This is my first post about Magic, which I’ve been playing for years. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, I highly recommend this New Yorker article about the history and culture of the game or if you prefer audio, this episode of Planet Money from NPR, about how the game has managed to stay popular for over 25 years.
Ever since Rivals of Ixalan came out about a year ago, Path of Mettle has been my favorite card to try to build around. It’s a finicky card that requires your deck to be stacked with the specific types of creatures it needs, but the payoff is that, once transformed into Metzali, Tower of Triumph, it’s “a one-card, synergistic game-ender,” as Craig Krempels put it. I can’t resist trying to make a card like that work. You see Field of Ruin rarely these days, Teferi, Hero of Dominaria can’t touch it, and it can take down a Carnage Tyrant. The one damage spread across the board by Path of Mettle entering the battlefield is also highly relevant in the current metagame, with a lot of one toughness creatures running around in mono-blue, white aggro, and token decks (it also hits Llanowar Elves in Sultai and Pteramander in Drakes). Of course the trick is, any competitive deck can’t rely on one card – you still need to be able to win without it, and I’ve been getting good results with this build, which I’ve been iterating on for a while.
About a year ago, Craig Krempels made a splash with his Path of Mettle deck, winning 13 of 16 rounds at SCG Philadelphia. His build featured 16 one-drop creatures, and he had this to say about his deck list:
The abundance of one-drop creatures ensures there’s always pressure on our opponent. It’s worth reiterating that they will have a difficult time keeping up with our cheap creatures, and our number one goal is attacking as much as possible… In the old Ramunap Red decks, the scariest starts involved three creatures on the first two turns, followed up with cheap removal… The cheap creatures also make flipping Path of Mettle a sure thing… I liked the three copies of Path of Mettle a lot, as the single damage they sprayed around often had higher-than-expected value. Once flipped, Metzali is a one-card, synergistic game-ender; the opponent has no chance of attacking you without a large army, and every turn they don’t attack is a turn you can Shock the opponent.
Of course, the over-powered cards from last year’s Standard are no longer available to us, like Hazoret the Fervent, which was a key card in Craig’s build. But without such oppressive cards available, the current Standard is one of the healthiest and most diverse ever, with room for innovation.
I went through numerous iterations of the deck list (i.e. endured many loses) before arriving at the current build, below. Some of the challenges were:
So I splashed blue to get access to counter-magic in the sideboard, and that’s when I realized the way to go was all-in on Pirates (well, almost all-in).
3 Aurelia, Exemplar of Justice
2 Captain Lannery Storm
4 Daring Buccaneer
4 Fanatical Firebrand
4 Rigging Runner
3 Storm Fleet Sprinter
4 Tin Street Dodger
2 Lava Coil
4 Light Up the Stage
2 Lightning Strike
4 Path of Mettle
4 Clifftop Retreat
4 Sacred Foundry
4 Steam Vents
4 Sulfur Falls
1 Dovin, Grand Arbiter
2 Fiery Cannonade
4 Lookout’s Dispersal
1 Lyra Dawnbringer
2 Rekindling Phoenix
3 Tocatli Honor Guard
The quality of some of the cards in this approach is lower, but the synergies are stronger:
The sideboard options are great, and I’ve included mostly what you’d expect for a Jeskai creature deck. The one recent addition I’m experimenting with is Dovin, Grand Arbiter. Casting him is a little risky, as he relies on both our splash colors, so the card is a one-of. But he rewards decks that go fast, it’s pretty easy for us to capitalize on his +1 ability, and planeswalkers have a habit of demanding your opponent’s attention. He may even end up in the main deck – we’ll see how it goes.
Win or lose, the deck is always fun to play.
Some entertaining aspects of the deck: