Feature Article – Mythic: Origins

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Friday, February 26th – Hall of Famer and Constructed powerhouse Zvi Mowshowitz returns to StarCityGames.com with an in-depth exploration of his latest Standard creation: Mythic! The deck powered multiple players into Day 2 play at PT: San Diego, and it’s poised to make another big splash at the StarCityGames.com Open this weekend in Richmond!

The origins of Mythic, and the reasons why the deck works, lie in its manabase. Finest Hour and Rafiq of the Many are the cards that catch the eye, because they are unique and splashy and often how Mythic kills people, but it is absurd abundance of mana that makes it all possible. Three quarters of the cards in this deck provide mana! The story of Mythic is the story of finding a way to play with that many mana sources and that much acceleration without being inconsistent, flooding, or running out of gas.

The deck that served as the archetype for Mythic was an old favorite, Fires of Yavimaya:

Zvi Mowshowitz — My Fires
Pro Tour—Chicago 2000, 7th Place — Standard

2 Dust Bowl
10 Forest
4 Karplusan Forest
5 Mountain
4 Rishadan Port

4 Birds of Paradise
4 Blastoderm
3 Jade Leech
4 Llanowar Elves
3 Two-Headed Dragon

4 Assault / Battery
4 Chimeric Idol
1 Earthquake
4 Fires of Yavimaya
4 Saproling Burst

3 Earthquake
3 Flashfires
4 Kavu Chameleon
1 Obliterate
2 Reverent Silence
2 Tangle

My version of Fires ran twenty-five lands, which meant I had thirty-three mana sources; most other versions had between thirty and thirty-two. The way I did that was to play Dust Bowl, which, together with Rishadan Port, allowed the deck to turn its extra mana against its opponents’ manabase, making the deck far less likely to flood. This allowed the deck to get its mana more consistently, which was a big improvement.

The other big innovation (aside from Two-Headed Dragon) in this version is the card that wasn’t in it, which was River Boa. River Boa is a great creature, but what I realized was that spending a slot in the deck on a two-drop was a very bad idea. The threats in a deck like this have to be big because you don’t always have that many of them with thirty-three mana sources and four Fires of Yavimaya, and because we had to worry a lot about Wrath of God. Assault and Battery was chosen for the same reason, as you wanted removal in the deck but the deck needed to be able to find a threat if removal was not relevant, and both Blastoderm and Saproling Burst are strong but hard to make go all the way. This allowed almost every spell in the deck other than Fires to do big damage. There is only one Earthquake because the deck can’t afford to sacrifice any more threat density than that.

The second deck that it is useful to know about, although it is not as direct a parent of the concept, is another Red/Green deck that Jacob van Lunen built for Pro Tour Hollywood and I helped tune and pilot to a Top 32 finish:

G/R Big Aggro
Jacob van Lunen

4 Fire-Lit Thicket
7 Forest
4 Grove of the Burnwillows
4 Karplusan Forest
2 Mountain
2 Treetop Village

4 Birds of Paradise
4 Chameleon Colossus
4 Countryside Crusher
4 Deus of Calamity
4 Llanowar Elves
4 Magus of the Moon
4 Tarmogoyf
2 Firespout
4 Lash Out
3 Tarfire

1 Cloudthresher
2 Firespout
4 Kitchen Finks
2 Loxodon Warhammer
2 Primal Command
1 Shivan Dragon
2 Squall Line
1 Sulfurous Blast

This deck only played thirty-one mana sources, and its curve was far more normal going to five only for Deus of Calamity and to four only for Chameleon Colossus. That seems like an awfully low mana curve for a deck playing a majority of mana sources, with only two Treetop Village and four Llanowar Elves to use once the spells run out. On top of that, you’re running Magus of the Moon, which may or may not be relevant. Despite all that, the deck almost never lost to running out of gas other than against Reveillark. Chameleon Colossus provided a mana sink that could usefully eat up any amount of mana, and Countryside Crusher made sure you drew all spells, but the real reason this was not an issue was that no one could come out bigger than you were. It was a fast format, so time was of the essence and other decks didn’t have the acceleration you did. By using the acceleration and mana count to put your curve exactly far enough ahead of your opponents to overpower them, you could get the advantage of being bigger without becoming awkward and becoming inconsistent, slow, and overly reliant on your mana acceleration working, especially against Faeries.

