Deconstructing Constructed – Frying Fish For Vintage And Ideas For Block

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Tuesday, July 29th – This week will be a split article, half focused on Block Constructed and half on Vintage. If you’re interested in reading about current iterations of Vintage Fish, read on! If you want to read about the new – and hopefully more interesting – Block Constructed decks we’ve been cooking up, they’re here too!

This week will be a split article, half focused on Block Constructed and half on Vintage. If you’re interested in reading about current iterations of Vintage Fish, thoughts on card choices, and an interview with one of the more successful local Fish players I know, read on! If you want to read about the new – and hopefully more interesting – Block Constructed decks we’ve been cooking up then go ahead and go use Find on ‘Ed Bighead.’ Onward we go!

Fish has been a strategy that’s been winning Vintage tournaments since the beginning of time, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, Keeper was king, Balance saw play, and Sligh was a decidedly decent deck to play. Of course, the Fish deck was terrible even by Forever Ago standards, but that’s always been the point of Fish. To humiliate and disgrace your opponents until they scoop in sheer contempt and disgust at your small Blue 1/1 creatures, showing that the color is the best regardless of what cards you’re actually using.

Okay, so that’s only half true… sometimes you’d have to beat them down with 1/1 and 2/2 fishy men, and occasionally throw in some Grim Lavamancer pings. Oh, Phantom Tape Worm, how we miss thee. Basically, this strategy has gone through many changes over the years, but the core strategy has always remained the same.

1. Play a few efficient dorks that either beat down for cheap or have utility effects.
2. Use mana denial (Null Rod, Wasteland, etc.) and counters to control the opponent.
3. Draw a few cards.
4. ???
5. Profit!

Right now, Fish is in a good position in the metagame. Control Slaver has become one of the more popular and successful decks in the format, and Fish has always been pretty effective against the high-mana aspects of Drain control decks. Combo is also popular, especially on the West Coast, and Fish is one of the few decks that can be configured to take it on in game 1s without a major overhaul of the deck. The only real times Fish is outclassed is by Ichorid game 1, and some Shop Aggro. Oath can be a major problem as well, but now that it’s back to the older versions almost everyone playing the combo version of Oath has dropped the usual strategy entirely.

For my money, the only Fish deck I really like is U/W Fish with two-power one-drops, mana denial, and Standstill / Ninja of the Deep Hours for draw. I happen to think that U/W simply has the most stable and consistent plan of attack against Drain and combo, while still having a relevant clock. The biggest problem I have with some versions of U/W Fish is that the clock gets dropped to such a low priority, which in practice means the deck becomes unfeasible. Although you may win more games off the increased slots for mana denial or draw, you’ll also lose a higher amount of games you should win against topdecking opponents. It is much easier to race a combo player trying to rip a draw-7 or a resolved artifact creature with three or four creatures instead of just two.

Although many Fish decks run 18-22 creatures (including Mishra’s Factory), some have gone as low as 12 in some Top 8 lists I’ve seen. I can’t say enough about how rough this is to actually finish the game; the point of running draw spells isn’t too overwhelm the opponent in CA, rather you just want enough to sustain your offense until the opponent is dead. The other thing I’ve noticed that gets awkward is telling people not to always Ninja away a dork instead of just building up an army. Yeah, you can recast a one-drop ASAP, but sometimes you just end up stuck with the Ninja in play and holding mana up instead of increasing your clock.

To go into further detail about the deck, I turn to Jeff Huang who has played the deck in the Bay Area at the last couple of Vintage tournaments, and has had success with Fish off and on for years now.

Josh: I’ll get the obvious question out of the way first… why should anyone want to play U/W Fish in the first place? It isn’t broken, and it lost Brainstorm to help smooth draws the same as everyone else, which makes some of the cards that are dead in multiples, like Swords to Plowshares and Null Rod, more of a liability. What’s the real advantage?

Jeff: First off, Fish is a metagame deck; people will always play metagame decks for whatever reason. In my opinion, Fish has decent match against Control Slaver, which is one of the most popular Vintage decks right now. Fish also has a decent matchup against combo with the correct sideboard choices. It isn’t easy, but it is doable. People also do not respect or expect Fish for it to be a “true” contender, but when people always underestimate you, then you are at an advantage.

