If you’ve ever met my brother Joe in person, you know he likes to brew. Personally, I hate to brew. I admit I like to netdeck and tweak the deck a little to my liking and adjust it for the current metagame. My reasoning is that it takes a lot of effort in order to make a brew work, and with very limited information, a limited number of good players to work with, and a limited number of tournaments to capitalize on should the deck become successful, netdecking is often a higher EV option for most tournaments except for the Pro Tour.
Of course, many would disagree with me, and playing a home brew certainly has its merits. First of all, Magic is all about having fun. If you find no pleasure in copying someone’s deck, then you should not do it. Do whatever gives you the highest satisfaction. Home brews also have their own advantages. People have less of a clue how to play against you and thus cannot play their best game against you.
One of Joe’s most notable brews has to be from Malaysian Nationals 2009, where he took home the title playing red-green aggro featuring Colossal Might. Later in the season, he took his initial approach (again using Colossal Might), revamped it, and created Naya aggro, which then took me to third place at Worlds 2009 in Rome. There is no doubt Colossal Might is janky card. Heck, I might even cut it from my Limited deck if my deck is good enough! It is the surprise factor that leads to phenomenal results. After all, for a deck that is designed to deal 20 damage as fast as possible, getting in additional four damage while saving your guy is not that bad. The deck was built to perform in a single tournament, and it worked.
Recently, as Nationals approached, Joe started to brew a mono-green rogue deck, featuring Lotus Cobra, Sword of Feast and Famine, and Garruk, Primal Hunter. A turn 2 Cobra start followed by a turn 3 Sword + equip or Garruk is almost unbeatable for most decks. The core was there, but the rest of the cards were all over in place. He went from mono-green to splashing black, then to green splashing black and blue, then finally to mono-green splashing Mana Leak. The counters give the deck a lot more game against control and combo decks. No longer can they formulate their game plan free from disruption. Plus it’s never bad to keep your opponent honest. Combined with the annoyance of Sword of Feast and Famine and Garruk for further reach, you got yourself a deck. Here is the list Joe piloted to a Top 8 finish in Malaysian Nationals 2011.Â Â Â Â Â
- 2 Solemn Simulacrum
- 3 Birds of Paradise
- 1 Acidic Slime
- 4 Lotus Cobra
- 1 Obstinate Baloth
- 1 Primeval Titan
- 1 Sylvan Ranger
- 1 Thrun, the Last Troll
- 2 Consecrated Sphinx
This list is far from perfect, and I believe a lot of tweaks can still be made to the deck. Personally, I don’t even agree with some of the. The deck is actually pretty good against control and has decent games against Tempered Steel and creatures after sideboard. If I were to play this deck tomorrow, here’s what I would be playing:
- 1 Birds of Paradise
- 1 Acidic Slime
- 4 Lotus Cobra
- 1 Oracle of Mul Daya
- 1 Obstinate Baloth
- 1 Primeval Titan
- 1 Thrun, the Last Troll
- 2 Consecrated Sphinx
Just like in RUG, Lotus Cobra is the superstar in this deck. If you ever play a turn 2 Cobra in this deck, turn 3 is always a nightmare for your opponent. A simple play of Sword + equip and untapping with Mana Leak is often game. Lotus Cobra is also one of Caw-Blade’s most feared cards. Squadron Hawks are no fight for the mana-generating Snake. There is a huge difference between games where you have it and games where you don’t. Therefore, there is no doubt we play four copies of Lotus Cobra. But four copies would not be sufficient to make it consistent enough. What about eight copies instead?
Enter Green Sun’s Zenith, the most versatile card for green decks. It acts as the 5th-8th Cobra on turn 3, and you can still play your Sword + equip or Garruk on turn 4. It acts as an accelerator on turn 2 (fetching Birds), and it is pure gas whenever you rip it later in the game. It also adjusts accordingly to your hand no matter how mana screwed or flooded you are. Valakut and even Legacy NO Bant players have been banking on the versatility of this card ever since it was printed.Â
Caw-Blade is notoriously good at using the sword. Well, so is our deck. In fact, Snake Blade is a truly dedicated Blade control deck. The ability to consistently connect with a Sword on turn 3 or 4 is what makes this deck incredibly dangerous. I am not sure if four is overkill, but you really want to have one in your opening grip. Three might be the right number, and if I were to swap it for another card, it has to be Garruk.
Garruk functions as the new Jace in the format for Snake Blade. Making a 3/3 guy while increasing in loyalty functions similarly to bouncing a guy while losing one loyalty. Drawing several raw cards is even better than Brainstorming. Bottom line is if your Garruk survives an untap phase, it gives you the same kind of inevitability as Jace. It is hard to lose in that spot. People have been complaining that Garruk is difficult to cast because of its downside of costing triple green. But if there is a control deck that can fully utilize Garruk, you have found it here. Of course, the difference between having a casting cost of four (Jace) and five (Garruk) is huge, but this is where green compensates. With a dozen accelerators in the deck, your Garruk often comes down on turn 4 instead of the usual 5. The usual Jace play is always to keep “brainstorming” and grind your opponent out. In this case, Garruk’s ability in churning out 3/3s is pretty grindy too, and it increases in loyalty!
Above all the other cards, Rampant Growth seems a little out of place. Still, it serves pretty well to accelerate you a turn faster (just like Explore in RUG), gets you the crucial blue mana for Mana Leak, and helps you makes land drops to cast your high casting cost spells.
Having Rampant Growth in hand also means that your Zenith incrementally increases in value, since you get to keep it to tutor out better and more expensive creatures later in the game.
The only problem with this deck is it does not have a plan on four mana. Having four mana is the “joker wild card.” When you only have access to four mana in a turn, you play whatever is available in your hand. You play one of your singleton creatures (Thrun, Baloth, Oracle) or Mana Leak a spell, cast Zenith for Cobra, or play a Sword without equipping.
To compensate for this, Joe went with two Rampant Growths and two Solemn Simulacrums. However, I think the early plays are actually more important as well as staying focused on your game plan of ramping into Sword and Garruk. One of the reasons to cut Solemns is he seems to be a little out of place for the current metagame. I see Valakut players have been switching to Oracle and praising how good it is compared to Solemn. It seems wrong not to fit one in a deck that plays four Green Sun’s Zenith and 26 lands. Hence, I took out 2 Solemn for 1 Rampant Growth and 1 Oracle.Â Â Â
Mana Leak is the blue splash of the deck that makes it hard to play against. The deck is designed to assert pressure with tempo, mana advantage, and card advantage. It is already a difficult task to stop these elements. Add in Mana Leak to the mix. It is a lot harder to stop the deck from doing what it wants to do. Sword of Feast and Famine allows Mana Leak to gain further tempo. Lotus Cobra makes Mana Leak cost one mana with a fetchland in play and gives easy access to instant blue mana even if you don’t have a blue land.
2 Beast Within, 2 Dismember
One of the important aspects of grinding is keeping parity with your opponent’s board so you get to live and let your more powerful spells come online and assert pressure. Removal allows you to just get there. Previously, UG was awful because you had no removal! Now with Dismember, that problem is easily solved. Beast Within is a little trickier. You often sandbag it until the last possible moment to mitigate the effect of giving a 3/3 token to your opponent.
There are a few things that Dismember can’t solve, but Beast Within fills that weakness. Those things are usually Titans and Valakut, which come online really late in the game, and at that point the 3/3 should not be relevant anymore. Furthermore, Snake Blade as a whole is very well equipped to fight a Beast token. The protection from green provided by the Blade ensures you can continue to keep breaking through. Garruk making 3/3 dudes nullifies opposing Beasts. Your random assortment of win conditions also happens to be larger than the 3/3 itself. The point is, when your Sword/Garruk plan gets going, there are very few things that can turn the tide. Beast Within ensures nothing does.Â Â Â
When all the control decks such as UB and Caw-Blade are running these, you know it is an obvious choice to run. Ironically there are only two Islands in the deck to cast the 4UU spell. Fortunately, last time I checked, land destruction decks aren’t around, and Tectonic Edge cannot hit your Islands. Consecrated Sphinx also blocks fliers, which is huge in this format filled with Caws holding Blades and Inkmoth Nexuses powered by Tempered Steel. The abundant mana sources in this deck allow us to easily cast bad boys like this.Â Â Â Â Â
1 Birds of Paradise, 1 Oracle of Mul Daya, 1 Thrun, the Last Troll, 1 Obstinate Baloth, 1 Acidic Slime, 1 Primeval Titan
The singletons are primarily for Zenith. Birds makes Zenith a cheap acceleration spell on turn 2; Oracle and Thrun are awesome against control; Baloth for anything with red; and Primeval Titan when you have seven mana. One of the key plays of this deck against Valakut is the singleton Primeval Titan. In the Primeval fight, you will usually end up trading all four of your Tectonic Edges against their Valakuts. After the dust is cleared, their deck is left with nothing but basics and spells to find more lands while you still have a lot of action going.
Fetchlands to get blue mana as well as fuel for Lotus Cobra.
If you are a control deck and you play 26 lands, your list almost certainly has four of these.
2 Inkmoth Nexus, 4 Khalni Garden
Lands like these make your Sword ridiculously brutal and consistent. I really wanted to play the third Nexus, but it is not possible unless I cut a fetch (which weakens Cobra) or a Forest (which is a gamble for such a low count). But overall, I am quite happy with six lands that help carry the Sword. It is quite important to keep your Plant token around instead of going into auto chump block mode from an opposing attacker because of Sword. Remember, the blocking option is always there, but you might not always have the creature to carry a Sword. Tight plays reward tight situations.
Seven Forests are just about the right amount in this deck. Eight are a little too much, and I would rather have the third Nexus any day. Getting to six is a little speculative, since failing to find one with your fetches is a pretty huge downside.
Against any decks with Island or Valakut.
Additional removal whenever you need it. Dismember might not be the best card against Mono Red or Vampires, since what you need is a little life management in those matchups, but it is pretty helpful against Tempered Steel and various green decks that can’t burn you off.
Pretty much the most efficient card against Mono Red and Vampires besides Timely Reinforcements. Besides, we still have four Green Sun’s Zeniths, and this card is all we want to get for those matchups.Â
Utility and perfect all-rounder. It gets boarded in against control decks as well as Valakut.
Pretty obvious it is for the control matchup. Being able to stick a beater on board and a Sword carrier is never bad. He also happens to fight planeswalkers well since there is nothing they can do about him.
Two words. Tempered Steel. Period.
Also against Tempered Steel, but can be boarded in against U/R Twin. I don’t think it’s a good sideboard card against Caw-Blade, since they mostly run just two copies of Sword. Also, you still have Beast Within and Acidic Slime to deal with their Sword if they happen to stick one.
Overall, Snake Blade is pretty hard to played against, since nobody has really playtested against it. Opponents also won’t know what cards you have, and certainly having a Lotus Cobra and breaking a Verdant Catacomb to produce blue and Mana Leaking a spell is a huge catch. They also cannot put you on equipping a Sword on turn 3 or 4, and it is certainly quite a blowout as well. My advice is to take this deck, playtest a bunch, and get a feel for it. One of the advantages of the deck is how well it fights Caw-Blade. This deck fights Caw-Blade by out-tempoing them, which is their primary weapon against the field. Pretty much, we took their best approach, and we apply it back on them.Â Â Â
My Hall of Fame vote
I am pretty sure by now a lot of you are aware of the stats of each player, so I wouldn’t be going through the “how many PT Top 8s, GP Top 8s, etc.” info. Instead, I will just write a simple explanation on each.
Before I was good at Magic, Anton Johnson was my Magic idol. Obviously Kai and Finkel are the best ever, and it is pretty much meaningless to debate about their ability in the game, as both of them are already in the Hall of Fame. My personal strength in Magic lies in Limited rather than Constructed. So as it speaks to my own strengths (you will see it next year), I have to attribute my learning to Anton Jonsson. That guy is a monster is Limited. He plays so well, knows the format in and out, and his stats are overwhelming. The fact that he still plays occasionally and writes for the games ensures that he’s a lock for this year. Â
Shuhei is the perfect all-rounder. I was debating between whether he was better in Limited or Constructed. In the end, I have no clue. He is just as good in both formats! He has the perfect stats, been traveling intensively for the game in the past few years, even writes in English now, and is certainly a lock as well.Â
I felt the Steve OMS vote was very unique to me in some ways. To begin with, I don’t even know this guy and have never seen him. The only information I had on him was through Facebook chats among the pros as well as articles with Hall of Fame content in it. In the end, most of the community felt he deserved it, and after some thought, I’m willing to give a lending hand.
Easily one of the best weekly columnists out there, Patrick also has been playing forever. His performance on the Tour has also been pretty consistent. Good writer, good player, adequate stats, and still plays the game well. That makes my vote. Â Â
To begin with, Mark was a narrow choice. There are so many candidates out there that I can vote on. If it wasn’t for his awesome series of Pro Tour adventures, I don’t feel he stands a chance in the debate. I mean, this guy is not even playing on the Pro Tour anymore, for some time! But on the other hand, he does have good stats, wrote an awesomely entertaining series from his PT life, and I actually hope to see him around the PT again should he get voted in. You get my vote. Â