An Evolving Nemesis: How Do You Beat the New Tooth and Nail?

U.S. Nationals is less than two weeks away. I’d like to write another tournament report and tell you that my deck beats the format. Unfortunately, Regionals didn’t go as planned, so instead I’m going to talk a little bit about the best deck in the format and theorize about how to beat it.

U.S. Nationals is less than two weeks away. I’d like to write another tournament report and tell you that my deck beats the format. Unfortunately, Regionals didn’t go as planned, so instead I’m going to talk a little bit about the best deck in the format and theorize about how to beat it.

The most successful Regionals archetype should come as no surprise. According to my calculations, and I’m sure I missed a few decklists here and there. You can only look at so many decks before your eyes glaze over and you get dizzy. Anyway, my quick review of Regionals Top 8s by archetypes revealed the following break down:

Tooth and Nail – 71

Mono Red – 53

Aggro – 19

Big (Flores) Red: 14

Ponza – 9

Choker Red – 6

Other – 5

Mono (Non-Tooth) Green – 43

Beacon: 30

Wakefield Green: 10

Other – 3

Mono Blue – 14

UTron: 10

MUC: 4

White Weenie: 13

In short, Green and Red are king, but Tooth and Nail is in a league of its own. Today, I’m going to focus on Tooth. After all, if you want to win Nationals or get an invitation through one of the grinders, you need to be able to beat Tooth.

I once thought that Tooth and Nail decklists were tight and offered little room for innovation. Boy, was I wrong. Though a certain core is featured throughout the Green Uzatron decks, the details of the maindeck and-to an even greater and more devastating extent-the details of the sideboard, represent an astonishing variety.

I blame Terry Soh. You can find his classic Tooth column here. Back in the good old days Tooth was a control deck with a nasty combo-always. Then Terry showed us the power of a transformative sideboard at the Magic Invitational, and suddenly the king of the format became a whole lot tricksier.

It’s not that hard to beat Tooth and Nail in game one. Red decks and Green decks can disassemble Urzatron with land destruction. Mono Black Control can attack Tooth with Cranial Extraction and Damping Matrix. Even Mono Blue Control has a fighting chance with its counter magic and the fact that Boseiju seems to be taking a vacation from many Tooth builds.

So game one is pretty cut and dry, but what happens in games two and three? If you bring specialized cards like land destruction or discard spells against Tooth, you might find yourself stomped by the likes of Troll Ascetic and Iwamori of the Open Fist. On the other hand, if you sideboard in reactive spells to deal with Tooth’s sideboarded (or so you assume) set creature threats, you might be unpleasantly surprised to find that your opponent only performed a partial sideboard transformation.

The latter scenario wrecked me at Regionals. I played Ponza, and every time I fought against Tooth I brought in Flamebreak (for Troll Ascetic) and Fractured Loyalty (for Iwamori and other fatties). In two matches, my sideboard plan matched that of my opponent. In the other two matches, my sideboard plan didn’t work out, and I lost to spells like Mindslaver and Tooth and Nail.

What the hell?

Doesn’t Tooth always side out spells that cost six mana or more against a deck laden with land destruction and cheap threats?

Not always.

That’s the killer. In order to beat Tooth after sideboarding, you need to have a proactive strategy that does not hinge on correctly guessing your opponent’s sideboard plan. After all, your opponent can take three different approaches for games two and three:

1) Non Transformative

Staying with the Mono Red example, your opponent would bring in defensive spells, such as Vine Trellis. The big expensive plan of Tooth and Nail does not change. Therefore, spells that have traditionally been good against Tooth, like land destruction and discard are still effective.

2) Partial Transformation

This time, several aggressive creatures come in. Most likely, we’re talking about three copies of Iwamori. This leaves Tooth with the ability to win early with fatties or later by casting its expensive spells. You might get lucky with early land destruction, but drawing it the turn after Iwamori hits the board will make you cry.

