Innovations – Martyr of Sands in Extended

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Today’s Innovations sees Patrick Chapin investigate the latest exciting build from the brainpan of Mike Flores: Rith’s Charm Combo. Of course, being the Innovator does have its duties, so Patrick expands upon the work Mike has done thus far, conceding that Mike was right… and then showing him how to do it better.

Friday, Michael Flores wrote a tournament report here that details his adventures at a PTQ, armed with a Rith’s Charm/Martyr of Sands/Biorhythm deck. He took it to a record of 5-2-1, which is solid, but even if he had made Top 8 his match-ups would have been pretty bad.

Aside from such obvious problems as running fewer than 4 Sensei’s Divining Tops (I tried to tell him!), and trying too hard to be too cute (turn 4 Biorhythm?), the primary flaw in his current build is the lack of any sort of a realistic plan against discard strategies of any variety. This is kind of a big weakness in a region where Doran took six of eight slots in the Top 8.

Still, Michael J struck gold with this one. His build is rough and will surely not be fully appreciated until versions that are more highly evolved show their face, but the format will change as a result of what he has unleashed.

As much as I love the Hideaway lands, that aspect of the deck is actually a hindrance rather than a boon. It is just not what this deck needs to do in order to thrive. The key hole in the metagame that Flores revealed was the weakness to Proclamation-Martyr that so very many strategies share right now.

When Flores told me about this strategy initially, he was very excited. He had prefaced himself with the statement “I actually did it, a clean break.” Now for those not used to Flores-speak, he is no stranger to the hyperbole… but he only uses the term “clean break” when he has hit the jackpot. In my entire life, he has described a deck of his own design as a “clean break” only a handful of times: Jushi-Blue, Napster, and Aggro-Ideal, and maybe once or twice other.

He unveiled his plan to me, and I admit that I was intrigued, especially with the Martyr of Sands engine. I was unable to play when Nassif and Herberholz unleashed Martyr-Tron on the world a little over a year ago, and never fully appreciated the power of the Martyr-Proclamation combo. Now that it was explained to me the ways that it trumps Ideal, NLB, DomainZoo, Dredge, and Affinity, I was convinced that this was where I would be spending my next week of testing.

I love Michael J Flores to a degree that most men would find uncomfortable, but I have to say I was unimpressed with some of his choices originally. First of all, he did not feature any Sensei’s Divining Tops, which was ludicrous. I managed to talk him into playing some, but the fact remained he has been trying to play Rith’s Charm plus White Hideaway ever since I got knocked out with my Spinerock out.

When he told me his list, my instincts were that it was far too cute and did not focus on its strengths. Also, the Biorhythm combo plan was just not effective enough against his weaknesses. As a combo, it is still too slow and inconsistent to race people. As a back-up plan, it is just not reliable enough to beat Doran. Also, the list suffered from being a first generation rogue deck, meaning that it still featured sub-optimal card choices, poor numbers, and a lack of proper manipulation.

I went into the lab with one of my primary deckbuilding partners, teammate Paul Nicolo, and brewed up my take on Martyr. I used the Flores list for inspiration a couple times, but eventually I ended up cutting every single non-land card from Flores’ list, save Wrath, Dragon, Martyr, and Proclamation (and the Tops, of course). There are simply better plans to support the Martyr engine.

Here is what I came up with:

Some explanations are in order. First of all, I knew I was going to be playing either Burning Wish to fetch Proclamation or Living Wish to fetch Martyr. As I wanted better selection. I opted for Living Wish, as Martyr is the far more important half of the combo, and Living Wish is particularly good right now as it exploits weaknesses in games with such hits as Kataki, Jailer, and Teeg/Meddling Mage. In addition, the ability to obtain lands, Shriekmaw, or even Kami of False Hope was too much to pass up.

Once I knew that I would be packing Living Wish, it was only a short leap in logic to move four Sakura-Tribe Elders into the deck. He is just so good on defense, amazing at fixing colors, powerful as acceleration, and not incidental help in combating Dredge. Plus, I knew that Sensei’s Divining Top would be the central strategy. The Elder has historically been one of the greatest ways to abuse the Top.

I knew my deck would feature three-plus-one Martyrs and four Proclamations, but what other White cards to run? I started with Wraths, Eternal Dragons, Akroma’s Vengeances, and Decrees of Justice (from the Flores deck), as well as Vindicate in lieu of Lightning Helix (an upgrade in my opinion). Testing revealed that Decree was out of place, now that the White Hideaway land was nowhere in the list. Loxodon Hierarch was the natural replacement, as there are few White cards in the format as useful.

