One of my greatest fears during Ixalan spoiler season has been that post-rotation Standard will remain largely unchanged. Decks like Temur Energy, UB Control, and Mono Red don’t lose much. In fact, new cards entering the format look to bolster those strategies. Rotation will undoubtedly kill decks like Zombies and Ramp, but until recently, I was skeptical that any new decks would step in to replace them.
Now, however, a few cards from Ixalan may allow for the existence of an entire archetype.
Deeproot Champion is one such card. It harkens back to Quirion Dryad, and slots perfectly into one of my favorite archetypes: tempo. The triggered ability rewards decks that cast cheap noncreature spells – cantrips, removal, and counterspells all fit the bill. Sounds like exactly the kind of deck I want to be playing!
When the Champion was spoiled, the support just didn’t seem to exist. Then, well… then, Opt was spoiled. Initially, my excitement around this reprint was for Modern. Adding Opt to the Modern card pool improves two of my favorite decks – Storm and Delver. But browsing the spoilers again reminded me of Deeproot Champion, and that got my brain working.
Two other Ixalan cards factor heavily into the construction of a tempo deck: Spell Pierce and Kumena’s Omenspeaker (this is a translation, so potentially not the card’s final name). Spell Pierce is a cheap piece of protection that simultaneously grows the Champion and taxes the opponent’s resources. Omenspeaker gives the deck an undercosted one drop – curving it into Champion turns it on, as does playing an Island on turn two.
Amonkhet block also holds some goodies for this deck. Censor is an obvious inclusion – much like Spell Pierce, it prevents opponents from efficiently deploying spells to combat undercosted threats. Cycling is also huge – it doesn’t trigger Champion, but it enables a lower land count and smooths out draws. Supreme Will is functionally a more expensive, but more impactful, Censor.
I also want to mention Kopala, Warden of Waves. All eight of the threats are Merfolk, so Kopala is both pressure and protection. He synergizes incredibly well with the counterspell suite, as he further taxes opponents’ resources, rendering removal spells largely moot. With the threat package consisting largely of Merfolk, Metallic Mimic was a card I initially considered.
That is, until I rediscovered Cryptic Serpent. The Serpent plays a similar role to cards like Tasigur and Gurmag Angle in Modern and Legacy – it gives the deck a massive ground pounder that evades removal on the cheap. With so many cantrips, it’s not hard to envision a scenario in which the Serpent comes down in the first few turns of the game.
The fatal flaw of a straight UG build is probably pretty obvious – the list lacks removal. UG isn’t exactly known for boasting great removal, meaning the deck desperately needs a splash color. Since removal is the weak point, Red and Black are the two go-to colors.
My inclination is to play RUG. Damage based removal doesn’t scale well, but ideally this deck isn’t going to hit the late game. Shock, Lightning Strike, and Abrade allow for a deep removal package, with the added bonus of burning out opponents and killing high-impact Artifacts like God-Pharaoh’s Gift and Heart of Kiran. While Fatal Push may be better than these cards in a vacuum, it isn’t enough on its own.
I currently plan to test this list:
3x Cryptic Serpent
4x Deeproot Champion
2x Kopala, Warden of Waves
4x Kumetra’s Omenspeaker
1x Blossoming Defense
4x Lightning Strike
4x Spell Pierce
4x Supreme Will
4x Botanical Sanctum
4x Rootbound Crag
4x Spirebluff Canal
Because we’re still deep in spoiler season, it’s unlikely that this will be the final list. I still need to work out a sideboard, and testing may reveal weaknesses that need to be shored up. For the sake of my interest in Standard, I hope RUG Tempo is the real deal.