Since winning the Standard Open in Nashville, I've been getting a lot of questions about my deck. I'm going to try to cover all the bases with this article by splitting it up into four parts: an explanation of the cards in the deck and how it was created, a brief tournament report, my thoughts on the deck moving forward, and a sideboarding guide. Feel free to skip ahead to the sections that interest you.
Evolution of the Deck
Less than a week after Kessig Wolf Run was spoiled, my friend and fellow brewer Christopher Thomson sent me a list he referred to as the “prototype for a new Primeval Titan deck.” The list was rough. Very rough. It had no Garruk, no Green Sun's Zenith, but it contained the all-important combo of Primeval Titan, Inkmoth Nexus, and Kessig Wolf Run. I was intrigued. I love me some Primeval Titan, but my initial reaction was something like: “that's pretty cute, but let's be honest, it can't really be competitive.”
After only a handful of games with the deck, I was sold. Primeval Titan was still the real deal.
Slagstorm and Viridian Emissary give you an exceptionally good plan against aggressive decks, while Inkmoth Nexus + Kessig Wolf Run gives you incredible reach against control. As soon as Ancient Grudge was spoiled, I knew this was the deck I would be playing at SCG Indy and Nashville during the first two weekends Innistrad was legal. Not only do you have a plan against every expected deck in the early metagame, but a very good plan. After lots of testing, this is the list I settled on:
- 3 Solemn Simulacrum
- 3 Wurmcoil Engine
- 1 Acidic Slime
- 1 Birds of Paradise
- 3 Primeval Titan
- 4 Viridian Emissary
I played this list in Indianapolis and went 7-3 after getting pretty unlucky in a few matches. The deck felt really good, so I ran it again in Nashville with minimal changes, and obviously that one worked out.
I originally had a 4/2 split between Primeval Titan and Wurmcoil Engine, but Green Sun's Zenith provides a virtual four extra copies of the Titan, and Wurmcoil is just so important against aggro. I switched it to a 3/3 split and have been very happy with the change.
Garruk, Primal Hunter is a workhorse who just does everything you could ever want against opposing midrange and control decks. He can sometimes be a little awkward against the fast decks, but even then, at the absolute worst, you get a 3/3 Beast and four life. People often question whether four copies is necessary. The times that I don't draw Garruk and wish I did far outnumber the times I have had extra Garruks stranded in my hand. He is so powerful that I am absolutely willing to have a dead card in hand to keep an active Garruk in play. So yes, four is the correct number.
The sideboard should be pretty straightforward. I wanted a proactive plan against the control decks, and Thrun and Sword of Feast and Famine are both very powerful proactive threats that no control player wants to see (especially when combined together). Ratchet Bomb is sweeper #5 against Tempered Steel and Tokens, where being able to clear away their board is so critical.
The Tournament Report
Round 1 - Keith Swafford playing Mono-Black (Win)
Game 1 he actually killed me with turn 6: Sorin Markov, put you to 10 life. Turn 7: Sorin's Vengeance. I was a little rattled to start off the tourney with a loss like that, but Garruk and multiple Wurmcoil Engines ran him over in games 2 and 3.
Round 2 - Philip Fergerson playing Mono-U Grand Architect (Loss)
Round 3 - Adam Petrie playing Moorland Aggro (Win)
Game 1, Slagstorm cleared his board, and Wurmcoil Engine went all the way. He was able to land two Honor of the Pure in game 2 and overrun me with Mirran Crusader and Moorland Haunt tokens, but Slagstorm and Wurmcoil Engine dominated again in Game 3.
Round 4 - Joe Bernal playing Wolf Run Red (Win)
Red aggro is a very good matchup for this deck, and I was able to win convincingly in two games, even after taking a mulligan to five in game 2. Slagstorm, Viridian Emissary, Tree of Redemption, and Wurmcoil Engine are all huge problems for any red deck.
Round 5 - Josh Coleman playing Moorland Aggro (Win)
Round 6 - Andrew Shrout playing Township Tokens (Win)
Having a sweeper is absolutely essential in this matchup. I don't remember if I won this match in 2 or 3 games, but I know I ripped the Slagstorm I needed in the final game of the match when I was otherwise dead on board. Gotta get lucky a few times to win a tournament.
Round 7 - Brian Kibler playing RUG (Win)
This was my first of four video feature matches of the tourney and should be available to view here. Game 1 I mulliganed to five and died after only casting a Viridian Emissary. Games 2 and 3, Garruk did what he does against other midrange decks and completely dominated the game by himself. The constant stream of 3/3 Beasts coupled with Primeval Titan easily outclassed any of the creatures Kibler was casting.
Round 8 - Stephen Bonfardin playing G/B Pod (Win)
Game 1 he died to a lethal Inkmoth Nexus after killing my first one a turn earlier with Sylvok Replica. Game 2 he was able to chain Heartless Summoning into Acidic Slime into Acidic Slime into Reaper of the Abyss. Needless to say I was never in that game. From my experience, Pod decks can only beat you with a ridiculous opening like that. Game 3, Primeval Titan again brought an army of Inkmoths that poisoned him to death.
