The Road to Regionals – Hybrid Theory and Critical Snakes

Magic the Gathering Regionals!

We welcome Patrick Chapin to our swelling ranks of Featured Writers, in perfect time to share an innovative “Tribal” deck that has power and consistency. Can the whipping-boy of the Kamigawa tribe pull together to form a contender in the Regionals metagame? Plus, Patrick provides a detailed tournament report, where he faced off against a number of colorful characters. An excellent read, and a deck that’s definitely off the radar.

Hybrid decks are nothing new to Planeswalkers of all formats. From Necro-Bad Moon to Squirrel/Opposition-Madness, to Elf and Nail, hybrid decks have been around from the beginning. However, never in the history of Magic have hybrids been as popular and as feasible as they are now, thanks to Ravnica Block’s seemingly limitless supply of versatile cards to choose from, and the best selection of mana fixers Standard has ever seen.

While the original dual lands have never been Standard legal, even they did not fix mana as well as Standard with Ravnica Block shock lands like Breeding Pool, Ice Age/Apocalypse pain lands like Yavimaya Coast, Karoos like Simic Growth Chamber, and Signets (just to get started). That alone is more than you could possibly need. I defy you to play four shock lands, four pain lands, four Karoos, four Signets (all from the same Guild). Who could possibly need mana that good? Well sure, three or more color decks, but that is why they are possible like never before. Now add to this five-color lands like City of Brass and the Tendo Ice Bridge (which is strong enough to run as a dual land), as well as the best Green mana fixers ever (Birds of Paradise, Sakura-Tribe Elder, Kodama’s Reach, Wood Elf, Civic Wayfinder, Farseek, et cetera)…

Right, so the point is, mana is only a problem insofar as you have to figure out the optimal mix of goodness, but what about business spells?

Well, since so many decks share some cards and could utilize cards from other decks so well, people are trying to blend every imaginable combination of strategies. Already we have seen Zoo (Boros Deck Wins plus Gruul Beats), Greater Glare (Greater Good plus Ghazi-Glare), Flores Glare (Ghost Dad plus Ghazi-Glare), Wildfire Tron (Vore plus UrzaTron), and countless B/W blends of Hand in Hand, Ghost Husk, and Ghost Dad, just to name a few.

Now that Dissension is here, we have ten three-color cycles, eight of which are newly completed, plus three new Guilds full of cards to compliment existing strategies and inspiring new ones. This will surely open up countless opportunities for hybrids.

Not all hybrids are formed by merging two color combinations, though. As with all the B/W hybrids and the G/W ones, deck builders are also taking two concepts from the same Guild and putting them to work together, hopefully complimenting each other’s strengths and covering the other’s weaknesses.

Without further ado, here is one possible use of hybrid theory:

Critical Mass decks, using Green mana fixers to power out legendary threats while using Tops for library manipulation, Jittes because they are broken, and a small selection of countermagic to round things out, were introduced in Kamigawa Block by Mike Flores. After a brief appearance in Standard, they have been sitting on the sidelines, eagerly awaiting the Simic Guild to revitalize them.

While the U/G lands are obvious additions, where do you go from there? Do you focus on the threats, the early creatures, library manipulation, more permission, or what? I, of course, decided to splice the deck with a tribal theme deck… heh. (Actually, this wasn’t intended as a tribal deck and isn’t tribal-legal.) Rather, I added a bunch of Dissension cards, played a few games, and noticed I was summoning a lot of Snakes. Why not try Sosuke’s Summons and Seshiro the Anointed, the two trump cards for Kamigawa’s original “also-ran” tribe?

They are powerful, and many people played loads of terrible Snakes just so they could utilize these two cards (though few will admit they ran Snakes in those days, hehe). Now that there are good Snakes (yeah, yeah Sakura-Tribe Elder, but one doesn’t build a Snake deck with four Snakes in it), surely these cards would be the nuts.

It turns out they are.

I am only running one copy of each, due to only playing ten other Snakes, as well as having an incredible amount of library manipulation. Gifts Ungiven is the perfect tutor for Sosuke’s Summons. Time of Need (thanks to Muddle the Mixture) is the perfect tutor for Seshiro.

As the all-time greats like Finkel and Zvi will tell you, “good decks use good cards.” This deck takes these words to heart. What are the best artifacts? Sensei’s Divining Top and Umezawa’s Jitte. The best spells? Remand and Gifts Ungiven. The best creatures? Meloku and Sakura-Tribe Elder (you, of course, have to give an honorable mention to Kodama of the North Tree and Keiga).

Critical Snakes plays similar to classic Critical Mass, though the Dissension Snakes strengthen the early game, and it plays more library manipulation.

Some keys:

Coiling Oracle is even better than you think it is.

