This one’s gonna be short and sweet, folks. I don’t have the juice for a twenty-page, nine thousand word opus this time. No way, no how, no chance, get the picture? [shedding a tear for Gary Coleman] It’s the holiday season, and I’ve got places to go and people to see. Still, I would be remiss if I left the gaping collective maw of Magic Content Consumers [tm] without tossing it a succulent Christmas ham. Get ready to dine, boys and girls.
[dons straw hat, secures nearby hayseed]
This time, ya’ll gonna learn somethin’ about TLC, and I don’t mean the kind momma gives ya when yus’ a sick in bed. We’s gon’ talk bout the TLC from the MTG (yeah, you know me), that standin’ fer’ Twelve Land Charbelcher, the hillbilly deck of choice. Lookit all dem’ mountains, just like the Blue Ridge! Yeeeeeee haw!
[removes hat, angles mouth toward nearby spittoon]
Last month, [author name="Will Rieffer"]Will Rieffer[/author] provided us a TLC build featuring Lightning Rift, Grid Monitor, Sulfuric Vortex, and the usual suspects. I had already been playing my version of TLC for about three weeks prior to his article, which didn’t have many of the cards present in his build. After some testing, I came to the conclusion that if you’re going to run TLC, you should be using every possible card to further the end of activating Goblin Charbelcher and killing your opponent. Cards like Grid Monitor, Hammer of Bogardan, and Shrapnel Blast, while all useful in their own right, do not further this end. Also, Will’s build didn’t have any redundancy built in to recover Goblin Charbelcher in case it was destroyed or countered, but this was less of a problem due to the random smattering of other damage sources in the deck.
I have won three local Standard tournaments with this build of TLC and have placed in the top 4 one other time. I originally just wanted to have fun playing the deck, but it ended up far more competitive than I anticipated.
4 Solemn Simulacrum
4 Chartooth Cougar
3 Myr Retriever
4 Chrome Mox
4 Pyrite Spellbomb
4 Chromatic Sphere
4 Talisman of Dominance
4 Talisman of Progress
4 Thirst for Knowledge
4 Goblin Charbelcher
3 Welding Jar
I’ll break down the deck by category, as to me this makes more sense than simply going over each card.
4 Pyrite Spellbomb
Obviously in order to survive in today’s Standard environment, you need to be able to kill a few creatures. Okay, that’s not the whole truth — you need to be able to kill large amounts of small, quick hitting creatures or kiss your chances of winning goodbye. The best spell to meet this need, and in particular for frying a throng of Goblins, is Starstorm. When coupled with the cheap and effective Pyrite Spellbomb, Starstorm pretty much assures that you’re not going to get run over by an early creature rush. Pure beatdown decks can’t really win against TLC unless they get in a bunch of early damage. These eight spells help to make sure you have the time to develop the board, draw some cards, and eventually launch a fiery forty point burp at the opponent.
Acceleration and thinnin’
4 Solemn Simulacrum
4 Chartooth Cougar
4 Chromatic Sphere
When the primary focus of your deck is to eventually draw a copy of your main win condition, cards that thin out your library are essential. Chromatic Sphere provides further access to Blue mana if a Talisman is nowhere in sight and replaces itself. Chartooth Cougar is primarily a thinner, but I have raw-dogged him quite a few times to great effect. Nothing says lumping like a 4/4 firebreathing cat with six Mountains already on the table.
The deck’s real all-star is Solemn Simulacrum; I think ole’ Jens has finally found his true calling in Standard. He accelerates your mana further, decreases your chances of fizzling a Goblin Charbelcher activation, and when he has to take one for the team, you draw a card. He’s card drawing, deck thinning, and a 2/2 body all in one tight little package. Don’t leave home without him.
4 Thirst of Knowledge
Let’s be realistic: there isn’t a Magic player on the planet that doesn’t love drawing cards. Every pluck, every peel, every card on the top of the deck has the chance to be pure gold. Each card drawn could be the one that puts you over the top or totally screws your opponent. In the case of TLC, every card drawn could be the one that you need to put a smoking crater into your opponent’s face. Why not maximize your chances by playing the full complement of the two best card drawing spells in Standard? It would be foolish not to, in my humble opinion. There are plenty of artifacts in the deck, so Thoughtcast should only ever cost one blue mana, and I have never had to discard two cards to Thirst for Knowledge. You need to dig through the deck like Sallah and the Cairo crew looking for the Ark of the Covenant.
