[Pioneer Building] Khans of Tarkir through Oath of the Gatewatch

Hi everybody, and welcome back to Strictly Average MTG. Today is day three of the review of each era of Standard encompassing the sets legal in Pioneer. This has been quite an undertaking, and over the last few days there have been a lot of decks represented for each archetype of Aggro, Control, and Midrange (and even a few bonus decks thrown in).

However, all of that changes today.

Tarkir In Charge

As the sets prior to Khans of Tarkir rotated out, Khans was still going strong. It was leading the way in brewing decks, and even trying new cards not played in the previous era. However with the rotation we lost a lot of instant speed spells (such as Hero’s Downfall, and Dissolve) and the best proactive form of interaction in Thoughtseize. Without those cards there was a severe lack of proper interaction, allowing players to play literally anything they wanted to at all.

Advertisements

However that wasn’t the only change facing Magic: the Gathering.

Metamorphosis begins

A year before this era of Standard was upon us, we were informed via this article by Mark Rosewater that Standard was changing. Instead of having a fall expansion (followed by two expansions tied to that plane) and a core set in the summer of each year, we would instead receive an expansion taking us to a new plane in the fall as well as the spring. Each of those expansions would be accompanied by another set on the same plane. Also Standard was set to rotate twice a year instead of once a year, capping out at six sets for Standard. With a smaller card pool, a quicker rotation, and the removal of core sets, would Standard remain as diverse as it has been in the past?

Well…

The Origins of the problem begin in the middle of it all

Yesterday I mentioned how when Khans of Tarkir was the new Standard expansion it still dominated card choices. This time it was a bit different. Magic Origins was in the middle of this format once it was fully filled, and there was one card that was literally everywhere. Have you ever played in a Standard format where one card was in nearly every possible archetype, insulating itself to never be touched when considering what needs banned? Well this was the Standard for that exact thing to happen. Later on we will take a look at the one card that made everyone hate the character on the card even more than they did when Squadron Hawk was the most played 1/1 flying creature.

The sets available in this era of Standard:

  • Khans of Tarkir
  • Born of the Gods
  • Journey Into Nyx
  • Magic Origins
  • Battle For Zendikar
  • Oath of the Gatewatch

Battle For…Zendikar?

Released in the fall of 2015, Battle For Zendikar and its companion expansion Oath of the Gatewatch, were sets that were supposed to bring us back to the beloved plane of Zendikar (which was only released six years prior). The story that Magic Origins laid out before us felt like a fresh start for the planeswalkers Gideon, Jace, Liliana, Chandra, and Nissa.

Going back to Zendikar to make sure The Eldrazi remained imprisoned, the planeswalkers forged a bond called “The Gatewatch”, and for a time we had a defined set of heroes set out on an adventure. For the first time in a long time I actually cared about the story for Magic: the Gathering, and even read some of the stories (then provided on the main website) in the hopes of getting art for an unrevealed card, or some other spoiler. That didn’t last long; I’ll talk more about that later this week.

While Battle For Zendikar presented the first adventure of all these planeswalkers together, it failed on doing one thing: Getting us back to Zendikar. Not necessarily the plane, but the set. While (imho) it would have made complete sense for them to reprint the Zendikar fetchlands in this set (we just received the Onslaught fetchlands reprinted in Khans of Tarkir afterall), we instead received new dual lands

While these sets did bring back some of what made Zendikar a great plane with memorable expansions, the returning mechanic Landfall felt underwhelming, and the return of the creature lands, now in enemy color pairings, did not have the same impact that as the ones from Worldwake.

Sure this set began the special “Expedition” lands, which were special (read: can only be used in Limited and formats they are legal in) treatments of many land cycles through Magic: the Gathering’s history, but unless you were collecting these chase cards like collectors of sports cards chase their game-used jersey cards then this did not move the needle a whole lot.

However for all of their effort to provide new things, and cater to many different players, their mistake of printing new dual lands with the lands types overwhelmed all of that. With how closely sets are designed one right after the other, how this was missed will never be understood.

  +    =  

You see with these new dual lands players could use any of the fetchlands, get only a single copy of one of these new duals, and play whatever they wanted. Color identity didn’t matter, and nearly all of the decks were midrange decks playing the best cards in the colors that were available. When you easily have access to four colors of mana it is very easy to play only the best cards, especially when interaction is at the lowest point it’s been in a very long time. That, coupled with the fact that the fetchlands fed Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy‘s need to have five cards in the graveyard before transforming to Jace, Telepath Unbound, and you had a Standard where a lot of decks looked the same.

However the problems didn’t stop there.

Mardu…Green…what???

When these decks were first being built there was no clear name, It was literally a pile of cards put together without any clear synergy between them. Deck decisions were based on looking at all five colors; if not running them all, cutting the weakest color then building the deck from there. There was also no punishment for the greedy mana bases, because if everyone was fetching a dual land out of their deck then everyone was impacted by the life loss caused by that game function.

