The new standard meta has been upset quite a bit by Four-Color Omnath, Temur Adventures, Rogues, and the banning of Uro. But out of all of these high powered decks, Blue/Back Control has made a return, and my variation on that deck is budget-focused with fatties as the win condition. Count to Gyruda is a play-on-words of counting to 20, which is the nomenclature for beating your opponent through their total life loss. Although I mentioned in a previous article that $40 isn’t budget in Casual/Kitchen Table, for Standard, it’s definitely on the cheaper side. I have spent considerable time playing this deck best-of-one on Arena, and despite the budget limitations, I have found that my win-rate is somewhere around 50% or higher. That’s purely anecdotal, and I’m not including any examples, but I was surprised by how much fun and effective this deck is. In part, I believe it has to do with a combination of cards that are simply not part of the meta.
The counting part of this deck involves slowly controlling your opponent’s actions and board state. This is primarily done through interaction. For this section, I’ll be breaking things down into various categories of interaction.
Murderous Rider: Lifelink. When Murderous Rider dies, put it on the bottom of its owner’s library. // Swift End: Destroy target creature or planeswalker. You lose 2 life. (Then exile this card. You may cast the creature later from exile.)
Heartless Act: Choose one — Destroy target creature with no counters on it, or, Remove up to three counters from target creature.
Pharika’s Libation: Choose one — Target opponent sacrifices a creature, or Target opponent sacrifices an enchantment.
Hagra Mauling: This spell costs 1 Colorless Mana less to cast if an opponent controls no basic lands. Destroy target creature. // Hagra Broodpit: Hagra Broodpit enters the battlefield tapped. Tap Hagra Broodpit: Add 1 Black Mana to your mana pool.
Bloodchief’s Thirst: Kicker 2 Colorless Mana + 1 Black Mana (You may pay an additional 2 Colorless Mana + 1 Black Mana as you cast this spell.) Destroy target creature or planeswalker with converted mana cost 2 or less. If this spell was kicked, instead destroy target creature or planeswalker.
Feed the Swarm: Destroy target creature or enchantment an opponent controls. You lose life equal to that permanent’s converted mana cost.
Extinction Event: Choose odd or even. Exile each creature with converted mana cost of the chosen value. (Zero is even.)
Field of Ruin: Tap Field of Ruin: Add 1 Colorless Mana to your mana pool. 2 Colorless Mana + Tap Field of Ruin, Sacrifice Field of Ruin: Destroy target nonbasic land an opponent controls. Each player searches their library for a basic land card, puts it onto the battlefield, then shuffles their library.
Creatures, planeswalkers, and enchantments are the primary types of removable cards you’ll come into contact with in this meta. I have not seen very many artifacts worth concentrating on. You may think that there are too many different kinds of permanent removal that I’ve included in this deck, but the real secret is that each of the cards chosen provides multiple choices at varying speeds. Having an abundance of choices and options of abilities makes each individual card that much more powerful in determining its usefulness in a particular situation. This is particularly important for a budget deck, where concessions must be made when it comes to picking the best overall decision. Therefore, more options means a higher survival rate.
Swift End, a staple of Standard for many months, makes a solid return in this deck, targeting both creatures and planeswalkers at instant speed. Plus, Murderous Rider allows you to gain some life when things are getting tough against aggro red decks that keep throwing weenies your way.
Heartless Act is a solid two mana spell that provides instant speed creature destruction. Despite its inherent limitations, the cost reduction is worth it. Generally speaking, Heartless Act will hit every major card, from most creatures who don’t come with counters, to problematic early game problems, like Swarm Shambler or an early game Stonecoil Serpent.
Pharika’s Libation offers instant speed creature or enchantment removal, but more importantly, it can deal with indestructible creatures and enchantments, which do happen to exist in standard. It’s cheap compared to four mana exile options that can’t hit enchantments.
Hagra Mauling is a split card, offering simple creature destruction at a slightly higher cost (with the option to be costed like Murder, if your opponent isn’t playing basic lands) but also the option to come into the battlefield as a tapped black producing land. More often than not, I have played this as an early land drop, but the option to kill something late game is appealing.
