Double or Nothing: One, Two, Three… GO!

Team PhatBeats has been doing some playtesting – and in addition to the usual tweaks of U/G Madness and mono-black, they share some of the less-popular decks that have been faring well in their testing…

On Saturday, I’ll be attending my first Odyssey Block PTQ – and, for the first time in two years, I’ve managed to get a serious amount of testing it.

Take last night; between us we hammered out thirty-two games of Magic with the following decks:

  • UG Madness (with main deck hate for mono black)

  • GW Toolbox (aggro-control with Living Wish main deck)

  • Mono Black Control

  • Psychatog (European version from PT Osaka)

  • RB Punisher Land Destruction

  • UWg Solitary Confinement

Here’s how the games broke down:

  • Mono Black beat Solitary Confinement 3-0.

  • Tog beat Mono Black 2-1.

  • UG Madness beat Solitary Confinement 3-0.

  • Mono Black beat GW Toolbox 3-2.

  • RB Punisher Land Destruction beat Mono Black 3-1.

  • Mono Black beat UG Madness 4-2.

  • Tog Beat GW 2-1.

We played umpteen UG Madness and Mono Black mirror matches, too. Now, as you can see, this isn’t the huge amount of data that a professional team would put out – but it’s only one night’s testing and we’ve been doing this since April. All it does is to reinforce what everyone already knows: U/G Madness and Mono Black are the two main decks to beat. Tog also seems to be good, as it can beat Mono Black at least half of the time (and I’m not just basing this on three games played).

One thing we didn’t test so well was the sideboards. We did test them but not to the extent I would have been happy with. Mind you, there is only so much U/G Madness on U/G Madness you can play before you start to practice your coin flips to try to win the toss.

So, with a PTQ on Saturday here are some decks, with sideboard and notes for you to look over. I’ve included notes on where the decks came from, too:

Team PhatBeats’ Mono Black Toolbox.

Creatures (9):

4x Nantuko Shade

4x Faceless Butcher

1x Laquatus’s Champion

Other Spells (24):

4x Diabolic Tutor

4x Chainer’s Edict

3x Innocent Blood

3x Mutilate

3x Mind Sludge

2x Haunting Echoes

3x Rancid Earth

1x Morbid Hunger

1x Skeletal Scrying

Land (27):

4x Cabal Coffers

23x Swamp

Sideboard (15):

4x Braids, Cabal Minion

1x Rancid Earth

3x Gravegouger

3x Mesmeric Fiend

1x Grotesque Hybrid

1x Laquatus’s Champion

2x Ghastly Demise

This deck started off – as with many – back in Osaka. Looking at the black decks that did well it seemed there were two main types: Those with lots of Tutors favouring a ‘toolbox’ approach, and those with four of the spells they wanted and one or two tutors at the most.

This deck takes a line between the two with four of the Shades, Edicts and then three of all the next most important cards: Rancid Earth, Mind Sludge, Innocent Blood and Mutilate. Next, we add a few cards we’d like to see and would be happy to Tutor for a few times. Lastly, I’ve added a few”utility” cards, along with a Champion to help get me that last bit of life I need to win.

If testing has shown us anything, it’s that Braids and Rancid Earth work very well in the mirror match, as well as against the Solitary Confinement decks. There are only three Rancid Earths in the main deck – and I wouldn’t go down to less now, since they’re just too good in a multicoloured environment where players are relying on playing just one Plains, Island, or Forest to cast their spells.

Mesmeric Fiend can help against more controlling decks that can’t actually remove it. Gravegouger helps a lot against U/G Madness decks trying to abuse Flashback – and decks that need Threshold aren’t too partial to them either!

The Hybrid helps against Green and White decks (of course), and the Ghastly Demises can come in if you feel you need targeted removal and that ten main deck removal spells as well as Faceless Butchers aren’t enough.

When looking at my opening hand, I really want to see three Swamps – but I’ll go with two if I have an Edict or two or a Shade. Most opening hands I’d like to see three mana, a tutor, some removal, and maybe a creature. I’ll mulligan a two-land hand if I have no one, two, or three casting cost spells in it.

Team PhatBeats’ Anti-Black UG Madness

Creatures (13):

4x Wild Mongrel

1x Aquamoeba

4x Basking Rootwalla

2x Arrogant Wurm

2x Wonder

Other Spells (24):

4x Roar of the Wurm

3x Deep Analysis

4x Aether Burst

4x Careful Study

4x Circular Logic

3x Quiet Speculation

2x Envelop

Land (23):

2x Centaur Garden

11x Forest

10x Island

Sideboard (15):

2x Envelop

2x Ray of Revelation

1x Wonder

3x Krosan Reclamation

2x Spellbane Centaur

1x Moment’s Peace

1x Persuasion

3x Howling Gale

This deck started off as Eliot Fertik’s Grand Prix Trial-winning deck. His deck had no main deck Aether Bursts and played four Catalyst Stones. As we played and played we realised that – good though it was – the deck needed the Bursts to pull out some match ups, and they help a lot in the mirror match too. Catalyst Stone seemed to mean that for one turn, and one turn only, I’d have an extra Wurm token in play – something black decks don’t care about that much anyway. They helped in the mirror match a lot, though.

Basically in a mirror match, he who casts the first Catalyst Stone has an advantage. If you’re playing them in the main deck, you’ll probably win game one of the mirror. If they have them in their sideboard, they then must bring them in (and probably had them in the sideboard for just that reason). With this deck, I’m saying "I expect there to be a lot of Mono Black, and I don’t think that many people will play them in the main deck of their UG decks). I could be wrong.

The reason I’ve taken them out is to slip in a few Envelops. Envelop helps a lot against Mono Black – so much so that there are another two in the sideboard just for that matchup. If you’re expecting Haunting Echoes, you should probably bring in a few of the Krosan Reclamations, too – these are also very good in the mirror match.

Looking at my opening hand, I’d like to see an Island, a Forest and a few creatures as well as one counterspell. I’ll go with no Blue mana if I have enough creatures in hand that I think I could force a win anyway. I’d have to think very carefully about going with no Green mana. Unlike many people, I wouldn’t go with a one land and Careful Study hand. You need to get to three or four mana, really, and even if you have two Basking Rootwallas in hand, it’s a risky play – mind you, if you’re playing against Solitary Confinement it might be worth it.

Solitary Confinement (based heavily on Mike Rosenburg’s GPT deck).

Creatures (1):

1x Genesis

Spells (36):

3x Solitary Confinement

2x Cunning Wish

3x Living Wish

1x Holistic Wisdom

2x Time Stretch

4x Concentrate

1x Circular Logic

2x Rites of Refusal

4x Syncopate

1x Mirari

3x Mirari’s Wake

4x Compulsion

3x Aether Burst

3x Flash of Insight

Land (23):

4x Krosan Verge

5x Forest

4x Plains

8x Island

2x Skycloud Expanse

Sideboard (15):

1x Aether Burst

2x Seedtime

1x Ray of Revelation

1x Envelop

2x Moment’s Peace

1x Phantom Nishoba

1x Ambassador Laquatus

1x Teroh’s Faithful

1x Battlefield Scrounger

1x Druid Lyricist

1x Genesis

1x Plains

1x Island

This deck was played by Mike Rosenburg at a Grand Prix Trial of 22 players in Cleveland. Mike won the tourney. The other top eight decks can be found here.

The deck is designed to get a genesis into your hand or graveyard, a forest in play and to allow you to cast Solitary confinement. The rest of the deck allows you to get these things into play, and the use of Mirari’s Wake means that you always have the mana you need.

This deck is the first I’ve seen to use so many Wishes – but it uses them well. The main reason I’m adding this deck into the list to play against is that it’s a combo/prison deck. We have control, aggro-control, and aggro decks to test against… But no combo. Having played the deck over the last few weeks I’d say that when it works it’s great, but learning which hands to mulligan – which to keep and what to discard to the Compulsions – is very hard. Compulsion makes the deck tick – without it, the deck just wouldn’t work at all.

It’s very tempting to take out the Time Stretches and the Holistic Wisdom to make the deck more consistent (I’d add a fourth Confinement, a second main deck Genesis and one more Circular Logic) – but, for now, I’m leaving it alone. The only changes I’ve made are to add a Plains and Island to the Sideboard, removing a Nomad Stadium and Cephalid Coliseum. The damage from them was too much; often I was trying to ‘go off’ on one life.

I’ve also dropped two Islands for Skycloud Expanses. In many games we found we needed more white mana, and this will help.

It’s very difficult to beat if it gets going, as the player tends to let you do pretty much anything, saving the few counterspells for things which will eat the Genesis or destroy the Confinement. After all, you can’t cast Haunting Echoes, Mind Sludge, and use Laquatus’s Champions to kill them (which all target a player) and you can’t deck them – that’s how they win.

Psychatog (based heavily on Frank Karsten’s PT Osaka deck)

Creatures (15):

4x Psychatog

4x Shadowmage Infiltrator

4x Faceless Butcher

3x Mesmeric Fiend

Spells (21):

4x Chainer’s Edict

4x Aether Burst

4x Deep Analysis

2x Compulsion

4x Circular Logic

3x Syncopate

Land (24):

4x Darkwater Catacombs

10x Island

10x Swamp

Sideboard (15):

3x Upheaval

3x Zombie Infestation

3x Rancid Earth

3x Ghastly Demise

1x Possessed Aven

1x Envelop

1x Persuasion

This deck is basically Frank Karsten’s deck from PT: Osaka. Frank came 42nd with the deck. It was one of the two distinct successful types of Psychatog deck that were played at Osaka, the other coming in at 7th place. I chose Frank’s version because – with Judgment now in play – I believe that we need more creature removal and better card drawing than just Concentrate. Shadowmage Infiltrator gives me the latter and the Butchers certainly help out with the former.

I’ve made only one main deck change: Deep Analysis has replaced Concentrate. In testing, I found myself having to discard cards to kill creatures and keep Psychatogs alive. Deep Analysis is still useful once you do that; Concentrate is not.

I looked into adding Cunning Wish to the deck, but the cards that would have to come out are just too important. If I were going to add them, Mesmeric Fiend would probably find itself relegated to the sideboard, or even removed completely.

In testing, this deck handles the new U/G Madness decks well, and can use counter spells and Aether Bursts to keep creatures alive. Ideally, you want to keep the Infiltrators alive as long as you have just one more Psychatog left in your deck. Drawing cards helps you to win.

The other thing that drew me to Tog was Upheaval. It’s a perfect answer to Mono Black’s insane amount of mana, it also helps beat Solitary Confinement, and you can often have the counters you need to force it through.

I would be looking for a Swamp, an Island, and at least one counterspell, Chainer’s Edict, or Aether Burst to keep an opening hand. Failing, that one more land and a Butcher would probably be kept, too. Early Psychatogs don’t help too much, but an early Infiltrator – should it stay on the table – will win you the game.

I find myself valuing the Infiltrators over all the other creatures, even allowing a Butcher to be killed and returning a problem creature to my opponent. After all, if you’re drawing twice as many cards as your opponent, you’re more likely to draw answers to their threats.

Rancid Lady by Adam Reynolds (with help from team PhatBeats).

Creatures (7):

4x Braids, Cabal Minion

3x Magnivore

Other Spells (29):

3x Rancid Earth

1x Earth Rift

4x Burning Wish

4x Recoup

3x Innocent Blood

4x Chainer’s Edict

2x Browbeat

4x Firebolt

4x Catalyst Stone

Land (24):

13x Swamp

3x Tainted Peak

2x Shadow Ridge

6x Mountain

Sideboard (15):

1x Rancid Earth

1x Earth Rift

2x Decompose

1x Lightning Surge

1x Browbeat

1x Haunting Echoes

1x Mutilate

1x Innocent Blood

1x Stitch Together

1x Book Burning

1x Mind Sludge

3x Coffin Purge

This deck started off as a mono-Red punisher deck from an article by Michael LaLonde. One of our play test group, Adam, bought it along and we played it and found that Michael’s original deck just wasn’t capable of beating U/G Madness more than one in four times. Turns 4 and 5 6/6 Wurms pretty much won the game then and there – either that, or you had to use so many cards getting rid of them you couldn’t cope with the rest of the creatures. Never mind what happened if your opponent cast counter spells your way!

We started playing with the deck and quickly noticed that it did very well at blowing up land, and could beat control decks very well. The average damage dealt by the non-land cards in the deck was around two – and so even if your opponent allowed you to draw three cards, more often than not they could do just as much damage as a six-point Book Burning. Even so, it was losing.

The real star of the deck was Recoup. Every spell could be cast twice, and with a Catalyst Stone in play, things got very silly very quickly. Eventually we decided that we needed better removal – and that’s where Black came in handy: Chainer’s Edict and Innocent Blood kill 6/6 Wurms much better than Firebolt does.

Adding Black to the deck also gave us the opportunity to try out Rancid Earth, as it does so well in mono-Black, and so we dropped some spells we weren’t happy with and gave it a play. Very quickly we added Braids to the deck to increase the amount of land destruction, and Magnivore as a finisher to capitalise on the sheer number of Sorceries in the deck.

Even so we were still having problems – and so added Burning Wish to allow us to tutor for the solutions we needed straight out of our sideboard, giving the deck a real utility feel. I still don’t think the deck is anywhere near finished, but it should be after a few PTQs and a Grand Prix later this month.

So, there are a few decks for you to pick apart. If you can beat all of them you’re probably in for a good chance. You’ll need to be able to give U/B Birds a run for it’s money, too, as well as G/W Beats but concentrate on beating mono-Black and U/G if you’re short on time as you’re more likely to run into those than anything else.

Good Hunting.

Next Week: PTQ Houston in Bath -how will I do? Including all the new decks I see, all the tech I get my hands on and a tourney report… What more do you want?

Cheers, Jim Grimmett.

Team PhatBeats,

Team Diaspora,

Level 2 DCI Judge.