Feature Article – Preparing For Pro Tour: Berlin

Read Feature Articles every week... at StarCityGames.com!
Tuesday, November 18th – While Elves was silently destroying the unprepared masses at Pro Tour: Berlin, a number of the perceived powerhouses of the format failed to perform. Certain strategies, however, can now be tweaked to combat the pointy-eared menace. Today, Marijn Lybaert looks at the non-elf decks that sprang from his team’s intensive testing, and investigates ways they could topple the lean Green machine…

It’s hard to say where extended will be going after Pro Tour: Berlin. Of course, eLVeS! is the best deck, but will it be able to stand all the potential hate now that people know about it? At PT Berlin, half my wins came from people who were unprepared, or at the very least underprepared. They knew the deck existed but hadn’t tested against it, or they had no real sideboard to beat it. In fact, I think all the people that tested the deck just played it. It was indeed that good. This article won’t be about Elves though, as LSV was in a better position to write about the deck. Today I’ll be talking about the other decks our testing team (Zac Hill, Frank Karsten, and some of the Belgians) developed prior to the PT. Bear in mind that most of these decks were created and tuned before we knew about the ‘Elfball’ deck, but I’m sure that with some changes at least two of them can beat Elves. For more info on these decks and their inception, be sure to check out Zac Hill special project later in the week!

One of the first decks we started testing was Zoo, as it had lost close to nothing with the rotation, and we thought a lot of people would be running it. It turned out to be the second best deck (the best one being Elves, of course) we created during our testing. Here is the list:


4 Wooded Foothills
4 Windswept Heath
3 Bloodstained Mire
2 Sacred Foundry
1 Stomping Ground
1 Temple Garden
1 Blood Crypt
1 Overgrown Tomb
2 Godless Shrine
1 Steam Vents
1 Forest

4 Wild Nacatl
4 Kird Ape
4 Mogg Fanatic
2 Isamaru, Hound of Konda
1 Figure of Destiny
4 Tarmogoyf
4 Tidehollow Sculler
2 Ethersworn Canonist

4 Lightning Helix
4 Tribal Flames
1 Jund Charm
1 Umezawa’s Jitte
1 Blightning
1 Molten Rain
2 Mishra’s Bauble

3 Kataki, War’s Wage
2 Duergar Hedge-Mage
2 Ethersworn Canonist
2 Gaddock Teeg
1 Umezawa’s Jitte
1 Jund Charm
1 Oblivion Ring
1 Smother
1 Kitchen Finks
1 Ranger of Eos

Nope, it’s not Craig’s fault that there are two Mishra’s Bauble in there. It’s the kind of weird stuff that happens when you test with Zac Hill. And all those one ofs… well, that’s the kind of weird stuff that happens when you test with Frank Karsten.

Let’s me start by explaining the Mishra’s Baubles. About three or four weeks before the PT, we had more or less established a certain ‘core’ of cards that we were 100% sure we wanted to run. At that time, these cards were:

4 Lightning Helix
4 Tribal Flames
4 Wild Nacatl
4 Kird Ape
2 Isamaru, Hound of Konda
4 Mogg Fanatic
4 Tidehollow Sculler
4 Tarmogoyf

That’s thirty cards we really wanted to run. For the last nine spots, we had several contenders. Molten Rain, Blightning, Oblivion Ring, Stifle, Kataki, Jitte, Teeg… we tried about everything. The problem with the two-drops and the Incinerates was that there is really no good time you want to cast them. The trouble is that the only turns of the game that matter, really are turns 1-4. But you don’t really want to be casting Incinerate on turn 2, nor Teeg/Kataki/something else, except in one particular matchup. In every other matchup you have better things to do and (crucially) even without the particular cards, the deck was good enough to beat anything if it was drawing its premier spells. Also, as crucially, the mulligan decisions were never based on those final nine cards. I mean, we always wanted to draw one-drops, and we always wanted Tribal Flames and Sculler in our hand. It got to the point where 90% of the time I was sitting there on turn 2 as I played my Sculler saying “Jesus, I wish I could cycle this Gaddock Teeg,” or Helixed a guy in the mirror saying “now I wish I could drop a clock” as I sat and stared at the Seal of Fire I was about to deploy, or sat staring at two Molten Rains knowing the second was literally a blank. That’s when Zac came up with Mishra’s Bauble. Let’s cycle those cards! His first version had four of them, but that led to some really awkward double Bauble draws which we couldn’t really keep. Two of them was fine though, as the only time it really mattered was in a topdeck war.