Round 9 - Christian Valenti playing Solar Flare (Draw)
This match was also featured on SCGLive, and our first game went an incredible 45 minutes. After resolving a couple Primeval Titans, I felt like there was no way to lose. I think my biggest mistake at this point was not being aggressive enough with my Inkmoth Nexuses. I gave Christian enough time to draw the Doom Blades to kill all four Inkmoths, at which point I honestly felt like I couldn't win. Miraculously, Christian eventually ran out of answers for my Garruks and Titans backed by Kessig Wolf Run and scooped, hoping to have enough time to win game 2. That's exactly what happened when he got a draw with double Phantasmal Image + Sun Titan + Oblivion Ring for my Wurmcoil and took down game 2 in five minutes to force the draw.
Round 10 - Jeremy Kelley playing Solar Flare (Win)
My final round of the Swiss was covered by Glenn Jones, and the full coverage can be found HERE. This was a great example of how this matchup usually plays out. Haymakers come down every turn from both sides, and eventually the Inkmoths get in for lethal poison.
Top 8 - Brian Braun-Duin playing U/W Blade
After looking over his decklist, I could tell I was heavily favored in the match. He had absolutely nothing to sideboard in against me, while my Ancient Grudges were amazing against him. The match played out exactly as expected, and I won convincingly in two games.
Top 4 - Jonathan Medina playing Solar Flare
In the semifinals, I got to play against Star City's own Jonathan Medina. His Solar Flare list was running zero maindeck counterspells and only two Dissipate in the sideboard. This lack of countermagic shifts the matchup heavily in my favor since I'm allowed to fearlessly play out my Garruks and Titans. Medina was never really in either of the games, and I won a quick match.
Finals - Christian Valenti playing Solar Flare
Game 1 was extremely similar to our first game in round 9. I was able to fetch up all four Nexuses with Titans, but he had enough Doom Blades to kill all of them. Unfortunately, there was no miracle win this time, and I succumbed to his Sun and Grave Titans. Games 2 and 3 showed off the power of the Thrun and Sword of Feast and Famine sideboard plan. Thrun almost singlehandedly went the distance in game 2 while a pair of Swords ripped apart Christian's hand in game 3.
Moving Forward After Nashville
So, what would I change? Honestly, not much. Every card in the deck pulled its weight over the weekend, and there is nothing I can specifically point at and say I want to cut. Batterskull is the card I most want to add to the 75. Mirran Crusader/Hero of Bladehold aggro decks can be tough, and Batterskull is a great tool to fight them (not to mention being great against Mono Red). I think Batterskull is definitely better than the second Tree of Redemption in the sideboard, and I'd like to fit a second in the deck somewhere.
People also really want to know how to beat Wolf Run Ramp. I've read a lot of reactions to the deck around the internet and heard claims that cards like Geistflame/Curse of Death's Hold/Ghost Quarter wreck this deck. I've got some bad news for those people: you have to deal with Garruk, Primeval Titan, and Wurmcoil Engine, not just Inkmoth Nexus.
I don't think there is any “catchall” answer card to beat this deck. Instead you need to make adjustments to your overall plan and how your decks are built. Will Solar Flare lists without Mana Leak be viable moving forward? Not if Wolf Run Ramp becomes a mainstay in the metagame. Go back and watch my Top 4 match to see what happens when the control deck has no way to interact with Garruk and Primeval Titan before it hits play. In fact, having access to hard counters like Dissipate and Flashfreeze, or discard spells like Despise, is probably a smart plan. Additionally, instant-speed removal is essential to fight the Inkmoths while still being good answers to the other fatties. Control decks should have access to four Doom Blade in the 75, if not maindeck.
As mentioned earlier, another way to fight Wolf Run Ramp is with Mirran Crusader and Hero of Bladehold. Both creatures can be very problematic, and W/x Humans has been one of the harder matchups in my experience. I like the U/W Humans deck with Angelic Destiny that has been gaining popularity. This could be a good point to start playing that deck.
Of course, everyone wants to know how to sideboard with a new deck, so here you go!
Vs. Solar Flare:
Cutting Wurmcoil Engine might seem weird, but I think it is correct. Your main win conditions are Inkmoths, Thruns, and Swords, and the Wurmcoils usually get exiled with Oblivion Ring or copied by Phantasmal Image, which is really annoying for your Sword plan. Keep in mind this plan is for the stock Solar Flare lists. If you come up against a U/B Control deck that has no good answers to Wurmcoil, you might want to keep them in. This is where figuring out how to sideboard on the fly is very important.
Vs. Birthing Pod
Again, your main win cons are Inkmoths and Garruk. The Wurmcoils are just not necessary. You have overwhelming inevitability as long as you keep Pod off the table.
Vs. Tempered Steel
Vs. W/x Humans or Tokens
I hope you all enjoy the deck as much as I do. Good luck to everyone at States this weekend!