The time has come! The full spoiler of Fate Reforged is upon us, so it’s time to stop the wild speculation, buckle down, and actually build some decks.
From my experience, the best way to win out of the gates in a new format is to choose a tried-and-true archetype. It’s also helpful to choose a well-balanced deck instead of one with a very extreme strategy. It’s a huge challenge to build a dedicated control deck before you know what decks your opponents are likely to bring to the table. Fast aggro can work, but it’s also very predictable and straightforward to sideboard against.
For my money, Sidisi Whip will be a great choice for the first couple of weeks of the new Standard format (at the very least!). The Whip of Erebos decks constitute my favorite archetype in current Standard, and Sidisi Whip is one of the most versatile and least vulnerable among the possible builds. That, and it stands to benefit from a few new weapons!
Sidisi Whip with Fate Reforged
Let’s start with Sultai’s flagship mythic:
Torrent Elemental really does it all. It’s an efficiently-costed flier that can block well and doesn’t die to Bile Blight or any burn spell in the format. As an attacker, it’s going to butcher anyone trying to defend themselves with blockers. It’s particularly good with the otherwise-fragile Sidisi, Brood Tyrant, and with Whip of Erebos, your opponents might as well give up on trying to race you!
I was never a big fan of Doomwake Giant in Sidisi Whip. Without the constellation theme, I always felt like the card was shoehorned in as a way to beat Hornet Queen in the mirror match. In general, though, it’s just a big dumb body that makes you excessively vulnerable to both enchantment hate and End Hostilities. I still have one in the sideboard, but I think Torrent Elemental gives you an elegant way of beating Hornet Queen without devoting a slot purely to the purpose.
All that, and I have yet to mention the best aspect of the card, which is being able to put it into play from exile! Abzan Charm, Utter End, Chained to the Rocks, and Banishing Light are already among the most common removal spells in Standard. Even more often, though, your Torrent Elemental will wind up in your graveyard where you can delve it away and put it straight onto the battlefield the following turn. When your opponents can’t beat you either by blocking, or by killing your creatures, you know you’re doing something right!
Tasigur, the Golden Fang
On the topic of delve, the other addition to the main deck is Tasigur, the Golden Fang, which is a card that I’m personally very excited about. His combat stats are fantastic, again matching up well against Stoke the Flames, Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker, and Siege Rhino. In a deck with Whip of Erebos, a 4/5 creature that you can often cast for one mana seems incredible. Add to that the fact that he’s a late-game mana sink and you have a card that strikes me as a great addition to the deck.
I’ve included two Commune with the Gods to fuel the extra delve cards I’ve added (and, in turn, the Torrent Elementals).
As a side note, I expect Tasigur to show up in Modern and Legacy too, at least in small numbers.
My Highlander sideboard is in part just for fun, but I also think that diversifying your options is a great way to start in a new format. Not only are you unsure what you’ll be up against, but you also don’t have enough experience to know what’s good! A sideboard with a lot of 1- and 2-ofs will give you maximum flexibility for tournament play and will accelerate your learning process during testing. For a deck like Sidisi Whip, which plows through a huge portion of its library every game, a Highlander sideboard doesn’t seem particularly far-fetched.
Before moving on to other things I’ll touch on a very special one-of in the sideboard, Shamanic Revelation. This is the type of card that’s printed fairly often, and typically gets more hype than it actually deserves. That said, this seems like a pretty darn good version of this effect! In a deck with Sidisi and Hornet Queen to spew out tokens, the card drawing ability could be a powerhouse in a slow, grindy matchup. This deck will only take minimal advantage of the life gain, but in more attacking or devotion-oriented green decks, the ferocious clause on the card looks to be quite powerful also.
U/R Delver at GP Omaha
I went 6-2-1 at the Modern GP in Omaha with U/R Delver, which is just short of the record needed to make Day Two. I was pretty happy with the archetype and very happy with my deck list. Treasure Cruise is absolutely insane, but there are plenty of other powerful things to do in Modern to the point that I think things are reasonably close to balanced.
I built my list with the goals of consistency and staying power. I cut Goblin Guide and Vapor Snag, and played a single Mana Leak as my only soft counter. I feel that all Goblin Guide, Vapor Snag, and Spell Pierce are good for is to the extremes of the archetype. They make your best draws faster and harder to compete with, but they also exacerbate the weaknesses of the deck. (The main weakness I’m referring to is the risk of your opponent killing off your early creatures while you’re stuck with a bunch of do-nothing tempo plays in your hand).
