The Story So Far . . .
Not as lopsided as pre-bannings, maybe; and sure, there are new cards from Rivals of Ixalan that are fueling some format diversity . . . But the mainstays make up enough of the metagame that it might be interesting to aim at both of them, if possible.
One of the failings of pre-bannings metagaming, say with Approach of the Second Sun, was that you could get a great Game 1 percentage against, say, Temur Energy; but erratic post sideboarding numbers against both of the dominant macro archetypes. As both decks rely largely on creatures (if very good creatures) as their collective primary path to victory, there may be a plausible mid-range / anti-creature strategy that is also proactive enough itself to angle some viable expectation in the meta.
After trying a number of variants (including heavier-Green ones), I'd like to suggest this:
Mono-Black 187 -- Rivals Standard | Mike Flores
- Creatures (28)
- 2 Noxious Gearhulk
- 3 Dire Fleet Poisoner
- 3 Gonti, Lord of Luxury
- 4 Dusk Legion Zealot
- 4 Gifted Aetherborn
- 4 Glint-Sleeve Siphoner
- 4 Ravenous Chupacabra
- 4 Seekers' Squire
- Planeswalkers (1)
- 1 Liliana, Death's Majesty
The abstract concept of this deck is "187-based two-for-one" creatures.
It isn't "all" explicitly two-for-ones (Gifted Aetherborn is just a great card, though it does in fact represent card advantage against certain Red spells), but double digits of creatures here draw a card, kill an opposing creature, or gain life when they enter the battlefield. That means that, all other things held equal, the deck starts out with a powerful engine that can help it compete in a variety of matchups.
I have been surprised, for example, how resilient it has been in matches against control decks Game 1. But, when the opponent is pointing cards at half-cards, it isn't that difficult to stay ahead.
It Ain't Easy
Not Being Green
I tried some Jadelight Ranger builds and they didn't perform as well for me as straight Black. At least not yet.
Questions about the mana base are pretty reasonable though. What is up with all these weird non-Swamp lands? I don't even play Ifnir Deadlands!
Let's break it all down:
Aether Hub is here, to an extent, for the Green splash. But even if I didn't have a Green splash at all (i.e. no Vraska in the sideboard), I would still have played Aether Hub. Like my Top Level Podcast partner Patrick Chapin says, "The first Aether Hub looks awfully free." This deck is Energy-poor, but not Energy-less. You actually get a free card fairly often (from Glint-Sleeve Siphoner) just by having Aether Hub in your deck. In an Energy-poor deck, Glint-Sleeve Siphoner is probably slow to get going, but with an Aether Hub, you might be able to get a free card before committing to too many attacks. Who isn't in for a free card at so low a cost?. Therefore, it's mostly here as a card drawing catalyst.
Speaking of a free card (or x), Arch of Orazca gives this deck a powerful late game card advantage engine. I'm not 100% wedded to Arch of Orazca, but the large number of card-drawing 2-drops helps to accumulate material on the battlefield and draw into lands.
Because you're attacking all the time and need something to find when the opponent pops that Settle the Wreckage.
These two lands actually work together. Field of Ruin is an extravagance that many decks cannot afford (at least not at four of). But in a two-color deck (or here, essentially a one-color deck), it is not only mostly free . . . It acts as a Rampant Growth for your solo Forest! This is in my opinion a vastly underrated use case for an already very good card.
So Why Would You Want One Forest?
There is this delicious sweep of turns in the fifth game of Gerry Thompson's semifinal match during last weekend's Pro Tour Top 8.
Gerry, down 0-2 just a few minutes earlier, is playing for the PT Finals stuck with all three of his Bedlam Revelers in hand. He moves to fix his grip, but despite some cagey acrobatics . . . There is almost no way to get what his deck actually wants. Resolving Bedlam Reveler will be great, but he's going to have to discard one or more other copies, best-case-scenario, both limiting his actual card advantage and his future Reveler draw potential.
