Vore: Still Awesome

Mike returned from his nearly-man Pro Tour with a clear goal in mind: play more Constructed Magic. Armed with a number of viable decks, he cut up the floor of the MTGO 8-man Standard queues… and came to a Blue/Red conclusion. Magnivore, powered by Steam Vents, is still the deck to beat. With strategic deconstruction and game walkthroughs, he pitches the case for the so-called Strongest Deck in Standard.

That Time Life Imitated Art

I always had the intention of writing this article since I started rolling down the hill that is the narrative of my last week on MTGO, but it strikes me now, as I put these thoughts to digital ink, that – unconsciously perhaps, despite the fact that I had read the uncrowned Article of the Year long before you did – my path describes much of what Chapin was discussing in his most recent submission. The reason for this, while having no direct bearing on the article you are currently reading, is that Chapin’s unique position as multiple Pro Tour Top 8 player, Grand Prix finalist, inaugural Wizards R&D Intern, all-around bright guy, and now ascendant Magic theoretician extraordinaire is that he’s right, and that if you listen to him, you will probably perform better at Magic.

As I said, this has nothing directly to do with the experiences below, but that does not mean to say that Chapin couldn’t have plotted – like Newton – the latter successes like an arc on a Cartesian plane had he been given the variables described at the outset, and moreover – like Liebnitz – told you why in fact any successful evolutions occurred. Having completed the cryptic/philosophick bit, I invite any of you who have not already clicked your "Back" buttons in disgust to proceed to…

The Setting

So I got back to New York after the simultaneously thrilling (personal) and disappointing (money finish) Pro Tour Charleston with one thing on my mind: to play more Constructed Magic. I had an idea that came from multiple sources – half a conversation with Gerard Fabiano, a fraction of a phone call from Chapin – and decided to make an update to a deck that scared me a little at New York States but never ended up being anything, B/U/G Aggro-Control.

So I started slinging in the Tournament Practice Room as is my custom, and ended up chatting with apprentice-turned-hull Josh Ravitz

"You know testing in here is pretty worthless, right?"

"Would that you had told me that before [Pro Tour] L.A. Actually I’m just checking the deck to see how it flows, to see if it’s worth playing in actual queues."

"Hey, do you have Pillar of the Paruns?"

"All kinds of Birds and Elves in this piece."

"Man I’m dumb."

So armed with a 40% Game 1 win percentage, I did the only logical thing… I started to Battle On in the Sanctioned 8-Mans.




The first queue I went down immediately to Shaheen Soorani The Masterpiece. This was a crushing loss because I felt like I had played the games as best as I possibly could. I was stuck on Elves of Deep Shadow for offense, but played absolutely perfect Magic against his overwhelmingly better cards… I sent everything into Keiga so that I could work the Putrefy effectively, then reset with Rise / Fall. I was up a little and he had a Meloku (not so fun for the "all Elves of Deep Shadow" offense), but I persevered. What got me was that playing off the top, he went Meloku, Hierarch, Hierarch, another Meloku… I actually think I could have pulled it out but for that last Clouded Mirror of Victory. The other game I lost to Simic Sky Swallower (topdecked from no hand, of course).

The next queue I lost to Heartbeat, which was partly my fault and partly bad luck. I was smashing Heartbeat in the Tournament Practice room, but I lost it in Game 1… He was stuck on Island, Island, Sensei’s Divining Top and I didn’t read the board as "Heartbeat of Spring" because there are all kinds of newfangled counterspell control decks that play Top, and I didn’t want to blow Giant Solifuge into his obvious permission hand while he was discarding. It is right to go Elves of Deep Shadow solo offense in spots like this one (and he did end up having a multiple Remand hand by the way), provided the opponent is actually a counter deck… but the difference between permission and Heartbeat is that in a spot like this one, where you may be threat light but are hitting your land drops, Mana Leaks are good enough to win an attrition war against most counterspell decks, but Heartbeat sees a slow clock as an open door to kill you (he did so one turn after finding his Forest). The next game I got a decent draw of Elves of Deep Shadow into Dimir Cutpurse but he had the natural Savage Twister and I had blown the counter on Tendo Ice Bridge for my only Blue…

So I sat there accumulating Remands and Cutpurses for about four turns, with neither of us doing anything. Finally I drew a Watery Grave, slammed it down for two life, and played one of the innumerable Cutpurses I had drawn… So obviously he killed me. I actually think that it registered in my mind that I should play down the Blue but not cast a Blue threat (my only style of threat at this point) just because he would have to give me double mana and I could just ride his as-yet-unrevealed Heartbeat over the next turn or two, but you know when you have these thoughts but something keeps you from acting on them and instead the Imp of the Perverse screams bet it all! Bet it all! Possibly aping Renée Zellweger’s voice, very likely manifested as a pink CGI angel fish? Well that’s what happened to me.

