Building a Better Cemetery: The Best G/B Deck You’ve Never Seen Part II

A deeper examination of why Richard feels he’s right.

I had considered trying to disguise this list in some way, because if you just skip down and look at it without any explanation, you’d probably come to the conclusion that all I’ve done is taken a regular Cemetery build, cut synergy creatures and nonbasic lands, and added removal and maindeck Withered Wretch. Actually that’s exactly what I’ve done… but of course it’s not patently obvious that doing this is a good thing for the deck. Ah, well – people who will just look at the decklist and then flame me on the message boards for”forgetting” Baloth don’t deserve a superior build of Cemetery anyway. Screw ’em, I say.

Anyway, I’ve said a mouthful about what cards I didn’t run, so let me now say a few words about the cards I did run.

Withered Wretch is clearly an all-star against both Bidding and White-based control decks (you might not think he’s an all-star until you’ve tried to fight off a recurring Eternal Dragon), and is at worst a 2/2 for two mana against other decks. That power-to-mana cost ratio will allow him to come down nice and early against Goblin decks, so he can block and trade with Piledrivers and Warchiefs, and against Affinity he’ll be in place quick enough to trade with Frogmites and Arcbound Workers before they can get too big to block. He can also reduce the effectiveness of Myr Retriever, and though you’ll rarely have enough mana to keep the Affinity player’s graveyard completely clear of artifacts, you can at least take out the important ones like Skullclamp and Arcbound Ravager.

I’ve seen as many as four Viridian Shamans maindeck, but these simply are not necessary to beat Affinity. Against Affinity, there is only one artifact that you need to kill that cannot be killed by creature removal, and that’s Skullclamp. Three Shamans, four Heralds, with four Skullclamps to draw into them is usually enough to take out that one particular artifact, especially once you factor in late-game recursion. You’ll obviously have a much tougher time doing this if they have Welding Jar, but after sideboarding you will have enough removal to punch through these as well.

The only other threatening artifacts in the deck are all artifact creatures, meaning you can use simple creature removal on them. Actually, there are only four kinds of creatures in Affinity that you must use removal to get rid of: Disciple of the Vault, Atog (if the build has him), Arcbound Ravager, and creatures that have been made abnormally large by Modular counters. As long as you have enough removal to deal with these, the rest of Affinity’s creature base can be handled by blocking as normal.

Please note that I said you don’t need more artifact removal to beat Affinity, not that you’ll beat Affinity every time without it. Obviously you need considerably more hate than just three Shamans and stuff to draw into them if you want to crush Affinity decks like the traditional G/B builds do, but bear in mind that if you go back to that formula, you’re also going to lose horribly to Bidding again. You can beat Affinity with three Shamans and four Heralds (the matchup is currently 50-50), but be aware that adding more artifact removal to make this matchup better in game one will make all of your other matchups worse.

Okay, now for the sideboard.

First up are the sideboard cards devoted to beating Goblin Bidding. The problem with Bidding is that it has such a diverse threat base that I simply cannot improve my deck’s ability to combat one aspect of it without losing my edge against another. For example, I need to keep in the Herald/Shaman engine available to kill Skullclamp (two Shamans are necessary in my experience, as multiple Skullclamps are a common occurrence – especially if the first stays in play for a few turns). I also need Elf Replica for Sulfuric Vortex (which is every bit as good against G/B as it is against any other control deck). Of course Withered Wretch has to stay in or I’ll lose to late-game Biddings. Death Clouds are obviously essential to shore up the midgame, and if I cut any creature removal I’ll become vulnerable to the early rush again. So what’s left to cut?

Therein lies the problem. Of all the Green and Black cards in Standard, Infest is probably the best one available against Goblins. So what do I cut for it? It’s clearly analogous to Bane of the Living (except better) in most situations, but it’s not a creature. Besides the obvious downside of not being able to recur it, this also means that your creature count will drop to sixteen after you board out the Banes, meaning you’ll have a pretty tough time finding the requisite four creatures to enable Cemetery recursion.

Thinking about Cemetery made me realize that a lot of the time the reason this matchup turns sour is that I will draw a Cemetery in the mid game when I need an answer and die to a SGC or a Bidding before I can get my recursion going. So it struck me as a good idea to go down to two Cemeteries post-board in order to fit in a couple of Infests, and so far cutting one Cemetery and one Bane for two of them has worked out nicely.

