We have a PTQ in our neighborhood this weekend. True to my word, I’ve been testing and prepping two different Extended decks. One is the Immortal Engine, which I talked about here. I’m not going to discuss the other one until next week, except to say that it includes what is likely my favorite creature of all time.
Yeah, that one.
Today, I’m going to present one of the decks I’ve developed to kit out my suite of Standard options. Naturally, in keeping this introduction from being utterly random, this deck includes my favorite primatologist.
Before I launch into the deck list, I wanted to spend a little time talking about the four most important cards in the deck.
Yes, my favorite creature.
The Vengevine-fueled Survival of the Fittest deck that eventually led to Survival’s banning last year took a while to creep onto the scene. If you review the last year of Legacy events, you’ll see early Survival decks that feature four copies of Survival and that look otherwise like oldschool threshold decks. The eventually game-breaker was the realization that you really, really wanted to be able to stick a Survival effect as soon as possible. That led to the spate of peri-pre-banning Survival decks featuring four copies of Survival of the fittest, four copies of Enlightened Tutor, four Fauna Shaman, and some number of Quirion Rangers.
So wouldn’t it be awesome to have more access to Fauna Shaman in a Standard deck?
Enter Green Sun’s Zenith. So far, this has seen play in Valakut decks, but when I saw it my mind immediately went to Legacy Survival and the idea of optimizing my access to that key engine card. I actually tried to build an Extended deck around this idea first, but couldn’t generate anything that was better than my other options. But in Standard, GSZ has done right by me in testing, leading to the deck I’m writing about today.
The Hawk doesn’t require a lot of comment, but it is definitely a key card in the deck. I don’t think I need to elaborate on its qualities here.
Remember Burst Lightning?
In building today’s list, I kept finding myself cramped on space. It needs its creatures, it needs a bit of removal, and it needs a modest amount of additional reach.
In reviewing the top Standard lists from Paris, a few things occurred to me.
First, I don’t want my opponents to successfully equip a Sword of Feast and Famine (or, indeed, of any kind) against me.
Second, I don’t want opponents to accelerate past me.
Third, I don’t want to die to fast attackers.
These three problems have one thing in common. Can you spot it?
Yup. Toughness 2 or less.
Pretty much everything I want to kill in Standard right now dies to Burst Lightning.
…and, later on in the game, I can kick it to take out bigger problems and cover more ground in offing my opponent.
Thus, Burst Lightning over Lightning Bolt.
List, Plan, Targets
With those key cards discussed, let’s move on to the list itself, the game plan, and our Zenith targets.
Green Sun Shaman
The game plan
In line with last week’s discussion about offensive deck power, the Plan A for this deck is to stick a Fauna Shaman, and then run through one of any number of pitch sequences with the goal of either swinging with a panoply of Vengevines or crippling the opposing game plan.
There’s no one defined path, of course, since you don’t get to control what’s in your hand when you start getting your Fauna Shaman action going. Very generally, it works like this:
Naturally, the Shaman is a tremendous lightning rod, drawing all sorts of removal. The first Shaman in particular has a very short active life, often eating it before she can even pitch a single Vengevine.
But that’s where the beauty of GSZ comes in, of course. She’s just the first. Instead of immediately defaulting to its plan B, the deck can continue to pursue its plan A by using Zenith to tutor up a backup copy of Fauna Shaman. When I first considered this idea, I was concerned that this might not be sufficiently threatening…but it really, really is. Having an effective eight copies of Fauna Shaman means that the Vengevine and Squadron Hawk engines get turned on in a significantly larger number of games than back when you just had to rely on drawing into your four copies of Fauna Shaman.
This also means that it’s generally worthwhile to hold onto at least one Zenith in hand as a backup plan in case they take out your Shaman, although there are other viable GSZ targets in the deck, as I discuss in the very next section.
For the record, the plan B here is very much “dudes.” While they’re busy trying to stem an unending stream of Fauna Shamans, you cast a Baneslayer Angel and kill them with it. Or you off them with a Raging Ravine. Something along those lines.
…or, rather, other targets for Green Sun’s Zenith.
In its initial design stages, the deck featured a few more green creatures that seemed as if they might be good candidates for tutoring up via Zeniths. However, as I tested the deck, it became clear that I primarily wanted to use GSZ to enhance access to Fauna Shaman.
In the deck as it stands in today’s article, the only design concession to the Zenith is having Viridian Corrupter as the anti-artifact card of choice in the sideboard. It works slightly against the general win condition of the deck by dint of uselessly having infect…but I figured that if I wanted to kill pesky swords, I wanted to maximize my access to the card I was using to do it.
The other obvious target is Obstinate Baloth – there’s one in the main and three in the sideboard. When you’re facing down a burn-heavy deck, it’s super handy to be able to straight up tutor for 4 life and a big body. I would run Baloth anyway, of course, but it is a target.
