Yesterday, I discussed the logic behind how Dissension is likely to change the post-Honolulu metagame that evolved during the Team Standard Qualifier season for Pro Tour: Charleston. Today, we’ll be covering some of the same territory but with decklists this time, to try and figure out where the tolerances of each deck lie so as to get a good sense for what changes might attune the deck to different potential metagames. The four key decks to be discussed are Magnivore, Heartbeat, Ghost Husk, and Heezy Street, and we’ll have a look at possible vulnerabilities that can be exploited by decks outside of this four-deck system.
Of those four, the deck with which I have the greatest personal experience is the Heartbeat deck. With Heartbeat, you can change a little or you can change a lot, but even “a lot” isn’t likely to be more than three or four cards in the maindeck and a few key sideboard cards. Part of the deck’s strength comes from the well-known sideboard strategy of bringing in a mix of fast tempo creatures and late-game bombs, which makes sideboarding effectively against them a dangerous proposition. Overcompensating to beat the combo kill engine will leave you dead if you’re facing off against legendary Dragons and Vinelasher Kudzu, but sideboarding too lightly when they keep in the combo may likewise see you zigging when you should have zagged. Decks that are capable of answering either side of this plan, regardless of how the Heartbeat deck sideboards, are one key weakness for this deck, requiring specialized tools to beat based on how they outmaneuver the deck. Countermagic is good against spells of any variety, making untapped Islands from the opponent especially dangerous, while Black-White decks featuring Ravenous Rats, Castigate, Shrieking Grotesque, Mindslicer, Persecute and Cranial Extraction drain resources regardless of your current plan of action. Of those two, the discard is more likely to be backed up by a quick clock, and thus is more dangerous by far.
The standard-issue Heartbeat deck circa Regionals is effectively the following:
The sideboard is by no means standardized, and that is part of the danger of the deck: in addition to being a deck that can be attenuated to fixate on whichever key enemy it is having difficulty against. It also doesn’t have a commonly accepted standardized assortment of threats to bring in, which can be a sticking point when you try and beat it: Kodama of the North Tree may not be in most players’ lists, but that doesn’t mean he might not be in play and beating you down if it’s not your day. Heartbeat generally has the most difficulty facing off against three things: effective countermagic, effective discard spells, and fast speed. Aggressive decks can be too fast for Heartbeat, especially if they play first and/or Heartbeat doesn’t start with Remand or Sakura-Tribe Elder to do something useful on turn two. Discard can leave the deck without enough resources to go off, and countermagic requires an entirely different game-plan as the deck tries to assemble enough counters to win itself in the face of however many counterspells are in hand. All of these should be addressed in some fashion, and usually this includes a transformation into a deck with fat monsters, mana acceleration and some countermagic… a dangerous proposition if they are sideboarding just against what they saw in game 1. Common themes tend to look like this:
Four Vinelasher Kudzu is fairly standard in most lists, and likely appears in 80-90% of all Heartbeat sideboards because of the way it can be used to alter the tempo of the game. While finishing the opponent off with Dragons and Meloku isn’t a pre-requisite for every matchup, opposing decks that sit there and control the game as it grows longer and longer are very vulnerable to a turn 2 Kudzu. Decks like this tend to be good at removing creatures from play before sideboarding, but are more vulnerable than average for game 2, and an early attacker will prevent them from having the excessive amount of time to pull off their game-plan without exposing vulnerabilities.
Gigadrowse is a very specific tool that tries to use the Replicate mechanic to force an advantage in the untapped Island department that the opponent can’t overcome, but it is one that is being met with another highly-specific card: Rewind. While it can’t counter all of the tap effects, it can leave you with at least four untapped Blue mana sources, which often negates much of the point. Be wary of Rewinding the actual non-copied Gigadrowse itself; Remand will not only leave you with your lands tapped, but with Gigadrowse in their hand to use again if they want to wait longer before going off… as if control decks don’t have enough things to worry about nowadays.
Bound / Determined gives Heartbeat an Abeyance-level spell they can just run out there to start a counter war, but unfortunately it is one that is potentially outclassed against the decks you need it to function against, thanks to the printing of Spell Snare… a difficulty Vinelasher Kudzu shares, by the way. Multiple copies of Bound / Determined are not yet common, but then we haven’t played any sanctioned tournaments of this format yet and so cannot really know what evil lurks in the hearts of Heartbeat players.