As you can see, the last seven spots were filled by one-ofs (and two Canonists):

1 Figure of Destiny
2 Ethersworn Canonist
1 Jund Charm
1 Umezawa’s Jitte
1 Blightning
1 Molten Rain

Jund Charm and Canonist were added the week before the PT when we already knew Elves was going to be big. Blightning and Molten Rain are both fine as a one-of, but we never really wanted two in our hand. And 1 Jitte, 1 Figure were just so we had some ‘late game’ cards.

There is one more card I’d like to talk about before I get to the sideboard: Tidehollow Sculler. Sculler was one of the main reasons why this deck was so good. 90% of the time this guy hits exactly the card Zoo needs to push its edge, while filling the mana curve and being up to par with what the deck wants to be doing in its early turns anyway. All of a sudden you have a way of interacting with your opponent without slowing yourself down. It’s true that WB is kinda hard on the manabase, but just get Temple Garden plus Blood Crypt as your first two lands and you should be fine.

As for the sideboard, I think a lot of it is self-explanatory. The card I liked the most in there was Duerger Hedge-Mage. NLU’s plan against you is to win the game by stealing your guys with Threads of Disloyalty and Vedalkan Shackles, or just trump you with Engineered Explosives. Destroying any of those cards was good enough to win the game right there. We were also bringing them in against Affinity, and not only did they destroy a big artifact but they were also good at destroying Seal of Fire so we could deploy our Kataki on the following turn.

Can this deck beat Elves? I believe so. In our testing it was around 30/70, but that was before we had Jund Charm / maindeck Canonist and Jitte. I think with the current sideboard we could go at least 50/50 after board. Game 1 will be hard, but you can just get there by randomly drawing the Canonist and hoping they don’t have Viridian Shaman. Don’t forget to bring in Ranger of Eos, because with all the burn the games last longer than you’d think, and getting 2 Mogg Fanatics can really destroy them.
I would probably just run Dark Confidant again, as he is really good against Elves. During our testing we cut it because we found it too slow against combo and it was pretty bad in the mirror, but now that Elves will be everywhere I think it’s correct to run them again. I’d probably cut one Molten Rain, one Blightning and the two Baubles (sorry Zac!) for four Confidants.

The second deck I’d like to talk about is a Swans deck created by Frank. It was the most controlish deck in our gauntlet, and one of the only decks we had that was actually beating Elves 50% of the time.

Control Swans

3 Chrome Mox
2 Flooded Strand
2 Polluted Delta
4 Wooded Foothills
2 Breeding Pool
2 Steam Vents
1 Stomping Ground
3 Island
1 Snow-covered Island
1 Seat of the Synod
1 Forest
1 Snow-covered Forest
1 Mountain

4 Swans of Bryn Argoll
1 Eternal Witness
4 Wall of Roots

4 Ponder
4 Chain of Plasma
4 Remand
3 Gifts Ungiven
2 Repeal
1 Recollect
1 Conflagrate
1 Firespout
1 Condescend
1 Engineered Explosives
1 Thirst for Knowledge
4 Chalice of the Void

3 Stifle
1 Trickbind
2 Pact of Negation
1 Muddle the Mixture
1 Tormod’s Crypt
1 Shattering Spree
1 Hurkyl’s Recall
1 Fracturing Gust
1 Threads of Disloyalty
1 Kitchen Finks
2 Firespout

Sorry for all those one-ofs again. Frank really likes them… especially with Gifts Ungiven. The deck has a lot of interaction to slow down your opponent (Wall of Roots, Chalice, Swans) while you are searching for your two combo pieces with Gifts, Ponder, and Remand. The deck looks a bit like the Tezzeret deck that made it to the Top 8, but Swans lets you kill out of nowhere.

