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Silvestri Says – The Nobility of Death

Junk Aristocrats Primer, Pt. 1

Junk Aristocrats quickly went from being a deck with some sweet synergies that Top 8’d a premier event to seeing a ton of play on Magic Online and winning an SCG Open over the course of about 2 weeks. While the cost of [card]Voice of Resurgence[/card] and the difficulty of the deck keep its numbers down, it quickly became a regular deck in the Daily and Premier Event results.

For reference, the first deck list that caught my eye was a winning PE list by _Batutinha_:

[deck]Main Deck:
2 Maw of the Obzedat
3 Varolz, the Scar-Striped
4 Cartel Aristocrat
4 Blood Artist
4 Voice of Resurgence
4 Young Wolf
4 Doomed Traveler
4 Lingering Souls
4 Tragic Slip
3 Sorin, Lord of Innistrad
1 Gavony Township
4 Godless Shrine
4 Isolated Chapel
4 Overgrown Tomb
2 Sunpetal Grove
4 Temple Garden
1 Vault of the Archangel
4 Woodland Cemetery
Sideboard:
2 Abrupt Decay
4 Deathrite Shaman
2 Rootborn Defenses
3 Sin Collector
1 Sorin, Lord of Innistrad
3 Unflinching Courage[/deck]

And the version Brad Nelson piloted to an Open win:

[deck]3 Varolz, the Scar-Striped
4 Blood Artist
4 Cartel Aristocrat
3 Skirsdag High Priest
4 Voice of Resurgence
2 Young Wolf
4 Doomed Traveler
4 Tragic Slip
3 Sorin, Lord of Innistrad
4 Lingering Souls
1 Swamp
2 Gavony Township
4 Godless Shrine
4 Isolated Chapel
4 Overgrown Tomb
2 Sunpetal Grove
4 Temple Garden
4 Woodland Cemetery
Sideboard
4 Deathrite Shaman
3 Sin Collector
3 Unflinching Courage
2 Abrupt Decay
2 Garruk Relentless
1 Appetite for Brains[/deck]

Overview

Junk Aristocrats is centered around sacrifice and graveyard interactions, making it one of the most durable and non-linear decks in the format. For the most part, everything that isn’t a sacrifice outlet is either a 2-for-1 or capable of producing a game-swinging effect. It feels a lot like a resilient aggro deck that can pretend to be combo or midrange when necessary. The key difference from Act 2 is that it was more focused on being able to attack the opponent at a given moment. [card]Boros Reckoner[/card] was good in both roles, but a card like [card]Falkenrath Aristocrat[/card] was doing the same thing every game. Junk focuses more on building an army up and finishing in one go, or chipping away and then activating [card]Gavony Township[/card] once or twice for lethal.

Why Play Junk Aristocrats?

There are a few very good reasons to play this deck. First, it’s still under-the-radar to many, though Brad Nelson’s win will shine a much brighter spotlight on it. People on Magic Online frequently make bad decisions against it that they wouldn’t if they played against the deck anywhere near as much as RG or Reanimator. A fair number of players in real life have probably never played a single game against this deck.

Secondly, there’s a lot of play to it and it rewards sequencing better than any deck from the past 6 months or so. Sequencing and proper sideboarding are important with this deck, and newer Act 3 players will suffer until they get a good plan down. Take the time to plan out what you want to do post-board in each match. It’s all too easy to go overboard and throw away a lot of the deck synergies or skimp on removal due to lack of obvious cuts.

Finally, the deck has a very solid aggro matchup. Almost all your creatures 2-for-1 or have built-in resilience, along with a fair bit of life gain and great anti-aggro sideboard options. This also gives it a reasonable game against sweepers, though they can be overwhelmed if The Aristocrats draws too many land.

The deck does have major issues with a handful of cards like [card]Blood Baron of Vizkopa[/card] and [card]Rest in Peace[/card]. It also has a weaker match against Jund and Junk Reanimator than the original build, due to the lack of [card]Falkenrath Aristocrat[/card]. Junk Aristocrats isn’t perfect by any stretch, but it’s doing something almost nobody else in the format is and it’s still fresh in the design phase.

