Cirque du Zooleil - Standard

This deck is a community submission by Andrew John Kapawan.

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One of our readers has submitted this deck : Cirque Du Zooleil (clever name). I am going to give this a faithful review having already done some testing, and also answer a couple of the initial questions posed to Land Say Go about mana efficiency and sideboard options. I feel like Jund is coming on strong in the Ravnica Allegiance era, even though my personal builds have taken me in a slightly different direction - namely much bigger creatures.


We have several cards in this list from the new set which create some excellent aggro synergies, a couple "gotcha's" in the form of some instant speed utility, and some sideboard options which will need some evaluation in this write up, but seem to be "okay" in my initial testing. Let's dive into what the deck currently does, talk about curve and resiliency, and then jump into some changes.

A Perfect Circle

This deck list runs 3 copies of Judith, the Scourge Diva. I don't know about you, or whether you went to a pre-release event for #RNA, but if are familiar with Judith, either from table play or Arena, then you know that she is not to be trifled with. She is already making a really deep impact in the Mardu Humans lists, leveraging her semi-anthem and abilities to accelerate pressure on life totals. In this list, the benefit is clear, we get power bonuses to our creatures and get to ping stuff when our creatures die. We have some solid choices regarding our one-drops and two-drops that make a turn three Judith good - if not great. I personally think Judith should be a 2/3 or 1/4 creature, but I understand the decision from WOTC design teams to make her susceptible to Shock.

How Low Can You Go?

Okay, I get it, we want haste in this deck, and I would agree, we also want deeper interactions with our opponents board, and the ability to curve out well into Pelt Collector for multiplicative benefits from a creature and mana resource standpoint. I like Fanatical Firebrand, this little goblin may be in the running for one of the best one-drop Goblins ever printed. It has been making its way into red heavy decks since its printing, and I don't know that we are going to see it take a hiatus any time soon given the rumbling we are seeing from BR Burn decks in the Standard meta, and the keyword addition of Spectacle. With Judith we get some great interactions - chump block a creature, tap after blockers are declared ping something, and then get the death trigger off of Judith for another ping. Saucy... I understand Pelt Collector here, but I am not sold entirely on its inclusion in this list, I don't like that it finds an eventual apex, and stops growing. Maybe, I'm just being greedy?

Fireblade Artist is a card that has my attention; I find it is perhaps better used in a Mardu Humans list leveraging the power of Hero of Precinct One to generate tokens which act as fodder for the Artist's abilities, but here we are aiming to build off of haste. Some additional recommendations for replacing Fireblade Artist in this list (that I have used in testing) include: Dire Fleet Daredevil, Growth-Chamber Guardian, Kitesail Freebooter, and Thorn Lieutenant. Zhur-Taa Goblin is perfect for this deck - Riot gives us the ability with this creature to play offensively or defensively, and we need exactly that when our top-end is fully represented by Spawn of Mayhem. These 4 creatures represent 16 cards in our main 60; my first recommendation would be to diversify your options in creature representation, the two-drop slot has a great deal more to offer in a "Judith deck."

Go Big or Go Home...

Aggressive, early turn aggro strategies are effective. Throughout the annals of the history of MTG we have seen early game, low casting cost creatures run amok with proper support and synergy. After testing this deck I can tell you that it does have some explosive starts - most of which anchor on sticking Judith and swinging for the fences turn after turn. Mr. Kapawan has done a fine job of building in some mid-game threats here. I love Gruul Spellbreaker at 4 copies - what a powerhouse! Bye-Bye Settle the Wreckage! One need no longer fear retribution for attacking with reckless abandon. The Spellbreaker gives us a sizable advantage on control decks running Settle in the main or board - we even get protection from endstep burn when a Spellbreaker is on the battlefield.

I don't agree or disagree with Rekindling Phoenix in this deck. I don't know how you could. It's an incredibly resilient card - a dangerous recursive threat. But, running just one copy seems counterproductive, especially when we aren't running additional copies in the sideboard. Again, it's a design choice on the part of the decks author, and I can't see a reason for the exclusion of a single copy in favor other cards. I might recommend 2 additional copies in sideboard as a consideration, but it is no way an absolute. Spawn of Mayhem is good, very good, and fits well enough into the game plan of this deck. Spawn of Mayhem is a great aggressive threat, and casting this demon for its Spectacle cost after Lightning Strike, Skewer the Critics, or even pinging our opponent with a Fanatical Firebrand is fantastic. Talk about a "game ending threat," especially if we can resolve multiple copies.