Also, the best thing about this deck and the Zoo deck above is that it couldn’t be hated out by a single card. Elves, for example, dies to a singleton Night of Souls’ Betrayal (a card that should see a lot of play after the PT). Desire can’t beat Stifle, and Affinity just loses to Kataki. These decks are really good game 1, but when it comes to sideboarding, if your opponent has the right cards, you are in trouble. In the end, the deck turned out to be a bit too slow to really shine. In a field full of Elves, however, I think it could have been really good. Just add some more Firespouts and Explosives to the board, and you should be fine.

The last deck for today is the Affinity list we developed during testing. It was certainly the best game 1 deck, but we didn’t want to take the risk to run into multiple copies of Kataki / Shatterstorm. Also, Elves is a pretty bad matchup as you need a really good draw with multiple Cranial Platings (and preferably an Ornithopter or a Glaze Fiend) to beat a horde of 1/1s. I’d still like to share the list though, as it might be something to consider when they’ll ban Glimpse of Nature


2 Blinkmoth Nexus
4 Darksteel Citadel
2 Glimmervoid
4 Vault of Whispers
4 Ancient Den
4 Seat of Synod

4 Arcbound Ravager
4 Arcbound Worker
4 Frogmite
4 Ornithopter
4 Master of Etherium
4 Glaze Fiend

4 Chromatic Star
4 Cranial Plating
4 Thoughtcast
4 Springleaf Drum

3 Slaughter Pact
3 Thoughtseize
3 Hurkyl’s Recall
4 Ethersworn Canonist
1 Pithing Needle
1 Tormod’s Crypt

Running 4 Glaze Fiend seems a lot, and I didn’t like them very much at first, but playing this guy on turn 2 is enough to win the game on turn 4 most of the time (assuming you’re both are still alive by that time).

The biggest problem with Affinity was (of course) that it was really easy to hose you in ways that people can easily fit into their sideboards. Our Elves deck, for example, ran a singleton Kataki in the board (which we could search for with Chord of Calling). Almost every deck we built was ready for those Robots game 2/3, and we couldn’t really find a way to fix that. Slaughter Pact was the best we could think of, but even that was sometimes too slow. In a world where Kataki doesn’t exist, I’m sure that this deck could be huge, but right now I have my doubts.

As a final note, I’d like to talk about Mirror Entity in Elves. Let me explain the combo first, as a lot of people didn‘t know about it coming into the PT:

1. You need in play: 1 Mirror Entity, 1 Heritage Druid, 1 Wirewood Symbiote, and 1 Nettle Sentinel. This may seem a lot, but with 3 Chord of Calling, 4 Summoner’s Pact, and 4 Glimpse of Nature, you get there quite easily.

2. Activate Mirror Entity for one. Symbiote becomes an elf now, and you can tap him for mana together with the Sentinel and Heritage Druid. You have GGG now.

3. Return Symbiote with his own ability, untapping Heritage Druid.

4. Play the Symbiote, untapping the Nettle Sentinels that way (GG left).

5. Go back to step 2. You gain 1 mana every time. In the end you have infinite mana and just untap all your guys and attack for the win.

I think this kill is significantly better than the Predator Dragon/Grapeshot one, mainly because you can go infinite and don’t lose to Essence Warden. The big problem with the Dragon Kill is that there is no real way of beating 1 Essence Warden plus 1 Hivemaster. For every elf you make, your opponent is gaining two life, so a dragon will need at least two attacks to kill your opponent.

Not only is your kill more effective, but against decks like Zoo/Doran/Rock you just win games by fetching Mirror Entity end of turn with Chord of Calling and attacking with all your guys on the next turn.

That’s it for today. Have fun playing any of the decks above. Thanks for reading, and look out for Zac’s special project on Friday!