I wanted to give a quick thanks to all of you for the feedback I’ve gotten in response to my”Disney-freaking-World?!?” column the other week. Whether you came down on my side of the argument or in support of National’s home this year, it’s good to let Wizards know we care about the venue for this once-a-year event. Onward…
I came to a sad realization yesterday. Even though I’d won a two round bye for Grand Prix Philadelphia, I could not, in good faith, attend that tournament. There were financial considerations, and then my college classes – I’ve got a mid-term exam for each of my classes, one on Monday and one on Tuesday. The exam on Monday is the one that I feel least prepared for, and I’m going to need the entire weekend to do well on it. Ergo (thanks for reminding us of that word, Omeed!), I really shouldn’t go on an expensive, out-of-town excursion playing Magic for 72 hours this weekend, draining my mental and financial reserves.
Damn. I hate being a grown-up sometimes.
However, I have been doing a lot of thinking about what I would have played because I held out the hope that I might go prior to reality crashing down on my head. As much as I enjoyed playing Control Green at the last qualifier, it just doesn’t have the juice in Extended. Its”bombs” just don’t win the game; they may slow your opponent down, but that doesn’t usually buy you enough time to chalk up a mark in the win column.
So, in looking over the anticipated metagame last week, I noticed something interesting. Here’s what I was assuming were the”decks to beat” – Donate/Illusions, Necro, CounterOath, Pooh Burn, Counter Sliver and Secret Force (man, it’s good to add that”Secret Force” to the list; Magic may have lost Mr. Wakefield to some virtual fantasy world, but his legacy lives on). One thing I noticed – the environment, especially in the top 8 brackets, is by-and-large light in creatures with a few exceptions.
I also noticed that Survival-based decks such as Rec/Sur, Squeebind, and 5cGreen have been breaking into the top 8 here and there, but for the most part on qualifying.
Could the time be ripe for DDT to make a comeback? To rise from the dead, so to speak?
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the deck, DDT stands for Dancing Dead Things, a Survival-based utility deck I built concurrent with the Death/Recurring Nightmare decks from the not too distant Type 2 past. Whereas we approached the deck design from different sides (Death arose from the old Buried Alive archetype, I was more interested in being able to reuse my utility creatures), the decks gradually became very similar due to the nature of Survival of the Fittest. The more popular decks relied on Recurring Nightmare and Living Death to”drop bombs” that the opponent wouldn’t be able to handle, and this worked great in an environment that was too fast for most control decks. However, in my local area, the die-hard control freaks were still stubbornly holding onto Forbidian and Steel Blue that were heavily tweaked against the rush. Recurring Nightmare and Living Death were almost always countered in that environment, so I was much more enamored with Oath of Ghouls as a way to keep your creatures coming back, whether they were killed with burn or countered.
Flash forward to the present extended format, and we see counterspells all over the place, and burn on the rise. I think Oath of Ghouls could make for a great metagame choice. I’ve been seeing a lot of Rec/Sur decks making it to the top 8, which tells me they can do well… but I don’t see a lot of people qualifying with it. I’m also seeing other Survival-based decks (Squeebind, 5cGreen) doing almost but not quite good enough. Based on the evidence, we can arrive at two conclusions to these observations – either Survival-based deck archetypes just don’t have the right stuff to push the deck to the top, or else we haven’t gotten the correct configuration down. As a fan of Survival of the Fittest, I have to hope that the latter is true. There’s a really, really good Survival of the Fittest deck out there, and I refuse to believe that the best Survival can do is be in a winning deck’s sideboard (i.e. Countersliver).
I’ve been looking over last week’s top 8 reports from PTQ’s and the Grand Prix in Taipei. Here’s what we see, counting Taipei and the Seattle and North Carolina Qualifiers:
Survival-based (2/5) – Wheaties, SqueeShaman, Squeebind, Rec/Sur, 5cGreen
Pooh Burn (2/2)
Oath of Druids (1/1)
The”Qualified” side of the equation is a bit skewed because of the Grand Prix, which qualifies the top 8 for New York, and N.C. which had three slots up for grabs; however, Donate/Illusions was the ultimate winner in Taipei and was in the top three in Carolina.
