The last time I got an IRL standing ovation for a new deck was a bit back in Lorwyn's time. It was the final round of Swiss at a New York PTQ and I had just played Rith's Charm on the end of my Doran opponent's turn. I untapped swung in with my three tiny tokens so as to trigger Windbrisk Heights (yes yes yes—invented that) revealed Biorhythm then showed my opponent the lethal Lightning Helix in my hand (this was a Martyr of Sands build mind you).
In that second there was a pop behind me at table 1 with madcap clapping that would give you the idea you were watching something—anything maybe—but the game 1 of a Swiss match at a PTQ [that would eventually be won by boring old Doran]. Then Spectral Procession was printed next set and everyone else was using the Hideaways as well (boring); back at that PTQ Profane Command was equally new to Hideaways. I failed to play around it in each of the next two games so it was sad times / no Top 8 anyway... But man am I never going to forget the Standing O.
This week on Magic Online I have gotten more virtual high fives than I can recently recall—and largely from today's deck's victims. As a deck designer there is little more gratifying than having your opponents ask if you'd mind if they copied your idea or:
"By the way you just made my day."
-Delver mage who had just been Upheaval decked before taking his fourth turn
Today's hero is hands down the most fun (and most exciting) (and possibly most powerful) deck in Standard. I like it so much I ditched (rather postponed) tons of work on some other crowd-pleasing Standard combo decks to write about it instead.
The build at present is more unsatisfying than it is perfect. As you will read there are things about its basics that really bother me. It lacks at the time of this writing at least a nigh ubiquitous one-drop that is played in tons of other decks...that in fact all make less use of it than might The Funnest Deck in Standard. And yet this is a deck of impossible surprise and deceptive haymaker capability. Whole swaths of Standard staples can never—and I mean never*—beat it.
I might not yet be comfortable recommending it for SCG Standard Open play (but it would not surprise me to see some tuned descendent dominating in the near future). It is the kind of deck I can imagine Pro Tour Avacyn Restored champion Alexander Hayne running—racing even—to put together to play…tonight! You know That One Guy at your LGS who complains about everything? That One Guy who "only loses to mana screw" but will quote you PV over his nose like chapter and verse any time you have an original idea?
That One Guy is going to be absolutely furious when you take him apart with this.
No... I don't know if this is 100% SCG Standard Open ready (yet) but I am sure that tomorrow my Facebook inbox and Twitter will be flooded with 4-0 stories from tonight's FNM adventures.
Beloved readers I give you TFDiS:
How does this deck work?
At its most basic TFDiS is better at getting resources early (then everywhere) than almost every other kind of deck in Standard. With Farseek and Ranger's Path it accelerates like a green ramp deck but with the two-drop flashbacks it finds lands naturally digs to key spells and easily out-cards even powerful planeswalker control decks like the best of the blues. As such it can nimbly play around the thin mana-punishing permission of Standard or bomb back if the opponent impudently taps for a Jace or Tamiyo out of position. It can jam world breakers to race creatures and—and this comes back to making That One Guy furious—because it is chock full of miracles TFDiS can win tons and tons of corner and edge cases just by getting lucky.
I suppose the dream draw is to Farseek into a third turn Ranger's Path which will leave you with circa seven on four...which is not actually enough to do anything spectacular save miracle a Temporal Mastery (which you can now hard cast anyway). Farseek then will always get you Steam Vents (which charges up all of Hinterland Harbor Rootbound Crag and Sulfur Falls); you have little choice at all on Ranger's Path. But along the way you will probs luck sack into a Hallelujah Time Walk or Upheaval or at least put yourself into a position to position yourself further and even further ahead with your "fair" style card draw.
You really want to wait until nine mana to play Epic Experiment but then… IT'S ON.
You start doing goofball stuff that usually involves taking extra turns or really frustrating—rather Devastating—your opponent but it really just amounts to getting more and more over-the-top resources while stifling the other fella's ability to develop.
Probably many of you are scratching your heads right now. I know it's a bit of a puzzler. There are not a lot of analogue decks to compare against. The Trap was a late 1990s mana denial combo-lock deck that took multiple turns to go off. I think the closest analogue might be High Tide. High Tide was the platonic ideal of control; it did everything control wanted to do better than control to the point that it was so super saturated with controlling elements that it had to be a combo deck—there was just no room for any other strategy in its 60.
How does control thrive? It has more resources and more card advantage than lesser decks. Control draws cards and counters cards and puts creatures into the bin by the bucketful: card advantage. TFDiS has even more card advantage than control and factors in tremendous "dead" card advantage. Creature-poor control decks are resilient to point removal on account of having few-to-no targets. You took a Cyclonic Rift with your Augur of Bolas eh? The Funnest Deck in Standard has no permanents at all.
What about the format allows this deck to work?
The tools to stop this deck are unpopular at present. Surely you can build to be able to beat it but then you'll be way on the wrong side of... Let's say a Thragtusk. I think I first keyed on this deck when I lost to a Bant Ranger's Path deck at States. I needed all my Syncopates and Izzet Charms to fight his Farseeks and Ranger's Paths but once he got even just one all my mana-punishing permission proved pointless.
I don't generally think of Magic as a game of resources but this deck not only has more and better resource access than most but it preys on the structure of other decks' interactive decisions.
We generally think of planeswalkers as being powerful but here they are mostly just slow. Almost all are trumped by a Devastation Tide having generated little lasting value. The permission in Standard is universally thought of as weak; there aren't a lot of decks with sufficient permission to interact with our many bombs.
More than anything else Standard is a format of so much removal. There are Abrupt Decays Bonfire of the Damneds Curse of Death's Holds Dreadbores Electrickeries Fiend Hunters Geistflames Human Frailties and Intrepid Heroes. So many wasted pulls...not a one of those has a legitimate target.
Pure Burn could be an issue (you draw them right into a new hand of fire) but how often does that come up? TFDiS tends to be fast enough to at least be competitive with most creature decks. And the best of them? You don't generally care what life the opponent is on so it doesn't matter if they hit a fast Centaur Healer or how many Thragtusks are hiding under their Angel. Devastation Tide is legit trump to token creatures.
The scariest card might be Slaughter Games but that spell is thinly played at least today. Other forms of discard are far less effective; have you ever tried to fight a Desperate Ravings / Think Twice deck with Duress? It's kind of embarrassing unless you already have a 6/6. And while no one wants to be on the wrong side of a Rakdos's Return there are few decks better prepared for recovery. You can flash back your twos or just draw into Reforge the Soul (also making for a new level of mulligan resilience)! Epic Experiment itself is a nearly perfect answer to today's mighty "Mind Shatter."
I already said she isn't perfect. But there are a lot of interesting things going for TFDiS not the least of which is the ability to ignore vast swaths of intended interaction and expensive (including financially expensive) mythic rares. Take that That One Guy.
Some Notes on Epic Experiment Sequencing
In the vast majority of cases you will want to put Psychic Spiral on the bottom of your stack. The exception would be if you are pretty rich and flipped some number of Desperate Ravings and / or Think Twices; depending on the composition of the rest of your stack the size of your actual hand and whether or not you flipped a Reforge the Soul you may want to resolve Psychic Spiral before playing those.
For example if you played a grindy game of test spells fought down to Epic Experiment need a few more turns to actually win and didn't flip Reforge the Soul sure you still probably want to stack the draw spells at the bottom so they don't get shuffled away. "Offensively" having Psychic Spiral at (or near) the bottom is valuable if you in fact flipped a Reforge the Soul. Reforge the Soul will put many more cards in your graveyard which will strengthen the Millstone effect on Psychic Spiral (making it even more terminal in velocity).
When flipping both Reforge the Soul and Devastation Tide in a marriage of miracles it is generally advisable to make the opponent pick up all their permanents and then shuffle them away. They are going to get seven new ones regardless but this way you steal a few extra cards. That is not always the case. For example earlier this week I knew my opponent had Wolfir Avenger from a previous 3UU so I did the opposite sequence. Had I worked according to spec he would have let the Tide resolve then responded to Reforge the Soul with the Avenger which would have been suboptimal for me especially as I had no Temporal Mastery. He ended up with more options on his own turn but nothing actually in play and had to discard.
One lesson I learned the hard way: watch where you put your Temporal Mastery and / or Psychic Spiral in relation to Reforge the Soul if your opponent plays Dissipate. Usually the ability to resolve Epic Experiment implies that your opponent is pants-down even if he has UU1 up but remember that Reforge the Soul might draw him into a Dissipate! You want to leave a big Epic Experiment way up not pants-down yourself.
The current build of The Funnest Deck in Standard only has two copies of Psychic Spiral. This can demand tricky footwork especially when you draw both early or have to make a decision around Reforge the Soul (which can potentially put one or both in your bin at no value). You don't strictly need to get a huge advantage with both to win (I very carefully beat a control deck with Tormod's Crypt this week!) but resolving them sure makes life much easier. If you lose both early while indiscriminately drawing tons of extra I'm not sure how you're supposed to win.
11: Eleven is 9 + 2 or the number required to successfully Epic Experiment every kind of non-Epic Experiment in your deck (that is resolve your Time Walks) and pay for Izzet Charm. Of the commonly played permission you can't play around Dissipate and Negate you can't easily play around Syncopate with an expense like Epic Experiment but you can often play around one Izzet Charm relatively painlessly (and leave up mana for a victory lap Desperate Ravings Farseek or Think Twice if all goes according to book). You do so at eleven.
9: Standard Epic Experiment Tooth and Nail cost. This is Epic Experiment + Temporal Mastery zone. I enthusiastically recommend playing Epic Experiment with X=7 against non-blue opponents as early as possible. You can also jam this at this cost as a test spell when you have multiple Epic Experiments against permission decks.
