Okay! Now that you’ve got that out of your system, we can get down to the serious business of How to Make a Mashup.
But first — a story. Yesterday, I called Evan Erwin. I tried to call Steve Sadin and/or Patrick Chapin, but neither one felt like picking up the phone apparently. It’s not like these maniacal Magicians had spent the last two months trying to get me to come back to StarCityGames.com while rubbing their hands together and muttering “Excellent,” or anything. So I ended up with Evan “third pick” Erwin and was asking
him all kinds of questions about how to upload a video to Star City, how to add the branded bumpers, why he put who on
stuff like that. After about half an hour, Evan had a question for
“Wait a minute — why are you asking me all this stuff?”
That is, “How many reasons could one possibly have for asking you how to upload video to Star City Games?”
“Oh my God. Are you trolling me? YOU ARE TROLLING ME. I’ve gotta go.”
At this point, I was weighing the relative value of switching my story from actually coming back to just having a good one-up on Evan. I mean, millionaire playboy Pete Hoefling backing a Star City armored car up to your house and spilling cartons and cartons of Jace, the Mind Sculptors into your foyer is nice and all, but I had the option of a pretty Peppermint swindle story here.
“No, Evan. I’m on the staff again.”
Remember that part about not being able to get ahold of Steve?
“That’s cool. Hey, everybody! We got Flores back!”
(I assume that was someone I didn’t know, and hence, had never offended.)
(I assume that was Pete, soon to be bereft of a truckload of Jaces.)
So now that I got that out of my system:
How to Make a Mashup
Extended is once again rising to be the — or at least “a” — relevant format, and my favorite thing to do in Extended is to brew up (and ideally play) mashups… hybrid decks.
It strikes me that I’ve written about hybrid decks a couple of different times (often using similar examples to even the ones included in this article), but the concept is particularly important as formats get bigger and sideboard cards become necessarily faster and more focused. Plus, this article will expand the canon with some practical applications, walk-throughs on hybridization, and of course, some fun and practical MTGO battles.
So if you already know the basics of what makes a hybrid deck (and can predict the classic and modern examples I’ll probably use to illustrate them), go ahead and
and skip ahead; otherwise, battle on normally.
So… What is a hybrid deck?
Hybrid decks are decks that incorporate two or more different primary plans. For example, you could have a Loop Junktion deck, viz. the one played by Ryuchi Arita to the Top 8 of Pro Tour Columbus (infinite life combo), or you could have a Cephalid Breakfast deck, the breakout reanimator combo from the same tournament.
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 2 Shaman en-Kor
- 1 Kami of Ancient Law
- 1 Krosan Cloudscraper
- 1 Gilded Drake
- 4 Nomads en-Kor
- 1 Sutured Ghoul
- 4 Cephalid Illusionist
Come Grand Prix Boston, Lucas Glavin stapled both strategies together and ended up with a deck that incorporated essentially the full value of each deck.
- 1 Shaman en-Kor
- 1 Krosan Cloudscraper
- 3 Daru Spiritualist
- 3 Nomads en-Kor
- 1 Sutured Ghoul
- 3 Cephalid Illusionist
The Loop Junktion deck worked like this:
- Get Task Force or Daru Spiritualist in play.
- Target Task Force / Daru Spiritualist over and over again with either kind of en-Kor
- The target creature’s toughness will increase with each targeting… You can go up to the millions or whatever.
- Sacrifice via Worthy Cause or Starlit Sanctum and walk away with an arbitrarily high amount of life.
The version of the deck listed above had a copy of Test of Endurance to close out games “quickly,” but most players just conceded, unable to actually win.
The Cephalid Breakfast deck worked like this:
- Get Cephalid Illusionist in play.
- Target Cephalid Illusionist over and over with whatever kind of en-Kor.
- The Cephalid Illusionist will Millstone away with each targeting; in no time you will have no library at all!
- From the graveyard, you can flash back Krosan Reclamation, giving yourself, say Exhume and Reanimate as your only cards.
- Draw one, and re-buy Sutured Ghoul. Sutured Ghoul, being an expensive date, automatically re-buys Dragon Breath (for haste)… The Ghoul can gobble gobble the Krosan Cloudscraper and however many other animals from the graveyard to get a gigantic, hasted attacker.
