Cleaning Out the Closet
I’m sure that I’m not the only Standard player out there who is getting a bit tired of the format as it stands right now. Sure, there are plenty of decks out there – Naya, Bant, Esper, BR Aggro, “Bantchantments,” Reanimator, and more – but the format is becoming a bit stale – a Rock, Paper, Scissors game, if you will – and with a new set hitting Standard in just a few weeks, I can reasonably understand why. Having played a number of the current archetypes in the format, I wanted to play something a bit more refreshing – something a little less expected and, to be honest, less boring. Today, I want to share with you a deck that is sure to give you the opportunity to have a ton of fun and shake up a local tournament or two before Gatecrash is released.
It all started with Cloudshift. My friend and local tournament grinder Bernie Makino won the 2012 Maryland state championships (right at the start of Return to Ravnica Standard) with a deck that employed Cloudshift and a pseudo-reanimation strategy to create an immense board presence that the local Meta was anything but ready for. You can read about his states experience here.
From there, Bernie got to talking about how Conjurer’s Closet could be a potential powerhouse in Standard, and we discussed how we could tweak his state’s build to best utilize the card’s effect. In a format full of enter-the-battlefield effects (Restoration Angel, Armada Wurm, and Thragtusk, to name a few), being able to repeatedly blink creatures could prove to be big game. Bernie went on to top-64 Grand Prix Charleston with a brew he and fellow friend Bryan Hardenberger put together that used Conjurer’s Closet and a shell similar to the one Bernie ran at Maryland states. Not being able to test the deck at a larger tournament myself was disappointing, for sure, but seeing Bernie put up a great result in Charleston provided all the proof I needed that the idea was certainly a potent threat in Return To Ravnica Standard.
Flash forward to today. After starting Grand Prix Atlantic City 4-0, only to punt round 5 and have a case of the run-bads in rounds 6 and 7 to scrub out at 4-3, I wanted nothing more than to throw my Naya deck into a bonfire and start fresh. Luckily, I play FNM every week with a great group of folks, and for this week, our Tournament Organizer, Don, is running a “home-brew” Standard tournament. The drive for this “home-brew” idea is simple: innovate. Don’t look at the best deck lists of a recent tournament online and bring the same 75 to FNM, and take some time to come up with an idea that could be unexpected and fun. Our local players are a great group of folks, and we all enjoy staying true to the spirit of the idea, so, about a week before Standard adds a new set or rotates, we run this “home-brew” FNM and have an absolute blast. What better way, I thought, to bring back Conjurer’s Closet than to brew up an updated version of the deck Bernie, Bryan and I were talking about after Maryland states and Grand Prix Charleston? With that, I took a loose shell of Bernie’s states deck, thought about some ways to get the most out of recurring enter-the-battlefield effects, and came up with this list:
Junk in the Closet by Tom Davis
I took a bit more of a life-gain approach with this deck, as, in previous “home-brew” FNMs, I’ve seen plenty of decks designed simply to get an opponent to 0 life as quickly as possible. So, while keeping true to the original “blink everything” strategy, I wanted to add a Trostani. Not only do I gain a ton of life when creatures enter the battlefield, but, in a pinch, she can also populate the endless wurms, beasts, wolves, and spirits that accompany my creature suite. Here’s a quick rundown of my creature choices and how I got there:
Disciple of Bolas – Creates huge card advantage and provides life gain. Particularly useful against control decks, but can also break open mid-range and aggro matchups through the life-gain aspect. Disciple of Bolas synergizes well with Angel of Serenity when sacrificing non-token creatures.
Restoration Angel – The enter-the-battlefield ability here is huge, and to me is a necessary 4-of in the deck. Being able to blink Armada Wurm, Thragtusk, Disciple of Bolas, and Geist-Honored Monk give almost limitless options as to how to grow your board state. Certainly one of my favorite interactions is to flash her in at the end of your opponent’s turn with a Trostani in play, blinking a Thragtusk (gaining a net 15 life), and then letting Conjurer’s Closet repeat this process all over again at the end of your next turn. A 30 point life swing in the course of one turn is huge, not to mention the other plays you make on your turn.
Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice – A huge life-gain engine, while being able to grow your board state through her Populate ability. Not necessarily a must-include, but I enjoy the synergy that she and the plethora of enter-the-battlefield effects bring to the deck. I wouldn’t play more than 2 in my 75.
Geist-Honored Monk – When my board can have 10 or more creatures at any one time, Geist-Honored Monk can be a huge problem for opponents. A common interaction I use in the deck, similar to the recurring Thragtusk strategy above, is to flash in Restoration Angel while Trostani is in play, blinking Geist-Honored Monk, and stacking your triggers such that Geist-Honored Monk’s triggered ability resolves before Trostani’s, gaining upwards of 20 life in the process.
Thragtusk – A must-have in the deck. Thragtusk easily has the best synergy with this style of deck, providing insane value both when it enters and leaves the battlefield. 4 is always the correct number of Thragtusk to play.
