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The Cutting Room Floor: Maniacal Tendencies

“The Cutting Room Floor: Maniacal Tendencies”

I love flipping my deck sideways.

Seriously, I do. I don’t think there is a more gratifying feeling than finding a way or an opportunity where you can use virtually your entire graveyard as a resource to win games after finding a way to flip through your deck. It’s been that way for me for years, I did it when I played Illusionary Mask back in 2003 in the old “1.5” format with Spoils of the Vault, again in 2005 with Gamekeeper into Darksteel Colossus and these days with Manaless and Griselbrand. Perhaps it’s just the thrill of being able to achieve something so awesome like actually having all the pieces of the puzzle fall into place and using your graveyard as your hand, I’m not exactly sure.

Undercity InformerBut then something happened.

You see, while still running hard on the Manaless train something caught me completely by surprise. After attending a recent event and watching Jupiter regular Nick Patnode goldfish some hands (and dismantling players) with a new deck spawned by the printing of Gatecrash, I had to look into it a little deeper. Star City columnist Adam Prosak recently wrote a good article dedicated to this new archetype appropriately entitled, “Oops, All Spells!”, an extremely fast combo deck that uses Gatecrash colleagues of Undercity Informer and Balustrade Spy to turn your deck upside down. The deck wins by resolving Narcomoeba triggers, into a Dread Return on Angel of Glory’s Rise, subsequently bringing back Azami, Lady of Scrolls and Laboratory Maniac then tapping either creature to draw a card from your empty library for the win via the Maniac’s triggered ability.

It’s even harder to disrupt as the Maniac, who is conveniently a Wizard, can be tapped to draw a card. So, if someone decides they want to Swords your Maniac or Azami you have a contingency plan in place which makes removal that much more useless in stopping you (as you can simply tap one or the other to draw a card and win the game).

Sounds simple, right? To be honest it really is and there’s not a whole lot more to it than that. But like Dredge the deck focuses on using cards like Narcomoeba, Dread Return, Cabal Therapy and Street Wraith (and even Bridge from Below) to win the game. The deck is also completely landless and uses acceleration to power out its key spells.

[Editor’s note – click any of blue card names or featured card images to view and purchase the card from Jupiter Games!]

Let’s take a look at the list Adam revealed (and the one currently seeing the most play):

At first glance, a list like this seems straight forward: you try to open-hand some acceleration into one of your combo pieces so that you can proceed to go off. Let’s examine some of the more interesting choices in this list and possibly a way to improve on it moving forward.

Street Wraith is a card that has such an ambiguous utility that it’s hard to pinpoint exactly just how good it is in certain decks. Take for instance starting the game off with a hand that looks something potentially like this:

Street Wraith
Chrome Mox
Dark Ritual
Elvish Spirit Guide
Lotus Petal
Cabal Ritual

As you can see beginning the game with a Street Wraith in your hand creates a great deal of uncertainty. Can we really gamble keeping this hand not knowing what the top card of our library is? If we’re basing our deck on percentages, is it worth keeping a hand like this knowing full-well that there’s a possibility we’re not going to draw into anything relevant? These are some important things to take into consideration when deciding if a hand with Street Wraith (or even Gitaxian Probe) is worth keeping without a win-condition.

However, Street Wraith may just be better than we’re giving it credit for. Not only is it a black creature that helps with our Chrome Moxen in the event we have Ritual-effects and a win-condition in hand, but it draws us a card. While we’ve already mentioned that it’s difficult to assess whether or not that can be considered advantageous in the event we don’t have something relevant in hand, there is still the idea that perhaps the draw may be able to help us out if we can find a way to put something relevant on top of the deck.

Enter Worldly Tutor.

Worldly TutorAfter watching and listening to Nick tell stories of how good this card is in the deck, I just had to see it for myself. With Worldly Tutor, you’ve all but got yourself a Demonic Tutor at the cost of one mana and two or three life, with Gitaxian Probe or Street Wraith. You cast the Tutor and put either the Spy or Informer on top of your library and proceed to draw off either card, perfect in setting up the win. Summoner’s Pact is primarily used to find something like Elvish Spirit Guide, effectively making it another Spirit Guide in the deck.

So, we must be able to make the distinction of importance between Pact and Worldly Tutor: Pact is for all intents and purposes a proxy for more acceleration. But is that really necessary? Do we really want to dedicate four slots to a card that will cost us the game the following turn just to find another Spirit Guide? I suppose we can if that’s what we need to win the turn we’re going for it, but I’m thinking there might be another way to go here.