Some players try experimenting with Threads of Disloyalty, because it can help win the guessing game post-sideboard against the mirror by controlling opposing Kudzus, in addition to serving a useful role in slowing down Zoo decks and Heezy Street, not to mention Ghost Husk. All in all, it is generally ineffective at its appointed task, for much the same reason that Umezawa’s Jitte is less good now than it was in months past: there are too many good, cheap sacrifice outlets like Scorched Rusalka and Nantuko Husk. Carven Caryatid is guaranteed to block at least the once, almost certain to take at least one creature down with it, and at the worst costs the opponent time deal with it while you even get to replace the card invested… no wonder it’s the anti-aggro sideboard card that shows up the most in the decks that win.
Crime / Punishment can fill the role Savage Twister currently fills, and perhaps do it better (or cheaper) against pinpoint targets. In the maindeck, Pyroclasm is flat-out better than Savage Twister number one, as it is cheaper to search up and cast the same turn to the necessary result of killing a decent chunk of creatures in play. Via Muddle the Mixture, a Savage Twister of two costs seven mana, as opposed to the five of Muddling for Pyroclasm, and to get anything better than what you could have gotten at a discount will require at least eight mana (X=3), and more than likely two whole turns in the early game. Savage Twister number two or more sometimes make the deck, as is frequently discussed in the Heartbeat of Spring forums on this very same website, and Crime / Punishment replacing the maindeck catch-all answer of Boomerang generally makes a third card for an actual Savage Twister unnecessary. But then, the Recollect is usually unnecessary too, so I can respect such a decision so long as I don’t have to like it. (My preference would be to squeeze in another sideboard tool and put Research / Development in the maindeck, as a second card that can randomly replenish the hand and do good things, but also as a maindeck answer to literally anything the deck is prepared to answer after sideboarding, including Cranial Extraction resolving.)
Both Savage Twister and Crime / Punishment can be useful after sideboarding, to increase the likelihood of just having an anti-beatdown card in your hand early on. Time not wasted Transmuting for your mass removal can instead be time spent advancing your own clock, instead of “just” trying to push theirs back. What isn’t necessarily correct in the maindeck is still quite worthwhile after sideboarding, especially if you expect to play this very often.
Just having a second Weird Harvest can be useful, in case you run into someone looking to catch you unprepared with Hide / Seek, or want to theoretically increase your fundamental turn by increasing your chances of drawing Weird Harvest naturally rather than spending a turn setting it up with Transmute. I haven’t seen any lists running a second Harvest in the sideboard, and only very few with a second in the main (thank the Japanese for that one!), but then you also haven’t seen any decks with Hide / Seek in them yet, so who knows. Viridian Shaman is an excellent catchall, as it makes going off with Weird Harvest much easier when facing down Pithing Needle on Drift of Phantasms. Being an answer to Pithing Needle that can be picked up very easily over the course of your normal combo routine makes it an invaluable sideboard tool, and one that every Heartbeat deck should be playing universally. Research / Development is for people who try to catch you with Cranial Extraction, and this is likely worth sideboarding if Black-based board control decks like the Beach House deck are going to have a lot of impact on your local metagame… and even if it’s not immediately useful, it makes 0-3 cards and 0-3 creatures that can actually significantly threaten the opponent, and that’s the kind of deal you’d love to offer the opponent at every opportunity.
The other two cards show up in some lists and not others, not like we’ve been talking about the most common cards when we talk about possibly wanting an answer to Hide / Seek. Shadow of Doubt is another useful tool against Cranial Extraction, and one that can even answer Extraction backed up by Boseiju, all while drawing a card. Conveniently, it is also a card that has immediate relevance in the mirror match, countering Weird Harvest, Transmute effects, Sakura-Tribe Elder activations, and Kodama’s Reach with equal aplomb. And Bottled Cloister protects your assets against all discard spells except for Cranial Extraction and a cleverly-timed Mindslicer, making Castigates and incidental discard effects useless and proactively answering Persecute. It’s a key tool against Black/White decks whether you are transforming or not, and one that a lot of players lean on as more and more Black/White decks flood the environment. Considering that Black/White was the single largest contingent at the Pro Tour in Honolulu, and likewise has been a main contender in large numbers on both MTGO and the Team PTQ circuit, this is a card worthy of significant consideration… and that may need to be answered, if you’re the Black/White deck. Fortunately, Mindslicer is already in the Husk deck’s sideboard, and when used properly negates most of the advantage that Bottled Cloister aims to protect, so a more specialized answer than the one already present in the version already considered to be “the best” may not be needed.
