BG Zombies in Modern with Lotleth Troll

Editor’s note: Written prior to the Pro Tour, we present to you André Mateus’s latest brew in Modern, featuring [card]Lotleth Troll[/card]!

BG Zombies, by André Mateus

Creatures (24)
4 [card]Dark Confidant[/card]
4 [card]Diregraf Ghoul[/card]
4 [card]Gravecrawler[/card]
4 [card]Kitchen Finks[/card]
4 [card]Lotleth Troll[/card]
4 [card]Vengevine[/card]
Spells (12)
3 [card]Abrupt Decay[/card]
1 [card]Life from the Loam[/card]
3 [card]Liliana of the Veil[/card]
1 [card]Putrefy[/card]
4 [card]Thoughtseize[/card]
Lands (24)
1 [card]Dryad Arbor[/card]
1 [card]Forest[/card]
1 [card]Marsh Flats[/card]
1 [card]Misty Rainforest[/card]
1 [card]Oran-Rief, the Vastwood[/card]
3 [card]Overgrown Tomb[/card]
3 [card]Swamp[/card]
2 [card]Tectonic Edge[/card]
4 [card]Treetop Village[/card]
2 [card]Twilight Mire[/card]
1 [card]Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth[/card]
4 [card]Verdant Catacombs[/card]
Sideboard (15)
1 [card]Darkblast[/card]
2 [card]Duress[/card]
1 [card]Extirpate[/card]
1 [card]Life from the Loam[/card]
1 [card]Memoricide[/card]
2 [card]Obstinate Baloth[/card]
1 [card]Putrefy[/card]
3 [card]Stillmoon Cavalier[/card]
1 [card]Tectonic Edge[/card]
2 [card]Withered Wretch[/card]

[card]Lotleth Troll[/card] is a beast (actually a zombie, but that’s besides the point) and an uncharted format in which [card]Vengevine[/card] is legal has to be the perfect place for it to prey on. Let’s break it down!

4 [card]Dark Confidant[/card]: The human wizard provides card advantage and a constant flow of creatures to either grow [card]Lotleth Troll[/card] or return [card]Vengevine[/card] to play. Discarding extra [card]Dark Confidant[/card]s to the Troll is something that does come up.

4 [card]Diregraf Ghoul[/card]: A cheap aggressive creature, quite helpful in returning [card]Gravecrawler[/card] and [card]Vengevine[/card] to play from the graveyard.

4 [card]Gravecrawler[/card]: An aggressive recurring one-drop that interacts perfectly with both [card]Lotleth Troll[/card] and [card]Vengevine[/card], as well as [card]Liliana of the Veil[/card].

4 [card]Kitchen Finks[/card]: Great in the aggro and midrange match-ups, since the lifegain is very relevant to offset the damage dealt by your fetchlands, [card]Dark Confidant[/card]s and [card]Thoughtseize[/card]s. It also has a great interaction with [card]Oran-Rief, the Vastwood[/card], giving you never-ending 3/2 persist creatures that gain you two life.

4 [card]Lotleth Troll[/card]: THE deck. A  hard to remove threat that uses and abuses Gravecrawler’s and Vengevine’s abilities.

4 [card]Vengevine[/card]: A hasty 4/3 for four mana that keeps and keeps on coming? Sign me up! Great with [card]Lotleth Troll[/card] and [card]Gravecrawler[/card] and also another creature that interacts really well with Oran-Rief, particularly if you are returning multiples to play from the graveyard in the same turn.

0 [card]Fauna Shaman[/card] and 0 [card]Bloodghast[/card]: [card]Fauna Shaman[/card] would provide another interesting discard outlet for the deck, but it would also reduce the zombie count and make it slower and less focused, something that I don’t feel like it really benefits this kind of strategy, while [card]Bloodghast[/card], even tough it interacts quite well with [card]Lotleth Troll[/card] and [card]Life from the Loam[/card], doesn’t trigger Vengevine’s coming into play ability and, along with [card]Gravecrawler[/card], would mean a total of eight unable to block creatures, which I could see becoming too much of a liability.

3 [card]Abrupt Decay[/card]: A no-brainer by now and a strong candidate to the title of “best removal spell in the format”. I would probably run the full four if not for cards like [card]Restoration Angel[/card] and [card]Birthing Pod[/card] seeing plenty of play.

1 [card]Life from the Loam[/card]: Not only a great way to ensure you don’t miss your land drops, but also great at returning [card]Treetop Village[/card]s that were lost in combat, recurring your [card]Tectonic Edge[/card]s and, with a [card]Lotleth Troll[/card] in play and a [card]Dryad Arbor[/card] in the graveyard, you can keep on dredging Loam and discard the Arbor to the Troll, increasing the zombie’s power by one every turn. There’s only one copy of the green sorcery because there are very few match-ups in which you either want or can afford to draw multiples.

3 [card]Liliana of the Veil[/card]: Plays really well with the “discard creatures that come back” theme and with the card advantage provided by [card]Dark Confidant[/card]. It can also deal with hexproof threats such as [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card] and supplements [card]Thoughtseize[/card] with the discard plan against the combo and control decks.

1 [card]Putrefy[/card]: Just another versatile removal spell that is able to deal with everything that [card]Abrupt Decay[/card] can not, such as the aforementioned [card]Restoration Angel[/card], [card]Birthing Pod[/card] and also manlands.

4 [card]Thoughtseize[/card]: The best card against the combo and control decks, able to strip away a key card from their hand for only one mana. Toughtseize gets the nod over [card]Inquisition of Kozilek[/card] because you already have a great way to deal with lower casting cost permanents in [card]Abrupt Decay[/card] and being able to discard a [card]Scapeshift[/card] from your opponent’s hand is definetely worth paying the two life.

Sideboard

[card]Darkblast[/card] comes in against pretty much any deck that tries to grind you out with creatures. It kills [card]Steppe Lynx[/card], unflipped [card]Delver of Secrets[/card], [card]Dark Confidant[/card] and any green one-drop accelerator.

The second copy of Putrefy also comes in handy against the aggro decks, not only as yet another removal spell, but also as a way to deal with graveyard hate such as [card]Grafdigger’s Cage[/card], [card]Relic of Progenitus[/card] or [card]Tormod’s Crypt[/card].

The two copies of [card]Duress[/card] are pretty much [card]Thoughtseize[/card]s five and six for the slower and combo match-ups, while [card]Extirpate[/card] and [card]Memoricide[/card] are a way to permanently deal with your opponent’s combo, but you never want to draw a second copy after one of them resolves.

The additional copies of both [card]Life from the Loam[/card] and [card]Tectonic Edge[/card] are a package for the more grinding match-ups and [card]Scapeshift[/card], while [card]Withered Wretch[/card] is your graveyard hate on (zombie) legs. [card]Obstinate Baloth[/card] does a lot of work against Jund and other Liliana decks, as well as more aggressive fringe decks such as Monored or Boros. [card]Stillmoon Cavalier[/card] is your plan for UW [card]Restoration Angel[/card] and actually, most of the decks that are running [card]Path to Exile[/card].

Try it out. The deck is the real deal and it might actually be a serious contender.

As always,
Thanks for reading,

André Mateus

Bannings (or lack thereof) & stepping back with Zombie Pod

The Ponder/Probe/Snag/Snapcaster package is the reason Delver decks win and is the engine behind the best deck in the format.”
Nick Spagnolo said it, Mike Flores gave it his seal of approval and Gerry Thompson decided to take it one step ahead and do what he does best, breaking an already broken strategy by adding [card]Restoration Angel[/card] and a crazy powerful sideboard plan to the mix.

