If you haven’t been living in a cave for the past weeks, you’re probably aware of what is probably the biggest scandal of the decade, and I do not mean the fact that Edgar Flores got to level 8 on the SCG player’s club. No, not the death of Osama Bin Laden, either. What I’m talking about is, of course, the ban of the World Champion Guillaume Matignon and well-known and respected pro player Guillaume Wafo-Tapa (plus two dudes, but let’s be realistic – no one cares about them) for leaking the Godbook for New Phyrexia. This article is not going to be about that, but I could not really write something this week and not at least mention the facts and give my opinion on them (well, actually, I could, but I don’t want to – if I have a space I might as well use it to give my opinion on things).
First, let’s start with the “magazine” issue. A lot of people seem to not understand why a magazine needs the entire Godbook, instead of just getting random spoilers like the websites. The reason for that is that the magazine does not need spoilers for preview articles – it needs it to write for when the entire set is already out. A magazine takes a long time to print, and it has to work, say, a month in the future. If they want to have something about the new format, they need to start a month before the format actually exists, they can’t just have previews.
Do I think that’s fair? No, not really. I don’t know what would happen to a magazine if they didn’t get anything beforehand – they would lag behind on the new set, but how does that affect their sales? They probably already lag behind in everything else anyway, since you cannot really get the results of a tournament a month before. If it was up to me, this policy would not exist. It is not, though, and we cannot really say I am expert conducting a business anyway.
So, how big is the advantage? If you keep it to yourself, I think it’s mostly negligible – what are you going to do with the cards? Even if you tell someone, sure, you can playtest earlier, but how much is that going to help you? Not as much as people think, in my opinion – which doesn’t mean it’s not an unfair advantage. It is, especially nowadays when the Pro Tour happens three weeks after the set comes out. Everyone who says that is the only reason those two players won, though, is just being silly – as much as I would like to think that Matignon beat me at Worlds because he had an unfair advantage, that is just not true (thought I would not mind being named World Champion now – just saying). They got to pretty much the exact same deck we did, anyway, and so did the rest of the tournament, and Wafo-Tapa always play the same cards even if they’re horrible – he even has all of them in foil version – so I’m not sure how much that does for him. To give you an example, the set has been out for weeks now, but I only played my first game of Block two days ago – if I had been the one with the Godbook, it would not have helped me in any way for this Pro Tour.
Everyone who says Wizards does that on purpose to benefit pros is also being extremely silly. I do not believe they even want the same people to win everything, it would not be good for them if there was no possibility of someone unknown breaking in. It is obvious that Matignon received the spoiler because he wrote for a magazine (as do all magazine writers), and not because he was pro (since no other pro receives anything).
Of course, there is also the financial aspect of it – if you have privileged information, you could theoretically make a ton of money. Imagine, for example, that someone knew Vampire Hexmage – they’d be able to buy Dark Depths at lower than a dollar to have it end up at 30. Or imagine if Force of Will had been reprinted in the new set – you could avoid losing a ton by selling all of them on MTGO, for example. Do I care about that? Not really, but I’m sure someone does.
As far as their punishment goes, I can live with it, and I would honestly be disappointed if nothing had been done, because I did not like what happened. I like and respect both players, but they made a mistake and they are getting punished for it. I do not buy the “who wouldn’t show their best friend?” argument – I wouldn’t, and Matignon shouldn’t have. He especially shouldn’t have if they were using this information to playtest before everyone else, and neither should have Wafo-Tapa once he got access to it. This, however, doesn’t change my opinion of them, or my level of respect – again, as I’ve said, they made a mistake and will get punished for it, and it’s no small punishment for them, mind you. When they come back and become HoF eligible again, the only thing that is going to count against them is the years in which they didn’t have the chance to do anything – the fact that they did what they did will not, at least in my eyes.
This is, of course, only my opinion – I do not fault you for having a different one. That said, let’s move on the actual article.
Remember how last week I wrote about how innovation was mostly overrated? Well, that doesn’t mean you can’t try anything new, just that you need to be able to identify when it’s bad and give up on it. When a new set comes up, you should try different things – how else are you going to figure out what’s good?
Right now, the most interesting deck to me is the new “Pestertwin.” Of course it’s not really a novelty, since everyone who has played since Kiki-Jiki and Pestermite were printed is aware of the interaction, but this is the first time the combo has been Standard legal, and I think it has real potential right now, especially because Deceiver Exarch is roughly 17 times better than Pestermite. Do I think this deck is good? Yes – if I didn’t think it had potential, I would not write about it. However, if I knew it was the best deck in the world, I would also not write about it, so potential is the key word here. Is it going to be better than UW? I don’t know, possibly, but this is the best time to find out, because I already know the deck I’m going to play if everything remains the same. That means I can try new stuff for a while, and if it fails, I’ll just play UW with 1 Batterskull and 1 Sword of War and Peace, and I should not need much time to tune or playtest that one.
