Some players have decent success by learning to play the best decks in the metagame. But with the advent of Fifth Dawn and the death of numerous decks due to Skullclamp, the deck borrowers have a short window of time where the best decks are unknown. For a guy who does a few core deck designs and tweaks them to fit an assumed metagame, though, it’s an exciting time where risk and reward grow. Moving into a radically different metagame format by moving from the States back to Japan, I’ve done fairly well for myself with my Green/White Tooth and Nail variant. In this article, I’ll tell you the history and development of a pet deck that’s fairly competitive.
Over the last two months since my second relocation to Japan, I’ve been playing Constructed mostly for social purposes, getting my feet back into the water while recapturing a feel for the country and taking care of the necessities (food, shelter, getting around, a new job). After a decent money finish at GP: Shizuoka back in November, I really hadn’t been playing Magic that much. I had unplugged my game radar, started brushing up on the language, and generally worried about getting my life sorted and into order for moving overseas again. Since most of my cards were in transit being shipped over by surface mail, I really didn’t have many options for deckbuilding for those two months.
Here’s what I had been playing up until the rotation (Skullclamp out, Fifth Dawn in). I didn’t have a lot of options for modifying the deck, as these were literally the only magical cards I had access to for seven weeks. For seven weekends at Nagoya’s most challenging play environment, Big Magic, I toiled away with this deck.
A Good Board Is A Clean Board (obsolete)
3 Akroma’s Vengeance
2 Wrath of God
4 Exalted Angel
2 Eternal Dragon
1 Akroma, Angel of Wrath
2 Darksteel Colossus
1 Sundering Titan
1 Leonin Abunas
1 Platinum Angel
1 Ravenous Baloth
2 Viridian Shaman
3 Solemn Simulacrum
2 Wood Elves
4 Rampant Growth
3 Tooth and Nail
3 Renewed Faith
Designed to beat up on Goblins and Affinity, the deck did reasonably well over a month and a half, with a total record of 19-12 in matches over two months. Against Affinity and affiliated variants, the deck went 9-2 in matches. (Only three of the wins were 2-0 affairs, however.) I won both of my two matches against Tooth and Nail. (I knew what the other guy didn’t; he who plays the first Darksteel Colossus in the mirror match usually loses. Maindecking Duplicant was a good call.) Against Goblin, I was 2-0 in matches, and Damping Matrix was a laugh. What accounted for eight of those losses were B/G Death Cloud decks (1-5, heavily popular in Japan, though none of them managed to make it to the top 8 of Nationals) and Elves (1-3, without Tooth and Nail, instead running massive amounts of damage with Timberwatch Elves). The deck simply rolled over and played dead to the two.
(Note to self: What’s up with the massive amount of parenthetical comments?) [Welcome back to StarCityGames.com, Eli. – Knut]
Simply put, I was dying repeatedly to rogue decks that were abusing Skullclamp that I hadn’t anticipated in the Japanese metagame. Other than in those matchups, I was doing fine. The deck stalled and bought time until it cleared away opponent’s threats, or in the odd case that the opponent hadn’t come to play with massive armies, I could play a bunch of mana acceleration, large creatures, and just smash face. The Akroma’s Vengeance broke up a lot of weird combos like Mesmeric Orb decks, Ensnaring Bridge burn decks, and other Japanese weirdness. The deck also had twelve good creatures to dump in play with a non-entwined Tooth and Nail, so I was able to swing games in my favor quite often on turn 6. Instead of ramping up my deck to a strong late game situation, my deck had a decent mid-game stall.
How did I achieve a 9-1 record versus Affinity? Why was Affinity a good matchup? Because unless they drew the”I Win Anyway” hand, I was able to keep the wolves at bay by chump blocking. Chumping with Wood Elves. Chumping with Viridian Shamans. Chumping with Solemn Simulacrums. Stalling by gaining smidgens of life by cycling Renewed Faith. Until I eventually found the sweet Wrath or Vengeance that would knock my overextended opponent down. And sometimes my opponent just didn’t have the Skullclamp, and I pulled out a win. I had to learn the technique of not caring about losing cards on the table for the short term so I could get the payoff of having more cards on the table when I cleaned the board.
In a deck with 4 Wraths and 4 Vengeances post-sideboard, Molder Slug seemed unnecessarily redundant against Affinity. However, there were few better creatures to follow a Wrath, and once I got housed with a U/W control deck that used Mesmeric Orb, Mycosynth Lattice, Reminisce, and Forge[/author]“]Darksteel [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author], the Slug was back in business. I ended up smashing the guy twice in the future, though, with Molder Slug backing up the team. I also ran into a weird artifact deck that used Mindslaver, Chain of Vapor, and Chain of Plasma for kills that I could barely believe. The Slug bought me a game win there, but couldn’t save me in game 3.
As we all know, the march of time never ceases, and Fifth Dawn was the huge sack of catnip thrown into the old granny’s house that was my local environment. I knew for a fact that Japanese deckbuilders love weird combo decks, and after taking a vacation since Odyssey block rotated out, combo decks would be coming back in a serious, serious way. And why not prepare for them in a vicious, mean-spirited, hateful way?
(With fewer board sweepers maindeck, I couldn’t use a cleanliness joke. I had no idea what to call the damn thing, so I went with the old school techno method of naming something. Just find a word visible on the surface of the machine you’re using and use it. Thus, names like LFO and Compressor. In this case, it’s the first thing I saw on the desktop.)
4 Akroma’s Vengeance
2 Exalted Angel
1 Eternal Dragon
2 Ravenous Baloth
4 Eternal Witness
3 Tooth and Nail
3 Gilded Light
2 Darksteel Colossus
1 Akroma, Angel of Wrath
2 Viridian Shaman
4 Solemn Simulacrum
2 Wood Elves
4 Rampant Growth
3 Windswept Heath
Like the previous incarnation of the deck, there are few artifacts in the deck to get hit by the massive amounts of artifact removal floating around. Solemn Simulacrum getting whacked is hardly something to cry about, and Duplicant almost never sees a bad trade. If your opponent doesn’t know your strategy, he’ll probably hold back his Viridian Shamans and Oxidizes and let your Simulacrums chump away.
The deck wants to ramp up its mana to the point where it can wipe the board or play a few nasty creatures that will turn the game around. For the first turn, playing guys on the table to keep yourself from getting ground into the floor by aggro decks will be essential. If you can drop a turn 3 Ravenous Baloth or a turn 3 Eternal Witness and having a Vengeance ready to go on turn 5, you’re golden. Keep the cards and lands in play coming, and be careful to play around dirty tricks with Gilded Light and direct damage. Using Eternal Witnesses to merely chump block is counterproductive, however, so be sure to spend mana to get more mana on the table. Play for the long run. Play for keeps.
Gilded Light is so amazing. It never needs White mana to cycle (unlike Renewed Faith) and can take care of problem cards like Forge[/author]“]Pulse of the [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author], Unburden, Mindslaver, Bribery, and Acquire. Smart players running the Islands might even be playing Bribery maindeck. Come prepared and come correct. But cycle it against your Goblin and Elf decks, naturally.
Your mid-game comes quite fast, and although the deck doesn’t always draw Tooth and Nail, quite often you’ll be fine without it. Duplicant, Baloths, Angels, and Akroma can completely wreck different decks, and you might be able to play them on turn 5 or 6 by using an unentwined Tooth and Nail. Skipping two potential draws for playing what you want right now can break games. If you can only play Tooth to drop a Darksteel Colossus and a puny Eternal Witness, you have the consolation prize of being able to put that same Tooth or Nail back into your hand with the Witness’s ability.
Besides being used in multiples to frustrate opponents, Eternal Witnesses do obscene tricks with cards like Wood Elves and Solemn Simulacrums. Witness doesn’t change the fundamental nature of the deck (or any other deck it resides in, for that matter). It just crystalizes and intensifies the deck’s core functions. Heck, Witness is why I went up to three Windswept Heaths, as it can keep your land drops going even if you don’t cough up more land from your deck.
