Return to Ravnica is a set largely based on the guilds, and that means a lot of focus on multicolored spells. However, there are some small subthemes squeezed into the set at lower rarities. Axebane Guardian is the first card of the defender subtheme, capable of producing very large amounts of mana with a few friends to help out. The second is Doorkeeper, a card that can be devastating in Limited with access to multiple copies. With these two cards in the lead, I set out to see if a defender deck could be good enough for Standard. Here's the list I came up with:
- Creatures (20)
- 2 Hover Barrier
- 3 Gatecreeper Vine
- 3 Primordial Hydra
- 4 Axebane Guardian
- 4 Doorkeeper
- 4 Fog Bank
Axebane Guardian provides the extra mana necessary to activate Doorkeepers and still leave mana open to counter your opponent's spells. It also fuels X spells such as Increasing Confusion, Primordial Hydra, and Sphinx's Revelation. Since it can produce mana in any combination of colors, it goes a long way toward improving the somewhat lacking mana base.
Gatecreeper Vine also helps smooth your mana, and although a 0/2 body isn't going to stop many creatures, it does up your defender count and can be used to chump-block a large creature if necessary.
Although Fog Bank can unfortunately still be killed by burn spells and other removal, it can stand in the way of any creature in Standard and live to tell the tale. Sublime Archangels tremble in fear at the sight of this tiny creature, and Griselbrand won't even give your opponent some extra life when he forays into the fog.
Hover Barrier loses some of the advantages of Fog Bank, but it eliminates some of the disadvantages as well. It can't be burned out of the way with a Pillar of Flame, and creatures with trample won't be able to just rumble right over it.
Doorkeeper is one half of the primary win condition for the deck. It's not uncommon to mill upward of five cards each turn with one of these on the field, and if you draw a second one, your opponent is in even more trouble. Although this incremental milling may not seem like much, it sets you up quite nicely to finish off your opponent's library with Increasing Confusion.
The Win Conditions
Increasing Confusion can mill a lot of cards over the course of two turns, especially when aided by an Axebane Guardian or two. Paying the flashback cost on this will usually mean doom for your opponent since you mill twice as many cards as you have mana. Note that if your opponent is already running low, you can cast Increasing Confusion from your hand with X as 0 and then flash it back to profit from the doubling effect immediately.
Primordial Hydra can be a faster way to win the game, but its vulnerability to removal makes me hesitant to rely on it as a primary win condition. It will work from time to time, however, and it can give you a better shot against decks with some way of shuffling cards from the graveyard back into the library.
Dissipate and Syncopate allow you to prevent anything your defenders can't deal with from hitting the battlefield. Planeswalkers will often meet their deaths at the hands of these spells, and Rancor is often another primary target. Unlike traditional control decks, your suite of defensive creature allows you to let many creatures resolve without too much worry, saving your countermagic for more deadly targets.
Oblivion Ring is another answer to planeswalkers, which can present a real problem for the deck if they resolve. Ajani, Caller of the Pride is often cheap enough to sneak in past your countermagic, and the Ring helps to ensure that you can get rid of him before he makes a bunch of Cat tokens.
Sphinx's Revelation often stops red decks from just burning you out, and it can refill your hand with defenders after you've played several of them. It's also an effective way to dig for your win conditions, particularly when fueled by the mana from Axebane Guardian.
Rest in Peace prevents reanimator decks from reanimating very effectively. You can also board it in against other decks that abuse the graveyard if you feel that your milling is helping them out more than you'd like.
Azor's Elocutors is another win condition that you can bring in against decks like reanimator. Your main plan of milling them out can be dangerous, and with their shortage on both removal and cheap threats, it shouldn't be hard to filibuster until you've won.
Grave Bramble is obviously powerful against Zombies, but it can also be brought in against decks that play a lot of small creatures. The Bramble's 3 power means that it not only stops creatures from pushing through for damage, but it can kill them as well, making it more difficult for your opponent to assemble an army large enough to punch through.
The extra Oblivion Ring helps out against decks with many planeswalkers and other threats that require removal, and the extra Hover Barriers often come in against decks that have several ways to get around Fog Bank, such as Pillar of Flame and Rancor.
Selesnya Midrange – Game 1
Forest, Island, Evolving Wilds, Syncopate, Oblivion Ring, Hover Barrier, and Sphinx's Revelation. He played a Temple Garden and passed the turn, and I drew a Forest. I played my Evolving Wilds and passed back.
My opponent cast Selesnya Charm during my end step to make a 2/2 Knight token. On his turn, he played a Forest and enchanted the Knight with Rancor. He dropped me to 16 and passed the turn. I drew another Oblivion Ring, played a Forest, and cast Hover Barrier. I ended my turn.
My opponent passed back with no play. I drew a Fog Bank, cast it, and ended my turn.
Strangleroot Geist and passed the turn. I drew another Syncopate and cast Primordial Hydra as a 4/4. I ended my turn.
My opponent passed the turn with no play again. The hydra grew to 8/8 during my upkeep, and I drew Dissipate. I attacked with the Hydra, and my opponent blocked with Strangleroot Geist, which came back with a +1/+1 counter. I ended my turn, and my opponent cast Selesnya Charm to exile my Hydra. I countered it with a Syncopate for 3.
On his turn, my opponent paid 2 life to put a Temple Garden onto the battlefield untapped, then cast Thragtusk. I tapped my Axebane Guardian and countered it with another Syncopate, and he passed the turn. My Hydra grew to 16/16 during my upkeep, and I drew another Sphinx's Revelation. I attacked with the Hydra, and my opponent dropped to 2.
I passed the turn, and he drew his card and conceded.
−2 Fog Bank
Island, Forest, Doorkeeper, Axebane Guardian, Syncopate, Increasing Confusion, and Sphinx's Revelation. My opponent played a Sunpetal Grove and passed the turn. I drew another Doorkeeper, played an Island, and passed back.
My opponent played another Forest, cast Strangleroot Geist, and attacked with both creatures. Doorkeeper blocked the Centaur, and I took 2. He passed the turn. I drew an Island, played it, and cast Axebane Guardian before passing the turn.
My opponent played a second Strangleroot Geist and passed the turn. I activated Doorkeeper during his end step to mill him for 3. I drew Evolving Wilds, played it, and cast Doorkeeper. I sacrificed the Wilds for an Island and passed the turn.
Doorkeeper. I drew a Forest, played it, and passed the turn.
My opponent played a Forest and cast Thragtusk, which I allowed to resolve. He passed the turn, and I milled another 8 cards. I drew another Doorkeeper, cast Increasing Confusion for 4, and ended my turn.
My opponent played a land and attacked with everything. I blocked Thragtusk with Fog Bank, the Centaur and a Geist with my Doorkeepers, and the second Geist with Axebane Guardian. My opponent cast Selesnya Charm to pump up one Geist and kill my Axebane Guardian, but I countered it with a Syncopate for 5. He conceded.
This deck is quite good at stymieing many decks that want to win by attacking with creatures, especially those without much removal. Your defenders can deal with most creatures, and anything you don't want to deal with can usually be countered by Syncopate or Dissipate. If you want to mill someone out, attack with giant Hydras, or sit around making filibusters until your opponent dies of boredom, give this deck a try.
As always, if you have any questions or comments, you can find me on the forums under Twinblaze, on Twitter under @Twinblaze2, or simply leave a comment below.