When it came down to naming the decks, things became even more lazy than actually constructing the deck. More often than not the fourth color would be a splash (I mean you only have 60 cards in the main deck after all) so finding room for all colors to be represented was still a careful choice, but the most minimal effort was put into deck names.

“Jeskai Black”, “Mardu Green” (isn’t he C-Lo Green’s cousin?), and immature names such as “Moist Abzan” graced not only internet forums but coverage as well. How welcoming that must be to get into the game and hearing garbage like “Moist Jund” be used to describe a deck.

Sure this all may be “shaking fist at cloud” or “get off my lawn” speak, but if we had naming conventions for the dual and three color deck name, then we already had it for the four color decks as well. Even naming the deck “Four Color Rhino” or “4C Rhino” would have been better as we would know Siege Rhino was the focus of the deck, and it was four colors. That makes it simple right? Why be simple though when you can be correct, especially with an intellectual game such as Magic: the Gathering?

Yes. Those are real cards. The Nephilim, who should have been Legendary, represented the idea that four colors could combine for a powerful effect. These were even allowed, in an unofficial state, to be your commander to power your four color decks as there were no other options until Commander 2016 was released.

As a matter of fact, these naming conventions were already in use out in the world. At the StarCityGames (SCG) Open in Columbus Ohio in 2013 there was a Witch-Maw deck being played in Standard that had nothing but value every turn with every play. More of a midrange deck than a control deck, it could attack from many angles, and had multiple win conditions that could easily be powered out by the greedy, but effective, four color mana base.

…and this was before we had fetchlands.

How do I know about this deck so much? It’s because I played against Deon the round before this deck tech was recorded. Yes. I lost the match.

Still, no matter the Clash of Wills between myself, and others on the internet, there seems to be a Complete Disregard for using the proper (and established) deck names of this era. Honestly though, whatever you call these decks, seeing anything less than three colors played was very rare in this era as you will see through the rest of this article.

I am going to go forward describing the decks from this era with their (correct) Nephilim name construction. As you’ll notice, there’s not a lot of difference between them, so my descriptions will be brief. I will also be going through these decks quickly before mentioning cards in the Pioneer format to add.

Dune-Brood Midrange

Creature (20)
Siege Rhino
Warden of the First Tree
Anafenza, the Foremost
Sylvan Advocate
Kolaghan, the Storm’s Fury
Surrak, the Hunt Caller
Den Protector

Enchantment (3)
Oath of Nissa

Instant (8)
Abzan Charm
Crackling Doom
Dromoka’s Command
Murderous Cut

Planeswalker (4)
Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
Sorin, Solemn Visitor

Land (25)
Bloodstained Mire
Windswept Heath
Wooded Foothills
Shambling Vent
Canopy Vista
Forest
Hissing Quagmire
Cinder Glade
Plains
Smoldering Marsh
Swamp
Sideboard (15)
Flaying Tendrils
Arashin Cleric
Hallowed Moonlight
Self-Inflicted Wound
Transgress the Mind
Ob Nixilis Reignited
Sorin, Solemn Visitor
Painful Truths
Feed the Clan

How the deck works

As the only non-blue deck of the five, it relies heavily on Siege Rhino, and future “problem planeswalker” Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. Splashing red to run Crackling Doom, and use the Dash mechanic on Kolaghan, the Storm’s Fury, this deck wanted to get to the mid-game, and then be aggressive to close it out.

Glint-Eye Midrange

Creature (24)
Sidisi, Brood Tyrant
Deathmist Raptor
Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy
Den Protector
Rattleclaw Mystic
Dragonlord Atarka
Silumgar, the Drifting Death
Sidisi, Undead Vizier
Stratus Dancer

Instant (7)
Murderous Cut
Kolaghan’s Command
Silumgar’s Command

Sorcery (4)
Gather the Pack
Treasure Cruise

Land (25)
Bloodstained Mire
Opulent Palace
Polluted Delta
Wooded Foothills
Forest
Yavimaya Coast
Cinder Glade
Island
Lumbering Falls
Mountain
Smoldering Marsh
Sunken Hollow
Swamp
Sideboard (15)
Radiant Flames
Disdainful Stroke
Self-Inflicted Wound
Dispel
Duress
Dragonlord Silumgar
Crux of Fate
Sultai Charm
Transgress the Mind
Evolutionary Leap

How the deck works

We arrive at our first graveyard focused deck. This one eschews white in order to use the Megamorph cards in Deathmist Raptor, and Den Protector. Also keep in mind that once Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy is transformed into Jace, Telepath Unbound you can return to less than five cards in your graveyard. He won’t transform back. On top of using the graveyard as a resource, it took advantage of the Delve mechanic as a removal spell to clear the way for the big creatures in the deck.

