Rotting Bridge Is Rising Up

I was working on tweaking U/G to my satisfaction for Regionals, and Brad put together this rogue-ish deck built around the Unholy Triumvirate of Cabal Archon, Rotlung Reanimator, and Withered Wretch. I chuckled at his efforts – after all, didn’t he know about Compost? Compost destroys mono-black decks. I decided to humor him by hauling out U/G against his horribly untuned deck… And got my clock cleaned. Hmm. Maybe this deck has some potential after all.

My work on this deck – a mono-black Zombie/Cleric deck built around Ensnaring Bridge – started some three months ago, as I was working on tweaking U/G to my satisfaction for Regionals, and Brad put together this rogue-ish deck built around the Unholy Triumvirate of Cabal Archon, Rotlung Reanimator, and Withered Wretch. I chuckled at his efforts – after all, didn’t he know about Compost? Compost destroys mono-black decks. I decided to humor him by hauling out U/G against his horribly untuned deck…

And got my clock cleaned.

Hmm. Maybe this deck has some potential after all.

From then on, we worked on tuning the deck. It wrecked ‘Tog, matched up well with U/G, and struggled a bit with R/G (but the matchup wasn’t a complete loss).

The core of the deck remained unchanged from the beginning: Cabal Archon, Rotlung Reanimator, Withered Wretch, Oversold Cemetery, and Smother. But the devil, as they say, is in the details, and we agonized over getting the proper cards to in place for the metagame. You can see my Regionals build here.

Suboptimal cards in the original build, like Shepherd of Rot (too slow, too fragile) and Blood Celebrant (unnecessary) were replaced with bits and pieces borrowed from other decks – Ensnaring Bridge from Burning Bridge (though I wasn’t the first person to come up with this bit of tech), Stronghold Assassin from B/G Cemetery. We went from three Scions of Darkness to one. By the end of our testing, we felt very confident about the deck.

I went 6-3 with the deck, Brad went a bizarre 3-2-4, running into five Wake decks, while I didn’t play Wake once. The sideboard was not truly optimized against Wake; that was one discovery.

Based upon my experiences playing the deck at Regionals, I’d make the following observations:

U/G is a good matchup, but not as winnable as we’d thought. We ran into two problems we sort of overlooked during testing: One, even when dropping the Bridge on turn 3, you might still be holding three or four cards, and pumped Wild Mongrels, Basking Rootwallas, and Aquamoebas could get under the Bridge and deliver a turn 5 coup de grace. Two, even when emptying your hand, U/G can use bounce or Deep Analysis to put cards back into your hand to, once again, negate the Bridge.

Accordingly, the deck needs a way to be able to empty its hand and fast. Zombie Infestation is a definite possibility, since the deck doesn’t have a lot of two drops, as is Last Rites – but I like the choice of Grafted Skullcap, which draws you cards, fills up your graveyard, and empties your hand. It’s that four mana casting cost that I don’t like, but you take the good with the bad.

The Dark Supplicant/Scion of Darkness idea was cute – but cute doesn’t cut it. In nine rounds of play, the Scion ended up being a factor in two games. The Dark Supplicants saw more play as fodder for Cabal Archon or Stronghold Assassin, and there were times I’d draw the Scion and not have three mana to spend on cycling him. It worked for Ian Schotanus at the Rocky Mountain Regionals, yes, but I think there are better uses for the slots. The Supplicant has been replaced by Festering Goblin, which is a better one-drop against rush decks. Yes, it gets sided out over 90% of the time, but something had to fall into this slot.

Never take out the Smothers against G/x decks. Bring in Hibernation, yes, but don’t take out Smother. You can never have enough removal against U/G.

Stronghold Assassin is very, very good in this deck – at least, against non-black decks – and synergizes well with Rotlung Reanimator, Festering Goblin and fills up your graveyard for Oversold Cemetery. You could make an argument for Bane of the Living, and I would probably agree with you on many points – but the Stronghold Assassin is cheaper and provides pinpoint removal, where the Bane is intended as a sweeper, and a slower one at that. It’s the stiletto-vs.-sledgehammer argument, and I like the knife in this case.

