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Standard Domination: Khans of Tarkir


If you've read my last article, “Cross-Planar Conquest: Orzhov,” you're acutely aware that I haven't yet finished the next article on playing Azorius across formats. I decided that I would wait until after the release of Khans of Tarkir to continue working on the Cross-Planar Conquest series, as I didn't want to promote decks that were going to rotate out of the format within several weeks.

Now that you all know how much of a procrastinator I am, let's move on to the good stuff: Khans of Tarkir.

When I read that Khans was going to be a wedge set, my eyes jumped out of my face. As I've mentioned in previous articles, I'm an Abzan mage. Doran, the Siege Tower is my best buddy, and I have a special place in my heart for hate-bears decks.

Basically, Wizards made Khans of Tarkir just for me.

But I have a confession to make: I dislike the Standard format. It costs too much money for me to keep up with, so I typically stick to Modern and Commander. Khans of Tarkir, however, has prompted me to come out of hiding. To that end, I've brewed up one deck for each clan. I specifically focused on making use of that clan's philosophy or mechanic, so there's a bit of flavor in each deck, but not at the sake of competitiveness.

The Abzan Houses

Anafenza, the Foremost
If I were going to pledge my allegiance to a fictional character, it would be Anafenza, the Foremost. She is unequivocally badass, and I will gladly fight beneath her banner this coming prerelease weekend.

The deck is all about midrange creatures and +1/+1 counters. Hardened Scales is the MVP of the deck in both the early game and the late game. Herald of Anafenza does a great job of holding the fort down until Ajani, Mentor of Heroes comes out to play. Anafenza herself is an extremely efficient beater that gives the other creatures even more +1/+1 counters, and she synergizes nicely with Ivorytusk Fortress. Finally, Siege Rhino provides crucial swings in life total to keep us ahead of the opponent.

As for other spells, we have the standard four copies of Thoughtseize, which are particularly important for keeping Elspeth, Sun's Champion off the board. Utter End is a catch-all answer to anything silly, and Suspension Field can take care of any creatures big enough to pose a threat.

Can we talk about Abzan Charm for a moment? It's ridiculous. We are able to exile creatures, draw cards, or fuel our +1/+1 counters strategy at instant speed. If I could play six of them, I would.

The Jeskai Way

Narset, Enlightened Master
Everyone's favorite color combination is now a major player in Khans of Tarkir, but not in the way you might expect. R/W/U Control (often called American Control despite dozens of other countries having red, white, and blue flags as well) is a top-tier deck in Modern and Legacy, but Khans of Tarkir gives us access to an interesting departure from straight-up control: an aggressive, creature-based strategy that uses all kinds of trickery to push damage through.

First, we have our humble cast of creatures: Monastery Swiftspear, Jeskai Elder, Prophetic Flamespeaker, and Narset, Enlightened Master. The goal here is to attack fast and cast as many noncreature spells as possible. Spells such as Jeskai Charm, Lightning Strike, and Stoke the Flames are great for removing potential blockers or burning the opponent to ash, all the while boosting our creatures. Dissolve and Mindswipe are for controlling any shenanigans.

Defiant Strike and Titan's Strength are the real MVPs in this deck, especially when combined with Jeskai Ascendancy. With the enchantment out, a single Titan's Strength turns a Jeskai Elder into a 6/5 that draws cards. Combine that with a Lightning Strike and a Defiant Strike, and our little kung-fu granny is dealing upward of 11 damage in one turn with just 4 mana (14 if you pointed the lightning at your opponent).

Chandra, Pyromaster and Prophetic Flamespeaker work nicely for extra card advantage. Narset, Enlightened Master is a potentially devastating finisher in the deck, as she'll nearly guarantee that the opponent gets burned out with free spells and combat tricks.

The Sultai Brood

Sidisi, Brood Tyrant
The Sultai love graveyard shenanigans. The trick with the delve mechanic, though, is that you can't just pack your deck full of cards that are going to drain your graveyard every turn; rather, the goal is to pick just one or two powerful delve cards to base a strategy on.

I chose Empty the Pits.

