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Valuable Lessons – Out for Flesh and Blood!

Welcome back to Valuable Lessons. Over the last two weeks, we’ve examined the most aggressive and controlling ends of the spectrum in Standard. Today, we’ll be looking at midrange strategies.

Time is running out. A week from today, Pro Tour Theros will be in the books. A new Standard metagame will be established, advanced draft strategies will emerge, and a Pro Tour Champion will be crowned. It’s been almost three years since the last time I got to play at the Pro Tour level and I’m filled with nervous excitement.

Last weekend, we saw a few strategies emerge as format favorites. We’ve passed the point of taking shots in the dark. It has become very clear that red decks and blue/white control are the decks to beat coming into the Pro Tour. Something crazy could happen between now and Friday, but I think there’s a reasonably established set of decks we should aim to beat. Feel free to check out my Perilous Research column from last Thursday on Dailymtg.com for a more in-depth look at those targets.

Let’s talk about the best ways to beat red and blue/white or Esper.

It’s hard to find cards that are particularly strong against both red and control decks, but there are a few:

[draft]Voice of Resurgence[/draft]

[card]Voice of Resurgence[/card] is exactly the type of card we want if we’re looking to deal with extremes. Against aggressive decks, Voice of Resurgence usually nets a 2-for-1 in our favor. Against control decks, Voice of Resurgence forces opponents to tap mana on their main phase and gives us the opportunity to resolve our most important threats. Voice of Resurgence matches up well against the two biggest decks from week one and it also happens to be one of the most powerful cards in the format.

[draft]Dreadbore[/draft]

[card]Dreadbore[/card] is a particularly powerful spot removal option that interacts favorably with [card]Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver[/card], one of the breakout stars of the new Standard. Dreadbore can also interact favorably against Jace, Architect of Thought, but you need your deck to be applying a lot of pressure to force your opponent to tick up their Jace, Architect of Thought. If we’re playing a more controlling midrange strategy, then our opponent will certainly be using the mini-[card]Fact or Fiction[/card] ability the turn they cast him. We’ll find ourselves down a card or two in this exchange and ultimately lose the game if we aren’t cutting off their [card]Sphinx’s Revelations[/card] or closing the game quickly after [card read the bones]reading a lot of bones[/card].

[draft]Jace, Architect of Thought[/draft]

Jace, Architect of Thought is very good, even against the most aggressive decks in this format. The absence of [card]Flinthoof Boar[/card] and [card]Thundermaw Hellkite[/card] in Standard greatly increases Jace’s survivability against the most aggressive strategies. This is a card we can be sure to see a lot of in the coming months.

There are likely a few more gems to be found in the entirety of Standard, but Voice of Resurgence, Dreadbore, and Jace, Architect of Thought are scattered enough that we should be able to use at least one of these cards in whatever color-combination midrange strategy we’re hoping to battle with.

Let’s spend a moment discussing specific cards that seem fit well in a midrange deck:

[draft]Anger of the Gods[/draft]

[card]Anger of the Gods[/card] is an interesting card for the new Standard. Initially, I believed Anger of the Gods would push [card]Burning-Tree Emissary[/card] decks into obscurity and cause nightmares for green/white players. However, the card is much harder to cast than we thought, and it’s very difficult to build a red deck that wants to cast it. The major exception here is when Anger of the Gods is used in combination with [/card]Desecration Demon[/card]. Anger of the Gods combos quite nicely with Desecration Demon. In fact, I think Desecration Demon is pretty bad in decks without Anger of the Gods, while it’s probably the best card in decks that do play Anger of the Gods.

[draft]Read the Bones
Thoughtseize[/draft]

[card]Read the Bones[/card] and [card]Thoughtseize[/card] are powerful tools at the midrange deck’s disposal. Thoughtseize combos quite nicely with cards like [card]Obzedat, Ghost Council[/card]. Big mana investments don’t accrue card advantage on their own in most cases anymore. Nowadays, we can do a lot of work trying to stick our five mana creature and watch it die to something as simple as [card]Selesnya Charm[/card]. We need to make it count if we’re going to be resolving more expensive creatures. Read the Bones is more at home in a deck with a lot of spells. It may be difficult to Read the Bones against decks like Mono-Red, but there’s enough cheap removal to swing the matchup in your favor if you’re really willing to push it to a place where you’re having trouble beating [card]Sphinx’s Revelation[/card] strategies.