- It’s turn 3 BTW, tks.
As you can see, both decks relied on targeting a specialized creature repeatedly with en-Kor prevention shields. In addition to the actual en-Kor cards, both decks had crossover on spells like Living Wish, which could find most of the “parts” for these creature-based combo decks… Plus in the case of the Life combo, Starlit Sanctum as well. Lucas was actually able to create an arguably
consistent deck by stapling the two together (and adding Aether Vial) than either combo deck had been, individually.
What did he get via this hybridization?
The matchup advantages were great! Red Deck Wins was one of the main decks that could break up Cephalid Breakfast (burn the Cephalid Illusionist)… But Daru Spiritualist was like a two-mana lock against basic Mountain in that format.
In the last round of Swiss, Osyp Lebedowicz drew Masahiko Morita (regular Life) into the Top 8 because his Mind’s Desire / Brain Freeze deck could basically never lose to a deck that did nothing but gain infinite life (decking the opponent with Brain Freeze doesn’t care what life the opponent is on). But in the Top 8, Osyp had essentially no play. What was he supposed to do? Set Lucas up for
In addition, you have these amazing opportunities for misdirection. Say you crush your opponent with the reanimator half in game one; he sides in 100 cards to handle your graveyard and then pow! You beat him on turn 3 with the Life combo.
A more recent implementation of the hybridization strategy — and one that most all of you are probably more familiar with — is Thopter Depths (Thepths), popularized by Gerry Thompson. This deck, hands down one of the most inspired and successful in recent memory, encompassed essentially the full value of the regular Dark Depths combo deck (Vampire Hexmage + Dark Depths)
the full value of the Sword of the Meek + Thopter Foundry deck.
So what’s so great about deck hybridization?
Let’s look at the Thepths deck a moment… Many players would be obsessed with defending against the turn 2 kill side of the deck. And with good reason! Thepths could open up with turn 1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth and play Thoughtseize (taking your answer). Then it would go Dark Depths (which can tap for B thanks to the Tomb) + Vampire Hexmage. Kick, wham, stunner… That’s the combo. All of a sudden, there’s a 20/20 in play, ready to kill you on turn 3.
What happens when you switch gears to set up the opposite combo? They have all these cards that are only good against a single zero-cost threat; when what is going to take them down is an army of 1/1 life-gain fliers.
Again, hybridization gives you matchup advantages; not only — in this case — were you playing
of the most powerful options in the format, but they were good against different stuff. For example extremely biased Zoo decks could play Path to Exile and Bant Charm for 20/20s, plus Knight of the Reliquary for Ghost Quarter to take down Dark Depths in response to Vampire Hexmage.
Okay, enough with the ghosts of Extended hybrids past… How do we
There are two easy ways to build your own hybrid deck; because of space considerations, they’re far from mutually exclusive.
- Look for strong crossovers between decks in terms of cards. The reason I listed the various incarnations of Life and Cephalid Breakfast is because they, collectively, do a good job showcasing this style. Remove the suboptimal, unnecessary, or overtly floral / perfumed add-ons (for example Test of Endurance in Life) in order to cram in the individual incentives from both decks.
- Graft a two-card combo onto an otherwise perfectly good deck. In the current Extended, probably the best example is Pestermite + Splinter Twin; that combo is generally seen as a secondary sideboard combination for Pyromancer Ascension, but you can actually cram it into almost any deck that can produce blue and red mana; for example, some Bloodbraid Elf beatdown deck. Thepths (which is largely the Dark Depths deck with the two-card combo of Sword of the Meek + Thopter Foundry grafted on) can be thought of as this kind of a hybrid, as can Bryang’s brew from the recent MTGO PTQ.
- Invested in enters-the-battlefield-tapped / white-only land, Windbrisk Heights
- Played colorless land, Mutavault
- Could produce WWW for Spectral Procession
- Could hit B on turn 2 for Bitterblossom
- … and could make all the blue for all the fun blue stuff I wanted.
- Kind of like Caw-Go: Spectral Procession plays the role of Squadron Hawk (well, the first three Squadron Hawks); you can play a kind of Counter-Sliver strategy, getting a lead especially against other control decks and sitting back on your counterspells.