If Simic Sky Swallower can be looked at as a potential reason to revitalize Blue-White-Green as a functional control strategy, it has to earn at least some respect here for being an excellent fattie boom-boom if you need to win with the man plan. Ryusei has been gaining favor recently, not necessarily becoming a standard in any Heartbeat sideboards… the same is true of Kodama of the North Tree, which has been getting some talk from Ted Knutson in Critical Mass and probably sits very nicely next to the Swallower. Both have the advantage of getting around the fact that an Azorius Guildmage cast with access to both colors of mana correctly answers either plan, creatures or combo, which otherwise only Meloku can say with a straight face. Umezawa’s Jitte was another standard-issue inclusion in any deck actually sideboarding into the man plan, and if we’re turning Japanese we can have Godo in our Heartbeat sideboard to find it. Meloku and Keiga are the usual suspects, doing what they’ve been doing in mana-and-bombs decks since the fall of 2004. Meloku at least is a necessity, as it is the creature that finishes games like no other in a deck packed to the brim with Elders and Reaches, and can come in as another catchall answer to Cranial Extraction. Meloku completely changes some games, and can even throw the math off if you’re clever; more than once, my opponent allowed Meloku and didn’t burn his Wrath of God immediately because he thought he was safe; one Early Harvest at end of turn later and a dozen lands returned to my hand, and the life total of 14 proved less rugged than he’d thought.
This has so far presented three or four different sideboard strategies, and if playing the higher number of cards listed gives 41 sideboard cards where you actually get fifteen. The generally inexcusable, standard-issue sideboard cards are:
… which leaves eight slots to figure out the rest. Some will forego Meloku and Jitte and the Man Plan entirely, and most of those people will likewise add Bottled Cloisters to their deck under the premise that transforming against Black/White is asking for death anyway. Other matchups are easier, overall, so long as you come prepared with the proper tools. Beatdown decks require some respect, and I’d suggest one Savage Twister in the board to go with the maindeck Pyroclasm and Crime / Punishment, and no fewer than three copies of Carven Caryatid. On the one hand, I’d like to leave the man plan behind me and keep a more streamlined sideboard focusing on the combo-kill engine; on the other hand, anyone who knows you have no Man Plan is going to have a much easier time sideboarding properly against you. At Regionals, the threat of transforming may be more powerful than transforming itself, so I would consider one of the two valid sideboarding choices to be the following:
This would be along a maindeck identical to the above, but replacing Recollect with Research / Development. Kudzu can be useful in the sideboard against other Heartbeat decks, replacing four pinpoint cards you won’t need, to force them into action while you are prepared with Remands and Muddle the Mixture. Forcing the opponent to go off before they are ready is a key way to win the mirror, and works equally well against dedicated control decks and Magnivore as well: pick the terms of how the fight is going to go, instead of merely sitting back and assuming that everything will go to plan. Even without wanting a dedicated “Man Plan” sideboard, the Kudzu is too useful a tool to be ignored, as it generally trumps the Magnivore sideboard plan that starts with Goblin Flectomancers and dictates the way the opponent must play their game if they don’t want to be devoured whole by an irritated plant.
The other sideboard I would consider “valid” doesn’t stick to fifteen specific cards, but does include some untargetable trampling monsters in with the rest of the Man Plan, and no Umezawa’s Jitte. Actual hard-to-answer threats are more important than people who can wear a Jitte, if you’re trying to usefully transform against a deck like Black-White Aggro. Carven Caryatid is less important when you are trying this plan, and can be lost from the sideboard entirely if that is going to be your method of responding to Black/White, because you will require more copies of Savage Twister and Crime / Punishment if you are going to win with that plan anyway. Two Twisters is probably sufficient alongside the maindeck Pyroclasm and Crime / Punishment, plus some fattie boom-booms of the Legendary and Sky Swallowing variety. Interestingly, Vinelasher Kudzu is less important to this strategy, despite the fact that it seems as if it might work excellently alongside it.
