OBC: Little Green Men?

OBC is all about the green men and Buehler may yet be vindicated. Want to know how the OBC metagame is shaping up, what will be the most popular deck – and why? The truth is in here.

This article is going to be about OBC strategy in its most basic state, which is about what decks I think are going to be out there and how I think you are going to have to approach the format.

Since Binary 21 is defunct as a team I’ve hooked up with a Star City circle that has become known as Team Diaspora – and yea, verily, we are a bit scattered. (At least in that we live all over the place.) That means we don’t get to play our test matches face to face and most of our games and all of our communications are done via the net. Usually, the games are played via Apprentice. In that, I have also picked up random games with other apprentice players – something that I was somewhat loathe to do because of the preponderance of "trolls" out there, but I must say that I’ve been pleasantly surprised that most of my opponents have been both friendly and skilled. These random games also mean that I think I’ve gotten a decent look at what the public is looking at in terms of the block. Now I’ll say this:

OBC is all about the green men and Buehler may yet be vindicated. You might want to put in a call to Mulder and Scully, stock the bunker, and get prepared for the invasion.

In one recent week, aside from my games played with teammates, I played ten random games picked up by virtue of IRC. Nine of those matches contained opponents playing green men. Seven were Blue/Green, two were Green/White, and one was mono red.

It is somewhat of a small sample to make assessments on – and certainly this doesn’t mean that one should throw out or discount decks like control black or Tog – but I’m going to reinforce my findings with a few other points to hopefully help you get a picture akin to my own of why one better be prepared for seeing the greenish beats in this block.

As a setup, I will digress to an old story: About two Regionals gone past, when the top decks were arguably Fires and Counter Rebels, team Binary had a little deck with Cursed Totems and Glittering Cats – the "God" deck – that worked very well against this top pair. It had some trouble with the alternate-counter Skies deck, but I tweaked up a sideboard for that and generally went around clocking folks. The deck then began to suffer a bit with the appearance of Shivan Wurm and the improvement of Nether Go decks. Later, the Skies deck was pronounced dead – or was so proclaimed by many an internet pundit. This "death of Skies" idea was also backed by our own testing, where the deck was going about forty percent in our pool…so we wrote it off.*

Initially, when entering testing the "God" deck was my choice for the tournament, as I thought a bias versus Fires and Rebels to be highly favorable. I held this belief for some time despite the appearance of the new problems I mentioned – but then, I had also wanted to be open to playing whatever deck we thought was best. Near the end I was making a go of it in testing with TurboHaups, but my version always got kicked in the teeth by Fires despite the fact that in our pool it had a the highest winning percentage overall. The Fires matchup alone made me unhappy to play it. It was sort of a last-minute play but I backed up to the familiar "God" deck, and with the knowledge that "Skies is dead" I modified the sideboard with a bent for defeating Nether-Go.

So what do I face at the tourney? Skies. A full half of my tournament pairings were against the deck of cheap blue fliers and alternative casting-cost countermagic….

But perhaps in the end I got something out of my mistakes leading to this fifty-fifty day. Never discount the "cheap" deck in a big open tournament.

"Skies" was cheap to build, with a lot of common and some uncommon cards and few if any rares. In Extended, this idea of the heightened numerical presence of the good cheap deck had a counterpart in Sligh. The all red deck was successful and cheap. It was more successful at qualifying folks out of the local tournaments than it was at topping the actual Pro Tour… And there is the lesson again. Sligh was rarely thought of as purely the best deck, but it was always thought of as good enough – and as a cheap deck many would choose and play it. So in the big local tournaments, you have to keep and eye on the best cheap deck as much (if not more) than the best deck overall.

What does all this mean for OBC? Well, the cheapest good deck is blue and green – and I’ll expect you to see variants of it everywhere, just like my little jaunts into IRC Apprentice matches showed me. This means that if you are strategizing ahead, these are the things you note.

Blue/Green is both cheap and good. Many will play it. If you aren’t playing it, you’d better be able to go at worst even up against it. If you are playing it, you can devote a lot of time trying to figure out how to win the mirror match.

Black is good, but it is rare-driven. You will see it and it will be something to think about, but not as many players will play it. Sounds like your approach could be strictly a sideboard plan. Think locally.

Tog is out there – and really, it is not that altogether expensive to build either, at least not to get started. Tog itself is an uncommon, along with cards like Edict, Compulsion, Logic, and perhaps Concentrate. The rares are the Upheavals, but one could run a version with only two, and perhaps Shadowmage Infiltrator. Some players will think they can skate by without the Finkels; perhaps they can. Still, the deck isn’t nearly as easy to play well as the blue green beats.

