Jeremy and DBoe bring you the best deck you've seen in weeks.
I was halfway through another article when I got a series of messages from JB in our instant messenger thread. "Stop!" He says, "stop whatever you are doing right now." Now, this doesn't happen very often. More often than not, I'm the one that goes into hysterics about something. "I've built a deck that needs to be written about today. It must go out today." And to be honest, after seeing the list, he wasn't wrong.
We ended up playtesting the deck over the course of 10 matches, of which, we were undefeated. 3/10 of those games went to a 3 game series, the rest were won in 2 games. It didn't seem to matter what decks we played against, we always seemed to find the win, and mind you, this was even before we worked up a sideboard.
As the name of the deck implies, we are basing our deck around a key card, Guardian Project. This card is extremely unique, and is an automatic staple in all singleton formats, Commander and Brawl included. But this 4 mana do nothing enchantment seems to follow a long line of 4 mana do-nothings (unless you count drawing cards); build-around-me's that have been popping up recently, most notably: Aetherflux Resevoir, Anointed Procession, and Path of Discovery. The one thing that all of these cards have in common is that they are 4 mana, and if played on curve, do nothing the turn they come down, and are often played in Commander. However, if you hyper-focus your deck to be built around them, they can prove to be formidable in Standard when the right pieces are included.
Guardian Project is no different. For 3G, we get an enchantment that says, whenever a nontoken creature enters the battlefield, if you don't have a creature with the name as it on the battlefield or in the graveyard you get to draw a card. This sounds amazing for a format like Commander where literally every creature you play is a one-of. But, in a format like Standard? We often play 3 or 4 of's for better consistency. Can playing singleton in a four-of format really be that viable?
In short: yes. Yes it can.
The Only Four-Ofs.
This list only runs 2 full play sets. One, you already know, the other is Grow from the Ashes. In a deck like this, we'll want to have a consistent form of ramp. Specifically, we'd like one that can tutor up some of our basics to thin our deck. What's great about Grow from the Ashes is its flexibility. We are able to cast it on turn 3 (or sooner with the right draws) and get 1 land or on turn 3-5 to get 2 lands (on turn 3 for 5 mana would require a very specific and ramp heavy hand, but it is possible.) Either way, Grow from the Ashes serves a very specific but important role, as we want to be hitting our lands to be able to power out all of the creatures that we have in our list.
The Singelton Starting Line-Up.
Our 1 to 3 drops offer a lot in the way of versatility and utility. They are all high impact and will often draw out our opponent's removal. To aid in our ramp strategy we are running Llanowar Elves, Incubation Druid, and Elvish Rejuvinator. Rejuvinator is the most resilient ramp as it looks at the top five of our library and puts a land from among those onto the battlefield tapped (including dual or utility lands). Llanowar Elves are the most fickle, as most anything can kill them, but it easily ramps you to your 3 drops on turn 2. Lastly, with Incubation Druid, we have our most flexible ramp. Sitting as a natural 0/2 for 1G, we get a an early aggro-blocker that can tap for a single mana. Then we can pump 5 mana into it to give it 3 +1/+1 counters. This ability then allows us to tap it for 3 mana of any 1 color your lands could produce. This all of the sudden turns our ramp into a much more explosive threat with a much tougher resiliency.
We also get some decent card filtering with some explore creatures like Merfolk Branchwalker and Jadelight Ranger, as well as District Guide. All of these creatures have the potential to put lands into our hand, but in the case of Merfolk Branchwalker and Jadelight Ranger, also gives us the opportunity to make larger creatures as early threats that allows us to pitch some expensive spells that we'd hit too early to the bin.
Speaking of early threats, we have an interesting suite that will really draw out our opponent's removal, because if they don't, they can take over the game. Emmara, Soul of the Accord is a great 2 drop. As she swings in, she produces wonderful little 1/1 lifelinking blockers for us. She acts as a perfect lightning rod, as when many people see her, they will expect a GW tokens list. Speaking of tokens, we also get another great 2 drop with Thorn Lieutenant. If it is ever targeted with removal, we get a 1/1 elf creature token to take its place. On top of that, if we draw it late game, we can pump six mana into it to make it a 6/7 (or larger if we have 12 mana available). This is a great way to cheat in some heavy damage if your opponent forgets to block it, or to save it from a Deafening Clarion or targeted burn spells. Rounding out the last of the 2 drops is Siegehorn Ceratops. This creatures is great for blocking tokens or to power past 1/Xs. It is also great hate against a spell like Goblin Chainwhirler, as whenever Siegehorn Ceratops is dealt damage, you can put 2 +1/+1 counters on it. So, once we power past the first 1 point of damage, the Ceratops will just continue to grow larger and larger. Who wouldn't want a 10/10 2 drop?