The deck that won the last major Singles tournament of this variety has to get some respect, and it is a contender after the PTQ metagame left it as still one of the four key decks to face off against. Aggressive power born of the union between cheap fat and efficient burn, Heezy Street can be a serious problem that needs to be respected if you’re to survive… and even then, you may have to get a little bit lucky, like winning the opening die roll or just flat out drawing better than them, because the deck does what it does very well, very fast and very consistently.
Modern incarnations likely include Seal of Fire, just that extra little bit better than Shock thanks to being another way to turn on a turn 2 Scab-Clan Mauler… and dropping on the table whenever you have a spare mana, to be pointed where it’s needed when the time comes up. What they take out for it is hard to say, and more than a few people have looked at the problem and thrown their hands up in shame, coming to no reasonable answer. Also, the temptation is there to play Rakdos Guildmage just to pump out 2/1 hasted tokens, but doing so would give entirely too much respect to a late-game that the deck should have no desire in playing less-focused cards just to advance in case it comes up.
- 4 Kird Ape
- 3 Frenzied Goblin
- 4 Burning-Tree Shaman
- 4 Dryad Sophisticate
- 4 Giant Solifuge
- 4 Scab-Clan Mauler
- 4 Scorched Rusalka
Part of the benefit of the deck is whatever you’re going to do about it, you’d better do it fast. Moldervine Cloak on a Dryad Sophisticate after a turn 1 Kird Ape leaves you in a lot of trouble on turn 4, down to four life and sucking down Flames of the Blood Hand or Char. Its main worry is about decks with Shining Shoal, which previously was the absolutely unbeatable Ghost Dad deck but now instead means Ghost Husk or G/W Ghazi-Chord.
Seal of Fire or no?
Looking carefully at the deck, you have to wonder where you’d find room to squeeze in Seal of Fire. Every card seems so vital, performing the task that is asked of it, but the truth remains that this deck is frozen two months in the past and everything in the world has advanced to fight it. As good as Frenzied Goblin was against decks with Hierarchs and Dragons, those decks are the exception rather than the rule nowadays, while Plagued Rusalkas and (worse yet) Orzhov Pontiffs are showing up more and more. Considering how easy it is for your one-toughness creatures to die, some of them can be replaced; The three Frenzied Goblins can probably be shaved off for Seal of Fire, and with them one copy of another card if you’re to play the fourth Seal of Fire. One copy of Dryad Sophisticate can likewise be considered against the weight of things that kill one-toughness creatures… and as great as a Moldervine Cloak on Dryad Sophisticate is, getting owned by Plagued Rusalka and Orzhov Pontiff is the opposite of “great.”
Speaking of maindeck changes, now that we’re getting used to putting bouncelands in beatdown decks, is it possible that Heezy Street might benefit from the addition of a Gruul Turf or two? It’s a deck that wants to cast threes and fours but not play too many lands, so I’d be willing to believe a few of them might just be right. It wants to have mana-fixing but not skimp on the Forests, and still have room for Skarrg, the Rage Pits. It’s a difficult proposition, but one that may be very worthwhile to figure out.
Over on Top 8 Magic, Mike talked in his recent pre-Regionals podcast about how good a Cloaked Dryad Sophisticate is against Blue. With Repeal an ineffective answer, Mike asked what can Blue really do to a Dryad Sophisticate? If the Blue is paired with White, the answer is obviously Condemn, or Electrolyze if you’re paired with Red and had the luck of both going first and having Electrolyze that turn. In both cases, and literally all cases from non-Heartbeat Blue mages, Threads of Disloyalty makes that plan basically unplayable after sideboarding. Attacking the Heezy Street deck isn’t necessarily hard, because all you have to do is counteract threats on the board, maintain your life total, and don’t accidentally die to Giant Solifuge. Not everyone can do this, you see, and plenty of people who think they can find out that they can’t quite do it fast enough.
The sideboard used at the Pro Tour by Mark Herberholz was 4 Blood Moons, 4 Umezawa’s Jitte, 2 Tin-Street Hooligan, 2 Naturalize, 2 Rumbling Slum and the fourth copy of Flames of the Blood Hand. Environments change, and become more developed; Heartbeat of Spring is a much bigger threat now than it was at the Pro Tour, and the main focus is no longer Beach House Black/White decks. Modern Black/White decks throw things in the way, things with Bushido that kill Kird Apes and trade with Scab-Clan Maulers, and sometimes just sometimes they kill you awfully dead with Nantuko Husk or sometimes they own you with Orzhov Pontiff. (Once in a while, back in the day, they were the nightmare Ghost Dad matchup with Orzhov Pontiff, but those were the days of yore.)
