Can’t see the Wood for the Tree(folk)s – Spread the Sickness with by Grant Hislop

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UB Mystical Teachings – A Pauper Video Article by Grant Hislop

 

The first batch of Modern PTQs have started, and we’re starting to get something resembling a metagame established. It seems as though everything is nice and open, and you can just play whatever you want, so long as you can play it well, and it’s got reasonable game. I’m sorry to say that this is incorrect.

Your meta consists of around 3 decks. You have Affinity, Splinter Twin, and Jund as your ‘decks to beat‘. I’d class Splinter Twin as a Combo-Control deck, Affinity as the top Aggro deck, and Jund, as always, is the Mid-Range, value based strategy that we all came to love from Standard seasons gone by.

There are, of course, other decks, but in terms of representation these are your 3 pillars of the metagame, and you’d be well served to be practising against each of them.

Now that we’ve got some semblance of a meta, we brewers know what we need to be attacking and from which angles, which should mean that the format will start opening up a bit as time goes on.

All of these strategies have obvious foils. Affinity doesn’t want to see Ancient Grudge or Creeping Corrosion. Splinter Twin doesn’t want cheap disruption backed up by a realistic clock. Jund doesn’t want Blood Moon. These obvious foils to the popular strategies mean that we can focus our brewing on what we have to beat, rather than just mindlessly slapping 60-cards in sleeves and hoping that it works.

I have a friend. He likes to play his own decks. I tell him, ‘Before you start building your own decks, you should play the net-decks, and figure out what’s happening in the format‘. I’m telling you the same thing. When you know what’s actually happening in the format, it makes it much easier to identify the SWOT of the format.

For those who are unfamiliar with SWOT, it stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. Not wanting to devolve into something of a data analysis based article, what you should be doing, before brewing, is conducting a SWOT analysis on the top decks of the format. Then try to see if there’s anything in common with them you can exploit.

With the top 3 decks being established, our brewing becomes more focused. I’m not interested in playing any deck that doesn’t have reasonable to favourable matchups vs these 3 decks, and won’t even consider having an auto-lose matchup vs any of them. I think that I’ve found that deck.

I’m seldom one to say ‘You should play this‘, but in this instance, if there were a PTQ tomorrow, you’d be doing yourself a disservice if you played anything other than this.

Can’t see the wood for the Tree(folk)s

4 Dark Confidant
3 Doran, the Siege Tower
2 Kitchen Finks
3 Knight of the Reliquary
2 Qasali Pridemage
1 Reveillark
2 Spellskite
4 Tarmogoyf
4 Treefolk Harbinger

2 Elspeth, Knight-Errant
4 Inquisition of Kozilek
2 Maelstrom Pulse
4 Path to Exile

2 Forest
1 Godless Shrine
1 Horizon Canopy
4 Marsh Flats
2 Murmuring Bosk
1 Plains
1 Overgrown Tomb
1 Sejiri Steppe
2 Stirring Wildwood
1 Swamp
1 Temple Garden
2 Treetop Village
4 Verdant Catacombs

Sideboard

2 Engineered Explosives
2 Kitchen Finks
2 Qasali Pridemage
2 Spellskite
4 Thoughtseize
3 Zealous Persecution

This kind of strategy should be nothing new to you. It attacks on a similar axis to Jund, only eschewing the Red in favour of White. Red offered Lightning Bolt and Bloodbraid Elf, plus Ancient Grudge in the Sideboard, whereas White allows us access to Knight of the Reliquary, Elspeth, Knight-Errant, and the best removal spell in the format. Our mana is somewhat better than the Jund decks as well due to Murmuring Bosk being a fetchable Tri-Land.

Obviously, this comes with a similar vulnerability to Blood Moon. People seem to have forgotten how much of a beating this card is. It’s not really too difficult to plan your mana development so as to be less susceptible to the effects of Blood Moon, but time and time again I see people just getting greedy, and getting blown out by it. Don’t be that guy; fetch smart, and don’t let Blood Moon ruin your day.

