Sexy Rector. Ghoul Burst. Pattern. And most recently Rebirth. The deck has had many names, but none of them seem to stick. Sexy Rector sounds like a bad porno movie title. Phyrexian Ghoul now has to compete with Nantuko Husk. Thanks to Symbiotic Wurm, Saproling Burst isn’t even necessary anymore.
So, in the spirit of “some call me…Tim,” let’s call it Rebirth. It’s simple and as a bonus it alludes to the deck’s ability to follow many different strategies and win in all sorts of different ways. Plus, Claudo Salemi won’t get mad at me, because I’m using the same name he does for the deck.
Speaking of Mr. Salemi, can anyone remember the decklist that took him to 35th place at PT: Columbus? I’ll give you a few hints. It’s four colors and White’s not one of them. It can kill on turn 3. Or it can play Akroma on that same turn. It can also sweep the board, make hordes of insect tokens, and lock up games with Worship. Yeah, I’m sure that seems really clear. Here’s the list:
3 Pattern of Rebirth
4 Cabal Therapy
1 Vampiric Tutor
2 Phyrexian Ghoul
2 Nantuko Husk
4 Academy Rector
1 Symbiotic Wurm
1 Akroma, Angel of Wrath
2 Pernicious Deed
1 Recurring Nightmare
1 Parallax Wave
1 Future Sight
What a monster!
Who’d have ever thought that a Ghoul/Husk could kill on turn 3? Here’s how it works:
Turn 1: Land, Birds/Elf
Turn 2: Land, Husk/Ghoul
Turn 3: Land, Pattern the Birds/Elf, sack it to the Husk/Ghoul (4/4), fetch Symbitoic Wurm, sack it (6/6), and the seven tokens (20/20).
Turn 3: Land, Rector, sack the Rector to the Husk (4/4), fetch a Pattern, etc.
I’ve always liked three-color, rogue decks and as soon as I saw Rebirth, I added it to my playtest gauntlet. While it did a variety of really impressive things, I had two problems: combo consistency and the mana base. So I started tuning the deck.
Having a kill mechanism that doesn’t need an attack step (Pandemonium) is great, but it adds that nasty Mountain to the mana base and drawing that Red enchantment in general is pretty inconvenient. Plus, it takes a lot of pieces to put the full 20 damage together. At the very least you need Pandemonium, Symbiotic Wurm, and Recurring Nightmare. And that’s not including enablers like Cabal Therapy/Husk/Ghoul/Phyrexian Tower.
Here’s the most controversial change, cutting three cards that are crucial for powering out the turn 2 Ghoul/Husk that kills opponents on the next turn. Nevertheless, there are two huge problems with the Elves. They get killed very easily and they only make Green mana. Both of these issues are especially problematic against Red Deck Wins.
Card advantage? Check. Body to throw in front of beatdown? Check. Mana Fixing? Check. Good Pattern target? Check. Easy to cast in a three-color deck? No way. Fast enough vs. combo and Affinity? Not even close. Good against decks other than The Rock and Psychatog? Nope. Amount of Rock and Psychatog expected? Not much.
-1 Future Sight
After casting Vampiric Tutor with Future Sight in play and discovering a whole new level of brokenness, making this cut was very difficult. This card used to shine against The Rock and Psychatog, but both of those decks have slipped in popularity. Future Sight takes time to do busted things and that’s something that is seriously lacking in the current Extended format. Pure control decks are an endangered species. The closest thing right now is Scepter-Control, but that’s really combo-control. So when you sack that Academy Rector you’re usually in two situations: about to get hit with lethal damage from creature or about to get hit with a combo. Future Sight doesn’t help in either situation. Plus, in about a hundred games of testing, I never was once able to cast Future Sight after drawing it. That UUU is kind of tricky when your only sources are Birds of Paradise and City of Brass.
1. Only costs one Green mana
2. Chump blocks creatures a turn earlier
3. Ramps you up to four mana for turn 3
4. Is a more efficient Pattern target since it sacrifices for free
The Elder single-handedly gives you a chance against Red Deck Wins, since the Red deck has to waste resources to remove it, so you end up searching out a land, which makes their mana denial strategy less effective.
I’m not thrilled about having to play the fourth Wall. There’s not a choice, though. Regular StarCityGames.com readers may have noticed a recent proliferation of articles on Red Deck Wins. It’s popular, consistent, and probably the deck to beat right now. Against everything else, the Wall lets you draw another card (hopefully a combo piece), provides great Cabal Therapy food, and makes a handy, albeit slow, card advantage engine with Recurring Nightmare.
Four mana is a lot, and there are plenty of decks that can remove Pattern decks at instant speed. Nevertheless, the fourth Pattern is the right call. It is one of the “I win” cards for Rebirth. With the addition of the Elders, Pattern is much easier to use. In the end, I’d rather run the risk of drawing too many Patterns than not drawing any of them. In other words, the final Pattern helps with consistency.
