Dealing with Hate

I stuffed in a lot of Eternal Magic over the weekend, including 8 rounds of the Invitational and another 10 in the largest Legacy Open of all time. I played strong grinders, format veterans, and a few first-timers. At the end of three days my brain melted to the point where it was hard to string a sentence together. All told, I played a ton of Legacy, and got into a few interesting situations.

To the surprise of no one, I ran the Punishing RUG deck I’ve been testing, recording, and writing about for the past month or two. You can find the list here. Going in, my main concern was that, as an engine deck, it’s vulnerable to hate. Some hate can be played around, but [card]Rest in Peace[/card] crushes both [card]Punishing Fire[/card] and [card]Tarmogoyf[/card] so well that it needs a specific answer. At first I tried overloading on typical solutions like enchantment removal and countermagic, but after that I started testing more targeted, crazier strategies.

My initial plan was to sideboard out all of the [card]Tarmogoyf[/card]s, leaving in [card]Punishing Fire[/card] and [card]Lightning Bolt[/card], to bring in a pair of [card]Banefire[/card]s and become a true counter-burn deck. The primary [card]Rest in Peace[/card] deck is Miracles, and that particular control mirror lasts long enough for that plan to actually work.

On the other hand, it doesn’t protect against the creature decks that can also support Rest in Peace—decks like Death and Taxes. While I didn’t expect to face mono-white, my buddy Bernal suggested a less finicky sideboard plan that works against a wider variety of decks. That is, if my opponents wanted to hose me with Rest in Peace, I would return the favor with [card]Helm of Obedience[/card]—a direct, unfortunately narrow hate card, yet does the job in terrific fashion.

Naturally, since I prepared for Rest in Peace I never faced it. I did, however, run into a variety of other hate cards.

Nihil Spellbomb

[draft]Nihil Spellbomb[/draft]

In the last round of the Legacy Open, I was sitting at X-1-1 and facing Harry Corvese. At the time, we thought we were playing for Top 8.

In game one, I caught some poor draws, picked the wrong card off an Augur, and died before catching up.

In game two, I got the [card]Punishing Fire[/card] combo online. Rather than have the decency to roll over and die, Harry played a [card]Nihil Spellbomb[/card] to complicate my life. Eventually, I won through it by dredging [card]Life from the Loam[/card] to get back a second [card]Grove of the Burnwillows[/card], allowing me to play through the hate and force Harry to cycle his artifact.

Game three was a long, drawn out affair where I started out by Misdirecting an [card]Ancestral Vision[/card], but was unable to close the game before he resolved a second. He drew into a [card]Wasteland[/card] for my Grove and ran out a [card]Deathrite Shaman[/card].

My hand included a [card]Punishing Fire[/card] and two [card]Lightning Bolt[/card]s with an opponent at 13 life. My graveyard already had one Punishing Fire.

Assuming I’m not willing to let Harry keep his shiny new Deathrite, what burn spell should I use? Intuitively, it’s best to burn Fires before Lightning Bolt. Not only is it more efficient to use the more expensive spell when I have the mana, or the 2-damage burn spell on the 1/2, but it also leaves value in the ‘yard for when I draw into another Grove or the Life from the Loam.

At least, that was my reasoning when I killed his Deathrite, but as I passed the turn I remembered the [card]Nihil Spellbomb[/card] he’d shown me in game two, and sure enough he drew it that turn to punish me. Had I split up my burn spells, I would’ve had a Punishing in hand when I drew Grove a few turns later, likely winning the match.

I could blame the fact that it was my 26th round of Magic in three days, but in the end, Nihil was a hate card I hadn’t played around yet and I was too rushed in a slow, grind-y matchup to realize the implications in time. The difference could’ve cost me a Top 8, so it’s worth sharing.

Surgical Extraction

[draft]Surgical Extraction[/draft]

I was paired against constant grinder and general nut-high Christian Calcano with BUG cascade. In game one I assembled the Punishing Fire combo, which put the game away.

Game two started slowly, with both of us cantripping and making land drops. Finally, he played a Deathrite, and I killed it with Fire. When I went to rebuy it, he paused me and said he was responding to the trigger with a [card]Brainstorm[/card].

Since he knew the top card of his library, I put him on [card]Surgical Extraction[/card] and burned a [card]Red Elemental Blast[/card] on the cantrip. For the rest of the game, I held my Punishing Fires. While I didn’t draw a second Grove to play around the hate card, I eventually got the Wastelock going with [card]Life from the Loam[/card], forcing the Surgical.