What I’m not sure about is the Hibernation tech. There were times it won me games, but there were also times it just bought me a turn before getting waxed. Splashing white for cards like Daru Sanctifier and Worship may be the better way to go. Still, I’m not ready to abandon my U/B tech just yet. Also, the Eastern Paladin tech was too, too slow.

Based upon what I’ve learned, I’d rebuild the deck like so:

Rotting Bridge

4 Festering Goblin

4 Withered Wretch

4 Cabal Archon

4 Rotlung Reanimator

3 Stronghold Assassin

2 Gempalm Polluter

4 Cabal Therapy

4 Smother

3 Oversold Cemetery

3 Ensnaring Bridge

2 Grafted Skullcap

4 Tainted Isle

3 Polluted Delta

2 Unholy Grotto

13 Swamp

1 Island


4 Braids, Cabal Minion

3 Hibernation

3 Duress

2 Haunting Echoes

2 Engineered Plague

1 Ensnaring Bridge

There’s a number of good names that have been suggested for the deck, but I think”Rotting Bridge” describes the deck succinctly and accurately, and that’s the title I’m going with… Unless the Ferrett thinks otherwise.

There’s not much Scourge that’s really worth putting in the deck, aside for the Zombie-centric The Abyss remake Call of the Grave. At 4B, however, it’s a bit pricey, but would be a perfect replacement for Ensnaring Bridge in an OnBC version of the deck. Twisted Abomination might be worth playing for its swampcycling ability and interaction with Oversold Cemetery, but I also believe that Gempalm Polluter is the better cycling card. Cabal Interrogator is a less-expensive version of Hollow Specter, and is a Zombie to boot, but ties up your mana too much in the early game, which is critical for the deck. Again, better for OnBC.

Come to think of it, this would be pretty darn good OnBC deck, adding Call of the Grave, Cabal Interrogator, and Cruel Revival. But that’s neither here nor there, and another article entirely.

The matchups:

Vs. U/G:

Game one, if you can hide under the Bridge fast enough, odds are you’ll win. Withered Wretch destroys Quiet Speculation-based builds; you get this guy out, you neuter the deck. The two cards you are really worried about are Compost and Turbulent Dreams. You bring in your Duresses from the sideboard, but I would only bring in Hibernation against decks you know are packing Compost. Some builds don’t use that card – and if they don’t, there really aren’t enough good targets for Hibernation, unlike R/G. Engineered Plague, however, does come in, so it can eliminate the cards that can most easily come in under an Ensnaring Bridge for big damage; Basking Rootwalla and Aquamoeba – no, I don’t think they’ll be pumping that Aquamoeba with a Plague set to”Beasts.” Stronghold Assassin is huge in this matchup if you can get him going with graveyard recursion.

In: +3 Duress, +2 Engineered Plague, +1 Ensnaring Bridge

Out: -4 Festering Goblin, -1 Smother, -1 Cabal Archon

Vs. Wake:

I admit, I haven’t had the opportunity to test this matchup extensively – nobody down in my neck of the woods particularly likes to play Wake. Deck am too hard for me tiny brain. Your best card here is Miss Abyss herself: Braids, Cabal Minion. Wake decks need a lot of mana to go off, and Braids denies them that. Combined with an Oversold Cemetery, Braids will ensure that they never get the mana they need to go off. Be prepared to concede game one quickly so you can get to your sideboard, as the Wake strategy is usually to take forty minutes to win game one, then draw the final game out. Ensnaring Bridge is important to keep them from winning via Exalted Angel or infinite Elephants, meaning they have to go the Opportunity route for victory. Hand disruption is important in this matchup, and the cards you specifically want to go after are Cunning Wish, Mirari’s Wake, and Mirari, in that order.

In: +3 Duress, +4 Braids, Cabal Minion, +1 Ensnaring Bridge

Out: -3 Stronghold Assassin, -1 Festering Goblin, -4 Smother

Vs. Psychatog:

While game one is a tossup, this matchup skews very heavily in your favor post-sideboard. Psychatog likes having a graveyard to go off, so an early Withered Wretch is important to prevent them from having a sideboard, and preventing them from utilizing cards like Circular Logic and Deep Analysis. Add in Cabal Archons and their ability to take you out of Dr. Teeth’s alpha strike range, and you have a very, very good matchup.