– Against aggro you pay the Jitte game. With four Jitte, two Muddle the Mixture, two Gifts Ungiven, two Godo, and a Time of Need, you have eleven Jittes plus eighteen cantrips and library manipulation cards. This means you will almost always end up with the last Jitte.

– Against control you have inevitability due to your library manipulation, powerful threats, and massive card advantage. Play the card advantage game.

– With Regionals only a day away, I decided to try my hand in a local Standard tournament.

Standard Tournament Report

Round 1: Bulletz (that’s his name, not his deck)
Deck – Hand in Hand
Crime – Felon in possession of a firearm

Bulletz was running a traditional Hand in Hand strategy. Game 1 I matched every man he dropped. He played Ravenous Rats, I played Coiling Oracle, etc. This matchup is all about Umezawa’s Jitte. He has 4. I have 4. He has 0 ways to fetch it and Dark Confidant is his only library manipulation. I have 7 tutors and 18 cantrips or other library manipulation spells. I end this one by Muddling for a third Jitte, allowing a Patagia Viper to do Abyss duty.

Game 2 I Gifts for Jitte, Muddle, Time of Need, and Godo after accelerating with an Elder, an Oracle, and a Wood Elf.

Game score 2-0, total 1-0

Round 2: Shariff

Deck – Heezy Gruul
Crime – Tax Evasion

Shariff ran Mark Herberholz Hawaii deck within two cards.

Game 1 – Jitte owns this Gruul deck, when complimenting hordes of Snakes. Only a fist full of burn makes the game close.

Game 2 – Turn 1 Kird Ape, turn 2 Dryad, turn 3 Moldervine Cloak is pretty good. I play a turn 2 Simic Growth Chamber and discard. Still, they more than pull their weight and win games subtly by their inherent card advantage.

Game 3 – “Good decks play good cards.”

Turn 1 — Sensei’s Divining Top
Turn 2 — Sakura-Tribe Elder
Turn 3 — Gifts Ungiven
Turn 4 — Meloku the Clouded Mirror
Turn 5 — Umezawa’s Jitte, backed by Remand

Those are the two best artifacts, two best spells, and two best creatures in the format.

Game score 2-1, total 2-0

Round 3: Vito Donetelli
Deck – Heartbeat
Crime – Racketeering, Witness Intimidation

Game 1 – Critical Snakes has little disruption, and my Remand buys me a turn, but my clock isn’t fast enough.

Game 2 – I Cranial Extraction Heartbeat on Turn 3. A Muddled Weird Harvest and he is defenseless, dying to Kodama. I leave some legends in to win with, plus they are insane if he transforms.

Game 3 – I Pithing Needle both his Transmute tutors. He tries to go beatdown with Meloku now that he is transformed. I Gifts for Arashi, Meloku, Time of Need, and Kodama North. He gives me Time of Need and North. I Time of Need for the second Arashi to take down Meloku. He has a Kodama to trade with mine. I end up winning a nail-biter with Wood Elf damage.

Game score 2-1, total 3-0

Round 4: “T”

Deck – Heavenly Rakdos (NOT Hellbent)
Crime – Bank robbery, Felon in possession of a firearm, grand theft auto

Game 1 – I play some Snakes to slow him down, he plays a Dark Confidant so he is drawing a lot of cards. I Gifts for Sosuke’s Summons, Sakura-Tribe Elder, Coiling Oracle, and Patagia Viper. The least he can give me is a five-for-one, that can be a six-for-one with a favorable Sakura-Tribe trade (which isn’t hard because he has so many one-toughness creatures). The board is getting cluttered when he drops the Blood Witch to start taking control. I topdeck Keiga. It takes three Blood Witch activations to kill the Tide Star, just so he doesn’t die to it (he is on four from Dark Confidant), plus he has to sacrifice the Blood Witch when I try to steal it. Snakes run him over.

Game 2 – He curves turn 1 Frostling, turn 2 Dark Confidant, turn 3 Rakdos Augermage, turn 4 Wrecking Ball my Simic Growth Chamber. gg.

Game 3 – I get to live the dream of turn 2 Coiling Oracle for Simic Growth Chamber, turn 3 Jitte, equip my Snake, attack and that’s game. How is it that Jitte is still underrated?

Game score 2-1, total 4-0

Round 5: Brian W.
Deck — U/W Control
Crime – Identity Theft

We intentionally draw into the Top 8.

Total 4-0-1

Quarterfinals: Butch, the Mauler
Deck — U/W/R Firemane/Zur’s Weirding
Crime – Double Homicide

Game 1 – Game 1 is over on turn 1 when I play a Sensei’s Divining Top. That card is that good versus control when backed by the right deck. It effectively turns every shuffler into a bonus Impulse for three. Critical Snakes plays 13 shufflers and 8 cantrips. Top is at its best versus people that Jitte isn’t the best against, and vice-versa. I eventually play Sosuke’s Summons; now his permission can’t stop my card drawing and he is overwhelmed by Snakes.