Green/White is a good combination; I’ve seen enough of it already to say that. But Brushhopper is a rare, and you need those. Cards like Sylvan Safekeeper and Genesis are also playable rares here, if not a necessity, and there are other numerous other rares to think about here as well. You may want to cross your fingers that you see this guy in the seventh round and not the first or second.

White Weenie. There is not a doubt in my mind that this deck is appearing because it is highly consistent in either the pure white form or with a splash color – most likely blue. Consistency is going to be a primary concern in the format – a point that I will get to in more detail in a bit – but again, the white weenie deck probably has a cheap variety with escalating cost options. Many will be thinking and testing this one. Keep your eyes peeled and have some plans.

I believe that is most of what isn’t going to be classified rogue – at least initially. I’ve seen enough red and fooled with it myself to not think too highly of it. Maybe there is a Red Green deck, as there almost always is – but it hasn’t appeared yet, and the archetype generally floundered at Osaka. One might want to consider that with mono red and red/green that players will play these types of decks out of "habit.”

Now here’s the deal with mono red, and perhaps to a lesser extent Red/Green: They generally have to use some form of "punisher cards" that give their opponent options. As a tournament goes on, this becomes a problematic strategy because you are giving over to your opponent decisions that influence the game. This means that better players sitting at the low numbered tables that you would like to be sitting at will make the right choice in their particular case and beat you because of it. I had my suspicions about this when I built a mono red deck and then I had to test it all of about three matches to watch Elliot Fertik go from losing on the initial "surprise value" to making me think I had almost no chance to win. Red also notoriously has a hard time dealing with big fat green guys (and removing Mongrel is no picnic, either) plus the additional "Phantom" creatures are basically burn-proof.

The Green "Tinker"

A long time ago Tommy Guevin wrote one of his better articles detailing how Jamie Wakefield made the pro tour playing "Secret Force.” At the time the game was highly biased between uber-fast Sligh decks and even faster mono blue combos. Wakefield took Secret Force into this environment. Red could hardly ever deal with the "tinker" play of Natural Order for Verdant Force, and Wakefield boarded heavily for Blue with Choke. In this Wakefield "played the percentages," with plans for the two most popular decks and took his shot against whatever rogue decks he’d meet with a very consistent mono-colored deck that contained an uber threat of its own and which was also packing a high flexibility spell: Creeping Mold.

Quiet Roar is the new Secret Force, at least as far as OBC goes.

So what I’m telling you here is that you are going to have to be looking at this sort of UG deck in "the percentages" because it is both good and cheap.

U/G OBC by Seth Burn

4 Basking Rootwalla

4 Wild Mongrel

4 Aquamoeba

4 Arrogant Wurm

4 Roar of the Wurm

4 Quiet Speculation

4 Aether Burst

4 Circular Logic

3 Deep Analysis

1 Dematerialize

12 Island

12 Forest

Burn, one of my favorites, always gives us great”no muss, no fuss” base decks for whatever the most relevant formats are. Again, notice that the deck contains only sixteen uncommons – and one can envision good versions of the deck with less or with decent substitutes or shortcuts. There have also been other versions of the "Quiet Roar" deck posted, but they take off doing other things besides what the base deck wants to do.

I’ll now detail some things about what this deck basically wants to do – and does.

First, it presents a series of threats in a highly consistent manner… And the consistency of what it does is of no small importance. Others have noted, but I will reiterate what Quiet Speculation does: As a tutor-like effect it primarily pulls out of the deck (and puts into the graveyard) the 6/6 token making Roar of the Wurm. Remember the Natural Order for Secret Force "tinker" play from above? This is on that level, as the flashbacked Roars have their cost cut to 3G – an inordinately low cost-to-power ratio for a creature.

Now, Speculation doesn’t do this just for one flashback card… But three! Considering the deck has other ways to put the Roar in the graveyard with the hard-to-kill Mongrel and Aquamoeba, you can hopefully see the consistency point I’m talking about. The Speculation also increases the land density of the deck once it is cast, so that it then behaves as if it had more land so that it will make the Wurm wanted four straight land drops as if it did have more. Many versions of the deck are running down to twenty-two to even twenty land. Even if it doesn’t get this reverse-thinning effect, it has at its outset a very sturdy lineup of other cheap cards – like the already mentioned Mongrel.

So there you have it: A look at the power and consistency issues with a highly affordable deck for the block. Be ready. Versions of it will be everywhere.

