When The Bad Guys Win

7 min read

I had to take some time to really soak in that [mtg_card]Gideon, Ally of Zendikar[/mtg_card] is still in the format. The decree was official, and no bans took place. Despite the overwhelming evidence of a poor format, all of my ban predictions were still with us. So then I did the unthinkable.  I opened up Magic Online, and purchased four copies of Gideon, Ally of Zendikar.  It’s the first time I’ve ever owned copies of the card and it’s something I swore wouldn’t happen.

I was tainted, but damn it I was winning! It was dirty, cheap, and unfulfilling. Only then, when I used my greatest hatred against my enemies, did I understand what Gideon truly was.  Broken. Broken, and not banned.  Well, at least not for a couple more months. The least I could do to keep my dignity was swear an oath. Oath of NinjaTheNick, which read: Gideon, Ally of Zendikar may only be used to fuel brews and never to be paired with Heart of Kiran.  There, I can live with myself again. Welcome to the Gatewatch, friends.

Standard is what it is.  Many will look to the overwhelming evidence that the format is solved. But not me, I will never falter.  I’ll stand my ground as a brewer even in the face of what’s come to pass.

Remember when Gandalf battled an entire playset of Heart of Kiran?

I’m still on a mission to break [mtg_card]Renegade Rallier[/mtg_card].  I also want to look at updating some archetypes that have been declared dead, and never got the updated treatment that 4 Color Saheeli and Mardu Vehicles got. Either way, I’m going to try convince you that you don’t have to settle. You have options to pick from, even if they probably have to contain Gideon or [mtg_card]Walking Ballista[/mtg_card].

Abzan Aristocrats – Nick Peternell

Creatures (19)

  • 4 [mtg_card]Blisterpod[/mtg_card]
  • 4 [mtg_card]Renegade Rallier[/mtg_card]
  • 4 [mtg_card]Thraben Inspector[/mtg_card]
  • 4 [mtg_card]Zulaport Cutthroat[/mtg_card]
  • 4 [mtg_card]Yahenni, Undying Partisan[/mtg_card]
  • 2 [mtg_card]Vengeful Rebel[/mtg_card]
  • 1 [mtg_card]Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim[/mtg_card]

Noncreatures (16)

  • 4 [mtg_card]Fatal Push[/mtg_card]
  • 4 [mtg_card]Hidden Stockpile[/mtg_card]
  • 4 [mtg_card]Gideon, Ally of Zendikar[/mtg_card]
  • 4 [mtg_card]Renegade Map[/mtg_card]

Lands (25)

  • 4 [mtg_card]Concealed Courtyard[/mtg_card]
  • 4 [mtg_card]Blooming Marsh[/mtg_card]
  • 4 [mtg_card]Evolving Wilds[/mtg_card]
  • 4 [mtg_card]Plains[/mtg_card]
  • 2 [mtg_card]Swamp[/mtg_card]
  • 1 [mtg_card]Forest[/mtg_card]
  • 1 [mtg_card]Hissing Quagmire[/mtg_card]
  • 1 [mtg_card]Fortified Village[/mtg_card]

Sideboard (15)

  • 2 [mtg_card]Vengeful Rebel[/mtg_card]
  • 2 [mtg_card]Walking Ballista[/mtg_card]
  • 2 [mtg_card]Fragmentize[/mtg_card]
  • 1 [mtg_card]Natural Obsolescence[/mtg_card]
  • 2 [mtg_card]Authority of the Consuls[/mtg_card]
  • 2 [mtg_card]Transgress the Mind[/mtg_card]
  • 2 [mtg_card]Anguished Unmaking[/mtg_card]
  • 1 [mtg_card]Ajani Unyielding[/mtg_card]
  • 1 [mtg_card]Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim[/mtg_card]

Ever since Zulaport Cutthroat was printed I’ve had dreams of playing Abzan (or Junk) Aristocrats again.  Dreams of [mtg_card]Blood Artist[/mtg_card] filled my sleep.  However, aside from 4 Color Rally decks that dream never really came true, and that deck was sort of a combo deck more so than a pure Aristocrats strategy. Well folks, today we’re attempting to bring it back.

