Farewell to Standard - Deploy the Gatefriends
It seems like at least once per block, a card comes along that's just fascinating. It's not especially powerful, or particularly viable, and is sometimes just way too situational - I'm looking at you, Majestic Myriarch - but it still manages to get people talking about it, and more importantly, making some bad brews with it. This week's Farewell to Standard features another such card, this time in the form of Deploy the Gatewatch.
We've all seen the number crunching that's been done on this card. In order for you to be able to Deploy any number of the Gatewatch (and friends) on a consistent basis when you cast Deploy the Gatewatch, you need to have at least 15 Planeswalkers in your deck. That is a lot of Planeswalkers, especially since they tend to be spread out relatively well across the colour pie when it comes to what's available in Standard. And of course, we can't forget that the new Legendary Planeswalker rule doesn't begin to come into effect until Ixalan's official release, which just happens to be when Deploy the Gatewatch rotates out of Standard. You just couldn't let us have it, could you Wizards?
Let's cut to the Bad Brew, before the tears come.
Deploy the Gatefriends
Whew. That's a lot of Planeswalkers! An entire third of our deck is effectively Deploy the Gatewatch targets, half of which can be played by turn four or sooner if you cast them the old fashioned way. In my fairly extensive playtesting, I found that a lot of variants of this deck are very much risk/reward decks, in that you're almost constantly all in on the idea of winning after a Deploy the Gatewatch resolves. I'm all for an all-in combo, but I also like having other options if my key card gets hit with something like Lost Legacy.
Maybe I've had too many Modern games end via surrender because of Surgical Extraction, maybe it's Mabeline.
The idea of a Deploy list isn't new by any means. It's been tossed around by almost every brewer out there, and has made fringe appearances at the occasional Pro Tour and online. Heck, it's probably made the occasional fringe appearance at your LGS as well.
Rather than expound needlessly about a straight forward archetype, I'll go over the core cards, then touch on the Planeswalkers I've chosen, then start sleeving up for tomorrow. After all, it's the last FNM before Ixalan cards become accessible. Might as well go out with a glorious bang!
The core cards for this deck are Oath of Nissa and Deploy the Gatewatch. The plan is to ramp into casting Deploy as soon as possible, then aim to take over the game with an army of Planeswalkers. It's pretty simple in concept, but very hard to explain how it would play out due to the random nature of a Deploy the Gatewatch activation.
Sure, you could probably streamline it by upping the number of copies of certain Planeswalkers, but then you start to run into the problem of having too many copies of any given 'Walker. Trust me when I say that hitting a Deploy the Gatewatch and revealing Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and Gideon of the Trials while you already have a Gideon on the board is depressing.
Cards like Attune with Aether and our mana dorks, Naga Vitalist and Channeler Initiate, are our ramp and mana fixing cards. I opted for Naga Vitalist over Servant of the Conduit for two reasons - First, I didn't like having two mana dorks that only had a limited number of uses. Second, thanks to its wording, it actually becomes a Birds of Paradise if you have an Aether Hub on the board. It's no Drover of the Mighty, but it is Standard legal, so it will have to do! Enough about dorks, let's look at some Planeswalkers.
Oh, Liliana, the Last Hope. I'm going to miss you in Standard, but I hope you enjoy your time in Modern. Nissa, Voice of Zendikar is also leaving Standard, and was a great addition to a lot of decks thanks to her versatility. Really though, any Planeswalker who can come down and make a blocker on their first turn is typically not terrible. Well, unless they don't have a real ultimate ability, like Jace, Cunning Castaway.
Gideon of the Trials hasn't really had much chance to shine in Standard so far, thanks to his bigger incarnation Gideon, Ally of Zendikar being arguably so much better. But now that Zendikar is out of the picture, I fully expect Gideon of the Trials make an impact in Standard.
The nice thing that these three share is their Converted Mana Cost of three mana, which means that it's very possible that we can get them onto the field on our third turn. If playing Orzhov Control has taught me anything, it's that an unanswered Liliana, the Last Hope can easily win you a game once that Emblem goes off. While the same can't be said for either Gideon of the Trials or Nissa, Voice of Zendikar, getting a Planeswalker on the board early in order to stabilize is key to staying alive, especially in a meta where Ramunap Red isn't going anywhere any time soon.