Sideboard so far:

2 Infest

Now, Astral Slide is not a tough matchup as a whole, but it does have a propensity for random wins via multiple Lightning Rifts or a Slide-protected Angel that it has no business getting. For this reason, you need to have at least a couple of Naturalizes in your board – especially because they are tangentially good against Affinity as well. Oxidize is clearly superior against that deck (because Welding Jar is savage against you), but as the bulk of your removal against Affinity will be from Viridian Shamans anyway, you’re going to have to punch through their Welding Jar shield sometime.

Sideboard so far:

2 Infest

2 Naturalize

Back when everyone and his grandmother was playing Affinity, I used to board in as many as eleven cards to improve that matchup. I wanted to make sure I never lost to Affinity post-board. Then the metagame started diversifying as people learned how to beat Affinity, so I dropped it down to nine hate cards, then seven, and now I’ve finally settled at six. Oxidize is the best possible card for me to board in against Affinity, and boarding a full set gives you the best chance of drawing it in the early game, where it’s the most beneficial.

Sideboard so far:

2 Infest

2 Naturalize

4 Oxidize

And now we come to the really strange part of the sideboard. In fact, this one card (of which there are four copies in my sideboard) is the entire reason I didn’t want to post the sideboard part of my list before explaining my choices. Let me give you a brief rundown of how I discovered this card.

Once it became clear that the matchup against the increasingly popular Tooth and Nail deck was not nearly as good as it looked on paper, I started trying out various sideboard cards to combat it. First I thought Mind Sludge would do it. That didn’t work, because they’d just discard everything but the Tooth and Nail and win anyway. Then I thought Tutor for Death Cloud would do it. Then I remembered that the whole problem with the matchup was that you couldn’t Death Cloud for enough to clear their whole board before they killed you. Finally I tried Cabal Interrogator, to make good and sure I hit that Tooth and Nail… but as it turned out spending all my mana every turn trying to get that Tooth and Nail meant they were still sitting pretty at twenty life when I finally got it, and then all they had to do was topdeck it at their leisure.

I finally determined that the best way to win that matchup was to go all-out beatdown and to just hope I had Death Cloud ready if and when they cast Tooth and Nail, rather than actively trying to assemble my defense before they could get it off. This realization led me to do one of my all-inclusive searches on every Green and Black card in Standard, in hopes of finding some tech that would facilitate this plan.

Then I found Hollow Specter. I’ll be the first to admit, I always dismissed this card as horrible and never played it, but at this point I was so desperate to improve the matchup that I was ready to try anything.

It turns out that he was great. Unbelievably strong. Hollow Specter knocks cards out of the Tooth and Nail player’s hand while dealing him damage, and lets you see one extra card per turn than Interrogator did because of his cheaper activation cost – and remember how all that mattered was that I got to see every card in order to hit the Tooth and Nail? Now I could, whereas before I was often one mana short of making them reveal the only card that mattered.

The Specter also flew over the ever-annoying Vine Trellis to deal two points per turn (or three with Skullclamp), while knocking out Tooth and Nails, Urzatron-searchers, and anything else the Tooth and Nail couldn’t play out fast enough. A lot of bad-on-paper cards like Bane of the Living require many games before you understand their value, but play just one game against Tooth and Nail where Hollow Specter comes down early and you’ll be sold. It’s just that good.

Also, while I’m on the subject, Hollow Specter is a nice sideboard card to have in general. He’s solid against other control decks (though less good against those packing Lightning Rift), and is easily swapped in for Wirewood Herald against decks where you want to play the beatdown role. (So far those decks includes only Tooth and Nail and R-G Land Destruction, but both those matchups improve considerably with his addition to the deck.)

Sideboard so far:

2 Infest

2 Naturalize

4 Oxidize

4 Hollow Specter

Finally, I found that even with the Hollow Specters, the Tooth and Nail matchup needed still more help. They’d board in Pyroclasm and would often use it just to kill the Specter, which meant I was back to trying to win as a very slow beatdown deck. Tooth and Nail has been gaining so much popularity lately, I just couldn’t afford to leave it as a bad matchup. On the other hand, if I skewed my board too heavily to beat T&N, my other matchups would suffer the consequences. In the end I filled up my last three slots with Duplicants and left it at that.

