Right, so, hi, how ya doing? I'm good. Thanks for asking. Life has been stressful lately, but hey, what are you gonna do? I suppose I could talk to you about it, but for real, for real, do you want to hear about multiple love triangles, backstabbing betrayal, mental instability, federal investigations, and self-loathing narcissism on top of alienating the kindest person I've met in the past four years?
Or would you rather hear about Innovator.dec?
Innovator.dec is a Vintage hate deck I designed back about two months ago, but have been unable to write about as a result of my chaotic situation. Well... I'm back, child. Recognize. I'm gonna start putting the Vintage Ultra Tournament together, but my life has become a lot more hectic as of late.
In the meantime, here is a deck that destroys all of Steve Menenenenendian's decks. (I Heart U, Steve!)
Hide / Seek strategies have been growing in popularity lately, due to their incredible versatility. Against Long, it can function as a turn 1 or 2 kill, hitting their only Tendrils (if they only run 1, if not it can hit Will). Against Gifts, it can hit the Tendrils, but it can also stop a Colossus. Disenchant is obviously good versus Stax. It's actually more of a four-way modal spell as it can Shatter, Erase, Extract, and / or Stream of Life (only 93 times better).
Most people that have adopted Hide / Seek strategies have built Fish decks with Red instead of Blue, as you might imagine. Cards like Jotun Grunt, Kris Mage, Grim Lavamancer, Chalice of the Void, Null Rod, and Bazaar of Baghdad are popular, in addition to many of the cards Innovator employs.
In fact, at first glance, Innovator.dec resembles a Fish strategy. In reality, it is not aggro control at all. It is completely control. It seeks to attack narrow pressure points that vary from deck to deck, but the end is typically the same. Create a position where the opponent can't win. Then eventually win through incidental damage.
Innovator's strategy shifts depending on the enemy. Sideboarding is crucial (yes, I test sideboarding... when it favors my deck). Its primary strength is its (arguably) trump strategy over many Tier 1 archetypes, such as Gifts, Pitch Long, Ichorid, Stax, Dragon, and Fish. In addition, it can reasonably fight any deck that revolves around Blue cards, artifacts, or the graveyard.
Innovator's serious flaw is its massive weakness to bad decks. Just try to envision winning a match against Goblins. Yeah. It is, however, better than 50% against the top tier, save Slaver. Some debate its match-up versus Stax and Long (particularly Grim), but it is indisputably that it has good plans.
First up, Gifts. Most Gifts strategies currently played have but two roads to victory. This is the point to which we must apply pressure. They have so much library manipulation, it will take a lot of redundancy to overcome their initial attacks. However, as they thin their library of action, they will eventually reach a point in which they have no gas left in the tank.
Tendrils is a more serious matter. With only four Hide / Seek, it often takes a while to remove the Tendrils. However, there's disruption in the form of Duress and REB, as well as mana-denial such as Sphere of Resistance, Gorilla Shaman, Kataki, Strip Mine, and Wasteland, in addition to card drawing and tutors to find more disruption.
The first Seek target should generally be Tendrils. Literally, the only two other cards to be concerned of are Colossus and Yawgmoth's Will. Also, look for Burning Wish. It is difficult to get ahead cards versus Gifts unless you resolve Confidant. Their Ancestral engine will make it feel like they have fifteen counters instead of ten.
If you focus on disrupting them, it will be difficult for them to ever “go off” with Tendrils or protect a Colossus. The longer the game goes, the more it favors Innovator. One can only Brainstorm, Merchant Scroll, Gifts, and Tutor so much before there is no gas left in the tank. Meanwhile, Innovator's library is thinned only of land.
Sideboarding is an interesting battle of the wits. Your creatures are very strong versus Gifts. This makes the obvious plan for them to bring in Fire / Ice, Pyroclasm, and / or Massacre. Innovator's answer is to board out the Confidant, Kataki, Heretic, Lava Dart, and Vampiric Tutor. Bring in 4 Leyline of the Void, 1 Pyroblast, 1 REB, 2 Cursed Scrolls, and 2 Tormod's Crypts.
