My name is Jim Ferraiolo, and you may have heard me mentioned as”Jimmy Bean” or”Jimbo Johnson” in the articles of one Theodore Phineas Knutson – another fine, fine writer for this esteemed website (getting the brownie points in early helps, I hear). I also did a guest shot in one of his recent columns detailing what I felt were the top fifteen songs of all time in hip-hop.
I consider myself a pretty good Constructed player (though my once-1820+ rating has suffered lately – a lamentable fact) and an above-average Limited player. I’m not going to sit here and tell you how s**t I am like my boy Ted, because I lack his self-effacing wit. I’m not a pro, yet not a scrub – it’s that whole damn Britney Spears thing all over again. I like parentheses and write with a conversational style. I believe in the soul, the small of a woman’s back, good Scotch, the hanging curveball, the blah blah blah. Sorry.
I play weekly at The End gaming store in Charlottesville, VA with Teddy K, Andy”Gibb” Hall, Sam Fog, Sam”Griffin” Griffith, Mike Long (a rare bird these days), and all of the other C-ville luminaries. I can also be found making the occasional trip out to qualifiers in the VA/DC/NC area so go ahead and say hey if you’re feeling it. Now sit back and relax, cause I’m gonna learn ya somethin’. (At last! – The Ferrett)
As we all know, much has been written in the past weeks about a very fine piece of cardboard known as Astral Slide. For those who might have been testing their States decks while huddled up in a cave with their partners, Astral Slide is an enchantment for 2W that allows its controller to remove a target creature from the game until end of turn if they cycle a card. The minute I saw this little gem, I thought it was overflowing with potential. What I didn’t realize was how quickly I’d discover its power. Astral Slide is not only a good card on its own merits – reasonably costed for its effects – but its existence gives rise to an entire new archetype. The last enchantment that I can remember having a seriously profound effect on Standard cost 1RG, and it gave all your kids haste. Astral Slide has that kind of format-altering power, in my estimation.
The first Astral Slide deck to be widely published was the red and white”Astroglide” deck (though I despise the rather obvious naming convention, it’s likely to stick) that won an E-League Masters tournament. The deck was designed to crush the online Apprentice metagame, cycling the likes of Slice and Dice to take out big teams of Goblins while hoping to sneak Lightning Rift out against control decks and hoping the cycling damage would take it home. The deck was rooted firmly in the cycling concept, running twenty-seven cards that filled the role – some with little purpose other than to trigger Lightning Rift or Astral Slide.
The deck won the whole tournament, but it was later noted in a forum post by The Ferrett and in an article by [author name="blisterguy"]blisterguy[/author] that all of the Wish cards are banned from E-League play. Due to this exclusion, decks such as Cunning Tog – and more importantly, any variant of Mirari’s Wake – are rendered completely unplayable in the Apprentice online environment. The deck thrived in a Sligh and beatdown heavy metagame, but I seriously doubted that R/W Astroglide had the cojones to stand up to any well tuned control deck.
So the scene is set: It’s the Tuesday before States, and of course I still don’t know what I’m playing. I’ve been hunkered down for two weeks with many a nutty idea in my noggin, yet none of them really have had what it takes to beat blue/green madness and not roll over and die against Wake, what I considered to be the two best decks in the format going into the tournament. I was pretty reluctantly set on playing either a modified Kibler Wake or my own G/U Opposition build… But my version was posted almost card-for-card on Brainburst by Victor Van De Broek. I really didn’t feel like playing either of them if I could help it, since I tend to favor decks of my own design when playing in big Standard tournaments. I’ve got a pretty good track record with my own rogue builds – taking top 4 at VA States last year with a Machine Head style deck and designing a pile for Mid Atlantic Regionals, the now infamous Smoke and Fog (a G/U/b madness deck that was way ahead of its time – if you haven’t heard of it, you betta recognize…) that took three of us to a feisty 21-5-4 record on the day. In short, I feel that when it comes to Standard and if I have a few weeks to prepare, something good always comes out of the Lab.
But to re-set the scene: Five days before the tournament, and I am fairly tech-less. Ted Knutson is sweating bullets, pacing around like Dirk Diggler waiting for the cocaine to arrive in Boogie Nights.
“What are we gonna play?! What are we playing, Jimbo!!? Oh man… We’re f***ed… What are we gonna do?” he cries.
