While many of my friends made the trek to Worcester this weekend, I couldn’t quite justify the 10 hour drive and two days off of work (or a plane ticket). Instead, I opted to just play a small local event, an Eternal Weekend trial, for a chance at a bye in a tournament that would actually matter. Here’s what I submitted:
4 Baleful Strix
4 Deathrite Shaman
4 Walking Ballista
3 Misthollow Griffin
2 Leovold, Emissary of Trest
1 Eternal Scourge
4 Force of Will
4 Abrupt Decay
3 Manipulate Fate
4 Food Chain
4 Misty Rainforest
4 Verdant Catacombs
3 Polluted Delta
2 Tropical Island
2 Underground Sea
3 Surgical Extraction
2 Mindbreak Trap
2 Engineered Plague
2 Diabolic Edict
1 Pithing Needle
1 Vendilion Clique
1 Relic of Progenitus
*record scratch* Yup, I didn’t play D&T this weekend. I’ve spent the past two weeks playing Miracles and Food Chain to help friends test for Worcester, and in my testing, I realized that Food Chain is absurdly good. It’s been getting a little bit of press recently, with Marius Hausmann and Rudy Brizska putting out some fantastic articles on it. After a last minute testing session Friday night, I opted to pull the trigger and play it for a local event.
I legitimately believe Food Chain is one of the better decks in the format; the deck has always been fine, but the addition of Walking Ballista pushed the card to being truly competitive. The current Legacy metagame is full of a bunch of midrange 3-4 color decks that attempt to grind out their opponents with cards like Snapcaster Mage and Kolaghan’s Command. Food Chain has Manipulate Fate, the most absurd draw spell in the format. You get to exile some combination of Misthollow Griffin and Eternal Scourage, then draw a card. Between that and infinitely recurring said creatures via Food Chain, Food Chain ends up being very well-positioned against many of the top decks. Despite how much card advantage they have, it’s just extremely difficult to overcome the recurring stream of idiots as the game goes to extreme late game. If they somehow get all of your recursive idiots in the yard, Deathrite Shaman, Relic of Progenitus, and Surgical Extraction threaten to undo all that work very quickly.
There are three competing builds of Food Chain at the moment: a 4 Walking Ballista build; a Fierce Empath toolbox build with Gurmag Angler and Emrakul, the Aeons Torn; and a Trinket Mage toolbox build with cards like Relic of Progenitus and Engineered Explosives. I opted for running as many copies of Ballista as I could since that card is absurd even when just cast for X=2 or 3. Ballista often does a ton of work just picking off things like Mother of Runes, Young Pyromancer, and Deathrite Shaman. I wanted to be able to blow a Ballista or two early without the fear of losing my combo finish.
The tournament had a tiny turnout, and we only ended up playing 4 rounds and cutting to top 8. Nevertheless, here’s the report:
2-0 vs BUG Delver
2-1 vs Bomberman (Auriok Salvagers combo)
2-0 vs Aluren
ID vs Lands
2-0 vs 4 Color Delver
1-2 vs Bomberman
Vs BUG Delver
Food Chain preys on Delver decks. While those decks are full of cards that are strong in the early game like Daze and Stifle, they just aren’t equipped for the long game. Food Chain has so many cards like Abrupt Decay and Baleful Strix that can buy time until the combo or superior card quality steals the game. A resolved Manipulate Fate is pretty much unbeatable for a Delver deck, and you need to be patient and not just run it into a Daze if you want to win.
In my first round against BUG Delver, my opponent hit me down to 11 both times before I stabilized the board.I just pecked my opponent to death with Eternal Scourage and Misthollow Griffin. Even without Food Chain, a couple of 3/3 bodies can be a real pain for Delver decks, especially since removal like Abrupt Decay and Fatal Push don’t line up well against the threat base.
Speaking of how great Walking Ballista is…
I’ll start by saying that this deck probably isn’t good, but it certainly does have the surprise factor going for it. The goal of this deck is to get an Auriok Salvagers in play and recur Black Lotus…err Lion’s Eye Diamond to make infinite mana. Once that happens, you can win by blasting your opponent with a Walking Ballista or forcing them to draw their deck with Lodestone Bauble. If you don’t assemble that, dropping an early Monastery Mentor does a surprising amount of work when your deck is full of cantrips stapled to artifacts.
The first two games were very boring and had literal zero interaction. I combo off on turn three in game one, and he combos off on turn 3 or 4 in game 2. Game three was more interesting, but he basically folded to a pair of hate cards: Pithing Needle for Salvagers and Surgical Extraction to pull out the Lion’s Eye Diamond.
Aluren and Food Chain are cut from the same cloth. Both of these decks are value-oriented midrange decks with a combo finish. Since Aluren’s combo finish costs more mana, it is not favored in the matchup, at least in game one. The game frequently devolves into a midrange battle, with Leovold, Emissary of Trest serving as a relative trump card. My slightly larger creatures ended up winning a long attrition battle in both games, though my opponent’s draws were not the best. The most important play of the match was flashing in a Vendilion Clique to ambush a Leovold mid-combat, unlocking the cantrips in my hand.
I made a misplay at the tail end of game one. My opponent was pretty dead to my board on the following turn, and I opted to use a Deathrite Shaman to gain some life and eliminate the possibility of losing the game to some sort of double removal spell shenanigans. In reality, I should have just drained my opponent to give him fewer opportunities to bounce things with Cavern Harpy if he top decked one.
I had intended to play out every round today for the sake of getting experience with the deck. Then I noticed that if I drew, I was going to be 1st seed with 100% certainty. I’m not one to turn down that situation. My opponent offered the draw and I accepted. I wouldn’t have minded playing it out though, as the matchup seems favorable. His mana denial plan doesn’t line up well against my four basics, and he had no real way to interact with the combo. I, on the other hand, had Force of Will for the early plays, Deathrite Shaman for Life from the Loam, and an army of friendly Griffons willing to jump in front of a Marit Lage.
Top 8: Vs Four Color Delver
Everything that I previously said about Delver applied here as well. In my top 8 match vs 4 Color Delver, I just started casting Walking Ballista for 1 or 2. My opponent was forced to counter them or lose his Young Pyromancer and/or Delver of Secrets. This cleared the way for the combo a few turns down the road, and I combo’d off on about turn 7 or 8 both games. If my opponent didn’t counter these, I would have just spent my mana ticking them up and sniping every threat he played; alternatively, I would eat what he currently had on board, and he would have to use a removal spell on them at some point. It just felt like an insurmountable situation for my opponent. That, ladies and gentlemen, is why I played four Ballista instead of a toolbox build.
Top 4: Vs Bomberman
I was pretty happy to be playing against this deck again; the matchup felt very positive in the swiss rounds earlier. Once again, in game one, I combo’d off without any resistance from my opponent.
In game two, my opponent sticks a Chalice of the Void on one on the first turn. This is not something that I particularly cared about. I had boarded out Ponder, anticipating this issue, and my deck had four Abrupt Decay to answer it if need be. The only one drops in my deck were now Brainstorm, Deathrite Shaman, and hate cards like Pithing Needle, Thoughtseize, and Surgical Extraction. Lo and behold, a few turns down the line, my board consists of a Food Chain, a lone Misthollow Griffin, and six lands. My hand consists of six one drops and a land… My opponent is terrified to go for the combo; if I have something like Decay plus Surgical, he’ll lose on the spot.
We play draw go for a good number of turns until he finally uses a Monastery Mentor as a bait spell. When I do nothing about it, the jig is up that my hand is actually pretty weak. He makes a few tokens and passes, and I expect that I’m probably dead the following turn. Up until the final turn of the game, I most certainly would have won with a single Decay, Ballista, or Manipulate Fate. Game two was a loss solely due to variance, but that’s okay. That’s what makes Chalice a great card; it can just win you games you otherwise have no business winning.
In game three, I keep a hand with a Food Chain, Deathrite Shaman, Misthollow Griffin, an Engineered Plague, and three lands. This hand shuts off the Monastery Mentor plan, and has the potential for a quick combo finish. Sure enough, my opponent goes for the Mentor plan, and Engineered Plague is devastatingly good. To lock this game up, I can draw a Ballista for an instant kill, a piece of graveyard hate to eliminate the possibility of my opponent going off, or a Manipulate Fate to generate blockers and put my opponent on a 1-2 turn clock. Unfortunately, I just bottom out and die to the combo.
There were some micro-decisions that I could have done differently, but I just didn’t have draws that allowed me to win in games two and three. Moving forward, I wouldn’t hate one more card advantage spell in the 75; Manipulate Fate is stupid good, but poor when drawn in multiples; a one-of Sylvan Library or Painful Truths might be very good.
My two roommates and I took 1st-3rd place at this event, which was kind of neat. It would have been more impressive if the event had more players, but c’est la vie. Anyway, I felt favored in every match I sat down to play, which is somewhat of a rarity. I don’t think Food Chain has many truly unfavorable matches, and most of those are things like Belcher, ANT, TES, and Sneak and Show which can just outpace Food Chain’s combo. I’m not surprised that there was a recently buyout/spike of Food Chain, and I really encourage you to put in some time playing with or against this deck in preparation for your next event.