Delver, with Treasure Cruise, is too good to sacrifice flexibility. If you build your deck to do so, you can feel comfortable winning a 20-turn control game when the situation calls for it!
In one game, I Gitaxian Probed my Birthing Pod opponent to see a hand featuring Murderous Redcap, Murderous Cut, and Abrupt Decay. I knew I couldn’t win with a quick creature rush, so I decided to shift gears, use my counterspells defensively, and Treasure Cruise him out in the long game. Would I have had that option if my deck was all Goblin Guides and Spell Pierces?
I was disappointed to miss Day Two, especially given that I was having fun with, and was rather confident in, my Delver deck. Fortunately, I had a Standard deck I liked just as much and I wanted one last chance to play with it before Fate Reforged arrives to shake things up, so I entered the Super Sunday Series Standard.
BG Constellation Sunday Super Series Standard
While Sidisi Whip stands to benefit more from Fate Reforged, B/G Constellation is my deck of choice for current Standard. I played it to a 6-1-1 record, which was good enough to make Top 4. This deck is only slightly modified from the deck William Jensen, Owen Turtenwald, and I played at the World Championship.
Ever since we started testing for that event, I’ve felt that B/G Constellation’s been the best kept secret in Standard. My opinion is that Whip of Erebos decks are the best archetype in the format by a good margin and that constellation is the best version of the archetype by a good margin! It has smooth mana, great card advantage, an edge in the mirror, and no clear weaknesses.
More specifically, I feel B/G Constellation is about 50/50 against U/W Heroic and against dedicated control decks (U/B, U/W, Jeskai Control). Those matchups aside, I believe it has a substantial edge against virtually every other deck in the format. Anyone trying to win with creatures will have a hard time against Hornet Queen and Doomwake Giant and anyone trying to grind you out will have a hard time against Eidolon of Blossoms, Whip of Erebos, and Read the Bones.
The changes I made to the list were to diversify the sideboard removal package to better handle the popular Abzan Aggro, Tokens, and Monsters decks. I also changed the mana base to include tons of gain life lands. I tend to value incidental life gain more than just about everybody else, and the deck’s mana is so smooth and consistent that you can easily afford it. Also, seven copies of Thoughtseize and Read the Bones in the 75 is a lot, and you need some life gain in order to offset that over the course of a long game.
Super Sunday Series Top 8 Draft
In the Top 8, I drafted what I felt was a very good (though not insane) B/W Warriors deck. Mardu Hordechief already ranks among the best commons in KTK draft, but when you have multiple ways (two Chief of the Edge and two Rush of Battle) to pump your creatures’ power, it’s simply unfair. A good curve-out with Chief of the Edge and Mardu Hordechief on the play unloads damage way too fast for anyone without a 2-drop to ever compete with.
I faced a dilemma in building the deck, as I had about 37 cards I was happy with, and had to find a way to fill out the last three. I’d drafted three copies of Shambling Attendants and two copies of Rakshasa’s Secret (to go with my one Bitter Revelation) as a bit of a delve package. The more Secrets I played, the better the expensive delve cards would become, but in the absence of the delve cards, I didn’t particularly want to play the Secrets. I didn’t have five slots to devote, so I just erred on the side of playing the creatures, even though they were slow. I often boarded in the Rakshasa’s Secrets when I was on the draw.
I had a third Rush of Battle, but I think playing three copies of a card like that is a mistake in all but the most extreme of circumstances. Finally, I had a third Defiant Strike, which was an option as well. However, if my deck was to contain three do-nothing cantrips, it probably becomes correct to play 16 lands, but I didn’t want to do that because I needed to curve out smoothly and needed both white and black mana in the early game. I opted for the second Attendants over my other close options.
To make a long story short, I had a pretty good fast-aggro deck and had insane draws throughout the Top 8. I never mulliganed (although I did keep one borderline hand), and when I looked at my opening seven in the final game of the tournament, I could hardly keep my hands from shaking. I was on the play with both colors of mana and a Chief of the Edge into Mardu Hordechief curve out. While it wasn’t a guaranteed victory, it would take something very special for my opponent to beat me.
In the end I emerged victorious over the very-skilled Brandon Nelson in the finals and won the Sunday Super Series! For better or for worse, this qualified me for the 2016 championship—not 2015—so I’ll have a full year to bide my time. Meanwhile, everyone should check out the coverage of this year’s championship on January 24-25. It’s a very cool tournament featuring wacky formats, talented players, and people generally having a lot of fun. Go Matt Costa!