Two Extended seasons ago, Mike Flores developed a G/W deck he called Haterator:
At the time, some decks to beat were Storm Combo (specifically TEPS, for those who were around), R/W Beatdown (Boros), and Scepter-Chant (a Blue/White control deck featuring the Isochron Scepter/Orim’s Chant combo). Haterator featured Gilded Light as a crippling riposte to Tendrils of Agony, Worship plus Troll Ascetic for Zoo, and later evolved Blinkmoth Well as an uncounterable way to answer Isochron Scepter plus Orim’s Chant, and eventually even a Red splash for Dwarven Blastminer and Ancient Grudge.
By the end of the season, Zac Hill had developed a deck with a similar “hoser” bent, which he unveiled in One More Shot, and which he only had a chance to run in one PTQ (where he lost in the Top 8).
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 3 Terravore
- 4 Wild Mongrel
- 3 Ravenous Baloth
- 2 Indrik Stomphowler
- 4 Scryb Ranger
- 4 Spectral Force
Relatedly, I have recently been thinking about how susceptible our current Extended environment is to hosers. Zoo, Tron, and U/B Faeries are all incredibly vulnerable to Blood Moon. If you untap with Goblin Sharpshooter in play, Elves! can’t keep a thing on the board until they manage to present you with an Orzhov Pontiff. No sane Wizards or Swans pilot takes Choke lightly. Affinity and Tron both have good reason to fear Ancient Grudge.
You may have noticed that each of the aforementioned hosers fit neatly into a R/G framework, which is how I arrived at this little number:
- 3 Iwamori of the Open Fist
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 4 Goblin Sharpshooter
- 2 Boreal Druid
- 4 Scryb Ranger
- 4 Spectral Force
- 4 Magus of the Moon
As was the case with TerraForce and G/W Haterator, the strategy here is simple:
(1) dodge the format’s most potent hate.
(2) quickly disrupt the opponent by playing the format’s most potent hate.
(3) kill them before they can recover.
I started with Zac’s build as a baseline, and kept a good chunk of the core intact:
8+ accelerants (I added 3 Chrome Mox and cut 2 one-mana accelerants)
4 Blood Moon effects
4 Scryb Ranger
4 Spectral Force
I have long been an advocate of playing Spectral Force (well, in Standard) without Scryb Ranger, as the Ranger can often be a weak draw when not seen in conjunction with the Force. However, in the context of this environment and this deck, there are enough synergies that I am willing to give her a shot.
Obviously there are the Llanowar Elves and Boreal Druid mana-producing synergies, but also, with Sharpshooter out, she can ping for the cost of bouncing a Forest. In a format with so many two-toughness creatures, there is a big difference between casting Fire (of Fire/Ice fame) every turn and casting Death Spark every turn. With Jitte active, Scryb lets me swing in and subsequently threaten a Jitte-powered block without paying the mana to re-equip post-combat. Against Wizards and Faeries, she can generate one-for-zero trades with attacking Vendilion Cliques and Spellstutter Sprites, can stop a Mistbind Clique’s aerial assault indefinitely, and can usually stop a Jitte of theirs from coming online.
Of course, if she ultimately turns out to be worse than Tarmogoyf, you can guess what would be first in line to replace her.
Spectral Force was – and is – an enormous house. Once resolved, he is almost indestructible in this format. U/B Faeries has no answers save Sower of Temptation (which is certainly reversible), Mono-U Wizards cannot deal with it unless they have Shackles and eight Islands out, and decks like Elves!, AIR, and Affinity are not much better off. Answers that merit concern are limited to stuff like preemptive countermagic, Damnation, and Zoo’s Oblivion Rings.
Iwamori is, essentially, Spectral Force Jr. He’s much more likely to be stolen by Shackles plus five Islands, but considering this is definitely only a late-game concern, and that I can cast him as early as turn 2, it doesn’t concern me much. Likewise, the fact that he gives the opponent a free Legend does not seem like much of a concern; if a Blue deck has just let my Iwamori resolve, I am probably not too broken up about it if they get a free Vendilion Clique.
Bizarrely, in a format where most Blue decks’ countermagic suites consist of Mana Leak, Spell Snare, and Spellstutter Sprite, one of my main reasons for including Iwamori over Tarmogoyf (besides trample and guaranteed five power in a deck that doesn’t aspire to put much in the graveyard) is actually that he costs more.
The Loam engine was in Zac’s deck to give late-game card advantage, to recover from Devastating Dreams, and to generate very fast kills with Wild Mongrel and Terravore. With Mongrel, Vore, and Devastating Dreams all out of the format, it did not seem worth it anymore as just a simple card advantage engine in conjunction with Tranquil Thicket.
