My Fish Wear Hot Pants -or- Playing In A Field With More Combos Than The Junk Food Aisle

There is no room for budget deck builds in a full-proxy metagame, and any deck that cannot stop combo madness quickly just plain fails.

With such a unique (some would say skewed) environment, I quickly ruled out Keeper for its weakness against Long, as well as Spoils Mask, Long, Dragon and Madness as decks that just weren’t going to be fun to play with. Knowing I would be facing many workshop decks, and more importantly, Long.dec, I chose to run U/R Fish, a deck holding great versatility in the sideboard and with enough counters to slow combo down. More importantly, it could support Null Rod, which would prove incredible in the troubled times to come.

In an environment where everyone can play any card, the deck choices are wide open. Deck options are further expanded as well as diminished in a tournament with an unlimited proxy count, as in the tournament I played in this last Sunday at the Soldiery in Columbus, Ohio. Because a player is only limited by the ink in their printer, the most expensive (i.e. powerful) decks will show up in the greatest numbers. There is no room for budget deck builds in this metagame, and any deck that cannot stop combo madness quickly just plain fails.

With such a unique (some would say skewed) environment, I quickly ruled out Keeper for its weakness against Long, as well as Spoils Mask, Long, Dragon and Madness as decks that just weren’t going to be fun to play with. Knowing I would be facing many workshop decks, and more importantly, Long.dec, I chose to run U/R Fish, a deck holding great versatility in the sideboard and with enough counters to slow combo down. More importantly, it could support Null Rod, which would prove incredible in the troubled times to come. Without further ado, here is my list.

Hot Pants


4 Spiketail Hatchling

4 Grim Lavamancer

4 Cloud of Faeries

3 Rootwater Thief


4 Curiosity

4 Standstill

4 Force of Will

3 Stifle

2 Daze

1 Ancestral Recall

1 Time Walk


3 Null Rod

Mana Sources:

4 Volcanic Island

4 Flooded Strand

4 Mishra’s Factory

2 Faerie Conclave

4 Wasteland

1 Strip Mine

1 Library of Alexandria

1 Mox Sapphire

2 Island


1 Null Rod

1 Stifle

3 Rack and Ruin

2 Energy Flux

1 Red Elemental Blast

2 Arcane Laboratory

1 Tormod’s Crypt

2 Fire / Ice

2 Seal of Removal

The deck remains largely unchanged from PhantomTapeWorm’s excellent deck, originally posted on The Mana Drain. A similar deck was posted recently on StarCityGames.com. My biggest change was Rootwater Thief instead of Voidmage Prodigy, a good switch against combo decks that run one win condition. I cut a fetchland as well for a Daze, as they were far too strong to run just one. The deck uses the small synergies; Grim Lavamancer and Fetchlands/Spiketails, Cloud of Faeries and Standstill, Stifle and… just about anything. The small things are what make is so powerful. There are no spells that break the game wide open, only incredible consistency and sure answers. The small stuff is almost always better than the big stuff.

The sideboard reflects the combo-rich environment as well, with Arcane Laboratory (strong beats against Long.dec) in addition to more Stifles and Rods, both of which stall games enough to pull out a win. Seals of Removal were there to kill Wurm tokens, stop Dragon, bounce Dreadnoughts and send Psychatog back. You’ll notice strong artifact hate as well, something the U/R manabase can support that regular Fish cannot. I found in the end that the sideboard proved strong. Looking at it again, there are few changes I would make, and those I will discuss at the end. But enough of talking, let’s look at what happened!

First Round: Trent, playing Long.dec

What a trial by fire to begin with! Trent was an all-around nice guy, and was still learning the tricks to Long. I won the coin flip, and played land-go. He opened with a Mox and land and passed the turn. Dropping my second land, I played the magic stick against Long, Null Rod. With suddenly no manabase, Trent was forced to do nothing as it came back to me. Down goes a Rootwater Thief. Ouch. The next four turns consist of me plucking out three Burning Wishes and countering the fourth. We shuffle up for game 2.

