Playing Fair

Mike claims that the deck he discusses in this article just might be the best Constructed deck he’s ever designed. Okay fine, those who know Mike know that he says this sort of thing at least once a month, but what if he’s right?

Luckily I live on the East Coast and we get three extra PTQs for Pro Tour: Philadelphia 2005. Even now, after the rest of the world is already going to CCB Sealed Deck, we STILL have another one, not counting the Last Chance Qualifier, itself essentially an East Coast PTQ. I have been tuning a deck for a format that most people have already forgotten about, and played it in the NJ PTQ this past weekend. Without further adieu:

4 Cabal Therapy

1 Cranial Extraction

4 Diabolic Edict

4 Duress

1 Engineered Plague

1 Haunting Echoes

1 Night of Soul’s Betrayal

1 Persecute

1 Rend Flesh

1 Skeletal Scrying

3 Smother

3 Undead Gladiator

4 Vampiric Tutor

1 Visara the Dreadful

4 Pernicious Deed

2 Spiritmonger

4 Llanowar Wastes

14 Swamp

4 Tainted Wood

1 Volrath’s Stronghold

1 Wasteland


4 Powder Keg

1 Cranial Extraction

3 Engineered Plague

1 Haunting Echoes

1 Rend Flesh

1 Thrashing Wumpus

3 Vicious Hunger

1 Naturalize

Yes, this deck looks like my Black Thumb deck. Basically it grew out of the fact that I sided out Quirion Dryad in like every matchup. Once I got over the handicap of being in love with a cute but fairly weak threat, I was able to make a deck that beats almost everything by incorporating elements from both Napster and the Mono-Black Control deck that Josh got from Kai two years ago (whether its master can claim the same is another story).

A lot of the matchups are similar to what I laid out in the Dryad article, but I understand the deck and how to sideboard a lot better. For example, against Goblins, I first figured out that you leave all your Vampiric Tutors in, and subsequently figured out that you take out all your hand destruction but side in the second Cranial Extraction. Basically, Goblins has zero reach if you can keep even one Engineered Plague down, and you have 4 Plagues, 4 Vamps, 1 Night of Soul’s Betrayal, and a Thrashing Wumpus, plus two Cranial Extractions against their sad army and maximum of four Naturalizes. Game One can be rough, but the sideboarded games are one-sided to the point that they probably need a transformative plan if they want to consistently beat you (which, let’s face it, they won’t).

Anyway, as I wasted my chance at the NG PTQ with the Black Thumb version, I really only had this tournament to prove the mettle of the updated list. I disappointed, but hopefully this report won’t.

Round 1 – Life

During shuffling, he flashed me an Eternal Witness and I almost went on tilt. I won’t get into it now, but if you want to jump ahead, ctrl+f for “Hundroog” in Round 8, when I explain that matchup. Luckily for me he wasn’t Rock, but was instead G/W Life.

Game 1

I kill all his guys in response to his playing another guy and he concedes to Visara. I wish I could say that it’s more interesting than that, but Life doesn’t have any card drawing, and even when it gets its combo, that is pretty much irrelevant.

Game 2

I side in Haunting Echoes, Cranial Extraction, and Naturalize for Engineered Plague, Night of Soul’s Betrayal, and Persecute (despite the fact that I successfully Persecuted face for multiple cards in game one).

He is tight on land with only City of Brass and Starlit Sanctum, but his guys are a Daru Spiritualist and en-Kor. I don’t really think I can lose this matchup so I actually decide to try to fight his Life combo and Vamp up the Wasteland for his Sanctum. Anyway, my plan fails and he is on 49,000,000,000 somewhere around turn 4.

I stare at my sideboard a couple of times, knowing that I took out my Plague and Night of Soul’s Betrayal as my life total drops two a turn, care of Daru Spiritualist and random en-Kor. I set up a Deed but he goes for Academy Rector (another Cleric) and bashes me some more.

Luckily Life has no reach, so I’m not exactly scared of his offense post-Deed, but he does have a tasty Test of Endurance in play thanks to the Rector and more than enough life to win; of course I have been holding the Naturalize since my opening grip. You gotta love these decks with no beatdown, no answers, and no disruption (with control at least). He packs to Visara and Haunting Echoes.


