Unless you’ve managed to gravy train the Pro Tour, especially if you’re a competitive player, chances are you don’t get to play as much as you want to. There is no aspect of Magic that creates the level of adrenaline you get from playing in high-level tournaments, especially when you’re playing at the top tables. Even if I haven’t tested or practiced, and fully expect to go 1-2 drop, I still want to go to Pro Tour Qualifiers; besides trading and drafting, you get to see a whole rack of people that you know and meet some new ones too.
The situation I described is where I’m at right now. If you’ve noticed a dearth of my articles, it’s because I moved to Washington D. C. a little over a month ago, and I haven’t had time to do much more than fantasize over what decks I’d like to make. It’s been frustrating, since I’ve haven’t drafted since the release of Fifth Dawn, or played any sort of Constructed since I don’t have the cards. The two attempts I’ve made at attending drafts saw me get lost twice, both times arriving five minutes after they took seats and cracked the first pack.
It’s also been hard to leave my old store. I have nothing but pleasant memories from the place where I first started to play competitively, Richmond Comix (shout outs to Frank, the Murrays, Shikenjanksy whose last name I just murdered, Jay Coffman and team Short Bus!). Now I’ve moved away and I need to find a new group of people not only to draft against, but to bounce ideas off of and test with; I’m unfamiliar and unknown. But there’s no way in hell I would let that stop me.
With this attitude in mind, I finally got a chance to play this past Sunday at PTQ: Columbus, sponsored by DreamWizards. I have never played in a Block format in my entire life, but I wanted to play and I wanted to have fun. I mulled over my choices of decks in the weeks coming up to the tournament and I decided that Tooth and Nail would be the most bang for my buck. Also, I had cashed in $46 of store credit to fill out what I needed so it was an easy decision.
However, there are two versions of Tooth and Nail out there: Mono-Green and G/u. Which one should I play? That’s a stupid hypothetical question, because the tourney is over and I definitely played the Mono-Green version. But what I want to do is talk about the difference between the two. For a primer, you should read Nate Heiss recent article Inside the Metagame: Blue Tooth in Mirrodin Block Constructed (this will get more important as I go on, because I’m going to be comparing our decklists).
After playing with the Mono-Green version and dispatching two different G/u versions at the tournament (both 2-0), I have come to realize that Mono-G is strictly superior. Since it forces far fewer difficult decisions it is much easier to play, while sacrificing none of the consistency. First I’m going to give a section about my build in particular, and then I will go more into the specifics of the strengths and weakness of both decks.
One of the things that drew me to T&N was the power level, especially John Ormerod’s build from English Nats. However, just from looking at the list I had to agree with critics who claimed the deck could be inconsistent at times. Bearing this in mind, this was the deck I chose to run, which I aptly renamed”Tooth and Slaver.”
4 Tooth and Nail
4 Sylvan Scrying
2 Reap and Sow
2 Tel-Jilad Justice
4 Oblivion Stone
4 Wayfarer’s Bauble
4 Solemn Simulacrum
4 Eternal Witness
1 Darksteel Colossus
1 Bringer of the White Dawn
1 Platinum Angel
1 Leonin Abunas
4 Scrabbling Claws
3 Creeping Mold
1 Rude Awakening
I reasoned that any inconsistency would come from drawing too many lands, so I made several changes from Ormerod’s build. The first one is that I traded his four Talismans for four Wayfarer’s Baubles. The whole idea here is to play Jens or Reap and Sow on turn 4, and even though they cost you an extra mana (one to play it, two for activation) over the Talisman, you don’t have enough turn 2 effects to make it a stumbling block. I thought they were much better in the deck for several other reasons too. They give you a first turn play, and they’re much less vulnerable to artifact destruction, as I rarely (perhaps twice in the tournament) left one sitting on the board for more than a turn. Also, they thin your library of lands, which Talismans don’t do, and when they hit the bin, they’re ripe for recursion via Eternal Witness. Which brings me to my second change:
Eternal Witness! I had to shout because that’s the only way to do it justice. This card is incredible in Tooth and Nail decks and should be played four maindeck in every build. It does basically everything. Besides attacking and blocking, its Regrowth ability is crucial, and does wonders for the deck’s consistency. It brings back Baubles and Jenses to thin your library and ramp your mana. It brings back destroyed Cloudposts. You can Tooth and Nail, put out Colossus and Witness and regrow your Tooth. It brings back Mindslaver after Mindslaver after Mindslaver.