-4 Curiosity

-1 Grim Lavamancer

+1 Null Rod

+1 Stifle

+2 Arcane Laboratory

+1 Tormod’s Crypt

Curiosities would have been too slow against Long. I needed some reinforcements to steady my game against the dreaded combo. You will see my sideboard against this deck change over the course of day. Shuffling up, Trent leads with a land and some mana acceleration. I fanned my hand to reveal an Arcane Laboratory and a Spiketail Hatchling, along with Mishra’s Factory. My land hits, and Trent takes his second turn, doing nothing spectacular. I drop an Arcane Lab on my turn, putting the nail in his coffin. Luckily for him, he has Seal of Cleansing with only two land on the board, and I let it go. Did you see that? My Spiketail didn’t perform hara-kiri to save the day! Play error number one of the game, as he blasts the Lab away. Neither of us have anything to do, and with my Factory getting the beat in, we pass turns. Two draws later and I find my other Lab. It hits the table, I shake his hand and put a 2-0 on the scorecard.

Remember to de-sideboard!

Round Two: Ted, playing Stax

Ted is another great guy, and made great plays all through the match. He opened with Welder and some usual Stax hilarity, with a second-turn Null Rod shutting his plans down. A second Welder came out, along with Smokestack. Ted knew all the stacking tricks and did what he could to stop my Mishra’s Factories and Faerie friends from going to town. He chumped with Welders, but in the end could not pull out a win.

-2 Curiosity

-2 Standstill

-2 Daze

-1 Grim Lavamancer

+3 Rack and Ruin

+2 Energy Flux

+1 Stifle

+1 Null Rod

The second game, Ted opens strongly, and my Null Rod hits the board on time, on target. Welders hit the ground, and Sphere Of Resistance make my life miserable, but Mishra’s Factory doesn’t care about Spheres! Three start their rampage, and Ted pulls out Smokestack and Tangle Wire, eventually getting the Smokestack to three counters and wiping the board clean.

Curiosities and Standstills at that point are just sacrificial lambs. I think my Mox Sapphire hit the dirt in the Smokestack purge as well, before everything was cleared. Unfortunately for Ted, he was sitting at two life by the time he stabilized, and we both entered topdeck mode, him pulling a useless Ancient Tomb, and myself ending up with two Islands. What followed was an affirmation of why I play T1; I dropped a Cloud of Faeries, and he Force of Willed it (!), dropping him to a precious one. I Forced in return, and Time Walked for the faerie win. At this point, people were taking notice of the little Blue guys that could.

Round Three: Paul, playing Long.dec

I hit Long again. Paul stalls to my Wastelands and Dazes while I hit his mana sources. My Factories and Faeries go in for the win. Fish are great at buying enough time to kill with the 1/1s. Curiosity doesn’t hurt either, I hear.

-2 Grim Lavamancer

-4 Curiosity

-2 Standstill

+1 Null Rod

+1 Stifle

+2 Arcane Laboratory

+2 Fire/Ice

+1 Tormod’s Crypt

+1 Red Elemental Blast

The Fire/Ice was an experiment to take out Xantid Swarms faster than Lavamancer. I didn’t get a chance to try it, as Paul combo-ed out on turn 1. He used Mind’s Desire to engage in stupidity and then took me out with a Tendrils for what seemed like two hundred.

On the third game, I get out a Null Rod lock. The game ends pretty quickly after that, with Factories being the main beatdown and the fashionable Faeries pulling up the rear. Grim Lavamancer unleashes fiery pain, and when Paul gets a phone call in the last two minutes of the game, he concedes to me as he plans to call off work to continue playing. Magic über alles!

Round Four, Steve Menendian of StarCity, playing Long.dec

Third time I hit Long today. Steve and I go back and forth, me keeping a Daze, but not doing much with it. Steve takes pain from City of Brass and Spiketail Hatchling, and agonizes over whether the time is right to combo out. Let me stress to you how long this was taking. Steve spent eight minutes considering what to throw back from Brainstorm. We are twenty-five minutes in, and he is still working through his blasted turn. I bust out the Wheat Thins (tech!) and slices of Christmas ham and cheddar. I have one card on my hand, one Island open, and not much else to do. I make small talk as a crowd gathers around the table. I check the time. Seventeen minutes left. Every other table has finished and they’re all standing around. Steve reaches an insane storm count, but professes that Stifle will ruin his plan.

