Deep Analysis – Rock and Nail

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Extended, it seems, is a wide-open format. The variety of the stronger decks in Pro Tour: Valencia was staggering, and new strategies sat proudly alongside format stalwarts like Domain Zoo and Dredge. One such innovative deck was the Feldman, Hill, and Lybaert offering, Rock and Nail. Today’s Deep Analysis takes us through the concepting and initial design of the deck, which place both pilots in the money when the final cards were flopped…

As Zac astutely pointed out in his video interview with Beuhler and BDM in Valencia, we called this deck “Rock and Nail,” not “Tooth and Rock,” because the latter does not let you say “rockin’.” That’s right, it’s Rockin’ Nail, baby. I can just hear the power chord in the background. Brlanggg…

I’m in a good mood! Zac Hill and Marijn Lybaert both placed in the Top 64 of the Pro Tour, and I’m proud to say I helped them do it. Rock and Nail is a very cool deck, and their finishes with it at Valencia would mark the most success I’ve ever been a significant part of… if it weren’t for that delightful Tenacious Tron sparkling across the Top 8 Decks page. So, yes – a good mood indeed!

That said, it’s almost comical how closely the Top 8 of the PT ended up resembling our list of decks we thought were poor choices for the tournament. Granted, Sam Stein’s Affinity list is, well Affinity – so most of the slots are locked in – but of the few flexible slots Affinity’s got going for it, his maindeck choices lined up surprisingly close to those of the Affinity list I discarded early in testing. The biggest changes were maindeck Ornithopter over Might of Old Krosa and a more informed sideboard… and I deemed that deck unplayable after only a small amount of testing. There were also two Tron decks in the Top 8, making it the most represented archetype in the lot – yet Zac and I, U/W Tron veterans though we were, crossed the big mana deck off our list as soon as we even thought about battling Tarmogoyf and NarcoBridge with it. The most successful Counterbalance list we had was simply Top, Counterbalance, Psychatog, and support spells – no utility creatures to be found… while the Counterbalance deck in the Top 8 was the opposite – it was all Confidants, Tarmogoyfs, Trinket Mages, and Vensers, and not a single Psychatog to be found.

To sum up, we thought about half of the eventual Top 8 would have been poor choices for the tournament. Man. It would be a lot more awkward if Zac and Marijn didn’t each end up several pro points and hundreds of dollars richer for choosing the deck the group eventually settled on, but was sobering to see how far off our estimations were of what was and was not playable. Hopefully we can improve on this for next time.

As you may recall, my past few articles chronicled most of the decks Zac and I tried out as the Pro Tour approached. I wasn’t surprised by the lack of a tribal Wizards deck in the top standings, nor that there was nothing resembling any of the Red archetypes I experimented with, but then again, we did rule those out ourselves. Koike’s deck looks most like Chapin Zoo than anything else, which vindicated our prediction that the best way to run Red in this format was with lots of colors and Tribal Flames. (The two finalist archetypes Zac was settling between on the way to Spain were Rock and Nail and a version of Domain Zoo I proposed, which had Fire/Ice over Lightning Helix and Saffi over Swiftblade. That list may come up again later in the season, as the notion of Gaddock Teeg in Domain Zoo has me very excited.)

Like everyone else, there came a point in our testing where we had to decide, once and for all, if we were going to Dredge or not. At first Dredging sounded brilliant, then it sounded too vulnerable to hate. Then it seemed like people would be under-prepared for it and we could Canali the whole shebang, but then it seemed like everyone had learned from Canali, and would be too prepared for it after all. Cue obligatory Princess Bride reference, aaaand scene.

Eventually, Zac took a stand for Not Dredge, which put the top contenders at Domain Zoo and the aforementioned Psychatog/Counterbalance deck. I’m not sure where the idea came from after that, but either Zac or Marijn pointed out that Pernicious Deed was nuts in the format, and suggested that we try to put together a Tooth and Nail deck that played it in order to beat all the Rock players who made the same value observation about Deed. Zac mentioned that Bill Stark came up with the idea of powering out Tooths via Cabal Coffers and Urborg instead of the Urzatron, and so the deck was off and running.

Marijn sent us a theoretical decklist that included the key elements: Tooth and Nail, Divining Top, Pernicious Deed, accelerants (Sakura-Tribe Elder and Wall of Roots, at the time), Sylvan Scrying, and Duress. Zac and I talked back and forth about this prototype for awhile, and I came up with a few suggestions.