One of the most important facets in deckbuilding over the past year has been efficiency of card advantage. Skullclamp was hands down the most broken card drawing mechanism since Urza’s Saga; now that it is gone, its passing is still felt as people try to maximize their abilities to draw and retain cards. Eternal Witness fits right into this category; while you are not drawing cards per se, a Sylvan Scrying from the graveyard is just as good as one you pluck off the top of your library, and many times even better, since you would much rather draw something else, but you need a spell you’ve already cast. It is a great foil to the control elements in Block and Standard and with a 2/1 body attached, it is never a dead draw. Flame me all you want, but I had a conversation at the tournament where we decided it is the best Green creature ever. [That may be a little extreme, but I can see the argument at least. – Knut]
Some other changes I made were minimal, like Tel-Jilad Justice instead of Oxidize maindeck; there has been less Raffinity in general lately up until the Grand Prix (and that deck didn’t run Welding Jar) and Scry can be good for finding what you need at an opportune moment, although not critical.
As for the Tooth targets, I have a pretty standard list, although two notable exceptions were Triskelion and Viridian Shaman. I didn’t use Trisk because I felt it wouldn’t be very useful; in a Goblins metagame certainly, but not in Block. The only target I think of that would make it useful is Disciple of the Vault. Viridian Shaman also felt underpowered for the deck; I wanted to push my game-enders rather than employ stop-gap measures against artifact decks, and it doesn’t have scry like Tel-Jilad Justice. As for the mana base, the two Plains are there so I can hard cast Leonin Abunas or Bringer of the White Dawn.
The best part about the deck is abusing the awesome power of Mindslaver (hence the name), and this build worked exactly the way I wanted it to. Bringer of the White Dawn is a perfect fit, effectively ending the game many, many times in the infinite Slaver lock mentioned in a recent [author name="Mike Flores"]Mike Flores[/author] article about inevitability. The synergies in the deck complement each other so well: Slaver sets up Tooth and Tooth sets up Slaver, and Eternal Witness brings them back if there’s a problem. There are too many must-counter spells for most decks to survive.
This build also effectively silences any critics who rant about the inconsistency of T&N decks, because the card advantage and selection generated when it is operating at full tilt is completely ridiculous. If you don’t believe me, match results are in part two: ahh, the joys of being backed by empirical evidence.
Here is where the path diverges: the differences between mono-G and G/u. Realize here that I am not trying to nitpick Mr. Heiss, and I respect the contribution he made with his article on the archetype. But I feel that some of his strategy is wrong and that his build is by no means maximized to get all broken on dat ass. Granted, neither is the one above, but I have final suggestions for that below.
Okay, blue. What does Blue have for T&N? Scry, for one thing. Serum Visions serves to cycle through the deck and put extra lands on the bottom. Condescend, for another. Counter things that are bad and scry at the same time.* Serum Visions I can understand because it does provide something that the deck lacked in previous incarnations. However, it has a poor interaction with another of the great new cards in the deck, Wayfarer’s Bauble. Bauble performs the same function as Serum Visions by thinning your deck of land, but also ramps your mana. Nate’s build runs both, but the problem becomes having Serum Visions and Bauble in your opening hand. You can’t play them both on the first turn, and on the second turn you can’t activate the Bauble and play SV.
Now for Condescend. Countering stuff is great, especially when you get to set up your next few draws. But T&N is a proactive deck. I was using almost all of my mana every turn unless I was baiting or outwaiting counters. Look at what”consistency” means to the deck in question. I’d say consistency to a T&N deck is resolving its namesake card – and you’re not going to do that without a ton of mana. Waiting to cast these cards to leave up Condescend mana sound like a bad idea.
Furthermore, adding another color to the deck further reduces the consistency. There are so many bad combinations: all Blue mana, all Green mana with Blue spells, a bunch of fatties and high casting cost stuff with little mana and few accelerants. With only twenty-two lands in the deck (I ran twenty-three and will definitely add another to improve the amount I had to mulligan) this is going to happen all the time.
What do you put in for those eight cards you take out? A full complement of both Solemn Simulacrum and Mindslaver. Jens is so awesome in here, as you can cast him lots of times on turn 3, speeding your deck up tremendously while playing defense. He’s a colorless mana-fixer. He has great synergy with Eternal Witness, and finally, he lets you draw more cards! Again, he improves the consistency of the deck. If playing without Jens is bad enough, I can’t even imagine playing this deck with less than a full complement of Mindslavers. This card has the potential to win the game with any activation, or lock the game with a White Bringer. Look at the decks it can devastate in a single turn: Ravager. KCI. T&N. It is at best a win and at worst, a Time Walk (and a guarantee that your opponent won’t mess with you next turn).
Furthermore, adding Blue to the deck makes you more susceptible to land destruction in Red matchups as well as Green matchups, since everyone and their mama was running Creeping Mold in the sideboard. The smart opponent will blow up whatever you have the least of: Blue to keep your spells dead in your hand, Green to stop you from hitting off T&N, or Cloudposts. The result: Mono-Green will play Tooth and Nail much faster and more often than G/u.
