“A Rhombus Is The Kind Of Rectangle A B**** Would Draw.”
Mass Polymorph is one of the most interesting cards to come out of M11, because unlike [card]Polymorph[/card], you can actually end the game with it. Polymorph was a great way to get ahead, and as long as you could protect your threat, you’d usually win the game. Still, it was a very bad deck if it went off too slowly, since it couldn’t win the game on the spot or even defend itself all that well, and as the game went on you would continually draw uncastable creatures. The tokens you were using as fuel for Polymorph also were blown up in response to the spell with some consistency, which made life even more miserable for Poly players, who were often forced to wait until they could keep counter magic open.
Mass Polymorph still has the issue of drawing dead creature cards, but many of the other drawbacks mentioned are now gone for an additional 2 colorless. You can end the game with a combination of Magister Sphinx and 2x Bogardan Hellkite (thanks to Drew for pointing this out) or choose to practically end the game by using Iona, Stormtide Leviathan and Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. The upside is that you can still win the game if you only resolve a Poly for 2 guys instead of hitting the opp for 10 or 15 and being completely dead to a Baneslayer Angel, Day of Judgment or even a pair of spot removal spells. Of course you could also go with another plan which is just overwhelming them with ‘good’ guys like Terastodon and Stormtide, nuking a bunch of lands and hopefully moating them long enough to win the game.
How to Polymorph
There are two main routes when building a deck around Mass Polymorph. One was is to play so many creatures that you don’t care what you Polymorph into, and just go for a critical mass. Turning a board of Kozilek’s Predator, Lotus Cobra, and tokens into basically the same board plus a random Terastodon or two is pretty good value.
Sure, you might not hit the nuts, but if you Polymorph 4 or 5 guys in a deck with 7-10 fatties and 8-10 ‘normal’ guys odds are very good you’ll hit something of value or possibly multiples. Combined with the manipulation of Ponder and Jace, you can also slide the odds a bit more in your favor. Obvious advantages to this method include better early plays than the creatureless versions and the ability to hardcast creatures without any real qualms in Control matches or if the initial Polymorph fails for whatever reason. It also allows for greater defense since the number of blockers you have out early increases a great deal.
The other way to roll with Mass Polymorph is to set up a combination of cards which either kills the turn the creatures come into play or sets up an inevitable kill that simultaneously disrupts what the opponent is trying to do. Instead of running many creatures and hoping to get lucky, you set up your deck in the traditional way of only having token generators around to power Mass Polymorph. This makes life a lot easier when you can only Polymorph for a few creatures as they tend to be strong enough to still win the game instead of possibly rolling into lousy mana creatures.
Not only does this require less stress on the token generators, it let’s you run fewer ‘dead’ cards for the midgame and generally just gives you more flexibility in your deck construction. Both are valid approaches, but which one is better I believe will be dependent purely on how much Mana Leak and counters in general see play post-M11 compared to spot removal. Mass Polymorph doesn’t have much of a secondary plan except getting there with Planeswalkers or powering out Emrakul, while lacking the amount of disruption of normal Control decks.
Unfortunately that’s going to be an educated guess at best, since for many of us this format is only going to be relevant for this final PTQ weekend. Unless you Q’d for Nats everyone else will have the benefit of additional information not only from the PTQ’s, but from just having additional time and local tournaments to test ideas and optimize at. In a way it makes Standard feel like a waste of time and has a really awkward transition since the PTQ season ends on a note completely different from what came before it, and it sucks since M11 could’ve had a significant impact on the metagame going forward for the PTQ season. Instead, now the very last PTQ is pre-M11 on Magic Online and everyone else has a one week window to break it before having to wait up to a month or more.
So where does that leave us?
Here’s the lists for what I think are legit options.
UW Poly by Zac Hill
UG Lotus Poly
These are the three I’ve had the most luck with so far, although something tells me it’ll end up between the UW build and just one of the others by the time this article goes up. Also note that Conley Woods wrote about his early takes on Mass Polymorph decks, so check that out for even more decks and thoughts on the strategy.
