I actually have an interesting build of Tooth and Nail that independently echoes some commentary that I’ve read from players like Antonino DeRosa and giant monsters expert Jeff Garza. For whatever reason, I elected to go a different direction for Green week and learned some surprising things along the way.
Here is the deck that I initially started testing:
4 Gifts Ungiven
4 Thought Courier
4 Eternal Witness
4 Kodama’s Reach
1 Molder Slug
4 Plow Under
2 Rude Awakening
4 Sakura-Tribe Elder
1 Tel-Jilad Justice
4 Viridian Shaman
Even at a glance, you should be able to see that this deck is a Standard modification to the U/G block deck with similar design sensibilities to the G/R and G/R/B decks that I posted last week. I never thought that Thirst for Knowledge was very good in the block deck, and was always of the opinion that Thought Courier served Thirst for Knowledge’s role much better. It curves on two, can get in for one, and doesn’t compete with vital cards like Eternal Witness and Viridian Shaman on turn 3. More that any of those, it can actually dig for land and set up an even unexciting third turn Eternal Witness for a land where there might not be a play otherwise.
After so many games with various decks that did nothing special with Gifts Ungiven, I also wanted to try a deck that kicked all kinds of ass with that new card drawing spell. You can see that I tailored the list to be able to play Gifts Ungiven for Molder Slug, Oxidize, Tel-Jilad Justice, and Viridian Shaman against Affinity.
If there is one thing that my Blue deck testing taught me, it is that counters suck in the current environment. They do nothing against Aether Vial, less against Boseiju, Who Shelters All, and don’t even necessarily win counter wars against other Blue decks, depending on who has more mana. So I didn’t play any.
The initial testing against Paquette Affinity and Kamiel’s Vial Affinity was less than encouraging.
Paquette Affinity 5-5
Vial Affinity 2-8
There were several problems. U/G could be in a commanding position but lose to its own Molder Slug if there were a Disciple of the Vault in play. Low on life but strong on the board, it would constantly be in a position of either drawing Rude Awakening or losing to the Disciple and some chump blocks. The reason the deck did so much better against Paquette was that Chrome Mox Affinity is much more vulnerable to a single well-placed removal spell, whereas Vial Affinity is very resilient to anti-mana strategies, and still has Atog (which, if you hadn’t noticed after all these articles, still doesn’t die to an Oxidize).
The difference between the performance of this deck versus the G/R/B deck last week seems to be the presence of Red. G/R/B can Electrostatic Bolt or Magma Jet a Disciple of the Vault, and will, almost immediately, every time one hits the board. More than an inability to beat Disciple of the Vault, the U/G deck just lost to being mana flooded a lot.
I decided that I still liked the idea of the deck and changed the configuration somewhat, going into another round of testing:
4 Gifts Ungiven
2 March Of The Machines
4 Thought Courier
4 Eternal Witness
4 Molder Slug
4 Plow Under
2 Rude Awakening
4 Sakura-Tribe Elder
4 Viridian Shaman
I quite liked Tel-Jilad Justice, but decided I would rather have four copies of all the good spells. I had a feeling that this version was going to do a lot better, and thought that bolstering the threats on Molder Slug would better prepare the deck for the next matchup. As for March of the Machines, I decided that no Affinity player will ever give you a copy unless it isn’t relevant, so there is no point in building the deck towards finding it with Gifts Ungiven. In this deck, it is just kind of a nice card to have on top of all the other hate.
The testing said:
Paquette Affinity 7-3
Vial Affinity 8-2
The difference between the two U/G versions is clearly dramatic, with a complete reversal in the Vial Affinity matchup. I am reminded of something my friend Sol Malka told me when I consulted him regarding Green Week, “No Kodama’s Reach, because the thought of playing this on turn 3 drawing first vs. aggro makes me vomit.” I guess Sol was right. Kodama’s Reach was nice with Thought Courier, but ultimately not fast enough to matter most of the time. The turns I was previously spending on an overcosted Rampant Growth were put to better use, and the presence of more Molder Slugs just helped the deck overwhelm Affinity. I would be lying if I said that the presence of March of the Machines didn’t win a couple of games, but I don’t think that it mattered that much. A lot of the time, it could have been Tel-Jilad Justice and yielded the same binary result.
The other main difference is that I got more experience playing Gifts Ungiven in this deck. Where in the first build I would go for Molder Slug, Oxidize, Tel-Jilad Justice, and Viridian Shaman and be unhappy with my Molder Slug, in the second version of the deck, I would tailor the searches more specifically, usually involving an Eternal Witness and additional Gifts Ungiven when I played the spell. Once I got an advantage, I could push for redundant Molder Slugs or even Rude Awakening, burying the opponent with Eternal Witness.
I just want to stress before going on that I don’t think that March of the Machines is the reason the deck did so much better in the second set of twenty games. Many of the games that were lost were on the wrong end of tapping out for a March of the Machines and getting slammed by a Cranial Plating already in play; I am actually thinking about cutting it from the main deck. Conversely, in the land destruction category, the coolest moment of testing was burying two Glimmervoids with a Plow Under on two artifact lands with a Molder Slug in play.
The Keys to the Kingdom
This deck is unique among those I’ve tested in that it beats both Affinity and Tooth and Nail in game one. To be fair, I used specifically the mono-Green Tooth and Nail deck that [author name="Dan Paskins"]Dan Paskins[/author] posted, which has very specific considerations as far as Tooth and Nail specifically go. But the fact that U/G posted a strong 7-3 record against any tuned version is really encouraging from where I sit.
The reason this deck was able to do so well is the unique inclusion of two cards, one available in Block but for the most part not played, and one unique to Standard. Thought Courier plays an important role, allowing the deck to dump cards like March of the Machines while digging for big spells like Gifts Ungiven, Molder Slug, and especially Plow Under. Plow Under, a card that should require no explanation with regards to fighting Tooth and Nail, actually requires a bit. I don’t know that a single Plow Under will beat Tooth and Nail, but powered out by Eternal Witness and Gifts Ungiven, three or four will buy sufficient time to win with Molder Slug or draw into Rude Awakening.
Gifts Ungiven is great, but a bit slow in this matchup. Usually you can force Tooth and Nail into a position where you are getting Plow Under, but it might take a while. In the meantime, they might get Tooth and Nail off, which is terrible for you because your whole plan is to smash up their board such that they can’t cast it.
I got increasingly better at playing the matchup and increasingly successful when I figured out that you lead with Thought Courier if you have a third land, not Sakura-Tribe Elder. There is nothing to accelerate into on four mana except Gifts Ungiven, and typically that can wait. The cards you want hit play on turn 4 – Plow Under and Molder Slug – not turn 3. Speaking of Molder Slug, I was right, and it is the correct kill card. It remains superb against Tooth and Nail and only very good – but slow – against Affinity. That said, one Molder Slug will not be enough to win against an unchecked Tooth and Nail. Dan and John’s list will just play Duplicant + Darksteel Colossus and win in any situation that doesn’t have Rude Awakening if it has Eternal Witness access. Triskelion was pretty good because it can pick off Thought Courier and do the last couple of points in a game that U/G would otherwise win. I don’t play it in my Tooth and Nail deck, but if I did, how could I have room for multiple copies of Keiga, the Tide Star?
Now I said that special consideration must be made for the Tooth and Nail deck that was tested; Dan and John’s listing is very artifact heavy. My version of Tooth and Nail, for instance, has almost no artifacts at all… not even Solemn Simulacrum or Sundering Titan. The reason is because decks like the U/G have a field day on splash damage. As an Urzatron listing, Dan and John’s Tooth and Nail often requires Talisman of Unity to hit its first Green mana. Such Talismans are fighting a losing war against four Oxidize and four Viridian Shaman, and are drilled immediately. Moreover, the main kill card, Triskelion, has a big fat target on its head against a deck full of artifact kill and card drawing. Against a deck with fewer artifacts, I don’t know if U/G would have been as resilient. As it is, U/G was punished very little for drawing its Affinity hate.