First, I wanted to exploit the Cabal Coffers / Urborg synergy as much as possible. Back when I played Tooth and Nail, the most frustrating part about trying to fit a second color into it was that you had 23 mana sources and 12 of them were taken up by the Urzatron. With only a couple of Coffers and Urborgs fueling the Big Mana aspect of the deck, we had free reign to explore greedier color options. I even went as far as to suggest playing Black for Deed and Blue for Tolaria West. (Double Blue, even!) I knew there was a solid chance it would be too greedy, but you never know if an idea is crazy or brilliant until you get it out there on the table.

I was also big on Search for Tomorrow over Wall of Roots. Besides the obvious blocking capabilities, Zac pointed out that the Wall was nuts with Divining Top, which I hadn’t considered. However, I thought Search had an edge over Wall overall, because it pushed out an extra land to fuel Coffers, it color-fixed, it didn’t stop producing mana after a Deed activation (or an otherwise-dead Smother from the opponent), and – perhaps most importantly – because you could pay for it on turn 1. This was a huge deal to me, as I attributed much of my Tooth and Nail success on MTGO (back in the day) to my Birds of Paradise and the way they freed up my second-turn mana to cast Sylvan Scrying (where the common alternative, the two-mana Vine Trellis, would have interfered) right into a turn 3 Reap and Sow and turn 4 Tooth and Nail with Entwine.

Somewhere between our phone conversation and the email I was to send out, I remembered that awhile back I had tried porting Tooth and Nail to Extended with Living Wish in place of Sylvan Scrying. The idea was that it could fetch a big fatty like Platinum Angel or Sundering Titan in the event that I had the mana for it (but no Tooth and Nail); at the time, the only thing that had stopped me was that moving one of each Urzatron piece to the board hurt the deck’s ability to draw maindeck Tron pieces too much. With Coffers and Urborg, though, Living Wish was a perfect fit! We didn’t want the full four of those maindeck anyway, and with access to three colors, there were numerous hoser creatures we could fit in the board to give us additional paths to victory.

I titled this build “Maximally Greedy Tooth and Nail” in the email.

3 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
3 Cabal Coffers
4 Tolaria West
4 Wooded Foothills
3 Forest
3 Breeding Pool
1 Overgrown Tomb
1 Island
1 Swamp

4 Sensei’s Divining Top

4 Sakura-Tribe Elder
4 Search for Tomorrow
4 Living Wish

4 Tooth and Nail

4 Pernicious Deed
3 Moment’s Peace
1 Tormod’s Crypt

4 Duress
1 Pact of Negation

1 Sundering Titan
1 Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker
1 Sky Hussar
1 Eternal Witness

1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
1 Cabal Coffers
1 Platinum Angel
1 Sundering Titan
1 Yixlid Jailer
1 Boseiju, Who Shelters All

My addendum to the sideboard was as follows.

“I’m pretty sure we want those six sideboard cards for sure, but candidates include Witness, Collective Restraint, the fourth Moment’s Peace, Leylines/Crypts/Jailers, Arcane Laboratory, Krosan Grip, Slaughter Pact, Engineered Explosives (you can West for it), and Counterbalance. I don’t think Counterbalance will be particularly conducive to this deck’s usual strategy, but it seems excellent in certain matchups.”

The Collective Restraint was fresh in my mind because of a deck I had been discussing with Zac and Adrian Sullvian. The gist of it was that it would be a hateful polychromatic Rock deck with maindeck Destructive Flow, Chalice of the Void, and Collective Restraint. Erratic Explosion and Draco were in there as well, as I recall. I never wrote about the deck because it never made it past the concept stages, but the idea of third-turn Collective Restraint in this format excited everyone who heard.

Zac and Marijn were both confident that we didn’t need the full three of each maindeck Cabal Coffers and Urborg, and also did not think Tolaria West would be worth the effect on the manabase. When Marijn reported his preliminary testing results with the Tolaria-free version, he mentioned the idea of maindecking Restraint.

“I think we need Collective Restraint. Against Dredge and Goblins today I lost games where I was able to cast Moment’s Peace, flashback, cast another one, and flashback another one. Dredge had just reanimated a big troll and was also reanimating 2/3 Ichorids every turn. While I couldn’t find the Tooth they killed me.”

