I’m writing this report in a Starbucks, as the desk I normally work from split in half from my fist smashing it after losing in the second round of a 4-3-2-2. I wanted to write a report about Worlds, but to be honest, nothing much of interest happened. Paris isn’t as romantic as you’d expect when you’re surrounded by a bunch of dudes. I finished 21st, thanks to a delightful misplay in the last round on my part against Tuyoshi Fujita that cost me the match.
So with Worlds behind us, I figured I would focus on testing Extended some more, to help my friends with the PTQs as well as prepare for Grand Prix: Dallas. I actually spent the majority of my testing prior to Worlds on Extended, as I figured Flores would just provide me with a good enough Standard deck. Sadly, the deck he sent me the Friday before Paris featured not one, not two, but a full compliment of Razia’s Purifications. This was an actual quote from the email he sent me…
“Killer combination: Weathered Wayfarer + Firemane Angel / Razia’s Purification”
Now I’ll admit that combo ranks right up there with peanut butter and jelly, and Zangief’s throttle-hold from turbo edition, but I was skeptical. Since I hadn’t tested Standard at all I decided to just play Zoo, which I don’t recommend to anyone.
When I first started testing Extended I started out playing Desire a lot. I saw the TEPS deck on MTGO and it looked interesting, so I began testing it extensively. I felt like it was a powerful deck, but I also felt like it was very vulnerable to disruption. I then started to look into Counterbalance. I had a version that was Blue/Black and White that was testing very well, but it couldn’t handle Boros well enough. I gave the deck to Antonio and he added Red to it instead of Black, which is the deck Nassif piloted to a perfect record.
It was around this point BDM emailed the group telling us of a new Goblin deck he and Billy Moreno were working on. It was your typical goblin storm deck, but it splashed Green for Fecundity, which allowed it to kill in a single turn with greater consistency. It also made it much more of a threat against decks that featured Wrath of God, like Scepter and Tron. I was intrigued so I began testing it, and it was doing pretty well. The list I ended up playing had some holes in it because we weren’t able to test it as much as we would’ve liked. The Brightstone Rituals were pretty horrendous, and I always wished they were Chrome Moxes so I could maximize the number of times I could play a Fecundity on the second turn. I also thought sideboard was off. We splashed Black because it was easy to do so, and it seemed like Cabal Therapy would be awesome with the War Marshals. I never boarded them in, but I am pretty sure they just weren’t good enough. I would’ve preferred this sideboard:
4 Ancient Grudge
4 Dwarven Blastminer
2 Krosan Grip
1 Goblin King
I went 4-2 with the deck, losing once to Balancing Tings and once to U/R/W Angel in the last round. I think the deck is very good and certainly a viable option. However, with the new crop of combo decks emerging it isn’t as good a choice now as it was then.
So like I was saying, with Worlds behind us I began examining the new metagame and trying to find a deck that could thrive in it that has been overlooked. I looked at a card that has long held a special place in my heart… Astral Slide. I have always liked cycling decks because they’re very resilient and almost never have to mulligan. Last year at Worlds I played a W/R/G Slide deck that I like a lot, so I figured I’d try it out in this new metagame.
The first thing I noticed was that Lightning Rift was just not as good as it used to be. With Boros playing up to eight Pro-Red creatures, it doesn’t quite get the job done. I also noticed that the combo match ups, which have always been bad, have not gotten any better. With at least three viable combo decks in the format, I almost gave up on the deck.
Later in the week I went to Atlantic City to play poker with my friends Phil Napoli, Matt Rubin, Ashok Chitturi, Chad Kastelton Steele, and Gerard Fabiano. Phil brought some Extended decks with him to test in case we did badly in the poker tournament. Ashok and I were knocked out early so we went up to the hotel room to test. He played Boros and was telling me how his list differed from Phil’s. He had the idea to play Orim’s Thunder in the sideboard of Boros, for the mirror and Counterbalance match ups. I though that was cute, but what I really liked was his other idea. He wanted to replace the maindeck Molten Rains with Orim’s Chant. I thought he was crazy at first, but the more I thought about it, it actually wasn’t a bad idea at all. Against pretty much all three combo decks, a timely Orim’s Chant can actually wreck your opponent, especially if they don’t see it coming. This could drastically improve Boros’ matchups against combo. Against control, Molten Rain’s main purpose, for the most part, is to stop them from getting to four mana to either cast a Wrath of God or a Loxodon Hierarch. Orim’s Chant can serve that same purpose but only more effectively. If you chant them on the upkeep in which they will hit their fourth mana you’ll essentially be doing the same thing. However, this way you do it at instant speed, so if they have a counterspell it’s irrelevant, they’ll still need to tap on their upkeep and won’t have enough mana to Wrath. Then I remembered back in Worlds… one of my opponents was playing Boros and had Orim’s Chant in his sideboard. I went off one turn and killed him, and he showed me his next card, it was the Chant. Had he drawn it in time I would’ve actually been annihilated.
I basically spent the whole car ride back home thinking about this. Is Orim’s Chant really that good in this metagame? If Boros could reasonably play Chant main, what other decks could do the same? Scepter Chant has always been a threat in any metagame it’s legal in. But it doesn’t do that great against Boros, which is the main reason it didn’t post better results at Worlds. Another annoyance was Krosan Grip and Ancient Grudge. Both cards are very good against Scepter and are also heavily played.
Then I started to think about Astral Slide again, and I began to wonder if that deck could play Orim’s Chant. The more I thought about it the more it made sense to me. Not only could you build a Scepter Chant deck without the Scepter, but you could give it a built in recursion mechanic in Eternal Witness. That way, even if they had a way to destroy your Slide (Scepter), you could just get it back. I spent some time and put together this list.
The deck is very similar to my old Rift Slide deck, except with Orim’s Chants instead of Lightning Rifts. The deck functions more or less the same way, but you have the added option of Chant-locking them on their upkeep for the rest of the game. If you get an Eternal Witness, Astral Slide, and an Orim’s Chant, you have the lock. All you need is cyclers to keep it going, but that’s not a problem. If you only get Witness and Slide, a Life from the Loam can help you dig through your deck to find the Chant or a win condition. I’ll break down how the deck plays by matchup as I’ve tested every one.
Because of its popularity I tested this matchup the most; luckily it’s very good for you. The combination of Wrath of God and Astral Slide neutralizes their ground attack, and your life gain makes it very difficult for them to burn you out. In about twenty games tested, Slide has only lost once and that was to a turn 3 Molten Rain on the play when they had six power on the board already. The key thing to remember is to use your Chants early. A Chant with kicker on their third turn can be huge, as it can fog and prevent them from casting a Molten Rain. The deck can come back from a very low life total, so don’t be nervous if they have a fast start against you. After board I bring in the Hierarchs for the Decree of Justices. The Decrees will randomly be awesome against them, but they are often clunky and should come out.
This matchup scared me a little bit, but that was before I tested it. Once I played a few games it was evident that it was a blow out. In one game the Balance deck got turns 2 and 3 Meddling Mage, locking down my Slides and Wraths… and I still won. The sad fact is that the Counterbalance deck has a really hard time with Elephants and Dragons. They have no way to counter them, and their only hope is to get a Jitte active. Since they only have three three-drops in their deck, Astral Slide and Eternal Witness have a good chance of resolving even if they do get a Counterbalance in play. The Counterbalance deck needs to draw two Meddling Mages before you cast either a Slide or a Wrath, and they need to get a Jitte online to have a chance against you. After board, Krosan Grip helps to deal with the annoying enchantment as well as the Jitte.
Desire / TEPS
Of all the combo decks, this matchup is the closest. Desire can be very fast, and if you don’t draw an Orim’s Chant fast enough you will lose. However, if you do draw one you’re in excellent shape. If they try and go for it, you can simply null their turn and it will likely cost them dearly. If they’re careful they’ll try and Duress you first before going off, which mean you’ll also need an Eternal Witness. The good news is that while you have a way to stop their nut draw, they actually have no answer to your lock. If you draw the three components by turn four you’ll win. But even if you don’t draw the Slide, a Witness and a Chant will usually get the job done. Of all the games I played the first game is close to 50% while the post board matchups have been over 60% in Slides favor.