- Kind of like B/W Tokens: Turn 1 Windbrisk Heights, turn 2 Mana Leak your thing, turn 3 Spectral Procession, turn 4 whatever was under the Windbrisk Heights. You can get the tokens + Ajani Goldmane draw, or lay out a ton of 1/1 guys, or use your tokens to absorb Red Deck attackers, as you wish.
- Like U/W Planeswalkers: You’re basically one of the better Standard decks from last year when playing in this mode. It’s pretty fun having Ajani, Elspeth, and Jace all online simultaneously. Playing a lot of planeswalkers actually gives you a strong threat base against other control, and having an active planeswalker when you get hit by Cruel Ultimatum will often put you, somewhat nonintuitively, in the driver’s seat.
- Like a Polymorph deck: One of the best spots is turn 5 with a Mutavault, after the opponent has foolishly tapped for something irrelevant :)
I love how this is just the best cards in the format plus a super-tight combo. Close to the platonic ideal of how to execute on this kind of a strategy.
Here was my take:
What are some ways we can play these cards?
You can cheat one out with a hideaway land… conveniently powered up by token creatures.
Or you can turn a token creature into one via Polymorph; Polymorphy plays all friendly with token creatures. In fact, it loves token creatures and hates regular creatures (God forbid you might actually flip up a Murderous Redcap or something).
So that joint was the initial idea. The decks I wanted to hybridize were B/W Tokens and B/U Polymorph.
The crossover here — and it’s a strong card — is Bitterblossom.
I started off with essentially Luis’s deck, taking out all the regular creatures for token producers and splashing blue for Polymorph… But it didn’t work out. I was actually winning a large percentage of matches, but I kept losing to my own mana base. I could go through half a dozen iterations of deck development, but that would be boring. Long story short, it was pretty hard to make a mana base that…
I started with just the Polymorphs, but Polymorph strategies are vulnerable to Jace, the Mind Sculptor; plus, Jace is just good in a deck like this! Plus, the best card in Extended (probably) costs UUU1.
So WWW, UUU, and B [on the second turn] was a stretch even for the expansive mana options available in Extended.
Ultimately, I made a hard cut in the interest in making a deck that would actually work on a consistent basis. Despite starting off “half-B/W Tokens” … I cut the black!
This is what I played in today’s exciting videos:
I’ve been pleasantly surprised so far; though losing Bitterblossom has obviously blunted the deck’s fast and broken draws somewhat, it can still play a number of different ways.
Osyp snap-suggested replacing Conqueror’s Pledge with Elspeth Tirel; this seems like a pretty obviously good improvement. Elspeth Tirel is a real threat against control where Conqueror’s Pledge is a potential blank; plus with one activation, you can power up Windbrisk Heights. Elspeth Tirel also gives the deck some faux-Wrath of God functionality main deck.
That said, especially after the third video, where we beat the sure-to-be-popular Four-Color Control deck using Spreading Seas as a combination of “bad Preordain” and “preemptive, Cruel-Ultimatum Meddling Mage,” there was a thought to simply adding Spreading Seas to the main. Spreading Seas main would give us a slightly better game against Four-Color Control (as above) but also savagely increase our Jund percentage over the course of a tournament. I see no reason why Preordain + Spreading Seas wouldn’t be even more savage than before as Jund adds more and more nonbasic gas.
I’m not 100% sure what cuts would be, but it looks like:
Ajani and Conqueror’s Pledge are the easy cuts. A fair number of heroes have been advocating a cut of the fourth copy of Jace, but I feel that isn’t at all clear, as it’s my second favorite card amongst The Pillars; same on Polymorph.
Another, weirder option would be to just maindeck two copies of Spreading Seas (something both the Coimbra-Flores [+Williams] and Kibler-Nelson branches of deck design did for Worlds in Standard). Then we wouldn’t have to make any really difficult cuts, plus we’d get some amount of incremental value in two common matchups.
Proposed Two Spreading Seas U/W Mashup
It goes without saying that we’re in the first stages of assembling new / awesome brews, and in this case, largely for illustrative purposes… Unless of course you copy one of the decks suggested in this article and win a PTQ with it; in that case, it was expertly tuned, well known ahead of time to be the best deck in the format, etc.
Good luck with your own mashup manufacture.