In my usual format, I’ll break down some of the card choices, and explain why they’re here.

Meat

3 Doran, the Siege Tower
2 Elspeth, Knight-Errant
3 Knight of the Reliquary
4 Tarmogoyf

These are the heavy hitters of the deck. Each of these guys represents a must-kill threat to the opponent: it will take over the game, and end it quickly if left unchecked.

Knight of the Reliquary generally comes down, spends a couple of turns churning through the lands I already have in play, and upgrading them into Treetop Villages, Stirring Wildwoods and the like, before turning sideways as a 6/6 or bigger. It should be noted that it’s very important to, wherever possible, protect your Knight from Lightning Bolts. Be very careful not to allow your opponent to spend 1 mana to deal with your 3 mana investment. Paths only for Knight of the Reliquary please.

Tarmogoyf is Tarmogoyf. You really shouldn’t need me to explain why he’s here. …

Doran is the glue that holds this deck together. While it’s fine without him, he’s the reason we’re running 4 Treefolk Harbingers, and get to main-deck Spellskite outside of Splinter Twin decks. He’s straight up nutty. Because of Treefolk Harbinger, and because of his legendary status, we can only run 3 of him, but make no mistake, he’s the best card in the deck.

Elspeth is the best, legal Planeswalker in Modern, so it’d be foolish not to play her. She’s a fast clock on her own, but combined with any of our other threats, or even our utility creatures, she’ll end the game quickly. Flying Kitchen Finks end games in pretty short order.

Potatoes

4 Dark Confidant
2 Kitchen Finks
2 Qasali Pridemage
1 Reveillark
2 Spellskite
4 Treefolk Harbinger

Dark Confidant fills the role of Engine here. He’ll keep your hand full of gas, and Elspeth makes him jump pretty well. His power is worth the slight anti-synergy with Doran.

Kitchen Finks are here to mitigate the Great One’s draw back. We’ll hurt ourselves a fair bit with Bob, so this should help mitigate that. Again, Elspeth throwing Kitchen Finks ends the game pretty quickly. Still worth it, even with the anti-synergy with Doran.

Qasali Pridemage">Qasali Pridemage provides a bit of Main-deck hate for Splinter Twin and Affinity, as well as eating Swords, powering up your attack force, and letting you win any Goyf on Goyf violence. It would possibly be better suited in the Sideboard, but he’s good enough, in enough matchups, to make his main-deck inclusion not entirely surprising.

Reveillark is a kind of cute 1-of, and a relatively new addition to the deck. He’ll rebuy you anything that’s died, apart from Tarmogoyf and Kitchen Finks, as well as being a 4-power flier. I’ll need to test this out a bit more, but it’s been pretty good almost every time I’ve drawn it so far.

Spellskite protects your better guys, while having excellent synergy with Doran. It’s really useful to have a bit of Splinter Twin hate in game 1. Plus, he’ll block an Etched Champion all day, while the rest of your team would fail. Stands in front of all of Jund’s non-Goyf creatures. Really solid card, and even better than usual here.

Treefolk Harbinger and Dark Confidant co-exist as the regulation-engine, keeping our hand stocked. It doesn’t hurt that Harbinger acts as a Wild Nacatl while Doran is in play. That guy was pretty good, right?

T1, Treefolk Harbinger for another Treefolk Harbinger
T2, Treefolk Harbinger for Doran, Inquisition of Kozilek away a removal spell
T3, Doran, attack for 6
T4, Attack for 11

Pretty powerful opening, and only requires 2 cards in the opening hand, plus some lands. In a format like Modern, you can generally rely on your opponent to do at least 1-3 points of damage to themselves, due to the fetch + shock land mana bases that so many decks are using. The speed of the clock that we’re presenting will generally mean that most decks don’t have the time to fetch basics; they need to get all their colours sorted ASAP, meaning that we’ll have slightly less work to do to end the game.

Gravy

4 Inquisition of Kozilek
2 Maelstrom Pulse
4 Path to Exile

Inquisition hits just about everything that you actually care about, so gets the nod over Thoughtseize maindeck.

