Mike wrote another fantastic column about a new deck he has developed, and President Bush is being his usual stubborn self, insisting that John Bolton be elected as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.
What’s new, right?
Read the title of this column. That’s what’s new, or at least unusual. Before I go further, though, I need to add a caveat. Mike isn’t really wrong. Wrong is a strong word, implying that someone has clearly made an incorrect decision.
If you saw a link that read: “Mike Makes a Few Mistakes,” though-well-where’s the excitement and controversy in that? Everyone makes mistakes in Magic. That’s the nature of the game and why many people keep coming back for more, striving for the theoretically possible perfect play skills. Mark writes about this in his columns (click here for a list).
If you haven’t read it already, you can find the Mike column I’m going to critique here-sorry non-premium members. Here’s Mike’ Tooth build:
It’s a great deck list. I’ve been toying around with Tooth and Nail ever since that the deck-that-shall-not-be-named was axed. Yeah, it’s about as bad as Voldemort-was as bad. Since I’m tossing out links all over the place, this is where you can find the last version of Tooth and Nail I was tuning. I was quite pleased with the build, but it had one crippling weakness I could never seem to plug: Temporal Adept.
Then, the day before my Tooth column gets posted, Mike’s list goes up, presenting a fabulous solution to the Temporal Adept issue. Magma Jet also answers the increasingly annoying Hokori, Dust Drinker. Thanks to Mountains you also get Boil in the sideboard too. The advantages are astounding. In fact, after reading Mike’s column, you’re left with the impression that his build goes 50-50 or better against the entire format.
Here’s the breakdown from Mike’s column, showing how his deck handles the field:
Mono Blue: 6-4
Tooth and Nail: 6-4
Mono Green: 5-5
White Weenie: 5-5
Mono Black: 5-5
Mono Red: 4-6
Pretty good, eh?
Pretty misleading, I say.
What do ten pre-sideboarded games tell you about a matchup?
Not much. A game or two is decided by mulligans and/or mana screw. Misplays dictate another game or two, and sometimes you just get on a streak with a certain deck. Ten is simply a really low and it’s really weak in terms of generating meaningful statistics.
Games two and three are more important than the first game, anyway. This is especially the case for Tooth and Nail, since every deck devotes sideboard slots for that matchup. After all, there are hate cards galore, such as:
In other words, usually sideboarding is more beneficial for the person not playing Tooth and Nail.
Ten games might give you the gist of how one-third to half of a matchup plays out, but that’s about it. Most of the time, you should be able to glean that much information by comparing decklists.
However, in Mike’s defense, how much free time does the average person really have to playtest all the popular match-ups endlessly? I struggle to find even one night a week to meet up with Mark and give my decks a workout. Ten games are better than nothing. Really lopsided results, like the 9-1 blowout versus R/G actually are pretty meaningful. So, Mike’s results aren’t wrong; it’s just that they represent a hazy big picture.
Were the Gauntlet Decks Normal and Representative?
There aren’t a lot of G/R builds running around out there, and it did win the whole shebang at Midi-PyrÃ©nnÃ©es, so I can’t complain about that. Let’s drop the Red spells and look at another deck.
1st Place: Poitou Charente
2 Blasting Station
2 Umezawa’s Jitte
4 Beacon of Creation
4 Birds Of Paradise
4 Blanchwood Armor
2 Fangren Firstborn
2 Genju of the Cedars
2 Isao, Enlightened Bushi
3 Kodama Of The North Tree
2 Plow Under
4 Troll Ascetic
4 Viridian Zealot
1 Okina, Temple to the Grandfaters
This build is heavily tuned to beat Mono Blue, almost ignoring the Tooth matchup entirely. Viridian Zealot, Kodama of the North Tree, and Genju of the Cedars are all present for the primary purpose of kicking the blue mage in the crotch. Then there’s the other stuff that’s not that good against Tooth, like Umezawa’s Jitte and Blasting Station-both are too slow.
Everything else basically is good against Tooth since it hits hard and fast, but Plow Under is the only card that specifically targets it. Where’s all the Tooth hate? Many Green decks run the full four copies of Plow Under and splash Black for Cranial Extraction-maybe not in the maindeck, but should at least be in the sideboard. The more controlling builds also use Sensei’s Divining Top, making it more likely that a timely Plow or Extraction goes off.
