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The Evolution of Revolution: Rebel Decks in Mercadian Block and Standard

Dave Meddish

Many people, including myself, had declared that Rising Waters was going to be "the" deck to beat this year at Worlds and in the upcoming round of qualifiers. After PT: New York, it seemed to be a safe bet.

Many people, including myself, were a little off the mark. While Rising Waters has done extremely well in the early qualifiers, Rebel decks have had the most success. For the most part, these have been typical White Weenie decks, trying to rush an opponent with lots of small creatures and running a variety of white utility and removal spells, which Masques block has in spades. Newer versions, running a second color or adding a control element, have been appearing as of late and may prove superior to the original rush design.

In the Beginning

At PT-NY, Rebels were clearly the top deck, the best version being a deck that used Lin Sivvi to climb high up the Rebel ladder, thawing out heavy hitters like Jhovall Queen and Ramosian Sky Captain, clearing the path with removal and Parallax Wave and protecting creatures with Reverent Mantra.

This is the deck Warren Marsh used to finish second at PT-NY:

1 Jhovall Queen
4 Lin Sivvi, Defiant Hero
2 Ramosian Lieutenant
3 Ramosian Sergeant
1 Ramosian Sky Marshal
4 Steadfast Guard
3 Voice of Truth
2 Disenchant
4 Parallax Wave
4 Reverent Mantra
2 Seal of Cleansing
4 Story Circle
22 Plains
4 Rishadan Port

Sideboard:
4 Defender en-Vec
2 Disenchant
1 Distorting Lens
1 Lightbringer
1 Nightwind Glider
1 Seal of Cleansing
4 Topple
1 Voice of Truth

The deck was clearly tuned to the metagame, running three pro-white fliers main deck and one additional one in the sideboard. Most Rebel decks had these in the sideboard, not main. It also ran a whopping four copies of Lin Sivvi to ensure getting one out and keeping it out in the mirror match.

This deck dominated until it ran into Sigurd Eskeland's Rising Waters deck, where it finally faltered, partly due to mana screw.

With the loss of Lin Sivvi, this version of the Rebel deck is unfeasible. Climbing the Rebel ladder without Lin Sivvi would take too long and require adding more sub-optimal cards. Instead, the Rebel deck adopted a beatdown-oriented approach, dropping several one to three costing creatures and trying to blitz an opponent.

This new variant, the rush Rebel deck, proved its mettle early, with Skye Thompson taking the New York PTQ in week one of the Qualifiers. Skye's version used the best one-drop in Mercadian block, Ramosian Sergeant, four each of Steadfast Guard and Fresh Volunteers (referred to as "bears," as in Grizzly Bears, 2/2's for two mana), four Ramosian Rally for extra punch on offense and the usual mix of Parallax Waves, removal and utility. Ramosian Rally's alternative casting cost works extremely well with the non-tapping Steadfast Guard or the Sergeant left behind on the attack step.

The next step was the inclusion of Cho-Manno's Blessing. Against Rising Waters, a turn-three protection from blue Blessing on a Steadfast Guard was essentially the end of the game. The Waters deck, already vulnerable to rush decks, simply could not deal with all the threats being thrown at it and would fall before it could get its defenses up.

By week two of the qualifiers, extremely well tuned versions of this deck were beginning to dominate the field.

This is the decklist Joshua Woodworth used to take second at the Detroit, MI qualifier:

20 Plains
1 Rath's Edge
2 Kor Haven
4 Ramosian Sergeant
4 Steadfast Guard
2 Ramosian Lieutenant
1 Defiant Falcon
4 Chimeric Idol
3 Mageta the Lion
4 Ramosian Rally
4 Cho-Manno's Blessing
2 Disenchant
2 Seal of Cleansing
2 Parallax Wave
1 Reverent Mantra

Sideboard:
4 Story Circle
4 Defender en-Vec
2 Disenchant
2 Afterlife
1 Seal of Cleansing
1 Blinding Angel
1 Reverent Mantra

The deck operates like a typical rush Rebel deck, dropping as many cheap creatures as possible and trying to overwhelm an opponent. This deck, however, runs an additional control element in Mageta the Lion. Rush Rebel decks run the risk of petering out once their initial rush has run its course. If an opponent can withstand the rush and establish board control, such as after a Massacre, the Rebel deck will often just roll over at that point. With Mageta, however, the Rebel deck has an answer if it loses board control. Mageta can re-establish the board and at 3/3, is not a bad beatdown creature.

Note that Chimeric Idol combos with Mageta as well, and gives the deck both added punch and defense against global kill spells such as Massacre.

Blasto-Rebel

Blasto-Rebel, or "Rubin Rebel," so named for Ben Rubin, who piloted the earliest version to the PT-NY semifinals, splashes green to add additional heavy hitters to the Rebel arsenal, primarily the untargetable Blastoderm and Saproling Burst. At PT-NY, getting a Blastoderm on the table usually meant the end of the game or a lot of chump blocking.

