Due to a tremendous influx of mail to my mailbox regarding the combo deck called Lickity Split, I decided to write up what I’ve discovered about the deck, how it plays, and what its matchups are like for the second part of my exploration of the Standard Rogue scene.
Keep in mind, as we go through this, that this isn’t rocket science, as the deck generally plays itself. But, with that being said, there are several things that you can do to turn it from a one-trick pony into an actual competitive deck. (Okay, so it probably isn’t all that competitive… but read on, you might find yourself surprised)
First off, the ubiquitous decklist:
Does this really matter?
Note to the fire-starters: I copied this decklist exactly as it appears in my notes on the deck. Thus, because I came to the conclusion that the sideboard didn’t matter, I’ve shared my thoughts on the subject. Of course, the sideboard does matter, in one way or another. The reason I came to the conclusion that I did is because the decklist is extremely tight, and you have no real way of altering the maindeck without significantly affecting the consistency of the already inconsistent combo.
Why Play this Deck? Or What’s the Plan?
It is really quite simple: try and win on the first turn. How likely is it that you can win on the first turn? Well, in order to win on turn 1, you need 2 Blazing Shoals, 2 cards that have a converted mana cost of 9 or 10, a Red source, and either a Spark Elemental or a Raging Goblin. Going first, we have an approximately 1.5% chance of that happening. If you draw 8 cards, there is about a 3.2% chance of this happening.* If you can’t, try and win on the second turn. Going first, we have a 3.2% chance of winning on turn 2. If we are on the draw, we have a 5.7% chance. Is that great? No. But it’s workable. If we include Serum Powder in the build, all of the percentages increase by approximately 2%, depending on what the original 7 cards are.
So now you have the numbers. Kinda. If you want the exact numbers, the results are a little less encouraging. You have a 0.73% on the play, a 1.15% chance on the draw for a turn 1 kill. And you have a 1.15% chance on the play, with a 2.73% chance on the draw of a turn 2 kill.
The difference in the percentages I gave from the actual stats resides in the number of relevant cards in the deck (such as, do we calculate the rare Chrome Mox, Slith Firewalker, Mountain, Shoal, Shoal, Myojin, Myojin/Bringer, Red Card hand?), and pure mathematics (which I’m not great at) versus calculating rough odds (which I have way too much practice in).
All of that said, playing the deck and mulliganing aggressively will result in many more turn 1 and turn 2 wins than you would expect. Because this is a combo deck, I’m going to include the turn count for each matchup, and you should notice right away that the numbers in the playtest games do not line up with the calculated statistics.
But generally, all you have to do is keep on trying to combo out until you actually do win or have to run the change-up. That gives us two real plans. Before turn 5, combo using a 20-point attack phase. After turn 5, Through the Breach makes things interesting, as you can cast a Bringer at the end of your opponent’s turn in order to actually get a trigger off of its ability. How relevant is that? We’ll see.
So, what do we do in regards to sideboard?
I’ve come up with a couple of different options, neither of which is really any good.
The main possibility is to use Through the Breach against other creature decks, most of which seem slow enough to give you the time to use that kind of plan. By adding Seething Song, we also have a chance of beating Blue out of the gates.
We want big creatures, preferably Red ones. Without further ado, I give you plan A.
Yes, Magma Giant does trigger off of Through the Breach. I’ve checked. Three times. So read that guy, too. It’s the next best thing to Crater Hellion that we’ve got. He loves to beat up on WW and MGA and can surprise an Ascetic like no other seven-mana spell.
Same with Tornado Elemental, who kills every flier in the format and is especially good at dealing with Meloku.
Is this the best sideboard plan? Hmm. No. Probably not. It won’t help much against Blue, and Black doesn’t usually care how big the guys are unless they are untargetable.
Am I starting to channel the newly resurrected Jamie Wakefield? Probably not.
The truth is, quite honestly, there is no real way of sideboarding this deck against the current field. In the interest of providing curious combo aficionados everywhere with a decent place to start, I do want to produce a sideboard and decklist that has a genuine chance of competing in a serious tournament. This is the best that we’ve come up with:
Very interesting? No, I admit, it probably isn’t. But each card plays a role, and we’ll get into the specific choices later. Lets delve headfirst into the matchups, and let me forewarn you, like skydiving without a parachute, it isn’t pretty.
Against the Aggro: White Weenie and MGA
6 wins, 4 losses pre-board, 2 wins, 8 losses post-board.
