The bar is always pretty high for new sets to make a dent in Extended, but I already predict one Conflux card is powerful enough to cause an increase in the amount of White seeing play this season, all by itself. Can you spot it?
2 Gilded Light
1 Nameless Inversion
4 Path to Exile
1 Genju of the Fields
4 Kitchen Finks
4 Descendant of Kiyomaro
4 Dark Confidant
4 Tidehollow Sculler
3 Umezawa’s Jitte
4 Korlash, Heir to Blackblade
3 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
3 Unholy Grotto
2 Leechridden Swamp
2 Orzhov Basilica
4 Godless Shrine
You would not believe how much I wanted to play Suppression Field in this deck. In fact, this actually started out as a Suppression Field deck. I built the whole thing around that card, playing Chrome Mox and eschewing literally any card with an activated ability. (Suppression Field was also my plan to fight Jitte, which I did not play myself.) Then one thing led to another and I found myself wanting to use Jitte to help combat the life loss from Confidant, Thoughtseize, and Bitterblossom. (Yes, I had Finks and Descendant, but Descendant was not as reliable as I would have liked.) I also found myself wanting to play lands with activated abilities, and not wanting to play Chrome Mox because it was awful with Descendant, and soon enough I found myself here.
I mention this because what I ended up with turned out to be eerily similar to Michael Jacob G/B Aggro Loam deck from Los Angeles. Don’t believe me? Consider:
Card Draw: 4 Life from the Loam versus 4 Dark Confidant
Recursion: 4 Life from the Loam versus 3 Unholy Grotto
Discard: 3 Thoughtseize, 3 Raven’s Crime versus 4 Thoughtseize, 4 Tidehollow Sculler
Removal: 4 Darkblast, 3 Putrefy, 2 Slaughter Pact versus 4 Path to Exile, 1 Nameless Inversion
Finishers: 4 Kitchen Finks, 4 Tarmogoyf, 1 Worm Harvest versus 4 Kitchen Finks, 4 Korlash, 4 Descendant of Kiyomaro, 1 Genju of the Fields
Add in 3 Jitte and 3 Bitterblossom for both decks and you’re done. That literally covers every business spell in both maindecks.
So why play this W/B list over G/B Loam?
Reason number one is Path to Exile. This card is incredible. Amazing. Uncanny. Scrumptious. It is a huge deal to be able to maindeck four one-mana answers to AIR’s big threats – including the Terror-proof Demigod – along with answers to Affinity’s Terror-proof beasts, Tarmogoyfs of any size, Kitchen Finks (with no chance of Persistage), Sower of Temptation, and even something as innocuously crippling as killing off a Wild Nacatl… for one mana. Compared to any given two-mana alternative, it is cheaper, more widely applicable, and more thorough (removed from game), and it is Spell Snare-proof. In a deck that often races decks that play Tarmogoyf, this is very often better than Swords to Plowshares would have been, and it can swing around unbelievable amounts of tempo in this format. I give it eleven stars out of five.
The next reason to run White is the available hate suite. Loam does not have a whole lot of tools available to fight a burn deck (Baloth and Finks are about all we’ve seen), and is fairly reliant on a few choice discard spells against combo. Meanwhile, W/B has access to things like Worship, Pulse of the Fields, Genju, and CoP: Red to fight burn, and Gilded Light, Ethersworn Canonist, and Rule of Law to accompany an even larger discard suite against combo.
Next up is Big Daddy Korlash (who could technically be played in G/B if they wanted to). Korlash is a great finisher because, unlike Tarmogoyf, he is generally Spell Snare-Proof, Spellstutter Sprite-proof, Threads-proof and Shackles-proof. He’s Threads-proof, Snare-proof and (generally) Sprite-proof because he costs four, and he’s (generally) Shackles-proof because in almost every case, either the opponent has zero Swamps – meaning the best he can do is to use Shackles to steal Korlash and then let it die as a 0/0 – or W/B has out Urborg, meaning the opponent has many Swamps, but not enough actual Islands to steal the gigantic monster Korlash.
Korlash’s strength against Blue is the main reason he is a great finisher. There are other reasons – synergy with Worship, ability to walk Red players into piles of card advantage when they try to burn him out while you don’t have regeneration mana up but do have an extra Korlash in your hand, the fact that he’s a Zombie and can thus be recurred via Grotto, the fact that he can Grandeur out a pair of Leechridden Swamps for inevitability against a host of decks, the fact that he can power up Genju by Grandeuring out two Godless Shrines – but the big one is that you can almost always play to resolve him without the fear that Wizards will end up attacking you with him.
