Yawgmoth’s Whimsy #186 - Beating Slivers
I have finally got some time to do some serious block playtesting. Some of that is done with paper, where Darksteel Ingots can do a fine job pretending to be Coalition Relics. However, much of that playtesting also occurs on MTGO, where you need the real cards. I had to choose the rares on which I'd blow my budget — Korlash, Tarmogoyf, Relics or some lands. I chose the green Lhurgoyf. I chose unwisely.
The problem is that the metagame has been shifting in Time Spiral Block, and it looks to have shifted out from under my Green monsters. I bought the cards, clicked together the deck, then started getting smashed time after time by a stupid Slivers deck. A stupid, Tier 1 Slivers deck.
In this article, I want to talk about Time Spiral Block metagame shifts, and about a Red deck that wins right now.
Originally, the top decks were U/B/x control and Mono-Red beats. Later, G/W Tarmogoyf and Wild Slivers joined the fray because they smashed the previous decks. Now, Poison Slivers eats Tarmogoyf for breakfast — and it’s Poison Slivers that you will have to beat this weekend.
The weekend after that — well, we will see. My crystal ball doesn’t reach that far.
Some background. I have been playing mainly in the Standard, not Block, 8-man queues. I have been acquiring cards slowly, mainly in Draft and Sealed. I have been able to put together decent decks that could be competitive in the Tournament Practice rooms, even if they were not quite good enough to justify gambling tickets on in the 8-mans. For example, I am willing to playtest a Bridge from Below deck in the Tournament Practice room with only three Bridges, knowing that I will lose more because the deck is short a copy of a critical piece, but I won’t spend four tickets to play that in an 8-man.
Sometimes, though, I can time the metagame and win with what I have. Other times I can find a sliver bullet for the current metagame werewolf. At those times, I can often clean up.
I may be in that position right now.
Time Spiral Block began, for most people, with Pro Tour: Yokohama. That tournament was memorable for a number of things. It reinforced the idea that the best deck was U/B/x, with Teferi and Mystical Teachings. More importantly for this article, it showed that, while White Weenie was supposed to be this amazing colossus, this unstoppable thing — well, people had to get themselves a new giant. (That’s supposed to be paraphrasing Vizzini’s barbs to Fezzik, but I’m probably screwing it up.)
At the Pro Tour, Mono-Red beat the crap out of White Weenie. Immediately after the pro tour, everyone on MTGO was playing U/B/x and Mono-Red, and they all tweaked their decks to beat each other, and to beat the big mana R/G decks. A lot of those modification consisted of yanking out the White Weenie hate and replacing it with cards aimed at the new Tier 1.
In the week that followed, I smashed people with White Weenie and had probably my best ever run in tournament play. Two weeks after that, though, and I won exactly one pack in five 8-mans. People had brought back the hate.
Timing is everything.
When Time Spiral was finally released online, I was playing a Mono-Red speed deck. It had Fiery Temper and Rift Bolt as burn (no Disintegrates: I have done probably five-dozen drafts and a bunch of sealed events, and I have never busted a Disintegrate. Ever.) Gathan Riders, Mogg War Marshals, Emberwilde Augurs, and Greater Gargadons rounded out the creature mix. It also ran four Keldon Megaliths, Word of Seizing, and Vesuva - all maindeck. It was a joy to play against U/B/x control: their Tendrils rarely did anything, you could almost always steal and eat Teferi, and they were so slow they died to the Megaliths.
The next big metagame shift occurred around the time of Grand Prix: Montreal. People had discovered Tarmogoyf. Gathan Riders was often a 5/5 beater for three mana and a card. Tarmogoyf was often a 5/6 flier for two mana and a Griffin Guide, and Mystic Enforcer was a monster. More importantly, G/W Goyf had cycling cards, like Horizon Canopy and Edge of Autumn (or, for real card advantage, Edge of Autumn sacrificing a Flagstones of Trokair). G/W Goyf had better creatures that cost less, better card drawing and fewer card disadvantage engines (like flipping Gathan Raiders) than Mono-Red beats.