Pact of NegationOnce the changes to the deck were made for a recent Invitational Qualifier and I had heard that Pact of Negation stopped Force of Will decks dead in their tracks, it was difficult to ignore the prospect of a card that offers definitive protection like this one does. This deck, while being incredibly fast, still should have at least some form of protection. Like Belcher, this deck has the capability of winning games as early (and often) as turn one. However, there is a fundamental difference between the two even though both can win incredibly fast.

Belcher decks traditionally use one of two win-conditions: Empty the Warrens or Goblin Charbelcher. Most have either eschewed Burning Wish as a supplement or gone the direct route with either of the aforementioned two choices. The “Oops” deck, however, uses one of either the Spy or informer to win games. There is a glaring difference here between the two and that dwells with Empty the Warrens as the wildcard. Empty does not win the game outright, although it can generate a massive amount of tokens. Still, not being able to win for two subsequent turns is not the ideal situation against other decks in the format that can win faster or have mass-removal effects like Engineered Explosives and Pernicious Deed.

Even something like Glacial Chasm or The Tabernacle At Pendrell Vale can stop this line of play dead in its tracks, which makes it less appealing. Conversely, the informer-Spy combination is an immediate win that doesn’t involve waiting or even targeting, for that matter (so there’s no need to worry about something like Leyline of Sanctity). The other factor involved here is that the deck uses the graveyard as its primary way to win games, so having a contingency or defense plan sideboard is important in being able to defend yourself from losing games you expect to win.

Cabal Therapy is another card in this deck that is incredibly important, but more so than meets the eye. Imagine a situation where we combo off by getting either piece in play and flipping our deck sideways. We look at our hand and see that Azami is just chilling out there, having been drawn in our opening hand. We really need to get this into the graveyard because we know our opponent may be able to stop the Maniac by itself in the event we can only bring that back into play. Once our deck has been turned sideways and we have all four of our Narcomoebas in play, we can then use Cabal Therapy to discard one of our important combo pieces out of our hand and into our graveyard.

So not only can Therapy be used as a means of protection it can help us pitch cards that we need to win the game with. This is especially important with four Narcomoebas, which brings me to the next card…

NarcomoebaThis is one of the most overused and underappreciated cards ever printed. Used in combo decks aimed to abuse the library as a means to ultimately win the game. The futuristic jellyfish that propagates through the lists of these combo decks is essential in setting up the winning play usually followed up with Dread Return, like in Dredge. The goal with Narcomoeba is to trigger preferably all four from your graveyard and sacrifice them to Dread Return to bring back Angel of Glory’s Rise in this particular deck. While relatively simple to do once you go off, this creates vulnerability that one could exploit if trying to beat this deck.

Let’s assume you’re running against a deck that uses Surgical Extraction as a way to strip copies of a certain card out of your deck. This is where the aforementioned Pact of Negation comes into play as a means of protection against hate cards like that. In addition to having Therapy and other potential sideboard cards used to protect yourself in the event someone tries disrupting your combo in progress. While certainly vulnerable to hate, you can also create a transferable sideboard into cards like Goblin Charbelcher and Lion’s Eye Diamond if you would like to eschew the current configuration for games two and three and keep an opponent on their heels.

This can also be an effective strategy when steering an opponent into making a boarding error targeting your graveyard when they don’t realize you’re preparing to go “old school” on them. Being prepared to deal with hate is incredibly important especially for a deck that needs all the help it can get post-board. Pact still plays an important role in protection, but sometimes that’s not enough especially if your combo is fragile. Narcomoeba is a card people love to strip away out of decks that use it because it really is the unsung enabler; the card that swims deep beneath the dark ocean of your deck until it’s time for the tide to rise.

A quick note about Grim Monolith here: I don’t feel it’s worthy of inclusion in a deck like this. It’s a neat inclusion, but I just don’t think it’s worth a slot in place of what can be something else critically relevant here, like “Tutor-effects” or more protection. The deck already has an incredible amount of acceleration that casting a one-of artifact that does nothing more than any of your other accelerants do seems overly-redundant. I get it that by casting Dark Ritual into this plus the activation gives you three colorless and a black (perfect to win with), I just don’t know if it’s worth running yet.

I was contemplating some other cards like Serum Powder, which can be helpful in a variety of situations. I’m not so sure it’s still a viable option though as exiling key cards like a possible win-condition or multiple Narcomoebas can be crippling to your end-game. After tinkering around with it for a little while I was finding those circumstances were coming up more often than not, so I would imagine that some aggressive mulligans would probably be more beneficial in the long run. You don’t absolutely have to win the game on turn one against a deck that doesn’t run conditional or hard counter-magic, so it’s not like it’s the end of the world if you drop a Mox or pass the turn to start the game.