Blood Moon is still a key strategy card, but Zoo has basically fallen off of the radar when compared to all the other aggressive options, a self-imploding mana base not being of much interest or use to anyone. Tron decks likewise aren’t so very good anymore, and aren’t even the best decks with Steam Vents, overshadowed by Magnivore decks and recently by a surge in popularity towards the Red/Blue Wafo-Tapa control deck. Blood Moon is good against the decks that are greedy, like nonbasic-heavy Black-White decks, but those decks happen to include a 2/2 bear that destroys Blood Moon if they don’t have the colors of mana they require. It does nothing in the mirror (if it was so devastating of a mirrored effect, you wouldn’t be playing it, would you?) and only really beats the three-color mish-mash control decks. Many of those decks have Signets in them, even if they don’t have much in the way of basic Lands. Blood Moon definitely is not a required four-of, then, or at least if it is something you are going to consider then Tin-Street Hooligan may need more respect.
If Black/White is the deck to beat, Seal of Fire in the main may help, as it at least gets a problem card out of the way on the cheap. Either Hand, Plagued Rusalka, Confident Bob… for the problem that ails you, just break man. Beating down works better when there aren’t reasonable men in the way, and it’s probably still solid in the mirror and can, at the very worst, target the face for two. While Heezy Street didn’t need more burn than it had at Honolulu, the metagame has shifted to put more creatures in the way overall, and definitely ones that are better at blocking than you really want to deal with.
Sideboarding Blood Moon would basically say that they never, ever get to cast Ghost Council, so long as they don’t draw Kami of Ancient Law… not good enough. Threaten answers some problems, but not the Paladin en-Vec problem, and that may just be how it has to be: Paladin en-Vec is very, very good against a deck based on attacking with Red creatures. Pithing Needle is incidentally good against the metagame in general, and Plagued Rusalka, Ghost Council, Umezawa’s Jitte, and Nantuko Husk in specific, so it may be that this is a sideboard card worth throwing into Heezy Street at last. Umezawa’s Jittes of your own are arguably good, but the decks you really have problems against to the point where you’d want to lean on your Jitte all seem to have Paladin en-Vec in them. Pithing Needle can solve the opposing-Jitte problem, while your own Jittes would basically do nothing. Dissension literally adds nothing to help you in the colors of Red and Green, and the best thing that comes to my mind is trying to push over or around Paladin en-Vec with Skarrg, the Rage Pits… and having an extra one in the sideboard doesn’t really sound too painful. Beware of Descendant of Kiyomaro, though, as some Black/White decks have them and will make you cry. Beware of Shining Shoal, as well… but don’t be too wary, because there’s not a damn thing you can do about it. Hoping it’s not there may be the better play than being afraid to deal damage because you’re trying to play around it. Just remember to ask yourself, “What’s the worst that could happen?”
So what if sometimes it’s pretty bad? If they don’t have it, they may just be dead right there.
Needles in the board would mess with Heartbeat, especially since they don’t interfere with the deck’s basic speed for winning the game. It’s also possible that one can borrow a page from the Flores Red/White deck and figure out how reasonable attacking for exactly ten damage is, to try and end the game with Hidetsugu’s Second Rite from the sideboard. Parallectric Feedback could work too, since you’re probably not going to bring the Rite in against any deck that has painlands to protect themselves from it with, and Parallectric Feedback would accomplish that pinpoint goal of killing the Heartbeat deck without being as clunky to set up. More burn could be helpful, because you will have to face off against 2/5 Walls and mass-removal spells after you’ve gotten a solid attack or two in, and the more reach you can bring into the deck or the more time you can buy, the happier you are.
When facing off against Magnivore, you don’t really need help; you just need to do your thing and do it well, and their life will be hard. Solid play will allow you to exploit a matchup advantage here, and even their key quick board control card (Pyroclasm) doesn’t quite help enough against an array of three-toughness or higher men. Naturalize can be used to counteract Threads of Disloyalty, which will keep coming up against Blue control decks like Wafo-Tapa, and also happen to kill Heartbeat of Spring.
