Shortbus Severance Belcher in Action

Shortbus Severance Belcher (or SSB) was one of the hot new decks to come out of StarCityGames.com Power 9 Syracuse and its designer is back with a tournament report and instructional guide just in time for this weekend’s Power 9 in Chicago. If you are looking for a few pointers on one of the latest control-combo decks to hit the Vintage scene, you must read this article.

Personally, I feel my directions were very easy to follow, but Justin “Outlaw” Timoney and Ben “Kowal” Kowal got lost for about an hour in my old hometown of Tiverton, RI, which I had previously believed was too small for that sort of thing to happen. Ben immediately rushes to the bathroom upon arriving at my parent’s house, which is where I’ve been staying while looking for a car. The last car I drove had its transmission die on the way to Syracuse, the car before that snapped its brake lines on the highway en route to Endicott. My cars and Magic tournaments haven’t gotten along so well, I can only hope the next one is more accepting of my hobby.

Friday night is spent performing acoustic covers of terrible hip-hop songs, playtesting SSB and watching Cube 2: Hypercube.

We pick up some Subway on the way to Your Move Games Saturday morning, and show up with enough time to see what the field looks like. The metagame is strangely skewed towards aggro, and the usual Control Slaver players are nowhere to be seen. We identify 4 Affinity, 4 FCG, 4 Oath, and 4 Tendrils decks. We alter our sideboards accordingly and hand in our lists, only to have Rich Shay, Chris Browne and Mike Lydon, the veritable Control Slaver squad, waltz in seconds later.

I didn’t remember to bring my notebook with me, and I generally take terrible notes anyway, so I apologize in advance to anyone who’s name I forgot, and for any inaccuracies there might be.

SSB (Shortbus Severance Belcher)

4 Force of will

4 Mana Drain

2 Duress

1 Chain of Vapor

4 Brainstorm

4 Thirst for Knowledge

2 Gifts Ungiven

1 Fact or Fiction

1 Ancestral Recall

1 Time Walk

1 Yawgmoth’s Will

1 Recoup

1 Tinker

1 Mana Severance

1 Demonic Tutor

1 Mystical Tutor

3 Goblin Welder

1 Goblin Charbelcher

1 Mindslaver

1 Pentavus

1 Black Lotus

1 Mox Sapphire

1 Mox Jet

1 Mox Ruby

1 Mox Emerald

1 Mox Pearl

1 Mana Crypt

1 Sol ring

1 Mana Vault

1 Lotus Petal

4 Polluted Delta

3 Volcanic Island

2 Underground Sea

2 Island

1 Strip Mine

1 Tolarian Academy

1 Library of Alexandria


3 Chalice of the Void

1 Echoing Truth

1 Rushing River

3 Rack and Ruin

3 Red Elemental Blast

4 Blue Elemental Blast

Round 1 – Affinity

In game one he gets a fairly solid opening, something along the lines of Mana Crypt, land, Skullclamp, Arcbound Worker, equip. He draws around six cards with the Skullclamp, but isn’t able to apply any real pressure. Without having to tie up my mana on disruption, I’m able to goldfish into a lethal Gifts Ungiven, killing somewhere around turn 4 or 5.

– 2 Duress

– 1 Chain of Vapor

+ 3 Rack and Ruin

The Duress out is obvious, targets are too few and far between to worry about in Affinity. I’m more than comfortable taking out the catch-all bounce here as well, as Affinity can’t really afford to bring in something like Null Rod or Chalice of the Void. Rack and Ruin is just a great all-around card against decks that want to keep artifacts on the table, making it very risky for them to go all in with a Ravager.

Game two he plays a turn 1 Disciple of the Vault which I should have Forced, and a turn 2 Genesis Chamber, which I do. I have a slow but strong opening which lets me work towards a Slave lock. The Disciple in play obviously makes things difficult, but I’m able to shift into control before dropping too low. My opponent here forgets to deal a few points of damage, but not enough to have won him the game. If I had been a few turns slower, or a few cards shorter, the Disciple could have gone all the way. In retrospect the real threats in this match are the Disciple and Gorilla Shaman, which I didn’t see in our match, but found out he ran later. It’s possible Lava Darts are stronger here than the Rack and Ruins.

Round 2 – Angelo with FCG

What happened in this match isn’t going to happen every game, but it’s a great example of what this deck can do with a good draw. Game one I play first, play land, Mox and pass. Angelo plays a Goblin Lackey, which I don’t have the counter for, normally bad news for a control deck. On my turn 2, I play land, Black Lotus, Mana Crypt, Goblin Charbelcher. When he swings I Brainstorm, putting Lotus Petal and a land on top, and I crack the Lotus to Belch his Lackey for one. At the end of my third turn I Gifts Ungiven for artifact mana, and my fourth turn I Demonic Tutor for Mana Severance and activate for game.