Dark Confidant is, admittedly, no Life from the Loam. But then again, Life from the Loam is no Dark Confidant. As much as Loam is a far more difficult drawing engine to shut down, it is also far slower to start up. If I am up against a combo deck and chase a turn 1 Thoughtseize with a turn 2 Bob, that little 2/1 has a damn good chance of serving me up enough disruption to last me the rest of the game. With Life from the Loam, not so much – unless you have Raven’s Crime in hand right away – and combo is a lot more prevalent these days than it was three weeks ago.
I want to say Descendant of Kiyomaro is a reason to play W/B over G/B, but I am wary of overselling him. The reality is that he is good, but not incredible. The logic is this: if a burn deck curves out faster than you do – e.g. turn 1 Fanatic, turn 2 Marauders, while you just have maybe a turn 3 play – you can deliver a stunning blow right on turn three with a 3/5 Lifelink. Got Shrapnel Blast?
Of course, often they just do have the Blast (or Tribal Flames, if it’s Zoo), or you are forced to block something right away and they finish it off with another burn spell. He gets you plenty of mileage in those matchups, don’t get me wrong, but he is not Game Over by himself, and I’ll be the first to admit that he is sometimes just an overpriced Elvish Warriors. Still, I am happy to have him on my team; when he is good, he is definitely amazing.
I tried Orzhov Basilica on a total (Descendant of Kiyomaro-related) lark, and really liked it as long as I didn’t draw an extra, so I am sticking with two copies for now. Grotto recurs Korlash, Sculler, and Nameless Inversion, and that’s enough. Honestly, even just Korlash would be enough – the simple fact that this one little land means I can just keep throwing down a big bruiser over and over and over until he sticks gives me inevitability against a ton of decks, and being able to recur Inversion is just the icing on the cake. (I even had Graveborn Muse in here at one point, but it turned out to be unnecessary.)
A lot of cards tried out for the slot that ultimately ended up filled by Gilded Light, including Ethersworn Canonist, True Believer, Mana Tithe, and even Seht’s Tiger. Canonist and True Believer were both just too awful in non-Storm matchups; they were Grizzly Bears at best, and a liability (due to restricting my own turn or being difficult to cast at WW, respectively) at worst. Gilded Light is a bigger blowout than either against Storm, is solid-to-excellent against burn, and cycles in every other matchup.
Like any good midrange beatdown deck, this deck’s main is full of cards that range anywhere from good-against-you to downright hateful. Here’s a quick rundown of how they shake out.
Anti-Storm maindeck cards:
Anti-Elves! maindeck cards:
Anti-Red maindeck cards:
Anti-Wizards/Faeries maindeck cards:
I initially had 4 Ethersworn Canonist in here, but then realized that I had access to Rule of Law, which is immune to the Viridian Shamans of Elves! Then I realized that Elves! will often kill you before you get the chance to play a three-mana spell, particularly if they are on the play. Then I realized that I have enough early removal that Elves! won’t actually do that against me, and suddenly wanted to play 4 Rule of Law. Then I realized that Storm will have Echoing Truth, and it would be worth my while to vary my answers, so two and two it was.
Return to Dust has a very Ancient Grudge-like quality to it. Obviously it kills two artifacts, but while it is immune to Spell Snare (and practically immune to Spellstutter Sprite), it is far more vulnerable to Mana Leak – not just because of its higher casting cost, but also because it lacks flashback. Still, it also does enchantments, which is handy – I can main phase the sucker to take out Threads and Shackles at the same time! Whee! And, more important, I can play it in my two-color White deck.
For my anti-Red suite, I considered Pulse of the Fields, Genju of the Fields, Worship, and Circle of Protection: Red. I started with various configurations that used only one or two of these, and — bizarrely – ended up playing at least one copy of each.
I ended up prioritizing Worship above the others for two reasons. One, because you can use it to beat Burn even when they have Sulfuric Vortex out, and two, because I think it can be profitably boarded in against Affinity as well as against Red decks. Generally speaking, whenever you bring Worship in, you must bring Bitterblossom out. You cannot possibly want to cast a Blossom if your endgame strategy is Worship, unless you are certain you can stick that Jitte and keep counters on it for the dreaded upkeep phase. Needless to say, this doesn’t happen often enough to justify the risk of keeping Blossom.
I thought about bringing Worship in against B/G Loam, but I expect Seal of Primordium (or the like) from them anyway (to kill Jitte and Sculler), and keeping in Worship alongside Korlash implies that I am sacrificing my curve and digging in for the long game because I think I can win it with Worship. If Worship does not translate into inevitability because my opponent can overwhelm me with card advantage via Loam while digging for Seal, then I don’t want to steer myself down that path, and there’s really not much point in bringing it in at all.
It took awhile for me to sort out Genju of the Fields and Pulse of the Fields. My thinking was that although Pulse gets you more life for your buck against Burn, Genju can actually block against Zoo, thereby netting me even more life. It’s also better against Vortex, because it keeps serving up damage even though the opponent’s life is dropping as well. Plus, Genju is infinitely better in a race – you can activate it multiple times to make it gain you upwards of a billion life per hit, so it’s pretty much a hasty late-game monster if you draw it.
