Duel With Ruel – Thopter Depths Versus Domain Zoo: The Thopter Depths Perspective

Grand Prix: Oakland!

Wednesday, February 10th – The hybrid Thopter Depths combo deck has dominated the Extended scene for a number of weeks. Today, Antoine Ruel throws it against Manuel Bucher’s Domain Zoo in an attempt to gain valuable insight into the matchup as Grand Prix: Oakland looms ever closer…

Two weeks ago, the StarCityGames.com readers voted for this week’s match-up. Extended Tezzerator versus Domain Zoo easily won the poll.

Most formats evolve a lot within a very short amount of time, and some decks might be replaced with better ones. I think that is what happened with Tezzerator and with the Dark Depths Combo deck: the hybrid version of the two decks is performing well enough to make them both obsolete.

Should I write about an obsolete deck, or should I test the most played, and best, version of it? I am aware that some readers (especially those who voted) might be disappointed whatever I decide, but as I think that most of you would be interested in the most useful playtesting, I’ll write about the hybrid version that doesn’t feature Tezzeret, the Seeker. Awkward.

The article, written with Manu this week, will be quite interesting, as it features the two most-played decks of the format, probably the two best decks too.

I chose to run the version piloted by Jason Terry, who came first at the Garden City (USA) PTQ. Most of the versions have the exact same decklist, except for one or two slots, the main difference between this one and the others is Echoing Truth rather than Into the Roil maindeck.

Manu was playing the following deck, but I didn’t know his exact configuration at the time:

Pregame Feelings About The Matchup

I will try to get a Marit Lage token with some backup for the scary Path to Exile as soon as possible, because his deck will kill me really quickly, and I have almost no weapons main deck to slow him down.

The other combo seems really slow to set up, and does not even kill him straight away. Moreover, Tribal Flame might just finish me off even though I already gained life and provided some chump blockers to handle his board.

The single Engineered Explosives and Chalice of the Void, alongside tutors and Chrome Mox, should be really helpful.

As this deck wins all the PTQs, I expect it to beat Zoo… but even if it has an edge on the matchup, it is probably not that big, something like 55% maximum.

Main Deck Games (10 wins 14 losses, 41.6%games won)

The matchup was much worse than I thought it would be. Manu topdecked a lot, but that is what Zoo is designed to do. On the other hand, I mulliganed a lot, but if you consider my games against Olivier last week and the hands I drew there, the deck’s average starting hand is about 6.1 cards. It is probably even fewer cards if you know what deck your opponent is playing.

The main problem that I had in the matches was that we were both goldfishing. There is almost no interaction between the two decks, except for Path to Exile. As his deck was more regular and could interact with my combo, he was a slight favorite.

Game example: I make turn 2 Vampire Hexmage with Urborg, and turn 3 Dark Depths plus Foundry with a mana up for a chump blocker and one life, and I die on his turn 4.

Of course, Chalice of the Void and Engineered Explosives are good, but they are really slow. If you cast Explosives on the first turn, then your opponent will just curve out and it will not be really useful. If you play it on the second turn, then you will probably sacrifice it on turn 3, which is the turn you are supposed to tutor with either Muddle the Mixture, Tolaria West, or Beseech the Queen. You cannot rely on tutoring for any of those either, because the impact of the two artifacts on turn 3 or 4 is irrelevant.

The same goes for Slaughter Pact; if you tutor it, you will not use the tutor to fetch up any of the combo parts. The card itself is not that good; if you cast it, you will only get rid of one creature, and probably will Time Walk yourself on your following turn to pay for it. In the meantime, his remaining four creatures will kill you. The only game in which it was useful was when I was going for the Thopter combo, and he had a Qasali Pridemage on the table with no mana up. I understand that the card is necessary against a Meddling Mage, but in the last two articles I have found that the best thing to do with it would be imprint it on a Chrome Mox.

The best card that I had to slow him down was probably Echoing Truth (and god knows that its impact was far from huge), just because it was cheap.

I thought the main difficulty in the matchup would be knowing when to sacrifice the Hexmage on Dark Depths. It is not. Basically, I could not protect my 20/20 with Muddle the Mixture, not even once. It is almost impossible to avoid Path to Exile. You would need to cast Hexmage with Urborg and Dark Depths, and keep two Blue mana up on turn 4, for it to succeed, turning your two-card combo into a five-card problem. All this, and you have to do this before you are killed, and pray that he does not hold two Path to Exiles in his hand… Awkward.

The statement is also true for Thoughtseize. If you do need to tutor to gather your combo, and probably go off on turn 4, you will probably play the discard spell on the first turn to get rid of something (Steppe Lynx?) that will kill you faster than your combo arrival, leaving him with Path to Exile in the hand. Maybe this will allow you to get the slower combo, Thopter Foundry / Sword of the Meek. By the way, once again, if you need to Thoughtseize and quickly fetch any of the combo, this is a three-card combo, and the odds that you’ll get those three pieces early enough and still survive are pretty low.