It strikes me now that I must have had another 1-1 or 0-1 queue on this idiotic archetype (that was probably never good to begin with) because I distinctly remember thinking "I definitely would have won that queue if I didn’t play stupid Tendo Ice Bridge" (somewhere Patrick Sullivan is rubbing his hands together, cracking his neck, and IM’ing everyone on his Buddy List about how he is right and I am wrong), which led me to the aforementioned, aborted, incremental 1-1 or 0-1 terrible queue… but for the life of me, I don’t know what I beat and/or lost to. Probably I have blocked those memories out.

I’m not going to post my deck list for two reasons: 1) Trust me, you’ll thank me later, and 2) I am pretty sure Chapin’s next article will be about a deck with similar theme but that I am 87% sure will just be better than mine in every way, so really, you have nothing to gain by my posting it here. You might not know it in your general perusal of the Magic Internet, but there is no actual reason for a competent designer to steal another competent designer’s thunder with an obviously pathetic deck, quite possibly resulting in a violation of the Prime Rule by someone down the line.

Because I am a master of logic who could shame the love child of Socrates and Commander Data into the fetal position, probably weeping blood instead of tears, I realized it was time to 1) switch decks, and 2) that the correct deck to switch to would be Gruul Deck Wins. A master.

The main reason that I stopped playing Gruul Deck months ago was the rise in popularity of the various B/W aggro decks. You can argue until the end of days which is best – Hand-in-Hand, Ghost Dad, Ghost Husk, Rats, Descent (my vote is for Husk) – but all those decks have one thing in common. Okay, they have more than one thing in common, but among those things, whether its an embarrassing Tallowisp, a less embarrassing Nantuko Husk, an inexplicable Promise of Bunrei token, a perfectly good Hand of Honor, a righteously unfair Paladin en-Vec, an admittedly superb Ghost Council of the Orzhova, or a rage-inducing Descendent of Kiyomaro, all of their dudes beat the crap out of all of your dudes [if you are playing Gruul Deck].

Luckily, this era of Simic Sky Swallowing Urza’s Power Plants has greatly substituted the ubiquitous presence of the B/W decks in queues, so I figured it was safe to go Gruul. I knew I’d have basically no outs against a Paladin en-Vec, but Anton Goldblatt of The Masterpiece fame convinced me that Orcish Artillery out of the side would be enough to down even the hated Descendent of Kiyomaro given all my burn, and finally I would get to marry Shattering Spree to Blood Moon against the Tron decks, which elicited a kind of erotic, famished, pre-tournament anticipation. Mmmm. Manascrew.




One loss was to a U/W deck that had a Prahv long game. No, really. I blew him out in Game 1, but in Game 2, it turned out that he had some sort of creature transformation (or maybe he just didn’t draw them in the first). It was all Weathered Wayfarer, Grand Arbiter Augustin IV, and Umezawa’s Jitte. Needless to say he blew me out right back, as my Game 2 configuration anticipated none of this. For the third I drew all my Shattering Sprees, which were useless. He drew a million Signets in Games 1 and 2, but none in the last. The only artifact he played was a Jitte, which merely traded with the one I had in play. Probably I should have waited until turn 4 to play the Jitte (I was long on land), which would have left me with a mite more offense, but as it was, my mostly reactive cards and land draw didn’t beat his, you know, actual good cards, viz, Prahv, Spires of Order.

The other loss was to Zoo. Once again I won the first game, despite Zoo being a less-than-favorable matchup. I don’t know how I decided that Gruul Deck was the right deck to play when one of the B/U/G Aggro-control losses I took was to The Masterpiece, a deck full of both Loxodon Hierarchs and Faith’s Fetters, but Hierarch was even more of an issue for this deck, which actually cares about the opponent’s life total in terms of cards. All my losses seemed like late game bad beats. First there was The Masterpiece ripping all kinds of Meloku, and in the Zoo matchup, I really felt like I played well despite drawing no Blood Moons… He just kept taking it to the last turn with his last two cards being burn spells. What bad beats…

I realized at this point that I was starting to sound – if "sound" can in fact be attributed to one’s internal monologue – like every moron who complains about losing without understanding why. He topdecked. I was mana flooded. My dog ate my ham sammich homework. I had just come off of a great weekend of play with what amounted to my team’s least powerful deck, besting a stack of Top 8 competitors and Grand Prix Champions… Like everything in Magic, this was a match problem, and in fact an easy one.

