If you’re playing Standard, you’re starting with white. You’re also probably going to pair that with green, but white aggro decks have proven to be the best of that variety in the format. GW Tokens and Bant Company (with or without Humans) are the undisputed pillars. Not playing 4 copies of Dromoka’s Command likely means not making the Top 8 of a Grand Prix.
There was one deck in Pittsburgh that managed to slip through the cracks to the elimination rounds without 4 copies of Dromoka’s Command (yes, that’s right, there was only one). Being able to defend early, turn the corner in the midgame, remove creatures and planeswalkers 1-for-1, have answers for Archangel Avacyn, and get some card advantage in Languish has shown to be one of the few winning formulas against the Selesnya menace.
The GB or Sultai decks (some have a minor splash) start with an incredible creature selection. The MVP of Standard has got to be Sylvan Advocate. A 2-mana, 2/3 vigilance creature already offers exactly what you want against a variety of decks, able to play offense and defense in the early game.
The ability to scale dramatically once you get to 6 lands is what makes this the best creature in Standard. A 4/5 vigilance can tangle with virtually anything in combat, threaten planeswalkers, stay out of Grasp of Darkness range while surviving your own Languishes, and end the game in a hurry. This is before factoring in pumping up all of your creature lands, your awaken lands, and then those numbers scaling from having multiple Advocates. This is what makes the deck work and is one of the few cards you wouldn’t sideboard out in any matchup.
Tireless Tracker is essentially Courser of Kruphix, but not nearly as defensive. If you’re looking to turn the corner, this guy will do that perfectly. Tracker threatens to provide far more card advantage than even the advantage machine in Courser could. It doesn’t have the same toughness—at least initially—and won’t provide the same life total, but it works even better in decks that are looking to end the game. With so many lands in your deck, the Clue production is sure to flow.
Nissa, Vastwood Seer follows the same trend of creatures that are good early and late. You don’t mind Nissa coming down, getting you your extra card, and immediately trading off in combat or with a removal spell. Eventually your plan will be to return her from your graveyard or cast an additional copy when you’re ready to get to 7 lands, flip her, and start riding that card advantage machine. All of this in a 3 mana card.
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet is not a mandatory inclusion in the 60 card main deck, but you can be sure to find it somewhere in the 75. This is one of the most powerful creatures in the format against opposing creature decks, which is a huge part of Standard. While not as powerful against token strategies, Kalitas threatens to take complete control in decks that have plenty of removal spells to help generate Zombies.
The options for more expensive cards that either act as value, finishers, or both are pretty endless. Den Protector may be a 2-drop, but it tends to sit in your hand until turn 5 to guarantee value. The Gitrog Monster is perhaps the most disputed inclusion as a huge threat that’s hard to kill for many decks and that also helps accelerate growing your Sylvan Advocates and getting Tireless Tracker Clues, but that will also eat up your mana base. Woodland Bellower is some serious value and power, while Dragonlord Silumgar is the one card that these GB decks will often splash as a tough, evasive threat that is going to create card advantage versus Dromoka’s Commands trying to kill it and planeswalkers it can steal.
The spot removal suite is going to be a direct carryover from the WB Control decks in the format. Grasp of Darkness and Ultimate Price tend to be the best. Depending on your manabase, you will probably play 4 of one of these and 2 or more of the other. If your lands can support it, Grasp is the better spell, but most 3 color decks can not. Ruinous Path tends to be a 3-of as a solid removal spell, combos well with Sylvan Advocate, and is one of the few ways to guarantee you can kill a Gideon or Ob Nixilis.
Languish sweeping the boards of white based decks is what gives GB decks serious game against them. There will be board states after Thalia’s Lieutenants where this won’t do much, but those aren’t common. The fact that you can grow your Advocates, grow your Trackers, grow your Kalitas, and flip your Nissa to have every single card in your deck potentially work around Languish is pretty awesome. Decks tend to play 2-4 copies of this in the main deck, with 3 being the most common, and the rest of the playset in the sideboard.
