For those of you who have no idea who I am, my name is Nathan J Xaxson. I hail from New Joizy, but for now, I’m chillin’ in Texas. Some of you may have seen me hanging around Heroes & Fantasies in Universal City (Shoutouts to Marce and the bunch!), others may know me from TOGIT or the Neutral Ground.
I’ve never really been a big man on the tournament scene: you’ll rarely see me at a PTQ or other major event, because a wife, young daughter and a ginormous pile of dirty laundry tend to take up more time than I can allow. I sometimes make it to prereleases, but usually just twice a year if I’m lucky.
That, however, doesn’t mean I’m not the most ruthless, savage topdecker I could possibly try to be. You see, at heart, I’m competitive. I play Standard, Legacy, and Vintage at the kitchen table, and not just any old set of decks. When we play Vintage, we play hardcore. FrummyChick never plays with anything that doesn’t have 4 Force of Will and 4 Mana Drain, and my friends JimmyK and Ben are just as vicious. We would love to be the people who tear it up the SCG P9 events or rock the PTQs, but it’s just not feasible for some of us at this point in our lives. Changing diapers at 2am, 3am, and 4am usually throws off your game, if you know what I mean.
That being said, I was sitting down for a “casual” game across from Zack in the outskirts of San Antonio. I had a custom-built Oshawa Zakkai deck that kicked the snot out of Stax, and he was piloting an almost fully powered Oath. It didn’t matter to me that it was a casual game, I still wanted to win despite the fact I knew it was a lost cause. Of course, Zack beat my face in mercilessly, as any Oath deck should against a Mono-Green aggro deck.
Man, do I hate losing to Oath. It really sucks. So does losing to Gifts. My OZ deck could handle Stax, Fish, and Goblins with ease; but I knew it wasn’t going to win so easily against the other top decks in the field. Minorly annoyed, I thought about what I could put together that would just drive Zack nuts.
Then it hit me: Parfait. It seemed like the perfect answer.
Sort of, anyway. Parfait, or for those who are unaware, Vintage’s version of Mono-White control, could pack ridonkulous (look, I quoted Aten again!) amounts of hate for just about everything out there. Stax? Seal of Cleansing, Dust to Dust, Aura of Silence and Serenity. Goblins? Swords to Plowshares, Tivadar’s Crusade, Balance, Sphere of Law, Moat, Reverence. Oath? Seal of Cleansing , Swords and the brand-new tech, Shining Shoal. Don’t forget Weathered Wayfarer, which can fetch Wastelands and Maze of Ith.
The problem was trying to get a deck that wasn’t just a bucket-o’-hate for the metagame and instead actually functioned as a cohesive unit. There really isn’t any good card advantage engine for White decks, and their acceleration and threat list is much less than what else is out there. You don’t see Parfait taking home pieces of power at the SCG P9 series, and for good reason.
Yet there is something extremely rewarding about winning with Parfait. When you pitch an Exalted Angel to a Shoal to have Oath’s Akroma spank herself, that is some good times, let me tell you. (You adolescent-minded creeps. No spanking for you.)
Even better tech against (non-Salvagers) Oath is Karakas – many Oath decks have a hard time dealing with that, since they don’t generally run many Wastelands. It’s uncounterable, can be fetched with a Wayfarer, clogs the Akroma in the Oath player’s hand, and can disrupt Spirit of the Night if they run that, too. It also deals with Karn, Memnarch and Kiki-Jiki, Funkmasta Goblin. In a deck with so many ways to get basic Plains, I wouldn’t fear manascrew due to opposing Wastelands.
Furthermore, if the deck can survive against everything else, combo should be easy to deal with. Combo has little against a deck that can pack eight stop effects along with Samurai of the Pale Curtain, True Believer and Rule of Law.
Unfortunately, there is no real way to squeeze all of that into one deck. I had to figure out a way to put together something that actually had a chance. In particular, though, I set my sights on beating Oath. If I could beat Oath (and have a chance against at least one other major archetype), I would be happy.
I started by assessing the direction that I would need to take in order to achieve viability. What was my intrinsic game plan, and who did I need to do it against? How would they try and stop me? How would I keep them from ignoring me?
One thing I knew I wanted was a super-solid manabase. I was playing a control deck, so I wanted land advantage, and color-screw prevention. If I could get by a Mono-White manabase, I would be happy.