I’m becoming less and less enamoured with Maelstrom Pulse as time goes on. It’s obviously good, but the fact that it’s a Sorcery has upset me on quite a few occasions, and I’ve often felt that I would rather have something ala Putrefy in this slot instead. I’ll possibly try it as a 1/1 split for a while going forwards, and see how it works out. Watch this space.

Path to Exile is the best removal spell in the format, and is necessary to help the other disruption in the Twin matchup. It’s not especially glamorous, but it’s the best tool we have available. Auto-include.

Manabase

2 Forest
1 Godless Shrine
1 Horizon Canopy
4 Marsh Flats
2 Murmuring Bosk
1 Plains
1 Overgrown Tomb
1 Sejiri Steppe
2 Stirring Wildwood
1 Swamp
1 Temple Garden
2 Treetop Village
4 Verdant Catacombs

The manabase here is pretty sexual. Sweet dual and tri-lands, plus a bunch of utility lands that attack. I’m torn between Sejiri Steppe and Bojuka Bog in the main, and I switch it up a bit. I like Steppe better at the moment, as a free way to fight Splinter Twin with Knight of the Reliquary, but that’ll probably change tomorrow, and I’ll stick the Bog back in.

Sideboard

2 Engineered Explosives
2 Kitchen Finks
2 Qasali Pridemage
2 Spellskite
4 Thoughtseize
3 Zealous Persecution

Basic sideboarding guide for the top decks:-

Vs Splinter Twin

-2 Elspeth, Knight Errant
-2 Maelstrom Pulse
-1 Reveillark
-1 Knight of the Reliquary

+4 Thoughtseize
+2 Qasali Pridemage

Take out our slower, clunkier things, and bring in more disruption. Should be pretty standard. It’s not like our G1 against Twin is bad; it’s actually pretty good. Don’t let the 6-card swap fool you, but this configuration has enabled me to not drop a post-board game vs Twin yet.

Vs Jund

-2 Qasali Pridemage
+2 Spellskite

Seriously, you’re very well set up to fight Jund in its current iteration. Obviously, if they do something unusual, don’t be afraid to try something out, but I haven’t felt the need to change anything up here beyond upgrading Pridemage into Spellskite to present a faster clock with Doran, plus messing with their Lightning Bolts etc. Another solid matchup.

Vs Affinity

-2 Elspeth
-2 Maelstrom Pulse
-1 Reveillark

+3 Zealous Persecution
+2 Qasali Pridemage

Can sometimes be difficult, due to the standard Affinity nut-draw, but this sideboard configuration lets you kill just about everything that attacks, plus it has some extra, cheap quasi-removal in the Pridemage. Another decent matchup.

Ending Thoughts

That’s pretty much it for the top decks, as I’ve discussed above, but if there’s anything else you’d like help with, I’ll try and help. This deck is the real deal. You’d be better served playing it now, while people aren’t packing specific hate for it. Seriously.

Stay classy mtgUK,

Grant

(EDIT)

I’ve been trying out Sword of Light and Shadow in the place of Reveillark recently, and have been very impressed. They fulfil similar roles in terms of getting further use out of our guys, while providing an individual threat. The problem with it is that it needs other guys to hold it, while Reveillark could just commence the beats by himself, and however he eventually got dealt with, you just replace him, usually with something far scarier.

Black and White are really the best protections available at present. Protection from Maelstrom Pulse, Smother, Path to Exile etc is pretty sweet, and the life-gain isn’t irrelevant in a deck with Dark Confidant.

I certainly don’t want more than one, given that there’s pretty much just the one floating slot that I’m happy changing, and more equipment than guys is not a route I’m interested in going down.

Also, I’ve tried changing a Maelstrom Pulse into a Putrefy, and it’s not been as good as I’ve hoped. I’m not the biggest fan of Maelstrom Pulse, it does seem like quite a ‘lack of focus‘ card, but it’s possible it’s just the best card for the job.

 

 

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