Defeating Neo



Team America is perhaps the most intriguing deck to pop up in the past year. It incorporates elements of both the Suicide Black variant known as Eva Green, and the more well known deck called Threshold. It seeks to disrupt the opponent’s mana base while providing its own threats by dealing the death knell. The following are two examples Team America Decklists:
Team AmericaMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
Creatures:
4 Tombstalker
4 Tarmogoyf

Spells:
4 Brainstorm
4 Stifle
4 Force of Will
4 Daze
4 Snuff Out
4 Ponder
4 Thoughtseize
4 Sinkhole

Lands:
4 Wasteland
4 Polluted Delta
4 Flooded Strand
1 Bloodstained Mire
4 Underground Sea
2 Tropical Island
1 Bayou

That list went top-four, at the Source’s Anniversery Tournament. As well as winning 2nd Place in the Mana Leak Open 2008. Also, below is the list that took second place in the World's Team Championship Legacy Event:
Team America Piloted by Justin CheungMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
Creatures:
4 Tarmogoyf
4 Tombstalker

Spells:
4 Brainstorm
4 Daze
4 Force of Will
4 Ponder
4 Sinkhole
4 Snuff Out
4 Stifle
4 Thoughtseize

Lands:
1 Bayou
3 Bloodstained Mire
2 Flooded Strand
4 Polluted Delta
2 Tropical Island
4 Underground Sea
4 Wasteland

The problem is this deck list lost to Dreadstill, which is supposedly one of the decks that Team America is supposed to have a good match up against. I guess it does not help that its opponent landed a Standstill while the pilot of this deck did not have any cards in hand, and had practically nothing in play. Which caused the game to come to a complete stop until the player playing Dreadstill was able to crack the Standstill causing the Pilot of Team America to go down to 3 cards.

Like Neo, this deck started out inconspicuous, but transformed into a force to be reckoned with. However, is it undefeatable? In light of the Legacy Grand Prix in Chicago for 2009, I would like to offer a basic run-down of the key strategy of Team America, a few of the deck’s basic weaknesses, and a run-down of some of the testing and conclusions to the testing I did with the deck verses decks that I hypothesize would do well against Team America.

The basic strategy of the deck is to deny the opponent as much of their land as possible. Team America does this using three key cards to its strategy: Sinkhole, Stifle, and Wasteland. Other than these cards, the goal is to out tempo the opponent by playing a variety of disruption in order to get one’s winning creatures (namely Tarmogoyf, or Tombstalker) onto the field as soon as possible for the win. All told this is a very simple strategy, and very easy to pull off for most control styled players. However the deck itself seems to have some serious flaws of its own to contend with. The people who like it, seem to like it primarily because it is one of the easier land disruption and control packages to run, due to its lower mana cost compared to a traditional land disruption deck. Additionally they seem to like it due to it having done better than a traditional tempo-suicide deck at a larger tournament.

First of all, what if the deck that Team America is facing has more lands to play than they have disruption to deal with? Or even worse, what if that deck also has a way to recur its lands such as Life from the Loam? These two issues are what make Aggro Loam one of the more difficult match ups for Team America in theory. As soon as it can get one of its loams into the graveyard, Aggro Loam has a nearly infinite supply of land recursion spells, not to mention the fact that a good portion of the Aggro Loam decks (about twenty-six of the cards) happen to be lands. The same issue arises with 42-land.dec. The only difference is that fourty-two to fourty-four land decks tend not to have enough ways to deal with Team America's threats.

A similar technique consists of a deck with little to no non-basic lands at all. Since Team America’s land destruction base is comprised of at least eight cards that focus on dealing with these non-basic land threats, those cards simply cannot deal with cards that are not non-basic, and they become useless. Even if a deck uses Fetch Lands to fetch basic lands, the deck is at a lesser risk than a deck that uses Fetch Lands to fetch non-basics, as that means four of Team America’s twelve land destruction cards are dead and useless for the purposes of destroying lands, at the very least.