By GP: Montreal, my Mono-Red deck was busted. White Weenie had also had its day in the sun. I needed to choose a new deck — and all of the main decks used cards I did not own. I needed to choose a chase rare critter and shell out some tickets for a playset.
Actually, I would have to shell out some tickets for a couple sets of cards. I was very close to having enough cards to play some of the Tier 1 control decks in the format. For example, I could build Adrian Sullivan’s Baron deck for just a few tickets (and I did) but I have a problem with that sort of deck. I am not a really fast player. If I race, I make mistakes. If I don’t race, I time out. I can smash a lot of people in untimed matches in the tournament practice room with that sort of deck, but I can’t consistently win packs in timed events with it.
I needed a beatdown deck — or at least a decent aggro-control deck.
Looking at the results of the GP and the first few PTQs, I could see a couple main options.
Kenji Tsumura’s B/U Pickles variant looked good — but I needed a couple Vesuvan Shapeshifters, a pair of Vensers and an Ancestral Visions. More importantly, I was already playing Adrian’s Baron, and I wanted something really different.
Paul Cheon took second place with a Korlash Control deck featuring Korlash, Shadowmage Infiltrator, Teferi, and Triskelavus. I had everything - except that I was short three Korlash, Heir to Blackblade and a couple River of Tears.
Celso Zampere won the GP with a G/W Tarmogoyf deck
Even Guillaume Wafo-tapa’s Wild Pair Slivers deck included a couple rares I did not own. More importantly, I was somewhat hesitant to play a combo deck I did not design. Combo decks require a ton of practice, and I get really bored playing someone else’s. Besides, I had traded away a lot of my slivers. I had also played a R/G Wild Pair deck, and was looking for something new.
No matter which way I went, I was looking at a bunch of expensive rares — unless I was willing to play White Weenie (which made Top 8 at just one PTQ — a fluke, I believe.) Even fringe decks, like Evan Erwin’s Mono-Black control, ran a playset of Korlashes.
Eventually, I decided that I was going to shell out a ton of tickets for Tarmogoyfs. They looked to be the heart of the best aggro deck around, and they also look like the sort of card that will be played in Extended forever. I expect to be playing them for a long time.
I should have waited. The price is falling significantly. It’s because of Slivers — and if you are thinking about playing Tarmogoyfs in an upcoming PTQ, you need to think about that.
As I built the deck, I was watching the other events, and reading all the how-to articles and tournament reports I could find. Here’s what I concluded.
The must haves:
Serra Avenger was now in dispute. Zampere ran four, but other writers and players were concerned that, by the time you reliably had double White, you could play Calciderm, etc. — and that the untargetability of the Calciderm was important. I like both — but I like Angel more.
Also in dispute was the two-drop. Riftsweeper was important when Aeon Chronicler was huge, and Detritivore common. They are both less frequent now. I have seen people replacing them with everything from Mire Boa to Kavu Predator (usually in decks splashing Red for Fiery Justice).
Mystic Enforcer is also under debate, because Blue opponents run Take Possession. Personally, I think that is symptomatic of The Fear — but since I only have two copies online, I only ran two.
My exact build is not important. What is important is what happened when I took it into the Tournament Practice room. I got smashed.
Really, really smashed.
People had been playing with Wafo-Tapa’s Slivers deck — and combining it with “tech” from Pro Tour: San Diego. PT: SD was Limited, and Two-Headed Giant, but it proved to the world that poison Slivers were real — and that Slivers could be fast. Wafo-Tapa’s Slivers were aggro control. People rebuilt his slivers into a true aggro deck. Here are the main changes.
Second, the haste provided by Reflex Sliver was replaced by the one mana cheaper Firewake Sliver. Firewake also provided a means of sacrificing Dormant Slivers. Dormants are amazing card advantage, but they do prevent beatdown. Firewake turns the “we gots walls” ability into “we get +2/+2.”
