I.O.U. one article.
He’s always one step ahead.
When I put a lot of effort into something like a Magic article, I like to have a large audience. Sometimes, though, exceptions have to be made. Writing is, really, just like any other pursuit- and just as comedians have to tighten the ol’ bow tie and play that house where there are more waiters than patrons, so too must I sometimes write when the great juggernaut of relevance has partially passed me by. So how many people am I writing this one for, you ask? Not as many as I’d like, gentle reader, but there are people who are geographically lucky, and able to take that one last chance, and this article is for them. I’m not playing to a packed mezzanine with people dangling from the rafters, but I don’t mind – I know that for some, there’s still a chance to win that trip to Japan.
A quick check of the Wizards website is all I need to assure me that I’m not just writing for nothing. I know, for example, that this one goes out to the card players of Columbus, Ohio. It goes out to the Pro Tour hopefuls over in San Antonio, Texas – men and women who still have a hope of being the longest of the longhorns. This one goes out to all the on-the-cusp Q travelers around Chi-Town, where the wind at this time of year will freeze you right to the bone if you walk around the venue. I’m writing this because I haven’t forgotten about High Point, North Carolina, and Wichita, Kansas. The laid back playas in those locales have got serious business to attend to this weekend. There are still eligible Magicians in the Mile High City, still eligible magicians in The City of Angels. On the 17th, it’s sink or swim time for all the aforementioned, with out-of-towners sprinkled in to taste.
And, of course, there’s Anchorage, Alaska – where the last PTQ is on the 25th of January.
I’m here to give you deck for those PTQ’s, if you’ll let me. It’s a good one. I’ve played it in two PTQs, I T8’d one, and went 4-2 drop in the other, after keeping a sketchy hand in Game 3 of Round 6. If I’d kept my thinking cap on and taken the mulligan that the hand in question so rightfully deserved, I would have been playing for T8 once again.
The deck is cheap and easy to build – you’ll have no problem getting it together. It has many good match-ups, tends to crush rogue strategies, and has a chance against any opposing monster simply because of the possibility of an”I win” draw.
I speak, of course, about U/G Madness.
Here’s the decklist. I won’t do a card-by-card analysis afterward, but I do have a few things to say about how to play this sucker, and I’ll thank you for lending me an ear, if you can stand it. I’ll also provide a complete sideboarding guide, with match-up-specific advice.
U/G Madness (w/ The Shoes)
4 Wild Mongrel
4 Merfolk Looter
4 Arrogant Wurm
4 Basking Rootwalla
2 Waterfront Bouncer
4 Circular Logic
4 Careful Study
2 Roar of the Wurm
2 Deep Analysis
2 Lightning Greaves
That’s it. A couple of notes about the deck:
1. The Shoes
The two Lightning Greaves pretty much facilitate the rest of the deck design. You’ll notice there are no Aquamoebas here, and there is a reason for that – they aren’t as good as Looters are. Looking back to the lists that were prevalent around the time of Grand Prix: Reims, Aquamoeba was all over the place, and Looters were either present only in diminished quantity, or completely absent. The reasons for using Aquamoeba over Merfolk Looter were simple ones:
- Aquamoeba is active as a Madness outlet the turn it is played
- Aquamoeba has three toughness and won’t die as easily to burn
Understandably, people wanted their madness outlets to live, and so Aquamoeba got the nod, despite being unable to dominate games the way that an active Looter can. Now that Lightning Greaves are available, though, we can go back to playing our Looters and Bouncers again, and just shove Aquamoeba aside for all time.
Aquamoeba, really, is like a big, fat thirteen-year-old who gets picked for the football team just because he weighs 300 lbs. Poor, skilled little Looter has to watch from the stands while the big galoot sees all sorts of playing time. I say, no longer!
- Greaves lets your Looter act as a Madness outlet the very turn it is played.
- Greaves prevents your Looter from dying. Have you ever played an entire game against Red Deck Wins or Psychatog with an active Looter on the table that they couldn’t do anything about? It’s a lot of fun.
Greaves also lets you do unfair things with hasted Roar tokens (take six, sir), but those benefits are secondary to the fact that you have an untouchable Looter (or, sometimes, Bouncer) against decks that would normally annihilate those creatures without fail. No Fire / Ice, no Smother, no Terminate, no Grim Lavamancer shots, Firebolts or Hammers will touch your boys as they go to work. Time was, if you wanted a non-dead Madness outlet against Red, you had to draw a Mongrel or two. Now you can just draw Lightning Greaves plus anything.
2. The Looters
Because of the presence of”The Shoes,” Merfolk Looters are quite playable maindeck, and the results are quite satisfying! First of all, you pretty much automatically win the mirror – if you see someone else sit down and play first turn Careful Study against you, you can take a victory lap, and maybe even go outside for a smoke. You don’t even need Lightning Greaves for this, you just need to nod when they plunk down their Aquamoeba, cast your Looter in turn, and then proceed to win the game. You also have two maindeck Waterfront Bouncers to annoy your U/G rivals. The card advantage you get from an active Looter is insane in the mirror, and the only way you lose is if they get a very fast start and have Wonder before you can Intuition yours into the graveyard.
Active Looter against no pressure = game against many decks. Psychatog decks will typically have an answer, but just as often you’ll have a Daze to stymie their turn 2 countermagic, and a Lightning Greaves to prevent Smother or Fire/Ice from ruining your day. It feels good to finally get full use out of Merfolk Looter after so many months of playing him out and getting him killed. Repeatedly. Just like the U.S. Military issued decks of cards featuring the mug shots of Iraqi war criminals, players of RDW and Psychatog would issue similar decks to their removal suites.
(I’ve actually named my Merfolk Looter”Galad.” Turn 3 Arrogant Wurm, drawing a card in the process? Thank thee! Thou has been swindled!)
I’m such a dork. Perhaps too much of one.
So yeah, with this deck, you get to play Looter and actually have him live. It’s like a Bizarro world, huh? Goatees for everyone. Free draws for… well, just you.
Match-up & Sideboarding Guide
Vs. Red Deck Wins
This match-up is 40-45% pre-sideboarding overall, but don’t let those numbers fool you. It’s actually something like this:
If you draw no Mongrel, Greaves, and/or a number of Dazes that is less than the number of Tangle Wires drawn by the RDW player, you will probably lose. There are precious few decks that can beat a double Tangle draw (yeah, that old chestnut) and unfortunately, that elite club does not include Rocket Shoes U/G.
Lightning Greaves is an MVP in this match-up, but the build of the opposing deck dictates the usefulness of the card. If they’re playing Seal of Fire and some number of maindeck Lava Darts, the Greaves will be less useful. If they’re running Firebolt, Volcanic Hammer, or (as Antonino DeRosa has suggested), Rhystic Lightning, the Greaves will be great for you.
If you see an opening hand with Daze/Mongrel/Greaves, you’re in, possibly like Flint. (The guy, not the city in Michigan, which is definitely not in, despite being named”Flint”).
The match-up will improve to about 55% in your favor.
After sideboarding, Powder Keg is a massive wrecking ball against persistent damage sources like Cursed Scroll and Lavamancer, and also great against the Chrome Moxen and Great Furnaces that are always floating around in the Shrapnel Blast builds. Removing Basking Rootwalla makes Careful Study a worse card overall, but it can still come in handy – the Rootwalla generally wasn’t good for much of anything in the match-up anyway, and would probably die to your own Powder Keg. As before, keep an eye out for Tangle Wire, and hope for an opening hand with some mixture of Daze, Mongrel, Greaves (and, if you have Greaves, you can use any Madness outlet – including Waterfront Bouncer!)
It’s funny – if you walked up to some U/G Madness player and asked him how good of a card Bouncer was against RDW, he’d probably say “I don’t know…it just dies!” Well, now I can tell you, it’s actually quite good! Gets rid of those beefy Sliths, keeps you up in the tempo race.
A final note – Powder Keg will generally be sufficient to protect you from such answers as Ensnaring Bridge, but if you’re up against an artifact-heavy version that runs Shrapnel Blast and also brings in Bridges, you might try the Naturalizes, which work well against Tangle Wire, Bridges, Scrolls, and even artifact lands and Chrome Moxes.
Vs. The Rock
Presideboarding, I’d say it’s about even – fifty-fifty.
The Rock is a tough match-up, but like most match-ups for U/G, it’s never unwinnable. You just need to come out fast and furious, hitting hard, playing smart, and keep that Deed off the table. If you Daze or Logic the first Pernicious Deed, you’ll win almost for sure. If you fail to do that, well – all bets are off!
What cards should you look for you look for in your opening hand? Well, getting an early Arrogant Wurm on the table is very good against The Rock, as it is difficult to Deed away in a timely fashion. Roar of the Wurm, by comparison, doesn’t get the job done unless you take care of that first Deed yourself. You’ll find that Intuition is a great card in the match-up – not only can it fetch you the Wonder to get over those pesky Wall of Blossoms and Yavimaya Chump Blockers, but the Deep Analysis it provides will help you recover from opposing hand destruction and the Deeds that always gain Rock a bunch of card advantage.
“Classic” U/G draws are very good here. Study out a Rootwalla, play a Mongrel, third turn Arrogant Wurm (or, preferably, a second Mongrel, and Circular Logic that damn Deed!) and then attack until the enemy is dead. Smart Rock players know that Deed is the key to their salvation, and they will protect it with Game 1 hand destruction – be prepared for this. Keeping a four land hand against The Rock is almost never good, as the three spells you kept will likely be gone by the time you can play them.
Fast, fast, fast! You want to be beating down before the Rock player knows what hit him, and Stifling that game-saving Deed. A Mongrel in the opening hand is a big help here, but you won’t hear me complaining about the constant Looter presence. If you have a sense that the Rock player will be bringing in spot removal of some sort, you can leave the Lightning Greaves in and take out a couple of Careful Studies.
If you keep the right opening hands (aggressive ones), I think Stifle improves the match-up to about 55% after sideboarding. These aren’t concrete numbers, but some mix of theory and live-fire testing. I’m certainly more confident about facing deeds in Games 2 and 3.
In all games, watch out for Haunting Echoes. It’s generally hard for the Rock player to resolve against you (since they need you to have no countermagic, and they also need to have the time to cast a five-mana sorcery that doesn’t affect the board), but if it does get through when you have no clocks on the table, it’s big trouble.
(For you. In case I wasn’t being clear.)
Psychatog is another match-up where you more than hold your own. You won’t find an overwhelming win percentage here – it’s still in the 60% range – but the fact that you have untargetable Looters and hasted, untargetable Wurms while other U/G decks have Aquamoeba is going to show in your results.
Time is a factor. While this U/G deck is certainly able to draw cards well, Psychatog can draw more, and if they manage to clear your board off and take care of all of the pressure, you’re going to have a hard time getting back into the game after that Accumulated Knowledge for four resolves. Isochron Scepters with Counterspell and Fire/Ice also make it very difficult to recover if your initial offensive is rebuffed by countermagic and removal. This is why you need a very solid aggro draw – you’re definitely the beatdown in this match-up.
Lightning Greaves will once again be your friend, allowing you to win games against Fire/Ice Scepter that would generally be lost causes, and also giving you the interesting ability to go all the way with a flying Rootwalla. It’s true! If you get a Rootwalla and a Greaves down early, just play your game and sneak in for three every turn. If the Tog player can’t find Wonder and just keeps drawing removal and countermagic, you can end the game in solid, but unspectacular fashion as your Greaves’d guy just keeps plugging away! Even funnier, against Tog decks without Upheaval (which is very tough to resolve against you in any case), Waterfront Bouncer with Greaves makes it almost impossible for them to pump a Psychatog for any meaningful amount for the duration of the game. Try it yourself and see!
Am I forgetting about Diabolic Edict? No. I’m simply discounting it. You’ll almost always have another creature on the board to sacrifice, except in the very early game.
Sideboarding Plan:it depends- most commonly +3 Naturalize, -1 Basking Rootwalla, -1 Waterfront Bouncer, -1 Arrogant Wurm
If you’re playing against an Isochron Scepter version, you can bring in the Naturalizes (Stifle would also work, but not after the Scepter is in place!). There’s also a chance you’ll see Engineered Plague, and you might want to pack a Naturalize for that, as well. Use your better judgment here. I personally find that little sideboarding is needed against Psychatog, and that you remain the favorite throughout the match-up. I do tend to bring in the Naturalizes to prevent any unpleasant surprises.
Vs. U/G Madness
Gee gee, sir!
Against any stock build of U/G Madness, you should win 75% of the time, or three out of every four matches. You have amazing cards for this match-up in your maindeck, and three Submerges in the sideboard for some extra help. Like I said above, when talking about James Looter (or”Galad”, for those of you that understand and enjoy the reference), they play Aquamoeba, you play Looter, you both Madness out a bunch of cards. In the end, you’re at eight life with a Wurm and friends on the table and like five cards in hand, he’s at fifteen life with no cards in hand, and he can’t attack.
So Aquamoeba hits you for three a couple of times – big deal. My grandmother does more damage that that, as long as you don’t hit her rocking chair with Seal of Fire. The only way the other guy wins is if he gets Wonder and you don’t. In this way, the versions that always have Wonder (the ones playing three Wonder and Intuitions, etc) will sometimes steal wins against you. That’s fine, because those versions can’t beat anything else as consistently, and you won’t play against them, since they will be in the side drafts.
Play a few test matches against your stock U/G build and you’ll see what I mean.
This is my standard sideboarding plan, and it seems to work very well. If you suspect something ridiculous like Unnatural Selection, you’ll have to put the Naturalizes in (you can take out a couple of Careful Studies or something) and leave the Stifle out, but I bring one in just because it can counter any Madness spell by eliminating the trigger.
Your win percentage will drop here, down to about 60%, because every U/G sideboard generally has a couple of copies of Waterfront Bouncer, Merfolk Looter, Submerge etc in it, which they will use to be”not quite as awful” against you in Games 2 and 3. That’s fine, since you most likely won Game 1.