We have an advantage in this matchup because, unless they get a Skirmisher with applicable equipment, we can win game one. Obviously, Jitte hurts us, but only once it is active. That means mulliganing aggressively. Remember, here, and elsewhere, that you only need 6 cards to win on turn 1. If they are playing a slower WW, you can get away with Spark Elemental up until turn 4 or 5. So ditch the semi-playable hands in most instances and try and go for the win as early as possible.
Also, remember, you have Unearthly Blizzard to deal with annoying blockers, and if they don’t have a Jitte with counters on it, you can push the damage through in a variety of ways. I would say that this matchup is slightly in their favor, moreso than the playtesting results have shown thus far. The fact of the matter is that WW is an amazing deck that suffers from the same problem it has since the first Standard rotation. It doesn’t have Swords to Plowshares, and it doesn’t have Armageddon. With either of those cards, it would be unstoppable. Hokori and Shining Shoal are still not replacements-although they are getting close.
The Turn Count:
Turn 1: 1 out of 8 times, or 12%
Turn 2: 1 out of 8 times, or 12%
Turn 3: 2 out of 8 times, or 25%
Turn 4: 1 out of 8 times, or 12%
Turn 5: 0 out of 8 times, or 0%
Turn 6 or later: 3 out of 8 times, or 37%
Mono Green Aggro
Use the same list as in the last article if you are curious to test this matchup yourself. MGA has a bunch of early game blockers, and the Troll gives you fits because you have no way of removing it if they let it sit back as an untargetable wall. They probably won’t do that, so we can take some solace in that.
7 wins, 3 losses pre-board. 3 wins, 7 losses post-board.
Remember that I test with “imperfect information,” meaning that the opponent plays game one as though they don’t have perfect knowledge of my list or plan (it’s best if they really don’t, but that’s not always possible). You don’t have to agree with this strategy, although I think that for Rogue decks especially, predicting and practicing the surprise factor contributes extensively to success in big tournaments.
Game one is usually slow, with a late combo attempt that relies on a tapped and attacking Troll Ascetic. If they don’t have Jitte in play, Unearthly Blizzard is usually enough to ensure that the damage goes through. Otherwise, well, that’s what the Shatter is for in games two and three.
The Turn Count:
Turn 1: 1 out of 10 times, or 10%
Turn 2: 0 out of 10 times, or 0%
Turn 3: 3 out of 10 times, or 30%
Turn 4: 0 out of 10 times, or 0%
Turn 5: 2 out of 10 times, or 20%
Turn 6 or later: 4 out of 10 times, or 40%
The Results of the Aggro Playtesting:
I hope you are surprised. The results are better than you would expect, but they are misleading. Both WW and MGA have strategies that can completely shut you down, and as such, I believe that the actual percentage of victories is going to be closer to 30 or 40% for either matchup.
There isn’t much to do as far as changing the deck. The sideboard Shatters really do help against WW and MGA. As far as changing the deck, I really do think that the maindeck is optimal at this point. I know that the only cards I could justify changing would be Unearthly Blizzard or maybe a land or two. The only thing I would like to add, though, is some maindeck burn-like Magma Jet or Lava Spike for example. Glacial Ray would provide a splice vessel for Through the Breach if we take out the Blizzard, but I don’t see Glacial Ray removing armies of blockers from my opponent’s side of the table.
Of course, against control, that might not be relevant.
Playtesting Against Control
As before, the control decks are DC Green and MUC. Before I get to the results, let me warn you, small children and pets should leave the room and you may want to turn the lights on and lock the door.
Mono Blue Control or I can’t possibly beat a good version of this Deck
While playtesting this matchup I realized something, or, really, a couple of different things that are mostly related. First, that the MUC deck that I’m using is a lot better than many of the current builds. The other thing is that turn one wins are very cool against Turbo Magpie and Shackles Blue.
1 win, 9 losses pre-board. 0 wins, 10 losses post-board (Sacre Bleu)
2 wins, 8 losses pre-board. 4 wins, 6 losses post-board (Turbo-Magpie)
I went ahead and tested the traditional MUC, just to make sure the results weren’t skewed by using a unique build that won’t be prevalent in any Regionals metagame. The result, obviously, was quite a significant difference. Against Turbo-Magpie, playing first, you generally have two or three chances to win the game before their counter/card drawing engine overwhelms you. Once you have access to Defense Grid, your odds increase proportionately that you will be able to push through even the densest counter web.
