Standard Update/ New Card Review

New set releases mean new and exciting deck options. Whether it be revitalizing a strategy that has disappeared with a new card that gives it an edge again, or trying something completely off the beaten path, there is guaranteed to be something to get hyped for.

Coming into the M19 release, I’ve been playing Abzan Constrictor for about three months now, with the idea of being able to play a very potent and powerful strategy of the Winding Constrictor with the inclusion of the new angel from Dominaria, Shalai, Voice of Plenty to give an edge up against the control match ups, shutting down cards like settle the wreckage, as well as other 1 for 1 removal. Shalai’s ability to take over games if left unchecked is enough of a reason to always play her, even without taking into consideration the synergies with Constrictor. I’ve been very impressed with the deck, and it’s gone through some evolution in my time with it, all originating from the list that was half responsible for my season won win at the WNY Invitational:

Abzan Constrictor
Designer: Michael Strianese
1st @ WNY Invitational
Lands (23)
Aether Hub
Blooming Marsh
Forest
Sunpetal Grove
Swamp
Woodland Cemetery
Creatures (30)
Glint-Sleeve Siphoner
Jadelight Ranger
Llanowar Elves
Merfolk Branchwalker
Rishkar, Peema Renegade
Shalai, Voice of Plenty
Verdurous Gearhulk
Walking Ballista
Winding Constrictor

Instants and Sorceries (4)
Blossoming Defense
Vraska’s Contempt

Other Spells (3)
Heart of Kiran
Vraska, Relic Seeker

Sideboard (15)
Aethersphere Harvester
Deathgorge Scavenger
Duress
Fatal Push
Lifecrafter’s Bestiary
Thrashing Brontodon

Following the invitational, the next event to prepare for was GP Pittsburg, where I set out to remove what I felt was the weakest card in the list, Merfolk Branchwalker. I enjoyed the Branchwalker in the early iterations of the deck for its synergy with Winding Constrictor that can essentially make Branchwalker a two mana 4/3, but more so for its ability to help the deck have consistency. The main problem was with the extreme uptick in Goblin Chainwhirlers running around, it died very easily for not much value, and already playing 4 Llanowar Elves, I didn’t want 7 creatures that are easily swept away from one card. Now I wouldn’t consider the manabase to be greedy, but it should be noted that there are only 8 white sources to cast the 2 lone white cards in the entire 75. Very rarely have I been unable to cast the powerful angel on time, but it has happened, and with the exclusion of the Branchwalker, I was worried that I’d have to adjust the mana base. Before making that decision though, here were some of its potential replacements:

The first thought I had is to replace Branchwalker with a threat in Longtusk Cub that still sticks to the synergies of the Constrictor, but my glaring concern was the lack of consistency the Cub offers to the deck, and after a night of play testing with friends, we decided it was time to go in a different direction. Enter Servant of the Conduit. Having a 2/2 body, playing into the energy strategy for Glint-Sleeve Siphoner and providing access to an additional white mana proved to be a very appealing option, and one that worked well. Here’s the final 75 I decided on for Pittsburg:

 

Abzan Constrictor
Designer: Michael Strianese
134th @ GP Pittsburg
Lands (23)
Aether Hub
Blooming Marsh
Forest
Sunpetal Grove
Swamp
Woodland Cemetery
Creatures (29)
Glint-Sleeve Siphoner
Jadelight Ranger
Llanowar Elves
Servant of the Conduit
Rishkar, Peema Renegade
Shalai, Voice of Plenty
Verdurous Gearhulk
Walking Ballista
Winding Constrictor

Instants and Sorceries (4)
Blossoming Defense
Vraska’s Contempt

Other Spells (4)
Heart of Kiran
Nissa, Vital Force
Vraska, Relic Seeker

Sideboard (15)
Deathgorge Scavenger
Doomfall
Duress
Fatal Push
Lifecrafter’s Bestiary
Thrashing Brontodon
Vraska’s Contempt