Oath of Nissa may raise the most eyebrows in a deck that isn’t really looking for anything in particular and that often plays 0-1 planeswalkers. The fact that Oath can miss, albeit under 5% of the time, is a definite concern. In the end, it’s a single mana spell that should greatly help to guarantee you hit your land drops and your curve when you need to. Having to play more Forests to play this on turn 1 makes a card like Grasp of Darkness weaker, but the tradeoff is clear. When you need to find your powerful threats, your Advocates/Trackers early, or your mana, Oath is there to help.
Here’s the list Ben Stark used to finish within 1 match of the Top 8 at a Standard Open event:
Ben Stark, 18th place at the Standard Open
Stark opts to completely remove blue from his list and not have to worry about an additional color of mana. Without the power of Dragonlord Silumgar, he opts to use Woodland Bellower as a threat to help turn the corner and end the game in a hurry. Since you’re resolving a 6-drop, the Advocate you get will be huge or the Tracker you retrieve will have plenty of mana for Clue cracking.
Keep in mind that all of the various GB decks are going to play out similarly, but the way they close the game will vary dramatically. The ability to comeback versus a variety of decks is going to be diminished by not having access to Dragonlord Silumgar, although putting 10 power on the battlefield for 6 mana can end a game in a hurry in a different way.
Stark also plays multiple fewer lands than many similar lists, dropping all the way to 24 for a deck that tends to have 26. He also has 4 copies of Oath of Nissa, which is sometimes found as a 3-of, to help find more lands when needed.
Of note is that he still plays 4 copies of Evolving Wilds despite not having any blue mana to go find. Wilds happens to be so good with both Tireless Tracker and The Gitrog Monster that it’s still deemed worthy of inclusion, although this would definitely open up the question of whether it’s worth it to now splash the blue.
Finally, this list plays 2 copies of Ob Nixilis Reignited. Ob Nixilis is powerful, but slow, and can struggle against swarms of tokens or the card Collected Company. It also tends to be too slow against decks like White Humans and paying life for cards isn’t even very valuable in those matchups. Where it shines, however, is against similar decks. Being able to kill a Tireless Tracker or an opposing Gitrog is amazing and the card advantage is well worth the life loss in those matchups. Whether this is a card powerful enough to be played main, or whether 1-2 copies should be in the sideboard, remains to be seen.
Aleksa Telarov decided to opt in on the Sultai splash in route to being the only member of the GP Pittsburgh Top 8 to not play 4 Dromoka’s Commands. Here’s his list:
Aleksa Telarov, Top 8 at GP Pittsburgh
I strongly believe this will be close to the “go to” list going forward until Eldritch Moon mixes things up. It has a good mix of removal, the Den Protectors can come down early when needed but provide an advantage late, and there are Dragonlords to help in the GW matchup with planeswalkers you want to steal.
Brad Nelson has advocated playing a very similar list to Telarov, offering up cutting both Gitrog Monsters for a 4th Oath of Nissa and a copy of Ob Nixilis Reignited, but keeping the rest of the 75 the same.
One very interesting aspect of this list comes from the sideboard. Deathmist Raptor was a Standard powerhouse last year but has barely seen the light of day in quite a while. Being able to board up to 4 Deathmist Raptors, while also going up to 4 Den Protectors, means that your attrition game and ability to fight in the late game is going to be incredible in a variety of matchups. The Raptor is certainly “weak” to popular cards like Declaration in Stone and Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet, but it’s still a 3/3 deathtouch with upside. If they’re forced to Stone a single Raptor, you get to replace it with a Clue, and can continue on to set up a future chain.
As far as sideboarding with this deck, my general gameplan would be to go to the Raptor plan more often than not! If that’s the case, the most common question is going to be “why don’t you just main deck this plan?” and the answer to these questions tends to remain the same. There have been decks I have played in the past where I sideboard a card in for literally 100% of matchups, but still chose not to main deck it. The reason is because it is not amazing in any matchup necessarily, but decent in all. If I’m playing a metagame deck of any degree, I’m going to have a number of cards that are not going to be good in various matchups. Having something decent in every matchup is actually not where I want to be if I have the option to have something great versus a large percentage of the field and actively bad versus a smaller percentage.