I’m sure people noticed that the UW Control build that Zac Hill had and the UWG one I posted are pretty similar with the exception of Awakening Zone in my deck. While I had an OK UWG build, it got a lot tighter with 4-ofs once I saw Hill’s deck on the Mothership and felt a lot better about going all-in on Planeswalkers and utilizing more spot removal. Mana Leak was quite nice to have as an option to interact and to stop cards like Jace and Sovereigns of Lost Alara. It was also made far easier to leave mana open for the Leak thanks to Everflowing Chalice and spawn tokens from Awakening Zone over the Green land accelerants. The reason I still cling to Awakening Zone is because of the Forcefield effect is has early, especially when you can power up to Martial Coup and clear the board and Polymorph the following turn. Otherwise it’s yet another token generator while is valuable in a deck with only a small few.
If you take a good look at the ‘controlling’ builds it’s also that they’re built in such a way to win even if the Polymorph plan partially fails. Even if you don’t get your full value and all three creatures out, netting one or two backed by removal and the Planeswalker core still has a good chance of getting there against many decks. That is even more true if you run Mana Leak or Deprive to help out and keep your investments alive, but I realize that may be asking for too much when the deck is already very tight to begin with. Of course it opens up sideboarding options and you can remove the Polymorph plan for Baneslayer or Sphinx of Jwar Isle and additional control elements. Realistically this completely flips around your deck and you still have a legitimate strategy, however removal and counters in general become far weaker since you aren’t all-in on a centralized strategy.
While the UG build can’t be considered aggro, I tend to classify it mentally under that type of moniker to differ it from other builds when playing and optimizing. Lotus Cobra and Kozilek’s Predator both allow for earlier Mass Polymorph attempts and Predator in particular provides enough creatures by itself to negate the drawback of running more guys. Predator providing three creatures will almost always keep one around to get rid of with Polymorph and often will +2 your count with a token being a blocker or sacrificed to pay for Poly. As you can’t pick and choose your creatures, my choice was to go with Terastodon and Stormtide Leviathan which provide a nice tag-team. Not only does a Terastodon or two take high-end spells off the opponent’s plate, but Leviathan means that none of those Elephants can attack while you set up a victory. The best part is even if you hit a Cobra or Predator and one of these guys, you at least have a shot at victory. Making 18 power worth of guys plus whatever else you got off Polymorph isn’t to be underestimated and the same with creating a Moat effect with Stormtide.
These builds do drift a bit from the traditional Polymorph lists which usually ran a decent combo of countermagic to protect their combo and Jaces in the early game. However since protecting your Mass Polymorph is a less feasible option than the original Polymorph, they really weren’t doing any version of the deck any favors. Mana Leak and Deprive were the only counters I felt were even worthy of making the maindeck and even from those, Mana Leak was the only all-purpose one that wouldn’t set you back notably. If you wanted a sideboard counter purely for protective purposes, what’s wrong with Dispel or Autumn’s Veil? Seven in these decks is a heck of a lot easier to hit than eight in a reasonable time frame if you really want to go out of your way to protect your spell. In many matches, spot removal is superior to counters and is a lot easier on your curve since you aren’t forced to skip drops in order to keep more than a single White open.
As far as matches and sideboard go, I can’t tell you in any sort of detail, since it was only recently that I was comfortable with the Mass Polymorph maindecks. I honestly couldn’t tell you how viable they are in the grand scheme, just that they’ve held up well enough to at least hang out with other tier two decks. Matches which I thought would be obvious blowouts like the Mono-red match ended up being far closer than I suspected and Control decks were more difficult than the original Polymorph builds since fewer counters were in the deck. That said, it didn’t just get rolled by anything I played it against, with UW Control being the hardest for the UG build and Jund being most difficult for UWG.
I realize that may come off as a bit of a cop-out, but I would rather give you that than make up some percentages on 15-25 games from a fluctuating decklist. Sadly this also means I probably won’t be able to make a version worth running before the PTQ season is over, but maybe someone else can take the ball and run with it. At the moment I think if I’m going to play a non-Jund or RDW deck then it really has to be some Fauna Shaman brew rather than anything with Mass Polymorph. There is just not enough time to get an optimized list together while Fauna Shaman not only is great from the first time you play her, but gets better as you adapt the deck around her more in subtle ways.
Still I want to leave my final Fauna Shaman build for the week before I go.
Good luck to all those playing this weekend! Also thanks to all those who took time and wrote me about the designs in last week’s article.
Email me at: joshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom