Oath of the Gatewatch brings a ton of new colorless tools, and in this article I’ll attempt to construct an Affinity-esque deck for the new Standard. As you might know, I love the Affinity deck in Modern, in part because its colorless nature brings many benefits. Affinity decks can abuse artifact-reliant spells like Cranial Plating, can include utility lands like Inkmoth Nexus, and can turn on constraining cards like Etched Champion, which other decks don’t have access to.
Can we do something similar in Standard? Given the contents of Oath of the Gatewatch, I think we might. In a properly constructed colorless aggro deck, Ghostfire Blade can be your Cranial Plating, Sea Gate Wreckage can be your Inkmoth Nexus, and Matter Reshaper can be your Etched Champion. Sure, those Standard cards are likely a bit worse than their Modern “equivalents” and there is nothing like Mox Opal in Standard, but that’s my conceptual view at least. It’s the starting point that inspired me to explore the options.
The Mana Base Is The Key Restriction
Let’s start with the most important part. No, not the spells themselves, but the mana base. In Standard’s 3-color decks, the mana base is so good that you can pretty much cherry pick all the gold cards you want, but in a deck that requires colorless mana, things are more difficult—fetchlands and battlelands won’t help produce colorless mana.
If you want to play powerful colorless-mana-requiring cards like Warping Wail, Matter Reshaper, or Thought-Knot Seer (which I’ll talk about later) then I would like to have at least 13 sources of colorless mana in my deck, preferably more. Likewise, for single-colored colored 2-drops, I would like to have at least 13 sources of that color of mana—the more the better.
Fortunately, there are plenty of colored/colorless “dual” lands available.
I like the pain lands the best. Corrupted Crossroads is strictly worse than a pain land in a 2-color deck, but possibly better in a 3-color devoid deck. Evolving Wilds makes the list because it can find Wastes if necessary—it’s a fine card to have even if the land you search for enters the battlefield tapped.
Crumbling Vestige also enters tapped, but it can produce colored mana immediately. The problem is that you can only get a single use out of it. So, while I would count 4 Crumbling Vestige as 4 sources of colorless mana, I would only count them as, say, 2 sources of black mana as a rule of thumb.
There are alternative colored/colorless “dual” lands such as Holdout Settlement and Unknown Shores, but I don’t like them because they won’t allow you to cast something like a Bearer of Silence on turn 2. I also left out Ally Encampment, Crucible of the Spirit Dragon, and Haven of the Spirit Dragon. I don’t see a lot of overlap between devoid and allies/dragons, but these options are technically available.
Before I showcase some sample mana bases, let’s go over the best lands that only produce colorless mana but have useful other abilities.
This land was a key inspiration to building a deck with a colorless-heavy mana base. The cost of including it in your mana base is almost negligible in a colorless deck, while the ability to continually draw cards can easily decide a long game. I mean, I’ve happily played Keldon Megaliths and Scrying Sheets in Mono-Red Standard decks before, and Sea Gate Wreckage might be better than both of them.
I expect this land to be great in Standard, but you have to be mindful of the hellbent condition. I think Sea Gate Wreckage will be best in low-curve decks that reliably empty their hand quickly. This means no countermagic or situational removal spells, for you might be stuck with those in hand. But at the same time, it’s not great in a hyper-aggressive deck filled with 1-drop creatures only—you might be able to empty your hand quickly, but drawing an extra 2/1 for 1 is unlikely to make much of a difference on turn 7. You need cheap cards that are good early and good late. All in all, we might be looking at somewhere between aggro and midrange on the spectrum.
One final interesting thing to mention is that the ability only checks on activation. So if you’re hellbent, you can activate 1 Sea Gate Wreckage, respond by activating another, and you’ll end up drawing 2 cards.
You didn’t forget about these, did you? All of these lands produce colorless and sacrifice for a beneficial effect. For the colorless deck that I have in mind, I like Blighted Fen and Foundry of the Consuls the best because they provide a decent effect for an attainable cost.