Some turns later, a combination of [card]Punishing Fire[/card] and [card]Augur of Bolas[/card] beats put him away.

While Calcano needed to telegraph the Surgical, once I had that information I could drastically warp my line of play to win the game. I wouldn’t go through the trouble to play around [card]Extirpate[/card] effects blind, as going to time is a real concern for a control deck. In the end, Magic is a game of information and what you do with it.

As for the Standard portion of the Invitational, I ran Bant Hexproof, which felt similar to being this cat.

Meathooks

I heard rumblings about this deck over the weekend, though no one was playing it.

Meathooks is one of those old, obscure decks where you could start every round by announcing, “I’m playing Meathooks,” and most of your opponents wouldn’t know what you’re talking about. The last time I played against it was in a side event of GP Hulk Flash, and that was six years ago. I believe the last time it put up a reasonable finish was at Gen Con ’08.

The deck functions similarly to Merfolk, only with Slivers. Some benefits over Merfolk include the ability to play legitimate spot removal, like [card]Swords to Plowshares[/card], as well as actually use the colorless mana from [card]Mutavault[/card] or [card]Wasteland[/card] to cast a two-drop lord. Also, Meathooks is less vulnerable to color specific hosers like [card]Red Elemental Blast[/card], [card]Goblin Piledriver[/card], or [card]Llawan, Cephalid Empress[/card] (though I haven’t seen a Llawan in a while). Last but not least, [card]Crystalline Sliver[/card] goes above and beyond the power level of the killable [card]Kira, Great Glass Spinner[/card], and Slivers never has to worry about having your Kira bubble popped by a [card]Karakas[/card] or a Jitte counter. Also unlike Kira, Crystalline can be Vialed in in response to a removal spell.

Merfolk has dominated Slivers in playability for a few different reasons, such as more blue cards for maindeck [card]Force of Will[/card], more utility in the various abilities, and a playable one-drop with a unique ability that has synergy with [card]Wasteland[/card]. Most importantly, [card]Silvergill Adept[/card] smooths draws and allows the deck to fight through piles of disruption. The last time the Sliver deck was popular was during the Goblin-centric metagame of old. Then, Merfolk’s weakness to [card]Goblin Piledriver[/card] was a real liability.

Looking at the current field, it’s strange to remember Slivers as a serious tournament force. I once ran [card]Plague Sliver[/card] in Suicide Black specifically for that deck, as bizarre a hate card as using [card]Goblin Pyromancer[/card] against Goblins.

With the new M14 Slivers, Meathooks has another lord and enough blue cards to support maindeck [card]Force of Will[/card] and a powerful one-drop with a relevant ability. While it still lacks a [card]Silvergill Adept[/card] or [card]Elvish Visionary[/card] (thankfully), the presence of [card]Crystalline Sliver[/card] might make the deck worth piloting over other tribal alternatives, especially in a RUG Delver metagame.

Back in the day, the deck suffered from a lack of playables, and as such it ran [card]Brainstorm[/card] to pad the numbers. Today, we finally have enough lord effects to cut the filler cantrips. Brainstorm might be the king of cantrips, but in the end we’d rather have another creature. Our win depends on achieving a critical mass of threats in play so that they can all pump each other. Unlike threat-light decks like Esper and RUG Delver, tribal decks would rather just draw more guys. As such, filtering loses its effectiveness.

On the fourteen-hour drive back from the Invitational, my buddy Tragos talked about the deck as a superior alternative to Merfolk. I asked him for a list, and this is what he sent me:

Meathooks, by Peter Tragos

[deck]3 Wasteland
3 Tundra
3 Tropical Island
4 Misty Rainforest
4 Flooded Strand
4 Mutavault
4 Muscle Sliver
4 Sinew Sliver
4 Predatory Silver
4 Crystalline Sliver
3 Phantasmal Image
4 Galerider Sliver
4 Force of Will
3 Daze
2 Spell Pierce
1 Flusterstorm
4 Aether Vial
2 Standstill[/deck]

I like how this deck mirrors the Merfolk tempo-y beatdown plan, but with the subtle gains that were discussed earlier, specifically the Crystalline Sliver to steal wins against removal decks and a set of lords to better use the colorless mana.

