From the Brewing Board – The Skies That Bind
Excluding the usual percentage of permanent dissidents, this Standard format is receiving almost universal acclaim. At our recent PTQ here in Newfoundland I had a couple of players mention that they had played against a different deck each round, and each of those decks was a known entity in the metagame. That’s usually a sign of a healthy, diverse format. Although we’ve been working towards that since the mistakes that were CawBlade and Delver, this is the first time since I returned to Magic in New Phyrexia that I can honestly say we’ve succeeded.
Unfortunately, that sucks for brewers. When there is no consensus best deck and no deck you can reliably expect to face 5 times in 8 rounds, it becomes very hard to attack the meta from an unconventional angle. With so many diverse threats and answers, it is also hard to find a route to victory with unconventional cards that isn’t attacked by splash hate for a known deck.
That, combined with a crazy busy end to 2014 that involved a ton of traveling and also moving house, has largely been the reason for my extended absence from this fine website. It’s hard to write about brews when I can’t find a good one. Although Standard is about to change, I think the list I am about to discuss will still be relevant as starting points for the new format. Fate Reforged is a small set and doesn’t look like it will revolutionise the metagame, so finding the best additions to existing archetypes is likely to be the place to start.
The Skies That Bind
You might have noticed that Abzan/Sidisi Whip and BG Constellation decks are both pretty good right now. A lot of the power in these decks lies with the enters-the-battlefield effects on cards like Siege Rhino, Hornet Queen, Doomwake Giant and Sidisi, Brood Tyrant. Whip of Erebos does an admirable job of letting you abuse these abilities, either by letting you access them early or by letting you get them twice.
There’s no question that these decks are very good, but it seems like the one thing holding them back is their own success. The archetype is designed to go for the long game, grinding the opponent down with strong removal until seizing control with a huge card advantage hit. When the mirror (or pseudo-mirror for that matter) happens though, the grinding gets far worse as each player can get the same massive swing and restore the balance. That Whip of Erebos helps pad life totals is a further complication.
Some Sidisi builds of the deck had taken to playing Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver as a mirror-breaker. I didn’t want to go that way when it would mean losing access to Siege Rhino. So how could I one-up the conventional builds in terms or advantage engines? That would involve a way to get more ETB triggers, but with Whip’s iron-clad exile clause that seemed unlikely.
Or is it? I’m sure we all have fond memories of Restoration Angel and Thragtusk, right? Well a card that has been tickling the back of my mind since it was printed is Skybind. Blink effects are a natural partner for ETB effects, and they interact very nicely with Whip of Erebos. If you exile the Whipped creature to Skybind’s effect, Whip’s exile clause is satisfied and the creature can safely return in your end step and stick around. You know, like we used to do with Obzedat, Ghost Council.
The non-enchantment clause is unnecessarily restrictive and a little annoying, but with a few small tweaks we can lessen the hassle. We’re already playing Courser of Kruphix, Doomwake Giant and Whip of Erebos as enchantments, and some versions run up to two Eidolon of Blossoms to give them a card advantage edge. The problem I’m sure you’re already seeing is that we can’t trigger Skybind for less than 3 mana in this configuration. Fortunately Font of Fertility is a card.
While it’s not hard to think of Font as a strict downgrade from Sylvan Caryatid, it does have certain advantages. Neither it nor the land it fetches can be killed by Anger of the Gods or End Hostilities, it is more likely to be a relevant draw late in the game and of course it triggers Constellation. Here’s the list I came up with:
I wanted to cut a Wayfinder for Nyx Weaver for a couple of reasons. Losing Sylvan Caryatid did make us a little more vulnerable in the early game, and the Weaver has the added bonus of killing some attackers while also filling your yard. If you are unlucky enough to mill over a Whip, he gets it back. Oh, and he triggers Constellation. I was very happy with this change but I think 2 might be too many.
Pharika of course is often seen in the 75 of these decks, but there was no way I was leaving her out of the main deck. Those Snake tokens are enchantments, as is she. Without Caryatid she has slightly less fodder but I was able to use the ability enough with Doomwake Giant to validate the decision.
Running Font did mean I needed more basics. I think cutting one Llanowar Wastes for a second Swamp would be a good plan, but otherwise the mana was not a problem at all. Drawing a Font late game worked exactly as I hoped, letting me cast a Doomwake Giant or Skybind and trigger it again on the same turn for a single mana.
Skybind was a little shy at times but when I did draw it, it won me the game. In fact it won two games that no other card could have, enabling me to beat my opponent’s triple Hornet Queen draw despite only seeing one of my own and no Doomwakes. I had initially overlooked that you can exile your opponent’s stuff with it too, which was relevant a couple of times. It and Font were the two MVPs of the deck, as I hoped.
I really like some of the board, like the Nyx-Fleece Rams and Brain Maggots as additional cheap Constellation triggers with upside, plus of course the anti aggro package of Drown in Sorrow and Bile Blight. Ashen Rider was key in an Abzan Whip mirror, and of course Glare and Reclamation Sage are typical at this point. I never brought in Ajani, as I think it’s more for the grindy matchups and I am already well set for those in my main deck. I’m not sure what a better option would be though.
One possibility is Odunos River Trawler, which gets you back an enchantment creature to your hand when it enters the battlefield. Being able to blink that might be worth trying, but the body is not impressive.
The deck was a ton of fun to play. Yes it’s basically Abzan Constellation with jank, but that jank is particularly good against other decks fighting on the same or a similar axis. I like doing silly things, and blinking Hornet Queen is a silly thing. I haven’t really dug deep into Fate Reforged yet but Skybind certainly seems to do some ridiculous things in combination with Manifest. Keep that in mind when combing through the spoiler for possible tweaks.
Until next time, Brew On!