In their current age, sometimes Pioneer and Standard can get stale. My favorite thing to do is to go back in time to find old standard decks and bring them back to life. Today we are resurrecting one of my old favorites, an entire archetype that revolves around Rally the Ancestors. The original deck comes from 2015’s Origins Standard and it was first shown off by Matthew Naas. Throughout that season the deck had gone through many changes, ending up as a 4 color list that looked something like this:
Magic Origins standard 2015
This is where we are starting; a powerful Collected Company deck that aims to accrue A LOT of value throughout the game. To start off we see some strong value cards like Reflector Mage, Sidisi’s Faithful, Elvish Visionary, and Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy. These powerful effects create the starting point for our value engine. Reflector Mage and Sidisi’s Faithful allow us to disrupt opponents’ aggression and make it extremely difficult for them to redeploy their threats, after which we can start to generate card advantage with Elvish Visionary. That leads into Jace, and I won’t go into too much detail right now but in summary this card lets us loot away extra lands and fill our graveyard, powering up Rallies and eventual Jace, Telepath Unbounds. Jace gives us a chance to recast Collected Companies and Rally the Ancestors from our graveyard, as well as providing an alternate win condition that isn’t focused on combat.
These are good effects for any Standard format, but what made this deck go over the top is the graveyard synergy. Now looking at the other hits we see some weird creatures like Nantuko Husk, Grim Haruspex, Catacomb Sifter, and Zulaport Cutthroat. These creatures also work well individually, but as a unit they create an insane engine that the deck heavily relied on. Nantuko Husk is a great sacrifice outlet which quickly grows in size, creating awkward combat math and a fast finishing clock. Next we have Grim Haruspex and Catacomb Sifter which give us value from our creatures dying, the main focus of the deck’s synergy driven shell. Haruspex lets us draw cards and Sifter’s Scry lets us dig through the deck to find the pieces to win the game. The final piece to this is Zulaport Cutthroat, which lets us beat out opponents by draining them for one every time one of our creatures dies.
How do these two packages combine to win games? This powerful archetype creates a ton of amazing synergies. The amount of card draw and sifting churn through the deck to find the main finishers, Collected Company and Rally the Ancestors. None of the creatures are individually powerful, but putting all these pieces together with Company or Rally creates amazing play patterns that can end games quickly. To break down the “combo” of the deck, the main goal is to acquire a critical mass of creatures in play, either via Company or doing it the hard way by casting them. Once there’s a Zulaport, a Sifter, a Haruspex, or some combination of the three in play, you sacrifice the entire board to net all of that delicious value. You then cast Rally for 3, which brings everything back into play, and thus allowing you to sacrifice them all again. This will assuredly set up the win on the following turn if not close out the game right then and there.
What are some of these weird synergies that come up in this deck? There are many fun sequences in this deck especially with Catacomb Sifter and Jace, Vryn Prodigy. The Catacomb Sifter is a smaller interaction but it’s worth including because producing a creature that allows us to create more mana mid Rally-turn can lead to casting a Zulaport Cutthroat or other spells. The main interaction I want to mention features Jace, Vryn Prodigy. After we Rally we bring back a pile of creatures which can include Jace, Vryn Prodigy. You’ll note that Rally doesn’t give creatures haste, and they need to be exiled at the next upkeep. Well you can flip your Jace, given 5 cards exist in your graveyard, in response to his exile trigger. He’ll come back as a different card, and will then stick around as his planeswalking self. This was an extremely powerful option back in the day, as a flipped jace was basically unanswerable.
This deck took prominence seven years ago, which means that by now we have some cool new tools to keep going with. With Pioneer’s extended card pool, we get access to some more efficient versions of the classic cards, as well as some tech that we didn’t have access to during the Standard heyday.
I’ve assembled three different approaches to this strategy, with even more I want to try eventually. These are my favorite three versions for the archetype so far. As you’ll see none of these lists are super similar to the original builds. The biggest issue I have is the ability to play fetch lands. In the original Standard versions they had access to allied fetches with a more modern-like mana base. Sadly we don’t have that and with a deck that requires such a low curve makes it incredibly awkward for a four color mana base. With this being said, each of these builds seems fairly well suited to the environment that we do have available, so let’s dive in.
Starting with Abzan Rally we see it being the most similar to the old lists where we are using Stitcher’s Suppliers, Gnawing Vermin and Satyr Wayfinders to fill our graveyard, then using Fiend Artisan as our big threat to apply pressure in combat as well as tutoring any piece the we need on the creature side. Finally as mentioned before we are a Collected Company and Rally the Ancestors deck and are looking to go over the top and win through draining with Zulaport Cutthroat / Cruel Celebrant. The reason I think that now is a good time for Abzan is the deck’s latest additionl; Diabolic Intent. This card allows us to sacrifice our cheap milling creatures to get Rally the Ancestors or Collected Company to win on the following turn.
The issue with Abzan is that the all-in graveyard synergy is a tough place to be at the moment due to the amount of graveyard hate that other decks are packing for the likes of Izzet Pheonix, Abzan Greasefang and the other Treasure Cruise/Dig Through Time decks. If there is a meta game that doesn’t attack the Graveyard so hard or reliably, we may find a chance for Abzan to thrive but for now I think that a different approach is needed for this archetype to succeed.
Why is the Esper Rally deck considered different from the Abzan version? The first reason is the inclusion of some of the weird cards like Sidisi’s Faithful and Skull Skaab. Exploit is a slight sub-theme within the deck, and we will be relying on it in place of some of the more traditional value generating engines that the other versions use. Like the original Rally decks we are back to using Rally the Ancestors with Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy and accruing value throughout the game by looting things away and sculpting the perfect hand. Skull Skaab can then come in and create some real value by pumping out tokens, avoiding any need for the graveyard. If the opponent has chosen to leave us alone by this point, Diabolic Intent can help facilitate the Rally kill line that we’ve discussed ad nauseam now. Testing has gone well with this version, though I feel that the final list is more focused and where I would be if I were to play in a tournament today with Rally.
ORZHOV ZOMBIE RALLY
The final list we’re looking at is Zombie Rally. Unlike the other two versions that dedicate time to filling the graveyard in order to overwhelm with Rally, we have a Zombie-centric deck that really leans into the original ideology of focusing on getting to the board and using the Rally as a secondary plan. Playing Zombie Tribal is often seen as a joke, but in recent months we truly have received a lot of good support for the archetype, with Champion of the Perished and Razorlash Trasmogrant being some of the newest additions. Flooding the board with one and two mana creatures is a powerful feature of the deck, using things like Cryptbreaker and Relentless Dead to keep up on board and with cards in hand. Then we have things like Wayward Servant and Corpse Knight to damage the opponents when our creatures enter the battlefield. The other perk of the deck is the value from the Rally the Ancestors comes from the creatures entering the battlefield, so we don’t need to rely on as many sacrifice outlets. There have been multiple games where I have Rallied back a couple zombies, with two Wayward Servants on the field to drain my opponent for lethal. But at the same time there are still a few copies of Nantuko Husk if you need to put the creatures back in the yard after using your Cryptbreaker to draw some cards. The other big plus is the mix of Rally the Ancestors and Return to the Ranks, which allow for some odd math that the opponents need to consider if they only see one or the other over the course of a match.
Overall I am really happy with all three of these lists and they are each great at targeting different metas, but overall I think Zombie Rally is worth exploring more. I would be interested in seeing how some of the new cards will influence the growth of the deck and possibly make it a mainstay in the current pioneer format. We’ve seen Rally at the top before, so there’s no reason that we can’t see it there again.