Along with the exchange of the 2 drops, I cut a Rishkar, Peema Renegade down to a single copy for the impactful planeswalker Nissa, Vital Force. I find Nissa and Vraska, Relic Seeker to be great in this deck’s strategy and both are difficult to beat once resolved. Also, slight changes to the sideboard were made, exchanging 1 Duress for 1 Doomfall, and 1 Aethersphere Harvester for the 3rd Vraska’s Contempt in the 75. With this configuration, I was able to make day 2 of the GP with a record of 6-2.  It was bitter sweet though as I had to play a friend in the final round of day 1 to make it in. Day 2 came, and having a rough morning resulting in losing the first 2 rounds, I ended with a 3-4 record on the day, ending at a disappointing 9-6, shy of another pro point. Undiscouraged, it brings us here to the M19 release, and even more changes, some great, and some still open for discussion.

Abzan Constrictor
Designer: Michael Strianese
Test Deck
Lands (23)
Aether Hub
Blooming Marsh
Forest
Sunpetal Grove
Swamp
Woodland Cemetery
Creatures (28)
Glint-Sleeve Siphoner
Hungering Hydra
Jadelight Ranger
Servant of the Conduit
Rishkar, Peema Renegade
Shalai, Voice of Plenty
Verdurous Gearhulk
Walking Ballista
Winding Constrictor

Instants and Sorceries (4)
Blossoming Defense
Vraska’s Contempt

Other Spells (5)
Heart of Kiran
Nissa, Vital Force
The Eldest Reborn
Vraska, Relic Seeker

Sideboard (15)
Deathgorge Scavenger
Doomfall
Duress
Fatal Push
Infernal Reckoning
Lifecrafter’s Bestiary
The Eldest Reborn
Thrashing Brontodon
Vraska’s Contempt

Posting a 4-0 on M19 release FNM, only dropping 1 game, this is my favorite version yet. The most notable change being the exclusion of, for some decks, the most powerful turn 1 play.

My initial decision to pick up another green creature based deck after Dominaria’s release mostly stemmed from the idea of abusing the powerful 1 drop on turn one into powerful 3 and 4 CMC creatures on turn 2 and 3 respectively. Playing Llanowar Elves on turn 1, while a powerful play, made it feel like it was necessary to play a 3 drop on turn 2. However, what i’ve found is that the correct play is to be prioritizing the 2 drops that are most impactful when played on turn 2. I found myself constantly in scenarios of turn 1 Llanowar Elves into turn 2 Winding Constrictor or Glint-Sleeve Siphoner, then attack for one, outside the rare occurrence of leaving up the mana for 1 of the 2 Blossoming Defenses in the deck. I’d have difficult decisions to make right from the start of the game. I could play a turn 1 tapped Woodland Cemetary into turn 2 Aether Hub, Glint-Sleeve Siphoner and turn on the powerful card drawing engine as early as my turn 3 upkeep, or I could play a Forest for Llanowar and turn 2 Siphoner without the 2nd energy. Outside of having 1 of the 3 Blooming Marshs in my opener, there’s no way to have both AND capitalize on Siphoner on my 3rd upkeep. So for reasons such as that, as well as other awkward scenarios I encountered, I decided to opt-out of the deck building constraint of the powerful Elf to attempt something new. I do lose out on the possible turn 3 Vraska, Relic Seeker (Yes, I really did do this in round 10 at GP Pittsburg against R/B while on the play) but I also prevent myself from late game lackluster top decks.

