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According to Webster – Reeling in the Vintage Remora

In my previous article, which can be found HERE, I introduced you to the seldom played Mystic Remora Vintage archetype. Even though the Remora isn’t the most popular banner toted around at tournaments, it is one of the most venomous to play against. Against an unprepared player, the Remora will create a paralyzing effect as they try to figure the best course of action. Oftentimes the avalanche of tempo and card advantage generated by the Remora will make it seem like you’re a deer in the headlights of an oncoming truck and about to meet your untimely demise. Fear not, for there is a cure to help ward off the dangerous Remora and its hindering effects. I will help you understand how to fight against the Mystic Remora with popular Vintage archetypes and emerge victorious.

In order to best explain how to play at your best against a Remora deck, a few assumptions must be made: 1) the Remora deck is playing first and with a turn one of Island + Mystic Remora. 2) The Remora list being played is the following:

Maindeck:

Mishra’s Workshop Aggro: One of the best ways to beat a Remora deck is having a strategy that ignores Mystic Remora entirely; playing creatures and attacking with them is one of them. The creature count ranges anywhere from ten to twenty depending on the build.

Mono-Brown (MUD):

Generally, there is more disruption (4 Chalice of the Void, 4 Tangle Wire, 4 Thorn of Amethyst, 4 Sphere of Resistance, 1 Trinisphere) in MUD than the versions that splash red which means a lower creature count (3 Arcbound Ravager, 4 Metalworker, 2-3 Karn, Silver Golem, 3 Triskelion, 2 Mishra’s Factory) and more cards to trigger the opponent’s Remora. Unfortunately, due to the nature of Mishra’s Workshop decks, waiting for the opponent to get rid of their Mystic Remora isn’t a good option. The Remora player will play all of their Moxes on their first turn to circumvent your Chalices and minimize the impact that your spheres have. With a Remora in play, your opponent will not be able to play Mana Drain very easily which gives you the opportunity to resolve a creature. If the opponent doesn’t have the ability to play Mana Drain, then casting your creatures is the best route to go. Otherwise, burying them under Spheres is what you need to do.

Sphere of Resistance and Thorn of Amethyst function as pseudo Abeyance effects. With a turn one Remora, the amount of mana that the opponent has untapped is going to be relative to the number of moxes that they’ve cast plus one assuming that they’ve played a land every turn. If the opponent only has one untapped mana, the first sphere functions as Arcane Laboratory in relation to their pitch counters; the second functions as Orim’s Chant. Once the game state gets to the point of you having more Sphere effects in play than they have untapped mana, you can go to play your threats. If the opponent can cast Mana Drain, using Spheres to a similar effect is also a good idea.

It’s crucial to acknowledge the importance of the opponent’s Moxes when using your Sphere effects to force through your important spells like Triskelion, Karn, and Sword of Fire and Ice (SoFaI). Chalice of the Void should be played at zero even after turn one. If you run out of creatures or need to play Spheres beforehand, shutting off the Moxes that they draw afterwards is still something that you want to do. Tangle Wire functions like a Chalice for Moxes that are already in play. For example, let’s say the opponent has two Moxes, three Islands, and a Remora (which needs three mana paid to it) in play with your Tangle Wire with four fading counters on it. It’s the opponent’s upkeep. Triggered abilities go on the stack in APNAP order (active player, non-active player) which means that the Tangle Wire is going to tap permanents, and then the Remora’s upkeep must be payed for. The Remora player will have all five of their mana sources tapped when they enter their main phase. On your turn, they’ll either have one untapped land in play or none so you’ll not have to play around as many Counterspells when determining your plays.

If the opponent gets rid of their Remora, then their deck becomes more dangerous because they’ll have Mana Drain to stop your important spells and fuel theirs. Commandeer isn’t very impressive against you because it doesn’t matter which side your Sphere or Chalice lands on. Tangle Wire is not as effective for you when it’s on their side because they’ll only have to tap two of their other permanents during the first upkeep that it’s in play.