Just a few weeks before that, Christian “3 [card]Sulfur Falls[/card]” Calcano took down Grand Prix Minneapolis with a Delver deck that eschewed the traditional white for the more unusual red, featuring Avacyn Restored all-stars [card]Bonfire of the Damned[/card] and [card]Pillar of Flame[/card]. Just recently Adam Boyd decided to eschew a second color altogether and take Mono-Blue Delver to the Top 8 of the StarCityGames Invitational in Indianapolis, Indiana, a Top 8 already stacked with four other Delver decks. All the way across the world, in Manila, Yuuya Watanabe was busy emerging victorious from a sea of Delver and conquering his sixth Grand Prix win with his own 19-land version of the deck.

By now, I’m sure that everyone knows about the most recent update to the Banned & Restricted List and have already heaved a sigh, either of relief or frustration, after seeing that the Standard format was left untouched and reading WOTC’s reasons for leaving it so. It sure seems like there is plenty of diversity among all the Delver and occasionally even Delverless Ponder/Probe/Snag/Snapcaster builds, but is there really enough diversity in the format? Are bannings really that unnecessary?

Yes.

No.

Maybe.

I don’t know.

Can you repeat the question?

To me, there are three reliable ways to, at least, have a decent to good shot at beating both the Delver and non-Delver Ponder/Probe/Snag/Snapcaster strategies:

  1. If you can’t beat them, join them.” Why fight against such a powerful and flexible package as Ponder/Probe/Snag/Snapcaster when we can just use it and adapt it to such a variety of decks?
  2. [card]Strangleroot Geist[/card]/[card]Gravecrawler[/card] decks.” Be the fastest aggro deck around, punish them hard if they happen to stumble, force them to pay life for their [card]Gitaxian Probe[/card]s, force them to have that crucial [card]Vapor Snag[/card], force them to make mistakes and capitalize on them;
  3. [card]Sun Titan[/card] + [card]Phantasmal Image[/card].” Make damn sure you have the better late game and all kinds of ways to assure you get there. [card]Phantasmal Image[/card] is and incredible value card, by far the best way to deal with a [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card] and it’s nearly impossible for a blue deck to come back from a [card]Sun Titan[/card] + [card]Phantasmal Image[/card] chain.

Delver is not Caw-Blade. It’s not unbeatable, it’s not overly oppressive and it hasn’t been winning every single tournament since its inception. Ponder/Probe/Snag/Snapcaster paired with [card]Delver of Secrets[/card] make it the best deck in Standard but with such a flexible engine behind it, multiple ways to beat the deck and the Scars block rotation being so close I don’t really think the best solution was to ban one or more cards from this blue core. Though, I wouldn’t be terribly unhappy if a ban was able to weaken it to the point of allowing other decks to rise to the top. Maybe M13 will bring us some kind of hoser card for the archetype just like [card]Volcanic Fallout[/card] and [card]Great Sable Stag[/card] were for Faeries back in the [card]Bitterblossom[/card] days. Who knows? Maybe some hoser card has already been printed and we just haven’t truly found it yet ([card]Crushing Vines[/card], anyone?). Better keep on looking!

Going back to the core with Zombie Pod

In other news, back in Grand Prix Minneapolis, Chris Schafer decided to go rogue and introduce Zombie Pod to the MTG World.

Chris Schafer: MTG World, this is Zombie Pod. Zombie Pod, this is the MTG World.

Zombie Pod: Nice to meet you, MTG World, we’re gonna have a lot of fun together.

MTG World: Nice to meet you too, have you met my friend Gerard?

Gerard Fabiano: LAND, CRACK, FETCH, TAKE TWO, I’M CONLEY WOODS! What’s up, Pod? Wanna Top 8 the TCGplayer.com 5k in Edison?

Zombie Pod: Sure do!

Chris Schafer: I’ll leave you two alone now…

[deck title=Zombie Pod by Gerard Fabiano]

[Creatures]
4 Blood Artist
4 Diregraf Ghoul
1 Falkenrath Aristocrat
2 Fume Spitter
4 Geralf’s Messenger
4 Gloom Surgeon
4 Gravecrawler
1 Manic Vandal
3 Phyrexian Metamorph
1 Zealous Conscripts
[/Creatures]
[Spells]
4 Birthing Pod
2 Go for the Throat
3 Tragic Slip
[/Spells]
[Lands]
4 Blackcleave Cliffs
3 Cavern of Souls
4 Dragonskull Summit
10 Swamp
3 Woodland Cemetery
[/Lands]
[Sideboard]
1 Bonfire of the Damned
2 Despise
2 Liliana of the Veil
2 Manic Vandal
3 Phyrexian Obliterator
1 Ratchet Bomb
2 Sorin’s Thirst
1 Tragic Slip
1 Zealous Conscripts
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

The deck combines the raw power and aggression of Zombies with the [card]Birthing Pod[/card] engine, taking full advantage of [card]Gravecrawler[/card]’s inability to die, [card]Geralf’s Messenger[/card] undying ability and the [card]Blood Artist[/card] triggers, all while giving the archetype access to things it never had before. What? Things such as maindeck artifact removal in the form of [card]Manic Vandal[/card], the possibility of stopping the aggro decks cold by blocking with [card]Gloom Surgeon[/card] forever and the best threaten effect available in Standard: [card]Zealous Conscripts[/card].

Unfortunately, as with most incredibly powerful three-color decks in which two of their colors are basically splashes, the manabase is really inconsistent. No, I mean REALLY inconsistent. With twenty-four lands and a single five-drop as the most expensive spell in the deck, you end up getting flooded a fair amount of time and with only three sources of green in the entire sixty, you often end up paying life in order to cast and activate your [card]Birthing Pod[/card]s, which can be a real problem when you’re facing an aggressive matchup. Having access to red mana is also an issue since with only eight dual-lands getting stuck with a couple of red creatures in hand and no way to cast them ends up being a very real thing in this deck. [card]Cavern of Souls[/card] can’t help matters, as none of the red creatures are Zombies.

In addition, with all the Delver decks going back to [card]Sword of War and Peace[/card] as their equipment of choice over [card]Sword of Feast and Famine[/card] having access to [card]Manic Vandal[/card] becomes less important and even though [card]Falkenrath Aristocrat[/card] is miles ahead of all the other options, like [card]Bloodflow Connoisseur[/card] or [card]Devouring Swarm[/card], it’s not really worth the cost of going into a whole other color for it. Sure, losing [card]Zealous Conscripts[/card] is a pretty huge deal, but by discarding red completely and focusing solely on black and green, we get things like [card]Glissa, the Traitor[/card], a colossal roadblock against most attacking decks and also fringe cards such as [card]Dungrove Elder[/card]- an impressively large green creature that has been making quite the comeback recently. Oh, and she can provide quite the toolbox…

[deck title=Zombie Pod: The Previous Level]
[Creatures]
4 Blood Artist
1 Bloodflow Connoisseur
1 Butcher Ghoul
1 Cemetery Reaper
1 Crypt Creeper
4 Diregraf Ghoul
1 Entomber Exarch
4 Geralf’s Messenger
4 Gravecrawler
1 Glissa, the Traitor
1 Morkrut Banshee
1 Perilous Myr
2 Phyrexian Metamorph
1 Skinrender
1 Skirsdag High Priest
1 Solemn Simulacrum
[/Creatures]
[Spells]
3 Birthing Pod
1 Bone Splinters
2 Mortarpod
2 Tragic Slip
[/Spells]
[Lands]
4 Cavern of Souls
1 Forest
14 Swamp
4 Woodland Cemetery
[/Lands]
[Sideboard]
2 Appetite for Brains
1 Bloodgift Demon
1 Bloodline Keeper
2 Crypt Creeper
1 Gloom Surgeon
1 Go for the Throat
1 Nihil Spellbomb
1 Peace Strider
1 Phyrexian Obliterator
1 Phyrexian Revoker
3 Ratchet Bomb
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

Increasing the Zombie count after cutting an entire color allows the deck to run the full set of [card]Cavern of Souls[/card] and have a real shot at casting Glissa, while only playing four copies of [card]Woodland Cemetery[/card] and a Forest. The Forest, which can be searched up by the single [card]Solemn Simulacrum[/card], assures that you don’t always have to keep losing life in order to use your [card]Birthing Pod[/card]s. The Pod is one of the key cards in the deck, but one I chose to reduce to merely three copies since you never want to draw two in any game.