I like to play Haunting Echoes from the sideboard in this matchup, which may seem to go counter to the Withered Wretch strategy – but I find the idea of being able to take away all a player’s Upheavals or Psychatogs after a timely Cabal Therapy just too good to overlook. Braids is also a wonderful card to bring into this matchup, as Psychatog needs mana even more than Wake decks do and she’s invulnerable to Smother as well. In short, after sideboarding, almost every card becomes a must-counter or must-kill for Psychatog, and you will overwhelm the deck.

In: +3 Duress, +2 Haunting Echoes, +3 Braids, Cabal Minion

Out: -3 Stronghold Assassin, -1 Festering Goblin, -3 Ensnaring Bridge, -1 Smother

Vs. R/G:

Probably your most difficult matchup but it is winnable. In our testing, it was never worse than 40/60. Unlike U/G, R/G doesn’t have as many ways to deal with Ensnaring BridgeNaturalize is usually the only option, but R/G is quite happy to just throw burn to your dome. Getting the Cabal Archon engine going is critical to get out of burn range. Hibernation always comes in for this matchup, which is brutal against Elephant tokens and Guided-up creatures. Ideally, Hibernation should be followed up by Cabal Therapy to strip the opponent’s hand of anything potentially annoying, like Compost or Phantom Centaur. I wish I had room for Persecute in the sideboard, but you could feasibly substitute that card for Engineered Plague. You say po-tay-to, I say po-tah-to…

In: +3 Hibernation, +2 Engineered Plague, +1 Ensnaring Bridge

Out: -4 Festering Goblin, -1 Stronghold Assassin, -1 Withered Wretch

Vs. Slide

There are at least three flavors of Slide out there: R/W, U/W and B/W, a.k.a.”The Ralphie Treatment.” Against all of these decks, your best weapon is Haunting Echoes; I wish I could have found room for three of them in the sideboard. Braids, too, is highly annoying, keeping the deck from getting the mana it needs to cycle consistently. Some versions of Rotting Bridge like to use Megrim as an anti-Slide card, but I’ve never been able to get it to work consistently. The card is I most worry about are Morningtide, which is seen very rarely in R/W Burning Wish variants, and Visara in B/W, which the deck has absolutely has no defense for aside from stripping it from their hand. All in all, though, Slide is a very favorable matchup.

In: +4 Braids, Cabal Minion, +2 Haunting Echoes, +3 Duress

Out: -4 Festering Goblin, -1 Stronghold Assassin, -4 Smother

Vs. B/G Cemetery

This one comes down to who can get and keep a Withered Wretch in play. The presence of Living Wish is an annoyance, but being able to hide behind a Bridge and use Smother to negate the Husk engine puts this matchup in your favor. Caller of the Claw has the potential to be problematic, however, so be wary. Do you bring in Hibernation in this matchup to negate the Caller? My initial testing says no; however, I wouldn’t argue with you too vociferously if you wanted it in.

In: +1 Ensnaring Bridge, +2 Engineered Plague

Out: -3 Festering Goblin

Vs. W/G

Any green deck can put brutal pressure on you fast, but what makes W/G so annoying is Living Wish – things you remove from the graveyard have a nasty habit of making unexpected return visits, and Wish targets like Nantuko Vigilante and Nullmage Advocate can really ruin your day. However, as long as you can keep Glory and Genesis out of the graveyard, you hold the upper hand, and you don’t have to worry about burn to the dome.

In: +3 Hibernation, +1 Ensnaring Bridge

Out: -4 Festering Goblin

Vs. MBC:

This is probably your worst matchup. MBC can pretty much overwhelm you with its sheer power, and those Mirari’d fourteen-point Corrupts and Haunting Echoes can make the Archon dance a moot point. In all honesty, you need a fair amount of luck to win this matchup. You need some early hand disruption and hope you get to cast Echoes first. If you are playing a creatureless version of mono-black, the Bridges come out. If you are up against the version that uses Visara, Undead Gladiator, and Nantuko Shade, you’ll want to leave them in.

In: +3 Duress, +2 Haunting Echoes, +1 Ensnaring Bridge

Out: -3 Stronghold Assassin, -3 Festering Goblin

I really think the deck has Tier I potential. Aside from one really bad matchup (MBC), the deck holds its own against everything else the field can throw at it. Play around with it – and, hey, if anyone else has ideas, I’m listening.