Will the Aristocrats Join The Battle?

We finally have the full spoiler for Battle for Zendikar and, despite a lot of community dissent about the power level of the set and its mechanics, I am thrilled with a lot of the cards about to enter the Standard format.  I’ve been brewing and looking over cards constantly. That said, there is one card in particular that has completely captivated my attention:

bloodartist

Well, not exactly Blood Artist, but close:

zulaportcutthroat

[card]Blood Artist[/card], combined with sacrifice outlets and creatures that leave behind tokens after dying, is the centerpiece of an archetype known as The Aristocrats, regardless of the format (and regardless of if there are any cards with the word “aristocrat” in the deck).

The original Aristocrats deck was a human-based sacrifice-for-value deck in the Innistrad and Return to Ravnica Standard format.  Sam Black created the archetype in preparation for Pro Tour Gatecrash, and it took down the tournament in the hands of his teammate Tom Martell.

[deck title=The Aristocrats piloted by Tom Martell]

[Creatures]

*4 Champion of the Parish

*4 Doomed Traveler

*4 Cartel Aristocrat

*3 Knight of Infamy

*2 Skirsdag High Priest

*4 Boros Reckoner

*2 Silverblade Paladin

*4 Falkenrath Aristocrat

*1 Restoration Angel

*2 Zealous Conscripts

[/Creatures]

[Spells]

*4 Orzhov Charm

*2 Lingering Souls

[/Spells]

[Land]

*3 Plains

*4 Blood Crypt

*3 Cavern of Souls

*1 Clifftop Retreat

*4 Godless Shrine

*4 Isolated Chapel

*4 Sacred Foundry

*1 Vault of the Archangel

[/Land]

[/deck]

The deck’s name came from two of the sacrifice outlets in the deck that fueled its synergy, [card]Cartel Aristocrat[/card] and [card]Falkenrath Aristocrat[/card].  The value gained by sacrificing disposable creatures like [card]Doomed Traveler[/card] to enable Morbid on [card]Skirsdag High Priest[/card] or protect [card]Cartel Aristocrat[/card] and [card]Falkenrath Aristocrat[/card] with their activated abilities was the synergy that drove the archetype.  [card]Doomed Traveler[/card] is perfect in the shell, because it is not only a human to power up [card]Champion of the Parish[/card], but also left behind a spirit token.  Though the deck didn’t dominate subsequent tournaments for the release of Dragon’s Maze, it did shine a spotlight on some powerful synergies in the deck and had the community’s attention.  Several people continued to brew varying version of the deck that included [card]Blood Artist[/card] and the deck did have some success.

The deck’s next incarnation, following the release of Dragon’s Maze, was brought to prominence and was the weapon of choice for Standard master Brad Nelson.  He tweaked and popularized the deck that we knew as Junk Aristocrats.

[deck title=Junk Aristocrats by Brad Nelson]

[Creatures]

*4 Doomed Traveler

*2 Young Wolf

*4 Cartel Aristocrat

*4 Voice of Resurgence

*4 Blood Artist

*3 Skirsdag High Priest

*3 Varolz, the Scar-Striped

[/Creatures]

[Spells]

*4 Tragic Slip

*4 Lingering Souls

*3 Sorin, Lord of Innistrad

[/Spells]

[Land]

*1 Swamp

*2 Gavony Township

*4 Godless Shrine

*4 Isolated Chapel

*4 Overgrown Tomb

*2 Sunpetal Grove

*4 Temple Garden

*4 Woodland Cemetary

[/Land]

[/deck]

There were various different viable builds of the deck in this format prior to Magic 2014 that saw success.  Some lists pushed the human subtheme, playing [card]Champion the Parish[/card] alongside [card]Gather the Townsfolk[/card].  Regardless of what cards were added in the “flex slots”, the deck won by playing out a massive number of creatures, attacking with them, and then sacrificing them to drain out their opponents with [card]Blood Artist[/card] triggers, amass an army of flying demons courtesy of [card]Skirsdag High Priest[/card], or just create a giant [card]Voice of Resurgence[/card] token to bash their opponent to death with.  Despite playing a large number of “bad cards”, the deck was resilient and a contender in the metagame.

When Innistrad and company rotated out with the introduction of Theros, the deck died.  Various versions of the deck popped up in Modern.  Most recently, Steve Rubin played an Abzan version of this shell to a 14th place finish at Grand Prix Oklahoma City this month.

