Innovations – Spotlight on States: Grim Teachings

Are YOU ready for States?
In the second of today’s articles in the Spotlight on States series, Patrick “The Innovator” Chapin concentrates on his strengths. He’s been busy tweaking and testing his latest version of Relic Control, priming himself for States competition at the weekend. Aggressive decks tend to come out in force for this tournament… if you’re looking to run with a controlling strategy, look no further!

Today, I am going to walk through my Grim Teachings deck that I will be piloting at my State Championships next weekend.

Regular readers will recognize the progression I have found my self on since I played RelicControl at Nationals this summer. For reference, see here and here. The list I took to third in the Standard portion is as follows:

While I had success with that build, Michael Jacob was completely correct in his assessment of Korlash. His day had come and gone (actually, Mike’s words were “he sucks”). By the second day, I was sideboarding Korlash out every game.

When I started testing this format, I tried re-imagining this deck, taking advantage of Cryptic Command and Shriekmaw from Lorwyn, as seen here. After extensive testing, I have come to learn more and more about the format and evolved.

First of all, Tarmogoyf defines the format, no surprise. As a result, everyone has hate for Tarmogoyf, making my Tarmogoyfs weaker than they were at Nationals. In addition, there is better hate available, such as Oblivion Ring and Shriekmaw.

Speaking of Shriekmaw, he also defines the format. He is the new Flametongue Kavu and warps the format as a result. Just as creatures that fail the Flametongue test were unplayable in his day, the same is true today with Shriekmaw.

Since Shriekmaw costs two to evoke, cards like Tarmogoyf and Gaddock Teeg are still efficient, even in death, though it is never a happy trade to make for the Green mage.

Cards like Purity are no good, as it is a losing proposition, mana-wise, no matter how you slice it versus Shriekmaw. The same is true for Adarkar Valkyrie, Morphs, Lightning Angel, and Mirror Entity. Sorry Michael J! Cards that are immune, like Korlash, Triskelavus, etc are fine. Special considerations can be made for creatures that add value or have haste or protective abilities like Flash. Examples include Masked Admirers, Teferi, Greater Gargadon, Treetop Village, and Flamekin Acolyte. At the end of the day, every creature has to be selected based on the question of “would I still want this guy if my opponent has a Shriekmaw?”

Because they will have Shriekmaws. Lots of them.

I actually think people will realize that Shriekmaw is totally nuts and tune their decks to be able to not get wrecked by it. As a result, I have cut Shriekmaws from four to three to two, as more and more people are just not playing creatures that die to it. I still want the Grim Harvest Engine that I will get to later, but if you want to play a Teachings based control strategy (which seems to be the strongest control concept) you need to have answers to everything. That is not easy to do with sixty cards (over half of which are mana).

Speaking of Teachings, it (combined with Damnation) defines the format with respect to how one takes control. As a result, cards like Gaddock Teeg, Garruk, Treetop Village, Calciderm, Profane Command, are all amazing. My teachings deck has been crafted with these difficult problems in mind. Here is what I have come to:

Some thoughts:

4 Teachings – I struggle with this still. It always sucks to draw multiple Teachings, but I played in a tournament today with this deck and really found myself wishing I had the fourth one for the chain. Besides, it is so much better of a problem to draw two than zero.

Another interesting note: I teach for Cryptic Command easily as much as everything else combined. Think about that one.

4 Cryptic Command – The best spell in the deck (River of Tears is the best card). I wish I could play seven of these, so no, I do not think four is too many. Be a man (or woman), make the mana work. It is your Dismiss, Moment’s Peace, Capsize with buyback, whatever you want. Mark my words. This is the card. I would certainly cut all the Teachings before I cut Cryptic Command.

4 Rune Snag – I need an early game. They are not amazing, but they useful for their role. This deck usually goes long, very long, so it is nice that they are still good late.

1 Pact of NegationTolaria West package, Teachings package, plus it is just nice to have an extra layer of protection. Important for winning the war over Teferi or Profane Command.

1 Faerie Trickery – I am leaning towards this over Spell Burst as my final counter, as I want a tenth counter and this one is more mana efficient. It also is a better answer to recursion, such as that offered by Haakon or Masked Admirers or Teachings.

