Today’s article is devoted to a single deck: Hive Mind. Not really new and innovative (not since the GP), not my deck, nothing like that. For once, I’m
not trying to bring you something new but trying to help you understand a growing presence in the metagame.
The deck is still sufficiently unknown that it is troublesome to play against and at the same time is powerful enough to remain a threat when known.
After its breakout at GP Providence, the deck has been picking up steam, allowing Thomas Ma to Top 8 both of the latest StarCityGames.com Legacy Opens
and tearing up Magic Online events.
Someone should really point out what makes it tick. I’ve decided to accept that mission.
So what I’ll do today is introduce you to the deck’s synergies, show you why it is as good as it is (aka the reasons to play Hive Mind), go over some
of the more arcane interactions that might come up when playing with or against the deck, and talk about ways to prepare yourself should you get paired
First let’s introduce today’s star:
A number of players still seem to have a bit of trouble understanding how exactly the Hive Mind part of the deck works (Show and Tell into Emrakul is
old hat by now, though). Essentially what you plan to do is get a Hive Mind into play and follow that up with playing one of the Future Sight Pacts,
preferably one the opponent doesn’t have the necessary mana to pay for. At that point, Hive Mind will create a copy for the opponent, who will
subsequently lose once the payment trigger goes off during his upkeep.
The first thing I always do when trying to understand a new deck is break it down into its functional subsets, similar to what I outlined in my first talent search article when I
talked about breaking down old decks into their composite parts to make a modernized version. This kind of breakdown allows you to understand what role
each card is supposed to fill, if there is any amount of overlap between the different pieces, and thereby gain a deeper understanding of the deck’s
function in general. Let’s get to it, shall we?
This is pretty easy, actually. The deck is nearly mono-blue; both splash colors are there only to be able to pay for Pact triggers in the maindeck
(though if things are going according to plan, that won’t come up all that often). Thomas’s winning build also uses the black for sideboard Engineered
Being able to pay for your Pacts becomes relevant mainly against slower opponents who manage to stall you into the late game. At that point, trying to
get there with a 4/4 backed by disruption is actually a reasonable plan against control decks, especially post-board when opponents are unlikely to
have much creature removal left. If given the choice, though, a competent pilot will try to start the game with a number of basic Islands (or fetches)
so as not to get slowed down by Wasteland.
These are the cards that make the deck actually dangerous. Without them, Hive Mind would be a turn-six play—not exactly something to be afraid
of. The acceleration package should be broken down into two groups again, the Sol-lands and the Super-Rituals.
The Sol-lands (Ancient Tomb and City of Traitors, so named after Sol Ring) are your equivalent of Moxen. They accelerate you by a turn while providing
permanent mana and only taking up spots in the mana base. A pretty sweet deal.
The Super-Rituals are one of the main reasons the deck is as good as it is. Both Grim Monolith and Show and Tell function as one-shot mana sources that
produce not only two mana like Dark Ritual but three (though one of them has suspend—one for two colorless—otherwise it only generates one
mana). Only Lion’s Eye Diamond can rival that kind of acceleration in Legacy—and that makes you jump through some pretty big hoops, especially
against countermagic. Both cards let you jump from two mana on one turn to effectively six for Hive Mind on the following turn, which can be as early
as turn 2 thanks to the Sol-lands.
Yes, I just said Show and Tell is mainly a mana accelerant in this deck. It’s basically a Seething Song that produces six instead of five. This is the
first mistake many players make when thinking about Hive Mind. They see it as a Show and Tell deck. It isn’t, not at all. It’s a two-card combo deck
that happens to have absolutely brutal acceleration.
While Show and Tell functions mainly as mana acceleration here, the fact that it also makes the real business spell uncounterable means it
must be stopped, which helps massively against control decks as compared to other combo decks. When your Rituals always bleed their countermagic, it
becomes much easier to punch something through for the win. Pretty scary.
And, as if that’s not enough value to extract from your acceleration suite, Show and Tell even provides you with an easy backup plan in case you can’t
find a Hive Mind or the opponent is at a point when he’s able to pay for all your Pacts. The Giant Spaghetti Monster of Doom is something people have
been bringing to science class for a while now, and it works perfectly fine as a backup plan here. You’d prefer to win every game off of Hive Mind, as
it’s much harder to disrupt (no Oblivion Ring, Karakas, Jace, or other shenanigans), but sometimes you just need something big to put down.
