Tibalt is causing some trouble in Modern these days.
Tibalt’s Trickery is causing large Eldrazi messes and everyone is complaining, Dom Harvey is writing an article for later this week so you can read about it before the sky falls or nothing happens (you know, the usual set release since War of the Spark).
But I’m talking more about the other Tibalt: Tibalt, Cosmic Impostor. Where Tibalt’s Trickery requires a barrel full of Eldrazi to mess up your deck, all Valki, God of Lies asks for is two simple things:
- Play cascade spells.
- Try your hardest to make sure they cascade into Valki.
The upside isn’t as high, but the cost is basically nothing in comparison. In the last week-and-a-half, several different versions of Tibalt-Cascade have popped up on Magic Online. If you want to get in on the hot new trend, here are your options.
Option 1: Tibalt Like a Normie
We’ve already talked about putting Valki, God of Lies in Jund for weeks. You cast Bloodbraid Elf, and 10% of the time it casts a seven-drop planeswalker.
And then what? 90% of the time your deck is just normal Jund. You’re playing Thoughtseize against decks with Violent Outburst that casts Emrakul, the Aeons Torn and Mystic Sanctuary to recur it against discard? Cool, great job, I’m sure your Jund deck clocks fast enough for that to matter. There’s absolutely no historical data that would suggest any other outcome here. Whenever Modern has broken horribly, the metagame has been Eldrazi or Hogaak or Ironworks or Eggs failing to beat Jund while the midrange menace dodges yet another ban.
Wait, definitely not that. That has never happened.
Playing Jund into a metagame of Tibalt’s Trickery and Tibalt, Cosmic Impostor seems like a losing proposition. Please play a real deck designed for 2021.
Instead of commenting on the state of a mediocre deck in an unplayable metagame position, I’m here with Tibalt facts.
If you steal your opponent’s Tibalt, Cosmic Impostor after it resolves, don’t use it. They get the emblem, so they can cast all the cards. If you remember Hostage Taker versus Entrancing Melody, it’s the same thing but even worse.
Option 2: Tibalt as a Nested Meme
- 4 Simian Spirit Guide
- 4 Bloodbraid Elf
- 4 Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
- 4 Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre
- 2 Griselbrand
- 2 Emrakul, the Promised End
- 4 Yidaro, Wandering Monster
The other new and horrible thing people are cascading into is Tibalt’s Trickery. After the initial no-fail list with only Violent Outburst; Emrakul, the Promised End; and one Tibalt’s Trickery ran its course, people decided they were okay with losing to their own deck 20-30% of the time if it meant you didn’t lose to your opponent taking a single relevant game action.
Technically this deck can sideboard into Valki as an alternate hit, but does it really want to? Signs point to no.
If this hand generates a Tibalt, Cosmic Impostor, how will it win the game? That’s it. That’s all it does. Does a Tibalt +2 even really draw a card from your deck at that point? What are you going to draw, an Eldrazi or another redundant Tibalt?
This also raises another good point about Tibalt in Modern. Cards that let you cast opposing stuff in small doses have always underperformed in the format. Anyone here remember trying out Fallen Shinobi or Thief of Sanity two years ago? The people playing Modern are all maniacs, so you’re going to +2 Tibalt and reveal Hedron Crab or Thassa’s Oracle and it’s not going to be remotely close to a card that is useful for interacting with or killing your opponent. Tibalt needs good cards in your own deck to +2 into for all the times your opponent decided to show up with 60 bad cards.
What does making a Tibalt instead of a Tibalt’s Trickery even avoid? Are you afraid of Spell Snare? Nah, your opponent is going to have Deafening Silence; Teferi, Time Raveler; or Archon of Emeria and you literally won’t be able to cascade into anything. It’s not even like Tibalt dodges Force of Negation any better.
Just stick to your main combo. A 30% fail rate is better than a 100% chance of doing effectively nothing.
Option 3: Tibalt Like a Cool Kid
These are all pretty good cards. It makes sense to pair Omnath, Locus of Creation and Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath with expensive planeswalkers, just casting Tibalt as R&D intended. Seriously, as they intended, because that was supposed to be a Standard-legal trio.
But watching Kanister play the deck, it just wasn’t quite right.
The Valki plan doesn’t have the same depth of card play each game the normal Uro-Omnath piles have. You aren’t leveraging your extra cards nearly as well, and running 26 lands quickly becomes a liability even with Mystic Sanctuary.
It doesn’t make a ton of sense to complain about this if you look at Tibalt as a self-contained combo, a single threat that ends the game, but it isn’t quite at that level. Tibalt is really good against single threats or if not pressured, but the whole package is comparable to Karn Liberated that can’t hit lands. And as we have seen many times, people just playing cheap creatures and bashing has overwhelmed Karn many times. It’s not even like Tibalt’s ultimate is assured to clean up games the way Karn’s does (see the above point about everyone playing bad cards), or even like the +2 has the same beefy quality as Karn’s +4 in threatening future -3s.
If your opponent decides to beat you down with multiple creatures, you’re going to get beat down. Tibalt is going to resolve and do its best Vraska’s Contempt impression. Sure, this deck has Uro and Omnath, but the scary part of Uro is when your opponent just trades a bunch of cards and then has Uro to your scraps of creatures. What is this deck doing to trade cards, Dismembering a Monastery Swiftspear and dying? Cryptic Command, counter your last two-drop, have to tap down creatures because nothing happened earlier?
