I don’t think I want to play Dark Depths anymore. That’s not to say I won’t be endorsing the deck for those who want to win any of the remaining PTQs, but it’s just not something I’m interested in playing any longer. Not only is the combo strategy not something I’m particularly into (although I’ve always liked combo control), but the format is definitely not as susceptible to either combo as it used to be.
Ghost Quarter is seeing maindeck play, and new decks are popping up simply because of their ability to play with maindeck Ghost Quarters. Things like GW hate, All-In Red, Vampires (from GP Oakland) are all seemingly viable because they get to play possibly the best hate card for Dark Depths in their maindeck. If they’re able to also have answers for the Thopter combo, they are in great shape in that matchup. I even considered playing Hive Mind at one point, and Matt Nass probably had a much easier time winning GP Oakland with Elves because of sideboarded Ghost Quarters.
Writers, including myself, have recently talked about the “sideboarding war” that’s happening with DDT at the moment. It’s very interesting and not something that I can recall happening to this extent. Sure, old Trix was a guessing game of “Did they keep in their Phyrexian Negators? Do I need to keep in my Firestorm or bring in more to blow them out?” But there were only Negators, and the simplest answer was eventually just keeping in your Firestorm to be on the safe side, while probably leaving your Negators on the bench, if you had them at all. Players were ready for them, and other players were still employing the same old hat tactics.
Naturally, it didn’t work out for them. Likewise, Damping Matrix isn’t going to work out well for you. While some unprepared players might just assume that they are playing a combo deck, thinking that they obviously need to kill their opponents with their combo is just wrong. Rather than playing into Damping Matrix, you can simply turn into a UB control deck with Jace, the Mind Sculptor as your kill condition.
I now see DDT as a deck with four different routes to victory, where some might see only two:
I’m putting this one first because that’s exactly how important I feel it is. No, I don’t side it out vs. Zoo, nor would I ever dream of it. There have been some certain corner cases where I would side out Confidant on the draw against a burn deck, but that’s about it! The card is just that good and if it lives, you will probably win the game.
Dark Depths/Vampire Hexmage
This is the easiest kill by far. It’s not the cleanest or most precise. It does require you take some risks sometimes, but that’s just what you’ve gotta do every once in a while. If you don’t take big risks, you won’t reap big rewards. Sure, sometimes they draw the Path in the one turn window you give them, but it replaces your land. You can start over.
This combo is the whole reason the deck is viable in the first place. You utter smash random decks. Death Cloud, Martyr of Sands, RG Scapeshift, get out of my metagame. You have no place here. Ironically enough, there are a whole slew of “bad” decks that people are starting to play because all they do is hate on the Depths combo.
Thopter Foundry/Sword of the Meek
Inevitability is a wonderful thing. The fact that your combo deck plays an excellent long game while still threatening to kill you on turn two is absurd. Basically only disruption with a fast clock will have any shot against you.
Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Many words have been said about this guy already, and most of them are true. The fact of the matter is, Jace on it’s own has about as good of a chance, if not better, of beating the random “bad” decks as the Depths combo does. Think about Death Cloud or Martyr facing down a Jace. Good luck guys. Yeah, Jace doesn’t kill you on turn two, but the game was over long before it actually ended.
Even Zoo decks are just bad against Jace right now. They have very little burn, no permanent removal, no haste guys, and few, if any, manlands. Should this format go on for a few months longer, that would all change. By bringing in a few Deathmarks, Damnations, and Gatekeepers of Malakir, you can easily halt Zoo’s offense and then start fatesealing them with Jace. If they draw a relevant dude, you could probably just bounce a Gatekeeper or Brainstorm for an answer.
Best of all, you can let them keep all of their crappy Damping Matrixes on top of their deck. Path to Exile? Nearly useless. Bant Charm? You better hope I had to cast one of these Moxes rather than holding it for a Thirst.
“Smart” Zoo players even know to side out their Lightning Bolts, because they need threats and they need disruption. It’s very rare where Bolt is the key in getting the last three points of damage in, so it should get cut. However, Dark Confidant is one of the best cards against Zoo, especially after sideboarding. Drawing extra Deathmarks and Smothers is exactly what I want to be doing, and Bob gets me there. Lightning Bolt should stay in, if only to kill Confidant, but also because it could be useful against Jace.
There are plenty of ways to fight Jace, like manlands, Punishing Fire, Bloodbraid Elf, or Tribal Flames. I’m honestly not sure how I would go about beating Zoo with sufficient hate and Punishing Fire post board. My Bobs and Jaces are going to die, and if my Thopters and Marit Lages are too, I’m actually hard pressed to find a win condition. Now that everyone has figured out the Jace and Gatekeeper are the best ways to fight the mirror, Sphinx of Jwar Isle isn’t something I can realistically see myself playing. I just don’t have quite the room necessary to hate out good Zoo decks.