This deck is packed to the brim with cards that put our deck into the graveyard. Jace, the Living Guildpact has no better home with his +1 ability, and combined with Sultai Ascendancy, we have a truly beautiful degree of card selection. Satyr Wayfinder and Sidisi, Brood Tyrant play right into our strategy, particularly Sidisi's ability to create Zombie tokens.

Nyx Weaver is an important piece of the puzzle. With exactly two copies of Empty the Pits, it's entirely possible for one or both of them to be dumped into the graveyard off a Wayfinder trigger. Thus, we need a way to recur important cards. Since we no longer have Treasured Find in Standard, Nyx Weaver is the next best thing (Restock is also an option, but Nyx Weaver fuels our win condition). Soul of Innistrad is just a big, dumb creature that can recur Wayfinders and Sidisi until we're ready to Empty the Pits.

To give you an idea of how effective Empty the Pits can be, I've regularly been able to put ten to twelve Zombie tokens on the field at instant speed in my playtesting. I dunno about you, but attacking with ten 2/2 Zombies is definitely my idea of a good time.

The Mardu Horde

Zurgo Helmsmasher
Mardu is probably the most interesting clan in this format. While I've chosen an aggressive approach, it could just as easily be a tokens strategy or a control deck.

"Control? In my Mardu?" you ask incredulously.

Oh, yes—control in your Mardu.

But we're here to talk about taking names and chewing bubblegum. I mean chewing bubblegum and kicking ass. Or taking names and kicking ass. One of those things. Wait, no—we're here to talk about chewing bubblegum and butchering hordes.

There we go.

Butcher of the Horde is probably the most exciting card in Khans of Tarkir. For the low, low price of one sacrificial offering, you can send your very own Demon into the red zone the turn it comes down. Throw in a couple extra sacrifices, and you can hit your opponent with a dose of vigilance and lifelink, too.

The strategy here is very simple: Cast creatures and turn them sideways, sacrificing things when you need to and triggering a lot of raid effects. Bloodsoaked Warrior is particularly fun because you can keep recurring them for Butcher of the Horde later in the game.

Soldier of the Pantheon, Goblin Rabblemaster, and War-Name Aspirant fill out the rest of the aggressive creature slots in the deck. Mardu Charm and Lightning Strike provide extra burn and disruption (and sacrificial offerings!), while Spear of Heliod, Mardu Ascendancy, and Sorin, Solemn Visitor act as the final push of power.

Zurgo Helmsmasher and Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker are the other big threats that your opponent needs to worry about. There is absolutely nothing funny about an indestructible 7/2 haste creature—unless your opponent has Bile Blight. I suppose that would be funny.

The Temur Frontier

Surrak Dragonclaw
What do you get when you combine twelve mana-producing creatures and fifteen huge beaters?

You get the Temur clan.

This deck is like walking into a candy store and taking all of the candy—and then buying the store and living in it for the next ten years, gorging yourself on candy until you can't see anymore—because you died. Because no one should ever eat that much candy.

This deck's sole aim is to put Temur Ascendancy on the battlefield and send in huge creatures turn after turn while drawing cards. With twelve mana-producers, it should be a simple prospect.

Stormbreath Dragon, Sagu Mauler, and Polukranos, World Eater are our bread and butter (and candy!). Have you ever tried to kill a 6/6 trampler with hexproof? No? That's because it can't be done.

Savage Knuckleblade is like a bigger, furrier Aetherling. It's difficult to kill and can lay down some serious beats on the opponent. Even better, it can draw a ton of cards when paired with Temur Ascendancy.

Surrak Dragonclaw gives this deck an incredible built-in plan against control decks: They can't counter him, nor can they counter anything else once he comes down. A 6/6 with flash that gives your other creatures trample is brutal, and I predict he'll be among the best cards in the format for the next two years.

Last but not least, Temur Charm provides a bit of support while See the Unwritten puts even more creatures into play.

This Standard season is going to be fun, and that's not something I've said in quite a while. Whatever clan you devote your allegiance to, suffice to say it'll be a good choice. Each combination of colors has access to multiple strategies, so we can expect a wide variety of decks at upcoming Standard events, particularly Pro Tour: Khans of Tarkir and the World Magic Cup.

For the Houses,

Jimi Brady

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