In the weeks leading up to the banning, I was working on an assortment of decks. I’ve been kind of lacking in the Constructed testing department since I moved to DC; Outpost Station hosts a plethora of expert Limited players, but there aren’t many toting Standard decks. My testing was therefore restricted to MTGO, which is kind of a joke – though I’ve got a rack of SCG store credit saved up it’s non-transferable to the digital realm. Furthermore, the online economy is so warped that I refuse to pay for most of the cards I need* and hence end up with crappy cobbled-together concoctions of crap. Was that second crap redundant? Not if you’ve seen the decks.
Now I’ve gone and done it. I violated the ham-sandwich rule for the second time in my writing career, and this time I didn’t even do it on purpose! But trust me. There is light at the end of the tunnel.
One deck in particular that I’d been working on was one designed to abuse the Splice mechanic. It went through various incarnations, which will be chronicled in time. But there was a problem: the deck lost to Affinity. Now, said problem is not an insurmountable obstacle by itself. But it is when compounded by a second problem: the deck lost to Tooth and Nail.
So now we return to the week before the B&R announcement. I hadn’t really paid much attention to it before I read Ted’s article. At this point in time, I began to consider the possibility that they might ban part of Raffinity, and got excited. If they weakened Affinity, I could change my maindeck to include more Cranial Extractions and/or other T&N hosers, and have improved matchups against both of the two top dogs.
Of course, when the B&R announcement came through, I was left all dressed up with nowhere to go, and those heels were killing me. But not all was lost. I did have a good idea of where to start with a Splicing deck and where to go with it as well. So there is still light at the end of the tunnel – it’s just that the tunnel has been lengthened a bit. Whether that tunnel is the length of one more set or the entire block remains to be seen.
Before we look at the cards themselves, let’s delve into the theory I considered before I began to build. One thing that was obvious before I started was that a splicing deck needs lots of mana. While tacking on a single Glacial Ray to an arcane spell is good, tacking on two is better. The splice mechanic becomes exponentially better with more mana and cards in hand with which to use it.
Just tacking on extra spells isn’t enough to make splice good, though. If you think about it, the real upside of splicing is that the spells are re-useable. For example, if you cast an Eerie Procession and splice on a Glacial Ray and Dampen Thought, you’re getting three effects for seven mana. If there was a seven-mana rare that tutored for an arcane card, did two damage to target creature or player, and milled four cards, it would be considered unplayable as a one-time effect. Splice allows you to customize your large, “broken” spells to properly fit the situation.
So this second bit points towards a recursion strategy. If you can bring arcane and splicing spells back from the graveyard to your hand, you’ll have more chances to get extra mileage out of your spells, which will translate into a lot of card advantage over the course of a long game.
Therefore, the obvious first choice of colors is Green. Not only does it have mana acceleration in the form of Sakura-Tribe Elder and Kodama’s Reach, which is arcane, but it has recursion in the form of Eternal Witness and Hana Kami. Kodama’s Reach also fixes mana in addition to accelerating, so it allows us to play more colors to have access to a larger range of arcane and/or splice spells.
The core of the deck so far is:
4 Sakura-Tribe Elder
4 Eternal Witness
4 Kodama’s Reach
If we add Birds of Paradise to that list, we have the option to potentially play all five colors, or at least any combination of colors that we want. Looking at the cards themselves, we can see that splice requires two things to work: the splicing ability itself and Arcane cards to graft them onto. Fortunately, every card with the splice ability is Arcane, which makes sense from a flavor standpoint. This next “rationale” section could be tedious so if you want to skip it scroll down to the stars; otherwise, here are the Arcane cards and their relative values (there are a lot, so I removed the chaff):
Ethereal Haze – This card is perhaps a bit too defensive for this deck. Since it doesn’t affect board position, it’s not looking playable.
Otherworldy Journey – Removal for a turn. That’s awful. A guy posted an article on some other site featuring this in a Standard “new version of G/W Slide” (without Astral Slide, of course) that claimed positive winning percentages against every deck except KCI. I think I’m going to start sending my SCG rejects in their direction!
Eerie Procession – Can search out any arcane card as well as serving as a vessel** for splice. Search seems a good direction to go in.