1 Careful Consideration – Teachings package.

1 Psionic Blast – Anti-Planeswalker technology! Also good against things like Oona’s Prowler, Hypnotic Specter, Treetop Village, Gaddock Teeg, Shriekmaws, etc. Besides, sometimes, you just gotta go to the dome. They never see it coming…

1 Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir – Does many things for you, ranging from being a Teachings-able creature, to an anti-control card, to an anti-Treetop Village measure, to setting up combos with Teachings, to helping the “creatures plus Grim Harvest” plan. The only reason I don’t play more is because the Grim Harvest engine is so strong and can get him back for you.

1 Mulldrifter – I needed one more card drawer, and this guy is what you do when you run out of Teachings. You just Mulldrifter plus Grim Harvest whenever you have time. That is really hard for a lot of people to beat. I used to have Jace, and still love him, but if you only have room for one, the miser’s Mullz is just better due to the Grim-ness of this deck.

4 Damnation – I actually wish I could play 3.75, but I guess four is better than three. I actually considered playing a 65- or even a 66-card deck for this event, but that is a story for another day. Please do not let this tangent degenerate into talk of the merits of playing 60 versus more. Suffice to say, the question I contemplated was whether the better ratio of Teachings and Damnations that I sought, combined with having extra bullets in library, was worth the decreased chance of drawing River of Tears, etc. In the end I thought it might be, but just don’t feel that randomly drawing Extirpate, etc is something I want bad enough to do the unthinkable.

The one time I rationalize playing a freaking 65-card deck, I end up cutting down anyway.

Damnation is pretty good at what it does. Good combo with the Cryptic Command chain.

2 Shriekmaw – I might be a little greedy going this low, but everyone I see is making their decks Shriekmaw proof. I could easily see playing a third, and I might still. The Grim Harvest Shriekmaw lock is hard for a lot of decks to beat.

Fear is very useful for killing Planeswalkers, by the way.

1 Slaughter PactTolaria West package, so good, but competes with Shriekmaw. Common uses are for Gargadon or Treetop Village or Goyf.

1 Nameless Inversion – Oh Last Gasp, how I miss thee. Despite powering enemy Goyfs, it is a useful tool to have available to fight Oona’s Prowler, Hypnotic, Treetop, etc. I have yet to ever make Teferi go large, but I did kill a 6/6 Korlash that had already taken three damage from a Shriekmaw.

1 Tendrils of Corruption – I used to have Sun’s Bounty, but after playing it in a tournament, it turns out that splashing White for Sun’s Bounty is just not as exciting as I had hoped. I just like having a Tendrils to Teach for to totally win many Red games.

1 Grim Harvest – The sexiest weapon in my arsenal. Sure, I set up The Long with Teachings, but Grim Harvest is where I am going with it all. It isn’t just about the Shriekmaw and Mulldrifter combos, though those are insane. It is my back-up Teferi, it is a tool for card advantage, it is even my back-up Academy Ruins. This card is key to the Post-Lorwyn Dralnu strategy, in my opinion. It literally changes Gaddock Teeg match-ups by many, many percentage points. It is just so much more versatile and easy to manage than Haakon for setting up inevitable creature locks, plus it is just a better card to randomly cast.

It is also important to note the Bottle Gnomes in the board. This combo is very hard for most Red decks to beat.

1 Triskelavus – The victory condition of choice. The inevitability combined with the flexibility combined with the durability make him the closer of choice. Somebody has to win it for you. The nice thing about Triskelavus is that if you go to time with someone (and you will), you can Teach for Teferi on their end step, play it, untap and attack for three in the first turn of extra turns, then teach for Triskelavus and play it. During turn 3 you attack for seven. Turn 5, you attack for seven and shoot your opponent three times. It is the natural twenty for when you have control but very little time to win. It really does help to know that you can focus your energy on taking control and then when they call time, you can always set up twenty off a Teachings. Psionic Blast is also a nice tool to remember when going all the way.

One final point… sometimes you just cast Triskelavus. He is pretty insane. You just put that guy out there and he can take control of many games all by himself.

