So you’re playing at your local FNM or Sunday Standard tournament, built yourself a sweet deck, and just sat down against your next opponent. You feel confident and excited, but can’t push something out of the back of your mind. It’s there, that fear that your opponent has that one card that you just can’t beat, the card you just have to scoop up your deck to. You shuffle up and after a few turns your fears come true as that card hits the battlefield, and all that confidence and excitement rushes out of you as you sit back in your chair defeated, asking just one question: ‘How do I beat my deck’s Boogeyman?’
So who’s your Boogeyman? Let’s cover the five biggest ones (or at least the local big ones), and see if we can’t find a few night lights to scare away the monsters.
Geist of Saint Traft / Sigarda, Host of Herons
When these two cards were first printed, Phantasmal Image and Phyrexian Metamorph were everywhere (even in non-blue decks thanks to phyrexian mana), and the ability to legendary rule these hexproof monsters kept them in check (well, mostly… thank you delver of secrets.) We do have two clones currently available in Evil Twin and Clone itself, but spending four mana for a one-for-one removal spell isn’t exactly efficient, but might just be what some decks are forced into using.
Honestly, the best way too beat these two right now are Wrath effects like Supreme Verdict, Terminus, and Blasphemous Act. Supreme verdict seems especially good as the decks that place Geist and Sigarda rarely use creatures that come back when killed (such as Strangleroot Geist and Geralf’s Messenger), and occasionally have counterspells that stop terminus and blasphemous act. You can also take a proactive approach to dealing with them and play essence scatter to deal with these and other creature boogeymen, just remember cavern of souls is a thing.
If you’re an Aggro player, you’re probably looking at these answers and realizing none of them are in your colors or work well with your deck (creature decks shouldn’t run Wrath effects). Currently there aren’t good aggressive style answers to hexproof creatures, so your best chance is to race their damage with yours and remember that Geist players don’t want to block with their geists.
Grave Crawler / Geralf’s Messenger
Now these two are actual boogeymen! They’re aggressive, they have good stats, and worst of all, they keep coming back to haunt you. The last part is what makes them so dangerous, so the best way to answer these two isn’t to put them into the graveyard, but to send them to exile. Pillar of Flame, Oblivion Ring, Detention Sphere, and Sever the Bloodline are some of the best answers that can be used in both Control and Aggro decks (FYI: Pillar of Flame is also November’s FNM promo card.)
These zombies usually get a splash of red or green to compliment their aggressiveness with burn spells or other efficient creatures (like Bump in the Night and Dreg Mangler), so having some creatures of your own or life gain do a lot to stopping them from just running you over. Thankfully there’s two very efficient creatures in standard that do both: Centaur Healer & Thragtusk, one of which is our next boogeyman!
Rarely do you see such a monster (or should I say beast) of pure card advantage. It seems like no matter what you do to deal with this card, your opponent always wins, and realistically, that’s 100% true. The lifegain usually counteracts your opponent’s aggressive starts and you get two blockers out of the deal too. The 5 power body and back up creature when removed makes him a fast clock against and very annoying to deal with for the control decks, and five mana makes him playable in just about every deck. Worst of all is when your opponent casts Restoration Angel to get a free 3/3 and gain an extra 5 life, all at instant speed!
Enough talking the beast up, let’s cover how to deal with him already! You have to stop it from attacking or blocking, while not actually giving them the 3/3 token, which means there’s only two methods: Pacifism effects, and Control Magic effects. In the first category you have Pacifism itself, Bonds of Faith in human decks (doubles as a pump spell), Dungeon Geist and Tamiyo for blue decks, and Crippling Blight for black aggro decks. I highly recommend you have some number of these in your main deck or sideboard for FNMs. In terms of Control Magic effects for standard, at the moment there aren’t many options. The best one is Olivia Voldaren, who’s a house in Jund (Green, Red, and Black combination) midrange decks; and Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker as a finisher in Control decks (8 mana is just a little to slow to deal with a 5 mana threat).
There is also one creature that favors profitably in combat against the Thragtusk, and it doesn’t even start out as a creature: Rakdos Keyrune. Having 3 power and the magical keyword of First Strike allows the keyrune to kill both halves of Thragtusk without dieing, and is very hard to kill with all the sorcery speed removal most decks are running these days. As another positive, Rakdos Keyrune ramps you, and can even cast pillar of flame the same turn you cast it. If you’re in Red Black based control decks, you should definitely be packing 3-4 of these artifacts. If you’re on the aggro side of black, you have Appetite for Brains to proactively and very cheaply deal with Thragtusk, Restoration Angel, and Wrath effects before they can play them; just hope your opponent doesn’t top deck another one.
Angel of Serenity / Unburial Rites
While not always paired, they are especially dangerous when combined. Using self Mill effects like Grisly Salvage and Mulch, Reanimator decks can get an Angel of Serenity out as early as turn three to wipe away your field and start dishing out a lot of damage.
The best way to fight against this is to graveyard removing or protection effects to stop them from reanimating their giant creatures. Purify the Grave and Rest in Peace are great solutions for white, and Ground Seal is very effective for green as it even draws you a card. For other colors Tormod’s Crypt is an excellent fall back, and Deathrite Shaman works well if they can’t reanimate the turn they dump cards into the graveyard. If an Angel of Serenity does hit the battlefield, or any other giant creature, Exile effects like Sever the Bloodline, Oblivion Ring, and Detention Sphere are your next best options. You can even be proactive if your opponent’s strategy completely hinges on Angel and run Slaughter Games out of your sideboard, just be careful of your opponent siding in other win conditions.
Tamiyo, the Moon Sage
Tamiyo finally found her niche when Return to Ravnica hit the standard scene. Pairing almost perfectly with Jace, Architect of Thought in the Control decks to help lock down aggro and generate card advantage, holding Thragtusk at bay, and making Pillar of Flame into a very fast win condition with her ultimate, Tamiyo is good. Very good. And very annoying if she’s on the other side of the table. So how do you deal with her if she’s tapping down your biggest threat and forcing you to walk into Wrath effects?
Appetite for Brains and Duress are solid proactive answers presuming she’s in hand when you cast them or they don’t draw one later, but for the most part you want powerful haste creatures like Dreg Mangler, Falkenrath Aristocrat, and Thundermaw Hellkite to deal some quick damage, followed up with some burn spells like Searing Spear and Brimstone Volley to finish her off if needed. If you’re in White you get Oblivion Ring and Detention Sphere, and Black/Red gets one of the most efficient answers in Dreadbore.
Then again, her primary ability taps down a creature so they can’t attack her, but she has to be able to target that creature, so why don’t we just use some of the first boogeymen we talked about in Geist of Saint Traft and Sigarda, Host of Herons? Most boogeymen seem to be able to counter each other, so let’s use them against each other.
So next time you’re planning on playing FNM at Your Mom’s Basement, think about what your deck’s boogeyman is, and plan a strategy to defeat it.