Eye of Nowhere – The double-Blue cost is too prohibitive (especially for the effect) in a multi-colored deck. Also, this card is a sorcery, which makes it even worse.
Peer Through Depths – This is cheaper than Eerie Procession and happens at instant speed for tricks during the opponent’s turn. The five-card search range shouldn’t present a problem with the correct percentage of arcane spells.
Petals of Insight – Draws three cards or has the possibility of being a recurring vessel for splice. The mana cost on this guy is a bit prohibitive.
Reach Through Mists – Acts as a vessel for splice and replaces itself, at instant speed. It also helps power through rough mana draws.
Cranial Extraction – Powerful, expensive, and arcane to boot! This is more like it.
Devouring Greed – Although I originally used this as a finisher, with the required density of arcane spells the deck does not run enough creatures to make this playable.
Rend Flesh – Targeted, cheap removal with a minimal restriction against the top tier decks. Sign me up.
Swallowing Plague – This proved too expensive to use effectively.
Waking Nightmare – Possibly a sideboard card? Terrible in the late game, especially against Affinity.
Blind With Anger – This card is the bomb in Limited, but doesn’t shine here. It could possibly be a sideboarded against Tooth.
Lava Spike – The limitations of this card render it pointless in the build I’m going for.
Kodama’s Reach – Once again, this is an ideal card for the deck. Mana acceleration + color fixing + arcane is a tidy little package.
Strength of Cedars – I tried this as a finisher on MTGO, but the truth is that Rude Awakening is a million times better.
Now on to the good stuff, the spells with the splice ability. Arcane is important, but remember that all spells with splice are also arcane so these will be more important towards picking our final colors.
In White, we have Blessed Breath and Candle’s Glow. That’s not terribly exciting as the deck doesn’t need to protect its creatures (many of them sacrifice anyway) and Candle’s Glow just isn’t strong enough as a re-useable spell. In Blue, there’s Consuming Vortex, Reweave, and Dampen Thought. Despite all of the hoopla surrounding the Dampen Thought draft archetype, this is a Standard deck, and the goal is to win through damage rather than decking. Reweave has UU in its splice cost and is hence unplayable.
Green has both Wear Away and Kodama’s Might. The former is useful against Affinity but too costly to be able to use multiple times fast enough, while the second is more for racing, which this deck isn’t designed to do.
Here is the good stuff though! In Red, we have the powerful Glacial Ray which I’ve already mentioned as the best splicing card around. It’s cheap to play or splice and functions as both removal and damage. Red is rounded out by Desperate Ritual and Through the Breach, which are both unplayable. Fortunately, we’ve already got what we wanted.
In Black you have two distinct options. The first is Hideous Laughter, delivering a powerful board-sweeping effect. However, as a splicer it’s much less satisfying than the card I eventually chose because it is too expensive to tack on. The splice cards that are truly effective are those that have cheap splicing costs like Soulless Revival. Not only does Soulless Revival act as a vessel when you need to save Glacial Rays, it splices cheaply. It creates card advantage when you recur Eternal Witness, and can create infinite splicing loops with Hana Kami for you to wipe your opponent’s board.
So Glacial Ray goes in as an immediate quattro, along with a pair of Soulless Revivals. After adding another noteworthy arcane card, our base looks like this:
4 Sakura-Tribe Elder
4 Eternal Witness
2 Hana Kami
4 Kodama’s Reach
4 Rend Flesh
4 Glacial Ray
2 Soulless Revival
[Aside]: Remember above when I mentioned how I was fiddling around with the deck on MTGO to test and that I didn’t have all the cards? Well part of my experimentation was picked up by the “national” Magic news service. Check out this article from the Wizards of the Coast site.
Look through the article and try to guess which of the sections (there are two) were about my deck. In case you’re too lazy I’m going to cut ‘n paste the relevant sections after a few line breaks to keep them away from your sneaky prying eyes.
