As some of you may know, I’ve been all about the White Weenie variants in Standard this year: first Boros, and later Orzhov. And with the printing of Mana Confluence, I figured I maybe I should go deeper into another color, so I tried Selesnya aggro. The deck was basically White Weenie with much better two-drops in Fleecemane Lion and Voice of Resurgence, and an overall more useful Charm.
My list looked something like this:
Selesnya Aggro was performing all right for me, but my main issue was that Mutavault was barely a land. All of the cards I named cost WG, and of course all of the 1-drops cost W, so what exactly am I casting with Mutavault? The 1 in the 1WW of my 3-drops? That is a lot less exciting than in previous iterations of White Weenie, where you have 1W 2-drops, allowing you to go turn 1 Boros Elite, turn 2 Mutavault/Daring Skyjek, turn 3 attack with all three.
I did like how Fleecemane could attack through Sylvan Caryatid, and that Selesnya Charm was pushing through my Precinct Captains. But I wasn’t about to play a two-color aggro deck without Mutavault. I was describing the deck to Wrapter, and he pointed out that I could just splash Ghor-Clan Rampager for “free.”
Hmm that isn’t a bad idea.
Wait, isn’t this already a deck?
I looked up various versions of Brave Naya, and wasn’t impressed. Some had Fabled Hero and some didn’t, but all seemed like they were leaning too hard on the combo aspect with Boros Charms and such. They played subpar 3-drops. I decided to go a slightly different route and just make a souped-up version of the White Weenie decks I’ve been playing for months. You can see me playing some matches with an earlier iteration of the deck here.
Finally, I Get to Combine White Weenie and Zoo
This is the Brave Naya list I played in Grand Prix Chicago:
I know some of you may be thinking, “is it really worth playing red for four cards maindeck?” If those were the only red cards in the 75, I’d say no, but Boros Charm and Mizzium Mortars offer fairly unique effects. And Ghor-Clan Rampager really is a hell of a card in this sort of deck. There’s a reason some Modern Zoo decks play four. (Not mine, but that’s beside the point.)
I have no idea why people were not playing Precinct Captain in Brave Naya. You have eight pump spells that give trample. How is that not insane with this guy? Attacking with Precinct Captain into Sylvan Caryatid or Courser of Kruphix really leaves them with no good option. If they don’t block, you get a Soldier token. If they do block, you pump, kill their guy, and often still get a Soldier token. Note that while WW might sound hard for a three-color deck, you only have four lands that don’t cast Captain, which is the same as playing Mutavault in a mono-colored deck.
Ajani is just a much better version of Boros Charm. I played Boros Charm in Boros White Weenie a good amount, and was never impressed with it (though it is a great sideboard card). Unless you expect tons of control, there is very little reason to maindeck Boros Charm. Ajani lets you combo off with double strike and pump spells too, except it is also an awesome card when you don’t have a pump spell. It also lets you split the cost of this combo over multiple turns, and gives the guy evasion!
It is not uncommon to go turn 3 Ajani, put a +1/+1 counter on something so it is too big to block, and then a turn or two later jump that same creature and Rampager for a million. The best I did last weekend was turn 5 jump a Rampager and bloodrush two Rampagers on it. Take 24?
Brimaz is just a messed up card that doesn’t see nearly enough play. Much like Precinct Captain, opponents can’t really afford to not block him, and your pump spells punish them for doing so. I had four copies for a lot of the time during testing, and I’m still not sure that isn’t correct. Against any black deck, a turn 3 Brimaz might not be long for this world, so it is nice to have a back-up copy. It is pretty rare that having an extra in hand bites you, since you are usually in good shape if Brimaz is alive. I did lose one game this weekend because I drew my other two copies when I already had a Brimaz in play against Selesnya Aggro (i.e. Brimaz isn’t dying), but that isn’t exactly a common scenario.
There are a number of other cards people play at three mana, but they are just worse:
Loxodon Smiter’s abilities are largely irrelevant. The main argument for him is that a 4/4 matches up well against Courser. But that is just one card, and it isn’t like a 3/4 dies to a 2/4, they just bounce off each other. Pass.
Boros Reckoner is a much better card, and not unreasonable to play. I actually had one copy over the Banisher Priest for awhile during testing. You can often get into spots where they are damned if they do/damned if they don’t in terms of blocking Reckoner. The main knock against Reckoner is that he dies to Anger of the Gods, and to a lesser extent Lightning Strike. It is nice to have a threat that you can run out there into those spells.
Banisher Priest is a lot less necessary in Brave Naya than it was in White Weenie variants, since you can more freely attack into blockers. I do still like having access to a set in the 75 to kill Master of Waves, and I maindecked one because I expected a lot of Mono-Blue, wanted to free up a sideboard slot, and it is at least reasonable against everything but control. If you aren’t particularly worried about Mono-Blue, I’d play either the fourth Brimaz or a Reckoner instead.