Final Sideboard:

4 Oxidize

4 Hollow Specter

3 Duplicant

2 Naturalize

2 Infest


Here’s the part where you want win percentages, cold hard testing data, and an unspoken promise from me that if you play my deck against the field, you’ll come up with the same win-to-loss ratio that I did.

Come on.

Let’s be honest – nobody is qualified to post win percentages except the pros. They have a maximal level of skill with their deck, and what’s more they’re playing against top-notch pilots controlling the opposing deck. If I played fifty games against someone who runs Chrome Mox, Clickslither, and Goblin Goon in his Bidding build, then came back and told you I won 75% of my games against him, does that mean Bidding is a favorable matchup for my deck? Obviously not.

I did do formal testing, however. After playing God-Knows-How-Many-Games against all the decks in the field, re-working my deck, starting over from scratch, playing some more, and finally coming up with an acceptable list, I sat down to get some data.

When I’m playtesting with intent to record and analyze my results, I always use the side-by-side testing method (which I thought I had pioneered until I found out Mike Long came up with the idea years earlier), in which I open up two instances of Magic Workstation and play several consecutive games of Magic against myself.

After I’m done playing a game of side-by-side, I’ll switch over to Word and record who won, as well as a brief summary of how the game went. I also decided to make special note of interesting facts like how many Skullclamps each player drew, in order to better analyze which cards were most important to the matchup.

I’ve become very experienced with this method, and thoroughly recommend it in addition to – but certainly not to the exclusion of – regular playtesting. In addition to learning what you need to stop your opponent from doing in order to win, you also get a great feel for what your opponent doesn’t want you to do. I should mention that I played a couple hundred games of Pest Control in its various stages against the other decks in the field, and over the course of that whole experience I became what I consider to be a competent pilot for Bidding, Affinity, Tooth and Nail, and the like.

Still, this method puts me, the Pest Co player, at an advantage over my”opponent.” This is because I have played hundreds of games with Pest Control, but less than one hundred of, say, Goblin Bidding. Of course, during those games in which I was playing Bidding, I was learning exactly what I needed to do to beat Pest Control, but the simple fact that I am a more experienced Pest Control player than I am a Goblins player will mean that I will inevitably win a few more games than I deserved with Pest Control in hand.

On the other hand, Pest Control is also considerably different than most G/B Cemetery builds, so there were also many games that I should have won but did not, where a regular opponent would have made game-losing misplays based on the assumption that they were playing a traditional Cemetery build.

A good example of this is the way many Affinity players use Blinkmoth Nexus. Against most G/B decks, dumping a bunch of Ravager counters onto a Nexus puts the G/B player on an instant clock. The G/B player can chump with Birds while scrambling to find some sort of instant-speed removal like Viridian Zealot, but such removal tends to be extremely scarce in traditional G/B builds. In fact, Brian Kibler“Brainbuster” article on Brainburst awhile back put an Affinity deck in just this situation against his own Cemetery build. Both Kibler and Ben Stark recommended making just this play – and why shouldn’t they? It’s usually a great way to win against the Green and Black cards.

When an Affinity player does this against Pest Control, however the offending Nexus is greeted with one of three maindeck Smothers, one of three maindeck Dark Banishings, or perhaps a Naturalize or Oxidize out of the board. In fact, when I’m playing against another player in real life, I will often try to bait him into performing a Nexus-dump, in order to kill two birds with one Smother. Plays like this win me many games in tournaments that I have no business winning.”Spellbomb your blocker, attack with Ravager. Sac all my stuff to Ravager, that’s fourteen points comin’ at ya. GG.” Then I play Dark Banishing before combat damage, and it is indeed a GG.

The point of that anecdote was that in side-by-side testing, I will not dump all my counters on Blinkmoth Nexus unless it’s absolutely necessary, because I know that the Nexus is much more fragile in this matchup than it usually is. I also won’t make alpha strikes into untapped Black sources unless I’m going to lose for sure if I don’t. That’s because I know Pest Control card-for-card, and I’m not going to try and”play dumb” to inflate my win percentage for the matchup. I’d much rather err on the side of thinking Affinity is a worse matchup than it is and being pleasantly surprised when I beat it, than the other way around.