Other than that, I’ve felt that Muddle the Mixture is a giant, awful trap. Other than against specific decks, Muddle is basically uncastable. Freeing Marit Lage and then protecting it from their lone Path with Muddle just isn’t an option anymore. That situation comes up so rarely that it’s infuriating. Zoo players don’t give you the time to mess around. They also typically have more than just Path to kill indestructible guys. Not only that, but they are well versed in the ways of Bolting your Hexmage when you’re tapped out, so that they can safely exile your 20/20.
Transmuting Muddle is something I rarely get a chance to do. The format is incredibly fast right now and tutoring up a piece of a combo that they probably have an answer to just isn’t a good route to victory anymore. Instead, I’d rather be killing their threats or drawing a mass amount of cards, either hoping for combo pieces or more removal.
So where does that leave us? Well, I’ve started looking into other UB decks, like this one that super chevalier has been playing on Magic Online (and I heard came from Guillame Wafo-Tapa himself):
A lot of interesting things going on with this list. First of all, the full four Gatekeepers is simply awesome. Great vs. Zoo and Depths, and while obviously unimpressive vs. combo decks like Scapeshift and Hypergenesis, you typically beat combo with hosers like Chalice of the Void and Cranial Extraction, so the existence of a semi-dead removal spell in your deck doesn’t really matter.
I’m typically not a fan of decks with 4cc sorceries and 4cc instants, as they really have no synergy with each other, and it’s blatantly obvious when you’re holding Cryptic Command, but you gotta do what you gotta do sometimes. Obviously this deck needs Damnation to be competitive against Zoo, and while you might not necessarily need Cryptic Command or Mana Leak, they often act like the glue that holds the deck together. They prevent you from losing to random things like top decked Scapeshifts after you’ve cleared their hand away. The counterspells, while not always great, allow you to cement the game
Similarly, Malakir Bloodwitch also locks up the game, except this one basically only works against Zoo decks. Sometimes you might be winning, but with a clock so slow, you give your opponent time to draw out of the poor situation you put them in, while you start drawing lands or useless Thoughtseizes and Arenas. Having a good way to finish them off is actually a good thing sometimes, despite that win condition probably being a virtual mulligan if you draw it early.
I heavily support Damnation over Engineered Explosives, although if you want to play a mini Tolaria West engine, then obviously Explosives has a place. Superchevalier doesn’t run Tolaria OR Academy Ruins, yet plays more EEs than Wraths. He even goes the extra mile to include a Godless Shrine to sunburst EE higher. Personally, I would just run another filter land like Graven Cairns, but I would probably also have a couple Tolarias and Academy Ruins, despite their anti-synergy with Gatekeeper of Malakir. There’s always Urborg (yours or theirs, heh) or Sunken Ruins to fix that problem though. The filter land might be harder to find, but it would probably be much better to naturally draw than Godless Shrine. EEing for three is probably such a corner case that I feel like I could find the Cairns if need be.
Are the sideboard Ravenous Traps, Relic, and Crypt better than just playing four Leylines? I would say yes if we’re talking strictly about Dredge, but otherwise no if we’re talking about Thopter/Depths. It seems like Chevalier has made a conscious decision to not board in anything to fight Thopter Foundry other than Night of Soul’s Betrayal and Extirpate, but from my experience both with and against DDT, that isn’t enough. Extirpate is especially annoying. Should they assemble their combo, they are going to get a few guys out of the deal before you are able to find an Extirpate and break it up. Those creatures can be very problematic. Opening the game with Leyline puts a stop to that nonsense, and plays the role of safety blanket quite well. You always feel warm and safe when it’s around.
After playing with the UB control deck and brewing hard, I came up with this:
You may have seen this list from some Daily Events or Korey McDuffie’s PTQ t8. I wanted to be the one who had the highest finish with Counterbalance without Top, but Korey outdid me! Typically, I would tutor for the Counterbalance against Zoo or DDT when I had Jace in play on an empty board. Fatesealing them isn’t a hard lock, and neither is a Counterbalance on one or two, but together, the combination is pretty good.
After I played the above list in a couple DEs, the main change I would make would be to add a Night of Souls Betrayal maindeck and probably another in the sideboard. Yes, they kill your Confidants, but in this list, Bob isn’t exactly a freeroll. Eventually, you’re going to die to it. NOSB is also possibly the best hoser for DDT, so trust me, it’s worth it.
Another option is straight UB Thopter Foundry, like the one that Charles Gindy used to make the finals of a PTQ:
I can’t find Gindy’s exact list, but that one was used by poundsignBAD in a couple PTQs later.
So what will I be playing in Houston? Well, you’ll probably find out roughly the same time that I will, since I’m not entirely sure. It will most likely have River of Tears, but you never know. I could very easily tilt at this point, and end up playing Dredge with Cedric if I let him talk to me for too long.
Wish me luck!