A Wharf Class Athlete

Whether it’s the Olympics or Magic, Matt Higgs loves the underdog! He’s taking one of the sleeper rares of Eldritch Moon and brewing away for #SCGNY’s Standard Classic!

Between the first weekend of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, the SCG Tour® Regional Championships, and Pro Tour Eldritch Moon in Sydney, this past weekend was all about competition at the highest level. As a longtime spectator of the Olympics, this weekend saw some particularly outstanding efforts, as well as crippling defeats, in swimming, volleyball, gymnastics, and (of particular interest to me) cycling. The SCG Tour® Regional Championships saw whole new archetypes bud and bloom, while the Pro Tour was won by not Bant Company! For one reason or another, everyone had a reason to celebrate!

The rising stars of Eldritch Moon have come into their own. Emrakul, the Promised End has achieved prominence; Liliana, the Last Hope has achieved ubiquity; and Grapple with the Past achieved, well, attention. The best and brightest are out in the open, so there’s no point to brewing.

Said no one ever.

You know me. I’m always looking past the podium to those gems this Olympiad who haven’t gotten their shot yet. I always like to believe in the underdog. In fact, I suppose in the end that’s really my whole shtick. I’m not a high-powered Olympic scout looking for the next Katie Ledecky or Kevin Durant. I’m the grandmother who buys synchronized hula-hooping lessons for that kid with the bowl-cut down the street. Yeah, it may never be an Olympic sport (or even a sport), but somebody’s gotta believe in them.

Lurking beneath the bleachers and off to one side, Wharf Infiltrator hasn’t gotten much attention outside of a sweet Sam Black build. Still, this little Human Horror has intrigued me since it was spoiled. If you do a physical on the Wharf Infiltrator, besides what I must imagine to be an inordinate amount of tentacles, you’ll also find something that looks very familiar. In fact, most of its text box, its cost, and its power and toughness are strikingly similar to another card, released shortly before the games in Torino.

Lucky for Wharf Infiltrator that plagiarism isn’t enough to get you banned from the games…of Magic.

Looter il-Kor, a mere common—though a reasonable Cube card—has the same cost and size, and its evasive ability is very similar. When hitting an opponent, it has a comparable trigger as well, though at least the Infiltrator lets you have the option to not loot.

Okay, so I’m not super-interested in making a deck that basically has a common as the centerpiece, so it has to be Wharf Infiltrator’s final ability that brings home the gold: anytime you would discard a creature card, regardless of what ability or spell causes you to do so, you can pay two mana to create a 3/2 Eldrazi Horror token. Most people would pay two mana for a 3/2 token, especially if they could do so every time they discarded a creature card in a madness-friendly environment. The fact that it costs mana is important to prevent degeneracy outside of Standard, but it is also a massive cost when considering how best to leverage this ability. Wharf Infiltrator’s looting trigger doesn’t cost any mana, but we should try to think of other ways to trigger it for free.

Chandra, Flamecaller has a “0” that won’t quit, and being able to trigger the Infiltrator multiple times sounds awesome. However, she is six mana, it can’t be done the turn you cast her, and in reality you’re probably going to want either of her other modes more times than not. If you’re “0”-ing, you’re not under much pressure. Noose Constrictor has an unlimited discard ability, but it would require pairing with something like Duskwatch Recruiter to provide enough creatures to make it worth it. Stern Constable offers discard for no mana and a bonus, but it puts another 1/1 body in the deck with no apparent way to boost it.

Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy! Not only is it a great way to make a 3/2 at will, but his -2/-0 seems incredibly relevant. And, now that he’s so close to rotating, he’s finally affordable by a large swath of Standard players! Moving this direction puts us in a more aggressive vein, so we’ll need to add relevant creatures with madness and other creatures that like to be discarded to drive the point home.

I drafted up a straightforward list and tuned it over a week or so to this one.

The core of this deck is actually not Wharf Infiltrator. After some testing, I found that a full set was a little silly, because I only ever wanted one and that 1/1 body turned out to be a serious liability a lot of the time. Instead, the core centers around four creatures: Voldaren Pariah, Asylum Visitor, Prized Amalgam, and Haunted Dead. Together, these four creatures provide a complementary suite of discard enablers and payoff cards, and none of them are bad if you have to play them in normal circumstances. On top of that, Wharf Infiltrator is happy to discard any of these, so you’re not really losing a card. You’re drawing and getting a 3/2, as mana permits, and that’s what helps to push Wharf Infiltrator over the top. Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy pulls his weight, too, and he is truly helpful on either side.

In the spell category, Liliana, the Last Hope gets slid in here for her ability to handle wide battlefield states reliably and to keep giving you steam after your opponent runs out. Her ultimate is great, of course, and the high creature count can protect her while she adds loyalty counters. Collective Brutality is a great role-player, allowing you to craft your hand, your graveyard, your opponent’s hand, and the battlefield for two mana. Similarly, Sinister Concoction provides a way to eliminate critical creatures like Spell Queller without the hassle; the mill, discard, and even the life loss aren’t too big a deal for the clean way it removes a creature.