Game 2 – I play a turn 3 Cranial which is Remanded, and again on turn 4. Turn 5 I Muddle his Hinder and I get his Firemane Angels. The game continues for many turns, but it is a foregone conclusion. His Melokus will never be enough. I have too many Arashis. Godo finishes him.

Game score 2-0, total 5-0-1

Semifinals: Black (again, that’s his name)
Deck – b-w Ghost Dad
Crime – Trafficking Narcotics

Game 1 – I play a bunch of Snakes, he plays a bunch of Spirits. Fortunately all my cards are good and he plays a lot of bad ones, as per all Ghost Dad players. Eventually, a Tatsumasa Dragon carrying a Jitte finishes him.

Game 2 – Black Pithing Needles Jitte, which hurts a lot. Again, I play Snakes that are 1/1 dorks. He plays 2/2 Spirits that bleed me 1 life at a time. Then I Muddle for a Time of Need, which I use to fetch Seshiro, the Anointed. Keep in mind, at this point, I have played two Coiling Oracles and a Patagia Viper. I attack and he Shining Shoals with a Ghost Council to kill Seshiro, but I still draw a full grip. I then overwhelm him with Legends.

Game score 2-0, total 6-0-1

Finals: Brian W.
Deck – u-w Control
Crime – Identity Theft

Brian is running a classic style control deck with Condemn, Faith’s Fetters, Wrath of God, Remand, Spell Snare, Hinder, Mana Leak, Tidings, Compulsive Research, Meloku, and Keiga.

Game 1 – I slow play the whole game just trying to get maximum card advantage out of everything. Getting a copy of Arashi into your hand… and sitting on it until he commits to Meloku is key. His four Tidings and a couple Compulsive Researches are not enough to overcome all Critical Snakes’ card advantage when combined with deck thinning. Eventually Kodama of the North Tree finishes him.

Game 2 – He Spell Snares my Sakura-Tribe Elder so I am stuck on two land for several turns. Fortunately he has no pressure and just plays land. I rip a Simic Growth Chamber and am back in business. Literally 80% of decks should be Karoos in them. They are so good (as a side note I ran Dormant Volcano in my Standard Mono-Red Control deck back in 1997). I Cranial him, he Leaks it. Next turn I play a Patagia Viper, he lets it resolve. He Wraths on his turn with three mana open. On my turn I Gifts, he Hinders, and I Remand his Hinder. I get the Snake package, which spells lights out for him. He has no answer for Sosuke’s Summons, save racing, and he doesn’t race well… Then he drops Patron of Kitsune. Oh, that sucks for me. He refills with Tidings and takes back control. Eventually Keiga is about to finish me, forcing me to Arashi, but he steals Godo with Patron of Kitsune and Minamo, School at Water’s Edge in play. Yeah, think about that for a moment!

Game 3 – This time he is a little light on mana, getting stuck on four lands. This allows me to force through a Meloku of my own. He Hinders, but I Remand my Meloku in response. Control matchups with Critical Snakes are typically all about card advantage. Besides, he would have just played Faith’s Fetters or Wrath of God. Over the next several turns we fight over Meloku, Kodama North, and Godo. Eventually a 6/6 Wood Elf (with a Dragon’s Fang) knocks him to one life. He plays a Keiga. I make a Dragon, then attack with it and the Wood Elf for the win.

Games score 2-1, total 7-0-1

Overall, I think Critical Snakes was a good choice for this field, since it is so strong versus aggro, control, and discard. I’m not so sure how it would have done if there were more Owl, Vore, and Enduring Ideal decks, but fortunately Dissension doesn’t help them much.

I also think my sideboard needs work. The Cranials, Swamp, Pithing Needles, and Arashis are good, but Patagia Viper and Carven Caryatid are suspect.

As far as the maindeck goes, I am unsure about the second Godo and the Patagia Vipers. It sure would be nice to have a third Gifts. Also a third Wood Elf is a possibility. There is so much you could do. What about a touch of White for Glare of Subdual? Anyway, I found Critical Snakes to be an interesting hybrid deck that was both fun and powerful. There are so many decisions to make with it, it is certainly skill testing. This is almost surely not the optimal build, but it is a place to start, and could be a strong deck for Regionals since it is so strong versus many popular pre-Dissension decks as well as the most obvious post-Dissension ones.

Props –
Rev. Jackson for putting up the stamps for prizes.
Michael Flores for convincing me to play Seshiro, the Anointed in a Snake deck
The Rec Department for organizing and running the tournament, as well as keeping anyone from shanking anyone after being eliminated.
Mark Herberholz for raising the bar for Michigan Magic and forcing me to come out of retirement to take back the belt (for Michigan anyway).

Slops –
Haters! Why hate?

Patrick “rotating back in next year” Chapin
(back to playtesting Jack-Ten suited)