I grab hold of Ted, and in my best Marlon Brando vox, say,”You can act like a man!!”
I assured him that I would find something for us to play.
Now, the conventional wisdom for playing at States has always been that since you’re just as likely to play against mono blue merfolk beatings as you are a top netdeck, you’re better served playing a deck that is more versatile than it is directly powerful. I felt that Astroglide in its current incarnation was not versatile. I had seen it posted on the E-League website earlier and thought that it could be somehow modified to do well against a wider variety of decks. After calming down Teddy K, I had a revelation… a vision… a picture in my head!
I wish I could say that it was the flux capacitor itself, but no: It was merely what I thought would be the most disgusting and filthy thing since the Go-Go’s old sexual habits were revealed. What could be so foul, you ask?
The use of Undead Gladiator as a renewable form of cycling in tandem with Astral Slide.
The Ralphie Treatment
2 Exalted Angel
4 Mesmeric Fiend
4 Undead Gladiator
2 Faceless Butcher
3 Chainer’s Edict
4 Astral Slide
3 Renewed Faith
4 Wrath of God
3 Barren Moor
2 Secluded Steppe
2 City of Brass
1 Tainted Field
3 Braids, Cabal Minion
2 Sphere of Law
2 Engineered Plague
2 Cabal Therapy
2 Haunting Echoes
1 Aven Cloudchaser
1 Ray of Distortion
This is the deck that came out of my brain after several days of hard work with the cards, figuring out the right numbers of creatures, cyclers, and testing all of the matchups. I dubbed it the”Ralphie Treatment” after the truly gruesome and shocking things that it could do to an opponent with the right cards in concert (followers of the Sopranos, sado-masochism, and/or Mr. Knutson’s articles are already intimately familiar with the true meaning behind the term).
I thought that the R/W Astroglide deck played a lot of cards that didn’t really do anything besides cycle (which, I grant you, is the concept of the deck)… And if the Lightning Rift was ever countered/disenchanted/sent to the graveyard in any fashion, the deck didn’t do much except cycle a bunch of cards and then lose. I didn’t even find it to be that good against G/U madness because Wild Mongrel was essentially invincible – and that when you’re spending all of your mana every turn to cycle a card and if you’re lucky, do two damage to a target that’s either a 2/2 that gets bigger on command, a 4/4 for three, or a 6/6 for four, you tend to catch a fierce beating in short order. Without any early kind of disruption, Astroglide becomes dependent on drawing a Wrath of God to save itself – which is then summarily found to be not Logical, and the game ends.
Testing it against any Mirari’s Wake deck was an exercise in futility; Cunning Wake could Ray of Revelation Astroglide out of the game whenever it felt like it, and Kibler Wake just simply made too many lands and then too many felines, not to mention a mid-game Gerrard’s Wisdom for twelve to fourteen life with regularity. Sure, the deck wrecked anything with very small men, and a turn 2 Rift against a U/B control opponent usually meant game, but it felt powerless against the most important matchups in the format. The deck needed something.
It needed the power of the dark side.
The almost obligatory card-by-card breakdown follows:
The disruption complement:
4 Mesmeric Fiend
In my usual deck designs, having seven ways to look at your opponent’s hand and take a card seems to be the right number almost all the time when building a deck that showcases some kind of disruptive discard element. Duress is not as outstanding any more because of the current creature-heavy climate, but it is absolutely necessary to force key spells through vs. control and aggro-control decks like G/U madness. If you can Duress to see what’s up in the grip before popping that Wrath, you’re halfway to winning.
Mesmeric Fiend is also an excellent disruptive critter, serving both early and late game roles. In the early game, the little sucka simply gets a card and keeps your opponent from casting it while merrily serving it up for one… But if you have an Astral Slide on the board he becomes too sick for words. The obvious trick is to cast the Fiend, respond to his comes into play ability going on the stack by cycling a card and remove him from the game until end of turn. This gets you one card permanently and another one when he returns from his main-phase nap… Yet, you effectively deter your opponent from holding anything worthwhile in his hand once you have this combo down. At any given moment, you can simply cycle a card to remove your Fiend, re-check your opponents grip and get either the same card back or a new card. Your opponent must cast his spells or they’ll get re-Fiended time and again if you don’t have anything better to do (like kill them).