2 Coalition Relic – I love the card, just not in this deck. It is in the wrong place in the curve and never before have I played a deck that skipped the charge so often. That said, the colored mana is key and Relic is a pretty powerful card even if you only use it at 80% capacity. Relic is perfect for getting you to two plus four on turn 4, but this deck just wants to set up four on turn 3 and six on the opponent’s end step turn 5. I would be all about Fellwar Stone, but Mind Stone just doesn’t work that well with Cryptic Command. Still, it is not out of the question and I will be working on the mana more in the days to come.

4 Prismatic Lens – Man, do I wish I had Dimir Signet! Still, it is important to accelerate, as well as fix, and Prismatic Lens is what we have to work with. It is definitely better than Coldsteeel Heart. There is no shame in casting Cryptic Command for five, or even six…

1 Academy Ruins – The extra insurance regarding victory conditions is huge and if you can stall long enough, Triskelavus plus Academy just ruins many people.

1 Desert – Untested, as I played with a Snow-covered Plains in the tournament and hated it (I hade Sun’s Bounty and some Terramorphic Expanse). I told Brian DeMars that it would have been better as any land that comes into play untapped that has any ability at all. He said, “what, like Desert?” And I was blown away. Desert? What a perfect answer to my archenemy, Oona’s Prowler. It would also help against Faire Conclave, Elves, Goblins, and more. I might still just put another Island in, but I want to try it. There were definitely several times in the tournament that I would have Tolaria Wested for Desert, had it been an option.

1 Vesuva – It serves as a back-up Factory for winning long control matches, a back-up storage land for early in a control match, a back-up Blue or Black early to fix, a way to Strip Mine Pendelhaven or Academy Ruins, a second Mouth of Ronom, a very soft lock with Desert, and more. It is just nice to have so many more options at the cost of one more comes-into-play-tapped land.

1 Mouth of RonomTolaria West package of course, but also key for fighting Teferi. Helps with Teeg and Treetop. Just an all-round useful card. DeMars says I should consider two. I’m unsure… I think Vesuva is enough of a second one, but if a lot of people play Teferi…

2 Urza’s Factory – One of the primary roads to victory, this is just a powerful card. Also, if you play the mirror, but one player has two and the other has one, the player with two will win more often than not.

2 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth – Not really needed, except for the random Tendrils. It is nice that it fixes mana, etc, but you don’t rely on it and can’t afford to play more as you only have the one Careful Consideration.

3 Dreadship Reef – I was crazy and only played one today. I love this card and it gives me good action even when I have no action. I should probably have four, and am looking for how to make room.

3 Frost Marsh – I played one Secluded Glen and some Terramorphic Expanses today, but without Plains or Mountains I would rather have duals. Also, I found that I never wanted to reveal with the Faerie land, even when I had a Faerie card in hand. As such, mise well power up my Mouth.

4 Tolaria West – More library manipulation.

4 River of Tears – The best card in deck.

4 Snow-Covered Island – I can’t justify Swamp without Terramorphic Expanse.

3 Extirpate – Versus Teachings, Haakon, Masked Admirers, Grim Harvest, etc. It’s not out of the question to play one main, but so far the field doesn’t seem to warrant it.

3 Detritivore – This guy is my biggest nightmare. As such, I want to do it to all the people doing things similar to me.

3 Bottle GnomesGrim Harvest lock versus aggro.

1 Slaughter Pact – Just simple tuning.

1 Strangling Soot – Take that, Mr Finkel!

1 Nameless Inversion – For when the conditions exist that it is good, obviously!

1 Haunting Hymn – A tool for fighting control matches, especially if they don’t have much permission.

1 Pull from Eternity – See Detritivore (I have no problem playing two if a lot of Detritivores show up). Also, it’s important for use against Chronicler. As a last-ditch move, you can Pull your Triskelavus that was Trickeried or Extirpated!

1 Forge[/author]“]Battlefield [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]Detritivore and Pull go in against same match-up, so a R/W dual that we can get with Tolaria West combined with the Lenses and Relics is enough to get there. Also, sometimes, you just want more land, although this list is a little heavy mana-wise. It is 61 cards right now (yes, I know, I know…) and the card to cut should be mana, except I need the colored mana and I am too greedy to give up all the colorless lands.

So there you have it. Check the forums for updates throughout the week.

Patrick Chapin
“The Innovator”