Attacking Standard with Thalia

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Think about the Standard metagame. What is it really about?


The metagame is actually about spells. What spells can I play so that I can flip the Delver of Secrets and what other cards should I play in the deck. The rest of the metagame is reacting to that deck building process.

Wolf Run of whatever color is the flavor of the week, tries to do this by resolving huge guys that have an immediate impact on the game state. Control has existed in some fashion or another but, for the most part, had too much to deal with to really be a force in the metagame. Wolf Run does a better job in my opinion of being a control deck, at least against anyone trying to cast those Delver checklist cards.

Conley’s Wolf Run deck splashing Black was a great example of this. Tempered Steel and Mono Red are still around and they try to make the game a race they think they can win.

The worst matchup for Delver has to be Blue White Humans. Why? The Humans deck does a great job of interacting in the first few turns so they don’t fall too far behind the tempo advantage of Delver, all while providing threats like Leonin Relic-Warder and Fiend Hunter in addition to playing the best aggressive creatures in the format.

The Delver player has a decision to make. Do they deal with the cards that are interacting with their permanents or the ones that are the real threat? This is what allows Blue White Humans to win so many games against Delver.

Enter Thalia

When looking at the Dark Ascension spoiler, there was one card that stuck out to me as being particularly disruptive to a format where everyone is trying to cast a lot of spells. The card was Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. As soon as I saw her, I was in awe, and not just because of her remarkable artwork reminiscent of Angelic Destiny.

I was in awe because of her power level. I am certain that this is a card that has been pushed in design. Back in the day, I used to rock some Glowriders in my decks, and Thalia is a strict upgrade. The problem with Glowrider was that it cost three mana. Sure, you could play an accelerant, but when you didn’t have one three mana was just too expensive.

Without the drawback of mana cost, Thalia will likely see play in every format. Thinking through games where you are on the play and Time Walk your opponent simply because you cast her turn two is not just a dream. Rather, it will be a frequent event that will occur simply by playing her in your deck.

Think of all the spells that see regular play in Standard. Here’s a short list.

Thinking about delaying any of those spells by a turn sends my mind into spirals of wonder.

The implications Thalia brings to the format are astounding. Even in the worst cast scenario where you opponent pays two life and one mana for their Gut Shot, they lose the whole point in playing Gut Shot in the first place. Gut Shot is so good because it costs no mana. Using your life total to get ahead in tempo is great, but when you have to start paying mana, the effect looses much of its potency.

When I saw Thalia, I knew that I had to find a way to play her in this format.

Enter Flavor

After I stopped salivating over my secret love for this card, I found out what it feels like to be a casual player.

I thought it would be so much fun to play Werewolves! How can you not love the flavor of Innistrad and Dark Ascension? Werewolves are sweet! Not only did I think they were cool, I also was determined to make them work in competitive magic (as noted by my writing last week). I spent hours thinking about a dedicated werewolf deck and how to build it.

Sure, the deck is fine for your local FNM, but do you think a deck packing Moonmist,\ is really going to cut it on the higher levels of play? Doubtful.

The way I was building it, the Werewolf deck basically looked like Mono Red with one glaring exception: most of the werewolves were just dudes that flipped into cost efficient creatures, but were otherwise unimpressive.

Ratchet Bomb seeing more play didn’t help either.

There were a couple of exceptions to my dislike of everything aside from the flavor. Daybreak Ranger and Huntmaster of the Fells were both amazing. Every time I play or see someone playing Daybreak Ranger, he impresses me even more. Have you ever seen a match where one player had a Daybreak Ranger in play and the opponent was attacking with Delver of Secrets? Which side would you rather be on? I know I got crushed by Daybreak Ranger. Honestly, your best bet might be to let the Ranger flip so that at least they have to commit mana each turn to killing your team. As for Huntmaster of the Fells, here are some of the things I have said about this card.

Huntmaster of the Fells is like...