Also, Null Rod is a very powerful card again post-restriction. Fish has the best plan to abuse the card. Fish is a very synergistic deck with a lot of mana denial effects; Stifle, Daze, and Waste Effects all accompany Null Rod very well. Fish is also a pretty straightforward deck; it contains creatures turning sideways, which makes it a very friendly deck to play in Vintage.

Josh: What is your recommended Fish list, and is there anything that specifically differentiates it from other Fish decks currently available?

Jeff: Here’s my list:

Jeff: I’ve only played in two tournaments with this version of the deck, so I guess results can’t mean much yet.

Josh: Correct, but that goes for almost all the decks seeing play right now!

Jeff: There are a lot of options for a sideboard, such as additional Swords to Plowshares, Umezawa’s Jitte, Energy Flux, Leyline of the Void, Orim’s Chant, Arcane Lab, the fourth Null Rod, and so on. Oh, and Spell Snares!

Josh: You said you had a decent Control Slaver match… can you be more specific than “decent”…? Is there any key changes to make in playing against Control Slaver that’s specific to just that match?

Jeff: Basically you will see me refer to Null Rod a lot. That card is the backbone of Fish.

Against Control Slaver, Null Rod is definitely a beating, shutting down Moxen, Mindslaver, and other important stuff. With a resolved Null Rod, Control Slaver will have a harder time winning or even putting a clock on you. Swords and Javelineers are there to clean up Welder mess, and Swords to Plowshares is even good against giant robots (Darksteel Colossus, Triskelavus, and Big Plats). Not to mention Mana Drain isn’t all that impressive a card against crappy Dogs and Cats.

Josh: Speaking of Dogs and Cats, there’s been a lot of debate on the proper one-drops to use in a Fish deck. Why do you lean the toward the two-power one-drops for the deck?

Jeff: People don’t respect Fish because of all the cards choices available in Vintage, Fish plays a 2/1 and a 2/2 creature… and Fish can cripple their opponents so you have time to really use them. However, crippling isn’t finishing…

In reality, the Cats and the Dogs are the fastest finishers. People often think about Stormscape Apprentice and Cursecatcher nowadays over Cats and Dogs, because they are trickier and force the opponents to occasionally change plans. Do some simple math and a bit of logic… one-power creatures don’t do as much damage as two-power creatures over, say, three turns. During the turns you wasted opponents are drawing outs, and again, Fish isn’t a powerful deck.

When opponents are drawing outs because you aren’t putting enough pressure on them, then it is over for you. This issue existed a long time ago, but it seems to keep coming up every few months. It just seems people can’t get over the idea of using utility guys instead of beaters. People need to actually play with this deck, against decent opponents, and get a feeling of what works against different decks over time.

Josh: So is it just that Vintage players are stubborn, or are they just really ignorant of that simple logic?

Jeff: Haha, I have absolutely no comment on that.

Josh: Fair enough. Are there any particular play errors you think are easy to make (subtle ones) that you’d like to tell people about?

Jeff: Oh, yes! The point of the game is to deal 20 damage to your opponents, and is not to draw DI cards. I have seen some Fish players Ninja’ing or playing Standstill too much when they should have just cast dorks to deal 20 damage. Definitely apply pressure to opponents and plan out your game. Fish isn’t really that hard a deck to plan out, if you take a few seconds each turn and think about each turn in advance.

Josh: Thanks a lot for the time, Jeff… best of luck in the future, unless you play me!

Jeff: Of course!

So there you have it… a whole mini-saga on Fish, an updated list, and some helpful advice to those who are getting used to the deck. I agree with almost everything Jeff had to say, and I know he wants other Fish players to improve or he wouldn’t have spent time answering my questions. So listen to the man.

Now for Ed Bighead on Block Constructed…

Okay, not really. Eventide has given us a lot of garbage… however, for Block Constructed, if you combine some of the garbage with other cards, you make lemon-smelling garbage. The following are mainly ideas I’ve been kicking the tires on, and aren’t tweaked; they could in fact be completely inferior to other design routes. However, I want to share for feedback, since that’s probably the only way a more diverse format is going to happen.

Here’s probably the oddest version I have of block Sligh, although it’s tested well against Faeries so far, which as far as I’m concerned is priority one and two when making a new deck.