On the flip side, the burn deck can end my life in a heartbeat. Even if I slap down a Genju on turn 1 and beat with it promptly on turn 3, I might still be burned out on turn 4 or 4, despite the fact that I got in a hit or two with it. With Pulse of the Fields, there is no such concern, plus the Instant speed lets me disrupt math out of nowhere.
There is also the added benefit that if the opponent knows you have Pulse of the Fields in your deck… I don’t know how else to put this… he might tap his lands to mana burn himself on purpose. Not everyone will do this, sure, but it is a ton of value to be gained from one card if anyone does it. Finally, it is kind of a bizarre two-for-one against Storm, which must typically come up with an additional two cards worth of storm in order to kill you from a position of an extra four life.
As valid as all these reasons are, my main reason for the 1-1 Genju-Pulse split was that I think Pulse is a little bit better against burn and I think Genju is a little bit better for the maindeck.
Finally we have the Circle of Protection, which is the easiest to explain: I just went through my boarding plans and realized I had one slot left over that could be devoted to the burn and AIR matchups. Circle of Protection is the perfect fit for both.
Withered Wretch and Relic of Progenitus are the obvious alternates for graveyard hate, though I’d be lying if I said I did not playtest with Stonecloaker at one point. As long as I’m careful not to run out Grotto into Ghost Quarter when I don’t need to, I can theoretically use Wretch and Grotto as a means to Thoughtseize-proof my hate card. However, in practice, this is easily foiled by a Ghost Quarter. Given one of those, all my opponent has to do is wait until I play my Grotto and activate it, then Ghost Quarter it so I can’t use it again. Yeah, next turn I’ll have a Wretch, but in the meantime he just Loams everything relevant back to his hand before passing the turn back and allowing me to draw into the Wretch. If I then play it, he will kill it before he ever Loams again.
Although Extirpate is vulnerable to Thoughtseize, a topdecked Extirpate at any point in the game in which my opponent is casting Loam immediately results in shutting off his engine, permanently. That reliability is what I’m after.
The Return to Dust is basically to clear up Bitterblossom, Pithing Needle, and Jitte, whichever are in the way at the time. I don’t think Genju will be worth it against the deck’s heap of token generation, as I expect I will often pay three mana just to gain two life and kill a token.
I’m not positive that I will want to take Gilded Light out here; it is damn useful when my opponent is about to Thoughtseize me or Raven’s Crime me three times next turn, though it is admittedly crap at pretty much any other time.
I’m not sure on keeping in Genju here, but I’m pretty sure I would rather have him than the fourth Path to Exile; Genju is nothing if not a durable threat. He pretty much demands a Venser or a dedicated Shackles. (It’s handy that, if he is Shackled, I can simply let my opponent keep the land and decline to animate it ever again.)
Versus Tendrils Storm
There are nine dead or extremely slow cards in the maindeck here; the least they can do is come out for stuff that might be useful.
I’m actually not positive if Descendant or Finks should go here. I’m assuming Elves! will typically have a bigger hand than I do, since they are trying to save up for a big comeback and I am trying to beat them down, which is what led me to keep in Finks over Descendant, but that could be totally wrong.
Blossom has to come out if Worship comes in here, and besides that I’m basically just cutting the near-useless Gilded Light and the cards at the top of my curve that I don’t want to keep around because I’m bringing in six four-drops against an aggressive deck.
It might look like I am crushing my own curve out of fear of Sulfuric Vortex, but really Return to Dust is more coming in because I want to take out nine cards. I am not pumped about Seize, Blossom, or Inversion in this matchup, and am only grudgingly okay with Path because it is so cheap.
Versus All-In Red
Pretty straightforward stuff. I am more afraid of Blood Moon than of any other card in their deck, but there is not a whole lot I can do to stop it. Return to Dust is for Chalice of the Void, which they can conceivably drop on one to stop my Path to Exile.
I was taking out Bitterblossom and Genju instead of Finks, as Worship is generally incompatible with Blossom, but then I realized that, in this matchup, I will pretty much always know if I need turn 2 Blossom or not. If my opponent drops a big fatty, then okay, I need to cast Bitterblossom to make chumpers. If he does not, then I can hold back until he does and just save up for Worship. As Blossom is a straight-up Forcefield against Demigod, I am very interested in keeping in both.
Besides, if I ever actually do need to use both Blossom and Worship, there’s always stuff like Jitte, Descendant, and Genju to compensate.
This deck has gone through several iterations, and the latest one has yet to power through the gauntlet. However, I am getting more and more excited about it the more I play it, and am very excited to see that Conflux has delivered at least one potential game-changing card to Extended.
Until next week, enjoy your nice, big prerelease!
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