Round 2 – Sneak Attack

Game 1

I tested this matchup a lot and it was about 80% my deck. The reason is that Sneak Attack can’t typically survive a Duress, and even if it tops out, I have relevant answers to its stuff. What I don’t have is an extra takeback.

[author name="Anton Jonsson"]Anton Jonsson[/author] it actually physically hurts

[author name="Anton Jonsson"]Anton Jonsson[/author] to read flores articles

[author name="Anton Jonsson"]Anton Jonsson[/author] how does one man screw up that much?

[kaib] his nickname isn’t ‘bad player flores’ for no reason 😛

[author name="Anton Jonsson"]Anton Jonsson[/author] he should upgrade to “atrocious player flores”

I mulligan not knowing what deck he is. He plays turn 1 Dwarven Ruins. I have the Wasteland. I play Swamp with no real play. Doh! No, I don’t know why. His only Red source untaps and Sneak Attack comes down via Seething Song, yadda yadda yadda.

Game 2

I take out Smothers and Night of Soul’s Betrayal for Cranial Extraction, Haunting Echoes, Rend Flesh, and Naturalize. I leave in Engineered Plague because of Symbiotic Wurm and it actually ends up being relevant this game, which goes according to plan.

Game 3

I mulligan again. He’s on the play and has a Red double. I have three Cabal Therapies on the draw and say “Sneak Attack.” I whiff, seeing: Crystal Vein, Chrome Mox, Through the Breach, Through the Breach, Blazing Shoal, Dragon Tyrant.

I fully expect to lose, but he rips land and can’t kill me.

I follow up with Therapies for his Through the Breach and Dragon Tyrant, then run a Gladiator to Flashback on the Shoal.

Spiritmonger comes down and it’s smooth sailing as I have both Cranial Extraction and Haunting Echoes in hand.

He has Sneak Attack and a ton of mana out at this point, but the only really relevant cards in a race are going to be Rorix Bladewing (hard cast) + Blazing Shoal or Dragon Tyrant off the top; Symbiotic Wurm would be annoying, but I have five mana so I can Deed the tokens; Spiritmonger will race anything else. That means I should Haunting Echoes him, because I take out 2/3 of the relevant cards. I actually think it through and figure that out before playing my spell. So clearly I pick the Cranial Extraction.

Now that I’ve actually played the wrong card, what should I name? I think about it for a while and say Dragon Tyrant, because even though Rorix is relevant and won’t get hit in the follow-up, I don’t know his hand and Dragon Tyrant off the top will just win the game given his mana.

He turns out to have Blazing Shoal in his hand and rips Rorix (of course). I have two draws to find Rend Flesh, Diabolic Edict, or just a land to Deed his Bladewing, but I don’t. The right play would have actually made it more likely for him to rip Rorix, but I didn’t know he was holding the Shoal and would have had worse than 1/10 to draw it in the window before I followed up with Cranial Extraction. God, I’m bad.

This is one of the worst losses I have ever posted. 80% matchup, lose with 3-0 worth of draws.


Round 3 – Goblins

Game 1

I whiff on turn 1 Goblin Warchief and he of course rips the Warchief on his third. I end the game having drawn three copies of Cabal Therapy and a Duress but it’s still close; had he not had the last Matron for Pyromancer, I would have untapped with a Deed in play and Echoes in hand (but he did and I didn’t).

Game 2

I take out the eight primary discard, Skeletal Scrying, and Persecute for three Engineered Plague, three Vicious Hunger, two Powder Keg, Thrashing Wumpus, and Cranial Extraction.

It’s turn 4 and I’m still on 18. No hate shows up, but I just curve Spiritmonger into Visara with a Deed in play and a Vicious Hunger in my hand. His draw was fine, but even without any hate, it’s really tough for Goblins to keep up with my 1-for-1 removal into true bombs when my draw can’t drag with a Duress.

Game 3

I draw the Vamps this time around. The game ends with Powder Keg with three counters, Pernicious Deed, and two Engineered Plagues in play. I cast Cranial Extraction asking if he has any guesses and he scoops ’em up when I call Naturalize.


Round 4 – U/G Madness

Game 1

This one was odd as I triple mulliganed. I drew six and had to Vampiric Tutor for land twice in the first four turns. Somehow one Smother on an Aquamoeba was enough to make him waste time on drawing cards. I got off a medium Skeletal Scrying against his Intuition into enough Duress/Therapy action to resolve Spiritmonger. The rest was academic.

