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Fate Reforged is almost upon us, and it’s time to start really digging into the new set. This can be a great time for budget decks. No one’s really sure what’s good yet, so the average power level of Standard decks will be lower, and you can even jump in on a promising card before the price rockets if you’re lucky. After all, Goblin Rabblemaster was sitting pretty at $4 when I first wrote about it.

One of the cards that caught my eye this time is Whisperwood Elemental. Now, the immediate comparison here is Siege Rhino. The Elemental is smaller, costs more mana, and doesn’t have an immediate effect upon entering the battlefield. However, I think people are overlooking the kind of long-game advantage Whisperwood Elemental can provide. First of all, it gives you a free 2/2 every turn. That would already be a solid ability, but that’s not all. Sometimes, those 2/2s turn into giant monsters at the cost of just a few mana. That can let you keep putting big threats on the board even if all you’re drawing are lands.

The other manifest card I included in the deck is Wildcall. I admit, at first, I completely overlooked this card’s potential. After all, it just gives you a vanilla 2/2 with some counters on it, right? Well, kind of. For one thing, it gives you a reasonably-sized vanilla creature at any point on the curve. Trying to stop a fast start by your opponent? Have a 2-mana 2/2 or a 3-mana 3/3. Need something that can take out an opposing Siege Rhino? Wildcall can give you a 5-mana 5/5 or 6-mana 6/6 as well. Now, if that were all the card did, it would be useful. What pushes it over the top is the ability to turn the card face up if it’s a creature, giving you an even larger threat. If it’s a Hooded Hydra, you’ll gain 5 more counters. If it’s Yasova Dragonclaw, you can steal even larger creatures. If it’s Sagu Mauler . . . well, your opponent is probably just dead.

Vortex Elemental may end up being too gimmicky, but I can’t resist the appeal of that “Gotcha!” moment. Reality Shift would also work in this slot, but the Elemental can be still be used if you hit it with one of your manifest cards. Even better, your opponent won’t even know it’s there. You can block and then spend 2 mana to turn it face up and get rid of your opponent’s creature permanently.

Disdainful Stroke
Disdainful Stroke is mostly for dealing with Planeswalkers, particularly Elspeth, Sun's Champion. You can also hit Whip of Erebos and Hornet Queen, which might otherwise cause the deck some trouble. Of course, any large creature can be countered as well.

Yasova Dragonclaw isn’t quite as good without the bolster mechanic or some other way to increase her power, particularly since many of the best things to steal have 4 power. However, the ability can still do some work. Stealing a Courser of Kruphix can let you play a land off the top of your library, gain 1 life, and then hit your opponent for 2. Any creature you steal with Yasova should be able to get in some damage—no one likes killing their own creatures.

Polukranos, World Eater has been largely usurped by Siege Rhino, but that might actually make it better. When the premier 4-mana creature is a 4/5, having a 5/5 at 4 mana seems like a great idea. It also makes for a big surprise when manifested.

Hooded Hydra is just absurd with manifest. It only costs 2 mana to turn face up, and it becomes a 5/5 that explodes into 1/1s when it dies. It’s not quite as good when you use morph, but it’s still a large creature that foils many removal spells.

Sagu Mauler is difficult for many current Standard decks to beat. Hornet Queen is really the only good option, and that still leaves your opponent taking 5 damage from trample. Removal spells can’t hit it, and it’s bigger than any of the usual top-end threats, so a double-block is often the only option.

Rattleclaw Mystic
Rattleclaw Mystic produces both colors of mana the deck needs, and it helps you cast your expensive spells earlier than you would normally be able to. However, there’s a reason I chose this card over options like Sylvan Caryatid and Kiora's Follower. There are two other cards with morph in this deck: Hooded Hydra and Sagu Mauler. Both of them are difficult to deal with when turned face up, so normally, your opponent’s best strategy would be to kill any face-down creature you cast before you have 5 mana open. Rattleclaw Mystic adds an element of uncertainty to this. Your opponent can’t be sure if he’s using that Hero's Downfall to deal with a dangerous Sagu Mauler or if he’s killing an innocuous 2/1. This not only helps protect your stronger morphs, but also keeps Rattleclaw Mystic relevant later in the game, when it becomes a powerful bluffing tool.