3) Full Transformation (à la Terry Soh)

This time we’re talking about 7-11 creatures coming in, such as Troll Ascetic, Iwamori, Molder Slug, and even Razormane Masticore. At this point, you’re barely even facing a Tooth deck anymore. It’s a fattie Green deck that can still control the board with Oblivion Stone. Unlike in the first scenario, land destruction is much less effective here, since Tooth no longer needs more than five mana to operate at full capacity.

Despite the challenge of outguessing your opponent’s sideboarding plan, I still thought that Ponza had a good match-up against Tooth and Nail, until recently. Tooth has adapted again. Consider the decks that won French and Greek Nationals:

While the maindecks differ with their one-of targets for Tooth, beyond that they are almost identical. The big two cards that set these decks apart from Terry Soh Troll and Nail version 1.0 are Vine Trellis and Chrome Mox.

These two cards may appear rather innocent, but they are devastating against Tooth’s Nemesis: Red decks, particularly those that destroy lands. The Trellis is also a fantastic answer versus Slith Firewalker. Given the presence of these two cards, I don’t think that Ponza has the edge in the Tooth match-up anymore.

Trellis and Mox are also very strong against opposing Green decks, whether they be Beacon Control or the mirror match. With Sakura-Tribe Elder complemented by additional forms of mana acceleration, Tooth and Nail can now reliably cast Plow Under on turn 4. Don’t forget that the Mox also opens up the possibility of Tooth and Nail resolving a full turn earlier than before.

Turn One: Urza #1, Mox, Vine Trellis/Sakura-Tribe Elder

Turn Two: Urza #2, Sylvan Scrying/Sensei’s Divining Top

Turn Three: Urza #3, Tooth and Nail

Also note the difference between the two sideboards above. While they both turn to Creeping Mold for additional leverage in the mirror match, the other slots are used for very different purposes. Goron takes the full transformation approach, leaving him with tons of creatures. How effective is this strategy? Consider the finals of French Nationals, where Goron faced off against Michel Remlinger’s Mono Blue Control deck.

After game one, Goron sideboarded like this:

-2 Tooth and Nail

-2 Oblivion Stone

-2 Vine Trellis

-1 Plow Under

-1 Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker

-1 Vampire de Méphidroos

-1 Sundering Titan

+4 Ascetic Troll

+3 Iwamori of the Open Fist

+2 Molder Slug

+1 Viridian Shaman

Yes, folks, Goron brought in 10 cards, dropping a variety of unthreatening and expensive cards for a whole slew of efficient threats. It’s not surprising that Goron crushed Remlinger in game two.

On the other hand, what if you’re a Red deck and you run into the Tooth build played by Vassilis? How do you know that your opponent is on the non-transformation plan? You don’t. Sun Droplet is a beating, since it forces you to drop threats to make room for Shatter. Chances are, though, that you don’t even see the Droplets coming, and they will own you.

Finding a Universal Approach vs. Tooth

Figuring out how to cope with Tooth’s myriad sideboard strategies is like identifying the deck’s lowest common denominator. How does the deck stay the same in games two and three?

For starters, you still win if you’re the first one to deal 20 damage. This may seem obvious, but there are subtleties. In terms of Red decks, two points come to mind. First, it seems like you’re better off with builds that play little (Molten Rain), if any, land destruction. Second, Hidetsugu’s Second Rite is a very fast way to end games.

Tooth and Nail remains a Green deck. Yeah, I know this is another no-brainer, but what does it really mean. How many cards punish Mono Green?

Circle of Protection: Green


Eastern Paladin


Mind Sludge

That list is pretty weak, I know. Could you imagine playing Circle of Protection: Green? Your time is running out, because it isn’t coming back in 9th Edition. On a more serious note, it seems like Persecute is the best of the bunch because it hits Tooth hard regardless of its sideboard plan. I only mention Mind Sludge because it has the bonus of getting rid of all the cards, like lands and artifacts, that Persecute will miss.