Deck Tips

Just like the BWR Act 2, you have many decision trees, and a lot of the skill comes from determining how and what to value a potential sacrifice or a 2-fer creature as. Do you want to save 3 damage by chumping a [card]Flinthoof Boar[/card]? Is it worth losing the sacrifice to the [card]Cartel Aristocrat[/card] or [card]Varolz, the Scar-Striped[/card] a turn later? What if [card]Blood Artist[/card] is coming down next turn? What if the opponent has a sandbagged removal spell?

I would default to how Sam Black advises playing the deck. In lieu of that, I can only share the most important aspects of my games with Junk Aristocrats. Nearly everything relevant is laid out in front of you on the board. Sounds pretty obvious, I know, but most decks don’t give you half of the options this deck does. At heart you’re playing a synergy deck that wants to stay alive until your deck does its thing and dominates the game. Half the matches in Standard can be summed up as making the correct in-game decisions, so you can live until the topdeck war takes place. There are things you can do to put it slightly in your favor, but in the end a fair number of matches are won and lost based on your top 12 cards.

A lot of these decisions are all context-driven, there’s no easy answer unlike the point, click, boom you see elsewhere. Juggling resources matters across the board, but this deck gives you an abject lesson in it, due to how immediate the impact is. You aren’t typically making percentage plays on what you could potentially draw a la control, you make them based all on board information.

There are a handful of common decision points with better answers of course. People frequently play [card]Voice of Resurgence[/card] out way too early, and get annoyed when the opponent plays Pillar. Unless you’re on the draw and absolutely need to start trading off value for life, it’s frequently correct to wait until you have a sacrifice outlet in play before slamming Voice or even [card]Doomed Traveler[/card]. The Elemental token is one of the most powerful aspects of the deck, and people tend to just throw it away against aggro on a whim.

[card]Pillar of Flame[/card] is the best card aggro decks have against you, so don’t turn it on if you can help it. If you can afford to sequence your threats correctly, which on the play is usually the case, then you should. A lot of the trouble I had early was because I’d just blast my value guys out early. On the draw this was acceptable, because you don’t want to be at too low a life before you stabilize.

[card]Voice of Resurgence[/card] reminds me of [card]Arcbound Ravager[/card] in a way—you can throw away a lot of value with Voice and still win plenty of games. Things that have all popped up in games with and against the deck include: Throwing away multiple Elemental tokens by losing one to a removal spell after damage resolved. Not playing creatures main phase to pump them when there’s minimal repercussions for doing so. Opponents forgetting about Voice over time and casually throwing out an end-step spell four or five turns after Voice resolved. Not playing around [card]Searing Spear[/card] when possible with creature blocks—this is especially embarrassing post-board where [card]Unflinching Courage[/card] is a real thing.

Another easy thing to play around that people tend to forget about when the game is on lockdown—not sacrificing enough guys to turn off [card]Blasphemous Act[/card]. Often, I would just die or lose most of my edge because I didn’t bother to count how many creatures I’d need to stay lethal while turning off Act. Against a [card]Boros Reckoner[/card], maybe you only need a [card]Cartel Aristocrat[/card] and a pair of Spirits since you have [card]Gavony Township[/card] out. Don’t go crazy with this of course, but if the opponent’s only real out is Act, let alone Reckoner + Act and you can afford to play around it, do so. With Varolz in play, it’s even easier, since you can just pump one or two evasion guys to max and win.

[card]Blood Artist[/card] is another card that can be difficult to judge when to throw out on the field. Often it’s my first play after I’ve played creatures that can actually trade to gain some immediate benefits. This is a reasonable line and you will rarely get too punished for mistiming a turn three or four [card]Blood Artist[/card]. When you have multiples in hand though, you really want to try and get them both into play at the same time. When you have two active [card]Blood Artist[/card]s, it becomes near impossible to get aggro-d out of the game. It also provides amazing sweeper resistance and I’ve had opponents take 10 just to get them off the field in a timely manner.