Mike does point out how it’s strange that there are only two copies of Plow Under. That doesn’t change the fact that as far as the Tooth and Nail matchup is concerned (a.k.a. the non-Blue best deck in the format) this is one of the more negligent Green decks I’ve ever seen.
I’ve talked too much about this deck recently, so I can’t even bring myself to post a decklist again, even if it’s as simple as copy and paste. There’s more to this story, though. I just got back from a Friday Night Magic session where I played bad players and worse matchups. My first opponent smoked me with White Weenie, even after making numerous play errors. Did I mention that she-that’s right, a woman playing Magic-had to read almost every card and had hardly ever played before?
What about me? How horrible am I? Let’s just say that beating White Weenie with Mono Green Beacon is pretty difficult, even when you exploit the frequent play mistakes made by the White Mage. Let’s just forget about that story entirely. Henceforth it is the incident-that-shall-not-be-recalled.
Interestingly, Mike played a version of White Weenie that was specifically designed to thwart Tooth and Nail. The combination of Chrome Mox, Bonesplitter, Hokori, Otherworldly Journey, Skyhunter Skirmisher, and Shining Shoal is a pretty brutal package.
Despite splitting the ten games, the results are pretty meaningful. Tooth and Nail has a great matchup against the deck of multitudinous 1/1s and 2/2s. As Mike correctly pointed out, things only get better if the Tooth player adds Platinum Angel/Leonin Abunas and/or Oblivion Stone. The Stone might even be better than Vedalken Shackles against White Weenie, which brings us to the next deck.
Mono Blue Control
Terence Merle des Isles
1st Place: Paris
4 Aether Spellbomb
4 Vedalken Shackles
4 Wayfarer’s Bauble
4 Gifts Ungiven
4 Mana Leak
1 Meloku the Clouded Mirror
4 Thirst For Knowledge
3 Time Stop
It’s hard to argue with first place, but allow me to humor you. We all know that Mono Blue Control (MUC) is a great deck, but so far there is little agreement on the optimal build. The most controversial aspects of this build include: Aether Spellbomb, Gifts Ungiven, Rewind (at least the 3rd and 4th copies), Time Stop (at least the 3rd one), and Meloku (adding a second copy seems wise).
Most other MUC players use Echoing Truth or Boomerang instead of the Spellbomb. The difference between the Bomb and Truth is pretty insignificant against Tooth, but Boomerang is way better than both of them because it can target lands. At least in my local metagame, many builds seem to be favoring Boomerang since it buys time against Boseiju and kills Genjus.
I’m going to quote Sean Vandover-Life (note the capital “L,” just kidding, Sean) master and all-around awesome deck tuner on this one: “Gifts Ungiven is the most underrated card in the format.” I basically agree, but it’s not that hot against Tooth and Nail. The Tooth deck has two plans: exhausting counter magic or forcing threats through with Boseiju. If you Gifts for an answer (probably the Mana Leak, Hinder, Rewind, Time Stop combo), you’re making Tooth’s long-term war of attrition against counters that much easier.
Rewind also costs four mana. While it has great synergy with Gifts, it’s terrible for stopping a turn 2 Sylvan Scrying for Boseiju, which is basically unstoppable until Time Stop mana is available due to the absence of Boomerang.
While Time Stop may be an answer to Boseiju, it does nothing to stop Tooth and Nail from accelerating its mana and putting together Urzatron during the early turns. Though Time Stop is widely considered anti-Tooth (or anti-Boseiju) technology, it serves a very narrow purpose.
Meloku is actually awesome in this matchup. The combination of early counters (ideally Condescend as well as Mana Leak), followed up by Meloku (hopefully with a counterspell in reserve) allows MUC to play a very effective tempo game. If the Blue mage untaps with Meloku, it usually means a win is imminent, because Tooth has difficulty dealing with an army of flying illusions. Thus, drawing Meloku is very important, which is difficult when there’s only one copy.
