As I was perusing MTG Goldfish today, I noticed a recent online price spike in Adaptive Automaton. I thought that perhaps this was due to the influx of new EDH players on Magic Online and so people were picking them up for Tribal decks. Apparently, some other people saw this list and decided to pick up their play sets.
For those of you that don't know, Adaptive Automaton enters the battlefield as whatever creature type you choose, including Ally. It gives all other creatures of that chosen type +1/+1. Basically, he's a splash-able lord for any archetype. He certainly gave Allies something they were missing. Also, Champion of the Parish works very well in this deck as this particular build focuses on only the Human allies.
There's also another card that apparently no one ever thought to pair with the deck before, a little Modern staple called Aether Vial!
Let's take a look at the deck-list.
4 Kazandu Blademaster
4 Akoum Battlesinger
4 Bojuka Brigand
4 Champion of the Parish
4 Kabira Evangel
4 Oran-Rief Survivalist
4 Hada Freeblade
3 Adaptive Automaton
1 Jwari Shapeshifter
1 Phantasmal Image
4 Aether Vial
4 Path to Exile
4 Ancient Ziggurat
4 Gemstone Mine
3 Caves of Koilos
3 City of Brass
2 Battlefield Forge
2 Razorverge Thicket
4 Ancient Grudge
4 Kor Firewalker
1 Talus Paladin
We'll start with the one-drops: Champion of the Parish and Hada Freeblade. The Champion is self-explanatory, as each time you play any of your Humans (which all of your Allies are) it will gain a +1/+1 counter. Hada Freeblade is a one-drop 0/1 that has a similar effect to the Champion, in that it gets a +1/+1 counter each time an Ally enters your side of the field.
Next we have the two-drops: Kazandu Blademaster, Akoum Battlesinger, Bojuka Brigand, and Oran-Rief Survivalist. The Kazandu, Bojuka, and Oran-Rief fellows all have the same effect as Hada Freeblade. The Blademaster is a WW 1/1 with first strike and vigilance. The Brigand is a 1/1 that can't block. The Survivalist is just a 1/1. The Battlesinger is a bit different: it's a 1/1 with haste that when it or another Ally enters your side of the field, you may have all Allies you control gain +1/+0 until end of turn. It's a solid repeatable effect, and having haste can be significant. We also have Jwari Shapeshifter, which is a Clone for any Ally you control, and Phantasmal Image, that can copy anything.
The three drops are Adaptive Automaton, which we've already talked about in the introduction, and Kabira Evangel. Anyone who drafted Zendikar remembers the Evangel. Basically, whenever Evangel or another Ally enters the battlefield, you can give creatures you control protection from a color until end of turn. Obviously, that isn't too bad an ability, as it's basically a better version of Brave the Elements on a 2/3 for 2W. The best part of this is that this ability can stack multiple times in a turn, so you can give your creatures protection from several colors depending on how many creatures you play in a turn.
The deck has a decent swarm element already with its creatures alone, but how do you speed it up even further? Aether Vial! Basically, by having one or more Vials, you can play your Allies all very quickly, often times never having to actually use mana to cast them! It takes a lot of pressure off of what you will see is a quite an interesting mana-base. Since the allies in this deck are in all five colors, the Vials basically guarantee you'll be able to play a lot of creatures in a turn. This works very well already with Merfolk, so why not Human Allies?
Besides the Vials, the only other non-creature spell in the deck is a full play-set of Path to Exile. Obviously, this deck is a bunch of small creatures, so you need the removal. Pretty self-explanatory.
The Mana Base
Because this is a five-color deck, even though the mana curve is extremely low (topping out at 3!) you're going to occasionally have some color-fixing issues. The Vials make up for some of this, obviously, but for consistency reasons, there are a wide variety of color-fixers in this deck.
The first is 4 Ancient Ziggurat. This is a pretty solid card, since all but 8 cards in your deck are non-creatures or non-lands, so it's always going to give you a color you need for any given creature. Also, the only card with a double mana symbol in its cost is Kazandu Blademaster, so for the most part, a Ziggurat is going to give you what you need.
Next is Gemstone Mine, which is a card many people never even realized was legal in Modern (it's a Timeshifted card in Time Spiral!) One of the quirks of Modern is that you can use Timeshifted cards, so this is yet another way to fix for mana early in the game. The only problem is that Gemstone Mine only has three uses before you have to sacrifice it. But, it does come in untapped, so it has instant usability.
Next are the "pain lands," lands that give you a certain color of mana but will cost you 1 life each time you tap them for colored mana. The basic pain lands are Caves of Koilos (white/black) and Battlefield Forge (red/white). These lands also tap for colorless mana that does not cost you 1 life. You also have 3 City of Brass to fix for any color at the cost of 1 life.
Lastly, there are two Razorverge Thickets to fix for green and white, and a single copy of Plains.
The sideboard offers some important utiltiy cards for which you can swap out some of the weaker allies like Bojuka Brigand and Oran-Rief Survivalist if need be. You have 4 Ancient Grudge for artifact destruction (with a nifty flashback ability). There are 4 Duress for hand control. Against red decks, you have 4 Kor Firewalkers to put in (which could take the place of Blademasters if need be, as they are also WW).
There are also single copies of Dismember, Pyroclasm, and Talus Paladin. The Paladin is the only 4 drop in the whole 75. It allows your Allies to gain lifelink until end of turn, while also being able to put a +1/+1 counter on the Paladin. Like most Ally effects, it triggers whenever he or another Ally enters, so it's a nifty ability if you truly need the lifelink.
Strategy and Thoughts on the Deck The deck is very simple: play a bunch of Allies very quickly, and swing in for lethal before your opponent can stabilize. Besides the Aether Vials, it's actually quite a budget deck. Champion of the Parish (come October rotation) will drop further in value, but from decks like this, it's clear that the Champion still has Modern viability.
I hate to say that I don't know who built this deck, as I can't find the actual deck that topped a Daily Event back on August 13th. Here is the decklist I found categorized under the Human Allies archetype. While I'm not sure this is a Top 8 sort of deck archetype, it's a great entry deck into Modern. In any case, having a play-set of Aether Vial will benefit you down the road. It did have the ability to go 3-1 a MTGO daily event, and I can see this perhaps having a good day here and there at some smaller Modern tournaments. There's very little risk involved, honestly, in building this deck.
If you build this deck and find it works incredibly well, or not so well, let me know. I'd love to pilot this deck myself!
Let's hope this sort of innovation continues as the Modern format grows!