[deck title=Modern Abzan Aristocrats by Steve Rubin]

[Creatures]

*4 Doomed Traveler

*2 Tukatongue Thallid

*4 Viscera Seer

*4 Voice of Resurgence

*4 Blood Artist

*4 Tidehollow Sculler

*4 Satyr Wayfinder

*1 Cartel Aristocrat

*1 Teysa, Orzhov Scion

*1 Eternal Witness

[/Creatures]

[Spells]

*3 Abzan Ascendancy

*3 Collected Company

*4 Return to the Ranks

[/Spells]

[Land]

*1 Dryad Arbor

*2 Godless Shrine

*1 Isolated Chapel

*3 Marsh Flats

*1 Overgrown Tomb

*2 Razorverge Thicket

*1 Snow-Covered Swamp

*1 Snow-Covered Plains

*1 Snow-Covered Forest

*1 Temple Garden

*3 Verdant Catacombs

*4 Windswept Heath

[/Land]

[/deck]

 

What is most interesting about this modern deck is that key components of the deck came from the Standard-legal Khans of Tarkir block. [card]Collected Company[/card] and [card]Abzan Ascendancy[/card] are important role-players in the deck and may enable a similar deck to come to light when Battle for Zendikar is legal in Standard.

So let’s start the brewing process.  Looking at the Aristocrats deck lists, I would divide the card choices into four categories:

  • Cheap resilient threats/two-for-one creatures
  • Sacrifice outlets
  • Payoff cards
  • Interaction/disruption

The best way to go about building a deck that fits into the Aristocrats archetype, in my opinion, is identifying the options in each of those categories and then finding the most powerful, synergistic, and powerful 60-card combination.

One card every Aristocrats deck has in common is [card]Doomed Traveler[/card].  It’s integral to the archetype.  One mana for two bodies.  That’s two creatures to trade in combat or two triggers off of [card]Zulaport Cutthroat[/card] when those creatures die.  Well, we don’t have a single casting cost creature that produces a flying token on its way to the graveyard, but we do have [card]Blisterpod[/card], which leaves behind an Eldrazi Scion token that can ramp us to casting [card]Collected Company[/card].  We also have [card]Carrier Thrall[/card] and [card]Sultai Emissary[/card] that have similar characteristics to [card]Doomed Traveler[/card] and [card]Voice of Resurgence[/card].  Though there is no card in the Standard format capable of doing what [card]Voice of Resurgence[/card] does in this strategy, having creatures that leave behind tokens after they die is incredibly important.  Another creature that is worth considering is Standard all-star [card]Hangarback Walker[/card].  Though it is awkward with [card]Collected Company[/card], it is resilient, can leave us with multiple flying tokens, and has a high power level on its own.  I would say that, no matter how we build a deck around [card]Zulaport Cutthroat[/card], it’s safe to say that we will be starting with four [card]Blisterpod[/card] and can add up to four each of Carrier Thrall, Sultai Emissary, and Hangarback Walker.  Though [card]Collected Company[/card] is an instant, it does provide us with multiple bodies, and would place it in this category.

Cheap Resilient Creatures/Two-for-Ones:

  • [card]Blisterpod[/card]
  • [card]Sultai Emissary[/card]
  • [card]Carrier Thrall[/card]
  • [card]Collected Company[/card]
  • [card]Sandsteppe Outcast[/card]
  • [card]Catacomb Sifter[/card]
  • [card]Hangarback Walker[/card]
  • [card]Hordeling Outburst[/card]
  • [card]From Beyond[/card]
  • [card]Bloodsoaked Champion[/card]
  • [card]Gideon, Ally of Zendikar[/card]

As for sacrifice outlets, there are a few in Standard worth considering.  The most obvious, in my opinion, is [card]Nantuko Husk[/card].  At three mana, it’s perfect for curve considerations.  Turn one, play Blisterpod.  On turn two, play Zulaport Cutthroat.  Turn three, play Nantuko Husk.  You have your board state set up to be competitive in combat and start getting value off of [card]Zulaport Cutthroat[/card].   The best part is that you’re also set up to follow up on turn four with either a Collected Company or by casting two additional Carrier Thrall, Hangarback Walker, and/or Sultai Emissary.  There are additional ways to get value off of sacrificing creatures.  Evolutionary Leap is incredible at gaining card advantage with [card]Blisterpod[/card].  Or, you can get aggressive and producing a powerful individual threat like [card]Butcher of the Horde[/card].  Later, we can look at some overlap between sacrifice outlets and interactive cards.

