Every time we test for the PT, there are a ton of brews that come close to succeeding but in the end we deem not good enough. In this article, I’ll talk about the most interesting decks our team came up with, why they were discarded, and what they would need to be good enough.
BW’s absence really surprised me as I felt it was a very powerful deck. We toyed a bit with some Eldrazi shenanigans, but those quickly proved ineffective, and so we adopted a more tokens-centric approach, along with some Processors. I felt like this deck was good because it had good mana, good early plays, and good late plays. This is what we had:
This is a control deck that has a ton of early plays with cheap removal and Strangler. You also have decent game against other control decks since you have a lot of planeswalkers and the great kill condition of Gideon Emblem + Secure the Wastes. Now that there is no Bile Blight and most people play Transgress over Duress, Secure the Wastes is hard to stop.
What didn’t work: We felt like Esper was a better version of it (or at least that’s how I felt). Right now, I am not so sure. I think this deck is significantly worse against Humans, but better against the rest of the field. At the time, I thought Humans was going to be more popular than it ended up being. This deck struggled with some of their quick draws and really struggled with their sideboard plan of Ojutai + Always Watching. We also thought it was bad against Ramp.
What this deck needs: The right metagame. If I had to bet on a deck that didn’t do well at the PT doing well in the future, it would be this deck. You have decent game against aggro, and much better game against control than you’re used to from this kind of deck because of the planeswalkers plus Secure the Wastes. This deck has a good game 1 matchup versus Esper, for example, which I never would have guessed without playtesting. It also crushes the UR version of Goggles, but it likely has more problems with the RG versions that emerged at the PT since those aren’t nearly as reliant on creatures and you have to race them.
Brain in a Jar Turbofog
Brain in a Jar caught my attention early on because cheating on mana has historically been a very powerful effect. It’s much slower than Aether Vial, but you’re not playing Legacy, and getting spells instantly and for free has generally been more broken than getting creatures.
Our first iteration was a mono-blue version that aimed to loop Engulf the Shores over and over. With time, we added white for an additional fog effect. This is what we ended up with:
This deck has a couple of very interesting interactions, and Brain in a Jar works very well with some of the spells in it (such as Pore over the Pages or Day’s Undoing). Brain + Day’s Undoing is great because it lets you circumvent its drawback—play them at the end of your opponent’s turn and you don’t have to worry about ending your own turn (though you will also not end theirs). If they cast something you want to stop on your turn (such as, for example, an EOT burn spell, or Secure the Wastes, or Avacyn), you can respond with an instant-speed Day’s Undoing and that spell will never resolve because the turn will end.
This is basically a turbofog deck—your game plan is to chain Fissures + Engulf + Day’s Undoing over and over until you eventually kill them with Zombies. You do shuffle your library every time with Day’s Undoing, which means you aren’t always going to have a ton of Zombies, but you can fill your graveyard easily enough once you get to that point and you can also kill with Part the Waterveil.
What didn’t work: Well, it’s a turbofog deck. It’s very consistent at doing what it does, but remarkably weak at doing anything else. This version in particular is weak to any sort of hate because you keep casting draw 7s, so if your opponent has anything that disrupts you, they will eventually draw those cards. It’s also weak to random burn spells—Zulaport Cutthroat and sometimes even Archangel Avacyn. If all your opponents are playing only creatures then it’s a good deck, but that’s very rarely the case.
What it needs to work: A format where people play mono-creatures and very few disruptive spells. Right now I don’t think this is realistic.
Brain in a Jar/Seasons Past Control
This was our second version of Brain in a Jar, and it fared much better against most of the field. It features the same engine The Pantheon’s Seasons Past deck has, except it relies on Brain in a Jar to cast multiple spells a turn, and on Pieces of the Puzzle for digging. Pieces of the Puzzle is fantastic to dig for Languish or Seasons Past, and it also fuels Seasons Past pretty well by itself. This is the list we had that I liked the most:
In hindsight, there are a couple of changes I would make, mainly replacing a Seasons Past for a fourth Dark Petition. Nissa’s Renewal is also an interesting piece of technology from The Pantheon list, but one that would likely require a change in our mana base.
This deck is very straightforward—it’s a control deck with a billion removal spells and late-game inevitability with the Seasons Past + Dark Petition combo. With this combination, you can cast Petition, search for Seasons Past, then bring Dark Petition plus other spells back, and put Seasons Past on the bottom of your library—rinse and repeat. It’s infinite (mana permitting) and you can kill them any way you want—we chose Zombies because they go well with the rest of the deck, but you can use Kalitas or Nissa (like Pantheon did) or even Quagmire and natural decking.
What didn’t work: The deck was fantastic game 1, but post-sideboard it got much worse against everything. The reason for that was that it blanked several of their cards game 1 (all removal spells would be left in their hand doing nothing), but in game 2 those would all become Duresses, Negates, and other cards that were insanely good against you. Every post-sideboard match resulted in your opponent’s worst 6-10 cards becoming their best 6-10 cards while you improved marginally.
Other than that, the deck also had a problem with some instant-speed threats such as Secure the Wastes and Lumbering Falls (which partially led to the addition of To the Slaughter). Even then, our build has more resources against those cards than the BG build since you can actually Languish at instant-speed (which is very good in this format).
What it needs to work: A better sideboard. Right now, there is no transformational sideboard that I like. We thought about Jace or Tireless Tracker, and those are okay but not insane as they often don’t win the game on their own. You must have a way to punish your opponent for taking out their creature removal while maintaining a functional deck yourself, and I don’t think those cards accomplish that. The best I can think of is Dragonlord Ojutai, but that requires yet another color, and might not even be good enough.