Battle of Wits is almost by nature built as a hybrid deck. You have a deck of 240+ cards with the incentive all around this five-mana enchantment. Even if you wanted to go all card drawing and Tutors to find the aforementioned enchantment 1) there probably aren't enough available to do that and 2) you still have to have 200 cards in your deck to make Battle do anything. You need to fill the space with something so historically most Battle decks have been hybrid combo-control decks.
"Combo" in the sense that Battle of Wits is a "one-card combo" and control because you have so many available cards you can just jam a bazillion counterspells and removal cards in; your Battle of Wits deck is already going to be chock full of Tutors and card drawing right? What kinds of decks have all Tutors and card drawing? You can use them to find the right answer when you need to (especially when a Battle of Wits is somehow not fast enough on its own). Beatdown is less appropriate as it is more draw dependent. Control loves a game that takes all day especially when they have lots and lots of stall-tacular cards that do similar stuff. By contrast look at a creature deck. How much better is a draw with turn 1 Delver of Secrets than not? Turn 2 Strangleroot Geist in MGA or Naya Aggro? Creature decks are far more draw dependent—especially the more aggressive—and a 240-card deck is going to present weaker opening hands on average based on the vastly larger number of possibly available hands.
The Battle of Wits deck I am going to talk about in this article is also a hybrid deck. But instead of combo-control it is more of a combo-mana ramp or combo-mana ramp-control. Like most players I started on a straight B/U deck.
The problem I had was that I often failed to tap my lands during the first four turns. So if you have all answer cards (as a control deck often will) you have this issue that you can have the wrong answer. Negate when you need a Doom Blade Dissipate when they are playing around Mana Leak early but also have Cavern of Souls so on and so forth.
If you switch to a base-green model—especially a highly redundant one—you get to be hella proactive with your mana. This deck has a large amount of redundancy in the first two or three turns of the game. You can start on Birds of Paradise for the most explosive draws (Birds of Paradise into Pristine Talisman into Battle of Wits is a thing) and at least four different kinds of turn 2 acceleration. As long as you have your colors you typically have something
interesting to do.
Here is the list I have been playing with:
- 4 Solemn Simulacrum
- 1 Wurmcoil Engine
- 1 Acidic Slime
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 4 Borderland Ranger
- 2 Consecrated Sphinx
- 4 Primeval Titan
- 4 Snapcaster Mage
- 1 Thragtusk
- 4 Trinket Mage
- 1 Glissa, the Traitor
- 4 Druidic Satchel
- 1 Elixir of Immortality
- 4 Horizon Spellbomb
- 4 Ichor Wellspring
- 4 Mycosynth Wellspring
- 4 Nihil Spellbomb
- 4 Pristine Talisman
- 4 Sphere of the Suns
- 4 Battle of Wits
- 4 Dismember
- 4 Doom Blade
- 4 Forbidden Alchemy
- 4 Go for the Throat
- 4 Think Twice
- 4 Tribute to Hunger
- 4 Amass the Components
- 4 Barter In Blood
- 4 Black Sun's Zenith
- 4 Diabolic Tutor
- 4 Divination
- 4 Farseek
- 4 Gitaxian Probe
- 4 Green Sun's Zenith
- 4 Ponder
- 4 Rampant Growth
- 4 Temporal Mastery
Yes yes—I've probably missed something.
After watching Brad's interview from SCG Open Series: Buffalo I am wondering if I shouldn't try Trading Post... I already have the Wellsprings and Phyrexia's Cores right? That's the cool thing about playing a 244-card deck. You can try any sweet thing; there is probably room.
And yet... You would actually be surprised at how often you end up shaking your head in disbelief that you have to cut something from your Battle of Wits deck. It is pretty cool that you can play up to 244 cards...but even 244 is a limit and at some point you have to stop jamming in every planeswalker just because it is in your colors.
There is a lot going on in this deck (about four times as much as normal) so some of it will take some explanation; might as well start at the foundation...
4 Buried Ruin
4 Cavern of Souls
4 Darkslick Shores
4 Drowned Catacomb
4 Evolving Wilds
2 Ghost Quarter
4 Hinterland Harbor
1 Inkmoth Nexus
1 Kessig Wolf Run
2 Nephalia Drownyard
4 Phyrexia's Core
4 Woodland Cemetery
100 lands out of 244 cards is about 41%; that is about the same as 24-25 lands in a regular-sized deck... So even though you have 100 lands it's not like you are super heavy on mana (until you start counting all the acceleration which we will in a moment).
You might have noticed this bit:
There are actually more Forests than Islands in this deck (if only by one) but not actually more green (on account of the dastardly Darkslick Shores). This deck has a lot Lot LOT of early game green action. You might want turn 1 Forest for Birds of Paradise and you are generally pretty happy to play turn 2 Rampant Growth or Farseek both of which require fast green.
