Finally, the rest of the world catches up!
I was pleasantly surprised that DDT didn’t utterly dominate Grand Prix Oakland, despite all the ringers playing it. A lot of that had to do with our inability to come up with a decent sideboard plan against Zoo. Thanks to his
excellent report, I know that David Ochoa took multiple losses to Zoo, and I narrowly escaped the Nacatl’s clutches myself.
Still, some removal, a Thirst for Knowledge, an Exile into Darkness, and a Sphinx of Jwar Isle is nearly the perfect curve to stop Zoo dead in it’s tracks. That just doesn’t happen every game, as there isn’t enough room in your 75 for all the cards you need against bad decks (the Depths combo), the mirror (Leyline/Extirpate, removal, disruption), and Zoo (roughly ten removal spells).
It’s possible to get there if you cut the Dark Depths stuff, and that may very well be the next step. However, for now, we have a sick piece of technology courtesy of Pro Tour champion Osyp Lebodowicz. He ran this certain Zoo stopper in his recent PTQ decklist, but from what I hear, he dropped at 3-1 or so.
Let me be the first to tell you that Culling Scales is for real.
How fitting is it that Damping Matrix, the DDT hate of choice, is answered by another 3cc artifact from the same set? I’m not really sure how I overlooked it, considering I scoured Gatherer multiple times leading up to the GP, but that’s irrelevant right now. I’m just thankful we have a decent answer available to us.
I’m not entirely sure that the Scales would have improved my GP performance, but my Zoo matches would have been much easier. So what happened to me at the GP?
First things first, the list I played:
The maindeck is pretty standard at this point, although if you want to beat all the haters running Beseech and Extirpate, you could run a Meloku or Oona maindeck.
The sideboard revolved around the idea that Leyline is better than Extirpate, despite what my last article said. I was somehow convinced that I should run Leylines instead, even though I objected somewhat. Both cards seemed reasonable but Leyline had a much larger impact against any deck running Punishing Fire, Mystical Teachings, or Thopter Foundry, while also being much better against Dredge.
Still, we needed room and ended up cutting one. Having three Leylines isn’t really that much worse than four.
The different removal spells all served a purpose. I wanted enough removal for Dark Confidant, but I needed those spells to also be solid against Zoo, hence the absence of Darkblast. Eyeblight’s Ending should have been a Rend Flesh, but I couldn’t find any. Ending isn’t good against Elves (obviously) and it pumps their Tarmogoyfs, but both kill Oona, Meloku, Sower, and Bob.
The random Gifts may look awkward as there are no game ending Gifts piles, but in theory it was better than the second Exile. The only situation where it becomes worse is when you naturally draw it and only have five mana.
Sphinx seems like the next best step in fighting the mirror post board, but everyone seems to have caught on, but I decided to one up them with a Gatekeeper of Malakir. Sphinx was also the perfect finisher against Zoo. Rather than try to fight Matrix by bouncing it and comboing, we decided to try and ignore it by just killing all of their guys and playing something they couldn’t Path to Exile.
Other things I considered for this role included Malakir Bloodwitch (small and dies to Tribal Flames), Worm Harvest (good with the Gifts package, but probably worse than the alternatives in the mirror), Wydwen, a Shriekmaw/Mulldrifter/Grim Harvest or just Grim Discovery engine, Rite of Replication, Beacon of Unrest, Mind Control, planeswalkers like Sorin Markov or Jace, the Mind Sculptor, and even Neverending Torment or Haunting Echoes.
Trust me, I was DEEP in the tank.
Screams from Within was a little anti Thopter Foundry tech, as was Cumber Stone. However, most things were just worse than Leyline of the Void, although you could run Leyline of the Meek or [card]Leyline of Singularity[/card] if they were in your colors.
The overall strategy for Zoo was to find Exile and put them in a bad spot. Eventually, you will draw a Sphinx to kill them with. A lot of people said that Exile was too slow, but that just isn’t the case, assuming that you have cast anything before then.
I won a GPT the night before, further solidifying my choice. I couldn’t play anything else at that point.
I played, in order:
UW Teachings with Punishing Fire: 2-0
UW Thopter: 2-0
As you can see, I didn’t win many games on day two, let alone matches. I was a little frustrated by the overall quality of some of my opponent’s play, or lack thereof, and the fact that I couldn’t capitalize on their mistakes.
For example, against Faeries I lost the die roll and Thoughtseized him turn one after he suspended an Ancestral, seeing:
My hand contained Dark Confidant and Vampire Hexmage, but no Dark Depths. I took the Spell Snare, and it ended up being even better than I could have imagined. He drew another Ancestral and got as greedy as he possibly could and suspended it.
I played my Confidant, forcing him to Smother it on his turn, tapping out. Now, if I drew any sort of threat, like Thopter Foundry, Dark Confidant, or Dark Depths, I would be in a great situation. Sadly, I didn’t get there, and despite my opponent’s best attempts to throw the game away, I couldn’t get there.
He then snap kept a very sketchy, land heavy hand in game two, but drew a consistent stream of good spells to steal a victory from my nearly commanding position.
