I Got Yer Rock and Scissors Right Here!

Can anyone beat the new Upheaval/Infestation deck? Consistently? Bennie asks how… And asks for help.

At Virginia States this year, I got to witness the birth of a new deck archetype that I suspect will prove to be the defining deck of Type 2 for the next couple of years. While the pros were hyping the power of red/green”Fat Crank,” and most players were fielding expanded IBC decks, a new Odyssey-driven archetype was surprising both its player and opponents alike with its raw power. After Apocalypse came out, Blue/Black was universally regarded as the single weakest two-color combination out there. It had plenty of good spells, but just lacked the”oomph” to really seal the deal. Odyssey provided the”oomph” of a one-two knockout punch with Upheaval and Zombie Infestation.

Ben Dooley

Winner, Virginia State Champion

2 Ancient Spring

8 Island

4 Salt Marsh

7 Swamp

4 Underground River

4 Shadowmage Infiltrator

1 Thieving Magpie

4 Counterspell

4 Fact or Fiction

4 Recoil

3 Repulse

4 Standstill

4 Undermine

3 Upheaval

4 Zombie Infestation

Many folks are saying it did so well because of its surprise factor — no one was expecting it, no one knew how to beat it, no one had a sideboard for it. I was of that opinion myself at first. Then a week or so ago, I participated in a small round-robin tournament of five people, and one of them played this deck. It went undefeated, beating two aggressive decks (Rocket Shoes and a G/r/b deck), a monoblue control deck, and my Twilight’s Call neo-combo deck (hey, don’t laugh, I went 3-1 with it). The guy had just built it and had never played it before, admitted to making mistakes with it – and yet he still defeated all comers. The five of us are some of the shop’s best players, so while the tournament was small, the caliber of play was strong.

I was talking with Skip Potter, who was Ben Dooley’s final opponent at Virginia States. Skip told me that Ben was amazed himself at how well he was doing, and was making mistakes left and right with the deck and still pulling it out. It’s a testament to a deck’s raw power that it can still win even when burdened by player mistakes, especially against good players looking to exploit those mistakes.

After our little tournament and talking with Skip, I’ve become convinced that this deck is going to be the defining deck of the format. I mean, just how do you beat the thing? How do you attack it? It’s a combo deck, but it’s backed by a solid control base. Card drawing, counterspells, and bounce are there in full force, allowing the deck to play control to keep from losing early on. Meanwhile, it’s assembling its combo pieces, trading life for time. When a regular control deck eventually runs out of steam is when this deck slams down the combo and wins. Not right away, mind you, but what can your opponent do without any permanents?

So how to do you stop this deck? Attack it with fast aggression? The problem with that plan is that the best aggressive deck out there is base green, and the deck has plenty of cheap ways to answer it. Repulse and Recoil generate card advantage off green’s best spells like Call of the Herd and Beast Attack. The cheap instant-speed Hibernate comes out of the sideboard to buy loads of time. The most aggressive deck in the format cannot kill this deck fast enough to avoid dying to the combo. However, these aggressive decks are more than capable of overwhelming non-combo control decks, so these decks have to slant their control heavily towards creature control, most of which is going to be fairly weak against the Upheaval deck.

I suspect the best way to attack the deck is through some sort of aggro-control deck, maybe like a more control-heavy U/R/g Snaketongue deck. But even then, the Upheaval deck can play control with the best of them, waiting to pick its fight at the right time. The Upheaval deck is a good combo deck and a good control deck; trying to come up with a deck to beat it consistently is like trying to play Paper-Rock-Scissors against someone who gets to pick Rock and Scissors both to your one pick.

Upheaval’s strength reminds me a lot of why the Donate deck is so good in Extended. That’s because the deck can function as a good control deck until it’s ready to go for the combo. Heck, it can even board out the combo and go strictly control. You can either attack the combo or attack the control, and the strategies for each are different and that’s why the deck is so good. Upheaval’s really better in that regard because, well, you really can’t attack the combo. When Upheaval resolves, there are no permanents on the board. The best you can hope to do is float some mana and try to cast an instant. The problem with this strategy is that if you Disenchant the Infestation, he still gets the opportunity to make several Zombie tokens that are likely to kill you in short order since you have no permanents in play and very little time to do so. If you float blue mana for a counterspell, he can just drop a land and not cast Infestation, letting you take mana burn and then he can cast Infestation on his next turn and kill you shortly thereafter.

Probably the best card to try and beat this deck is Spellbane Centaur. Cast second turn with the help of an Elf or Bird, it lets you shrug off the tempo spells Repulse and Recoils and continue to deal damage. His two toughness is problematic though, since Upheaval can cast Infestation early, and then just the threat of making a 2/2 zombie at instant speed can keep Spellbane at home.

I’m not really sure what the solution is. I do feel having a control/combo deck is bad for the overall environment, since that combination leaves control, aggression, and other combo decks in the dust. Has anyone delved into this deck and how to beat it further? Please write in and let me know your thoughts on this potential metagame problem.