In the wake of Gavin Verhey article outlining a new deck for the Extended PTQ season, and Patrick Chapin taking a look at Wafo-Tapa’s Teachings deck from GP: Oakland, I thought I’d take a look at some of the other unsung heroes of the format. Everyone knows by now that Thopter Depths and Zoo are the two big kids on the block, with other combo decks like Elves and Dredge nipping at their heels. But the wide view of the format doesn’t tell the whole story. There are far more choices available for your local PTQ or upcoming Grand Prix if you’re just willing to dig — or do some brewing of your own!
Okay, so the deck says “Zoo” on it, but it’s hardly your typical list. This brew comes to us from recent Pro Tour: San Diego finalist Kyle Boggemmes, and he used it to win a PTQ just a week before his breakout performance. There’s a lot of familiar faces in this deck — Wild Nacatl, Tarmogoyf, Knight of the Reliquary, and Lightning Bolt are all pretty standard fare for a Zoo deck in just about any format these days, but this list has some pretty exciting differences as well. One of them is a card that’s conspicuously missing — Path to Exile. While Path may be the most efficient removal spell around, in this deck the card is replaced by Temporal Isolation (which deals with Marit Lage just fine as well) since Path’s drawback does not play well with one of the other central features of Kyle’s deck — Blood Moon.
I’m a man who can appreciate a good Blood Moon — perhaps more than most. Blood Moon is a card that most people shrug off during deck construction, or maybe give some small amount of respect by including a handful of basic lands they can fetch. More often than not, if resolving a Blood Moon does not immediately end the game, it cripples the opponent’s game plan so heavily that any board presence whatsoever is likely to win the game. But what makes me appreciate Blood Moon particularly in this deck is the inclusion of Boom/Bust as well. Boom/Bust gives this deck a way to fight back against opponents who are savvy enough to fetch their single basic Forest — you just destroy one of your many extraneous Mountains and blow it up! Keep in mind that you can cast Boom and target one of your own fetch lands (if Blood Moon is not yet in play) and sacrifice it in response to effectively Sinkhole your opponent. Not only that, but you can also cast either half of Boom/Bust if you happen to cascade into it with Bloodbraid Elf. The cascade only sees that you hit a legal card, and then you have the option to play it for free as either side of the split! A 3/2 haste creature with Armageddon attached seems like a pretty good deal for 2RG!
As an aside, it’s interesting that Bloodbraid Elf hasn’t transitioned as smoothly into Extended as many other Standard power cards. The card is absolutely dominant in Standard, but this deck and G/R Scapeshift are the only Extended lists that have made much use of the card. I have to imagine the much lower mana curves in Extended are a big part of the reason — most Green/Red decks in the format tend to be built in the fashion of Zoo, and getting a Bloodbraid Elf and a Kird Ape for four mana isn’t all that thrilling. Most of the time you’d much prefer a Ranger of Eos, since you may have to pay full retail for your extra creatures but you’re at least guaranteed to get what you want — and get two of them! This deck, however, is a much better home for Bloodbraid than typical Zoo both due to the synergies with Boom/Bust and more expensive, higher impact cards like Blood Moon that are worth cascading into.
This deck, much like the deck Gavin discussed in his article, is one whose success relies heavily on the metagame. They both rely quite heavily on the power of Blood Moon, and as such are drastically more powerful in an environment in which people are unprepared for it. Looking at the top decks from recent events, only Living End and Elves are well equipped to handle a resolved Blood Moon, particularly one backed up by additional land destruction such as that which Boom/Bust or Wrecking Ball provide. I’m somewhat concerned that the heavy disruption package in the maindeck may make this version a dog to other Zoo decks in game one, particularly those with Qasali Pridemages to take out Blood Moons or Temporal Isolation, but overall I think this sort of deck has serious potential in the format. It’s certainly on my short list of decks I might play in GP: Yokohama.
While Kyle Boggemmes was on his way to making Top 8 at PT: San Diego, Chris Fennell was battling it out in the PTQ with another take on an Extended staple. Yes, I know I said that this article would look at decks different from the norm and so far I’ve shown you Zoo and Dark Depths, but I think there’s enough different going on in both of these decks that they are worth separating it out from the rest of the pack.
Unlike the mainstream B/U Dark Depths combo decks that morphed into the dual combo Thopter Depths decks this season, Fennell’s deck is extraordinarily focused at doing one thing — making a 20/20 creature and killing you with it. The standard Dark Depths decks these days are more hybrid combo/control decks, sporting lots of card drawing and removal spells that are geared to help them stay alive and dig for their secondary combo if it doesn’t look like Marit Lage is going to be able to get the job done.
