Phyrexian Obliterator and Tombstalker
I’ve had a lot of people laugh at Phyrexian Obliterator, but study those two cards very carefully. Once resolved, which one is more likely to win the game? I can’t count the number of times I’ve won by trading discard, trading removal, and then ripping Phyrexian Obliterator off the top to trump whatever threats the opponent is playing. He can’t be blocked or attacked into, while a Tombstalker can be outclassed by a Tarmogoyf in the late game. Once, I had an opponent trade at six for one to avoid taking lethal.
My buddy David Gleicher, Tombstalker lover extraordinaire, claimed the flyer was better because it costs two, not four. On the other hand, Tombstalker is a turn three or four drop, while Phyrexian Obliterator can come down on turn two on the back of Dark Ritual. Meanwhile, Phyrexian Obliterator plays nice with Dark Confidant, a feat that Tombstalker can’t usually pull off.
A Tombstalker deck, on the other hand, will be using cantrip effects to draw the Tombstalker only when it can be cast, while the Phyrexian Obliterator deck needs a bit of luck to dump its champion into play.
Here is what I ran in the GP, which is a mere few cards from what I top eighted the Louisville open with:
Developing the Deck
The initial list was very intuitive to build, and took a total of ten minutes. After testing, I realized that I wanted a fifth accelerant, and added a Chrome Mox. Later, I cut a Dark Ritual for a second Chrome Mox which, while inelegant, makes sense because I wanted another non-land permanent source of mana, and realized that Dark Ritual was better than Chrome Mox to draw in multiples. A hand with both a Dark Ritual and Chrome Mox, while awkward in appearance, is actually fine because you can simply imprint the black instant.
I started with two Sensei’s Divining Tops, since it’s a great tool while living off the top of the deck, but with the addition of Chrome Mox I shaved the artifact count. There needs to be three equipment with Stoneforge Mystic so that the card always generates value. I like the second Umezawa’s Jitte because it’s the best equipment to naturally draw, and running two lets you win the Umezawa’s Jitte war against other Stoneforge Mystic decks. In the board, Sword of Feast and Famine helps savage BUG and Knight of the Reliquary decks, while Sword of War and Peace proved generally useful for its protective qualities and ability to kill a planeswalker out of nowhere. Batterskull turns Stoneforge Mystic into a real threat, but I don’t want to flip it on Dark Confidant, and it’s only better than Umezawa’s Jitte in a couple of matchups. Versus affinity, for example, Umezawa’s Jitte is just too slow, while Batterskull trades with a Myr Enforcer immediately.
I talked to Brian Kibler over the weekend, and it seemed he had some (generally valid) concerns. On the surface, it doesn’t look like I’m powering anything out besides Phyrexian Obliterator, so the Dark Rituals seem lackluster. However, chaining Dark Rituals to drop a sword and equip it out of nowhere is quite good, and takes many opponents by surprise. However, if the metagame shifts away from aggro and more towards control, my buddy Joe Bernal’s list without Dark Rituals and with Bitterblossoms is a more accurate choice, which is featured later.
The two hateful threats are Mirran Crusader and Bitterblossom. Once a Mirran Crusader resolves against a BUG-type list, it’s almost impossible to lose. Bitterblossom fulfills a similar role against UW Landstill, although that deck has a pile of Spell Snares and Repeals to possibly answer the enchantment. Both cards are malleable slots, and as the format adapts they may see increased numbers or be cut entirely. Also, they’re both capable of brutalizing the opponent with an Umezawa’s Jitte, as well.
In the maindeck, the Gatekeeper of Malakir fills the role of disruptive bear, and his power level is definitely up there. In testing, we were always impressed when we kicked him, and he’s the main reason I kept playing the deck. When Joe Bernal came over to test, it was the card that got him on the archetype, and he actually thanked me for showing it to him. (If you know Joe, this seems like a raging falsehood, but I assure you it happened.)
One thing that came up during testing is that, versus Landstill and Combo, you really don’t want actual grizzly bears post board, but cutting the Gatekeeper of Malakirs involved dangerously lowering the threat count. The solution? More hate bears! Tidehollow Sculler and Phyrexian Revoker were tossed around, with only Sculler making the cut since I didn’t want my answer to Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Vedalken Shackles, and Pernicious Deed being vulnerable to removal.
Mental Misstep is similar to Daze and Stifle in that, if it’s played around, the card can be somewhat blanked. It’s similar to Wasteland in that, if you build with it in mind, it’s loses a lot of value. In this deck, the Chrome Mox allows us to skip the one drop on the curve, essentially deading opposing Mental Missteps and letting us gain tempo before the opponent has added a threat to the board.
The one drops are also less vital to the game plan. If you have a turn two Hymn to Tourach, for example, a turn one Thoughtseize or Dark Ritual getting countered isn’t a big deal. Now the Hymn to Tourach will be much more likely to hit business, since the Mental Misstep is out of their hand.
Also, the one drops getting Mental Misstepped against Team America or Merfolk is typically fine because Swords to Plowshares is a sweet card against both decks, and pulling Mental Missteps early can ensure it resolves, like a Duress that shocks the opponent.
My buddy Joe Bernal joined me in the Louisville top eight with a differently tuned build, more designed to beat the control and combo decks than stomping on aggro. Here is what he ran at the GP:
“The Sword of Light and Shadow was for the mirror, which actually seemed somewhat likely. Also, the Oblivion Rings seemed good there as Vindicates number five and six. Most of my losses were mulls to oblivion or dredge, making me think that my earlier list that overloaded on graveyard hate would’ve done better. Also, replacing the Chrome Moxen with land might make the deck more consistent, but it also might lose what it has going for it.