Other decks do exist, but having a robust sideboard with some Naturalizes, Pithing Needles, the fourth Flames of the Blood Hand, et cetera can’t be too bad. Frenzied Goblin can even reappear in the sideboard, to bring in specifically to use against the decks that were prevalent walking into Honolulu, with Dragons and Loxodon Hierarchs everywhere. Threatens may be better, however, if that is the highly specific task you are seeking to accomplish… Frenzied Goblins were overall good for the main, while stealing Loxodon Hierarch, crashing for four damage and sacrificing him to Scorched Rusalka might be better after boarding than Frenzied Goblin on turn 1 could dream of being.
Unfortunately for Magnivore, a single Blue mana spell takes a serious chunk of the matchup advantage ‘Vore had against Blue decks and throws it right out the window. The nuts draw Vore is capable of getting is now something control can handle, instead of not playing lands and just dying. Vore is one of the top four choices coming out of the team PTQ season, but Dissension becoming legal and ushering in the last two of the four Blue guilds – along with their little friend Spell Snare – can be a disaster. Heartbeat can board the Snare if it wants to, but probably won’t, and is fighting the land war against Magnivore from a position of advantage. Kodama’s Reach is better than Stone Rain, after all, and Magnivore doesn’t really reach a comfortable position against the deck until it is able to eliminate more than one land with each spell… thus, resolving Wildfire.
When it comes to learning the ins and outs of ‘Vore, when Steven Sadin talks about Magnivore, you would do well to listen. While I could say everything Steve said in his “Team Strategies and Playing Vore,” you’d still be able to call bullsh** because you’d all know I haven’t played so much as a dozen games with the deck, no matter how much I may have learned facing off against them. I’d give serious consideration to putting in Volcanic Hammer against Heartbeat, instead of having no outs to them playing an early Kudzu and winning the sideboarding war with it, because as the Heartbeat deck I ran that minimal-transformation sideboard strategy to excellent effect against a number of Magnivore decks. I think that Vore has trouble dealing with Spell Snare-enabled Blue control decks, but the question is how much of the metagame is that going to comprise? Black/White Aggro was a solid matchup, prior to the existence of an actual good deck playing Shining Shoal. Now, there are two of them, because the Flores G/W deck has reached the same conclusions as Ghost Husk and gone one step further, putting them in the main. Man, does ‘Vore hate free spells! All that work killing their lands, and they’re casting stuff that matters anyway!
My thinking, as I explained in greater detail in my article yesterday, is that Magnivore is slowly but steadily being outclassed in the metagame. Its niche is becoming smaller and smaller, and all thanks to cards that aren’t going to disappear as Magnivore does, because they’re universally good cards and not just splash damage cards… Shining Shoal’s good against a lot of decks, not just in the middle of a Wildfire. Spell Snare is excellent countermagic overall, not merely good on the draw against Eye of Nowhere and a one-mana answer to ‘Vore’s Mana Leaks. Condemn is a solid controlling removal spell overall, not merely the right card at the right price when it comes to killing Magnivores. Not very many people will play Magnivore at Regionals, despite its high-octane finishes early on in the Team Constructed season, because things have changed and not for the better.
If you haven’t played against Magnivore, it’s definitely worth understanding how the deck works. If you haven’t played ‘Vore at all and are thinking of doing so… my suggestion would be to reconsider. If you aren’t amazing with ‘Vore, that extra step above everyone else who plays it (like Steve is), you’re going to have a disappointing run. That it’s also not the best deck to square off against Heezy Street is worth noting as well.
- 4 Isamaru, Hound of Konda
- 3 Kami of Ancient Law
- 4 Nantuko Husk
- 4 Dark Confidant
- 3 Ghost Council of Orzhova
- 3 Orzhov Pontiff
- 4 Plagued Rusalka
This is the generally accepted maindeck of the Husk deck, fair and balanced and squeezing everything in that it wants to draw without having to make too many sacrifices on the card count. Unfortunately, to get there you pretty much have to automatically have three cards out of fifteen in your sideboard, because there will definitely be matches where you’ll want to have the ability to tune the deck back up to four of them, and that’s to squeeze in the last copies of Castigate, Mortify, and Orzhov Pontiff.