You may have heard, but tutors are good in combo decks. They also make your sideboard much better. Rebirth rarely wants to tutor any earlier than turn three or four and the mana base is pretty painful already, so two Tutors is perfect.
This is the answer to combo and a hell of a follow-up after sweeping the board with Pernicious Deed. Unlike Future Sight, it starts impacting the game immediately and free of cost. You might even actually cast the Decree sometimes.
Reorienting the Sideboard
With the rise of Red Deck Wins, Life and Scepter-Control, coupled with the decline of Reanimator, the sideboard needed some updating.
The anti-Reanimator suite is too narrow for a matchup that is about even.
These two cards are fine, but a well-named Meddling Mage can foil them. Plus, neither of them totally demolished Red Deck Wins. Yes, Dan Paskins, I know that nothing totally demolishes the Red Deck. What I mean is that there is an enchantment that is more troublesome for Red mages.
Originally this guy was in the maindeck. She should be in the maindeck, but I just can’t find the room right now and she’s actually kind of slow. Basically, she comes in against any deck that is resilient and promises to be a long battle. Red Deck Wins and U/G Madness are prime examples. In the late game, the Witness lets you do some very broken things combined with Recurring Nightmare and Pernicious Deed/Parallax Wave/Decree of Silence.
The third Extraction and Witness allow Rebirth to play a pseudo-transformational sideboard against control and combo decks. Basically, you plan on Extracting every threat from your opponent’s deck.
*grumble, grumble* Stupid Red Deck Wins. Pernicious Deed may be able to destroy all of the typical permanents, but the Sphere does so much more. Suddenly only Volcanic Hammer, Cursed Scroll, and Blistering Firecat can damage you. And if a tricky Red mage thought that Pyrostatic Pillar or Sulfuric Vortex would be a good idea, then the jokes on them.
Playing the Deck
This deck looks pretty bad on paper and I can guarantee that if you just pick it up for the first time and start playing against other decks, it will seem just as bad as it looks. Why? Because it is the most complicated deck in the format.
No, I’m not on crack. And this isn’t a token controversial statement to keep readers awake. I’ll say it again, this time all alone in its own paragraph.
Rebirth is the most complicated deck in the format.
Let’s start at the broadest level: decisions. The more of them you have to make, the less likely it is that you don’t make mistakes. Every game you need to decide all of the following:
Which land is best to play?
Is the Wall or Elder the best turn 2 play?
When do you sacrifice the Elder?
When should you cast Cabal Therapy?
What do you name with it?
When do you flash back Therapy?
What do you sacrifice to flash it back?
What do you name with the flashbacked Therapy?
Do you play Pattern or Rector once you hit four mana?
Which creature gets Pattern of Rebirth?
How do you sacrifice the creature with the Pattern?
When do you sacrifice the Patterned creature?
What do you fetch with the Pattern?
How do you sacrifice Academy Rector?
When do you sacrifice it?
What do you fetch with the Rector?
Of course, that’s an abbreviated list and I only mentioned the cards that show up in four copies. When you add things like Vampiric Tutor, Recurring Nightmare, and Parallax Wave to the mix, the decisions become even more complex. Sideboarding makes the deck even crazier.
Now let’s talk about paths to victory. How does the deck win? That depends. Against combo you want Decree of Silence ASAP. Versus U/G Madness, Worship is an auto-win for game one. Against aggro decks you need to control the board with Pernicious Deed or Parallax Wave. In the first game against Life you need to play the pure control deck and derail the combo at all costs. After sideboarding, you might deck an opponent with Eternal Witness plus Recurring Nightmare plus Cranial Extraction. Or you might lock Goblins out of the game with double Engineered Plague.
Even these tactics are not hard and fast rules. Every game with Pattern is different, even when you play against the same deck over and over again. Every time you have to determine the best route to victory and choose the best way to implement it.
That sounds like common sense, right? Like something that all decks have to do. I’ll elaborate.
Mind’s Desire is a complicated and mathematical deck. Nevertheless, it has once clear strategy every time: cast a whole bunch of spells in the same turn and create the biggest storm possible. How you go about doing it may be tricky, but you’re strategy is always the same.
What about Red Deck Wins? Some people would say the goal is to deal 20 damage as fast as possible. That’s not quite true. Often, the right play involves holding back some damage so that you can tap an opponent’s lands with Rishadan Port. You need to choose the best combination of damage and disruption to defeat your opponent. But that’s still just two variables.
Finally, there is the trickiness of the rules. You wouldn’t thing that a deck that has only two instants in it could provoke so much rules confusion. Well, it does.
The problem-in an opponent’s eyes-is that Rebirth breaks some basic rules of Magic. Creatures and enchantments are supposed to be played at sorcery speed. This adds a new layer of complexity to everything. In addition, there are a number of other tricky things that often arise.
What happens when you pay four to blow up Pernicious Deed with a Patterned Rector in play?
