Faeries. Five-Color Control. Jund. Mythic. Valakut. Caw-Blade.
Best decks go in; best decks go out. You can’t explain that.
“The Best Deck” is certainly not always the best deck to play, but
it’s generally the most important deck to consider when selecting or tuning
in a given meta. That said, most people seem to misunderstand a
basic strategic question about the best deck. Right now, Caw-Blade makes up
of the field. That is The Best Deck, so beating it is a very noble
ambition. However, you’re generally going to have to beat an awful lot of
decks in order to actually Top 8 the event, let alone win it.
Building a true “anti-deck” is rarely correct, even if The Best Deck is 40%
of the field,
so the idea that an anti-deck is a desirable goal in as balanced of
a format as we have is foolish.
The real goal, when we talk about making sure we beat The Best Deck, is to
build a deck that reaches a certain performance threshold against the field
besides The Best Deck, as well as having a certain performance
threshold against The Best Deck. Often, this threshold is about 55%; though
have multiple good options, we decide where a better bar is (for
instance, Necrotic Ooze Survival vs. U/G Survival, or Faeries vs. Five-
are times when we can’t even reach this baseline goal of 55%, making
us decide what to settle for (though measuring win percentages from your own
testing in increments smaller than 5% is generally worth little, as
you’re just not getting enough quality information to achieve that precision
Sometimes the best deck is not so good or so popular that we feel we
have to actually beat it. In fact, sometimes the best deck to play is
to speak; however that usually involves either just a crushing
record against the rest of the field or The Best Deck not being particularly
popular. For instance, I didn’t mind having a soft matchup to
Valakut in Paris, as it wasn’t that popular, nor that
goodÂ (or good
at all, in my opinion).
There are also times where you just can’t find a deck that beats the
field to a satisfactory degree. Here’s the dirty truth that many people
Sometimes The Best Deck is the best deck.
Gerry Thompson is responsible for more technological breakthroughs
than most, showing up at countless StarCityGames.com Opens with cutting edge
splashes, sideboards, or hybridizations. However, he also shows up
with Valakut, with Vampires, with Jund. If he had months to work on his
time, he might break it every time, but he’s playing in events every
week. Sometimes when you register new brews, what you write down is
fierce like Shoryuken. Other times, you just play The Best Deck and sweep
kick over and over again (to borrow from some some rando…). If you’re
going to play a format multiple times, it calls for a very different
tactic than if you’re playing in FNM, PTQs, or Opens every week.
Regardless, not everyone wants to play The Best Deck, or perhaps
just not this one. Caw-Blade is very good, but it’s hardly that
a boogeyman. Rather than overreact and try to engineer a 90/10
crusher of Blades (that gets 30/70ed by the rest of the field), it’s far
better to take
the anti-Faerie approach. That is to say we just slant all the
little decisions towards the option that’s better against Faeries, play tons
that are above average against Faeries, avoid many cards that are
bad against Faeries, and play a strategy that can hang with Faeries on a
level. This isn’t about hoser cards because decks like Faeries and
Caw-Blade are too resilient to fold to silver bullets. If you want to beat
like this, your core strategy must be designed with The Best Deck
(aka The Enemy) in mind, though not to such a degree that we’re playing
There have been so many The Best Decks; it isn’t even funny, though
Faeries is often a perfect example of how to approach resilient Best Decks
seem to win week after week, despite the secret’s being out. Not
everyone wants to play Faeries or Caw-Blade, however. Today, I’m going to
new deck, but rather than skip straight to it, I’d like to take a
few moments and detail the thought process that has led me in this
keep in mind, this is a concept to work with, not my recommendation
for Pro Tour Tomorrow.
This particular brainstorming session began with my idly jotting
down a deck idea for Vampires with Lead the Stampede. Now, this is not a new
fact, I suggested this exact strategy in my exclusive preview of the
card. Still, it was pure theory. There’s only so much time in the
day, and I hadn’t gotten around to working with B/g Vampires much, beyond a
that inevitably were abandoned on account of a lack of B/G dual
lands; the mana bases don’t exactly scream out “Vampire Lacerator!”
- 4 Bloodghast
- 4 Gatekeeper of Malakir
- 4 Vampire Lacerator
- 4 Kalastria Highborn
- 4 Pulse Tracker
- 4 Vengevine
- 2 Viscera Seer
- 1 Captivating Vampire
- 1 Demon of Death's Gate
- 4 Fauna Shaman
Now this list is interesting, as Lead the Stampede does seem pretty
sweet with this many creatures, not to mention possibly discarding
Kalastria Highborn. However, there are a number of flaws that screamed out
to me. First
of all, tapped lands are certainly not the most exciting lands to
play in a “Carnophage” deck. At least B/R Vampires has Lavaclaw Reaches so
tapped land is still adding another threat to the board.
Additionally, the prospect of finding not just a Forest, but a second
deck. Fetchlands are not dual lands, and it takes three Swamps and two
Forests for me
to be able to cast my spells. When you need more lands in play than
your most expensive spell just to be able to cast your spell, you aren’t
a realistic mana base.