At any rate, when I say I won 50% of my games against a certain deck, think of it more as somewhere between a 40% and a 60% win record, depending on the opponent’s skill level with his deck balanced against the random games that will be won because of the surprise factor that comes with running a non-standard build of a seemingly standard deck archetype.

With all that in mind, here we go: the matchups section.

Lightning Fast Ravager Affinity: About 50-50 maindeck, and 60-40 after boarding

Testing results: Out of 30 games maindeck, 15 wins, 15 losses.

Naturalize/Nexus Ravager Affinity: About 65-35 maindeck, and 75-25 after boarding

Testing results: Out of 10 games maindeck, 6 wins, 4 losses.

I intended to do thirty games against both Mike Peacock’s super-fast Ravager Affinity build (with maindeck Welding Jars and Lightning Greaves but no Blinkmoth Nexus) and another thirty against Roland Bode’s more utility-based build with Blinkmoths and Naturalizes main. I got through all thirty against Peacock’s super-fast deck, but in the middle of testing against Bode’s it came to my attention that the Tooth and Nail matchup was worse than I thought, so I never finished the last twenty games.

What I hoped to show with these two different builds is that Pest Control does significantly better against slower Affinity decks – even those that pack Naturalize such as Bode’s – simply because less threats from their side of the board means a better chance of your drawing enough answers for them. It ended up happening that I got horribly mana-flooded in two of the ten games I played against Bode’s deck, while Affinity had perfect mana every time, so percentage-wise I didn’t end up doing much better than I did against the first deck. But such is the danger of drawing conclusions from a small number of test games. Had I completed the full thirty games I’m sure I would have ended up winning at least 70%, but I didn’t get to play thirty games. How lucky, what a sack, etc.

As sideboarding goes, you have an extremely simple plan against Affinity: bring in more artifact destruction. Affinity has nothing of consequence to bring in against you unless their Welding Jars were in the board, so the win percentage in game two is entirely up to you. If you want the matchup to get better after boarding, add more artifact removal. If you’re satisfied with it just getting a little better, add less. You have plenty of near-dead cards to cut (Withered Wretch, Nekrataal, Elf Replica), so swapping in artifact removal will almost always be strictly an improvement over what was in there before.

Bottom line is, I didn’t do formal testing against Affinity post-board because it wouldn’t have given me (or you) any meaningful information. I board in four Oxidizes and two Naturalizes. Thus, the matchup has been improved by six out of sixty cards. If you have some burning desire to know exactly how that translates into a win-loss record, then please find someone with enough time and energy to translate it.

Goblin Bidding: about 50-50 maindeck, 55-45 after sideboarding unless they have Sulfuric Vortex, in which case it’s about 40-60.

Testing results: Out of 30 games played maindeck, 15 wins, 13 losses, and 2 draws resulted. (The draws came from my playing a Death Cloud large enough to kill both of us when I felt the game slipping away.)

This is my proudest statistic. I spent countless hours testing and honing my build so that it wouldn’t get smashed by Bidding like most Cemetery decks do, and it finally paid off. My original, non-control build of Cemetery (with Baloths and Zealots and all that jazz) went about 35-65 against Bidding, and from what I’ve heard from most Cemetery players, that deck is everyone’s worst matchup.

Oh yeah, for the record, I tested against [author name="Yann Hamon"]Yann Hamon’s[/author] Bidding list with maindeck Gempalm Incinerators instead of Dark Banishings, since after that swap it’s pretty much a card-for-card copy of the quintessential Bidding list.

Also for the record, the reason I didn’t formally test the post-board matchup is that it’s completely different depending on whether or not they board in Sulfuric Vortex. Without it, you become a very slight favorite because a mid- to late-game Infest can turn around an otherwise unwinnable game. However, Vortex forces you to come up with more enchantment removal than you’re packing (remember, if you use a Herald to get an Elf Replica, that’s one less Viridian Shaman you’ll have to stop their Skullclamps with.) I’ll get into this more in the Sideboarding section.

Now for some statistics.

