It's All About Prime Speaker Vannifar
To say that Standard is thriving would be an understatement. With a multitude of fully-viable build-around cards and a deep pool of supporting cards, this Standard might be one of the most diverse Standards in the history of Magic. Brewers all over the Internet have been sharing new and exciting lists every week, it seems, and the card I want to focus on today is a "fixed" version of a card that's banned in Modern: Prime Speaker Vannifar.
Prime Speaker Vannifar and the Joys of Podding
For those of you who already had the joy (or misery) of playing Modern while Birthing Pod was legal, Prime Speaker Vannifar is old news. For people seeing her effect for the first time, the play pattern of Vannifar and Birthing Pod involves sacrificing creatures up a CMC chain that provides value and utility. For example, the Birthing Pod decks of old could sacrifice a Voice of Resurgence to tutor up a Kitchen Finks, which would then be sacrificed to tutor up a Restoration Angel. The ETB effect of Restoration Angel would return the Kitchen Finks to the battlefield without persist counters and gain a boat-load of life, and in the process the Pod player would have build up a sizeable board.
Melira Pod by tzio, 3-1, MTGO Modern Daily Event, 1/27/2015
|1Aven Mindcensor||2Chalice of the Void||1Creeping Corrosion|
|1Dismember||1Eidolon of Rhetoric||1Entomber Exarch|
|1Fracturing Gust||1Kataki, War's Wage||1Sin Collector|
Unlike the card pool in Modern, Standard has a much smaller range of cards to choose from, especially in the four-, five-, and six-mana range. That doesn't mean that Vannifar can't chain together value – the three variations of Vannifar lists I have today try to explore some of the directions that we could take advantage of her effect and examine their strengths and weaknesses.
|4Breeding Pool||2Biogenic Ooze||2Lava Coil|
|2Forest||1Carnage Tyrant||4Rhythm of the Wild|
|4Hinterland Harbor||1Demanding Dragon|
|1Memorial to Unity||2Elvish Rejuvenator|
|3Rootbound Crag||2Exclusion Mage|
|3Steam Vents||4Incubation Druid|
|4Stomping Ground||3Kraul Harpooner|
|3Sulfur Falls||4Llanowar Elves|
|4Prime Speaker Vannifar|
|1Beast Whisperer||1Deathgorge Scavenger||1Disdainful Stroke|
|2Domri, Chaos Bringer||2Hydroid Krasis||2Lava Coil|
|1Negate||2Reclamation Sage||3Spell Pierce|
Temur Vannifar's most defining feature is the three-drop enchantment that only the Temur build has access to: Rhythm of the Wild. Rhythm enables three features of the deck that are wholly unique – the ability to ignore counterspells, push through damage via haste due to Riot, and activate Vannifar the same turn she hits the battlefield.
There are also some sweet synergies with this build, and I'll start off with the obvious inclusion of Rekindling Phoenix. The Phoenix serves as a recursive fodder for our Vannifar, as well as being a clock that hits the opponent like a truck. Flying threats tend to give green-centric decks fits, and Kraul Harpooner not only provides an out against the Niv-Mizzet, Paruns of the world but also represents a lethal amount of damage out of nowhere in conjunction with Rhythm.
The Temur Vannifar lists have access to reach that the other lists don't have, which can be crucial when the opponent stabilizes at a low life total. However, playing a three-mana enchantment that doesn't affect the board also means that the deck is set up poorly when it comes to grinding out the mid-game. Furthermore, not having any access to low-CMC creatures that can answer the opponent's problematic permanents means that the deck is the least-equipped to deal with a must-answer threat.
|4Breeding Pool||2Biogenic Ooze||2Find // Finality|
|2Drowned Catacomb||1Exclusion Mage|
|4Hinterland Harbor||1Izoni, Thousand-Eyed|
|4Overgrown Tomb||4Jadelight Ranger|
|2Watery Grave||2Lazav, the Multifarious|
|4Woodland Cemetery||4Llanowar Elves|
|4Prime Speaker Vannifar|
|1Disdainful Stroke||2Duress||1Moment of Craving|
|2Negate||3Reclamation Sage||3Thief of Sanity|
|1Thought Erasure||2Vivien Reid|
Sultai Vannifar is the grindiest of the Vannifar lists, which makes sense considering that Golgari and Sultai are the two, premier midrange combinations of the format. Having access to black means that the deck can get rid of opposing creatures via Ravenous Chupacabra and Hostage Taker. Plaguecrafter is a main-deck answer to planeswalkers, and the Explore package allows the deck to keep a high life total even against the format's more aggressive decks.
An underrated yet important aspect of having access to black is the ability for Sultai Vannifar to play Duress and Thought Erasure in its sideboard. As with any creature-based deck, board wipes are a strong counter to the deck's strategy, and not having a resilient threat like Rekindling Phoenix makes them even more potent against this iteration.
Oddly enough, the deck's clunkiest aspect comes from its mana base. Having double-pip cards such as Hostage Taker and Ravenous Chupacabra put a strain on the mana, especially since we would like to utilize a turn-one Llanowar Elves into a turn-two Jadelight Ranger. The games the deck loses are against the big-mana decks of the format, but it tussles with the control decks of the format just fine. Sultai allows the deck to have possibly the deepest sideboard options due to the current position of discard and counterspells. The biggest strike against the deck, other than its mana, is the velocity of the deck. Its creatures don't hit very hard, and even the ones that do (such as Wildgrowth Walker) require a decent set-up for it to become threatening.
|2Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants||2Conclave Tribunal||2Deputy of Detention|
|1Hydroid Krasis||3Kraul Harpooner||1Lyra Dawnbringer|
|1Resplendent Angel||3Spell Pierce|
I saved my favorite for last, and Bant Vannifar has some of the best creatures when it comes to their respective CMC slots. Cards such as Shalai, Voice of Plenty and Lyra Dawnbringer are cards that shut down strategies on their own, and the cards on their own provide a good amount of flexibility depending on what the situation calls for. This plays into the strengths of the deck, which is to curve out and chain creatures with Vannifar that answer the situation at hand. Go-wide tokens can be answered with Deputy of Detention; Knight of Autumn takes care of problematic enchantments such as Wilderness Reclamation; Tithe Taker makes tempo decks choke on mana.
This Bant variation, while not as explosive or aggressive as its Temur cousin, is suited much better in dealing with a cluttered board. Shalai protects and pumps the board, and Trostani Discordant gives a +1/+1 bonus to your creatures, as well.
While the toolbox nature of the individual creatures makes this deck feel like the closest a Standard deck can be to Pod decks of yore, the deck has a big problem when it comes to answering sweepers. The deck doesn't have a sticky threats, and it doesn't have the grindiness that Sultai comes equipped with, and thus it's the color combination that folds the hardest to a well-timed wrath. Most of the sideboard tries to address that, but sometimes a wave of removal is too much for the deck to come back from.
Vannifar decks come in many different color combinations, and they certainly are some of the most fun I've had since downloading MTG Arena. While each deck has its strengths and weaknesses, all decks stand to benefit from a deeper card pool. As more sets get added in the upcoming months, we'll likely see better creatures to replace some of the decks' weaker options. Furthermore, the “Standard Plus” format that will be announced around the time of Standard rotation should give hope to those who would want to play with Vannifar in the upcoming non-rotating format. If your metagame is light on sweepers, it could be time to sleeve up a 75 based around Prime Speaker Vannifar!
Anyway, that's it for this week – if you have any card suggestions or deck lists you want to share that include Prime Speaker Vannifar, leave a comment in the comment section below!
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