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The Geists of Christmas Future

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The letter L!ast week here on Top Decks, we looked at some of the existing archetypes of the Innistrad-Dark Ascension two-thirds iteration of Innistrad Block... the so-called "Geists of Christmas Past and Present."

Shimmering Grotto | Art by Cliff Childs

But this week in Barcelona is Pro Tour Avacyn Restored, the first big Innistrad Block event with new set Avacyn Restored. What does the future hold for players participating in the Pro Tour?

Here are six decks you will probably see this weekend, a gauntlet of decks I think are going to be relevant in the new format.

Jund

How does this deck work?

The mid-rangiest of midrange decks, this black-red-green strategy is good at killing creatures (often more than one at a time) and plays high-quality creatures.

New cards:

Borderland Ranger

Borderland Ranger was almost tailor made for a midrange (and obviously green) deck like the Jund colors. It has a respectable body that can trade with half a Strangleroot Geist or half a Huntmaster of the Fells, scare off Geist of Saint Traft, or slow down a Champion of the Parish. At the same time, it is a two-for-one card-drawing machine that fixes mana.

You might already know this but I have always had a soft spot for ye olde Borderland Ranger.

Bonfire of the Damned

This card is already acquiring a reputation as one of the best cards in the set and we haven't even seen a Pro Tour where it is legal yet. Bonfire of the Damned—especially going late—is a good way to contain Planeswalkers and possibly kill other players. Last week, in "Geists of Christmas Past and Present," we saw that a large proportion of the existing shells for Innistrad Block Constructed are fast aggro decks... the kinds of decks that commit many small creatures to the battlefield... right into Bonfire of the Damned.

And if you hit it on miracle?

Bananas!

Bonfire of the Damned on miracle is every kind of awesome: a Fireball to the face; a Fireball to any and all animals on the opposing offense.

Ulvenwald Tracker

This is just a one-of in the sideboard, but it still seems like an exciting addition from Avacyn Restored. Not only is it a fast drop that allows a deck to seize the initiative from turn one, but when you have powerful, durable, or even unkillable (or undying) creatures on your side? The curtain will quickly fall for the other fellow's animals.

Abundant Growth

It's like a green Spreading Seas!

Well... kind of the opposite, as it is more the kind of card you would enchant your own land with to fix colors rather than one you would use to manascrew the opponent. Abundant Growth is a cheap and unspectacular cantrip card. It costs next to nothing to play, and ultimately nothing at all as it draws you a card.

Now, there are a fair number of tournament-quality cards in the history of Magic: The Gathering that merely cost very little and drew you a card, but this one also fixes your mana, so it is on the bonus.

I think Abundant Growth might quietly prove itself one of the best cards in Avacyn Restored.

Pillar of Flame

Here is a card that is also both cheap and unspectacular. And even more certainly than Abundant Growth, Pillar of Flame will prove a very important tool this weekend.

Pillar of Flame | Art by Karl Kopinski

As we've said on multiple occasions, the default strategy for Innistrad Block seems to include fast creatures supplemented by red spells. Well, Pillar of Flame is a red spell... and is great against fast creatures!

In particular, this is a card that can trade straight up with undying paragons like Strangleroot Geist without any loss of card advantage, and does quite a number on Delver of Secrets, Champion of the Parish, and Stromkirk Noble as well.

The Rock

The Rock
Innistrad Block Constructed


The Rock is a deck that often rises up to meet weenie beatdown strategies. It lacks the potential for red miracles, but The Rock has greater mana consistency on account of being only two colors—although it can make use of many of the same tools we saw with Jund's inheritors.

This deck runs a stack of durable and high-quality creatures. They all trade for two cards, draw extra cards, make more creatures, make mana, or more than one of these. Like the Jund-type decks, The Rock can make fine use of...

Borderland Ranger

Still a two-for-one and capable blocker and can help with difficult mana costs on Vorapede while hooking up the necessary double-black for threats like Bloodgift Demon.

Dark Impostor

Some decks are not very good at dealing with creatures at all, or at least not good at dealing with black creatures; those decks—if they give up enough time—might find themselves ground to powder by Dark Impostor.


Obviously not the kind of card you want against flexible, fast, removal—or against super-fast aggro decks—but if you can slow down the battlefield with your blockers, Dark Impostor can be a one-card ticket to inevitability.

Human Frailty

When I first saw this card, I thought it might be a sideboard card a la Deathmark... fast, flexible when considered against very specific opponents, but ultimately the kind of card that can consistently contribute just due to its cost. I actually think Human Frailty is a good deal better than I originally did, just based on the scope of different Humans you might have to kill.


Champion of the Parish...

Delver of Secrets...

Huntmaster of the Fells...

Many of the best Innistrad Block creatures across every color are Humans!

Let's face it, even with a smaller palette of potential targets (which is irrelevant considering the set it was printed in), this card would be priced awfully right.

Four-Color Green


How do you differentiate yourself against the Black-Green or even Black-Red-Green midrange decks in the field? Add not just the red back but another whole color! And while you're at it... make that White ManaWhite Mana in the casting costs!

The Four-Color Green deck plays a combination of powerful threats and answers... and has yet another mana fixer/accelerator—one that might be essential if you are going to go after Black ManaBlack ManaBlack Mana, Red ManaRed Mana, and White ManaWhite Mana... all in your base-green deck.

Sigarda, Host of Herons

What is there to say about Sigarda? Sigarda is actually one of my favorite cards in the set... it seems very "Baneslayer Angel" to me; no lifelink, sure, but makes up for that with a level of durability almost unheard of.


Bonfire of the Damned

It will be interesting to see how viable a deck like this one will prove in the long term. Personally, I love decks that jam tons of great cards into a single shell, but given the speed of Champion of the Parish, Strangleroot Geist, and Vexing Devil, you have to wonder about such varied and demanding mana requirements.

That said...

Vessel of Endless Rest

...seems like quite the fixer. It isn't obviously powerful the way a Signet or Everflowing Chalice is, but even at its higher mana cost, Vessel of Endless Rest does good work. For one, it fixes the mana for a deck with—again—Black ManaBlack ManaBlack Mana, Red ManaRed Mana, and White ManaWhite Mana all in a base-green deck.

Vessel of Endless Rest | Art by John Avon

Plus, Vessel of Endless Rest has a handy little side effect. While you aren't always going to be able to hit its enters-the-battlefield ability profitably, sometimes you will be able to deuce a Think Twice, Faithless Looting, or Unburial Rites and take some oomph out of the opponent's graveyard. You know, a little something extra.

Appetite for Brains

A lot of players have been likening this card to Inquisition of Kozilek, its spiritual mirror image. The reality is, if Appetite for Brains is going to be good, it is going to be a more strategic card than Inquisition of Kozilek ever was. Inquisition of Kozilek preys on good decks playing good cards. You have open black on the first turn? Cast it! You are very likely to hit; and if you don't, your opponent's hand probably isn't very good.

Appetite for Brains, on the other hand, is a card that is going to reward patience. You have to look your opponent in the eye; give the old soul-read. Is this the right time to play it? This is a card that is going to feast around turn four or five, and in matchups when a particular threat is projected to bedevil you.

Green-White Humans


Cavern of Souls

One of the absolute best cards in Avacyn Restored, Cavern of Souls has many things already written about it. But for a deck like Green-White Humans?

Name Humans!

It will help you hit your first-turn Champion of the Parish and second-turn Mayor of Avabruck!

Silverblade Paladin

Silverblade Paladin can be seen as both strategic and opportunistic. You can ramp up a Champion of the Parish and then smash the opponent with a well-played Paladin; and you can use an in-play tandem to milk the board, holding back resources even as you dominate the red zone. Rather a strong threat... this is one to watch this weekend.

Champion of Lambholt

Is Lambholt anywhere near "the Parish?"

Descendants' Path

This is an incredible card if you can consistently hit with it... a card-drawing engine that pays for itself, over and over again. I personally didn't see Descendants' Path as an obvious route for Block; it seems like the kind of card most progressive card-advantage decks would have problems beating over the long haul.

If the metagame shifts away from fast aggro toward more midrange (as this gauntlet indicates with its Black-Green, Black-Red-Green, and Four-Color Green decks), we might see more and different Descendants' Paths emerge.

Divine Deflection

You kind of have to have it exactly when you need it, but damn if this isn't a kick in the teeth for a proposed Bonfire of the Damned.

RDW

Red Deck Wins
Innistrad Block Constructed


Vexing Devil

Vexing Devil is one of the more controversial cards to come out of the new set. It is like a "punisher" tool from another age. Browbeat 2012.

On one hand, we have an absurd creature for Red Mana... bigger and less dangerous to its master than Jackal Pup. On the other hand, we have a card that deals more than Lava Spike. Problem? The opponent gets to pick.

So here's the thing: Vexing Devil might be a star in a bigger format like Modern or Extended, where it will have Lightning Bolts and Goblin Guides to play with. Well what does that say about its chances in a tiny format like Block? Less redundancy, sure, but its relative power level is quite a bit above the average, doncha think?

Archwing Dragon

This creature looked a bit cumbersome to me, in the sense of a creature at least.

One advantage you might not have considered is that there isn't an overabundance of instant-speed removal that can take out a 4/4 in Innistrad Block. Sure there are cards... a morbid Tragic Slip or Brimstone Volley can do it, but those need some setup; Victim of Night and some other black spells can clip its wings, but the reality is that much of the quality removal—Liliana of the Veil, Terminus, and even Tamiyo if you want to think of her that way—can't really aim at an Archwing Dragon.

Archwing Dragon | Art by Daarken

If you think of Archwing Dragon as a 4-point burn spell with built-in buyback it looks a lot more fluid, and maybe even more synergistic with cards like Vexing Devil.

Thunderbolt

Now, speaking of cards that can take out an Archwing Dragon, there aren't a whole lot, but Thunderbolt is an economical one. Plus, hey... you can point this to the face for 3. Thunderbolt isn't as flexible as the average Constructed playable burn spell, but the deck still has Pillar of Flame.

Rites


This deck wins the award for most most-interesting Avacyn Restored cards (at least as far as this little possible preview of Christmas Future stands). And oh, the presents we can open!

First, how does this deck work?

The Rites deck uses Mulch and Faithless Looting to improve its hand and dump creatures into the graveyard. Well... creatures and other stuff. You can easily dump both a big guy and an Unburial Rites into the graveyard in a single swoop, allowing you to flash back on turn four.

Griselbrand

Griselbrand is one of the most outrageously gigantic and powerful creatures in the history of Magic... or at least eight-drops. Griselbrand has an amazing set of abilities that work together along with its massive size. Drawing a new hand at will is the kind of superpower that will win games, and lifelink lets you counterbalance against the steep cost in life points.

Oh, and it doesn't take very long to win with a black creature this size that, you know, flies.

Zealous Conscripts

A really powerful game changer. Literally a game changer in the sense that it can turn the game on its ear. A 3/3 haste creature was viable (if at a fringe level only) at 2 ManaRed ManaRed Mana; and a Threaten/Act of Treason/Traitorous Blood of some stripe has been continuously viable in almost every format where there was a Red Deck to seize up a Silvos. In sum, at a hefty five mana, Zealous Conscripts is actually a deal by maybe Red ManaRed Mana.

While this is undoubtedly an Unburial Rites deck, it can access many of its high-quality creatures the old fashioned way—not just Zealous Conscripts—but Huntmaster of the Fells on four, and via some bending over backwards, can even hit the Host of Herons.

So anyway, here are a few decks to consider going into a PT that has inspired not one, not two, but two-and-a-half super teams. Undoubtedly we will see some amazing, heretofore undiscovered technology... as well as a continuation of the great play we caught—almost nonstop—on camera at Pro Tour Dark Ascension. More Hall of Famers than you can shake a stick at should be on site, and hopefully all over the website, all weekend.

In sum, I'll just leave you with something I've said this before on the eve of a relatively under-certain PT format:

Expect the Unexpected Tomorrow.



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