Decks whose strategy is to use few if any lands present another problem for Team America, as just about all of their land destruction spells are going to be dead in the water. For example, CRET Belcher has at most two lands, and can win more or less effectively without drawing either of them. However a better example would be Ichorid, which though it has more lands is capable of going off without those lands simply by resolving a Lion’s Eye Diamond

The last difficulty lies in Team America’s mana base, which is just begging people to disrupt it. Cards such as Blood Moon, Wasteland, and Back To Basics, are all very strong against the mana base. Even Rishadan Port is incredibly strong here, since it has a grand total of only seven lands that produce colored mana. Not to mention that Team America verses Team America would be a terrible match up, as both decks would be attempting to destroy the others mana base.
Decks that beat Team America
In Theory

Article one:
Aggro Loam
Mono Blue Control
Goyf Sligh

Article two
Eva Green
Mono-Black Aggro
Mono-White Control

Article three
Ichorid
Rb Goblins
Stax
Swans Thresh
The decks that should have the best chance of defeating Team America are as follows (in no particular order):

The Match Ups
The following is a discussion on how the test match ups between Team America and the decks I mentioned above happened to go. I played the opposing deck in most cases, except for the Mono-Blue match up.
Aggro LoamMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
Creatures:
4 Countryside Crusher
4 Tarmogoyf
4 Terravore

Spells:
4 Burning Wish
2 Devastating Dreams
3 Life from the Loam

Enchantments:
3 Seismic Assault

Artifacts:
4 Chalice of the Void
2 Engineered Explosives
4 Mox Diamond

lands:
1 Bayou
2 Forest
4 Forgotten Cave
1 Karplusan Forest
4 Mountain
1 Taiga
4 Tranquil Thicket
1 Volrath’s Stronghold
4 Wasteland
4 Wooded Foothills

Game One: My opponent won the coin toss. We both mulled to six. He Thoughtseized my Chalice of the Void. I grab a Mountain via Wooded Foothills. He played a Ponder. Then I cycled Forgotten Cave. He plays another Thoughtseize (fifteen life), naming Devastating Dreams. I fetch a Taiga, then play Terravore, only to have it dazed. On my next turn, I play a Forest, and a Countryside Crusher, leaving an untapped land to prevent daze. In response my opponent plays a Brainstorm. On his turn he plays a Tombstalker. I fetch for a Mountain (Crusher is 4/4). I then Cycle Tranquil Thicket (Crusher is 5/5). I then cycle a second Tranquil Thicket (Crusher is now a 6/6), I immediately attack. My Opponent does not block bringing him down to nine life. My opponent plays a Tarmogoyf, but doesn't attack with Tombstalker. I play an Engineered Explosives with two counters, he responds with a Brainstorm. I immediately use the Engineered Explosives to destroy the Tarmogoyf, I also destroy one of his lands with a freshly played wasteland (Crusher is 7/7) I then attack for seven, bringing his life total down to two, again he does not block. Finally he decides to attack with his Tombstalker, but it is too little too late, and the game has been decided.

Game Two: This second game was pre-sideboard. My opponent mulliganed down to six. I decided to keep a bad opening hand. My opponent’s opening play is a Polluted Delta. I play both a Mox Diamond (pitching Taiga), and a Wasteland. I then attempt to play a burning wish so that I could get Life From the Loam on-line. However my opponent cracks the Polluted Delta fetching a Tropical Island, and plays Daze. On my next turn I am forced to play my Cycling Lands in order to have lands to actually do anything with, so I play a Forgotten Cave, Tap the Wasteland, and try to destroy my opponent's Underground Sea, however he plays a Stifle on the Wasteland. Next I play an Engineered Explosives set at two, and that is pretty much the only substantial thing I do for the rest of the game. On his turn he simply draws and passes. I then play a Tranquil Thicket. He then plays a Flooded Strand and Fetches an Underground Sea. Then he plays a Sinkhole targeting my Tranquil Thicket. On his next turn after that he plays a Tombstalker... I play a Devastating Dreams, I tap the Mox Diamond, and Forgotten Cave, and play the Dreams, discarding my entire hand of five cards... only to have the Dreams Forced. That pretty much sealed the game for my opponent.