Act 2 players can likely relate, as it allows you to turn your [card]Cartel Aristocrat[/card]s into 6-point life swings every turn—more if you have a Sorin or Township on the field. Trying to resolve them both so you get the full benefits of sacrificing in response to removal or eating a [card]Supreme Verdict[/card] means a minimum 6-8 points can be worth the hassle. On the other hand, [card]Blood Artist[/card] can also easily be the worst card in your deck post-board, so don’t be afraid of siding it out. [card]Blood Artist[/card] relies heavily on having a party going at any given moment, or things get bad in a hurry.

Card Choices

Core:

[draft]Cartel Aristocrat
Voice of Resurgence
Varolz, the Scar-Striped
Lingering Souls
Sorin, Lord of Innistrad[/draft]

Everything else in the deck is based around their ability to feed these cards, or take advantage of instant speed sacrificing.

Personal Choices:

[draft]Skirsdag High Priest[/draft]

High Priest is an interesting one. At first I assumed it would be a natural fit for the deck, and was surprised the original list lacked them. Then I noticed how often it died without accomplishing anything. Or worse, sat back while everyone else died and I ate a bunch of damage from bears and Boars. Still, in nearly any game where I got the effect off, I was a huge favorite, and often it forced non-Island players into very weird non-attacks. It was likely so underplayed on Magic Online because so much of the metagame was full of Mountains, which made him a pretty wretched turn 2 or 3 play on the draw.

I’ve since re-added him to the deck, though only as a 2-of, and he’s decent. If you live in a very aggro/Auras-heavy neck of the woods, I wouldn’t bother. Post-board he does gain some real value from having too many targets for the aggro player to pick from. Are they really going to [card]Pillar of Flame[/card] a [card]Skirsdag High Priest[/card] over [card]Voice of Resurgence[/card]? Can they throw a Spear away when [card]Unflinching Courage[/card] may demand attention?

[draft]Lotleth Troll[/draft]

This is a card I tried mostly out of boredom, seeking a 2-drop that didn’t snap-die* to everything. Troll may not be as potent as his brother Scar, but he blocks well, and if he becomes a 3/2 may as well have been a brick wall whenever you have B up. It also benefits heavily from [card]Varolz the Scar-Striped[/card] and [card]Gavony Township[/card] pumps when looking to end the game. The main issue is that you can’t really take advantage of its innate ability in many games. Cards like [card]Far // Away[/card] and [card]Turn // Burn[/card] also reduced its value in the Island matches, where they had several answers to a large angry Troll.

On the whole, I like Troll, and I frequently got more out of him on the draw than nearly any other card in the deck. However, he pushes on the mana base even more, and really pressures any hand that can’t make GWB by turn three. He often doesn’t want to come down on turn two and demands open mana, which goes against one of the strong points of the deck—optimizing your mana use every turn. I want to try this card a little more, and he could warrant an offshoot of the deck—perhaps with [card]Gravecrawler[/card] to get along with.

*Cartel Aristocrat excluded

[draft]Maw of the Obzedat[/draft]

I’ll cut to the chase and admit that I dislike Maw a lot. He does nothing in games where you don’t hit 5 mana, is dead in the early and midgame, and just outright unimpressive in games where you have to trade a lot of your resources off to remain at parity. Yeah he gets to kill the opponent out of nowhere if you were ahead on board or comes on the heels of Lingering Souls. The rest of the time, he’s sad and makes combat math slightly harder on the opponent. They have to respect him to a degree, but he’s only a game changer in a handful of situations.

Maw wasn’t atrocious in testing, but the deck is so tight that it became immediate the card was underperforming compared to nearly everything else. Compare him to [card]Gavony Township[/card] for a moment. Both want to do similar things where they pump the team and let you attack for lethal, preferably on the same turn they hit play.

Pros for Township:

• Has use early on as a land
• Can grow creatures over time
• Immune to the majority of removal
• Doesn’t require eating creatures

Cons of Township:

• Doesn’t have as immediate an impact on board
• Any use after the first costs more than Maw
• Isn’t another creature

Pros for Maw:

• Can [card]Overrun[/card] immediately
• Is another warm body to attack and block with
• Provides another sacrifice outlet
• Multiple activations don’t cost mana

Cons:

• No early game usage at all
• Horrific against countermagic
• Does little when only 2-3 creatures are on the board
• Multiples are weak for obvious reasons

As long as you treat [card]Gavony Township[/card] as a spell with some land benefits and not just a land, Township is a better choice. If you really want an extra spell and can’t stand the idea of not having X number of anthems, then play the last [card]Sorin, Lord of Innistrad[/card] before the first Maw.