Finally, remember that GSZ can tutor up your Birds and Cobras. It’s not an intuitive move, but it can dig you out of a mana hole – especially if you’ve lost access to red or white due to a Tectonic Edge or Spreading Seas.
So, that’s the deck and a little sampling of what we can do with Green Sun’s Zenith. With that all under our belts, let’s take a look at some of my sideboarding suggestions as they stand at the moment. Remembering, of course, that actual sideboarding varies by specific matchup, and they are just guidelines.
The plan – Buy yourself time against explosive Valakut kills via Leyline, and then kill the opponent as quickly as possible via big beats.
In case you were wondering about those Birds in the sideboard, here you go. The entire goal here is to push the opponent back a bit while speeding your kill up. The Sword helps both game plans, simultaneously slowing them down via the discard half and speeding you up via the untap half.
In case the Baloth being removed is counterintuitive, consider that the Valakut combo kill typically involves a great deal of overkill. That is, if they’re going to Valakut you out, an extra four life isn’t going to do anything useful for you – you’d rather have more access to Swords (Mystic), or a big honkin’ Angel killing them and making you harder to kill, 5 points at a time.
The plan – Accelerate out ahead of their disruption and overload them with threats.
The plan here is, at a high level, similar to the Valakut plan. The one standout element this time may be the boarding in of the second Sunblast Angel. Although the hope is to kill the opponent via Fauna Shaman antics before this kind of thing ever matters, or to fly overhead with Baneslayers, it is nonetheless possible that the U/B opponent will stick a Grave Titan and then swing with it. The deck can deal with a smattering of zombies…as long a that zombie factory can be taken out ASAP, either via Sparkmage-Collar (note that the combo is still in the deck post-board) or by dropping a Sunblast after the [card]Grave Titan[/card] has taken a swing at you.
The plan – Disrupt their acceleration and beat down.
The U/R/G Jace archetype relies on the unholy trinity of Jace, Lotus Cobra, and Oracle of Mul Daya to generate its grotesque turns that put you firmly out of the game. Two of the elements in that trinity meet our ‘Toughness less than 3′ benchmark, however, which is a big motivator to keep our Burst Lightnings in the deck. A clutch Burst Lightning to kill a Cobra or remove an Oracle can make all the difference in giving you time to get the Fauna Shaman engine online and take over the game.
The plan – Never let them get a piece of equipment online, and then kill them as usual via Vengevines and friends.
The original inspiration for including Burst Lightning in the list, Caw-Go is a deck that mixes something you’re used to defeating with Vengevines – planeswalkers and Day of Judgments – and the enhanced peskiness of little, equipped beaters. The Bursts help solve that problem, and Viridian Corrupter is there to deal with the real heart of the issue – their copy of Sword of Feast and Famine.
Note that Corrupter should be brought in liberally to deal with annoying equipment – many of these sideboarding notes assume the absence of Swords in certain builds that can have them, so Corrupter makes very few appearances. However, it should come in pretty much any time you need to oppose a Sword.
The plan – Kill their guys, kill their gear, and then win. They’re the beatdown, but not for long.
It may feel weird that we’re siding out our Vengevines here, but they don’t do much for us when the issue is stupid little white creatures and artifacts attacking us with giant pieces of equipment. The general plan here involves getting Sparkmages online as assassins and then sweeping the board with Sunblasts.
Fun fact – it was playing against Quest decks in pre-MBS Standard that drove me to run a second Sunblast in the sideboard in the first place. If the first Sunblast is disheartening, the second one is simply crushing – which is a good place to be when you’re the control deck in the matchup.
The plan – Protect your life total like a cherished possession, and then swing over head for the win.
Once again, we have to bench those poor Vengevines. Notably, we also shed one of our Lotus Cobras, as the Cobra does very little in the Boros matchup other than draw away a smidgin of fire while Steppe Lynxes smash your teeth in. We still want most of our accelerators in case we get lucky and one lives long enough to drop an early Baneslayer onto the battlefield.
The plan – Kill as many vampires as possible and then beat down with a big flyer.
We don’t need to overload on Baloths this time around, and Vengevines are actually reasonably usable against Vampires, absorbing removal and coming back again and again as blockers or attackers (ideally, wearing a Collar).
Fauna Shaman, all eight copies
If you’re a fan of the dedicated Fauna Shaman deck and want something that can compete in the current metagame, I recommend giving this one a try – or at the very least knocking any four cards out of your favorite Fauna Shaman deck and popping in Green Sun’s Zenith instead. You’ll be startled at just how much more powerful the deck becomes with that simple, yet profound switch.
That pretty much closes out my engagement with Standard for the week – I’m back to a focus on Extended and an eye toward a metaphorical blue envelope. I’ll check back in with you all next week and let you know how it went.
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