Bloodchief Thirst’s is one of the hottest pieces of removal to come out of Zendikar Rising, with an early game low-cmc killer to deal with cards like Lotus Cobra, and late-game creature or planeswalker removal.
Feed the Swarm, like Pharika’s Libation, offers enchantment removal in black, but unfortunately it only comes in at sorcery speed. Nevertheless, targeted enchantment removal, despite losing some life, is absolutely worth it in this meta. You can still win at 1 life.
Extinction Event is an interesting, but low costed, board wipe that is absolutely perfect for this deck, as our creatures are all evenly mana costed. Lucky! We’ll get to all of that a bit later.
Finally, Field of Ruin provides fairly decent land destruction that can help deal with Animal Sanctuary, the castle cycle, and more. I will note that this is only useful in very specific situations. However, there is another option that Field of Ruin provides, and that is mana fixing. Field of Ruin lets you grab any kind of basic, so even blowing up an opponent’s land just to get the color you need is worth it.
Confounding Conundrum: When Confounding Conundrum enters the battlefield, draw a card. Whenever a land enters the battlefield under an opponent’s control, if that player had another land enter the battlefield under their control this turn, they return a land they control to its owner’s hand.
Ashiok’s Erasure: Flash. When Ashiok’s Erasure enters the battlefield, exile target spell. Your opponents can’t cast spells with the same name as the exiled card. When Ashiok’s Erasure leaves the battlefield, return the exiled card to its owner’s hand.
Cling to Dust: Exile target card from a graveyard. If it was a creature card, you gain 3 life. Otherwise, you draw a card. Escape—3 Colorless Mana + 1 Black Mana + Exile five other cards from your graveyard. (You may cast this card from your graveyard for its escape cost.)
Jwari Disruption: Counter target spell unless its controller pays 1 Colorless Mana.
Negate: Counter target noncreature spell.
Thassa’s Intervention: Choose one — Look at the top X cards of your library. Put up to two of them into your hand and the rest on the bottom of your library in a random order, or, Counter target spell unless its controller pays twice X Colorless Mana.
Neutralize: Counter target spell. Cycling 2 Colorless Mana (2 Colorless Mana + Discard this card: Draw a card.)
Whirlwind Denial: For each spell and ability your opponents control, counter it unless its controller pays 4 Colorless Mana.
Sublime Epiphany: Choose one or more — Counter target spell, or, Counter target activated or triggered ability, or, Return target nonland permanent to its owner’s hand, or, Create a token that’s a copy of target creature you control, or, Target player draws a card.
When talking about cards that control the pace of the game, this deck packs almost the entire kitchen sink. Luckily the majority of counter magic in this meta are relatively cheap financially, so there are a lot of options to choose from and each of them have their place. Combined with the removal already mentioned, you can imagine playing against this deck can be frustrating.
Starting with Confounding Conundrum, it may seem like this would only help against Omnath decks, but both Fabled Passage and Evolving Wilds, as well as cards like Fertile Footsteps, which are in a great number of standard decks, can be shut down on turn two. The added benefit of it replacing itself with a draw effect, makes it a solid mainboard pick.
Ashiok’s Erasure is an all-star card, because not only does it stop a spell from resolving, it also prevents your opponent from continuing to cast those spells. Hitting an Omnath, Agadeem’s Awakening, Shark Typhoon, or even Gemrazer, can be disastrous for opponents. Protecting the enchantment with the rest of the spells in this deck isn’t that difficult, and forcing your opponent to deal with Ashiok’s Erasure puts them back a step and can give you much needed breathing room to control the game. This card plays with your opponent’s mind, and it can be very successful when played at the perfect time.
Cling to Dust is an early game graveyard hate card that has staying power through Escape. It can also help you when you’re low on life, or when you need to draw. That means that while I haven’t seen many decks that make use of the graveyard, I still find that Cling to Dust is worth a slot in the maindeck.