Sacrifice Outlets

  • [card]Nantuko Husk[/card]
  • [card]Evolutionary Leap[/card]
  • [card]Butcher of the Horde[/card]
  • [card]Smothering Abomination[/card]
  • [card]Altar’s Reap[/card]
  • [card]Sidisi, Undead Vizier[/card]

So, now we have to figure out what higher purpose these poor creatures being sacrificed for.  The sacrifice outlets give us value, our reward for making such a [card]dark deal[/card] to begin with.  That said, we still need to extract additional value out of our dying creatures.  The premier payoff card is the reason for building this style of deck, [card]Zulaport Cutthroat[/card].  It’s one of our most promising win conditions and makes cluttered battlefields insurmountable for our opponents.  [card]Grim Haruspex[/card] would also be a great way to generate incredible card advantage.  If we aren’t generating value out of the sacrifice itself, we need to get value out of having multiple creatures on the battlefield.  [card]Abzan Ascendancy[/card] buffs our creatures and also provides evasive threats or sacrifice fodder as well.  [card]Liliana, Heretical Healer[/card] is also a versatile, powerful option that is can easily be flipped.  She is good against red decks, gains value over the course of the game when flipped in the midrange match-ups, and can threaten the hand of control players or recur threats in the late game.  There are several options to consider.

Payoff Cards

  • [card]Zulaport Cutthroat[/card]
  • [card]Grim Haruspex[/card]
  • [card]Liliana, Heretical Healer[/card]
  • [card]Abzan Ascendancy[/card]
  • [card]Sorin, Solemn Visitor[/card]
  • [card]Rally the Ancestors[/card]
  • [card]Drana, Liberator of Malakir[/card]

Now we need to figure out what kind of interaction or disruption we need.  If we want a catch-all removal spell, we would look to play the slow, but effective [card]Utter End[/card].  If the shell we end up building has an aggressive slant, we may consider [card]Crackling Doom[/card].  Other good removal spells in the four colors we have touched on thus far include [card]Ruinous Path[/card], [card]Murderous Cut[/card], [card]Mardu Charm[/card](versatile and can create additional creatures when advantageous[/card], and [card]Abzan Charm[/card].  Any of those could be fine options.  As far as other disruption goes, without [card]Thoughtseize[/card] in the format, I think the available discard spells are too narrow.  If we want to continue looking at flexible forms of interaction, [card]Kolaghan’s Command[/card] could also be a viable and synergistic option, as it does allow us rebuy a [card]Zulaport Cutthroat[/card] or [card]Carrier Thrall[/card].  Continuing down the path of looking at synergistic interactive spells, we should definitely consider cards that work with the sacrifice theme of the deck.  [card]Fleshbag Marauder[/card]/[card]Merciless Executioner[/card] have a symmetrical effect that our deck is well-suited to abuse, and, if [card]Collected Company[/card] is in the deck, the 3/1s are additional targets for the powerful instant.  Last but not least, the recently spoiled reprint [card]Bone Splinters[/card] would also serve as a way to sacrifice creatures.

Interation/Disruption

  • [card]Ruinous Path[/card]
  • [card]Utter End[/card]
  • [card]Ultimate Price[/card]
  • [card]Silkwrap[/card]
  • [card]Mardu Charm[/card]
  • [card]Abzan Charm[/card]
  • [card]Murderous Cut[/card]
  • [card]Kolaghan’s Command[/card]
  • [card]Duress[/card]
  • [card]Crackling Doom[/card]
  • [card]Transgress the Mind[/card]
  • [card]Deadbridge Shaman[/card]

At this point all that’s left is building a shell and testing.  There are tons of options available, and many of them could be viable or competitive.  An aggressive Mardu shell featuring [card]Butcher of the Horde[/card] and [card]Bloodsoaked Champion[/card] with lots of removal spells could be one direction to go.  If you wanted [card]Zulaport Cutthroat[/card] to be reach to close out a game, perhaps a Black-White weenie strategy with a multitude of 2/1s for one, including [card]Kytheon, Hero of Akros[/card],  along with [card]Drana, Liberator of Malakir[/card] and [card]Sorin, Solemn Visitor[/card] could be fast enough to punish midrange decks.  From initial testing and deckbuilding with Justin Heilig (who designed the White Devotion deck played by Craig Wescoe at a WMCQ to a top eight finish and by Sam Black to 4-0 the Standard Swiss rounds at Worlds) we’ve wanted to capture the feel of the Aristocrats predecessors.  We wanted to balance raw power level of card selections with synergy and thus far, though it’s early in testing, our favorite build is a base green and black shell splashing red and white.  [card]Blisterpod[/card] seems like it is one of the most important role-players and the best thing to do on turn one when playing [card]Zulaport Cutthroat[/card].