The limitations of Aether Spellbomb, and the mana intensity of Gifts, Rewind, and Time Stop make this particular build rather weak against Tooth and Nail. Maindecking Condescend and/or Bribery (as numerous versions do) would make a big difference. Sticking to the mono-color theme, it’s time to examine the color of death and decay.
Mono Black Control
Top 8: Midi-PyrÃ©nnÃ©es
How many spells in this deck does Tooth really care about? Here’s a quick tally:
That’s it. Chrome Mox and Guardian Idol help power out these cards-something crucial when Tooth and do its thing as early as turn four. The Top appears again and that’s strange. It’s supposed to be a bad card, right? With so few anti-Tooth cards, those Tops could come in very handy. The bottom line is that MBC’s lifeline depends on four-mana and BBBX spells that might be too symmetrical to be useful. That seems more than a little risky.
What about Distress, Barter in Blood, and additional copies of Persecute and/or Cranial Extraction? Most of these cards are also good against MUC. Where are they? I don’t know, but I’m sure that Mike’s Tooth build was happy that they were missing.
Mike mentions how great Mindslaver is against MBC, but that doesn’t seem like it should be much of an issue with the proper number of Distresses and Extractions. Now let’s switch things up and look at a vernal color that beats down with colossal monsters.
Mono-Green Tooth and Nail
Top 8 Regionals Paris
1 Darksteel Colossus
3 Oblivion Stone
2 Sensei’s Divining Top
1 Sundering Titan
4 Eternal Witness
2 Plow Under
4 Reap And Sow
1 Rude Awakening
4 Sakura-Tribe Elder
4 Sylvan Scrying
4 Tooth And Nail
3 Vine Trellis
1 Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker
This looks like a pretty typical build-so far, so good. Two copies of Plow Under is the bare minimum. Other versions of Tooth favor three or four copies.
Mike makes a great point about this archetype: too many people are skimping on Green mana sources. [We’ve both been saying that same thing since States, but people have continued to ignore us. – Knut, shrugging] When Eternal Witness (with GG) and Tooth and Nail (another GG) are your two best spells, having consistent and reliable Green mana is essential. That’s why Talisman of Unity/Impulse is better than Vine Trellis in the Urzatron builds.
What do you know? That damn Divining Top has popped up again? Guess this crazy Frenchman didn’t get the memo about it being a bad card.
Another relevant difference is Sundering Titan. Mono Green’s Titan is strictly better than the one in the G/R deck. After all, the former usually destroys two of the opponent’s lands, while the latter only hits one.
Mike makes the argument that “Reap and Sow and even Plow Under are far less effective against the Cloudpost version. A single Reap and Sow doesn’t have much impact, and Kodama’s Reach makes up a lot of ground (literally).” I find this hard to believe.
There are 12 pieces of Urzatron. You play out the Mine and Tower, so the Cloudpost version hits the Tower with Reap and Sow. The next land you fetch is the Powerplant. Since you can play the Tower to complete the following turn to complete Tron, your opponent has to Reap the Mine or the Powerplant before you play another land. Against Urzatron it’s not merely as simple as preying on one of the pieces repeatedly. A smart opponent will mix it up, maximizing the probability that he/she topdecks whatever component is missing. I don’t understand why Urzatron is easier to disrupt than Cloudpost. If anything, it seems like the Cloudposts would be at least as vulnerable.
So what about those two copies of Kodama’s Reach? I’d rather have Reap and Sow and Plow Under. It seems like having Sensei’s Divining Top, Plow Under, and a more devastating Sundering Titan makes Mono Green Tooth Tron the favorite against G/R Post Tooth.
Now it’s time to move to the color that is king of wanton destruction; I saved the grand finale for Dan Paskins.
The Red Deck
Finalist: Limousin Auverg
4 Chrome Mox
3 Genju Of The Spires
4 Hearth Kami
2 Kumano, Master Yamabushi
4 Magma Jet
3 Molten Rain
3 Seething Song
4 Slith Firewalker
3 Stone Rain
2 Volcanic Hammer
4 Vulshok Sorcerer
This strange Red deck was the only deck posted a winning record against G/R Tooth. The Red deck certainly is interesting. It’s not quite Ponza, nor a purely aggressive build. What we have here is Mono Red Control. Adrian Sullivan, eat your heart out. You’ve got a whole bunch of good, flexible Red cards. Creatures and land destruction that double as artifact removal as well as burn spells disguised as men.
