Hey there! I’m Marcus, Danish Magic player, two-time Pro Tour competitor, bronze pro and Limited aficionado. My approach to playing, thinking about and (now, again) writing about Magic revolves around understanding the broader, general theories of Magic and then applying myself to putting them into practice in the formats as they exist now. With a new set coming out and a whole lot of old cards leaving the format, I thought it was time to think a little bit about how we build decks in onstructed…
A new Standard: Brewing with “batches”
The concept of “batches” is one I’ve heard thrown around by other deckbuilders that tend to go deep on the theoretical dimensions of Magic – players like Samuel Black and Gerry Thompson that I look up to not just for their theoretical understanding of the game and their success, but also because of that.
“Batches” are sets of cards that work well together and are therefore often seen together in decks. As always, there is a lot of nuance here: The degree of affinity between two cards as well as their mutual compatibility with the other cards around them all influences how often they are seen together: Some “batches” are tighter than others, so to speak. When your opponent cast a Winding Constrictor on turn two in pre-rotation Standard, they didn’t always have Hadana’s Climbs or even Bristling Hydras. But they always had Walking Ballista (or they were doing something wrong).
Often, you start a deck with just one card or one two-card synergy in mind. Adding the rest of the cards to the deck is going through the batches that the cards you already have are in and finding other cards that help you construct a deck with a cohesive strategy, good synergy and a smooth curve.
So, let’s get started and explore some decklists!
Something old, something blue…
We might as well start with what we now know is one of the most powerful cards we’ve gotten within the last year: Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. In terms of batches, the first card I think of with Teferi is Search for Azcanta. Luckily(?), none of these two cards have rotated even if a lot of the cards we are used to surround them with are.
We still have Nexus of Fate, and if we want to try and replicate the Turbo Fog deck of last Standard, we do still have Gift of Paradise, and a new 3-mana fog from Guilds of Ravnica. The deck really wanted to keep making land-drops and ensured this by overstocking on them, something which worked very well because of the cycling dual lands we lost in rotation. Those, I think, are going to be the hardest to replace even if we have Temple Garden in the new set. Jump-start spells like Chemister’s Insight can help mitigate this somewhat, but does not create nearly the same velocity for transforming Search for Azcanta, and can’t fill out early turns or make use of the untap of Teferi’s +1 the turn he comes down. Radical Idea might help here, but I suspect Anticipate is just the better card in that deck.
Where I want to look at Teferi-Azcanta is in straight-up blue-white control:
This is a deck that Jim Davis has played on his stream in the first few days of the new format. While we didn’t even get the Azorious shockland yet, we got so many of the other pieces that we feared might be missing from the archetype that I think this might be the optimal place for Teferi at the moment. Sinister Sabotage neatly takes up the spot left by Disallow, Chemister’s Insight has been an impressive replacement for Glimmer of Genius/Hieroglyphic Illumination, and the jump-start ability lets us include singleton situational cards like Negate, Blink of an Eye and Ixalan’s Binding in the maindeck, or mimic cycling lands which helps mitigate late-game flooding. The Lyras are a concession to Assassin’s Trophy which can make relying solely on Teferi risky even in game one.
Adding red to the deck is probably doable due to the Izzet and Boros lands available, but I am not sure it is worth it. Niv-Mizzet is a terrifying card against other control decks, sure, and perhaps we would want access to removal options like Justice Strike or Deafening Clarion, but the manabase will still become more painful if we go down that route. At the moment, I don’t think there is a strong incentive to: None of the red Boros or Izzet cards fit well enough into this Teferi shell that it feels like we are missing out on anything, to me.
Another old friend…
Teferi was not the only card from Dominaria to take the format by storm. I don’t think I need to remind anyone of just how dominant and omnipresent Goblin Chainwhirler has been more or less since its release. Unlike Teferi, though, Chainwhirler hasn’t simply gotten all of its Kaladesh and Amonkhet friends replaced more or less cut-and-dry. There isn’t a new Glorybringer or Hazoret in Guilds, and there certainly isn’t a new Bomat Courier, Scrapheap Scrounger or Heart of Kiran in the new Standard. There isn’t even Blood Crypt yet.
You know what there is, though? Goblins. A lot of goblins.
Radiant Destiny has seen a bit of play already, but really excels in a format where an aggressive tribe can play it without compromising its mana-base drastically. Remember: One of the cards that “batch” with the RRR Chainwhirler is basic Mountain. Playing 13 of those (the 14th should obviously be the fourth Foundry, I must have been too fast here) and no basic Plains seem solid.
This deck seeks to exploit not just Chainwhirler (which helps getting your 1- and 2-drops through), but also the new Rabblemaster-lookalike, Legion Warboss, as well as of course Radiant Destiny. While Chainwhirler cleans up small creatures, Volley Veteran and Conclave Tribunal lets you take advantage of the amount of cheap Goblins in the deck to effectively deal with larger threats while still applying pressure. I think Goblin Motivator is good enough with Veterans, Chainwhirlers and Warbosses being the best Haste targets, but if you are of a different opinion, there are plenty of other 1-drop options in Rigging Runner for the First Strike-heavy style or Skirk Prospector if you want a more combo-tastic build or some help casting your expensive sideboard haymakers.
With Motivators in the deck, I went with Trailblazers over the other 2-drop utility options that are represented in the board. If you’re scared of opposing Chainwhirlers, I could see opting for one of the 2-toughness options maindeck. Because Ajani is so hard to cast and the White-Red Huatli is so mediocre in this deck, I went for Immortal Sun as a sideboard grindy card – this deck takes advantage of both the Howling Mine and Glorious Anthem parts of the card very well, while also shutting the opponent out of activating Planeswalkers.