A couple opponents of mine this weekend found this out the hard way as I cycled a Gladiator at the end of their turn and slid out my Fiend, returning their (whatever sorcery) back to their hand. In my upkeep, I got the Gladiator back, did some stuff in my main phase, then at the end of my turn when the Fiend came back, I crushed that card permanently by cycling the Undead Gladiator again in response to the Mesmeric One’s CIP ability.
Tell me that’s not more abusive than Ike Turner.
The removal complement:
3 Chainer’s Edict
4 Wrath of God
Wrath of God is usually the most crucial card to successfully cast in order to win a game with this deck. You don’t have any creatures that you really want to block with that can protect you, so you have to plan to cast Wrath in order to survive vs. a beatdown deck; the disruption complement and the cycling cards all make sure that this plan goes off without a hitch. It’s possible to win a game without casting it, but it doesn’t usually happen. Smothers are numbered 4 and Edicts are numbered 3 because you need the targeted removal to get rid of big problem creatures – a Goblin Piledriver is never happier than when he’s smashing you for seven on turn 3 if you’re not running Smother) like Looters, Infiltrators, etc.
Edicts are down to three because they’re simply not that good against G/x, as the majority of the time they just kill a Basking Rootwalla or Tireless Tribe or some little dork that didn’t matter anyway. The Smothers are much better. But make no mistake; you do need Chainer’s Edict in the deck to take care of the odd Phantom Centaur / random thing that’s dying to take a fat chunk out of your life total. The flashback thang is helpful, too, when keeping their team down after the first Wrath.
In an unrelated note, you know a card is good when it sees play in Vintage (Type I) – and this weekend at States there was a Vintage tournament being held at the same time. Believe me; I saw no shortage of Edicts popping out of those $1000 decks. So basically what I’m trying to say is that Edict is a good card, my people.
I knew this aside had a point! Ummm… yeah.
4 Astral Slide
4 Undead Gladiator
3 Renewed Faith
The R/W Astroglide deck runs twenty-seven cyclers, and some of them are completely unspectacular. Paying 1RR to cycle a Solar Blast and do one to a creature does not send a shiver through my privates. I also don’t want that many cyclers that don’t do anything besides cycle, as that makes the deck pretty worthless if you don’t have the combo pieces out or they are somehow neutralized.
I want cards that do something when they cycle – and the ones that don’t, I want to be as cheap as possible. At the risk of sounding too much like Mike Long, Renewed Faith is a”great little cycler,” netting you two life and replacing itself. It can also buy you six life worth of time against the enemy attack if you really need it.
But Undead Gladiator is the card that makes it all happen for this deck; cycling that you can get back for the low cost of 1B and discarding a card sounds pretty good to me. In a pinch he beats for three or he blocks, and the Undead One positively murders decks that don’t run a lot of creatures like a pure U/W control or new school Tog builds. More importantly, he protects your win conditions whenever you need him to and for a low mana cost. He’s diesel. I love him to pieces.
Astral Slide is the offensive and defensive catalyst of the deck, wiping token creatures off the map with ease, protecting your own creatures before a Wrath, setting up stupid stack tricks with CIP nightmares, and generally messing with your opponent’s mind. There are so many cards that interact with the Slide that I’m sure other decks better than mine are in the works right now. It’s a sick one, make no mistake.
The win conditions:
2 Exalted Angel
2 Faceless Butcher
Exalted Angel is obviously the best card you can win with, given a choice. Four points of flying, Spirit Linked beats that can’t be killed when you have an Astral Slide down flat-out wins the game. Sometimes you can just Duress/Fiend on turn 1 and 2, cast the morphed Angel on turn 3, morph it on turn 4 and win that way, too.
As for the other finisher, I chose Guiltfeeder because he gets around many things that can give the deck trouble in game 1. Guiltfeeder gets around Moment’s Peace, Ensnaring Bridge, and it has fear. It has four toughness, so it can’t easily be burned, and it can’t be Smothered. It swings for big points quite frequently, because of all of the board sweeping and discarding you put on the opponent. I think I hit a mono black control deck for fifteen with it this weekend to end the match in one swing.
It’s really not bad. I still think I can find something better, but I’m not sure what that is just yet.