It seems like it’s skimping on land a bit, but maybe Seething Song helps out enough. Plus, I can’t understand why the third Stone Rain isn’t the fourth Molten Rain. Other than that, the build looks fine, for what it is.
It does need to be pointed out, though, that as far as Red decks go, it only gets worse for Tooth and Nail. A real Ponza build with 11 or so land destruction spells will annihilate Urzatron or Post-a-plenty. I find it rather convenient that Mike used this rogue Mono Red build in his gauntlet, but didn’t even mention the more prevalent (read: more important) Ponza deck. Some people are even reviving the Burning Bridges archetype. A single Ensnaring Bridge for Mike’s build of Tooth practically says game over.
While the G/R build of Tooth is clearly better against Mono Blue Control (a fact alone that makes it an alternative worth considering) than its Mono Green cousin, I believe that Mike overstated its strength against the rest of the format. Most of the decks he tested against paid little attention to the Tooth matchup, and 10 game ones give you precious little information about a matchup, especially when Tooth and Nail is such a hate magnet for sideboards. There’s one other issue I need to address:
The Sensei’s Divining Top Debate
“I have no respect for the Top. I think it’s a bad card and I think that most of the decks that play it are a few cards off optimal. Magma Jet does everything that the Top does in the short term while taking out Birds of Paradise, Temporal Adept, and most importantly, Slith Firewalker. The Top fills the one-drop hole, but I don’t know anyone in his right mind who would keep a one-land seven-card hand on the strength of that card.”
No respect? That’s a pretty strong statement. Actually, it’s a pretty wrong statement and I’ve got to call him on it. Mike’s gauntlet was largely based on the decks that Top 8’d at French Regionals. Therefore, it seems like he’s willing to consider them to be solid builds and representative of the metagame.
Let’s play count the Jittes and Tops. Why Jittes? Nearly everyone seems to be crying about how broken that card is, but no one seems concerned about the Top. We know that Mike likes the Jitte because he’s written about it extensively in White Weenie and he mentions that Tel-Jilad Justice is in Tooth’s sideboard specifically to target Jittes.
After taking a quick look at Paris, Poitou Charente, Auverg, and Mid-PyrÃ©nnÃ©es, here are the totals:
Top – 19
Jitte – 18
Yeah, it was a close race, but it’s patent that the French respect the Top. Respect is a slippery word. To put it another way, it’s hard to imagine that all those players cracked the Top 8 with “bad” cards in their decks.
In fact, I would argue that one of the reasons they were so successful was that this supposedly bad card maximized their ability to access the deck’s best cards in any given matchup.
I wasn’t one of those people who initially salivated over the Top. Come to think of it, were there any such people? Initially, I looked at the Top and couldn’t understand how it would be good. The Top looks lackluster on paper until you actually play with it. For example, here’s a deck that loves the Top.
Eric Le Donge
10th Paris Regionals
3 Sensei’s Divining Top
4 Sword of Fire and Ice
4 Birds of Paradise
4 Sakura-Tribe Elder
4 Wood Elves
4 Troll Ascetic
4 Eternal Witness
4 Beacon of Creation
3 Plow Under
3 Cranial Extraction
2 Meloku the Clouded Mirror
That’s right, 61 cards total. Personally, I say drop a Sword. Anyway, you can see that there’s a weapon for every archetype here: Troll, Extraction and Beacon vs. MUC; Extraction and Plow vs. Tooth; Beacon and Sword vs. Mono Red; and Beacon, Extraction, and Meloku for the Mirror. Yeah, the White Weenie match-up is impossible. Remember the incident that shall not be recalled?
This deck breaks the Top perhaps more than any other (Tooth being a notable rival). Since you have quite a variety of powerful threats and answers along with Eternal Witness to recur them, each time you activate your Top it’s much more likely that you’ll be able to target your opponent with the perfect weapon.
Next there’s the whole mana consistency issue. With a land, Birds, and Elders there are nine non-Green mana sources for the Extractions and Melokus. That should be enough, but the Top provides additional insurance.
