Standard Rough Drafts: Aristocrats and Jeskai

A new Standard format is nearly upon us, so here are three more archetypes for your consideration before this weekend reveals some new benchmarks.

BW Aristocrats

This deck is surprisingly good, and it owes a lot to the fact that sweepers are weak right now and the 3-drops are absurdly strong. Aside from Nantuko Husk, I would’ve loved to play Drana or Liliana in my old Junk Aristocrats build. There are a number of other sweet 3-drops if you’re willing to go into more colors—but more on that later.

What the deck lacks in raw power, it makes up for by flooding the board with minions to do your bidding and its resilience to removal. When you do assemble Voltron (typically a number of creature spawners, Zulaport Cutthroat and Husk) you often can just win in a turn or two.

The key to this new take on Aristocrats is not what the internet would have you believe—Zulaport Cutthroat is no Blood Artist. It doesn’t force your opponent into horrific blocking scenarios, nor does it encourage trading on your side nearly as much its predecessor. Instead, Zulaport Cutthroat is just there to keep your opponent honest when picking off 1/1s and strengthens your natural resilience against sweepers. Plus, every so often you’ll draw a pair of them, and suddenly you can just sacrifice your board for the combo kill.

The real threat is actually Nantuko Husk or Drana alongside a horde of creatures to do real work.

This time around, the format isn’t particularly well equipped to deal with hordes of creatures, so getting in for 3-5 points of damage and losing a random body isn’t a big deal. Husk is still good at dictating the terms of combat, and powers Cutthroat and Liliana.

Gideon, Ally of Zendikar would be an A+ in this deck, but the mana base just doesn’t allow for him. If you’re willing to go to 23-24 lands* and increase your mana curve, then go for it—he’s amazing. But, you can’t afford to flood out with an aggressive deck like this one, and Shambling Vent only does so much. Unless you slow your deck down by adding lands, there’s just no good way to ensure that you hit WW on turn 4. For now, I’m sticking with Sorin to minimize the white costs and as a hedge against red and landfall aggressive decks.

*The most common land base I’ve seen for that includes:

3-4 Flooded Strand
3-4 Polluted Delta
1 Prairie Stream
1 Sunken Hollow
1 Plains

This can work, but you dimish your chances of hitting an untapped black source on turn 1.

You could go mono-black to give you perfect mana, more Mortuary Mires as flood insurance, and Smothering Abomination or Grim Haruspex as draw engines.

You could use Abzan Ascendancy as a one-time Gavony Township activation and token generator in exchange for messing up the mana a bit. It also increases your sideboard options pretty dramatically, which is a nice bonus. On the other hand, you lose both speed and consistency. It’s a good thing the Vancouver mulligan is in effect because you can get some real LSV sample hands with the 3-color builds.

Jeskai

I already talked about Jeskai a fair bit in my article on Brutal Expulsion, and I just wanted to answer some general questions.

Where’s Dragonlord Ojutai?

This is probably the most common question I hear and it basically comes down to how aggressively you want to play and what you expect to play against. I love Draconic Roar, and if there were a cheap Dragon I wanted to play, or more ways to gain life, I’d probably be on a Dragon build.

The problem for me is that the Dragons solve issues that don’t exist in the metagame. Almost every competitive player I meet is playing a haymaker deck or some variation of Aristocrats. All the Abzan decks have some mix of Abzan Charm and Valorous Stance, which means that even without Hero’s Downfall, your Dragon is highly likely to die if you attack.

The ubiquitousness of Hangarback Walker also makes Ojutai worse, since it just gets chumped while leaving itself open to removal. That Ojutai checks Wingmate Roc is nice, but Languish and Siege Rhino are still issues (at least until Gideon drops down and pumps them into trading range).

Thunderbreak Regent is a respectable creature, but, like Ojutai, dies to common removal. If you still had the burn suite to make his ability relevant and the mana to cast him, then Gideon is just a much better threat. If the opponent is on the draw, they have to decide whether jamming a Rhino is actually worth letting you attack freely with Gideon. If you’re racing, the cards are similar—but Gideon turns into a permanent Glorious Anthem in a pinch.

Jace doesn’t need the help to be unreal good in this deck. Having cheap burn was nice, but now buying back Draconic Roar is a sweet new possibility. Just using his -3 ability on Valorous Stance/Jeskai Charm/Crackling Doom is still insane, and because planeswalkers last longer in this format, you can even flash back a Treasure Cruise or Dig Through Time.

The appeal of Jeskai is that you have the best curve in the format when you’re on the play—Jace into Rider into Gideon or Ojutai’s Command is better than any other start in Standard.

I could be wrong about that, but I just don’t want to be a less controlling Esper/5cc Dragons deck or try to trade haymakers with Bring to Light Abzan. The biggest problem with countermagic in the deck is that it is at odds with playing out your curve. On turn 4 you want to be able to hold up counterspells, but if you do that and they don’t play a Rhino, then you throw your curve off. You are then left with an odd situation where you really don’t want to tap out for a threat but risk wasting a turn if you hold mana open. As a result, I’ve ignored countermagic that didn’t serve another purpose or was so cheap I could play a threat and protect it.

Dragonmaster Outcast solves the finisher issue I wrestled with in older versions of the deck. It creates a threat that naturally dodges a lot of removal in the format, creates threats that go over Wingmate Roc, and can take over a game in just a few turns. As a bonus it combos wonderfully with Ojutai’s Command—discard it to Jace early on, and then bring it back on an end step to immediately net a Dragon later in the game.

Gideon is the best 4-drop for the deck, but the mana costs are very stringent and can easily leave you with a card stranded in your hand. Properly sequencing your lands with this deck reminds me of playing Modern Zoo or 4c Legacy Delver.

Regardless of the exact build of Jeskai you enjoy: controlling, aggressive, or with Knight of the White Orchid, this could be its time to shine. Jeskai covers all the bases, maintains a high power level on the play, and punishes any opponent that stumbles. Your card quality now matches the format, instead of feeling like you were forced to play slightly weaker cards to maintain flexibility.

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