[deck title=4c Aristocrats]

[Creatures]

*4 Blisterpod

*4 Zulaport Cutthroat

*3 Carrier Thrall

*2 Sultai Emissary

*4 Hangarback Walker

*3 Liliana, Heretical Healer

*4 Nantuko Husk

*2 Fleshbag Marauder

*3 Butcher of the Horde

[/Creatures]

[Spells]

*3 Abzan Ascendancy

*3 Collected Company

*2 Bone Splinters

[/Spells]

[Land]

*4 Sandsteppe Citadel

*2 Llanowar Waste

*2 Windswept Heath

*3 Wooded Foothills

*2 BloodStained Mire

*2 Smoldering Marsh

*1 Canopy Vista

*1 Cinder Glade

*2 Forest

*3 Swamp

*1 Plains

[/Land]

[Sideboard]

*4 Arashin Cleric

*4 Bloodsoaked Champion

*1 Sorin, Solemn Visitor

*2 Utter End

*3 Evolutionary Leap

*1 Fleshbag Marauder

[/Sideboard]

[/deck]

We had input from several friends including Zach Byrd, Robbie Mitchell, and Allen Wiggs in developing this list.  The deck has several resilient creatures, making [card]Abzan Ascendancy[/card] powerful as an anthem effect and as a way to generate additional creatures.  One synergy I particularly like in grindy match-ups is [card]Sultai Emissary[/card] and [card]Abzan Ascendancy[/card].  With 29 creatures in the list, the manifest created when [card]Sultai Emissary[/card] dies can often turn into a more powerful creature and, if the manifests die, you generate a spirit token off the Ascendancy (unlike the tokens created by [card]Carrier Thrall[/card] or [card]Hangarback Walker[/card].  That continuous stream of creatures allows you to start alpha striking when your opponent is at a fairly high life total and then drain them out with [card]Zulaport Cutthroat[/card].  [card]Collected Company[/card] is incredibly powerful but puts a substantial constraint on deckbuilding.  This list has 26 targets, which is enough to hit two creatures with a fair degree of consistency.  It can be awkward with [card]Hangarback Walker[/card], but having to choose it as one of the targets for Collected Company isn’t the absolute worst.  With Zulaport Cutthroat, you get a drain trigger, and with Abzan Ascendancy, the Hangarback Walker generates a spirit token.  The Hangarback dying immediately will also flip a [card]Liliana, Heretical Healer[/card].

The sideboard has some some powerful tools.  Against red decks, you can simply sideboard out Abzan Ascendancy and two Butcher of the Horde for Sorin, Solemn Visitor and Arashin Cleric.  The deck has blockers for days and has more attrition tools in the match-up.  Against control, [card]Bloodsoaked Champion[/card] allows for fast starts and is great against sweepers.  [card]Evolutionary Leap[/card] comes in to ensure there’s a constant stream of threats to combat their removal spells. [Card] Shadows of the Past [/Card] may also have a role in the board for slower, grindier match-ups. The remaining cards are catch-all answers to nearly anything problematic your opponent presents.

7 comments on Will the Aristocrats Join The Battle?

  1. Jason Alt says:

    People are reading this. Write some comments, nerds.

    1. Jared Sherman says:

      You’re a nerd.

  2. Geoff says:

    Love the idea and I plan to play around with this idea. I really want to stay away from 4c though. Do you think the fourth color makes your mana too sketchy?

    1. Anonymous says:

      After additional testing, yes, 4c is sketchy. Smothering Abomination had been outperforming Butcher and will allow the mana to improve.

  3. Jason says:

    Def agreed-don’t go 4 color. I’m liking Kytheon and Bloodsoaked Champion in the main. Love Hangarback. For control Mastery of the Unseen feels stronger than Evolutionary Leap out of the sideboard. Another Sorin and a pair of Gideon’s in place of the 3 Butchers. I’ll do some testing and get back. I suspect 2 color black an white may be more consistent although it loses abzan ascendancy.

  4. Lilly Scott says:

    I’m going to try this abzan colored ALL in sac deck and I would love some input.

    Creatures:31
    4 blisterpod
    4 sultai emissary
    4 zulaport cutthroat
    3 elvish visionary
    3 catacomb sifter
    3 Drana, liberator of malakir
    4 nantuku husk
    4 grim haruspex
    2 smothering abomination

    Enchantments:7
    3 abzan ascendancy
    4 evolutionary leap

    Land: 22
    4 wooded foothills
    3 bloodstained mire
    2 polluted delta
    1 sandsteppe citadel
    2 plains
    2 canopy vista
    1 cinder glade
    1 smoldering marsh
    3 swamp
    3 forest

    The land issue is because that is all I own and I really wish I had some Liliana. Other thoughts I had were to add 3 of each fleshbag card as a way to make them sac, any input would be helpful

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