7: This is how much it costs to hard cast a Temporal Mastery. Also there is nothing specifically at six so 2 + 5 is a reasonable Epic Experiment especially if you are in trouble. While it may be crappy to accidentally flip a Temporal Mastery you can't immediately use Psychic Spiral can and will give you another chance as the Time Walk will not actually be removed from the game. Important to note that at this cost you CAN hit Reforge the Soul and Devastation Tide (and sometimes together). Seven is a pretty common land count for the turn after you hit your first Ranger's Path (4 + 2 + land drop).
6: Six is not a particularly strategic number in this deck but you can flashback two two-mana draw spells. Six comes up when you resolve Ranger's Guile but don't hit your next land drop. Six is also the number of Forests in this deck. There should maybe be seven (cutting one Rootbound Crag). The deck will probably be vastly better when we can play Stomping Grounds and Breeding Pools which will improve both Ranger's Guile (which finds itself with no targets most games) and even Farseek.
5: A couple of the important cards in this deck—Psychic Spiral Reforge the Soul and Devastation Tide—all cost five. So ramping and drawing into five has some strategic value (especially if you want to test spell Psychic Spiral or some such). On five you can play both ends of a Think Twice or Desperate Ravings. Five also shares an important functionality with four...
4: The miracles in TFDiS cost two. So if you play for four (or five with flashback) you can go for a Hail Mary miracle on your opponent's turn. There is nothing like flipping a Devastation Tide when the opponent taps down (ideally including some Rakdos Keyrunes) to Kessig Wolf Run you...or Temporal Mastery whenever. All other things held equal be careful about how and when you tap out so you can take advantage of the unfair edges you can topdeck just by being lucky.
The most common way to lose with TFDiS is peeling your top card and shrugging. Like a NLTH player you pick your spot push all your resources in and then don't get paid off by your flurry of card draw or your Epic Experiment sucks. Meanwhile your opponent has been doing actual stuff all this time and you get killed by a Keyrune or a bunch of Rancors or something.
After that it's largely a question of being raced. If the opponent is a fast beatdown deck on the play and has a four-turn goldfish there isn't much you can do other than try to get lucky. Maybe you put yourself into a miracles spot and draw Psychic Spear instead. You have to rely a bit on Devastation Tide in these situations and sometimes it isn't enough or doesn't come up at all. I really don't know what you're supposed to do about Thalia Guardian of Thraben on the play followed by Geist of Saint Traft. The maindeck simply isn't set up to be able to contend with that.
The toughest card as stated previously is Slaughter Games. I thought of a lot different ways to beat Slaughter Games including one Overgrown Tomb one Blood Crypt and Slaughter Games for Slaughter Games out of the sideboard. I decided that was pretty gimmicky and requires us to mulligan to Farseek. Instead I went with the transformational sideboard you see above. I tried to pick creatures with a lot of impact (especially life gain) as a blunting strategy that requires the opponent to work very hard to stay even...and then hopefully they are outlasted by Thragtusk and Niv-Mizzet anyway.
I don't really see transformation as an every match event though; it's often better to bring in the third Psychic Spear for a Devastation Tide or the Inaction Injunction to try to win fair and square. Psychic Spear doesn't affect the battlefield and thus is the kind of card many smart players veer away from but TFDiS has so much card draw—from the flashback twins to using Reforge the Soul as a "Get Out of Jail Free" card—that it can generally make up.
Finally there are some cards that I wish I had might have in the future and / or just want to mention:
- Thought Scour - This card seems like it would be awesome right? First turn cantrip that gives you action where there is currently no action and is great on an Epic Experiment as a refill that actually promotes your Psychic Spears? Where do we find room?
- Forest - Like I said probably should have a seventh; I haven't tested that yet. I have a feeling that this strategy is going to get much much better when we have access to Stomping Grounds and Breeding Pools!
- Inaction Injunction - Wow what a great card in this deck! The Alpha version of The Funnest Deck in Standard played four copies (but that was before I figured out Reforge the Soul which has proved to be tremendous); I still have the one. Inaction Injunction draws you to your key stuff while blunting the opponent's forward motion. It's great against a card like Thragtusk which is expensive and high impact but doesn't generate any card advantage if not actually destroyed. This is a card you really want to flip with Epic Experiment in the case that you didn't get a Time Walk or Upheaval miracle.
Actual POSTSCRIPT that I wrote later:
I mentioned the tremendous fun I have had playing this deck to my friend Luis Neiman at dinner the other night just before submitting this article. I had no idea that Travis Woo—who made a Genesis Wave deck of a different stripe around the same time I made the U/G deck that Dave Williams took to Worlds and Conley Woods eventually modified for a SCG Standard Open double Top 8 and near-win—had been working on a ramp / Epic Experiment deck of his own (or necessarily that there was a predecessor from the State Championships).
That said the nature of hyperbole is that there is only one "Funnest" and ramp + Epic Experiment as an idea aside I think there is a fairly obvious distance between a Terminus splashing tokens creation and an infinite kill fueled by draw sevens and offensive Feldon's Canes. It remains to be seen which route will prove the most popular or to what degree the different decks will learn from each other come together further separate or evolve.
* Not actually "never."