With Affinity gone, Tooth is more-or-less the best remaining deck to come out of the powerhouse Mirrodin block. Even when Affinity was running rampant in Standard, Tooth posted impressive results, including victories at the Online Worlds Qualifier and first place through the star-studded Top 8 of Grand Prix: New Jersey. Moreover, the original TwelvePost deck finished higher than any Affinity deck at its relevant Block Pro Tour, even with Skullclamp in the starting lineup, and was the weapon of choice of the reigning best player in the world. Tooth and Nail should therefore be an important deck at Regionals, in the JSS Qualifiers, and any Standard tournaments up through this Summer’s Championship season.
I have tested a lot of Tooth and Nail over the last several months. Obviously it was one of my main three to test during the 2004 Championship Deck Challenge when I unveiled Mono-Blue, and, if anything, Tooth is a more important archetype now. The Paris Top 8 that I used for the White Weenie gauntlet actually contained three different decks showcasing the sorcery Tooth and Nail, and the Star City forums are gunning for this deck with some of their more aggressive weapons of choice.
Tooth and Nail the deck draws its name from Tooth and Nail the card, a seven-mana sorcery with an optional entwine cost of two. Tooth and Nail is ridiculously powerful when it gets off with entwine, and few are the games that you will lose after dropping a pair of Darksteel Colossi, some combination of Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker and Darksteel Colossus or Vintage cream dream Sundering Titan. Getting to the point where you can fire off nine mana worth of hot meaty sorcery is the hard part, and the deck plays all kinds of mana acceleration to get you to that point.
The original Tooth and Nail decks from PT: Kobe ran Cloudpost and called themselves TwelvePost due to the eight redundant cards Reap and Sow and Sylvan Scrying. Almost every Tooth and Nail deck uses Sylvan Scrying to set up the “UrzaTron” (Urza’s Mine, Urza’s Power Plant, and Urza’s Tower); most decks use 2-4 copies of Reap and Sow as well. Note that these same cards are great for fetching Boseiju, Who Shelters All against blue decks. Mono-Blue’s counters can be tough, but Boseiju, Who Shelters All takes the starch out of everything except a Time Stop (more on that later).
Once you have all the mana in the world, what do you do with it? Tooth and Nail is the name of the deck for a reason, and most of the time, resolving that sorcery with entwine is going to be game. Against control decks, the combo of choice is usually Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker + Sundering Titan. Against a two-color control deck, the opponent is going to lose about six lands and seven life on the first turn, and should be looking at a lethal attack for 21 the second turn. When winning the game is what you need to do, and quickly, Darksteel Colossus comes down in place of Sundering Titan, with an almost guaranteed 33 damage over two turns. Most Tooth and Nail decks also play some pantywaisted combo as well. The original was Leonin Abunas + Platinum Angel, but Kuroda broke that up more than once in Kobe and many players moved to Mephidross Vampire + Triskelion (which is actually worse against Red Decks). The first combo puts the opponent on a five-turn clock (assuming he doesn’t have a way to stop a 4/4 flying machine) from an ostensibly game winning position; the latter combo lets you kill every creature in play… at least the ones that can be targeted by artifact creature abilities. Spoilers like Damping Matrix won’t foil the first but will stop Triskelion’s “kill everything” ability.
A lot of Tooth and Nail decks also feature expensive bombs besides Tooth and Nail itself. Since Kobe, Tooth and Nail players have leaned on Mindslaver, and since Fifth Dawn, they have borrowed a page from the other Green decks with Rude Awakening.
Like I said, I’ve played a lot of Tooth and Nail over the past several months. This is version 1.0 I built for the upcoming Regionals format:
1 Darksteel Colossus
1 Sundering Titan
4 Talisman of Impulse
4 Eternal Witness
2 Kodama’s Reach
4 Reap and Sow
1 Rude Awakening
4 Sakura-Tribe Elder
4 Sylvan Scrying
4 Tooth and Nail
1 Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker
4 Magma Jet
My listing differs from the typical Tooth deck in several ways. First of all, I play a legitimate second color. Most decks have one black or one white card but don’t really plan on playing them fair and square. My deck, like the deck Garza used in New Jersey, has real Red removal. With Affinity gone, Electrostatic Bolt is clearly no longer good enough, but Magma Jet, a popular card in the faster and higher-powered recent Extended format, actually helps set up the deck’s long game plan. My mana situation follows from the Red inclusion: Cloudposts instead of UrzaTron. Kodama’s Reach main deck. No wink wink nudge nudge combo creatures. The reasons I went to such lengths to change around the mana and deck configuration will become clear in the actual matchup data, below.