Where do you get an edge?

It is only now, some days removed, that I realize what was going on. Chapin said that I make nine bad decks for every good deck, and the fact is, I might make more… You only hear about the good decks for the most part. Moreover, I was being obstinate when the solution to the MTGO puzzle was blatantly obvious for anyone who thought about it for a second… I even had my old playtest deck sill in the "T2" folder.

It is a testament to how long it has been since I had playtested what eventually became the rock of our Team Trios configuration that my file for this deck was called "nik ur," before I even became comfortable calling it "Vore." The listing was our team’s original, based on Nygaard’s Honolulu deck with some tweaks by Antonino De Rosa and Sadin. I updated the same based on conversations I’ve had with Steve since:

The Izzet Boilerworks I had seen leafing through Brian Kowal’s LCQ deck in Charleston (he apparently got them from Adam Yurchik). Without knowing the exact "right" Karoo configuration, I decided I didn’t want to cut an Island for Izzet Boilerworks because the deck’s best draws are all based on early Blue action, so that meant two Mountains. Sadin told me Meloku is better than Genju of the Spires (read below and you will see that it is).

Anyone who plays a lot of Magic Online knows that the Tron decks are extremely popular at present. There are Orzhov blips but the days of Black and White and Heartbeat dominating every queue are now some months removed. In any case, Vore is not only a 60/40 favorite against Tron – at least – but superb against B/W if played correctly, and a solid if not automatic choice against Heartbeat. It is weakest against real aggressive strategies (primarily the ones with Char), but I hadn’t been playing against a lot of those in the twenty minutes or so of aborted queues pre-Vore, so I expected them to be less common… In any regard, I was packing a ton of anti-aggression in the ‘board, and could morph into a poor Wafo-Tapa deck in the case that my primary strategy wasn’t going to hold up.

I won the first queue with a minimum of trouble. The only real nailbiter was in the finals, against some kind of B/G/W Chord deck. I won the first game very easily, but then got bashed by Watchwolf and Selesnya Guildmage in Game 2. Therefore for Game 3, I sided in all my Volcanic Hammers & co. because I decided that I had mis-analyzed the matchup.

Game 3 rolled around and there were no aggressive two-drops to be seen… Not on turn 2, anyway. I decided to just spend cards one-for-one for his spells because I had two Tidings. Therefore I offed a Birds with a Pyroclasm and some other random creature with a Volcanic Hammer. However the next turn he played a Sakura-Tribe Elder and Umezawa’s Jitte.

My hand was two Tidings, Pyroclasm, and Volcanic Hammer, but I didn’t yet have land #5. I decided this would be a good time to use the Pyroclasm so that he wouldn’t get Jitte online (I didn’t foresee a lot of other ways for him to be able to win). Imagine my surprise to find my Pyroclasm the victim of Shining Shoal! He must really want to keep that Snake alive!. It’s not so much that I was afraid of the two damage from the Shoal, or the incremental from the Tribe Elder, but that I didn’t have another Red mana and the Jitte was going to go online… Only it wasn’t.

The jig was up when he didn’t equip pre-combat and I knew I was about to take an Okiba-Gang hit. Quick analysis of only four lands and the promise of another blow told me that I was ditching my Tidings and keeping the Hammer. I of course drew land #5, but it wouldn’t have been better to Tidings anyway, I think, and I successfully Hammered the Ninja. My position was precarious in that I was down to two Tidings in my deck and I wasn’t sure if I could get out of this hole with just Compulsive Research, especially any such Research that I had not already drawn. All of this was exacerbated the next turn when I got Extracted for my Magnivores

Fortunately, my next draw was actually the best possible combination of Magnivore and Tidings, your favorite Clouded Mirror of Victory and Mine, Meloku.

I quickly dispatched the Jitte with a Demolish off the top, and Meloku ran the rest of the show. A random Stone Rain or Demolish killed his City-Tree… But Meloku had to beat two Loxodon Hierarchs and two Yoseis before it was over. They don’t call him the Clouded Mirror of Victory for nothing. It’s also a good thing that I didn’t miss the fact that he had Okina in play, because given that I basically had to win on that Meloku, it would have been, well, awkward if I had left him with a Dragon or something. What’s really lucky is that we cut Genju of the Spires.

I don’t know which version of B/G/W Chord I was playing against, but had I lost to the 1 Watchwolf, 1 Guildmage, 1 Jitte version – which I think this was – I probably would have shot myself (but even if the deck only had one Watchwolf meaning that Volcanic Hammer was sub-optimal, they ended up being good at, you know, killing the one Ninja that almost took it). Speaking of which… Why would someone want to play 1 Watchwolf, 1 Guildmage, and 1 Jitte or whatever anyway? What’s the point of filling your deck with singletons you can’t find, or worse yet, singletons you would never want to tutor up? Really, I don’t understand… J. Evan Dean are you reading this? I know you wouldn’t do that. I’m sure you’re reading this Moreno… Go call J. Evan Dean and find out for me please.

Anyway, my spirits much lifted after the 3-0, I proceeded to talk tech with favored son Josh Ravitz.

Josh had some awesome tuning suggestions and I went into the next queues with this sideboard, which I have yet to revise further:

1 Mana Leak
1 Meloku the Clouded Mirror
4 Spell Snare
2 Goblin Flectomancer
1 Pyroclasm
4 Volcanic Hammer
2 Ghost Quarter

Spell Snare made a lot of sense. Josh flat-out refused to play Threads of Disloyalty, stating correctly that Spell Snare is just the more efficient Threads against essentially the same threats that can also save you from Lightning Helix or – important in this deck – kill a Signet. It is very good when you are second in the mirror, preventing Eye of Nowhere blowout games, and basically wins most counter wars.

The other new card is Ghost Quarter. Josh made the observation that the majority of U/R and SSS Tron decks online now have zero basic lands… Ghost Quarter is just a Strip Mine. This card has been very good and in further testing that is not particularly covered by the scope of this article. I can tell you that I don’t mind using Ghost Quarter against the decks with 1-2 Islands. If you break up a ‘Tron with it, you are actually netting 1-2 virtual cards even though it doesn’t look like that on the board when they get that Island (you can thank me when they don’t have counter backup on the Meloku, brah). Another play I have been making with Ghost Quarter quite a bit is, in response to Annex or Confiscate, blowing up my own land. This sort of sucks, and you lose either one or two half-turns (two if you are forced to kill a Boilerworks) whenever you make the play, but it’s even on card economy (think about it) and much better than, say, handing your Karoo to the opponent. Because having more lands is one of the best ways to win any control-on-control matchup, I am now wondering if it’s better to just play four Ghost Quarters, whether or not they are full effect Strips… Goblin Flectomancer comes in quite a bit because he is an additional threat, but the Compulsive Researches he steals are few and far between now that people know what is up.

I lost in the finals of my first queue playing this sideboard, to a discard heavy Hand-in-Hand. I won the first game easily and stalled on mana in the second; it didn’t help that I had sided out some Eyes and he drew multiple Paladins, but I don’t know if I would have won anyway. The third game he may have played like a master, or may have just been randomly lucky on turn 2. I had all my Eyes in on the play and he missed a first turn play… I obviously went for the Eye turn on his Eiganjo Castle, spending one of the few vital cards that can trump Paladin en-Vec, and he answered on turn 2 by re-playing the Castle and Isamaru, which made my previous play rather laughable instead of the insane Sinkhole play it usually is. The game went long, and he basically won by drawing three Shining Shoals, trumping Pyroclasm, Meloku, and Wildfire consecutively.

I have since lost two other matches, total, with this deck (winning my fifth queue played with the deck). One loss was to Wafo-Tapa at 1-0, an odd match but probably in that deck’s favor. I won the game I went first, he won the game he went first, but he won the flip, so he was going first in Game 3.

Many times when you play Vore against another control deck, the actions feel like a dance. You move a certain way with the expectation that he will move a certain way, and you bend and flow and follow these actions turn after turn. This match, as I said, was ODD, because while I felt like I was dancing with, if not the grace of a pre-peanuts Paula Abdul, a reasonable measure of competence given the quality of my draws. Then at some point it was like…

"Eye of Nowhere that."

"Stone Rain that."
"Boomerang it in response."
Really? After last turn?

"… Untap, Annex your Karoo."
Oh, hell.

Man, he got me with the classic! Wafo-Tapa’s Honolulu sideboard came out, and I not only got a Boilerworks and Steam Vents Annexed, but he had the Solifuge. I looked at the board, as with many Tron matchups against myriad Signets, and made a secret wish for Crime / Punishment. I would have tried to sculpt some sort of Wildfire turn, but it would have been greatly disadvantageous, almost Eminent Domain-style, and anyway, he killed me before I could pick any kind of defensible spot. Dance it was… This time Guillaume went home with another girl.