Looking at the sideboard, The Wraths, Naturalize, and Oxidizes are there for Affinity and other artifact decks, and Worship will make many decks that don’t run mass creature or enchantment removal pack it in. The Eternal Dragons are good against mono-White and W/U control, and your superior mana base will give you an edge in that matchup. One more Gilded Light will make all the difference in the Ironworks/Fireball or ridiculous Mindslaver combo matchup. Again, Eternal Witness can keep your back covered by returning Gilded Lights.
Here’s the metagame assumptions the deck works on: Affinity is still going to be good, with Cranial Plate filling in for Skullclamp. [It might even be more insane, though slightly easier to hate out when they don’t get to draw four cards off of your Wraths. – Knut, still seeing Kibler crying in his pina colada over that damned artifact] Combo is going to be extremely popular, fueled by Krark-Clan Ironworks. Blue/White Control is going to be extensively played locally, because Japanese players play the deck in any given format, even if it’s not that good. Most Japanese players aren’t going to play Ponza, but they will continue to run the Goblins once in a while. Tooth and Nail is going to be a minor but omnipresent player. I’ll assume that I want to build this deck to beat combo and Affinity.
Against Affinity, you’ll want to consider mulliganing if you draw an opening hand without Wood Elves or Solemn Simulacrum. Speed kills, and you are the one with the onus of trying to stay alive. Wraths and artifact hate comes in, and don’t be afraid to chump. Keep your life high, as you have to be able to take the pain of Disciples of the Vault when you play your Vengeance. But don’t fear Affinity, as your instant speed removal and Wraths turn the post-sideboard situation into a much friendlier, comfortable affair. Gilded Light can help against the early Shrapnel Blasts, so don’t side them out.
Goblins tend to be an easier matchup, as long as you have Worship and enough creatures to keep you in the game. Speed up the deck by switching Vengeances for Wraths. Worship is better than Vengeance or Wrath in most cases, but be sure to keep a high toughness creature or two on the board at all times.
Ironworks combo decks will have a harder time against you than many opponents. Baloth life gain, Vengeance, and Gilded Light are quite potent hate against this new archetype. As for the more esoteric combos, they have a shot at taking you out in game 1; game 2 and 3’s artifact hate will turn the odds more in your favor. But I respect KCI’s awesome potential to completely wreck any deck that has a poor draw. Be wary.
What decks will you have a hard time dealing with? The old deck’s nemeses, Elves and Death Cloud, have lost one part of their key engine. Now they’ll have to find another way to rapidly draw cards. White/Blue control will be a harder nut to crack. Even using Tooth and Nail to get Darksteel Colossuses won’t help so much, as that will only draw out Duplicants.
Since I judged last weekend at a trial for the upcoming Grand Prix at Nagoya (my new home turf) due to the increasing gaijin player contingent of central Japan, I didn’t get a chance to debut the deck in proper play, but I got off my heels and downloaded Apprentice. So far, the deck seems to be as consistent as the older version, though I miss not having the crazy nuts draws of turn 4 Exalted Angel, turn 5 Exalted Angel, turn 6 Exalted Angel. (But Eternal Witness allows me to go ‘Vengeance on turn 5, Witness returns Angel to hand on turn 6, play Angel again on turn 7. That’s nothing to sneeze at.)
I have the opportunity to hit at least four more Grand Prix trials before the main event as a player, and if I manage to turn my one bye into three, then I’ll be partaking of the main event as opposed to taking my usual seat at the feature match tables. If I end up writing, I’ll still be happy.
Hate combo? Want to smash artifacts and yet still play big creatures? Then give the deck a try. Hell, give it a good name, as anything’s better than the name I gave it. (Article names I carefully mull. Deck names … I don’t bother with.) Please feel free to give me feedback, correction, or other comments.
This article brought to you by The Ramones’ first album, Dr. Octagon’s Instrumentalyst, an attempt to go lightly on the wacky metaphors, and lots and lots of crappy J-pop.
P.S.: What does the title have to do with anything? Not much at all.