Fabled Hero doesn’t really fit in this version of the deck, but there is a more full-on “combo” version of the deck with Giant Growths and such. I think that deck is worse, since the cards don’t stand nearly as well on their own. But regardless, he doesn’t really fit in this build.
The rest of the deck is fairly straightforward. Soldier of the Pantheon can’t be targeted by your pump spells, which is annoying, but pro multicolored is strong enough to warrant inclusion. You do end up siding him out fairly often against decks where you’ll have to push through bigger mono-colored guys.
Aside on Soldier: Some of your opponents will not realize/remember that he cannot be pumped. I’m not exactly recommending you suicide your Soldier into a bigger guy to find out, but against Caryatid decks you get a free test: do they block with the 0/3? If not, they probably think you can pump Soldier, and you might be able to attack with him in spots where you otherwise could not.
Come to think of it, general aside: Recognize when you can get in free damage because of the threat of pump spells. They might have a creature they can’t afford to lose. I had a game in the GP where I went turn 1 Dryad Militant and turn 2 could play Voice or Captain against my opponent’s Caryatid. Captain is generally a better turn 2 play, but I decided I could probably get in for 2 by playing a Stomping Ground untapped before combat, even though it meant I’d have to play the slightly worse creature, which worked.
Similarly, it is occasionally right to play Ajani after combat because the +1/+1 counter wouldn’t get your guy through, but the threat of a Rampager would. Just as a general rule of thumb: try to have two mana up when attacking.
The split of Fleecemane over Voice is just due to the larger body. Being able to attack through Sylvan Caryatid and bluff attack into Courser of Kruphix is slightly better than Voice, which is overall a more powerful card. The monstrous ability also comes up a surprising amount for a deck with 22 lands. It is a pretty nice feeling to be able to go for it with Ajani with zero fear, thanks to hexproof.
Voice certainly does have its uses, though. It is a lot harder to get blown out when casting pump spells into open mana if you have a Voice in play, since you still end up with a free Keldon Warlord if they have it. Voice can also be sacrificed to Desecration Demon to remove a blocker and upgrade your attacker. Additionally, you can just suicide attack Voice into clogged boards, since you either get in 2 free damage or a bigger threat. It very well could be right to play the fourth copy, though I don’t know what I’d cut.
While I don’t like Boros Charm in the main deck, since you are playing it for its worst ability of double strike there, it is a great sideboard card, and the best card available against control. Being able to save your guys from Supreme Verdict or kill your opponent if they stabilize after you get them low is very important. Charm is also good against decks with Anger of the Gods, and it is a reasonable enough card to bring just in general if you have too much to take out in a matchup.
Banisher Priest’s job is to kill Master of Waves. Pump spells making removing blockers with Priest less important, but no one is blocking with Master of Waves, and an unanswered Master is the only way you lose to Mono-Blue. You will of course find other uses for Priest, such as against Mono-Green or small aggro decks.
Banishing Light is a fifth Banisher Priest. It is a scientific fact that cards with “Banish” in the name really bone Master of Waves. You’ll also find other random uses for Banishing Light, I sided it in against Hexproof to kill Unflinching Courage. But be careful about siding Banishing Light in too liberally. Just because a card has targets doesn’t mean you want it in your deck. (I call this the Surgical Extraction Fallacy.)
Mizzium Mortars has two main purposes: kill stupid Stormbreath Dragon and kill stupid Blood Baron. It is also pretty good against other creature decks, and kicking it is not a pipedream in creature mirrors where games can go long. Maybe I’m just lucky, but I don’t know that I’ve ever been unable to kick it because I had the wrong combination of six lands. (Though I’ve not had six lands plenty of times.) I wasn’t expecting a lot of Blood Barons this weekend, and in fact played against none, but I did face a ton of Stormbreath Dragons. It is possible you want a third copy of Mortars, since it is very hard to beat Stormbreath without killing it. You can’t even jump guys past it with Ajani, which is some bull****.
R/W Burn is by far your worst matchup. I was already having trouble against that deck with my earlier versions of White Weenie, and this deck deals way more damage to itself. This is the one matchup where your mana base really bites you. Unflinching Courage can take a guy out of burn range, but be careful casting it into open mana. It is also unfortunate that they run Chained to the Rocks to still deal with the now large creature, but I try to bait out a Chained with something like a Brimaz before casting Courage.
All that being said, Courage has a pretty huge upside. If you stick one on a Fleecemane or Brimaz, you’re negating about two burn spells per attack. If your Baneslayer goes unanswered for even a turn, the game is probably out of their reach.