Looking at this, any doubts about the Donate/Illusions deck being the“Deck to Beat” are surely put to rest. The interesting thing is to see CounterSliver and Survival-based decks running close behind as far as putting people in the top 8. I don’t think this is a mistake; CounterSliver’s unique aggro/control attack is positioned perfectly to fight a combo deck that relies on Necro for card drawing. I also think that Survival-based decks are also riding on the coattails of Donate/Illusions decks because of two commonly played creatures that seem to give this particular deck problems – Elvish Lyrist and Spike Feeder. I think these two creatures helped Secret Force Q a player in New York not too long ago. As cheap creatures, they can often get on the board quickly, and are immune to Duress. A turn one Lyrist can be particularly problematic due to 6th Edition timing rules that effectively make the Lyrist, if destroying an Illusions in response to its life gain going on the stack, a 20 point bolt. Ouch! The Feeder also becomes problematic by often giving it’s controller more than 20 life, which forces the Donate player to have to launch his combo twice. With Demonic Consultation often removing substantial portions of the deck from the game (along with over-Necro-ing cards to find the combo), this can prove to be a daunting task. So, while Donate/Illusions is tearing up the rest of the field, green-based decks are in the unique position of being a good”anti-Donate” deck to choose.
Survival of the Fittest just makes these anti-cards even more effective; get 3 Lyrists on the board, something easily done once a Survival hits the board, and not even a Contagion is going to save your Donate opponent. Now, the trick is to build a Survival deck that beats everything else in the field.
Traditionally, Recurring Nightmare has been the ultimate companion to Survival of the Fittest, being able to take full advantage of reusing utility creatures. But in my mind, like my local metagame of old, the fact that the environment is loaded with counterspells makes this card a little less effective. Also, because it’s a Sorcery, it can easily be gotten around by a Donate player, making the traditional Monk Realist too slow to deal with the enchantment. That’s why the Lyrist is so good; get it out early, and then you can launch its effect at instant speed. Plus, it can’t be Hoodwinked.
A newer Survival deck tries to abuse Squee, which is phenomenal along with Survival of the Fittest; these decks also try to use Squee as a kill card with Stormbind and, most recently, Ogre Shaman. This is not a bad idea, but neither Squeebind nor the Ogre Shaman version has any way of getting back their kill card if it is destroyed. My thought is to split the difference between these two Survival-based decks; here’s the deck I’d have probably taken to Phili if I was able to go:
4 Survival of the Fittest
3 Oath of Ghouls
3 Tinder Wall
4 Wall of Roots
1 Wood Elf
2 Squee, Goblin Machine
2 Spike Feeder
1 Phyrexian Ghoul
3 Academy Rector
1 Ogre Shaman
1 Deranged Hermit
3 Phyrexian Tower
2 City of Brass
Support Cards (cards that can be sided out in some matches)
Let me give mad props to Erik Berg for his”out of Left Field” suggestion for the Tinder Walls. I was complaining about Birds of Paradise, in the original deck, just getting killed too quickly to make much difference in the game. They were either getting Shocked, Fanatic’d, or Contagioned immediately upon gracing the board. What good were they doing me in the graveyard in the early game, when I really needed the mana acceleration? Tinder Walls answer that problem, being immune to those three most-favored early creature removal plays. They give access to four mana on turn two, which can be huge – turn two Rector or Masticore would be pretty good, don’t you think? A word of warning to anyone considering playing this – it has not been playtested much, and only previous versions at that. This current version has been built solely based on feedback from some of the Star City gang and my own experience playing Survival-based decks.
It’s a control deck at heart, and requires patience to win. You’re not going to have huge plays and broken turns; you’re basically going to live long enough to get a Survival on the board, answer your opponent’s threats as they come up, and cement your victory by slow and steady card advantage engines (Squee/Survival, and Oath of Ghouls). Your kill will come from riding the Masticore, Squirrel or Ghoul beats, or slinging cards with the Shaman. Or if you’re lucky, a 20 point Lyrist bolt!
Sideboard looks something like this right now:
2 Spike Feeder, 1 Tinder Wall, 1 Academy Rector, 1 Bone Shredder, 1 CoP: Red, 1 Ivory Mask, 1 Carrion Beetle, 1 Aura of Silence, 1 Squallmonger, 1 Scragnoth, 1 Stromgald Cabal, 1 Light of Day, 1 Spike Weaver, 1 Choke.