Akroma’s Vengeance was good, but Michael Jacob pointed out that Austere Command would do everything I am trying to do with Akroma’s Vengeance, only better. He was right. Although I had cycled Vengeance a couple of times, Austere Command straight up won me games by way of destroying my Ideal opponent’s enchantments without destroying my creatures, as well as by destroying my Zoo opponent’s creatures, leaving my Top and Loxodon Hierarch unmolested. I have yet to need to destroy artifacts, enchantments, and creatures at the same time.

Wrath was excellent, no surprise, though I had to cut down to 2 Eternal Dragons as I found him somewhat clunky. Elder does most of what the Dragon does, only better. In addition, I had to make room for Purity. Why in the world?

I don’t have the Boseiju/Biorhythm combo, like Flores. As such I need a plan against Ideal. It is very easy for me to reach a point where I can’t lose (save by decking). The problem is that I can’t reliably win through Confinement/Dovescape.

Adding 1 Purity has made this match-up nearly unloseable (you can usually deck them with it, although you must play quickly to avoid getting timed out). Besides, it is a White card for Martyr, and sometimes you just want to beat down!

Finally, remember, you have a Boseiju in the board. As such, you should often wish for it (or sometimes Harmonic Sliver or Teeg or Mage…) before Ideal goes off. Then you can bide your time and eventually force through a Vindicate or a Command. Just don’t get it Take Possessioned. Also, if the Ideal player has a Boseiju, you won’t be able to rely on this plan. Remember to board in Meddling Mage, Boseiju, Mikokoro, Harmonic Sliver, and various other useful creatures against Ideal. The only bullet you need to keep in the board is Teeg.

It is possible with tuning you can develop a plan to ensure that you can win the Ideal match-up that doesn’t waste a slot on Purity, but for now, this is the best I got.

The Vindicates are incredible, as I said… one of the best cards in the format. I tried Mortify as well, but it was not enough.

The Proclamation of Rebirth/Martyr of Sands combo is as strong as billed. Try it! It is amazing how many decks simply have no realistic plan against this strategy. My Next Level Blue deck can’t realistically win against an active Martyr, forcing it into a bizarre sort of aggro deck that tries to beat down with Tarmogoyfs before it is too late. Add in the fact that I have a lot of fours and sixes and sevens, and you can see how this could be a problem for NLB.

A few handsome men, such as Owen Turtenwald, have a Trinket Mage package that can produce a Pithing Needle. While this is at least a plan, it is still soft to Vindicate and Austere Command. Still, it might be necessary once Martyr starts to gain popularity.

I knew that I wanted to develop a secondary plan against discard strategies that would complement the Martyr plan, but also thrive even if I was forced to discard my hand. I studied Nassif’s Martyr-Tron deck and noticed that he employed Compulsive Research. While it is not White, it usually increases the White count just fine.

I suggested Fact or Fiction to Flores, but he was on top of things and reminded me that Deep Analysis would do what I am looking for but would be even stronger against these Thoughtseize/Cabal Therapy people. I added Deep Analysis and the results were as different as light and day.

Doran is still easily able to disrupt your Martyr combo, but Deep Analysis combined with four Tops allows you to fight a fair fight. Wrath of God, Eternal Dragon, Living Wish (Masked Admirers, Shriekmaw, etc), Austere Command, and more give you powerful tools. Just play a fair game with them and beat them with card drawing and powerful effects. Eventually you will hit ten mana. It is at this point you Wish for Akroma and put them out of their misery.

Sideboard out all of your Martyrs and Proclamations against them! You just want to board in any and everything decent and just fight them honestly. They have enough trouble with Sensei’s Divining Top as it is. You think they can beat Deep Analysis? Never in a million years. Eternal Dragon? They don’t really have a plan outside of “Race.” Be careful not to lose to a random Shizo, though.

The manabase is fairly straightforward. The reason for the split in snow and non-snow lands is to suggest to an opponent that we are playing Gifts Ungiven, which is exactly the type of card we could have. It is entirely possible that when we play a turn 1 Overgrown Tomb, turn 2 Snow-covered Island and drop a Sakura-Tribe Elder, our opponent will put us on Gifts Rock.

Temple of the False God is so good for fueling our Phase III shenanigans, although Mikokoro is the real all-star. The effect is very powerful, especially when combined with Martyr.

The sideboard is obviously a little ridiculous. It is probably unrealistic to run 15 targets for the Wish, but the majority of those cards can be realistically sideboarded in. That said, Tarmogoyf and a couple other cards should probably become 3 Engineered Explosives. The card is just too useful for our purposes.

Gaddock Teeg and Meddling Mage are standard anti-combo fare. Teeg is stronger, but disrupts our own plans somewhat. The typical plan is to board in which ever one is weaker and keep the other in the board to Wish for.