There’s a lot of wiggle-room with this deck, however, and that’s just the way some people like it. Some are re-hybridizing the deck back towards Hand in Hand, trading out some guys for Paladin en-Vec; others are giving serious consideration to control matchups and Heartbeat, and taking the commonly sideboarded Mindslicers and putting them in the main. Both can be a nightmare for the wrong deck to get past, for as we basically discussed when talking about Heezy Street, that deck has no real means to get past the Paladin except for nonbasic landwalking. Plagued Rusalka and Orzhov Pontiff stop that so long as there is no Moldervine Cloak attached, and Mortify still stops that if there is.
Black/White is definitely a good combination for getting to pick the right tools for the job. Discard works on anyone and is proactive, and pinpoint discard gives you advanced information about your opponent that lets you not only break up their best plays but also sculpt your own around them. Choosing the most powerful cards for the job, though, is always key… as is knowing what job we’re talking about, because you can’t pick them if you aren’t aware you need them. I’ve seen stranger things than Ghost Husk with Shining Shoals maindeck; after all, I’ve been trying to get better about actually reading John Friggin’ Rizzo’s articles now that he’s back to writing about Magic again.
Ghost Husk is vulnerable to cards that break up its advantageous board position, and ironically the card that comes to mind that is best at accomplishing this is one that it plays itself: Orzhov Pontiff. This card flew entirely under the radar for the most part, showing up in what, one deck in Honolulu, and not really making any impact until Osyp and Flores both started pimping the Husk deck? Admittedly, I tried to do my part in pushing the Pontiff, because it made it into my list of Ghost Dad from the moment I sat down and realized I really, really, really hated Thief of Hope. He was in the main as a three-of since the week after the Pro Tour, being an all around good man, but oh so crippling when used right in the mirror match, and an expert at assassinating Solifuges. Pyroclasm can help, but you’ll probably need more than one, as Promise of Bunrei can see things getting out of hand pretty quickly.
Nantuko Husk becomes a very different animal when facing down against decks with Condemn, because even just a single open mana can negate any possible gains from attacking for more than two. Keeping up Mortify to punish the use of Nantuko Husk at least costs three mana, and is an obvious tell: three mana up when facing a potentially strong attack gets most people’s sniffers working overtime when they see one is White and one is Black. The early advantage Isamaru can obtain just gaining tempo and putting on mounting pressure can disappear on the first turn, and this is another deck that is not particularly happy to see Spell Snare coming at it: Castigate, Dark Confidant, and Kami of Ancient Law may not be much, but two of the three are very important on turn 2, and the other is still a beater they’d like to attack with.
Sideboarding with Husk is pretty straightforward, but it’s another situation where you have a lot of choices and can only actually pick so many.
Shining Shoal is good against any aggro deck with Red, which gives you Flores R/W, Rakdos, Izzet Ninja Fish (as if!), and Heezy Street without breaking a sweat. It can go two-for-two in combat, saving a guy and killing another guy for the two cards spent… which sounds merely good, until you realize this is all for zero mana. Likewise it goes two-for-two against Char, pushing it back to the face (as if you’d cast your own Char) or to kill a man while saving your face or your man from Char. Again, it does this for zero mana, and there’s a reason MagictheGathering.com can dedicate an entire week to talking about “tempo”: it’s really powerful in determining who wins the game. It also counteracts Pyroclasm and Wildfire, helping nail ‘Vore’s coffin shut by redirecting damage to the face and keeping the pressure on… all for zero mana. Have I mentioned that Shining Shoal is good, and only inches from making it into the maindeck?
Castigate and Pontiff and Mortify are clearly awesome, but apparently not as awesome as three maindeck Pithing Needles that got slid in there to serve general duty against a lot of cards. Koala and Ghost Council were the other cards that was shaved, but neither make it into the sideboard; Council isn’t a four-of in every Black/White deck, and the eighth enchantment-destruction spell is a lot less important than the seventh… when that one also happens to be the fourth outright creature-kill spell. Some forego the Mortify in the board to put in cheaper creature kill spells; if that’s all you want to do, adding another Last Gasp before trying to fit in the last Mortify. But what else makes the cut? We’ve got eight slots left to fill, and plenty of variability still to go.
