The Good Shepherd

“How many Gideon Emblems does that make?”

“Uh… that would be the fifth Emblem.”

“And how many Gideons did you draw?”

“Just the one.”

“…Was that really necessary?”

“I don’t know if it was necessary, but it was fun as hell.”

On Sunday, I decided to attend Game Day at my local LGS. Finding time to play Magic in the fall is always difficult when you’re the father of three. Between school festivals, family trips to the pumpkin farm, Halloween parties, and general family obligations (there should be a law against getting married on a Saturday in the fall, as all college football fans can attest), your time is stretched thin. I missed States, for only the second time in ten years, and even bailed on a GPT that was less than a thousand yards from my front door. But, the stars aligned and (more importantly) the wife acquiesced and I found myself slinging cardboard for a Drana emblazoned playmat. Unfortunately, I hadn’t played Standard in two months (with real, paper cards anyway), and I had to scramble to put a deck together.

I almost played Bant Tokens. The shark in me, that irascible beast that craves only the tears and anguish of my opponents, wanted to storm the store and crush anyone who dared stand in my way. Bant Tokens performed well at the Pro Tour, and looked to tap into one of the best post-BFZ combos in the format, Secure the Wastes and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. The only downside: I hadn’t played a single game with the deck. While Game Day is a great place to casually integrate yourself into a format, this was my first chance to play IRL magic in over a month, I wanted to have fun. So, I decided to doctor a brew I had been working with on MTGO.

You see, I have been toying around with [card]Emeria Shepherd[/card]. Although, toying around may not be the appropriate way to put it. I love the card. It tickles me in tiny little Timmy/Johnny ways. It’s big, it’s tricky, it lets you attack the format in a variety of ways… hell, I’m beginning to worry that the card may be more than a brewer’s delight. It might just be a good card. It requires you to rethink how you build the deck, focusing primarily on permanents instead of spells, but it allows for some disgusting plays. Maybe it would be good enough to win a few matches at my LGS…

Well, it was. I went 5-1 and walked away with a shiny Radiant Flames and a pretty new playmat for my daughters. I managed to defeat a Bant Walkers deck, an Eldrazi aggro deck, a Rally deck, a Mardu aggro deck, and an Atarka Red deck with this brew.

[deck title=Travis Hall – The Good Shepherd]
3 Canopy Vista
2 Prairie Stream
4 Windswept Heath
4 Flooded Strand
1 Island
5 Plains
5 Forest
1 Lumbering Falls

4 Rattleclaw Mystic
3 Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy
2 Hangarback Walker
2 Elvish Visionary
2 Den Protector
3 Nissa Vastwood Seer
2 Wingmate Roc
3 Emeria Shepherd

3 Hedron Archive
3 Stasis Snare
2 Silkwrap
3 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
1 Ugin, the Spirit Dragon
1 Secure the Wastes
1 Ojutai’s Command

3 Arashin Cleric
1 Felidar Cub
1 Silkwrap
1 Ojutai’s Command
2 Dromoka’s Command
2 Gaea’s Revenge
2 Archangel of Tithes
2 Planar Outburst
1 Surge of Righteousness

*Some of the numbers may seem less than optimal due to card ownership issues (sorry, I only own three Jaces and I’m not selling a kidney to get the other one)*

Dropping a land after playing Emeria Shepherd feels like cheating. Especially if that land is a fetchland and you nab a Plains. The advantage you gain is akin to casting a cascade spell, you craw a card and cast it for free. It’s just that, instead of worrying about the card’s cost, and the randomness of the top of your deck, you’re reliant on the card’s type and having it in your graveyard. As such, you want to make sure your deck is loaded with permanents instead of spells. Which isn’t as big a problem as usual when the format is already tending towards Silkwrap as a premier piece of removal, and Stasis Snare having flash allows it to operate as an instant.

Let’s look at some of the card choices:

[card]Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy[/card]: Why am I splashing blue for Jace when I’m not really even running instants for him to begin with (I only have the miser’s Secure the Wastes and Ojutai’s Command in the main)? Looting is powerful, especially in a deck that lets you reuse the graveyard. I’ve tried the Abzan version of the deck online (hello, recurrent Siege Rhinos) but I always missed the early game smoothing that Jace provides. Even if he bites a Wild Slash, he can come back and provide late game filtering. Flipped, his minus ability is still relevant, and you can still win with his ultimate ability. He was never great, but untapping with him made my games much more consistent in a way that I couldn’t convince myself to cut him from the deck. After sideboarding there are a few spicier toys for him to play with in Planeswalker mode.