It enters the battlefield tapped, but a copied creature will usually be better than the effect from Blighted Fen or Foundry of the Consuls. The best way to abuse the copy effect is with cheap cards that have an additional or reduced mana cost, such as Bone Splinters, Magmatic Insight, Dig Through Time, or Murderous Cut.
Another collection of lands with marginal bonuses. None of them are super exciting, but all of them might be fine to have access to in a long game.
These are for a different deck—I’m not planning to ramp into huge Eldrazis.
Oran-Rief, the Vastwood was in the Standard deck that won the 2009 World Championship, and this card is similar. It’s a little worse because it doesn’t boost all creatures, but on the other hand there could be some synergy with Hangarback Walker. Before Oath of the Gatewatch, the fact that it only taps for colorless mana might have been a downside, but that need not be the case anymore with all the new cards that require colorless mana.
Now let’s build some sample mana bases to explore the possibilities.
A Sample Mana Base For A Single-Color Deck:
This has 25 lands with 15 sources of black and 15 sources of colorless. That’s fine if you don’t want or need double-colored cards. There are only 3 enters-the-battlefield-tapped lands, which means that you should be able to curve out nicely and can easily run several 1-drops.
One benefit of staying mono-colored is that you don’t rely on Corrupted Crossroads. This means that you can fit “regular” spells like Duress and Murderous Cut rather than having to rely on Transgress the Mind and Complete Disregard. Ghostfire Blade incentivizes a focus on devoid creatures anyway, but it does matter for non-creature spells.
I love how many colorless utility lands we can fit in. You might be surprised to see so many 1-of lands, but I like to have options. When there is not much difference in power level between the lands and activation costs are steep, I prefer to be able to choose between Rogue’s Passage and Blighted Fen with my free mana rather than having multiple copies of the same mana sink in play. Versatility is worth a lot to me.
With regard to the mix between categories of lands: Next to 4 Sea Gate Wreckage, I think it is fine to have 3-4 lands that sacrifice for an effect and 2-3 lands that just need to tap for an effect. You don’t want more than that because then you’ll run into heavy diminishing returns.
A Sample Mana Base For A Deck With Two Allied Colors
Can we fit Forerunner of Slaughter in a mana base with enough colorless sources?
These 25 lands produce 14 sources of colorless (counting 3 Evolving Wilds as 2 sources only because you have to make a choice) in addition to 14 sources of red and 15 sources of black (counting 2 Crumbling Vestige as 1 red and 1 black, counting 3 Evolving Wilds as 2 black and 2 red, and counting 4 Bloodstained Mire as 3 black and 3 red). This works if all spells costing red or black have devoid for Corrupted Crossroads. In total, there are 19 lands that can yield black and/or red, which makes Forerunner of Slaughter feasible. You’ll sometimes mulligan into an awkward hand with Sea Gate Wreckage and Bloodstained Mire as your only lands, but most of the time you’ll have access to RB on turn 2.
So it could work. The only downside of this mana base is that you don’t have much room for colorless utility lands.
A sample mana base for a deck with 2 enemy colors:
Using the same accounting as before, these 25 lands produce 17 colorless, 15 black, and 15 white.
Caves of Koilos is obviously great, and without Forerunner of Slaughter weighing down on the mana base, there is more room for utility lands. However, when you already have 4 Shambling Vent and 4 Sea Gate Wreckage, the additional benefits of those are small.
A Sample Mana Base For A 3-Color Deck
This mana base is brought to you by Corrupted Crossroads and Evolving Wilds as our “quad-lands.” There are many pain-lands, but with some creative counting, I get to 17 sources of colorless, 13 red, 14 blue, and 14 white. So I guess it’s possible to run three colors next to colorless-requiring cards. I’m not sure why would want to play a three-color devoid deck, but it’s possible nonetheless.
“Colorless-requiring cards” sounds terrible to me, by the way. If you have a suggestion for a better name for this set of cards, then please let me know!