[draft]Garruk Relentless[/draft]

He started off as a temporary replacement for [card]Sorin, Lord of Innistrad[/card] on Magic Online before my friend loaned me a few. He was surprisingly passable, even while lacking the critical anthem ability, as the extra-sized tokens made it easier to play defensively. Even after I had Sorin in the deck, I kept one Garruk in the deck as an extra planeswalker and I was mostly pleased when I drew him. He gives you yet another way to deal with opposing creatures and is sometimes the only way you have to deal with a [card]Boros Reckoner[/card] without throwing away multiple cards.

Again, while his tokens don’t provide any life, the bigger Wolf tokens make it far easier to team up with Aristocrat or Varolz in combat when taking down opposing guys. They also provide a relevant clock all on their own, while the Vampires can take some time to accumulate on the board. What sold Garruk was that when he wasn’t just getting Speared out of the game, I could frequently control his flips and he became very scary in a hurry. His tutor effect is on full display here, and often it allows you to force the opponent to become aggressive or risk getting buried in a few turns.

He can be very useful in mirrors, gives you another removal resistant threat against Islands and Jund, and provides a number of options no other card can give you.

Mana

I like to imagine my main opponent is the mana base, as that’s what I can attribute a fair number of my losses to. Initially I made this post in one of my FB groups when someone asked about Junk Aristocrats:

“Played like 30 matches with it over a few days. General opinions of the deck broken down into lands drawn.

A: Draw less lands than spells: you win
B: Draw equal lands and spells: you win
C: Draw either A or B without all 3 colors: you lose
D: Draw more lands than spells: you lose

In general the average draw felt good and the good draws felt way ahead against nearly everybody. Reanimator and Jund can both grind you out and everyone else basically needs to fight you for board superiority (where your cards all come back and pull double duty or never go away).

The mana is pretty wretch sometimes since you really want GBW by turn 2 with a fair number of hands and that just isn’t happening with this mana base.”

Newer lists have sought to rectify this by playing with the color totals a bit and cutting back on [card]Young Wolf[/card], leaning more toward WB cards. This is one of the better calls for players who don’t want to learn about painful mulligan decisions. Voice and Varolz are what make the deck very powerful and yet you want just enough green to turn them on every game.

17 Black
14 White
14 Green

These are the colored sources from Brad’s deck and they look pleasant enough. I think in a normal deck, they would actually be quite acceptable for what the deck’s curve looked like. Unfortunately, nearly all the good cards in the deck share a double-mana cost across two colors. This not only makes hands with only two colors much weaker than they would normally be, but it makes the classic all-Innistrad-dual hands unkeepable. Drawing a Township or Swamp doesn’t actually guarantee you’ll cast anything. In the end, if you want to tweak the mana by cutting back on spell-lands like Township or cutting down to the bare minimum of green cards, I understand. In fact, I think a 23 land version with or without [card]Young Wolf[/card] is likely viable.

I also considered [card]Blood Scrivener[/card] for a while, simply because flooding out with the deck was a death sentence. If you fall behind on actual spells, your precious cards have nothing to eat and the deck withers accordingly. There’s not a lot of upside about drawing 6 lands, outside of wanting to die because your deck can do so much with those 6 cards and just lose anyway. Part of the reason those RG and Naya decks have had such an impact is because they can get away with such a low land count. When you flood, you feel it bad because there’s no high-end in the deck outside of [card]Gavony Township[/card] and [card]Sorin, Lord of Innistrad[/card]. Same thing goes for flooding without drawing a sacrifice outlet, you end up throwing band aids on bullet wounds.

And with that I’ve covered enough for now, next week I’ll be talking about the matches and sideboarding with the deck. Until then!

Josh Silvestri
Email me at: joshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom

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