Now, Jwari Disruption on the surface seems like a dud of a card. Two mana to counter a spell only if they’re tapped out isn’t that good. But, the option to use Jwari Disruption as a land instead makes it worth putting in the deck. As an early game counter, Jwari Disruption has done serious work against opponent’s trying to drop everything on curve. It’s not worth keeping up after a few turns, though.
Negate: No to noncreature spells. ‘Nuff said.
One of the powerhouses of the late game is Thassa’s Intervention. It has the ability to set you up at the end of your opponent’s turn, or it can stop your opponent dead in their tracks when they decide to go all out. It’s expensive, true, but its flexibility is what makes it so interesting to play.
Neutralize presents a great combination of options for a deck like this, which can leverage Cycling when counterspells may no longer be important.
I’ve spoken about Whirlwind Denial before, but the fact that it can hit every opponent’s spells and abilities on the stack makes it well worth the three mana cost.
Sublime Epiphany is one of my absolute favorite counterspells. Every time I’ve resolved this spell, it has been well worth six mana. At the very least, I can counter a spell and draw a card. In most cases I can also displace something important from my opponent’s battlefield. In some cases I’m able to duplicate creatures that have ETBs that trigger increasing value tremendously. In the best cases I can hit every option and shut them down completely. It has absolutely felt like controlling my opponent and getting an extra turn all-in-one.
Atris, Oracle of Half-Truths: Menace. When Atris, Oracle of Half-Truths enters the battlefield, target opponent looks at the top three cards of your library and separates them into a face-down pile and a face-up pile. Put one pile into your hand and the other into your graveyard.
Kaervek, the Spiteful: Other creatures get -1/-1.
Nightmare Shepherd: Flying. Whenever another nontoken creature you control dies, you may exile it. If you do, create a token that’s a copy of that creature, except it’s 1/1 and it’s a Nightmare in addition to its other types.
Gyruda, Doom of Depths: When Gyruda enters the battlefield, each player mills four cards. Put a creature card with an even converted mana cost from among the milled cards onto the battlefield under your control.
Lochmere Serpent: Flash. 1 Blue Mana + Sacrifice an Island: Lochmere Serpent can’t be blocked this turn. 1 Black Mana + Sacrifice a Swamp: You gain 1 life and draw a card.1 Blue Mana + 1 Black Mana: Exile five target cards from an opponent’s graveyard. Return Lochmere Serpent from your graveyard to your hand. Activate this ability only any time you could cast a sorcery.
Massacre Wurm: When Massacre Wurm enters the battlefield, creatures your opponents control get -2/-2 until end of turn. Whenever a creature an opponent controls dies, that player loses 2 life.
Now we come to the win conditions of this deck. As I mentioned with Extinction Event, all of our win conditions are evenly costed. That’s because Gyruda can only trigger on creatures with even mana costs. Although we could easily splurge on cards like Rankle, keeping this deck budget friendly still allows us so many options to help us wreak havoc.
More often than not, we don’t need really powerful bombs, because by the time we cast Gyruda or any of our other fatties, our opponents have run out of options. With a budget build, stable and reliable combos are usually off the table because they are generally financially expensive. Therefore we’re looking at the old faithful: big creatures to jam as much damage in as possible, as quickly as possible, after we’ve throttled their game plan.
Now, let me explain why that’s not all we’re doing. Atris is a really cheap card financially, but it’s almost always a huge threat to opponents. If we can drop Atris off of a Gyruda trigger, we’ve really set our opponents off and can work the mind game a bit to force them off kilter. Generally speaking, I always choose the pile of cards that I can actually see. Even if they’re just lands. In fact, one time picking lands is how I won.
Kaervek is a very unique card which is generally only a problem against aggro decks, but for some reason people get very paranoid about his constant ability and go to great lengths to remove him. If I were thinking of swapping a card out, I think Kaervek would be first to go.
Dropping Nightmare Shepherd off of a Gyruda trigger is one of the best situations this deck can afford you. Nightmare Shepherd certainly helps protect our ETB triggers, since our opponents do not want us to gain additional value from duplicating a bomb. The real value, though, is how much hate Nightmare Shepherd can pull in. Like Ashiok’s Erasure, if this card is played at the correct time, nothing else will matter to your opponent.