It also means that you have a backup plan to aim for if you have neither part of the Hive Mind combo, which would otherwise slow you down considerably.
Well, this was probably already too much about something as mundane as old Emmi.
As mentioned before, this is essentially a two-card combo deck, so you obviously need ways to find what you’re missing. The cantrip engine of
Brainstorm and Ponder helps you fix your draw to find whatever resource you’re missing, be it lands, business, or disruption. Intuition on the other
hand “simply” does a fine impression of blue Demonic Tutor here and has excellent synergy with the Sol-lands.
Eight zero-mana hard counters? That’s pretty ridiculous when you think about it. Being able to play what amounts to another set of Force of Wills for
your combo turn is one of the benefits of playing the Hive Mind kill. Hive Mind is extremely good at forcing its combo through opposing countermagic
(quite neat considering the amount of blue control decks we’re seeing lately). That isn’t all, though. In addition to being protection, Pact of
Negation works as another piece of the Hive Mind combo if necessary, giving the deck extreme consistency.
Other lists have been using Mental Misstep and/or Misdirection in addition to what Thomas Ma has here to provide even more disruption. Misdirection in
particular seems like it would be sweet in some metagames, considering that one of the best ways to disrupt a two-card combo deck with infinite
countermagic is discard. Misdirection just allows you to say “nice Hymn, bro.” Another threat from the deck to be aware of.
This is the deck’s actual win condition. The wild mix of Pacts helps you find one the opponent won’t be able to pay for, even once they have a lot of
mana in play. The splashes allow you to use all but the green pact for actual utility, though 4/4 flash guys for five won’t really tear up Legacy most
of the time. There isn’t much else to say about the package, so this seems like a good time to explain some of the more technical stuff.
First, you get to keep priority when Hive Mind enters play. That means there is no window for the opponent to actually destroy it even with something
like a Krosan Grip before you put a Pact on the stack for your opponent to copy and choke on. Even if they drop an Oblivion Ring on the board when you
Show and Tell, the Ring’s trigger still goes on the stack and can be responded to, usually ending in a Pact copy killing your opponent while your Hive
Mind has left the building.
Second, the opponent countering their Pact copy generally won’t help them, as you also get to copy their countermagic, which you can then aim straight
back at the original counter. Exceptions are Stifle aimed at the Hive Mind trigger, Daze (as long as they have a mana to pay for your copy, at which
point you get to at least Daze your own copy, too, so as to not die to the upkeep trigger yourself), and any kind of countermagic that can’t target
itself (Nix, Spell Burst for zero, etc.).
Third, Pact of Negation and Slaughter Pact are different from your other Pacts, as you first need a target to be able to cast them. For Slaughter Pact,
this is rarely a problem but can be quite important in combo mirrors. For Pact of Negation, this can be accomplished by casting something as simple as
a Ponder after you’ve dropped the Hive Mind but works particularly well with your own Pacts, as those cost zero. One thing to keep in mind here is that
sometimes you’ll need both Pacts to resolve to actually win (generally because the opponent has enough mana to pay for one of the two), so you need to
make sure you do this correctly.
If you do this, you could end up having to argue with a lot of people, including but not necessarily limited to your opponent and a judge. I guarantee
that half the savvy players out there will instantly try to aim their copy of Pact of Negation at their copy of Pact of the Titan. Now, this shouldn’t
really work, but you set yourself up for a bad ruling by being unclear.
Here everything is 100% clear, and they’ll get two copies with no argument involved. The only legal targets for their Pact of Negation copy are both of
your Pacts, as their copy of Pact #1 hasn’t been created yet. Now, it’s quite likely that you’ll get a favorable ruling by doing it the wrong way, too,
as nobody has acknowledged the Hive Mind trigger resolving. But by doing it the right way, you save yourself and the judge staff a lot of unnecessary
hassle and in some cases even a lost game.
To pull it together, Hive Mind has some undeniable strengths. Show and Tell’s overlap as a mana accelerator and Emrakul enabler as well as Pact of
Negation’s overlap as a combo piece and protection give the deck incredible redundancy to be able to do something powerful early in the game.
Show and Tell in particular fills an impressive amount of roles because it not only accelerates and enables a backup plan, but it also works as a way
to safely draw out countermagic for only three mana.