Might Sliver, Mystic Snake, and Wall of Roots all went away, to be replaced by one-mana Slivers, like Shrieking Sliver and Virulent Sliver. Two-Headed Sliver showed up to make sure that the weenies kept getting through. Suddenly the deck went from quite slow to very fast.
More importantly, the slivers deck can win by poison very, very quickly. It can do stupid stuff, like drop some Gemhides then Bust all the lands. It can dodge Damnations with Frenetic Slivers. Most importantly, in the mid or late game, if it gets a couple Dormant Slivers into play, it can outdraw any deck in the format.
It is hard to overestimate how bad the Poison Slivers matchup is for G/W Tarmogoyf. It is just terrible. I playtested against someone fresh of a good PTQ result with G/W Goyf, while I had just thrown together the slivers deck. I won something like 90 percent of the games before sideboarding.
Post sideboard it does not get much better. The Slivers deck goes up to four Telekinetics — seven with the Homing Slivers. G/W Goyf may have Sunlances, but Frenetic Sliver means those actually kill a Telekinetic only some of the time. G/W Goyf may have Serrated Arrows as well, but Harmonic Sliver means that the Arrows may only hit once.
Even if G/W brings in something really strange — like Magus if the Moat — Slivers still wins. It just decks G/W with Screeching Sliver’s ability.
One possible piece of Tech — Crovax. That was my brainstorm this morning, and I have not had time to test this at all, but Crovax may solve the problem. It kills about two-thirds of the slivers, including the Gemhides, Screechings, and Virulents. That’s the decks’ main mana supply and win conditions.
In my first dozen matches online with my brand-new, many ticket Tarmogoyf deck, I faced Poison Slivers maybe eight times — and lost all the matches. I could steal a game here or there — but I had to be really lucky to get that.
After that, I shelved my efforts to get bargains on the last couple Horizon Canopies and Enforcers, and looked at how to beat the blasted Slivers decks.
The control decks can do this some of the time — but if Slivers gets a really fast start, it wins. If it does not get a fast start, it will eventually draw five billion cards off a Dormant Sliver. The matchups kept feeling like it came down to coin flips involving Damnations and Frenetic Slivers. I was not too excited about that — and I’ll let someone else write about those matchups in depth.
I still owned White Weenie. White Weenie had Calciderm, which is immune to telekinesis, but otherwise it is just G/W Tarmogoyf with worse creatures. No luck there.
I also had my old Mono-Red deck. Aggro still sucked, but I had also worked on some variations based, in part, on articles by Dan Paskins and Patrick Chapin. I was especially happy with the Riddle Of Lightning decks they had discussed.
The best thing about Riddle is that it can pull wins — at least from the perspective of the opponent — completely from nowhere. One game I was facing a Tarmogoyf deck that had exploded while I stalled. He had a Griffin Guided Tarmogoyf, two Serra Avengers, and me dead on his next attack phase. He was sitting at sixteen life — fairly comfortably, he thought, since I had won game 1 with a Greater Gargadon. I didn’t have one suspended this game, and had only eight mana and a suspended Epochrasite with two counters. The two points I had done so far had been via a pair of early hit from the Epochrasite and two pings from my Keldon Megaliths.
At the end of his turn, I cast my first Riddle of Lightning of the match. I pulled my three Scry cards and saw Greater Gargadon, Rough / Tumble, and Riddle. I almost made the wrong play — revealing Rough / Tumble, then clearing the skies and beating him later. Instead, I revealed Riddle, pinged him with Megaliths, then cast Riddle again during my turn and revealed Gargadon for the win.
I once hit someone for ten on end step with Riddle by revealing Gargs, then cast an other one during upkeep to reveal the same Gargadon.
Riddle is a blast (as in Fireblast) when it works.
I keep worrying that Riddle is a poster-child for the Danger of Cool Things, but it really seems to work. It is instant speed, which is very useful when an U/B/x deck taps out for Teachings at end of turn, or an opponent tries to apply a Griffin Guide. It has Scry, which is as close as Red has to card drawing. It can also reasonably reliably kill most creatures in the environment, including Teferi and Serra Avenger — and can often nail a Mystic Enforcer. At least it can in my build, because this is not a speed beats Red deck anymore.