The second thing I needed was a win condition. Against most decks, I knew I was playing the slow game: combo scoops if I Chant them on time, Oath will probably scoop if I can neutralize their win conditions, and Stax will crumble if I can survive long enough and/or blow up their side of the board; so I really needed to focus on a win condition that would beat other control decks. Meandeck Gifts would probably be the control deck of choice for most, so I decided I would test against that. Other considerations were Goblins, who had plenty of ways to build advantage against me going into the late game; and Fish, who could probably out-tempo me if I wasn’t careful.
For me, the most obvious place to start was to think about Eternal Dragon. Shown to be effective in Legacy, it can be used as an early-game uncounterable land fetch and can be pitched to Shining Shoal to blast away oncoming Akromas. The moment I wrote it down, I was surprised that I thought of ED before Exalted Angel, which would be amazing against the aggro decks in the field. It would go in as a secondary win condition.
Now that I had that down, I needed disruption. Not something easily obtained in White, but there were still good tools to be had. Orim’s Chant was a must, with Abeyance as backup. Seal of Cleansing and Serenity seemed like good inclusions due to their low cost, and Samurai of the Pale Curtain would prevent silly Welder tricks. Swords to Plowshares would be the de facto creature control.
The artifact world also had some tools for disruption: Chalice of the Void, Null Rod, and Pithing Needle were all efficient and available. It would be easy to build a deck that wouldn’t be bothered by them at all.
So, without any testing at all, I started with this baseline:
Xarfait 0.01, by njx
“>Swords to Plowshares
“>Seal of Cleansing
“>Chalice of the Void
Now before y’all get your panties in a bunch, chill out. I know it’s missing stuff like Balance. There’s no Land Tax/Scroll Rack engine from the year 2002 BCE. Humility is not resolving in this metagame. Academy Rector and Replenish and pals are all staying home. Zuran Orb can stay out of this.
I’m engineering this thing from scratch, and if I think I need these things, I’ll put them in. Before any of us act like we know what should belong, we’ll just start with this baseline. Remember, original Parfait decks assumed you could resolve four-mana White enchantments without counterspell backup. I’m considering modern Vintage here; the type that generally goes something like *BANG,* you’re dead. First turn Tinker for Darksteel Colossus = no time to cast Humility or Moat.
The first thing that was apparent in goldfishing was that the Pithing Needles were definitely sideboard material. Often, I wanted to mana-curve them in on the first turn, but without knowing what I was playing against, it was a waste. The second thing I noted was that I desperately wanted more land search/acceleration. So the first thing I did was swap the Needles for some Tithes. The next thing I found was that Shoals and Abolish were probably both really good in certain matchups, but not as maindeck material. Often, they just sat in my hand feeling useless when I played against the fishbowl.
So out they went and in went Weathered Wayfarers. I wanted to be able to fetch some goodies, so I swapped in Karakas, Maze of Ith, Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale, and Strip Mine for 4 Plains. The Tabernacle was for the Goblin decks, which often had more creatures out then lands.
Satisfied with those changes for the time being, I started against my nemesis, Meandeck Oath. It took a while to figure out how the matchup played out. In my first couple of games, my turns went pretty well; turn 1 Tithe, turn 2 Seal of Cleansing, which was almost always Forced; followed by a turn 3 Swords on whatever they Oathed up. Occasionally, I would use Wayfarer to fetch Karakas and use that instead.
Dealing with Ancient Hydra in those games, though, was somewhat of an issue. Swords was often ineffective against it, since Ben (my playtesting pal) could just use its ability to target itself if he had mana available. I made a mental note that Samurai of the Pale Curtain might help alleviate that problem, since he would need to kill it first, and in response I could send it farming. There are just enough counters available to shoot the Pale Curtain twice, then shoot it twice again to resolve before the Plow, and a fifth to kill the Hydra without the Pale Curtain in play and the Plow still on the stack – however, that’s basically five mana wasted to remove a meager 2/2 and dodge a bullet. If the Oath player ever wanted to use a Hydra to stop an Angel or Dragon, it simply wasn’t going to possible for them to work around. Satisfied that I had that covered in the board, I kept on trucking.
