Yawgmoth’s Whimsy #80: States Of Confusion, Or The Also-Rans

Peter discusses three”cute” decks that he idly considered bringing to States but had to discard in the course of testing – decks like the Pentavus/Mana Echoes infinite mana combo, the Zur’s Weirding lock deck (with, of course, Words of Wisdom), and U/R Land Destruction with Mindslaver!

This year, I actually got a little time to build decks and test for States. I had a number of ideas, and some useful insights. I figured I could pump out a couple articles, then post a decent result at States and do a tourney report.

Then life intervened. I got assigned a couple new cases at work, and ended up working and traveling instead of playtesting. I even missed States – I couldn’t get enough done quickly enough to play.

I did manage to break free mid-afternoon Saturday, so I could attend a Type One tourney across town. I came in second. Total attendance: Three people.

Since States is now over, it is a little late to follow my first plan – articles on several deck types, plus my predictions on the baseball playoffs. However, I do want to present three of my decks. All three decks fall into the”cute” category. I had a lot of fun wasting time playtesting these, but none were going to win states.

The Infinite Mana deck:

Since there is an infinite mana combo in the format, I figured building a deck around it was worth a try. Here’s the combo: Mana Echoes and Pentavus. With both of those in play, a two-mana investment will get you infinite mana in return. With one Pentavite token in play, the second one will trigger Mana Echoes and generate one mana. That one mana will pay for the third token. The third will generate two mana, paying for the fourth token (and three mana), and to put a token back on Pentavus. Bouncing that token on and off Pentavus generates infinite mana.

You have an extra token, since Pentavus doesn’t die until you pull five tokens off at once. This means you can play a lot of stack games. It is difficult for an opponent to disrupt the combo once it starts, since you can play around a single Shatter, Stifle, Deconstruct, or the like.

The problem, of course, is that Pentavus costs seven mana. That is a ton.

The deck is red, of course, since you are running Mana Echoes with a double red in the casting cost. Since red has no useful search, the other color has to handle disruption and search functions. That means blue or black – but black has no instant-speed search (and no, Spoils of the Vault doesn’t count.)

This is a combo deck, so it needs to rip through the deck to find all the combo parts. Thirst for Knowledge does that quite well. Because of Thirst, I also ran a full set of artifact lands, and a bunch of Spellbombs. Starstorm helped against goblins and Decree of Justice, and cycled against everything else – but Slice and Dice is equally good against affinity decks. The basic concept was to run only cards that either protected the combo, that cycled (one way or another), or that generated mana.

The deck requires a ton of mana, in opposing colors, so I ended up running Star Compass. I hate the”comes into play tapped” part, but the mana acceleration is important, as is the fact that it can provide a second blue or red, and the deck needs both. Solemn Simulacrum fits in well – it is mana acceleration and generally a cantrip as well.

Here’s the decklist:

4 Mana Echoes

4 Pentavus

3 Pyrite Spellbomb

4 Read the Runes

4 Mana Leak

1 Jinxed Choker

1 Blaze

3 StarStorm

4 Thirst for Knowledge

3 Star Compass

4 Solemn Simulacrum

1 Discombobulate

1 Stifle

3 Seat of the Synod

3 Great Furnace

7 Mountain

7 Island

3 Temple of the False God

By the way, the typical win is to have Pentavus in play at untap, play Echoes (or have it in play) then generate a huge pool of mana, cast Read the Runes to draw all but one card from your deck. Sacrifice tapped lands or other cards to keep Mana Leaks (if you have access to blue mana), Blaze, and the Choker. Blaze them – and if that does not resolve, turn the rest of the mana into Jinxed Choker counters and pass the turn.

I realized that this deck was doomed when I added Jinxed Choker in place of the second Blaze. I had seen too many Circle of Protection: Red and even Ivory Masks floating around, and wanted a non-red kill mechanism. However, Jinxed Choker definitely fails a critical rule for combo parts – the parts have to be useful on their own.

Versus Goblins

This matchup comes down to digging for a timely Starstorm, and getting lucky with Pyrite Spellbombs. Unless the Goblins deck is running Oblivion Stone, they have little to disrupt the combo. Shatter out of the sideboard is a problem if you have to tap out to cast Pentavus, but meaningless once you go off. On the other hand, you can sideboard Pyroclasm, which is pretty solid. With a decent draw, you win – but this deck is prone to clunky draws (like three Pentavi), so it isn’t great.