Since one of G/B’s main strengths in this matchup is its superior ability to remove opposing Skullclamps (compared to Bidding’s almost nonexistent ability to do so), I decided to coin the term”Clamp Advantage” to describe who had more active Skullclamps in a given game.

If the Bidding player had more Clamps than I, and if I was unable to blow enough of them up to establish parity or gain the advantage myself, then Bidding had the Clamp Advantage for that game. The opposite is true if I had more Clamps, and so forth. Naturally, if we both had the same number of Clamps down for most of the game, then neither of us had Clamp Advantage.

(I made a quick rule that in order for a given Skullclamp to count for Clamp Advantage, it had to draw its owner at least four cards – Clamps blown up immediately after they hit play or ones that were drawn too late to make a difference were not factored in.)

I had Clamp Advantage over Bidding 47% of the time he had it over me in 30% of the games, and we were at parity in 23% of them.

Here’s the interesting part.

I only won 50% of the games where I had Clamp Advantage, and Bidding only won 30% of the games where it had the advantage. That’s right, Bidding actually lost a majority of the games where it had more card drawing power than I did!

Of course, this doesn’t take into account the whole picture. Drawing two Skullclamps is often pretty horrible for Bidding, since it slows them down and gives me time to set up my defenses. On the other hand, it does fill up their hand and flesh out their mana base, so it renders my most powerful weapon against them (Death Cloud) almost completely useless. As memory serves me, it was usually the games where they went nuts drawing cards with exactly one Clamp that I tended to lose, and not those where they just used it to draw some cards while maintaining their pressure. In those games, I still had the option of Death Clouding their board and hand away, which would just mean I ended up at a lower-than-usual life total once the Cloud was over. In any case, a loss rate of over 50% for the Goblins when they were outdrawing me was a definite surprise.

Speaking of Death Cloud, want to see some more fun stats?

After thirty games, eighteen of which involved Death Cloud, I lost three games in which I cast Death Cloud. Three. And in one of them, I was massively color screwed (eight Swamps and still not a single Forest), which usually doesn’t matter except that I had drawn almost all of my Green cards. And Death Cloud still almost got me the win.

For those of you scoring at home, that means I won (or tied) a whopping 83% of games where I played a Death Cloud for any amount. That’s beyond insane.

Tooth And Nail: About 25-75 maindeck, and 40-60 after board

This looks favorable on paper, because Cemetery has access to one of the only cards in Standard that can recover from a resolved Tooth and NailDeath Cloud. As it turns out, the combo almost always comes out too fast for you to handle, even with Death Cloud. Remember that a Death Cloud for two isn’t always enough – they have Vine Trellises, Solemn Simulacrums, and Viridian Shamans to soak up that X if need be. You have removal for these, yes, but they run more creatures than you do removal spells – so you’re almost always needing to Death Cloud for three or more.

The problem with that is, you have to play the beatdown deck in this matchup, because in the long game Tooth and Nail’s topdecks are simply better than yours. Once they have their mana base established, a Tooth and Nail off the top or even just a Fireball can put you down in one swift turn. Since the long game is no longer a desirable game state for you, you have to play the beatdown deck and try to prevent the game from getting there. Which means you don’t have time to sit there and draw cards from Skullclamp to make sure you have the six mana available to cast Death Cloud when they play Tooth and Nail – you’ve just got to hope you have it when the Tooth comes.

Even worse, most Tooth and Nail versions run Pyroclasm to combat Bidding, which is even more effective against you because you don’t have Goblin Sledder to save your important guys. And of course, Sideboarded Symbiotic Wurm makes sure that after they resolve a Tooth and Nail they’ll win (not that they usually ever lose when that happens anyway).

The matchup really isn’t all that bad, though – all other things being equal, if you can hit Tooth and Nail with a Death Cloud or Hollow Specter – or if they just don’t draw it in time – you will win. But don’t delude yourself; this is a tough matchup against a deck that’s rising in popularity, and if you haven’t been practicing against it you definitely should be.