The Mountain has only one function: the activation of the one Kessig Wolf Run. In a 244-card deck the inclusion of one Kessig Wolf Run one Mountain and one Inkmoth Nexus is pretty low-cost (especially when you win with Prime Time half the time).
I am hot and cold on having only two Swamps. I think two is the right number but especially when we go to videos you will see that we are often under pressure for black or even double black. Barter in Blood is a key defensive card in this deck and Diabolic Tutor is a proxy setup for the win. That said the deck has four each of Evolving Wilds Darkslick Shores Drowned Catacomb and Woodland Cemetery (not to mention four Mycosynth Wellsprings in addition to all the green search)... So you will actually have both Swamps in play a surprising amount of the time for a 244-card deck with only two Swamps.
The deck wins with Primeval Titan almost half the time and one of the cool things about the deck is that we can jimmy jam not just everything you have grown to love to do with Prime Time but things that are sweet that can be facilitated by it...but aren't usually done like:
As was mentioned this deck has a full-on Wellspring package a la my Mono-Black and "Mono-White" control decks from last month's videos. One of the legit lines of play is to sit there and two-for-one your opponent while gaining life or some other small advantage. No one has as much materiel as you so either they go over the top or you will eventually run them out. Especially in a deck that has Rampant Growth AND Farseek AND Solemn Simulacrum giving up the land in play (Buried Ruin) for the two-for-one land-grabber (Mycosynth Wellspring or even Solemn Simulacrum) is quite low cost.
Have you ever seen a Primeval Titan search up a pair of these?
There are some situations where you can jam out your Primeval Titan with a very high confidence of resolution (i.e. you have one of the Maximum Number of Cavern of Souls) but you know that Primeval Titan is dead next turn... It probably won't even get an attack.
So what's a girl to do?
Often the decks that can kill a Primeval Titan can't possibly withstand a Drowned Catacomb. So if they are flush with removal... Who cares? These decks often have Nephalia Drownyard themselves. I don't think we have to worry about a Drownyard race do you?
I feel so rich playing these. Such a backbreaker so often.
One of my favorite strategies when I am losing to Delver in the short term is to Cavern up Primeval Titan for Glimmerposts and then do it again. If you have Cavern of Souls the Delver opponent's cards have very different reactive impact... Like he can keep bouncing your Primeval Titan (taxing you for one) but you get to keep playing it down (where you make up a solid multiple).
If you gain a ton of life while he is doing this it will be hard for him to kill you. So then you can eventually do something more productive with your Titan.
Great shades of GerryT on this one.
Like peanut butter and chocolate. The Mountain has no other function besides operating the Kessig Wof Run; the Nexus's destiny is to chump block a shocking amount of the time.
Two things that might be obvious and might not be obvious to you... I pretty much jammed whatever duals I could into this deck. But even with a proportional number of lands similar to a 24-25 land deck (plus ramp cards) a 244-card deck is going to tend to have worse mana than a regular-sized deck. The reason is that a regular-sized deck is pretty unlikely to ever hit a streak of 30 Forests and 30 Island (more-or-less) while this one at least can. Basically every B/U deck in Standard has four Darkslick Shores and four Drowned Catacomb like I do but they are much Much MUCH more likely to draw them early.
A pretty common scenario with this deck is to dig up blue and green lands early and then use Primeval Titan to facilitate your black (or double black). When you do that it is important to remember that not all dual lands are created equal. All other things considered you should usually get double Darkslick Shores because any of your other duals are likely to hit the battlefield untapped if you topdeck them whereas if you are in Prime Time a topdecked Darkslick Shores is always going to come into play tapped. Frowny face.
So next up is the defining difference of this version of Battle the ramp and land search:
4 Horizon Spellbomb
4 Mycosynth Wellspring
4 Sphere of the Suns
4 Birds of Paradise
4 Rampant Growth
4 Druidic Satchel
4 Pristine Talisman
4 Borderland Ranger
4 Solemn Simulacrum
4 Green Sun's Zenith
4 Primeval Titan
I am lumping Horizon Spellbomb into this crew even though it isn't really "ramp" so much as "a sweet card I have always wanted to play"; you get to play Horizon Spellbomb because of the crossover with Trinket Mage + the superpower of being able to tap for green mana in your huge B/U deck.
The rest of the stuff is everything you would normally jam into a regular ramp deck (if you could find room); P.S. we have room.
The green is the difference-maker in this deck. You are always doing something. There is nothing more frustrating than not doing anything am I right? I hate going five turns—and making land drops—and never playing a card.