[card]Hedron Archive[/card]: Originally, the deck went with Explosive Vegetation as the ramp spell of choice, since it could nab a pair of Plains after Emeria Shepherd hit the board. This was kinda meh in practice, a total win more. Moving to Hedron Archive was a revelation. It provided the same boost, allowing me to drop a Shepherd as early as turn five (or six if I wanted to hold for a land drop), while also providing some much need resiliency in the form of card draw, and it was a fantastic target for Emeria Shepherd’s ability. With the Shepherd on the board, you can sacrifice it to draw two, find your plains, play it to return the Hedron Archive, and still have access to a ton of mana, or draw two more cards. In addition, the mana from Hedron Archive doesn’t enter the battlefield tapped. In many games I’ve played Archive on turn four and immediately tapped it to play a Hangarback Walker for two.

[card]Rattleclaw Mystic[/card]: A necessary evil, and the last four cards to make the deck. Hitting Gideon on turn three is huge, and turn three Hedron Archive accelerates the deck by a couple of turns in a way most decks have trouble competing with.

[card]Nissa, Vastwood Seer[/card]: One of the unsung heroes. She’s not flashy, but she always does what she needs to do. Whether it be grabbing you a Forest, blocking an early beater, flipping into a Planeswalker, or kamikaze-ing into the red zone so you can activate raid on a Wingmate Roc. The Blue-Collar Elf. It doesn’t hurt that her “draw ability” allows you to break the one-land-per-turn rule, a pretty good side benefit for a deck built around a landfall creature.

[card]Gideon, Ally of Zendikar[/card]: Gideon, my dear sweet Gideon. The fact that you can go ultimate with Gideon immediately, conveniently dropping him into the graveyard for Emeria Shepherd, is bonkers. In one game I had Gideon in play when I untapped with Emeria Shepherd. I used his ultimate, sending him to the graveyard. I then played a Flooded Strand, returning him to my hand. I played Gideon and immediately activated his ultimate again. I then cracked the Flooded Strand and returned him to the battlefield. Even when you’re not going all, “combo” with him and Emeria Shepherd, he’s still the best non-flip Planeswalker in the format at the moment, capable of winning a game on his own.

[card]Wingmate Roc[/card]: A solid finisher for the deck. It’s convenient that most people opt to remove the card instead of the token first, due to the lifegain ability. Another great target for Emeria Shepherd once it’s in the graveyard.

Tips and Tricks:

*Remember that your non-Plains land drops can be as important as your Plains. Many times, you would rather “draw” the Hangarback Walker or Den Protector to your hand than drop them onto the battlefield.

*In many cases, you will want to emblem Gideon as soon as possible. Your creatures aren’t exactly beefy to start with and it speeds up your clock considerably. Remember, if you have a Gideon emblem, you can return Hangarbcak Walker to the battlefield with Emeria Shepherd and then start adding counters.

*Ashaya tokens are a great way to protect Emeria Shepherd from Crackling Doom.

*Block and trade aggressively. This deck doesn’t have a dedicated way to get cards in the graveyard outside of Jace (my kingdom for a Satyr Wayfinder), so any chance you have to trade something like a Nissa/Mystic for an attacker loads up your graveyard for the Shepherd.

*You can target yourself with the sacrifice ability on Dromoka’s Command. I have used an early Silkwrap on a token only to sacrifice it late game and return it to the battlefield with Emeria Shepherd.

Many of the cards in this deck are some of the most powerful in the format, used widely in a variety of decks. Emeria Shepherd just allows you to play them again and again. I’m still not sold on the blue splash, but this still feels like an early version of the deck. I’m excited to see where it goes next.

If you like my suggestions, you can follow me on Twitter: @travishall456. I throw around random observations and deck ideas every day. You can also hear me on the Horde of Notions podcast, discussing deck ideas for FNM level events and the PTQ grinders.

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