The reason I think it’s good is not simply because it’s a “combo” (Mindcrank Ascension for example looks terrible), but because it’s a two card combo that is fast enough and attacks the format in a different angle. Valakut, for example, has no way to interact with you. UW has counters, but all its removal is useless as well. An aggro deck likely cannot kill Deceiver, and the 1/4 body with the tap ability means they’re definitely not killing you before you get the chance to combo. Right now, I also think you have the appropriate support for it. And, most important of all, it is not Caw-Blade!
Let’s start with what I think is the core of the archetype:
I start with this because I see no reason to play Pyromancer in this deck. I’ve never been a Pyromancer Ascension fan, and I’m pretty sure it gets a lot worse when you add eight non-instant/sorcery spells to your deck. Ascension itself doesn’t do anything to help your combo, and it makes you run cards that I don’t really want to run, like Lightning Bolt (more on this later). It also relies on an enchantment just like your main combo, which makes you still vulnerable to any enchantment removal you might face.
I’ve seen lists with 3 Twins, and I think that is horrible – if playing Ascension means you need more room, well, read the point above. This is your combo, this is how you kill people, your entire deck is made so that when you draw those two cards you kill them, you want four of each period.
Those are two real no-brainers.
Other than this, I think things get a little nebulous – you don’t have to play four of anything else. I think after this point, you have to decide if you want another color, namely black.
What black does for you is adding discard. Discard is incredibly powerful – much more than counterspells in this deck – because you can be proactive with it AND you get to see their hand. Nowadays, most counterspells are conditional to mana anyway, so if you have mana for a counter war, you could just pay their Spell Pierce instead, and if you wanna combo and their answer is cheap they’ll just pay the mana for your counter. Imagine, for example, 4 lands, Duress, Exarch, Splinter Twin versus 4 lands, Spell Pierce, Exarch, Splinter Twin – it’s easy to see that the Duress is infinitely better than the Pierce there, which will often not end up doing anything. No, the argument should not be discard against permission, but discard against Spellskite.
Spellskite feels excellent to me, and I would say it’s right now somewhat underrated. It serves two main purposes – the first one is blocking, by stopping a Sworded Mystic from getting through, as well as Goblin Guides or small Lynxes/Geopedes/Cobras from hitting you or your planeswalkers. The second is protecting your combo at no cost. Another point Spellskite comes favored against Duress is that it has “protection from topdecking” – If you want to make sure they did not draw anything, then Duress needs one more mana, whereas Spellskite just stays there until you need it. Spellskite also randomly stops opposing Splinter Twins, as well as anyone wanting to Giant Growth their creatures. It will also stop three different burn spells from killing your Exarch (whereas Duress will only work if they have two), and it may constrict their mana because they have to actually play the spell – for example, if they have double Beast Within, they need six mana to stop Spellskite but only three to stop Duress.
There are a bunch of things Spellskite does not stop, though, namely:
It’s also not as good if they’re just trying to kill you instead – for example, discard could disrupt them so that they can’t Primeval Titan turn four, but Spellskite can’t. You also don’t get to see their hand. Overall, I think discard is better, even if you have to add an extra color for that, but I would not be opposed to a couple Spellskites as well.
If you play discard, you want both Inquisition and Duress – I think 6 or 7 are a good number. Though Despise is, in my opinion, the better card, in this deck it makes no sense to play something that does not solve your biggest problem, which is instant speed removal.
Other options for disruption are Mana Leak and Spell Pierce. I am not a Pierce fan – again, as I’ve said, I’d rather play any sort of discard or Steelskite. If you do want to play counterspells, Mana Leak is the one I can get behind, because it has the added benefit of making you survive a lot longer. Besides, it’s OK to have some sort of permission to put the fear on them, so they can’t just tap out for something that theoretically deals with your combo (like Gideon) because you counter it and then kill them on the following turn. Still, as I’ve explained, I would rather play no counterspells and more discard.
Next comes card drawing, and here I feel like you have four main choices for extras – [card]See Beyond[/card], Sea Gate Oracle, Jace, and Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Sea Gate Oracle has the benefit of being Splinter-Twinnable, but I’m not sure how much I actually like this – costing three means you lag a turn behind if you’re searching for a combo piece, and it seems like it’s only really great if you have double Splinter Twin, otherwise you have to search for that one as well. If you disrupt them infinitely and they have nothing, then it’s going to be good to draw one more card every turn, but wouldn’t any Jace do the same? The difference is that if you do not have Splinter Twin (or cannot spend one), then Jace is much much better.
See Beyond looks great to me. It doesn’t do a whole lot of digging, but it fits your curve perfectly, and it’ll be good in the late game when you draw discard and know they have nothing.
Both Jaces are my favorite options, though. If you disrupt them a lot, following it up with planeswalker will be the best thing you can possibly do short of actually killing tem – after all, people don‘t say “planeswalkers are a discard‘s best friend“ for nothing (people do say that, right?). I actually like both choices, and you can’t play either if you play Ascension, another minus for the card.