[card]Morkrut Banshee[/card] is the lone five-drop in the deck. It is a good card to have access to in a format full of [card]Restoration Angel[/card]s and transformed [card]Huntmaster of the Fells[/card]. [card]Entomber Exarch[/card]’s versatile abilities make it a must-have both in the aggro and control matchups. [card]Perilous Myr[/card], a fine two-drop on its own, is absolute bonkers when paired with cards like [card]Mortarpod[/card], [card]Bone Splinters[/card], [card]Blood Artist[/card] or [card]Glissa, the Traitor[/card].

The sideboard has a couple of silver bullets for the control archetypes, such as [card]Bloodline Keeper[/card], [card]Bloodgift Demon[/card], [card]Phyrexian Revoker[/card] and [card]Nihil Spellbomb[/card], as well as a couple of discard spells and [card]Crypt Creeper[/card]s to make sure the opponent can’t start taking control of the game with their [card]Sun Titan[/card]s. [card]Ratchet Bomb[/card], [card]Phyrexian Obliterator[/card], [card]Gloom Surgeon[/card], [card]Peace Strider[/card] and an additional removal spell in [card]Go for the Throat[/card] help you live against the aggro matchups. They buy you enough time for either your Zombies or your [card]Birthing Pod[/card] to take over the game.

If you’re in the mood to have some fun while fighting the Delver menace, look no further, this is the deck for you!

Thanks for reading,
André Mateus

 

Modern Musings: UR Tron and making the case for Living End

From the moment you are born and as you progress in life, you often stumble upon what people call “universal truths”, a couple of simple things that are true to pretty much everyone and applicable to all places, all things and all people.

When I was two-years old, I found out that the sky is blue, when I was six-years old, I was taught that 2+2 is always 4, after I turned ten, a friend told me that if a girl hits you, it usually means she likes you and as I got older, I realized that if the same girl keeps hitting you, then she probably never really liked you in the first place! But it was only a few weeks ago, while playing in a Modern PTQ, that I came across yet another universal truth: “Everybody loves Tron.”

Seriously, everybody loves Tron! Timmy loves it because he gets to smash his opponents by casting incredibly large creatures early, Johnny loves how he can build thousands of decks with the good old Urza lands and play his favorite one-ofs in every single one of them and how could Spike not love it as it allows him to always have more mana than his opponent and play cards like [card]Gifts Ungiven[/card], a very complicated yet quite powerful card that is not only capable of getting you the cards you were desperately looking for, but is also able to cause a great deal of pain and exasperation to your opponent, the kind of pain only a true Spike could enjoy, as he agonizes about which cards should go to the graveyard and which should go to hand.

I, however, was never a fan. It just seemed to take too much. Too many colorless lands, too many mana-producing artifacts, too many fingers crossed hoping for the next card to be the right one, too much effort and just too much variance. All of a sudden though, the PTQ was only two weeks away and due to some health issues, I found myself unable to keep up with the evolution of the Modern format and therefore, I had no sick brews or updates to any under the radar decks to take to battle. It was time to look for something interesting, something fun and most importantly, something new. -“I guess I’ll try Tron this time.”- I said to myself, not knowing that once you climb up the Tower, step into the Mine and fuel the Power Plant, you can never go back. Sure, it sucks when you have all the wrong Tron pieces or end up never having access to colored mana, but the guilty satisfaction you get when you can cast a turn three [card]Wurmcoil Engine[/card] or a turn four [card]Through the Breach[/card] into Emrakul is just way too sweet not to blame variance for a couple of your losses, shuffle up and try again. At least, that’s what I did.

But what flavor should I put on my Tron cone? Green and Red-Green based strategies looked to power out an Eldrazi as quickly as possible, using mana creatures, [card]Summoning Trap[/card] and [card]Through the Breach[/card]. Blue-White based strategies used counter magic, card drawing, [card]Gifts Ungiven[/card] and redundant spells in order to find an expensive win condition. The new cool thing now is casting [card]Gifts Ungiven[/card] for only two cards, since you can fail to find the other two, those cards being [card]Unburial Rites[/card] and a massively disruptive creature such as [card]Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite[/card] against the aggressive matchups and [card]Iona, Shield of Emeria[/card] for the combo and control decks. That certainly made the deck more powerful and consistent, not to mention casting Gifts a lot more easier, but it also made it a lot more popular and facing multiple Tron mirrors over the course of an eight-round tournament was not exactly my idea of a good plan. Well, at least, not until I found a blue-red version.

The blue-red Tron version had everything I looked for in a deck. Not only did it have the counter magic, card drawing and [card]Gifts Ungiven[/card] that I really liked in Blue-White Tron, but it also had the possibility of ending the game pretty quickly by using [card]Through the Breach[/card] to get an early Eldrazi into play. It was truly the best of both worlds, plus it still had [card]Electrolyze[/card], a guaranteed two for one that’s amazing against the Delver decks and the [card]Lingering Souls[/card] strategies that are getting more and more popular.

So, after a lot of practice games, a small tournament and a few tweaks, this was the list that I registered:

[deck title=UR Tron]
[Lands]
4 Scalding Tarn
2 Steam Vents
1 Breeding Pool
1 Tolaria West
3 Island
1 Mountain
4 Urza’s Mine
4 Urza’s Power Plant
4 Urza’s Tower
1 Eye of Ugin
[/Lands]
[Creatures]
1 Snapcaster Mage
1 Kozilek, Butcher of Truth
1 Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre
2 Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
[/Creatures]
[Spells]
1 Burst Lightning
1 Lightning Bolt
1 Noxious Revival
1 Condescend
2 Repeal
3 Expedition Map
1 Pyroclasm
4 Remand
4 Izzet Signet
1 Prismatic Lens
2 Electrolyze
4 Thirst for Knowledge
2 Gifts Ungiven
3 Through the Breach
[/Spells]
[Sideboard]
3 Dispel
2 Ancient Grudge
2 Combust
1 Pyroclasm
1 Firespout
1 Tormod’s Crypt
1 Relic of Progenitus
1 Pithing Needle
1 Spellskite
2 Wurmcoil Engine
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

Round 1 vs UW Tron

As soon as he led with a [card]Celestial Colonnade[/card], I knew this was going to be a long one. He quickly won the first game with an Iona on red and I won a long and grindy second game after using multiple [card]Dispel[/card]s on his [card]Gifts Ungiven[/card] and cast an Emrakul. The third game was even longer and after we both completed Tron and traded [card]Eye of Ugin[/card], none of us found Emrakul to take the match and ended up with a draw. 0-1-0

Round 2 vs Esper Control

He stalled on mana in the first game and I had an early [card]Through the Breach[/card] into Emrakul and in the second he tapped out for a [card]Sword of Feast and Famine[/card], letting me cast a [card]Gifts Ungiven[/card] that found me the Eldrazi I needed to put into play with the powerful red instant. 1-1-0

Round 3 vs Flash Gordon

I was actually paired against a friend piloting a deck I designed, a Blue-white tempo deck featuring the likes of [card]Vendilion Clique[/card], [card]Stonecloaker[/card] and [card]Venser, Shaper Savant[/card]. I won the first game since he got stuck on three lands for too long, and lost the second one after a mulligan to five. I had to take a trip to Paris and mulligan to six in the decider and it was now my turn to be the one stuck on three land for too long and not being able to bounce back. 1-1-1

