We’ve seen a small handful of dedicated combo decks in Standard over the past few years, but they’ve mostly been relegated to the shadowy fringes of the format. Sideboard cards have rarely been necessary, since a reasonable clock combined with the combo decks’ high failure rates were always enough to have a fighting chance. In Standard, we’re used to playing honest Magic.
So the recent success of Rally the Ancestors is a frightening trend. A deck exists in Standard—one of the best decks, at that—which operates on a completely different axis from everything else, and cannot easily be shut down through normal methods. Players who are not intimately familiar with how Rally the Ancestors works, and what it’s capable of, are easy prey. The goal of today’s article is to make sure that my readers aren’t among them.
4-Color Rally the Ancestors
By Simon Nielsen, 2nd place at GP Brussels
Last week at GP Brussels, one of the top European professional teams (Team EUreka), showed up playing Rally the Ancestors en masse. They put three players into the Top 8, and boasted a staggering overall win rate. Fans of the Standard Super League might also be familiar with the deck because of Li Shi Tian’s dominant performance with his take on the archetype.
Basically, the Rally deck plays out as a value creature deck, packed with sacrifice effects and abilities that trigger when creatures die. In this way, it’s reminiscent of the Aristocrats decks of two seasons ago. What makes it even scarier, however, is the threat of Rally the Ancestors winning the game on the spot (or at least burying the opponent in card advantage).
Early in the game, Rally the Ancestors can be cashed in as a modest value play, providing a handful of enters-the-battlefield and sacrifice triggers. As the game drags on, the graveyard and battlefield come to be stacked with a critical mass of creatures, meaning that a late-game Rally will almost always be lethal. Perhaps the best thing about the deck is that Catacomb Sifter and Grim Haruspex can be used to dig toward Rally the Ancestors, giving the deck a remarkable level of consistency and control over the game.
Remember, Rally the Ancestors is an instant, so even decks with permission spells will find it challenging to play safely for the entire game around the threat of a combo finish.
What to Do
• Play with Anafenza, the Foremost. Rally the Ancestors had a great performance at GP Brussels, and the story that’s been made of it is that the Rally deck preys on Abzan decks. This is only partially true. Rally the Ancestors demolishes WG-based decks like Megamorph, and therefore has an easy time beating many of Abzan’s possible hands. Yet, Anafenza, the Foremost remains one of the best cards in the matchup. If you cast Anafenza and the Rally player cannot remove it via Sidisi’s Faithful or a sideboard removal spell, then you’re well on your way to winning. If you have access to white, green, and black mana, I advise putting 4 copies of Anafenza in your main deck. It won’t guarantee a favorable matchup against Rally, but it will most certainly help. Remember also that you can help protect her by killing Sidisi’s Faithful with the exploit trigger on the stack.
• Play with Dispel and other permission spells. That Rally the Ancestors is an instant gives its controller a lot of play against control decks. But the brutal efficiency of Dispel will often still win out. Lukas Blohon won GP Brussels (defeating Rally in the finals) using Esper Dragons and its suite of permission spells. Duress isn’t as good, since it will miss too frequently. It also helps to combine your permission spells with a fast clock like Dragonlord Ojutai or Mantis Rider.
• Play red. Speaking of fast clocks, Rally the Ancestors is a deck that needs time to set up. If you can shorten the game, and reduce the number of cards they can see and the amount of mana they can spend, their cards will individually look fairly pathetic. Paul Rietzl dealt Li Shi Tian his first loss in the finals of the Standard Super League with his RG Landfall deck (which, by the way, he declared to be the best deck in Standard). Swing for the fences, and don’t give them any room to breathe!
• Play some practice games against Rally the Ancestors. If you can, play some practice games with Rally the Ancestors! This is a challenging and unintuitive deck, and you’ll play much better against it if you’re familiar with the deck list and the tricks it’s capable of. If the first game you play against Rally is in round 4 of your next Standard tournament, then you’re going to need some very impressive Magic instincts to get out of the match alive.
What Not to Do
• Don’t play a non-interactive deck like WG Megamorph or Eldrazi Green. Just as red decks are good choices because you won’t give Rally room to breathe, these decks are poor choices because you give them all the time and space they need to set up. Against an experienced Rally the Ancestors player, your chances of winning will be very, very low.
• Don’t try to grind them out. The Rally deck has a lot of built-in card advantage, and most of its cards (other than Rally the Ancestors itself) are replaceable. Worst yet, they’re happy if their creatures wind up in the graveyard! You won’t have much luck trying to beat Rally by killing all of their creatures one at a time. Instead, focus on clocking them as quickly as possible, and using a few well-placed disruptive spells to ensure that they don’t combo you out.
Rally the Ancestors is a strong deck that’s capable of many powerful tricks. However, the greatest advantage that its pilots have is that they’ll have played far more games against fair decks than the fair deck pilots will have played against Rally. If you’ve read this article, then you’ve managed to cut into that advantage at least a little bit. If possible, take it one step further by practicing the matchup, and nailing down your gameplay strategy and sideboard plan.