Astral Slide: About 60-40 maindeck, and about 70-30 after sideboarding

This matchup is about even in game one, and depends mostly on how many Lightning Rifts your opponent draws. You’ll usually be able to handle one Rift with Elf Replica, but since you only have access to one, you’ll need to get Cemetery going or force your opponent into a Vengeance in order to take out a second Rift. Between Death Cloud, Dark Banishing, and Nekrataal, their flying fatties are rarely a problem except in conjunction with an Astral Slide, and with all these answers it’s just a matter of your whittling them down with your small guys until they give in. Be sure not to cast Death Clouds except as an answer to something – really the only times you should ever be casting it are to kill a big flyer or to Mind Twist them in order to take out Pulse of the Fields. After sideboarding your game against them gets even better, with Hollow Specter, Duplicant, and Naturalize all making appearances to ruin their day.

Other Matchups

I’ve decided to lump these together, as these are matchups I’ve done significantly less testing against, or what testing I have done has been invalidated by new builds of the decks being released.


Pest Control did very well against prior versions of MWC because Death Cloud wrecked their hand and mana base before they could get enough Cloudposts going to activate Mindslaver, but newer, more focused versions like the one Zvi posted on Brainburst might be trouble. I haven’t had time to test against Zvi’s build yet, especially since no one in my area plays it, but its ability to get Mindslaver online faster than the older, Cloudpost-based versions of MWC strikes me as a potential problem.

U/W Control:

Unfortunately, nobody I know plays U/W any more (meaning I have zero real-life playtesting opportunities against it), and this matchup is very build-dependant. Obviously resolving Death Cloud will be a tall order, but Mana Leak is a pretty weak answer to a late-game Oversold Cemetery. Unlike MWC and Slide, U/W can counter the Viridian Shaman that would normally blow up their Damping Matrix, but there’s only so much they can counter before they run out of juice and you start to resolve important spells.

R/G Land Destruction:

I haven’t done a whole lot of testing on this matchup for two reasons. First, because there is so much dissention between proponents of the archetype about what cards should go in it. Troll Ascetic or no? Creeping Mold or no? Four Plow Unders or three? Pyroclasm or just Starstorm? How much actual land destruction and how much removal? The list goes on.

The second reason is that, frankly, I don’t expect the archetype to show up heavily at Regionals. R/G Land Destruction (not to be confused with R/G artifact hate plus several copies of Plow Under) was a deck originally designed to beat control decks, and control is hardly the archetype to beat right now. I know a lot of people like the deck, and will swear up and down it beats Affinity and Bidding, but of all the decks I’ve discussed, I’d expect to see the least of this one.

Having said that, I definitely do not consider this matchup favorable. Simply put, they have all the tools necessary to defeat me. Even with my heavy-Black version, the land destruction can keep me off BBB for Death Cloud, Troll Ascetic can only be removed by Death Cloud and Bane of the Living, and Plow Under is real bad times for any control deck. On the other hand, it’s really not worth diluting my sideboarding options against other decks just to make this one matchup better – especially when no amount of sideboarding short of adding white to the deck for Sacred Ground will significantly alter the fact that it’s a land destruction deck against a non-blue control deck, and that matchup is always expected to heavily favor Land D.


Vs. Ravager Affinity:

+4 Oxidize

+2 Naturalize

-2 Withered Wretch

-2 Nekrataal

-1 Elf Replica

-1 Oversold Cemetery

Withered Wretch, Nekrataal, and Elf Replica don’t kill artifacts; Naturalize and Oxidize do. Ergo, bring in the Oxidizes and Naturalizes for the Wretches, Nekrataals, and Replica. After doing this, the deck’s creature count drops to a scant 15, so Cemetery usually won’t become active until the late game anyway. As such, I have no problems dropping it down to a two-of.

Vs. Goblin Bidding:

+2 Infest

+2 Naturalize

-2 Viridian Shaman

-1 Bane of the Living

-1 Oversold Cemetery

See the matchup analysis above for details.

Vs. Astral Slide:

+2 Naturalize

+4 Hollow Specter

+2 Duplicant

-3 Smother

-2 Viridian Shaman

-2 Withered Wretch

-1 Dark Banishing

Having multiple Shamans is nice in this matchup, just as it is in any matchup, but they’re hardly necessary just to take out Damping Matrix. The rest of the cards you’re boarding in are more important, so it’s fine to leave just one in for tutoring purposes. In case it wasn’t clear, Smother is a dead card in this matchup and should be instantly cut.

