This weekend is SCG Columbus, where we will see Aether Revolt Standard for the first time. Many players, myself included, are extremely excited to see what rises to the top. When Aether Revolt spoilers began, most assumed that the format wouldn’t change that much, with the same tier 1 decks remaining, but with the addition of a few new viable archetypes. However, the unexpected bannings of Reflector Mage, Smuggler’s Copter, and Emrakul, the Promised End have given the next few weeks the feeling of excitement that is usually only found in a new, post-rotation Standard format.
One strategy that anyone who looked closely at the spoilers has noticed and been playing around with is the Copycat combo (Felidar Guardian + Saheeli Rai). Various shells have been suggested by many players, including plugging it into the Aetherworks Marvel shell that was successful before Aether Revolt, as well as a Jeskai Control shell that was on the fringes of the previous format. In my article last week, I went over a decklist I was working on for Aetherworks Copycat. You can read it here.
Many people believe that, at least for the first few weeks of the format, the general question that players will be asking themselves is, am I playing Copycat or am I trying to beat Copycat? Since last I week I went over a Copycat deck, this week I’ll be going over a deck that aims to beat Copycat.
One card from Aether Revolt spoilers that I think is being very under-appreciated is Rishkar, Peema Renegade. It’s excellent in combat-focused matchups, as it’s essentially a 4/4 for 3, and it allows you to pump out your cards much faster than your opponent with the access to 2 more green mana each turn. We want to team Rishkar up with aggressively-costed creatures with good power and toughness that want to be attacking. We want to pair our green with a color that covers green’s blind spots. Green’s main weakness in this format seems to be its inability to interact with the Copycat combo.
To a certain extent, all 4 other colors can interact with the combo, but not all of them play into what we want to be doing with this deck. Blue interacts with counter spells, which actively make playing our sorcery-speed beatdown strategy worse. White gives us access to Stasis Snare, but white’s best aggressive creatures usually need other cards, like vehicles or tribal effects, to be worth it. Red gives us disruption in Shock, and solid beatdown with Voltaic Brawler, but the rest of the color doesn’t play that well with our goal of matching up well in combat with the opponent. Black, on the other hand, is perfect for what we want to be doing. It gives us disruption in Grasp of Darkness, Transgress the Mind, and sometimes Fatal Push, while offering meaningful combat-oriented creatures like Winding Constrictor, Grim Flayer, and Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet.
Here is the list I’m currently working with:
G/B Aggro by Jonah Gaynor
Let’s go over the list, starting with the creature-base.
Grim Flayer helps us filter our draws, and it hits delirium quite frequently after 2 hits, and semi-frequently after 1 hit. It’s not at its best in this deck, but it plays very well with Verdurous Gearhulk and Rishkar, Peema Renegade. Verdurous Gearhulk does exactly what we want it to do in this deck. It helps us push through damage, and the sheer variance in how the counters can be placed on our creatures makes Gearhulk an auto-include, and a card that you’re rarely disappointed to draw. Oh, and it’s insane with Winding Constrictor, but we’ll get to that later. I talked about Rishkar, Peema Renegade above, so I won’t dive that deep again, but I think that 3 is the right number for Rishkar, due to its legendary status. It’s possible that 3 isn’t the right number, and if it’s not I’d rather go to 4 than down to 2.
Drana, Liberator of Malakir is an interesting inclusion in this deck, and is a card that I think a lot of players have completely forgotten about. Drana’s playability was reduced to basically zero with the popularity of Smuggler’s Copter, but now that it has been essentially replaced with Heart of Kiran, expect fewer flying vehicles around to disrupt our Drana attacks. The +1/+1 counters that it gives play very well with the rest of our deck, and (just like Gearhulk) it plays extremely well with Winding Constrictor. 2 counters on all of my attacking creatures before normal damage is dealt? Yes, please! Winding Constrictor itself is very undervalued by many. On its own it’s a 2/3, which is serviceable, but it has great synergy with most other cards in our deck.
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet on the surface looks like an odd inclusion, but we’ve learned in the past that Kalitas doesn’t necessarily need to be in a removal-focused deck to be effective. Our 7 removal spells (Fatal Push, Grasp of Darkness, and Ob Nixilis Reignited) are enough to make Kalitas a very effective and scary 4 drop. Walking Ballista was a card that I was very skeptical about when it was first spoiled. Most players thought it was the spiritual successor to Hangarback Walker. If we’re being honest, it’s not as good as Hangarback, but it’s still a solid card that plays well with the +1/+1 counters theme in our deck and gives us some additional removal in this deck.
Heart of Kiran as a 2-of may seem odd, but in this deck Heart is at its best in the late game as an imitation Serra Angel. It attacks for 4 in the air and represents a 4/4 blocker during the opponent’s turn. Without +1/+1 counters, only Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet can activate Heart on its own, but the impressive amount of cards that give +1/+1 counters in this deck means that we can reliably crew Heart with no problems. Nissa, Voice of Zendikar is a card that I’m not thrilled about playing in this deck, but it’s a nice late-game card that plays well with the other cards in this deck. It also provides additional creatures to receive the +1/+1 counters floating around in our deck, so Nissa merits a spot. Ob Nixilis, on the other hand, doesn’t have a lot of synergy with our other cards, but is included as a 1-of hedge against control decks that will be packing a lot of removal spells. It does a mean Phyrexian Arena impression in this deck, which is something that it can take advantage of in certain matchups.
I opted for a 2/4 split of Fatal Push and Grasp of Darkness, mostly as a concession to Copycat. I think that in a vacuum Fatal Push is the better card for this deck, as it’s more mana efficient and less of a color strain, but Grasp of Darkness is better suited to deal with what we want to answer in this format. The singleton Transgress the Mind is also a hedge. It hits both halves of Copycat, as well as Fumigate, which is a card that this deck can struggle with from time to time. Transgress also gained a lot with the banning of Smuggler’s Copter, which pushed the format to be less aggressive.
In the sideboard, I completed the playlet of Transgress the Mind, which I’m very high on, put the third copy of Fatal Push for the players who will be showing up trying to (more or less) race Copycat, 3 Yahenni’s Expertise for similar matchups, 2 Natural Obsolescence for the likely appearance of Aetherworks Marvel, as well as 4 Tireless Tracker and 2 Nissa, Vital Force for any matchup that tries to go over the top of us. Both Nissa and Tracker provide impressive card advantage and they both demand answers immediately, which frees up our beaters to do their thing.
I think that this deck is an excellent choice for anyone who will be competing in the SCG Open in Columbus this weekend. It has game against all of the format, and attacks the strategy that is assumed to be the best in the format. Don’t be a Copycat! Get a solid grip on the format, almost like you’re a… Winding Constrictor.
Want another, more aggressive way of combatting Copycat? Read this article by Austin Mansell where he tries to bring a popular deck from last Standard into the crazy cat-filled world we’re going to be living in.
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