Game 2

Most of U/G’s cards don’t really mean anything. As long as your primary focus is beating on their Madness engines, the main card that matters is Circular Logic. You hit it, they lose their short term window to stop your Visara. Once the lady starts giving them a wink, the game usually doesn’t last very long.


Round 5 – KCI/Dragonstorm

Game 1

This one was pretty interesting. I won the toss and had a Vampiric Tutor and Pernicious Deed on the draw. His first two plays were Seat of the Synod and Vault of Whispers… but he didn’t make any plays, so I put him on KCI.

At the end of his turn 2, I Vamped up a second Deed to scoop his lands, which made sense in the sense that I expected him to be all artifact lands.

He responded with Brainstorm and Vampiric Tutor and ended the next turn with City of Brass in play, quickly followed by Darksteel Citadel.

Not wanting to waste any time, I played another Vampiric Tutor, this time for Cranial Extraction. I named KCI, which he had in hand.

So I won, right?

Nope. He was also gripping Dragonstorm.

His follow-up ‘storm off of a Seething Song was only for three Dragons – two Evening Stars and a Rorix. I took 10 like a man and kolded his Rorix with Rend Flesh, but the Vamps put me in precarious position against any other Evening Star. He eventually got Burning Wish for Reanimate.

Game 2

This one was long, but easy. I had all the Kegs in so he couldn’t keep any lands. I convinced him to concede with time running down under the theory that he wasn’t going to win that game and he had a much better chance to win a short game three than I did.

Game 3

Long story short, the head judge is next to us, says we have about two minutes. I can win with two minutes and five turns with the two Gladiators I have in my graveyard. Then they call time. What happened to my two minutes? Get a watch. He had no Evening Stars left in his deck thanks to my Cranial Extraction, but I didn’t get my, you know, two minutes.

DRAW. What bullspit.

My opponent was a pretty nice guy. I don’t think he meant to stall me out or anything but he played really slowly. I must say that he juked me good on those artifact lands; who correctly names a combo piece Actually In The Opponent’s Hand with Cranial Extraction and loses? God, I’m bad.


Round 6 – Psychatog (Jordan Berkowitz)

Game 1

Jordan stalls on one for a while. My first Cabal Therapy takes three of his four Accumulated Knowledges and the flashback takes the fourth. Other cards lost to Cabal Therapy include double Foil, Cunning Wish, and Intuition. Jordan kept a one-lander on the draw (six cards) with three Brainstorms and all for Accumulated Knowledges in the first three turns. Mise.

Game 2

I hit Jordan with Cabal Therapy three times in the first two turns. No clock and no Undead Gladiator shows up and he eventually Intuitions out of it. I lose to Mana Short and Corpse Dance despite taking out his only remaining Cunning Wish on turn 2, gripping three Smothers and a Diabolic Edict.

Game 3

This time I hit Jordan with triple Duress in the first two turns. The game goes long and close but, again, Intuition digs him out of the disruption. He wins with an exactly lethal Tog (20) with a Mana Leak in hand and all remaining Togs removed from game on the last turn.

Game 2 I maybe could have held the Cabal Therapies. The goal in the Psychatog matchup, at least as far as I’ve tested it, is to use Undead Gladiator to set up a single huge turn with three Duresses into one bomb (could be Persecute, Haunting Echoes, or even Cranial Extraction). Winning is academic after that.

But in Game 3 I actually saw a Gladiator. Instead of burning my Duresses, I should have maybe just played the Gladiator and used the discard midgame, along with the 4-5 creature kill I drew to just kill him in a tempo game. I didn’t realize Just How Bad Jordan’s deck was against any clock, and with this strategy, I would have had a much more meaningful middle game. Hindsight is 20/20 I guess, but I didn’t feel right losing this matchup somehow.


Round 7 – Life

Game 1

It’s really not possible to lose this matchup.

Game 2

Remembering how I almost got beaten to death by 1/x losers in Round 1, I decided to side in all my Plagues instead this time and see how things would go. As Top 8 was no longer a possibility, it seemed like a fine plan.

I get a quick Night of Soul’s Betrayal and Engineered Plague on Clerics which pretty much ends the Life Plan A. So he goes beatdown with Genesis. Genesis hits for 3 for a while, but I eventually get three Engineered Plagues on Incarnation to stop it when I am in the single digits.