First, there is inherent card advantage to blanking Gifts sideboard cards. Gorilla still 187s artifacts, even if he dies, so he still produces card advantage. With this much graveyard hate, it will be difficult for Gifts to ever profit from a Tendrils or Will. Colossus is never scary in this match-up anyway, so your biggest threat is a Chain of Vapor Tendrils if Gifts gets up too many cards. Cursed Scroll seems bizarre, but provides a road to victory that is more difficult to deal with than fragile men. Still, there is nothing wrong with keeping some Confidants in under some circumstances. This match-up is typically very difficult for most Gifts decks.
Up next, Pitch Long. Game 1 is close to 50%, swinging tremendously on the coin flip. However, it is certainly much tougher if they have two Tendrils. The primary plan is to Seek the Tendrils, of course, but also to disrupt the manabase. Duress and Red Blast fight card drawing, which lowers the mana they have to work with. Gorilla and Kataki attack the artifact mana. Waste and Strip are obvious. Sphere is an important tool and is often tutored for, buying a fair amount of time.
Sideboarding is where things improve for Innovator. Take out 3 Kataki, 4 Plow, and 1 Heretic. Bring in 4 Leyline of the Void, 1 Pyroblast, 1 REB, and 2 Tormod's Crypt. Aside from obviously removing the weak to useless White cards, the graveyard hate is vital to fight a double-Tendrils game and the possibility of a turn 1 or 2 kill. Lava Dart stays in to fight Xantid Swarm (which fights Pyro and REB).
As is typical, just attack Long's hand, graveyard, library, manabase, and Blue cards. Their over-reliance on tutors will thin their deck, like Gifts. Meanwhile, you just need to stall them long enough to remove both Tendrils. Remember, a turn 1 Vamp should probably get Sphere of Resistance, if you have no graveyard hate, as you have no graveyard hate, as they will have two Tendrils and you can't afford to give them two undisputed turns.
Pyro Brainstorm! They lean on card drawing to fix their mana. Between 4 Duress, 6 Red Blast, 4 Leyline, 2 Tormod's Crypt, and artifact acceleration, it is common for Innovator to have two disruption spells on turn 1. Another disruption spell on turn 2 should buy a few turns. The final plan is still lock them with no victory conditions.
Grim Long is harder, as it kills on turn 1 more often, and Innovator is without Force of Will. Still, their manabase is far sketchier and sideboarding is huge. Bring in 1 Cursed Scroll to win with, but also to kill Elvish Spirit Guides.
Up next, Ichorid. Game 1 is primarily a question of if Ichorid has any sort of a reasonable draw. Regardless of if they have mana or not, their plan trumps Innovator's without question. Innovator's best hope is a timely Wasteland.
It is vital to mulligan into a hand with relevant hate. Pithing Needle is the best, in many circumstances, as it is prevents Ichorid from using its insanely busted Bazaar to dig for answers. Leyline is also usually game, though they have plans to fight it. The key is to buy yourself time with an early Leyline, Crypt, Needle, Waste, Strip, or Tutor. Then pile on the disruption while drawing tons of cards. Eventually Cursed Scroll Wins, and can incidentally be very useful for slowing an eventual Ichorid attack. Remember to Scroll on upkeep to prevent Cabal Therapy sacrifice. While game 1 is probably 15-85% in favor of Ichorid, games 2 and 3 are 85-15% in favor of Innovator. It is exceptionally hard for Ichorid to fight this many forms of hate. Innovator has literally every good anti-Ichorid card but Grunt.
Stax is a very different kind of game. In this battle, Innovator must play much more like a fish deck. Here, Hide is used whenever needed to clear Smokestacks or Crucibles. Gorillas, Kataki, and Heretic are your main plan. Get an artifact-hater down, and ride it to victory. This struggle has many more little issues. Wasting Workshop is obviously solid. Plow is primarily for Welders, but is insurance for random fatties. Five-Color Stax is much more challenging than UbaStax. Triskelion, Tinker, Balance, and Sundering Titan are all rough.