Ahh, the Germans call him Belloche… [chuckling]
4 Chrome Mox
4 Talisman of Dominance
4 Talisman of Progress
The land and Talisman configuration needs no real explanation. I will say a word on Chrome Mox however, as this deck depends a lot on speed and available mana per turn. Your ideal first play is to drop a land, imprint something on Chrome Mox, and then cast a Talisman. The ideal next turn is either followed by a land drop and Goblin Charbelcher or with card drawing to fill your hand back up. Chrome Moxen are also ideal pitches to Thirst for Knowledge in the mid game.
Thirty four damage takin’?
4 Goblin Charbelcher
3 Myr Retriever
Goblin Charbelcher’s role in the deck should be self-explanatory. I included one maindeck copy of Fabricate to serve primarily as an extra virtual Belcher, but I’ve used it to fetch Pyrite Spellbomb to kill morphed Exalted Angel, to get Solemn Simulacrum for a little card advantage, to get Myr Retriever to block an incoming Ravenous Baloth so that I could return an already destroyed Charbelcher to my hand, etc. It’s been very good to me as a sixtieth card, but it’s also the first card to go when I need to sideboard stuff in. Myr Retriever provides the deck with a little redundancy against artifact removal and countermagic, both of which it is ill-suited to face in game 1. The littlest Myr has also been known to block a few Goblins and Myr Enforcers during his time of service.
Goblins / Goblin Bidding
A lot is dependant on what kind of draw they get and whether or not you have the ability to defend against a potent early rush. Sometimes with TLC, you’ll draw a hand full of Talismans and card drawing without any removal and just lose. Sometimes you’ll draw a hand with good acceleration, a Starstorm, and card drawing, and you win going away.
Their best cards against you are Clickslither and Goblin Goon, if anyone is still running it. Clickslither can be a real pain as he tends to elude the Starstorm plan, but he’s survivable. The few times I have seen Goblin Goon, I have perished at his hands. But, if the opponent has anything resembling a slow start, you have to like your chances. Goblin decks can’t do anything about a Charbelcher on the table in game 1, and you’ll probably pop them in two or fewer activations.
Goblin Bidding is pretty much the same matchup as regular Goblins, except they have the ultimate backup plan in Patriarch’s Bidding and may even have Terror in the main as well. These cards are both essentially dead against you if they draw them early. Your Starstorms are slightly worse, here. Remember kids, more Biddings in hand = less Goblins to beat your face with. Try to cycle as many Chartooth Cougars as possible against Goblin Bidding and you’ll be sure to at least have some solid bodies to block with should they cast the big B.
+2 Welding Jar
-1 Chromatic Sphere, -1 Fabricate
Goblin decks all have four Shatter in the sideboard, and you must protect your Charbelcher at all costs against them. A couple of Welding Jars should do the trick; you should only want the third Welding Jar against decks with Akroma’s Vengeance or more than four sideboarded artifact removal spells (some Goblin builds sell out vs. Affinity with four Shatter and four Detonate in the board, so be aware).
Affinity is the best deck in Standard right now, and the masses seem to be favoring the ten-counter builds (fools, all) at present. So, that means you’re going to have to fight through four Mana Leak, four Override, and two Assert Authority to get Goblin Charbelcher live and direct. Things can be difficult in game 1 without the proper acceleration, but Affinity decks have a few turns where they have to actually cast something on their own turn and can’t keep counter mana available for yours. Most of the time, it’s because they’re land light and need to resolve a Thoughtcast or cast a Talisman of Dominance to shore up their mana. These are your windows of opportunity, so seize them when they arise.
There are only six counters to get through if you correctly play around Mana Leak, and chances are good that your opponent is going to play tentatively because they know that a resolved Charbelcher usually means the game. Starstorm isn’t very reliable against Myr Enforcer or Broodstar, and Pyrite Spellbomb is pretty much dead, so just cantrip it in game 1 and look for card drawing.
