Cavern on Kavu!

I’ve got a confession to make: I’ve been tinkering around with a new archetype for quite some time. Thalia, Heretic Cathar was a game changer for D&T, providing a new, annoying way to tax your opponent’s resources. After a few games, I started to wonder what would happen if I played that card on turn one or two. It was an idea that I discussed with a few friends, and I sketched out some decklists, but ultimately I wasn’t quite happy with the configurations I put together. Fast forward about two weeks to Gen Con, where I was playing Elves (yes, I do play other decks from time to time) and got my face stomped in by an 8-Thalia deck that was somewhere between D&T and Eldrazi. I asked Mike Scheffenacker for his list, which he graciously provided. After tweaking a few cards, I started testing this:

White Eldrazi?

Creatures (26)
Eldrazi Displacer
Phyrexian Revoker
Reality Smasher
Stoneforge Mystic
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
Thalia, Heretic Cathar
Thought-Knot Seer

Lands (24)
Ancient Tomb
Cavern of Souls
Eldrazi Temple
Karakas
Plains
Wasteland

Spells (10)
Batterskull
Chalice of the Void
Lotus Petal
Umezawa’s Jitte
Sideboard (15)
Pithing Needle
Rest in Peace
Swords to Plowshares
Thorn of Amethyst
Warping Wail
Armageddon

The deck was doing powerful things, but was fundamentally flawed. The mana base was atrocious. I rarely had true white mana to active Stoneforge, and it was somewhat common for my losses to come at the cost of drawing the wrong lands or not drawing enough lands. I decided to keep exploring the archetype, and I wanted to hate a bit harder while moving away from some of the D&T elements of the deck. I decided to try this next:

12 Thorn

Creatures (24)
Eldrazi Displacer
Lodestone Golem
Phyrexian Revoker
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
Thalia, Heretic Cathar
Thought-Knot Seer

Lands (24)
Ancient Tomb
Cavern of Souls
Eldrazi Temple
City of Traitors
Plains
Wasteland

Spells (12)
Chalice of the Void
Lotus Petal
Thorn of Amethyst
Sideboard (15)
Rest in Peace
Swords to Plowshares
Warping Wail
All is Dust
Endbringer
Crucible of Worlds
Ratchet Bomb

This was one of my more hateful brews, but again, it didn’t quite feel right. By moving away from Stoneforge, I had decreased the dependency on white mana. By cutting Smasher, I made it so that the deck could function on one less land. While I had fixed some problems, others arose. It just didn’t feel great against decks where the thorn-effects had minimal impact, yet it was crushing most of the cantrip-based decks of the format. I didn’t write down the exact manabase I was playing, but it was something of this nature. I was working on trying to tweak this, considering adding in a Blade Splicer to give the Lodestone Golems first strike, and I was exploring the benefits of Mox Diamond vs Lotus Petal. I had played around with 6 or 7 slight variations of this list, but all of them were basically “close but no cigar” lists. It was right around that time when Recruiter of the Guard and Sanctum Prelate were spoiled, so I abandoned any testing of this archetype, and went back to work on D&T. Going into the Richmond Classic this weekend, I intended on playing this or something very similar to it:

Neo-D&T

Lands (23)
10 Plains
Cavern of Souls
Wasteland
Rishadan Port
Karakas

Creatures (26)
Mother of Runes
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
Stoneforge Mystic
Recruiter of the Guard
Sanctum Prelate
Phyrexian Revoker
Mirran Crusader
Banisher Priest
Thalia, Heretic Cathar
Flickerwisp

Spells (11)
Swords to Plowshares
AEther Vial
Umezawa’s Jitte
Batterskull
Sword of Fire and Ice
Sideboard (15)
Path to Exile
Containment Priest
Sword of War and Peace
Leonin Relic-Warder
Seal of Cleansing
Ethersworn Canonist
Rest in Peace
Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
Pithing Needle
Sanctum Prelate

The last list I suggested had a few cute things in it like Adaptive Automaton that were conceptually cool, but didn’t quite make the cut. I played a handful of games with the new cards, which were all quite good, but I wasn’t confidant that I had constructed my D&T list correctly. Usually, I feel about like I play 73 or 74 of the “correct” cards for a given weekend. This time I was feeling like I was right on about 70 of them. I wasn’t sure about my numbers on THC, Prelate, Recruiter, and Serra Avenger. Serra Avenger seemed like the weakest link in the deck, but the vigilance and flying certainly mattered for the Delver matchups in particular; I was also trending towards having a ton of three drops, which makes your Aether Vial hands nuts, but your hands without it are a touch slow. THC is pretty nutty, but I didn’t want to drop it down to a 1-of since it’s not usually something I want to tutor for, it’s something I want to draw naturally and slam on turn 3. Prelate was insane in testing, but I was having trouble finding room for a second in the main without really starting to load up on creatures without any form of evasion. There was also tension between wanting to have bullets to search for in the main (e.g. Banisher Priest) vs just running a slew of generically good creatures.

It was about 72 hours before the event, and I was just unhappy with my lists. There were great lists, but I just felt like I had stopped short of solving the puzzle. Then I got wind of an interesting brew. It rustled my jimmies in all the right ways.

