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Haunted Humans in Standard
Feature Article from Craig Wescoe
Craig Wescoe
9/29/2011 9:30:00 AM
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I've been testing Standard with Innistrad a bit the past couple weeks and I've drawn some conclusions about the format to this point. Today I will share with you these conclusions and show how they led me to developing a brand new deck (although based on a Mike Flores creation) in an archetype few people (myself included) would have expected me to settle into. I believe the resulting deck is very strong for the format, especially now while the metagame is still in its infant stages.

The first conclusion is that green mana accelerants, especially of the single mana variety (i.e. Birds of Paradise and Avacyn's Pilgrim) are not reliable accelerants in BUG or Bant decks due to the mana restrictions of the format, unless your splashes are very light splashes and you can afford to run an abundance of basic forests. This conclusion made the Geist of Saint Traft + Angelic Destiny combo that Frank suggested last week much less appealing (though I have to admit, it still feels very powerful in a UW shell and maybe even viable in a Modern Bant deck, a sort of accelerated Sovereigns deck).

The second conclusion is that my preordered cards will not arrive until after this weekend, which means I will have to either borrow or purchase on-site all the Innistrad cards I want to play with this weekend, and double purchasing cards is generally not what I want to do if I can avoid it. So the Snapcaster Mage + Liliana of the Veil + Garruk Relentless BUG deck I was considering running is probably not a financially wise decision, even though I could probably Recoup most of my expenses through trading away the duplicates after the tournament. (But as I said in the first conclusion, I was already in the process of writing off BUG for this weekend). Fortunately the resultant deck that my testing culminates at only requires about $30 worth of Innistrad cards, and not really any expensive non-Innistrad cards either. This was not planned, but it's certainly a plus if you're looking for something powerful and inexpensive to run this weekend.

The third conclusion I drew was that Puresteel Paladin is not the right deck for the format. Just because a deck stays almost entirely intact through a rotation does not mean it will be a good choice. Its two best matchups - CawBlade and Valakut - have rotated and so it will have to take on a new form in order to adapt to the drastically different metagame. Also Mentor of the Meek is way too slow for the deck, for what it's worth, though I suspect there will be a place for the Mentor. He is kind of like a reverse Mulldrifter in that you pay 3 mana for a 2/2 or you wait a few turns and play it for value. And of course there is the possibility that both you and the mentor survive the raw dog and you get to start going off the following turn. Most decks, though, would probably rather play Mirran Crusader or Geist of Saint Traft, or even Oblivion Ring, Etched Champion or in some cases Fiend Hunter .

The fourth conclusion was drawn after hating all the decks I was testing with (and against), namely that my Super Hero White Weenie deck (the one with Honor of the Pure) lost a ton of cards too: Steppe Lynx, Student of Warfare, Brave the Elements, Squadron Hawk, Celestial Colonnade, Preordain, and even Kor Firewalker. This meant my trusty backup plan was now defunct and I absolutely MUST find a new deck (sort of) if I am to play Standard this weekend.

The fifth conclusion, after checking my Facebook wall and reading all my messages, is that people really want to hear what I have to say about the Human tribe for Standard. I looked at all the lists people were sending me and then at the version Mike Flores published last Friday. I made a few changes just by looking at his list, and kept a number of other things in mind. First off, Mike's deck had about 3-5 too few lands. Secondly, Inkmoth Nexus looked really out of place without any way to pump it or any other way to give the opponent poison counters. Third, he was not running Oblivion Ring, which has to be a mistake on some level, whether because of its role as an answer to Titans or to Planeswalkers or to problematic artifacts or enchantments. The only reasonable cuts for it though would be Fiend Hunter or Dismember, and I wasn't sure which is more important (if either). With these changes, I was ready to start battling to see if Honor of the Pure could hold its own.

The sixth conclusion is that the power level of every deck dropped with the rotation, so as long as I could muster something nearly comparable to my pre-rotation version of Super Hero WW, it could show promise. It's also worth noting that Valakut was one of our toughest matchups, and Splinter Twin required devoting a bunch of slots to beat it, so in theory the deck could be better positioned to succeed now than it was before. We'll just have to see.

So I proxied up a mono white human deck with a few changes from Mike Flores' list. Here's what it looked like:

Super Hero WW by Craig Wescoe
Main Deck
4 Champion of the Parish
4 Elite Inquisitor
4 Elite Vanguard
4 Gideon's Lawkeeper
4 Grand Abolisher
4 Hero of Bladehold
2 Mirran Crusader
Creatures [26]
3 Dismember
4 Honor of the Pure
4 Oblivion Ring
Spells [11]
23 Plains (250)
Lands [23]
Deck Total [60]

Click for full deck stats & notes!