He’s down to his last two Burning Wishes, and needs to Duress my hand to make sure I don’t have the all-important Stifle. My card sits on the table. I hear”I can’t take it, I want to know what his hand is!” from behind me. I’m still not budging. I want the crowd to be entertained. I want to make Steve work for his victory. Time ticks by. Much of his library is gone from a sad Demonic Consultation at the beginning of the game. He’s down to thirteen cards left in his library, and uses his last Brainstorm to grab his Duress.

I flip the card over.

The card was Stifle.

My hand moves across the table as a fast effect when I see his Burning Wish in hand. We have four minutes left in the match. Let me stress that Steve wins, but he takes an incredible amount of time doing it.

I side frantically and shuffle up. On my first turn, time is called. I know I can’t win with Fish in three rounds, and Stephen shows me a first-turn win hand (he insisted that I mention it in writing) . I didn’t want to keep everyone waiting while he took another fifty minutes, so I took my first match loss of the day.

Fourth Round: Name I forget (Very sorry about this, my notes just kind of stopped!) Stax

We ID into the T8, and play for fun. Rootwater Thief takes out the lone Karn the first game and then a double Rack and Ruin hand and Wheel of Fortune into an Energy Flux spells”good game.”

Quarterfinals: Paul again, with Long.dec

The T8 decks include Stax, Hulk Smash, two Long.decs, as well as other craziness. Madness and Spoils Mask are nowhere to be found, making me breathe a sigh of relief. I won’t be facing my problem match-ups.

The deck that I fear and I have played far too much haunts me again. I am glad that it’s now dead due to restrictions. Long story short, Paul combos out through a Null Rod, Wishing for Primitive Justice. Ouch.

Sideboarding: See Round 3

A second turn Null Rod hits, with Paul wishing for Primitive Justice. I drop Arcane Lab turn 3, and that pretty much ends the game. Death of a thousand cuts ensues.

Game 3 begins with two Wastelands, a Mishra’s Factory and a Null Rod, with Daze and Spiketail Hatchling, and something else that didn’t matter. Paul drops a land and turns it over to me. I drop a Wasteland and strip out his land. Play Error number two. He topdecks another land and drops it, and then (I believe) Necropotences down to nine. My turn again, I drop a Wasteland. He combos out.

An aside into the land of what-ifs: If I had saved my Wasteland, the Null Rod would have hit turn 2. His mana would have been stunted, and then double-Wasteland would have sealed up his mana problem. I don’t know if I could have won, but I might have given him a stronger run for his money. Against combo, aim for their artifacts before the lands. I forgot this, and I handed the game away. Not even a Timetwister saved me. Somewhere in the series of our games, he used a”Draw-7″ to put me into a pair of Force of Wills with Blue card backup. I thought I had the match won, but his double-Duress dashed those dreams.

So in the end, the Mox Sapphire prize went to someone else. I went home and ate chicken, ruminating over my lessons and satisfied with my 3-1-1 record and T8 placing in my first T1 tournament. And so now I pass on my sagacious advice:

Eat breakfast and pack a snack before you go. Hunger is a player’s worst enemy.

Null Rod is hot. If I lived in Massachusetts, I would marry it.

Sideboards can make or break you. Mine saved me because I guessed right and knew the right cards. I had no secret tech, only solid cards. Looking back on it, the Blast did me no good; I would have put in another Arcane Lab had I expected to play Long so much. The Crypt did surprisingly little as well, and it’s a liability against Stax (weld out Null Rod for a Crypt and you’re screwed).

Hate out artifacts! They’re strong now, and they will be even stronger after the January restrictions.

And most importantly, be confident in your deck. Know every card in it and be able to write it with memory. I did far better than I had expected, and you can too. It’s easy to find a solid deck such as Fish and pilot it to success in tournaments. Be informed of the metagame, be smart about your deck, and always be on the lookout for cards that other people won’t notice or be prepared for.

Until next time, may all your topdecks be savage.

Doug Linn

Hi-Val on TMD.