At Nationals I was a chicken. I had a deck but I didn’t play it.
I had good reasons not to play it. I had just won a Meatgrinder with my Merfolk deck (cleverly dubbed “Sulli Merfolk” by BDM in his coverage of the ‘grinder). There’s something about going 5-0 in an event that makes you excited about a deck. Here is that deck:
- 4 Meddling Mage
- 4 Merfolk Sovereign
- 4 Merrow Reejerey
- 4 Silvergill Adept
- 3 Sower of Temptation
- 4 Wake Thrasher
- 3 Sygg, River Guide
Of course Nationals was a big smack-down.
I played round 1 against Jund-Cascade. A triple mulligan contributed deeply to that loss. The second round I played against it again. Here triple Stag got me – Pro-Blue is pretty sweet against all of my little fishies. The third round once again paired against Jund-Cascade. Here we have a great match but he ends up on top.
In the fourth round I’m pretty dejected. I really like my deck but it has just handed me a stream of losses. It can weigh pretty heavy on you when you’ve really been excited about a tournament and to have it turn out poorly for you. I’m still hopeful at large for the tourney. I’m deeply confident in my Shards-block draft skills and I was picturing a real possibility of just running back-to-back 3-0s. All I really needed to do was win this last round go 6-0 in draft and I’d be back to a 7-3 record with four rounds of Standard with a good deck under my belt. This was still a salvageable tournament.
I checked my pairing and got more than a bit crestfallen. I was looking forward to a potential cakewalk in this last round but no such luck: I’d drawn Gerry Thompson.
As I walk up we catch each others’ eye and give each other a rueful smile. Neither of us want to be sitting at the 0-3 and we know we’re fighting for the dubious “honor” of not being an oh-fer. The smile Gerry gave me was the kind of smile a man who has lost his legs gives the woman without arms while they sit in the waiting room to be fitted for prosthetic limbs. It can’t help but be both sympathetic and a smidge pitying.
“Yeah” I say.
“Yeah” he says.
Evan Erwin looks over at us from a few seats over and gives us the obligatory “Oh man!”
Gerry beats me. It’s a bad matchup. “What” people say “Isn’t Faeries the whole reason to play Fish?” These are clearly not Fish players. Merfolk decks used to predate on the Faeries decks because of Lord of Atlantis. Lord of Atlantis was a total beating in the matchup. But Standard Merfolk has largely been much closer to Block Merfolk since Lord rotated out. People forget that Lord was not in Tenth Edition but was in Time Spiral.
It’s a bad matchup. I mis-board. I misplay. I am the oh-fer sitting at 0-4. A glutton for punishment I pick up the deck again at the PTQ the next day where I end up a match out of Top 8 when I fail to draw a Sleep or Cryptic Command versus Kithkin in the rubber game. I hear that Osyp Lebeowicz took that one with Combo-Elves but it’s possible he might have lost it in the end. Hopefully not.
The whole time I kept thinking back to the deck I chickened out of playing.
Two weeks earlier I had attempted to make my Turbo-Fog work out. I was pretty excited about the list. I had come across some new-fangled tech that just seemed to make the deck whistle gorgeously. The big problem for Turbo-Fog was simple: for every deck that you played against there were certain particular cards that could be devastating as much as you could ignore most of the deck. Maelstrom Pulse was a great example of such a card.
I found the answer in Declaration of Naught.
Declaration of Naught did everything I wanted it to. It was actually fantastic against counterspelling decks could nail down the rough edges from the problematic matchups and was shockingly turning the burn matchup into something that was actually you know winnable. Here’s the list.
One of the things that most excited me about the list was the Angel-board. Against some decks I could just become “protect the Angel dot dec.” Further against Faeries I actually had a reasonable game. Boarding in 4 Seraph 4 Glen Elendra the 4th Declaration and the 2 Purges you becoming shockingly antagonistic to them (minus 4 Font of Mythos 3 Batwing Brume 2 Safe Passage 2 Pollen Remedy). When I was actually doing fine against Faeries I knew I was onto something. I didn’t playtest enough but I slung it up for a $1k tournament where I promptly got beat down by one Lissa Jensen wielding a deck she referred to as “Balls to the Wall.”
I thought it was going to be a total cakewalk. I knew that her deck was essentially a bunch of big monsters without anything else really going on. I countered her Soul’s Fire for 18 (from a Primalcrux) and I was comfortable that this was going to go very easily. I countered a Bogardan Hellkite. I named Soul’s Fire with one of my Declarations. Then she Banefired me for 12. Then for the kill. Game 2 was basically the same except worse. She dropped a Spellbreaker Behemoth. Her Bogardan Hellkites became uncounterable. And then of course there were the Banefires.
Brian Kowal and I watched her play and beat a number of particularly talented players and do incredibly well. The deck is a bunch of Godzilla-sized monsters with Primalcrux acting as the Big Bad. In a deck with Oversoul of Dusk and Deus of Calamity the Primalcrux consistently ends up so huge it’s just disgusting. She handed the eventual champion Matt Severa his only loss. He would later qualify for Nationals by grinding in (after I beat him in the finals of the first grinder) and nearly made the Top 8 of that event. He still curses himself for a mistake he made that cost him his shot at the Top 8 but regardless Lissa’s deck as rough as it was had potential.
Kowal and I went to work. I love deckbuilding with Brian Kowal. He’s fantastic and we’ve had such a great history of building decks together. Some of our best work has been when we’ve worked together. We brew together for a while and come up with something that looks really strong.
I throw it against a bunch of decks. It is shockingly potent even in its unrefined state. I play a bunch of games against Jund and against Red and against Kithkin and again and again it outperforms what I expect. Kowal spends the next while working on other decks (eventually putting a Naya Zoo deck in the hands of Jacob van Lunen who ends up at 9th place in U.S. Nationals with it).
I spend a lot of time on the deck. Primalcrux was the crux (ha ha) of what made the deck so appealing. It could just be so insanely big. It was crazy too in that it had trample. Trample! I love me a Lord of Extinction something fierce but the Lord has some big flaws. One of them of course is that Lord of Extinction doesn’t trample. When you’re dealing with a 6/6 giving it trample is solid. But when you’re dealing with an 11/11 it’s kind of crazy.
The kicker for me was playing against another Ramp deck the more common Jund version. They dropped a Broodmate Dragon into play. I dropped a Primalcrux and it was already an 11/11 (with two Kitchen Finks and a Fertile Ground helping out). They kind of looked at it thought for a second then attacked with the two dragons to put me to 16 and dropped another one. They were at 14 and with the second Broodmate they could survive my attack. I attack with everyone and flash in a Cloudthresher and they scoop it up.
Faeries was quasi-problematic in the new build. I was getting a shocking 50-50 or so in the matchup winning a bunch of games but losing every game that involves a clutch Mistbind Clique. This is shocking to me. I put together the list and test it against everything but in the end when push comes to shove I chicken out and don’t play it at Nats.
I keep the deck together and play it against anything and everything I can. I smash a ton of Kithkin and Jund players. I continue to 50-50 against Faeries. I lose badly to Chapin’s Five-Color deck. I push against the Conley Woods Special. I smash some Red.
But I chicken out again. Or maybe it’s that I just wanted my Merfolk deck to redeem itself. It doesn’t in that PTQ but in the next one I only lose one match in the 12 rounds of play; unfortunately it was in the finals.
A PTQ is coming up this next week. I know I’ll be playing either Merfolk or this:
I started calling the deck Ivan Drago the first time that I cast a Spellbreaker Behemoth against a deck with counterspells. At some point they reflexively tried to counter a Cloudthresher. I just pointed at the Behemoth and said deadpan “I must break you.” (Ivan Drago for those of you who don’t know is the Russian villain from Rocky IV.)
Lissa still prefers the name “Balls to the Wall” but Ivan Drago just seems so perfect. He’s huge. He’s killed excellent boxers with just a single swing! Primalcrux does that so often it’s funny! Call it what you want but I can think of no better name than Ivan Drago.
The list bears some discussion.
First of all are the classic ramp elements. I am running the full package of 8 ramp plus a few Garruk. I wasn’t initially a fan of Garruk in the deck but I came to the conclusion that it actually accomplished a fair amount of tasks. I wanted just a smidge more ramp. Unlike the other ramp I was considering Garruk actually did something when I was afraid of flooding. Having two Green mana symbols was also potentially relevant. Kowal and I had cut Garruk in the initial re-build of the list but in the end it just needed to be in there and was better than Firewild Borderpost or Recross the Paths or Borderland Rangers. In addition a Garruk has that added bonus of distracting an opponent into killing him (buying you time) or untapping a Mosswort Bridge the turn it comes into play. It’s important to note as you’re using your mana you want to be capable of casting your GGGGG and GGGGGG spells so be cautious about your one Mountain unless you have a Fire-Lit Thicket.
The deck wants to stay alive to play its potent spells. This is where the nearly full package of Kitchen Finks and cheap sweep come into effect. For a long while I ran Pyroclasm over Fallout but playing a bunch of games against Tommy TK Kolowith and other Elf-Combo players I came to the conclusion I just needed it to be Fallout. The big issue here is that Kithkin is far more concerned about Pyroclasm than it is with Fallout which is often anemic. In the end though the concerns about Kithkin were the biggest and I decided that once I’d put in the 4th Cloudthresher to fight fliers I could afford to be a little less effective against Kithkin and simply have more in the board for them.
Now the problem with a big creature in this format is that it can easily be Pathed. This is a part of why Broodmate Dragon is so good. It doesn’t care too much if a Path hits it it always has its mate around. A part of the way that this deck combats that is running a ton of fatties.
We have the big fatties. Spellbreaker Behemoth is very worth talking about. People sometimes forget that he is actually a 5/5 not a 5/4. This ends up being very relevant when you’re looking at a ton of pumped creatures from Kithkin. He can very easily be dumped on the table on turn 3 which makes for a very antagonistic board for any deck that isn’t ready for a big creature yet. A Behemoth makes every single one of the other big creatures into an uncounterable problem.
Oversoul of Dusk is almost like an upgrade on Great Sable Stag. Half the time it can be countered certainly but often you’ll drop it down and your opponent will have almost no answer to it. White has the best time with it able to chump it Path it or lay it to rest with a Hallowed Burial. Even there though with all of the sweep chumping it can be difficult Pathing it can press us into other bigger fatties and Hallowed Burial often has to be used just on the Oversoul alone.
Cloudthresher is an incredible card in general. Wiping out Faerie and Spirit armies is a great way to start but also being able to be dropped in a surprise is huge. 7/7 is a ridiculous body for only 6 mana as an instant! The GGGG in the casting cost is also a huge boon to Primalcrux. The mini-Hurricane effect is also relevant to Primalcrux who can take advantage of that wee bit of damage to make its trampling all the more insane. Since it is an instant even evoking it can be used to help set off your Mosswort Bridge as a surprise.
Primalcrux of course is the really insane card in the deck. An unanswered Primalcrux is going to kill your opponent unless your opponent already has you dead. The Primalcrux will start as a 6/6 trampler at the very least. When you put it into play though it is typically quite a bit bigger than that. Between Cloudthresher and Mosswort Bridge it is incredibly easy to give the ‘Crux a surprise pump. In a deck without a Path or a Terror-style effect the Primalcrux into Primalcrux draw can just destroy an opponent. I’ve dropped a Primalcrux onto the board on turn 4 as an 11/11 (6/6 + Finks + Garruk + Fertile Ground) only to drop a second one on the next turn and swing in for 17/17 trample with another 17/17 hanging back.
This is the kind of thing that just can make you giddy with laughter. Yes Primalcrux can be taken down but when you are so packed full of goodies it can often just make you shrug. Using Mosswort Bridge as a Might of Oaks is just fantastic as well.
I think the thing I like about the deck is how it passes the power-in-a-vacuum test. The deck is just abundantly powerful without having to be facing a particular opponent to be so. It definitely doesn’t want to be sitting across from some opponents however.
Five-Color Control can just be too much for it especially if it is built in certain ways. Clearly the decks that choose to rely on Firespout are going to be much more amusing to play against but the decks that run Hallowed Burial can simply be damning. Faeries is a deck that you have a great coin-flip against but really boil down to Mistbind Clique or no. This is a card you can try to fight against if you want (3 Flame Javelin is a big boon) but ultimately might not be worth the space.
The board that I like looks something like this:
4 Lightning Bolt (vs. anything fast and Elves!)
3 Master of the Wild Hunt (vs. Elves! and anything that can just fall behind to it)
3 Phosphorescent Feast (vs. anything aggressive that doesn’t build up an army – Jund and Red primarily)
4 Banefire (vs. Counters)
1 Volcanic Fallout (vs. Elves! Faeries and anything you’re looking for the instant sweep against)
The deck isn’t perfect. Clearly anything that has a weakness against Five-Color Control is not going to be the best deck to waltz into a tournament with. On the other hand it has fantastic matchups against Kithkin Jund Red and random creature decks. Elves and Faeries are basically a push. Your EV for playing a deck like this is actually quite high. Any tournament will require some luck to win and it is possible you will get lucky and dodge Five-Color Control or just get lucky and beat it.
If nothing else the deck is ridiculously fun to play. At the PTQ this weekend I played it against a ton of people just for fun. I lost one game to the Conley Woods Special but otherwise won at whopping 13 game ones against all manner of decks (including one game against a very Todd Anderson-like Five-Color Control).
There are a ton of other cards I’d think about for the board. Here is a sampling:
I haven’t tested enough Five-Color Control games but Lissa informs me that between Spellbreaker Behemoth 4 Banefire and Bogardan Hellkite she was doing quite well against Five-Color Control but I guess I remain very cautious. The best Five-Color players I imagine will be able to contain this deck. If you hope to win a PTQ having a difficult time against good Five-Color Control sounds scary.
As for me this weekend I still might sling up Ivan Drago. It’s this or replaying Merfolk once again. Either way I’m excited for the next tourney even if I’d truly hoped I could spend this weekend going wild at one of my favorite events of the year: wilding it up with twenty or so roller derby girls at a private estate in the country with bonfires and copious amounts of crazy fun.
Whatever I play wherever I end up (just in case I skip the PTQ for the wild party) wish me luck!