Loxodon Hierarch is a standard concession to aggro. Always a fine Wish target, but also a fine card to board in. Next Level Blue often boarded out Wish against aggro decks, as it was just too slow. Martyr, on the other hand, will keep hers in. She seeks to Wish for Martyr, which is not slow. As such, feel free to board the Loxodon in. It is not even the primary Wish target against aggro.

Harmonic Sliver is better than Stomphowler in this deck for a couple of reasons. First, a lower casting cost is obviously useful, but the size of the body is often irrelevant for Martyr. In addition, it is White (Martyr, etc).

Kataki is simply another way to ensure that you will punish Affinity. It is bad enough that you have Wrath of God, Austere Command (name artifacts and small creatures…), Elders, and the Proclamation/Martyr Combo. Living Wish for Kataki too? Talk about a nightmare match-up for Affinity. They can still nut draw you, but on the whole they are in bad shape.

Kami of False Hope is an alternative to the Martyr combo. Some people can actually try to race Martyr, but are just drawing dead to the White Fog Frog. It is also a surprisingly good sideboard against some people. Just don’t get yourself into a situation where you are banking on the Kami and your opponent plays Lightning Helix at end of turn.

Martyr of Sands is the primary target for Living Wish, as you often just want to set up your combo as fast as possible.

Akroma might be a little greedy, but I wanted to Wish for it so often I finally added it. Since then I have Wished for it no less than five times. It’s funny, but you can hit ten mana so easily. There are just times where you can get an Akroma and the opponent can’t really do anything. I actually think it might be right to keep the Akroma. MWC decks from Onslaught block ran her and were proud of it. I can see why.

Shriekmaw is incredibly useful and I have considered playing two. The primary targets are Gaddock Teeg and Tarmogoyf. While we have no problem playing Teeg against some people, that is because we don’t need to Wrath or Command those people as long as Teeg protects us. Aggro decks running Teeg can be annoying though. We do have 4 Vindicates and 3 Wishes, but he is still disruptive.

Yixlid Jailer is another way to attack Dredge. Now that they have Crippling Fatigue, we can’t count on Teeg and Meddling Mage. We don’t need to lock them out forever. We are just using Jailer, along with Martyr, Elder, Wrath, etc, to buy ourselves time to set up the Proclamation combo. Once we get it going, we will have a sacrifice every turn, locking out Bridges and gaining us more life than their Akroma could ever hope to remove.

The Tarmogoyf in the board was just thrown in as I had one Engineered Explosives and I wanted to keep experiment. Still, I suspect that this is some Peter Pan Never Never Land stuff. In real life, we probably need to cut this guy among others to make room for Explosives.

Masked Admirers, on the other hand, is fantastic. He is like a Deep Analysis you can Wish for. Very key for fighting discard strategies.

Mikokoro is one of the primary Wish targets. It is reliable mana. It is a card drawing engine. I would play more maindeck if not for all the Temple of the False Gods.

Speaking of, Temple of the False God is a fine Wish target when you just need to get to seven mana for the Proclamation loop, but it is also a fine card to sideboard in. Sometimes you just need more mana. Could go for Explosives.

Boseiju is currently our sideboard concession to Ideal. Board it in against them and it is just another trump. You still need Purity, as they could have their own Boseiju.

So what is our weakness?


Can’t beat Tron, never in a million years. I tried and I wasn’t even close to formulating a plan on how to beat them when they were manascrewed. I contemplated sideboarding some king of Crucible/Loam plus Ghost Quarter package, but I haven’t figured out how to make it work. Besides, I am not sure it is worth the space. You can try wishing for Teeg, etc, but the truth is, you aren’t beating them. Just don’t play against Tron and you will win the PTQ!

Hey, what are you gonna do? Can’t beat ‘em all. Anyway, I hope this has been helpful. I strongly recommend examining this article closely, and Michael J’s as well. The format will not be the same now that people have rediscovered Martyr of Sands. You must have a plan to beat this combo if you are to win the Blue Envelope.

Pithing Needle, Thoughtseize, Cranial Extraction, Extirpate, Sulfuric Vortex, Leyline of the Void, etc are all fine plans, but you can’t just run one and expect Martyr to roll over and die. They have Vindicate and Austere Command to remove any and all permanents. You have to have some reliable way to attack from another angle if they disrupt your primary hate. The Black instants and sorceries are often the best hate as they can’t be destroyed as permanents, but then you must figure out how to beat Top-Deep Analysis.

Martyr is far from unbeatable. Heck, Mindslaver is trump to its whole deck. Still, it is one of the most important developments to come out of Week 1. Trust me… at the very least, you should add a Martyr deck to your gauntlet.

See you next week!

Patrick Chapin

“The Innovator”