Next are the Tooth targets. Nate’s got a solid group of critters, but there are problems. I wrote an article a few weeks ago about Toolbox Theory that discussed the approach T&N takes to searching up critters. You must measure consistency against utility. Nate’s build chooses utility over consistency because of the amount of Tooth targets he includes. Specifically, the cards I chose not to include are Triskelion / Mephidross Vampire, Memnarch, and Sundering Titan. The first two are only good together, and function as a one-sided Wrath of God. There is no source of Black mana to otherwise play the Vampire, so it must be ‘Nailed into play. As for Sundering Titan, this is an interesting choice. The problem is that it is much more effective against the mirror (or at least decks that mirror your mana), because with two colors you have more probability to lose some. It should probably remain relegated to the sideboard.
Memnarch seems like a good card to play in G/u, but in truth, I think it’s a mistake. I want to compare it to a win-more card, because he steals permanents and can deal crushing, demoralizing defeats if he goes active. On the other hand, Tooth can bring out such an array of devastating critters that you should almost always be in a situation to win right away when you cast it; Memnarch requires an untap to steal at most a permanent or two, so compared to the other threats you could use, it becomes a win-less card.
As I noted in the Toolbox Theory article, utility is good. However, Tooth and Nail needs only a limited amount. You will probably cast it twice at the most in a given game, and you need it to win right there. Having this much utility seems a little too cute, and instead it would be much more effective to put consistency in its place. Nate uses four more total Tooth targets than my build; the result is that I could squeeze in a full complement of Oblivion Stones (which have an even better function than Trisk / Vampire). He lists in his article three different matchups where you should side in O-stones: Affinity, U/W Control, and T&N (they are also great against KCI). If they’re great to side in against 60+ percent of the field, why not maindeck them?
The bottom line is that by putting a sizeable amount of Blue into the deck you’re sacrificing an incredible amount of raw power for a level of consistency that already exists.
Now, while I feel like I have a great build going here, there is always room for improvement as the tournament would reveal. I didn’t have time or a place to test and that definitely hurt me in the tournament, leaving me unprepared for a specific archetype that would crush me in two straight matches. First off, Reap and Sow is unimpressive as a two-of. I rarely drew it and when I did, I never entwined it, ever, which is the only reason I would see keeping it besides extra LD for the mirror match. Likewise, I see absolutely no reason to run Oxidize in the side over Tel-Jilad Justice, and would replace two of the former with the latter unless your metagame is Raffinity-heavy (I only ran four Oxidize because I couldn’t find the two other Justice).
As for the sideboard, I anticipated a lot of U/G Shard and had four Scrabbling Claws for that purpose. Whether that deck had any game against Tooth and Slaver I didn’t know, but it’s seen a huge upswing in popularity lately and I expected to deal with it. One deck I was hoping I wouldn’t see was Little Red, a Ponza-type variant with Slith Firewalkers and Molten Rains. Either one of those by themselves aren’t game enders, but together they certainly are. This was something I definitely should have addressed in the sideboard and my negligence cost me as you shall see. In fact, Big/Little Red decks are the only weakness I could think of for Tooth and Nail, unless you’re expecting Mono-Black (and I don’t think Esternaefil lives on the East Coast). I like the single Duplicant maindeck, but sideboarding them was stupid because I never used them; I hardly ever Toothed for them and won with other critters instead. Here would be a better one:
2 Tel-Jilad Justice
4 Creeping Mold
3 Scrabbling Claws
I see two possible additions to the last slot. The first would be Echoing Truth. I realize I just advocated against blue in the deck, but this is a single four-of for a specific purpose. The addition of Echoing Truth would be a huge boon towards slowing down any aggro archetype, since all you need in most situations is a single entwined Tooth and Nail. Furthermore, Slith Firewalkers are most devastating in multiples and Truth solves this problem. Finally, they can also give you effective blocking and recursion strategies via Eternal Witness and even Jens. A big weakness here is that adding one or two Islands leaves them very vulnerable to LD, which could trap Blue spells in your hand. Perhaps a more viable option would be Bottle Gnomes; they can block 2/2 Sliths, Frogmites, and all manner of other little guys, and give you a life boost that could save you for the one extra turn you need to hit off a T&N.
Some notes on the mana base. First off, I would remove both Reap and Sow from the deck completely to add another Forest and a Rude Awakening. This would help with the constant mulliganing I was forced to do in the PTQ, as well as give you a”Surprise! I win!” factor in game one. Secondly, I would throw in two Stalking Stones for two Forests. This still leaves the deck with sixteen Green sources and eight colorless ways to fetch them.
Tune in to the second half for the match results and sideboard information!
John Matthew Upton
I like back, feed me!
jmumoo AT yahoo DOT com
* Both G/u decks I played against at the PTQ also ran Thirst for Knowledge, but I am confining myself to Nate’s build here. Thirst seems good, but the card advantage gained is small due to lower artifact counts, and it puts the three-mana slot at eight cards (4 Witness and 4 Thirst) which slows the deck down even more.