You’ll notice some of the key cards that are anti-Fae. Figure of Destiny is the obvious addition, but Flame Jab has been very good, dealing with Bitterblossom tokens and Scion of Oona over and over at a low cost. You only need about three lands to function, which means the extras can all be pitched to Retrace down the line, and you can use your recurring Lava Dart against Faeries or for those last few points of damage. Of course the card is very narrow, only being really good against Fae and Elementals, so this is assuming you’re willing to go all the way against them. Puncture Blast is a bit of a concession to the fact other decks do exist, and it’s the second best way you have to deal with Chameleon Colossus or Mistbind Clique as a blocker or threat in a race.

The card I’m less sure of is Heartlash Cinder… if you can clear the way in the mid-game, it can be the equivalent of 5 or 6 point burn spell and leave you with a 1/1. That’s a pretty good deal considering the low mana cost. Of course, just like Wake Thrasher it dies to pretty much everything, and if you can’t clear the way you’ll have to trade with a blocker. Sometimes the card is great; other times, the card just mocks you for playing it.

Stigma Lasher is the final addition to the deck, and it may just be worst than Vexing Shusher if the upper echelon of the PTQs stay Fae heavy. If the metagame becomes a little Greener, then Lasher has the Wither boost to make blocking a bad proposition for the opponent, and it deals with Kitchen Finks as a serious threat to racing. A 2/2 split might also be appropriate, unless you have a great read on your meta.

Demigod of Revenge is the notable missing card, and I’d use him in the sideboard at the moment. The problem with him in the maindeck in this particular build is you don’t really want to hit five land in play, as you don’t have the amount or kind of burn to make a serious play on the opponent’s life total to justify dropping lands 5 and 6 for Demigod versus holding them back for Flame Jab. Of course, if you haven’t seen it and feel its best, go for it… you still have Figure of Destiny. But often it felt like Demigod was at odds with what the Red deck wanted to do, or wasn’t getting me back in the game like a non-blockable burn spell to the dome.

This version is heavily biased toward a mana curve and leveling out at three mana, at which point it can cast anything in the deck. It may want to replace some of the three-drops with slightly cheaper ones as a result, but the two-drops are much weaker.

I received an e-mail a couple of days after my Eventide review pointing out that an in-play River Kelpie is ridiculous with Retrace cards. Being able to make your opponent dump his hand on the table and just taking care of the remaining threats while beating with a couple of 2/2 or 3/3 dorks seems fine. Or you could one-up that and play Syphon Life, which can avoid the blocking problem and just be a mini-Tendrils on the opponent each turn. It certainly brings something different to the table engine-wise. The best part may be that if Kelpie hits play, some decks can’t get rid of in one turn thanks to persist.

Before I completed my own version, this version surfaced on Magic League. It’s unique enough that I feel this should be shared. The deck should probably be called Mudkips, but I’ll go by its given name for now.

The deck is very difficult to play correctly, since you tend to have a multitude of options and are very mana-conscious due to the Retrace cards and the need for five lands in play to really get running. I think a Greener version may be interesting simply because of acceleration and Primal Command to help find Kelpie or Snuffers.

The final deck I want to share doesn’t have a concrete list yet… rather, it’s simply a work in progress. Conceptually the deck is based around Knollspine Invocation, Masked Admirers, and Cold-Eyed Selkie. Invocation becomes a modified Stormbind which can pick off blockers or discard men for burn damage when the ground assault becomes unfeasible. Masked Admirers can be played at no loss of card advantage, or discarded to Invocation and brought back again later. Cold-Eyed Selkie has Islandwalk and is another card that usually needs to be dealt with by the Faeries player.

In conjunction with those cards, you could go a controlling route using Chameleon Colossus, Mulldrifter, Kitchen Finks, and Firespout to beat up on aggro while still being able to get use against Faeries. Or you could take it another way and abuse the mana-fixing and rock Doran, Chameleon Colossus, and Wake Thrasher, running a who’s who of high damage threats for Invocation to support. The key behind using Invocation is it can get into play and then give you a valid damage option against counters and Clique. If they have a Bitterblossom out, dealing four damage a turn can get pricey in a hurry, especially when you can take Scion down on sight.

With any luck this has given you some ideas to build upon, or at least given you more use from the pile of garbage we ended up with that is Block Constructed.

Josh Silvestri
Team Reflection
Email me at: joshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom