Cats Off to You!
Well, I hope that makes the double-dip of Four-Color Saheeli league recordings worth it! I know that many of you are sick and tired of Mardu this and Copycat that, but I assure you, the tweaks and adjustments possible within the 2.5 major archetypes of the format almost make up for the lack of ostensible deck diversity. Beyond that, a narrow format made for the opportunity to do this, which makes it all worthwhile, right?
Okay, in all seriousness, where to begin? Well, it started about two weeks ago, when my East-West Bowl compatriot Alex Majlaton won his RPTQ with Four-Color Saheeli just as I was getting kicked around in Indianapolis in Modern. Now, many of you do not have the pleasure of hearing from Alex as often as I do, but that man is prone to hyperbole from time to time. (Excessive use of hyperbole is endemic among Magic players in general, but Alex takes it to the point of ironic self-deprecating parody, which makes it all the more amusing.) “I think Saheeli is disgustingly good”, coming from Alex, meant that he probably went 5-0 in a MTGO League with the deck after coming home from his RPTQ win, but even so, I was inclined to give the deck a shot. I put a review like that at slightly more positive than “I think this might be the worst deck that I have ever played, and I’ve played with Bogles in Modern.” Of course, Brad Nelson’s article about his unbelievable win percentage with the deck online helped push me to tinker with it more, with a starting point that struck me as streamlined and powerful, yet open to just about any innovative inclusion I could imagine. In short, it was the perfect Standard deck for me to take into the lab for an extended brew session.
I started here:
Four-Color Saheeli — Aether Revolt Standard | Ben Friedman
First of all, I kept getting mana flooded. Like, almost every game that I didn’t lose to a Mardu rush involved me getting mana flooded to some degree. It sounds crazy, considering the deck runs only 21 lands, but I got so sick and tired of losing to drawing a Botanical Sanctum or an Attune with Aether in the midgame that I decided to do something I’d never done before in my history of competitive play. I started cutting lands from a stock decklist, and a consensus “best deck” at that. Heresy, I know. I would have laughed at myself, too. But twenty lands with an extra Planeswalker wasn’t too bad. I still rarely got manascrewed, and I still frequently got manaflooded. What did I do? I got a little bit more aggressive, cutting another land and turning the deck into a lean, mean, Heart of Kiran-toting machine. I was tired of getting bashed by opposing Hearts of Kiran from Mardu Vehicles, so I figured that maybe the best way to protect my Planeswalkers and pressure my opponents’ was to include three copies of the legendary artifact myself! It did a stellar job of protecting my Chandras, my Tamiyos, and my Saheelis. This deck, maybe more than Mardu Vehicles, benefitted immensely from the cheap evasive threat, especially because Vigilance and the Loyalty crew ability combined so well when playing both sides of the ball. I started to get pretty into my Heart of Kiran build with 19 lands and a super low curve, and I thought that I was pretty darn smart for figuring out an angle in the mirror. I loved how a Heart of Kiran on the draw both kept my opponent from being able to play a Saheeli Rai while simultaneously protecting mine from Rogue Refiner and Servant of the Conduit alike. Two Shocks over two lands, and three copies of Heart of Kiran over two Oath of Chandra and a Whirler Virtuoso, and I thought I had it all figured out. To be fair, I still think that that list was a major upgrade over the traditional Saheeli deck, but I wasn’t done tinkering yet. No, not by a long shot.
MisplacedGinger is a big MTGO grinder with a ton of trophies with Four-Color Saheeli, and their lists in the days leading up to the Grand Prix had a couple of Walking Ballistas main as well. Though I still hadn’t gotten a single 5-0 with the deck myself, it felt validating to know that others who were having some success with the deck were experimenting with the same changes as me. More than just Walking Ballista, though, MisplacedGinger cut two copies of Attune with Aether to include a similar, but slightly more powerful spell in Traverse the Ulvenwald. To be honest, I’m ashamed that I didn’t think of it first. Traverse solves so many problems for this deck, it’s not even funny. Not only does Walking Ballista fuel Delirium, but Traverse finds Felidar Guardian, a late copy of Ballista, or even a spicy 5-drop like Verdurous Gearhulk or Ishkanah, Grafwidow. Talk about combatting mana flood! How many games would I have won if my late game draw of Attune with Aether instead been a Traverse the Ulvenwald? The only question that remained was, how few lands could I reasonably play in order to play a large number of one-mana Lay of the Land effects? I won’t lie, until the wee hours of the morning before the tournament, I was rocking a Legacy-esque eighteen land special, but I decided that it was extremely important to have a turn-one Green mana source, and I didn’t want to mulligan a ton of hands with two land searchers but no Green source, so I cut an Attune with Aether for a second Evolving Wilds at the last minute. In retrospect, that decision might be wrong, but I wanted to be a little bit more cautious. The fact that the extra Evolving Wilds fuels Delirium a bit better for the midgame Traverses pushed me over the edge, and I don’t regret the decision.
As for 5-drops, there are two serious choices, and then there are those players who want to play Skysovereign, Consul Flagship. Ishkanah, Grafwidow and Verdurous Gearhulk are both so synergistic with the rest of the deck, while being top-notch ways of either gumming up a board or breaking through and opponent’s board, whichever you need. Traverse the Ulvenwald finds both of them, and they’re both powerful cards that don’t require any help to win games. Skysovereign was dead a bit too often for my taste, but the Green mythic rares both impressed in their own ways. Though I got scared and cut the maindeck Verdurous Gearhulk for a maindeck Tireless Tracker, I would instantly switch back to a Gearhulk if I could run back the tournament this weekend. Tracker is great at snowballing for wins if it sticks around, but I’m not willing to sacrifice access to either of the Green mythics, and the Tracker is the easiest cut.
Unfortunately for those of you who came looking for a sideboard guide, there really isn’t one. I was changing it up match-to-match, bringing in different numbers of Negate or Metallic Rebuke or Baral’s Expertise against Mardu depending on play/draw and the specific hate cards I saw, while cutting as low as two of each combo piece against the mirror and boarding into a midrange Bristling Hydra deck. Things change depending on the opponent’s plan, and you can’t prepare in a meaningful way outside of sculpting a board plan that works for you and your playstyle. The same logic applies to the specific list you choose. While I do think that a Delirium/Ballista build of the deck is better than the Elder Deep-Fiend build or the Aetherworks Marvel build, you have a ton of options depending on your metagame. Lots of
Four-Color Saheeli — Aether Revolt Standard | Ben Friedman
The deck is infinitely customizable. It has access to all five colors, so if you want to throw a Sorin, Grim Nemesis in there, who am I to say no? Never before have we gotten a Splinter Twin-style deck so flexible that it could play a six-mana off-color Planeswalker, but with this version of Four-Color Saheeli, the world is your oyster. Just don’t get too carried away with the fun of the deck and forget to actually combo-kill your opponent when the coast is clear! And if that isn’t your cup of tea, you could do worse than play the Mardu menace yourself. It truly is a disturbingly powerful deck in its own right, but there are definitely ways to beat it. No, I don’t think this metagame is done quite yet, not by a long shot.
As for me, I’ll be in Las Vegas by the time this article hits, so we’ll just have to see if I can combine Aces and Kings like so many Cat Beasts and Planeswalkers. Plus, the cowboy hat goes over almost as well at the poker table as it does in the Twitch chat whenever I’m in a video feature match. Wish me luck!
Ben “40card” Friedman
@40cardfriedman on Twitter