Another fact worth bearing in mind is that Tooth has to win through creature damage-Triskelion being a notable exception. That magic phrase brings two particular cards to mind:

Ensnaring Bridge


Can you really shut down Tooth’s mana base? This is a difficult task, and land destruction won’t save you when Iwamori is stomping you into the ground, but there are a few cards worth mentioning:

Molten Rain

Sowing Salt


Molten Rain makes the cut because it doubles as a Shock to the dome, so it’s actually disruption and a finisher. A single Sowing Salt on an Urzatron land ensures that your opponent will never complete the Tron. It also makes it significantly less likely that your opponent will draw additional lands, which hopefully leads to land screw. Although Obliterate is the most expensive, it’s also the most reliable, ensuring that you wipe out your opponent’s mana base while dealing with whatever threats are on the board.

Tooth and Nail is also known for its many activated abilities: Sensei’s Divining Top, Sakura-Tribe Elder, Oblivion Stone, Triskelion, Mindslaver, and Kiki-Jiki. Obviously, the Top is the most important of the bunch, since it makes draws so much more consistent. Conveniently, we do have two artifacts in Standard that shut down the aforementioned abilities:

Pithing Needle

Damping Matrix

Taking all of these points into account, it seems like there have to be some metagamed decks that can give Tooth and Nail a run for its money.

Beating Tooth and Nail

Vine Trellis, Chrome Mox, and a potential sideboard transformation make life difficult for the person metagaming against Tooth and Nail. There is hope, though. You just need to retain focus. To put it another way, the best defense against Tooth is a good offense. Defeating Tooth and Nail requires proactive strategies. That way, it doesn’t matter so much if you don’t guess exactly how your Tooth opponent sideboards. Let’s start with some Red decks.

Choker Red

Tommy Ashton

1st Place College Park, MD Regionals

14 Mountain

1 Shinka, the Bloodsoaked Keep

4 Blinkmoth Nexus

4 Chrome Mox

3 Jinxed Choker

4 Frostling

3 Genju of the Spires

4 Slith Firewalker

4 Vulshok Sorcerer

4 Zo-Zu the Punisher

4 Shock

4 Magma Jet

4 Shrapnel Blast

3 Shatter


4 Sun Droplet

4 Molten Rain

3 Cosmic Larva

3 Flamebreak

1 Mountain

Unlike the many other Red decks that focus on land destruction or beatdown, this one wants strives to deal 20 damage as fast as possible. Zo-Zu truly is a punisher against Tooth and Genju of the Spires can easily slay Vine Trellis. If you see Troll Ascetic in game two, then Flamebreak can join in on the fun too.

(A side note on Cosmic Larva: It’s actually there for the mirror, where a 7/6 Trampler makes a fine finisher after your opponent has wasted most of the burn in his or her hand.)

Here’s another Red deck you need to consider. It’s designed by a guy who is rather well known on the Internet. You might have heard of him…

Big Red (with 3 tweaks)

Mike Flores

19 Mountain

4 Blinkmoth Nexus

1 Mikokoro, the Center of the Sea

4 Sensei’s Divining Top

4 Wayfarer’s Bauble

3 Solemn Simulacrum

4 Magma Jet

4 Shrapnel Blast

4 Molten Rain

4 Forge[/author]“]Pulse of the [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]

2 Hidetsugu’s Second Rite

4 Arc-Slogger

3 Beacon of Destruction

This deck has always been good, but now that Tooth is becoming more resilient to land destruction, Big Red is looking even better. I made some (untested) modifications from Flores’ original listing:

-1 Mountain

-1 Solemn Simulacrum

-1 Sowing Salt

+2 Hidetsugu’s Second Rite

+1 Mikokoro, Center of the Sea

Jens always seemed a little slow and clunky to me. Thanks to all the burn spells, the deck has so many ways to do exactly 10 points of damage, making Hidetsugu’s Second Rite seem like an excellent addition. Finally, Mikokoro looks like a great way to ensure that you draw that final burn spell. I didn’t list a sideboard because I haven’t tested this deck enough lately, but I feel like Culling Scales and Flamebreak are auto-includes.