Here’s how I’d sideboard against the expected decks:
–Uktabi Orangutan, Masticore, Idealist
+Tinder Wall, Rector, Ivory Mask
The additional Tinder Wall gives you the speed to get a Rector on the board; at that point, just wait for your opponent to try and Donate the Illusions to you; sac the Rector in response with the Ghoul or Tower, and put the Ivory Mask in play and fizzle the Donate. In the meantime, it wouldn’t hurt to get a Lyrist and a Witness on the board, either.
Vs. Pooh Burn
-3 Duress, 1 Lyrist, Devout Witness
+2 Spike Feeder, Tinder Wall, CoP: Red, Rector
Again, the Tinder Wall gives that extra speed to get the Rector on the board ASAP, and it also provides some early protection from Pups and Fanatics. Going up to 4 Feeders is a no-brainer, and the CoP: gives you protection from both the creatures and the burn.
–Uktabi Orangutan, Devout Witness
+Squallmonger, Stromgald Cabal
You’ve got enough blockers on the ground, it’s when those pesky slivers take to the air that’s the problem; Squallmonger solves that problem in an untargetable fashion. The Cabal is there mainly to try and prevent the Crystalline Sliver from hitting the board, because if you can stop that Sliver, the others are fairly easy to deal with between Masticore and Ogre Shaman.
Vs. Survival-based Decks (Rec/Sur, Squeebind, etc.)
-1 Duress, Uktabi Orangutan
+Carrion Beetle, Monk Realist
The key to this matchup is to stop the Survival from hitting the board for long; hopefully between your Duresses, Surgeon, Lyrist and Witness, that shouldn’t be a problem. I pulled a single Duress and replaced with the Realist for some non-summoning sick way of killing enchantments. Carrion Beetle picks apart their graveyard to keep your Oath running, and their Squees and Recurs useless.
–Recurring Nightmare, 1 Elvish Lyrist, Masticore
+Squallmonger, Scragnoth, Choke
Squallmonger is a great clock, and it makes Morphling a little less intimidating. Scrag is just a beating that many blue players simply don’t have a good way to deal with. Choke hurts. Bad. Main deck Oath of Ghouls should win this matchup for you.
-2 Elvish Lyrist
+Ivory Mask, Academy Rector
Necro is good, but you should have time to get a Rector out there, and then the Mask comes down. At that point you simply have to protect against the Disk, which shouldn’t be a problem, and then you are golden.
–Uktabi Orangutan, Recurring Nightmare, Masticore
+Carrion Beetle, Squallmonger, Stromgald Cabal or Choke
Against the 2 color version, Choke is obviously pretty good; against the Tutor version, the Cabal is house. Carrion Beetle allows you to keep the recurring nonsense to a minimum. Squallmonger means you don’t have to worry about attacking anymore, and protects against Morphling or Faerie Conclave.
Vs. Negator Black
-4 Duress, -1 Lyrist
+Tinder Wall, Rector, 2 Feeder, Light of Day
You may be tempted to keep Duress to pluck out a critical Hatred, but you should be spending your first couple of rounds getting blockers out there to buy you time to get a Rector on the board. At that point, Light of Day means lights out.
Vs. Stompy/Secret Force
-4 Duress, 1 Lyrist, 1 Uktabi Orangutan
+2 Spike Feeder, Weaver, Tinder Wall, Rector, Bone Shredder
In this matchup the Recurring Nightmare is obviously huge, so the point of this game is to get the Rector on the board and get the Nightmare quickly. The rest of the board helps you live that long. This matchup should be a bye for you, but you can never be too sure.
The wonderful thing about sideboarding for this style of deck is the CMU style”one-of” method you can pull off. Survival for creatures, Rectors for enchantments, and you’ve got lots of options.
While the deck on the surface looks like it’s lacking in big plays and”wreck-you” bombs, I think if you look a little deeper you can find there’s lots of that to be found. In playtesting an earlier version against Necro, when he won he felt like he barely got by on lucky draws because my deck kept threatening to come back against all odds. And when I won… he said he felt like he’d been slowly tortured before the deathblow came. I took that comment as high praise indeed.
Feel free to drop me a line if you’d like to comment about the deck or have any suggestions.