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Budget Magic: GW Counters (Standard)

Сәләм, Budget Magic lovers, it's that time once again! Last week, Wizards (finally) banned Omnath, Locus of Creation and Lucky Clover, which means we have another brand new Standard format to play. Will the latest round of bannings finally fix the format? Is fair Magic once again possible? Well, today, we're going to take a sweet budget-friendly build of GW Counters out for a spin in Zendikar Rising Standard 3.0 and find out! The plan of our deck is simple: we play creatures, make them huge with +1/+1 counters thanks to cards like Conclave Mentor and The Ozolith, and smash our opponent to death quickly! Thanks to Zendikar Rising and Core Set 2021, we actually have a ton of powerful +1/+1 counter creatures and payoffs, which makes the deck surprisingly consistent and synergistic. Can the plan work? Is Standard finally good? Let's get to the video and find out; then, we'll talk more about the deck!

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Budget Magic: GW Counters

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The Deck

GW Counters is an aggro deck with an extremely heavy focus on +1/+1 counter synergies, which allow us to grow creatures that start off relatively underpowered into massive threats quickly to take over the game and (hopefully) win with combat damage. Discounting our lands, every single card in our main deck interacts with +1/+1 counters in one way or another, which makes the deck incredibly consistent and synergistic. To break down the deck, the easiest plan is probably to start with our various +1/+1 counter payoffs before moving onto our random +1/+1 counter creatures.

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Conclave Mentor is the only creature in our deck that doesn't put a +1/+1 counter onto something, but its ability to add an extra +1/+1 counter to our creatures whenever they get a +1/+1 counter makes it one of the most explosive and powerful cards in our deck. Since all of our other creatures add +1/+1 counters to themselves or to our other creatures, Conclave Mentor supercharges our synergies and turns our creatures into massive threats super quickly. Gaining a bit of life when it dies is a nice bonus, especially in aggro matches, but being a Winding Constrictor for +1/+1 counters is the reason why we're happy to play a full playset of Conclave Mentor.

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Swarm Shambler, Basri's Lieutenant, and The Ozolith are all grouped together because even though they are worded very differently, they all do the same thing: help make our deck more resilient against removal and sweepers. Swarm Shambler and Basri's Lieutenant also happen to be +1/+1 counter creatures themselves, making them both payoffs and support cards all at once. Swarm Shambler starts our curve on Turn 1 and eventually grows into a big threat if we have some extra mana to add counters to it, while also offering some amount of protection by giving us a 1/1 Insect token whenever our opponent targets one of our +1/+1 counter creatures with a spell. Meanwhile, Basri's Lieutenant is at the top end of our curve but works similarly, by giving us a 2/2 Knight token whenever one of our +1/+1 counter creatures dies. While both cards are great on their own, they are even better together because their effects stack, so if our opponent kills one of our creatures with targeted removal, we can end up getting multiple tokens, immediately rebuilding our board. As for The Ozolith, it stores up our +1/+1 counters as our creatures die and then allows us to dump them all onto a creature at the beginning of combat to build a massive threat. Apart from being solid against targeted removal, The Ozolith is also great against sweepers. If our opponent wraths our board, we can play another creature and put all of our +1/+1 counters on it, potentially making it big enough to kill our opponent with just a single attack.

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Basri's Solidarity is just a cheap way to add a +1/+1 counter to our team (or two +1/+1 counters if we happen to have a Conclave Mentor), making it a solid way to add more power to the battlefield and close out the game. It also synergizes really well with the tokens that Swarm Shambler and Basri's Lieutenant make by giving us a way to give them +1/+1 counters, so that if they are targeted or die, we will get another round of tokens from Swarm Shambler and/or Basri's LieutenantOran-Rief Ooze is similar to Basri's Solidarity. Since almost all of our creatures should have +1/+1 counters on them, when we attack with Oran-Rief Ooze, we will usually get to add a +1/+1 counter to all of our attacking creatures (or two with a Conclave Mentor on the battlefield), making our creatures even bigger, which, in turn, will gives us even more damage to smash our opponent with. 

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Stonecoil Serpent and Wildwood Scourge offer massive threats that work well with our +1/+1 counter theme. Thanks to its X casting cost, Stonecoil Serpent is almost never bad, as a one-mana 1/1 in the early game and potentially an eight-mana 8/8 later when we have a bunch of lands on the battlefield, while also supporting our other +1/+1 counter creatures. Trample is also hugely helpful. Our deck is really good at growing massive threats thanks to cards like The Ozolith and Conclave Mentor. Stonecoil Serpent is one of our best creatures to load up with counters since it can get combat damage in even through chump blockers.

Meanwhile, Wildwood Scourge might look a bit janky, but it's actually one of my favorite (and arguably most powerful) creatures in our deck. While it is less efficient than Stonecoil Serpent thanks to the extra mana in its casting cost, the power of Wildwood Scourge is that once it is on the battlefield, it gets a +1/+1 counter whenever one of our non-Hydra creatures get a +1/+1 counter. This means whenever we play a Stonecoil Serpent, add a counter with Luminarch Aspirant, or pump our team with Basri's Solidarity or Oran-Rief Ooze, Wildwood Scourge will get an extra +1/+1 as a bonus, which will quickly grow the Hydra into the biggest threat on the battlefield.

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While Luminarch Aspirant looks a bit slow, starting off as a 1/1 for two, being able to add a +1/+1 counter to something each turn is really strong in our deck, allowing us to build one big threat to attack through our opponent's blockers or add counters to things like Conclave Mentor so they are protected by Basri's Lieutenant and Swarm Shambler, or just growing itself. Finally, Chainweb Aracnir is technically a +1/+1 counter creature if we can escape it into play, but it's mostly in our deck because it is one of the best cards in all of Standard against the Rogue deck that has been quite popular since the Omnath banning. Against Rogues, Chainweb Aracnir can kill things like Merfolk Windrobber when it comes into play naturally, and bigger threats like Rankle, Master of Pranks or Soaring Thought-Thief if we can escape it into play. It also gives us a card that we can cast from our graveyard after our opponent mills it, while exiling cards from our graveyard is a good way to power down Rogue threats like Thieves' Guild Enforcer and Soaring Thought-Thief, which really need eight cards in our graveyard to be at full strength. It isn't as exciting in other matchups (although still fine as a 1/2 for one with some late-game escape potential), but in a world where Rogues might be the most played deck in Standard, sneaking a couple of Spiders into the main deck will be well worth it.

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As for removal, it all comes from our mana base in the form of two MDFCs: Kabira Takedown and Khalni Ambush. Kabira Takedown takes advantage of our deck's ability to go wide by flooding the board with threats and tokens from Swarm Shambler and Basri's Lieutenant, while Khalni Ambush takes advantage of our ability to go tall with The Ozolith, Wildwood Scourge, and Conclave Mentor. Most importantly, we're counting these cards as lands, cutting back to just "20" real lands in our deck to go along with our four MDFC removal spells, so in some sense, they are a free-roll outside of occasionally making us play off-curve by coming into play tapped in land form. All things considered, both are surprisingly effective as removal spells in our deck.


GW Counters was pretty insane. We went 5-1 in six matches with the deck, with our one loss being a match where we mulliganed to five in game one and then got stuck on two lands in game two. In fact, across six these matches, we only lost a total of three games with the deck—the two we just talked about and another where we drew two lands out of 18 cards, which means all of our losses came to the variance inherent in Magic, rather than by really getting beaten by our opponent's deck. Even in budget form, GW Counters felt like an extremely strong Standard deck, to the point where I wouldn't be surprised to see it end up as a legitimate top-tier option. The combination of being extremely consistent and having the biggest creatures on the battlefield and a very fast clock seems like a good way to win games in Zendikar Rising Standard 3.0.

As far as changes to make to the budget build of the deck, I'm actually super happy with where it ended up. While there probably could be some sideboard tweaks, I'd be more than happy to just run the deck back as is. It felt really strong.

So, should you play GW Counters in Standard? I think the answer is yes. I'm shocked by how well the deck played and how powerful it felt. As I mentioned before, I wouldn't be surprised to see something similar end up as a legitimate top-tier deck in Standard. If you like aggro wins, +1/+1 counters, and tricky synergies, give GW Counters a shot in Zendikar Rising Standard 3.0. It seems to be big enough to go over other aggro decks and resilient enough to fight through wraths from control. Plus, we have some really good tech to deal with Rogues in Chainweb Aracnir and Garruk's Harbinger! All in all, there really isn't much to dislike about the deck, other than its relatively high wildcard cost on Magic Arena.

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Since the build we played for the video is already quite cheap in paper and on Magic Online, our ultra-budget list this week is mostly focused on bringing down the wildcard cost on Magic Arena. With some careful cuts, we can get from 35 rares all the way down to 16. First, we cut all of the rares from our sideboard, which isn't a huge deal. Losing Garruk's Harbinger makes the Rogues matchup a bit worse, but our four Chainweb Aracnirs should be enough to have a shot. We also drop all of the rares from the mana base, with Blossoming Sands and Evolving Wilds replacing our Pathway and Temple of Plenty. Otherwise, we drop Luminarch Aspirant and replace it with Gnarlid Colony, which is a downgrade, although Gnarlid Colony's ability to give all of our +1/+1 counter creatures trample is nice, giving us an additional way to close out the game even through blockers. We also lose our two copies of The Ozolith. While The Ozolith is really sweet in the deck, it is less essential than our other rares (Stonecoil Serpent, Swarm Shambler, Oran-Rief Ooze, and Basri's Lieutenant, which are really tough to cut). The end result is a build of GW Counters that is worse than the one we played for the video (mostly thanks to the mana base downgrades) but will take less than half the number of wildcards to build. Since we managed to keep the cuts mostly in the mana base and the sideboard, the deck should have almost as much explosive potential and should be nearly as good a building massive +1/+1 counter threats. It will just be a bit less consistent thanks to the tapped lands in the mana base.

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Finally, the non-budget build of GW Counters doesn't get a ton of changes. In fact, apart from upgrading the mana a bit with Fabled Passage, there were really only two cards that I wanted to play in the budget build but couldn't for budget reasons: The Great Henge and Scavenging Ooze. Scavenging Ooze is not only another +1/+1 counter creature but also a solid card against Rogues (where eating away our own graveyard is relevant), various Lurrus of the Dream-Den decks (where eating our opponent's graveyard is relevant), and aggro (where the lifegain matters). Meanwhile, The Great Henge is perfect for our deck, giving us a steady stream of card draw as we cast our 30 creatures, more incidental lifegain, and extra mana for casting massive Stonecoil Serpents and Wildwood Scourges. While I'm not sure these upgrades are really necessary—the budget build from the video felt really solid—I do think they are worth adding to the deck, especially if you already have copies of The Great Henge and Scavenging Ooze in your collection.


Anyway, that's all for today. As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions in the comments, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at

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