Some notes on cards:
Epochrasite: This card is insane. I can’t believe how good it is. When I started playing around with the concept, I had two. I quickly bought a third, then a fourth. They are very good against beats, in the mirror, in control matchups, etc. I just adore these cards, which does not, of course, prevent me from feeding them to Greater Gargadon every chance I get.
Big Gargs: Greater Gargadon has one main purpose — he fizzles Tendrils. Sure, he has other skills. He beats, on occasion. He means you never have to feel guilty about ignoring echo costs. He even flashes himself for ten damage during lightning storms — but you play him because of Tendrils.
Mogg War Marshal: The Mogg is fast beats, three chump blockers, and three counters off Gargs — but this is one card I end up sideboarding out a lot.
Word of Seizing: The flavor text should read “I eat Teferi for breakfast.” It does that — as well as stealing chump blockers, converting opponents’ attackers into blockers and stealing charged-up storage lands to feed to Gargs. Sure, they can empty the counters in response, but if you do that end of turn, odds are they won’t be able to do much with the mana — and the point is to kill the land, after all. Seizing a land, then sacrificing it to Boom / Bust is also good.
Disintegrate / Avalanche Riders: Dan Paskins played four Disintegrates. I owned zero, and had the tickets for just two. I had the Riders, so they sat in. They are not shabby. It helps to be able to mana screw your opponents, and the ability to trash an Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth or a storage land with a bunch of counters is critical at times. The Riders is also a better test spell than Disintegrate in many cases: firing a three point Disintegrate at the dome is unlikely to suck out a counter, but a Riders can.
Split Cards: Dead / Gone is just fine. I have killed a number of creatures and bounces a lot more right out of their SuperGuide underwear. I have even nailed a turn 2 Tarmogoyf, when the opponent did nothing on turn 1 (just pray they don’t have an Edge of Autumn in hand, or — if they do — that they forget to cycle in response.) Boom / Bust is a nice test spell against to a control deck that plays out it’s lands, and remember that you can Boom a land, then sacrifice your land to Gargs while the spell is on the stack. Rough / Tumble is the most situational, but it slaughters Slivers and sometimes it clears the air of lots of Serra Avengers and Griffin Guided goons.
Keldon Megaliths: So good. They are another uncounterable win condition against control, and they kill Soltari Priests, slivers and a host of other annoying things. When I was playing Vesuva, it often copied Megaliths.
Four Reaches, two Slagheaps: This deck wants a lot of mana. The pump lands work. The Reaches are because I sideboard Krosan Grip. One big problem is Take Possession, and the Grip kills it dead. Grip also works against a lot of problem permanents, and I really hate not having a Disenchant effect in the deck.
My sideboard seems to be working, but it contains some really janky stuff. It may change, especially when I get more copies of certain cards (e.g. Molten Disaster.)
The sideboard starts with the extra two Avalanche Riders. These seem very useful against control — they are the test spells that either draw counters or help manascrew the opponent. Manascrew is particularly useful against the Pickles decks, which can be problematic otherwise. This deck loves its mana and hates not being able to untap. The Riders can also get rid of Urza’s Factory, which is a huge problem if left alone.
I also sideboard the last Dead / Gone, for use against practically anything with creatures. If you have played Time Spiral Block Limited or Constructed, you know this.
Serrated Arrows: At one point, this slot contained three Dodecapods, to bring in against the Augur of Skulls / Rack decks. That deck is less common / less of a problem now. The Arrows help fight White Weenie, and especially Slivers. Against Slivers, just try not to tap the Arrows until you have to — you want to be able to kill the Harmonic when it hits play. After that, you need to kill the Dormant Slivers, and early on it is nice to kill the Gemstones, to slow the opponent down. Of course, you need to kill the Virulent Slivers, to avoid being poisoned, and the Shrieking Slivers to avoid being decked. You also need to get rid of the Frenetic Slivers, so you can kill all the others (use Word of Seizing, if necessary.) In short, kill all the slivers. You have, at best, nine arrows. Good luck.
