Investigating Combo: Artifacts in T2



I had a week-long break from school, and the girlfriend was gone to visit her relatives. My friends had left as well, taking their marathon EDH sessions with them. It was time to get down to business, find a job, finish some projects, and maybe test for Regionals in between a bit of Daily Show and pirated Humphrey Bogart flicks.

I think you see where this is going.



One down! Wait, what day is it?

After a week of playing magic and eating delivered foodstuffs, I had a deck. A deck I'm going to discuss, card by card, because it interests me that much. If you want a list, skip to the end. If you want to catch a bit of my thought process, the thought process of a man who spent a week with pizza stains on his face, unabashedly wallowing in his own filth to save more time for magic, then read on.

My love for Time Sieve started last season. Olivier Ruel's list is below, for reference.


The deck was simply a blast to play. Drawing cards, taking turns, and bashing in for ludicrous amounts of damage. However, when I couldn't get the deck to perform against the Fae menace, I had to set it down.

Today, we have many of the same tools as we did then, only without Fae! To top it off, the control decks are running between 2-4 counterspells main, and some don't even run any in the side. Now is the time for combo, my friends, as we can see from the rising popularity of the UG Polymorph deck.

Mana

4x Mistvein Borderpost
4x Fieldmist Borderpost

The deck necessitates eight borderposts, as they fix colors, function as two land drops, accelerate, and facilitate the combo.

After that, the correct number of normal lands is either fifteen or sixteen. I prefer sixteen, as losing to a missed land drop is rough, and being able to go Time Warp + Howling Mine on turn seven is gas. However, the list I'm recommending only runs 15.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

1x Swamp
3-4x Marsh Flats
4x Plains
7-8x Island

15-16 total.

Combo Essentials

4x Howling Mine
0-1x Font of Mythos
4x Time Warp
4x Angelsong (Time Warp 5-8)
2-4x Repel the Darkness

This time-tested engine is used by the Turbofog deck as well. Repel the Darkness fills a similar roll as Cryptic Command of last season. I've heard players talking about how great a fog that cantrips is, and they're right, but don't get carried away. Most lists only ran two Cryptics last year because the deck can get bogged down by fog effects before it begins to combo, and I've taken that lesson to heart here.

4x Open the Vaults
2-4x Time Sieve

I've tested all number of Sieves, and I'm pretty sure that three is correct. Redundant copies just add to the artifact count, but you always need one. If need be, Tezzeret can tutor it up.

2x Tezzeret the Seeker
2x Jace Beleren

Tezzeret is a great finisher. He functions within the combo by fetching key pieces, baits countermagic, and allows you to occasionally mise wins without Time Sieve.

Now, I've seen some people use Jace, the Mind Sculptor instead of Beleren. The nice side of new Jace is that he digs three deep, so if the deck is completely out of gas it has a better chance of reaching that Angelsong or Time Warp than Beleren might. Also, the new Jace can answer Iona, Shield of Emeria on white. However, in the majority of games the new Jace doesn't fit the curve. Ideally, it goes turn one Borderpost, turn two bauble or Howling Mine, turn three bauble or Jace Beleren, and every turn after that might need a fog or a Time Warp. It should be noted that Beleren can be cast with Angelsong protection on turn five. Plus, Beleren's +2 ability makes it harder for Jund decks to kill, as it needs both Blightning and Lightning Bolt, and coming down a full turn sooner makes it difficult for them to prevent you getting some value.

4x Prophetic Prism
2-4x Kaleidostone

Borderposts can take an extra turn to produce that second blue or white mana, but this is a deck that can't stumble, and the Prism smooths out many draws. Kaleidostone fixes the second white for Open the Vaults, but that's about it.

After pouring over lists from last season, seven bauble effects seems to be most accurate. Before Rise of Eldrazi came out, I was doing well in tournament play with 4 bauble effects by relying more on Howling Mine. The list I'm recommending only runs six, but we'll get to that in a minute.

The Kill

0-4 Glassdust Hulk
0-4 Architects of Will

The Hulk is an insane finisher in the deck, and his ability to end games quickly makes me hesitate to cut him completely. Another nice thing about the hulk is that, after being bashed twice by a single 10/11 unblockable in game one, opponents will get the impression that their Path to Exiles matter and leave them in. Not only do individual Hulks not matter, but they can actually be saved from exile through careful use of Time Sieve. Two or three feels right. If you don't run any Hulks, then switching over to Jace, The Mind Sculptor is recommended to increase the number of viable win conditions. The Architects used to be run before we got Prophetic Prism to keep the artifact count up. Now, there is no reason to run it.