Now, I’ve played the deck some… And while I know it is very very good, I will also tell you that it is perhaps not as "broken" as some would have you believe.** It gets beat, and I know how it gets beat. Strangely, while weenies don’t like 6/6 men too much, I’ve lost while being overwhelmed by an aggro approach. When an opponent can put out three to six men or more in two to four turns, the deck can get put on the defensive and blown past. There is sort of a "hole" with this deck at the three-casting cost spot and casting Quiet Speculation itself usually eats up a turn of tempo to gain a consistently-crushing midgame. But again, while the deck can lose tempo it doesn’t seem to happen enough to undermine the powerful consistency that the 6/6 Wurms will appear in a highly timely fashion and make things difficult across the board.

I think it does, however, put some insight into why quality guys like Burn and Nate Heiss are talking about evasive white weenie – because the white deck is offering the kind of consistency that is going to be needed to fight the Quiet Roar deck. Blue/Green itself without Quiet Roar also offers this sort of fast power with madness effects and threshold creatures – but there is still, despite blue’s rather high cycling power in the block, a problem in consistently getting enough men out fast enough to overwhelm Quiet Roar.

Not to be forgotten is what Quiet Speculation does as well: Tutor. Notice the Dematerialize in Burn’s deck? This card will get one out of many scrapes, including being locked out by the Solitary ConfinementGenesis lock. This tutoring power for flashback cards leads down a whole road of options, including those that that I find have some merit: Acorn Harvest, Beast Attack, Call of the Herd, Grizzly Fate, Moment’s Peace and Sylvan Might for green and Alter Reality, Fervent Denial, and Flash of Insight for blue. All of these cards might have some use, either in the main deck or sideboard, where one copy of a card like Alter Reality might be worthwhile to take a protection black critter like Phantom Centaur and give him protection from green in the mirror.

There are a few other cards that need to be mentioned as well: Often, Catalyst Stone is cropping up with this sort of deck in mind. I must say that this sort of "investment" card is interesting when paired with this deck’s consistent ability to put it to use… And it makes some other cards like Grizzly Fate and even Crush of Wurms have some appeal to alter the mirror. That mirror looks like it will appear nearly enough to take a look at the card appearing in the main deck where it may be problematic enough in other matches as well, such as slowing the flashback of Chainer’s Edict, and occasionally blowing up to the double-Wurm play, to really warrant its inclusion.

The deck also could look at adding a third color, with White being the top option with the availability of many more color fixing options for U/W/G… But black is not out of the question either. Folks will be looking at ways to break Wurm parity – and cards like Mystic Enforcer could do that, giving one side more 6/6 guys than the other. A splash for a card like Chainer’s Edict could possibly do the same, and both sides offer graveyard removal for the mirror.

There are also some other cards in green that are worth mentioning as well: Olle’s card, Sylvan Safekeeper makes a lot of sense in the deck, as Aether Burst becomes removal against tokens. I envision a cat-and-mouse situation between the Safekeeper and Burst in these sorts of decks. Realize that bounce is rather ineffectual versus most of the other creatures, and that land would generally only be sacrificed to keep the big Wurm tokens on the board; that trade, however, is highly worthwhile. If you play Safekeeper, then Elephant Guide is worth taking a look at as it too has a chance to break Wurm parity and you have to worry much less about the enchantment being "lost" to instant bounce or removal.

There is also a question of who wants to play the first Burst in the mirror, as the later ones all become much better. It should be interesting to watch this play out as folks gamble on which cards to run and cast.

Wonder has also been a common card to add to the deck – and with the pitch outlets and the possibilities of a card like Careful Study to find and get the card in the graveyard, it isn’t too difficult to give your whole crew flying. With both flying and Safekeeper, the option might move further away from Aether Burst to another tempo card in Moment’s Peace. Now one could hope to fly over with some large Wurms and other green men and then Fog your opponent’s own counterattack.

In reality, what we see is a very solid UG deck base that is cheap to build (which will increase its popularity) and holds many options for variety in the deck to adapt to the situations as they present themselves. In this marriage of power and affordability, it should be seen frequently in the block and be a major focal point of all strategy.

I hope that this article was a good kick-off for your season.


* – There was a problem that I could still win with the Skies deck… But it seemed that very few of our other playtesters could. We were running a group bigger than Binary to try and get more data. In this, we ran into a common problem: Some testers in your group just may not be able to run certain decks correctly. I think this was the problem we had with "Skies.”

** – If there is a "problem" with the deck, it’s that it is indeed very good and cheap. This will mean that it will be played a lot – and such decks have a tendency to eat up most of the top spots in their respective formats. Whether it is going to be of the”banning” variety of good remains to be seen.