With these and other less successful attempts in mind from the past, I attempted to make work the deck I thought would be the clear way to capitalize on Zendikar: Lotus Cobra combined with massive mana acceleration to overpower your opponent. Here is a reasonable reconstruction of what I was thinking, with Baneslayer Angel and Day of Judgment in the board as the anti-aggro plan:

4 Misty Rainforest
4 Verdant Catacombs
4 Marsh Flats
3 Swamp
7 Forest
2 Plains

4 Ob Nixilis, the Fallen
4 Rampaging Baloths
3 Gigantiform
3 Scute Mob
4 Lotus Cobra
4 Birds of Paradise
4 Noble Hierarch
4 Knight of the Reliquary
4 Harrow
2 Khalni Heart Expedition

That is not a tested list, and in any case there is no reason to try it at home. The idea here, of course, was to take people out of the game quickly with Ob Nixilis or Rampaging Baloths combined with lots of land drops, with additional options to quickly trigger Scute Mob or put out Gigantiform, quite possibly with a second copy to back it up. Baneslayer Angel (and of course Knight of the Reliquary) were simply too good not to play, since the mana was inviting a third color and you wanted White anyway to sideboard Day of Judgment, but I didn’t get that far for other reasons. The problem was that this deck simply was not consistent. Sometimes you went crazy, but often you sat there doing very little because the mana was all or nothing and took up too many slots to leave the deck with enough quality threats. The deck also wasn’t all that fast to play defense. It is important when playing decks that attempt to overpower the opponent and that obviously win a long game, as this one does, to make sure to stabilize the board as quickly as possible, and while Baneslayer Angel does that the other large threats often do a poor job.

I moved quickly to incorporate Baneslayer Angel and Knight of the Reliquary, but it was clear that for many reasons the deck was unworkable. You could run it with more lands instead of explosive mana, but then the deck was clearly going to flood since you couldn’t use Harrow and Expedition as spells with Baloths or Nixilis anymore, and with less land you had Cobra going dead exactly when you needed him the most.

Then I saw Celestial Colonnade. I knew right away it was part of a cycle, and that the cycle would be strong. I’d won a Pro Tour with Coastal Tower in my deck as its best land, and now they were offering me the chance to hide a Serra Angel inside! This was what I had been looking for: An excuse to run an obscene number of lands. If I could do that, I could solve all my problems. With all the extra dual lands as additional lands, the color could take care of itself without first turn Green having to fight it out with my secondary needs. First I thought I would run all eight manlands with a twenty-eight land base, but it quickly became clear that this was overkill given the ability to only play one land per turn. I did briefly look at Oracle of Mul Daya, but even for me there is only so much mana a man needs. At some point, one must turn his attention to winning.

I knew I had a base of twenty-seven lands, give or take one, and sixteen mana creatures: Birds of Paradise, Noble Hierarch, Lotus Cobra, and Knight of the Reliquary. This is a highly explosive mana engine, capable of getting to five mana on the third turn the majority of the time. The synergy between Cobra and Knight is obvious, and this gives you a background of exalted, warm bodies and one mighty badass that together provide you with a lot of mana. We knew we would be using blue as the third color due to Colonnade and Hierarch providing strong incentives. The question then becomes what to do with all that mana.

Baneslayer Angel was an obvious choice, because Baneslayer Angel is ridiculous, but after that the question becomes how to best utilize your strengths and deal with your weaknesses. The great strength of this deck is its speed and mana, and its asset is what might be called its background creatures. You will almost always have at least a Bird or Hierarch, and usually more than that, but without much benefit to attacking with that team even when it isn’t tapping for mana. Simultaneously, those creatures are also your weakness because they expose you to mass removal, which is a strong incentive to choose threats that can either survive mass removal, kill the opponent as quickly as possible, or do both. The worst would be being forced to over-commit to the board without finishing the opponent off, which is asking for it.

Finest Hour and Rafiq of the Many are the perfect fit for this problem. They provide the ability to kill quickly. They prevent you from needing to over-commit to the board, because Finest Hour won’t get caught in removal and Rafiq does not need much help. Both will often kill an opponent the turn they enter play, eliminating any worries about board sweepers. Most importantly, both combine excellently with our existing cards. The manlands provide a base to preserve a creature to attack with, Noble Hierarchs provide extra exalted effects to amplify, and Birds of Paradise is there to provide evasion that can be pumped. More people than you would think die to Birds of Paradise when you play this deck.

That did not leave very many slots in the deck. At first I had four copies of both cards, because I wanted to maximize my chance of getting the new version of “The Fix” where you get both cards, similar to Fires of Yavimaya and Saproling Burst used to be, as that results in a lethal attack from Rafiq or from any creature with three or more power. With only five more card slots, I was looking for a good man to go with Rafiq and Finest Hour, and Rhox War Monk seemed like the perfect fit. Lifelink is a strong ability to match with pumping effects, the card is best in class and the mana curve could use a three-drop. I was worried about it not being large enough to get the job done, and that is a real concern, but it solidifies the deck and smoothes out its draws quite well.