We debated back and forth on the merits of Collective Restraint versus Moment’s Peace; the biggest trade-off was that Peace gave us a way to stop NarcoBridge from going off on turn 2 (or their own turn 3 if we were on the draw), which bought us a critical turn in which to throw down a Pernicious Deed security system against their potential horde of Zombie tokens. A three-two split of Restraints and Peaces was suggested, but eventually we decided that because drawing two Restraints is practically an alternate win condition against beatdown (pay eight per attacker, good sir) it would be to our advantage to maximize the chance of getting that draw, and went with a four Restraint, one Peace split instead.

At some point, Zac had suggested that some maindeck Platinum Angels would give us a less-fragile Tooth package to fetch against the beatdown decks that could leave mana open to kill Kiki-Jiki at instant speed. This prompted another idea from Marijn, in the same email.

“Have you guys thought about cutting the Kiki-Jiki and Sky Hussar? Wouldn’t it be better to play guys that you can cast? For example, Sundering Titan x2 , Platinum Angel x2. I had several games today where I died holding one of the two cards while either a Titan or an Angel would probably win me the game. I’m not sure in what matchup you really want the Sky Hussar / Kiki-Jiki instead of just two Sundering Titans…”

He had a good point. To me, this email was the point at which the deck stopped being so much Tooth and Nail with Deed and full-on Rock and Nail. With several copies of Moment’s Peace and Kiki/Hussar, it was clearly still a combo deck at heart; the goal was to stall as much as possible until we cast the card Tooth and Nail, and to win on the spot with that one spell. Hardcasting one of the fatties, or casting Living Wish for one, was Plan B at best. Suddenly we found ourselves honing the deck’s ability to survive without Tooth and Nail; Collective Restraint holds off the opposing forces a lot longer than Moment’s Peace does (especially in conjunction with a rawdogged Sundering Titan), and with a fully-castable suite of fatties, we could ignore the Tooth and Nail plan altogether in favor of a straightforward Rock strategy. We could quite easily start off with Duress, Elder, Collective Restraint, Deed, and finish things off with a Titan or Platinum Angel at our leisure; a speedy Tooth was hardly necessary for victory.

In anticipation of eventually topdecking a fatty or a Tooth and Nail, we were also freer to use Living Wish to fetch bomb utility creatures. For example, one of our easiest ways to beat Dredge was turn 2 Elder, turn 3 land, Living Wish for Yixlid Jailer, cast Yixlid Jailer. Boom. Jail ya turn 3, game 1. Kataki you, Affinity, on turn 3 of game 1. Meddling Mage you, combo deck.

The final list ended up quite close to what we discussed in our last few emails before the PT.

The additions I wasn’t privy to were the fourth Tooth and Nail turning into a Hierarch in the maindeck, and the addition of Aven Mindcensor to the board. I’m sure the team had their reasons, and Zac has already called dibs on the matchups article for the deck – tune in soon for that article – so I’m sure he will explain the rationale there. He mentions in the video interview that Mindcensor was for the Enduring Ideal matchup (I note that, unlike Meddling Mage, the Aven fights both Ideal and Insidious Dreams), and I suspect cutting a Tooth for a Hierarch was just one more step in the Rock direction. After all, having a Hierarch main to Tooth for is valuable against burn decks that can stop Angel/Angel or Angel/Titan (but not so easily Titan/Hierarch), and getting stuck with two Tooths can devastate your ability to play Rock when the rest of your draw is conducive to board control but not big mana. In those cases, just drawing a 4/4 beatstick is far better than a second uncastable card.

All in all, this is one of the most exciting decks I’ve ever worked on. I love that it can alternate between comboing out and leaning back on board sweepers, hosers, and big creatures. I love that the sideboard lets it turn into Rock whenever Rock is good; just bring in the full binge of Stupid Elephants and Tooth up a few more of them if you hit nine mana. I love how Living Wish is alternately a huge mana boost, an irresponsibly large fatty, or your choice of some of the cheapest and most devastating utility creatures on the market. All this, and it plays Deed and Collective Restraint! Good stuff indeed.

And now we’re back to Standard. Champs is just around the corner, so it’s time to put away the fetchlands for awhile and figure out if I should Dredge – er, I mean, Gaddock Teeg – or not Gaddock Teeg this year. Stick around, won’t you?

Until next week!

Richard Feldman
Team :S

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