Sunday, February 28, 2010

Allies in Standard

It's rare that I post a full breakdown of my Magic: The Gathering decks, much less those that are Standard legal. I'm doing this one now on a whim, with my girlfriend on hand to, in her own words, "make the post awesome." I'd be an idiot to refuse.

I've read somewhere on a M:TG related webpage that Allies in Standard, as of the Zendikar block, wasn't feasible. With the new additions to the Ally lineup, I sought to refute that statement.

The deck I will be presenting is in its second, 4-color form, which evolved from a 3-color modification of The Adventurers Intro Pack from Zendikar. Check the link out to see what it was like in its 41-card pristine glory.


In a nutshell, The Adventurers wasn't all Allies to begin with. You had oddities like mana-producing elves and druids that turned your Forests into monsters. It also had support spells like Giant Growth, Overrun, Lightning Bolt and Fireball. It wasn't tightly-themed in my opinion - your creatures should all be allies, backed up with spells. And it only had 41 cards! Something clearly needed to be done.

I went to a card shop and bought some Allies piecemeal. When you have a goal in mind, it allows for more efficient purchases. The shop I went to only had a limited selection of allies, and I hadn't gotten my paycheck yet so I couldn't splurge on specialist allies - I focused my purchases on getting aggressive allies.

The first prototype I whipped up was Red-Green-black-blue. Red for the Berserkers, Lightning Bolts and Fireball, Green for the Oran-Rief Survivalists and the shiny Turntimber Ranger (which I heard were an automatic four of) Giant Growth and Overrun, and black mainly for Grim Discovery and Bojuka Brigand and a lone Agadeem Occultist and blue for a single Halimar Excavator and Seascape Aerialist each. Given the 4 colors, I added 4 Terramorphic Expanse, 3 Savage Lands and Crumbling Necropolis from Alara, and a lone Halimar Depths. I was pleased with its turnout against a "poor man's" Extended Red Deck Wins, and so I brought it to the office.

It fought against an Elf deck (as I might have mentioned in an earlier post, it was the Elves half of the Elves Versus Goblins box with some added friends from the Lorwyn block), a Goblin deck (same owner as the Elves deck, the other half of the Versus box), and a Kithkin deck.

It performed remarkably against the Elf deck by killing the 2 Wellwishers, recruiting them with the Agadeem Occultist (getting to an amazing 161 life through the course of the game), and staving off possible counter attacks by judicious use of my meager direct damage, the Occultist stealing choice elves from the graveyard with the help of Halimar Excavator (the moment a Wren's Run Vanquisher hit the graveyard, no elves could attack safely), and won ultimately by decking.

The Goblins matchup was pretty tough, as for a while my offense was stalled by Mudbutton Torchrunners on the defense. Fortunately, the guy had a "damage to the face first, worry about the cleanup later" mentality, and I was down to eight life before my allies solidified a defense, and then the Murasa Pyromancer decided to drop in. My opponent had then tapped out for a Siege-Gang Commander, and the red Ally made sure the enemy Commander never got a shot off. Next came a Seascape Aerialist, and that was the clincher. Thanks to the pair of Akoum Battlesingers in play, my souped up Brigands and Survivalists - heck the entire team had +1/+1 counters on them thanks to the Kazuul Warlord in play some turns prior - I was able to deal something like 20 damage from the sky to beat the Goblin horde.

After the match I chatted with him a bit and asked why he wasn't attacking with his pair of Torchrunners early on - if blocked, the ensuing explosion would kill my frail, tech-based allies. He admitted that he was betting on launching the explosive boggarts to my face with the Siege-Gang Commander, and honestly didn't think of the boggarts as "damned if you do, damned if you don't" attackers until I pointed it out to him.

I played against his kithkin next, and while I can't remember all the details, I recall he was stuck on a four lands, his Thoughtweft Trio just stared haplessly at my then 7/7 Survivalist and 5/5 Brigand attacking after a Highland Berserker entered the battlefield, after which I finished him off with a Fireball. I thanked him for the games and proceeded to badger another office buddy for a game.

This long-time player friend of mine was sporting an Esper "Super Robots" deck. Master of Etherium, Tower Gargoyle, Scourglass, Oblivion Ring, Tidehollow Sculler - needless to say, this was the toughest deck in the office, with the Scourglass pretty much earning a concession from me every time it came out unless he was low in life already. My deck had no answer to that, and I hated it. So what did I do? Simple.

I went out and bought more Allies using part of my paycheck that just came in.

Two sweet words: Tuktuk Scrapper.
One crazy idea: No spells, all creatures.

DECKLIST (and bonus commentary!)

2 Mana: Frontline Squad

Akoum Battlesinger x 4 - She sings for massive damage. 6 allies with +1/+0 equals an instant 6 damage if unblocked. Combine with Seascape Aerialist later in the game and watch your opponent's reaction.

Bojuka Brigand x 2 - Every army has some bad eggs. Given a choice between casting this guy and one of the Oran-Rief dudes, go Oran-Rief. They're essentially another easy trigger for the other non-growing allies, but can in some games be your early beat stick.

Halimar Excavator x 3 - She provides defense early on, and can really mess things up as the game progresses. Has a very good working relationship with Agadeem Occultist.

Highland Berserker x 3 - Essentially a Goblin Piker with a special ability. 2 mana, 2 damage, chance to first strike. What's not to like?

Oran-Rief Survivalist x 4 - Accept no substitutes. Well, if it's other 2-drop Allies I might make some exceptions. This guy is the main workhorse of the deck.