Round 4 vs UW Tron

The UW mirror is actually quite simple. If they get an early Iona on red, you are a huge underdog to win the game, since you have to quickly assemble Tron and either cast an Eldrazi or find one of your two [card]Repeal[/card]s in order to return the legendary creature to it’s owner’s hand, but if you are able to resolve a [card]Through the Breach[/card] into Emrakul at any point in the game, they are probably just dead. I was lucky enough to do it in the first game and after boarding the Blue-Red deck gets and even bigger advantage . While Blue-White boards in [card]Disenchant[/card] and [card]Negate[/card] Izzet Tron boards in [card]Ancient Grudge[/card] and [card]Dispel[/card], which are strictly better and more efficient. I won the second game by casting and protecting an Ulamog. 2-1-1

Round 5 vs Zoo

When he started with fetch land into dual land into [card]Steppe Lynx[/card], I felt as if someone had cracked open a window and let in a breath of fresh air. Then I took four damage as he played another fetch and another [card]Steppe Lynx[/card]. I ended up winning the game at three life with a second [card]Through the Breach[/card], this time into Emrakul, after a [card]Path to Exile[/card] on an earlier Ulamog. I lost the second to a couple [card]Tarmogoyf[/card]s and burn spells and won a really tough third game after using [card]Pyroclasm[/card] to kill a [card]Steppe Lynx[/card] and a [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card] and then [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] to cast [card]Pyroclasm[/card] again, killing another Geist, topdecking a [card]Through the Breach[/card] in one of the last possible turns. 3-1-1

Round 6 vs (What else?) UW Tron

The first game was so long that there was only four minutes on the clock by the time it was over. I had less than twenty cards in my library and three [card]Through the Breach[/card] in hand after drawing my first Emrakul. I was able to cast [card]Through the Breach[/card] at the end of his turn, get it countered, and then resolve it on my turn with counter magic up. I mulliganed some really bad hands all the way to four cards and he got very aggressive with a [card]Celestial Colonnade[/card]. He won the game in turn four of extra turns but decided to concede so that at least one of us would Top 8. 4-1-1

Round 7 vs (Surprise!) UW Tron

He got an early Iona on red and a turn later I cast [card]Gifts Ungiven[/card] for two irrelevant cards, my missing Tron piece and a [card]Repeal[/card]. He gave me the irrelevant cards and we were off to the second game. He mulliganed to six and I kept a pretty good one, casting [card]Through the Breach[/card] into Ulamog with [card]Dispel[/card] up. He mulliganed to six again and we had a real game this time, casting a lot of [card]Thirst for Knowledge[/card], [card]Remand[/card]ing a bunch and trading our [card]Eye of Ugin[/card], but in the end I was lucky enough to be the first one to cast an Emrakul and take the match. 5-1-1

Round 8 vs Living End

The dreaded win and in! The last round- for all the marbles. I must say that after he went [card]Copperline Gorge[/card] into [card]Blackcleave Cliffs[/card], I thought that it made sense to face, at least, a Jund deck on my way to the Top 8, but then he cycled a [card]Valley Rannet[/card] in order to search for a Mountain and I couldn’t help but smile.
You see, [card]Living End[/card] has always been one of my pet decks and one I had seriously considered for this tournament. It seems so well positioned right now, since it preys on aggressive decks like Zoo, Tokens or Jund. You can board in a large number of [card]Ingot Chewer[/card]s and [card]Jund Charm[/card]s against Affinity. Delver decks are falling out of flavor . A mana denial plan with [card]Fulminator Mage[/card], [card]Avalanche Riders[/card] and [card]Beast Within[/card] is actually pretty good against control and slower combo decks. [card]Living End[/card] is also one of the only decks that have a maindeck answer to a resolved [card]Seismic Assault[/card] in [card]Beast Within[/card]. Also, the fact that pretty much every deck is choosing [card]Grafdigger’s Cage[/card] over [card]Tormod’s Crypt[/card] or [card]Relic of Progenitus[/card] as their graveyard hate dedicated slot, due the popularity of both Aggro Loam and Melira Combo, can only make the case for [card]Living End[/card] stronger and I encourage you to consider testing the combo deck for the remaining Modern PTQs. That is, if you are willing to lose to Storm, I’m afraid that matchup is pretty much unwinnable.

I won the first game after casting [card]Through the Breach[/card] into Emrakul and [card]Remand[/card] his [card]Living End[/card], lost the second one after not being able to find the red instant and running out of counters and lost the very last game of the tournament by being a bit too quick on the trigger and also not thinking through all the possible scenarios. In fact, let’s see if you get it right:

Puzzle Time

It’s my turn.

My opponent has five cards in hand and six untapped mana, two [card]Copperline Gorge[/card]s, one [card]Blackcleave Cliffs[/card], one [card]Overgrown Tomb[/card] and two Forests.

I just drew my card for the turn, a [card]Remand[/card], have access to seven mana, two [card]Izzet Signet[/card]s, one [card]Steam Vents[/card], two [card]Urza’s Mine[/card], one [card]Urza’s Power Plant[/card] and an Island. I have six cards in hand, them being [card]Remand[/card], [card]Through the Breach[/card], two copies of [card]Emrakul, the Aeons Torn[/card], [card]Dispel[/card] and a [card]Burst Lightning[/card].

I’m at sixteen life and my opponent is at seventeen. I have a 3/3 [card]Beast Within[/card] token in play while he has nothing, although his graveyard is full goodies such as [card]Valley Rannet[/card], [card]Architects of Will[/card], [card]Deadshot Minotaur[/card] and [card]Monstrous Carabid[/card]. Mine only has a [card]Thirst for Knowledge[/card] and [card]Wurmcoil Engine[/card] that I discarded to the blue instant.

I decide to go for it and cast [card]Through the Breach[/card], getting and Emrakul into play and leaving [card]Steam Vents[/card], [card]Urza’s Power Plant[/card] and Island up. I move to attack and he casts [card]Violent Outburst[/card] in response, cascading into [card]Living End[/card]. I [card]Remand[/card] the black spell.

Before the [card]Remand[/card] resolves, he responds with yet another [card]Violent Outburst[/card], cascading into Living End (every time!), to which I respond by cursing the fact that [card]Living End[/card] is a sorcery and not an instant, looking at the useless [card]Dispel[/card] in my hand.

The [card]Living End[/card] resolves, bringing back my [card]Wurmcoil Engine[/card] and his army of fatties. My [card]Remand[/card] resolves and I draw a land. I pass the turn only to see my opponent cast a [card]Demonic Dread[/card] on my Wurmcoil, revealing no more [card]Living End[/card]s and he wins the match.

Now, I wasn’t able to see the play that not only would not make me lose the game, but it would actually put me in a great position to take the match, can you?

The answer is at the bottom.

Thanks for reading,

André Mateus.

Puzzle Answer – The correct play here would actually be letting the [card]Living End[/card] cast in response to the [card]Remand[/card] resolve, return my opponents creatures and my [card]Wurmcoil Engine[/card] to play, then using [card]Dispel[/card] on my own [card]Remand[/card], letting the first [card]Living End[/card] resolve as well, making my opponent sacrifice his creatures and my Wurmcoil, leaving me with two 3/3 tokens and him with his creatures back into the graveyard, with no more [card]Living End[/card]s to cascade into.

Discarding Vengevine for Fun and Profit

Hi, my name is André Mateus and I have Brewer’s Disease.

Don’t laugh, it’s a serious condition! I must have caught it the day Wizards of the Coast announced that both [card]Wild Nacatl[/card] and [card]Punishing Fire[/card] were banned from the Modern format and it has been escalating ever since. It started with the unsuspecting choice to not play with any of the already established decks, then evolved to always having to keep a notebook around and now I’m waking up in the middle of the night, desperately searching for a pen because I just dreamt about the perfect card to transmute [card]Muddle the Mixture[/card] for in that crucial match-up.