In the end, I think it was a good meta deck, and it’s still competitive, but it loses a lot of value when it’s well known.”-Joe Bernal
Meanwhile, Ben Wong won a GP Trial with the following list:
I love the Aven Mindcensors, as they add disruption and some more evasive threats. I think the Volrath’s Stronghold is a tad ambitious, and would usually rather draw a threat off the top than draw a land that’ll give me a threat next turn. The deck doesn’t need more colorless sources.
The Predominant Matchups
Going into the GP, I thought the following decks were the ones to beat, so my game plan against them is more defined than vs. most legacy decks.
Merfolk: There are a slew of winning lines in this matchup, including a turn one Bob feeding a slew of removal, a Stoneforge Mystic winning the game almost single handedly, or disruption leading into a few kicked Gatekeeper of Malakirs followed up by a Phyrexian Obliterator or a naturally drawn Umezawa’s Jitte. The deck wasn’t designed to take on an open GP field, but rather to go Folk hunting at opens, and it fulfills this function well.
BUG: The BUG matchup is pretty decent, and I’ve played it into oblivion. The easiest line is sticking a Mirran Crusader or Sword of Feast and Famine, which is almost always enough to win. BUG is one of the reasons the deck runs so many high impact cards like Dark Confidant, Stoneforge Mystic, Mirran Crusader, and Phyrexian Obliterator. In the Hymn to Tourach mirror, both players hands get mangled, and whoever topdecks the best typically wins. Post board, having Pithing Needle for Pernicious Deed or Jace, the Mind Sculptor is key. If given the choice between Thoughtseizing or casting Chrome Mox and jamming a two drop, it’s correct to jam the two drop.
Landstill: This was the bad matchup, and one of the reasons I added Cabal Therapy to my board. The correct trump to a Hymn to Tourach strategy is a Standstill-based one, so the ability to beat the deck is pretty grim. Basically, it’s stick a turn one Bitterblossom or pray.
The Grand Prix
I ran the deck and didn’t day two, due to some mulls to oblivion and bad matchups. I can’t really complain about a diverse metagame, though. Painter and Stoneforge Bant, the two other decks I was seriously considering for the GP, both top eighted, and I feel silly in retrospect. I knew for a long time that I wanted a good, consistent deck with Brainstorm, and in that light my deck choice was a punt, though BW is competitive, at least. The goal of rocking BW in the open was to get turn one Bob out of my system, but all it did was give me hunger for more. Talk about a backfire.
At first, I was a little guilty of all the coverage I was getting, while not even day twoing. Then I saw others that had top eighted Columbus walking around as well, and I started feeling better. Magic is a hard game. Then I got home and looked up the top eight lists, and felt a touch of pride to see I had some indirect influence in the top eight.
I’m a big fan of Wilson Hunter’s maindeck. The format is slower, so shaving the speed elements makes sense, as does adding a fifth tutor for consistency. His sideboard, however, isn’t quite there. I don’t think the Llawan, Cephalid Empress‘ are better than more Red Elemental Blasts in the Merfolk matchup, which is good enough to not need hate, and combining the Cephalid empress with Painter’s Servant is a lot worse than just grinding them out.
After all this time, I’m a bit surprised that the shell of Painted Stone has stayed so close to the list I brewed up after a fateful Facebook conversation with Lewis Laskin. Typically, when I have a good idea, I’m almost sure someone else has done it first, and in Magic someone usually has. It turned out that Painted Stone was one of those rare exceptions, and I take pleasure every time someone takes the time to credit me. Like now, for example. Aren’t I great? Let’s move on to the next build, played by Christian Valenti, before my head gets any bigger:
While I would much rather have the fourth Grindstone in the maindeck, I can understand Christian’s reasoning, as it and the extra Lion’s Eye Diamonds are the cards that get sideboarded out most often, but you still want them for matchups where racing is an issue, and both cards improve on the play.
The other fantastic addition to Christian’s list, and the main reason I considered Painter for this GP, was the Spellskites in the board. The card looks fantastic against all of the cards that damage the deck. With them in the board, and Mental Missteps in the main, Swords to Plowshares is much less of a headache than it has been historically.
Since both Christian and Wilson cut a Volcanic Island from my old list, their mana base seems like the correct build, especially with the addition of four free spells.
Another deck that I considered leading up to the event, which won the whole thing, was Stoneforge Bant.
The maindeck has a lot of similarities with the list I top eighted the Atlanta open with. Two Stoneforge Mystics, some countermagic, no Natural Order. The differences are all fantastic calls for the GP Metagame. Jace, the Mind Sculptor gets better with the more Jace, the Mind Sculptors there are in the field, and Maze of Ith was definitely the correct call. My buddy Matt Norton rocked a Devastating Dreams Life from the Loam deck, and he was happy with his choice of Maze of Ith over Tabernacle in the tournament. While a Noble Hierarch deck doesn’t have Tabernacle as an option, it wouldn’t fit in the Maze of Ith unless the card was better than usual.
The absence of Force of Will is telling. A few people asked my opinion on their decks before the tournament, and the most common tweak I was making was to do the Alex B shaving down to three Force of Will, leaving the fourth in the board. I’m guessing my build of Bant would’ve played three, as the card is certainly worse in a field of Hymn to Tourach, but I admire James’s decision to cut the card altogether.
There are a few other clever metagame decisions, such as the maindecking of Sword of Feast and Famine, the sideboard Thrun, the Last Troll the emphasis on Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Sylvan Library, and the running of a single Birds of Paradise (which can block Tombstalker.). All of these options help the game one matchup against Team America, which means James didn’t need to rely on the brutal, if clunky, Mirran Crusader that I’ve been promoting.
Thanks for reading. You can catch me in the comments or at CalebDurward@Hotmail.com.