Faceless Butcher isn’t really a win condition per se, and I think I’m removing it in my latest incarnation of the deck. The card just proved a little too cute sometimes, and messed up my Wraths more often than not. The stack tricks at one’s disposal with Butcher and a Slide in play were why I included everyone’s favorite nightmare to begin with… But as the tournament played out this weekend, I think I really found the Butcher more of a hindrance than a help. Faceless B (sounds like a good name for a rapper, eh?) still has a shot of making the next rev, but I’m currently looking at some prettier girls. Sorry, kid – the coach is cutting you from the team.
I’m not wholly satisfied with it. I feel like it’s all right, but considering that I lost two game 3s in matches this weekend with a Wrath of God in my hand ready to win on the spot if I had a fourth land or proper color, it can’t be perfect. I think I’ve got the answers, though, which I will go into later.
Playing The Deck
This deck plays an awful lot like a mono black control deck that has white cards in it. As lame as I know that sounds, it’s the honest truth. Against beatdown, you cast a few disruptive spells early on, you weather an early storm of creatures with Edicts and Smothers, maybe gaining a few life here and there… And then you cast Wrath of God and set up shop.
If you have the ability to play a turn 3 Astral Slide without taking a lot of pain from the opposing team, do it. Doing so and having a cycler or two – Undead Gladiator is obviously the ideal – will make your opponent overextend. He has to put more creatures out in order to push damage through against this deck. If you can send enemy creatures off to the phantom zone when they’re attacking every turn and keep the damage off of you, you’re playing the deck right. Just keep laying lands, digging for the things you need to set up, getting a Gladiator back whenever possible. Sooner or later more and more creatures will hit the table to keep up – and that’s when you pay 2WW to win.
The traditional way good players are taught to play against decks with Wrath in them is to put maybe two creatures down and let the opponent Wrath them away before playing out more. You don’t play another threat until they deal with the threats on the table, classically. I promise you, that approach does not work versus this deck. Astral Slide + Undead Gladiator will stall long enough vs. this approach for the deck to re-arm you with whatever you need.
It’s like playing against Standstill back in the old U/B Infestation days – you have to break it sooner rather than later, because if you wait, you’re just gonna get Upheaval-ed out of the game anyways. While not as dramatic, Astral Slide does provide you with a similar kind of security against creatures when it’s on the table.
After surviving the initial rush, you want to find an Angel or win condition as quickly as possible and take advantage of your opening. You’ll almost always have the edge on cards in the mid game. Don’t be a hero with the Exalted Angel; if you honestly feel like you can’t protect it for at least a turn, then don’t cast it. And please, please don’t get rocked by casting a morphed Angel, thinking you can protect it with a cycler when your opponent hasn’t cast a single removal spell the entire match. Double Smother, anyone?
The chances of this happening are usually low, though, as you almost always know what’s going on with your opponent’s hand due to the Fiendage / Duresses. Just don’t risk a win condition when it’s not necessary. Usually though, one protective cycler is all you need once the morphed Angel is down.
Against control, the deck changes its goals a little bit: You probably have a lot of dead removal in game 1, so you’ve gotta ditch the losers as soon as possible. Find a Gladiator as soon as you can and start churning through the deck to find disruption and an Astral Slide. Dump those useless Smothers and Edicts in your upkeep and keep bringing that Gladiator back for more cycling love. Once you’ve weeded out some of the chaff, start casting him and serving him up, still while trying to get that Angel down and protecting it for the win.
Game 1 vs. control decks can be tough with this build, but after the sideboard you have so many must-counters it’s almost not fair. Note that practically my entire sideboard is brought in against control. You can’t always count on winning game 1 vs. them, so you’d better make damn sure you win game 2 and 3. (Isn’t that every deck? – The Ferrett) Still, though, if you Fiend and Duress the right spells early and get your works down, game 1 is still winnable.
There’s so much more that I could write on playing the deck, but I really can’t. It has to be played, it craves to be touched, to be caressed, it… uh… hmm. Sorry, was looking at those Jolene Blalock pictures again.
As always, with G/U madness you can just get steamrolled if they have the nuts draw… But if they don’t, you have more than enough critter control to keep them in check. Astral Slide will take care of the Wurm tokens for you, and that’s their biggest threat. Smother any Wild Mongrel or Merfolk Looter you see if you can. Always cast a Fiend on turn 2 over an Edict, generally. If you can Duress to set up the Wrath, you’re in primo shape.