Another five or so games, however, demonstrated that I wasn’t able to apply enough pressure, since counterspells could keep my disruption from interfering in game one. The Tabernacle proved to be awful, so it got cut quickly. What I needed was a clear and simple way to get my Oath opponent to interact with me – too often, Ben would just ignore me while he set up and then killed me. I also needed some way to accelerate quickly, since there was no way I was going to get anywhere unless I picked up the pace. So I made a bunch more changes, choosing to experiment with Argivian Find a bit, and came up with this:
There were a couple of things I noticed immediately as I made the changes: I was subconsciously leaning closer to a version of the deck that wanted Isochron Scepter. It went into the back of my mind as I sat down to playtest again, knowing that cute stick-tricks were not going to get me anywhere easily in a format that can Cunning Wish for Aura Mutation in response.
Meandeck Oath had a harder time with this build, but it wasn’t saying much. I just couldn’t get past the turn 1 “Mox, Orchard, Oath, Go.” Even with Swords and Seals in my hand, they could just about always counter it. If I was going first, it was easier; Chalice was good at slow-rolling the game long enough for me to get started, but it was still not great. In Fish, counterspells help fill in the holes while Chalice denied the opponent tempo. Since I was looking for the long game, Chalice was just a delaying tactic that ultimately amounted to very little. It imagined it would help avoid some Tinker/Colossus moves, but that seemed like a poor reason to waste so many slots in the deck.
I put the Oath matchup away for a bit and tested the Stax matchup, since at this point, I wanted to know if my deck could perform at all. Ten games put me ahead at 6-4, and I felt good about the matchup after boarding. Modern Stax builds have lots of detritus against you; and maindeck Seal of Cleansing and boarded Serenities are solid threats. I played another ten games sideboarded, and came away with another 6-4 set. Parfait seemed to do well enough against Stax that I was less concerned about the matchup for the time being.
The most important thing I learned in the twenty-game set was that I needed to take out the Mana Crypt, since it was killing me more often than I could really use it. The Sol Ring was alright, but it could probably go as well. I needed colored mana more than anything else. Additionally, the Lotus oddly proved pointless, since the deck wanted permanent mana sources. Cracking a Lotus to play Abeyance or Chant was alright, but not exactly the best use for it. Out they went for basic Plains.
The round of playtesting victories sparked my desire to go back and challenge Oath again. By now, Ben thought I was a glutton for punishment, but he gladly took the helm of Oath again, promising he would punish me for insisting that I could beat him. I knew I would get canned, but I wanted to figure out the matchup a bit more. Revisiting Oath with the same basic build would be a good way to determine if my experience with Parfait had any real impact on the results.
We played a bunch more games, and I found that there were some good things but mostly bad. The good was when I started with Chant, Abeyance, Chant / Seal of Cleansing, Karakas, Tithe, etc. The bad was when I was staring down Akroma with no feasible way to remove her. Sideboarding helped, until I got a Shining Shoal Misdirected at my face.
Ouch. So much for that idea.
Realizing that I needed to revisit the way I was going to plan on playing the game, I switched it up big time. As much as I wished I could use them, the Shoals had to go. If they worked, they were awesome; but they were simply one of those “win big, lose big” gambits that I just couldn’t afford.
Although I never thought of it as efficient, I went back and added the Tax/Rack engine, seeing as it was the best I could muster as far as card advantage goes. It feels kinda rusty, like I was playing Meandeck Gifts with Serra Angel as a win condition – but at least it would allow me to bring in Library. The brighter idea that I had was to add some White/Blue fetchlands in an effort to dupe my opponent:
For those of you who are wondering how this pile is supposed to beat anything in modern Vintage, the only thing I can tell you is that I was wondering the same thing. But it actually looked like a Parfait deck now, so I took it back into battle against Oath.
Surprisingly enough, it actually started to work. Unlike Weathered Wayfarer, Land Tax was forcing out counters since the threat of Scroll Rack often followed. On top of that, I couldn’t begin to tell you how awesome it was to have a full set of Argivian Finds – Seal of Cleansing recursion rocks, and getting back countered Land Taxes and Scroll Racks was great. The Auramancers seemed a bit like overkill, though, but I still liked them enough to keep them in for the time being. Perhaps they would become Goblin Charbelchers, which could feasibly be used as a kill condition. In the meanwhile, though, Ben was countering the Auramancers whenever I had a solid enchantment in my ‘yard, so it seemed like they would serve me well.