Game Three: This game and all subsequent games in this match are post-sideboard. Both of us decided to keep our initial hands. I played a Mox Diamond discarding a Wooded Foothills followed by a Wasteland and Tormod's Crypt. My opponent played a Thoughtseize, naming my Countryside Crusher. On my next turn I promptly destroy his Underground Sea, play a Forest, and cycle Tranquil Thicket. He then plays a Wasteland and passes. At the end of his turn I cycle a Forgotten Cave. I baited his Wasteland with a Bayou, to which he took the bait only after playing a second Wasteland. I am forced to draw and pass. He does the same. I then play a wasteland of my own, targeting his Wasteland, following that up by tapping my Tormod's Crypt targeting his Graveyard (netting five of his cards) to keep Tombstalker at bay. He draws and passes, having to discard a card (Snuff Out). I play a Volrath's Stronghold. He has to pass again, discarding Daze. I play a Wasteland, and then play a Terravore. It starts as a 6/6. He passes discarding a Goyf. I play a Tarmogoyf, as a 4/5, and he surrenders the round on his next turn.

Game Four: My Opponent mulligans to six. I keep my initial seven. He plays a Polluted Delta. I play a Mox Diamond, discarding a Wooded Foothills. Then play a Mountain. I follow this up with a Chalice of the Void set at one, he had no responses. At the end of my turn he fetches a Bayou. He then plays a Flooded Strand and fetches an Underground Sea then plays a Tarmogoyf as a 1/2. I play a Tormod's Crypt, then play a Wooded Foothills fetching a forest. I then play my own Tarmogoyf as a 1/2. On his turn my opponent plays a Diabolic Edict killing my Goyf and pumping his own to a 3/4 size he attacks. I then play Engineered Explosives with two counters on it. He gets an attack in, bringing my life to thirteen. I then activate my Engineered Explosives killing his Goyf. He draws and passes. At the end of his turn I tap my Tormod's Crypt removing four of his cards. I then played a Countryside Crusher during my turn, and cycled a Tranquil Thicket (Crusher is at 4/4). My opponent promptly Snuff's the Crusher out. He draws and passes his turn. I play a Wasteland and destroy his Underground Sea, followed by playing Life from the Loam to return Tranquil Thicket, Wasteland, and Wooded Foothills to my hand. On my next turn I play my Wasteland, tap it to destroy his Bayou, and then play a Terravore (at 4/4). I then cycle a Tranquil Thicket (Terravore is 5/5). He draws and passes. On my next turn I set a Chalice of the Void at two, and attack for five. He plays a polluted Delta, and searches for a Underground Sea (Terravore is 6/6). I then play a second Terravore (both at 6/6). I then play a wooded foothills, and sac it to fetch a Taiga (both Terravore's are 7/7). I declare my attack, and he snuff's out the first Terravore, bringing his life to four. He can no longer cast answers to the other Terravore, as Chalice is set at both one and two, preventing Diabolic Edict, and he is at four life preventing Snuff Out... that is game for him.

Game Five: I keep a hand of seven cards, my opponent mulligans to six. My opponent plays a Flooded Strand. I play two Mox Diamonds, discarding a Wooded Foothills and a Forest. I play a Wasteland. Then I attempt to play a Terravore, but my opponent Force of Wills. At the end of my turn my opponent fetches an Underground Sea, and plays a Brainstorm. Then he draws and passes the turn. I play a Chalice of the Void set at one, then destroy the Underground Sea with the Wasteland. My opponent then fetches for a Tropical Island and passes his turn. I then fetch a Mountain, cycle Forgotten Cave, and manage to draw a Life from the Loam. I then immediately play the Life from the Loam, my opponent is unable to do anything about it and I grab a Wasteland, Forgotten Cave, and Wooded Foothills. My opponent draws and passes the turn. At the end of his turn I cycle and dredge for Life from the Loam, losing the cards, Mox Diamond, Tormod's Crypt, and Tranquil Thicket. I play the Wasteland, destroying his Tropical Island, then play Life from the Loam, and get back the Wasteland, Tranquil Thicket, and Forgotten Cave. I officially have my opponent in a Loam Lock, and he cannot do anything, so he forfeits the game.