As I said previously, I wanted to have something to be able play between waiting for Deploy the Gatewatch activation, and this gang of four Mana Planeswalkers is just that thing. The mana fixing offered by our Mana dorks and Attune with Aether, or the Mana ignoring ability of Oath of Nissa, make it so having one of these guys on the field on turn four should be doable. I opted to stay away from Arlinn Kord and Samut, the Tested because of their creature and combat oriented abilities.
Now, let's take a closer look at these walkers, shall we?
Gideon, Ally of Zendikar has had way too much written about him already for me to need to add to his credentials. He's called the Scourge of Standard for a reason, folks. He attac, he protec, but most important, he rotate. Dovin Baan serves to either slow down an aggressive opponent or help us draw, and can act as a pseudo-win condition if you can get his Emblem online. The same can be said for Chandra, Torch of Defiance, who can provide ramp, removal, card advantage, or a potential game winning Emblem.
Kiora, Master of the Depths has pretty much one purpose in this list - ramping. She either lets us untap our mana dorks and land for extra spell casting action, or helps dig for land. Tamiyo, Field Researcher is another hugely versatile Walker in this list, either letting us tap down threats for a turn, draw cards, or giving us a super version of Omniscience with that Emblem of hers. It might not seem like it, but she's also a win condition in this list.
Nahiri, the Harbinger is never going to use her ult in this list, because there is no reason she should. She's here to either act as spot removal or card filtering, and that's plenty.
Our five drop walkers are nothing to scoff at, that's for sure. If you can get a god hand that lets you naturally curve from a three drop Planeswalker to a five drop Planeswalker, things are looking super good for you. Not only do all three of these Walkers directly influence board state, each of them can survive an Hour of Devastation if they +1 ability on the turn they come down. Seeing as how both Ob Nixilis Reignited and Jace, Unraveler of Secrets draw cards with their +1 ability, it's not unlikely. Of course, they can both remove a creature from the battlefield, and that's often the more valuable route to take.
Nissa, Vital Force can add pressure by turning an unsuspecting land into a 5/5 beat stick, but her real value shines in letting you recover dead Planeswalkers from the graveyard for future casting.
Hitting one of these guys is a power play. Hitting two of them with a Deploy the Gatewatch can be a massive swing. Ajani Unyielding either digs for more Planeswalkers or casts Swords to Plowshares on a pesky target when he hits the field. If you can happen to hit his ultimate ability, all other Planeswalkers you control will suddenly gain five Loyatly - That's practically a guarantee that they'll be able to use their ultimate abilities.
Sorin, Grim Nemesis is my favourite of the trio, for so many reasons. His +1 ability is card draw that can act as removal or a game ending chunk of damage, his -X can stabilize a board, and his ultimate ability can be a win condition. Chandra, Flamecaller is all about pressure. Her +1 gives you the ability to swing in with two Hellspark Elementals each turn, her 0 is a wheel of fate that actually nets you an additional card, and her -X is a customization-friendly board wipe. I can't imagine what the change to the Planeswalker rule is going to do to Modern, but I expect to see a lot of Chandras and Lilianas hanging out together.
All hail the God-Pharaoh! Hitting a Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh one turn early thanks to a Deploy the Gatewatch isn't all that big of a deal. However, hitting Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh AND any other Planeswalker on the same turn is actually a very big deal. The combinations are almost endless, which is coincidentally the amount of fun that playing this deck can be.
'Can' is the operative word here, because just like Aetherworks Marvel decks before it, sometimes you end up going nowhere fast. But ultimately, who cares? Ixalan is almost here, let's have some fun!
In the sideboard, we have the obligatory Oath of Chandra for when the early removal is needed. Fumigate and Radiant Flames can help you keep boards crystal clear, while Bristling Hydra and Djeru, With Eyes Open can be boarded in as pesky beaters when your opponent boards out their creature removal.
That about wraps it up for this week's Farewell to Standard. We can only hope that all of these Planeswalkers - and Deploy the Gatewatch itself - find homes in Modern, as we sail forward towards Ixalan Standard!