Other cards I considered include:

Accorder Paladin
Bonds of Faith
Fiend Hunter
Blade Splicer
Gideon's Avenger
Mentor of the Meek
Guardians' Pledge
Angelic Destiny

After playing a few games, the deck really felt like it was lacking some reach. I would get the opponent down to about 7 life and run out of gas or be unable to break through for lethal. Brave the Elements was a great all-purpose card that served as Hero protection as well as a victory condition for alpha striking. Without it in the format any longer, I had to find a replacement strategy.

Since I was testing against control decks, Dismember was the worst performing card. So I cut them for a twenty-fourth Plains and two Silver-Inlaid Dagger s, in hopes that the equipment would give me a way to get a few extra damage in and to break through stalemates. The land was added instead of a third Mirran Crusader because I still felt the deck was slightly land light, though I was a bit uneasy about having twenty-four lands, none of which have a secondary function (i.e. they only produce mana). Where is Dread Statuary when you need it?

The seventh conclusion was that Silver-Inlaid Dagger is terrible.

My next thought was to experiment with adding a light splash of either green or blue. Green would afford me Gavony Township and Mayor of Avabruck while Blue would give me access to Moorland Haunt and potentially Geist of Saint Traft and/or Mana Leak. Of these ideas, Moorland Haunt sounded the most appealing, so I added 4 Seachrome Coast, 4 Glacial Fortress, and 3 Moorland Haunts in place of eleven Plains. I also replaced the Daggers with Mirran Crusaders because Crusaders were testing well.

My plan then was to consider first of all whether splashing a second color is worth the cost of potentially being set back by lands that enter the battlefield tapped. Secondly it was to consider whether the Blue is better than Green. And third was to determine whether Mirran Crusader or Geist of Saint Traft would be better for each situation that I draw the Crusader.

More battling happened.

Crusader and Geist were close, but I slightly preferred Mirran Crusader because it could force itself through blockers more easily, but it was close enough to merit further consideration. Also 1WU requires drawing one of eight blue lands in the deck whereas the Crusader can be cast off any of the 20 white producing lands.

Eighth conclusion is that Moorland Haunt is unreal good. The deck contains 24 lands, 8 spells, and 28 creatures, so there is usually plenty of fodder to keep the Haunt going. Moreover Honor of the Pure makes the tokens legitimate game-ending threats. One game I raced a Grave Titan with a single Moorland Haunt (in conjunction with an Honor of the Pure). The Haunt really fills the void left by the loss of Squadron Hawk by providing a steady stream of evasive threats. This is not the case with creature-light Caw-Blade'esque decks that would try to get by on 10-14 creatures, though I suspect that getting only a handful of activations from it would be good enough in conjunction with Sword. Nevertheless it is way better than Inkmoth Nexus in this deck because the Spirits get a bonus from Honor of the Pure and can replicate each turn. I went up to 4 copies because it really is the Squadron Hawk / Bitterblossom of the deck.

The deck was pounding the control deck more games than not, and the few games it lost involved abnormally high amounts of mana flood (14 lands and 6 spells range).

I considered trying out Green to make sure the Blue was better, but honestly I can't see Mayor of Avabruck being nearly as good as Moorland Haunt. Trying to double splash would be far too ambitious because then there would be too many draws without a Plains and hence the drawback of the dual lands would really start to play a significant role. So for now I'm sticking with Blue over Green. Besides, if Mike Flores has taught me anything, it is that Blue is a real color and Green is not.

 Moorland Haunt
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Myninth conclusion at this point is that we need a sideboard (I know, I'm beginning to use ‘conclusion' in a pretty wide sense now). Almost no writers include sideboards in any of their early deck lists. Why not? (Sadly, I am guilty of this more often than I would like). Sideboards are at least as important as main deck configurations since two of the three games of a tournament match are played with sideboards. Without considering a deck's sideboard options, how can you get a realistic grasp of what the deck is capable of? A mono green deck might look great until you consider its lack of sideboard options, and a Blue-White control deck or a Toolbox Rock deck might look lackluster until you see how versatile the deck's sideboard options are.

So let's hammer out a sideboard for this puppy.

I expect a reasonable amount of Tempered Steel and Birthing Pod, so I want a sufficient amount of artifact hate. These are some reasonable contenders:

Revoke Existence
Divine Offering
Leonin Relic-Warder

I definitely want something against Birthing Pod, and it looks like we'd be better off not trying to overlap the hate between Tempered Steel and Birthing Pod. Here are the cards that are better suited against Pod:

Torpor Orb
Phyrexian Revoker
Stony Silence

Each of these proactively stops the Birthing Pod whereas the Tempered Steel hate cards each allow the Birthing Pod player to get a free activation before losing it.