0-3 Thopter Foundry

Good at blanking removal like Maelstrom Pulse. Also, maindeck Foundrys add some considerable points in the RDW matchup.

Disruption

0-3 Silence
0-4 Spell Pierce
0-4 Wall of Omens
0-4 Spreading Seas

I've tried running the deck without any maindeck disruption, and it still does fine against most of the field, but the list I was using had a poor matchup against both Jund and RDW, so something needed to be fixed. I thought Wall of Omens would solve all my problems, but the card disappointed me. It has no synergy with the rest of the deck. In the early game, RDW is well equipped to handle blockers with a mixture of evasive creatures and Searing Blazes. In the mid to late game, the wall fails to save . Remember, it's not the couple of attacks for two to six points of damage in the first few turns that kill. It's the giant ten to twelve point attacks after turn four. At that time, the wall doesn't really do much besides turn on their removal. Best case scenerio? They only draw one creature, and the wall becomes a Repel the Darkness that they can terminate. Speaking of which, I would play the third and forth Repel over this card.

Spell Pierce, while reasonable, is a bit narrow. You almost never want multiples, but if you run fewer than three they hide when you need them.

After a bit of frustration, I went back to the Silences that Oliver Ruel used last season, and they performed fine. They bought a few games against Jund by protecting from pressure+disruption on turn 4+. In most matchups they were dead, or close to it, but the deck was performing well enough that it could run a few dead cards without much trouble.

Jund was still a coin flip. As in, it literally rested on the coin flip. If Time Sieve won, it had a 50-70% chance of winning the match, depending on the builds. If Jund won, it had 60-75%. I didn't mind having a bad matchup, but leaving the most popular deck with that much variability felt like tournament suicide.

Finally, after much testing, coffee, and pounding my head against a wall, I talked on Magic-League with Frankydizzle, another Time Sieve player. He was running the following list:


I tried the list out, and didn't like it. Two Swamps was one too many, Font of Mythos and the new Jace felt clunky, and wins off Thopter Foundry took a while, so a miscount of baubles in the yard resulted in decking. Not a comfortable win condition during an eight or nine round tournament, a reasonable length for MN Regionals.

I picked his brain for advantages against Jund. He mentioned Spreading Seas, and I palmfaced. Of course! I'd given up throwing Seas into other decks, as Jund was running Rampant Growths now to mitigate the flood damage, and the blue enchantment only really shone when drawn in multiples. If Time Sieve can do anything well, it's drawing cards in multiples. In a recent article on TCGplayer, Billy Moreno called Seas the "blue blightning," and after playing them in this deck I have to agree with him.

At first I tested the Seas in the sideboard, and they applied some serious pressure to the Jund deck. A turn two Leech wasn't nearly so scary when I knew a Blightning followed by Bloodbraid Elf into Maelstrom Pulse wasn't following it. I was gaining percentages.

Hrm, but in the maindeck? Let's see how that might look:



Fan-tastic. Seas helped the Jund matchup while being less useless than Silence in others. It stopped the turn three ball lightning without adding dead cards mid-combo. One of the nice plays for Silence was, when the combo stalled out, casting it on their upkeep along with a fog like a pseudo Time Warp. Now when the deck stalled, I had four Spreading Seas on their lands, which tended to bear a remarkable similarity to having Silence most of the time.

The downside to Seas is that there isn't room for main deck Thopter Foundry, which would help the RDW matchup quite a bit. Also, one more Island might be nice. Adding a land and bringing the deck to sixty one cards isn't a terrible option. Indeed, Ruel refused to cut his sixteenth land.

Matchups

The main reason to play this deck is the strong UW control matchup. Just playing this deck makes most of their deck cold. Be careful, if you give them too much time they can end things fairly quickly. However, screwing up that badly is pretty hard to do.

Strategy: Bait counters with unnecessary Time Sieves and Tezzerets, get them to tap out by dropping a must counter (Time Warp or Open the Vaults with a reasonable board presence), then follow that up with a time sieve activation, going off on the extra turn. The UW player is placed in an awkward position. On the one hand, they have to disrupt you, and that involves not tapping out (assuming they run Negates). The catch to that is that they also have to put pressure on the Time Sieve deck, or the combo deck will simply draw too many threats.

-4 Spreading Seas (Nice how it makes sideboarding easy)
+4 Negate

They'll sideboard in whatever Negates or Oblivion Rings they don't have Maindeck. Some lists bring in Celestial Purge to target the black Borderpost or Time Sieve, though losing one Sieve rarely matters. That they'd bring in such a situational card is an indicator of how many dead cards they have against this deck.

This is a hard matchup. Hard to lose, that is.