The actual card you need to worry most about is Arrogant Wurm. It can’t be Smothered, it dodges Edicts quite frequently, and it’s big enough to do some heavy damage. The trouble with G/U is that they can’t do anything about your stuff once it’s down, short of bouncing it – and that’s if they’re even running bounce. With an Astral Slide in play, you should have little problem surviving for a good long while. Consider bringing the Aven Cloudchaser and Disenchants in out of the board if you expect Compost. You might also put in a Cabal Therapy for a Duress, as sometimes it can be better against creature heavy decks.
This is almost a bye for you, because they can’t counter your spells like G/U can. You let them play out their stuff, and then let them have it with a Wrath. Beware though, as this deck can get very fast starts. One match I lost this weekend began with a paris to six, then Land, Tireless Tribe, Rootwalla, Rootwalla, go. Then he dropped more lands, a Wild Mongrel, and Battle Screeched then flashed it back.
So you can lose, but it’s really tough to if you get a decent draw. Once again, be sure to bring in the enchantment removal if you fear Compost.
This matchup is difficult in the first game if you get a non-disruptive hand (no Duresses, Fiends, etc.) or a heavy removal hand. There will be dead cards, so cycle them out as quickly as you can with a Gladiator and get some offense on the table. If you can keep the Wraths from happening, you can pull it out. If they get Wake and Compulsion down, just scoop – you’re not going to win.
In game 2, you bring in a ton of sideboard hate, trading four Wraths, four Smothers, two Butchers, and a card of your choice for three Braids, two Haunting Echoes, two Cabal Therapy, and the four enchantment kill cards. The Wake deck can’t really side anything in due to the wish-heavy nature of the sideboard, so your dedicated anti-control cards should make life miserable for them. Astral Slide + Braids can end the game quickly, as it turns into a one-way affair if you get that combo down.
Remember, Kibler’s version only runs two Memory Lapses for counterspells, so don’t cast stuff in fear. Resolving a Haunting Echoes will make life miserable for them, so go for that when it hurts the most.
Forget about winning game 1, it’s really just not possible. The deck runs more countermagic than the Kibler version, and a Wish for Ray of Revelation is some bad. As I said earlier, you have to hope for your disruption to come through and for your opponent to have a weak draw to have a better than 50% chance. Same sideboard comes in against Cunning Wake, just add a few more prayers while you’re about it. Other than that, play against it the same way you would Kibler Wake.
Playing against Sligh is always a tossup because you almost never know what jank they have in the deck. If it’s the good Sligh – with four Blistering Firecats, four Goblin Piledrivers, and eight sac lands – then you might be in trouble. The deck doesn’t like to have lots of burn thrown at it. Casting Renewed Faith for six life is about the best thing you can do in this matchup if you don’t have a Wrath handy. Also, making sure to wait for them to Reckless Charge something before Smothering it is key – you need those two-for-ones to stay alive.
Also, don’t go for Slide on the third turn if laying a blocker or gaining life is an option. You simply can not afford to get cute against Sligh with this deck, or you’ll be dead very fast.
This is, naturally, the one matchup where I find the R/W Astroglide deck better than this one, because it can control smaller critters with the one-damage cyclers. That’s not really an option with this deck; you must stay alive until you can clear the board and let an Angel take a swing.
Once you’ve got some breathing room, you walk all over them. Bring two Engineered Plagues and two Spheres of Law out of the sideboard. Your first Plague should go on cats if you’ve seen one, unless there’s a ton of Goblins on the board ready to be killed. Catching a Blistering Firecat in the face after a Wrath of God is a surefire way to lose, so be wary.
Game 1 is just stupid. They’re trying to kill you with direct damage and you’re trying to kill them with creatures. If they get a Rift down, problems are afoot; you’re probably not going to win unless you get very lucky. The Spheres of Law shut them down completely after sideboarding, but it breaks my mind to even think about what playing this match would be like. Think about the most painful control-on-control mirror you’ve ever watched and then multiply it by ten.
Once again, I think Duress and Fiend give you the edge, taking away their Lightning Rifts in the early game. Fiends obviously aren’t likely to live a second against them, so look for opportunities in game 2 where you can Fiend, cast Cabal Therapy, and then flash it back all in the same turn.