We've also got some great 3 drops that are perfectly deadly in their own right. Steel-Leaf Champion for GGG is a 5/4 that can't be blocked by creatures with power 2 or less. I've lost games against this card before, and if your opponent is running any sort of weenie strategy, they have to answer it immediately, or they will lose. On top of that, having a base toughness of 4 makes it fairly resilient when it comes to other early aggro. We also are running another early creature that can be a 4/3. Knight of Autumn can be one of those early aggro creatures or also be a 2/1 that gains us 4 life against the burn match up, or hates on the enchantment removal spells like Seal Away, etc. A perfect utility card for a deck like this.
The Solitary Heavy-Hitters.
Let's first start our 4+ drops with a powerful card that you probably won't attack with often. Beast Whisperer is going to be our 5th copy of Guardian Project, basically allowing us to draw whenever we cast another creature. Being able to double up on the draw effects is going to make this deck sing, and Beast Whisperer is another great option for doing just that. Speaking of card draw, we also are running a Ripjaw Raptor. A 4/5 for four, this green dinosaur is a great way to block incoming damage to draw cards or to power in a repetitive 4 damage every turn. Our opponents won't want to trigger its Enrage ability that allows us to draw a card whenever it is dealt damage. So it can be a perfect answer for something like Mono Red aggro.
Nullhide Ferox becomes a funny discard hate card but also an amazingly cheap and efficient 6/6 for four mana. Sure, your opponents can get past its hexproof clause by paying 2 generic mana. But, forcing your opponent to use their resources to take care of this spell is exactly what we want, and its "you can't cast noncreature spells" isn't really that much of a hinderance in a deck like this, where the majority of our spells are all creatures. This card is great, and being able to hate upon the random Nicol Bolas or Mind Rot is just gravy.
For impactul 4 drops we are also running Leonin Warleader and Shalai, Voice of Plenty. Leonin Warleader is a great way for us to power out some lifelinking tokens and flood the board, and if left unanswered can very easily leave our opponents in a precarious position when we drop Shalai. Shalai is a great flying threat that can easily stop flyers like those found in Mono Blue or even in UR Phoenix decks, and with the amount of ramp we have on board, utilitizing its 4GG activated ability to pump our entire team with a +1/+1 counters can be extremely effective. Not to mention, the time tested you and your team have hexproof clause can be back breaking against targeted removal decks.
We are also running a suite of 5 drops that are incredibly dynamic. Lyra, Dawnbringer has some great synergy with Shalai if they get down at the same time. Even if you don't, Standard's Baneslayer Angel can be a great way to stabilize after heavy burn or aggro and can stop your opponent's important creatures dead in their tracks. Tendershoot Dryad is another effective way for us to flood the board with blocking tokens. What's even more impressive, however, is that once we have 10 permanents on the battlefield, all of the 1/1 Saprolings that Tendershoot Dryad pumps out, get a +2/+2 buff. Making a 3/3 every turn is a wonderful way to win the game.
We are also running a few other creatures that can pump our board. Trostani Discordant is a great way to anthem our team and also give us another set of lifelinking tokens. Not to mention, her clause of returning creatures to their rightful owners at the end of turn can just straight up hate on strategies that are trying to steal our cards. Perfect hate for Thief of Sanity or Hostage Taker. Alongside Trostani Discordant, we are running Venerated Loxodon, a great 4/4 for 5 that can come down for free, pumping up to 5 creatures with a +1/+1 counter (which is another way to give us 3 mana from our Incubation Druid). We can either use our large creatures to power this out, pumping them along the way, or pump our lifelinking tokens allowing us to stabilize further into the late game. Loxodon is a great inclusion in this list.
We don't run a ton of removal in the deck, but Trapjaw Tyrant is one that Jeremy seems to be going gaga over recently. It is truly an effective creature, allowing us to exile important threats whenever its dealt damage. Its a hilarious answer to something like Niv Mizzet control too, considering they often are trying to ping your opponent's creatures to death with his draw a card ability. So, having a creature that can either trade with him in combat or exile him off of the first ping is downright dirty. Do note, your opponents will get their creatures back once the Tyrant leaves the battlefield, but against the right match ups, it can single handedly take down your opponent's board.
Lastly, we get our biggest bombs. Verdant Sun's Avatar has saved both JB and I from death on several occasions. As it enters the battlefield, we gain 5 life. Then the following turn, its life gain clause continues as we cast a Pelakka Wurm, gaining us 7 from the Verdant Sun's Avatar trigger and then another 7 from Pelakka Wurm's own lifegain trigger. Most of the time, our opponents just scoop at that point. Carnage Tyrant ends up being the big baddie threat he always is, and being uncounterable, gives us great reach against control strategies and due to his hexproof ability, targeted removal is basically useless against him, save for a few use case scenarios. Then to shore up our Saproling and token strategies we are running Verdant Force, another 7/7 heavy hitter that produces a 1/1 Saprolings at the beginning of each upkeep. This paired with our Tendershoot Dryad is just hilarious.
Our final threat is also technically a 1 drop. Hungering Hydra allows us to pump X into it to get an X/X creature that can only be blocked by 1 creature. What is more amazing though, is that whenever Hungering Hydra is dealt damage, you put that many +1/+1 counters on it. This creature can quite easily become the largest threat on the board, and all you have to do is attack or