Just when you thought that Gerry Thompson was fading away into the background, he’s done it again. In the online PTQ this past Sunday, two copies of his deck (or similar versions) made it all the way to the finals, piloted by Charles Gindy, as well as the eventual winner (whose name I do not know). This deck is pretty similar to that of Gerry’s older creation, where he combined the powerful combinations of Dark Depths and Thopter Foundry, but now instead relies much more on a consistent manabase and a sideboard plan that doesn’t involve losing to cards like Damping Matrix. Before I delve into this, here is a similar list that I created from watching replays, as well as using a list from a Daily Event a few days ago.
Now, let’s discuss this deck a little, and figure out just what is going on. First of all, Vampire Hexmage and Dark Depths are still awesome, but the problem is that everyone and their brother is prepared to deal with it. In the past, certain decks existed that could afford to give up on the Dark Depths matchup because it wasn’t a significant part of the metagame (for example GR Aggro Scapeshift). However, in today’s metagame, Dark Depths is just a monster and you have to come prepared for it or it will just run you over with 20/20’s. Even if you prepare yourself for the 20/20, you will often be overrun with Thopter Tokens, unless you can yourself outdo your opponent with your own Thopter Foundry. Now, what this deck is trying to do is simple: Be Dark Depths without Dark Depths’ weaknesses. You are not particularly vulnerable to Path to Exile, Repeal, or any other bounce effect, and you also have a much stronger removal suite than normal against decks like Zoo. Traditionally, Dark Depths is weak to Zoo as long as Zoo comes prepared. If they do not necessarily expect this deck, you could gain the upper hand.
Certain cards in the deck function as excellent utility spells, as well as having other uses, like being a land. It might not look like it, but Creeping Tar Pit can go the distance itself against a deck that is light on removal, or slacking when it comes to Ghost Quarter. In a pinch, Tar Pit can block, and is even a dual land to boot. I think this might be its perfect home for now, since Tolaria West makes it such a better card. While the Creeping Tar Pit, as well as the Bojuka Bog, come into play tapped, they are definitely solid cards that both have useful impacts on the metagame. Bojuka Bog can singlehandedly win Thopter Mirrors, since combined with Engineered Explosives it can be devastating. The Academy Ruins and Ghost Quarter should be fairly obvious, but I cannot stress how powerful Ghost Quarter is at the moment.
Thoughtseize is a spell that has never really been questioned when put into a deck. It ranges from Combo, Control, to Aggro strategies across the board in every format. It is possibly the best disruption spell ever printed, competing on a large scale with Cabal Therapy in both efficiency and wide use. It helps you protect your combo, or disrupt your opponent while they are trying to set up their game plan. The two life is usually irrelevant, since you are gaining a ton of life via Thopter Foundry. Most decks play very few ways to deal with Thopter Foundry, so just hitting their hand and nabbing their Bant Charm or what have you should be enough for the first game.
The two Smothers, Gatekeeper of Malakir, two Damnation, Engineered Explosives, and Slaughter Pact all make up the removal suite for the deck, giving you plenty of answers to Wild Nacatl and friends. Damnation is a card I’ve been trying to fit into UB decks, since it is the catchall for Knights of the Reliquary, Tarmogoyf, and the like. Your Deathmarks out of the board fill out your removal against them, and make for a solid game plan when siding in Sphinx of Jwar Isle and Meloku. They have a hard time staring down a 5/5 Shroud, and especially so when you are drawing a ton of cards and killing all of their creatures.
Speaking of drawing cards, that is something this deck does very well. Dark Confidant, Thirst for Knowledge, and Jace all make sure you hand is full for the majority of the game. After boarding, they also ensure you do not run out of gas against decks where you are fighting an attrition war. They are all crucial for drawing a ton of either removal against Zoo, or disruption against combo decks. Duress and Chalice of the Void are there to help combat Hypergenesis and other various combo decks, and playing Tolaria West, as well as tons of draw spells helps make sure you draw them before they are able to combo off.
The alternate win conditions in the sideboard are Sphinx and Meloku for a few reasons. For one, Sphinx is better under Damping Matrix, since Meloku is shut down by the same card that hoses your Thopter Combo. However, in matchups like Dark Depths or Faeries, Meloku can just be devastating. It should be pretty game ending once it hits play, but you want to diversify your threats if you think your opponent is going to bring in a variety of hate cards against you.
Leyline of the Void is pretty crucial. People have been waffling between Extirpate and Leyline of the Void as the graveyard hate of choice in black, but I think that Leyline gets the nod because it is an aggressive answer. Extirpate will often sit in your hand until your opponent draws a Thoughtseize or Duress to protect their combo. If you can do the combination of Thoughtseize, hit their Thopter Foundry, and then Extirpate it, that should be good enough to win any mirror, but that just doesn’t happen as often as you would think. Leyline is very hard to deal with, and you can even protect it with Muddle the Mixture if they try to use Repeal or Echoing Truth to bounce it.
This is a tricky matchup for most variants of UB Combo, whether it be Solo Thopter or DDT. They can be very aggressive, and their cards like Bant Charm and Qasali Pridemage can cause you some serious problems. The trick for this version against Zoo is to sandbag your Thopter until you have plenty of mana to make guys in response, or rip their hand apart before trying to combo. Most versions of Zoo have gone back to Blood Moon, which is much worse against you than against Dark Depths. Their cards like Temporal Isolation are just laughable, and you have many more fetches and basic lands to play around the Blood Moon if it comes down too early. Fortunately, you can run out your Thopter Combo early if you are in fear of Blood Moon, and then your Sword can come online right after, since it costs colorless mana to play.
Your goal in this matchup is to assemble your Thopter Combo for game 1, but your sideboarded games are entirely different. Your opponent will likely be siding in upwards of 4-8 card against your combo, including (but not limited to) Celestial Purge, Ancient Grudge, Qasali Pridemages, and Damping Matrix. My plan has been to side into fewer combo pieces, usually two Thopters and one Sword, and side into large blue monsters and tons of removal. Depending on the version, Dark Confidant can be terrible or amazing. Versions playing Temporal Isolation are much worse against Dark Confidant, and you should probably leave him in. He helps draw your answers to their aggressive draws, and acts as an additional win condition when you switch to the beatdown plan. Try to use Jace to stack your deck so that you take as little damage from your Dark Confidant as possible, and use your removal spells wisely. While you have many ways to deal with Treetop Village, try to use your Deathmarks early instead of your Smothers so that you can save them for their Manlands. While this isn’t always true, it is something to keep in mind.
Damnation is your best card here, and should be used when your opponent overextends with Bloodbraid Elf or Ranger of Eos after you have set up a decent board position. It is also very useful when you are using Jace to aggressively bounce their creatures, since they will usually have to overextend to fight your Jace. You don’t have the “I win” capacity that is Vampire Hexmage and Dark Depths anymore, but you aren’t as vulnerable to Boom/Bust and Blood Moon, so that is a big plus. Your draws will be much more consistant, resulting in fewer losses due to mulligans, or your opponent having tons of answers to your threats.
While this may look like a mirror match, your decks can play out very differently. Their draw of Thoughtseize into a Turn 2 20/20 is very difficult to beat, but you should be more than able to deal with any other draw. Your Thopter plan is much better than theirs, as you have less “dead” lands that don’t tap for mana, or Legendary lands getting stuck in your hand. You also have a lot more Thopters and Swords to just draw, instead of having to tutor for them all the time. Jace acts as a great way to deal with Marit Lage, since they will often use their Hexmage on their own turn to avoid getting blown out by Legendary land status (most people will think you are playing Dark Depths, at least for a while).
Your Thoughtseizes and Duresses are invaluable, because they allow you to efficiently sculpt the rest of your game. They can also take their key opening components, neutering a hand that would otherwise be ridiculous. If they are all in on a Marit Lage or Dark Confidant, you can just destroy them with an opening Thoughtseize. Meloku, and Gatekeeper of Malakir are pretty insane in this matchup, since they double as threats, as well as ways to stall your opponent out. Damnation is pretty lackluster, and should be sided out. Chalice should also be sided out, unless you have seen Extirpate from them. In this case, you can stick a Chalice on one, then feel free to go crazy with your Thopter Combo. However, most DDT players have switched to Leyline of the Void for reasons discussed earlier. Overall, I would say the changes help you more in this matchup than anything, since the games no longer degenerate down to who draws more copies of their Legendary lands, effectively strip mining the opponent every turn. If you want to have a slightly better Depths matchup, adding a few repeals in there somewhere should be rather helpful.
