Amonkhet is now fully spoiled and has a lot to live up to for Standard play. While the power level doesn’t look ridiculous I’m happy at the number of random answers printed—Scarab Feast as an improved Rapid Decay, Magma Spray to melt down Scrapheap Scroungers, Manglehorn against Vehicles, and so on. So at the worst there’s a lot of utility to be added to existing strategies and cycling makes its grand reappearance to fix your draws and make Limited bearable.
This week I’m just going to look at updating decks from the last season or two and see if we can make them more competitive. Why start there instead of new strategies? Well, largely because all of them need to be able to address the prospect of dying on turns 4-6 to the Cat Combo and it’s easier to get a baseline with the old decks. While some stop-gap measures have come out, such as Manglehorn and new counterspells, the overall threat has not been significantly weakened. As a result I’m focusing more on archetypes that have an aggressive slant or otherwise interact with the Saheeli decks than fnot getting rolled by Mardu.
So what are the advantages about this deck compared to Mardu? Well for one, you can assume a midrange role if you can’t get an effective aggressive start going. You have a ton of removal for the commonly played creatures in the format and a multitude of ways to either delay or stop Saheeli from combo’ing you. Hazoret provides a threat that’s not easily answered and can keep sustaining your attacks even once you’ve handlocked yourself. Chapin compared her ability to a modern Cursed Scroll and that isn’t too far off. Saheeli can’t even go off with Hazoret in play and open mana available.
In the Mardu matchup things are a bit dicier, because once you run out of resources you’re at the mercy of whatever aggression they can put together. Both of you can kill each other’s threats reasonably well with the exception of Hazoret. As usual, Gideon, Ally of Zendikar creates the main difference in angles of attack. Without evasion or planeswalker removal it becomes more difficult to take down the Knight generator. There are a few options though—Key to the City and all the situational burn damage via Ballista, Disintegration, and Temper help keep it in check.
When building the R/B deck you want to decide exactly how all-in you are on the concept of being hellbent by the time you cast Hazoret. Lupine Prototype is an interesting choice Zvi explored last week, and when you start combining Prototype and Gods, then your ability to crew Heart of Kiran gets easier. Suddenly you may not even need a planeswalker contingent to consistently have Heart active and attacking. My build isn’t quite so bold, and that may end up being a mistake. I’m not sure Fiery Temper is worth the trouble, but the heavier burn and removal base is a strong pull over the traditional Mardu strategy.
Of course, this is assuming you want to abuse Bloodrage Brawler and Hazoret to begin with. There’s a strong argument to be made that your 5/4 haste creature for 4 is just worse than a host of other Vehicles with pseudo-haste (or actual haste: Fleetwheel Cruiser) that see little to no play. Which means her viability will largely be tied to her damage ability and as a permanent crew enabler.
Of course, one upside of not wanting to dump your hand for Hazoret is you can jam more expensive cards in your deck… FOR GLORY!
Building off the B/R Eldrazi base leads us to a deck taking advantage of the heavy removal slant and one that can pressure effectively while disrupting the opponent with Thought-Knot Seer. Glorybringer is just a more effective Reality Smasher and Bone Picker should trigger often enough to be worthwhile as a test card. This is the kind of deck that does better when you can streamline it against a real metagame, but I like how powerful the baseline of the cards in the deck are. As we’ve seen in the past you can sometimes make up for synergy with raw power.
Speaking of raw power, Rhonas the Indomitable has quite the impressive rate going for it. Not only is it a 5/5 that can start attacking on turn 4, it also enables itself easily with your spare creatures and turns them into raw damage. Trading isn’t so bad in your aggro deck if you get a few free points of trample and a 5/5 attacker in exchange. Of some importance: Both Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and Heart of Kiran meet the magic number to get Rhonas pushing into the red zone.
G/W Good Stuff
Not having a Dromoka’s-Command-style card really limits your early interaction. In the midgame you have a nice set of exile effects and bigger threats. But this type of strategy has a reasonable chance of getting run over by cards like Toolcraft Exemplar before it ever has a chance to shine. Still, I wanted to at least put a list to paper to see how manageable the flaws are. Between Clues and cycling you have a fair bit of filtering for a traditionally straightforward green deck and you can go even deeper with those themes if you wish.
Still, maybe Zvi was on the right track and just bashing people in the face is the way to go.
No frills, just beats. By replacing Pummeler with a less all-in approach you reduce the games where you just randomly get blown out by Mardu’s removal suite. Rhonas and cycling lands both give you much better mana sinks as well. For games 2 and 3 you can use Shock as a hedge to not get nuked on turn 4 from Saheeli. Meanwhile, Bristling Hydra/Chandra/Glorybringer are a good way to stomp on an opponent focused on destroying your small creatures. Manglehorn may end up main deck despite it not being very aggressive—that’s how well it has been lining up against the current Mardu/Saheeli builds.
I’m not going to lie to you—I think there’s a reasonable chance that the 4c Saheeli deck ends up as the overall winner from Amonkhet. But we received a lot of new tools, and the fact that Temur Tower now has a good way to answer Scrapheap Scrounger may single-handedly bring balance to the force. That’s next on my list of things to try, since Temur Tower felt so close to being great last season and the additions of Magma Spray, Censor, and Pull from Tomorrow could be just what it needs.
Plus, there’s always a chance that the DCI pulls the trigger on Felidar Guardian come Monday.