Jund: Depending on the versions of the decks, the matchup ranges from 40% to 60%. My list with maindeck seas is nearing 60% against the most common variants. Note that these are matchup percentages, not game percentages.

-2 Repel the Darkness, -1 Kaleidestone
+3 Negate

Most lists will have either Jund Charm or Thought Hemorrhage to board in, and even if they don't then Negate is still useful to counter Maelstrom Pulse or Blightning.

Strategy: Try not to walk double Borderposts or Mines into a Maelstrom Pulse. Try and stay above nine life, and if that's not possible, seven, as they burn out in threes.

Mythic: While they pressure fast, they don't have any relevant disruption pre sb, and only a few measly negates and O-Rings post sb. Weak to fog effects and the Time Sieve deck in general. Don't be afraid to Repel the Darkness on random mana critters, as most of the time this works as a time walk.

Strategy: You'll lose if you don't draw enough action, so mulligan appropriately. Don't forget about Rafiq and other possible exalted drops when calculating if you need to fog or not.

-4 Spreading Seas
+2 Into the Roil, +2 Negate.

Not much to Negate here... except for their Negates of course. Thopter Foundry or the Seas might be better.

RDW: The nightmare of nightmares. I've beaten the deck a few times in tournament play, and tested just about every sideboard configuration imaginable to try and pull out wins. This version is the one I'm happiest with. If you see a lot of RDW in your field, mding a couple Thopter Foundries starts to look tempting.

If they don't know what you're running G1, they could keep a slower hand that overvalues Searing Blaze and Earthquake. That's the type of hand this deck can handle through accurate play and the right draw. Goblin Guide into a turn 4 kill, however, is pretty much unbeatable.

-4 Howling Mine, 2 Glassdusk Hulk, 4 Spreading Seas
+4 Kor Firewalker, 2 Vedalken Outlander, 3 Thopter Foundry, 1 Negate

One of the nice things about Prism is that it allows us to support Kor Firewalker, which is a huge beating. It feels wrong to take out combo elements, but here Howling Mine is genuinely harmful.

In game two things improve, as any reasonable draw will see the Time Sieve player dropping a couple of pro red guys and winning the game in a flurry of turns. By lowering the deck's curve, it becomes much easier to fight through Manabarbs with some lifegain and artifact mana.

If they splash black then game three changes. If they lost the second game, they're probably bringing in Deathmarks and Doom Blades, which has the nice side benefit of slowing down their kill. I haven't played enough matches to know which side the RB version favors.

Eldrazi Green: A reasonable matchup, comparable to Mythic. Accurate play and a good draw should bring this match home most of the time. Note that, against their faster starts, you'll lose if you don't draw enough fogs. When a lot of Green players played at my FNM, I boarded a couple Safe Passages to make sure that never happened.

Note that the green deck, like Mythic, can kill out of nowhere by dropping the right creatures. Don't forget about cards like Joraga Warcaller in your calculations. That mistake will cost games.

Polymorph: The matchup is bad. They run more countermagic than the control decks, and an Iona on white is game. It's worth playing out just in case some crazy Tezzeret + Time Walk shenanigans happen, but they have too many counterspells for that to be a reliable game plan.

If the poly deck becomes more popular, I could see going back to an old version of Time Sieve with four MD Spell Pierces. The Pierce version shifts the focus of the deck from Time Sieve (with seven bauble effects) to Howling Mine (by offering more Mine protection.) Dropping Mine turn three with a blue up for Spell Pierce is pretty great against O-Ring and Countermagic.

The other option is boarding in Into the Roil. If they're going to pull Emrakul, the Aeons Torn and name white with Iona, a well placed bounce spell could do wonders. Also, the bounce spell can hit whatever the Polymorph is targeting to work as Negate 5-6. Unfortunately, Into the Roil is a pretty narrow sideboard option, aside from answering the odd Pithing Needle and Oblivion Ring. A better answer to Iona or Emrakul is Executioner's Capsule, which has a bit of synergy with Tezzeret and Open the Vaults. While it doesn't cantrip like Into the Roil, it does up the artifact count for Time Sieve.

Switching to the new Jace is another way of helping the matchup, but Beleren fits the deck's plan so much better that I hate to do it.

Vampires: I haven't had time to test against vampires enough to comment, but I'm told that the matchup is abysmal for the Time Sieve player. Fortunately, vampires' terrible Jund matchup will make it an unpopular choice for Regionals (I hope.)

Playing Through Disruption

Howling Mine gives the opponents a lot of cards to find specific answers. Fortunately, it gives this deck a lot of threats, and being able to break parity with Time Warp puts it over the top. Outplaying the hate has never been easier.