3 Mana: Frontline Support

Agadeem Occultist x 1 - Halimar Excavators put cards in an opponent's graveyards. This guy makes them work for you, if you have enough allies in play. Very useful for chump blocking early if you manage to kill a vanilla 1/1 or 2/2 early on. Needless to say this guy is a fire magnet, perhaps even moreso than the other Allies in the deck. Against another creature-heavy deck, this guy is golden as his rarity symbol.

Stonework Puma x 1 - Sometimes, you don't draw the correct land to cast your allies. Other times, you need to block an annoying 2/2 with something you don't mind losing. This stone cat-robot fits the bill nicely. I'll replace it with another Tajuru Archer, probably.

Tajuru Archer x 1 - I hate Tower Gargoyles and Windwright Mages, doubly so if they have Steel of the Godhead on them, which the Esper "Super Robot" deck was packing. This gives me a fighting chance.

Umara Raptor x 4 - A flying Oran-Rief Survivalist. These birds will spell doom for ground-bound opponents, and will likely be targeted for elimination / control spells, leaving less flak for your more important allies.

4 Mana: The Six-Pack

Joraga Bard x 2 - Sometimes you need a guy who can face down Canyon Minotaurs without blinking. That's what he's mainly there for. With Umara Raptors and other combat specialists, however, he provides a solid defense while still allowing you to strike. One of them might be replaced, perhaps, with a Graypelt Hunter. For now, they're a pair.

Nimana Sell-Sword x 2 - It's a Bojuka Brigand that actually understands the concept of fighting off attackers. It's an Oran-Rief Survivalist that starts out bigger and doesn't die to Punishing Fire upon entering the field. It's another combat-specialist ally that's not too expensive. 2 in the deck, no more.

Tuktuk Scrapper x 2 - Even the mightiest of Esper Super Robots will fall in the face this goblin. The explosion is just a bonus. I might side in a full set, but the Super Robot deck's pilot is one of my friends, and to his credit is only packing 2 Scourglasses. He's mostly useless against the other decks in the office though.

5 Mana: The Cavalry

Hagra Diabolist x 1 - Making an opponent lose life is always good. 'Nuff said.

Kazuul Warlord x 1 - So your weak-kneed specialists and technicians need to go up there in the front lines and take names? Then send for big old Horns here to pump them up. If another ally with a self-pump ability follows on this minotaur's heels (or should it be hooves?), they get 2 +1/+1 counters from the get go!

Seascape Aerialist x 1 - Take the fight to the (hopefully) open sky and watch your opponent die. At the very least, he allows your attackers to get through the opponent's ground defense. I hope you've got your own defenses set up though.

Tuktuk Grunts x 2 - 5 mana for a hasted 3/3 might be too much. I'll likely drop one of them if I need to make room for new recruits.

Turntimber Ranger x 1 - Get him out early and prepare to swarm the opposition. Late game, he's still better than Tuktuk Grunts. Anything that doubles your creature production is very good, moreso in this deck's earlier versions which then had Overrun.

6 Mana: The Nuke

Murasa Pyromancer x 1 - When you need something killed with fire, this shaman is your man. Make no mistake, he will draw enemy fire and attention, if you have a lot of other allies on the battlefield already, he'll likely take someone down before dying himself. He's the most expensive ally currently in Standard, and that makes him just a one of.

Non-Basic Land

Ancient Ziggurat x 2 - in an all-creature deck, this is pretty much mandatory. Why don't I have 4 in the deck? I've yet to buy some more, that's why!

Halimar Depths x 1 - this card is really good. It allows you to see your next 3 cards and fix your draws, at worst it allows you to see how badly screwed you are. I should add another, perhaps.

Terramorphic Expanse x 4 - If you play a deck with more than 1 color, you'll definitely find these handy.

Basic Land

Forest x 4
Island x 2
Swamp x 1

Total Land: 25
Total Creatures: 36


Vs. Elves
A bit more difficult now that I'm no longer able to take out key elements of the opposing army, but the elves die to birds of prey the size of elephants that did not tap to attack. Jagged-Scar Archers came in too late to stop the bleeding, and Hagra Diabolist sealed the deal.

Vs. Kithkin
Even though he was stuck at 3 lands, he was able to hold me off by turning a Kinsbaile Skirmisher into a 6/6 monster over the course of three turns thanks to his Cenn's Tactician. He was royally mana-screwed as I was able to cast Murasa Pyromancer and killed his Tactician, then followed it up the next turn with a Seascape Aerialist which allowed me to outrace him in damage per turn.

Vs. Esper
First Game: Tuktuk Scrapper enters the battlefield, and backed up by assorted 2-mana allies forces a concession from the robot army, who didn't have Agony Warp or Oblivion Ring then, and was taking upwards of 3 damage per destroyed artifact.
Second Game: Tuktuk Scrapper decides to join the fray early, resulting in him tripping an Oblivion Ring. Not too much of a loss, as the robots couldn't find Swamps to save their hides and they got beaten down by a pair of battle singers and their horde of admirers.

Allies are fun.

Future projects:
  • Go back to a 2-color build. This allows for more support spells, however my ally count will go down significantly. This means Stonework Pumas become suddenly important.
  • Move down to 3 colors. Not so many allies lost, and I can add some spells which cover ally weaknesses. This will most likely involve green, because at the moment allies cannot destroy enchantments, something like 2 Naturalize, 3 Giant Growth, and 1 Overrun plus more Forests might be added in place of the lost color.
  • Try white allies out. I've already got 4 Ondu Clerics, but the white combat specialists are darned expensive and get snapped up as quickly as possible. White also opens up Solemn Offering, which kills both enchantments and artifacts. Hmm.

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