Worrying that Rhox War Monk wasn’t big enough to be in the deck may seem like a strange concern, given it creates a six-point life swing, but it was a continuation of the River Boa strategy. If we play Rhox War Monk, there will be games where that is our captain, and in him we will trust. Is he up for that task? Sometimes he is, sometimes he isn’t, but that is a pretty good place to be when the card in question is a three-drop. Four of them might be one too many, but the card is necessary. I gave the last slot in the deck to Admonition Angel so I could try it out, as I thought the deck might want to actually remove cards on occasion. I’d looked at Baloths in the past, but figured they didn’t quite add as much to the deck.

The deck showed its strength right away, but then it ran into a problem with Malakir Bloodwitch. All the big threats in the deck at this point were White, so the Bloodwitch could shut you down completely and you would have little recourse. Seth Burn was helping test the deck, and right away he declared the deck required Rampaging Baloths, which I had suggested as the alternate six-drop. We stripped out Admonition Angel, and the fourth copies of Finest Hour and Rafiq of the Many, resulting in a deck that was within two cards of the final list, and that now handled both Jund and Vampires much better as you now had the power to overwhelm Jund without as many awkward draws. At this point, I was working with Gaudenis Vidugris, who (with my permission) later brought in Sam Black. We also gave the deck to Alan Comer, which gave us a group of four to create a team atmosphere at the event. I find that this makes events far more enjoyable, helps make the most of the night before, and gives you people to bounce your ideas off of as well.

Two changes were left to the maindeck. First, Sejiri Steppe was added once I was made aware of it, in exchange for a Sunpetal Grove. Once the ability to search up Steppe was pointed out, it was obvious we needed one, with the only question being whether we should play with two. This debate continued up until the day before, with Sam Black being the big proponent of having two, but I convinced the group that one was enough, as we did not want to draw the Steppe, and the scenarios where you need two or draw one and need it to be in the deck are relatively rare. They definitely happen, especially games where having two would let you attack through their blockers twice to get the win, but more important is to play as many manlands as possible and you can’t run enough tapped lands to do both.

The final change was swapping in a Thornling for the third Rampaging Baloths, which Alan Comer decided not to do. It is a close decision, but I think it is correct. You definitely do not want two, as drawing both would be awful. My concern with Thornling is that it often fails to dominate in the way that Rampaging Baloths would, but you don’t want multiple Baloths, and the one Thornling is great for expanding your flexibility. It lives through Day of Judgment, so even one will greatly help you be in a position to play around that. It also has haste and trample when it needs to, so it helps maintain your unpredictability. Most importantly, Jund simply does not have an answer. If you have mana, they are going to die, and all they can do is slow the process to try and race.

The sideboard was far more collaborative. I knew from the start I wanted Mind Control to deal with Protection from White, as it is by far the best non-White removal spell the deck has access to. It is also very strong in general. Stealing creatures wins games. For a while I wasn’t sure what else I wanted, but once we got some testing in the right cards emerged.

Bant Charm was a card I resisted at first because I knew how wrong it would be in the maindeck, but it is a great spell and adds a lot to your flexibility during sideboarding. It provides artifact removal on top of being creature removal, which was key against Eldazri Green and a good insurance policy in general, as I found out in round 1 against Turbo Fog. Negate was an easy choice to fight control decks, as was its companion Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Jace provides a powerful, very different set of abilities to the deck. You can’t start it because of Blighting and Lightning Bolt in Jund, but Blue/White has a terrible time with it and Blue/White/Red only picks up the Bolts which if you are secure you can get around by going to five counters before you start Brainstorming. There was one remaining slot, and I decided to go with Day of Judgment. There is great value in having a small amount of mass removal, because you can’t draw multiples and they have to choose between playing around it and not playing around it. If they don’t walk into it all the time, you greatly benefited from having it available especially if you didn’t bring it in, and if they don’t play around it then it is a very effective card.

That resulted in the following list:

I am very happy with this list, and I would retain the exact same list were I to play the deck again. Thornling versus the third Rampaging Baloths is the big question in the maindeck, and the answer could swing back the other way if the deck becomes popular, but the emergence of Chapin’s White/Blue list will probably keep Thornling in the deck. The sideboard almost certainly has the correct format, but the numbers can be shifted as the metagame develops and matchups are tested further. The fourth Bant Charm is a probably the most practical way to improve your chances against Naya, which may become important, and the fourth Negate or potentially third Jace would be strong against Blue/White Control should that become a more popular choice. If the metagame swings towards Bant, WW and other creature decks where Day of Judgment is powerful, a second copy can be made to fit. However, the current sideboard comes together nicely and doesn’t pressure you in many places to take out more cards than you can find to remove.

Early next week, I’ll present a comprehensive matchup and sideboarding guide. Thanks for reading.


PS: My Files: Part One is a collection of the earliest writings about Magic by Zvi Mowshowitz. It includes columns from The Dojo, Mindripper, and the Sideboard, with additional commentary from the author on some of his most famous pieces. The book is available now, and can be ordered here.