a lot easier. It helps that you can almost always afford to wait to play around Mana Leak, to make sure your Heartless Summoning resolves. The games are almost always won through resolving Massacre Wurm, and Consecrated Sphinx helps to buy you time if you haven’t drawn a Wurm yet. Mental Misstep should only be used to counter a Delver of Secrets in the first couple of turns, or a Vapor Snag later on in the game. Don’t waste Mental Misstep on Ponder or Gitaxian Probe!
Games two and three play a little bit differently than game one, mainly due to the presence of Celestial Purge. Griselbrand and Rune-Scarred Demon are too much of a liability post-board, since they’re a lot harder to cast if your Heartless Summoning gets Purged—so the games are typically won with Consecrated Sphinx, and of course Massacre Wurm. Surgical Extraction helps a lot, since it can basically counter any Snapcaster Mage and can be used on Vapor Snag at any point in the game. Getting rid of all the opposing Vapor Snags makes the game much easier, so Surgical Extraction should typically target Vapor Snag at the first opportunity. The ability of Surgical Extraction to let you look at your opponent’s hand is also helpful.
Although there are many different versions of Birthing Pod, most games play out the same. This is the best matchup for this deck simply because of Massacre Wurm. Massacre Wurm + Phantasmal Image is often enough to deal 20 damage by itself, especially when Pod has a couple Strangleroot Geists in play.
It helps that the Pod decks don’t have much in the way of removal besides Zealous Conscripts, and possibly Dismember. Zealous Conscripts is the only worrisome card they typically have. As long as you can play around Zealous Conscripts, the games are pretty straightforward.
Post-board, Griselbrand is too much of a liability against Zealous Conscripts to keep in, and Mental Misstep doesn’t do enough when all they have are Birds of Paradise and Llanowar Elves. Just like when playing against UW Delver, you want to replace the more expensive creatures with 6-drops so you don’t lose to a swarm of creatures. As long as you can survive the early turns, you should have no trouble winning.
This is the matchup where Griselbrand really shines. Typically, the only way they have to remove Griselbrand is Beast Within, and you can almost always afford to pay the seven life right away anyway. Phantasmal Image is obviously really good at copying Titans, and the matchup only gets difficult if they are able to get a quick Titan start and then go aggressive with Inkmoth Nexus.
Since you play similar to a ramp deck, you can usually just go over the top post-board with your Karns and your Griselbrands. Despise helps stop [card garruk, primal hunter]Garruk[/card], [card karn liberated]Karn[/card], or Primeval Titan. Since they don’t have many ways to kill it, Consecrated Sphinx is just pure value and also serves as a blocker for Inkmoth Nexus when you need it to be.
This matchup is much harder than the others, since you can’t rely on Massacre Wurm for any free wins. The cards that work the best against this kind of deck—Rune-Scarred Demon and Griselbrand—are very bad against the full set of Phantasmal Images most of the Esper decks are running. Consecrated Sphinx is also annoying against Phantasmal Image since you both usually end up drawing most of your deck if the Sphinxes are facing off. Usually in this scenario, you’ll just draw as many cards as you can until they stop, since Massacre Wurm + 2 Images is often good enough to just kill them on the spot.
For games 2 and 3, the game plan changes quite a bit. Instead of trying to play the combo role, you have to play a more controlling game. Despise helps against Phantasmal Image, which is more of a nuisance after board since you no longer have a strong combo way to win the game. If they play Phantasmal Image on your Consecrated Sphinx, drawing your deck is no longer a guaranteed victory.
But, even after board you still want to draw most of your deck with Sphinx, since Despise + Surgical Extraction can get rid of most of their action before they even have a chance to play it. Surgical Extraction will hit Phantasmal Image the majority of the time, and it’s also helpful to hit Lingering Souls if given the opportunity.
Even though Massacre Wurm doesn’t deal with Geralf’s Messenger very well, it is still the best card you have to deal with the onslaught of creatures that Zombies can throw at you. Massacre Wurm is also the best way to deal with Falkenrath Aristocrat, which is very problematic for this deck. Surgical Extraction will almost always hit Geralf’s Messenger in response to the undying trigger, and it will sometimes hit Phantasmal Image in response to undying as well.
This is not an easy deck to play by any means, but if you can learn to play it well it’s very rewarding. Since it has a pretty good matchup against UW Delver, and a very good matchup against the Birthing Pod decks, I would highly recommend this deck to anyone looking to play something different in Standard right now. In my opinion, this is also one of the most fun decks to play at the moment. With UW Delver being the top deck, I know I’ll be playing Heartless Summoning in Standard at least until M13 changes things up.
Thanks for reading!
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