Not so here. This deck doesn’t mess around with things like Thirst for Knowledge or a backup combo. Instead, it uses the full eight one mana discard spells black has to offer to tear the opponent’s hand apart and make sure the coast is clear for a 20/20 to end the game right away. The deck may not have Thopter/Sword as a backup combo, but it has the next best thing to fall back on — Tarmogoyf. While I’m sure the majority of the deck’s wins come from comboing off with Marit Lage, a Tarmogoyf backed up by a boatload of discard can often be enough to beat an opponent who’s futzing around with Ghost Quarters and Damping Matrixes.
This, I think, is part of the strength of this particular build of the deck. So many decks have sideboard plans against Dark Depths that rely on permanents like Damping Matrix or Night of Souls’ Betrayal. This deck not only has a massive amount of discard to preemptively strip them from the opponent’s hand, but also has Tarmogoyfs to beat down against opponents who rely too heavily on combo hate, as well as Maelstrom Pulses to clean up whatever problem cards the opponent might present. This version of the deck has a far more reliable Plan A than typical Thopter Depths decks because of its discard suite and Rite of Consumption. While the U/B versions can try to slow play their combo to protect Marit Lage with Muddle, this version has twice the discard to clear the way as well as a backup plan in case the opponent has more removal than they can deal with. Even if your opponent has a fist full of Paths, a single Rite of Consumption beats all of them because the sacrifice is part of the cost of the spell. Similarly, Rite can get the deck through blockers like Bitterblossom tokens or even an active Thopter Foundry, so long as the opponent has taken some incidental damage from Thoughtsieze or Dark Confidant already.
This version of Dark Depths has already put up some very impressive results. In addition to Chris Fennell’s win in San Diego, Travis Turning won the Orlando PTQ a month prior, and it’s put up a handful of additional Top 8 finishes. For a deck that hasn’t been very heavily represented, those numbers are worth paying attention to. If you’re looking for a powerful deck that can sidestep much of the hate aimed at Thopter Depths or just pluck it out of your opponent’s hand, this might be a good choice for you.
If this deck looks familiar to you, you’re probably confused. Yes, this is the exact list that I was tinkering with before GP: Oakland trying to find a version I liked. Didn’t I say then that I felt like the deck wasn’t powerful enough to compete? That I did. And I still don’t think it’s good. Why am I writing about it, then? Because despite the fact that I think it isn’t a great deck, I think it has some elements that are very attractive.
What turned me off from this deck originally was that it didn’t feel like what you were doing was powerful enough for the cost. Sometimes you would Smallpox and get to discard a Bloodghast and then bring it back the next turn, and sometimes you could eventually grind your opponent out with the card advantage of Eternal Witness, but it always felt like you were only eking out small edges. This is a format where people make 20/20’s, and not only was this deck not doing that, but outside of Smallpox itself it wasn’t even very good at dealing with them!
I tabled the G/B deck because it just didn’t feel powerful enough. It was more or less a fair deck trying to play in a largely unfair environment, and that just wasn’t the way to get the job done. Between rounds in Oakland, however, I managed to get some games in against a friend of Chris Fennell’s whose name sadly escapes me right now and he was playing a Smallpox deck that got me a whole lot more excited.
Instead of Green, he had White, which most notably gave the deck access to Flagstones of Trokair. Flagstones is a card that can give a deck like this some seriously sick opening draws, like Flagstones into Fetid Heath, casting Smallpox, discarding Bloodghast and returning it to play with the land you just fetched. Now that’s starting to feel unfair! His deck also had Gatekeeper of Malakir and Path to Exile, which gives a tremendous amount of defense against Marit Lage. Some of the cards in the deck that felt looser to me were Shriekmaw, which seems somewhat attractive but generally worse than Smother since it can’t kill Dark Confidant, as well as Stillmoon Cavalier, which was admittedly a house against my Zoo deck and can block Marit Lage forever, but just felt like it was a bit less efficient than what you really wanted to be doing in the format.
I really liked the feel of his deck, and kept inquiring as to his results each round, and as it turned out he just barely missed Day 2 at X-2-1, with his losses coming against very bizarre decks. My curiosity about the deck was further piqued later in the day when I played against a different B/W deck, this one built around Stoneforge Mystic rather than Smallpox. Something of a lightbulb came on when I considered the implications of the Sword of Light and Shadows in the Stoneforge Mystic deck and the synergy they could have with many of the cards in the Smallpox deck.
This is my current rough brainstorm:
This list is completely untuned and untested, but has a lot of sweet action going on. The Fulminator Mages in the sideboard are probably my favorite part of the deck right now, since along with Smallpox they give you a way to attack your opponent’s manabase and can completely lock your opponent out of the game when paired with Sword of Light and Shadow. I’m certain the deck can be improved, since I have thus far given no real thought to sideboard swaps and the like, and this is what I’m likely to be spending most of my time testing between now and GP: Yokohama. We shall see how it goes. By the time you read this I’ll already have landed in Kuala Lumpur, but hopefully I can find time to read any feedback you all might have.
Until next time…