This past weekend was apparently an impromptu experiment for me to see if there was such a thing as “too much Magic.” I was very nearly pushed to the brink, as Pro Tour: San Diego had event upon event upon event and one could battle Magically in any number of formats for vast assortment of different prizes. I persevered, and had a wonderful time battling in several events despite finding myself just out of reach of the money.
Standard has finally been given that breath of fresh air that it so desperately needed and, despite the fact that Jund versus Jund was the not-so-epic finale to the weekend, it looks as if the enterprising deckbuilder has numerous options to explore. I doubt that I will be doing most decks justice, as many interesting concoctions were piloted by writers for this very site, but one deck to emerge that I think deserves a moment in the spotlight was Niels Viaene’s artifact deck.
I’m not sure as this is the ideal build — the 61 cards is normally frowned upon by most serious deckbuilders — but I firmly believe that Open the Vaults is a very powerful tool that most people don’t highly regard right now. Even if you’re “only” returning a Filigree Angel, a Courier’s Capsule and a couple of cycling creatures, you have just engineered a huge tempo swing. Not only have you summoned a bunch of sizable monsters to join your fight again, you have gained upwards of 12 life to undo all the damage that you might have taken in the process. Despite losing to Jund in the Quarterfinals, the deck apparently has quite the solid matchup against the regrettably-still-reigning deck-to-beat.
There are a couple of issues people might have with the deck, and as someone who has played a deck similar to this, I hope I can provide some help. At first glance, it might seem like the deck is quite mana-light. Indeed, 23 “lands” (three of which are borderposts) might seem like a far cry from a consistent manabase in a deck which wants to reliably cast 5, 6, and 8 drop spells. In reality, however, there are TONS of cyclers in the deck, both the literal kind (Architects of Will, Glassdust Hulk) and the ones that provide an additional effect (Courier’s Capsule, Spreading Seas). With 14 spells that cycle, it essentially means you’re running a 44-card deck with 23 lands, which is about the generally accepted minimum threshold for mana. With running 4 Sphinx of Lost Truths too, Niels has the ability to dig even further into his deck to find that elusive land for an explosive Open the Vaults fueled turn. Yes, running only 23 lands and relying on cyclers to thin out the deck can run you into trouble; I have happily kept a 2-land, 3-cycler hand only to cycle right into precisely zero lands, but variance is bound to ruin many a happy keep for all sorts of decks.
This deck only earned 22 points, which means that it went 7-2-1 (or, for you nitpickers out there, 6-0-4 is also a possible option). This certainly isn’t the best record, but certainly one that deserves the nod of respect from those planning on playing quite a bit of Standard in the coming months. I would certainly make a few critiques — I think that not having Sphinx of the Steel Wind is a huge oversight, as Jund just cannot beat that card — and I hope to perhaps retool the deck for next week and see what results are like.
Although Standard is going to be all the rage for the next couple of weeks, as writers continue to meticulously analyze data and matchups, perhaps my favorite find this week was not in Standard, but in Extended. My roommate in San Diego (piloting Thepths) ended up playing against the following deck in the finals of the Friday PTQ, and (sorry Brandon) it absolutely demolished him. Not only did it mercilessly devour all that stood in its path in the Top 8, but it was one of two decks that went undefeated in the swiss portion of the tournament (I could be wrong here, as I know he tried to dreamcrush in the last round but am unsure as to whether he actually won the round 8 match). Apparently, this deck also placed 18th at GP: Oakland, and with such an immaculate record in two somewhat difficult tournaments, it seems like there could be a new deck to watch.
It may seem at first glance that this deck is just a watered down version of the popular Thepths decks currently abound, as instead of the soul-crushing Thopter Foundry/Sword of the Meek combo it plays an assortment of awkward maindeck tutor targets. Is that a Naturalize I see? Winning a PTQ is no small feat though, so analysis as to “why is this deck good” might be a better place to start rather than pooh-poohing the various cards that one doesn’t often associate with Ultimate Power.
This is obviously a Dark Depths variant, and the cards that both decks share should need little introduction. Dark Confidant, Vampire Hexmage. Check, these guys are no-brainers, as they allow for unfair card advantage and the actual combo of the deck respectively. Shred Memory is Muddle the Mixture’s red-headed stepchild, as traditional UB Depths decks could obviously run either if need be, but the omission might be because most people have generally stopped thinking about alternative cards they could be running. How much more solid is Shred Memory in the mirror? Muddle might counter a Thoughtsieze or Thirst for Knowledge but overall is going to be used to transmute for a missing combo piece. Shred Memory on the other hand can transmute as well, but can also entirely stop a Thopter/Sword combo in its tracks by erasing the offending artifact from the opponent’s graveyard. True, they will most likely have more Sword of the Meeks in their deck, but you have, for the moment, stymied their attempt to achieve their end game.
Against other decks too, Shred Memory has some very useful implications. Against Living End or Dredge, removing cards from the graveyard is tantamount to victory occasionally, and even against Zoo, Shredding 4 fetchlands can render Knight of the Reliquaries or Tarmogoyfs much less threatening. These are all corner cases, and there are certainly interactions where Muddle is a much better card, but it is helpful to keep in mind that the graveyard-based society we live in today, Shred Memory is not a dead card whatsoever.
Next up is the tutor targets which the deck has. In some matchups, yes, a card like Naturalize might be a horrible draw. That is why it is a one-of. Thepths does not have an infinite supply of combo pieces, nor can they always produce them at their beck and call. Being able to nuke a Thopter Foundry is a huge boon and a luxury which traditional UB doesn’t really have (aside from, say, bouncing it and Thoughtsiezing it away). Grim Discovery is a card that seems to make perfect sense in the Dark Depths centered decks, as it immediately restores your entire combo with a single card that costs 2 mana. Umezawa’s Jitte is a card that needs no introduction and which I have seen several other control decks adopt in an effort to establish an alternate end game (as if Dark Depths and Thopter/Sword wasn’t enough) making their mediocre beaters into formidable monsters out of nowhere. Into the North is also far and away the best Dark Depths fetcher, as it not only gets you the aforementioned Snow-covered land, but accelerates you as well. The final tutor target is one that most opponent’s won’t expect: Rite of Consumption. This can and will straight up kill your opponent, often times without their ability to do anything about it. Nice Path to Exile, but maintain priority gives them no opportunity to actually use it. All of these cards can be fetched by Beseech the Queen as well, and with 7 opportunities to find each one, they all fill an important role in the deck.
What I like most about this list is its impressive discard suite. That’s eight maindeck discard spells, folks! That’s enough to slow down any opponent, not to mention stripping them of any possible resistance to a 20/20 flyer, and some deck like Scapeshift have a very hard time actually winning against such a nonstop barrage of discard. Discard has also had a better-than-average relationship with Tarmogoyf a creature which really shines in this deck a la the “Tarmorack” decks of old. He serves as a giant defensive roadblock against a deck like Zoo as well as an alternative wincon should your opponent expend too many resources denying you your Marit Lage token.
The sideboard is your standard hate/anti-hate package with Bitterblossom being by far one of my favorite sideboard techs. Most decks won’t put you on a Bitterblossom, and the turn 2 tribal enchantment is often enough to catch an opponent with their pants down. Slap on a Jitte, Duress their resistance, and you’re good to go. Maelstrom Pulse is also an insanely efficient answer to much current hate such as Damping Matrix or destroying just about anything that might prevent you from going off.
To all PTQers who are looking for a new deck for upcoming tournaments, I highly recommend you take a look at this deck. Its power might not be readily apparent, but try some quick test runs and I think you will be pleasantly surprised.