Again, the sideboard plan listed above is a solid one, but don’t be afraid to stray from it. Put in Naturalize if you see Equilibrium/Unnatural Selection, and leave in Greaves, if you see an abundance of Bouncers or Callous Oppressor. Few people will have Equilibrium/Oppressor/Selection, as they are very narrow, but you never know. Be ready to adapt, like the mighty snake adapt when chasing the wily field mouse.
A deck growing in popularity – in this category we’re going to lump any deck featuring four Ramosian Sergeants, four Whipcorders, four Exalted Angels and four Meddling Mages, with Parallax Waves and maybe a Stifle to play some tricks. Some of these have Black for Vindicate and Cabal Therapy, some don’t. Some have Cursed Scrolls, while many feature Enlightened Tutors and Worship.
The players behind these machines generally feel they have the advantage over U/G Madness decks, but we have a few secrets that they don’t know about. First of all, the two maindeck Waterfront Bouncers are crazy against WW/x decks. Every try to get an Exalted Angel going when your opponent has Bouncer? Mother of Runes makes it possible, but still not pleasant. Second, we have Lightning Greaves, meaning that your flying Wurm will never get tapped by Whipcorder or Parallax Waved out of existence. Third, we have Powder Kegs and Naturalize in the sideboard to take care of Sergeants, Scrolls, Worships and Waves.
Game 1 generally comes down to Parallax Wave resolving or not. If it does, you likely lose. If not, you probably win. It’s also annoying if they get Exalted Angel up and running – you’ll need a Bouncer or a Greaves’d flying Wurm to even the score. Most of the time, though, they’re too slow and looking for a Parallax Wave to haul their WW butts out the proverbial fire. Your Dazes and Logics will see that, if I can be permitted a small burst of silliness, the”Wave for the Save” doesn’t misbehave, and instead makes it’s way to the Grave.
After sideboarding, you’ve got access to Naturalize for Worship (it’s tough to beat in Game 1, but possible if you have Waterfront Bouncer) and Powder Keg to take care of Mother of Runes, Sergeants, and morphed Angels. You can also theoretically kill Whipcorders and Meddling Mages with the Keg, but you will almost never be able to blow a Keg for two while playing U/G Madness. Your board is built on the sweaty, muscled back of two-mana slot. Mongrel, Looter, Bouncer, Greaves.
Anyhow, keep those Naturalizes handy, but keep in mind that if they’ve drawn something goofy like a Stifle, you could still get screwed over royally by Parallax Wave. All in all, I think this match-up is something like 50%, though the players behind the WW/x decks, used to going up against stock madness builds, will doubtless claim it’s something much higher.
Against other decks, sideboarding is going to be a variable thing.
You might run into combo decks, for instance. If you do, take a look at what you’ve got available to you. Will Naturalize help (as with Aluren?) or would Stifle be more appropriate (as with Mind’s Desire)? Perhaps Powder Keg would be appropriate (as with Enchantress, along with the Naturalizes and possibly Stifle, as some Enchantress decks are also Mind’s Desire decks).
Against things like Trinity-style Green, you’ll want to put in those Submerges, and remember that Lightning Greaves is a good answer to Masticore. Against R/G Beats, Submerge and Ravenous Baloth might make an appearance. I’ll trust you to make the good decisions.
Hey hey – time to conclude. It’s been a short trip back to the writer’s desk, but once you’ve said what you came to say, I figure it’s fair to cut your reader a break and head on home with the satisfaction of a job well done. I do have a couple of final remarks (to the surprise of absolutely no one, I’m sure), that I’ll sneak in before you hit”Back” and surf on over to wherever it is that you might be going after you’ve left me behind.
You’ll notice that many of the match-ups are in the 50% range. This doesn’t mean you’re playing a mediocre deck, it means that I’m assuming you’ll play against people of equal skill level. U/G Madness will give you the tools to win any given match-up, and if you’re playing against someone who is of a lesser skill level, it is of a sufficient power level to let you totally annihilate that person. So don’t worry – it’s not mediocre, the environment is just very balanced. I’m putting this deck up on StarCity not because it beats everything 75% of the time, but because it’s cheap and easy to build, easy to learn (and relearn, if you played Madness extensively in other formats or time periods), and very friendly to a player who likes aggro-control.
I also wanted to tell people about the Shoes, and the return of the Looter. Done and done.
Good luck to those in Denver, Chicago, Columbus, Wichita, High Point, San Antonio, and, of course, the people cooped up in that crazy burg called Anchorage, goldfishing madly while slicing open a caribou, or going snow-blind, or doing whatever it is that people in Alaska do (I should ask the Ferrett, who used to live there).
See you soon with the third and final part of my Card Advantage article series! If you have comments about this deck, Extended in general, or you just want to call me something unprintable, feel free to email me or chime in on the StarCity forums (where stars are born! Just ask Dynamite Jackson!).
Until next time, I’m Audi 5000.