Ben Wienburg has been putting up consistent high-level finishes with Canadian Threshold – 11th at GP: Chicago, a split in the finals at GenCon and the GP: Boston side event, second at the Meandeck Open, the list goes on. This past week, I chatted with Ben about his deck and recent hot streak with what is widely regarded as the worst threshold variant. In the interview, Ben discusses how Canadian Threshold (CT) is almost always the aggressor and able to exploit a low land count that still packs four Wasteland. First, here’s his list:
Ben, I’ve known you to be classically a Goblins player. What influenced your decision to move away from that deck?
I played Goblins since the beginning, and I took the standard version to a top 32 finish at GP Detroit, but it hasn’t been a good deck in any metagame. Tom [LaPille]’s record at the Pro Tour level with it in Extended was 0-10. The problem is that all its creatures are underpowered. Well, Goblin Lackey, Goblin Warchief, and Goblin Piledriver are good. Matron is a 1/1 that finds you those cards, Ringleader can too. But apart from those, it doesn’t have that many good cards.
Canadian Threshold has been popular, obviously, with our friends north of the border, but what brought you to it?
People in my local stores were saying it was really good. Everyone was saying it was terrible but it was good in my testing. I didn’t want to play CounterTop because I didn’t like it in Extended. I like Sensei’s Divining Top a lot, but I’m pretty bad about setting up the lock.
I notice that, while most CT players run two bounce spells, you have consistently chosen to run Vendilion Clique instead. Could you tell us a little about why you chose that option?
Going to Chicago, I expected more Ad Nauseam, so I wanted something to interact with their hand. Bounce isn’t good against Counterbalance, especially Rushing River, and you have burn to get around them anyway. I was never impressed with the bounce spells. The Vendilion Cliques are really good creatures. Flying is awesome, I get to peek at their hand, I get to see what’s coming. It also informs me of whether I can get burn through now or if I have to force it through later.
Compared to Threshold running white for Swords to Plowshares or the NLU variants with Dark Confidant, Canadian Threshold, with its Lightning Bolts, seems pretty underpowered. Obviously, that’s not the case. What am I missing?
I don’t really need Swords; this version puts up consistent results. [David] Caplan and I keep taking the deck places. Nimble Mongoose is very good in this deck, it’s won me so many games against opponents who die holding Smother in their hand. I love Confidant because I love drawing cards, but Lightning Bolts hit creatures, and that’s more important than more draw. The burn is important; sometimes, opponents do not block my Tarmogoyf with theirs because they think I have burn spells. I’ll attack anyway, if they don’t block that’s awesome; if they do. I’ll just attack again next turn.
Between GenCon and the Meandeck Open, you’ve only changed one card (Tormod’s Crypt on the board). Is your sideboard basically set for any event now, or do you factor in any metagaming when you construct a sideboard?
My deck is just set up, it plays well together. Pyroblast is great because it counters Brainstorms and Ponders. Submerge is awesome against decks with Tombstalker too. I bring in both Krosan Grip and Trygon Predator against decks with Aether Vial and I’ll cut snares for them, since they’re bad against both Merfolk and Goblins. I like Trygon Predator a lot because without Aether Vial, the tribal decks aren’t good. Umezawa’s Jitte is hard to get active against me, since I can burn out the equipped creature.
You only pack one card against Dredge on your sideboard; with its success at GenCon, will you be rethinking how you handle that deck, or do you not consider it to be a bad match for CT?
It’s actually a really close matchup. If I draw a Nimble Mongoose, I can block with it so that it dies to remove their bridges. Tarmogoyf is always 6/7 and I can kill their dredgers with burn cards. I am 3-1 against Dredge in tournaments and only had one of those wins was because of crypt. I won the others on double Tarmogoyf. Sometimes Dredge just gets draws where Force of Will crushes them because they were relying on their discard outlet. Pyroclasm gets rid of their zombies so I can attack with my creatures too.
Many Threshold decks have adopted Counterbalance and Top; do you ever miss it?
I would like to have Top in my deck but Counterbalance doesn’t fit in this deck.
What’s the Canadian Threshold nightmare matchup?
Stax and Dragon Stompy, I seem to lose the most against them. I can’t beat Blood Moon or Trinisphere. I think those matches are why we used to have bounce spells in the deck. However, those two decks aren’t that popular right now. I wouldn’t want to play against someone with Rhox War Monk, Swords to Plowshares, Engineered Explosives and Top. Those cards in combination undo a lot of what my deck tries do to.
As a corollary, what cards do you fear playing against the most? What does an opponent bring in to beat you?
Occasionally I’m short of mana, but the trick is to use lands effectively. I haven’t had too many issues with only 14 lands that make colors, but it’s worked really well. One thing is that you don’t have to make land drops every turn, so I wait to use fetchlands for awhile sometimes. The rough hands are ones where you keep a fetchland and a Wasteland; usually, you can get Tropical Island and be fine, but sometimes you need to get Volcanic Island. Mana hasn’t been much of an issue. I’m also willing to miss a land drop or two to Brainstorm later, because I’m not always under that much pressure. Wasteland is good against me, but I also have Stifle to counter them. I lost a game in the GenCon quarterfinal because I didn’t see Wastelands in my opponent’s deck when I saw him playing earlier. That really set me back in the game. If I had Stifle in hand and knew my opponent had Wastelands, I would hold Stifle or would play differently to minimize it.
How do you generally sideboard against decks? Does Stifle ever come out, or do you take out burn spells ever?
On the draw, I board out Stifle and Daze because they’re both pretty bad on the draw. Pyroblast replaces Daze, Submerge replaces Lightning Bolt, Predators replace Cliques and Krosan Grip will come in for whatever’s not good. A lot of times against Counterbalance decks, I side out my burn spells because I’m reliant on creatures anyway, since not going to be able to burn them out through a Counterbalance. Pyroblast is great removal since it helps win counterwars, kills Rhox War Monk and generally does a lot.
