With the Vintage deck at 61 cards and most of the sets released, its about time for a new thread for the standard version of the challenge. And while I am skeptical that we will be able to beat last year’s deck now that we don't have Thousand-Year Storm, there are still some powerful combos we have access to.
So, without further ado, here are the rules, as stated on Stakfish's webpage:
The Rules of the Game
I’ve taken the liberty of adapting the rules from the original vintage challenge to this one. I’ve relaxed them in some places to allow for the limited cardpool, but for the most part I’ve left them as-is.
-Start with a Standard-legal deck of exactly 60 cards. No less, of course, and if we allowed more, you could deal arbitrary but finite damage by including as many copies of Rat Colony as you feel like, and it wouldn’t break the other rules.
-Conditions caused by randomness can resolve any way you like. In this deck, that mostly means that every single card draw is a Demonic Tutor in disguise: you can assume that the order of your deck is exactly what you want it to be. This veers pretty heavily into magical christmasland, but if we didn’t do it this way you’d have to figure out the average amount of damage a deck could deal, which is probably impossible.
-The opponent is a goldfish with a deck of 60 random basic lands. However, they are still playing to stop you: if you give your opponent a choice, they will pick whichever one is worse for you. The only exception is that they won’t concede the game. This is a sadistic goldfish that wants to make you play it out.
-No going infinite. Infinite really means “arbitrary” in magic, most of the time, so we define it like this: when you make your deck, I pick a finite number, say, a million, or Graham’s Number, or four. If, no matter what number I pick, there’s a line your deck can take that will deal at least that much damage, your deck goes infinite and is disqualified.
-This doesn’t matter to our deck, but other rules of magic apply: if I put 80,000,000 copies of Shock on the stack and target my opponent with each one, they’ll die on the tenth one, and I’ll have dealt only 20 damage. In practice, that means you’re either winning with a giant X-spell or by attacking with a lot of very big creatures.
-In the old challenge, you had to go off on turn one. Here, that rule is relaxed, with a caveat: the fewer turns required, the better. No one is impressed that you can deal a lot of damage on turn 50, or 50 million for that matter.
There are a few caveats and corner cases requiring some clarification in those rules:
1.Standard legal means that bans matter. Past Standards have not had any impactful bans for this challenge. That is no longer the case here as Lucky clover is a potentially useful card that we just don't get.
2.Even though Fae of Wishes could make sideboards relevant, we do not get a sideboard or a companion.
3.Since we control randomness and our opponent’s deck is “random” basic lands, we actually get to specify that they are all islands or plains or whatever. This is useful to avoid possibly going infinite if our opponent had, say, a mountain we could somehow steal and go infinite with.
4.The deck must be finite for all lines in the time limit, it doesn’t matter if the deck can go infinite on a later turn, as that turn doesn’t happen.
5.Our opponent will cooperate with any infinites, while opposing us otherwise. Cooperating leads to the deck’s disqualification giving it a terrible score This makes any way to give our opponent any meaningful choices doubly dangerous now.
6.Speaking of scoring, the final score is: -1 * our opponent’s life total at the end of the game. It does not matter how they got there, only the net total matters.
7.Finally, there is some discretion as to whether a slower deck that does more damage is preferred over a faster deck that does much less. In general, we have passed up turn 1 shock pass for large amounts on turn 2-3 this should be obvious, and there hasn’t been much conflict over this point, but if it does come up, we can make a judgement then.
For those who are new to the challenge, here are the writeups of the past standard decks:
Panharmonicon here– Good explanation of how a ‘stage’ is constructed
Alternating Nova Stage here - has a full example of a stage with the scaling kept constant.
Last year's three stage deck: here - explains the different known 'types' of stages
Additionally, there are old Vintage writeups here
And an incomplete, but more current (though still outdated) one here - Has the TM explanation in it which is still relevant for vintage
Also recommended is some reading of the large number notation we will probably need to use for this deck. Specifically Conway Arrow Notation, and Chained Arrow Notation.
