Valiant Pachyderms take down LGS Standard

I’ve been traveling like a madman this summer and didn’t really have time to put something else together for a Sunday Standard at my FLGS so I just played Brave the Elephants again with a couple small changes to the sideboard, expecting to not see Bant Hexproof there and bringing at least something to deal with Sphinx’s Revelation. Here’s the list:

[deck title=Brave the Elephants]
4 Avacyn’s Pilgrim
4 Dryad Militant
3 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
4 Voice of Resurgence
4 Geist of Saint Traft
4 Loxodon Smiter
3 Sublime Archangel
1 Sigarda, Host of Herons
4 Brave the Elements
3 Selesnya Charm
3 Spectral Flight
4 Breeding Pool
4 Forest
2 Glacial Fortress
4 Hallowed Fountain
1 Plains
4 Sunpetal Grove
4 Temple Garden
1 Moorland Haunt
2 Dispel
2 Ray of Revelation
2 Scavenging Ooze
2 Oblivion Ring
2 Rootborn Defenses
3 Unflinching Courage
1 Sigarda, Host of Herons

Four rounds, cut to top 4. Sunday tends to be much tougher at my LGS than FNM. It’s a smaller crowd but a more capable one; essentially, the top half of the FNM field plus a couple other high-quality players generally show—so a good test for the deck.

Round 1: Bob, playing Jund
Bob’s a regular who I’ve played several times and is always a tough opponent, though a really nice guy. I won the roll and kept a two-lander with three Voices, a Spectral Flight, and I don’t remember what else in it. I didn’t draw the third land for several turns, but when Jund is trading spot removal for Voices, well, that’s the two-land hand you want to be stuck with. At one point he had me with two elemental tokens on the battlefield and with two lands I cast two Militants, letting me swing for 8, which was pretty sweet. I did eventually draw a third land and finished him off with a Smiter. Usual Jund sb plan: -4 Militant, +1 Sigarda, +2 ORing, +1 Scavenging Ooze. Game 2 I had an early Thalia, which was pretty good but he had an Ooze and a Lifebane Zombie which took a Sigarda, then on turn 5 (after a Farseek in there somewhere) he dropped Curse of Death’s Hold which killed Thalia and made it very tough for me to race with him, even with Geist, and Olivia sealed it. For game 3 I took out the Ooze and put in a Ray of Revelation, which was the key play, because he again dropped an early Curse, but I actually had the Ray. Turns out this was really good because he had a second Curse in hand, but it was pretty dead with a Ray in the ‘yard. We traded a bunch of creatures back and forth, and I suicided a Geist into a trade to bring him to 2, both our boards and hands empty. I cast a Smiter and a Voice. He came back with Huntmaster, and I drew BTE FTW.
1-0 matches, 2-1 games

Round 2: Brandon, playing Kibler RG
So, what I found out at the SCG Open is that my deck is not favored against the more weenie rush Burning Tree/Firefist Striker version of RG aggro, but this was my first match against the Kibler deck and I think this is actually a better matchup because Smiter still outclasses everything on the ground, and with no Firefists it can actually block. Thundermaw is a card, of course, but Selesnya Charm is a perfectly good answer to that. Anyway, I didn’t know what it was right away as he started out with a Stomping Ground, and I incorrectly had him on Jund. I actually had turn 3 Geist with turn 4 Spectral Flight and followed that with turn 5 Smiter plus Voice, and just barely won the race because of a Rampager on a Flinthoof Boar from him. He had me on Bant Hexproof based on this, but of course that’s not what I was doing so I wonder if he boarded properly. As for me, I boarded out the Thalias, the Spectral Flights, and Sigarda for the Oozes, the Rays (figuring he would board in Burning Earth), and the Unflinching Courages. I came out with Voice and Smiter and he ramped into turn 4 Thundermaw, which hit me once and then ate a Charm. The second Smiter meant my team outclassed his mana dorks and lone Strangleroot Geist, and when I effectively countered his miracled Bonfire with a BTE he scooped.
2-0 matches, 4-1 games

Round 3: John, playing Golgari Control
John is one of the store’s stronger players. I won the roll and kept a hand with three land but no source of blue because it had a Thalia and a Sublime, but also a Geist and a Spectral Flight. I had won the roll, but on my turn 3 i had Thalia on the table and just played a land and passed because I still hadn’t drawn a blue source. His turn he cast a Lifebane Zombie, saw the Plains in my hand and took the Sublime over the Geist. Much to my surprise, I then topdecked a Breeding Pool and put down the Geist, then of course followed with Spectral, and that carried me all the way. Now, John has been playing Junk Renanimator forever and I didn’t really see enough in the firs game to realize he wasn’t still on that, so I probably boarded not optimally for this, bringing in two ORings and two Oozes. Ooze probably wasn’t right in this matchup, but i never saw one so it didn’t matter. I don’t really remember the second game all that well, other than it involved Geist and Smiter and me putting on ORing on a Desecration Demon and using BTE as essentially a Falter to win the game.
3-0 matches, 6-1 games

Round 4: Daniel, playing Esper Control
Since we were the only two undefeateds, we ID’d.
3-0-1 matches, 6-1 games

Now, it is not uncommon at my LGS that the top 4 just splits the prize pool and doesn’t play it out, particularly on Sunday as dinnertime approaches. However, the rule is that if anyone wants to play it out, we all play. One person did, who turned out to be my opponent.