Taking all of this into consideration, I’m kind of teetering towards this bizarre yet utterly awesome list that I give a lot of credit to Bryant Cook and Nick Patnode for:

This variation focuses a bit more on consistency with protection in Pact of Negation and Worldly Tutor to find the combo pieces you need. Again, I like the synergy Tutor has with Street Wraith and Gitaxian Probe. Aside from that, there aren’t many glaring changes to the main list. The core remains the same and very strong with the vast amount of acceleration. It still mulligans very aggressively to open with either a Spy or informer and some form of acceleration to power either of these creatures out with possibly some protection in Pact of Negation.

As for the sideboard, there are a few ways we can go with this. I was looking at a configuration that contains some defensive cards in addition to some alternative win-conditions. Taking this into consideration, a sample-sideboard might resemble something like this:

Nature's ClaimIn this particular sideboard, we have access to cards like Nature’s Claim which allows us to destroy problematic artifacts and enchantments like Leyline of the Void, Rest in Peace, Tormod’s Crypt and Relic of Progenitus. Nature’s Claim is a card that sees play in multiple formats to destroy cards that cause issues for decks that need to power through hate in order to win games. That is no different in this case and I think that a full compliment in this deck’s board is perfect to power through hate as we’re somewhat vulnerable to cards like the aforementioned.

Leyline of Sanctity is seeing more play these days – and for good reason. It’s a combo-player’s format right now and nothing says protection better than a free you’re-not-targeting-me enchantment that stops a combo player right in their tracks. Although, it’s really cool that we’re not targeting the player here so Leyline used against us is effectively useless. However, what we’re using it for is against cards that target specific players such as Tormod’s Crypt that stop a player using that particular kind of hate dead in their tracks.

Leyline is a card that is seeing much more play right now because of the shifting nature of the format. Is it necessary here? That’s yet to be determined as the deck is still in its infant state. That being said I still think that having a solid form of protection in a card like Leyline seems quite relevant.

Being able to stop problematic cards is obviously important, but not always necessary. Sometimes if you’re playing a deck and you feel that it’s not worth dedicating an exceptional amount of sideboard space to shore up a gaping weakness, you’re better off dedicating those slots to the “wildcard” aspect of the format. What I mean by this is that there is an unpredictability Legacy bestows upon its participants in any given meta. You don’t know exactly what someone is playing at a given tournament unless you’ve actually seen them in action.

Pithing Needle in this instance shines. While not only being effective at battling activated hate an opponent could play against you (don’t forget about Faerie Macabre), it also stops other decks that rely on the importance of activated abilities to win the game, like Grindstone and Eye of Ugin. Even so, I still really like Pithing Needle in this deck because of its “Swiss-army knife” nature. It might not be the best option, but that remains to be seen.

Finally, if we’re looking to dodge hate, we might as well take advantage of all the acceleration we have in here by channeling it into a different set of win-conditions like Empty the Warrens and Goblin Charbelcher. There’s a legitimately good chance of an opponent bringing in hate against you post-board. In the event this happens, it might be a good idea to run a split of these cards to power past that hate by just simply winning with permanent-based and spell-based win-conditions as opposed to using the graveyard. If for some reason a set goes to a game three, then you can keep your opponent on edge by using either of these (and possibly a mix of Spy or informer) to confuse an opponent’s strategy to beat you.

The sideboard is still a work in progress, much like the main-deck. We’ve still taken into consideration some of the deck’s problematic areas by addressing them with important and good cards that help us in the instance we’re faced with an unwinnable set of circumstances. Thankfully this deck wins long before most hate generally hits the table, so we have that to our advantage.

In closing I would just like to say I’m slowly but surely falling in love with this deck and its ability to win games fast and early before most opponents have a chance to interact with you. Force of Will is going to become an important card to anticipate here in the coming months. If combo decks in general continue on their torrid pace to take the throne of Legacy’s elitist decks. It’s also ironic that the deck runs zero lands, and I find myself oddly attracted to that. Perhaps it’s just the freak-show nature of decks like Manaless and this one that appeal to me based on their anomalistic nature. It might be a bit fragile, but it does goldfish winning hands somewhere in the area of 30-40% of its opening hands. Slap a set of Pact of Negations in this monster and you’ve the makings of what appears to be a very powerful combo deck with explosive potential and protection for backup.

I for one will be trying this out for some time to come. I’ve already begun accumulating most of the cards (a good portion just happen to be in Dredge, go figure), and much like war-hero John Rambo once said: “To survive a war, you’ve got to become war.”

I’ll be ready for war in two weeks at the March NELC.

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