Versus MBC

These games often go long, so the Mana Leaks don’t help. Stifle for Oblivion Stone is great, and Shatter from the sideboard is okay. Mind Sludge is the biggest problem. On the other hand, a lot of the base cards in MBC, like Terrors, are dead. If they don’t get Phyrexian Arena going, you have a pretty good shot at playing out the combo as you draw it.

Versus U/W

They have more counters, and you are riding a one trick pony. You have to hope they don’t figure out the trick until it is too late. Good luck, especially games two and three. Akroma’s Vengeance is also very bad for this deck. Scrabbling Claws, additional counters, and even Blood Moon out of the sideboard can help. Pentavus is actually pretty good here, since you can block Exalted Angels with a Pentavite token, then put the Pentavite token away before damage. No life gain, and infinite blockers. You can also send several tokens each turn, if you have the mana.

Versus W/x Control

Akroma’s Vengeance is still a thing you never want to see, but at least the non-blue versions cannot counter your counters. Practice the stack tricks that let you go off around Starstorm, Shatter, and Lightning Rift, or Smother or Naturalize. Dig fast and hard to get that combo out. They cannot counter your Blaze. W/B has a lot of useless creature kill, but Coercion can snag critical parts. G/W has pressure, Vengeance, Plow Under, and Naturalize out of the board. The W/B matchup is fair, R/W okay, and G/W matchup, well… You’re are doomed.

I only playtested against bad versions of Affinity, so I have no real idea how well the deck performs. I could often beat the versions that did not run counters.

Weekly World News

(Because it’s Weird and I don’t quite believe in it.)

The second deck is built around a Zur’s Weirding lock. It is basically U/W Control with a lot of the good cards removed and some trash thrown in. The deck is cool, but standard U/W is better.

The lock is Zur’s Weirding and Words of Worship – you force your opponent to discard whatever they draw, and skip your own turn to gain five life. You can deck people this way, but that’s slow. Eternal Dragon is the alternative kill mechanism – you can recur and attack with it while the lock is in place. That combo is still marginal, but the card that makes the deck work is Future Sight. With all three enchantments in play, you skip your draw, and play off your deck with Future Sight. It is a fight to get to that point, but not impossible. It is tough to lose when you get all three parts in play.

Weekly World News:

3 Eternal Dragon

3 Zur’s Weirding

3 Words of Worship

2 Future Sight

4 Wrath of God

4 Mana Leak

4 Thirst for Knowledge

2 Star Compass

3 Story Circle

3 Scrabbling Claws

2 Discombobulate

1 Stifle

1 Altar’s Light / third hard counter

6 Islands

10 Plains

2 Seat of the Synod

4 Coastal Tower

2 Flooded Strand

1 Ancient Den

The deck has two main problems: Oblivion Stone and recurring creatures.

The maindeck Stifle is an attempt to fight the Stone. Stifle seems questionable, but it kept winning games. In many games, Damping Matrix would be better against Stones, but that is even more limited. The maindeck Altar’s Light is also an answer, although you may have to use Mana Leak to prevent the opponent from casting and activating the Stone immediately.

Discombobulate is better than Rewind, at least for me, because you rarely needed the extra mana after countering, while the Flooded Strands and Dragons provided enough shuffle effects that you could ditch cards you didn’t like. This is a combo deck, after all, so the stacking and search is important. Not a given, however.

Scrabbling Claws are very good against your other big problems: opposing Eternal Dragons and Undead Gladiator. (Hammer of Bogardan a pain as well, I guess, but I didn’t play against anything with two of them, and one doesn’t outrun the Words/Weirding lock.) In other matches, the Claws are just cycled or fed to Thirst for Knowledge. If your metagame has more creatures and goblins, Aether Spellbomb may be better, but keep a full set of Scrabbling Claws in the sideboard.

Star Compass is in because I was having problems with the damage from the Talisman, and because getting to Wrath of God quickly is important against Goblins, Affinity, and WW.

Story Circle just wrecks MBC, Zombies, and Goblins. Our playtest version of Goblins also ran some artifacts, including Oblivion Stones, which gave them a fighting chance – but that’s what the counters and the Stifle are for. Game one for MBC was fifty-fifty, but Karma in the SB helps a lot. Mind Sludge hurts, but resolving Future Sight more than makes up for that.