+4 Shatter, +3 Detonate, possibly +2 Boil depending on land configuration
-4 Pyrite Spellbomb, -2 Chromatic Sphere, -1 Fabricate
As always, attacking the sensitive mana base of the Affinity deck can yield an easy victory, so make that your focus in games 2 and 3. They will probably bring in Shatters of their own for your Charbelcher antics, but you can keep them off of the mana to cast it fairly easily, and I wouldn’t necessarily bring in any Welding Jars. After sideboarding, you have a lot of things that are”must counter” for Affinity, and you will eventually overload their countermagic unless they are extremely lucky.
This is one of the weaker game 1 matchups possible, since U/W decks have both countermagic and Akroma’s Vengeance, a total wrecking ball against a deck like TLC with so much artifact mana. Still, four of their counters are Mana Leak and the others are either Rewind or Discombobulate, and both cost 2UU; it’s easier to slip things through than vs. Affinity. However, these guys have something Affinity doesn’t have.
They have The Button.
It doesn’t matter if you sneak past the countermagic — these guys will just push The Button, blow everything up, and start over. The Button makes me very angry. However, if you have a Myr Retriever on the table and can force a Charbelcher through, then you don’t necessarily care about Akroma’s Vengeance, because they need to first Wrath of God the Myr Retriever away and then push The Button. If they don’t, they’re going to need nine mana to counter the Return of Charbelcher the very next turn. Try to set this situation up, if possible. U/W Control decks will be loathe to actually let you untap with the mana to activate Goblin Charbelcher.
TLC is very good at killing Decree of Justice’s soldier tokens and U/W Control can’t ever reasonably go for a third-turn morphed Exalted Angel, because the chances of it living to unmorph are remote. You tend to draw more cards than the U/W deck does, and they rarely ever want to tap out for Exalted Angel or Eternal Dragon against you because of what it could mean (their death, one turn style). Although this is probably the worst matchup, it’s not utterly hopeless on the level of say, game 1 B/W Control vs. Affinity, for example.
+3 Flashfires, +2 Welding Jar, +2 Boil
-4 Chromatic Sphere, -1 Fabricate, -1 Pyrite Spellbomb, -1 Starstorm
Flashfires is the best hoser against U/W Control as it shuts down Akroma’s Vengeance, Wrath of God, Exalted Angel, and the rare (but actually good against TLC) hard-cast Decree of Justice. Boil does the same job on Islands at instant speed and has long been a great end-of-turn test spell to force through something you really want to resolve in your main phase. I like to bring in two or three copies of Welding Jar depending on how many copies of The Button they’re running by contrast — some U/W decks only run three in the main with none in the sideboard, some run four in the main, and some run three straight up and one on the sidelines. Beware of U/W decks boarding in Stifle for the second and third games.
G/W Control and R/W Slide
G/W Control is a relatively new archetype that seems to be gaining some steam, so I’ll spare a few words for it. The deck basically runs like U/W Control without the counters, wanting to accelerate with Rampant Growth and Solemn Simulacrum into huge, game-ending Decrees. Ravenous Baloth, Troll Ascetic, Exalted Angel, and Eternal Dragon are all also part of the game plan. And yes, let us not forget about the three or four copies of The Button in their possession, too. So, how does TLC win?
Uhhh… you thin out the lands in your deck, cast Goblin Charbelcher and activate it on the same turn, either killing them outright or forcing an Akroma’s Vengeance the next turn. Yep, pretty simple. They can’t do anything to stop you, and their deck isn’t really fast enough to put a ton of early pressure on you to force you into other, more defensive plays. Starstorm wipes out most of their team, and you are more than happy to chump Ravenous Baloth with Solemn Simulacrum most of the time. You also draw more cards than they do and can frequently out muscle them as a result.