Maybe I am diluted by the fact that I love this card, but the sheer power of it overwhelms me. The last time I was this amazed by a card was when Vengevine was spoiled. Now, I am not saying that Huntmaster of the Fells is going to see play over multiple formats like Vengevine did, but I am suggesting that he will have as big of an impact on the Standard format.

One of the most important aspects of the card is the ability to force your opponent to make bad decisions. I call this a play mistake card. The original card the category was created for was Fact or Fiction. Basically, no matter what your decision is, your opponent can turn that into an advantage against you. The built in card advantage Huntmaster of the Fells offers operates similarly. Evidence of this belief can be seen in the Pro Tour coverage from this past weekend. Players just didn't know how to play against it and the success of the new wolf run decks is there as proof.

Let’s gather our thoughts.

Standard is a format revolving around spells and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben wrecks what a lot of players are trying to do right now in the format. A couple of werewolves seem really solid against the expected metagame right now as well. Daybreak Ranger punishes players trying to outpower flyers and Huntmaster of the Fells will hunt for targets on the ground or throw his axe into the sky to cut them down.

Light bulb!!!

What if we play those three cards together?

Three cards that attack the metagame combined into one aggro control deck. What other cards would we play in this deck though? I thought maybe some other hard to deal with threats like Strangleroot Geist and Blade Splicer would be nice.

Articles have been written, and more will be, about Strangleroot Geist and how good it is. Being double Green seemed like a problem, but, upon further consideration, I don’t think it really is. This is a Green deck we are building. It may not seem like it yet, but it is. There are only a couple White cards and a couple of Red cards. The rest of the deck is Green.

Before I go on, let me show you what I came up with.

Four Thalia! This guy must be crazy! Or am I?

Don’t you want to draw her almost every game in almost every match? Don’t you want to play her on turn two against the decks she’s good against? She’s a legend, so what! The thing you need to realize is that she will die. One of two things will happen: either you will block with her or they will spend too much mana on a removal spell for her. Wouldn’t it be nice to play another one right after that?

Even though she is a legend, I don't think four is too many. When you side her out, all four come out, so there’s no problem in that regard. There will be hands that contain three of her in which you may have to mulligan, but that is likely the case for any card you run four copies of in a deck. If the metagame shifts to playing less spells, then she might drop down to three copies instead of four, but, as for now, running the full amount allowed seems correct.

While there is still room to grow and innovate in this list, much time and effort has been spent tweaking it to get it where it is now. Certainly there will be changes, but this is more like the beta test version than something just thrown together for an article.

Maindeck Mentions

There are a couple cards I want to mention specifically from the list.

The first is Lead the Stampede. How many players have totally forgotten this card exists? Take a stroll through the Gatherer sometime and see what cards have been relegated to unplayable and need reevaluation. Lead the Stampede showed its power as I was teaching new players the game. I picked up some of the free M12 thirty card decks.

In case you are not familiar, you just shuffle two of them together and you have a deck ready to go. This is a great tool for teaching new players, by the way, and it was a ton of fun. One thing I noticed though was that the green decks kept winning because of cards like Lead the Stampede and Hunter's Insight to just out draw your opponent.

Lead the Stampede fits perfectly in this Naya deck because we do not want very many spells due to Thalia Guardian of Thraben. We don’t want Thalia to be a drawback for us, only our opponents. Statistically this draw spell should average you almost three cards per time you cast it. Standard doesn’t have access to that kind of efficiency in drawing cards so resolving it against many decks in the format should be more than enough to win the game.

The two Oblivion Rings seem straightforward in their inclusion, but they are the second card I wanted to mention. Even if you end up having to pay four mana on occasion, removing any troublesome card is something this deck definitely wants. Three seemed like too many, but two seems like the perfect number so you can draw them when you need them. We don't want to just lose to certain permanents like Consecrated Sphinx, Karn Liberated, or Phyrexian Obliterator.