Even discussing this matchup makes me want to chew my own face off. Ask for an intentional draw or something.
Against classic G/U Opposition with Squirrel Nests, you’re fine in game 1 as long as you can resolve a Slide. This alone will take care of all of the tokens they produce. Finding a Wrath and knowing which spells to Fiend are crucial: Most Opposition builds usually only run four to six counterspells, so play straight up, force through a Wrath (I know I sound like a broken record, but it’s the most important thing you have to do in almost 80% of the matchups).
A lot of Opposition decks will run Phantom Centaur in the maindeck, and they must die. If they don’t, you will.
In the sideboard you bring in the Anti Control Lineup minus the Braids – they’re really bad against the small army of critters these decks usually produce by the 5th turn. Against tri-colored Opposition builds, like Gab Nassif’s masochistic B/U/G deck from the Invitational, go for the throat as quickly as you can and never let Shadowmage Infiltrator live for a single turn. You can eat their elephant tokens and turn their Braids’ in your favor with Astral Slide, and they only really have Memory Lapse to delay the inevitable.
As when facing any G/U deck, Guiltfeeder puts in work with a quickness.
Undead Gladiator = you usually win game 1. Their deck simply can not deal with him in any fashion, unless they’re chump blocking over and over. If they get a Mobilization down, you simply have to stick to the standard plan of resolving an Angel or Guiltfeeder and beating down. Cycling through your useless removal cards (I am a broken record, after all!) is paramount to success.
Once again, they have few blockers to fight back with and an early Psychatog can easily be taken care of with the removal at your disposal. Upheaval suddenly becomes Not A Good Idea if you have an Astral Slide down and can keep something on the board to block a big ‘Tog for a few turns.
Faceless Butcher was particularly good for me in this matchup – but since I think I’m taking it out of the deck, I’m not sure how this matchup will go afterwards. For more info on facing off against Dr. Teeth, I will refer you to Ted Knutson soon to be printed States report, detailing the trials and tribulations of a Beano-in-training trying to make his way in the great big world.
Mono Black Control:
I played against a Mono Black Control deck at States, but it was piloted by an eleven-year old boy. I’m not sure what I can deduce about this matchup since I didn’t test it – except that if you get Mind Sludged for a lot, then it’s probably over. Yeah, like you needed me to tell you that. (And Haunting Echoes – The Ferrett)
They only really have a few cards to win the game with, and you might get lucky and nab one of them right off with a Duress. Take Diabolic Tutors away whenever possible. If you can get an Astral Slide down, riding almost any creature all the way for a win is easy since their removal is all at sorcery speed, save the Smothers.
White Weenie / Punisher / Red Green Beats / Misc Beatdown:
I’m not sure if these decks are any good now, but I would think any random creature based strategy without a lot of burn backup is going to have problems beating a deck that packs as much removal as this. Compost is your primary worry out of the sideboard if they’ve got forests in their deck, but Circle of Protection: Black is not great either. You must be prepared for these things to come in against you.
The obligatory $64,000 question: Would you run this deck again if you had the chance? Absolutely. It is a blast to play, and the look on my opponents’ faces when they first realized what was about to happen with a Slide in play and my miscellaneous 187 creatures about to get buckwild was worth playing it alone. Although I went a disappointing 4-2-1, the two losses were just garden-variety mana screw in favorable matchups.
I don’t feel the deck is quite right yet, as I only really had a couple of days to test and tune it. A good deckbuilder is always tweaking his decks, trying to see what works and what doesn’t. Currently I’m trying to work a little green into the mix and squeeze a little bit more synergy with the discarding element of the Undead Gladiator. I also want to get the mana base straightened out a bit better – perhaps with another City of Brass and maybe another Tainted land (yet I never caught the Tainted screw on the day, perhaps I shouldn’t tempt it…) Krosan Tuskers, anyone?
The obligatory $128,000 question: Is this a good deck to play in the current environment? I believe it is. I feel that it’s stronger and more versatile than its red and white cousin and the black allows for better anti-control cards out of the board. Both decks operate on a similar concept, but this one is more obsessed with gaining control of the board and the cards in your opponent’s hand. Though”The Ralphie Treatment” is a fine name and has serves its purpose, I’m still looking for a better name for the deck, so if anyone has any ideas, feel free to let me know.
Dobbs on MTGO and IRC