Ink-Treader Aggro

Creature (29)
Deathmist Raptor
Mantis Rider
Reflector Mage
Savage Knuckleblade
Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy
Rattleclaw Mystic
Stratus Dancer
Bounding Krasis

Instant (4)
Collective Brutality

Sorcery (3)
Bring to Light

Land (24)
Flooded Strand
Windswept Heath
Wooded Foothills
Canopy Vista
Cinder Glade
Prairie Stream
Shivan Reef
Forest
Island
Mountain
Plains
Sideboard (15)
Arashin Cleric
Hallowed Moonlight
Disdainful Stroke
Boiling Earth
Dispel
Thought-Knot Seer

How the deck works

Here we have a deck that takes the bold approach of removing black, and is hyper focused on creatures. This did make things hard for Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy to find his spark due to the low number of spells you used him to loot (draw a card, then discard a card from your hand) to fill your graveyard. Cards such as Collected Company, and Bring to Light helped keep your battlefield full of creatures.

Witch-Maw Rally

Creature (28)
Catacomb Sifter
Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy
Nantuko Husk
Zulaport Cutthroat
Elvish Visionary
Sidisi’s Faithful
Grim Haruspex
Fleshbag Marauder
Merciless Executioner

Instant (8)
Collected Company
Rally the Ancestors

Land (24)
Flooded Strand
Polluted Delta
Windswept Heath
Evolving Wilds
Canopy Vista
Sunken Hollow
Forest
Island
Plains
Prairie Stream
Swamp
Sideboard (15)
Murderous Cut
Arashin Cleric
Anafenza, the Foremost
Dispel
Duress

How the deck works

Of all the decks displayed today, this is the only that makes sense being four colors. Combo decks usually don’t follow normal naming conventions (Storm decks are just called Storm for example) because the focus is centered around the card that executes the combo, or a mechanic that becomes the win condition of the deck. For this deck you want to sacrifice your creatures to Nantuko Husk while having Zulaport Cutthroat on the battlefield to drain your opponent. If you need to do it again, casting a Rally the Ancestors for two, and two white, was not unreasonable.

Oh and Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy helped fill the graveyard too.

Yore-Tiller Aggro

Creature (14)
Mantis Rider
Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy
Tasigur, the Golden Fang
Soulfire Grand Master
Dragonmaster Outcast

Instant (19)
Crackling Doom
Ojutai’s Command
Fiery Impulse
Dig Through Time
Kolaghan’s Command
Dispel
Wild Slash
Utter End

Planeswalker (1)
Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker
Sideboard (15)
Exert Influence
Arashin Cleric
Radiant Flames
Roast
Duress
Painful Truths
Virulent Plague
Felidar Cub
Negate
Dragonmaster Outcast

How the deck works

While this may appear to be a midrange deck, this was far more aggressive than any other deck in that archetype. Using the best removal spells the format had to offer, along with the most efficient threats, you can craft your way to victory. Burn, removal, and even card selection made this deck a favorite among players. It did look odd seeing red cards next to Tasigur, the Golden Fang, however you only need two colorless and two blue mana to activate him. Soulfire Grand Master can buyback your spells when you cast them from your hand, allowing you extra uses of key cards at the right moment. I’m also glad this deck used Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker. I really like that planeswalker.

So as you can see, a lot of these decks look and play, very much the same. Play efficient threats, flip Jace if you’re playing blue, and proceed to keep playing whatever is sleeved up in your deck. The archetypes merged together, and nothing felt truly like an aggro, control, or midrange deck.

Oh and Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy was $100. It was an era where you had him, or built a deck without him. There was also a growing divide between “casual but competitive” players, and those whose only goal was play-to-win. While there’s nothing wrong with how one plays the game, having these groups of players separated only hurts the game overall.

Pioneer Impact

With a chaotic Standard environment like this, your options on how to proceed are wide open. You could run the Witch-Maw Rally deck as is, and upgrade the lands (as the fetchlands are not legal in Pioneer), or you can run Glint-Eye Midrange adding Fatal Push, and Liliana, the Last Hope to help with removal and recurring your threats respectfully. There really is a lot you can do with these cards in a larger card pool than Standard.

In Conclusion

While I was not a fan of this format, many of you were and that’s ok. This was a time for a lot of change (perhaps too much of it) with the game. Even though the fetchlands are not legal in Pioneer you can still play a four color deck, so get to brewing!

Your Thoughts

Did you play in this era? What are your thoughts on how you can bring these decks into Pioneer? What was your favorite deck to play? Do you still have your playset of Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy? Let me know by placing a comment below and follow me on Facebook as well as Twitter.

Next Time

Tomorrow we’re going to shed our need of fetchlands, and make room for some Company.

Until then…

TAP MORE MANA!!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *