Everything is food for the Ooze. It's just a matter of time.
Have you ever had a deck that was so good that you didn't want to play it in an event and let the secret out for fear of “wasting” it? There was a part of me that was hesitant to play my Golgari Ooze deck at the SCG Invitational this past weekend in Los Angeles. Not because the Invitational isn't a high-profile, high-value event—quite the opposite, in fact. I was concerned that only half of the Invitational was Standard and that I wasn't adequately prepared for Legacy. I knew that playing a new deck in the tournament would certainly draw a lot of attention, and I wondered if it was worth keeping the deck on the down low for a few weeks until Grand Prix Atlantic City.
Obviously I decided to play it, since you're reading this article right now. The problem with the idea of “saving” a deck is that you can't be sure that the conditions will be right in the future when you want to play it again. Even if you're right and your deck is the perfect foil for the current metagame, things change in the world of Magic very quickly. The perfect deck today can be a terrible choice a month from now, or even next week.
Look at what's happened this Standard season already. U/W Flash and G/W Aggro went from being major players to virtually extinct in the span of a few Grand Prix. Who's to say that the deck would even be a good choice in a few weeks?
Magic is a game that changes at an astonishing rate. I frequently have people asking me questions like “What decks do you think will be good after the next rotation?” or “Do you think Jund will be a good choice for the Modern GP in San Diego in March?” and it's difficult to explain to them that these questions are virtually impossible to answer. I can't say now what deck will be good next week until I process what happened last week, let alone predict what the metagame might look like months from now.
In any case, I started working on the deck a few weeks ago during my woefully short break from traveling to tournaments. I talked about my initial build of it in an article on this very site, in fact.
At the time, my list was still admittedly extremely raw, but the basic idea was there. I was trying to build a deck to compete against both the aggressive Rakdos decks and the Supreme Verdict decks, so I decided to look in the direction of durable green creatures. I'd been extremely impressed by Wolfir Avenger in the time I'd played with it in G/W, and while the white part of the deck was no longer very attractive thanks to Knight of Infamy and friends, I still liked the idea of playing a bunch of creatures that were resilient to wrath effects. Pairing Wolfir Avenger with Lotleth Troll and Strangleroot Geist gave me that core.
Then someone in the comments of my article suggested I take a look at Predator Ooze and pointed me to a deck that had finished in the Top 16 of a recent major event based on very similar ideas. As soon as I thought about Predator Ooze, I knew it had potential. It did everything I was looking for in a creature—served as a durable blocker against aggressive decks and a hard-to-deal-with attacker against control. The mana cost was somewhat prohibitive, but nothing a few Guildgates couldn't smooth over. I was definitely excited to try it out.
I looked at the other Golgari deck that people pointed me to (that I'm told was designed by one Lukas Carlson), and I liked a lot of what I saw. The basic shell was the same—durable green creatures and black removal. The deck was a bit too top heavy for my tastes, playing a bunch of Wolfir Silverhearts in addition to five Garruks. Additionally, it lacked one of the cards that I felt was most exciting in my original Golgari build, one that got even more exciting with the addition of Predator Ooze—Ulvenwald Tracker.
I think Ulvenwald Tracker may be one of the most consistently underrated cards in Standard. The card is absolutely dominant in a huge array of situations. When I started playing my new version of the deck on MTGO, I kept running into G/W Human decks, and I kept absolutely demolishing them with Tracker. I had opponents literally concede on the second turn to Arbor Elf into Lotleth Troll plus Tracker—and frankly, I can't blame them. I essentially had The Abyss in play!
The combination of Ulvenwald Tracker plus any oversized or especially durable creature is nearly unbeatable if it stays in play against another creature deck, and between Lotleth Troll, Strangleroot Geist, Predator Ooze, and Wolfir Avenger, this deck has no shortage of good candidates for Fight Bear to send into the ring. Predator Ooze in particular can eventually eat anything your opponent might throw at it, getting bigger all the while.
Tracker can win games that no other card can. I actually had one sideboarded game during my playtesting against Reanimator where I started with an opening of Ulvenwald Tracker, Lotleth Troll, and Deathrite Shaman, while my opponent was able to Mulch into a pair of Angel of Serenity before I could get my Shaman online. Unburial Rites brought back both Angels, the first taking out my team and the second rebuying the rest of the creatures in my opponent's graveyard. I was able to use Ultimate Price to kill the first Angel, freeing my creatures, which I replayed. Then I played Rancor on my Troll and discarded two other creatures to allow it to fight the second Angel. After that it was just a matter of mopping up with my enormous fighting Troll.
Speaking of Deathrite Shaman—this is one of the best homes I've found for the card in Standard. Granted, it resides in the sideboard but comes off the bench in a huge variety of matchups. Against Reanimator it's obviously a fantastic tool to keep their graveyard in check, but I bring in the card against far more than just Unburial Rites decks. Against Zombies, it's a great way to regain lost life while preventing Gravecrawler and Geralf's Messenger from getting out of hand. Against Mono Red, it can gain tons of life to keep you out of burn range. And against U/W decks, it can neuter Snapcaster while burning your opponent out. It's almost worth playing some number of copies in the maindeck!