Umezawa’s Jitte is worth noting, but for the most part doesn’t do as much as this deck would like it to. It can already handle Jittes, and Jitte doesn’t usually contribute to the aggressive push the deck makes when it’s trying to finish you off quickly. If all you want is a board control card that helps kill creatures and gives you a dominant position, well, that’s what Shining Shoal does. What Jittes of your own would help do is keep the opposing Jitte off your back, and you can accomplish the same goal more actively by using Eight-and-a-Half-Tails or Azorius Guildmage, preferably the former but the latter can be made to work in a pinch… tapping blockers and attacking with Husk can’t be too bad, right?
The commonly accepted adds from here on are Last Gasp and Mindslicer. The Slicer makes sense, as there are plenty of decks that like their hand while you can deploy quickly enough that you won’t miss it if it’s gone. Mindslicer is good enough against some segments of the metagame that you can easily contemplate running it in the main, especially with eleven sacrifice outlets. Last Gasp kills most things dead at a cheap enough price to be helpful, and is another card that can help fight in the mirror match. It helps keep the pressure off your life total against Heezy Street, and answers all sorts of problems so long as those problems have legs.
Eight-and-a-Half-Tails is another key power card, absolute diesel when you are facing the right opponent but too overly specific to really warrant inclusion in the maindeck. But where else can you go from here? Opal-Eyes, Konda’s Yojimbo saw play in similarly aggressive decks, to serve a similar role as 8.5 but without the hefty mana cost early in the game, giving up on the interaction with Umezawa’s Jitte and attacking unblocked in order to get a discount on the cost of the ability. Hokori Dust-Drinker may sound janky, but if everyone is trying to use expensive spells while you have Karoos then he may prove less janky than otherwise… but this does not sound like that metagame, and if everyone wanted to play expensive spells then Mindslicer would be better than him anyway. Along the same line of thinking as 8.5, you have two different Hands to look at boarding in if you want them, and Paladin en-Vec besides. Paladin en-Vec definitely comes before Hand of Honor in the sideboarding queue, and by so much that Hand of Cruelty is clearly next on line simply because he’s not Hand of Honor. Descendant of Kiyomaro previously saw play in Black-White decks, but when those decks decided that this was the game in which to be the controlling player… and Okiba-Gang Shinobi likewise previously saw serious play for ripping apart hand-conscious decks like Heartbeat, but again he is outclassed by Mindslicer, He Who Never Misses A Spot.
You need to pick the best, and we’ve had months for ‘the best’ to float to the top. The sideboard is pretty clearly locked down, unless you think there is going to be a sudden run requiring the use of Paladin en-Vec, which I would completely respect but do not understand in context. I do not know for sure how Heezy Street interacts with this deck, or how the mirror match plays out. Nothing from Dissension stands out and requires attention, except for Condemn and possibly Rakdos Guildmage for the Black ability alone, and the options currently being played are somewhat better thanks to their versatility and sheer power. The usual sideboard for this deck is four Shoals, three each of 8.5, Mindslicer, and Last Gasp, plus the missing Pontiff and Castigate. However, there is still room to maneuver, if by nothing else than by manipulating what is in the main and what in the sideboard. Toggling in the fourth Castigate helps against Heartbeat, for example, while throwing Mindslicer in the main demolishes Heartbeat. 8.5 is a reasonable consideration for the maindeck, if you can find the room, because his ability will still always be “good” even if all he really does is attack for two and maybe threatens to protect something. You may be playing the same 75 cards, but you still get to look at what’s going on and figure out which cards should be in the deck box still when you shuffle up for game 1.
Just because you think you know what’s going on doesn’t mean the opponent hasn’t switched something around on you. And you should definitely apply careful thought and consideration before sticking with the 75 cards you’ve chosen already, because a deck chosen for a tournament of the size of U.S. Regionals is a tournament where you should be prepared to logically defend each and every inclusion in the deck before you shuffle up for the first round. “Um, because” is not a good enough justification. If you know nothing else about the environment, you should at least have an intimate knowledge of how your deck works and why you’ve chosen the cards you are playing, especially if you didn’t design the deck yourself. After all, you and that deck are going to spend eight or ten or more hours “getting to know each other,” and it’s always nice to know why you’re with it before the lights go out.
In the still and the silent dawn another day is born
Tossed up by the tireless waves, body bent and torn
In the face of the blinding sun you wake only to find
That Heaven is a stranger place than the one I left behind…
Sarah McLachlan, “Drawn to the Rhythm”