This was a surprise ringer from the bench; I was discarding a lot and was bummed when I had to discard something relevant or something situational that I couldn’t get value out of. For one black mana, you can Lightning Helix your opponent, and that’s good enough for me. In a creature-based deck, having reach is really important these days, so Alms of the Vein can close a gap or finish a game, and Jace, Telepath Unbound can flash it back.

I started testing with 22 lands and found it grossly inadequate, eventually landing on 25 lands. Geier Reach Sanitarium acted like another Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy in terms of discard power, and it’s definitely a great inclusion in most any deck that benefits from discarding.

This deck was actually quite powerful in testing and was able to get around some of the format’s problem creatures, including Reflector Mage and Spell Queller. The creature sizing was solid, the manabase was reliable, and it had strong inevitability for a fairly simply constructed deck. There were some winners and some losers, though, and you know which turned out to be the biggest dud?

Yeah, I’m not sure if I built inappropriately to leverage this Horror or if it’s just not quite there at all, but Wharf Infiltrator was pretty underwhelming. Its token-production mode was infrequently utilized; much more of the time, it was a pinger that allowed me to loot alongside Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy, but it was never the engine I expected. Even when I did make the 3/2 token, it was never particularly relevant and I had to bend over backwards to jump through that hoop. In the end, it was either an underpowered creature or a gimmick enchantment-like permanent. Wharf Infiltrator could have had the exact same stats and cost just one blue mana and I think it wouldn’t have been broken.

So who was a breakout?

This card was a monster, especially when combined with Stromkirk Condemned. It’s a three-power flyer that dodges Spell Queller’s trigger and blocks it, so you know I’ll like it, but in congress with Stromkirk Condemned, it was just a Plumeveil with upside.

Plumeveil was a great card back in the Shadowmoor days, and the ability to play it at instant speed with on-demand discard was enormously powerful. Plus, if I understand the stack correctly, the Voldaren Pariah would resolve before Stromkirk Condemned’s activated ability would, so it’ll come in as a 3/3 and get pumped to a 4/4 for the remainder of the turn. Alongside Haunted Dead, I had plenty of juice to sacrifice it and flip it into a monstrous 6/5 flyer that Languish and Grasp of Darkness couldn’t touch. Plus they wouldn’t have any creatures left, so there’s that.

Setting Wharf Infiltrator aside, I decided to revisit the idea of a Vampire tribal deck with these two at the center, but with a critical second color: white.

I believe that Vampires’ main weakness to Humans and other aggro archetypes is the lower sizing, their inability to race, and their more linear nature of play. As best as our manabase allows, we’re going to give Vampires an Anthem.

This would be a Mana Confluence deck if I ever saw one.

This could produce some really large, lifelinking Vampires, and because of their sizing, each was a must-kill. You could overextend thanks to Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and Asylum Visitor, who could help keep your hand full and the pressure on. When I hit double white, which was frequent enough, I was a king. When I didn’t, I’d just discard the Gideons to fuel a one-turn Anthem on the back of Stromkirk Condemned. The combination of these two cards made sweepers like Kozilek’s Return ineffective. In one game against a stock R/G list, my flipped Abolisher of Bloodlines even survived an Eldrazi-activated Kozilek’s Return, winning me the game.

Sorry, Wharf Infiltrator. Maybe next year.

Comments from Last Week

Last week, I shared a budget U/R list featuring Fevered Visions and Curious Homunculus, and you all had a lot to say!

Built up ‘Blue Oyster Bolt’ after your article, since I had most of the pieces already. Seems like a fun deck so far.

1st recommended change: replace 2 Nagging Thoughts and 2 Grip of the Roil with 4 Take Inventory. It helps if you’re playing against creature-light decks, and the early card draw is necessary since 20 lands can lead to some thin-landed opening hands.

2nd recommended change: 4 Displacement Wave in the board is overkill; probably 2 is enough. My problem is that if you’re casting it to fill your opponent’s hand and start getting them with visions, then (a) they can probably reload quickly if you’re casting with X = 2 or (b) you really need 8 mana to redeploy your Visions if X = 3. Maybe it’s slightly cheaper if Voracious Reader is on the board, but likely not. I’m thinking either Turn Aside or Broken Concentration, but haven’t tested either yet.

Love your work.

– Thomas Gushue

Thanks for your feedback, Thomas! These are great suggestions. I’d actually tried Take Inventory, but it definitely didn’t feel great casting it with no copies in the graveyard, so I probably got too nervous to stick it out and play some more games. You make a great point about Displacement Wave as well; some number of Disperses could probably replace it.

I bought some Curious Homunculus this week and had almost given up on them as their unflipped stats are so weak, dying to so many one-drop creatures/spells. Even Languish if it flips without a spell and untapped mana available. Look forward to seeing how this list works.”

– Andy Blair

Andy’s right; Languish with Curious Homunculus is a beating. As Curious Homunculus, it lets you get to your powerful sweeper a turn faster. As Voracious Reader, it makes your Languish cost 1BB and your Reader won’t die thanks to Prowess. I see a deck like this including Collective Brutality, Scour the Laboratory, and some number of Pieces of the Puzzle, but it’s definitely something I want to explore!

Wharf Infiltrator might have been overshadowed by its overperforming Vampire teammates, but there might still be hope for it in a U/R build. Between the Vampire-centered build and the Infiltrator-centered build, which one deserves more attention and how would you improve them?