All of that said, I wouldn’t really want to play against Tooth and Nail all day. The matchup is favorable but close. Most of the games can go either way, and it is the sheer force of U/G’s card advantage and main deck Plow Unders that carry the matchup. Unlike against Affinity, even slight variations on the other side of the table can swing the numbers dramatically in favor of Tooth and Nail. But for now, U/G feels like the best deck I’ve made so far during this project.
I was pretty sure that the worst matchup would be against Red, and playing against Osyp’s Red Deck pretty much confirmed my concerns. The reason is that the U/G deck is extremely heavy on the artifact hate, and Red Decks can easily kill Thought Courier, stranding U/G with terrible hands. Osyp’s deck is actually artifact heavy, and gets caught on March of the Machines a surprising amount of the time, but the matchup still isn’t good. Besides the simple ability to kill Thought Courier, Red Decks all have Arc-Slogger, which is a nightmare for U/G. The same situation came up in block testing, where the Red Deck would fall behind but then just play Arc-Slogger and everything would be all right again. Now they have like six copies!
Perhaps more surprising than U/G’s anti-Affinity cards against the Red Deck was the effectiveness of the Red Deck’s anti-Tooth and Nail card against U/G. I wouldn’t have thought that Molten Rain would be good at all against a deck with Sakura-Tribe Elder (and previously Kodama’s Reach), but it was. To be fair, when it drew one copy, Osyp’s Red Deck would often draw three, but the fact was, Molten Rain would keep U/G off of eight mana, and that was enough to stave off Rude Awakening more than once. It was actually pretty shocking to see the Red Deck play a Molten Rain and Solemn Simulacrum, putting it way ahead of the green deck in board position. Pyroclasm was pretty good as well, and contributed to a couple of instances where U/G’s board was swept, including a Molder Slug that absorbed a Slog to the nog and Electrostatic Bolt in addition to the ‘Clasm. This was surprising as well, since most of U/G’s small creatures are two-for-ones… but Pyroclasm got the job done.
As good as Gifts Ungiven is against focused opponents like Tooth and Nail and Affinity, it is just that mediocre against Red Decks. Playing with Gifts Ungiven felt like the blue deck testing all over again, where Inspiration would have probably been better. All that seems to happen when you play it against a Red Deck is that you don’t have a Rude Awakening any more and you are gripping some clunky creature that is not going to save you from the opponent’s Arc-Slogger and grip full of fire.
Final count on the first ten games was 3-7. The matchup numbers are clearly in favor of the Red Deck, but the individual games were actually pretty close. U/G would be wrecking the Red Deck and U/G would get burned out anyway. U/G would flatten the Red Deck’s early artifacts but not close in time to win before Arc-Slogger hit the table. Almost any game, U/G could have stolen with an opportune Rude Awakening off the top. I am totally fine with a bad, but winnable, Red Deck matchup given that U/G is the only deck I’ve played so far that can beat both Affinity and Tooth and Nail in the first game. The challenge in sideboarded games is in defeating Arc-Slogger.
Further Holes and the Sideboard
As with many Rogue decks, U/G has a lot of holes when not playing against specifically the decks that it was designed to beat. Permission may be bad, but this deck has no way whatsoever to stop a Mindslaver, for instance. If a Blinding Angel hits the board, forget about it. U/G can neither counter it nor kill it nor even block it for a turn while setting up a lethal Rude Awakening.
The sideboard is definitely going to include four copies of Last Word. I actually hate Last Word, but one of the main ways U/G can lose is getting hit by another deck’s Rude Awakening. I’d rather just Last Word that sorcery and forget about it. Joshua says that Boseiju + Hinder does the same thing, but I think I prefer to not play a combo sideboard (though Boseiju has some virtue itself just as a Wasteland). In addition, I think I would play at least two copies of Keiga, the Tide Star and maybe one Mahamoti Djinn. The more I play with Keiga, the more I feel that it is the best of the Legendary Dragon Spirits, easy to cast and exceptionally strong. Keiga can get in the way of Arc-Slogger and win the game all by itself, or race in the air at a cost two vital mana less than Rude Awakening. Keiga is a great answer to Blinding Angel or other White flyers, and laughs off Myojin of the Cleansing Fire. Mahamoti Djinn would be played just so that there aren’t too many Keigas messing up the board… and because I have exactly one Beta copy.