I can’t even think of playing a deck anymore without imagining the look of disbelief in my opponent’s eyes as he watches me using [card]Soul Manipulation[/card] to counter his [card]Tarmogoyf[/card] and returning an [card]Architects of Will[/card] to hand, which I, obviously, cycled the previous turn, or cast a [card]Stonecloaker[/card] in response to his [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card], returning a Snapcaster Mage of my own to hand while removing the card he intended to give flashback to from the game! But trust me, for each time these interactions work, there are ten times in which they simply crash and burn. Having said that, sometimes, on very rare occasions, you happen to come across an amazing interaction, an undiscovered synergy that works so well and looks so sweet that even your opponents end up asking for your decklist.

That time when I cast [card]Thirst for Knowledge[/card] and discarded two [card]Vengevine[/card]s… was one of those rare times.

[deck title=BantVine]
[Lands]
4 Misty Rainforest
2 Verdant Catacombs
3 Temple Garden
2 Breeding Pool
1 Hallowed Fountain
1 Celestial Colonnade
1 Tolaria West
1 Tectonic Edge
1 Academy Ruins
3 Forest
2 Island
1 Plains
[/Lands]
[Creatures]
1 Memnite
4 Noble Hierarch
4 Loam Lion
4 Squadron Hawk
4 Tarmogoyf
2 Trinket Mage
1 Ranger of Eos
4 Vengevine
[/Creatures]
[Spells]
4 Path to Exile
4 Thirst for Knowledge
3 Bant Charm
[/Spells]
[Artifacts]
1 Engineered Explosives
1 Tormod’s Crypt
1 Basilisk Collar
[/Artifacts]
[Sideboard]
1 Engineered Explosives
2 Pithing Needle
2 Negate
1 Bant Charm
2 Qasali Pridemage
2 Meddling Mage
2 Phantasmal Image
1 Ranger of Eos
2 Thrun, the Last Troll
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]
[card]Memnite[/card] in a deck that isn’t Affinity? [card]Loam Lion[/card] in a non-Zoo list? [card]Basilisk Collar[/card]? [card]Tormod’s Crypt[/card] in the maindeck? Really?! Well, it seems I have some explaining to do!

How it all began:

I was getting totally crushed by Jund while playing a less than perfect version of Boros in a local Modern tournament, trying to decide which two of the three [card]Zektar Shrine Expedition[/card]s in my hand I should to discard to a [card]Blightning[/card], when I decided to look around and see if any of the players in the nearby tables were being faced with similar decisions. Guess what? They were. A Melira Combo deck was playing against a Grixis Delver deck featuring [card]Rise // Fall[/card], another Jund deck was battling against a Rock deck packing the likes of [card]Liliana of the Veil[/card], [card]Death Cloud[/card] and [card]Stupor[/card] in the seventy-five and a Merfolk deck was facing yet another Jund deck!

It just seemed like the perfect time to dust off the old [card]Vengevine[/card] and bring it to battle!

Why Bant?

Well, I was pretty much set on GW right from the start, since [card]Noble Hierarch[/card] fits great in this kind of strategy, accelerating and triggering your Vengevines, and white means we get to play with the best removal spell in the format, [card]Path to Exile[/card], as well as [card]Squadron Hawk[/card], which can both discard and trigger the angry plant. It also gives us access to cheap hate bears like [card]Qasali Pridemage[/card] or [card]Meddling Mage[/card]. It was when I thought about a [card]Trinket Mage[/card] package in the deck, fetching a [card]Memnite[/card] to trigger [card]Vengevine[/card] and a couple more useful artifacts that I stumbled upon the interaction between [card]Thirst for Knowledge[/card] and [card]Vengevine[/card], and I was more than sold on the three-color combination.

Alright, tell me how good [card]Thirst for Knowledge[/card] + [card]Vengevine[/card] is…

Soooooo good! [card]Thirst for Knowledge[/card] is a very underrated card at the moment. With both [card]Jace, the Mind Sculptor[/card] and [card]Ancestral Visions[/card] in the Modern banned list, the best blue card advantage spells available in the format are [card]Gifts Ungiven[/card] and [card]Thirst for Knowledge[/card]. Gifts has been getting all the attention but the Mirrodin spell is not far behind and it show its power in this deck, acting as an amazing discard outlet for [card]Vengevine[/card], which we can easily bring back with the cards that Thirst drew us, or simply as a really cheap and effective draw spell, since we have a small [card]Trinket Mage[/card] package and [card]Academy Ruins[/card],  so that we can actually discard an artifact and then put it on top of the library when and if we need it. We even have [card]Noble Hierarch[/card] to speed it up the a crucial turn!

Ok, you got me…but what about those bizarre card choices?

The Mana Base

The mana base is pretty straightforward, featuring a couple of Zendikar fetchlands and Ravnica duals, with three copies of [card]Temple Garden[/card] since the deck is green-white based and making sure Loam Lion is fully powered in the early turns is pretty important. [card]Celestial Colonnade[/card], [card]Tectonic Edge[/card] and [card]Academy Ruins[/card] are just some useful singletons that can be searched by [card]Tolaria West[/card].

The Creatures

[card]Vengevine[/card] and [card]Tarmogoyf[/card] are your major threats. [card]Noble Hierarch[/card] provides all the colors of mana in the deck, speeds up the [card]Vengevine[/card] clock and it also has the exalted ability that creatures like [card]Squadron Hawk[/card] can really take advantage of. [card]Loam Lion[/card] is just a really cheap and aggressive creature that, along with his buddy [card]Ranger of Eos[/card], has no issue with triggering [card]Vengevine[/card]. Finally, [card]Trinket Mage[/card] gives the deck a bigger depth, being able to consistently trigger the hasty 4/3 by fetching a [card]Memnite[/card] or deal with tricky situations by searching for an impactful artifact.

The Spells

[card]Path to Exile[/card] is, as mentioned before, pretty much the best removal spell in the format, while [card]Thirst for Knowledge[/card] is one of the best blue card advantage spells available in the format, drawing us three cards with almost no drawbacks or acting as a great discard outlet for [card]Vengevine[/card], but [card]Bant Charm[/card], an insanely versatile card, is also one of the best cards in the deck, being able to act as a removal spell for a pesty creature, kill a [card]Cranial Plating[/card], a [card]Vedalken Shackles[/card] or an [card]Azorius Signet[/card], or even counter a [card]Cryptic Command[/card] or a crucial [card]Seething Song[/card] from a Storm deck.

The Artifacts

[card]Engineered Explosives[/card] is a [card]Trinket Mage[/card] and [card]Tolaria West[/card] target with several applications, among them destroying all of Zoo’s one-drops, a horde of [card]Empty the Warrens[/card] tokens or just a cheap but troublesome permanent, while [card]Tormod’s Crypt[/card] is another Tolaria and [card]Trinket Mage[/card] target, quite helpful against UR Storm and decks with multiple Snapcasters, as well as other fringe decks like Aggro Loam or [card]Living End[/card]. [card]Basilisk Collar[/card] is yet another [card]Trinket Mage[/card] target that breaks open the aggro match-ups, letting you get an even bigger advantage out of your exalted triggers, as well as giving your most unimpressive creatures the power to hold back your opponent’s monsters.

The Sideboard

1 [card]Engineered Explosives[/card], 2 [card]Pithing Needle[/card]: A couple more versatile artifacts that [card]Trinket Mage[/card] can fetch. The second [card]Engineered Explosives[/card] is for the aggro decks, the Needles to shut down Planeswalkers, man lands or an occasional [card]Cranial Plating[/card] or [card]Sword of Feast and Famine[/card], as well as any graveyard hate your opponent might sideboard in out of fear of [card]Vengevine[/card], in the form of [card]Tormod’s Crypt[/card], [card]Nihil Spellbomb[/card] or [card]Relic of Progenitus[/card].

