U.S. Nationals have come and gone, and while I’m disappointed that our reigning U.S. National Champion and my good buddy Ali Aintrazi couldn’t retain his title, our team looks sick. Gerry T. and Reid Duke? Not sure what else you could ask for. That’s not the only exciting thing to come out of Nationals, however! While it didn’t breach the Top 8, we were lucky to see an incredibly spicy deck played to a 10th place finish in the hands of Adam Bialkowski.

The deck in question is one I talked about before Ixalan was even released, and it combines two strong (but expensive) cards: Sunbird’s Invocation and Approach of the Second Sun. While Approach of the Second Sun has been seeing competitive success, red is not the most common color with which to pair it. But Sunbird’s Invocation is a tempting push in that direction.

When you cast Approach with Invocation out, with Approach on the stack (and having already now cast Approach once), you then look at the top seven cards. If another Approach is among them, you get to cast that second copy and win the game on the spot. That’s a pretty bonkers interaction in Standard, and basically equates to a kill with two cards. Granted, the two cards cost 6 and 7 mana, and you have to actually hit a second Approach, but the possibility is still there.

Sunbird’s Approach

I was eager to try the deck out, so I took it to Monday Night Magic. Unfortunately, I finished with a disappointing 1-3 record. Since Adam nearly managed a Top 8 with the list in a competitive field, I will assume that he knows more than I do when it comes to piloting the deck. That being said, I have no idea if he wanted to make changes after the event, or how well tuned it was to begin with, and I have a few ideas about what to adjust.

One of my biggest issues with the deck was not being able to hit a second white source for Gideon of the Trials, Settle the Wreckage, and Fumigate. I would be sitting there on turn 6 with 5 Mountains and 1 Stone Quarry. And this happened several times. Sure, it was variance, but there are more red sources than white sources in the deck! It’s only by one, but still.

At nearly every crucial turn, you want 2 white mana to cast your most important spells on curve. There is only one card in the deck that requires double-red (Chandra) while multiple cards require double-white. I wish there were more R/W dual lands, but alas. Evolving Wilds is an option, but I think it’s worse than another basic most of the time. I also like Aether Hub as a one-time use dual land, so maybe that? The fact that the deck is 2 colors means that there should only really be one turn where you need that extra red or white and don’t have it.

Another problem was that I rarely had anything to do before turn 3. In a format full of Ramunap Red that’s basically a death sentence, no matter how many Fumigates you have. There are only five cards in the deck that can be cast before turn 3, and on turn 3 all you have is Gideon. That means if Gideon is your first play, he’s basically dead. I went through all of the cards in Standard that cost 3 to give you some other options, and I think these are the best:

Aerial Responder: Always looking for a way to play Vampire Nuevohawk. While it does die to most removal in the format, if the red decks are killing this guy, they aren’t committing more threats to the board.

Sunscourge Champion: Aerial Responder 2.0. Kitchen Finks 2.0. You get it. I love this card and even if they kill it, you still get to bring it back as a 4/4 on turn 4.

Inspiring Cleric: This cuts to the chase regarding life gain, but it’s admittedly weaker than the previous two options. On the bright side, it can’t be targeted by Earthshaker Khenra.

Desert’s Hold: This is a card I’ve grown more and more fond of. It would require you to tweak the mana base and add more Deserts, but I think that’s possible. Either way, a great option if that’s something you want to do.

The deck is primarily a control deck, which is pretty obvious when you’re dealing with Approach—that’s a win condition for a control deck if I ever saw one.

When I was playing, there were several cards that did nothing for me. While I love the card advantage of Vance’s Blasting Cannons, you’re rarely if ever going to flip it. I also think it’s worst than another Chandra if you want that effect. Oketra the True was a blank nearly every time. I would bring her in against the control matchups, but that’s about it. While I love the potential of Ixalan’s Binding—being able to lock down 1 Hazoret and shut off any remaining copies in hand—you don’t need 6 of this 4-mana effect. I found myself mostly cycling Cast Outs in the early game because I knew I had 6 of them in my deck. I would also cut 1 Fumigate. You don’t need 6 Wrath effects, especially when they’re dead in certain matchups to begin with.

Out

Sorry, Vance. I’m kind of on the fence about Angel of Sanctions. I love the card, but only one makes me suspicious. Maybe none? Maybe more than one? Additionally, Huatli, Warrior Poet was… well… awesome. This is a great planeswalker to slam down after wiping the board. Also, having more creatures like the ones I mentioned means that her +2 isn’t just a blank. I was actually able to play her in my matches and shoot down 2 Bomat Couriers.

I would also add more 1- and 2-drops to give myself more game against the aggressive decks. Ultimately, it would look like this:

In

Maybe Magma Spray isn’t even good here, but feel free to configure things however you feel comfortable! I would also make some tweaks to the sideboard, like potentially even finding room for more Solemnity because it seems great against all of the energy decks. I do, however, like that the deck is transformational and can sideboard into a more aggressive deck. Random Captain Lannery Storm and Chandra’s Defeat I’m not so sure about, especially since Defeat doesn’t deal with Hazoret.

I like this deck a lot, and the fact that Adam did so well with it is a true testament to the fact that it can be a contender. I’m looking forward to trying it out with the tweaks, and I’d love to hear what you all think, whether you’ve played the deck or not!