Yawgmoth’s Whimsy # 37: Being Contrarian

In the new Type 2, the”general wisdom and market drivers” are threshold, flashback and incarnations – in other words, the graveyard. Can Peter develop an effective deck that yanks the graveyard out from under his opponents?

Contrarian means going against the pack. The most common – well, the only common use – of the term is in investing. A contrarian investor makes a point of using the reverse of the conventional wisdom in placing investments. If everyone expects a stock to soar, the contrarian sells it.

Since people generally rely too heavily on past wisdom and typically expect past trends to continue indefinitely, contrarians frequently make money on the swings. I have some investments in a contrarian fund and have made some money betting against the general wisdom and the market drivers.

In the new T2 (and even more so in OBC), the "general wisdom and market drivers" are threshold, flashback and incarnations – in other words, the graveyard. A contrarian deckbuilder might use methods of denying use of the graveyard, possibly while not relying on threshold or flashback. If nothing else, this is an interesting thought experiment, since it forces you to look at the environment in different ways. I’m not sure there is a Tier One deck at the end of all this, but you will get a much better understanding of the available graveyard hate.

Right now, I see the metagame as U/G Quiet Roar variants, some G/W, Psychatog, some Anger-powered R/G neo-Fires decks and some assorted other stuff – U/W control variants fall in this category.

Except for some very strange builds of U/W, all these decks depend on getting cards into their graveyards. Being able to trash the graveyard at will – or even to remove individual cards from the graveyards – could be very useful.

Green and white have some options – but they generally don’t remove the cards from the game. Cards like Krosan Reclamation will get cards out of the graveyard and into the opponent’s library, so it can deal with incarnations. White has two options: Funeral Pyre – a kind of Afterlife for cards in the graveyard – and Morningtide, which empties all graveyards. For building a deck around, Morningtide looks a bit better… But it’s still marginal. In addition, both green and white have advocates – creatures that have effects gained by returning cards in the graveyard to hand. Although I could almost see a G/R deck with Anger running Living Wish and Nullmage Advocate in the sideboard, none of these seem like good methods of getting rid of cards in the graveyard. In many cases, your opponent will just pitch the card to Wild Mongrel again.

Red has one card that can remove cards from the graveyard. Can’t think of it? That’s sure proof of repressed memory syndrome. It’s Mudhole – the 61st card in your draft deck.

Blue and Black have better cards to affect the graveyard. There may be a deck there, if it can be fast and strong enough to deal with fast beatdown and other archetypes. Only testing will tell.

Let’s review the cards.

Cremate, B, Instant, (Invasion)

Remove target card in graveyard from the game. Draw a card.

I am perpetually enthralled by cantrips. This is worth trying maindeck, especially in decks that are not dedicated to graveyard removal. It is never dead. On the flip side, it does not help you win.

Coffin Purge, B, Instant

Remove target card in a graveyard from the game. Flashback B.

Cheap, flashes back, only gets one card each way. Solid, but not exciting.

Decompose, 1B, Sorcery

Remove up to three target cards in a single graveyard from the game.

This is an answer to Quiet Speculation, of course… But it is almost nothing else, unless we can get the graveyard almost completely empty and capitalize on that.

Grave Consequences, 1B, Instant

Each player may remove any number of cards in his or her graveyard from the game. Then each player loses 1 life for each card in his or her graveyard. Draw a card.

If we can keep the graveyard empty, this is going to be useless. It will far better in other decks, where it can beat on Tog end of turn, and in decks with a lot of speedy damage. It is a cantrip, however. My first thought is to include it in the sideboard, where Cunning Wish could get it as needed. Grave Consequences might have some value as an answer to Haunting Echoes as well.

Gravestorm, BBB, Enchantment

At the beginning of your upkeep, target opponent may remove a card in his or her graveyard from the game. If that player doesn’t, you may draw a card.

The BBB in the casting cost is a bit steep…. But if we can empty the graveyard, then this is golden. Ideally, the opponent would draw and cast one card, have it countered, and then removed from the graveyard at end of turn. Then we would draw two cards. The question is whether that is feasible.

Grip of Amnesia, 1U, Instant

Counter target spell unless its controller removes his or her graveyard from the game. Draw a card.

This rocks against Quiet Speculation, if you can use it to counter the first card out of the graveyard. It is cycling, and conditional cycling at that, if the opponent’s graveyard is empty. This is only good if you can punish someone for removing the graveyard (e.g. Gravestorm, Web). It can be so great, but giving the opponent the choice really does hurt.