2 [card]Negate[/card], 1 [card]Bant Charm[/card]: Additional counterspells for the control and combo match-ups and another way to fight the graveyard hate, either it being Tormod’s Crypt and Relic of Progenitus or Surgical Extraction.

2 [card]Qasali Pridemage[/card], 2 [card]Meddling Mage[/card], 2 [card]Phantasmal Image[/card]: Helpful hate bears, the Pridemages coming in against Affinity and combo, [card]Meddling Mage[/card] against combo and [card]Mystical Teachings[/card] decks and the Images mainly against aggro or rock-ish type of decks, killing [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card], Melira and Thrun or simply copying things like [card]Kitchen Finks[/card] or your own creatures for extra value in the more grinding aggro match-ups.

1 [card]Ranger of Eos[/card], 2 [card]Thrun, the Last Troll[/card]: The second Ranger comes in against Jund and Zoo as a way to out-card advantage them and keep consistently triggering Vengevine and the Thruns usually only come in to fight other Thruns or against control decks with access to [card]Extirpate[/card], which tends to cause a big dent in the Vengevine plan.

Modern has a very, very large cardpool, filled with nothing but endless possibilities, but betting on a deck that makes the best use of a couple of the most powerful cards in the format, [card]Tarmogoyf[/card], [card]Path to Exile[/card] and [card]Bant Charm[/card], as well as one of the most powerful interactions available, [card]Thirst for Knowledge[/card] and [card]Vengevine[/card], can never be a bad bet and I really think you should give it a try.

Until we meet again, may you always discard two [card]Vengevine[/card]s to your [card]Thirst for Knowledge[/card] and have a [card]Memnite[/card] to search for with [card]Trinket Mage[/card]!

Thanks for reading,

André Mateus.

A Right to B(uild) “Wrong”

Editor’s Note – The title is a reference to the song Right to be Wrong by Joss Stone

4 [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card]
4 [card]Grim Lavamancer[/card]

This is how all of my latest decks for Standard and Legacy have started. Most of them also have a playset of [card]Delver of Secrets[/card], but the full four copies of both Snapcaster Mage and Grim Lavamancer have been present in pretty much every single list. Like always, as everyone who is part of a team or just often hangs out with the group of players from his local store knows, I e-mailed and discussed some of these lists with my friends and got a somewhat unexpected, yet quite unanimous reply:

– Why?
– What do you mean?
– Why the hell do you have four copies of two cards that probably have the worst interaction ever? If you’re maxing out on one of them already, then it doesn’t make any sense to have the other…

Why indeed? Isn’t one of the first rules of deckbuilding not to play with cards that interact poorly with each other? Snapcaster Mage and Grim Lavamancer eat up the same resource, the graveyard, so it really makes no sense to have them both in the same deck, and having four copies of each just can’t be right…right?

Well, Adam Prosak seems to disagree!
[Deck title=U/R Delver (Leg) by Adam Prosak, SCG Invitational]
[Creatures]
4 Delver of Secrets
4 Grim Lavamancer
4 Snapcaster Mage
2 Vendilion Clique
[/creature]
[Spells]
4 Brainstorm
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Chain Lightning
3 Spell Snare
2 Gitaxian Probe
2 Ponder
3 Fire/Ice
1 Daze
3 Force of Will
[/spells]
[Lands]
2 Island
2 Mountain
2 Misty Rainforest
4 Scalding Tarn
4 Volcanic Island
4 Wasteland
1 Wooded Foothills
[/lands]
[Sideboard]
1 Force of Will
2 Hydroblast
3 Price of Progress
3 Pyroblast
3 Smash to Smithereens
3 Surgical Extraction
[/sideboard]
[/deck]
And so does Kyle Zimmermann…
[deck title=U/R Delver (Std) by Kyle Zimmermann, SCG St. Louis]
[Creatures]
4 Delver of Secrets
3 Grim Lavamancer
4 Snapcaster Mage
3 Chandra’s Phoenix
[/creatures]
[Spells]
4 Gut Shot
4 Ponder
4 Mana Leak
3 Desperate Ravings
2 Incinerate
2 Psychic Barrier
3 Brimstone Volley
2 Druidic Satchel
[/spells]
[Lands]
10 Island
4 Mountain
4 Copperline Gorge
4 Sulfur Falls
[/lands]
[Sideboard]
1 Bonehoard
2 Moltensteel Dragon
2 Spellskite
2 Ancient Grudge
3 Flashfreeze
2 Mental Misstep
1 Negate
2 Arc Trail
[/sideboard]
[/deck]
Kyle decided to battle with four copies of [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] and three copies of [card]Grim Lavamancer[/card], despite knowing fully about the fact that they don’t really seem to play nice with each other. What he found out through playtesting (I assume), was that the cards were just too powerful on their own not to be played. In a way, they actually complement one another. In the match-ups where the Lavamancer is at its best (Mono-red, the U/R mirror…), Snapcaster Mage usually has more value as a surprise blocker or as an instant speed threat, that can still flashback a key counter or removal spell. On the other hand, the match-ups in which the 2/1 wizard is a Swiss-army knife (Wolf Run Ramp, Control decks…) are those where Grim Lavamancer’s main purpose is to sneak in some early damage and occasionally kill a [card]Birds of Paradise[/card] or [card]Inkmoth Nexus[/card].

Similarly, Adam chose to play with four copies of Snapcaster Mage and the full four copies of Grim Lavamancer, once again due to the fact that their sheer power exceeds their poor interaction. In the Legacy format, an active Grim Lavamancer nearly invalidates a lot of the aggro strategies (like Merfolk, Goblins or Elves), and Snapcaster Mage is just an incredibly powerful tool with all the cheap card drawing and removal spells available. Such a big amount of cheap spells, along with all the fetchlands, [card]Wasteland[/card]s and [card]Force of Will[/card]s also helps to shorten the negative impact of having the Mage and the Lavamancer both feeding off the graveyard.

The case of Snapcaster Mage and Grim Lavamancer, however, is not the only one in which power triumphs over interaction. Can you guess where power was favoured here?

[deck title=Illusions (Std) by David Bauer, SCG Invitational]
[Creatures]
4 Delver of Secrets
4 Phantasmal Bear
4 Lord of the Unreal
4 Snapcaster Mage
3 Phantasmal Image
2 Geist of Saint Traft
[/creatures]
[Spells]
4 Ponder
4 Vapor Snag
3 Gitaxian Probe
3 Gut Shot
4 Mana Leak
[/spells]
[Lands]
9 Island
4 Glacial Fortress
4 Seachrome Coast
3 Moorland Hant
[/lands]
[Sideboard]
2 Sword of War and Peace
1 Phantasmal Image
3 Stitched Drake
2 Oblivion Ring
2 Dissipate
2 Flashfreeze
1 Gut Shot
1 Negate
1 Moorland Haunt
[/sideboard]
[/deck]
[card]Stitched Drake[/card] and [card]Moorland Haunt[/card] in the same deck looks weird, doesn’t it? Particularly Stitched Drake! Sure, Moorland Haunt probably makes the list of most powerful cards in Standard, but Stitched Drake? Well, the truth is that the seemingly underpowered creature is one of the very few weapons that Illusions has to fight the awful Red Deck Wins match-up. It’s fueled by the cheap and fragile creatures that RDW easily kills, it usually takes at least two burn spells to put it in the graveyard and it flies.

Let’s look at yet another example…what seems wrong with the following list?
[deck title=Maverick (Leg) by Gerry Thompson, SCG Invitational]
[Creatures]
4 Mother of Runes
3 Noble Hierarch
1 Birds of Paradise
3 Stoneforge Mystic
2 Qasali Pridemage
1 Tarmogoyf
1 Scryb Ranger
1 Scavenging Ooze
1 Gaddock Teeg
4 Knight of the Reliquary
2 Aven Mindcensor
[/creatures]
[Spells]
4 Swords to Plowshares
4 Green Sun’s Zenith
3 Punishing Fire
1 Umezawa’s Jitte
1 Sword of Feast and Famine
[/spells]
[Lands]
1 Forest
3 Grove of the Burnwillows
1 Horizon Canopy
1 Maze of Ith
4 Misty Rainforest
4 Savannah
2 Taiga
3 Wasteland
3 Windswept Heath
1 Dryad Arbor
1 Karakas
[/lands]
[Sideboard]
1 Tormod’s Crypt
1 Ethersworn Canonist
1 Phyrexian Metamorph
2 Choke
1 Stony Silence
2 Enlightened Tutor
2 Path to Exile
2 Red Elemental Blast
1 Life from the Loam
1 Bojuka Bog
1 Tower of the Magistrate
[/sideboard]
[/deck]
You got it? [card]Green Sun’s Zenith[/card] + [card]Gaddock Teeg[/card] as a one-off Zenith target. The two cards seem to have the worst interaction possible, since once you cast a Zenith for the Teeg, you can never cast it again. However, the legendary Kithkin is such a troublesome card for the control (stopping [card]Force of Will[/card] and [card]Jace, the Mind Sculptor[/card] from ever being cast) and combo decks ([card]Ad Nauseaum[/card], [card]Turnabout[/card] and [card]Time Spiral[/card], [card]Past in Flames[/card], or [card]Aluren[/card]) in the format that not being able to cast the Zenith again is a very small price to pay.

Lastly, let’s see what deck was once considered the worst deck ever made in Legacy. There are four cards that seem to interact quite poorly with each other…can you find out which ones?
[deck title=BUG (Std) by Chris VanMeter, SCG Orlando]
[Creatures]
4 Dark Confidant
4 Tarmogoyf
2 Tombstalker
[/creatures]
[Spells]
4 Brainstorm
4 Mental Misstep
3 Stifle
4 Hymn to Tourach
3 Daze
2 Smother
1 Go for the Throat
2 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
4 Force of Will
1 Sylvan Library
[/spells]
[Lands]
4 Underground Sea
2 Bayou
2 Tropical Island
4 Misty Rainforest
4 Polluted Delta
2 Verdant Catacombs
4 Wasteland
[/lands]
[Sideboard]
1 Relic of Progenitus
2 Phyrexian Revoker
1 Pernicious Deed
2 Extirpate
2 Ghastly Demise
1 Go for the Throat
3 Krosan Grip
2 Llawan, Cephalid Empress
1 Consuming Vapors
[/sideboard]
[/deck]
[card]Tarmogoyf[/card] + [card]Tombstalker[/card], [card]Dark Confidant[/card] + Tombstalker, [card]Dark Confidant[/card] + [card]Force of Will[/card]… this deck is a mess… a hot mess! If there’s ever been a deck that ignored interaction for raw power, it’s this deck! Dark Confidant, coupled with Tombstalker, Force of Will and Jace, the Mind Sculptor will sometimes cause the deck to lose to itself, particularly in the more aggressive match-ups, but the cards are so powerful on their own that the number of wins they’ll grant will greatly exceed the number of losses.

The interaction between Tarmogoyf and Tombstalker might look awful at first, since the alternative cost of the Demon will sometimes reduce the power of the Lhurgoyf, but the 5/5 will always be cast in the late game, when the graveyard is usually stocked full of fetchlands, Wastelands, instants and creatures. And let’s not forget, a 5-powered flier for two mana, cast after most removal and counter spells have already been used, is certainly nothing to sneeze at.

In conclusion, let’s not allow our preconceived notions to stifle our deckbuilding and keep in mind that every rule has an exception. Even though they seem not to mix well, sometimes it’s right to play Snapcaster Mage alongside Grim Lavamancer, or Tarmogoyf in a deck that already has Tombstalker. All it takes is a basic understanding of the format, a willingness to look past the obvious interaction and most importantly, being able to play around your own cards.

Thanks for reading,

André Mateus.

The Rumors of Birthing Pod’s Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated…

…or How I have learned to love Phyrexian Rager.

A little more than a month ago, my local store hosted their first big Standard tournament featuring Innistrad and I found myself in a bit of a predicament…I had no idea what to play! Me and my friends only managed to open two copies of [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] by then, so playing UB Control, UW Blade and even Solar Flare was pretty much nothing more than a beautiful, yet impossible, dream. GR Wolf Run Ramp had just exploded and everyone seemed really excited about the second coming of Valakut, but I was never that much of a fan of the Molten Pinnacle. Humans and token decks seemed to also be doing pretty well and looked like they would be fun to play, but they’re just not my style, so I kept exploring…until, while looking through some friend’s binder, I found myself staring at a foil [card]Phyrexian Rager[/card].

OMG! Could this be it? The missing piece? The card that ties it all together?

You see, everyone who knows me, knows I love toolbox decks. I have built dozens of decks with a [card]Trinket Mage[/card] package, I have built decks with an unhealthy amount of one-ofs for [card]Fauna Shaman[/card], I have built decks that used [card]Ranger of Eos[/card] to get [card]Flamekin Harbinger[/card] in order to get [card]Crib Swap[/card] on top of my library (that was, probably, going too deep…) and what is my current bet for the Modern format? Surprise, surprise…[card]Mystical Teachings[/card]. I hadn’t cracked the [card]Birthing Pod[/card] code yet, but I sure as hell wanted to.

Right after Zendikar block and M11 rotated out of Standard, I toyed around a bit with the Phyrexian mana artifact. Bant Pod was my first try, then RUG and after that, BUG, firmly believing that blue was an absolutely necessary color to any Birthing Pod list, but the truth is that, without [card]Sea Gate Oracle[/card] and [card]Preordain[/card], all that blue really has to offer is [card]Phantasmal Image[/card], and with all the Kessig Wolf Runs roaming around, the little illusion that could is not even that impressive anymore. [card]Ponder[/card] in a format without fetchlands is also not a reason to go into blue and [card]Skaab Ruinator[/card], sadly, to me, only ended up being “cute” instead of “great”.

However, the biggest problem I found while building these UG/x decks was the awful mana. Building a three-color manabase in this format is so not what it used be in the good old days when we used to have fetchlands and awesome manlands fixing our mana. Without [card]Misty Rainforest[/card], we can’t choose between casting [card]Birds of Paradise[/card] or [card]Ponder[/card] in the first turn and we lose the ability to find pretty much whatever land we want when peeling off the top.

Losing the mandlands hurts even more because with no [card]Celestial Colonnade[/card], [card]Creeping Tar Pit[/card] and particularly [card]Raging Ravine[/card], not only have we lost another great angle of attack that also happened to smooth our mana, but an amazing mana dump for the times when we got dangerously flooded. Additionally, with Wolf Run displaying the sheer power of the [card]Inkmoth Nexus[/card] + Kessig Wolf Run combo, UB Control milling us via [card]Nephalya Drownyard[/card] and the white token decks giving us nightmares with both [card]Gavony Township[/card] and [card]Moorland Haunt[/card], we are forced to play with the poor man’s [card]Tectonic Edge[/card], [card]Ghost Quarter[/card], and the three-color manabases in this format don’t really support that decision all that well. A 2-color Birthing Pod deck looked like it would be the best option.

I started by discarding GW Pod because it just seemed like a worse version of GW tokens and also discarded RG Pod because even tough it seemed to have a pretty decent early game and [card]Inferno Titan[/card] to dominate the late game, it just felt a little underpowered when compared to the other decks in the format. I dismissed UG too, due to being soft to aggro and to the fact that the archetype’s lack of removal was forcing me to play [card]Mana Leak[/card] and I was never able to figure out how many should be in the deck. Zero? Two? Three? The Fantastic Four? How about we try BG instead?

