Leveling Up in Standard – GB Ramp, GB Pummeler, and BW Control

Nick walks us through the current Standard metagame and offers up a few decklists that he believes can exploit some weaknesses.

through the breach invocation artwork

It seems like at least once a year Mono-Red comes out of seemingly nowhere to absolutely dominate the Pro Tour. With this, comes a revolving metagame that can be leveraged, and it creates one of the best experiences in competitive Magic – predicting a metagame.

Level 1 – The Recruit

Ramunap Red by PVDDR - 1st, Pro Tour HOU

Creatures (26)
Bomat Courier
Falkenrath Gorger
Village Messenger
Earthshaker Khenra
Kari Zev, Skyship Raider
Ahn-Crop Crasher
Hazoret the Fervent

Planeswalkers (2)
Chandra, Torch of Defiance

Spells (8)
Shock
Abrade
Lands (24)
14 Mountain
Ramunap Ruins
Scavenger Grounds
Sunscorched Desert

Sideboard (15)
Chandra’s Defeat
Oath of Chandra
Aethersphere Harvester
Pia Nalaar
Savage Alliance
Chandra, Torch of Defiance
Sand Strangler
Glorybringer

The nice thing about this yearly occurrence is that Mono-Red is typically very beatable, and some of the best Standard formats have followed from what comes out of the woodwork to adapt to the Mono-Red Menace. The “Level 2” deck that beats the red deck is typically a bigger aggro/midrange deck like an old school Abzan Aggro list with Siege Rhino. The important part of these decks need are big bodies, cheap removal, and some amount of lifegain. In this particular case, the best candidate is GB Snake. I’d start with Sam Pardee’s list from the Pro Tour.

Level 2 – The Apprentice

GB Constrictor by Sam Pardee, Pro Tour HOU

Lands (23)
Blooming Marsh
Evolving Wilds
Forest
Hashep Oasis
Hissing Quagmire
Swamp

Creatures (20)
Grim Flayer
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
Rishkar, Peema Renegade
Tireless Tracker
Verdurous Gearhulk
Walking Ballista
Winding Constrictor

Spells (12)
Dissenter’s Deliverance
Fatal Push
Grasp of Darkness
Traverse the Ulvenwald

Planeswalkers (5)
Liliana, the Last Hope
Nissa, Voice of Zendikar
Sideboard (15)
Dispossess
Doomfall
Gonti, Lord of Luxury
Grasp of Darkness
Ishkanah, Grafwidow
Never / Return
Ob Nixilis Reignited
Tireless Tracker
Transgress the Mind

This most certainly fits the bill as as a larger aggro deck backed up with cheap removal. The big draw to this deck is the full set of Walking Ballista, which does some serious work against Mono Red. Part of the problem with Mono Red is that blocking is really hard. Walking Ballista can, instead of blocking, can simply trade a +1/+1 counter for 1-toughness creature instead.

 

A similar draw for me is Liliana, the Last Hope. Mono Red’s creatures are just awful. Not only are they awful, but many of them are one toughness, and thus get gobbled up by Liliana. Then you have 4 Grasp of Darkness to cleanly deal with Hazoret. With quality interaction backed up by some big bodies GB decks seems poised to dominate the Grand Prix circuit post-Pro Tour.

The other list I wanted to mention in this “Macro-Archetype” of “Big Aggro” is a sweet Mono Black Eldrazi list from the Magic Online PTQ that I forgot to play in. (I had a similar Mono Black Control list ready to go)

Mono Black Eldrazi by AKMiD, Magic Online PTQ (7-1)

Creatures (22)
Gifted Aetherborn
Glint-Sleeve Siphoner
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
Matter Reshaper
Reality Smasher
Thought-Knot Seer

Instants (8)
Fatal Push
Grasp of Darkness

Land (25)
Aether Hub
Desert of the Glorified
Ifnir Deadlands
Scavenger Grounds
Sea Gate Wreckage
10 Swamp