Semifinals: Festus, playing Jund
Festus is a capable player that I’ve faced many times. He got on my nerves a little this time with a big speech about how he really wanted to play me because it was such a good matchup for him. OK, whatever. My opening hand had three Geists and a Spectral in it, but no source of white. Well, the deck runs 15 lands that produce white in it so I had about a 60% chance of hitting one in my first two draws, and I did. (Side note: the math is even better if you count the Pilgrims as a source of white.) I followed with a Voice to protect the Geist in case of Liliana, but he never got one of those anyway, and I just ran him over. Standard Jund sideboard was applied (see round 1). Game 2 was a little more interactive. I had turn 2 Voice with turn 3 Smiter followed by a mana dork. He had a Nighthawk on turn 3 and an an Ooze plus a Pillar for the Voice on 4, then followed with an Olivia. Since there were no creatures in any graveyards, the Ooze just ended up chumping a Smiter. I had a second Smiter down when he dropped Olivia and I swung in with both Elephants, which he didn’t block. I ORing’d Olivia and he left the Nighthawk back to block, played land, and passed. I again came in with the two Smiters, and he blocked with Nighthawk. I had two BTEs in my hand, but I let him trade with the Smiter because I also had a Sigarda and a Geist in hand. He Slipped the other Smiter after damage, and I put down Sigarda. Sigarda plus two BTE is pretty much game against Jund because they have no way to interact with her except a big Bonfire, and BTE is a perfect answer there. Festus actually picked up Sigarda and read her, then shook his head, which I just loved. Sigarda is still a card, folks! I followed Sigarda with a Geist and he came back with Thragtusk. I used one BTE as a Falter to bring my team through the beast, leaving him at 2 with a ‘Tusk on the board and me with two hexproof creatures and a BTE in hand. He failed to draw a Barter in Blood and that was game. He complained that he never drew a Bonfire, and I pointed out I had two BTEs in hand for most of the game so it really wouldn’t have mattered if he had.
4-0-1 matches, 8-1 games

Still undefeated against Jund. Yes, the sample size is small, but still, that seems favorable.

Brandon from round 2 was the other finalist, and I agreed to the split so he could go with his friends to get dinner. In preparation for rotation, I used my spoils to get a fourth Jace, Architect of Thought, a third Obzedat, Ghost Council and one of the cool foil promo Izzet Charms, just because.

Comments on the Deck
Well, first, I still love it, but I think that’s probably obvious. Overall, though, I think the shift in the meta from when I played at the SCG a couple weeks ago is favorable.

UW control variants are still the matchup I least want to see, as Verdict/Revelation is a tough road for this deck. However, those decks are pretty bad against Burning Earth, so I think they might be falling out of favor. The Golgari control deck is a much better matchup. Yes, Mutilate and Lifebane Zombie aren’t great cards to face, but Voice and Thalia are not bad there, and it’s just easier to keep the pressure on when they can’t do the major card draw/lifegain double whammy.

Kibler’s recent article about how to beat his deck shows that this deck is actually a pretty reasonable approach. Smiter, Hexproof creatures, and Selesnya Charm are all very good in this matchup and Unflinching Courage out of the sideboard is also very strong. While the Bant manabase is bad vs. Burning Earth, Ray of Revelation in the sideboard seems like a great cheap answer. I’d need to play more of this matchup to be certain, but I don’t think it’s awful. The real value of this deck is its effect on the rest of the meta: if we get less UWx control and Aristocrats as a result of it, that’s only good news for our valiant pachyderms.

Another deck Kibler recommends to beat his list is Bant Hexproof. If Hexproof (or Bant Auras if you prefer) becomes more popular, then I think Brave the Elephants is really well-positioned. I’ve played the Hexproof deck and other aggro decks are not really what you want to play against; your target is midrange. Bant Hexproof is not much faster than this deck, and Ray is a killer in the sideboard. If you expect Hexproof, run 3 Rays rather than 2. That’s what I ran at the SCG Open in Minneapolis and that matchup just seemed like it would be really hard to loose. Note that the main deck Thalia is actually really good against Hexproof, too—they have almost no removal and Thalia seriously slows down the rate at which they can buff their creatures. Without those buffs, the Elephants and Sublimes really outclass them. (Yes, some Hexproof variants run Smiter, but that seems to be on the decline.)

I guess the other deck that seems like a really horrible matchup is the Elfball deck that’s running around, or whatever that ramp/Garruk/Craterhoof deck is called. I think the only way to win that is to race, and I don’t think that’s the most favorable race. Hopefully that won’t get any bigger in the meta than it is now.