Hateful 8

Creatures (25)
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
Thalia, Heretic Cathar
Phyrexian Revoker
Eldrazi Displacer
Thought-knot Seer
Reality Smasher
Flametongue Kavu

Spells (10)
Chalice of the Void
Umezawa’s Jitte
Lotus Petal

Lands (25)
Cavern of Souls
Ancient Tomb
Eldrazi Temple
Battlefield Forge
Plateau
Wasteland
Karakas
Sideboard (15)
Sanctum Prelate
Flametongue Kavu
Swords to Plowshares
Rest in Peace
Wear/Tear

I got this list (or more correctly one that was a few cards off) from an old friend, Paul Lynch. I send lists back and forth from time to time with Paul, as he tends to test odd deck variants that are right up my alley. The list was the brainchild of his friend Mike Scheffenacker (the same guy who gave me the first list), and the two of them had done well with it locally at a small, 20-person event. Flametongue Kavu had been showing up in some Vintage Eldrazi decks, and the thought of blinking that with Eldrazi Displacer had me giddy. I sleeved up the deck for a local 3-round Legacy event, did well, and opted to try the deck in Richmond.

Rather than write up an exact report, I’ll just comment on some general trends I saw while testing the deck. The deck thrives on virtual card advantage. While it doesn’t draw cards or have a large number of 2-for-1 effects, it does make life particularly difficult for the opponent and presses its advantage. The deck strives to make the opponent’s cards have minimal impact or make the opponent deploy their cards too slowly to matter. It plays a very strong early game, but without any true card advantage or draw engine, it does tend to lose steam once hellbent. While D&T has the Stoneforge Mystic and equipment package as well a Recruiter of the Guard to grind games out, this deck doesn’t quite have the same staying power. While this deck has more initial oomph out of the gates than Colorless Eldrazi, it does lack some of the high-end threats like Endbringer or Endless One that can go over the top of other midrange decks.

The manabase has no basics, meaning that Life from the Loam or Crucible of World coupled with Wasteland can be pretty bad news. Otherwise, the manabase felt relatively smooth. I was able to cast the vast majority of my cards most of the time, though I occasionally had to wait a few turns to cast Sanctum Prelate. Battlefield Forge served as a tri-land for my purposes, though I did get some pretty strange looks when playing that card.

Flametongue Kavu was really quite good, though he is a touch awkward at times. His trigger is mandatory, so if your opponent doesn’t have any creatures, he would have to kill himself. That’s why there aren’t more of them in the main; he just isn’t a consistent threat against decks like Miracles, Lands, or ANT. The Kavu incinerates opposing Thought-knot Seers and other midsize creatures, though Tarmogoyf tends to get out of range by the time the Kavu rolls around. Tarmogoyf is generally a problem for all of the decks of this style, so the four Rest in Peace in the sideboard are definitely necessary. Kavu served as a sometimes uncounterable kill spell off of Cavern of Souls, and that surprise factor won me multiple games over the course of the weekend.

The sideboard is a touch awkward, as is the case with most of the Chalice of the Void decks. Swords to Plowshares is the best removal option, but it doesn’t play particularly well with Chalice. That means that you either play both, accepting the fact that you may shut off your own removal, or you side out Chalice, which is likely very good against many of the decks where you want Swords to Plowshares (e.g. Burn, Delver). Dismember is another option, but since I was already running both Ancient Tomb and Battlefield Forge, I didn’t think that was a viable option. Paul’s list had a pair of Pithing Needle, which I replaced with Disenchant initially. Paul then countered by saying that Wear/Tear was likely better, and I initially agreed and ran them for the weekend. In about round three, I realized that if I had a Chalice on one, I didn’t actually have the option of easily getting rid of something like a Moat or Back to Basics. The consistency of Disenchant might outweigh the possibility of of getting a 2-for-1 with Wear/Tear, but I’m not 100% sure.

I lost in the final round and missed cash, and I was pretty disappointed. I’m not mad at myself for losing; I had a blast playing the deck, and most of my losses were to situations where my opponent played to their outs and got rewarded. I lost to Miracles twice after resolving a Chalice on 1 that was never answered; my opponents just drew multiple Jaces, Mentors, or Back to Basics and I couldn’t handle it. I lost to a Bant Deathblade deck when my opponent’s final card needed to be Disenchant or I won. I lost to Shardless when they drew their fourth Abrupt Decay as their only out to my lethal attack. That’s fine, it’s Magic. I correctly identified good lines, but just was on the wrong side of variance a few too many times. I made plenty of small errors, and I’m not sure that I sideboarded properly, but I was happy with the overall, conceptual premise of the deck. If I had 50 or so more games of playtesting under my belt, I’m sure I could have cashed. I’m just disappointed that I didn’t get to name the deck and put it up in the SCG database. There may or may not have been an extended conversation late one night at a Steak and Shake with a certain SCG employee where about 50 of my potential deck names were vetoed. I came up with a bunch ranging from “The Hateful 8″ to “Death and Staxes,” and I was really curious about what it was going to end up being called. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. I’ll be setting this deck idea aside of the moment and returning to D&T. This weekend was a little vacation for me, and I was just as interested in hanging out with a friend in Richmond as I was playing in the event, so I was willing to branch out and experiment a bit. Perhaps one of you will pick up the idea and run with it.

About the Author

Phil Gallagher

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