Either way, we’ve explored the mana bases and concluded that they are feasible. I think we’re done here.
Oh, right. The spells. I suppose we could go over those as well.
At this point in the brewing process, I don’t know what the deck is going to look like exactly, but I know we’ll want to start with 4 Ghostfire Blade. This equipment has proven its power in the UR Ensoul decks of last year’s Standard, and it has even been considered in Modern Affinity lists. It’s simply a strong, mana-efficient card when all your creatures are colorless.
Besides the equipment, we’ll surely have some additional noncreature spells. Due to the colorless lands, I don’t think we’ll make much use of Painful Truths or gold cards. But single-color staples like Duress, Fiery Impulse, Murderous Cut, Silkwrap, Self-Inflicted Wound, Roast, Ultimate Price, Disdainful Stroke, Collected Company, and so on are all fair options for the main deck and/or sideboard.
But we’ll fill out the spell slots later when we’ve decided which color(s) we want to run. For that, let’s consider the colorless-requiring cards. (Yeah, this terminology isn’t great.)
Interesting Cards That Require Colorless Mana
I’ll evaluate the cards that stood out to me, in no particular order.
This card is excellent! A 3/3 for 3 is unspectacular, but the activated ability is super versatile. It can temporarily displace their attackers or blockers, kill opposing Hangarback Walkers, or re-use your creatures’ ETB effects. The only downside is that there is a steep mana requirement for the activation, which may be tough for a colorless deck whose lands already provide enough mana sinks. But the power is there.
Bearer of Silence
I’ve considered Welkin Tern for Standard decks before, so the base stats are not unreasonable for the cost. Bearer of Silence is even better than Welking Tern due to Ghostfire Blade. But what puts the card over the top is the forced sacrifice, which is easily worth 2 mana. It’s an on-cast trigger, so flickering it with Eldrazi Displacer won’t do you much good, but it does get around countermagic.
The card reminds me of Gatekeeper of Malakir and Flametongue Kavu, both of which say plenty of play in Standard in decks that could afford their mana costs. Bearer of Silence is good with or without the kicker, and I see it as a big draw towards building the deck with black.
It’s a good setup card for processors like Wasteland Strangler, Ulamog’s Nullifier, or Blight Herder. Compared to Bearer of Silence, you gain flash and the ability to block, which means that it fits better in a less aggressive deck. The colorless-requiring ability is much worse than the one on Bearer of Silence, though. Overall, Dimensional Infiltrator is a decent card—Welkin Tern would complain of power creep—but I’m not getting super excited unless my deck is filled with Processors.
A 3/1 haste for 2R is not a great deal, but the Act of Treason effect can swing a damage race. Compared to Zealous Conscripts, which has seen Standard play before, Eldrazi Obligator gains versatility but lacks toughness and the ability to steal planeswalkers. I also think that hyper-aggressive decks, which best exploit an Act of Treason, will have a hard time getting to 5 mana. These decks may be better off with a cheaper card like Goblin Heelcutter. Overall, Eldrazi Obligator is playable but I’m not all that impressed.
Caller of the Claw used to be a great follow-up to board sweepers. In the current Standard, however, cards like Languish don’t see a ton of play, and Vile Redeemer is most of the time going to be a Nessian Courser/Ambassador Oak split card that has flash and synergy with Ghostfire Blade. That’s playable but far from amazing.
Kozilek, the Great Distortion
Like Ulamog, he’ll be excellent in a dedicated ramp deck, but that’s not the type of deck I want to focus on right now. An Eldrazi ramp deck with Kozilek’s Return is likely going to be a player in Standard, but I want to make a faster deck to abuse Sea Gate Wreckage and Ghostfire Blade.