How will Misty Rainforest (the U/G fetchland) affect CT, if at all?
If you want to, you can play singleton fetchlands against Pithing Needle, but that isn’t really a factor. You can also run Wooded Foothills in any case and really catch people with Stifle who presume that you’re playing Goblins or Survival decks. Unfortunately, now Counterbalance decks can run 4 Misty Rainforest and get a basic forest. Before that, I could often Submerge their Tarmogoyf and then Wasteland their Tropical Island and just cut them off of green mana for the rest of the game.
CT is a deck that wins by marginal gains and not blowout spells; how challenging would it be for a competent player in other formats to pick up?
It wouldn’t be that bad but most people would think it would be the worst Threshold deck, so they would rather run Counterbalance and Top. Other people think it’s just awful and don’t give it respect. That said, the format is about playing a deck you’re comfortable with, it can be any deck. Play something you know. Tommy Kolowith played Ad Nauseam until it got bad and plays dredge now. Anyone could play CT, but the hardest part is just playing spells correctly, I hold Brainstorm until turn four or five, until I need to cast it. People usually can’t put pressure on me so I don’t use it earlier. I see people casting their Brainstorm on turn 1 and not using a fetchland with it. I’ll wait until I can find a fetchland if I can. People are advocating 8 fetchland, 6 dual land manabases for CT, but I’ve had several games where I had to find the 4th Tropical Island since I lost the others to Sinkhole or Wasteland. Having the fetchlands is awesome, but being able to cast your spells is better. You could possibly play seven of each instead. I’d like to play basic lands, but there’s no room for them. There’s nothing I’d want to play them instead of in my deck. Island doesn’t play green creatures and the basics wouldn’t get around Blood Moon very well. You don’t really need basic lands, they’re just a crutch.
What cards are most important in the CT mirror or a Threshold near-mirror?
Keep 3 and 4 land hands in the mirror, otherwise you’ll end up with no permanents since the opponent can blow up all your lands. Against other Threshold decks, Submerge is awesome. Just resolving a threat and making the opponent answer is fine. Spell Snare hits everything in their deck; the only creature that’s hard for CT to answer is Nimble Mongoose. It’s important to get to threshold first through Brainstorm and Ponder. Basically, in the mirror, have more lands, try to Daze and then get a green creature down to attack.
Since coverage of GenCon was pretty sparse, could you tell us a little about your performance during the Swiss rounds?
I lost round 2 to dredge, but I won out from there and drew in the last Swiss round against Stax. I played against Survival, Zoo, Natural Order Threshold and CounterTop decks. I didn’t play the same deck twice. It’s been awhile since the event and it was a long day, so I don’t remember much. In the T8, I played against BGU CounterTop and ground out games 2 and 3. I kept a double Force of Will, blue card, Wasteland, Pyroblast hand and won that game. I was happy about that. I played the mirror against Dave Caplan; he made some judgment calls in games two and three that turned out to be the wrong choice and that cost him the game. My most grueling game was against Landstill. I had to burn him out from 8 life. I was looking forward to playing against Caplan since I knew his deck, especially that he was playing Disrupt and I’d have to play around that.
It’s slightly favored. At the Meandeck Open, I beat a player when they went double Noble Hierarch and I had the Fire/Ice for both of them. I had Wastelands for his lands and a Stifle and he was always so far behind in those games. I’ll Force of Will Sensei’s Divining Top all day long; a lot of people will keep hands based on Top and a fetchland. It’s the one card that will let them get ahead of me by drawing more lands and creatures.
What was your hardest game at GenCon? At the Meandeck Open?
The quarters in the Legacy prelim match or the quarterfinal of the MDO. They were both grinds. I had a lot of close matches at the MDO. During the Swiss, I would usually just blow someone out in one game and the other would be very close. One was against a BGW Tombstalker deck. He had two Dark Confidants out in the second game and it looked like he was winning. However, he was at 6 life; he flipped a 2-drop to the first Confidant and I Submerged one with the other trigger on the stack, taking him to 2 life and out of the game. Submerge ended up being a burn spell.
Did you have any moments in the either event where you felt like you were outplayed by an opponent?
The only time I felt blown out was when I got wastelanded in Top 8 by Tim Hunt. I don’t know if that was outplayed or I just didn’t realize that he had them. John with Landstill in the quarterfinal of the Legacy Prelim at GenCon played Chants at the right time all the time. For example, I’d attack with Nimble Mongoose and he’d Orim’s Chant me and then activate his Mishra’s Factory so I couldn’t burn out the blocker. He played really tightly, but I was ultimately able to burn him out.
How do you evaluate whether to use burn on creatures or send it directly at the opponent?
Against blue decks, I save burn for their face, but against Survival, I’m happy killing their guys all day long. Against RGW Zoo, it’s tricky because you have to kill them and also take out their creatures, since they can burn you out pretty easily.
How much testing did you put in before either event? You’re well-known on the PTQ circuit; do you think your testing time there has informed your Legacy skills?
I’m used to playing in high-pressure situations. I thought about switching decks but I just can’t; I’ve been playing this deck since GP: Chicago and I’ve been getting good results. The format hasn’t changed much and all the decks are similar to how they were from Chicago. There’s lots of room for innovation, but it hasn’t happened yet.
I’d like to thank Ben for a great interview and insights into one of the best-performing, but under-appreciated, decks in the format. I’d especially like to thank him for being good-natured after just watching the beloved Bengals lose yet again! If you have questions about the deck or want something clarified, send me an email or post in the forums!
Until next week…
legacysallure at gmail dot com