Insider: 3 Standard Decks That Actually Have Synergy

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Why is Standard not fun for some players right now? Have you heard the mumbling and complaining about how uninteresting current Standard is? While I try to keep a handle on how vocal I am about not enjoying a format, those feelings have definitely been lurking in the depths of my mind like a predator stalking his prey. Don’t get me wrong, there are seemingly many playable decks in the format, but none of them are for me. The times when I’ve been successful and had the most satisfaction are when I have a deck that fits my play style, provides a powerful game plan, and is well positioned in the format. Satisfaction playing a deck is my most important motivation.

I know I have not been into any of these Theros Standard formats, but I couldn’t figure out why until now. Ari Lax said it best in his article this week.

Almost all...Standard decks feel like Limited decks. You have some bombs, a bit of interaction, and a fair amount of filler. Esper Control is pretty much the only deck that isn't that way, and even that is loose for a control deck because the answers are so awkward.

So what's missing?  Synergy. Throughout the length of this format's existence, I’ve been searching for synergy in Standard to no avail. I glimpsed it from a distance with Mono Blue Devotion, but counting the number of mana symbols in your permanents does not quite equate to synergy - just consistency. The format we are living in revolves around “good stuff” decks but the so called “good cards” are lackluster in comparison to any previous Standard format. Think about bringing any current Standard deck to battle in a past format and you’d have to go back to some extremely underpowered formats to find one where you would have success.


The simple fact is that the Standard decks have a few solid cards but also some that you would rather not draw each game. The problem is that there are no better cards to play. Go look at the singles case at your local shop sometime and check out the blue section of cards. I guarantee the Standard blue cards section is extremely small compared to any other section. The reason Mono Blue Devotion doesn’t change much from week to week is because it already plays all of the playable blue cards in Standard. There aren’t more to choose from.

While Standard overwhelmingly fits this mold of “good stuff” decks, some synergistic strategies are starting to emerge now that we have had some time to play with Born of the Gods. As we are approaching Journey to Nyx, my new set wish is that we are given some new cards that play well with others. Synergy is a positive and motivational force in deck building. We need more of it in Standard. For now, there are only a few of these types of strategies. As this week has progressed a few other authors have written about these same two decks because they are literally the only interesting things happening in Standard these days.

Shaking up Standard

G/B Dredge

By Ari Lax ,15th place Grand Prix Cincinnati 2014

Even though the title of this section should probably read "Slightly Altering Standard", any innovation right now is a positive thing in my book. The reason this deck is a reasonable choice is because the cards work extremely well together. With twelve ways to dump cards in your graveyard for two mana, you have a dependable way to set up your strategy.

These cards also allow you to make your deck perform consistently similar to that of Aerial Responder and Preordain. Although they are less powerful than the cards from the Modern Banned List, twelve Act on Impulse effects in any deck is a remarkably effective way to execute your strategy. No matter what cards you are looking for, you have many ways to find them.

Although you have some cards you are trying to find, the real back breaker is Nighthowler. Sure you can start playing cheap 5/5 Nemesis of Mortals or build a big Lotleth Troll, but bestowing is the light that leads you out of the tunnel and into the land of the winners. The playable bestow cards are so powerful because  removal is so plentiful.

To gain a deeper perspective on the situation, start thinking of your bestow creatures like Voice of Resurgence. The Eternal all-star, Voice, is amazing because he not only sets the tone of the game but also replaces himself when he dies. This process is nearly identical with any bestow creature. Certainly it’s not exactly the same, but bestowing forces your opponent to deal with your threat twice. Both Elvish Mystic and Satyr Wayfinder are perfect targets to bestow on because you will turn an innocent enabler into a legitimate threat.

You are capable of building huge threats to tear chunks from your opponent’s life total. Bestow helps with that also because they act like pump spells or haste creatures depending on how you want to think about them. Even though most of the cards on their own merit would be considered weak, together they form a cohesive unit. Decks like this always remind me of tribal aggressive decks. When you look at each creature in a Merfolk deck for example, they seem underpowered, but once you start accumulating the synergy of all the lords, the battlefield snowballs into a more and more dangerous situation.

My attention has only been on this deck since Ari’s success brought it to my attention, but I immediately started thinking about ways to improve the deck. One possible direction is to dive in deeper to the bestow cards. Possibilities like Boon Satyr, Spiteful Returned, Leafcrown Dryad or Baleful Eidolon might be playable in this type of strategy.

Even if we don’t drastically alter the deck, changing the numbers on the cards included might improve the win rate. Specifically, only two copies of Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord and Shadowborn Demon seems a couple too short. Both of those cards seem like you would want to draw them more often than two copies would allow. The change I will likely test first though, is replacing Sylvan Caryatid with Voyaging Satyr. Being able to fix your mana better and be immune to nearly all removal spells seems less important that the ability to bestow and attack with your mana creature.

This archetype is a promising way to attack Standard and over the next couple weeks, I will be working with it to try to develop it further. Another strategy on the rise is that of Naya Hexproof. If you’ve been reading my articles from when I was on the free side, I discussed this strategy a while back but with blue instead of red mana. Take a look at what the deck is looking like these days.

Naya Hexproof

By Jacob Maynard, 8th place Grand Prix Cincinnati 2014

The main problem with this deck? There are not enough cards in Standard to support this strategy. There are not enough efficient hexproof creatures nor enough low mana cost, high power auras to grow your threats. Some hands will be amazing and your God Draw will trump whatever the opposition can muster. Other games will seem like winning is as far away as the moon. I will say that this list is the most streamlined version I’ve seen. It’s no surprise Maynard was successful with it as he clearly put a lot of time and effort into developing it.