My sideboard is an axis of weirdness. I don’t know enough about the actual metagame that will show up at Regionals, so for now, I am playing with both of the frightened girlyman combos in my sideboard. I don’t see any real reason to play Naturalize instead of Tel-Jilad Justice. What am I going to kill? A Honden of Seeing Winds? The enchantments that will actually show up, like Glorious Anthem or Phyrexian Arena, are the kinds of cards you will never want to sideboard against anyway.
On to the matchups:
1st Place: Midi-Pyrénnées France
3 Umezawa’s Jitte
Tauber’s R/G deck is a vast improvement over the Paris Top 8 deck we looked at last week. He has a better creature lineup and actual Magma Jets (albeit only three). That said, looking over his listing, I was pretty sure it would be a cakewalk for G/R Tooth and Nail, and it was.
Final tally: G/R Tooth 9, R/G Beats 1
This color combination has a lot of weapons against Tooth and Nail. Many configurations run four Plow Unders starting, and you may recall that my G/R deck from the Championship Deck Challenge ran four Cranial Extractions starting. In addition, Green and Red has Sowing Salt from the latest set… like I said, all kinds of weapons for Tooth and Nail. This deck has none of those cards main.
Some of the games were close. Improbably enough, the Tauber deck’s only win was a game where it withstood being on the wrong end of Mindslaver. But most of the games Tooth and Nail just blocked with Sakura-Tribe Elders and Eternal Witnesses long enough to get sufficient mana to win the game. This matchup is particularly brutal because it is a two-color deck that is the exact same colors as the Tooth and Nail… Sundering Titan is something like four times as ridiculous as usual.
A couple of games Tooth looked to be dead with just two Cloudposts and three Forests out, but then it would use Rude Awakening purely as an Early Harvest to power out an early Tooth and Nail. Once the big nine-mana entwine hit, the fat lady usually started belting out the hits, two to be precise.
After boards R/G Beats is going to get a lot of help from its Extractions and Sowing Salts… but less than you might think. Tauber has a sum total of zero basic Swamps, and I don’t like the matchup between Birds of Paradise and Magma Jet for purposes of protecting Cranial Extraction before Tooth and Nail hits… no Fires of Yavimaya on this squad. Sowing Salt isn’t as good against the Kodama’s Reach/Cloudpost version as it is against the UrzaTron. Against the UrzaTron, one Sowing Salt invalidates the deck’s entire mana engine, but with four Reaches in the deck after board, this one can ramp up sufficient mana for the bombs, admittedly in more ponderous fashion than usual.
4 Beacon of Creation
4 Birds Of Paradise
4 Blanchwood Armor
2 Fangren Fistborn
2 Genju of the Cedars
2 Isao, Enlightened Bushi
3 Kodama Of The North Tree
2 Plow Under
4 Troll Ascetic
4 Viridian Zealot
1 Okina, Temple to the Grandfaters
This matchup showed a clear break between beatdown and control. The Mono Green deck was clearly the beatdown with its Blanchwood Armors, and would go on the offense with that card as early as possible every game. For the Mono Green, the plan is all about closing damage with fast Genjus. Troll Ascetic with Blanchwood Armor is also effective at knocking down that life total.
Another strategy that Mono Green used to good effect was to play a late Beacon of Creation and swarm past even a successful Tooth and Nail. Because my version of Tooth and Nail is so focused, it can’t necessarily worm its way out of narrow late-game problems with Mephidross Vampire or Oblivion Stone, at least not main deck.
Final Tally: G/R Tooth 5, Mono Green Beats 5
The Mono Green deck has Plow Under to screw up Tooth’s development, which is why I’m surprised people don’t play four copies. It’s not like Mono Green has the ability to search them up or anything.
The Tooth deck would have done a lot better if I had played the Leonin Abunas + Platinum Angel combo. I think that four Kodama’s Reaches and Abunas + Angel gives Tooth the distinct edge over four Creeping Molds after boards, but I’m not sure if the Poussard deck brings in Gale Force; it probably should, considering that Triskelion + Vampire is also very effective (but less so due to Kodama and Ascetic).
Up next was the archetype I looked at over the past couple of weeks, White Weenie. As per The Wakefield Error, I elected not to test one of my own janky WW decks against my own janky Tooth deck, and instead used the updated version of WW from the forums. This deck has been touted as 75-90% against Tooth and Nail. I was skeptical, but decided to give the deck a shot against the deck it was decided to beat.