Eventually, looking at the top cards of your library becomes less than exciting after you’ve filtered out several spells and you have a land clump. That’s what makes the shuffle mechanisms so amazing. Normally, shuffling after a search spell is annoying and time-consuming, but it’s broken with the Top in play. To appreciate this you have to recognize that with regular shuffling the Top reads:
Pick a (Good) Card
Instead of having a draw step, look at three new cards on top of your library and put one of them into your hand.
Though the Top is card disadvantage in the short-run, in the long-run it provides insane card quality advantage. “Card disadvantage” is a phrase that makes many players shudder. Get over it. Ask yourself: Can you give up a land in return for accessing your deck’s best spells?
Beacon of Creation is the most busted Top companion. Unlike most other shuffle effects, the Beacon is a powerful win condition with the bonus that the longer the game goes on the more likely it is that you will be able to regularly shuffle away bad cards that the Top reveals. That’s called inevitability, folks, something that Green decks usually possess very little of.
Since the demise of the deck-that-shall-not-be-mentioned, the format is still relatively unexplored and only Beacon Green and Tooth and Nail have caused the Top to come out in force.
I expect that the Top will gain popularity as people realize how many other ways there are to abuse it. The Top is among the best cards Kamigawa offers Standard. Even if you aren’t running many shuffle effects, a copy or two of the Top can be really good. In this situations the Top reads:
Just Give Me A Winner
Draw three cards. Put the one you need to win the game in your hand and the other two on top of your library in any order.
You might ask, why not run a threat instead of the Top so you just draw it instead? It’s a good question. I’ll be Socrates and shoot back: which threat? That’s what’s so great. The Top isn’t just any threat or answer, it’s the one you need.
The Top does other subtle things too. You can replay it again and again to ding an opposing Karstoderm. Another cool trick is that the Top helps mitigate the risk of Viridian Shaman. Normally, you don’t want to drop the Shaman when the only artifact on the board is an important one that belongs to you. However, with the Top in play you can cast Shaman, targeting your Top, and put the Top on top of your library to draw a card in response.
The Top’s synergy is just beginning to be appreciated. I can even see why you might want to run one or two of them in Mono Blue, since you have Wayfarer’s Bauble to shuffle, and it feeds or sets up Thirst for Knowledge. Mono Black Control could also harness the power of the top thanks to the Bauble and Night’s Whisper or Phyrexian Arena. [Excepting the fact that it just gives you one more card in that deck that does almost nothing. – Knut, who thinks the Top is fine in the right deck]
Impulse variants, like Commune with Nature and Peer Through Depths also have synergy with the Top. Once you run into three lands, you simply faux-Impulse your way through them so that the Top reveals three new cards.
Scry is also an amazing ability to combine with the Top. As soon as you see two out of the three cards on top of your library are bad, just scry them to the bottom and activate the Top again for a look at some fresh cards.
What about building a deck around Tallowisp and the Top? That’s regular shuffling, card quality advantage, and card advantage. I don’t see enough good creature enchantments for this to work but it’s a beautiful idea, isn’t it?
Ultimately, what I’m getting at is that the Top acts like extra copies of your most ideal spells for a given matchup. For a minor cost in card advantage and mana, the Top makes deck much more cohesive, provides additional flexibility, and gives you ample opportunity to outplay your opponent.
Mike has given us a great variation of the Tooth archetype to work with. It’s important to realize, though, that his analysis of the deck against the “format” was constrained by significant limitations. The G/R build has significant weaknesses against Mono-Green Tron Tooth and Ponza. Furthermore, many of the decks from Mike’s gauntlet were unusually generous against Tooth opponents. I think that many other versions of Mono Black, Mono Green, and Mono Red would be much harder matchups for both Mono Green Tooth and G/R Tooth.
At the end of his article, Mike mentioned: “I’m sure that version 1.0 isn’t the optimal one yet, but this deck is a great place to start along that path.” He’s absolutely right. The first step thing I’d do is find room for two or three Tops, probably cutting Mindslaver and a land.
May your first activation of Sensei’s Divining Top never reveal three lands.
rick at rickrust dot com