The most powerful thing one can do in the current Standard metagame has to be turn two Geist of Saint Traft. Well, there may be some stupid things one can do with multiple Burning-Tree Emissaries, though they are far less common since they require more cards. Still, I don’t think I have ever lost after making that play. The deck capable of that play is Bant Hexproof, and it just won a GP. I’ve been playing it for about three months and during that time I’ve top 4ed a PTQ, Top 8ed an IQ, Top 8ed an SCG Classic, and secured 15 MOCS points to earn a Plateau. I will explain why you should be playing it including my list compared to other successful lists and how the deck fits into the format. Here is my most recent list:
The main things of note with my list are the lack of M14 additions in the maindeck and the starting of Strangleroot Geist over Voice of Resurgence or Fencing Ace. To address the first issue, I find Gladecover Scout to be too slow and vulnerable in this format. It really takes at least two Auras to make her a real threat against any deck capable of blocking. This is not as likely in Standard as it is in Modern where Reid Duke played twenty-seven Auras in his Hexproof deck for the World Championship, twelve of which cost one mana and boosted toughness. Most Standard versions play only sixteen auras.
If a hand contains Scout and any other Hexproof creature, the second creature will always be a better target for the auras than the Scout. When that is the case, Scout is a dead card. She is unlikely to get in damage, maybe one on the play. These hands are effectively mulligans. Consider a hand of Breeding Pool, Sunpetal Grove, Glacial Fortress, Invisible Stalker, Gladecover Scout, Ethereal Armor, Invisible Stalker. This hand is high on Hexproof but low on enchantments. As a result, its damage output is rather low unless the next few cards are also Auras. You cannot count on having perfect topdecks and should mulligan. However, if the Scout were a Strangleroot Geist or Loxodon Smiter, I would be more inclined to keep. Gladecover Scout is a low impact card that can increase the number of mulligans for a deck that is already going to mulligan more than an average deck. Thus I do not believe it is worth the spot.
As for Fiendslayer Paladin, I prefer Loxodon Smiter as a three drop for two reasons. The first is against the aggressive decks of the format blocking is very relevant and Smiter is the best blocker for its cost. Multiple times while testing Fiendslayer Paladin I found myself being attacked by Flinthoof Boars and Hellriders that just didn’t care about my overcosted 2/2. When Smiter was in that spot, I would rarely get attacked by smaller creatures with such impunity unless my opponent was trying to represent Ghor-Clan Rampager. When that was the case, I would do the math on racing and see if I could afford the hit and still come out on top or if I needed to force them to use the trick and most likely their turn.
Getting an aggro deck like RG to choose not to attack is usually the first step in winning against them. Typically Hexproof’s clock is a turn or so behind the red player’s. One only needs to create a turn of respite to turn the tables. Smiter can do this by himself. The Paladin is less likely to cause a full stop from the opponent, and the Lifelink, while helpful, was not always enough to add a turn to the opponent’s clock. During testing I was losing games to the Red aggressive decks that I was not prior to M14. I’ve stuck with the Elephant since. With the rise of Kibler GR I think this is even more important, as that deck relies on Green creatures that are typically larger than Fiendslayer. It also effectively utilizes Domri Rade as removal. A fight between an unenchanted Paladin and a Flinthoof Boar favors the opponent. Your opponent is less likely to initiate such a fight with Loxodon Smiter.
I never tested with Witchstalker as Fiendslayer just seemed better with its natural Lifelink. After playing with the Paladin, I don’t see the situations being much different. The Beast could trade with the Hellrider or Boar, a plus, but you don’t want to be trading. You want to stop the attack the turn you cast the threat and make yours better than your opponent’s. Once that happens, blocking generally becomes difficult or impossible for your opponent and your damage out paces his or hers.
Loxodon Smiter also has two very relevant abilities against the two most played decks in Standard at the World Championship: UWR Flash and Jund. UWR wants to lean on counterspells and sweepers to deal with the Hexproof’s creatures. Counters are obviously ineffective against the 4/4 while Azorius Charm and combat tricks are worse post-board due to Voice of Resurgence. This allows Smiter to really shine. You can profitably suit him up and attack. Watch out for Warleader’s Helix or Turn and Burn in response to an enchantment if mana is up and be wary not to over commit cards to the board, but these are general principles that apply to playing aggro decks against control regardless of the format or specific removal spells. Smiter also lines up well against Resotoratoin Angel.