4 Glorious Anthem
3 Hokori, Dust Drinker
3 Isamaru, Hound of Konda
2 Kami of the Ancient Law
4 Lantern Kami
4 Leonin Skyhunter
3 Otherworldly Journey
4 Shining Shoal
2 Skyhunter Skirmisher
4 Suntail Hawk
The final tally was G/R Tooth 5, White Weenie 5. 5-5 isn’t exactly favorable, but it was better than my fast deck against the generic Paris Tooth, and the equal of my slowdown deck.
This was another matchup where a gimmick late game combo would have really improved the numbers. White Weenie wins all the close games, and is especially good on games where it goes first and has Chrome Mox to start; Shining Shoal was perfect here because I always needed something to drop my Mox and never wanted to throw away a real threat.
I toyed with running just a Platinum Angel, but I decided that it probably wouldn’t cut the mustard against damage on the stack and Otherworldly Journey. Both of the matchups where Angel / Abunas or Triskelion / Vampire would help are already even and should become blowouts after boards. Because most of the tier one decks are about resource advantage, in every other matchup but Mono Green beats and WW, I’d rather have those Kodama’s Reaches.
I know that WW is supposed to get Damping Matrix, but bringing in Tel-Jilad Justice actually makes the Tooth deck more consistent. It helps fight Umezawa’s Jitte and other equipment, re-establish Hokori parity, and, without Damping Matrix in play, WW has no chance whatsoever against an entwined Tooth and Nail. My previous sideboard also had Flashfires, but after actually playing the matchup, I don’t see how that card would help more than just playing for the deck’s true focus while keeping problem permanents like Damping Matrix off the board. Just don’t get caught with your pants down against Hokori.
Mono Blue is a deck that’s near and dear to my heart, and is fast becoming the deck of choice for top Standard players. The reigning best player in the world chose if for Regionals, and I expect the same decision from others.
When I built Mono Blue for States, I had Tooth very much in mind, and set up my deck to crush long game Green decks in three, even if I dropped game one. When building this version of Tooth and Nail, I similarly had Mono Blue in mind. Even though Paris champ Terence Merle des Isles didn’t run Temporal Adept, I think he should have… and finalist Gabriel Nassif did. Temporal Adept is faster than Tooth and Nail, and trumps Boseiju, preventing the big bomb from ever coming online. Magma Jet similarly trumps Temporal Adept, and Boil – especially with two Boseijus in the deck – is a hell of a lot faster than Time Stop.
I tested Terence Merle des Isles’s deck from Paris again, and the matchup went 6-4 in favor of Tooth and Nail.
Even with Boseiju in the deck, the Mono Blue matchup isn’t automatic. Terence’s deck has Aether Spellbomb, which can put a dent in the “Colossus to the head” plan. Vedalken Shackles is reasonably effective, slowing down Kiki-Jiki, and long game, can even steal one of the big artifacts. In game one, Time Stop can also “counter” a Boseiju-powered Tooth and Nail.
Strategically, the advantage comes entirely from resource advantage. If the Mono Blue deck stalls on mana, it tends to lose; Tooth and Nail wins literally every game it goes first if it has Sylvan Scrying. Kodama’s Reach hits, land drops get made, Reap and Sow ruins the board, and Mono Blue can never catch up.
I figured Mono Black would be a problem matchup because of its ability to actually kill a Darksteel Colossus. The French Regionals have shown two different Mono Black decks, each with distinct advantages against Tooth and Nail; one has Barter in Blood and Distress, but the one I tested against was a powerful threat deck with Death Cloud and some Legendary 5/5s
Death Cloud decks in general fight a resource war over hand, creatures, life, but especially land. Even though most Tooth and Nail decks have fragile boards due to the UrzaTron, this G/R deck, with Kodama’s Reach main and side, is far more resilient. Death Cloud has a lot of trouble managing the board because of this, but has awesome 5/5 creatures to win the game. Both Yukora, the Prisoner and Kokusho, the Evening Star were effective in the 10 game set.
Black lost a game where it was up ten cards with Phyrexian Arena in play and two Divining Tops going after Clouding Tooth and Nail to no hand and no board, wiping out Kiki-Jiki and a Sundering Titan… but the Arena hit until Black was dead; on the subject of Sundering Titan, it’s actually pretty bad in this matchup, taking out one land for every two it costs.
Cranial Extraction is another powerful threat against Tooth and Nail, though Tooth pulled out at least 1-2 games where it had lost all of its namesake sorceries. In one particularly close game, Cranial Extraction ate all the Tooth and Nails and revealed Darksteel Colossus in Tooth’s grip; Tooth had only ten mana and had to waste a turn on Sylvan Scrying. With one turn to go, Black ripped the other Extraction to remove Darksteel Colossus and win the game.
The matchup ended 5-5, which was better than I expected. Mono Black has a lot of trumps, but Tooth and Nail has the ultimate weapon in Mindslaver. Mindslaver wins games that no other card could. Particularly strong against a deck based entirely on resource management, Mindslaver makes staring at that Death Cloud in hand a truly tearjerking experience. Try turning on all your artifact creatures and discarding your hand with no profit so that your opponent is the one up ten cards, and you’ll see what I mean. The other card that won a lot of games was Magma Jet. Against Phyrexian Arena and Death Cloud, two to the head was always a welcome Scry setup.
Of the infinite matchups I tested this week, I was most apprehensive about the Tooth and Nail mirror. Back when Team Deadguy was the top team on the planet, my friend Dave Price told me that he considered the mirror to be one of the most important matchups you can test. Think about it: most environments come down to maybe three tier one decks. Assuming you choose a variant of one of them as your weapon of choice, winning the mirror will contribute to a huge percentage of your potential wins or losses. The best versions of the best decks tend to hold most of their percentages and win the mirror more often than not: that is the reason why you slug your teched out Sword of Light and Shadow deck against the stock deck you think will show up. You think it will sho up… that’s the whole point.
The key performance indicators in this mirror include:
UrzaTron v. Cloudpost and Kodama’s Reach:
The UrzaTron is almost universally used in Tooth and Nail decks. It is easier to lucksack into two copies of the UrzaTron, meaning only one Reap and Sow or Sylvan Scrying is necessary to complete the set. The problem with the UrzaTron is that it soaks up 12 of the 23 available land slots. With one slot devoted to Boseiju, that leaves only ten Green sources. My deck plays a second color and more Green sources. It has less lucksack capability than the conventional Tooth, but has a much more consistent early game against early pressure and for purposes of resource development.
The UrzaTron is much easier to disrupt using Reap and Sow, but it is also easier to topdeck into recovery. In one game, my deck hit the Mono Green deck with three Reap and Sows and lost to topdecked Urza’s lands and Eternal Witnesses anyway. Conversely, Reap and Sow and even Plow Under are far less effective against the Cloudpost version. A single Reap and Sow doesn’t cause that much impact, and Kodama’s Reach makes up a lot of ground (literally).
A subtle point in the UrzaTron column is that Cloudpost comes into play tapped. Especially late game when its time to rock and roll with Tooth and Nail, or when it comes down to Reap and Sow with entwine, this can be relevant.
Sensei’s Divining Top and Oblivion Stone v. Magma Jet:
I have no respect for the Top. I think it’s a bad card and I think that most of the decks that play it are a few cards off optimal. Magma Jet does everything that the Top does in the short term while taking out Birds of Paradise, Temporal Adept, and most importantly, Slith Firewalker. The Top fills the one-drop hole, but I don’t know anyone in his right mind who would keep a one-land seven-card hand on the strength of that card.
Oblivion Stone is better in some matchups and worse in a lot more than Magma Jet. It fills a lot of holes and gives you a huge margin for error, but it doesn’t save you against the scary decks’ best early draws. In this matchup specifically, Oblivion Stone tends to destroy one or more Talismans of Indulgence and Magma Jet tends to go two to the head.
Vine Trellis v. Talisman of Indulgence:
This is a great debate; both cards are very good but have different specific applications. For most decks I’d say that Vine Trellis is strictly better. The Mono Green Tooth and Nail is not one of them. Believe it or not, hitting your first Green mana is not guaranteed for the UrzaTron decks, and I think that good players are losing games with untuned lists because they are simply greedy and don’t have Talismans of Impulse or Unity to enable their first couple of turns.
The different mana engine of the Cloudpost Tooth and Nail requires separate sequencing than the UrzaTron decks. There are all kinds of nuanced “little things” that occur in the first three turns of the game that would never come up if you didn’t test a lot, but can give you an advantage because of your more consistent mana engine.
Turn 1: Cloudpost
Here is another sequence that comes up pretty much only in the Tooth mirror. Most matchups where the opponent’s deck doesn’t have any creature removal you can’t play cavalier Magic, but in this matchup, you can pre-empt an average draw with a hard-cast Kiki-Jiki. Consider:
Turn 4: Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker
Now you can go straight to Mindslaver or more likely Reap and Sow mana. The typical opponent is going to need a Sakura-Tribe Elder, Reap and Sow, and the full Urzatron in the first four-five turns to keep pace with this draw. It is counter-intuitive to go for so many Mountains early, but is a powerful racing tool if you draw an Elder, Mountain, and the singleton Kiki-Jiki.
