Literally just cast Mass Manipulation x=5 on turn 4 in Standard.
— Sam Black (@SamuelHBlack) May 14, 2019
This led to a little math problem for my followers on Twitter about how this might be possible, and @Untapped_Island got it right:
- Turn 1: Forest, Llanowar Elves.
- Turn 2: Untapped Breeding Pool, Growth Spiral, play Untapped Breeding Pool, play Forest.
- 3 Forest; Nissa, Who Shakes the World (she really does).
- Turn 4 Breeding Pool, tap it, untap it with Nissa: three Breeding Pools plus Nissa untap is UUUUGGGG, three more Forests is another GGGGGG, which is enough to Mass Manipulation for five without even using the Llanowar Elf.
As it happens, my opponent was playing Mono-White Aggro and I was lucky enough that they had exactly five creatures on the battlefield. That draw is fantastically unlikely, but also a real thing that really happened to me.
My very next game, I was playing against Grixis. I mulled to six and kept five lands plus Mass Manipulation and thought I would lose against whatever. When they played Disinformation Campaign and left me with nothing but lands, I thought the game was over for sure, but somehow this spiraled into a long game that I won despite by opponent controlling both Nicol Bolas, the Arisen and Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God at one point.
If you have lands, the top of this library is very live.
Which library, exactly? Great question. Here’s the list I’ve been playing:
I got the deck from Aaron Gertler’s Reddit post (which I found via the always fantastic Arena Decklists Twitter account). His claimed success with the deck definitely made it sound like it was worth taking seriously, and his write-up of the deck and the theory behind why it would be good right now just made a lot of sense.
Teferi, Time Raveler has pushed a lot of counterspells out of the format. On the Pro Points Podcast, Mike Sigrist was telling me about how he should have played fewer than four Absorbs in Esper Control because it just isn’t good in the format right now. When the format is overrun with midrange decks trying to go over the top of each other and spells tend to resolve, going way, way over the top in ridiculous ways is actually a strategy with a history of success dating back at least to around Onslaught-era Constructed.
Given how much of Standard focuses on planeswalkers right now, The Elderspell is starting to look pretty good, but nothing comes close to going as far over the top as Mass Manipulation.
Astute readers will note that the list I’ve been playing isn’t the same as the list Aaron recommended. Fortunately, Aaron was very open about this being a list in progress and made careful note of which cards he felt were important. I trusted him on everything he said was core to the deck except the fourth Frilled Mystic, based on the comment by Kaptinkillem about making the deck more proactive and not playing Frilled Mystic. That looked pretty good to me, but given how highly Aaron regarded Frilled Mystic, I wanted to give it a chance.
I added an extra land to account for the fact that we wanted to use Growth Spiral over Paradise Druid, and I feel very good about all of that, as well as playing no colorless lands.
I also added Tamiyo, Collector of Tales and a Planewide Celebration. I’d say I have a problem, except I don’t, this combo is the real deal, and others’ failure to adopt it is the only problem.
Let me be clear: the real reason I was interested in this deck is that I wanted even more mana for my Tamiyo loops, and this looked like a great way to do it. I hosted several friends for Grand Prix Madison this last weekend, and in the off hours there was a lot of chanting for Jellyfish Celebration, as we’d taken to referring to the Sultai deck I’d written about last week. When I saw this shell, I knew it might be an even better way to celebrate Jellyfish. Even Aaron’s list didn’t celebrate them properly, and, as always, Tamiyo has been fantastic for me.
I also tried Ugin, the Ineffable as Aaron suggested. After playing with the deck some, my reactions were as follows:
- First, this deck feels absurdly powerful. With Sultai last week, it felt like I had something real on my hands. It was close, and powerful, did real things, and could keep up with people. With this deck, it feels like a majority of matches just aren’t competitive. Looking at Standard decks I see posted through the lens of a Mass Manipulation player feels like looking at Modern decks as an Amulet Bloom (pre-Summer Bloom banning) player – you just look at a list and wonder how someone playing that would ever even hope to beat you.
- Frilled Mystic is fine, but I’m not sure if it should be in the deck. It’s awkward against aggro decks and those are your hardest matchups. Thinking back to the game where Grixis got to stick all their planeswalkers, I’m not convinced I care about very many spells my opponents could resolve. I certainly don’t consider it core to the archetype and suspect the right number is between zero and two in the maindeck.
- Chemister’s Insight is similarly mediocre. Maybe it’s good to have access to and it’s cool that Tamiyo finds it incidentally, but it’s generally the first card I’ve been sideboarding out and it feels like a much worse engine than Tamiyo.
