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Perfecting GB in Standard

Today I’d like to share my favorite deck in Shadows over Innistrad Standard. It’s a well-rounded deck with elements of midrange, ramp, and control. At its core, it’s a rock deck featuring the very best cards in black and green, and the highest level of consistency you can find in a Standard deck.

It’s a bit late in the season to introduce a new Standard deck, but what you’ll find in this article won’t exactly be “new” information. It’s the finishing touches after a deep exploration of the format. I’ve tried GB and GBx decks of every size, shape, and variety over the past few months. In this finished version, I took the elements I liked from all of them, and meshed them together into the best, most consistent deck I could come up with.

I can’t promise that it’s the best deck in Standard, but I know that it’s my favorite one. I played it to three deep runs in Grand Prix (changing a small handful of cards each time), but came up short of a Top 8 finish. In a format of sketchy mana bases, unbeatable draws, and decisive die-rolls, it’s refreshing to play such a consistent deck that you can count on to play roughly the same way every game.

GB Rock

Most of the card choices should be fairly straightforward—the deck is composed of the format’s most efficient creatures and removal spells. If you were allowed to play a 50-card deck, there wouldn’t be much left to talk about. Unfortunately, the drop-off in power level once you get beyond Sylvan Advocate, Tireless Tracker, Nissa, Vastwood Seer, and Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet is remarkable. You’d next have to turn to cards like Den Protector, Duskwatch Recruiter, or Ob Nixilis Reignited—these are perfectly good cards, but they require you to invest a lot of mana to get the effect you want, which puts an already-slow deck at risk of being run over.

So when Plan A of efficient creatures fails to win the game, the Plan B I like to turn to is the Seasons-Past-plus-Dark-Petition engine. It’s a slow way to do things, but it’s extremely powerful and will virtually guarantee victory if the game drags on indefinitely. The real beauty of it, though, is that it offers a tremendous boost in late-game power at the cost of very few slots in your deck—basically just one! Dark Petition is a fine card for finding Languish, Ruinous Path, a card advantage spell, or a sideboard bullet, but under the right circumstances, using it to chain Seasons Past might be the best thing you can be doing in Standard.

Which leads us to the last handful of slots in the main deck, which are ramp spells. I’ve never played a deck like this before—one that’s not a dedicated ramp deck, but makes use of the odd Explosive Vegetation here and there. I’ve found it to be the perfect way to round things out. They give you access to proactive plays that are good against any opponent, they play great with Advocate, Tracker, and Nissa, and they take Seasons Past from glacially slow into a realistic possibility.

Putting it all together gives you the proactivity and late-game power of a ramp deck, the versatile answers of a control deck, and the smooth efficiency of a regular creature deck.

What’s Wrong With The Traditional Seasons Past Deck?

Seasons Past Control

 Jon Finkel, Top 8 at Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad

This was where things started for me. I loved the answer cards that black had to offer, and wanted to pair them with the inevitability of Seasons Past. The problem was that I was leaving some of Standard’s best cards at home.

It didn’t take me many games before I decided that I was going to play with Sylvan Advocate, Tireless Tracker, and Nissa, Vastwood Seer for the whole season. Not only are these among the best cards in Standard, but they give you a level of consistency that many of the format’s other hallmark cards (Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, Archangel Avacyn, Chandra, Flamecaller) didn’t offer. They’re good on both offense and defense, and they’re cheap cards which are excellent at any point in the game.

People made a big mistake by building a BG deck that didn’t take advantage of these creatures.

What’s Wrong With Sultai? Abzan?

Sultai Midrange

Aleksa Telarov, Top 8 at GP Pittsburgh

Absolutely nothing is wrong with Sultai Midrange, nor with the Abzan Midrange deck that I spent a handful of weeks working on. Beyond the cards I’ve mentioned above, one of green’s greatest appeals is Oath of Nissa. Oath serves like a Ponder or a Preordain, smoothing your draws, and increasing the chances that you’ll find what you need when you need it. It’s a big reward for building a creature deck that can reach that 43-45 “hit” (creature, planeswalkers, and lands) mark that you need to use Oath to its full potential.

As an aside, if you can get to about 38 hits, you won’t miss with Oath of Nissa very often. But you won’t find what you want very often, either (you’ll often have to take a land in the late game, etc.). On the other hand, there’s no such thing as too many hits—Oath of Nissa will be at its best in a deck of 56 creatures and lands. 43 is the number of hits where I become excited about putting Oath in my deck.

There are 3 reasons why I prefer GB Rock to Sultai Midrange. The first is that I have a hard time finding the requisite 17+ creatures that I’m happy to be playing with in my main deck in Standard. The power level drops off fast, and it forces you into a position where you get punished by Reflector Mage, and where your Languishes aren’t as powerful as possible.

The second reason is that I think these decks are just a little bit too slow. GB isn’t much faster, but having more lands that enter the battlefield untapped, and a small amount of ramp as a speed boost actually helps quite a lot.

Finally, I think the costs of the splash color are slightly higher than the rewards. Dragonlord Silumgar is a truly awesome card, and I play it every time my deck has both blue and black mana. But I found that I was losing more games to being unable to cast Grasp of Darkness on turn 2 than I was winning by upgrading my Woodland Bellowers (my on-color 6-drop of choice) to Silumgars. That’s not even to mention that you’ll sometimes hit 6 mana and still not have found blue mana for your splash card.

What’s Wrong With The Great Aurora?

I also played a bit with “bigger” versions of BG Ramp, like this one.

Black-Green Aurora Control

Sam Black, 13th place at GP New York

I found that a Seasons Past alongside 2 copies of Dark Petition gave me enough late-game power that I rarely had to worry about getting outclassed or running out of powerful things to spend my mana on. The Great Aurora and Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger are fun cards that are both castable and useful in GB Ramp. But it only takes a few games of mulliganing to 6 and looking at a 10-drop card in your opening hand before you start asking yourself if there’s another way. I believe this is a case where you can get 90% of the late-game power for a much, much lower cost, so it’s a good idea to streamline things and let yourself operate closer to the ground.

The Strengths and Weaknesses of GB Rock

In traditional “rock” style, most of the matchups for GB are quite close. The GW Tokens and Bant Company matchups—the bulk of the metagame—hover just slightly above 50/50 for GB. WB Control and White Weenie are noticeably favorable (but still not better than 60/40). You crush the Cryptolith Rite decks on the back of Kalitas and Languish.

The only matchup that I’m really scared of with GB Rock is dedicated ramp, which I lost to (or drew with) once at each of the 3 Grand Prix. Ramp makes up only a fairly small portion of the metagame, and it requires such a large investment for slow decks to contend with that I believe it’s simply not worth trying. I’ll accept ramp as a bad matchup in favor of being as good as possible against the rest of the field.

If you’re looking for a new deck for the final month of Shadows over Innistrad Standard, then I recommend GB Rock. If you’re simply an aspiring deckbuilder or a Golgari aficionado, then I hope you’ve taken some food for thought from my adventures through this Standard format.

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