The Merfolk deck probably should have been a bad matchup, but he didn’t seem to have many answers to the Thopter combo. I had nothing but Hexmage and Depths going on in game one, but he had a Repeal. I could tell he had it, as his hands were shaking and when it was clearly the critical turn, where I had to make my decision, he tried to act nonchalant and read some of my cards by cocking his head sideways. I’m not sure if he knew he was doing it, but I had to go for it, and predictably, my token didn’t survive.
In the third game, I had all the tools to beat him, but I screwed up somewhere and I don’t know when or how. I just know that with the spells I drew compared to the spells he drew, I could have won. As I transmuted for what would have been the Smother that allowed me to stabilize, he again acted coy.
“Oh, Muddle? That gets two casting stuff right?”
“SHOAL IT THAT’S GAAAAAME!”
To top all of that off, I was sick all weekend and while I couldn’t really notice if it affected the quality of my play, it certainly didn’t help. If I was in top shape, maybe I could have found a better line of play vs. Merfolk for example, but oh well.
Granted, in round six, I was able to punish my opponent. I Thoughtseized his Snare on turn one and played turn two Confidant against his Teachings deck, and then cast Thirst at the end of his turn. Knowing that he held Jace2 and Cryptic Command, I was definitely hoping that he would Cryptic it, and he obliged me.
I Duressed his Jace, made a 20/20, and passed the turn. He didn’t peel an answer.
As the DDT player, I definitely felt like I had a ton of cards already, and that my Thirst was largely irrelevant. He, as the control player, seemed to just see that Thirst as a threat and a spell he is used to countering, and aimed his Cryptic at it out of instinct, but that was probably incorrect given the situation. I already had a ton of cards in hand, so me sifting through a few more probably did little to benefit my situation, while him having the threat of Cryptic was actually huge. In fact, I think he probably should have just played Jace that turn and bounced my Confidant. That would have put me in a deep hole.
During round four, I had game three locked up against Zoo thanks to my turn four Sphinx, and he tapped out for an irrelevant Ranger of Eos. Gabe Walls and I simultaneously said something about Ornithopters, as that would probably allow him to race me, but thankfully he only had Nacatls.
I untapped, my opponent was dead on board, tapped out, and me knowing his entire hand, but obviously I peeked at my top card, just out of curiosity. As soon as my opponent was picking up my cards, Gabe yelled at me for doing something that could potentially get me a game loss if I messed it up when I had the game locked up. I agreed that he was probably right, but with my opponent dead on board, refusing to just concede as if I were some child who would forget to attack, I figured I could make my opponent stew for a bit.
And after all, I’m not an idiot, right?
Aaanyway, fast forward a bit to when Gabe was 7-1, playing in the last round against the mirror. Game three was stalled out, and they were going to draw without it being clear who was ahead on board. In extra turns, his opponent decided to take advantage of the Sphinx’s ability, but put the card into his hand.
A judge was watching the match, and promptly issued a game loss for drawing extra cards. Apparently Gabe was right.
As Luis put it, “Gabe’s opponent insphinxtively put the card into his hand.”
Another amusing thing that happened on the weekend was my game three of round seven against burn. I Duressed him and saw his loose keep of Pithing Needle, Shrapnel Blast, and lands, obviously taking the Needle. I proceeded to transmute on turn two and make a Marit Lage on turn three, prompting the concession and the complaining.
Him: That’s your god hand! So unfair.
Me: No. Technically, my hand could have been better.
Him: Pff, Duress my Needle and kill me. That’s god hand!
Me: Well, that’s why I played the deck, so I can get free wins vs. bad decks with no capability to “god hand” me back.
When your best draw consists of a Spark Elemental, you probably shouldn’t complain about me getting what isn’t even the best possible hand I can get. If you don’t like getting nut drawn, play a deck that can interact, or one that can do the same type of unfair stuff.
So now what? What’s to become of Extended in the wake of the GP?
Here is what I would play, if I were still planning on playing DDT:
With this list, I am attempting to combat Zoo a little better and the new decks like Hypergenesis, Living End, Elves, and Boros, all of which seem like they could explode onto the scene. I intentionally left Conley’s Bant deck off that list because it’s a stinker. Don’t try to be Conley kids. There can be only one.
There are a couple concerns I have with this list. Namely, the mirror weaknesses vs. things like Sower, Threads, and Oona. I also don’t like the Aqueduct maindeck, but don’t really have a slot to put it. I would like more Duresses somewhere to help against the cascade decks, Teachings, and Faeries, but again, there is a lack of space.
You could try to get filthy with stuff like Darkblast or Chalice of the Void maindeck, but that depends on what you expect to play against.
Lately, I’ve been trying other things, like this brew that I 3-1ed a Daily Event with:
Punishing Fire is absurd right now and the Thopter combo is still pretty good, as long as you have outs to stuff like Extirpate. Baneslayer Angel is the backup plan that I was missing before and it’s probably the perfect card since it straight up embarrasses Sphinx of Jwar Isle.
I’ve also been messing around with the Restore Balance deck, but that’s an entirely different animal. I haven’t quite decided if the deck is awesome or completely awful yet.
I’ll be in San Diego for the Pro Tour, and by that I mean the side events. See you there!