Finally, the last main deck card I wanted to mention was actually two cards. Torch Fiend and Silverchase Fox, while they are definitely not Qasali Pridemage in power level, are removal we can play without the Thalia drawback. This removal is conveniently hidden by making them look like creatures.

Torch Fiend in particular should start seeing more play with the number of Sword of War and Peace that are being played. Silverchase Fox is one card that I am not sure belongs main deck. It does deal with opposing Oblivion Rings, Curse of Deaths Hold, Honor of the Pure and Intangible Virtue, but I am not sure if that is enough targets to warrant it’s inclusion main deck. Being able to destroy those permanents can win you games though, so including him seems correct.

The Sideboard

When you look over the deck and think about certain matchups, some alarm bells may be going off. Much thought and effort has gone into the creation of the sideboard. Take a look:

One issue with any deck that aims to have a midgame aggro control approach is that it will then, by definition, have a problem with any Wolf Run deck.

I think I have finally found the answer to that in Tectonic Rift. Not only does it destroy a land , but it also allows you to attack unfettered. If you play it turn three or four, it can really disrupt your Wolf Run opponent’s game plan as well. Four cards dedicated to this match is a necessity. Acidic Slime would also come in for additional support to accomplish the goal of transforming your deck into Ponza.

Ancient Grudge and Ray of Revelation seem fairly straightforward in their inclusion, but when you move past them and see Birthing Pod, don’t freak out. The sideboard is designed to enable this deck to turn into a Birthing Pod deck post-sideboard.

While this deck has a fine match against Blue White Humans and any Zombie concoction, those matches are a lot closer than I prefer. By switching into a Birthing Pod deck for game two, you do a better job of going over the top, similar to how a ramp deck works. Even small seemingly innocent activations of Birthing Pod on your Young Wolf or Strangleroot Geist can put you in a dominating board position.

This is something that previous versions of Birthing Pod failed to do. They would sacrifice their Viridian Emissary to go get an additional land, pushing them further behind than they were. By simply removing the Thalia’s, two Daybreak Rangers, and a Huntmaster, we can bring in our Plan B and transform into a Birthing Pod deck that enables us to generate an advantage in board position. Additionally, bringing in two Tectonic Rifts when you bring in the Birthing Pod’s seems quite good as well, but what you take out would change depending on the opponent.

Hate Bears

Naya Aggro, a.k.a Hate Bears, is well positioned right now to fight everything the metagame has to offer. You may not know me or that I played Naya successfully for over a year, but think about how disruptive the cards I have included in this deck would be in the metagame right now. If you have questions or concerns, I would be happy to discuss my card choices more. I for one will be sleeving up the Hate Bears for some events. Will you?

Unleash that those Hate Bears!

Mike Lanigan
MtgJedi on Twitter

Post script:

I played this deck last week at FNM with the change of the main deck set up as a Birthing Pod deck. Instead of the Birthing Pod plan in the sideboard, I decided to run it main deck because I expected my metagame to be different than a more typical one. I ended up playing against, and beating, Delver, RDW, Wolf Run, and Zombies.

The deck was a ton of fun to play and the Thalias were really good for me. They basically won game two against Delver when I sided them in. He just couldn’t do anything because of how I limited his mana. The list I ran ended up very similar to the Top 8 Birthing Pod list from the Pro Tour, so I guess it might be okay to just play Birthing Pod as your primary plan and then side into the Thalias. Here is that list from Pro Tour Honolulu.

I have a lot more to say about Birthing Pod, so I'm sure you will be hearing more about that in the coming weeks. What are your favorite colors to play with Birthing Pod?

4 thoughts on “Attacking Standard with Thalia

  1. i´m there with you 😀 i´m trying to get thalia to work since i saw her in the spoiler. i´m using her in my w/u human builds but i want her more in g/w humans because i´m love with the township land… sadly w/u seems to be the way to go

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