After a 15-game set against Oath, I was doing favorably. Mazes, Karakas, and Swords were holding off Akromas and Hydras nicely; and once I stabilized, it was pretty hard for Ben to overwhelm me with cards or counters. Games went long, but that was okay as far as I was concerned. Sideboarded games were easier (although I still lost to random bomb hands), since I sided in 3 Serenity for the Auramancers and one Seal of Cleansing. At that point, it was already challenging at keeping Oath on the table. After a few hours of playtesting I had a 9-6 record in pre-board games, and 9-6 after boarding. How or why I was doing so well, I wasn’t sure; but I was winning. It was just too hard for Oath to get past the lands and the enchantment removal and the recursion and the Swords. It was simply too much to counter or run through. In one game, I had two Mazes out, and I just waited until I had enough mana to cast a pair of Abeyance (expecting the first to be countered) and then Plowed him out of the game.
Confident, I revisited the Stax matchup. Sideboarding involved Swapping the ‘Givian Finds and Abeyance for the Serenity/Pale Curtain playsets, along sideboarding out the Mazes and 2 Swords for Pithing Needles. Games were horribly lopsided; Land Tax, Seal, Auramancer, Pale Curtain + Seal, ride to victory. I went 7-2 pre-board and 6-1 postboard after I decided to call it quits. Most modern Stax decks are running stuff that just doesn’t bother you, like In the Eye of Chaos. It’s great against Gifts Ungiven, but it does little against Parfait’s wall of enchantments. The Pithing Needles were pretty irrelevant against the deck that didn’t run Welders, although naming Strip Mine once saved me from a Crucible lock. All in all, though, they could probably have become something else.
Next up, Goblins vs. JimmyK. I got smashed horribly. 0-3 before I quit, since not a single game looked like I was even remotely close to winning. It wasn’t surprising, since half the deck is worthless against it; so it didn’t bother me so much. If I needed, I knew I had room in my sideboard to spare. I already knew that the Pithing Needles were probably going to be taken out, and I could probably safely ditch the Rule of Law. I didn’t think 6-7 sideboard cards could turn around the matchup, but I was basically conceding that it would be impossible to tune the deck to beat both Goblins and Oath. Fish seemed more of a possibility, since their threat base was smaller and their deck was more vulnerable to artifact removal.
With the possibility of anti-aggro in the board still open, I played a bunch of games against Fish. Game one I took a beating, but I sided in Serenity and then it was like playing against a bad Oath deck. I still got smashed sometimes, but the game was manageable enough that some anti-aggro cards in the board should help out enough to make the matchup winnable. I came out on top 2 out of 5 games before boarding, and 3 of 5 after boarding in Serenity. I was pretty sure that if I added more creatures, I could make the matchup favorable.
FrummyChick volunteered to playtest next, piloting her favorite, Gifts. She tends to play the Shortbus Severance Belcher version, though; but she plays it more like the control-oriented Meandeck build. Whatever, it was certainly adequate to playtest against.
Game one turned out to be really awesome for me. I started with a turn 1 Mox, Plains, Seal. Turn 2, I blew up an opposing Sol Ring and dumped out a Tax/Rack. Turn 3 saw me Time Walk with an Abeyance during her upkeep, and I started pulling out all types of stuff from my deck and basically piled on an insurmountable wall of Chants until I ran over her with an Angel and a ‘Mancer.
I then proceeded to lose four straight games. Then I won, and lost another three. Each time, it was due to something else. By this time, I wasn’t interested in heading to the tinkering board. It was time to accept that the deck probably wouldn’t go anywhere further at this point.
I settled on making the sideboard changes I thought about earlier. Out went the boarded Needles and Rules for 4 Hand of Honor and 3 Silver Knight. Probably not the best change, but I didn’t really care at that point. I knew this would never hold up in a real tournament – I’m sure not even Rafael Caron (aka K-Run), the deck’s creator, would bring it to an event – but I wanted to smack an Oath player’s butt with it so I settled on those adjustments, knowing full well I had little hope of beating anything other than Stax consistently.
Here was the build I “finalized”, hoping I didn’t see too many Chalices:
Xarfait Pre Neo, by njx
Over the next weekend, I was slated to head back home to Jersey, so I penciled in some time to hit the Neutral Ground up in NYC. When I got there, I found a couple of guys playing an Oath mirror match. Excited, I whipped out my deck box and lined up to play the winner.
After a quick game, I sat across from a guy name Joey McClintock. I proposed we play a full match, sideboard and everything, claiming that I was preparing for a tournament. He agreed, as he was going to be entering into a tourney that weekend. We shuffled up, rolled dice, and he chose to play first.
