Sylvan Caryatid and Courser of Kruphix

I’ve spent two weeks playing nonstop Standard preparing for, and competing in Pro Tour M15 in Portland, Oregon. While I eventually settled on CFB Pantheon’s team deck choice of W/B Midrange, my tournament preparation was more or less universally focused around two cards: Sylvan Caryatid and Courser of Kruphix.

If you were to look at my deck choices over the past couple of years, it would come as no surprise that I was drawn to these cards. They’re efficient, defensive green creatures that serve as the perfect shell for a midrange creature deck—my absolute favorite strategy for constructed magic.

However, it wasn’t just an issue of personal preference; I also believe that Sylvan Caryatid and Courser of Kruphix are among the best cards in standard. Sylvan Caryatid smooths your mana and makes your draws more explosive with a level of consistency that hasn’t been possible since Farseek left standard. It blocks the early creatures out of the aggro decks, and protects your planeswalkers, all while making your opponent’s removal look silly.

Courser of Kruphix is similarly an excellent defensive drop that dodges Bile Blight and cheap burn spells. It provides long run card advantage and life gain, the importance of which is difficult to overstate. When it’s all rolled into such an efficient package, it’s hard to imagine not wanting to play with Courser.

What’s more, green offers a diverse range of powerful tools for mana ramp strategies, and with the color fixing available in the format, the possibilities for how to build such a deck are endless. We know all there is to know about Pack Rat decks and Blue Devotion, but green is a (relatively speaking) unexplored world in standard.

G(r) Devotion

Green Devotion is the deck of my dreams. It’s fun to play, the power level is through the roof, and it has the most impressive nut draws possible in standard. Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx is a card that I desperately wanted to play in the Pro Tour. When left to its own devices, it leads to a degenerate amount of mana and makes it easy to bury an opponent under a stampede of giant monsters and planeswalkers. Even when things don’t go perfectly according to plan, a land that sometimes taps for two mana instead of one in the mid and lategame is still an unbelievably great card.

In testing one of his early brews, Patrick Chapin and I quickly identified the power of Genesis Hydra. The fact that the permanent it puts into play is uncounterable can cause big problems for control decks, especially in combination with planeswalkers. Against one-for-one removal decks like Monoblack, getting two threats for the price of one card is exactly what you need to get ahead.

Thus, G(r) Devotion began to take form in our gauntlet. It closely resembled Makahito Mihara’s deck from the Top Eight of Pro Tour Theros, except with the important additions of Genesis Hydra and Nissa, Worldwaker. The deck featured as many planeswalkers as could be supported in the devotion shell, which made for the possibility of overwhelming draws, resilience against Supreme Verdict, and the opportunity for plenty of utility and value in close games against removal based decks.

A big secret of Green Devotion is that Chord of Calling is a red herring. It’s overcosted, meaning that it has a higher ratio of mana spent to impact on the game compared to simply casting a creature directly from your hand. More importantly, it’s not a creature card itself, which serves to lower the potency of cards like Domri Rade and Garruk, Caller of Beasts, which might otherwise be your best cards.

I was loving Genesis Hydra, particularly when I was fortunate enough to hit a planeswalker off the top of my library. I came to call it “the new Bloodbraid Elf,” and began searching for other noncreature permanents that I could put into play.

Hydra Naya

Hydra Naya had a similar feel to Bloodbraid Elf Jund. You had a powerful, proactive gameplan that could kill an opponent remarkably quickly if they didn’t have a proper defense. However, it also had a critical mass of reactive cards to neuter the assault of a faster deck (particularly important against decks like Monoblue and White Weenie). In casting a Genesis Hydra, even for X=3, you had a good chance to hit a no-questions-asked removal spell, simultaneously removing your opponent’s best threat and adding a creature to your side of the table.

What this deck lost in the explosiveness of Nykthos, it gained in its smoother mana curve, and its ability to interact with the opponent. As mentioned, where the Green Devotion deck wanted to be casting Genesis Hydras for X=5 or more when possible, Naya could cast them for X=3 and have a fine chance of getting a very relevant two-for-one.

These decks were performing fine in testing, and I feel that both are tournament-ready lists in their current form. However, they weren’t quite what I was looking for.