There are some cards in here that are criminally underplayed. Hidden Stockpile is secretly just a slightly more balanced [mtg_card]Bitterblossom[/mtg_card]. Triggering revolt is fairly trivial, and a Servo every turn is something this deck is interested in. The fact that it’s also a sacrifice outlet is just gravy.  Another card that has been impressive is Yahenni, Undying Partisan.  Even a single +1/+1 counter on it turns it into a snowballing monster.  Eventually it’s going to get out of control. I would like a few more removal spells to pair with it, but even without the extra help Yaaheeni has done a great job.

Many of the cards in the deck compare directly to the old Aristocrats so at least there are a few proven staples around.  Here’s an old list from Brad Nelson just for reference:

Blisterpod is actually just an upgrade to Doomed Traveler because the scion can trigger revolt and sacrifice itself for a Zulaport Cutthroat trigger or to make mana (or both!). Zulaport Cutthroat is the new Blood Artist, albeit a little weaker because it doesn’t trigger on our opponents creatures dying, but the fact that this can get in for 1 or potentially trade with something does offer some different upside.

Gideon is straight up better than [mtg_card]Sorin, Lord of Innistrad[/mtg_card] and [mtg_card]Garruk Relentless[/mtg_card]. Yahenni and Hidden Stockpile compare fairly well to [mtg_card]Cartel Aristocrat[/mtg_card] and [mtg_card]Varolz, the Scar-Striped[/mtg_card], with Yahenni potentially being better than Varolz. Fatal Push is about as good as Tragic Slip in this deck, with maybe slip getting the nod assuming both Morbid and Revolt are equally easy to turn on.

On the plus side, the old lists never had anything quite like Vengeful Rebel, which is very good right now.  If this list had room for more three drops it would be a 4-of.

Importantly, there is no replacement for [mtg_card]Voice of Resurgence[/mtg_card] and nothing really compares to Lingering Souls. But outside of that I think the decks are functionally similar enough for this to work, assuming that in the current meta of turn 4 combos this is something we can still do.  Now that’s a big assumption, but my win rate against Saheeli is decent, all thing’s considered.

me after I didn’t get completely annhiliated on Magic Online

Moving on to updating some of the Pro Tour lists, I’ve had my sights on Grixis Improvise.  The tale of this deck is a sad one.  The brave teams that brought it to Pro Tour Aether Revolt were soundly destroyed,  their records were so bad that nobody has really heard from Grixis since.  Well that’s not really fair now is it? Look at 4-Color Saheeli and Mardu Vehicles, those decks got completely reworked after the Pro Tour. Let’s see if we can polish Grixis up now.

I think, the problem with Grixis Improvise is that it’s difficult to build a focused gameplan. Is the deck aggro, controlling, or midrange? Why weren’t the PT lists playing [mtg_card]Walking Ballista[/mtg_card] or Heart of Kiran? Is [mtg_card]Maverick Thopterist[/mtg_card] not trash?  These questions and more were answered in a huge testing session I did on Magic Online.  Some of the results were pretty decent.  The biggest upside to Grixis, in my opinion, is the trifecta of interaction in Unlicensed Disintegration, Fatal Push, and Metallic Rebuke. Those three cards in the same deck give you tools against legitimately everything in the format. The question then becomes what shell to put around it and what are the best enablers and payoffs.  Here’s the final list I settled on after testing:

Grixis Improvise – Nick Peternell

Creatures (18)

  • 3 [mtg_card]Herald of Anguish[/mtg_card]
  • 4 [mtg_card]Walking Ballista[/mtg_card]
  • 3 [mtg_card]Scrap Trawler[/mtg_card]
  • 4 [mtg_card]Scrapheap Scrounger[/mtg_card]
  • 2 [mtg_card]Pia Nalaar[/mtg_card]
  • 2 [mtg_card]Maverick Thopterist[/mtg_card]

Noncreatures (22)

  • 3 [mtg_card]Heart of Kiran[/mtg_card]
  • 3 [mtg_card]Implement of Combustion[/mtg_card]
  • 4 [mtg_card]Renegade Map[/mtg_card]
  • 4 [mtg_card]Fatal Push[/mtg_card]
  • 4 [mtg_card]Unlicensed Disintegration[/mtg_card]
  • 4 [mtg_card]Metallic Rebuke[/mtg_card]