Now we come to the big boss, Gyruda. Gyruda is not a reliable card, which is why we’re not investing in a playset, but being able to steal our opponent’s creatures makes up for that unreliability. I’ve had ETBs where I’ve struck out, and I’ve had ETBs where I’ve dropped an opponent’s Dream Trawler or Omnath and they’ve immediately scooped. I don’t think it’s worth playing him as a companion, but as a maindeck card, he’s the big baddie that everyone wants to avoid.
Maybe this deck should be called “Counting to Lochmere,” because in my experience, Lochmere Serpent is the real star most of the time. Since I first saw this card, I knew it would one way serve me well. Being able to attack with a 7/7 unblocked, draw cards to find answers, and produce significant recurring through enemy graveyard hate is just too good not to focus around. At least when we’re working with a budget. Interestingly enough, some players ignore a card, even if I use it with Flash, and then you find them re-reading the text after they can’t believe it’s affected them so bad. It’s really wonderful.
Massacre Wurm is a powerhouse. Dropping Massacre Wurm at the very least is a big body that your opponents have to deal with, but usually it acts as a board wipe and severely diminishes an opponent’s life total. Financially expensive, but worth it.
Silundi Vision: Look at the top six cards of your library. You may reveal an instant or sorcery card from among them and put it into your hand. Put the rest on the bottom of your library in a random order.
Agonizing Remorse: Target opponent reveals their hand. You choose a nonland card from it or a card from their graveyard. Exile that card. You lose 1 life.
I’m not sure if these cards really fit in anywhere else, so I’m putting them here in a category called Stragglers. Silundi Vision offers a late game option to dig for that perfect piece of interaction, or early game land if you need it. This card seems expensive at three mana, but it has proven powerful in both situations. Agonizing Remorse, like Silundi Vision, is good early or late game, but because it allows us to cherry pick an opponent’s best spell from their hand and exile it from the game makes it maindeck worthy. I would probably get rid of Agonizing Remorse before I gave up Silundi Vision.
Fae of Wishes: Flying. 1 Colorless Mana + 1 Blue Mana + Discard two cards: Return Fae of Wishes to its owner’s hand. // Granted: You may reveal a noncreature card you own from outside the game and put it into your hand.
Before we get into the sideboard, I wanted to talk about Fae of Wishes // Granted. This card has significantly affected the construction of the sideboard. In more than a handful of cases, I have heavily leveraged this single card to dig into my sideboard for the perfect answer to an existing game. Usually we rely on the sideboard to make changes between games to help us win the next. However, because of the length of the games that this deck produces, being able to dig for the perfect interaction comes into play more often than you might think.
Tormod’s Crypt: Tap Tormod’s Crypt, Sacrifice Tormod’s Crypt: Exile all cards from target player’s graveyard.
Midnight Clock: Tap Midnight Clock: Add 1 Blue Mana. 2 Colorless Mana + 1 Blue Mana: Put an hour counter on Midnight Clock. At the beginning of each upkeep, put an hour counter on Midnight Clock. When the twelfth hour counter is put on Midnight Clock, shuffle your hand and graveyard into your library, then draw seven cards. Exile Midnight Clock.
Mystical Dispute: This spell costs 2 Colorless Mana less to cast if it targets a blue spell. Counter target spell unless its controller pays 3 Colorless Mana.
Eat to Extinction: Exile target creature or planeswalker. Look at the top card of your library. You may put that card into your graveyard.
Labyrinth of Skophos: Tap Labyrinth of Skophos: Add 1 Colorless Mana. 4 Colorless Mana + Tap Labyrinth of Skophos: Remove target attacking or blocking creature from combat.
The Cauldron of Eternity: This spell costs 2 Colorless Mana less to cast for each creature card in your graveyard. Whenever a creature you control dies, put it on the bottom of its owner’s library. 2 Colorless Mana + 1 Black Mana +Tap The Cauldron of Eternity, Pay 2 life: Return target creature card from your graveyard to the battlefield. Activate this ability only any time you could cast a sorcery.
