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Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Elephant?


Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Elephant?

Which Elephant are we talking about exactly?

Venerated Loxodon

If you're going to believe the social media hype, Venerated Loxodon + Knight-Errant of Eos are teaming up to be the new Hogaak in Pioneer. The Red-White creature deck that they headline is rumored to be unbelievably unbeatable. Part of this is just the newness of the "combination" ... Knight-Errant of Eos made its Pioneer premiere less than a month ago, when much of the discourse around Constructed recently has been focused on Standard.

Haven't seen it? This deck played by ROGEDECKWINS in a recent Pioneer Challenge is pretty representative:

With many one mana (or even zero mana) creatures, the Red-White deck can both set up highly compressed and cost-effective Convokes for its signature 5-drops. Gleeful Demolition combined with Ornithopter can make three bodies for only one Red mana.

The low cost of these creatures means that they are also very easy to acquire with the 187 effect on Knight-Errant of Eos. Unbeatable?

I was more thinking "exploitable".

The core incentive to this deck revolves around playing multiple creatures in a single turn, usually on the back of a profitable Convoke. Imagine for a second you start the turn with four lands in play and no creatures.

So, you've used three cards so far (the Clarion Spirit, the Resolute Reinforcements, and the Ornithopter). You have five bodies on the battlefield... But let's face it: They all kind of suck. For three cards you have a whopping 5 power.

... But what if your last-last card is a Venerated Loxodon?

You get a 4/4 Elephant for zero mana (effectively four mana), but add 9 power to the battlefield, spread across six bodies. You're tall on the 4/4; wide across the other five; and even have multiple flyers!

It's easy to see how powerful, or explosive, this Red-White deck can be, at least when it gets "the draw". Going both tall and wide makes it kind of hard to defend against. Point removal is only okay. Sure, you want to kill the Big Bad Elephant, but even when you do, you have to live with the extra 5 power it's spread across the garbage-y remainder still on the battlefield.

Sweepers are good... But not game over. You want to sweep, sure; because the opposing deck kind of only functions doing its signature thing if it's spreading little bodes wide. The problem is that Knight-Errant of Eos is naturally card advantageous. So even if you're getting two-for-one (or better) with a Supreme Verdict, the opponent can conceivably have already gotten three-for-one for every Knight-Errant. Sweeping is great, but you can run out.

My friend, Hot Dog State University teammate, and spiritual grandson Etai Kurtzman had a heck of an idea:

Authority of the Consuls

Authority of the Consuls is a card, not a deck; but it got the old gears moving. I loved it! I loved it enough for main deck. I loved it so much that I thought about trying not only Thalia, Heretic Cathar but old buddy Blind Obedience.

Blind Obedience

This card has a number of things going for it. First, it's just more copies of Authority of the Consuls, doubling down on blunting the Convoke half of the red-white deck. It's a way to win. Not a fast way to win, necessarily; but pretty good at keeping you alive. But the reason I liked at least the idea of Blind Obedience was another breakout Pioneer deck:

The combo here is to play Retraction Helix on Rona, Herald of Invasion. You can play Mox Amber and tap it for whatever color. Then you can tap Rona to return the Mox to your hand. When you re-play the Mox Amber, Rona will untap. Rinse and repeat!

A three-card combination, sure; but one that can produce infinite mana of any color. Think you can win if you have a bottomless font of, say, Blue, Red, and White mana?

Blind Obedience forces Mox Amber to enter the battlefield tapped. Ergo you can't use it to generate unlimited mana, even if you can keep playing it for zero; keep untapping Rona, and so on.

Because Retraction Helix allows Rona to bounce an enchantment I decided that the 2-mana version of Authority of the Consuls made it more cute than useful; and settled for just the four copies of the one-mana version.


Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Elephant?

Not me!

This is what I played at the Pioneer RCQ this past weekend:

I think I got the spells all right. Or at least almost all right.

The two big missing cards are Lay Down Arms and Temporary Lockdown. I went back and forth on Lay Down Arms but ultimately decided I wanted to play a lot of flexible instant speed removal, and that I would get more value out of my mana base if I wasn't locked into playing 100 (or even 5-6) basic Plains.

Temporary Lockdown is good; and, in fact, quite good against the Red-White Convoke; but it also hides Authority of the Consuls. I thought about it and asked myself, all other things held equal, would I rather have an Authority of the Consuls or a Temporary Lockdown? Besides the fact that one costs one and one costs three, I'd really rather just have the Authority.

Not for nothing, but if you're playing against the more traditional version of Indomitable Creativity (one-shot kill, rather than Atraxa overwhelm), Authority of the Consuls actually has a lot of text. The last few times I played Pioneer (including a Top 4 last winter), I had a lot of Monastery Swiftspears and Ghitu Lavarunners in front of me. Authority of the Consuls takes the wind out of an entire color.