The only other time I sided in Unflinching Courage last weekend was against Naya Hexproof, since you can’t really interact with their board and are racing. This seemed like it was going to work, but unfortunately he also cast Unflinching Courage, on a creature that already had three enchantments on it. My 8-point life swings weren’t nearly as impressive as his 18.
Fiendslayer is worse than the enchantment against R/W Burn, but still good. It is very strong against red or black aggro decks, and I wanted a bit of overlap there. If I expected all R/W Burn and no small aggro, I’d play 4x Unflinching Courage.
GP Chicago and Matchups
I’m not entirely sure it made sense for me to go to Grand Prix Chicago. With the way Pro Points jump at the PT (Top 16 is 15, Top 25 is 10, Top 50 is 6), I’d have to make Top 4 to make any change to my position going into Pro Tour Portland. But my deck was sweet, and besides my friends Kitt and Megan live there, and I wanted to finally meet their daughter, Abby, who was as adorable as advertised.
Anyway, here is a summary of the tournament:
R/W Burn (L) 3-1
R/W Burn (W) 4-1
Mono U (W) 5-1
Mono U (W) 6-1
Jund Monsters (L) 6-2
Mono Black (W) 7-2
Jund Monsters (W) 8-2
Rb Devotion (W) 9-2
Naya Hexproof (L) 9-3
G/W Aggro (L) 9-4
Jund Monsters (W) 10-4
UBRG Midrage* (W) 11-4
*“UBRG Midrange” was similar to Jund Monsters, but had blue scry lands. I never got a chance to see what they were for.
11-4 was good enough for 66th, which may sound like a dagger since Pro Points stop at Top 64, but it would not have counted because of the five GP rule, so oh well.
I am not sure if these matchups were exactly representative of the metagame: I’d expect to play against Mono-Black more than once, R/W Burn less than twice, and control variants at least a couple times. I do think playing against Red Aggro zero times was realistic, since it is one of those decks that people knee-jerk react to and very few people actually play (see: my Fiendslayer Paladins).
Someone whom I’d spoken with about the deck with on Twitter had a similar finish with one comment:
While I happened to go 3-1 against Jund Monsters, I can’t say I disagree. All of the games felt very close, like I had to get a bit lucky to win. I’m not sure what I’d want for the matchup, since the rest of the current sideboard is fairly high impact against other decks, but I think a third Mortars for Stormbreath would be a good start. Polukranos may seem like a problem card as well, but Selesnya Charm conveniently removes it already. If you have any suggestions for sideboard plans, please let me know in the comments!
As mentioned previously, R/W Burn is a pretty bad matchup, though your sideboard cards do help. I thought I was going to get lucky and beat the deck round 4, when my opening hand game 3 had two Unflinching Courage and I scryed a Fiendslayer to the top. Little did I know my opponent would go turn 2 Satyr Firedancer, turns 3, 4, and 5 Searing Blood! Firedancer takes that card from good to bonkers pretty fast—it even let him kill the Fiendslayer!
Mono-Blue is a very good matchup between the pump spells and the full set of Banisher Priests. It was favorable for White Weenie, but sometimes a Frostburn Weird or Nightveil Specter would stonewall you. That can’t really happen here, and they also can’t necessarily block if they want to ensure their Master of Waves actually makes some guys. One card that does get much better against you is Tidebinder Mage. With White Weenie, you could just side out Dryad Militant and have no green creatures, but if you took out all your green creatures in this deck, you’d have almost no creatures left.
“How am I supposed to beat this? Why are you playing so many Ajanis?!” – Shaheen Soorani
While I didn’t face them last weekend, Esper and U/W Control are good matchups. Voice makes you resilient to both Verdict and any surprises on your turn. Ajani is insane: he increases your clock, but can played into Verdict, and his ultimate is a real threat. As mentioned previously, Boros Charm out of the board is great. And you’ll notice all of the aforementioned cards revolve around answering Verdict. There are also the games where they just don’t have that card, and you win.
Mono-Black is about even. You will lose some games to a Pack Rat or them just having more removal than you have guys. But pretty much all of your creatures are real threats on their own, so you do force them to have a lot of answers. Desecration Demon isn’t too scary once you realize you can profitably sacrifice Voice to it, or just remove it completely with Selesnya Charm.
So should you play Brave Naya right now? Well, despite all the complaints about Standard, you can reasonably play whatever you like. But if you’re looking for a break from the mono-colored decks that haven’t changed in a year, or just like attacking, I’d recommend giving Brave Naya a try. I played the deck online for several weeks leading up to GP Chicago, and really the only matchup that felt worse than even was R/W Burn.
Next up for me is Grand Prix DC, which might not actually be in DC, but it is 10 minutes away from me. I’m not sure why they decided to put so many GPs around here recently, but hopefully it continues, because sleeping in your own bed before a tournament is great. If you’ll be there this weekend, feel free to come say hi.
Thanks for reading!
@wildestnacatl on Twitter