My other loss was to Shaheen Soorani newest Rewind machine, U/W Tron (more on this in the near future). Again we split the first two games; again we went into Game 3 dancing. This time I felt like I was scripting every step… I knew what plays he’d make. I knew how he’d react to mine. I bobbed, weaved, and traded until I set up a lethal Magnivore with Eye of Nowhere, all systems go… except his last card was Condemn. I knew he might have it, but it’s not like I couldn’t take the potential kill. He got me with a stolen Magnivore in two.

A bit on tilt after that loss (can I never beat Shaheen Soorani decks?), I made some awful play in the first game of the fifth and final queue. My opponent led on Hallowed Fountain, which signalled my addled brain to "SooraniTron," so I passed on Pyroclasm with my first turn Sleight of Hand. Obviously he was Star Spangled Skies. Drawing literally no board control, I lost a close Game 1 to his essentially perfect clock. With the Hammers, fourth Pyroclasm, and most importantly, Spell Snares, in, the next two games were unbelievably easy. Spell Snare is absolutely perfect in this deck. I was fine countering Azorius First-Wing, Mistral Charger, or Lightning Helix. Whatever. All Vore wants against the beatdown is time. With time, it always can set up a brutal Wildfire (often with Spell Snare backup for the Bathe in Light), or let what might in other games be lethal burn spells resolve. Time means not being under the gun against early beatdown, and space enough to set up the late game properly. Most importantly, it means distance over rate.

In General:

While I didn’t exactly win every queue, two wins and a finals loss in my last five tells me that Vore is still awesome, and probably the right choice for the current Magic Online Standard metagame. I played some kind of UrzaTron deck in basically every queue, and Vore is very good against them, one loss to U/W notwithstanding (damned last card), especially as Ghost Quarter is not good against this version (a million basics). Vore is a bit behind against Wafo-Tapa control, but seems to have the other control decks reasonably covered. I bashed all kinds of control decks otherwise – mostly mid-range stuff with a lot of manipulation and not necessarily a lot of counters – so I think the deck is one of the better anti-control control decks (which is why we played it at Seat B in the Team Trios PTQ season to begin with).

Most interestingly, my reversal on all losses followed by a reasonable amount of winning follows Chapin’s suggestion of obstinate, overconfident, innovators finding success in the short term by going the netdeck route (I told you he was smart).

In Specific:

After learning about Adam’s involvement in the Karoos, I decided to look up his Ohio Valley Regionals deck from last month. While I think that Izzet Boilerworks is an awesome addition and in my heart of hearts want all four, the disagreements I have with Adam’s list are nevertheless manabase-based; I am not really comfortable dropping a primary Blue source for the Eye of Nowhere reason stated above, so I don’t like going to six Islands for the Boseiju; I can’t pretend to be as practiced at Vore as Adam – or, for that matter, to have his pedigree at present – but I am pretty good at math and am therefore of the opinion that Boseiju is going to hurt you more than it helps. Not only does it reduce the consistency of your best anti-control draws, it makes your deck – already soft in the beatdown matchups to a degree – far worse. Unlike other Boseiju decks, viz. Kuroda-style Red, this one can’t consistently shuffle into the hoser… and if it is resolving its copious Researches and Tidings, half the Boseiju battle is won already. I’m not really sure how to resolve this issue because I can see the up-sides to the card, obviously.

The other interesting thing I’ve found is that I sideboard Spell Snare in roughly 100% of my matches. This could be troubling because the implication is that it should maybe be maindeck if it is always coming in. I don’t, however, know what to cut, but I do know that Spell Snare is many times the card that Remand previously was in the Nygaard and following sideboards.

Spell Snare is obviously awesome against beatdown for the reasons stated previously, but it is also great against control, possibly even better than Remand would be. I side all of them in against Tron because it costs one and Izzet Signet – a card I want to destroy ~100% of the time – costs two (and whose being cast often pulls down turn 2 or 3 pants to set up the Stone Rain). Moreover, this card counters most of the relevant permission spells in the format… Imagine a Wreak Havoc that also pulls a relevant spell out of the opponent’s hand, and you will see a clear picture of midgame Spell Snare in the Blue matchups… Just an awesome card in this deck in every way.

In Really Specific

I usually side out all my Pyroclasms against any kind of control deck, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t good. I have had to best Simic Sky Swallowers more than once over the queues, and have only done the deed one way: Wildfire plus Pyroclasm (look at the deck list and try to figure out another reasonable solution). Just don’t go tossing Pyroclasm away on your Compulsive Researches and over-draws until you’ve thought about the middle turns eventualities… In almost half the games you win you either aren’t on the play or you don’t completely blow the opponent out with board control. That means you have to play an interactive game leveraging sometimes-inferior cards… Knowing what your tools do in combination goes a long way.

In sum, Chapin is smart, and Vore is still awesome.