Brainstorm plus Ponder is a very powerful manipulation engine that will help put together one of the deck’s combos in a reasonable time frame, and
Intuition means there even is a true tutor to essentially double up on whatever piece the cantrips can’t dig you into directly.
The deck’s acceleration suite is incredibly efficient both in how much room it takes up and in how much mana each of the accelerators effectively
provides you. Having your lands be part of the acceleration suite means you’re fast but much less likely to hit the all-mana, no-business draws other
combo decks can be prone to hit.
Hive Mind is also very good at punching through opposing blue decks because it gets to defend its combo with eight free hard counters and can increase
that number even further by using Misdirection if the pilot so desires. The power of the protection engine is further increased by the fact that the
deck is largely immune to Mental Misstep (though losing your early cantrips can still seriously hamper your ability to find combo pieces in time).
Seems scary? Trust me, it is. Otherwise why would I devote an entire article to the deck? You shouldn’t consider playing something that isn’t scary in
a Legacy tournament anyway. If nothing about the list you’re bringing to battle can inspire fear in the heart of the observer, how exactly do you plan
to win in a high-powered format?
Now, does that mean the deck is just unbeatable, and we should cry havoc and clamor for something to be banned because the sky is falling? Short
answer: no. What, that’s not enough for you guys? All right, time to take a look at the deck’s weaknesses.
Firstly, the deck is still a two-card combo-deck, with all the weaknesses that implies. For one, as long as you don’t find the second half of your win
condition, you’re essentially doing nothing at all and have a ton of really bad cards in your deck. Compare that to a deck like storm that only needs
to find a single business spell to be ready to go off, and you see why needing two cards is a very relevant weakness.
This also means the deck is comparatively vulnerable to targeted discard; if you pick off the piece they already have, they now need to find two
completely different cards before you just win without them doing anything. Sure, the cantrip engine and redundancy gained from overlap help mitigate
this to a certain extent, but discard is still a scary proposition for anybody trying to put together two different pieces of cardboard. Thomas was
clearly aware of that and hedged his bets with Spell Pierce and Leyline of Sanctity in the sideboard. The fact that he didn’t have the Pierces the week
before is actually quite telling about his experiences in Indianapolis, don’t you think?
When compared to something like Painter Stone, Hive Mind also has another weakness: while both decks try to abuse a two-part combo that costs six mana
to win the game, Hive Mind needs you to have those six mana all in one turn or dig for a three-card combo (Show and Tell, Hive Mind, and Pact). Where
Painter can just run out a Grindstone turn 1, a Painter turn 2, and win on turn 3, you need more than just lands to do the same with Hive Mind, even
factoring in Sol-lands. This means Hive Mind is inherently slower than other combo decks.
This loss in speed is particularly relevant when you consider that Hive Mind will often need to win early to avoid having some of its cards blanked.
Once the opponent has the necessary mana to pay for one Pact, you need a second to do anything at all—another way to either reduce the relevant
combo pieces in the deck or turn it into a three-card combo deck (two Pacts and Hive Mind). And we all know that three-card combos are generally
relegated to the bench in competitive Magic because having to find so many pieces just doesn’t work out often enough to be worth it.
In addition, for all the sweet synergies the deck has, there is also a major disynergy: If your hand or the opponent’s cards put you on the Show and
Tell Emrakul plan, Pact of Negation can become dead for a depressingly long time, making you lean on only Force of Will for protection. As good as
Cthulhu might be, he doesn’t save you from dying to your Pact trigger, so you need quite a bit of mana out before you can try winning that way and
expect sufficient backup.
And all of that doesn’t even take weaknesses to particular cards into account. A simple Cursecatcher is a ridiculously difficult problem for the Hive
Mind kill. As long as the little Merfolk that could is in play, the opponent can counter one Pact copy at will by saccing it. (So people, please don’t
blow the ‘catcher uselessly. He makes life more difficult for the opponent alive than you would imagine on first sight.) I mentioned this vulnerability
to soft countermagic earlier already, but Cursecatcher is on a whole other level because it can’t be countered during the combo turn.
We’re also in a heavily blue metagame at the moment, which means there should be a lot of Red Elemental Blasts (or Pyroblasts if you prefer) around.