There is also Leonin Arbiter, a card that has proved quite useful in Super Hero WW, but without Valakut around anymore, it is likely too narrow for inclusion in the limited amount of sideboard space.

Although Splinter Twin is gone, there are still creature decks that pose specific threats that must die. Puresteel Paladin comes immediately to mind. The fact that the deck is not that good is irrelevant this early because people don't know this yet. So I should be prepared to face it. There will also likely be mid-range blue decks trying to get some value out of their $30 Snapcaster Mages, so I'm thinking some number of copies of Dismember should be in the sideboard. Instant Speed makes Dismember more appealing to me than Fiend Hunter.

Day of Judgment, Black Sun Zenith, and Slagstorm are the ways control decks will attempt to beat us, so we need something to combat that strategy. Moorland Haunt is a great starting point, but I want a little more in the sideboard if possible. Elspeth Tirel is a good follow-up to a board sweeper, but with only twenty-four lands, I usually won't be able to hit the fifth land on turn five, and so they'll often be able to untap with counter mana open before we're able to resolve the Planeswalker. It may be better to just attack them on a different axis, say with Oblivion Rings on their ensuing Planeswalker, and just reload with more threats (after all, we run 28 threats + 4 Moorland Haunts , so this shouldn't be a problem).

Mono Red will always be present in some form, and since we no longer have Kor Firewalker to fight them, we have to rely a bit more heavily on Timely Reinforcements. There is also Butcher's Cleaver , which is almost Loxodon Warhammer in our deck, except it doesn't give lifelink to the Spirit tokens generated by Moorland Haunt, and it doesn't grant trample. I'm thinking that the cleaver might be slightly too slow since we have to spend a turn playing it, then another turn equipping before we can start gaining life. So any instant speed burn spell can Time Walk us, and without Brave the Elements around to protect us in such a situation, I think it would be a safer play to just run the full complement of Timely Reinforcements . Besides, we still have the killer combo of Honor of the Pure + Timely Reinforcements , netting us a trio of Silvercoat Lions and all the life back that we may have lost while setting up the bomb. Alabaster Mage is a human, but without a way to protect it, it doesn't seem powerful enough to merit allocating sideboard space to.

Lastly, almost every time Reid Duke advocates a deck, it ends up being really tough to beat, and Reid is advocating Green/White Tokens right now. Ratchet Bomb could be a card to consider, as could more point removal spells. Angelic Destiny seems pretty powerful in this matchup since it can give us an evasive clock and a way to get rid of Planeswalkers. If this deck takes off, we may want to replace Hero of Bladehold with Angelic Destiny and add some copies of Geist of Saint Traft over some earlier drops, giving us more of the insane three-drop targets for the aura. Anyway, like the control decks, this one doesn't seem to have any great bullet cards against it, so we're probably better off just siding in our incidentally good cards (Dismember, Phyrexian Revoker) and slugging it out.

So here is what I'm thinking for a sideboard:

4 Timely Reinforcements
4 Revoke Existence
3 Dismember
2 Phyrexian Revoker
2 Stony Silence

This brings us to the following final list:

Haunted Humans by Craig Wescoe
Main Deck
4 Champion of the Parish
4 Elite Inquisitor
4 Elite Vanguard
4 Gideon's Lawkeeper
4 Grand Abolisher
4 Hero of Bladehold
4 Mirran Crusader
Creatures [28]
4 Honor of the Pure
4 Oblivion Ring
Spells [8]
4 Glacial Fortress
4 Moorland Haunt
12 Plains (250)
4 Seachrome Coast
Lands [24]
Deck Total [60]

3 Dismember
2 Phyrexian Revoker
4 Revoke Existence
2 Stony Silence
4 Timely Reinforcements
Sideboard [15]

Click for full deck stats & notes!

The tenth conclusion is that somehow I always seem to end up playing White Weenie. Lately I've been hearing more jokes about my affinity for White Weenie than I have about Wescoe Checks. While it's reassuring to know that I'm adopting a new brand, I'm wondering if people realize just how good the archetype really is. I'm pretty sure it's been one of the most successful archetypes on the Pro Tour in the past few years, depending on how wide a scope ‘White Weenie' includes. Maybe I'll do some research and write an article about it, if for nothing else than to give the archetype its Due Respect, and also to ruffle Paulo Vitor's feathers.

What can I say, White Weenie is my catnip.

Craig Wescoe
@Nacatls4Life on twitter

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