In any case—I'm getting ahead of myself. I tested the updated deck a ton on MTGO in the weeks leading up to the SCG Invitational, and my results were absurd. My win rate was through the roof. I played in a ton of two- and eight-player queues and rarely lost—I can actually remember only two eight-mans that I didn't win outright. I was just absolutely dominating—I racked up hundreds of tickets in packs playing in just a few events each night. Here's where I ended up:
- 4 Arbor Elf
- 3 Deadbridge Goliath
- 3 Dreg Mangler
- 4 Lotleth Troll
- 4 Predator Ooze
- 3 Strangleroot Geist
- 3 Ulvenwald Tracker
- 2 Wolfir Avenger
Predator Ooze was an absolute monster. Against opposing aggressive decks, it just brick walled anything on the ground—and that's when it wasn't eating everything with Tracker. Against control decks, it made Supreme Verdict downright embarrassing. The number of times I played Ooze into Ooze, or Ooze into Troll, or Ooze into Avenger, or whatever, and just pummeled my opponent into submission while they stared helplessly at their pair of Supreme Verdicts—well, let's just say it happened a lot.
A huge part of making Ooze so effective against control came from the sideboard. I knew from the start that I wanted to play Duress. Duress is one of those cards that just lurks largely unnoticed in a format much of the time. I guess people are spoiled by cards like Inquisition and Thoughtseize that can just take whatever cards they want, but Duress remains one of the absolute best options available against spell heavy decks.
Duress is particularly good right now due to Azorius Charm. That might seem strange, but the fact that so many decks are using a spell that can only be played during the attack step as their primary removal effect makes Duress much better. Normally, discard effects aren't particularly effective against removal because your opponent can just play the removal spell in response and kill whatever you have on the board, so unless you lead with the discard spell, you're not going to be able to protect your creature. Against Azorius Charm, you just have to get it out of their hand before you attack, and Duress is absolutely perfect for that—not to mention dealing with pesky Sphinx's Revelations and the like.
The other sideboard star against control is Ranger's Guile. If you're going to invest in building big monsters like Ooze and Troll, you want to protect them!
One of the cards in G/W that overperformed dramatically for me—again, in large part due to the reliance of the control decks on the combat-step-only Azorius Charm—was Faith's Shield. A cheap instant that is capable of ruining your opponent's plan to deal with your creature can have a huge swing on the game, especially when they don't expect it.
Let me tell you—no one has EVER expected a Ranger's Guile yet.
I played a game at the Invitational where my opponent's opening hand included two Azorius Charm, an Izzet Staticaster, and a Pillar of Flame while I never drew a third land—and I crushed him. After playing an Ooze off of an Arbor Elf, I took an Azorius Charm with Duress, and he killed my Elf with Staticaster. I played a Lotleth Troll and kept my Ooze back, while he played a second Staticaster and tried to double ping and Pillar my troll. I discarded four creatures to it, then Rancor'd it up and got in. The Ranger's Guile that stopped his Azorius Charm may have been among the sweetest spells that I've ever played.
I love the fact that this deck has so many different angles of attack. Sure, they're pretty much all based on creatures, but depending on the matchup, you can play the deck a bunch of different ways. Sometimes you come out of the gate blazing with haste creatures and Rancors, and your opponent struggles to keep up. Sometimes you play out a bunch of incredibly durable creatures and force your opponent to find answers. Sometimes you grind your opponent into dirt with Tracker. And sometimes you make an absolutely enormous monster that your opponent can't possibly stop.
The last of those can be particularly entertaining. Deadbridge Goliath is among the cards in the deck that has gotten the most raised eyebrows, but it serves several important purposes. First of all, it's a 5/5 for four mana, and that's pretty damn big. It doesn't provide a Wolfir Silverheart level of board presence, but it also doesn't cost a Wolfir Silverheart level of mana.
The difference between four and five mana is a pretty big one, especially in a deck that's running a low land count and playing lands that enter the battlefield tapped. I'm not sure Deadbridge Goliath is the best possible choice, but I do know that I don't want my deck to be full of expensive spells that I'm struggling to cast.
That said, there are games where you flood out, and Golgari doesn't have access to a utility land anywhere near the quality of Kessig Wolf Run or Gavony Township. You need something of value to do with your excess mana, and scavenge gives you just that. In combination with Rancor or the naturally trampling Lotleth Troll, Goliath can represent lethal damage remarkably quickly, even once he's been destroyed.
What are this deck's matchups like? As I said in my deck tech during the Invitational, I haven't found a deck I don't want to play against yet. The matchup against Rakdos is excellent, as well as against U/W/R. G/W Humans is a cakewalk; Reanimator is solid; and I've won the majority of my matchups against Bant and Naya.
The only deck I've sat down across that has seemed like it might be serious trouble so far is the Esper Control deck Nick Spagnolo and Lewis Laskin played at the Invitational, thanks to cards like Terminus and Curse of Death's Hold, but even there Lewis had to miracle a Terminus on turn five and still draw well for the rest of the game to beat me.
The deck loses some of its strength once people start catching on and playing more of things like Terminus and Detention Sphere rather than mono-wraths, but for now, I'm still having a blast crushing people with unstoppable monsters.
I'm certainly going to be messing around with this deck more in the coming weeks because it's both extremely effective and a ton of fun to play. I'll have more to say on it in the future as the format develops more, I'm sure. For more, check out my video this week.
Hope everyone has a safe and happy holiday season. I'll be back next week with a 2012 retrospective. In the meantime, for any of you with iPads, I suggest heading to the app store and searching for “SolForge.” We just released a free demo version of the game this week, and if the reactions I've gotten from Magic players so far are any indication, I'm positive it'll be something you like.
Until next time,