Last weekend, with two rounds to go and a chance to make Top 8, I had the pleasure (or displeasure, as I ended up losing) of getting paired against R/W Approach. I’m going to break down some of the card choices, but also talk about why I think this could both be a good and bad approach going forward.
The win condition here is Approach of the Second Sun, and it’s an excellent way to gain an advantage in game 1. The decks in this format are forced to play lots of removal spells, as that’s what Standard is all about—except Approach. Not needing to ever have a creature in play gives you a huge game 1 advantage in deck building.
Red gives you access to Sunbird’s Invocation. This is an expensive enchantment that feels more cute than good, but it actually does quite a lot in this deck. You have a lot of planeswalkers and other sorcery-speed spells where you’re going to be extremely happy gaining value down the road. If you cast Approach and trigger the Invocation, you get to go 7 cards deeper to find another Approach. If you do, the one you cast from your hand will be the second copy, and you’ll win the game on the spot.
You’ve got an entire planeswalker suite here, so the deck doesn’t have to win with Approach, though it almost always will. Gideon of the Trials shuts down an opposing threat, forcing them to over-commit to the board. You can also force them to have to remove Gideon from the board before going after you thanks to the emblem, and Gideon can turn the tables and get aggressive when the time is right. Chandra, Torch of Defiance is usually going to take down a creature and give you card advantage, but ticking up can win the game with an ultimate, or she can ramp to Sunbird’s Invocation and Approach.
Huatli, Warrior Poet looks too weak for me, but it does provide a steady stream of 3/3 Dinosaurs, pump your life a bit, and can help take out a wave of Thopters. You’re playing white, so you have access to the good sweepers, but Huatli can come in handy there.
Fumigate is still sweeper #1 as it’s a sure-fire way to actually sweep the board. 3 copies of Settle the Wreckage give R/W Approach time to do its thing. Settle is already solid in Approach, but your planeswalkers put the opponent in a position where they need to commit to the board and the red zone.
Your spot removal is also greatly improved by playing red over blue. Magma Spray is efficient, early removal, while Abrade can deal with a number of problematic permanents. You still get to play the Cast Outs that Approach loves as a catch-all that can turn into a card when needed. Lightning Strike adds the ability to finish off a planeswalker, and Ixalan’s Binding can shut down decks relying on key permanents such as The Scarab God.
Vance’s Blasting Cannons gives you additional card advantage that can win the game late. You’re playing mostly at sorcery speed, so you don’t have to worry about whiffing much outside of the Settle the Wreckages (which are also a big nombo with Invocation).
So why should you play R/W Approach? It’s cool and it does a great job of controlling the board. Your game 1s are always going to benefit from the dead removal spells in your opponent’s hand. That said, your game 1 matchup against control should take a big hit as you don’t have Search for Azcanta to get ahead on spells and you simply can’t protect your planeswalkers or Approaches from their counters and removal.
The sideboard plan is to transform. It’s full of creatures and Vehicles to try to get aggressive when your opponents are likely boarding out their removal for ways to interact with Approach. The problem arises when opponents know you’re doing this (or when they win one of the first two games and can now hedge).
Your game 1 against Red is going to be improved by playing red over blue. With a bunch of cheap, instant spot removal in red and 6 sweepers, you can control the battlefield, but you will still lose to their nut draws even in game 1. Luckily, they don’t have much to board in to stop your plan A of Approach, but their deck matches up well versus a slow strategy and you don’t even have Authority of the Consuls to bring in.
I was playing Temur Energy last weekend, and my slow draw in game 1 led to my demise. While I didn’t keep in much removal after sideboard, I really didn’t have to in order to get far ahead in game 2. I saw Angel of Sanctions and Oketra in game 1, so I had to figure there were a reasonable number of creatures. The real issue is that cards like Spell Pierce and Negate are still great against you even if you board into all creatures. They stop Heart of Kiran, your removal, and your planeswalkers. At that point, you’re playing similar midrange decks and the energy deck is the more powerful of the two. I ended up losing game 3 to a pair of Regal Caracals, despite having all copies of Harnessed Lightning, Essence Scatter, Glorybringer, and more in my deck, which leads me to believe that your game 1 against Energy is quite good, but you’re a dog post-sideboard.
I don’t know if there are ways to improve the matchups, but I do love the innovation in this Invocation deck!