Worse, when Gerry resolves one, he mostly blanks on his "Ancestral Recall" picking up a bunch of lands.
Will our hero's 0-2 to 1-2 to 2-2 grit end in Game Five heartbreak?
Not if Dragonlord Kolaghan has anything to say about it!
A turn or two goes by and Thompson draws Kolaghan's Command. Kolaghan's Command is often a card advantage spell by itself; a kind of two-for-one that KO's multiple cards, or lets you mess up the opponent somehow while restoring one of your own resources.
In this game, it served as a key example of compounding resources.
Gerry forced his opponent to discard a card -- great -- while returning a creature to his own hand. In most cases this would be a two-for-one . . . But in this case, because the card he got back was Bedlam Reveler, it was instead a delayed blast Cruel Ultimatum.
That's why we play the one Forest!
Lifecrafter's Bestiary has been a role playing sideboard bullet for almost as long as it's been in print.
Now is its time to make the jump to All-Star; if sideboard All-Star.
This positioning of Lifecrafter's Bestiary is the brainchild of Grand Prix Top 8 competitor Matt Ferrando. Matt's theory -- and I think it plays out beautifully here -- is that while Bestiary could always be good in certain spots, its card advantage and selection capabilities take on new meaning in the context of a 187 deck.
What if, instead of just punishing slow decks, and making one-for-one exchanges unpalatable, we made everyone grind?
Grinding is to our advantage when they have regular cards and we have all two-for-ones already, right? Well what if we trade a little speed for having ALL two-for-ones . . . even three-for-ones? Chupacabra your Longtusk Cub, draw into my next Chupacabra? What lightning like creature deck can withstand this level of oppressive battlefield advantage?
What about Lifecrafter's Bestiary and Kitesail Freebooter? How annoying is that for a slower deck? While that slower deck is already trying to deal with a beatdown composed exclusively of card advantage creatures? Can there be a more annoying game plan? Maybe we should play more copies!
But . . .
The Sideboard, Generally
Not gonna lie, Game 1 can be a drag against Control, especially Approach.
The deck is not that bad against creature-finishing "fair" control decks, actually, because most of the cards still have text (sorry Fatal Push). Most of your cards are two-for-ones, so you can be on the right side of the Fatal Push fights . . . But Approach? Something has to go terribly wrong for you to win Game 1.
Enter the sideboard.
Even with only one Kitesail Freebooter, you can plausibly bring in twelve cards against any slow / control or combo-control deck. I would generally recommend everything but the three copies of Moment of Craving against, say, Approach.
Duress is awesome due to its cost with both Arguel's Blood Fast and Lifecrafter's Bestiary; my recommendation would be to slow-play Duress rather than casting it on turn one just because you happen to have it. It's way better to snipe their Settle the Wreckage / Fumigate on turn four, or their Approach on turn six, giving them time to draw the card you actually want to take. That, or ensuring your card advantage engine card resolves.
I'd side out most of the creature removal (Fatal Push, Chupacabra, Gearhulk), leaving two copies of Vraska's Contempt, especially since even will side in some creatures. Vraska's Contempt has over-performed in sideboarded games because the deck is relatively instant-poor, but you end up stealing a Torrential Gearhulk with Gonti, Lord of Luxury A LOT . . . So you just want something to get.
One of the reasons I settled on an essentially Mono-Black deck is Vraska's Contempt. Four copies main. Why? You pack to The Scarab God, so you need a good way to handle it! Almost nothing is better at that job than Vraska's Contempt. To that end, you obviously leave all four copies of Vraska's Contempt in against , probably in lieu of Kitesail Freebooter and Lost Legacy.
The other three cards obviously give you a super redundant way to approach Red Aggro. Fatal Push AND Gifted Aetherborn AND Vraska's Contempt (especially for Hazoret) AND Moment of Craving on top -- especially when you can trade Seekers' Squire or Dusk Legion Zealot for Earthshaker Khenra -- is a compelling way to present against a Red Deck.
Good luck compounding your advantages!