Anyone who knows my history in Standard knew that I was going to fall in love with
Yarok, the Desecrated the first time I saw his angry, bitey countenance. I've built and tried so many
Panharmonicon decks in my time that it would make your head spin, and that was a four-mana do-nothing enchantment that is mostly the definition of 'win more'. But Yarok... my friends, Yarok is the same do-nothing effect BUT stapled to a 3/5 body with deathtouch AND lifelink. You'd probably pay four mana just for the body, and you get a Panharmonicon for ONE MANA? I'm all about this action.
But the real crux of Yarok has been trying to figure out in which build he works best. And being me, I've tried all of them. They all had things in common, of course...
Risen Reef (because duh it might be the best card in Standard and the best Uncommon since
Fatal Push), some sort of elemental subtheme, some of the new M20 lands here and there, but they were still different. My first attempt was a typical Sultai ETB build with things like
Ravenous Chupacabra and
Hostage Taker as finishers to try to overwhelm the opponent with value. I messed with a five-color build that took advantage of the good Standard mana to throw in
Omnath, Locus of the Roil and
God-Eternal Oketra for additional value. From there I explored pod-type decks that tried to leverage cards like
Prime Speaker Vannifar and
Neoform to find the necessary pieces to win games, but even that seemed to struggle in the late game.
Finally, Yarok has found a friend that can get him to the Promised Land, and from a little-suspected source as well:
Field of the Dead. It turns out that we play an awful lot of lands with different names in Sultai, AND we have ways to not only search out lands but manipulate our land drops so we likely have seven different lands on the board with the Field. If we have Yarok on the board, we not only double our ETB effects but we also double the number of Zombies that each
Field of the Dead produces. This combination overwhelms the board with value very quickly. So let's look at the list, talk about the essentials and the optional plays, and discuss what a sideboard could look like.
4 Arboreal Grazer 4 Elvish Rejuvenator 4 Cavalier of Thorns 4 Risen Reef 4 Yarok, the Desecrated 1 Tamiyo, Collector of Tales 1 Agent of Treachery 2 Disfigure 3 Assassin's Trophy 4 Thought Erasure 1 Island 1 Swamp 1 Arch of Orazca 1 Blast Zone 1 Dismal Backwater 1 Drowned Catacomb 1 Field of Ruin 1 Jungle Hollow 1 Memorial to Genius 1 Simic Guildgate 1 Thornwood Falls 1 Woodland Cemetery 2 Breeding Pool 2 Hinterland Harbor 2 Overgrown Tomb 2 Temple of Malady 2 Temple of Mystery 2 Watery Grave 4 Field of the Dead 1 Forest
The deck is deceptively simple, but it's interesting to note that this isn't an Elementals deck per se. Yes, we're running
Risen Reef, but the value that we get with elementals that come after it is icing on the cake. The goal of this deck is to get Yarok on the board as fast as possible. To do that we need five mana, and we'd like to get to seven lands as fast as possible afterwards even though we're not playing any pure ramp like mana dorks or
Gift of Paradise. To do this, we're using
Arboreal Grazer and
Elvish Rejuvenator. The former helps us get around the issue of playing so many taplands by putting an extra one onto the board on early turns, and the latter specifically digs for a unique land to help get to five.
Risen Reef is, well,
Risen Reef. It puts extra lands on the board and (once the board is assembled) is a virtual zombie machine gun with its extra land plays.
Along with Yarok at the five-mana slot is a playset of
Cavalier of Thorns. This is the real key to the deck once everything is ready to go because every single one of its features does something that the deck wants to do. A huge body that blocks darn near everything in the format? Check. Finding a unique land to start triggering Field? Check. Getting one of our needed cards that were either killed early in the game or discarded? Check (once it's dead). Sometimes the full playset seems a little awkward, so you might want to try three if there's another card that works better in your meta, but the green Cavalier is awfully good.