This is Rubin's version from PT-NY:

4 Blastoderm
4 Fresh Volunteers
1 Lin Sivvi, Defiant Hero
4 Ramosian Sergeant
1 Ramosian Lieutenant
1 Ramosian Sky Marshal
4 Voice of Truth
4 Parallax Wave
4 Saproling Burst
4 Reverent Mantra
3 Seal of Cleansing
12 Forest
13 Plains
1 Rishadan Port

Sideboard:
2 Arrest
1 Defiant Falcon
1 Defiant Vanguard
2 Disenchant
3 Invigorate
3 Jhovall Queen
2 Lin Sivvi, Defiant Hero
1 Seal of Cleansing

This deck was hailed for its innovative design, but ultimately faltered due to the power of the Rishadan Port denying it the green mana it needed to play out Blastoderm.

With the removal of Rishadan Port from the environment, it is now much easier to play two-color decks, and Blasto-Rebel is staking its claim as the best Rebel deck in the environment.

Ronnie Jones piloted this version of Blasto-Rebel to a Top 8 in Houston:

3 Silt Crawler
4 Seal of Cleansing
4 Blastoderm
4 Ramosian Sergeant
4 Cho-Manno's Blessing
3 Fresh Volunteers
4 Saproling Burst
1 Defiant Falcon
4 Parallax Wave
3 Reverent Mantra
1 Stampede Driver
1 Steadfast Guard
14 Plains
10 Forest

Sideboard:
2 Mageta the Lion
1 Spidersilk Armor
1 Abolish
2 Last Breath
1 Aura Fracture
2 Defender en-vec
2 Ramosian Rally
2 Rebel Informer
2 Flowstone Armor

Similar to the rush variants, the deck does not go high up the Rebel ladder, going only as high as the "bears." In place of the normal complement of Rebels, this version goes for more green fat beats with Blastoderm, Saproling Burst and Silt Crawler. At 3/3 for only 2G, the Crawler's drawback isn't much of a drawback if you play it out on turn three or four, and not many decks can handle a turn five rush consisting of a Steadfast Guard, Silt Crawler and Blastoderm. The lone Stampede Driver gives the deck a green Ramosian Rally effect as well as making a Blastoderm a 6/6 untargetable trampler.

The addition of green also gives Blasto-Rebel access to Spidersilk Armor, a card that shuts down the blue beatdown decks running the many high-powered blue fliers in Mercadian block, as well as the Mercenary-hosing Root Cage.

Rebel Control

One Rebel version that did not do well at PT-NY, failing to place in the Top 16, was the control variant that used the combo-esque Distorting Lens/Lawbringer/Lin Sivvi combination to, in theory, continually remove an opponent's creatures from the game one by one.

This deck, however, proved to be too slow against a rush deck and, like many combo decks, vulnerable when any one segment of its kill mechanism was disrupted.

Using the rush Rebel engine, however, a new control variant has popped up and proving that a control Rebel deck is not only viable but can be dominant.

Looking again at Joshua Woodworth's version, you have the backbone of a rush Rebel deck with control elements. This new variant, called "Mageta Control" or "Blinding Rebel," adds an additional element of control. It combines the fast-starting ability of the rush Rebel decks with the late game lock-down abilities of a control deck, capable of winning both a sprint and a marathon.

In a field where no one deck is truly dominant, this incarnation of Rebel control seems ready to come to the forefront. It has no glaring weaknesses and has answers against all the current deck archetypes in the field.

This is the decklist Cy Cook used to finish in the Top Eight at the July 8th PTQ in Eugene, OR:

20 Plains
2 Rath's Edge
2 Kor Haven
4 Ramosian Sergeant
4 Steadfast Guard
1 Ramosian Lieutenant
1 Defiant Falcon
1 Fresh Volunteers
1 Rebel Informer
2 Wishmonger
3 Mageta the Lion
3 Blinding Angel
4 Cho Manno's Blessing
4 Seal of Cleansing
2 Reverent Mantra
4 Parallax Wave
2 Chimeric Idol

Sideboard:
1 Rebel Informer
2 Story Circle
1 Disenchant
2 Thermal Glider
2 Voice of Truth
1 Aura Fracture
2 Defiant Vanguard
2 Wave of Reckoning
2 Afterlife

You'll notice that this version does not go for the maximum eight "Grizzly Bears," running only four Guards and one Volunteers. The other slots that would normally be filled by "Bears" go to creatures that allow the deck to climb one more rung on the Rebel ladder, the Lieutenant and Defiant Falcon. These two cards give the deck access to the one Rebel Informer main deck-in fact, that's the only way the card can get into play-as well as getting Gliders and Vanguards in the sideboard.

Once the deck establishes the "rush" components, it can "downshift" from beatdown to control mode. It's this change in gears that makes it difficult to defend against the deck. Many decks can handle the rush aspect, others are geared towards combating control, but not many can do both.

Blinding Angel is the primary means to victory after the beatdown avenue has been exhausted. It will be a primary target once it hits the table. If it can be protected, it will completely freeze an opponent's offense. With Cho-Manno's Blessing and Reverent Mantra, as well as the many different kinds of removal available to white decks, clearing the path is not difficult.