I haven’t found this matchup to be either incredibly difficult or particularly compelling; either I’ve gotten Goblin Charbelcher down and won in one or two turns, or I’ve drawn a bunch of Talismans and died to turn 3 and turn 4 Ravenous Baloths. Oh, remember this one — if you target your opponent with Goblin Charbelcher and they have no responses and you flip over lethal damage, they can not sacrifice a Ravenous Baloth or gain life in response to the damage. It’s like Erratic Explosion in OLS draft — if they don’t respond to the activation and you hit for big money (no whammies), then they are cooked. [Having helped Jim test this deck and match-up, I can tell you that the Charbelcher recursion here is really annoying. I’ve actually gone so far as to consider including Ivory Mask as a sideboard option.- Knut]
+3 Flashfires, +2 Welding Jar
-4 Chromatic Sphere, -1 Fabricate
It’s pretty much business as usual in games 2 and 3. I don’t really know what the G/W decks can board in other than Naturalize that would make any difference. Flashfires is even more of a beating against G/W Control than it is against U/W.
Incidentally, you can apply a lot of the same strategies and concepts from the G/W control matchup to R/W Slide. Many of the cards that actually concern you are common to both archetypes. Although you can’t do anything about Lightning Rift barbecuing you before you win with Charbelcher, they’re usually going to need two of them early to accomplish this feat. You might even force them to Akroma’s Vengeance away a double Lightning Rift setup if you get Charbelcher down and aren’t in danger of dying before you could possibly kill them. It’s pretty good times when that happens, mi amigos. Sideboard the exact same way for R/W Slide as you would for G/W Control.
R/G Beasts / LD
I can’t lie; you’re going to have problems against a deck that can kill lands on the second turn when you’re only running twelve of them. Unless you get a couple of Talismans down early, your chances are extremely remote. Even if you do manage to get a few of them down, they still have Viridian Shaman, Creeping Mold, and Molder Slug to take care of them. This is by far your worst matchup, and you don’t even have anything that you can bring in short of Welding Jar.
Use Pyrite Spellbomb to kill a first-turn Bird of Paradise whenever possible. There’s a chance that they may not have any early land destruction and you can develop your side in peace, but I would not hope for such things. If you get lucky and can get a Charbelcher down, you can operate as normal, but the R/G decks have so many things that absolutely ruin your life. It’s really a pretty hopeless matchup. If this deck is big in your local metagame, you probably can’t play TLC.
+3 Welding Jar
-1 Fabricate, -2 Chromatic Sphere
I can’t really discuss anything difference about games two and three. Sideboard in a few extra prayers, if you can spare the room.
Give me a break. Is this deck still even considered in the metagame? MBC has absolutely no chance against TLC. They have dead cards galore, they damage themselves to draw cards and as a result increase your chances of a one shot Charbelcher kill, and their discard is likely to be ineffective against a deck whose primary cards are non-colored. There’s nothing to bring in out of the sideboard, no fancy play to think about; just thin out your land, draw cards, drop Goblin Charbelcher, and then kill them. They have Oblivion Stone, but unlike The Button, you can actually see Oblivion Stone coming ninety-five percent of the time. MBC is probably as good as a bye.
You’re not always going to draw great hands with this deck. TLC really needs two mana to get things rolling and that’s not always going to be the case. Be prepared to mulligan extensively. You can usually make up for going down a card with Thoughtcast and Thirst for Knowledge, so all is not lost. I would say that TLC is probably tier 1.5 at best, right now. I don’t think it can ever be considered a top deck because of the high randomness factor (most of the time when you lose it’ll be to manascrew or you simply get unlucky and fizzle on Charbelcher activations, etc.) but it is definitely a gas to play and a solid metagame choice for those looking to get away from the usual Standard gauntlet.
Oh, before I go, the things I want for Christmas:
- Danny Ainge to figure out what the hell he’s doing to my Celtics
- The Patriots to not ever lose until next season
- Digitech RP-50 Modeling Guitar Processor
- Fewer bad beats
- The new Self album to come out before the next ice age
- Continued good health for family and friends
- My wife to get her dream job as a professor at our alma mater
- A-Rod signed, sealed, and delivered
- A really good dish of bubble gum and/or peppermint ice cream
Yep, that about covers it.
My next article will probably be after the new year, and it will concern my latest and potentially greatest new rogue innovation for both Standard and Extended. If you’ve been watching any of my games on Magic Online recently, you’ve probably seen it in action. If not, come have a peep. I’ll be playing throughout the holidays.
Dobbs on IRC / Magic Online