-2 Duress

-3 Welder

+4 Blue Elemental Blast

+1 Echoing Truth

Food Chain Goblins has a way of making your Goblin Welders disappear. Gempalm Incinerator can’t be countered, and they will see it, so running the Welders isn’t really worth it. FCG can board in a lot of cards you don’t want to see, but most of them can be handled by Blue Elemental Blast. For the ones that can’t, most notably Null Rod, you’ll want to bring in an extra bounce spell or two.

In game two, all of that fancy sideboard planning ends up going to waste. Angelo mulligans, and leads with fetch, Chrome Mox, Mox, Food Chain.

I play Black Lotus, Polluted Delta. Sacrifice the Lotus for Blue, play Brainstorm, Mox Jet. Tap Jet for Sol Ring, Time Walk, crack the fetchland for a Sea and Tinker away Jet for Mana Vault. On my turn 2, I cast Yawgmoth’s Will, replay Lotus, Jet, Fetch, Walk, Brainstorm, Tinker Vault for Goblin Charbelcher, Mystical Tutor from hand for Mana Severance. On my turn 3 I Severance and activate the Belcher, and Angelo tells me he would have had a turn 2 kill. Damn it feels good to be a gangster.

After winning four games against aggro and casting only one counter in any of them, I’ve been reevaluating this deck’s role against it. You’re not going to get turn 1 kills most of the time, but you can definitely race the average aggro deck more often than not. Next event I’ll be cutting back on sideboard slots against aggro, even if it appears to be a considerable part of the field.

Round 3 – TPS

Game one my opponent plays an artifact-free Tolarian Academy and misses his next two land drops. The game lasts a while, and he draws fairly well after he starts drawing mana, but the advantage I gained in those first two turns was too tough to recover from for a combo deck.

-3 Welder

-1 Gifts Ungiven

-1 Chain of Vapor

-1 Pentavus

+3 Chalice of the Void

+3 REB

Pentavus is a little too slow to play against a deck like TPS, so out it goes. Like Affinity, chances are very low that I’m going to see a Null Rod or Arcane Laboratory post board here, so I’m comfortable cutting the Chain of Vapor. Gifts Ungiven is a little expensive to cast against a deck based on winning so early, but that one’s really a judgment call against TPS. There’s definitely nothing wrong with Goblin Welder in this matchup, either, but I feel that what I’m bringing in is stronger here. Because I’m taking out both my Chain of Vapor and Goblin Welders, I’ll have no answer to TinkerDarksteel Colossus. Most of the time, however, if the TPS player is in a situation where Colossus is better for him to get than Memory Jar, he’s not doing so well. A Colossus in play means you have two turns to set up a kill, which shouldn’t be too hard in most circumstances.

In the next game a first turn Duress keeps me off of an active Library. He keeps pressure on, and both of our hands are low for a while. At some point, I ditch Mana Severance and a Flooded Strand to a Thirst for Knowledge, and he plays a Tormod’s Crypt. Because I boarded out my Welders and Pentavus, if the Crypt hits play, my only win condition is getting out a Belcher and crossing my fingers. I have a Mana Drain for it, but I let it resolve. It’s easy to get stuck in a rut, thinking you have to end every game with the same set of cards. Belching to death without a Severance isn’t exactly a huge leap of logic, but a lot of players might counter that Crypt in the hopes of quickly drawing a Recoup or Yawgmoth’s Will, when in reality that Tormod’s Crypt isn’t worth wasting your resources on. He follows up the Crypt with a Necropotence, which I have the counter for. A turn or two later I Tinker out my Charbelcher, which only deals about four damage in the first four activations, but eventually goes all the way.

Rounds four and five I can ID and go get some lunch.

Top 8 – Mixin’ Mike with Team Underground Sensei Sensei

Game one I play Jet, Sea, Brainstorm and see no other mana sources or shuffle effects. Mike capitalizes with a turn 2 Future Sight, which I Force of Will, and a turn 3 Future Sight, which I can’t do anything about. He wins before I can do anything remotely similar to stabilizing.

-1 Belcher

-1 Severance

-1 Chain of Vapor

+3 Red Elemental Blast

“Who’s the Beatdown” here? We’re both combo-control decks, but he’s faster, and I run more disruption. I’m not going to race him, so there’s no use running the Belcher-Severance kill. I also don’t expect any permanents that REB can’t handle, so Chain of Vapor goes.

Game two is your classic Type One control mirror. We both draw a lot of cards and counter a lot of draw spells. Duress and REB gives me an edge in this kind of game, and I manage to force in a Mindslaver. During the Slave turn, I have Mike cast his Yawgmoth’s Will, which results in an Ancestral Recall and Deep Analysis thrown my way. That’s a tough hole to crawl out of, and Mike concedes after I get an active Goblin Welder.

– 1 Mystical Tutor

+ 1 Echoing Truth

During the Slave turn, cracking a fetchland let me see he brought in Chalices against me. Even though Chalice for one would stop him from winning, too, I wanted an answer just in case he was planning something. The Mystical Tutor often gets cut in close control matches because of its inherent card disadvantage.