This matchup is much easier then the Desire one because they don’t have access to Duress. Again, it relies on you drawing an Orim’s Chant early, but you have a lot of cheap cyclers, so you can easily see the top 10 cards of your deck in the very early turns to help with that. This matchup plays out similar to the Desire matchup, but they’ll try and draw out your Chant with their own Chants. However, their deck is much more vulnerable to Chant because of the Lotus Blooms. Use the same sideboard plan as you did against Desire and you should win this matchup 60% of the time.
On paper, control decks always seem like they would give Slide a hard time. However I learned last year that simply is not the case. While the matchups can be close, there is no clear favorite. Slide has a lot of mana and Eternal Witness / Slide is just as powerful a combination as any out there. The main problem you’ll encounter is Mindslaver. If they draw a Slaver before you can set up your combo then it’ll be very difficult for you to win. Since you have no permission they can easily play it on turn 6 with no drawback. Now there have been games when I’ve been able to survive an activated Slaver, but that rarely happens. The good news is that they only have four hard counters (Condescend), so once you get the combo going you should be in good shape. The critical turn will be when you cast a Chant to force through the Slide and the Witness. This matchup is very winnable but it’ll be a fight. After board the Blastminers are clearly awesome, and I actually haven’t lost a game yet when I had one on turn 2. The Krosan Grips are also very important as they give you a way to deal with a Slaver if they just try and run it out there early. The games have been split back and forth all the times I’ve tested so I’m not sure who has the advantage. Tron might be slightly favored game 1, but I think it’s much better for you post board.
This is your hardest matchup game 1. Since you have no answer to the Scepter you will most often just lost straight up to it. They also have Cunning Wish, which makes it difficult to lock them completely. I would go as far as saying game 1 is probably unwinnable, so as soon as you see the Scepter you should just concede because you’ll need all the time you can get to beat them games 2 and 3. Once I realized how bad the first game can be I started to just focus on the post-board games. Of twenty games played, Slide won them all. The fact is that Slide has too many good answers to all their threats after board, and you’ll just wear them down with your cards. The problem is that it will take time. On average my sideboarded games took about 20-30 minutes, which means that even though you’re very good against them games 2 and 3, you might not have enough time to beat them.
This is a difficult matchup if they get a Seismic Assault in play game 1. Clearly a control deck with no answer to a card like that will have a rough going of it. Devastating Dreams is also quite horrid for us, since the deck is so mana hungry. After board, Krosan Grip will help deal with the Assault but their deck still contains so many good threats that it’s going to be tough to win. All in all I think this is a fairly hard match up for Slide to win.
This matchup all comes down to how fast you can draw your Astral Slide. They have no answer to the Chant lock so you have that going for you, but they also have four Cabal Therapy, so they can pressure your hand pretty well early on. I haven’t had much trouble winning game 1, unless they cast a Tolarian Winds on turn 2 and are able to get a huge chunk of their library into the yard. After board they have Ray of Revelation but you have Tormod’s Crypt, so again the edge would have to go to you. I have been able to win the majority of test games both pre- and post-sideboard, and I’d say Slide is probably a slight favorite.
All in all I think the deck has a lot of potential, but I’m not sure if I have the correct build yet. As of right now the metagame analysis for the deck is as follows:
Rock (both Aggro and Gifts)
If you’re a fan of Slide then I would recommend playing the deck. Other than Aggro Loam, there is no deck you can’t beat, and even the Aggro Loam matchup is winnable. The combination of Eternal Witness and Astral Slide is as powerful as anything you’d find in Extended, and you also have consistency on your side. You won’t need to mulligan very often with the deck, and there is a lot of great synergies that will come up.
I think given the right metagame you could easily win a PTQ, but it will require practice on your part. The deck can be difficult to play at times, and only playtesting will help you figure out what you need to do in certain situations.
Good Luck at the PTQs, and feel free to comment in the forums – I’m constantly working on the deck.
Osyp “Joe Black” Lebedowicz