My starting hand was basically an Oath-killer: Mox, Plains, Karakas, Tax, Swords, Chant, Seal. He started with Mox Emerald, Tundra, Oath and passed. I attempted a Land Tax, which was Forced, and Chanted on upkeep.
“Mister, you playing Parfait?” Joey asks. I respond in the affirmative. He swears loudly for no reason and calls over some friends to watch. Nobody actually does, though.
He lets the Chant resolve, draws, plays an Orchard and passes. I draw an Abeyance and play a Seal of Cleansing, which gets countered. I play my Karakas and end my turn. Joey bends over, reads my legendary land carefully, and swears again. He plays Intuition on the end of my turn for 3 Accumulated Knowledge. He takes one and untaps, Oathing up Akroma; which gets bounced into his hand due to my Karakas. He plays AK for 3 cards, lays a land, and says go.
I untap and draw an Argivian Find. After attacking with a Foil Wandering Ones he provides me, I get my Seal back and cleanse his Oath. He takes his turn, AKs for 4, lays a land, discards some extra land, and ends his turn.
Staring down a fistful of cards, I begin to realize I’m not winning this match, at least until I topdeck Balance. We play draw-land-go for a little bit, knowing I won’t be able to resolve anything through lots of open mana and a fistful of cards.
Eventually, he blinks first, casting an Oath. By now, I’ve knocked him down to 11 life, so he was going to need to do something. I was pretty sure he would Brainstorm on the end of my turn in order to get Akroma back on top of his library, so I knew I had to act now or never.
So I untap and play Abeyance, which is countered, and then I play Chant, which is countered, and then I play Seal of Cleansing, which is countered. I crack a fetchland for a Plains, and with nothing in hand but a Swords, I play Balance. Sure enough, he Brainstorms in response, and poof, his hand is gone, save for one card.
The next turn, he Oaths up Akroma, which is bounced back to hand, and plays out the lone card he had saved from the previous turn: Wasteland on my Karakas. I smile, knowing that he’s got nothing but Hawttie in hand. Down comes Exalted Angel, ready to finish him off. He Oaths up Spirit of the Night (I thought Ancient Hydra was the latest tech?), only to see it get zapped by a Swords to Plowshares. Pissed off, he Intutions for 3 Brainstorm (Gaea’s Blessing is just broken in Oath) and gets Akroma back into his library.
“Wow, that deck is something else,” Joey comments. I don’t blame him – that was pretty intense. A lot more intense than anything I had expected.
We sideboard, and I follow my usual Oath plan of -2 Auramancer, -1 Seal of Cleansing, +3 Serenity. Joey is muttering something or other about not having a clue about what to sideboard in. I smile to myself and shuffle up.
I mulligan a no-lander, but get a decent six-card grip: a Swords, 3 Plains, a Serenity, and a Chant. I play a land, pass, Chant on his upkeep. He shrugs, and decides to Force it, pitching Brainstorm. (Gotta love it when White can play Hymn to Tourach, huh?) He plays out an Orchard, Mox, Lotus, Intuition for triple Oath, and plays it. Apparently, he learned nothing back in game one. All I needed was a Seal and he was screwed; apparently, he was risking it; hoping I couldn’t make it to the long game.
I lay a Plains, cast Serenity, and pass. Joey swears, Oaths up a Spirit of the Night, and hits me for six. With only two cards in hand and one land in play after my upkeep, it was unlikely he could do anything during my turn other than Brainstorm. During my upkeep, the Oath and Moxen get blown to smithereens. After drawing, I Plow the Spirit, hoping he isn’t holding Misdirection or another Force of Will. It resolves, and before I ping him with my spirit token, he scoops.
Joey shook my hand and we pull out binders, do a little trading for some Type Two stuff, and pack up. True, Joey made some mistakes, but I don’t blame him. Not too many people have experience against Parfait. I think he was also running a suboptimal build of Oath, and I even had bomb hands; but I didn’t care.
I still won with a Mono-White Vintage deck. It ran twelve basic Plains. Twelve. Freaking. Basic. Plains. It would blow the sprockets right out of Phil Stanton’s head if my deck ever made Top 8. It won an Oath match, fair and square.
Thrilled with my victory, I put the deck away, content to have it leave the Neutral Ground that day with a perfect record. Misleading, perhaps, but us “casual” Type One players need to soak up the small rewards, you know.
*Thanks to my pal Ben for about 40 hours of playtesting, to my wife for watching the kids during that time, and to Vanessa Carlton for being so damn good on a piano.