I think if this deck is going to succeed, it needs to be rebuilt to not be the same kind of blue deck as the other Uro-Omnath decks. Force of Negation might still be necessary for opposing nonsense, but Cryptic Command sure isn’t. Some higher-impact individual cards like Supreme Verdict and Hour of Promise probably deserve space there.
It seems like Teferi, Time Raveler would be the end of the line in Tibalt mirrors, but in practice I don’t think that holds against real Tibalt and not the Trickery version. All the things that let your opponent naturally battle down a Tibalt are even better against Teferi. Yet another part of this list that’s worth re-examining.
There are a couple of other good lessons to be learned here about changing up cascade targets.
The high-impact hate cards like Kor Firewalker and Soul-Guide Lantern are significantly more exciting in this cascade deck than in all the prior Living End and Restore Balance decks, and that’s because your other cards actually do things and aren’t Monstrous Carabid. I mean, even that five-mana 4/4 was enough for people to try dumb stuff like cascading into Thorn of Amethyst, so if you can cast Uro while doing the same thing, that has to be way better. If your Tibalt-Cascade deck is bad against some strategy, just make it a hate-card cascade deck instead.
My main question is if Soul-Guide Lantern is actually trying hard enough. You might actually need three to reliably beat Dredge with it without a clock, but it does cover the non-Goblin Charbelcher axis of Oops All Spells.
Celestial Purge is a bit more interesting. When you sideboard in Celestial Purge, you aren’t necessarily sideboarding out Tibalt. You’re just making the statement that you want to draw as many spot removal spells as possible, and are treating Violent Outburst into Tibalt as yet another spot removal spell. While that does sound like an appealing solution to opponents who are bringing the beats, it also feels narrow. Few decks fall between Kor Firewalker and Supreme Verdict where three Celestial Purge is good enough, basically just the ones with both Death’s Shadow and Monastery Swiftspear.
If you really need Celestial Purge there and Kor Firewalker elsewhere and probably Supreme Verdict for a different crew of idiots, I think you need to take another look at your deck’s fundamental approach to the format. Too fair, not enough free wins – again just rebuild your deck to contain better maindeck interaction.
Option 4: Tibalt to Actually Win
- 4 Simian Spirit Guide
- 4 Magus of the Moon
- 4 Bloodbraid Elf
- 4 Seasoned Pyromancer
- 2 Murderous Rider
- 4 Valki, God of Lies
By far the most promising Tibalt-Cascade deck is Jund Prison, aka “Tibalt Moons.”
Traditionally, the mono-red versions of this deck have been successful against other unfair decks because accelerating into Blood Moon or other hate cards is broadly powerful. Where they have struggled is against Force of Negation or Thoughtseize decks, where it often easy to reduce the prison player’s hand to a single relevant card, beat that card, and have free rein over the rest of the game.
Tibalt turns the prison deck into something approximating Tron in those matchups. A fast Tibalt will end the game, and there are a lot more cascade spells to draw to if the first Tibalt is answered. It’s not like the Valki side of the card is bad either against Uro, Tarmogoyf, or Scourge of the Skyclaves.
This deck is also heavy on good creatures, namely Seasoned Pyromancer. In Tibalt mirrors, this deck is able to establish a dominant position and defeat their Tibalt in combat, and against creature decks it can do the same to drive the game towards a state where Tibalt does win the game. Think of how Karn, the Great Creator is so much more effective against creature decks out of Eldrazi Tron compared to Mono-Green Tron because it has more breathing room to do what it needs to do and not just have it or you die the turn after it resolves.
My one question is whether you want all Anger of the Gods, all Maelstrom Pulse, or some split of those effects to avoid Meddling Mage. The answer is probably just all Anger of the Gods as better coverage against Dredge, and because your Bonecrusher Giants, Tibalts, and other stuff can kill a Meddling Mage, but it’s always worth thinking about the flexibility.
The other sideboard split that tempts me is the same “cascade into graveyard hate” plan the Omnath-Tibalt list featured. You don’t have to play all Leyline of the Void; you can have one or two Leylines for the casual “mise a graveyard hate spell at low cost” maneuver against fair decks, and then have some Leylines and all your cascade spells as hate against Dredge.
In case you missed the math like I did the first time you looked at this, Mindbreak Trap covers Tibalt’s Trickery. They cast the cascade spell, Tibalt’s Trickery, and then whatever monster they hit. Whether you can recover from the Eldrazi trigger isn’t certain if it’s Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger or Emrakul, the Promised End, but if they hit a second cascade spell, you can also just cut them off at the second Trickery and not worry about that.
I think the most important part of this list is showing a good path forward. Blood Moon is a good plan, but I don’t think it’s the only direction you can take the core of cascade spells, Valki, and Seasoned Pyromancer. The best part of cascading into Tibalt is that the commitment isn’t much higher than for Stoneforge Mystic, and I expect the late-stage Tibalt decks to be flexible variations on a couple of key cores the way Stoneforge Mystic is in Legacy.
That is, if we get to a late stage of Tibalt decks. Uro is still legal, so who knows, but I have feeling people might get sick of these shenanigans a little quicker.