Jund Gets It Done...

Assassin's Trophy has had its fair share of criticisms - there is just something about giving our opponents mana resources in exchange for permanent removal. In my experience, the trade off is worth it. Instant speed permanent removal is hard to come by, and Jund is packing a wallop these days. Bedevil gives us an additional spell to sling when we need to be ahead; in Standard these days it's likely a pinnacle creature or Teferi that catches Bedevil. A combined 5 copies of Assassin's Trophy and Bedevil is about right - my personal preference would be to drop the Skewer the Critics and run an additional copy of both instant speed spells instead.

Lightning Strike is good old fashioned utility - we need a bolt to turn on our Spawn of Mayhem, control pesky creatures, eliminate Planeswalkers behind combat damage, and maybe even drive the final nail in our opponent's life total. Again, just a recommendation but I would drop the Skewers. They seem out of place, and too slow, especially when we need to cast Skewer for the Spectacle cost and can't.

Mana, and How To Fix It

The submitted list is leveraging an open multicolored mana base. We have access to all manners of Jund lands at this point, all buddies and shocks are in the format, and we need to try and ensure that our color production suits the distribution of colors among our spells.

For the sake of respecting the original list we will stick with a total of 22 lands. Decks with 22 total lands want to have 20-28 spells of 0-2 casting cost; our list has 22 spells that fit the criteria of 1 to 2 converted mana cost, and we are right in the sweet spot here. Given our number of removal spells in the main deck we could easily classify this deck as an aggro deck with anchors in spot removal. Aggro-Control is an oxymoron in #MTG; I prefer to call decks like Mr. Kapawan's: Aggro-Utility. 23 lands would be better, but not necessary.

We have 4 red mana symbols, 10 green mana symbols, and 7 black mana symbols in total on our spells. I generally use the rule of rounding up when calculating my mana base. So in this case we would want access to 5 green sources, 11 red sources, and 8 black sources. We can use dual lands to compensate for discrepancies in the math, and even overcompensate when required. The current lands mix provides us with 13 green sources, 15 red sources, and 14 black sources. More than ample given we actually draw our lands to supplement the variance in the colors of our permanents. In terms of named lands - Forests, Mountains, and Swamps - we have 7 Forests, 9 Mountains, and 8 Swamps with buddy lands to compliment the shocks.

I have tested this list extensively and done the math for you; to directly answer our contributors question of, "what suggestions I would make to improve the mana base of this deck?" My answer is, "Nothing." Great work.

Sideboard Cards & Recommendations

The most powerful cards in the current Competitive Standard meta, in terms of sideboard answers, are in Black and Green. Bold statement - I know. But stay with me. I'm going to offer some constructive criticisms here. Banefire does not belong in this deck, and creates two wasted slots in the sideboard - there is not enough ramp to suit an X casting cost burn spell. You are better served by dropping the Banefire and slotting in an additional two Rekindling Phoenix. I made the suggestion before and I'm sticking to it.

Cindervines is an aggro decks best friend, and an excellent choice for answers against several commonly played enchantments in the format: Search for Azcanta, Conclave Tribunal, and History of Benalia...Mirror March...Experimental Frenzy. 4 copies in the sideboard is correct, when we need answers we need to find them. Duress is one of those understandable choices for the sideboard, but doesn't feel great here. Instead of trying to attack our opponent's hand directly, I would recommend we do it passively. DBoe taught me a valuable lesson about the power of Shapers' Sanctuary in a creature aggro deck. Gruul Spellbreaker is already solving Settle the Wreckage so we need a causal solution to targeted removal for our creature base. I would recommend that you test Shapers' Sanctuary before leaning too heavily on Duress to strip non-creature spells from our opponent's hand. The draw power of Shapers' Sanctuary in response to control is crushing in combination with our 28 creatures. Your call.

Ritual of Soot is not a viable option for this deck. I cannot see a situation where we would want to wipe the board of our 3 CMC or less creatures. I would recommend dropping the two copies in the sideboard and running two copies of Vivien Reid. This Planeswalker helps us dig for lands and creatures on the uptick, removes pesky fliers, enchantments, artifacts, and showcases a devastating emblem on her ultimate that flat out wins games. Thrash // Threat is an interesting addition, one that I never pulled in during testing. It has uses, and can be a great addition in the event we don't need as much of our removal package in the mainboard. We get a great combat trick, and the ability to main phase a 4/4 in a pinch. The jury is out on this card as of yet.