Artifact (1)
Aethersphere Harvester

Planeswalker (4)
Liliana, the Last Hope
Sideboard (15)
Collective Brutality
Dispossess
Dreamstealer
Gonti, Lord of Luxury
Liliana’s Defeat
Never//Return
Ob Nixilis Reignited
Scrapheap Scrounger
Transgress the Mind
Yahenni’s Expertise

The big draw to this list is the fantastic mana base. I tested this list out and fell in love quickly. I won so many games off the back of Ifnir Deadlands, Scavenger Grounds, and Sea Gate Wreckage. Not to mention the dream curve of Aether Hub upgrading Glint-Sleeve Siphoner into a better Dark Confidant on turn two.

fatal push mtg card

On top of the great mana base is the unholy trifecta of interaction that absolutely destroys mono red (Fatal Push, Grasp of Darkness, and Liliana, the Last Hope). Thought-Knot Seer is basically impossible to kill, and can snag a Hazoret before it comes down. The Eldrazi in general are great at grinding and closing out games.

This has my pick for Big Aggro deck and is would’ve been on my short list of decks to play last weekend. A couple of cards I’d want to test are Harsh Scrutiny, Subtle Strike, and Dreamstealer. All three fit what the deck is trying to do.

Dreamstealer in particular is likely great against decks that are trying to one up the metagame Ramp. Subtle Strike is great with a lot of our creatures, and it can keep a Thought-Knot Seer alive against a Grasp of Darkness. It does something like a Dromoka’s Command impression, especially if the format resolves around one-toughness creatures. (Yes, Nick just said that Subtle Strike = Dromoka’s Command, ladies and gentleman you heard it here first…)

grind mtg card artwork

So here’s how I see this weekend playing out. You’ll have some number of people who are on the Mono Red hype train. Then there will be the people who play the decks that they think beat up on Mono Red (GB Snake and Bigger Eldrazi decks). Knowing this, we want to build a deck that has a reasonable mono red matchup and absolutely crushes GB snake decks. This usually means finding the big mana deck of the format, or going slightly bigger (think Abzan Control with Elspeth, Sun’s Champion vs Abzan Aggro with Fleecemane Lion).

This would also the time for combo decks to shine, though we are certainly low on those these days.  I’ll call this the “Level 3” of the format. Let’s start with the Ramp deck. I’m really drawn to a list that Conley Woods posted on Twitter:

Green Black Desert Ramp by Conley Woods

Creatures (13)
Catacomb Sifter
Jaddi Offshoot
World Breaker
The Gitrog Monster
Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger

Planeswalkers (1)
Liliana, Death’s Majesty
Lands (25)
Forest
Swamp
Blighted Fen
Blooming Marsh
Hashep Oasis
Hissing Quagmire
Ifnir Deadlands
Scavenger Grounds
Shrine of the Forsaken Gods

Spells (21)
Dissenter’s Deliverance
Fatal Push
Grasp of Darkness
Warping Wail
Beneath the Sands
Bontu’s Last Reckoning
Collective Brutality
Flaying Tendrils
Hour of Promise
Never

Sideboard (15)
Gifted Aetherborn
Ramunap Excavator
Thought-Knot Seer
World Breaker
Dissenter’s Deliverance
Warping Wail
Bontu’s Last Reckoning
Collective Brutality
Flaying Tendrils
Never

Not only is this a competent ramp strategy, but it’s also a grindy rock deck that turns Hour of Promise in to an unbelievable toolbox. You can fetch utility deserts OR the Shrine of the Forsaken Gods that will let you cast a turn 5 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. Against control you get a pair of bodies and two Hissing Quagmires.  You have maindeck removal and sweepers for Mono Red (along with four Jaddi Offshoot!) and if you wanted to, you could fix the matchup even more. I would want to make room some number of Sylvan Advocates. Here’s my build of the GB Ramp deck:

GB Desert Ramp by Nick Peternell

Land (25)
Blooming Marsh
Desert of the Glorified
Desert of the Indomitable
Forest
Hashep Oasis
Hissing Quagmire
Ifnir Deadlands
Scavenger Grounds
Shrine of the Forsaken Gods
Swamp