I want to try Magus maindeck over Blood Moon to test my theory that Magus is fine against Zoo. In this deck in particular, where Chalice for one is not only a desirable early play against Zoo in general, but also a way to seal the opponent off from Tarfiring (or Seal of Fire-ing; no one realistically plays that on turn 1) my Magus. Still, no matter which way the experiment works out, if I end up going down to fewer than 8 total Blood Moon effects in the deck, I will probably cut Magi before actual Moons.
I have definitely impaired the deck’s “kill quickly” ability in comparison to Zac’s formula, by removing Wild Mongrel and Terravore without adding back in rough equivalents like Tarmogoyf and Countryside Crusher. (Obviously, Baloth morphing into Iwamori is not a huge difference.) I considered the Crusher/Goyf route, but realized that between Mutavault, Pendelhaven, Jitte, and Magus of the Moon, my strength in numbers would at least make a solid contribution to the damage deficit.
Now, it’s important to note that a mass of small creatures is not nearly as good as a horde of large ones in a strategy like this. Most opponents in this format will have a number of small creatures of their own, and can deter me from attacking with, say, Magus of the Moon by simply throwing a Trinket Mage or something in the way. Small beaters are also much easier to answer, especially Jitte – which many of these decks will be packing as well.
Still, even with this skew, I suspect more games will be lost to lack of disruption than to lack of answers, so I will keep it like this for now. If it proves a problem, I would probably add in another five-drop that deals damage. The most likely candidate would be Kodama of the North Tree, simply because it tramples and cannot be Shackled – though three Green mana might be a little sketchy with only three basic Forests and Blood Moon effects galore. (The major downside is that it trades with Mistbind Clique and Tarmogoyf, which might not be the case of larger alternatives like Iwamori of the Open Fist and Arashi, the Sky Asunder. It’s all a matter of what the biggest concerns turn out to be.)
I debated a lot about including 2 Ancient Grudge maindeck, and finally decided against it. At first I was justifying it by reasoning that it would almost never be dead, since pretty much every deck runs Chrome Mox, but I didn’t see it actually hosing enough to justify it in the main. Affinity hates to see a Grudge, as does Tron, but I’m not actually sure that I need to be as righteously terrified of Vedalken Shackles as most creature decks do.
Don’t get me wrong, I am still very scared of what is probably the most powerful card in the format, but at the end of the day, I still have four Spectral Force and three Iwamori while they have only four Mana Leak equivalents with which to stop them, and they have other scary cards (Sharpshooter and Chalice for two in particular) to worry about countering first. If I get one of those two giants to stick, I am probably not losing. (I can also buy time for alpha strikes with Gone, which could be enough to overwhelm a single Shackles, at least.)
Speaking of Dead/Gone, it has a lot of applications in this format. I initially thought of it because I had one slot left to fill, and was concerned about (simultaneously) my lack of outs to Dark Confidant, my lack of answers to All-In Red, my lack of answers to Sower of Temptation, and my lack of early disruption against Elves! As it happens, this is probably the one card in Extended that does all four of these things.
Dead can also be used to fizzle a Spellstutter Sprite (if they have exactly the right Faerie count, which is often the case) or a Chain of Plasma targeting a Swan. Besides being devastating against AIR, Gone provides temporary outs to a number of format fatties – Mistbind Clique, Ravenous Baloth, Tron and Affinity’s big Artifact Creatures, etc. It’s also a “one-drop” card that is not stranded in your hand under Chalice for one, and in conjunction with said Chalice, gives you a way to “permanently bounce” annoying three-toughness one-drops that Zoo may have snuck in.
Against Elves! and Swans, Chalice is especially effective, but also especially fragile. Swans patently cannot go off with Chalice for two out (and nor can Elves!, realistically), but both decks have ways to deal with an artifact with a converted mana cost of zero. Still, the Chalice should buy you at least a couple turns to set up something better, like a Jitte with three counters or a Dead/Gone in hand and creatures on the board (so you can keep mana up to cast it in response to Chain) against Swans, or a Jitte or Sharpshooter against Elves!
Finally, I wanted to note that Pure/Simple could be a sideboard option against AIR, but it seemed too narrow to justify.
Let me share a story.
So I am 3-0 in a Standard tournament, and playing against Mono-Red. I have three untapped lands, and am holding only Sage’s Dousing. My opponent’s hand is empty. He draws his card for the turn and attacks with Ghitu Encampment when I am at 5.
If I chump it, I will not be able to deliver a lethal counterattack next turn with my manlands and Silvergill Adept. If I do not chump it, I risk that he has drawn Incinerate, Magma Spray, or Flame Javelin, either of which will kill me when I tap out to attack with my manlands.
As he has already played two Javelins and an Incinerate this game, I think my best shot at winning this game is to assume he has not topdecked the burn spell. After all, he has a Demigod in his graveyard already, so if he draws another one I am absolutely toast – Sage’s Dousing or no – unless I rip Command, and so each additional turn I give him to topdeck one is dangerous. I take the beats to three.