It's not all gloom and doom, we still have the powerful 'thaumabroom' combo from last standard: Protean Thaumaturge + Sorcerer's Broom + enchantment creature (nyxbloom ancient) + sacrifice outlet (Gilded goose) + mana (gilded goose) + (+ flash enchantment etb)
Gives us a pretty good way of making many copies of any creatures.
Hmmm... so with the Thaumabroom strategy, we go form X to 2^X each time we respond with a constellation trigger. Here's the problem: Having to respond with putting an enchantment into play, means we can't have more layers that are based on the stack. We can still have layers based on resources - except, Gilded Goose cuts out life and all colors or mana! So, we may have painted ourselves into a corner here.
One possibility is to switch out Gilded Goose for another sacrifice outlet, to get our resources back. But, it is quite possible that some other combo is the way to go, given that we only get to 2^X with this one. (We could still use this to get started, or to copy creatures - although for the latter we need to be able to put an enchantment into play cheaply, but not so cheap as to go infinite.)
Layer 3: Tapping an artifact can produce a lot of mana, say blue mana. This will allow us to cast Rewind many times, untapping our red mana land.
We can have 40+ artifacts to get 2^^^^40+ damage - but yeah, not a whole lot as of yet.
It would have been nice to use say Canopy Tactician for green mana, and then use Claim the Firstborn for red to give Canopy Tactician haste, giving us another layer. But, then we have the question of how we get mana for the Thaumaturges. Are there any ways to get cheap mana that will pay for all the Thaumaturge triggers, other than tapping a creature?
Hmm, Ardent Electromancer would be pretty good, except it uses up red mana, so my idea of using Claim the Firstborn to give Canopy Tactician haste doesn't pan out. Unless, we use some other color of mana besides the green for Bala Ged Recovery to bring Claim the Firstborn back to our hand? Or, we could keep Bala Ged Recovery, and use a creature that taps for mana that isn't green... but I didn't see any such creatures.
Leaving that aside, we can use Orvar, the All-Form to create many copies of our artifacts and lands, and then use The Bloody Massacre to get red mana. Then we could potentially get seven layers:
Layer 1: putting an enchantment into play allows us to perform the Thaumabroom combo, taking X Thaumabrooms to 2^X Thuamabrooms.
Layer 2: Tapping a land/artifact will generate a lot of mana thanks to Nyxbloom Ancients.
Layer 3: Targeting a land/artifact with an instant/sorcery will create a lot of token copies thanks to Orvar, the All-Forms.
Layer 4: Tapping an artifact/land will generate a lot of mana.
Layer 5: Targeting an artifact/land with an instant/sorcery will create a lot of token copies.
Turn 3 is very fast! Unfortunately, being able to cast spells for free messes up the idea I had above. We can look for an alternative layer sequence of course, but of we are going to use mana layers, we will need to look for activated costs, X or "was spent" spells, or spells cast outside of our hand.
I had the idea of using Demonic Gifts and Heartless Act to bring Skull Prophet from the graveyard to the battlefield and back. Unfortunately, if we want to use Sea Gate Stormcaller as our spell copier, we need to put them into play, without being able to put Skull Prophet into play instead. Just getting one Sea Gate Stormcaller every time we get a Skull Prophet isn't enough I think. So I don't know how to make it work. Rhythm of the Wild would be ideal it looks like, but it's not legal anymore.
Edit: I believe I can bump this up to 13 layers. Instead of mutating with Vulpikeet, we use something cheap like Dirge Bat. Then, we use Absorb Identity, so that for a blue mana we can bounce our Dirge Bat and Mutate it again many times.
Hmm, we can also create large mutate stacks, by mutating, making a token copy and then bouncing the original to mutate onto the copy, adding more of the "when this creature mutates..." text.
We can use that to get an increasing number of mutate triggers as we mutate, however most of the interesting ones are targeted, and will fizzle unless we get a bolt bend.
Edit: Oh, we want to have everything be done at instant speed, so we want to use Mutate cards with flash. That leaves three possible choices - Dirge Bat, Pouncing Shoreshark and Sea-Dasher Octopus. None of these seem to have a useful Mutate ability.