Against pure control decks, like a WB Control or Grixis, I’m going to want a few answers to Kalitas, creature lands, and the occasional Eldrazi creature. This means against WB that Ruinous Path is my best option, since it can take down Thought-Knot Seer, Kalitas, Gideon, and Sorin. Against Grixis, the sorcery speed removal is worse, but both Grasp of Darkness and Ultimate Price will deal with Kalitas, Jace, and Goblin Dark-Dwellers. Ultimate Price is a little safer as double black isn’t a guarantee, but you won’t be able to deal with Fumaroles.
Duress and any other discard you may have is fantastic in these matchups. Board in every available copy.
Keep in mind that Oath of Nissa can basically come out in any matchup as it’s never incredible, but it’s always solid. If you’re not sure what to shave and want to play it safe, consider Oath of Nissa to be more expendable.
In mirror matches, Languish is the first card to go. I would also bring out Grasp of Darkness as the creatures get out of range quickly. I don’t want Duress for the mirror, but if you have Transgress the Mind, it’s very good.
Against White Human aggro decks, you want as much removal as you can get. Dead Weights certainly come in, as does Languish. I don’t love Ruinous Path in these matchups, but they may already be bringing in Gideon to deal with your Languishes, and even trading down on mana is worth it to keep the board as clear as possible. While Dragonlord Silumgar, The Gitrog Monster, and Ob Nixilis Reignited are great cards, they don’t do anything if they’re sitting in your hand, so I would cut everything expensive that I could.
Against Company decks, I would expect the games to go long and be a drawn out battle. You have answers to their creatures, but they have the card Collected Company. Your creatures will often be able to battle theirs, especially with help from Ultimate Price and Grasp of Darkness, but the matchup isn’t easy by any stretch.
My gameplan would be to go back to the Raptors/Den Protectors and play for the long game. In order to make room, I would be cutting Oath of Nissas. A single Languish can potentially come out as you have lots of creatures to help gum up the ground and don’t really want to get Languish flooded. With the Raptors in your deck to help shore up the late game, cutting some of your late game cards is reasonable. The Gitrog Monster would be the first to go, but if it’s already not in your deck, this could be something like a Dragonlord or even a Nissa.
If your Company opponent is playing Eldrazi, you should adjust slightly. This should be more obvious based on the colorless sources you see game 1, or if you see Matter Reshaper from your Rites opponent. If they have Matter Reshaper, consider boarding in Dead Weights for some number of Ultimate Prices, but otherwise board in the final Ruinous Path to deal with Reality Smasher (again shaving a Price).
Against GW Tokens, I would try to make few changes and likely not go to the Deathmist package. This isn’t because I think the Deathmist package is bad, per se, but because Virulent Plague is going to be an important card in winning the matchup. When that’s the case, you can’t trim on Oath of Nissa as you need the protection against Dromoka’s Command. Now, it may come up that they will be boarding out Commands, as it’s quite poor in the matchup, but I think Oath is solid enough and Deathmist isn’t outstanding enough to be taking this risk.
Kalitas is actually in an interesting spot here since much of your gameplan revolves around the very Virulent Plagues that make Kalitas unexciting, but it’s quite good against Hangarback Walkers. If you already have a Plague, you don’t need the Kalitas as an answer, so I would likely trim at least 1 of these. You can fix your removal up a bit as everything you have can kill Archangel Avacyn, but at least Ultimate Price can kill her after she flips or after Sylvan Advocate grows. The Gitrog Monster and Ob Nixilis again look pretty weak here, but you’re not actually boarding much in as your main deck is well set up. Trimming 1-2 copies of Languish also makes sense as Virulent Plague is just a better version of the same effect.
GB/x midrange decks are one of the potential answers to the GW dominance in the format. Which version do you think will perform the best down the stretch? Is Dragonlord Silumgar the potential answer to the format? And how well will the Deathmist Raptor sideboard plan fare in the final weeks of the current Standard season? Sound off in the comments!