A sideboard for this deck should include some removal, graveyard hate, Harmonic Slivers, and hate bears like Thalia and Meddling Mage. Something like this:

1 [card]Submerge[/card]
4 [card]Swords to Plowshares[/card]
3 [card]Rest in Peace[/card]
2 [card]Harmonic Sliver[/card]
3 [card]Thalia, Guardian of Thraben[/card]
2 [card]Meddling Mage[/card]

Note that [card]Rest in Peace[/card] serves as a nuke for [card]Tarmogoyf[/card], partly making up for the maindeck weakness.

After jamming a few with this deck, it feels borderline competitive. It steals some games with Crystalline Sliver, but I don’t think that’s enough to make it worth running in a major event. That said, if someone Top 8’d with the deck, I wouldn’t be shocked.

Perhaps a more all-in list, one that could take advantage of [card]Syphon Sliver[/card] and [card]Cavern of Souls[/card], can find a niche.

[deck]2 City of Brass
4 Ancient Ziggurat
1 Horizon Canopy
2 Reflecting Pool
4 Mutavault
4 Wasteland
4 Cavern of Souls
4 Galerider Sliver
4 Striking Sliver
4 Syphon Sliver
2 Heart Sliver
4 Crystalline Sliver
4 Phantasmal Image
4 Sinew Sliver
4 Muscle Sliver
4 Predatory Sliver
1 Dismember
4 AEther Vial[/deck]

The brew plays out more aggressively than the Sliver decks of old, and I like it a lot.

Playing this deck gives the sickest rush. Like your opponent thinks he’s countering your next spell, and then you play a Cavern. He thinks he’s killing your guy, and then you vial in a Crystalline Sliver in response. He thinks he’s going to block, but then you play anything at all. Vial is constantly giving your army crazy new abilities mid-combat, and I can only imagine how frustrating that must be for the opponent.

[card]Syphon Sliver[/card] is the real deal. I tested [card]Essence Sliver[/card] in earlier builds, but that card was impossible to stick while Syphon comes down at the perfect spot to make racing impossible for the opponent. Since it leverages material you already have in play, the effect is similar to playing and equipping [card]Batterskull[/card] on the same turn, or maybe equipping a fresh Germ with a [card]Lightning Greaves[/card]. Point being, giving your hoard of giant flying, first-striking monsters lifelink is not playing fair.

A sideboard should consist of mostly colorless options. Legacy has a slew of them including Pithing Needle, Phyrexian Revoker, moar Dismember, Maze of Ith, Tower of the Magistrate, Thorn of Amethyst, random graveyard hate, and Mindbreak Trap. Umezawa’s Jitte has seen play before, but the card doesn’t work with Crystalline Sliver at all.

Something like this:

2 [card]Maze of Ith[/card]
3 [card]Thorn of Amethyst[/card]
4 [card]Force of Will[/card]
3 [card]Mindbreak Trap[/card]
3 [card]Grafdigger’s Cage[/card]

For a deck without much colored mana, Maze does a nice impression of a removal spell for opposing [card]Tarmogoyf[/card]s and maybe [card]Batterskull[/card]s. Most of the rest of the board is for combo-type decks, as the main deck is weak to those strategies. Bringing in 13 cards vs. Storm when it’s close to a 0% game one matchup sounds downright reasonable, especially when those cards have broad applications against the field.

I’ll be doing another round of testing later this week. If I still like the deck, I’ll be playing it in the Open in MN. If I can get a decent build of Standard Slivers together, I’ll run that too just to maximize my Sliver value. Something like this:

[deck]1 Cavern of Souls
2 Kessig Wolf Run
4 Mountain
5 Forest
4 Rootbound Crag
4 Mutavault
4 Stomping Ground
4 Predatory Sliver
3 Thorncaster Sliver
2 Megantic Sliver
4 Blur Sliver
4 Striking Sliver
4 Manaweft Sliver
4 Elvish Mystic
4 Ghor-Clan Rampager
4 Domri Rade
3 Bonfire of the Damned[/deck]

There were a few Naya Slivers lists being thrown around during spoiler season, some even with Domri, but most seemed to forget that Rampager doesn’t care what creature type he’s bloodrushing.

The RG Domri Shell, while good and consistent, is a poor choice in a field of Jund. As such, I’m hoping to find a better positioned list, but this might be my best bet.

If you’ve been having success with your crazy Standard Slivers brews, show me in the forums and I might play your deck!

Also, I will eventually do a set of Meathooks videos, although that will take a few weeks to set up. In the meantime, I plan on doing some M14 Limited to help people with GP Oakland Prep.

Caleb Durward