So I guess Kozilek ate Vendilion Clique and spat out Thought-Knot Seer? Either way, this card seems good! The 4/4 loses to Siege Rhino but is a decent size otherwise, and I like the hand disruption. If your opponent kills or bounces it, then the random card they get back is likely worse than the one you exiled. So in that regard, Thought-Knot Seer is better than Tidehollow Sculler. Exiling is also relevant for processors like Wasteland Strangler. There is a nightmare scenario where your opponent reveals a hand full of lands and then topdecks a removal spell, but you can’t have everything.
I should also point out that it’s an enters-the-battlefield ability rather than an on-cast trigger. So in conjunction with Eldrazi Displacer you could generate kind of a reverse Vendilion Clique trigger that feeds Processors. That may not be worth the effort, but it does give you some control over the contents of your opponent’s hand. With enough mana, you could keep blinking during your opponent’s draw step until they don’t have a nonland card anymore.
This card is powerful! The best comparison I can think of is that it’s a mix between Coiling Oracle, Kitchen Finks, and Bloodbraid Elf. The death trigger is strictly better than Coiling Oracle, the body is the same as Kitchen Finks, and if the top card of your deck is a cheap non-land permanent (which will happen 40% of the time in a typical 60-card deck with 24 permanents of cost-3-or-less) then the death trigger is akin to cascade.
Sometimes it’s even better than cascade—if the top of your deck turns out to be Hangarback Walker or Bearer of Silence, for example, then you can opt to put them in your hand instead of onto the battlefield.
If you hit a land, then, that’s still fine because you dig one card deeper in your deck and essential gain mana ramp that would be welcomed by Sea Gate Wreckage.
One sad aspect is that many of the popular removal spells in the current Standard exile Matter Reshaper—you won’t get a free card if your opponent uses Silkwrap or Abzan Charm. Anafenza will also be annoying. But there are still enough Murderous Cuts, Fiery Impulses, and combat trades possible to get proper value, so I like what the card offers.
A final remark is that the ability fits the deck design philosophy of a Collected Company deck quite well. You want to play a lot of hittable permanents, most notably other 3-mana creatures, to take advantage of Matter Reshaper, and Collected Company wants the same thing. So there is some overlap potential here.
Discard! What kind of Eldrazi is this? I thought all Eldrazi cards exiled!
This befuddlement notwithstanding, Reality Smasher reminds me of Giant Solifuge—another high-power trampler with haste that saw plenty of play in Standard ages ago. To be fair, “can’t be targeted” is much stronger than “your opponent takes a small hit when they target,” but a 5/5 is much bigger than a 4/1. The body is particularly well-positioned against Siege Rhino.
One awkward aspect is that Stasis Snare can still exile Reality Smasher because the spell doesn’t target while it is on the stack, but fortunately that enchantment does not see a ton of play right now.
Overall, Reality Smasher seems like a decent top end to the curve of an aggressive deck. Such a deck doesn’t want too many 5 drops, but 2 copies or so should be fine.
It doesn’t kill Anafenza or Siege Rhino, but it’s a still good answer to Jace, Warden of the First Tree, Soulfire Grand Master, and Monastery Mentor. But that means that it does mostly the same thing as a Fiery Impulse for 1 more mana. As a result, I’m not that impressed, especially because Sea Gate Wreckage won’t be happy if there is no target on the battlefield. But it is nice that green or blue decks with enough colorless sources gain access to a reasonable removal card.
Yay, an Eldrazi Charm! The first ability can kills most of the creatures that Spatial Contortion could. It’s a strong answer to Jace and Hangarback Walker in particular, and the exile clause could be relevant for Wasteland Strangler.
But the versatility is what makes the card great. If your opponent didn’t have a cheap creature, then you can counter Duress, Painful Truths, or Radiant Flames. Or, as arguably the least powerful mode, you can simply make a 1/1 that can ramp you or carry a Ghostfire Blade. I like options, and Warping Wail provides them like a charm.
Reasonable Colorless Creatures For Ghostfire Blade
We’ve already gone over a bunch of them above, but now let’s focus on the colorless creatures that don’t need colorless mana. (Yeah this nomenclature is starting to annoy me.)