Game three was definitely great all around. We both open with land, go, and he taps out to play Merchant Scroll. I have a Drain and a REB in hand. Usually I’m programmed to never counter the tutor, but I realize that if it resolves, I’ll only have two mana up on his next turn, and won’t be able to counter anything after the Ancestral Recall he’s no doubt getting. I REB the Scroll and untap, dropping my second land. He casts a Time Walk, another spell I usually hold off on countering, but I feel using my Mana Drain here will compound the tempo I already stole with the REB. I get to use the colorless for a Thirst pitching Mindslaver, and lay down a Welder. Mike, unfazed, smiles and says, “You can’t Slave me, I do what I want.”

He has to Vampiric Tutor EOT, which puts him well behind me in cards. On my turn next turn, I Weld my lone Mox for Slaver and tap out to activate it. Mike, with one land untapped, repeats “I do what I want!” and Stifles the Mindslaver, much to the enjoyment of the players watching our game. I pass the turn, and Mike lays down a Chalice at 0. I now have a Welder but no artifacts. I have a Mox Ruby in hand, which, if I had cast last turn, would be game, but is now unplayable. I’m holding the Echoing Truth I boarded in for just this occasion, but I don’t have enough mana to cast it and activate Slaver in the same turn, and I’m not sure what else Mike might have, as he definitely changed his board plan in between games 2 and 3. On my turn I play a Brainstorm, which gives me exactly what I needed, my Lotus. I Truth the Chalice, play the Mox and the Lotus, and weld in and activate my Slaver. On Mike’s turn I make him Cunning Wish into Lim-Dul’s Vault for the game.

Quarterfinals – Justin Strauss with Belcher

He leads with a Duress, and has to chose between Thirst for Knowledge, Fact or Fiction and Gifts Ungiven, he takes the Thirst because I can play it first turn with my Land-Mox-Mox hand, but I topdeck another one. His hand isn’t quite fast enough to win before I start drawing enough counters to deal with anything he throws at me.

-3 Goblin Welder

-1 Gifts Ungiven

-1 Chain of Vapor

-1 Pentavus

+3 Chalice of the Void

+3 Rack and Ruin

Same reasoning here as against TPS, but it’s a lot more pronounced. Belcher is lightning fast and you can’t afford to be relying on cards with summoning sickness. The Rack and Ruins come in because they have the ability to really destroy Belcher’s fragile manabase. If I was running Lava Darts, I’d probably bring them in against Welders and Xantid Swarm.

In game two Justin resolves an early Goblin Welder, which is terrible news for a control deck. Shortly after, he gets an LED on the table, which makes things even worse. If he resolves any artifact, he can discard his hand to LED, and if he’s holding a Charbelcher, weld it in for game. The next few turns I spend fighting off Xantid Swarms and trying to develop my hand. Finally, Justin gets through a Mox and sacs the LED. In response to the weld, however, I’m able to Rack and Ruin his own Mox and one of mine. With no hand, and only Welder and Taiga in play, Justin never recovers.

Finals – TNT

After having to mulligan away a hand with all four Drains, I still manage to drain an early threat and play Pentavus, which swings for ten before Juggernauts force it to play defense. Tinker gets me a Mindslaver which I sit on until the end of his turn, so I have mana up when I pass it back to him. During his turn I cast a Gifts for Time Walk, Chain of Vapor, Polluted Delta, Flooded Strand and have him give me the appropriate cards. Chain of Vapor clears his entire board of lands and permanents, and Time Walk lets me swing in for the remaining 10.

– 2 Duress

– 1 Chain of Vapor

+ 3 Rack and Ruin

No complex logic here, Duress is bad against Workshop aggro, and Rack and Ruin isn’t.

I have to grin and bare it when my opponent casts an early Welder, but he swings with it next turn after playing a Juggernaut, and I’m able to Rack and Ruin the Jugg and a Mox. I manage to play a Welder of my own, but he has the Duplicant to answer before I get to use it. In a turn he plays another Juggernaut, and passes back. I try and play what would be a very effective Tinker, but my opponent jokingly exclaims “Piss Off” and throws an REB at it. At the end of my turn, he Welds a Mox into a second Juggernaut, but I have the Rack and Ruin to counter the Weld and kill his other Jugg. The threats keep coming, including a Karn, Silver Golem that kills two of my Moxen, but the time bought with the Rack and Ruins ends up being enough to let me Gifts for the combo and belch him for lethal.

After the event, the Ruby is sold to an interested party, and I play a few games with Mike’s Sensei deck against Justin Timoney running SSB. Justin, Ben, Mike and I try to hit up Spike’s Hot Dog’s before heading home, but Justin’s precariously hanging tailpipe starts dragging on the pavement. We pull into a local Walgreens and buy some duct tape, which after affixing to the tailpipe, Justin notices has a warning label reading “do not use on mufflers or tailpipes.” Fearing the worst, we brainstorm alternatives. “Quick Andy, give me your shoelaces!” was somehow the suggestion we settled on. God knows how, but my shoelaces held the tailpipe firmly in place for Justin’s trip back to North Adams.

Andrew Probasco

aprobasco at gmail dot com