Edit: Oh shoot, Smashing Success doesn't work, as we can use it on an artifact to create a Treasure token. Unfortunately, the only other spell I found that targeted a land was Cleasning Wildfire, and that is a sorcery. So we have a problem.
We can target our land with Usher to Safety, but that can target any permanent, including artifacts. So, to make this work we need to have lands at a higher layer than artifacts. But, we want paylands to be at a higher layer than normal lands, and we want snow lands at the very top to get that layer from Jorn. This would normally be okay, except that the only artifacts I could find that produced mana, produced either 3 or 5 colors! Which means we can't put artifacts all that low. Hopefully, we'll see more narrow artifacts, either later in StrixHaven or in D&D. Until then, it looks like we need to give up something. We like the paylands and snow lands for their number of layers, so we need to give up either artifacts or normal lands - since we need to make copies of lands anyway, giving up artifacts seems like the easiest right now. That will cost us 2 layers, down to 11 at the moment, with a free color of mana to use.
Hmmm, The Great Henge is interesting; but unfortunately, the life gain means that it moots the payland option, which is currently better. So I don't see how to use it profitably at the moment.
Edit: Okay, I think I can get back up to 13 layers. If we can make the Thaumaturge combo self-sufficient, say by adding General Kudro of Drannith to alternately destroy Archon of Falling Stars and Nyxbloom Ancient, then we can limit the combo by mana alone. Tapping a Canopy Tactician gets us 3*3^X green mana if we have X Nyxbloom Ancients, which can pay for 3^X Thaumabroom triggers, so that is layer 1. We can then use Kenrith, the Returned King to give a lot of Canopy Tacticians haste for the use of a red. So our layer sequence goes like:
Layer 1: Each Canopy Tactician taps for 3*3^X mana with X Nyxbloom Ancients
Layer 2: Spending an R gives haste to many Canopy Tacticians
Layer 12: We can attack with many copies of Jorn, God of Winter every combat phase
Layer 13: Moraug can create many combat phases, both after the precombat and postcombat main phases
Possible avenues of improvement: We haven't used artifacts (partially for the reasons stated previously), and we basically waste a color in the beginning with the Canopy Tactician being spent for the Thaumaturge combo. If we can free up that color, we could potentially use artifacts and the extra color for another two layers? So even if we have to give up a layer to get that, we would profit. We can perhaps avoid using up a color that early, by using Dalakos, Crafter of Wonders, abetted by Forsaken Monument. If we just use this to replace Canopy Tactian however, we will lose at least a layer, since the mana generated by Forsaken Monument isn't multiplied by Nyxbloom Ancient. If we can't turn Forsaken Monument into a creature to make copies (likely if we are going to use artifacts for layers), then we lose two layers with the straight up switch. So, I don't see how to make an improvement at the moment, even if we had artifacts that generated fewer colors of mana.
Let's say we have four copies of Tibalt's Trickery. We can set up a nine layer stack of alternating spells, with Tibalt's Trickery in the even layers, and some other spell (can be pretty much anything, but instants and sorceries get copies more easily) in the odd layers. Also have some way to put cards from our graveyard into our library. After we resolve the top layer, we can resolve the top Tibalt's Trickery in the second layer, countering a lower Tibalt's Trickery (counter the nontoken one first so that it is available.) to recast the top spell. After the TT layer is exhausted, resolve the last TT and counter a spell from the next layer down, to cast TT again. The key is that we have to counter a non TT spell to recast TT, so we have to lose a spell from some layer further down. So I think this doesn't go infinite.
Nine layers could certainly help out! Even juicier would be to make this into a stage somehow. But, I don't know how to set up a stage resource properly; the obvious resource would be some color of mana, but we would need the evaluation of alternating spells to get us back a mana somehow. I'm not seeing how to do that yet.
So the loop is:
Spend UU for kicked into the roil, triggering Verazols and targeting Sea gate Storm caller, and making a bunch of copies.