Still though, you are going to be counting on a little bit of luck to make it through these games. Fortunately, you have the Tooth and Nail matchup to look forward to, right?
Turn Count (Turbo-Magpie)
Turn 1: 1 out of 6, or 17%
Turn 2: 3 out of 6, or 50%
Turn 3: 1 out of 6, or 17%
Turn 4: 0 out of 6, or 0%
Turn 5: 1 out of 6, or 17%
Check out my last article for the decklist I’m still in favor of for this archetype. A big factor affecting the playtesting results is the Sakura-Tribe Elders and Birds in this deck. Early game drops followed by powerful disruption spells make this matchup much more difficult than it would be otherwise.
1 win, 9 losses pre-board. 1 win, 9 losses post-board.
We don’t really have a sideboard plan for this matchup, and it shows. Both wins came on turn 3, using a Spark Elemental (which has trample) to push through low-toughness blockers.
This is a difficult matchup, that is for sure. As the metagame continues to shift, we may find that Lickity Split can escape some of its worst matchups, but for now, the auto-loss to the control decks is a really big problem.
The Turn Count
Turn 1: 0 out of 2, 0%
Turn 2: 0 out of 2, 0%
Turn 3: 2 out of 2, 100%
Turn 4: 0 out of 2, 0%
Turn 5: 0 out of 2, 0%
Results of the Control Playtesting
I’ve already summed up the situation in regards to the control decks. It really is just ugly. However, there are some possible solutions. Heading into the combo testing, this is how I revised the deck:
4 Raging Goblin
4 Spark Elemental
4 Slith Firewalker
4 Myojin of Infinite Rage
4 Bringer of the Red Dawn
4 Blazing Shoal
4 Eerie Procession
4 Unearthly Blizzard
4 Serum Powder
So what if I only changed one card. So what if that change was blatantly obvious if you wanted to try and make the deck as consistent in its combo as possible. The reality is, without Through the Breach, your chances in the Aggro matches are drastically reduced if you don’t win early on.
But, and this is a J-Lo size but, Serum Powder is amazing if your starting seven cards are something like Mountain, Chrome Mox, Unearthly Blizzard, Unearthly Blizzard, Slith Firewalker, Eerie Procession, Serum Powder. You get to remove 7 irrelevant cards from your deck and try again. Imagine if your next 7 are Unearthly Blizzard, Serum Powder, Slith Firewalker, Raging Goblin, Mountain, Tendo Ice Bridge, Tendo Ice Bridge. Now you have 14 less cards in your deck, meaning that your percentage of a first turn kill more than triples.
Also remember, if you play in 10 Swiss rounds with the deck, you have approximately a .00018% chance of winning on turn 1 for twenty games straight. So that means, it will happen approximately 1 time out of every 5000 tournaments you attend. If you don’t want to count on that, I suggest maybe trying a different deck. Don’t let me dissuade you though, in some matchups, you have a distinct advantage purely through speed.
Against the Combo:
Again, it depends on what you think of as combo in this format. Juicy Fruit and Tooth and Nail are the decks I played against. I wish I had a better Tooth list, but for this playtesting session I just used one of the top finishers from French Regionals.
Tooth and Nail
The results were fantastic. Against Tooth, you have essentially 4 turns to win. That is more than enough time if you play conservatively and wait for the nuts.
6 wins, 4 losses pre-board. 8 wins, 2 losses post-board.
Blood Moon is surprisingly relevant, although usually the only role it played was buying another turn or two by soaking up a random Naturalize. Some interesting results include successfully casting a Bringer on turn 5 in one game. (Chrome Mox imprinting Eerie Procession, a Mountain, two Cities, and an Ice Bridge with no other relevant cards in hand). I actually won a game with a Myojin of Infinite Rage hardcast on turn 6, because I had two Serum Powders in play along with six lands and double Chrome Mox.
In order to bring in the Blood Moon, we take out 3 Unearthly Blizzards against most Tooth builds, or -2 Blizzard, -2 Eerie Processions, -1 Slith Firewalker, for +3 Blood Moon, +3 Pyroclasm against builds with multiple small mana producing creatures.
The Turn Count
Turn 1: 0 out of 14, 0%
Turn 2: 5 out of 14, 35%
Turn 3: 1 out of 14, 7%
Turn 4: 6 out of 14, 42%
Turn 5: 1 out of 14, 7%
Turn 6, or later: 1 out of 14, 7%
If you read my article on Juicy Fruit, you know how this playtesting ended up. When I re-did the testing for this series of articles, I was once again split almost down the middle. I’m going to hold back the version that I tested against, since it is updated and I’ll be doing a much bigger article as we get closer to Regionals.