Against Jund, Smiter acts as a near perfect foil to what is a key sideboard card against the strategy: Liliana, of the Veil. It takes a rather disciplined player to realize the danger of ticking the Planeswalker up and choosing not to. Such players are rare and more often than not you end up with a free 4/4 to replace the Geist of Saint Traft or Invisible Stalker that died to the Lady the turn before. Granted, he easily dies to Jund’s removal spells, but how many of those are going to stay in the deck post board? There are likely to to be some number of Abrupt Decays as it can still kill auras, but I wouldn’t expect too much other than that.
As for Strangleroot Geist, I found it an all-star against the decks on either side of the spectrum. Against the aggressive decks, he is a much needed non-human blocker and gets better after “trading” with an opposing creature. On the other end, Strangleroot is an amazing, aggressive creature against decks with Supreme Verdict. I try and hold him as the post sweeper threat. The immediate punch can be difficult for the UWx decks to deal with. They need a turn of you recovering and not attacking. Of course Strangleroot can also get in before Verdict, should your draw not have a Hexproof creature to lead with, and still be ready to crash in after. He can also serve as the extra two damage needed off the top to win on a specific turn.
He is great protection from the edict effects out of Black decks. Such decks often have to spend too much time getting him off the board, while taking damage from him, that a Geist of Saint Traft or suited Stalker can get the job done in the meantime. I have even played Strangleroot Geist into a Desecration Demon, sacrificed him to the Demon’s trigger, and had the correct amount of damage thanks to undying to finish the job.
Voice of Resurgence can fill many of these rolls as well, but there are two differences that favor the Spirit over the Elemental. The first is Haste. The two damage a turn earlier can be very relevant against the UWx decks or even Jund. The second is Strangleroot Geist’s size the second time around. There are times when the token or Undead Geist are the only creature in play. In such situations, who wouldn’t want a 3/2 instead of a 1/1? This is not to say I don’t like Voice at all. I still find it’s ability relevant against the UWx decks and like the additional two drop against the Rx aggro decks. However, I think there is more to gain from Strangleroot maindeck than Voice.
One other thing of note with my list is the number or Rancors. As I’ve mentioned earlier, blocking is very relevant for this deck, both using it’s own creatures to block as well as being blocked by the opponent’s creatures. When the opponent has creatures that can trade with yours, you often cannot attack. When Rancor is the only Aura this is likely the case. A 4/2, or even a 6/2, Geist of Saint Traft is not impressive against a single Restoration Angel. As such I decided to cut one of the Rancors for an additional Selesneya Charm. The Charms have pulled more than their weight through sheer versatility, and I have favorably used all 6 modes of the two.
Another card seeing play is an Ajani, Caller of the Pride. I have tried him as the additional card to make Geist of St. Traft fly over defender and do not like him. The effect is often a one shot that is typically only good if it kills the opponent. Otherwise it has little effect on the game, not even helping to clean up the board. I have instead opted for a one of Call to Serve as an additional means of granting flying. The fact that its affect lasts for more than one turn and that it is an enchantment has made it better than Ajani was for me.
At this point you may be asking yourself, why should I play this deck? The biggest reason has to be it’s raw power. The deck punishes others for not operating smoothly or fast enough. New or rogue decks have a hard time dealing with just how hard it hits. Against the known archetypes, I feel good about matches against other aggro decks. Jund typically has to have a very timely Bonfire to hit non enchanted Hexproof creatures, i.e. the turn they are cast unless the hand is lacking in auras, or must use Thragtusk and Olivia or Wolf Run to leverage themselves into a favorable racing situation. More often than not they are unable to do this, at least in my experience.
Though it is not as big a player in the metagame as it was just a few months ago, Hexproof has a great matchup against Junk Reanimator. They simply don’t have many meaningful ways to interact with Hexproof’s threats, which is of course the point.
The toughest matchups are those with multiple sweeper effects and/or non-targeted removal: UWR and Esper. I lost the top 4 match of the PTQ to eventual winner Chris Boozer who had access to Supreme Verdict, Terminus, as well as Renounce the Guilds. The match was pretty ugly. If you expect the metagame to be largely comprised of these types of decks, I would recommend the increasingly popular GR aggro deck Kibler played at the World Championship. Recent results suggest GR and Jund are pushing UWR out of the metagame, though.
I’ve found the Elf deck as played by Huey Jensen recently in Somerset, NJ to be a difficult race that can often be decided by the die roll. Hexproof can win on turn 4, though the average is likely between turn 5 and 6. The Elf deck’s average goldfish is probably closer to turn 5 than 6, putting it slightly ahead in the race with little interaction between the two. The deck’s population is slipping though.
Thanks for reading,
Hologram001 on MTGO