Spend R for trickery, targeting the top Into the Roil and getting copies.
Copies counter the original into the roil and we get a free cast of card X
next TT counters TT and casts into the roil, we pay U to kick it, let one resolve and draw TT.
pay R for TT, counter the originals and repeat, getting another cast of card X when we counter the original Into the Roil.
Yeah, my nine layer idea doesn't quite work; it still works for one TT, but obviously a stage would be much better.
Ooh, Into the Roil looks nice. I think it can work as a stage even with the targeting problem. Basically each time we put a bunch of triggers on the stack, we resolve the top one to turn it into a spell. I don't see how to use the intermediate triggers for TT effectively, so those won't be true layers; we use however many TT copies we need to counter the originals, then we just resolve down to the ItR layer, resolve the top one to draw TT, and cast TT again. So the ItR layers actually function as layers, which is all we need.
So, I think we just need X to provide one blue or red mana per cast?
Hmm, it seems like it doesn't quite work. We can cast Into the Roll kicked and Tibalt's Trickery for two blue and a red, then we can counter both original spells for two casts of Song-Mad Treachery for two blue, and if we have Birgi, God of Storytelling, we should profit red. Also the card draw from Into the Roll allows us to bring it back to our hand afterwards, so it looks like it goes infinite.
But if we draw Into the roil, it costs UU to kick, so we dont profit U. still looks like it doesn't work, but I feel like we are close.
Hmm, another idea: not copying TT
Use Tibalt's trickery to counter Shipwreck Dowser, and Tazeem Roilmage. (with a bunch of reflections of littjara on merfolk)
Each can return TT.
So we can cast one, return TT, counter it, into casting the other, until we run out of red.
But I dont see a good way to manage/generate red as we resolve down the combo.
Birgi seems like it goes infinite.
Maybe we can be limited by colorless? as we have to spend a good chunk on Epitaph Golem each time?
Hmm, I don't see how to manage with colorless either.
Hopefully we can figure out a way to make this work, otherwise the best thing I can see is the three layer version with one TT. That could potentially help, but you would always be able to set it up like
cheapest spell -> TT -> most powerful spell
so you don't actually have to pay for the most powerful spell, just the red for TT. So we would use red to use our most powerful spell, putting it at roughly the top end. That means we can't use our current version with Kenrith, the Returned King for red. I don't yet see how to switch things around without using at least two layers in the switch. Maybe new artifacts will help this out.
Edit: Just as a random thought, what if we had one of the spells give us red mana? I've tried some configurations though, it doesn't seem to work out. We would need to get a fixed amount of red mana with each cast, but it would need to be more than one - I can't make it work.
Edit: While we are thinking about the stage, I'm looking at the layer deck a little bit. Unfortunately, in the current deck we can destroy the mutated Dirge Bat with General Kudro of Drannith, and then bring it back with Blood Beckoning, avoiding the use of blue. We can fix it by switching to a blue mutator, but that loses a layer.
We don't have to use Blood Beckoning, and can just cast any black spell; but that loses a layer in that section. So we're looking at losing a layer somewhere in any case. Still, I feel like we should be able to get more than the normal two layers from the payland to the snow land, considering we're using up both life and a color of mana.
Yeah, we can use Dalakos, Crafter of Wonders to trigger a bunch of copies of Forsaken Monument for colorless mana. Unfortunately, we can't use the mana from Dalakos to pay for the Thauamabroom copies, and the Forsaken Monument mana doesn't get multiplied by Nyxbroom Ancients, so we lose at least a layer of mana. If we want to use artifacts as a mana layer, then we probably can't have Animating Faerie, since that will provide a mana producing artifact creature to copy, so we wind up losing two layers of colorless mana there. We can still provide cheap haste, and limit the Thaumaturge combo by putting in enchantments rather than mana - still investigating that.
Grinning Ingus would be nice, but yeah, the sorcery speed is a problem. It would be nice to have a colorless source that doesn't require tapping, but I didn't find one.