Most Blue-White Control decks in Pioneer play maybe two or three copies of Supreme Verdict. I wanted all of them; in part to make up for my lack of Lay Down Arms; and in part because even with the Farewell, I wanted tons and tons of sweep for the Red-White deck and the inherent card advantage of its Human Knight.

I'm a little puzzled by the relative not-popularity of Narset, Parter of Veils in Pioneer Blue-White decks. I was able to neutralize the card drawing on Kiora, Behemoth Beckoner in a Mono-Green deck with Narset; stopping at least seven draws over three games. I completely locked a Coppercoat Vanguard White Weenie deck with Geier Reach Sanitarium. I mention this because Mono-Green and Mono-White are two decks against which you'd imagine under-performance from Narset. They're the decks that have 1-drops and good attackers!

Well, Narset was awesome in those matchups (but not specifically why she was in the deck).

The "combo" goes like this:

Narset, Parter of Veils
Geier Reach Sanitarium

Your opponent draws a card each turn. At some point during their turn (ideally during their draw step) you can activate the Sanitarium. You'll get to draw a card but - because they already drew - the opponent won't. That doesn't mean they're not still responsible for discarding a card. Given an even battlefield and a little time, you can paralyze any deck with this combination.

That Time I Outsmarted My Mana Base

I started with a lot of basic Plains, and twelve dual lands. Irrigated Farmland and Prairie Stream are perfect for a Lay Down Arms-focused mana base, because like Hallowed Fountain, they are Plains.

Once I decided I didn't want to play Lay Down Arms I quickly realized I could play better dual lands. Hengegate Pathway // Mistgate Pathway is the best dual land available after Hallowed Fountain. It enters the battlefield untapped every time, and can make either color. Also, it doesn't deal two damage to you. You want both Authority of the Consuls on turn one; and Mystical Dispute available, especially on the draw. So obviously I slammed four Hengegate Pathway.

Deserted Beach is also awesome. I played two, though it should have been four.

It should have been four in part because I never realized that I should have cut Prairie Stream. Prairie Stream is a workable dual land, but it doesn't enter the battlefield untapped very consistently in this build. In addition to cutting most of my basics, I went down from three copies of Field of Ruin to none. I kind of always assumed that Field of Ruin was mostly there to find more Plains rather than actually commit Land Death on the opponent's mana base.

Neither of those last two assumptions proved particularly accurate; but the bigger issue is just having Prairie Stream instead of better options. Ironically, Prairie Stream didn't really hurt me in the tournament, but it could have.

No Cigar

Not to bury the lede, but the Heroes didn't take the RCQ.

I opened on a win against White Weenie. This was pretty cool because I figured an offensive deck starting four copies of Thalia, Guardian of Thraben would be one of my worst matchups... Especially with no Lay Down Arms. One key play was discarding to March of Otherworldly Light to take out an early Thalia. I later stabilized with Brimaz, King of Oreskos and Regal Caracal.

Other Blue-White players I know still play a bunch of Angels in their sideboards, but that means that they lose the extra card from Kaheera in Games Two and Three. Regal Caracal is actually more power (if slightly less Lifelink) than most of the five mana Angel options. Once you start adding Caracals to more Caracals (or Brimaz) paying the deck tax to keep Kaheera feels pretty minimal.

I won the first game of my next match; Black-Red. I figured Black-Red would be one of the most popular decks to play against, and I made a broad assumption it would be a good matchup. I think Black-Red is a good matchup when they're playing cards like Thoughtseize, which don't line up well long-term against cards like Memory Deluge; and giant threats like Sheoldred, the Apocalypse. You can just kill Sheoldred.

The next two games I faced "the other half" of Black-Red. The Standard cards. The guys with a little value. The creature lands. They didn't go as well as Game 1; but Game 3 was probably for a different reason.

I played a Narset on turn three and used it to draw up The Wandering Emperor. I already had an Emperor. I used it again the next turn to draw... a third The Wandering Emperor. In so doing I pushed three lands, and three lands again (I didn't need The Wandering Emperor).

So, I was stuck on four lands while my opponent two-spelled (often two card advantageous spells actually) while I was stalled on only one spell per turn.

I lost a predictable one to Spirits. Matchup isn't good but my draws in both games I lost were dismal. In one I untapped with Brimaz in play and an Absorb in my hand, thinking I had it. I drew five straight land... versus zero Supreme Verdicts all match.

Mono-Green was an interesting matchup but ultimately went the way of Heroes.

The last match of the day was against Indomitable Creativity. I liked playing four copies of Mystical Dispute, and wouldn't run Blue-White again without them. The match went to three, in part because I was up against two resolved Shark Typhoons in one of them.

Would I play this deck again?

For sure!

I'd just fix the mana. Prairie Stream is probably going to go entirely in favor of Deserted Beach and Glacial Fortress.

This weekend is the North American Premodern Championships, in Boston, MA. I'll be playing Blue-White again; the LandStill I wrote about last month. Wish me luck!



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