Lands (20)

  • 4 [mtg_card]Choked Estuary[/mtg_card]
  • 1 [mtg_card]Foreboding Ruins[/mtg_card]
  • 4 [mtg_card]Spirebluff Canal[/mtg_card]
  • 4 [mtg_card]Spire of Industry[/mtg_card]
  • 3 [mtg_card]Island[/mtg_card]
  • 3 [mtg_card]Swamp[/mtg_card]
  • 1 [mtg_card]Mountain[/mtg_card]

Sideboard (15)

  • 3 [mtg_card]Release the Gremlins[/mtg_card]
  • 2 [mtg_card]Shock[/mtg_card]
  • 2 [mtg_card]Reverse Engineer[/mtg_card]
  • 3 [mtg_card]Negate[/mtg_card]
  • 2 [mtg_card]Aethersphere Harvester[/mtg_card]
  • 3 [mtg_card]Transgress the Mind[/mtg_card]

What I disliked about the Pro Tour builds was how all-in they were on ramping out threats with improvise. Against Mardu Vehicles and 4 Color Saheeli you have to concede that what they’re doing is simply almost as powerful and twice as consistent.  [mtg_card]Servo Schematic[/mtg_card] is a bad magic card and there is no way around it.  The trap here is that it looks like a Sol Land in theory, but in practice it’s just a clunky piece of ramp that can be easily interacted with.  A lone Servo, does not a monster make.  I think the designers of the deck were still coming down from the Eldrazi deck in Modern and wanted to relive the dream of fast mana.

This version plays higher average power level cards in exchange for explosiveness. This deck seeks to play a fair game with good cards and better interaction than opponents have.  Metallic Rebuke has been noted as a strong answer to the format and this deck presents it alongside the other two best answers in the format.  It is a bit clunky still, and sometimes unwieldy, but I’ve had a lot of success against 4 Color Saheeli.  Results against Mardu Vehicles weren’t so good, but not horrible.  I  do think there’s something to Grixis and we just gave up on it too early.  I’d love to see some progress on this archetype and maybe revisit it again.

The last piece I want to leave you with is the hilarious culmination of my frustration with this format. My friends and I were testing and using the same sleeves for all of our decks.  Somehow, the 4 Color Saheeli deck we were using got mixed with the Mardu Deck we had.  The result was me drawing a hand that contained multiple pieces from both decks. Perfect.  (My hand was great, by the way.)  I figured, why not try to expand this a little?  I came up with this monstrosity.  I have no idea if it’s good, but the question here isn’t “should we?” but “can we?”

I think we can, tell me if you think we should:

4 Color Saheelicles – Nick Peternell

Creatures (18)

  • 4 [mtg_card]Felidar Guardian[/mtg_card]
  • 4 [mtg_card]Toolcraft Exemplar[/mtg_card]
  • 4 [mtg_card]Thraben Inspector[/mtg_card]
  • 4 [mtg_card]Scrapheap Scrounger[/mtg_card]
  • 2 [mtg_card]Pia Nalaar[/mtg_card]

Noncreatures (18)

  • 3 [mtg_card]Heart of Kiran[/mtg_card]
  • 4 [mtg_card]Saheeli Rai[/mtg_card]
  • 3 [mtg_card]Prophetic Prism[/mtg_card]
  • 3 [mtg_card]Unlicensed Disintegration[/mtg_card]
  • 3 [mtg_card]Metallic Rebuke[/mtg_card]
  • 3 [mtg_card]Fatal Push[/mtg_card]

Lands (24)

  • 4 [mtg_card]Spirebluff Canal[/mtg_card]
  • 4 [mtg_card]Inspiring Vantage[/mtg_card]
  • 4 [mtg_card]Concealed Courtyard[/mtg_card]
  • 4 [mtg_card]Spire of Industry[/mtg_card]
  • 3 [mtg_card]Plains[/mtg_card]
  • 2 [mtg_card]Island[/mtg_card]
  • 1 [mtg_card]Mountain[/mtg_card]
  • 2 [mtg_card]Smoldering Marsh[/mtg_card]

There, now you can go be the ultimate bad guy.  I hope you’re happy, Wizards.




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