So with 4 open slots, the first obvious addition is to fit in the 4th Servant of the Conduit, ensuring I’m still able to cast my high cost threats earlier than my opponents, as well as providing excess mana for my sinks: Walking Ballista, my main form of removal in the deck, and Shalai activations. Taking the 2nd open slot is a card I’ve been keeping my eye on, but hadn’t been able to determine how to fit it in. The Eldest Reborn is a card that over the course of 3 turns can completely change the board state and deal with powerful threats that are sometimes difficult to deal with otherwise, such as a lone Hazoret the Fervent, or an uncontested Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. It can then turn the tides by using those same threats against your opponent, or even just getting back a Verdurous Gearhulk to put the team over the top to end a game. Strangely enough, the deck is already set up to have nice synergy between the saga and Nissa, Vital Force as the cards can produce an endless cycle of value by retrieving each other form the grave, creating a distinct advantage for our opponent to try to overcome. That leaves 2 open slots left and brings us to the addition and my review of a new creature from M19.

        Looking at Hungering Hydra, we first must decide if it has enough to warrant its inclusion in a deck that is focused on getting value out of all its spells. Let’s go over it:

-It’s a green creature

-Has +1/+1 counters placed on it when cast

-Has pseudo “enrage” mechanic for growth throughout its life

-Has built in survivability in combat

-Scale-able in it’s value across the course of a game

I really got excited about this card’s design, but I found myself experiencing de ja vu which sounded an alarm, leading me to take a step back and be slightly skeptical about the role it could play.

 

          It’s not the first card that i’ve been known to get over hyped about, as from my early days of playing, a similar green creature from Battle for Zendikar gave me a lot of excitement, only to produce almost no significant impact on standard at all. Undergrowth Champion was a card I once thought was unbeatable in a creature based strategy. It had what I thought, was everything:

-It’s a green creature

-Has +1/+1 counters placed on it from the Landfall mechanic

-Has pseudo “enrage” mechanic for survivability

-Had access to instant speed Landfall triggers through fetchlands

As you can see a similar design, but, with some key differences that set them apart. So let’s look at what went wrong with Undergrowth Champion. It was immune to most damaged based removal as long as it had recieved at least one landfall trigger, but the most common removal during its tenure in standard were the likes of these:

   
  

With about 85% of playable removal easily handling an active Champion, as well as late game landfall triggers being scarce, it had it’s work cut out for it. Even where it should have excelled, in combat, an opponent could just use chump blockers to shrink it and make it less of a threat. Having to compete for a slot against Allstars such as Siege Rhino, Sylvan Advocate, Nissa, Vastwood Seer, and Tireless Tracker it’s easy to see why Undergrowth Champion failed to make an impact.

So can Hungering Hydra break the mold of its similar predecessor? Let’s talk about why it might just be able to. It’s true that in most scenarios, the removal spells above that Undergrowth Champion had to deal with would also work well against Hydra, and with this current formats removal being the likes of; Fatal Push, Vraska’s Contempt, Settle the Wreckage, Cast out, Lightning Strike, and Abrade, it doesn’t look very much more promising. So we need to look at if it’s upsides can outweigh its drawbacks. The first thing we notice from the card is the X in it’s CMC. This is so crucial in the card’s value because it can be what you need it to be, no matter what stage of the game you are in. Facing down an early onslaught from a R/B deck? You have a turn 2 or 3 blocker that soaks up some damage, draws attention away from your life total just long enough for you to stabalize. Turn 10 against another mid-range creature deck and the board state is at a stall? You have a large threat that’s an 8/8 or 9/9 that must be answered, and if not, can break the stall by having no fear of a double block because of it’s ability. It’s value being able to be scaled throughout the game sets it apart from Undergrowth Champion with an even bigger plus size when deck synergies are considered. It’s “enrage” trigger rewards it for it’s survival, and increases it’s size, instead of tearing it down. This mechanic can lead to interesting lines of play with Walking Ballista and Winding Constrictor in the same deck. We can also protect Hydra with Shalai, Voice of Plenty which almost removes any downside to the Hydra, making it a powerful threat that our opponents may not be able to deal with.

It’s hard to say definitively whether Hydra is a creature that can redefine standard, but I’m not willing to say it can’t. For now, Hungering Hydra gets the nod from me and i’m excited to see how it does in it’s future.

 

Thanks for reading. I’d love to hear any feedback or even ideas for future articles.