The other thing is that you keep touching your library. You might not think of a Rampant Growth as getting you a card closer to Battle of Wits but it kind of does. Plus—and this is important—ramp makes Battle of Wits that much faster. The whole point of playing this deck is that you can get a fifth (or so) turn one-card combo kill; well you know what is better than a turn 5 Battle of Wits (which is in fact "only" a turn 6 kill)? A turn 4 Battle of Wits (which you can accomplish with any number of ramp spells). You know what is even sexier than that? Turn 1 Birds of Paradise into turn 2 Pristine Talisman (or whatever but Pristine Talisman is sexiest) into turn 3 Battle of Wits!
The deck has a fair Zenith package.
Green Sun's Zenith's most common job is to get Birds of Paradise on turn 2; the next most likely is to find Primeval Titan. You have Acidic Slime and Thragtusk as bullets on five and more Thragtusks to side into against beatdown burn etc.
Glissa the Traitor is a specialist in this deck. It's not the most common target but it can be pretty annoying for some. How is a White Weenie deck supposed to get through Glissa? And when you start looping some two-for-ones with Spellbombs or Wellsprings + Phyrexia's Core it can be pretty fun. Glissa doesn't come up often (you have one copy in a 244-card deck) but when it does it can become a combination defender and engine.
Trinket Style has his own little army in this deck. Nihil Spellbomb is just a "delayed blast" cantrip that can help you dig to your Battle of Wits (basically a slow cycler)... That also has great value against Frites Moorland Haunt and even Runechanter's Pike.
Horizon Spellbomb is a sweet card! It is kind of like a really crappy Amass the Components—total investment of four mana two-for-one. But again you can "delayed blast" it. The versatility of playing Horizon Spellbomb for only three total mana lets you hit your third land drop some games and it can help you set up black mana. This card might not make the cut in the absence of Trinket Mage... But we don't have to speculate on that do we?
Also gaining five life is a sometimes-desirable functionality.
Cards that draw cards.
Basically you want to make your 244-card deck smaller to help you find Battle of Wits and other bombs.
When you have a Diabolic Tutor the scripted play is generally to find Battle of Wits but that isn't always the right move. For instance you can actually be raced some games. You might want to find a Primeval Titan to gain life + block or Karn to remove a key permanent.
Stuff that kills stuff.
I am not going to claim that this deck is the be-all and end-all but it can beat anything. Anything. You have 24 dedicated removal cards (not counting planeswalker control like Garruk Tamiyo or Karn)...which is more removal than most decks have threats. You can double up with Snapcaster Mage or exploit your card advantage to draw into that copious removal.
Only a deck with 200+ cards can play the number of lines that BUG Battle can; you can play like a Kessig Wolf Run deck or you can grab double Drownyards to suffocate a midrange deck.
Speaking of which one of the greatest advantages of this deck is over basically any midrange control deck (especially ones without counterspells). Decks that are dickering over two-for-ones? Trying to get a little Wurmcoil Engine value with their Goat tokens? You are going to go right over the top.
I know Battle—even an accelerated Battle—is going to have some competition from the speed and fun of G/W Elves but I daresay it is easier for me to imagine Birds of Paradise ’ Pristine Talisman ’ Battle of Wits as a thing (because I have done it three times this week at least) than Arbor Elf ’ Elvish Archdruid ’ Genesis Wave [for both Village Bell-Ringers]...and another Genesis Wave (and some extra luck to boot).
Like any deck with ramp or midrange controllish elements Battle is potentially vulnerable to fast Delver draws. Honestly I would rate the experience of playing against various Delver decks as "not as bad as I thought."
I won more than I lost.
I would get the "ramp" draw and a Cavern of Souls and win like a Wolf Run Ramp deck instead of a Battle deck. Or I would kill all their guys. It was never particularly comfortable...but also not nearly as bad as I imagined.
There are two unique weaknesses to not just Battle decks in general but this deck specifically that you should probably be aware of before you pick it:
- You need to keep some weaker hands than you might with more conventional decks. You have a lot fewer dual lands proportionally than another three-color Standard deck. That affects your early distribution of colored mana especially given all the Phyrexia's Cores Ghost Quarters and Drownyards. Any 244-card deck is going to have a bit of a variable here.
- … But not every one is going to have the sheer volume of library touching. Horizon Spellbomb. Rampant Growth. Farseek. Green Sun's Zenith. Borderland Ranger. Solemn Simulacrum. Diabolic Tutor (ting!). Primeval Titan. Probably more... You touch your deck a lot in this list and while that is generally a positive multiple (if you are good) it takes a lot of time to search a 244-card deck.
Also as far as fast combos in Standard go this one can't be easily disrupted by a bunch of creature removal.
While I think this is the most fun deck in Standard—while still having a good shot to slay opponents—Battle is no longer alone in the realm of fast combo hybrid decks which I think might adversely affect its adoption.
Up next: Some pretty g-d exciting videos!