Since we're not playing many creatures that do much in the early game, we also need some disruption for whatever the opponent is doing. Luckily, Sultai gives us access to maybe the two best disruption spells in Standard at the moment in
Thought Erasure and
Thought Erasure both gets rid of whatever our opponent wants to do in early turns (especially if our ramp is a little awkward in early turns) and surveils to get us closer to what we do need, and, well,
Assassin's Trophy kills everything dead. There are some decks (like pure
Scapeshift builds) where the extra land the opponent gets is something we want to avoid, but there are many others where it just doesn't matter that much so the flexibility of
Assassin's Trophy is preferable to things like
Cast Down or
Walk the Plank.
The manabase, as you would assume in a
Field of the Dead deck, has to be varied. We do get to use this variability in a couple of different ways to benefit us in inclusions such as
Blast Zone and
Arch of Orazca which provide late game value. Otherwise, scrylands and gainlands and shocklands abound.
I know there are a lot of content producers who would get to the last few cards and say that they're "variable for your meta" or "filling in the gaps", but I'm going to be honest with you and say I'm not sure whether these last few cards are the right ones or not.
Tamiyo, Collector of Tales can be useful in the right situations. She digs for the pieces that we want (which admittedly often reads "dump the top four cards of your library into your graveyard".) The most common use of Tamiyo is to get a
Risen Reef that was killed early on to continue developing the board or to use the minus to grab the final thing you need to win the game if it was milled via
Cavalier of Thorns. The original build of the list that I found ran a single copy of
Nexus of Fate, presumably to keep you from milling yourself if the game runs long. I didn't care to try it since (a) I mostly test in BO1 queues on Arena and Nexus is banned there, (b) Nexus is rotating soon and I don't own a copy, and (c) I like my fellow human beings. So I've been subbing
Agent of Treachery since it's the same mana cost and often reads "you win the game" if you already have a Yarok down and are taking your opponent's best two permanents. I'd like to mess with
Muldrotha, the Gravetide here as well, since permanent access to things in the graveyard could have a lot of use when interacting with
Risen Reef or
Field of the Dead.
Finally, the weakest card in the deck is
Disfigure. I get why it's here...it's cheap removal and can do good work against aggro decks and
Adanto Vanguard in particular. But it feels like a dead draw so often in the current meta. In fact, my most common target for
Disfigure has to be
Llanowar Elves since it slows down ramp decks but otherwise it's a dead draw in the middle-to-late game. There are better options if you really want removal but don't mind the expense.
Ravenous Chupacabra and
Hostage Taker are on color and get the job done. Also, I'd like to experiment with
Bone Splinters if I really needed removal. The truth is that once
Arboreal Grazer and
Elvish Rejuvenator do their thing, they don't do much else. Maybe it might be right to just sacrifice them to
Bone Splinters and trade those extra bodies for the opponent's best creature.
I hate giving sideboards for decks because I don't know your meta and many of you play in the BO1 ladder on Arena so you don't care much about the sideboard anyway, but I've been trying to play more BO3 so it doesn't hurt to think about one. More copies of the aforementioned removal spells would work well there, along with other options like
Legion's End and
Shifting Ceratops would be a great inclusion against control, and you also have access to
Unmoored Ego to get rid of anything you saw once and don't want to see again. With these additions in the sideboard, the deck seems to play really well. It can bring in a bunch of removal for the aggro decks, and durdle well enough against other decks to wait for the explosive finishes that we love.
And don't forget as we approach September and the upcoming rotation, the
Scapeshift version of Field decks get rotated out, but this version does not. In fact, most of the losses to the deck will come in the manabase (which will certainly get some sort of replacement in Throne of Eldraine) and
Elvish Rejuvenator which will most likely either get a replacement or can be replaced with straight ramp like
Gift of Paradise or even
Growth Spiral if we're getting desperate. I'm predicting that the deck will still function after rotation and may even improve depending on what the new set brings.
What do you think? Is there an obvious inclusion that I've missed? Are you getting your Yarok on? Let me know in the usual places... thanks for reading and, as always, drive friendly!