Creature (20)
Catacomb Sifter
Jaddi Offshoot
Sylvan Advocate
The Gitrog Monster
Tireless Tracker
Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
World Breaker

Sorcery (10)
Beneath the Sands
Flaying Tendrils
Bontu’s Last Reckoning
Hour of Promise

Instant (5)
Dissenter’s Deliverance
Fatal Push
Sideboard (15)
Bontu’s Last Reckoning
Yahenni’s Expertise
Dispossess
Dreamstealer
Fatal Push
Gonti, Lord of Luxury
Liliana, the Last Hope
Lost Legacy
Collective Brutality

The biggest differences between our lists is that mine grinds a little harder and is expecting a GB-centric metagame. This archetype hasn’t really been explored as much as it needs to be, and I’m excited to see what other come up with in the “Deserts Matter” cluster.

I don’t think a big midrange/control deck exists right now that can beat up GB Snake. If I were to try though, it would be BW Midrange.

BW Control by Nick Peternell

Land (26)
Concealed Courtyard
Forsaken Sanctuary
Ifnir Deadlands
Plains
Scavenger Grounds
Shambling Vent
Shefet Dunes
Swamp

Planeswalker (9)
Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
Liliana, the Last Hope
Ob Nixilis Reignited

Creature (13)
Archangel Avacyn
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
Linvala, the Preserver
Noxious Gearhulk
Sunscourge Champion
Thraben Inspector

Instant (10)
Anguished Unmaking
Blessed Alliance
Fatal Push
Grasp of Darkness

Sorcery (2)
Fumigate
Sideboard (15)
Collective Brutality
Dispossess
Dreamstealer
Forsake the Worldly
Fragmentize
Gideon’s Defeat
Liliana’s Defeat
Transgress the Mind

The deck has quite a few powerful cards and a removal suite well-suited to the metagame. Gideon is still king and the curve of removal into Liliana, into Gideon should put away most games. (if you come at the king, you best not miss) I also think Archangel Avacyn isn’t seeing enough play right now. She gets around the red creatures that make it so you can’t block and does a fantastic job of protecting planeswalkers.

The last deck I’ll leave you with is the closest I could come to a “Combo” deck:

GB Pummeler by Nick Peternell

Creature (24)
Bristling Hydra
Dreamstealer
Electrostatic Pummeler
Glint-Sleeve Siphoner
Longtusk Cub
Servant of the Conduit

Instant (7)
Blossoming Defense
Fatal Push
Highspire Infusion

Land (21)
Aether Hub
Blooming Marsh
Forest
Hashep Oasis
Ifnir Deadlands
Swamp

Sorcery (8)
Attune with Aether
Larger Than Life
Sideboard (15)
Liliana, the Last Hope
Dispossess
Dissenter’s Deliverance
Fatal Push
Lifecrafter’s Bestiary
Scavenger Grounds
Tireless Tracker

This twist on the classic Pummeler deck is a bit more grindy and gets to play 8 effective beaters with Dreamstealer now. Dreamstealer plus a pump effect effectively ends the game on the spot, ridding our opponents of their troublesome “hand”. This is another deck that gets a huge upgrade from the Desert package – Hashep Oasis acting as a pump spell is important in the same way the Inkmoth Nexus is huge for Modern Infect.

Dreamstealer’s Eternalize ability gives this deck gas after a deck has killed your creatures. Glint-Sleeve Siphoner is low-key insane in this deck as well, granting card advantage, energy, and an evasive body. This is the other deck on my short list of decks to play this weekend and has been fantastic in testing. It struggle a bit with red but on its own it’s an insanely powerful strategy.

Hope you liked these innovative lists and good luck leveling up at your next tournament.

Nick has been playing Magic since the 2013 Core Set was released, and grinding since Return to Ravnica. He’s played on the Pro Tour and has multiple high finishes at both the Star City Tour and Grand Prix levels. He’s a brewer at heart and excels most in the beginning and middle stages of a format. Finding weaknesses in the metagame and exploiting underplayed cards is just another day in the office for Nick.

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