These are the gold options. Forerunner of Slaughter stands out. Catacomb Sifter and Dust Stalker are good as well, but they have a lot of competition from Matter Reshaper and Thought-Knot Seer, respectively.
These are “payoff’ cards for being colorless-heavy. Most are weak, but Kozilek’s Sentinel and Vile Aggregate are fine. I brewed up some decks for Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar that included them, and they were acceptable even if those brews didn’t end up being good enough.
Yes please. This card is already seeing Standard play with Silkwrap and Mardu Woe-Reaper. Those decks typically have 11 exile effects, so that’s a good target number to keep in mind. When you add Ghostfire Blade, additional exile cards, and a possible Matter Reshaper hit, I’m certainly interested, and I’m almost sure that my deck will be base black to take advantage of Wasteland Strangler.
Good old Hangarback Walker. I’m not sure we’ll be able to set up many +1/+1 counter synergies, and I’d prefer to hit better 2-drops with Matter Reshaper, but it’s always a good option to have.
Blight Herder is good, but reliably turning it on is not trivial. I could envision Blight Herder in a more controlling, exile-oriented deck with Flaying Tendrils, but I think a Processor deck would certainly like to have Wasteland Strangler, which doesn’t synergize well with the -2/-2 effect. Getting enough overlap in Processor/exile cards that work well together is tough.
Endless One is playable yet unspectacular. It also doesn’t work well with Matter Reshaper.
Finally, a new card! Carnophage, Sarcomany, and Vampire Lacerator have been staples of suicidal black aggro decks over the years, so this fits right in. With Ghostfire Blade, you could be attacking for 4 by turn 2.
As a 1-drop, Reaver Drone competes with Sludge Crawler. In a deck that doesn’t abuse ingest, I think Reaver Drone is better. In a deck with 4 Wasteland Strangler, the call is much closer. I think I like Reaver Drone slightly better, but I’m not entirely sure.
Cute. I might be going too much into magical Christmas land scenarios here, but in a deck with Thought-Knot Seer and Reality Smasher, this could play in a similar way to Snapping Gnarlid. The similarity is that it’s a weak body if you can’t trigger it, but pretty good for its cost if you can. Ideally, you’ll attack as a 3/2 on turn 3, a 4/4 on turn 4, and a 5/5 on turn 5. That’s not bad at all.
Heh. Risky business. It’s a big flier, but too many things can go wrong if you churn this out on turn 4 or 5. So it’s more of a late-game card that may improve the quality of your draw steps for a limited amount of turns, not the curve-topper that a normal deck needs.
Relevant Devoid Spells For Corrupted Crossroads
Besides the creatures listed above, we have these options as non-creature spells.
As a note, Titan’s Presence is not in this list because it doesn’t have devoid. But I would be hesitant to run that card anyway due to the risk of having a dead card in hand for Sea Gate Wreckage.
Alright, those were all the main options. Hope I didn’t miss any good ones. Now let’s build a deck.
“Mono-Brown” is an old name for decks that play almost entirely artifacts. The old artifact border was brown, hence the name. It’s technically not appropriate for this deck, but it sure sounds better than “Mono-Black with colorless-requiring cards” so let’s go with it.
I chose to stick to a mono-color build (the fetchlands are just there to fuel delve) but adding a color is certainly a possibility. As I showed, the mana bases are feasible. We could add white for Eldrazi Displacer and Silkwrap. We could splash green for Catacomb Sifter and Collected Company. Or we could run red for Forerunner of Slaughter and Dust Stalker. But I felt happy enough with the current build and all the card advantage options already in the deck, so I chose to stick to a single color.
Of course, this is just an early brew, and it won’t be the second coming of Affinity because there is no artifact mana acceleration and the cards are not as powerful. But I’m looking forward to seeing how all these new colorless cards will find their place in Standard, and I hope this article provided you some insight on the deck and mana base options.