BG Pod looked to be very promising with a decent early and middle game, a good selection of silver bullets and [card]Sheoldred, the Whispering One[/card] at the top of the [card]Birthing Pod[/card] curve, but it was quite lacking in the three-drop department. [card]Sylvok Replica[/card] was a shoe-in, but then what else? Glissa, the Traitor? Seems good, but good enough? [card]Cemetery Reaper[/card]? Isn’t it too narrow? Oh, Magic Gods! If only [card]Phyrexian Rager[/card] was legal…wait, what?

[Deck title=BG Birthing Pod]
[Lands]
10 Forest
8 Swamp
4 Woodland Cemetery
2 Ghost Quarter
[/Lands]
[Creatures]
4 Birds of Paradise
2 Llanowar Elves
3 Viridian Emissary
1 Spellskite
1 Perilous Myr
2 Phyrexian Rager
1 Sylvok Replica
1 Glissa, the Traitor
1 Solemn Simulacrum
1 Entomber Exarch
1 Skinrender
1 Thrun, the Last Troll
1 Phyrexian Metamorph
3 Acidic Slime
1 Precursor Golem
1 Wurmcoil Engine
1 Grave Titan
1 Massacre Wurm
1 Sheoldred, the Whispering One
[/Creatures]
[Spells]
2 Doom Blade
2 Beast Within
[/Spells]
[Artifacts]
4 Birthing Pod
[/Artifacts]
[Sideboard]
1 Ghost Quarter
1 Phyrexian Revoker
1 Melira, Sylvok Outcast
1 Sylvok Replica
1 Cemetery Reaper
1 Skinrender
1 Peace Strider
1 Stingerfling Spider
1 Bloodgift Demon
1 Bitterheart Witch
1 Brutalizer Exarch
2 Surgical Extraction
1 Go for the Throat
1 Curse of Death’s Hold
[/Sideboard]
[/Deck]

The Creatures:

4 [card]Birds of Paradise[/card], 2 [card]Llanowar Elves[/card], 3 [card]Viridian Emissary[/card]: These are pretty much necessary to fix your mana and help you play your [card]Birthing Pod[/card] and your expensive threats one turn earlier. The Emissarys are particularly good vs Monored and UB Control.

1 [card]Spellskite[/card]: Great card to search for, blocks well, protects both your Pod and your threats and deals with the [card]Inkmoth Nexus[/card]+ Kessig Wolf Run combo.

1 [card]Perilous Myr[/card]: Helpful one-of. Great vs Monored and other aggro decks, good way to beat a [card]Mirran Crusader[/card]. Has a nice sinergy with Glissa.

2 [card]Phyrexian Rager[/card]: ALL-STAR! 2/2 body, draws a card…fill a much needed slot in the deck.

1 [card]Sylvok Replica[/card]: Great against [card]Tempered Steel[/card], Tezzeret decks, [card]Inkmoth Nexus[/card], [card]Batterskull[/card], [card]Oblivion Ring[/card], [card]Torpor Orb[/card]…also has a great sinergy with Glissa.

1 [card]Glissa, the Traitor[/card]: Most definetely good enough and an amazing roadblock. A 3/3 first-striking deathouch creature for three mana would likely be good enough to make the deck, but there are some nice times to be had with this lady and a couple of other creatures in the deck.

1 [card]Solemn Simulacrum[/card]: Fixes your mana and draws you a card when you Pod him away. Great vs aggro and it’s also a pretty nice one to return with Glissa if it comes up.

1 [card]Entomber Exarch[/card]: [card]Gravedigger[/card] or [card]Super-Duress[/card], either one is pretty good. This kind of deck loves a [card]Gravedigger[/card] and also loves to know if the coast is clear to cast a game-ending threat or to get one with [card]Birthing Pod[/card].

1 [card]Skinrender[/card]: [card]Shriekmaw[/card] 0.5 is still quite good against the aggro and the token decks.

1 [card]Thrun, the Last Troll[/card]: Amazing one-of against the blue decks and just a big nightmare for UB Control.

1 [card]Phyrexian Metamorph[/card]: Incredibly versatile card. Great as another fatty, another Slime, another Pod or also as just another answer to [card]Mirran Crusader[/card]. Yet another great card to return with Glissa.

3 [card]Acidic Slime[/card]: A must-have! Deals with pretty much everything and I always keep at least two in against every matchup after sideboard.

1 [card]Precursor Golem[/card]: Everyone seemed to have forgotten about this card…nine power for five mana seems great, and the ability to Pod away the Precursor and keep the golems around is just the icing on the cake. When the most common removal played is [card]Oblivion Ring[/card], [card]Dismember[/card] and [card]Beast Within[/card], I’m actually quite surprised that we haven’t seen more Precursors roaming around.

1 [card]Wurmcoil Engine[/card]: Another must-have! Possibly the best finisher in Standard.

1 [card]Grave Titan[/card]: The best Titan the deck can afford. Very good against the token decks.

1 [card]Massacre Wurm[/card]: A pretty nice one. Powerful body, can nearly win games on its own. Even better than [card]Grave Titan[/card] against the token decks and an answer to [card]Mirran Crusader[/card], [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card] or [card]Invisible Stalker[/card].

1 [card]Sheoldred, the Whispering One[/card]: Because: “At the beginning of your upkeep, return target creature card from your graveyard to the battlefield. At the beginning of each opponent’s upkeep, that player sacrifices a creature.” I have lost exactly one game when a Sheoldred stayed in play for more than two turns and that was due to running out of cards in my library.

The Sidebord craziness:

[card]Phyrexian Revoker[/card]: Great utility creature. Stops Planeswalkers, [card]Mikaeus, the Lunarch[/card], [card]Ratchet Bomb[/card], Shrines, Swords and [card]Lashwrithe[/card].

[card]Melira, Sylvok Outcast[/card]: Great against Monoblack Poison, useful against the Wolf Run decks and consider it against pretty much any deck with [card]Inkmoth Nexus[/card] and Swords.

[card]Cemetery Reaper[/card]: A fringe card but helpful in some situations. It’s good vs Solar Flare, exiles [card]Chandra’s Phoenix[/card] vs Monored and UR Tempo, and it might be a decent way to combat [card]Moorland Haunt[/card].

[card]Peace Strider[/card]: The silver bullet against Monored. Gets the nod over [card]Tree of Redemption[/card] due to the immediate lifegain and the possible sinergy with Glissa.

[card]Stingerfling Spider[/card]: The best card vs [card]Consecrated Sphinx[/card] and fine against Monoblack Poison and other decks that also have [card]Inkmoth Nexus[/card].

[card]Bloodgift Demon[/card]: An awesome card to resolve against UB Control and other blue decks.

[card]Bitterheart Witch[/card], [card]Curse of Death’s Hold[/card]: Nice little combo against the token decks and it might also be a consideration against the Wolf Run decks.

[card]Brutalizer Exarch[/card]: Great vs Control as a bigger [card]Acidic Slime[/card] who has the ability to deal with Planeswalkers.

[card]Surgical Extraction[/card]: Quite helpful vs [card]Burning Vengeance[/card], Solar Flare, [card]Chandra’s Phoenix[/card] and pretty much every Snapcaster deck.

[card]Go for the Throat[/card]: More removal for the aggro and token decks, a needed alternative to [card]Doom Blade[/card] for the Monoblack Poison matchup.

Try it out! Wolf Run Ramp and RDW might be a little tough, but the blue control matchups are quite easy and interesting. The white token decks are also pretty fun because the matches always end up being a blowout in either direction and [card]Tempered Steel[/card] can be hard if they have a fast start but with so many answers to tutor up, you’re definetely favored. Look for [card]Sylvok Replica[/card] – [card]Glissa the Traitor[/card], they’re pretty sweet in that match-up!

If you would like to try a new thing and [card]Birthing Pod[/card] is right up your alley or you just love casting [card]Phyrexian Rager[/card] and stare at your opponents with a smile while they look at you in disbelief, this is the deck for you!

Thanks for reading,
André Mateus