Where Does Rally Stand Going into Houston?

Nobody doubts that Rally is the best deck in Standard—not anymore. But that doesn’t put it on the same pedestal as the Eldrazi menace in Modern. A fairly significant chunk of the Standard-playing population doesn’t want to play it either because the sheer number of triggers and math involved makes their heads explode. Not everyone wants to play small-ball, synergy, Aristocrats-type Magic where your Jenga tower wobbles precariously until Rally the Ancestors makes the whole process worthwhile.

Still, many of the best players will be packing Rally, so having a clear plan against a synergistic creature deck with Collected Company should be priority #1. The good news is that you have a variety of options—Landfall, Atarka Red, Abzan, Jeskai, Esper, and even Mardu can all be positioned to win game 1 and have a favorable post-board matchup. But you’ll need to actually think carefully about your card choices and sideboard plan, you won’t be able to just throw Rhinos at this problem.

Rally players also have a number of options in their own sideboard plans. If you know the opponent is aiming specifically at your Rally plan, then siding some number out along with smaller creatures and bringing in some heavy hitters is great. Equipping your Jeskai deck with the elements to kill all the X/3 creatures and Dispels is irrelevant when the opponent is playing Duress, Anafenza, and Siege Rhino instead. Some Bant Company decks jam a Dragonlord Ojutai or two in the board as a surprise threat in the grindy midrange wars and Rally can easily adopt this tactic.

Rally also put up great numbers at the RPTQs this weekend for a reason, so instead of going on about why Rally is the best, let’s focus on the decks that could beat it.

Abzan Blue

Jason Janasiewicz, 2nd in the ChannelFireball RPTQ

JJ has been playing Abzan for as long as I can remember and after cycling through about 10 different decks, settled on the advice of Sam Pardee and Jacob Wilson. After wiping the floor with three Rally players and some assorted nonsense, he has a sweet Q for Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad. This build pushes Warden of the First Tree to the extreme and cuts back on the 2-drops we typically see in the deck. We also see 4 instant-speed removal spells in the main deck along with the usual Reflector Mage/Stubborn Denial package.

Abzan’s new focus and resurgence came in direct response to Rally’s rise. Reflector Mage meant that Rally stopped running hard removal in the deck. Warden of the First Tree is a massive gut punch for Rally if they don’t see an early Reflector. Once it becomes a 3/3, it’s bigger than any of Rally’s options, and it only takes one activation of adding counters until Warden is a massive threat.

What makes this scary is that even if Rally has Reflector Mage, they may not even want to use it on Warden. Anafenza and Kalitas both force the Rally player to think about how they should spend their valuable resources. It hits all the key points for beating a Rally deck: cheap reasonable-sized threats, graveyard hate, and countermagic.

Jeskai Dragons

Jeskai Dragons took down a few slots for qualifications (congrats Donald!) and also won the MOCS event this past weekend. A few weeks ago, I expoundedon  what I felt were the virtues of the Jeskai deck and wanted to build upon the aggressive base by adding Thunderbreak Regent as well.

quikidk, 1st in the 2/21 MOCS event

One of the best reasons to pick the Dragons shell is that Draconic Roar kills pretty much everything in the Jeskai deck. The occasional Searing Blaze mode is a plus, but you just want to be able to kill anything Rally or Bant Company plays. Reflector Mage is missing from this particular build, but without additional 2-drops, it makes sense as you won’t be able to fully utilize the tempo gain. It’s still a solid card and can easily be slotted in, especially if you choose not to run Silumgar’s Scorn.

Speaking of Silumgar’s Scorn—yes or no? It comes down to whether you want to take an aggressive stance or a controlling one and only play aggressively against Rally. Quik’s deck is aimed more at dragging into a midrange game and winning by having cheaper catch-all answers and flyers. The deck that I worked on with Donald won by getting in cheap damage early and finishing up with flyers before they ever got situated. In the current field I like Scorn, but the extra strain on the mana base shouldn’t be underestimated.

As for non-Dragon threats, I really like Sarkhan in this style of deck. Don’t underrate haste damage—there are times where you’ll play Sarkhan, kill a Goblin Dark-Dwellers or similar creature and the opponent won’t be able to take down Sarkhan that turn. Regardless of the exact build you make, Jeskai Dragons is one of the best positioned decks in the format. It has good game against Rally, Bant, and Abzan while only really being a dog to the grindiest midrange decks. Even then, you can always curve out while they trip on clunky answers and win.

Esper Dragons

Soohwang Yeem, Top 4 in the ChannelFireball RPTQ

Esper Dragons without the quick Atarka or Jeskai decks to punish it makes a lot more sense. The move toward more win conditions and more ways to replenish your hand instead of relying purely on Ugin or Jace to end the game is a good step forward. Rally doesn’t have a lot of ways to interact with this type of deck and Bant Control only has a slightly easier time with the full playset of Stratus Dancer. It could be time to play Counterspell again.

Atarka Tokens

You can’t go wrong with BBD’s list for the deck and I recommend checking his article out if you want more information about it. The key to this deck is that it’s no longer Atarka Red and while you can curve out and win quickly, most games are long, grindy affairs. You chip away at their life total with tokens and set up turns when you can crash in with the team, typically when you can pump twice. Nissa is so scary against decks without flyers or direct planeswalker removal. If you can make your horde of Goblins and Thopters into 3/3s you usually can’t lose. This deck is much like the old Jeskai Tokens lists—good at staying alive and then snowballing an innocent looking board into a quick win.

That’s all I’ve got for now! Lucas Siow just posted an interesting Mardu Midrange list on Facebook I’ll be trying out. Otherwise, I expect to be jamming more Jeskai for the next few weekends. Good luck to everyone at GP Houston or RPTQs this weekend!