I was finding that decks with a very high concentration of mana were excessively vulnerable to Thoughtseize and Lifebane Zombie out of public enemy number one, Monoblack. Say, for example, you were to open on a hand like:

This is an excellent hand that I’d be thrilled to see against an unknown opponent. However, if a well-timed Thoughtseize strips away Xenagos, the Reveler, you might draw air for a few turns and just wait around to be killed by Pack Rats or Lifebane Zombies.

Worse yet, say you open on:

Again, this is a hand you should keep without a second thought. Unfortunately, if your Elvish Mystic gets Thoughtseized or eats a Bile Blight, you won’t be casting a spell until turn 4, and that’s if you’re lucky enough to draw lands!

While these decks weren’t horrible against black in a statistical sense, the gameplay was frustrating in that there were so many things that could go wrong, and many of your losses came in games where you felt you barely got to play.

B/G Nissa Rock

When I shifted my focus to the B/G shell, the explosiveness of the original Green Devotion deck was all but gone. However, what was left was a very consistent, difficult to attack rock deck. Cards like Bile Blight and Tidebinder Mage, which had been a nightmare for Elvish Mystic, were now bad cards against you. You had enough removal to shut down Monoblue and other aggro decks, and superb sideboard options against control decks.

Nissa, Worldwaker is a card that I had mixed feelings about, but was legitimately very good in this deck. Standing on her own, she represented a resilient threat that could end the game very, very quickly once you were ready to. Moreover, in a deck with a lot of Forests, you could often cast her, untap lands, and play another spell in the same turn.

The greatest appeal was the way she comboed with Underworld Connections. For one thing, you could put the Connections on a Forest and use Nissa to draw even more cards every turn. Conveniently, drawing extra cards goes well with generating extra mana, and a turn or two of Nissa+Connections left the opponent utterly buried.

B/U/G ‘Walkers

Scry lands are extremely powerful in these slower rock-style decks, so splashing a third color comes at little cost. B/U/G was one combination that I particularly liked, as Kiora is a great planeswalker that has natural synergies with Courser of Kruphix and Underworld Connections, and is at her best in a deck with Sylvan Caryatid and black removal to protect her.

Blue also offers some excellent sideboard options, particularly for shoring up your control matchup.

Junk

The final days before the Pro Tour were desperate times. My teammates and I had come up with an impressive assortment of competitive homebrew decks, but nothing that really had a great matchup against Monoblack. To see if I could do it, I reconfigured my deck to support Blood Baron of Vizkopa and finally achieved a convincingly favorable matchup against Monoblack.

A few teammates and I were close to playing the above Junk deck at the Pro Tour, but in the end decided that B/W Midrange could do many of the same things, but in a more elegant and streamlined way.

I’ll close with a few words about one other deck we considered.

Pierre Mondon, Top 4 Pro Tour M15

A week before the tournament, Jund planeswalker decks began showing up on Magic Online, and one broke through to the top eight of a Starcitygames.com Standard Open. I badly wanted this deck to be good, as it seemed like a fun and powerful strategy that meshed well with my personal preferences.

The deck initially showed a lot of promise, having an excellent game one against black decks. It also crushed opposing Caryatid/Courser decks, and was, in fact, one of the reasons that I wound up setting aside my Junk deck.

Unfortunately, the strong game one against Monoblack was largely due to Bile Blight and other removal spells underperforming. Once the bad cards came out and the Duresses came in, Black starting winning again. Sideboard games considered, Jund planeswalkers isn’t noticeably better than 50/50 against black.

Moreover, I’d grown to hate the unreliable Elvish Mystic. It didn’t fix your colors, and turned the otherwise-weak Tidebinder Mage and Bile Blight into major problems.

Without Elvish Mystic, though, the deck wasn’t explosive enough, and the draws without Sylvan Caryatid were often poor. Planeswalkers are at their best when you’re even or ahead on the board, but if you didn’t have a great start, then a deck so saturated with planeswalkers had a hard time clawing back into the game.

On the whole, Jund planeswalkers is a fine deck that’s a lot of fun to play, but I don’t think its the absolute best deck in the format.

None of my Sylvan Caryatid/Courser of Kruphix brews wound up being strong enough to deviate from the team deck for Pro Tour M15. However, the time was still well spent, as it gave me a deeper understanding of the format, and taught me a number of great ways to make use of the best green cards in standard. Any of the decklists in this article would be a fine choice for an upcoming tournament, and perhaps there’s even room to improve on some of them! I hope you’ll give them a try.

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