The next problem I observed was the lack of interaction with Sword
of Feast and Famine. Sideboarding in removal of any sort, short of like
Slime, was going to quickly make the Lead the Stampedes poor. What
was I doing? What is the purpose for this deck, now? How is it a good fit
meta? It’s all well and good to try to build around a card or a
combo or a theme, whatever. However, when it comes time to realistically
deck, sticking to a theme is only justified if there is a purpose.
own, but if you use them and add Spellstutter Sprites, you can gain
Mistbind Clique. Sticking to the theme has a tangible reward.
This left me torn, as there seemed to be two very different issues
to address. First the mana base. What makes the mana base terrible? Two
1) Basic Forest
2) No manlands.
One possible solution to both of these is the addition of red
(killing two birds with just the one stone…).
This was interesting, as this mana base looked pretty exciting. I
may have increased the number of lands, but with this many manlands, that’s
positive. Unfortunately, we were now up to eleven lands that enter
the battlefield tapped, making Vampire Lacerator look worse and worse.
this mana base actually has one more non-black land than the
previous mana base did.
Addressing the other problem, I asked myself what I was really
trying to accomplish. After all, if I’m trying to build a Lead the Stampede
can actually beat Caw-Blade, maybe what I really need to be flipping
what they looked like in front of me. Eventually, I started moving
towards an R/G list reminiscent of Nassif and Sperling’s R/G Extended deck
Atlanta, discussed here.
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 4 Acidic Slime
- 3 Goblin Ruinblaster
- 4 Cunning Sparkmage
- 4 Vengevine
- 4 Fauna Shaman
- 1 Inferno Titan
- 1 Sylvan Ranger
- 3 Manic Vandal
This one could be interesting to explore, but I knew I was not going
to be able to go much further along these lines until I actually got a
shuffle it up. A few major problems seem to stand out to me, aside
from the general lack of power compared to decks with Jace, Primeval,
Tezzeret, or Gideon. The lack of removal was a bit distressing.
Cunning Sparkmage helps, but my intuition was telling me that most of the
best ways to
gain tempo in the format were with removal spells. There is a fair
amount of card advantage in this build, but without reliable solutions to
there’s a big risk that all the card advantage will be unraveled by
a Fauna Shaman, a Titan, a Baneslayer, whatever.
It was at this point that I decided to try to merge the two
“experiments.” What would I have if I combined that mana base with the basic
theory of this
G/R deck? To me, the idea of a turn 1 Llanowar Elves is not actually
very appealing (compared to how it normally is). I really wanted to play a
manlands, anyway, which would conflict with them. I started
sketching some ideas and eventually arrived at:
This Jund list is actually strategically very similar to the Jund
deck that dominated Standard for so long. It may not have Bloodbraid Elf,
closer examination reveals a starting quantity of card advantage.
Twenty-six card-advantage spells combined with the virtual card advantage of
manlands means that we are never running out of gas. In fact, the
only ten spells in the deck that don’t generate card advantage are super
1-for-1s that help give us much-needed, cheap interaction. Let’s
take a look at the cards one by one.
It’s hard to imagine a more Jund-esque creature selection than the
lineup provided here. Each of these creatures is at least a two-for-one,
actually far more important than just “card advantage is good.”
bounce a guy is so much more remarkable of a play than most realize,
so having a creature suite that’s naturally resistant to this was a huge
the theory behind the build. After understanding why Jace/bounce is
so devastating, it’s useful to consider what it’s like to be hit by a Sword
Feast and Famine. It’s the same sort of thing, since your trump card
is giving you an entire turn’s worth of mana, in addition to now being a
powerful permanent on the table, making things worse for the
Sword of Feast and Famine, as tournament players everywhere are
coming to realize, is not just for Stoneforge decks. A couple Swords add an
dimension to a midrange deck, as once you hit five mana, every
random 1/1 or 2/2 sitting on the battlefield threatens to turn into a
that provides card advantage and gives you an entire Time Walk worth
of extra mana, which is convertible into more cards, removal, and everything
good in this world.
Sylvan Ranger isn’t just a great Sword-bearer; it also works well as
a speed bump and is just a fine way to make sure that you hit all your land
Can you get a little flooded in a deck with four Sylvan Rangers,
four Sign in Bloods, and some Ragers? Sure, but with eight manlands, I think
likely that we’re a land short than a land over. Manlands make extra
basics in your hand the equivalent of spells, going long.
Gatekeeper of Malakir is just a generally excellent card, but the
edict effect is especially potent here. Whether providing solutions to
It’s somewhat unfortunate that putting your Gatekeeper of Malakir in a Mimic
isn’t particularly sweet, but generally you can just put whatever you
Gatekeepered into the Vat. If we can take a moment to imagine our favorite
your first Sword, you’ll easily have mana to go get the other one! One last
two Swords (I definitely want the two Swords); however I wanted to start
Vats and cut one if it was too “heavy.”
Phyrexian Rager doesn’t see a lot of play, but that’s primarily a
function of not being a Vampire, costing three during a time when there’s a
competition for three in black’s curve, with black generally not
getting much play at all. I love him here; though we can only play so many
forcing me to make some tough cuts for curve. He’s a fun one to get
on a Vat, though; that is for sure.