I draw cards and nothing happens for a while until he gets Devout Witness. Apparently that’s not a Cleric. I guess he drew into it with his Wall of Blossoms + Worthy Cause + Genesis combo.

After he Witnesses the Night of Soul’s Betrayal, I Deed the board, leaving just my Spiritmonger. I Therapy him twice, including with my Spiritmonger, which is surprising for him… until I pop the Haunting Echoes.

When the dust clears, he’s got a Kami of the Ancient Law and four Living Wishes to win. I Cranial the Wishes but his boy Eladamri Calls up the Ancient Law. Embarrassingly enough, the little 2/2 that could might actually kill me given those early Genesis beats but I just put out my Undead Gladiator and pass. Eventually he scoops. No matter how bad you are, it’s really not possible to lose this matchup.


Round 8 – Macey Rock (Dan Bridy)


Here’s the thing about The Rock matchup. I didn’t talk about it much in the last article because, well, I thought it was bad (the deck, not the matchup… okay, both are bad). [To be fair, Mike argued with me for days in the middle of the season that this was not the case. – Knut, just sayin’] Of course that weekend it won the relevant Grand Prix, Macey Rock busted loose, and I lost to The Rock at Neutral Ground (admittedly with the crappy Quirion Dryad version).

I lost because my early game involved a powerful Quirion Dryad… and it ran into a more powerful Legendary Gorgon. The new version of the B/G deck has all the cards that are awesome against The Rock: Visara, Spiritmonger, and Haunting Echoes, plus inevitability via Undead Gladiator and Skeletal Scrying. The tough elements involve being on the wrong side of Yavimaya Elder and the opponent’s Haunting Echoes (or Living Death). It is definitely the worst matchup among mainstream decks, but still very winnable… especially if the opponent is unfamiliar with your listing (see my side of Round 5, above).

Anyway, Bridy was playing the Macey version of the deck with Rancor and Call of the Herd and only one Pernicious Deed.

Game 1

Dan disrupted me early with Cabal Therapy but I Vamp’d into Skeletal Scrying to recover. Once I was up four cards, Spiritmonger came down and Dan scooped. The thing about the B/G deck against The Rock is that both decks try to trump the board with Pernicious Deed; Spiritmonger survives that. Even if the opponent has Diabolic Edict, he has maybe three turns to find it, and you can always fall back on the Stronghold.

Game 2

Dan opened on Mesmeric Fiend and Cabal Therapy. He took my Deed but was forced to over-commit Birds of Paradise due to being light on land. I Smothered his Fiend to get back the Deed and got something like Lumbering Satyr, an Elephant token, and three Birds of Paradise… but was on three or so life. I spent two of them to get a Spiritmonger.

Eventually it was my Mongers against Dan’s Elephant tokens. He didn’t draw anything to break the stalemate while I topped Visara and Volrath’s Stronghold.



While no deck is perfect, this one really has good game against most everything. Jordan said he didn’t like the Psychatog matchup, and it’s possible that he’s right, but The Rock has a good Psychatog matchup and my deck has all the tools that beat Psychatog in The Rock, plus it’s just a fundamentally stronger deck.

As far as other matchups, there are about one trillion in Extended, so I’ll just touch on some of the heavy hitters that we didn’t see in this particular tournament. The best matchups are Life, Sneak Attack, Aluren, any kind of combo deck that doesn’t have a true offense or very good resistance cards.

By the same token, Mind’s Desire is a really good matchup. Mike Clair was actually the one who suggested adding Persecute, and in testing, I found it wasn’t worth playing after Persecute was cast. Mind’s Desire doesn’t have any counters, so it pretty much always resolves. The sub-strategy is to use Duress, Cabal Therapy, Pernicious Deed, and Powder Keg to get both Sapphire Medallion and Sunscape Familiar (at least one of each) in the graveyard. Once that happens, go for Haunting Echoes and the opponent basically can’t win. I mean you could draw an extra card or he could beat you to death with Cloud of Faeries, but it’s not very likely. Of course there is also the old standby of Cranial Extraction on Cunning Wish and/or Mind’s Desire.