Conclusions: Aggro Loam has a very good match up against Team America, and really does not even need to do all that much in the way of sideboarding. I would go so far as to say the match up is about seventy-five to twenty-five in the favor of Aggro Loam.
Mono-Blue ControlMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
Creatures:
3 Kira, Great Glass-Spinner
2 Morphling
4 Sower of Temptation

Spells:
4 Counterspell
4 Fact or Fiction
4 Force Spike
4 Force of Will
4 Spell Snare

Enchantments:
3 Back to Basics
3 Propaganda

Artifacts:
2 Powder Keg
2 Vedalken Shackles

Lands:
23 Island

Game One: My opponent won the right to go first. I mul down to six, my opponent muls down to four. We both play our lands for the first turn (mine is a Fetch). He plays a second land. I play another Fetch, then pop both for a Bayou and Underground Sea. I then play a Sinkhole and destroy one of my opponents Islands. My opponent plays another Island. I play a Tropical Island, then play a Tarmogoyf (at 2/3). My opponent plays a Vedalken Shackles. I play a second Tarmogoyf (at 2/3) and attack with the first. My opponenent takes control of the untapped Tarmogoyf. Then he plays a second Vedalken Shackles, I attempt to Force it, however he counters my Force of Will. He attempts to activate the new Shackles, but I am able to stifle it. I play a Tombstalker, then snuff out the currently shackled Tarmogoyf (a mistake) and attack with my unshackled Goyf. He then Shackles both Tombstalker and Tarmogoyf, and basically beats me to the face with my own creatures.

Game Two: My opponent keeps his opening hand, I mulligan twice. I allow my opponent to go first. My opponent plays an Island. I play an Underground Sea. My opponent plays an Island. I play a Bayou. My opponent plays an Island. I play a Tropical Island. My opponent is now up to Three Islands. I play a Polluted Delta and fetch a Tropical Island. My opponent attempts to play a Back to Basics. I Force of Will it, pitching a Stifle. I play another Polluted Delta and fetch an Underground Sea. My opponent attempts to play a second Back to Basics, and I am forced to hard cast a Force of Will, to which my opponent responds with his own Force of Will. I then decide to play a Fetch Land, attempt to fetch, and discover I do not have a single source of green mana in my library with which to cast Krosan Grip. I basically lost this match due to hard-casting a Force of Will.

Game Three: We both keep our initial hands. I play a Fetch Land, and fetch for a Bayou. My opponent plays a land and passes. I play a Wasteland and pass. My opponent plays a Land and passes. I play an Underground Sea, and attempt to Ponder. My opponent counters it. My opponent plays a Land and passes. I draw and pass, So does my opponent, And again. My opponent plays another Island. I play an Underground Sea. My opponent plays Vedalken Shackles, I respond with Krosan Grip. I fetch for a Tropical Island, then play a Tombstalker, only to have my opponent hit it with an Echoing Truth. My opponent draws and passes. I also draw and pass. At the end of my turn my opponent uses Fact or Fiction, revealing two Islands, Back to Basics, Counterspell, and Force Spike. I separated them into two piles with Back to Basics in one pile, and the rest in the other, he decided to put the Back to Basics into the Graveyard. Then at the end of his next turn he discards a Force Spike and Fact or Fiction due to having more than seven cards in his hand. I fetch an Underground Sea. He plays an Island and passes. I attempt to play a Brainstorm. He Counterspells it. He then attempts to play another Back to Basics, but I have a Force of Will lying in wait. I then play another Tombstalker. He attempts to play Sower of Temptation, but I use Snuff Out, he attempts to Force it, but I respond with my own Force of Will. I then attack with Tombstalker (his life is fourteen). He attempts to play a Vedalken Shackles, but I hard cast a Force of Will. I attack with Tombstalker (his life is nine). He passes his turn by playing an Island. I play a Brainstorm, and attack with Tombstalker (his life is four). He takes the turn, draws, and forfeits.

