Well, this article has taken much longer than expected. I actually had it finish in draft at the beginning of January, but finding a Belcher pilot to review it took much longer than I anticipated.
Still, here it is.
At its most basic, Belcher is a Null Draw, Race deck that wants to generate 4-7 mana and play Empty the Warrens or Goblin Charbelcher. The deck aims to go off on turn one, but if Empty the Warrens is used as the combo finisher, the actual kill will occur on turn two or three.
Depending on the build, Belcher plays Red/Green, Red/Green/Black, or Red/Black. In this article we will be focusing on the â€œclassicâ€ Red/Green build.
Because there are so many variants to choose from, finding the right starter list can be difficult. I would recommend the following list, piloted to 2nd place by Matt Hazard at the 197 player Legacy Championship at GenCon 2010. You can find his tournament report here.
Non-Land Mana (48)
4 [card]Lotus Petal[/card]
4 [card]Chrome Mox[/card]
4 [card]Lion’s Eye Diamond[/card]
4 [card]Tinder Wall[/card]
4 [card]Rite of Flame[/card]
4 [card]Pyretic Ritual[/card]
4 [card]Desperate Ritual[/card]
4 [card]Seething Song[/card]
3 [card]Street Wraith[/card]
4 [card]Goblin Charbelcher[/card]
4 [card]Empty the Warrens[/card]
4 [card]Xantid Swarm[/card]
4 [card]Price of Progress[/card]
4 [card]Guttural Response[/card]
3 [card]Deus of Calamity[/card]
Mana Production: WYSIWYG
Belcher runs an absolutely huge number of non-land mana producers – over 80% of the deck is dedicated to producing mana – and the 44/5 ratio of single use/reusable mana sources should leave us in no doubt that this deck is designed to be hugely explosive, and very fast.
I have included [card]Manamorphose[/card] as a mana producer, even though it technically does not produce mana. This is because its main role is to make sure that you have the right kind of mana, and to include it as a draw spell would be misleading.
Unlike ANT, however, few of Belcher’s mana producers are very efficient. While Belcher does not require much mana, this does make the deck vulnerable to soft counters, such as [card]Daze[/card] or [card]Spell Pierce[/card].
The main reason that some builds play Black is to access the far more efficient mana producers that Black provides.
Notice that even though this is a Null Draw deck, this build incorporates a small draw package. However, Street Wraith might be more accurately described as turning a 60 card deck into a 59 card deck. By running three, this build effectively plays only 57 cards.
Because over 80% of the deck produces mana, Street Wraith can be treated as a mana producer for the purposes of mulligan decisions, which are a critical element of any Null Draw deck. If the deck were more diverse, then Street Wraith would be less reliable, and would probably be dropped.
However, while Belcher is undoubtedly fast, some of that speed is deceptive. While [card]Goblin Charbelcher[/card] has a really good chance of killing an opponent the turn it is played, it might not, and Belcher pilots generally do not have sufficient permanent mana sources to easily reactivate the Belcher.
The more common win is therefore Empty the Warrens, and this takes a couple of turns to beat an opponent down. So while the combo is fast, the kill can sometimes take a while.
That being said, very little your opponent does after you combo will be terribly relevant. In most cases, their deck consists primarily of dead cards and one or two cards that could save them. That’s pretty good odds for the Belcher player.
Additionally, some builds can actually side in a fairly strong Reactive Disruption package against control decks. This slows the deck down, but makes it far more resilient against its worst matchup.
Particular vulnerabilities: Force of Will, Mindbreak Trap and (on the draw) one mana counters.
The only thing Belcher really fears is Force of Will/Mindbreak Trap. On the play, it’s faster than pretty much anything else. While Belcher destroys favourable (or even just unprepared) metagames, in heavy blue metas the pilot is really hoping to win game one by default, and then trying to fight through the hate in either of game two or three. In that sense, it plays a great deal like Dredge.