Postboard, the matchup changes a bit. The opponent having Energy Flux means that you’ll need to play more of a prison role, keeping them off of their mana. Chalice and Spheres become more important; Metalworker also in case they resolve an Energy Flux because it’ll be able to pay for a few additional artifacts. You’ll need to ignore Remora and pile the Spheres into play.

Mono-Red:

The disruption suite in Mono-Red Workshop aggro is much lighter than MUD; it’s limited usually to 4 Thorn of Amethyst, 1 Trinisphere, and then either 4 Sphere of Resistance or Chalice of the Void. Additionally, some people include Tangle Wire instead of a SoFaI and a few creatures. There is a proportional increase in the number of creatures including the powerful Goblin Welder which makes preboard games go much more smoothly.

The differences between how Mono-Red plays out in relation to MUD are as follows: 1) With an increase in creatures (4 Goblin Welder, 2 Gorilla Shaman, 4 Magus of the Moon, 3 Solemn Simulacrum, 4 Triskelion), it’s much easier to try and exhaust the opponent’s supply of Force of Will before you have to play non-creature spells and let them draw off of their Remora. 2) Goblin Welder makes it easier to get a Triskelion or other big threat into play. 3) Postboard, you get Red Elemental Blast which is great at combating Energy Flux.

Against a deck with a lot of creatures, the Remora deck will have less time to keep one in play. Throwing your men at their Force of Will is what you want to do. It’s still important to play Chalice for zero and Moxes to help cast your creatures. Goblin Welder should be played only if you think you can resolve it or if you’ve exhausted your other creature options. Once the Remora is gone, you can play against the deck as you would a normal Mana Drain deck. Wasteland, Gorilla Shaman, and Thorn of Amethyst can be used to disrupt their ability to cast Mana Drain on your more important spells.

Tezzeret Control:

This is currently the most popular Mana Drain control deck. Lists have finally incorporated Thoughtseize to combat aggro/control and combo decks. As an added benefit, Thoughtseize significantly helps against the Remora deck.

The control suite in a generic Tezerret list will be 4 Force of Will, 4 Mana Drain, and 3 Thoughtseize; postboard, 2 Red Elemental Blasts may be added as well. The permission cards in Tezzeret match up equally in number to the Remora deck, which means that you can play against the deck like you would a normal control deck and fight over their Meditates and other restricted card-drawing spells and bombs like Yawgmoth’s Will. Tezzeret can match the long game power that the Remora deck has; its deck shell is quite similar: 16 lands, 7-8 artifact accelerants, 11 counters/duress effects, 4 Thirst for Knowledge/Meditate, and the same blue and black restricted cards.

When comparing the draw engines of each deck, Meditate is superior to Thirst for Knowledge. Why? When you play with Thirst for Knowledge, it really isn’t very good when you don’t have an artifact to discard. Most Tezzeret lists won’t have more than twelve artifacts in the deck (Black Lotus, Mana Crypt/Lotus Petal/Mana Vault, 5 Moxes, Sol Ring, Time Vault, Voltaic Key, Sensei’s Divining Top, Darksteel Colossus/Inkwell Leviathan), of which you don’t really want to discard any of the ones that produce mana. However, discarding two cards instead of a Mox every time isn’t going to let you win with card advantage effectively. You are then put into the position of having less mana than the Remora player which makes their Remoras all the more dangerous. On the other hand, Meditate is strictly +2 card advantage (when taking into consideration the card the opponent gets on their extra turn). Compare that to the maximum +1 that Thirst for Knowledge provides and it’s easy to see how the Remora deck can easily get ahead.