[draft]Notion Thief[/draft]

[card]Notion Thief[/card] hasn’t seen much play outside of Legacy, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it did a bit of work in the new Standard format. The decks that are casting Sphinx’s Revelation don’t have access to instant-speed removal that positively interacts with Notion Thief. Notion Thief combos nicely with [card]Whispering Madness[/card], making an opponent discard their hand before drawing a single card while you get to pick up a whole new grip of cards. Whispering Madness isn’t very powerful on its own, but it works well with bounce spells and aggressive creatures, so there’s probably some way to make it work in the new format. This isn’t something we want to be doing against aggressive decks, but doing this to a control deck seems like it’s the best thing ever.

[draft]Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver[/draft]

[card]Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver[/card] is tremendous against midrange strategies. I’ve seen Ashiok weave Obzedat, Ghost Council into play on the fourth turn in truly nightmarish fashion. We’re going to need to have answers to Ashiok if we want to play midrange deck. The best answer is [card]Abrupt Decay[/card], but [card]Hero’s Downfall[/card] is also quite good. [card]Pithing Needle[/card] also becomes a lot stronger in the new format as an answer to Jace, Architect of Thought and Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver.

We can’t just make a deck that does well against Sphinx’s Revelation and [card]Rakdos Cackler[/card], though. In the coming weeks, midrange decks of all shapes and colors will emerge. I want to build a midrange deck that’s capable of very powerful things. I don’t mean powerful like Obzedat, Ghost Council or [card]Aurelia, the Warleader[/card]. I want to deal 20 points of damage in one flurry of events. I want our opponents to feel confident, poised for victory before they get demolished.

I perused Gatherer for interesting Standard cards that I might be able to do crazy things with. I stumbled upon a powerful Limited card that seemed like it might be a worthwhile endeavor. [card]Flesh // Blood[/card] has the ability to kill people out of nowhere. We can bloodrush [card]Ghor-Clan Rampager[/card] onto a [card]Lotleth Troll[/card] and kill people as early as the third turn, though it’s not particularly likely.

Third turn kills? Well, it’s certainly possible, albeit not likely.

[draft]Satyr Hedonist[/draft]

[card]Satyr Hedonist[/card] is a card worth watching. The card allows for some really unfair turns. The best combo is probably with [card]Rakdos’s Return[/card], but it doesn’t suck to dump all your mana into dropping an early [card]Garruk, Caller of Beasts[/card] or Polukranos monstrosity activation either.

[draft]Lotleth Troll[/draft]

Lotleth Troll lets us do completely broken things. Think about it, turn one [card]Elvish Mystic[/card], turn two Lotleth Troll, turn three Ghor-Clan Rampager, dump a bunch of creatures into the yard, Flesh // Blood. That’s 16-20 trampling damage on the third turn. With all the pain people are taking from their lands, that might just be enough to kill them.

I want to make huge amounts of mana in the earliest turns of the game. I’m not always going to be able to combo with Flesh // Blood and Lotleth Troll, and Flesh // Blood rewards me for playing big creatures. Elvish Mystic and [card]Sylvan Caryatid[/card] should do the trick here. It won’t be unusual for me to play Garruk, Caller of Beasts on the fourth turn. In fact, Satyr Hedonist gets me there by itself.

I need something to do with all this mana. Playing a bunch of Rakdos’s Return seems like the perfect thing to do in such a planeswalker-centric format.

Ghor-Clan Rampager combos nicely with Flesh // Blood and also happens to be one of the best on-color cards in Standard.

[draft]Underworld Cerberus[/draft]

[card]Underworld Cerberus[/card] seems really good if we’re just a pile of creatures, the card also works quite well with Flesh // Blood and Ghor-Clan Rampager.

[card]Garruk, Caller of Beasts[/card] is the perfect top-end for a deck stuffed with creatures, as well.

Here’s the list in all its glory.

[deck]Main Deck
4 Satyr Hedonist
4 Lotleth Troll
4 Elvish Mystic
4 Sylvan Caryatid
3 Rakdos’s Return
4 Ghor-Clan Rampager
3 Underworld Cerberus
1 Ruric-Thar, the Unbowed
1 Exava, Rakdos Blood Witch
2 Polukranos, the World Eater
2 Garruk, Caller of Beasts
3 Flesh // Blood
4 Temple of Abandon
4 Blood Crypt
4 Stomping Ground
4 Overgrown Tomb
5 Forest
3 Swamp
1 Mountain
Sideboard:
3 Golgari Charm
3 Lifebane Zombie
4 Wasteland Viper
1 Xenegos
2 Domri Rade
2 Vraska, the Unseen[/deck]

OK. So our deck may not be the best against red strategies, but I’m not sure those decks will be a huge part of the metagame in the coming weeks. I’m not sure how good our deck is at this point in time, but the deck is a lot of fun and it’s capable of absurdly powerful things.

Before our next meeting, I’ll be battling at the Pro Tour in Ireland. I’ve got a spicy Standard deck that I’m excited to share with all of you next week. Wish me luck!

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