Ok, here they are:
Game 16: Green/Red/Black Spirits/Arcane
“His deck was cool, and the best use of Splice onto Arcane I’ve seen yet. I had a defensive hand of land, Cage of Hands, Reciprocate, and Indomitable Will. Maybe I shouldn’t have kept it, actually. On the third turn I found Devoted Retainer, but it died (and took the Will with it) thanks to Hana Kami and Kodama’s Might. After that, he started doing Hana Kami tricks, with Kodama’s Reach, Glacial Ray, and Soulless Revival to get lots of land into play while keeping the weenies I drew in hand. I managed to slip a Reciprocate onto his Hana Kami, but then he just played another one. Sigh. My Cage of Hands covered his Kami of the Hunt which only managed to ensure me a slow and painful death.”
This is long before I had assembled most of the relevant pieces of the deck. At that point I was experimenting with a more aggressive spirit version, that contained Zuberas and Devouring Greed as my finisher. Later on in the same article (this was in fact the same day of playtesting… I remember wondering why I was playing against so much White Weenie) he relates this juicy tidbit:
Game 25: Green/Red Spirit/Arcane
“It’s comforting to know that when I get stuck on three land I can still pull out a win against a solid deck and solid player. My opponent had three Soilshapers, but I matched him with what he called my “Three Musketeers” – three Kitsune Blademasters. I dropped two Devoted Retainers as well, which kept him on the defensive and killed a Kami of the Hunt and Hearth Kami. Most of my creatures survived the repeated attacks thanks to two Blessed Breath, but we eventually stalled the ground – he with a few cards in hand plus plenty of land to go along with his Soilshapers and me with my Samurai army. I finally found my fourth land and played two Mothrider Samurai, forcing him to use his Kodama’s Might to splice and then play Glacial Ray to kill them. With no cards left in hand, he conceded when I played Nagao, Bound by Honor.”
This section is, in fact, the only reason why I realized that I had played him at all – my three musketeers comment jogged my memory and caused me to go back and check the rest of his article more carefully. Like I said, a previous incarnation of the deck was more aggro and the Soilshapers turned out to be sub-par this game, as I was constantly animating lands that were tapped since I was low on mana, and I couldn’t get any manner of good recursion going.
Anyway, back to business. With the requirements listed for a good splicing deck, it looks like we’re going the control route – a defensive deck designed to eliminate threats on the board until it can set up a position of inevitability. It can do this in several ways, but all of them involve some form of accruing card and mana advantages over the course of several turns.
What this boils down to is dominating mana production while maintaining a relatively clear board by splicing and recursion; then smash with Rude Awakening.
As I mentioned above, the reason that splicing is good is that it allows you to build up card advantage. In a best case scenario, splicing a Glacial Ray onto a Rend Flesh kills two creatures while you get to keep the splicer in your hand for the next eventuality. When you get enough mana and an Eternal Witness or Hana Kami, you can set up recursion loops that allow you to maximize your mana and set up positions of inevitability. After enough testing I realized that the deck definitely needed a one-mana accelerant; it speeds up Kodama’s Reach by a full turn which means you start accruing card advantage one turn sooner as well. At this point I made the switch from digital to cardboard as I could not afford Birds of Paradise.***
Recursion loops aren’t difficult to set up but they do require a lot of mana. During my playtesting I’ve run into a lot of games that look like this:
Turn 1: Forest, Bird of Paradise.
Turn 2: Forest, Kodama’s Reach for Mountain (into play) and Swamp.
Turn 3: Swamp, Hana Kami. On the opponent’s turn, block then sac Hana Kami for Kodama’s Reach.
Turn 4: Kodama’s Reach splicing Soulless Revival (targeting Hana Kami) for Mountain (into play tapped) and Forest. Play Forest. Play Hana Kami.
From there I could go on to search out every land in my deck, kill every creature my opponent played, and kill him with Glacial Rays and/or Rude Awakening for massive damage. Sometimes you’ll run into a situation where you would rather hold onto a Glacial Ray vs. the Soulless Revival; you can still use this situation to set up infinite splice onto arcanes by using the recursion loop.
The next big problem is setting up your hand in such a way that you can make use of the potential card advantage offered by the splice ability. We have several options here and the first one that I considered was splashing blue for Peer Through Depths. Peer is a great card and helps you find a Glacial Ray or a Soulless Revival much faster, but it lessens the consistency of your mana by a considerable degree. Another option that I discarded as too slow was Petals of Insight.