Armada Wurm – This bad boy may have lost favor with the major decks of the format, but it can certainly find a home here. Combined with the life gain aspects of the deck, being able to bring in two (or more) 5/5 trampling wurms per turn can quickly put insurmountable pressure on your opponent.
Angel of Serenity – The best utility card in the deck, bar none. There are so many options when playing Angel of Serenity in this deck: repeatedly filling my hand with up to 3 creatures out of the graveyard (especially when sacking creatures to Disciple of Bolas), clearing an opponent’s board for a turn to hit for lethal damage, or just netting a 5/6 flyer that can swing over the top of your opponent. If you choose to play this deck, Angel of Serenity needs to be part of your arsenal.
As for the spell-suite in the deck, Selesnya Charm can either get rid of a pesky Thundermaw Hellkite or give one of my creatures trample to get through those last points of damage. Oblivion Ring can save my Conjurer’s Closet or get rid of a particularly pesky planeswalker or creature. Garruk Relentless and Vraska serve as creature and permanent destruction in the deck. In a pinch, Vraska can even destroy one of your own creatures (like Angel of Serenity) prior to using Unburial Rites to get creatures back into your hand if a Conjurer’s Closet can’t be found. Conjurer’s Closet should be a no-brainer by now, but recurring enter-the-battlefield effects are the main point of this deck. Conjurer’s Closet does this admirably. With a Standard format that currently utilizes very little artifact hate, you should be able to stick a Conjurer’s Closet on the battlefield and not worry about it leaving for a while. Unburial Rites serves as a great way to synergize with Disciple of Bolas, while also doing a fine job bringing creatures back that may have been milled, destroyed, etc.
The only land I’ll really discuss is Vault of the Archangel. I had been trying a 1-to-1 split of Vault of the Archangel and Gavony Township, only to find that I was blinking too many creatures to make Gavony Township particularly effective. I chose to run 2 Vault of the Archangel solely to provide a more consistent way for creatures, both big and small, to have ability to do big damage to an opponent’s board while providing a huge life swing in my favor. Feel free to replace 1 with a Woodland Cemetery or a basic land if you find yourself struggling to get your mana right during matches. Personally, I haven’t had any issues, especially with Farseek in the deck.
The sideboard is designed to provide incremental support against hyper-aggro or hyper-control decks, especially control decks that try to mill out an opponent. You can literally tune this in any number of ways to fight your particular Meta, so I won’t go over the choices in great detail, except to say that Garruk, Primal Hunter is a necessity in the sideboard. He could even go into the main deck if you prefer him over Garruk Relentless. See how your local Meta works, figure out what cards work best after game 1, and build the sideboard to suit your metagame.
The hardest part of piloting this deck has to do with mulliganing. Simply put, the deck doesn’t mulligan particularly well, at all. This can prove problematic against Mono-Red aggro or BR aggro decks if all of your cards in your starting 7 only get you advantage starting on turn 4. Luckily, a good chunk of the standard format is heading to a mid-range and control direction, giving you time to build on the 7 cards in your hand. In short, if your hand has a decent mix of spells and lands, keep it, even if you may not have a “real” (read: not ramp) spell to play until turn 3 or 4. Being on 5 cards at the start of the game is never good, and in this deck, it can be crippling against fast decks. That said, you obviously don’t want to keep 7 cards you know can’t help you win the match. Mulliganing with this deck takes practice, and with time, you’ll figure out opening hands that can get you ahead against most matchups.
While I feel like the mana base is a bit too shaky to try a 4 or 5-color strategy, I definitely think that this could be possible after Gatecrash is released. I would love nothing more than to add red in order to use Zealous Conscripts to take control of an opponent’s creature and blink that creature with Conjurer’s Closet to have it forever. Additionally, adding red gives the option of adding Kessig Wolf Run, which could quickly end matches with an already-large board state. When I update this deck for Gatecrash, it will probably include some number of Zealous Conscripts, Boros Charm, Blind Obedience and Aurelia’s Fury somewhere in my 75. I probably won’t include blue, but who knows – maybe adding Sphinx’s Revelation could be huge – try it out!
While I’m unsure of how successful this particular deck may be in a highly competitive atmosphere, I do know that it has the potential to beat up on an unprepared metagame. Conjurer’s Closet has been in a top-64 deck list of a Grand Prix, after all, so the power level is obvious! If you’re like me, and want to try out a Standard deck that is more refreshing and fun to play, clean out the closet, conjure up some confidence, and try this deck at your local tournament. It’s an absolute blast to pilot, and the reactions that you get from your opponents will be priceless.
As always, feel free to leave a comment below, or drop me a line on Twitter (@wingmanmtg) – I’ll talk about how the deck performs at FNM (and any other tournaments I may play it at) from there, if you’re interested. Definitely let me know how you do if you choose to run the deck – would love to hear your thoughts on the archetype! Finally, big shout outs to Bernie Makino and Bryan Hardenberger, who brewed up the original shell of this deck and shared their thoughts about the deck with me, and to Don Wiggins, our local Tournament Organizer, for coming up with a unique way for our local players to innovate and build some really, really fun decks to play – you guys rock!
Until next time,