Adventure Decks in Standard
- Tobi Henke
It seems Golos decks with Field of the Dead are all that anyone's talking about these days. But when it comes to actual, measurable results at real-life Standard tournaments, Adventure decks have just made a big splash, claiming five of the Top 8 spots at a major event. Let's take a look!
An Unexpected Journey
Everyone expected Golos, Tireless Pilgrim to do well, and Golos did do well too. But when 128 Standard players sat down for the SCG Classic in Philadelphia this past Sunday, I don't think anyone suspected what archetype would put up the best numbers. When the dust had settled after seven Swiss rounds, eight players gathered for the playoffs with five Adventure decks between them. Another Adventure deck missed the cut by one win. The Top 8 contained four copies of Golos but 20 copies of Edgewall Innkeeper.
These decks had more in common than just four copies of the Innkeeper. Except for one, all also maxed out on Once Upon a Time, as it's utmost important to find an Innkeeper. The number of adventurous creatures varied between 14 and 17, but a playset of Lovestruck Beast // Heart's Desire was universal.
Next to the Adventure line-up, almost everyone also ran four Questing Beast for another big beater. The main difference between the decks was a split into two camps with regard to color combination. Three of the Top 8 players paired green with black. Meanwhile, the tournament's champion, one quarterfinalist, plus a third player in 10th place went with green-white.
The main appeal of the white version is a lower curve and Venerated Loxodon. The winning list included a total of ten adventurous creatures castable for 1 mana. There's something to be said for picking a theme and taking it to the extreme. Such an approach regularly proves successful early in a new format's run, when decks are generally slower and less interactive overall. Aaron Barich in particular has been making it a habit to catch people off guard with aggressive strategies for a while now.
|Aaron Barich, 1st Place|
|1Castle Ardenvale||4Edgewall Innkeeper||1Gideon Blackblade|
|8Forest||4Faerie Guidemother // Gift of the Fae||4Once Upon a Time|
|8Plains||2Flaxen Intruder // Welcome Home||1Unbreakable Formation|
|4Temple Garden||3Shepherd of the Flock // Usher to Safety||3Flower // Flourish|
|1Knight of Autumn|
|4Giant Killer // Chop Down|
|4Lovestruck Beast // Heart's Desire|
|2Devout Decree||2Knight of Autumn||2Conclave Tribunal|
|2Glass Casket||4March of the Multitudes||1Trostani Discordant|
|1Gideon Blackblade||1Unbreakable Formation|
But that's also the crux here. If you don't get out a quick Innkeeper, or if it gets killed, you're often stuck with a bunch of 1/1s and 1/2s that might not even win a game of Limited. Their Adventure side isn't reliably useful, and when they have to stand on their own, they don't stand up well to the competition. Only when preceeded by Innkeeper—and ideally followed by Loxodon—do they attain Constructed viability.
Another wrinkle in the green-white game plan is the mana base. The lands alone don't quite support a strategy where you'd sometimes like to spend 1 green mana on the first turn and 2 white on the second. Flower // Flourish looks like a bonus, and at times Flourish does act as a reasonable stand-in for the Loxodon. Typically, though, Flower is a simple necessity to make the mana work.
The black-green version is undeniably slower and doesn't extract maximum value from Edgewall Innkeeper because of it. Black doesn't offer the same number of 1 drops, but without green-white's team-boost effects, the deck wouldn't want them either.
|Sean Kipple, 3rd Place|
|5Forest||4Edgewall Innkeeper||3Assassin's Trophy|
|8Swamp||4Foulmire Knight // Profane Insight||4Once Upon a Time|
|2Fabled Passage||4Lovestruck Beast // Heart's Desire||2Find // Finality|
|4Overgrown Tomb||4Murderous Rider // Swift End||2Legion's End|
|4Temple of Malady||3Order of Midnight // Alter Fate|
|3Rankle, Master of Pranks|
|3Noxious Grasp||2Davriel, Rogue Shadowmage||1Epic Downfall|
|2Veil of Summer||1Vraska, Golgari Queen||1Legion's End|
On the plus side, this deck generates way more value. Even the lowly Foulmire Knight // Profane Insight is able to trade for up to two real cards all by itself. People also run Murderous Rider // Swift End without Edgewall Innkeeper. Neither statement is true for much of the green-white creature base.
With four additional dual lands, Black-Green has much better mana as well. Because of its slower approach to the game, it can usually cope if the correct colors show up a little later too. That's why Fabled Passage works here, whereas it wouldn't in the white version.
Black-Green has plenty paths to victory that don't involve the Innkeeper. It's perfectly reasonable to expect to win a fair fight with removal and superior threats, for example the additional Rankle, Master of Pranks. Assassin's Trophy and Legion's End line up well with Field of the Dead. Finally, Find // Finality has been ending games for about a year now, and continues to do so.
Funnily enough, while it relies less on Innkeeper than its green-white cousin, the deck is better at ensuring its presence via Find and Order of Midnight // Alter Fate—and it's better at removing opposing Innkeepers.
The Adventure Continues …
This likely hasn't been the last chapter in the story. Granted, the white build has such a clear focus that it can hardly stray from the streamlined design seen above. It was a great choice for the tournament in question, but the outlook remains dubious.
Black-Green Adventures, on the other hand, could adapt in various ways. Adding some planeswalkers or other late-game cards along with some mana ramp is one option. Another would be to incorporate a tribal element with Smitten Swordmaster // Curry Favor and some number of Knight of the Ebon Legion and/or Midnight Reaper. The baseline already features 11 Knights after all.
Either way, it seems like a safe assumption that we'll meet this deck again …