The only reason Withered Wretch is good in this matchup is because he takes out Eternal Dragon; Duplicant does that better. Similarly, the addition of two Duplicants means you can safely take out a Dark Banishing without worrying about death by Angel/Dragon.

Vs. U/W and MWC:

+4 Hollow Specter

+2 Duplicant

-3 Smother

-2 Withered Wretch

-1 Dark Banishing

Smother is plainly dead in this matchup, and I’ve already explained the whole Duplicant vs. Withered Wretch/Dark Banishing thing. Keeping Elf Replica in is important because of Sacred Ground and the odd Story Circle, but having him in your deck really isn’t that much of a hindrance.

Vs. Tooth and Nail:

+4 Hollow Specter

+3 Duplicant

-4 Wirewood Herald

-2 Withered Wretch

-1 Elf Replica

This is one of two decks against which you will be forced to play aggressively. Smother and Banishing have to stay in, because using them to clear out blockers like Vine Trellises and Viridian Shamans is important to your aggressive strategy – besides which they make Death Clouding away whatever Tooth and Nail throws down a lot easier. Vine Trellis should be your first target, since it provides them with acceleration and a high-toughness blocker, but if a Viridian Shaman shows up to block your path just kill it and keep moving.

Never hold on to Banishing in the hopes that they’ll Tooth and Nail for something you can kill with it. They’ll almost always go for some combination of Darksteel Colossus, Akroma, and Symbiotic Wurm, and even the Wurm isn’t really worth saving it for. Just kill their blockers so you can keep attacking. Also, as good as Withered Wretch is at coming down quick and attacking for a lot, there are just so many times in this matchup where Viridian Shaman’s two-for-one ability will save you, he just has to stay in instead. If there was any other card in this matchup that I could afford to cut, believe me I would, but there just isn’t.

Vs. R-G Land Destruction:

+4 Hollow Specter

-4 Wirewood Herald

And here we come to the other matchup where your deck morphs into beatdown mode. Herald is pretty bad in general when you’re trying to play an aggressive role, but he is very good at drawing you out of a land destruction mess when you get a Skullclamp on it. However, this is a two-card combo that will easily get shut down if they have artifact removal for your Skullclamp (which they usually do), whereas an unanswered Hollow Specter can take out all the fatties they were planning on finishing you off with while they peck ineffectively at your lands.

A Word about Withered Wretch

You might notice that Withered Wretch gets boarded out in almost every matchup. Therefore, I should find a way to take it out of the main, right? Actually, the answer is no. It used to be the case that I boarded out the Wretch only against Affinity, and he stayed in against every other deck. That’s because he filled an important role against every deck – stopping Eternal Dragon recursion against white-based control, preventing Biddings from wrecking me in the Goblins matchup, providing a 2/2 attacker a turn earlier than anything else in my deck when I needed it against Tooth and Nail

He still does all of that in game one. In fact, there’s no other card that will do all those things in game one – which is exactly why he stays in. Against white-based control, Duplicant does a better job of stopping Eternal Dragon, so why not swap it in? Against Tooth and Nail, you again need room for Duplicants, and Wretch is the least important threat, so out he goes. So why not just run the Duplicants main?

Because you’ll get clobbered by Goblins and Affinity, that’s why. And if you take out the Wretches for something like Hollow Specter (which, you might notice, is boarded in against almost every matchup), you’ll no longer have an answer to Bidding or Eternal Dragon. Point is, nothing else fills the all-purpose role that Withered Wretch does in game one, so leave him in the deck and just board him out when he becomes sub-optimal in game two.


Regionals as a whole boils down to a big metagame call, and frankly I’m not even going to attempt to call this one. Instead of the Rock-Paper-Scissors metagame we once had, now we have Affinity beats Bidding, Bidding beats pretty much everything else, and pretty much everything else hates out Affinity. With so many decks in the”everything else” category, I’d rather bring the deck that has no auto-losses than to take something like Tooth and Nail (which gets smashed by Bidding, I’m told) and hope I don’t get paired against the deck that wrecks me.

If you agree with my assessment of the metagame, and think you still have time to pick up and learn a new deck before May 1st, this is the one to play.

In any case, best of luck to you at Regionals.