There are lots of other avenues to explore if you want to play with Chainwhirler, though I think most of them will be in Boros or mono-Red decks. If you look at what other powerful cards in the format that “batch” well with the Chainwhirler, I personally think Path of Mettle, which sort-of replicates the Chainwhirler trigger, is just waiting for its time to shine. Once you play more than four ping-your-team effects, First Strike becomes a somewhat reliable evasion ability, and you might want to play Rigging Runners and Sunhome Stalwart or Knight of Grace. Once you’ve got all of these first-strikers in your deck, maybe it’s even worth topping the curve off with Kwende, Pride of Femeref instead of (or alongside) the more exciting but less explosive Aurelia with the good hair?
But don’t worry, if you’re sick of Goblin Chainwhirler, or it turns out not to be good in the format for some reason, Goblins is not the only tribe which is set up to take advantage of Radiant Destiny…
There’s not a lot of new cards in the maindeck, here, but Temple Garden and Flower/Flourish makes white a very easy inclusion in green decks hoping to cast Steel-Leaf Champion on turn three (or turn two!), and Beast Whisperer is an exiciting way to grant velocity to a deck with lots of cheap creatures that produce mana. Out of the sideboard, Assure/Assemble provides utility against removal either by countering it or by building a whole new board after the dust settles. Golgari Raiders adds a way to punish a control deck who wraths on their own turn and just needs one turn to stabilize, while Shalai keeps holding Settle the Wreckage in check while also exploiting the mana-heavy draws of the deck. Conclave Tribunal might just be one of the most impactful cards in Guilds of Ravnica, and this deck can use it to good effect.
This probably is not the deck I would bring if I was counting on playing against a ton of Chainwhirlers or other board-wide clearing effects, but it can absolutely put on the pressure while grinding through targeted removal or outpacing other creature decks.
If you’re not as into Radiant Destiny as I am, there’s another sweet anthem for Selesnya in new Standard: Trostani Discordant. It goes well with lots of cards, notably including the other Selesnya mythic, March of the Multitudes, but I’ll admit I couldn’t help get excited by a certain other rare for the tokens deck…
I played more with Anointed Procession than I probably should have, especially in the face of Goblin Chainwhirler. But you know what doesn’t die to pesky Chainwhirlers? 4/4 Angels!
Once you know you’re playing with Trostani, March and Divine Visitation, you have a pretty good idea of how you want the lower parts of your curve to look. Token production, especially repeatable or available at no mana cost the turn you cast Visitation, becomes very attractive. I can say from experience that untapping with a Leonin Warleader or two when you have a Divine Visitation to cast is really good, but this deck also gets to play a lot of other established powerful tokens cards in History of Benalia and Legion’s Landing. Martyr of Dusk might look a little uninspiring, but I think it works better than Hunted Witness – especially once you dare to put a single Mavrin Fein in as well. Emmara is probably a little awkward with so little convoke, but against controlling decks she represents an army in a can, and with Visitation, it doesn’t really matter if she trades off or distracts a blocker when she replaces herself with a Serra Angel. The mana probably supports Benalish Marshal if you want more of those, but I honed in on the tokens synergy here instead. Dawn of Hope lets the deck recover or hedge against Wrath effects, and is absurd along with Visitation should you run into a deck that has a hard time dealing with Enchantments. It is not hard to trigger the card-draw without a Soldier from the ability due to tokens from Landing, Martyr, Warleader or Trostani.
Spore Swarm might be a tad too cute, but having the ability to play at instant speed is a fine dimension to have against control, and if you ever get to cast it with Visitation out…
Trying something new
On this gradual voyage from old to new powerful cards, I ended up looking at the new Dimir cards and the Surveil synergies that are available in the format. Starting with Doom Whisperer and quickly adding first Creeping Chill and then Stitcher’s Supplier to my batch, this is where I ended up:
It’s probably not that pretty, or easy to figure out, but there is a lot going on here. The deck really want to resolve and untap with Doom Whisperer, but that card has a big target on its head as well as costing five mana, so having a strategy that doesn’t rely entirely on it is probably a good idea.
Stitcher’s Supplier (and out of the board, Narcomoeba) makes Plaguecrafter an impactful 3-drop, which can be recurred with Connive/Concoct or Quasiduplicate against opponents who are weak to the effect. If you manage to have a Midnight Reaver out in the meanwhile, you can absolutely decimate the boards of green creature decks. These synergies as well as Doom Whisperer’s ability helps transforming Search for Azcanta and Arguel’s Blood Fast, which not only provide card advantage, but also pseudo-ramp and a long game that lets you recoup from going low on cards or life. Lotleth Giant packs quite a punch once you get enough of your llibrary into the graveyard, and can be recurred not just with Concoct, but also with Liliana, who also helps grind down the opponent’s life total when she hits zombies (of which there are 10) as well as Chills. Quasiduplicate provides access to extra reach from the graveyard for the low cost of three mana once you have out a Giant, and copying any of the other creatures in the deck (except the sideboard Narcomoeba) helps keeping the engine going.
I’m interested to hear what you think of where I ended when exploring what looks like they might be a few of the most powerful cards in the format and the batches they fit into – or where you ended in your own exploration and how “thinking with batches” could help you understand or improve on that process. As someone who is more of a brewer than a tuner, the start of a new format is something which excites me a lot, and I hope there are many more ideas out there waiting to be tried out!