Elvish Mystic, when cast on turn one, gives you 3 mana on turn two. That lets you cast Yasova Dragonclaw or any face-down creature. If you go with a big morph, you can attack and turn it face up on turn four, running over a creature or dealing some major damage. If the face-down creature is a Rattleclaw Mystic, you can turn it face up on turn three to cast any spell in the deck, up to and including Sagu Mauler. It’s a poor draw later in the game, but the advantage you can gain by casting it on turn one more than makes up for that.

Playtesting

Abzan Midrange — Game 1

Vortex Elemental
I won the roll and led with an Elvish Mystic. My opponent played Temple of Malady, and I cast Yasova Dragonclaw.

Another Temple came from him, and I attacked for 5 before casting a face down creature.

He cast Courser of Kruphix and passed the turn.

I stole the Courser with Yasova and attacked for 8. I cast another Elvish Mystic, played a land from the top of my library, and cast Vortex Elemental. My opponent exiled Yasova with Utter End and passed the turn.

I attacked with my face-down creature and an Elvish Mystic. My opponent blocked the Mystic, taking 2.

I cast Whisperwood Elemental, passing the turn and manifesting a card. My opponent exiled Whisperwood Elemental with Abzan Charm and passed the turn.

I attacked with everything but Vortex Elemental. My opponent blocked the morph creature, and I turned it face up to reveal Hooded Hydra. He dropped to 3 life, and I passed the turn. My opponent cast Siege Rhino, draining me for 3.

I activated Vortex Elemental’s second ability to force the Rhino to block it, and then I attacked with everything to win the game.

Game 2

Sagu Mauler
My opponent cast Thoughtseize on turn one, taking Yasova Dragonclaw. I played Thornwood Falls and passed the turn.

He also played a land and passed, and I cast Vortex Elemental.

He played Temple of Malady, and I cast a face-down creature. He cast Siege Rhino and ended his turn. I turned a Rattleclaw Mystic face up and cast Wildcall for 3.

My opponent cast Ajani, Mentor of Heroes and put 3 +1/+1 counters on the Rhino. I attacked Ajani with my manifest creature, and my opponent blocked with his Rhino. I turned up a Sagu Mauler, now a 9/9, to run the Rhino over.

My opponent used Ajani’s second ability to find another Siege Rhino. He cast it and ended his turn. I attacked Ajani with my Mauler, and he chose not to block. I played a face-down creature, cast another Vortex Elemental, and passed the turn.

Wingmate Roc
My opponent cast Courser of Kruphix and Fleecemane Lion. I turned up a Rattleclaw Mystic for 3 mana and activated Vortex Elemental’s second ability, targeting Siege Rhino. I attacked with the Elemental and the Mauler, shuffling in the Rhino. My opponent took 9, and I passed the turn.

My opponent cast Elspeth, Sun's Champion, but I was ready with Disdainful Stroke. I forced Courser of Kruphix to block my other Vortex Elemental and attacked with it and Sagu Mauler. I shuffled the Courser in and hit my opponent for 9 again. I cast another Vortex Elemental and passed the turn.

My opponent attacked with Fleecemane Lion, and I took the damage. He cast Wingmate Roc, making a token with raid, and ended his turn. I played a land for my turn and activated Vortex Elemental twice, forcing Wingmate Roc and its token to block. I attacked with Sagu Mauler again to win the game.

Wrap-Up

I like this deck a lot, especially Whisperwood Elemental. However, I’m not completely sure it can compete with the card advantage of a Planeswalker without Disdainful Stroke to counter it or Sagu Mauler to trample through. I was also both impressed and disappointed by Vortex Elemental. The 5-mana ability was far more useful than I anticipated, but it still seemed that Reality Shift would be better most of the time.

This deck has access to larger creatures than anything else in the format, and it can have some blazing-fast starts as well, as we saw in the first game. The one weakness is that Whisperwood Elemental is the only real source of card advantage outside of morph tricks, so it could struggle against decks like Sidisi Whip that excel in that area. However, this is still a solid deck, especially for those on a budget. If you’re looking to outclass Rhinos and force your opponent to play guessing games, give this deck a try.


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