This past weekend, the Japanese and German National Championships were held, and the deck that came out on top was clearly Black/Green “TarmoRack.” With a win in Japan, a finals appearance in Germany, and four total Top 8s, the deck was far and away the most successful.
I first knew of the deck around the time of U.S. Regionals. A friend of mine from Pittsburgh had been one of the first to play the mono-Black Rack deck on Magic Online, and when Future Sight came out all of his complaints with the deck were answered. The problem facing the deck was that the disruption was great, but it had no good way to close a game out. Enter Tarmogoyf. The synergy between hand destruction and Tarmogoyf is clear, and the Green splash also enables cards such as Call of the Herd and Putrefy to enter the deck. Deck in hand, he went on to win his Regionals 6-0-2, saying that he only lost one game on the day.
Fast forward to U.S. Nationals. I went to the event with a few friends who lived in the Northeast, and I hoped to grind in with U/G/w Blink. Many of my CMU teammates were there too, including Ripple and his friend Stu. Ripple, already being qualified, handed his updated deck to Stu to grind with, and he won an invite in a single try.
The maindeck changes were sparse; Withered Wretches became Epochrasites, and two Swamps became Treetop Villages. The sideboard absorbed the Wretches and gained the full four Riftsweepers, at the loss of Extirpate, Quagnoth, and Phyrexian Arena. Stu went on to do extremely well in the Constructed portion of the main event, but his 0-x performance in the Limited portion kept him out of the money.
Matchups with this version of the deck may no longer be extremely relevant, but a general overview of them will likely be helpful when we look at changes that were made to the deck for Japanese Nationals. According to my friends, the scariest matchups were Blue/Red Storm and Red/Green Aggro with Mogg War Marshals. Angelfire and Blink decks of various flavors were slam-dunks, and the various control decks were all fairly even. In other words, where your disruption was strong and your men could connect, you were favored. Where your disruption could be mitigated by, say, Perilous Research on Hatching Plans, or where your Tarmogoyf had to make it through three goblins while your opponent topdecked burn spells, you were at a disadvantage.
In the time between U.S. Nationals and this past weekend, the deck continued to do well on Magic Online. It was not the most popular deck, for sure, but it made consistent Top 8s and was a standard feature in the eight-man queues. Then it essentially exploded onto the scene, taking down a quarter of the Top 8 slots, and the title in Japan.
Kitayama played the same core spells that I’d seen from the CMU players – four each of Tarmogoyf, Dark Confidant, Augur of Skulls, The Rack, Smallpox, and Cry of Contrition – but his deck is dramatically different from the ones I listed previously.
First I want to go over the cards that Kitayama didn’t play that I would have expected. First up is Ravenous Rats, something I would have called a staple of the deck before this past weekend. The Rats are (obviously) good for a card on the way in, but they’re also a great target for Cry of Contrition’s Haunt ability, specifically because they live to die. Kitayama played only Augur of Skulls as a sacrificial body, and the Augur is no simple chump-blocker. This alludes to a more proactive plan; put real men into play and swing with them.
The next card that found itself on the bench was Funeral Charm. On MTGO, the Charm is another staple of the deck because of its multiple possible uses. It takes out all sorts of one-drops and clears out the last card in your opponent’s hand. However, like Ravenous Rats, it is a “small” card. It might be good against a one-drop but won’t answer big men, and it might be great when you’re already hitting with The Rack, but it can’t clear gas out of your opponent’s hand in the mid-game.
Putrefy was also shaved out of the deck, but the impact of its disappearance is made less noticeable by the presence of four Terrors. The choice of Terror over Putrefy again moves the deck in a proactive direction; two Putrefy cleaned up problem cards that made it into play, while four Terror clear the way for your Elephant tokens and Lhurgoyfs to connect for lethal damage. Speaking of Elephant tokens, Kitayama ran all four Calls in his maindeck, yet another aggressive move for the deck. Call of the Herd is great against both aggressive decks and control decks, though its value plummets when you expect a large number of Venser- and Cloudskate-packing Blink decks.
The other new cards are a pair of big sorceries. Stupor is much more heavy-hitting than something like Funeral Charm, and the random discard gives you a shot at nabbing a key spell out of a combo player’s hand before they can refill with a draw spell. It’s also pretty good against decks like Red/Green Aggro, where the discard can often mean a gain of as much as seven life. It does not have the Swiss army knife utility that Funeral Charm had, but it’s much better at knocking cards away from your opponent and getting them in the range of The Rack. Then there’s Damnation. Damnation doesn’t play the same kind of role it would in a true control deck, where it’s your primary tool against aggressive strategies. In this deck, Damnation’s primary use is to combine with your hand destruction to put an aggro deck (or Empty the Warrens deck) into a huge hole. Theoretically, one of the best ways to beat a slew of discard spells would be to dump all of your creatures into play and ride them to victory; when you’re on that plan, Damnation can completely shut you down. Similarly, if a Storm combo deck spends its hand to put twelve goblins into play, a Damnation can save you when nothing else could.