4 wins, 6 losses pre-board. 5 wins, 5 losses post-board.
It’s all about speed. Post board, we bring in Blood Moon, but that is usually only partially relevant, as I have a couple of different ways of dealing with a Blood Moon-like enchantment in the current version of the deck.
The Turn Count
Turn 1: 3 out of 9, 33%
Turn 2: 2 out of 9, 22%
Turn 3: 1 out of 9, 11%
Turn 4: 2 out of 9, 22%
Turn 5: 0 out of 9, 0%
Turn 6, or later: 1 out of 9, 11%
Woo hoo for statistically improbable events! As I said, this is truly a combo on combo matchup, with both decks proving both fast and powerful. Blood Moon is a useful tool, but not always enough, and mulliganing ultra-aggressively is probably a huge factor in success.
Results of the Combo Playtesting:
Clearly, the matchups that we want to face are when our opponent’s are playing equally non-interactive decks that we have a very good chance of racing. Since we can’t always win on turn 1, we need to take into account other elements of playing the deck in order to maximize our ability to win even against those control decks that are so strong against us.
Mike Flores is fantastic at divulging both the theory and the math behind some of his mulliganing decisions, and his analyses of standard “net-decks” and the occasional Rogue creation are almost always spot-on. I want to preface my next few comments with that statement because I can only offer my advice on the deck after being familiar with it for a short while and feeling comfortable playing it. I don’t have a legacy of strong theory articles and great results in the spell-slinging circle to fall back on.
That said, hands that you should keep include anything that might could improve to a combo win with two or fewer draws. I mean that. Part of calculating outs in poker and figuring the odds on flushes and draws over time is assuming that you will chase every draw, including gutshots and runner-runner flushes, all the way to the bank.
While it is not profitable to pursue such a course of action in poker, it can only profit you here. If you have two Blazing Shoals, a Spark Elemental, and a Mountain, but only one Myojin of Infinite Rage, you would have to be damn sure your next two draws are lands, or you need to be playing that hand.
Anything with two of your high casting cost creatures and a Shoal is keepable-unless you are in ultra-aggressive mode (as in most matchups). If you don’t have a turn 1 or turn 2 kill (with a draw) then you need to be shipping any hands that don’t contain an Unearthly Blizzard (or a way to get one). On the draw, remember you can go down to 5 in most situations if you need to.
Using Serum Powder gets tricky, because you can’t if you have more than one Shoal in hand. Ideally, you won’t have any relevant combo cards when you remove them from the game, but that happens so rarely as to be inconceivable in a tournament situation. Hands that include Serum Powder and three or more lands are safe to throw away as are the hands that I described earlier.
What if you have in-between cards, like three combo pieces and some chaff? You have to consider the matchups. Looking at the overall turn count, you need to win early in order to have success in the long term. While I consider the playtesting results to be somewhat anomalous, they are in no way irrelevant.
The Turn Count (Overall Victories):
Turn 1: 6 out of 49, 12%
Turn 2; 11 out of 49, 22%
Turn 3: 10 out of 49, 20%
Turn 4: 9 out of 49, 18%
Turn 5: 4 out of 49, 8%
Turn 6, or later: 9 out of 49, 18%
Keep in mind, again, these results are anomalous. I am not trying to claim that this deck wins on turn 1 a tenth of the time. I am saying that it wins on turn 1 12% of the time that it wins at all, which is still high because that means the percentage is roughly 5%.
One last time, the results overall are 40% against the field. That isn’t a very good percentage, but the surprise factor is still inherent in the deck, because no matter how many people know about it, no one is going to expect you to play it.
Here is the final version (at this point, I encourage you to try other approaches, especially with a potential turn one deck) including the sideboard:
- 4 Slith Firewalker
- 4 Raging Goblin
- 4 Myojin of Infinite Rage
- 4 Bringer of the Red Dawn
- 4 Spark Elemental
Any questions, comments, etc., send them here:
Hopefully next time I’ll present 8-Land Belcher for your consideration, and the last Juicy Fruit Primer before Regionals will be coming out as we get closer to knowing everything about Saviors.
*The formula for calculating this is: number of hands with the combination necessary to produce a win divided by the number of hands possible with a 60 card deck.