Every spell that could win the game for Hive Mind just happens to be blue, so I guess there is a lot of relevant incidental hate in people’s sideboards
already… I mean, sure, the deck is really good at going off through multiple counters, but having to go off through countermagic is quite the
different proposition when you need to do it against an aggressive red deck.
Other than that, though, we’re getting to the final reason why Hive Mind is good in the middle of talking about how to beat it: the hate that works
against almost any other combo is pretty mediocre against Hive Mind, and it doesn’t have the vulnerability of Breakfast or Painter to creature removal
or graveyard hate. Ethersworn Canonist is okay because it turns your enchantment removal back on, which is otherwise useless, and slows them down by a
turn even if you don’t have removal. Gaddock Teeg shuts off the hardcast Hive Mind but doesn’t do anything about Show and Tell, while Karakas deals
with Emmi but does straight up nothing against Hive Mind, and the list continues.
One card deserves particular mention, though, because many misunderstand how it works: Chalice of the Void. If you’re not trying to make sure your own
counters resolve in spite of Pact of Negation, the only thing Chalice at zero does is help the Hive Mind player. You see, the copies Hive Mind makes
aren’t cast, so they remain unaffected by Chalice. The original Pacts however are countered, freeing the caster from paying for them. Not what you
should be trying to do at all!
That doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to hate the deck out should it ever become widely played, but most of these answers are narrow enough to not be
worth it in a metagame in which Hive Mind is low profile.
Let’s take a look at the somewhat more limited options: Any kind of counterspell that can’t counter itself is a reasonable way to stop Pact copies from
resolving. Nix, Spell Burst, and others have been suggested, and Spellstutter Sprite has already seen some play. Personally I’m a fan of
Flusterstorm—the Hive Mind copy’s storm trigger never goes on the stack, allowing you to safely get rid of your Pact. The reason I like it is
because it also works when you’re fighting over the actual combo pieces before the Pacts ever enter the stack, making it one of the absolutely least
narrow options available. On the other end of the narrowness spectrum, dropping an Eon Hub into play off the opponent’s Show and Tell is definitely
good for a laugh and locks them out of the Pact win for the rest of the game.
The single most powerful hate card against the deck has to be Angel’s Grace, though. Grace is not only an uncounterable answer to however many Pacts
they’ve managed to force you to copy, but it doesn’t allow them to stop their own Pacts, usually leading to their demise once their turn rolls around
again. Stifle provides a similar functionality but will only allow you to survive a single Pact.
Stitching Things Back Together
I hope this pseudo-scientific inquiry into the inner workings of the new combo kid on the block has provided you with some insight, whether you want to
play it yourself or just want to know how to prepare against it. Whichever you chose, themind definitely has proven itself as a mightier weapon than the sword for the moment. We’ll see how long that lasts!
To end today’s article, there’s something totally unrelated I’d like to talk about. Let me use these last few lines to congratulate Wizards of the
Coast for having pulled the trigger on another banning in Standard after six years of justified inaction. I mean, I don’t play the format, but from all
the coverage I’ve seen, Caw-Blade just seemed overwhelmingly better than everything else. When people rejoice because only half the decks in a Top 8
happen to be Caw-Blade, something is clearly not as it should be.
Sadly, they’ll probably get a lot of backlash from people unhappy that they can’t play their cards anymore. I suggest those people think about all
those other cards they couldn’t play before because they didn’t fit into Caw-Blade.
On a more philosophical level, though, I think the fact that they had to ban something in Standard also shows that they did something right, weird as
that may sound. If they kept the game as toned down and controlled as would be necessary for this to never happen (R&D are human beings after all),
the game would be much the worse for it. As much as I generally argue against bannings (though usually in a Legacy context), if a deck shows that level
of dominance for such a long period of time, taking the ax to it seems like a good solution.
I’m also much happier to see them do that than make absolutely sure everything is totally safe. If the guys and girls in Renton don’t push the
envelope, the game goes stale. Who would honestly want that to happen? Look at it this way: It’s been six years* since they last had to dig up the ban
hammer, and all the formats have gotten a ton of awesome and impactful cards in the meantime. Seems like a pretty good track record to me, all things
That’s it for today. Let me know in the forums whether I should have used a stronger microscope to look at my dissection samples, if there was anything
else I might have missed, or just tell me why this was totally useless/awesomely helpful for you. Until next time, remember to pay for your pacts!
*Maybe they shouldn’t have revisited Mirrodin? The last banning happened there already!