The sideboard is also innovative. The maindeck took a move from utility and finesse towards raw power and strength, and the sideboard helps the deck fine-tune where it needs to. With the loss of Funeral Charm, small men on the opposing side can present a problem at times, and Darkblast provides the answer that you’ll want against decks with Dark Confidant or Llanowar Mentor. Putrefy and Riftsweeper are more cards that fall into the category of fine-tuned answers. If you have a dire need to kill artifacts or Aeon Chroniclers, your need is answered. The big guns of the sideboard, though, are Extirpate and Tombstalker. Extirpate is good against most combo decks in the format, either stripping away Storm’s Grapeshots or Dredge’s Dread Returns, and even has its uses against Mystical Teachings control decks. On the other hand, Tombstalker is your big gun against decks where you want a huge finisher. It’s hard for aggro to burn away, and control must answer it alone.
I have not yet played the deck extensively, so I can’t give you detailed information about exactly how to board and exactly what the weak points of each opposing deck are. However, I was playtesting against Chris Ripple before U.S. Nationals, so while my experience with the specific Japan Nationals list is limited, my experience with the deck in general is not.
Angelfire – Despite what German Nationals might imply, the Rack deck is favored in this matchup. In general, the threats that they have are few and far between, and it’s very difficult for them to keep their heads above water against The Rack. They have a decent ability to weather Smallpox effectively; Court Hussars absorb hits for Lightning Angel, Signets cushion their manabase, and those Hussars and Compulsive Researches can protect a key spell in hand from just small amounts of disruption. However, big cards like Numot and Demonfire won’t be safe from repeated hits from Stupor, Cry of Contrition, and so on, and Cry of Contrition haunting Court Hussar will really improve your Smallpox. Damnation is not very strong against them, however, so you should board them out in favor of Tombstalker, an actual win condition that can fight through Lightning Angel. Call of the Herd is not very strong against their vigilant 3/4s, Lightning Helixes, and potential Repeals, so you should shave at least one for the third Tombstalker. You can cut more for Putrefies if you fear Numots or something similar, but you do need to keep enough threats in your deck so that you can win the game.
R/G Aggro – Your biggest worry is that they will have a strong draw backed up by Mogg War Marshal. As I mentioned earlier, the Marshal holds off your assault on many fronts, giving them time against your threats and cushions against your Smallpoxes. However, The Rack itself is very strong against them, since slow rolling spells is a bad plan against your discard, and since all of their threats need to come out of the hand to be a problem for you. In addition, you don’t have to worry about Tarmogoyfs or Greater Gargadon as much as you might suspect, because the full four Terrors give you cheap and fast ways to handle them. One thing that you do need to worry about is your life loss to Dark Confidant, and given that you really want to bring in Tombstalkers, the Confidants need to go. With four open slots, you’ll bring in your huge fliers and the third Damnation. As I said before, R/G’s plan involves emptying their hand so that their creatures and burn spells don’t get knocked out by your discard, and if you can drop a Damnation on them as they complete this plan, they’ll be running off the top of their deck.
U/R Storm – Due to the finals coverage, we know exactly how Kitayama sideboarded in this matchup. He took out all of his Terrors and Smallpoxes, and one Call of the Herd, for the last Damnation and all of his Extirpates, Putrefies, and Riftsweepers. This also tells us how the matchup is expected to play out. First of all, there is not much that you can do with Terror and Smallpox, so you’ll be hoping to draw as few of these small board control cards as possible. On the other hand, your only out to a huge Empty the Warrens is a Damnation, so you’ll be happy to see those. While your board control elements may not be the best, your hand disruption is potent, and you’ll be able to slow the opponent down to a crawl in many games, even some where they lead with Hatching Plans + Perilous Research. After boards, when you get to take out your duds, you can actively attack your opponent’s gameplan. Extirpate can target Empty the Warrens or Grapeshot after you’ve dealt with one of them, cutting out your opponent’s ways to win. Riftsweeper can stop a Bloom before it enters play, and Putrefy can kill it in their upkeep before it does any harm. You can even take out a Claws of Gix if you have to.
U/B Control – Dark Confidant is your ace in the hole, as it usually is against control decks. Meanwhile your hand disruption can go to town and pave the way for your various large animals to sneak over for twenty fast points. The problems that the deck poses for you are Skeletal Vampire and potential Aeon Chroniclers, as well as a general resilience to The Rack itself. When the problem men don’t show up, it’s not too hard to just execute your plan and kill your opponent. When you go to the sideboard, you should cut the Terrors, since Teferi isn’t too scary and they don’t do anything about the Vampire. You should also shave a couple of The Racks, since they won’t be your main avenue towards victory. You bring in Putrefies, which can handle the Vampire, and you bring in Extirpates to handle their Teachings and other problem instants such as Spell Snare or Rune Snag. You may also want to run the swap on Damnation to Riftsweeper; one is a decent answer to Skeletal Vampire and one is a decent answer to Aeon Chronicler, so it all depends on which you fear more.
As soon as the Nationals weekend ended, the Rack deck was all over Magic Online. An OTJ Qualifier held Monday night had about 30% of the field playing the deck, and the Top 8 had three representatives. According to Chris Ripple, the deck is only good when you can “ninja it into events,” but it certainly appears to be here to stay.
As always, if you have any questions, feel free to contact me in the forums, via email, or on AIM.
ben at mundy dot net
SlickPeebles on AIM