Scapeshift, Hypergenesis, Hive Mind, Other Various Combo
In these matchups, your removal is pretty awful. You should usually just side out your removal spells for more threats and the Duresses in order to help combat their game plan. These are the matchup where the traditional Dark Depths versions are a bit better, because you have a really fast kill. However, most of these decks are prepared to fight against the 20/20 with Repeals, Echoing Truth, and Into the Roil, so it isn’t as effective as you might think. The Chalice of the Voids are amazing against Hypergenesis, but pretty weak against the rest of the combo decks that aren’t cascade variants. Duress is MVP in these matchups, and combines very well with Muddle the Mixture to really mess people up. Leyline of the Void is great against Living End, as they have very few (if any) answers.
Dredge has a very difficult time beating Thopter Foundry when it is active. If you have any way to keep their Drowned Rusalka in check, they care rarely make enough Zombies to bust through. Damnation could also help stem the bleeding if they try to go nuts with Dread Return or Rusalka. In this matchup, your priority should be to get Leyline into play, and protect it with Duress, Thoughtseize, and Muddle the Mixture. If you can accomplish this, there is no real way they can win. Their only out is Echoing Truth, and they won’t have much of a window to combo out once they resolve it.
These matchups are pretty similar, mostly because they are slower aggressive decks that have a few problematic creatures. But, creatures are very easy for you to deal with, as opposed to cards like Damping Matrix. Deathmark is literally ridiculous here, and Kitchen Finks is their only real creature when you are fighting an attrition war. If you can stick your Thopter Combo early, they do have outs in Pridemage and Samurai of the Pale Curtain, but you have plenty of ways to kill them. Your sideboard plan should be similar to that of Zoo, since your goal should be to win the attrition war and bash them to death with Sphinx of Jwar Isle or Meloku. Dark Confidant stays in because they have very few ways to deal with him.
Burn, Affinity, Other Fringe decks
The reason fringe decks are usually bad in this format is that they can’t really handle Thopter Foundry. Your goal should be to assemble this combo as fast as possible, and protect it with Muddle and Thoughtseize if you think they have any answer. After sideboarding, their answers should be pretty narrow, and Duress should be fairly useful. If they are green based, Deathmark is again pretty solid. However, if they are a Smallpox based deck with Dark Confidant and Bloodghast, I would not recommend siding in too many Deathmarks, since they could easily end up being dead cards. Chalice of the Void is pretty amazing against Burn, and you should definitely side in the second one.
Your best bet against a deck you have never faced before is to figure out what they are siding in. It is usually pretty safe to side out one each of Thopter and Sword for other threats, diversifying your win conditions. Most people with have something to deal with Thopter, since it is one of the most common combos that give aggressive decks problems. Jace acts as an alternate route to victory, and I can honestly say I have used his ultimate at least seven times or so in the last few weeks when playing him in DDT. He is pretty sick, and definitely changes the dynamics of how your deck can attack. A draw engine in a combo deck can help morph you into a control deck in the blink of an eye. The fact that he can also win the game is just insane. I definitely underrated him when he first came out, but Jace keeps proving just how incredible he is each time I cast him. Hell, even playing him to kill your opponent’s Jace is ridiculous.
Overall, this version of Thopter is much stronger against Zoo than traditional DDT. Some of your other matchup become a bit worse because you are not as fast as the Hexmage version. However, you are much more consistent, and can easily overtake another control or aggro deck. Game 1 against ‘fair’ decks are usually a bye, since most people can’t handle Jace, removal, and Thopter Foundry all combined into one sleek package. If you plan on playing against a ton of Zoo, this is definitely the variant of Thopter for you. If you guys have any questions, I would love to hear your feedback. Gerry’s version is a bit different from mine, but I’m not exactly sure what he was playing. In the next few days, my version should be streamlined and ready for the next online PTQ.
Thanks for reading.
strong sad on MTGO