There are a couple improvements to this deck from previous versions that stick out as important. Let’s start with Chained to the Rocks. The reason I think this removal spell is a great addition to this deck is because it not only adds to your enchantment count but also gives you a reliable removal spell to slow your opponent down with. Any other removal spell would slow you down, but Chained to the Rocks deals with any creature plus allows you to increase your offense. The other addition I love is Boros Charm. This multicolored spell offers the exact utility this deck was seeking. Double Strike seems like the mode you will use most often, but helping your board to stick around after Supreme Verdict is a sure way to victory as well.

There are some questions in my mind about this archetype though. The first thing on my mind is about possibly adding Ghor-Clan Rampager to the deck. Making your pump spells into creatures when you need them adds depth to the deck. It’s possible that some of the creatures could be cut and replaced by the best bloodrush creature, but it may detract from the strategy.

Here's another question, and it might sound crazy.  Maybe all of the hexproof creatures should be removed. If we do that, obviously we are now playing a different deck, but maybe that’s a good thing. Take a look at how Brad Nelson approached this aggressive color combination.

Naya Aggro

By Brad Nelson

If I was going to play a Naya colored aggressive deck, I think I would start here instead of with eight unimpressive hexproof creatures and some auras to put on them. When the mana behaves in this deck, there are some extremely fast and powerful draws. The combination of Rampager and Charm add up to quick wins from seemingly out of nowhere. The combo of those two cards is one I’m very familiar with from a couple seasons ago. The ability to win fourth turn is within your reach if you play this deck, but maybe I am underestimating the combination of Boros Charm with the auras from the previous deck. Either way, both decks are potent aggressive strategies that suffer from bad mana. They are at least a fresh breath of air on a stale Standard format.

Looking to the Future

With these two decks as inspiration, I am encouraged that there may be more where this came from once Nyx hits shelves. I would love to see Standard flipped on its head with the release of the new set. One card I’m keeping an eye on is Epic Experiment. It seems that a deck based around this card could exist if some cards are printed that would allow it to function better. One card that comes to mind would be a reprint of Rampant Growth, or other spells that ramp your mana. This type of deck is looking for as many spells as possible as well as a way to get more mana quickly.

After analyzing the available card pool, this deck can’t really exist right now, but it’s close to being viable. Thoughtseize may prevent it from taking over the format, but cards like this are what we are looking for in order to build more intricate Standard decks. Are there other cards like this in Standard that could spawn new decks? Let me know what brews you’ve been working on in the comments.

Financial Implications

There is some upside financially if any of these decks take off. I've already seen movement on Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord and Night Howler, not much, but these cards won't be in the bulk bins for much longer so take a moment to browse at your local store. Witchstalker may see some movement also. He has been around the three dollar mark for a while now and has held that price well. If Nyx bestows a couple more cards to bring that deck into the spotlight, it could double in price quickly. Finally, Boros Charm might be as low as it will ever be so any cheap copies you can pick up should be a great long term investment. When rotation hits, it may dip a bit so that's a great time to pick them up as well. Standard is full of cards that will move given the right results but most of the time your best bet is to get in on the trend through trading before it bumps up in price.

8 thoughts on “Insider: 3 Standard Decks That Actually Have Synergy

  1. So I’ve been running with a modified version of that GB dredge list since BNG release, for the exact reasons you were talking about.

    When I build/play with a deck, synergy is king. Pulling together a big, synergistic effect in a game makes my little Timmy heart flutter…..

    That said, 2 Jarad’s is exactly the right number for the deck. About half the time you cast him from the ‘yard anyways.

    1. Actually, I have been liking three copies of Jarad, but I haven’t tested enough to tell for sure. I don’t think Deathrite Shaman is correct for this deck so I’ve been tinkering around with those two spots. Is your list much different than the one Ari did well with? I’d love to see your list too if you have time to post it.

      1. It’s more or less the same, and constantly in flux.

        I’ve played with and without Whips and other various forms of removal (Hero’s Downfall, Ultimate Price, etc…), and found that what I do with the periphery of the deck does very little to what is a very solid core.

        I personally like DRS in the deck, but that’s mostly due to the amount of fear and hate he picks up quickly. He’s a juicy distraction from the core of the deck’s plan. A decoy if you will.

  2. One of my friends played a Naya Hexproof deck very similar to what you posted. But his big addition was Eidolon of Countless Battles, for the same reason you like Bestow and the fact that it gets an additional +1/+1 per aura enchanted on it.

    1. I was going to mention Eidolon in the article actually. Glad you mentioned it in the comments. I think it would be a great addition to the deck but definitely not a four of because it costs too much mana for the deck to handle I think. Two or three copies seems about right.

  3. I must say, after popping that G/B deck into Forge and playing a couple rounds, that was like a breath of fresh air. I’ve tried the Naya Auras as well but as you pointed out, the creatures just simply aren’t too impressive. One thing I’d still try to figure out in the G/B deck is whether there is something better than Deathrite, he just feels awkward in there.

    1. That was my exact assessment as well. I assume he is pretty good against any control deck though because you have an unending stream of instants and sorceries to remove. For the moment, I am trying the third Jarad and a third demon. I thought about read the bones in that spot too but I think they need to be creatures.

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