- I agree with Aaron that Llanowar Elves, Incubation Druid, and Hydroid Krasis are clearly all cards you definitely don’t want to trim any of. I’d personally add Growth Spiral to that list, and I’m pretty sure I’d rather try adding a 28th land than cutting the 27th.
- Entrancing Melody, Mass Manipulation, and Nissa, Who Shakes the World have similarly all been great. I’d probably like a third Nissa if I can find room.
- Ugin, the Ineffable is fine. I think I want one of either this or Vivien Reid, and I’m inclined to stick with Ugin, but it could be wrong.
- I could see playing a third Tamiyo or a second Planewide Celebration, but neither is necessary.
- I think there’s a decent chance that Finale of Revelation is a better card draw spell than Chemister’s Insight.
As for the sideboard, I don’t love Negate, since, again, there aren’t that many spells I care about resolving, but I suspect it’s necessary against Simic Nexus. I like Narset, Parter of Veils as a sideboard card and might prefer it as an answer to control, but I’m worried about missing because there are so many lands and creatures in the deck, and I think the first several counterspells help more against Nexus, which is scarier than control, and I don’t think there’s room for both.
I think the sideboard should focus on beating control and aggro, since I think you’re so good against midrange no matter what, and I think I like maximizing Entrancing Melody and then adding defensive creatures as the plan against aggro. Thrashing Brontodon has good stats against red and it helps that the ability lets it do double duty against Nexus, so I think it’s a good inclusion. After that, Thorn Lieutenant seems good in theory, but I’m not completely certain it’s better than something like Atzocan Archer.
I’m not confident in Biogenic Ooze and Vivien Reid. They seem like generically fine cards to have access to, but they might not be the best at doing what they’re doing, though I like the idea of finding spells that cost around five mana that solve problems the deck might have since it can reliably get to five mana on Turn 4, which is a good time to be trying to turn things around.
Putting all this together, the list I’d recommend based on my current experience is as follows:
I’m least confident in Finale of Revelation, since I haven’t played with it, but it seems to me like it should be pretty good. If you can afford to take a turn off to Chemister’s Insight, you can afford to do it for Finale of Revelation, and being an instant doesn’t matter much, especially when you move away from Frilled Mystic. The super-high-impact spells like Mass Manipulation catch you up from skipping a turn, and I think it’s much harder to have time to cast Chemister’s Insight twice than it is to cast one Finale for six or so, and I think it’ll frequently function as a “win the game” button when you draw it with a lot of mana.
I almost suggested playing three each of Finale of Revelation and Mass Manipulation, but I think it’s better to have a full playset of Mass Manipulations to help Tamiyo find it with the +1 ability, since that’s probably the card you’ll want second-most-often (after Hydroid Krasis), and I’d rather Finale into Mass Manipulation than just draw another Finale.
As far as tips on playing and sideboarding the deck go, honestly, this deck is really straightforward – develop your mana and cast your bombs. If you think your opponent can counter something, probably cast Hydroid Krasis rather than another expensive spell, and if you’re not under much pressure, don’t be afraid to just pass the turn and develop your mana, as having more lands on the battlefield generally favors you and you’ll probably find a Hydroid Krasis eventually.
- Adapting an Incubation Druid is another great alternative to casting a spell and you want to prioritize getting counters on them since you use the extra mana so well.
- Look for opportunities to cast Nissa and another spell with the extra mana Nissa generates, but also note that Nissa is absurd and you’ll usually win if you untap with her on the battlefield.
- When casting Planewide Celebration, don’t forget about the proliferate mode. It’s easy to overlook and often better than you might expect.
- Hitting land drops is extremely important. Don’t be afraid to return a land from your graveyard with Tamiyo or Planewide Celebration.
- Sideboard minimally. Against most midrange decks you want to change maybe a card or two. If Game 1 was easy, you’re probably content to just run it back. They’ll have few more counters or discard spells, but they won’t really matter. Against Grixis, I like to keep a lot of copies of Entrancing Melody even though I expect it will usually be bad because I think it’s very hard for them to win without sticking Thief of Sanity.
The only matchups where you should sideboard a lot of cards are against aggro and Nexus of Fate decks.
VS Simic Nexus
It’s possible that you’re also supposed to bring in Biogenic Ooze or maybe even Thorn Lieutenant to clock them, possibly over more copies of Hydroid Krasis, Finale of Revelation, or Growth Spiral, but I’m not sure.
VS Mono-Red Aggro
VS Mono-White Aggro/Azorius Aggro
Cutting that much top-end feels weird, but I think it’s right. Bigger creatures and stealing their stuff is the right way to go over the top of them, not drawing more cards.
Have fun doing broken things before people react to this as a defining deck of the format.