Along with the mothership, this week at ChannelFireball is Selesnya Week. In keeping with the theme, I want to talk about one of the strongest decks I’ve had in early testing: GWx Ramp. For right now, the X is going to be black for Vault of the Archangel and Lingering Souls, though other colors certainly have options that may be stronger down the line ([card jace, architect of thought]Jace[/card] for example).
While I played around with other options such as Lingering Souls, [card selesnya keyrune]Keyrunes[/card], going red for [card bonfire of the damned]Bonfire[/card] & Mizzium Mortars, and other options, in the end I fell back on what I felt was the core of the deck, and made every extra card gain life or kill things. While my original lists didn’t have Armada Wurm, once it was spoiled it quickly moved in and made itself welcome as the second coming of Broodmate Dragon. By starting with the full set of Angel of Serenity in my test lists, I never felt like I was missing any of the buggers, which saved me some time, because she is absolutely incredible in a world where Zombies and midrange decks are good.
For reference, this is the core of the deck in my mind:
14-16 Ramp spells
Now for me those choices are all easy four-of’s, but after those 28 cards it gets a bit tougher. If you just rock that, you really need to devote your remaining space to staying alive. Zombies only got faster, and cards like Wolfir Silverheart, Zealous Conscripts and Sublime Archangel still exist to punish your slow starts. Most straight removal sucks against Zombies, since it either doesn’t stop the early drops effectively or costs too much. Instead I found that creatures like Knight of Glory and Centaur Healer were necessary to stall against Zombies until your huge drops came online. Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice was chosen primarily as a way to gain so much life that it negated multiple [card geralf's messenger]Messenger[/card] and Falkenrath Aristocrat starts, as there was no other cheap option (outside of miracle Terminus) that effectively countered them.
The only reason I don’t want to run more Trostani is because of how wretched extra copies get in the non-creature matches. While I considered keeping her in the board for this reason, it was the best life-gain plus blocker option under five mana. Where Centuar Healer is a solid if unexciting way of stalling Zombies for a turn, Trostani can actually lock the game up. Playing an Armada Wurm and gaining 10 life with three blockers effectively seals the game.
Having a way to interact with opposing Angel’s, Falkenrath Aristocrat, Wolfir Silverheart, and obnoxious creatures is pretty relevant. The bonus against token decks or multiple creatures can also be relevant, and the flashback being a realistic option is what pushes the card enough for me. It hits everything I want to get rid of outside of Geist of Saint Traft, and I have no idea how prevalent that card will be in a world running way more creatures and trying to race.
This card fell out of favor in the main deck because of the increase in toughness across all my test decks. I just didn’t want to spend five mana to trade with a guy and make a few chump blockers, even though for one card that’s not a bad deal at all. Against control and even against other ramp decks, playing a Souls and then activating [card gavony township]Township[/card] can grind the game out, but in other matches it was too slow to be a real option.
I really like Selesnya Charm as another way to interact with high impact threats at instant speed that isn’t dead early—you can just pop a 2/2 out and block. Terminus is sweet as well and the only reason I don’t run some number of them main deck is lack of space. You can’t afford to run all four and skimp on defensive cards you’ll actually be able to cast on turn three consistently. Oblivion Ring ranks higher if Jace makes an immediate impact instead of taking the first two weeks to find a good home.
Vault is the best black card and really the only reason to even bother with black in the deck. Travis Woo may be right in that you just want the full set no matter what, mana be damned. With a Vault and any of your fatties you can race or buy multiple turns simply by activating. It forces the opponent into making odd sequencing decisions if you’re just going to Vault every turn, or simply attack and then slam an Angel of Serenity onto the board. I shouldn’t need to go into detail about why Armada Wurm and Vault just ends Zombies if you’re allowed an untap step. If you run Lingering Souls main in your version, you know what kind of sick defense you have if you just sit back with open mana and Spirit tokens.
General play notes:
Just as with the older decks, you can’t afford to keep hands without at least one ramp spell, and all of your good hands require at least two. Without sweepers it becomes more important to keep hands that actually do something, and you can’t get bailed out by Whipflare or Slagstorm. Don’t keep a no-ramp hand because you have a Centaur Healer and [card vault of the archangel]Vault[/card]. Playing against Zombies, Mono-Red or WG Aggro is asking to get run over on the draw, or sometimes even on the play—even if you do slam a Thragtusk on the table. This deck doesn’t comfortably stabilize until it plays Armada Wurm or Angel of Serenity, and preferably even that is backed by Vault.