The dust cleared at 6-4 in favor of G/R Tooth. This matchup is really difficult and I actually undid a lot of the games and played them back after decisions around turn 4 or 6. Despite posting the same percentage as the Mono Blue deck, I’m not confident in calling this a good matchup. The games are tight. Playing or holding certain spells in the early game can haunt you five turns later in this matchup, especially Reap and Sow.
The UrzaTron deck uses its Reap and Sows to set up its mana. The Cloudpost deck on the other hand has to use its Reap and Sows offensively. A single Reap and Sow doesn’t do very much to the G/R deck, but it can devastate the UrzaTron combo, at least in the short term. Going Stone Rain and not waiting for the entwine can be hard to swallow, but this matchup is a race to Tooth and Nail, and the G/R deck has Kodama’s Reach to fall back on in game one; if its Cloudposts come online, great… but it doesn’t need them if it is hitting drops and using Reap and Sow to keep the opponent on his heels.
One of the greatest faults of the UrzaTron deck, and a flaw that I have been harping on since States testing, is its inability to draw sufficient Green mana. In at least two games, the Mono Green deck lost because it set up the UrzaTron but didn’t have sufficient green to play out Tooth and Nail.
The roughest matchup by far was Mono Red. I expected the combination of early beats and land destruction to be a rough ride… after all, Tooth and Nail failed to win a Pro Tour against a Mono Red deck with fewer specifically applicable tools. The version I chose was Benjamin Claudel’s finalist from Limousin Auverg.
Finalist: Limousin Auverg, France
4 Chrome Mox
This deck has some awesome weapons. I mean there are many things I would do differently; this deck only has 23 primary mana sources, despite running six five-drops. It has all kinds of powerhouse cards in weird numbers. Why play three Genjus? Why three Arc-Sloggers? Isn’t that the scariest monster ever for a Green deck? I don’t get the mana denial numbers at all. But the deck wins.
Red Deck master Dan Paskins would be particularly proud of the performance of Vulshok Sorcerer in this build. Tooth and Nail’s primary defensive measure on the ground is an x/1 creature, and Vulshok Sorcerer clears those guys nicely while Slith Firewalker crashes through the Red Zone.
The early game advantage for the Red Deck is huge. Tooth and Nail can’t get hit by a Genju. If it gets hit by that 6/1, the game effectively ends. It doesn’t matter if the Red Deck doesn’t make a play for two more turns, the writing is on the wall for Tooth. Slith Firewalker is awesome in this matchup, and it’s always in the opening hand next to a Chrome Mox.
I was pretty proud of my Tooth deck’s 4-6 loss to the Red Deck. The resistance came primarily on the back of those Magma Jets. It was in these games that I learned not to get hit by a Genju, and to kill early game Sliths. Using the Genju is an enormous mana commitment of 3-4 lands, especially if it wants to come out with “haste.” That Magma Jet doesn’t just save six life, it buys a full turn and sometimes more.
To contrast, I also did a 10 game set between the Mono Green Tooth and Nail deck and this Red Deck. In place of the 4-6 was a 9-1 death blow for the Red Deck. 40% might not be anything to write mommy about, but it sure beats losing to Slith Firewalker every single time.
A lot of players are building aggressive decks to fight Tooth and Nail right now, and some of their work I found surprisingly good. However, these decks have giant holes in their strategies that necessarily presuppose that the opponent will be either unprepared or will waltz into a matchup with his pants down. The Red Deck doesn’t play that way. Its offense is fast and vital. It comes out swinging on turn one and can wipe the floor with the opponent’s defenders with Vulshok Sorcerer. If the Tooth deck gets anywhere in the 8-12 life zone, it has basically lost the game to an Arc-Slogger already. The Red deck beat Tooth in a game where it was stalled on one land (and a Mox), got its Mountains Plowed once it finally drew a second land, and ended the game with just that first Mountain. In this game, it Parised to six and faced consecutive Vine Trellises and an Eternal Witness in the first four turns from Tooth. Can any other deck in the current Standard field that kind of a Holy Pikula?
Anyway, that’s it for Tooth and Nail 1.0. To recap:
Mono Blue: 6-4
Tooth and Nail: 6-4
Mono Green: 5-5
White Weenie: 5-5
Mono Black: 5-5
Mono Red: 4-6
This deck’s strength against Mono Blue is a powerful reason to consider G/R Tooth and Nail. It has one bad matchup among the decks I tested… but one that is much better than the stock version of the deck. If you want to win any of the 5-5 matchups, the deck has the tool to turn them into easy wins. I’m sure that version 1.0 isn’t the optimal one yet, but this deck is a great place to start along that path.