The moment was spoiled, I knew it needed to happen: a tribal centaur deck. Too many cool, underappreciated quadrupeds are floating around in Standard at the moment to ignore, so I set out to put together something competitive, but also under budget. The standard boilerplate for a centaur is a 3/3 for three in Green, which is always a decent value. However, Theros block brought in some solid spin-offs with real, playable potential whose union has ushered in the era of the centaur. If we've learned anything from the now-classic Hercules television series, it's that centaurs are pretty much dicks. In turn, anything involving centaurs is going to have to be aggressive; almost to a fault. So, I endeavored to keep the mana curve as low as possible, while still maintaining a late-game presence if things stall-out. Here's what I came up with:
Centaur Surprise (Budget Edition) by Ian Anderson
|CREATURES 44 4 4 4 2 PLANESWALKERS None||SPELLS 43 3 2 3 LANDS 11 8 3||SIDEBOARD None|
Buyer's Note: At the time this article is published, the deck clocks in at a smart $58.21 using TCGPlayer mid pricing. However, if you include playsets of and to smooth out your mana situation (as I do in the below playtesting videos), the price increases to $110 – which, to be fair, is still pretty reasonable. Although going Red allows us to include the truly bad ass , I decided to ally myself with Selesnya to gain access to and , who both provide a good start to a game. Dealing with a 3/3 on turn two is not fun, and so, you are going to force your opponent to make a decision, because that kind of body early in a game needs to be answered. The best case scenario is that the Conclave-called centaur token or your beat in for six over turns three and four, while the worst case is that you coax a removal spell out of their hand. Not bad for two mana. If you're up against aggro, these big-butted centaurs can deal with that as well. Healer carved-out a reputation as the master of anti-aggro containment back during the days of reanimator, and he plays much of the same role in this environment. Gaining three life while getting another three-toughness body onto the battlefield is no small thing in the current meta. But let's get to the meat and potatoes here: A 3/3 for four is categorically not great. But, the lord brings to the table some brilliant anthem effects that serve as the deck's raison d'etre. The +1/+1 gets your centaurs out of the range of most burn spells (your is actually now out of range of as well with a toughness of five), but the universal vigilance and trample combine to create the true engine behind this deck. When we introduce and give all of our hooved buddies deathtouch, we can swing-in each turn without losing blockers while trample closes games out rapidly. The importance of the Bow cannot be overstated here. Sadly, this flavorful enchantment artifact has yet to find a home in a competitive deck. But, just like Charging Badger, Hidden Hydra, when the game plan is to swing for the fences each turn, the deathtouch alone pays the rent. Beyond that, the lifegain all but negates burn decks (which seem to be cropping up everywhere these days) and even kept an innovative deck at bay during a match at my FNM last week. And don't forget the sneakiness of putting a creature out of reach of Anger or Mortars by putting a counter on it at instant speed. After all of that, your centaurs are now this guy: So, how do we get there? We know that Conclave and Healer are key for our early-game, but the dark horse that persists more than almost any other creature in the deck is . Granted, it is not a centaur, which is lame, but it's tough to find a one-drop that carries the spirit of the centaur (sorry ), and I think an evolving ooze in the mix with 23 possible centaurs contributes to one unassailable truth: it will become a 3/3. It will regenerate after blocking a fatty, and it will become a 3/3 again, and fast. If you find this to be too slow of a start, I recommend taking out E-One and opting-in for a playset of . It may make your two-drops a little awkward, but a turn-two is possibly the best play that a Green-based deck can make in the current Standard; outside of of course. Courser is arguably the best centaur ever printed and it will always make the cut. She does in this deck what she does in any other deck currently in the upper tiers of Standard: filters your draws, gains you life, and avoids most direct-damage removal spells. But in this shell, Courser proves to be an insane value while on the same team as Warchief and the Bow. Turns out, a 3/5 vigilant three-drop with deathtouch and trample sure is good. So aggro is covered. However, what do we do when we go up against the bigger threats like G/R Monsters and Esper Control? We turn to the ultimate utility two-drop and the hard-to-see-coming combat trick that is . Not only are they both lucrative combat tricks, but handles the likes of and , while providing a surprise blocker, an evolve trigger for E-One, or that extra push to close out a game with its pump ability. Rootborn has become a favorite of mine lately. It makes a complete waste of mana. Not only do my creatures survive the destructive blast, but I then get to populate another centaur with a smile on my face. Not to mention that it sure comes in handy when my creatures are overpowered and my life is getting low. is the last of the combat-trick suite. Two 3/3s for five is great, but the instant speed factor is untouchable. Now, for the big surprise: I've been a big fan of Trosty since her release, but I haven't been able to find a good home for her in a fun and dynamic deck I could write home about. However, with the amount of tokens we’re making with Conclave and , her game-breaking populate ability is easy to access, and with all of the big butts entering the battlefield, her lifegain ability gets out of hand. I could even be convinced to include a third copy, because when she’s out, we win. Furthermore, since turned out to be a disappointment in every format but Commander, Trostani is undervalued and affordable, which ties in well within our budget. When putting together a budget deck like this, I find that it’s important to make sure the fun-factor is as high as possible since it’s likely we'll take some losses when going up against tier-one competition. Fortunately, tribal centaurs is one of the most entertaining aggro decks I’ve played in recent memory and can hold its own against the dominant decks in the format. Here are a couple playtest matches against G/R Monsters and UW-Control, each piloted by Ben Miller of Miller Time. For those of you who are looking for some extra credit and would like to amp up your centaur tribe, here's a Naya build that certainly spices things up, but also the price tag.
Centaur Surprise (Naya Edition) by Ian Anderson
|CREATURES 44 4 4 4 Pheres-Ban Warchief 4 PLANESWALKERS 3||SPELLS 43 3 LANDS 4 3 3 2 3 4 4||SIDEBOARD None|
If you will be in Minneapolis for the Grand Prix this weekend, stop by the Meadery booth and say hello!