Since half your ramp is in creature form, the variety of hands you can keep against removal heavy decks narrows, and it makes a big difference in the details. For example, Zombies with red is going to be more likely blasting away your various Elves while clocking. Against BG, even if they run [card abrupt decay]Decay[/card], they usually won’t bother since them wasting a turn to kill an Elf ends up as a wash. Zombies has a far better trade when they only have to spend one to [card pillar of flame]Pillar[/card] it on turn 2/3, and can still make another play on that same turn. Even though Zombies is faster, they still have to typically deal 25-30 damage instead of just 20. In some games they could very well need to grind you out from 40+ life gained over the course of the game.
This deck has no real chance game one against a deck running 6ish counterspells and removal. You need to overpower them with sheer numbers, and even getting Ranger’s Path countered is a huge blow for the deck when trying to ramp up high enough for sixes and sevens. Cavern of Souls can help, but your threats are varied in type, and again getting your Ranger’s Path countered is just a huge blow. If you want a good anti-control sideboard try running planeswalkers, or the Travis Woo idea of Cavern of Souls into Griselbrand. All I know right now is that this deck is doing a lot of powerful things, and it doesn’t run into the problems I’ve had with Reanimator so far: decks having easy access to removal that’s good against giant monsters, and cheap and plentiful graveyard hate.
This is the other on-theme deck that I’d feel comfortable recommending to players early on. It’s one of the few decks with a valid curve and solid anti-Zombie measures in the main deck and sideboard. It isn’t quite as powerful as similar Humans decks were pre-rotation, but it retains arguably the best one-drop in the format with Champion of the Parish, has multiple anti-Zombie cards, and Sublime Archangel as a powerful finisher. You also now have a good spell that can take care of huge creatures in Selesnya Charm which doubles as a useful combat trick, and Gavony Township should need no introduction.
Yes, I’m a bit of a wuss when it comes to building these mana bases, and I really wanted one more land that could make green. Since there’s no more anthem effects to really abuse for this deck, it takes a bit of a hit and makes green even more important than it was previously. While you no longer have Honor of the Pure, Rancor is still around to power up your 1/1′s and fliers until [card gavony township]Township[/card] comes online. Once that happens you can either freely alpha strike until the opponent is dead, or if the opposing board is too beefy, simply pump for two or three turns straight and try to outgrow his army.
Even against midrange decks that try to gum up the board, I’m always amazed at how a few Township activations can put so much pressure on the opponent even though they can still play their huge spells. Your deck also excels at ground stalls, since nearly all of your creatures either come with first strike or flying this time around.
I’ll freely admit that the sideboard is a bit of a mess and most of the utility I wanted from it already ended up in the main deck. Triumph of Ferocity is a unique card drawing engine against control strategies, and generally quite effective. Garruk Relentless reprises his classic role of making a bunch of Wolves until he gets sent to [card detention sphere]detention[/card]. I actually want to fit the fourth Sublime Archangel into the main deck, but I’m not quite sure what I want to cut to make that happen outside of possibly a War Falcon. The high end on this deck actually doesn’t mind seeing multiples, and Sublime can just end the game in two swings with a decent board, making up for your inability to effectively run Wolfir Silverheart.
There isn’t much to talk about in terms of play style or general tips, since the deck is very straightforward. The percentage of opening weekend Supreme Verdict decks should be low, and that’s what you’ll be most afraid of, since [card thalia, guardian of thraben]Thalia[/card] and Judge’s Familiar can at least stall out a Bonfire of the Damned. Sublime Archangel also remains a threat that survives most hard cast Bonfires, and can still kill the opponent on the back swing. My personal favorite Bonfire situation was getting hit for X=2, saving my Silverblade Paladin with Selesnya Charm, and then untapping and slamming Archangel, cracking for 8 and killing my opponent. Sadly there’s little you can do about a miracle Bonfire , unless your opponent walks into an onboard Judge’s Familiar (which is something I will fully expect to see happen on MTGO more than once).
Well that’s it for the competitive decks that fall under the Selesnya guild. Outside of those two decks, the other three I feel will likely do the best this weekend include Zombies of various sorts, Mono-Red, and UWx control. Control decks have the tools to work in this environment thanks to Ravnica. Properly tuning a shell for such an open metagame, however, is going to be very difficult. All the early control decks will likely be skewed against Zombies, and the rest just packing as many power cards as possible to cover ground across all matches. Good luck this release weekend!
Email me at: joshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom