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Sweet Science of Stomping Ground

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The letter T!his past weekend showed us the first glimpses of Gatecrash in Standard play. And Gatecrash has not disappointed thus far! Many notable decks at the most recent StarCityGames Standard Open in Atlanta, GA, featured new cards, both strategically and "just" as mana-base components. Yes—and this probably has nothing to do with beloved Boros Week—there were some Sacred Foundries (and company) kicking butt and burning down opposing defenses. For those who love a 5/5 for five mana, Obzedat, Ghost Council made its first—presumably of very many—Top 8s. But in Atlanta and abroad, the biggest impact, at least thus far, seems to be from Stomping Ground... Stomping Ground in a variety of not just creature decks, but combo ones too!

Stomping Ground | Art by David Palumbo

Let's check out some of the new cards in new builds:

Boros Beatdown

Andrew Schneider's RW Aggro
Standard – Top 8, StarCityGames.com Open, Atlanta


New Cards:


Andrew went with the typical pre-Gatecrash red beatdown shell and took a "Boros" angle to it rather than the pre-existing straight red or Rakdos angles. Rakdos Cackler doesn't need-need black mana at the one... red mana is just fine. Andrew ran up the curve from one-drops to Ash Zealot, Hellrider, and huge Thundermaw Hellkite at the five.


The big switch here is Boros Reckoner at three instead of Pyreheart Wolf or Hellhole Flailer... from this writer's perspective, Boros Reckoner is a huge upgrade relative to the previous options. In a deck—of however many colors—that can hit Red ManaRed ManaRed Mana, it is just fantastic. A 3/3 creature for three mana is almost "green" in playability... and this one has multiple crazy abilities!

Taking down Thragtusk in combat and living to tell the tale? First strike is quite the big game.

Boros Reckoner certainly taxes the opponent's resources—up to and primarily life total—if and when it is answered. This is a creature that will change how Standard will be played. No longer is blocking and trading with value an easy answer to red aggro.

Boros Charm rewards the deck higher up on the curve. The "really" red decks—rather than the black-based Rakdos beatdown decks—are much more vulnerable to mass removal than the ones with Gravecrawler and Geralf's Messenger. In addition to its damage-based abilities, Boros Charm is a counter to Supreme Verdict and the like.


...but what about those damage abilities?

Ka-pow!

Boros Charm is like a Char to the face for one less mana... and no collateral damage.

And combined with Thundermaw Hellkite?

10.

...and it might not even be the best two-mana burn card available in this deck.


Two mana, 3 damage, ho-hum... except when the opponent is banking on Thragtusk or Sphinx's Revelation. Yes, the opponent will still be getting that big body or drawing a bunch of cards... but a big reason those cards are so popular—and so powerful—is the life swing they offer. No more.

With its new Gatecrash tools, Boros might be the deck that most redefines the rules of what is viable and how to play Standard. Attack decks were already great in Standard, but Boros Reckoner and Boros Charm really change the rules and shift the math of the format.

Esper Spirits

Eddie Walker's Esper Spirits
Standard – Top 8, StarCityGames.com Open, Atlanta


New Cards:


Eddie Walker put a totally new spin on the Esper Spirits archetype. Last year, Hall of Famers Jon Finkel and Jelger Wiegersma crashed into the Top 8 of Pro Tour Dark Ascension with a Delver of Secrets build featuring Drogskol Captain, Dungeon Geists, and Lingering Souls. While Delver of Secrets is still in Standard, the disappearance of Ponder has severely restricted that cross-format All-Star's efficacy...

But if you can't go little, how about big?


Obzedat, Ghost Council is one of the most exciting new threats to hit the scene via Gatecrash. Exceedingly mana efficient on its face, Obzedat also has a stack of abilities that allows it to crush all different opponents from all different angles. Control? Try stopping this Spirit with sorcery-speed removal. Beatdown? Point after point, life totals going both ways (neither of which is good for the other guy). Obzedat is hard enough to deal with normally... but add Drogskol Captain? Not exactly a fun time for the opponent.


Blind Obedience helps to cut off the opponent's angles. Like Obzedat, Blind Obedience grinds life points over and over—giving you a solid buffer against beatdown decks, as well as a way to kill an opponent putting you in lockdown without having to use the red zone. But, in addition, Blind Obedience can turn off Restoration Angel shenanigans (no mid-combat surprise blocks for you!) and takes the oomph out of Thundermaw Hellkite, Hellrider, and Falkenrath Aristocrat.


And with Blind Obedience and Obzedat giving you such a life-point buffer?

What are a couple of points between friends?

Devour Flesh isn't quite Diabolic Edict... but it's the Diabolic Edict we have. Once in a blue moon you will target yourself, and Devour Flesh—a card designed to end creature's lives—might just keep you alive!

Combo Reanimator

Brian Braun-Duin's Human Reanimator
Standard – Top 8, StarCityGames.com Open, Atlanta


New Cards:


One of the exciting new decks enabled by Gatecrash is Humans Combo Reanimator.

Angel of Glory's Rise was always a big game with cards like Huntmaster of the Fells, but now you have a legitimate look at an infinite combo deck in Standard.

The early setup is similar to other Reanimator decks... Grisly Salvage, Mulch, and so on. The goal is to dump cards into the graveyard in various combinations. Lots of Humans in the graveyard is fine... you can either Unburial Rites or hard-cast Angel of Glory's Rise and they will all come back.


The unique setup of this deck is to assemble Angel of Glory's Rise, Fiend Hunter, Cartel Aristocrat, and some way to take advantage of an infinite loop—Huntmaster of the Fells or Cathedral Sanctifier.

How you get the catalyst cards online is up to you. Huntmaster of the Fells and/or Cartel Aristocrat can be in play or they can be in the graveyard. You might have most of the tools already on the battlefield when you draw Fiend Hunter. The most common setup is probably just to dump a ton of cards down and target Angel of Glory's Rise with Fiend Hunter in the graveyard.


This is what will happen:

You will do this over and over as many times as you want, assembling nigh-infinite Wolves and nigh-infinite life points. Even if your opponent has the sweeper... you know, 1,000,000 life and all that!

Note Appetite for Brains in the sideboard. This deck can go truly infinite given setup time, but it really, really has to pre-empt Slaughter Games in order to avoid having its strategy slaughtered.

Naya Humans


New Cards:


Naya Humans has been more or less the darling deck of the Star City Open Series in recent months. Originally a bit counterintuitive— where are the Thragtusks? —Naya Humans has put up great results on the back of the Champion of the Parish opening, solid follow-up, and redundant offense.

Mayor of Avabruck might be at its best in this deck. I have seen players run out main-phase Restoration Angels to prevent their own Mayors from flipping into Wolf-machines. Then my Humans would all get smaller!


Restoration Angel lacks the Achievement Unlock with Thragtusk in this build, but can accomplish a similar anti-beatdown enters-the-battlefield pairing with Huntmaster of the Fells.

Speaking of pairing, the offensive ace in Naya Humans is Silverblade Paladin. That card is a one-turn elbow drop and can paint an opponent into a corner even if he or she manages to survive a big attack... Silverblade Paladin obviously gets on well with Kessig Wolf Run in longer game situations.


Naya Humans has quite a bit of card crossover with Combo Reanimator—Huntmaster of the Fells and Fiend Hunter here, while older decks have sideboarded Angel of Glory's Rise as anti-sweep and anti-Zombies—but it is clearly a swarming offensive deck, rather than an infinite combo deck. As we've said, Naya Humans has also been a good performer for some time, happily putting up Top 8s without Thragtusk. So why add Frontline Medic and company?


Frontline Medic is a good curve card in this deck; it can be played on the second turn via Avacyn's Pilgrim and does two things. First, Frontline Medic allows Naya Humans to get even more aggressive against other aggressive decks. An inherent risk to attacking is that the opponent gets to choose how he or she blocks... with Frontline Medic leading the charge, there are no good blocks. You might be able to stop some damage, but you shouldn't be able to block and kill the Naya deck's creatures via conventional creature combat.

And of course, Frontline Medic helps shut off important X-spells. These would include the format-defining Sphinx's Revelation as well as cards like Bonfire of the Damned that are great against Naya Humans itself. Lots of contextual value, all attached to an efficient body.

Boros Charm is surprising in one way: It's in the sideboard!

It seems like Boros Charm offers everything that the Naya Humans deck already wants. Its double strike clause gives you "more Silverblade Paladins" and can make for tricky turns given the quality and speed of these creatures. Like Frontline Medic, Boros Charm can keep your guys alive. When getting into a huge brawl with another creature deck, Boros Charm might be even better because the opponent doesn't necessarily see it coming. You might not want to block into a Frontline Medic waving the "I have battalion" banner, but you might have to. Boros Charm doesn't give you the courtesy of a calling card on the other end. You might just lose all your guys. As far as combat tricks translating to Constructed go? This one is a blowout.

And, of course, "deal 4 to you" is a solid ability at two mana... Patrick Sullivan has had repeated success in Legacy—a huge format—with Flame Rift... which does four to both players for two mana! In a deck like Naya Humans, whose victories are so predicated on creature attack, adding a little bit of reach—especially for this amount of damage at a reasonable cost—is a nice extra option to help put the deck over the top and end games that might have been closed down otherwise due to Terminus, Fog, or just big blockers.

Saito!

Tomoharu Saito... Pro Tour Champion, Grand Prix Champion, Player of the Year, and one of the Top 10 deck designers of all time takes us full circle this week. We started opening up the gates of Gatecrash with a Boros beatdown deck in part as a nod to Boros Week... Saito (in a completely different tournament, of course) Tweeted a different take on red-based beatdown, one that showcases the sweet science of Stomping Ground:



TomoharuSaito
5-0, I won tournament with my mono-red + Green.


Tomoharu Saito's RG Aggro
Standard


New Cards:


This decklist—with exactly twenty lands—is obviously quite tight and, from my perspective, looks very exciting. It abuses the curve, and although it is still creature-based (like most Standard Red Decks), it is put over the top by its use of Rancor.


Rancor—typically the tool of "green" decks—can make for some big problems here. Ash Zealot was not meant to be given a Rancor hat. First strike and 4 power? Saito has the Ash Zealots that can not only kill a Thragtusk, but walk away and deal a damage through as well. Rakdos Cackler—a sometimes-dropped one-drop—is suddenly trading with everybody.

Of course, he has the general setup of decks like these... Hellrider near the top end, Boros Reckoner we have talked about already (all twenty of Saito's lands tap for red)... but what about other new cards?

Burning-Tree Emissary is extremely exciting here! Saito can chain two-drops almost like a Suicide Black deck of old. In addition to just providing bulk mana, Burning-Tree Emissary can filter out green... so with two or three Mountains in play, Saito could cast a Flinthoof Boar (3/3) or get the necessary color for his Rancor.


Of all of these, Flinthoof Boar might be the most exciting new card of all. It's not exactly new (Flinthoof Boar is from Magic 2013 , not Gatecrash), but it has just received the keys to the kingdom via—you guessed it—Stomping Ground. A deck like this—with sixteen Mountains of twenty lands as its mana base—is the perfect home for Flinthoof Boar. Although it is technically green, Flinthoof Boar doesn't care how you got the green, whether it was from a basic Forest, a Rootbound Crag, or filtered off a Burning Tree Shaman; but it really really cares about having a Mountain of some kind in play. Stomping Ground pulls this one from the "never gets played" pile to challenge for "best two-drop in Standard." It is essentially a Watchwolf/Boggart Ram-Gang split card... huge on turn two, savagely challenging on turn three, deadly anytime thereafter.

Experiment Jund

Tyler Lindsey's Jund Aggro
Standard – Top 8, StarCityGames.com Open, Atlanta

New Cards:


Rounding out this week's discussion of successful Stomping Grounds is Tyler Lindsey's Experiment Jund, a Jund beatdown (rather than midrange) deck featuring numerous Gatecrash specials, starting on Experiment One.

Experiment One is Champion of the Parish's opposite number. In a green beatdown deck, it functions not just like Champion of the Parish (a quickly growing offensive threat that takes great advantage of early game mana) but like a Gravecrawler or Geralf's Messenger... Experiment One is resilient against removal and can survive a good tussle.


It is not nearly the most interesting Gatecrash card in this deck.


Ghor-Clan Rampager has already been called the card with no downside, and it is easy to see why. A 4/4 for four mana is reasonable... but this card is also a mini-Hatred that provides trample and protects its target's toughness!... for relatively little mana.

This is especially compelling in Experiment Jund, where the name of the game is haste. This deck puts Dreg Mangler next to not only Strangleroot Geist but Thundermaw Hellkite for a whirlwind of entering the battlefield tapped (and attacking). Flinthoof Boar makes an appearance here as well, although it is a mite less sexy than in Saito's deck, as Lindsey's won't always be 3/3. Still... a great two- (or three-) drop and a nice bit of bonus haste to put on pressure or give you Rampager targets.

I hope you liked this showcase of Stomping Ground and other new cards from this exciting new set. It will be interesting to see how the Standard format continues to shape up as we approach the upcoming Pro Tour Gatecrash!

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