Wishmonger is an eclectic choice for the deck, but one I feel can catapult the deck to greater successes. Of all the Mercadian mongers, the Wishmonger is the most difficult to play properly. Used incorrectly, it helps your opponent more than you. But in the right hands, it can completely skew a game in its owner's favor.

At the very least, it's a 3/3 for only four mana, which, for any color in Mercadian block, is a great power-to-casting-cost ratio.

The deck optimally runs twenty-two to twenty-four lands, which seems to be standard for all current incarnation of Rebel decks. Cy's list has two of Kor Haven and Rath's Edge, essentially giving him twenty-two lands, but increasing his chances of getting those cards in play ahead of an opponent. Some versions run Dust Bowl, a card that definitely has a place in the deck given the increase of cards like Rath's Edge in the environment.

One of the deck's strengths is that unlike most Rebel decks, it is not completely hosed by Massacre. Most of the smaller Rebels will be wiped out by Massacre, but the larger creatures that form the backbone of the deck will survive.

The Mageta Control archetype gives Rising Waters decks fits. The deck packs plenty of anti-enchantment punch in the main deck, usually a mix of Seals of Cleansing and Disenchants, as well as the fast beatdown the Waters deck hates. Aura Fracture is a frequent addition to the sideboard, a card that must be countered by both the Waters and Cowardice decks if they want to have any hope of keeping any enchantments in play. It has specific answers against mono-black and mono-red tap-out decks (Gliders, Story Circle), Blastoderm-based decks (Defiant Vanguard), the mirror match (Voice of Truth, Rebel Informer) as well as spot removal in Afterlife and global removal in Wave of Reckoning.

Rebels in Standard

White Weenie is the Rodney Dangerfield of Magic; it never gets the respect it deserves. And yet, in 1998, it was Matt Linde's white weenie deck that upset Mike Long in the U.S. Nationals finals, and a year later it was Kyle Rose winning with "White Lightning."

While Tempest block was Standard legal, White Weenie was a highly ranked archetype; using Shadow creatures, Empyrial Armor and Cursed Scroll, it could consistently beat anything.

Once Tempest block rotated out, however, leaving Mercadian block Rebels, many players cooled to the idea of a white weenie deck using the vastly slower Rebels.

But Rebel decks have already made some noise in Standard. Instead of the Shadow and swarm strategy, the Standard Rebel deck is akin to the rush Rebel configuration, running Sergeants, Lieutenants and "bears," as well as Longbow Archers, Mother of Runes, and the still-legal Lin Sivvi. In lieu of Ramosian Rally, the superior Crusade and Glorious Anthem are used.

With all the attention being paid to Standard powerhouse decks like Flores Black, Trinity Green, Angry Hermit and Ponza, the Standard Rebel deck, which has answers to all these archetypes, may be ready to rear its head on the Standard scene, again.

This is the decklist of Swiss National Champion Christian Fehr:

4 Ramosian Sergeant
1 Ramosian Lieutenant
1 Lin Sivvi, Defiant Hero
3 Fresh Volunteers
4 Steadfast Guard
4 Longbow Archers
4 Mother of Runes
3 Parallax Wave
3 Armageddon
2 Reverent Mantra
2 Disenchant
1 Seal of Cleansing
4 Crusade
1 Glorious Anthem
1 Enlightened Tutor
18 Plains
4 Rishadan Port

Sideboard:
3 Wrath of God
1 Enlightened Tutor
1 Seal of Cleansing
2 Scour
2 Erase
1 Thran Foundry
1 Cursed Totem
1 Light of Day
1 Absolute Grace
2 Absolute Law

This deck combines some of the staples of Weenie White decks (Crusade, Armageddon) with new tricks from Masques Block (Parallax Wave). A turn one Ramosian Sergeant followed by a turn two Crusade spells immediate trouble for almost any deck, as White Weenie will start thawing out 3/3 "bears" on turn three. Add the protection of Mother of Runes and Reverent Mantra, plus the board control of Armageddon and you have the basis for a very efficient White Weenie deck in the traditional aggressive mold.

White Weenie sideboards have always been about utility. Christian's deck is clearly geared towards an enchantment-heavy metagame, packing two each of Scour and Erase. He has answers for mono-red Ponza (Absolute Law), Flores Black (Light of Day, Absolute Grace), Replenish (Thran Foundry, eight enchantment removal spells) and ways to get these answers in a hurry with Enlightened Tutor.

Rebel Weenie White has been a neglected archetype in Standard for some time now, no longer considered a tier-one deck and maybe not even tier-two, falling to the status of "rogue."

But like both traditional White Weenie and Masques block Rebel decks, its strength lies in its versatility. It has answers for any threat thrown at it while maintaining a constant hard-to-stop offense that puts an opponent on a fairly short clock. When tuned properly, the Standard Rebel deck is a viable threat to any deck in the field.

Those who neglect this fact at Brussels this August may be in for quite a surprise, in both Masques Constructed and Standard.



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