Rats’ Feast, XB Sorcery

Remove X target cards in a single graveyard from the game.

I can’t imagine getting desperate enough to play this. If the number of cards is small, something like Cremate might be better. If it is large, Grave Consequences should reduce the size much more effectively.

Lost in Thought, 1U, Enchant Creature

Enchanted creature can’t attack or block and its activated abilities can’t be played. Its controller may remove three cards in his or her graveyard from the game to ignore this ability until end of turn.

If you can ensure that the graveyard stays nearly empty, this is an answer to cards like Wild Mongrel, Mystic Enforcer, and big Wurms. It also has some strong synergy with graveyard removal techniques, but it is not all that useful outside of drafts.

Mortiphobia, 1BB, Enchantment

1B, Discard a card from your hand: Remove target card in a graveyard from the game.

1B, Sacrifice Mortiphobia: Remove target card in a graveyard from the game.

It’s too expensive to cast and too expensive to activate.

Steamclaw, 2, Artifact

3, T: Remove target card in a graveyard from the game.

1, Sacrifice Steamclaw: Remove target card in a graveyard from the game.

Well, it’s as good as it gets, but it’s no Phyrexian Furnace. It might be a workable late-game if you are trying to maintain a Web of Inertia lock, or to remove a card at end of turn so you can draw the extra card off Gravestorm. If the environment had the speed of, say, Homelands, then this would be fine.

Tombfire, B, Sorcery

Target player removes all cards with flashback in his or her graveyard from the game.

Another anti-Quiet Speculation card… But a very situational one. This card would be great if you could easily wish for it, and if it were an instant. As it is, it seems to be worth a sideboard slot at best, with a starring spot in the crap rares pile most likely.

Web of Inertia, 2U, Enchantment

At the beginning of each opponent’s combat phase, that player may remove a card in his or her graveyard from the game. If that player doesn’t, creatures he or she controls can’t attack this turn.

This is just not enough to lock up attack phase, since the cost is one card for the full attack, not one card per attacker. The only saving fact is that the Web has a triggered ability. You can respond to the trigger going on the stack by removing all their cards from the graveyard (you need an instant or Steamclaw, obviously), and they cannot respond by removing the card from the graveyard until the Web trigger resolves. The same is true if they try to pitch a card to Wild Mongrel in response to the trigger going on the stack – the Mongrel’s +1/+1 trigger goes on first, and you can then remove the discarded card. In short, if – and that’s one huge if – you can empty their graveyard and keep it empty, no one will be able to attack you. Just remember that you have to sacrifice a card to attack, too.

Now, if you build a deck that concentrates on not allowing attacks by keeping the graveyard empty, you need a kill mechanism that does not require milling and that has some evasion. Flying is probably sufficient, since most decks have either no fliers or fliers that get up in the air because of an Incarnation. The best flier for this task might be Scalpelexis, possibly accompanied by some Finkels. Scalpelexis does not mill, and it is faster than you might believe; however, it is expensive. The main question is whether the deck can be strong enough to set up with Web of Inertia and Gravestorm fast enough, or whether it just gets run down time and again. More testing will be needed.

Finkels are another option, but they get killed by way too many commonly played cards.

Here’s a decklist I played around with for a while:

2 Scalpelexis

4 Nightscape Familiar

3 Glacial Wall

3 Gravestorm

2 Grip of Amnesia

4 Counterspell

3 Memory Lapse

3 Coffin Purge

3 Repulse

3 Cremate

3 Cunning Wish

2 Grave Consequences

1 Steamclaw

2 Decompose



Salt Marsh

Underground River


1 Grave Consequences

2 Hibernation

2 Gainsay

2 Ghastly Demise

1 Afflict

2 Slay

2 Execute

1 Memory Lapse

Cute, but no cigar. It is just a step or two too slow to get set up and take control – and about 2.5 steps against decks that start with Careful Study and Mental Note. They fill the graveyard faster than you can empty it.

The above decklist was somewhere in the middle of testing; it does not have Fact or Fiction or enough card drawing, although the number of cantrips sort of makes up for that. The problem is that the number of cards required to deal with threats and the graveyard is just too large to allow much else.

Nightscape Familiar is in there just because he is so good with Cunning Wish. That combination is amazing, but I think it will work better with a ‘Tog deck. Burning up sideboard slots with wish targets hurts games two and three, but it is pretty good game one.