At this point, if he has topdecked a creature or a land, then my calculation paid off, and I will win. If he has topdecked a burn spell, I will lose.
My opponent enters his second main phase, thinks, thinks, thinks, and finally Flame Javelins me. I counter it with Sage’s Dousing, untap, and win.
Why on Earth did he do that? Why would he Javelin me when I had mana open and was going to tap out next turn to try and kill him?
Because of Cryptic Command. He was afraid of Cryptic Command. He thought that if I was holding Command, or topdecked it, then I would just attack with Silvergill and a Mutavault, Command his burn spell whenever he played it (end step, upkeep, his own turn, whatever) and bounce his Ghitu Encampment, forcing him to topdeck another burn spell (or Demigod) on the following turn while I again had lethal damage on the table.
With all that scary stuff in the mix, wouldn’t it be safer to just Javelin me while I only had three mana open and couldn’t cast the Cryptic Command that might be in my hand?
This is the value of playing tricky cards. I was actually attacking as efficiently as possible, but even if I had not been, I could have walked my opponent into this trap – sending in a couple of manlands to tap myself down to three mana even though it wouldn’t change the damage race, then doing a bit of acting (“wow, I am an idiot. Why did I do that?”) to nudge him into trying to burn me “while he still can.” By playing so many cards like this, I can set him up to play around one card, and right into another.
The situation was “if he’s got the burn spell, I can’t win” – but I won anyway, because he was playing around tricky cards. If he’s up against a B/G or R/G or W/B deck in this situation, he just Javelins me and it’s over.
To give credit where credit is due, it was StarCityGames.com own Patrick Chapin who convinced me of the importance of tricky cards, but I have only recently come to realize precisely what it is that makes them so good:
Playing tricky cards makes the unknown cards in your hand powerful.
I once noted that, simply by playing countermagic in my deck, I could always choose to leave two mana untapped to get my opponent to play around it. Even simply making a normal play can get me extra mileage and create situations for my opponent to punt – if I am playing aggro-control and curve out with a couple of creatures, then suddenly decline to play one (because I don’t want to overextend into a Wrath and don’t have countermagic to stop it), my opponent might hold off on casting Wrath until he can play it with countermagic backup (after all, he’s only got the one copy, right?), netting me two free attack steps in the process.
These things don’t happen all the time, but when they do happen, they are often such game-changing effects – literally the difference between winning and losing – they boost the power level of your deck up much farther than most people realize.
It is critical to realize that tricky cards do not have to be Blue. True enough, most of G/R Haterator’s cards are very Main Phase, very on-table stuff. The opponent can see the tricks coming a mile away, and I cannot use the secrecy of my hand to my full advantage with those cards.
However, I have “three” tricky cards that provide a quality array of threats to represent at Instant speed: Dead, Gone, and Scryb Ranger. Dead and Gone are fairly straightforward, but they represent worrying effects. For example: you are tapped out and have a Mistbind Clique on defense because your life total is low. I have out a Goblin Sharpshooter and Llanowar Elves. I send in the Elves.
Can you afford to block?
Sure, you will one-for-zero or two-for-one me, but if I Dead your Clique, that Bitterblossom you championed will come back. On the other hand, if you take the beats and untap, you can counter Dead with Spellstutter Sprite if I try the attack again… but then again, taking the point of damage will put you down to three life (operating at two due to Sharpshooter), meaning every subsequent creature that crashes into Mistbind and triggers Sharpshooter will put you one step closer to death. Man, what do you do there?
(Of course, I’m not even holding Dead/Gone… I’m only attacking here because I know you have to fear it.)
For the players who do not play around these effects, you have a trade-off. On the one hand, the unknown cards in your hands cannot be as effectively used as tactical weapons. Bummer. On the other hand, if the opponent is so oblivious of these cards that he does not play around them at all, he will often walk into a legitimate blowout that will lose him the game and cause him overcompensate in the next game.
The best is when a player means to play around something, but forgets to – like when you beat with a Jitte-equipped Scryb and pass the turn, then he attacks into it “’cause it’s tapped!”
Importantly, Dead and Gone are good candidates for an obliviousness blowout because they have uncommon casting costs; one-mana Red instants are almost unheard-of in this format, and Gone might be the only Red bounce spell in Extended. It is to your advantage that players will not be used to playing around these cards in Extended, and the I-just-got-this-deck-from-a-friend-and-didn’t-test players that so often show up at PTQs will be especially vulnerable to such beatings. The fact that you have four copies helps increase your concentration of weird situations; when you have RR open, who is honestly playing around two Shocks on their attackers to let you survive and swing back for the win next turn?
Either way, the possibilities of this deck excite me.
See you next week!