After that comes “dealing with permanents”. Everyone automatically jams 4 Lightning Bolts in their Pestertwin (yes, yes, I know the card is not called Pestermite, but Exarchtwin or Deceivertwin does not sound good so I’ll keep calling Pestertwin and you can’t do anything to stop me), but I see no reason to play Lightning Bolt. You don’t really want to kill anything, as there are no creatures that stop your combo other than Spellskite and someone comboing before you, and Bolt doesn‘t kill any of those. You also definitely do not want to shoot them, and planeswalkers should not concern you much. Small creatures do not concern you either, because they will very likely not be able to kill you fast enough. If you do want removal, I think the best choice is either Dismember or Doom Blade, since they both kill Mystic, Cobra, Spellskite and Exarch (and this doesn’t mean that I think this deck will become super popular, but simply that you don’t really care about much else).
If all you need is time, though, then bouncing a creature is almost the same as killing it, which makes me think Into the Roil is by far the best card in this slot – it deals with Gideon, Torpor Orb (not that anyone should play this…), Spellskite, opposing Twins, and it actually digs a little bit if you need it to. If I were to play the deck tomorrow, I’d play something close to this (this is not a super well tested and tuned list by any means, but at this point I don’t think any new deck is going to be):
This mana base gives you 13 red sources, which I feel is enough for Splinter Twin because there is so much manipulation – that is the only red card in the entire deck after all. There are only two Mountains, so if people try to destroy them with say Beast Within, you might be a little in trouble. If LD becomes common, then you can play a third Mountain, but right now I don’t think you have to. 13 black sources with 9 that come into play untapped seems enough too, and 16 blue sources is more than you need. 24 seems like it’s enough, since the deck only needs four lands and there are a lot of cantrips. It might be a little bit too many actually, but you do play 3 colors, and if you don’t have to leave a land on top off a Preordain then it’s improving your chances to find the combo too. Besides, your fourth land has to come into play untapped, which means maybe a Terramorphic could become something else. I could be way off on the mana, though – I’d have to experiment a little bit more.
6 Jaces might sound like they’re too many, but, again, I really like them with discard and cheap blockers. Against control, Jaces are a game plan as good as any other, and against aggro you do not have to count on Jace to win the game for you – if Jace Beleren draws you a card and they kill it, or if Jace TMS Brainstorms and dies, that’s already fine, because it gives you both more cards and more time. There is not much in the format that can simply stop you from comboing (and even if there is you have 9 pieces of disruption), so it’s not a big deal to give them time to draw more cards as well.
I think the question we need to ask ourselves is this – if we go through all the trouble of disrupting them, isn’t it better to just play Grave Titan instead of this combo kill? I don’t think so. In long games it’s going to be almost the same, but if you’re under any kind of pressure (and you will be, be it from Mystic with Sword, Valakut, Goblin Guide, or Lotus Cobra), the combo kill is much much more efficient.
Possible changes are +1 Spellskite, +1 Into the Roil or +1 land, probably removing a See Beyond, a Duress, or a Jace Beleren, and a one-of Grave Titan is not a card I’d be completely opposed to playing either.
Remember that Deceiver Exarch has two abilities. You can use it to tap their blue source so that they can’t Pierce your Twin or force them to Into the Roil on their turn, but you can also use it to untap your own land. That might come in hand if they play a turn 5 Gideon on the play, for example – you can play Exarch, untap a land and Into the Roil it on the same turn. You can also untap your Mountain if you lack red mana (but then you need 6 lands and two Exarchs), and finally you can make infinite Exarchs, attack Gideon, and then use the last activation to untap one of your lands and Duress away their sorcery speed removal spell.
The sideboard is really hard to build without knowing the environment, but I think extra Spellkites are a possibility against decks full or removal or the mirror. More Jaces/discard against control is also decent, as is a counter like Negate (though not Leak or Pierce, since, again, they’re for the late game). You really don’t have a lot of room against control, though against aggro you have some discard you don’t mind taking out, as well as a couple Jaces, so you can play a ton of removal like Pyroclasm and Doom Blade/Dismember to make sure you don’t die too fast. You can also play some Grave Titans for those matches, or if someone is psycho enough to be playing Memoricide (though you do have Jaces, so not all is lost if this happens). Right now I cannot think of 15 cards that I would want and that match what I am taking out, so perhaps a transformational sideboard of some sorts is in order, but as to what that is I don’t know yet (NOT Pyromancer Ascension, since you really don’t want to expose it to what they’ll bring anyway – i.e. enchantment removal, Flashfreezes, etc).
For the record, a UR version for me would look like this:
So, this is it. Hopefully this deck (or some version of it) proves to be awesome and I end up playing it in Singapore. If not, and I can’t find anything else, I’ll just play UW. Hope you liked this, and see you next week!