The control mirror in most formats is all about mana. Whoever has the most of it will be able to play their card-drawing spells in addition to being able to counter their opponent’s interference. The Tezzeret/Remora matchup is no different. Having Moxes in play is very important; it’s ok to play enough of them into a Remora to get to the point of being able to play a Thoughtseize or some other spell and be able to pay four mana to not let the opponent draw from their Remora. Just playing lands is also fine. The Remora can’t punish a land-heavy hand nearly as easily as it does a hand with only one or two lands and a lot of cheap spells. The Remora deck is going to win the games where Remora is good; in the other games, it’ll be more of a toss up. You get Red Elemental Blast in postboard games, which is very good in the matchup. Being able to get rid of a Remora or counter almost any spell that they play is going to significantly improve your chances of winning.

TPS Combo: A combo deck is one of the most difficult to win with against a Remora deck. The Perfect Storm (TPS) is currently the most popular combo deck in the current metagame. The problem stems from the basic strategy of how the combo deck is designed to play out. TPS plays out in two phases: 1) Resolve a combination of Ancestral Recall, Fact or Fiction, Gifts Ungiven, Mind’s Desire, Necropotence, Timetwister, Tinker/Memory Jar, and Yawgmoth’s Bargain to put itself ahead in the card advantage category. 2) Resolve Yawgmoth’s Will or Tendrils of Agony.

The problem with the basic TPS strategy is that it needs to use artifact acceleration and Ritual cards to fuel its card-drawing spells, which lets Mystic Remora keep up with the card advantage that TPS generates. Of the phase one spells that TPS will play, there are few that the Remora deck cares about trying to stop: Mind’s Desire, Necropotence, Tinker, Yawgmoth’s Bargain, and sometimes Timetwister and Memory Jar. The other phase one spells, tutors, and spells like Brainstorm, Ponder, and Rebuild can be ignored most of the time which makes it hard for TPS to bait out their opponent’s pitch counters. Due the to inability of TPS’s restricted cards to function effectively with an opposing Remora in play, TPS has a hard time overcoming opposing pitch spells with its own Duress and Force of Will.

Duress is a double-edged sword. In Mana Drain matchups, TPS normally loves playing Duress. However, a timely Commandeer will cause fits for the TPS deck. Stealing Duress on the turn that TPS is trying to win on will put them into an unrecoverable position, especially in the situations where Duress is played at the end of the spell sequence and Remora has drawn multiple cards.

It is possible to win against a Remora with TPS, just hard. What needs to be done is to assemble a critical mass of acceleration spells and set up a turn where you can use them and bounce spells to fuel a Tendrils of Agony (which will be hard) or Mind’s Desire. Duress and Force of Will shouldn’t be used if possible unless casting Force for its mana cost is an option. Trading two for one via Force of Will is going to lessen the storm count for the turn. Having Rebuild and Chain of Vapor is going to be better than if you replaced one of those spells with Force of Will.

If the storm spell used is Mind’s Desire, it will hopefully be for at least nine. At that point, Duress becomes much less of a threat because you’ll be playing spells from the RFG zone where Commandeer won’t be able to touch them. Ideally, you’ll be able to exhaust the Remora deck’s supply of pitch counters with the spells that you can play from Mind’s Desire and win.

Sideboarding gives TPS many great options to beat Mystic Remora. Creatures are one way to go. Xantid Swarm and Dark Confidant are great options. Xantid Swarm is definitely the most powerful card available as it invalidates their permission spells. Once a Xantid Swarm resolves, the game degenerates into whether Remora can dig into Time Vault and Voltaic Key before TPS combos out with Tendrils of Agony. Dark Confidant creates another source of card advantage that isn’t affected by Mystic Remora and decreases the required storm count for Tendrils of Agony to be lethal.

The psychological effect generated by Mystic Remora is quite powerful. Against a player who has not encountered the deceptive enchantment before, the Remora will almost certainly spell doom for them as they stumble with their game plan. Knowing when to play specific spells into it is skill-intensive and requires a good knowledge of the matchup. Hopefully, it’s easier now than it was before.

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