The other three-drop that I want to mention is Vampire Nighthawk.
Depending on what your meta looks like, I could totally see playing 3-4
main or board. He’s so good with the good Sword, but he also helps
make up for life loss from all the Sign in Bloods, Ragers, and Catacombs.
little bit of a strike to want to block Squadron Hawks with black
(or green) creatures, though.
Inquisitions help provide a core defense against other players’ equipment.
manlands and Valakuts is also a great feature, not to mention
creatures, and even Dark Tutelage. Setting up the lock with Mimic
Vat is even an option, going long.
Grave Titan is, surprisingly, probably the most questionable
inclusion. The Swords and Vats provide nice endgames, especially factoring
number of two-for-ones to complement them. Still, Grave Titan is an
help with Gideon, an idea I’m going to try soon.
It sounds like overkill, but Mimic Vat actually works great with
Titan but didn’t want to play the second Mountain. If you’re a player who
Goblin Ruinblasters in your sideboard (which would be totally
more likely just a 25th land). With a second Mountain in the deck,
We don’t have access to Blightning; however this format is very
different, calling for a different approach anyway. We still have Mind Rot
sideboard for matchups where we want to go that route (like
that a far less
appealing maindeck strategy. Instead, we opt for Inquisition of
Kozilek, the premier discard spell of the moment. Being able to hit
mention gaining information about their hand.
Lightning Bolt is just excellent right now. Being able to blow out
someone when they equip their Sword is just one of the countless tempo plays
you know Lightning Bolt is going to be good! Outside of the vital
creature removal aspect, Bolt also provides more defense against Jace (and
walkers) and adds a bit of reach (especially when combined with Sign
is a real issue, whereas Bolt covers Precursor Golem, and other artifact
in your Vat, as well as deal with Gideon (a harder-to-deal-with problem than
for us). We have enough card advantage and removal that we don’t
need as many sweepers as some, but the two Black Sun’s Zeniths go a long way
really disrupt our opponent’s game. If there is an above-average
quantity of Kuldotha Red, Hawkward, Elves, and such in your area, feel free
another sweeper to the board, though we do already have three extra
Midrange decks that rely entirely on reactive two-for-ones are
destined to run into a variation of the “Wrong Answers” problem. If you have
Vandal and they don’t play artifacts, you don’t have your card
advantage (you have Gray Ogre). Gatekeeper and Acidic Slime are versatile
they will rarely be without targets.
Sign in Blood actually goes a step further and provides true card
draw. This is especially potent in decks like this, since your card drawers
start to chain together a little, ensuring a steady stream of
business. This sounds like a great luxury, but it’s actually just a matter
since the other guy could have Jace. A single, unchecked Jace is
like a zero-mana two-for-one every turn with as many modes as Cryptic
Command. Sign in
Blood (and Phyrexian Rager) hardly solve this issue, but they
certainly help. Card draw also works exceptionally well with Sword of Feast
as the only thing better than actually having extra cards is being
able to cast them.
We have already discussed the good Sword a fair bit, but I’d like to
add a few words on it. First of all, Sword makes a better five-drop than a
three-drop, as hitting with it “with haste” makes it basically
“free.” When deciding how to play a given game state, be mindful of the
getting blown out by an opponent with removal. Ask yourself, “What
could they possibly have? If you were them, what would make you act the way
acting now? What is their plan?” Finally, on the topic of Sword of
Feast and Famine, make sure to factor in the interaction with manlands (you
often attack with an extra land, plus manlands ensure that you
always have someone to carry the Sword), as well as play your tapped land
Mimic Vat has been discussed a bit, as well, but is another
misunderstood card deserving a few extra thoughts. First of all, Mimic Vat
is a “big game,”
meaning if you can get it going, you can often ride it to victory.
Learning the nuances of the Vat takes practice, but many opponents you face
be familiar with how to fight it. It provides an answer to Vengevine
or Bloodghast (in a pinch), as well as just serving as our “virtual
A final trick that you’re probably familiar with is the play of
holding up Mimic Vat in case you need a blocker, then when they don’t
attack, you can
end-step make a guy that will be able to attack on your turn
(potentially even with a second copy, if you’re feeling frisky!).
The sheer volume of manlands only further incentivizes us to trade
as much as we can, aiming for an attrition game. Remember how well manlands
in old Jund? This one is no different. Flooding when you have a
million manlands is a good time!
The sideboard is fairly straightforward, though there are plenty of
other directions that one might want to take. Having at least three more
some Duresses, and at least a couple Manic Vandals are all pretty
much locked in, but there’s a lot of room to mix everything else up.
plans to explore. (Thrun is the last thing you would want, so avoid
All of his defensive abilities are wasted in a deck that doesn’t
have creatures worth killing anyway.)
While this build is still very raw, it sure is sexy. How can you not
love that much card advantage? Nine out of ten fall short, but someone has
them all out to figure out which one is the keeper, so those of us
not trying to Caw-Blade are left with the responsibility.
See you Monday!