The Most Flexible Combo Deck: What Was Replenish?
Every few years, a card is printed that begs to have its own archetype. Unfortunately, the first two sets that made up Urza's Block - Saga and Legacy - gave us enough of these cards to last a century. Tolarian Academy, Fluctuator, Wildfire, Gaea's Cradle... All of these made a large splash at the first Block Constructed tournament, Pro Tour: New York. Wizards R&D realized the mistake it had made, banning most of these cards in block (in addition to the other formats they were wreaking havoc upon).
Replenish is a very powerful card, and as such it saw play in a multitude of distinct archetypes, from the original Yawgmoth's Bargain decks to the PandeBurst decks that saw play in Extended and Type 1. The definitive aspect of the Replenish archetype - the difference between decks that used the power of Replenish and a Replenish deck - is the inclusion of Opalescence. Opalescence gave Replenish its character, allowing the deck to kill easily once a lock was established (another characteristic of the way the archetype played).
Following the Pro Tour, Urza's Destiny was released, adding two new archetype-forming cards. These two cards, Replenish and Yawgmoth's Bargain, found themselves the representatives of combo for the entirety of the Block Qualifying season in 1999.
Both Replenish and Opalescence were printed in the same set - a reason their synergy was seen so quickly. The very first builds were seen early on the Dojo in articles that predicted the PTQ format to come. Replenish quickly became one of the decks to beat during the block season, alongside the likes of Stompy, Squirrel Prison, Con-Troll, Bargain, and Sligh. Before the Parallax enchantments that Masques brought, Replenish used Opposition for a lock before attacking for the win.
The core of the deck ran on Replenish, Opalescence, Frantic Search, Attunement, and Opposition - always in quantities of four. From there, Replenish decks were often compared to the Living Death decks of Rath Cycle Constructed, due to their flexibility and success in a variety of vastly different metagames. Theron Martin said candidly,"You could play it five times in a row in a qualifier and not hit the same configuration twice." The most commonly-seen threats included Confiscate, Worship, Treachery, and Lilting Refrain. However, many others saw play and were successful in the right metagame, such as Mental Discipline, Delusions of Mediocrity, Serra's Liturgy, and Angelic Chorus. Several builds even tapped into the power of Academy Rector to use several one-of enchantments, such as Bargain, in their decks.
At the premier UBC event following the completion of the block, Grand Prix: Memphis, two Replenish decks made it into the Top 8:
Grand Prix: Memphis 1999 Top 8
Both decks were very similar, but Mike's choice to play the man-lands gave him the advantage in the mirror. This played out during the Top 8, with Mike defeating Dave in the quarterfinals, and then beating Mathew Norton's Enchantress deck in the semifinals, only to lose to Mike Pustilnik's Squirrel Prison in the final match. Both of these decks are also similar in that they ran specific main-deck hate, with Dave playing four Annuls and Mike playing four Disenchants.
Replenish as an archetype did not make an appearance during the Tempest-Urza's Type 2 era; instead players would opt to play the stronger Bargain- -Replenish deck. After Tempest Block's rotation from Type 2, however, Replenish was allowed to play with the big boys on the Standard playground. States '99 saw the first versions of Type 2 Replenish being attempted - although the deck was still extremely weak compared to the rest of the field. The only Top 8 a Replenish version made was at Kentucky States and was piloted by Bill Whitlow... And although several other people tried to achieve this success none were able to match it. In the Northeast area, no one accomplished more than a 50% win percentage out of the five players playing the deck.
However, with the release of Nemesis, Replenish gained two cards that would lead to its rise as a serious archetype in Type 2. Much like how the addition of Meditate gave rise to Prosbloom, Parallax Tide and Parallax Wave made Replenish a potent archetype following the release of Nemesis. Zvi drove this point home when, in an article analyzing the XLU-Replenish matchup, he opened with,"When I first built my version of Accelerated Blue, Nemesis was not out - so Replenish was still based on older, weaker enchantments. When I covered Accelerated Blue, Replenish was not a major deck type, so I chose not to cover the matchup. That was a big mistake."
Despite the seemingly obvious synergy between Replenish and the Parallax enchantments, by late March of 1999, Replenish had yet to be seen on the net. The general populace was unaware of the storm to come. However, several groups spread around the world were already beginning to realize the power the archetype contained, independently of one another. The first time the magic community had access to the finished product was when Patrick Minton posted an article on Meridian Magic about his Replenish build. Later that week, Cathy Nicoloff posted her thoughts of the newly-reincarnated archetype as a follow-up, and the floodgates opened. Across the ocean, Donald Lim had decided he could reveal his version of the deck, and placed four players in the Top 8 of the weekly Grudge Match tournament at Neutral Ground that same week (and in doing so, became instantly associated with the archetype, and credited with its creation by most of North America). Several days later, Replenish won the German National tournament and made Top 4 at a French Regionals tournament. Replenish had gone from an unknown to a Tier 1 deck in a single week's time.
German Regionals 1999
4 Seal of Removal
4 Seal of Cleansing
4 Parallax Wave
2 Parallax Tide
1 Back to Basics
4 Frantic Search
4 Adarkar Wastes
These first versions were, as could be expected, clunky. Donald Lim's original build contained Kyren Negotiations as a kill mechanism (and also lacked the game-winning Parallax Tide), and Minton's included the fantastically suboptimal Fanatical Devotion as another juicy enchantment. The most important discovery by these groups was the uncovering of Enlightened Tutor; while Patrick Minton didn't run a tutor base, Cathy Nicoloff and Donald Lim did, setting the backbone of Replenish for months to come. Running the Tutors gave Replenish, a deck that already had great flexibility, an even greater range of options. It allowed the Replenish player to find the elusive card that was stubbornly hidden away at the bottom of the deck, as well as making single silver bullets like Back to Basics possible. A popular arrangement was between two and four Enlightened Tutors, and a single Mystical Tutor to round it out.
In part because of this, Replenish was even more versatile in Type 2 than it was in Block, both in play style and viability. It could be played as either a control deck, or pure combo. Additionally, it was seen at the top tables of nearly every different metagame. In the time leading up to US Regionals, there was some debate on how Replenish should be constructed to best highlight its strengths - namely, whether it should be built with control or combo in mind. The deck could easily function in either mode; the deciding factor was the archetype on the other side of the table. The defining difference in the builds centered around the Mercadian depletion lands, and Frantic Search, which made the deck faster, but ultimately weaker. Zvi Mowshowitz went so far as to preach the complete abandonment of the card disadvantage in Search, as relying on Replenish getting through weakens the archetype against control. As US Regionals came and went, control-oriented builds won out, with not a single depletion land build making the Top 8 throughout the nation, and Frantic Searches were played solely as a way to get around Rishadan Port and Tangle Wire (a task they were quite effective at).
It was at this event that Replenish became as uniform as it would ever be. Due to the flexible nature of the deck, it was quite common to see rogue cards in the maindeck of winning decks - as Zvi said, in an article analyzing Replenish at Regionals,"It's hard to find one Replenish deck to use as a base; they all seem to have some unusual card in them."
Replenish was by far the most popular deck played during the Type 2 season in 2000. It accounted for at least a single spot in the Top 8 throughout the whole Regionals/Nationals/Worlds season. However, it was also the most-played deck in nearly every tournament, and second most-played in the cases where it was beat out. So it can be concluded that while it was making an appearance in most Top 8s, it was due to a large number of players piloting the deck, and not necessarily the deck's overall strength. The one Nationals tournament where it failed to show up on the final day, Canada, it was merely middle of the pack in terms of the sheer number of players using it.
Worlds 2000 was the last major tournament in which Replenish, in its classic form, made a splash. It failed to go out in a blaze of glory and win the entire tournament, but it placed Tom van de Logt in 5th place (going 6-0 in Standard), and immortalized him and his deck in a gold-bordered, black-backed printing of the entire deck, alongside of Jon Finkel's Tinker, Nicolas Labarre's crazy Chimera combo deck, and Janosch Kühn's Angry Hermit. Replenish was never ported to Extended or Type 1, due to the simple reason that a combo involving Saproling Burst and Pandemonium that used Replenish for support was stronger and more stable.
Tom van de Logt
Worlds 2000 Top 8
3 Enlightened Tutor
1 Wrath of God
1 Seal of Cleansing
4 Parallax Wave
1 Mystical Tutor
1 Seal of Removal
1 Energy Field
3 Parallax Tide
4 Frantic Search
1 Sky Diamond
4 Rishadan Port
4 Adarkar Wastes