While Gorilla, Wasteland, Hide, and sometimes Duress are all good, it is really Kataki that shines. Heretic is your ace and is the tutor target of choice.
Your game 1 strategy is reasonable and all you really need to do is replace dead cards with more hate. Pithing Needle typically names Welder, Triskelion, or Barbarian Ring, though you must name Granite Shard if they have it (as most UbaStax do).
If you think it is appropriate, you can swap a Duress and a Leyline. Leyline is obviously for Crucible and Welder. Flux and Heretic can devastate Stax, if unanswered.
Kataki, Gorilla, and Hide / Seek all still give you a robust attack on their over-reliance on artifacts.
As UbaStax has none of the difficult cards listed above it is generally a fairly good match-up. Five-Color Stax is still vulnerable though, you must be far more proactive, or they will eventually Balance you and Tinker out Titan. This is a bad thing, from what I understand.
Dragon is a lot like Long in that you must disrupt them as much as possible, though they are far less vulnerable to Seek. Plow, on the other hand, is devastating. In addition, your graveyard hate is absurdly good.
Sideboard out: 1 Heretic, 1 Dart, 3 Kataki, 1 Sphere, 4 Hide / Seek
Sideboard in: 4 Leyline, 1 Pyro, 1 REB, 2 Tormod's Crypt, 2 Pithing Needle
Though depending on their build, and the time left, you may want to cut some more men for the Hide / Seeks. Pithing Needle is for Bazaar. Red Blast anything. It is very hard for Dragon to deal with this much hate, but remember they will often start up game 1.
Fish is a very strange match-up, from a Vintage perspective. Again, the key is to play the control role. Red Blast is good removal, as is plow. Game 1 is a little rocky, as some of your hate is weak, but they will have a weak hate too. You can find uses for your cards. Duress hits Force of Will, Hide / Seek hits Mishra, Gorilla hits Vial, and Kataki trades with Kataki. Even Heretic is a worthwhile fatty.
Sideboard out: 1 Sphere, 1 Vamp, and whatever was least effective out of Duress, Hide / Seek, and Kataki.
Sideboard in: 1 Pyro, 1 REB, 1 Heretic, 3 Cursed Scroll
Now the plan is to stabilize and win with Scroll, which is extremely hard on many Fish decks.
Slaver is hard, as they have a much more rounded strategy than most of the decks listed thus far. Still, use the appropriate hate and try to achieve card advantage. Tinker is far and away their most powerful card, as Triskelion, Sundering Titan, and Mindslaver can be brutal.
What to do about random craziness like R/G? All I can suggest is to take out all the dead cards and try to play as a bad Fish deck. Dark Confidant, Plow, and Scroll are good against random decks.
Would I recommend Innovator.dec (which I did not name, for the record)? If you anticipate a field of primarily Tier 1 decks, or you are confident you can outplay random people, then 100% play Innovator. It is incredible against all the top decks (save Slaver). If you make Top 8, you are in an excellent position to win the Lotus.
Its biggest flaw is that it doesn't do anything broken, making it suspect versus anything other than what it is tuned to beat (Blue, artifact, and graveyard). In addition it is vulnerable to dying before taking a turn. Not playing any of the broken unrestricted cards is also weird. (Brainstorm, Gifts, Force, Drain, Merchant Scroll, Dark Ritual, Grim Tutor, Bazaar, Workshop).
Innovator.dec certainly involves paying a price in the form of all you are declining to use. However the pay-off comes every time you face an opponent you are pre-hating.
If I could give but one tip on running Innovator, it would be the control deck. You are not the beatdown!
Oh, and this is the obligatory Michael J. Flores reference. Congratulations on Writer of the Year. I'm glad to see the Ted Williams of Magic Writers got the credit he deserves.
Finally, thank you to everyone who voted for me for Up and Coming Writer and Article of the Year. It is indescribable, the feeling of this sort of recognition from your peers.
The truth is, my new situation makes it far harder to write articles (ironically), but the love and support of the readers make it all worthwhile.