There are quite a few repeated cards you will find in the sideboard that are explained elsewhere in this article, but there are also a slew of new cards that are specifically chosen for precise situations.
Tormod’s Crypt is pure graveyard hate; it’s cheap, both financially and because it costs zero mana to play. There are other cards in this deck that help with graveyard hate, but if you really need the extra umph to oppress an opponent’s graveyard, Tormod’s Crypt is a wonderful choice.
Mill has become a legitimate threat for the first time in a while, and that means Midnight Clock can seriously disrupt an opponent’s play if it gets out early and is continuously protected. It’s surprising how little mill protection there is given how powerful mill is in standard right now, but Midnight Clock is available, so we’re running with it.
Mystal Dispute is well known as a blue-hate card, and when fighting against blue decks, it’s certainly a worthwhile choice.
Eat to Extinction seems expensive at first look, but it lets you exile an opponent’s creature or planeswalker, and if you’re looking at this card it’s clear their permanent is a huge threat. It also lets you effectively surveil, which can always come in handy.
We’re limited on space when it comes to the sideboard, but Granted lets us dig for noncreature cards, including lands, which means Labyrinth of Skophos (and Field of Ruin) is a financially cheap option for that last bit of mana. More important, though, is that we can use it to stop Dream Trawler, or some other ridiculous monster that’s protected from hitting us. Truly a good way to set our opponents off.
Finally, The Cauldron of Eternity is one of the most powerful options available through Granted. If you’re being oppressed by removal or mill, The Cauldron of Eternity can come out cheap (depending on your graveyard,) and hard, letting you pull Gyruda or some other big beast back onto the field.
Lands and Budgetary Downsides
The biggest budgetary downside of this deck is its lands. Right now in the meta, the best lands are roughly $6-8 each, and that can seriously disrupt one’s budget. Nevertheless, we’re making do with taplands and basics, and honestly, I haven’t had that much trouble curving out. I will be honest though, I have lost more games because I couldn’t cast spells at the right time, then because I didn’t have options available. Certainly I would be doing much better if I could hit the right lands at the right time, but the split cards that let you cast a spell or drop a land have helped enough to allow me to stay in the game more than I thought possible.
I will also mention that in the deck list that follows, you will probably notice that I’m using less lands than what is traditional for a 60 card deck. I am taking into consideration split cards when I made that decision, which has so far not hindered my game plans too much.
There are so many cards in this deck, and this article has already gone on long enough, so if you want to see the most updated version of this deck, feel free to check out the deck list here.
Serpent of Yawning Depths: Krakens, Leviathans, Octopuses, and Serpents you control can’t be blocked except by Krakens, Leviathans, Octopuses, and Serpents.
Ashiok, Nightmare Muse: +1: Create a 2/3 blue and black Nightmare creature token with “Whenever this creature attacks or blocks, each opponent exiles the top two cards of their library.” -3: Return target nonland permanent to its owner’s hand, then that player exiles a card from their hand. -7: You may cast up to three spells from among face-up cards your opponents own from exile without paying their mana costs.
There are two cards here that I’m having trouble fitting in the deck, but both are budget options, and they have a place in a deck like this. The first, Serpent of Yawning Depths, is a fatty that can help both Gyruda and Lochmere, so it seems very fitting. The second is Ashiok, who is an incredibly powerful planeswalker in this meta and can really work a game if you’re in control. If I do put these cards in, I will probably drop Agonizing Remorse and Jwari Disruption for them. That might affect the curve too much, though.
I’ve written a lot about this deck today, but let me tell you, for a budget deck in this meta, it’s absolutely a blast to play. Sure, you might have way more success with Omnath, Adventures, or Rogues, but if you’re like me, this deck will really appeal to you. I’m not surprised people aren’t using Gyruda, Lochmere, and the other cards I’ve mentioned here, but I do believe they’re worth playing if you’re willing to lose a little more often.