The answer to the conundrum turned out to be pretty obvious. After using Sensei’s Divining Top in multiple drafts, I knew how good it was when combined with shuffle effects. This archetype runs at least eight maindeck, with recursion of those eight almost guaranteed; that means that with a Top on the table you can look through an amazing amount of your library within a very few turns. It also helps with difficult mana draws, even though these are rarely a problem.
So the final “base” of the deck is looking like this:
4 Birds of Paradise
4 Sakura-Tribe Elder
4 Eternal Witness
2 Hana Kami
4 Kodama’s Reach
4 Rend Flesh
4 Glacial Ray
2 Soulless Revival
2 Sensei’s Divining Top
2 Rude Awakening
1 City of Brass
This leaves us six cards to fiddle with to finish out the deck. As I said before, the deck loses to Affinity and Tooth and Nail, so I want to address both of those matchups. However, that’s impossible. I tried adding 4 Viridian Shamans and 2 Cranial Extractions, but I still lost to both. The real answer is to strengthen one matchup at the cost of the other, then sideboard more heavily for the other.
I chose to concede the first game to Tooth and Nail. Super Splicer is built against more creature-heavy, aggressive decks, and Affinity is the more prevalent deck anyhow. The solution that I am currently testing is 4 Viridian Shamans and 2 Oxidize to fill out the remaining slots, though I am also testing three and three since Oxidize is more readily recur-able via Eternal Witness. This gives me a considerably better matchup against Affinity than when I began and frees up more sideboard slots.
We can further address the Tooth and Nail matchup in the sideboard:
3 Cranial Extraction
4 Plow Under (I have also heard people suggest Feast of Worms, which may prove valuable tech)
6 open slots for your metagame. I may put in some Hideous Laughters and some Chokes.
Here are some final points to see you off:
1. Counterspells are very bad for you, as the splicer becomes part of the spell and is countered as well. Be sure to out-mana your opponent before doing anything else in the control mirror, or you will get iced by Condescend. This is also a reason I’m considering Choke for the sideboard.
2. If you cast an arcane spell with a splice that targets (i.e., Kodama’s Reach splicing Glacial Ray onto an opponent’s critter), they can counter your spell by removing the target. This isn’t as bad as the spell getting countered, because you get to keep your splicer, but you’re not going to get the mana. You have to be careful of this against Ravager, and is another thing that makes Soulless Revival good, since it targets a critter in the ‘yard and that’s not easy to remove.
3. Sundering Titan wrecks you. Bold and italics can barely begin to describe.
4. Don’t be afraid to burn an arcane or splicer early if it means saving a lot of damage. You’re not going to be accruing card advantage until you have a good bit of mana anyway, and dying with three cards in hand sucks. Only practice can help you figure it out.
5. Every Glacial Ray you send at the opponent’s dome is one less land you need to kill them with Rude Awakening. You can’t usually spare this in the Affinity matchup, but against T&N it can be gold.
Finally, some thoughts on what kind of splice effects would make this deck more viable. Obviously, anything that splices and draws cards will cause quite a stir. A Black splicer that kills creatures would also be very beneficial; Rend Flesh is great by any standards, but sometimes you wish you could have it back. If there are more damage effects like Glacial Ray, they’re a shoo-in as well. The main problem with the existing splice cards are that most of them cost too much, so anything cheap will end up as a consideration.
That’s all for now. The deck isn’t particularly expensive, so build it and give it a whirl, as I can guarantee it’s fun to play. One downside is that the splice mechanic makes MTGO slow down so that by the time you get to turns 12+ it’s painful, but they should fix that in time. Until next time, build the biggest spell you can!
John Matthew Upton
I like back, feed me!
Jmumoo is at yahoo dot com
* 4 tix for an Eternal Witness? Thanks, but no. I realize that I myself have proclaimed this one of the greatest Green cards ever, but it’s uncommon, and I refuse to pay four bucks for one. If only I could slide some of my 12 extra paper copies into my disk drive and have them pop up on MTGO…
** What would I do without Tim Aten writing for this site? I mean, who would I rip off?
*** It’s pretty weak that if you redeem the cards for real versions, you can’t play with them anymore, IMO. Not like I ever had any digital BOPs, but I wanted to stick this in here somewhere.