Now for something totally unexpected: Blue Aggro Control.

Erayo Control

Yannick Lacroix

4th at French Nationals

18 Island

4 Chrome Mox

1 Pithing Needle

1 Sensei’s Divining Top

3 Umezawa’s Jitte

4 Spire Golem

4 Serum Visions

2 Annul

4 Erayo, Soratami Ascendant

4 Boomerang

3 Mana Leak

3 Trinket Mage

2 Kira, Great Glass-Spinner

4 Thieving Magpie

3 Condescend


3 Hibernation

3 Threads of Loyalty

3 Thunderstaff

3 Zur’s Weirding

2 Carry Away

1 Pithing Needle

I was surprised by the number of Mono Blue decks in the French Nationals Top 8. Of the four Mono Blue decks there, three of them were pretty standard, but this one, piloted by Yannick Lacroix, was the anomaly.

Let’s start with the fact that it only plays 18 lands. Chrome Mox, Serum Visions, Condescend, and a mana curve that tops out at four makes this possible.

The next thing that jumps out at me is Trinket Mage. It’s a tutor for Sensei’s Divining Top, Pithing Needle, and Chrome Mox with a 2/2 body attached. In other words, this Wizard is very good in this deck.

The low mana curve and Trinket Mage combine to make a formidable engine for flipping over Erayo, bane of decks that fear counter magic. Ever since Saviors was fist released, I’ve been trying to fir Erayo into an aggressive Blue deck. I could never figure it out, but Yannick Lacroix seems to have pulled it off.

Honestly, I’m not sure how this deck fares against Tooth. My heart says that the combination of Erayo, counter magic, and Boomerang proves pretty effective, but without having had the time to test this deck I’m not really sure. Plus, it seems that should it make the effort, Tooth can destroy Mono Blue. Remember the finals of the French Nationals?

Finally, it seems like there has to be some sort of Mono Black deck that can challenge Tooth. The following deck is based closely on a list by Koyanagi Hironori.

Mono Black Control

Rick Rust

17 Swamp

1 Shizo, Death’s Storehouse

3 Stalking Stones

4 Chrome Mox

1 Talisman of Dominance

1 Talisman of Indulgence

3 Damping Matrix

3 Yukora, the Prisoner

3 Kokusho, the Evening Star

4 Terror

4 Phyrexian Arena

4 Persecute

3 Hideous Laughter

2 Diabolic Tutor

1 Night of Souls’ Betrayal

1 Cranial Extraction

1 Mind Sludge

4 Consume Spirit

Now we’re moving into the theoretical (read: untested) territory. This deck focuses on three things. First, we have Phyrexian Arena for card advantage, fueled by Kokusho and Consume Spirit. Then there is Persecute, annihilator of the mono-colored format. Turn 3 Persecute should win you many a game, so many that it makes sense to include two Talismans to makes it easier to cast Persecute on turn three. Finally, we have Damping Matrix, which shuts down a tremendous number of cards, from Sensei’s Divining Top to Vedalken Shackles to Sakura-Tribe Elder and Equipment. The remainder of the deck is fleshed out by solid removal spells and some efficient finishers.

The latest versions of Tooth and Nail may be particularly nasty, but careful deckbuilding and careful metagaming will still allow you to dethrone the king of the format.

Take it easy,


[email protected]

[For those that care, I’ll tell you straight up that I’ve tested the hell out of this deck both pre and post-Regionals and I think only one NoSB is a mistake (Night of Souls’s Betrayal plus Damping Matrix is at least 60% of the reason why you play this deck) and that you should be running 4 Distress in the maindeck. -Knut]