Its two win conditions, Empty the Warrens and Goblin Charbelcher, are so functionally different that any other given hate card, such as Leyline of Sanctity or Echoing Truth, is likely to only shut down half of the win conditions.
Equally, the deck is so redundant that a single Duress is unlikely to be meaningful. When available, one mana counters are effective, not because of the card loss, but because the deck can’t afford to waste mana on spells that do not resolve.
Belcher the Null Draw, Race deck. From the mtgthesource.com primer: â€œThe basic premise is simple. Open a hand with a win condition and mana and then kill your opponent before they can do anything about it.â€
As such, Belcher preys on weak decks and unprepared opponents. When you hear a casual player whine that â€œMore than one turn would be niceâ€, they have probably just faced Belcher.
It is important to recognize that there are two distinct builds of Belcher, known as 1 Land and 2 Land Belcher respectively. While the addition of a single land makes no real difference in most decks, in Belcher, the difference is huge.
1 Land Belcher runs Taiga, a Green/Red dual land, and these colours define the deck. 2 Land Belcher, on the other hand, also runs a Bayou for Green/Black mana. This gives 2 Land Belcher access to Black mana acceleration, tutors, and disruption.
This third colour comes at a cost, however. By doubling the number of lands in the deck, the odds of a failed Charbelcher activation go up considerably. Worse, one of those lands is not a Mountain, so there is no doubling of the damage if you run into Bayou.
To make matters even more complicated, there are even some 1 Land variants that run Bayou for a Green/Black deck rather than the classic Green/Red. Clearly, there is not enough space in this article to devote to giving each build its due.
As we discussed in an earlier article, Null Draw decks rely on high threat density; our sample list runs 8 maindeck win conditions, with more in the sideboard. An alternate, and often seen, approach is to run 1 Empty the Warrens in the sideboard, and bring in 4 Burning Wish (presumably dropping the Street Wraith to make room).
This brings the threat count to 11, but it also means that the Empty the Warrens win now often needs to make 6 mana, rather than 4. For many pilots, the tradeoff is worth it, and it also allows the sideboard to be reformatted as a wishboard, which can make game one that much stronger.
Belcher pilots at tournaments also have plenty of time to scout the competition, get lunch, etc. In this sense, Belcher is a less exhausting combo deck to play than some others.
Force of Will exists. So does Mindbreak Trap. If a Blue player keeps an appropriate hand, Belcher will have an uphill battle to win. Some variants deal with this better than others.
This deck has some of the most skill intensive mulls in Magic.
Turn 1, if you have mulled correctly and your opponent has no disruption.
That said, against some blue decks a turn 2 or 3 combo can make resolving your win condition that much more likely.
First, the LED has to be in play. Then, without using LED, cast Goblin Charbelcher. Without passing priority (if you intend to play Storm seriously you will need a very solid understanding of how and when you pass priority and how the stack works) use LED to discard your hand and generate three mana of your chosen colour. Finally, pass priority.
Assuming your opponent does not counter your spell, when Charbelcher resolves you can use your floating mana to immediately activate the Charbelcher. Not even splitsecond removal (Wipe Away, Krosan Grip, etc) can stop you.
Edit: You can also wait and crack the LED immediately after the Charbelcher resolves.; as long as you do not do ANYTHING that uses the stack before cracking the LED and triggering the Charbelcher, you are still protected from split-second spells. Resolving the Charbelcher before using LED has the added advantage of saving the LED if your Charbelcher is countered.
Depending on your build, LED can also be abused with Burning Wish and Infernal Tutor.
People who love fast, explosive decks will like Belcher. It also offers a huge range of options for people who like to really tune their deck to suit their playstyle.
Additionally, there are not many combo decks that do not rely heavily on either Blue or Black, so fans of Green and Red combo may find a home in Belcher.
However, Belcher pilots need to be comfortable risking everything on a single play. This is not a deck for the faint of heart. As such, Belcher is a rather flashy, cinematic deck; observers can follow the plays quite easily, and there is a certain element of suspense in turning over the top cards of your library to see if you have managed a lethal Charbelcher activation.