U/W true control decks may have more counters that you do, and can deliver some of the same pain. Most U/W builds have no way to remove the enchantments once they hit play. Sometimes you just have to drop Zur’s Weirding and see what their hand has. Story Circle naming white is equally important.

Annul in the sideboard helps against the Oblivion Stones and against Affinity (but, as I said, I never saw an Affinity deck I liked.) Altar’s Light is so bad, but it’s what we have. Disenchant would be so welcome.

I have a totally unreasonable love for this deck. Even though I know it isn’t good enough, I thought seriously about playing it at States. The biggest problem is that Annul is in the sideboard of so many decks.

G/B Cemetery

I started playing this early and often, and it just does not work. The deck absolutely needs the card advantage of an Oversold Cemetery, and Cemetery is fragile. Vengeance kills it. Oblivion Stone kills it. Scrabbling Claws, Annul, and Withered Wretch kill it, and they are way too common in sideboards. Other than that, it is a great control deck – it’s just that most of the metagame seemed to be running something that hurts the deck.

A solid deck, but not solid enough.

On the flip side, it is nearly the only deck I did much design work on did not run Thirst for Knowledge and artifact lands. Speaking of which…

U/R Land Destruction with Mindslaver:

Mana Leak is pretty good if you can keep your opponent’s land count down. Thirst for Knowledge can help refill your hand when playing LD. That was the basis for making a U/R LD deck. That, and I wanted to play around with Isochron Scepter and Mindslaver.

This is hardly news, but Isochron Scepter is too spotty in an LD deck. Boomerang/Scepter is game over, but not that common. Scepter is pretty dead otherwise. It got cut early.

Chain of Vapor was also worth testing in an LD deck, since the opponents won’t be forking it too often when they don’t have any spare land. Of course, Chain of Vapor does not combine well with Chrome Mox or with Isochron Scepter.

Chain of Vapor does combine pretty well with Mindslaver. You control their turn, so you target one of their permanents with Chain of Vapor. Your opponent then”chooses” to sacrifice a land to copy Chain and bounce something else, and keeps repeating this. In the end, they have no permanents and, at most, one land in play. At that point, you target the opponent with Chain of Plasma, and your opponent will”choose” to discard cards to keep shooting themselves running out of cards or life. Even if they survive, winning after resolving the combo that is easy.

Resolving that combo is harder.

I also ran Blood Moon in the LD deck, and it is pretty strong. Blood Moon hoses the multicolor lands in control decks, fetch lands, artifact lands and affinity decks. Turning all your non-basic lands to mountains is okay in a mainly red LD deck, and it helps prevent dragon recursion in the W/x control decks – you concentrate the LD on Plains. Blood Moon does not hurt my deck – the artifact lands become Mountains when in play, but they still discard to Thirst for Knowledge.

March of the Machines can have an equally detrimental effect on artifact lands – but that is, again, a different build. A build with March of the Machines, Blood Moon, and Mindslaver looked to have some potential against control, but rolled over to Goblins and Zombies quickly enough to power turbines.

In the end, though, my U/R designs were still too unfocused and incomplete to play at states, but look to have potential. The problem was often the kill. Stripping out the Mindslaver part, and the Blood Moons, leaves Rorix and maybe Hammer recursion as the kills – but that is trumped by Circles of Protection. You can get around that with Chromeshell Crab and other silliness, but that’s not perfect, either. Grid Monitor would work pretty well in the deck, but not with Rorix as a primary kill method.

Playtesting results were spotty, and punctuated by many stupid draws: I had a lot of all-land hands, a lot of no-land hands and opening hands with all three Rorixes. The playtest results were meaningless, other than to show I could pile shuffle and riffle shuffle and still draw junk.

Land Destruction feels the same way: It has spotty draws and matchups. It can be strong against MBC and some control, but not if control runs Sacred Ground in the sideboard – which a lot of the decks in States Top 8 lists seem to have done..

The other land”destruction” deck I like uses Quicksilver Fountain to provide an alternative method of mana denial – a sort of Blood Moon that produces blue. The deck also uses Power Conduit to move Fountain counters off the player’s lands onto something else, so that the Fountain counters never disappear. It is cute, but useless if your opponent can actually use blue mana. It seemed like a nasty little control element in an Affinity deck – so now you know another reason my Affinity decks were never that strong.

Had I played in States, I would have played a G/W control deck with maindeck Scrabbling Claws. But I didn’t.