Red Deck Wins was one of the toughest matchups for the Dryad version, but that’s because I had stupid Dryads and they always died to Lava Dart due to that pesky stack. Since taking out the utterly useless Quirion Dryads, I have found that Night of Soul’s Betrayal is pretty much game. You still have to worry about actually respecting the opponent’s burn offense, but RDW has a rough time with Spiritmonger when it can’t chump or Mogg to muck up the Red Zone. Once you can no longer draw Cabal Therapy, Vicious Hunger and Powder Keg make the matchup fairly lopsided after boards. Per usual, Red Deck Wins is not the opponent I WANT to see every round, but it is winnable and favorable: just keep your head and you should be fine.

Surprise surprise, Cephalid Brunch is much harder to beat than G/W Life because it has a real win condition. Note that one Rend Flesh. The matchup was fairly difficult when I had four Smothers starting, but the 1+1 Rend Flesh setup made it much more comfortable to fight Sutured Ghoul. While this opponent combines Fujita-level speed and potential disruption, it is quite strong on the numbers as long as you stay focused and approach each relevant game state looking to the right answer to the situation at hand; beacause Brunch manipulates life, cards in hand, draws, the graveyard, and probably things I have never noticed, this is harder than it might sound.

Dempsey Temporary Solution was a deck that proved an important part of the metagame for some time. I honestly can’t see losing to it. It’s kind of like Life with two-power creatures instead of one-power creatures, but you’re optimized to beat Red Deck Wins and Goblins, i.e. decks with real offensive threats. Cards like Meddling Mage don’t really do anything because of your diversity of creature sanction, but I suppose you have to play around the opponent’s Stifles. I have found that if you think you might be on the wrong end of a Parallax Tide that you should hold one Swamp. That way, right before he gets you with the patented pirates Dempsey super combo, you can Therapy his Stifles and get your lands back. Deed on two kills just about everyone. One thing you are going to want to do is watch it with your own fatties. The Dempsey deck plays these Gilded Drakes and to a lesser extent Waterfront Bouncers that make your beautiful 5- and 6-drop monsters less, you know, monstrous. I mean sometimes you will need a blocker, and oftentimes Visara will have a nice big lunch, but watch yourself or you’re just going to give the other guy a way to win when he doesn’t have one naturally.


As I said before, The Rock is the scariest deck. Part of the reason is that there is no Silver Bullet that you can get to maul the opponent. Paired Engineered Plagues beats Goblins, Night of Soul’s Betrayal beats Red Deck Wins, basic Swamp beats Life, but there is not one card that you can Vamp into to take down The Rock. Sometimes the opponent’s cards will just be much worse than yours and you can wade your 5/5 and 6/6 cohorts through a sea of bloodied feathers, but other times the Shamans are just going to get you and that’s a shame.

More importantly, since the removal of Quirion Dryad (still stupid), the deck’s offense has suffered. Note all three non-wins in this lone PTQ. Granted the Sneak Attack game was a 3-0 loss, but had I had a faster clock, I would have still raced Rorix rather than losing to it by one turn due to Blazing Shoal. I got timed out by a combo deck. I missed the fact that I could just drop a threat and go to it against Psychatog, allowing my admittedly LeBron James-like opponent Intuition me out and win late.

All of that said, I think this nameless B/G is actually the best deck that I’ve ever built for a Constructed environment. For it’s environment, this deck is genuinely better than Napster, better than the G/W deck Kibler played at Nats last year, and better than the Mono-U resurgence that everyone is modifying to their own tastes. If you are a tight player who makes the right plays consistently and wants the best chance to qualify in one of the last tournaments to use this Extended format, there is no better choice. If you are loose and forget to play your Wasteland into Dwarven Ruins, I suggest Affinity or Sneak Attack.


Tournament play changes even the most rigorously tried listings. I don’t know if I agree, but Steve says to take out Vicious Hunger for the fourth Smother and two Laquatus’s Champions. Smother is better against Goblins, and the remaining removal can be made up with Powder Kegs. Vicious Hunger, says Steve, only really shines against Red Deck Wins, and we have a ton of weapons against them anyway. Even with no dedicated life gain, Red Deck Wins’s reduced numbers justify this change in a tight, if favored, matchup. Laquatus’s Champion is one of the best cards against The Rock. It essentially costs two more than a Spiritmonger, but the games go so long that shouldn’t tend to matter much. Again, I don’t know if I agree with this swap set, but full disclosure demands that I admit Vicious Hunger is my official pet card.

That’s it. I hope you enjoyed this last foray into the mires, monsters, and muck of one point ex. Next up: Back to Standard