Glacial Walls replaced Web of Inertia because stuff like Mental Note just made Web useless. Even Dark Banishing would have been better than Web, in many cases.

Gravestorm was very marginal. With Dark Ritual (or if Gravestorm was just a little more affordable), it might work. Right now, Gravestorm arrives too late. Grave Consequences is useless here, since the deck does nothing to apply pressure.

Scalpelexis ends the game in a handful of turns, usually, and is hard to kill. Finkel wins much more slowly, and dies to a lot of stuff that Scalpie shrugs off. Against most decks, I find Scalpelexis marginally better, but neither of these is really all that good.

One option seems to be eliminating the marginal Decomposes and replacing them with Morningtide. That also allows you to play Wrath of God, if desired, or to replace Scalpelexis with Dromar. However, that deck design seems to improve as it loses more and more graveyard hate, and becomes straight U/W control with a splash of black for Coffin Purge. I expect it could become even better dumping the Coffin Purges, but that’s another article. No decklist for the U/W/B versions – none seem worth the space.

A quick parting thought on Mists of Stagnation: Mists lets you untap one permanent for each card in your graveyard. At first, this seems useful in combination with graveyard removal, since you could create some type of one-sided Stasis. However, Mists does not say permanents you control. If you have more cards in your graveyard than you have permanents, you start untapping your opponent’s permanents. Seriously – that’s straight from the Judgment FAQ. That means it only works if you have a way of controlling both your own graveyard size and your opponent’s graveyard size. If you have that kind of control, just win the game already; don’t bother playing Stagnation games.

Okay, before I quite this week, I have a response to Ted Coldwell article Come See The Flaws Inherent In The System!!

At the risk (risk? – more like near certainty) of oversimplifying Ted’s argument, Ted said that the existence of viable land destruction would force everyone further into blue. I strongly disagree. Decks have to adapt to the metagame; a metagame with viable land destruction means that control decks have to adapt as well.

Ted argued that blue was needed to combat LD. Actually, powerful LD decks, like Ponza and LLL, had good matchups against blue control decks… If those blue decks were tuned to handle other decks. The existence of LD decks meant that the blue control decks had to run more counters that could stop a turn 3 spell, and had to be able to function if half the 12-20 LD spells a dedicated LD deck was running got through. The current strategy used by Tog and Trenches – counter some spells, use bounce, Wrath, and Upheaval to deal with the rest – would not work if a LD deck were present.

The matchups that were not favorable for LD were fast creature decks, especially things like mono-green and even Sligh, and decks with cheap mana acceleration, like elves, birds and artifacts. Decks that went Forest, Bird, then Bird, Elf, Cradle, Albino Troll were real headaches for Ponza. Even Sligh was a beating, unless the Ponza deck could get some fast artifact mana down, then cast Wildfire.

Against a creature deck, or a deck sporting artifact mana, LD was only effective if they could kill lands fast enough to stop the opponent from doing anything useful. LD is great against combo or other decks that get to a certain mana level, then explode. It stinks against fast decks. Land destruction is all about denying tempo, so decks that get a quick jump generally beat up on LD decks. On the other hand, LD decks punish control decks that fail to stop early threats.

The presence of LD was a serious check on blue counter decks. Having LD in the format meant that the decks had to be able to counter everything, early on. This meant that the control decks ran more situational counters like Force Spike and Disrupt. However, counters like those are easier to play around. Force Spike is not so good if your opponent can play around it.

Armageddon had the same effect – it forced control decks to either be able to prevent Armageddon from resolving, or to find a way of playing without lands. The presence of Armageddon meant that a strategy of counter some stuff, bounce the rest to retain tempo had drawbacks. It is one thing to let a threat slip through for a turn or three before you can Repulse it or Upheaval… And another where your mana base evaporates, meaning that the opponent will have a few turns of casting stuff – unimpeded – off their new land plus mana creatures.

In short, the presence of LD decks forced control decks to play suboptimal cards to stop LD, which made them more vulnerable to other strategies. The same argument can be made about combo decks – provided the decks were not as broken as Academy. Having combo decks in the format means that control decks have to be able to deal with another type of threat. The more varied the threats a control deck has to deal with, the more likely that any particular deck can find a chink in its armor.

Part of the reason the current environment is so blue is that control decks only really have to deal with aggro decks, aggro-control and heavy control. Land destruction and combo are almost completely absent.

That’s enough for now. Next time, some other slightly off-the-wall T2 and OBC tech, then some casual play stuff once I’m back from Origins.


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