You get to fetch a creature and an enchantment.
But in what order?
You get to choose how to stack the triggered abilities since they both happen at the same time.
As long as you don’t pass priority and activate the Nightmare right away, there’s no way your opponent can destroy it while its in play. This works (or rather, it doesn’t work) similarly when Nightmare is in play, you cast a creature, and your opponent wants to remove it before you sacrifice it for something better.
Can your opponent counter your flashed back Therapy to stop you from sacrificing Academy Rector?
No, sacrificing the Rector is part of the cost of flashbacked Therapy.
Non-mana abilities cannot be played while a spell is resolving. The Rector’s ability is activated by paying the cost of Recurring Nightmare, but it doesn’t go on the stack until after the Nightmare’s ability. So, first you fetch an enchantment from the Rector. Then Wall of Blossoms returns to play and you draw a card.
Now, you know some of the tricks that the deck can do, you know how complicated it is, and you know some of the important rules issues. I haven’t really told you how to play the deck, though. Just in case you’re not getting it, Rebirth defies simple explanations. You have to play it to know how to play it.
I’ve playtested about 500 games with Pattern against the Extended field. I’m not going to give win percentages or exact sideboard guidelines, even though I have them – there is too much variation among decks. Even the presence of a single different card can drastically shift things. Most of the sideboarding is pretty self-explanatory and I don’t want to give away everything about this deck, since I may play it at upcoming events. Let’s start with a Red deck…
Red Deck Wins
Unfavorable to Slightly Favorable-I know that’s not very helpful. Blame Pillage. Dealing with Ports and Wastelands is hard enough, but Pillage puts the mana disruption over the top, making game one almost impossible. Sideboarding always makes the match-up much better for you, pushing it to even or slightly favorable. Since most builds seem to be cutting Pillage lately, I’m much less concerned about this matchup than I used to be.
Favorable-I’ve only tested against the Canali version with Meddling Mages. Affinity, as explosive as it is, quickly faces the unpleasant choice of whether to swing into Rectors and creatures enchanted with Pattern of Rebirth. That’s problematic when those dead creatures become Pernicious Deed, Parallax Wave, or Akroma. Sideboarding in Energy Flux helps quite a bit, though you have to be careful not to underestimate Affinity’s ability to win through the Flux.
Very Favorable-Game one is a blowout, practically an auto-win, and I don’t say that lightly. All you need to do is play around Daze, name Circular Logic with Cabal Therapy, and get Worship into play. A quick Akroma can also do the job and Pernicious Deed easily kills everything except Arrogant Wurm. Unfortunately, this is one of the few matchups where sideboarding gives your opponent a much greater edge. Games two and three are even, because you have to fight through Submerge and enchantment removal.
Slightly Unfavorable to Even-Game one is incredibly difficult since you have no instant answer to Isochron Scepter. Sideboarding in artifact removal, hand destruction, and win condition removal make things much better, but the games are still long and challenging.
Even-Once again the first game is really hard. You have to go nuts with Cabal Therapy or get out a quick Decree of Silence. Snap is absolutely hellish to play against. Sideboarding makes games two and three favorable thanks to all the hand destruction and Rule of Law.
Very Favorable-I haven’t tested against the version that runs Aether Vial, something that will certainly make the matchup harder, but game one vs. Arita was about even. I know that seems impossible, but it’s true. Life wins versus aggro by making unstoppable blockers and later gaining millions of life. The former is a problem, but Rebirth can easily play around the latter. The Life player faces a dilemma. Which is better: playing out combo pieces one at a time and going off sooner but thereby becoming exposed to Pernicious Deed, or holding the combo in hand to go off all in one turn, but becoming vulnerable to Cabal Therapy and Decree of Silence? If Life goes off on turn 3, it wins game one. Anything beyond that is much less certain. After sideboarding it becomes a slaughter. You don’t even care how much life Life gains. You remove every threat in the deck with recursive Cranial Extraction.
Slightly Unfavorable to Even-Game one is pretty good thanks to Worship and Parallax Wave. All you can really bring in is Duress and hope for the best. Reanimator, on the other hand, gets answers to your “I win” cards of choice. It’s pretty close to even, but I think that Rebirth is the underdog.
What you see, hopefully, is that Rebirth has only one horrible matchup, and that’s only one particular variant of an established archetype. All the other match-ups are basically even or better. To put it another way…
Rebirth is one of the best decks in Extended. The deck will catch opponents off guard. It has an answer to every threat in the environment. There aren’t any hosers that shut it down. And it’s a lot of fun to play creatures and enchantments at instant speed.
So I highly recommend this deck… with one caveat. Start practicing now. More than perhaps any other deck in the field, Rebirth will reward (or punish) you for making the correct (or incorrect) decisions. It’s a deck full of potential; you just have to harness it.
Take it easy and thanks for reading,
rick at rickrust dot com