Molten Disaster: Another solid answer to slivers, or as a finisher in control matchups. I only own one, and almost never draw it, so I can’t say how good it is, but I can say that it has won me every game in which I cast it.
The total jank: I have three Stuffy Dolls in the sideboard. They are very good against anything in U/W Tarmogoyf that does not fly, and against the Pickles crew (until the dolls get bounced.) In the control matchup, they provide a test spell that opponents often let resolve, thereby giving you an answer to most opposing beats (other than Draining Whelk), as well as a target for your unneeded Dead / Gones. Since no one plays Sudden Death anymore, they are really hard to kill — although not that hard to bounce. I keep them in because they answer a lot of the random decks that sometimes appear online — they do for creatures what Krosan Grip does for enchantments and artifacts.
G/W Tarmogoyf: Pretty decent. You lose to the turn 1: Flagstones, cycle Edge, turn 2: Goyf, turn 3: Guide, turns 4 & 5: Avenger draws — usually — but you have a very good shot if they don’t get the god draw. If you can keep them out of the air, you generally win. You sideboard out Boom / Bust for the fourth Word of Seizing and Dead / Gone. Your call on the Stuffy Doll — but it is a ton of fun against Calciderm, provided it stays Isolation free.
U/B/x Control: Word of Seizing is helpful, especially to feed enemy win conditions to Gargadon — and that includes Urza’s Factory. You want to feed Gargadon as little as possible, however — it is far better to keep the Gargadon suspended to fizzle Tendrils. Fire Riddles at the opponent’s head whenever they tap out, and don’t worry too much about emptying your hand — Megaliths is a very effective win condition. Beyond that, pay echo and beat with the Moggs and Riders, and beat with 1/1 Epochrasites. In this matchup, you don’t necessarily want to sacrifice Epoch to a Gargs as soon as it hit play: having it return is iffy. Teferi happens.
Mirror: Most Red aggro decks have fast beaters and can be wrecked by Rough / Tumble and burn. Save your Dead / Gones for their Greater Gargadon. In the longer term, you will burn them out. Stuffy Doll is fine in this matchup — although it is probably overkill.
White Weenie: You are fine if you draw the Rough / Tumble and have mana to cast it. Epochrasite jambs up the ground, but fliers require Dead / Gone, Riddle, or Tumble. Be wary of mana-short opening hands: if you get the mana, you usually get the game. Sideboard in Serrated Arrows: a few decks run Tivadar out of the board, and he’s a pain. Late game, a pair of Keldon Megaliths can do him in, but you may not have that long to wait.
Slivers (all types): Your best friends are Molten Disaster, Rough / Tumble, and Dead / Gone, probably in that order. Be selective in using the Dead / Gones: in many cases, you can get two-for-ones. My favorite is to kill a Shadow or Two-Headed Sliver after attackers, then get some surprising blocks in. Serrated Arrows help, as do the Megaliths.
U/G Goyf: You have a few more things to worry about with this deck, but the matchup isn’t too bad. Don’t rely to heavily on Disintegrate, since they run Delay, and a Delayed Disintegrate is useless. Be careful killing the morphs: many can turn nasty, but you want them dead. Greater Gargadon is not that much of a benefit, since he will probably be bounced quickly. That bounce can also mess with the Megaliths. Play carefully, don’t draw lands nine turns in a row (voice of experience there) and you can do okay.
Would I take this to a PTQ this weekend? Well, since there are none close, I don’t have to make that decision, but I think so. I would play this over control, since I hate being in the draw bracket, and I think it is better than Slivers. Most Tarmogoyf builds fold to Slivers (although I haven’t tested the W/G/r version against Slivers enough, but it has other problems) — and Slivers will be there.
Yes, I would.
Whatever you do play, good luck.