Game Four: We both Mulligain down to six. My opponent plays a land and passes. I play an Underground Sea, and then play a Thoughtseize, my opponent uses a Force Spike on the Thoughtseize. He again plays an Island and passes. I play an Underground Sea and then play a Ponder. Followed by a Brainstorm. My opponent draws a card and passes. I play a Fetch and grab a Bayou. My opponent draws and passes. At the end of his turn I play another Brainstorm. I attempt to cast a Tombstalker, only to have it hit by a Force of Will. My opponent attempts to play a Back to Basics, to which I respond with a Daze. I replay Underground Sea and pass. My opponent attempts to play Vedalken Shackles, to which I respond with a Brainstorm. I take the turn, and play a Krosan Grip on the Vedalken Shackles, followed by a Thoughtseize, naming Sower of Temptation. My opponent plays a land and passes. I play another Tombstalker, my opponent responds with a Fact or Fiction, getting a Vedalken Shackles, Force of Will, two Islands, and another Fact or Fiction. I separated them with Vedalken Shackles, and Fact or Fiction being one group and Force of Will and the two Islands being the other group. He plays the Vedalken Shackles. I attempt to attack with the Tombstalker, only to have my opponent attempt to shackle it. I respond with a stifle (he is at fourteen life). He attempts to Shackle the Tombstalker once again, and I attempt to Stifle it again, however this time he is armed with a Force of Will (he is at thirteen life). I play a Ponder, I am able to Diabolic Edict the Tombstalker. My opponent plays a Powder Keg. I play a Thoughtseize, my opponent responds with Fact or Fiction, netting three Islands, a Counterspell, and a Vedalken Shackles. I seperate them with the Vedalken Shackles in one Pile, and the Counterspell and 3 Islands in the other. He takes the Pile with the Counterspell into his hand, and promptly discards the Counterspell. He plays an Island and ends his turn. I draw and pass. He puts a counter on Powder Keg, plays an Island, and passes. I play a Tarmogoyf, followed by a Tombstalker, only to have the Tombstalker hit by a Force Spike. On his turn he puts a second Charge Counter on the Powder Keg, and then takes the Tarmogoyf with Vedalken Shackles. Shortly thereafter he plays a Morphling. He is able to defeat me relatively easily with their combined force.

Conclusions Wastelands are dead. Stifles only work on Vedalken Shackles and Powder Keg, and if they are running them any creature-hate lands, However overall the Stifles are more or less useless in this match up. Sinkholes are more or less useless due to the number of basic lands that mono-blue control has in it. Due to the fact that Mono Blue Control tends to steal your own Tombstalkers, your creature removal is also useless. So side out the Snuff Outs, as well as the Sinkholes, in favor of Diabolic Edict, and Krosan Grip, and you should have at least a sixty-five to thirty-five chance against mono-blue control. However pre-board, this match up is probably around eighty to twenty in favor of the mono-blue control.
Goyf SlighMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
Creatures:
4 Figure of Destiny
4 Grim Lavamancer
3 Keldon Marauders
4 Mogg Fanatic
4 Tarmogoyf

Spells:
3 Fireblast
1 Incinerate
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Magma Jet
4 Price of Progress
4 Chain Lightning

Lands:
1 Barbarian Ring
4 Bloodstained Mire
8 Mountain
4 Taiga
4 Wooded Foothills

Game One: Turn one Fanatic followed by a turn two Grim Lava Mancer and Chain Lightning (which got Dazed), then I attack. My opponents opening play was a ponder. I activated Grim Lavamancer removing Wooded Foothills and Chain Lightning to do two damage to my opponent, and attack with Mogg Fanatic. I then Incinerate my opponent, and attack with both Mogg Fanatic and Grim Lavamancer. Following that I play another Grim Lavamancer, and attack again with Grim Lavamancer and Mogg Fanatic. Yes, this was a very one sided match. I play a Keldon Marauders, bringing my opponent down to seven life. I attacked with Mogg Fanatic and both Grim Lavamancer bringing my opponent down to four life. Then my opponent delves out a Tombstalker. I then decide that the risk is worth it; I alpha strike against him, he decides to Block the Keldon Marauders, which brings his life down to zero… and I win the game.

Game Two: My opponents first turn play was a Thoughtseize. I follow that up by fetching a Mountain, and playing a Grim Lavamanacer. On his next turn he sinkholes the Mountain. I am basically unable to do anything except attack with the Grim Lavamancer for the remainder of the game. In a short while he accumulates enough cards in his graveyard to delve out a Tombstalker, and he is able to take the game with it.

Game Three: First turn play is a Mountain followed by a Grim Lavamancer. My opponent Ponders. I fetch a Mountain, and then Magma Jet my opponent. I then decide to attack my opponent with Grim Lavamancer, he is at sixteen life. He plays a 3/4 Tarmogoyf. I play another Grim Lavamancer, and then float a mana so I can evade a Daze, then sac lands to Fireblast the Tarmogoyf and take a point of mana burn. I then attack with the Grim Lavamancer, bringing his life to fifteen. He ponders, and Brainstorms, he then fetches for an Underground Sea (his life is fourteen). I fetch a Mountain. I use both Grim Lavamancers to deal 4 points of damage to him, he Blue Elemental Blasts one of the Grim Lavamancers, and I pass the turn. On his turn he plays a Tombstalker. At this point he has like ten life left, and five non-basic lands in play. I play a Price of Progress, and he is unable to counter it.

Game Four: He fetches a Tropical Island. I play a Figure of Destiny. He attempts to Brainstorm into an answer, and is unsuccessful. He plays a Tarmogoyf at a 2/3. I play a Lightning Bolt, he dazes it. I am able to pay the cost, and he loses his first Tarmogoyf. I attack with the Figure, bringing his life down to eighteen. He plays a second Tarmogoyf. I play a Taiga, and pump Figure of Destiny to 2/2, and play a Grim Lavamancer, as well as another Figure of Destiny. He plays a Tombstalker, and brings his Goyf’s size down to 1/2 and chooses not to attack. I pump the first Figure to 4/4 size and the second to 2/2 size and pass the turn. He Wastelands one of my Taiga’s, Brainstorms, and attacks with Tombstalker (I am at fifteen life). I make the second Figure of Destiny a 4/4 and alpha strike, bringing him down to nine life. He plays a second Tombstalker, and steals the game for himself.

Game five: I fetch a Mountain, and play a Mogg Fanatic. He fetches an Underground Sea. I fetch a Taiga, and attempt to play a Tarmogoyf, only to have my opponent Brainstorm into a Force of Will. I attack with the Mogg Fanatic. My opponent Wastelands the Taiga, and then Ponders. I Lightning Bolt and attack bringing my opponent to thirteen life. My opponent Sinkholes my Mountain, and again I am unable to do anything for the rest of the game.

Conclusions I would say this match is fifty/fifty… and in the case of Goyf Sligh, it depends on the Goyf Sligh deck not getting mana screwed, or not getting hit by multiple mana disruption spells. Overall I think this is a fairly good match up for Goyf Sligh, but still fairly good for Team America as well. Still these were not quite the results I was expecting for this match up…

So yes, while Team America does seem to have a difficult match up against Aggro Loam, and Mono-Blue Control, it does on the other hand seem to have a much more favorable match up against Goyf Sligh. Which is not as surprising as I would have thought, considering that the only advantage over Team America that Goyf Sligh really has is its sheer speed, which is not really enough of an advantage to make it really win the match up consistently.

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