There are a few different types of relevant disruption right now. The obvious foil to combo decks is countermagic, but usually you can play through it enough to take the match. If you can stick a Howling Mine, this deck will draw more threats than the control deck has answers. While it's improbable to cast multiple Open the Vaults on the same turn, the ability to cast Open the Vaults (countered), and then sack to Time Sieve, untap, and cast another Open is invaluable. Countermagic is only really relevant if followed up by a lock combined with a win condition. Like Iona.

Graveyard Hate: Jund Charm is probably the most played graveyard hate card, and random enough to occasionally steal wins, but not played enough to worry about too much.

There's a guy at my FNM who brings T2 Dredge, so the slower aggro decks and control players have Relic of Progenitus to bring in against me. The card has yet to win a game for them. The common line is to build up resources for a bit, then place Open the Vaults on the stack and let them decide what to do. If they pop the Relic, I can sacrifice time sieve with the Vaults still on the stack and go off. If they don't, I have a lot of fodder to sack to time sieve to go off anyway. If you put your opponent on Jund Charm, this is probably the correct course of action. That is, if they aren't tapped out from trying to play through Spreading Seas.

Both Pithing Needle and Thought Hemorrhage act similarly in shutting down the deck. Tezzeret, untapping two artifacts, Time Warp, win is a reasonable line of play against either of these forms of hate. Thought Hemorrhage is the more played of the two, and I think the card might move from two copies to four in some sideboards due to the growing popularity of Polymorph. Fortunately, it's very Negatable. The Jund player will see fewer Thought Hemorrhages than he will Blightnings or Maelstrom Pulses simply due to cascade.

Pithing Needle hurts, and is becoming more and more popular with the rise of the new planeswalker deck. As of yet, I've had opponents bring one or two in, but never a full playset. Needle is one reason I'm testing out the pair of Into the Roils in the sideboard. Similar to Executioner's Capsule, Dispeller's Capsule might turn out to have more synergy with the deck, and can hit random Oblivion Rings too.

And that about covers it. I've got to go now anyway, as I think my cat is trying to tell me something.


What's that, boy? "Meow." Timmy's fallen into the well? "Meow."

-Caleb Durward



Afterward

I wrote the above article before the results from the first PTQs, and at that time the standard Mythic deck wasn't running Sovereigns. Conscription Mythic is faster, and annihilator makes multiple Angelsongs redundant. While the match is winnable, the games are quite complicated and sharp. Subtle details, like remembering to sack Spreading Seas to Annihilator, can go unnoticed in testing. Every once in a while, it's correct to not take a turn from Time Sieve in order to have more fodder for annihilator. These complications add up, and the matchup goes from good to marginal in the blink of an eye.

That said, let's take a peek at some lists from PTQ top eights to see how they coped with the metagame:



Interesting. One thing I like about the Pilgrim's Eye is that once the deck starts comboing it turns into a thinning machine, greatly decreasing the chance of stumbling into a land clump and fizzling. Plus, he moves away from sacklands, and the card can chump block and attack when it needs to. Throw away your Wall of Omens, folks, this guy gets the job done and with real synergy.

The other major change is the removal of Glassdusk Hulks for an extra Tezzeret and a Thopter Foundry. While I can't agree with the third Tezzeret, as even two can feel clunky, moving the Foundry to the maindeck adds some game against RDW while freeing up much needed sideboard space to fight Conscription Mythic. In this case, four Day of Judgments. Ideally, the Mythic deck would undervalue its Dauntless Escorts, letting the new wrath hit at a crucial moment. Now that people are aware of Day in this deck, however, the card loses a lot of value. I might have to end up running the card for lack of something better, but I won't be happy with it.

I'm guessing his singleton Capsule in the main is to hit random Oblivion Rings while freeing up a slot in the sideboard that would otherwise be reserved for an answer to Pithing Needle.



I'm glad to see Spreading Seas in the maindeck. Note how his manabase is warped to support Day of Judgement and Kor Firewalker. Part of his ability to do this is a decreased dependence on blue from the removal of Jace Beleren. Still, I'm pretty sure fifteen sources of black (not counting Kaleidostone or Tezzeret) in the maindeck is too much. I've been happy with twelve, but I wouldn't fault anyone for running one or two more than that.

Perhaps upping the curve with the new Jace makes more sense with Spreading Seas in the deck. Not only does Seas give us more things to do in the earlier turns, but it slows the opponent, which adds value to the new Jace.

I'm guessing, and this is just speculation, that the optimal build will be some mixture of the two above. Spreading Seas and Thopter Foundry in the same list, for example.

I'm going to keep testing right up until the NQ. As I make discoveries and tweaks, I'll post them here, so check back in the forums if you're interested.

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