At first, I thought that I would be able to untap with the Vampire and the Legendary land on the board. I did this once in 24 games. Manu would just burn the Hexmage and remove the Marit Lage token from the game during his turn, and there is not much I could do about it. Moreover, if he does not kill the Vampire, it probably means that he does not have the Path (it’s very unlikely that he does not have a burn spell), so you should probably still sacrifice your Vampire and try to go for the kill.

Of course, he did not ALWAYS hold the scary instant to deal with my monster, and sometimes I could just Thoughtseize it and combo off. But if anytime he drew a second between the Thoughtseize and the combo, he would destroy my whole game plan.

I would recommend always trying to go for the Marit Lage combo. The Thopter/Sword combo will be your Plan B. Obviously, if you play first and can get both artifacts really quickly, or if he has a slow draw, that combo is harder to disrupt. He has two ways to fight the second combo:

– Beat you down with a bunch of creatures and eventually finish you off with burn (this happens a lot, as you do not have mass removal, so he can just play infinite guys).
– Destroy the Foundry with Qasali Pridemage (even though I did not know that, during the testing period, he only played two copies, so that should not happen too often).

If you can, do not hesitate to cast Dark Confidant on the first turn. You will probably draw once from it, then chump block. If you reveal Beseech the Queen, well, that is unlucky, and you will probably auto-lose.

One other card that I did not like too much was Thirst for Knowledge. Whenever Beseech the Queen and the transmute spells are too slow, drawing random cards is even slower, and does not really help.

Sideboard Plan

I think that it is appropriate to have a different sideboard plan on the play and on the draw. Thirst for Knowledge will be okay when you play first, but it’s probably too slow on the draw. A mix of Thoughtseize and Duress will be needed, but a different mix is needed according to who goes first.

Damping Matrix seems more and more popular; once I find out that he plays it, I will probably add a lone Hurkyl’s Recall that I will imprint on Chrome Mox pretty often. I hope that sideboard plan will slow him down enough to kill me one turn later than usual. Echoing Truth might be enough, but it would be safer to have two answers against Matrix.

I am more confident than I am for game 1, as the Deathmark will allow me to actually interact with his board.

On the draw:

+3 Deathmark
+3 Duress
+1 Thopter Foundry
+1 Sword of the Meek
+1 Hurkyl’s Recall

-4 Thirst For Knowledge
-4 Dark Confidant
-1 Chalice of the Void (slow, and probably more annoying for me than for him)

The goal here will be to combo successfully as quickly as possible. If Manu is playing first, I should not be able to slow him down enough, so I keep the second combo to actually be able to do something before dying.

On the play:

+3 Deathmark
+1 Thopter Foundry
+1 Chalice of the Void
+1 Sword of the Meek

-4 Dark Confidant
-1 Chrome Mox
-1 Muddle the Mixture

Sideboarded Games (7 wins, 19 losses, 26.9% games won)

When Manu played first, he won 10 games and lost 3.

When I played first, I won 4 games and lost 9.

Maybe Manu’s sideboard was a little overboard, but the fact is that I got slaughtered.

Every single game I was wondering how this deck won so many PTQs, and wondering if I had made the right choice in testing this instead of the former Tezzerator.

Any of the sideboarded plans that I tried was bad. Death Mark is okay, obviously, but it does not really solve your tempo problems. If you kill the first creature that shows up, then you will not be able to handle the troublesome ones.

Knight of the Reliquary fetching Ghost Quarter destroys the Hexmage/Dark Depths combo, so if your opponent has just played it, sacrifice your Vampire during you turn, or you will need to combo off twice.

Meddling Mage is even more annoying. If you transmute for anything, he will simply have to cast it immediately afterwards to destroy your game plan. Of course, if he has to name Sword of the Meek, you can discard it to Thirst for Knowledge, then sacrifice any artifact to your Foundry and start making 1/1 Thopters.

Out of the four games I won on the play, two were by getting a 20/20 on turn 2 when he did not have a Path to Exile. The two others were the only games in which he did not have an answer in two turns to the Thopter combo. This means no Ancient Grudge, no Damping Matrix, and no Qasali Pridemage. You’ll notice that Muddle the Mixture does not counter any of those annoying spells.

Any Thoughtseize or Duress revealed a hand full of annoying cards, all of which I need to force him to discard or I’d simply lose the game.

Maybe the deck is good against the slower versions of Zoo. Maybe I did not find the right sideboard plan (or this sideboard is not made to beat Zoo), but this matchup was a true disaster. I only won when I got sick draws, maindeck and after board.

The Zoo deck has more disruption, more aggression, a better manabase, and more regularity than you have.

Once again, I apologize for testing this deck instead of Tezzerator, but it seemed to me that the most of you would rather like to read about this.

I would be interested in reading your comments about the matchup; maybe there is something that I did not understand or did wrong. In my opinion, as long as you do not have a LOT of removal spells, which is probably impossible, you should lose against Zoo.

In two weeks, after Grand Prix: Oakland, the metagame will probably have changed a lot. I will then pick two Extended decks of my choice and analyze the matchup.

In three weeks, I will do the same with two Standard decks from the Pro Tour. Don’t worry, I’ll try to pick something interesting.

Good luck at the PTQs and GP: Oakland, and I’ll see you in San Diego!