Vs Food Chain
(last updated 5/31/18)
Role: Aggro with disruption
Best Generic Sanctum Prelate Numbers: 2, 3
Deck Strategy and Key Cards
Food Chain is a midrange creature deck with a combo finish. Conceptually, it’s very similar to Aluren. Cards like Baleful Strix, Leovold, Emissary of Trest, and Deathrite Shaman allow it to play a perfectly reasonable midrange game in many cases. The combo finish of the deck involves abusing Food Chain and its interaction with either Misthollow Griffin or Eternal Scourge. By exiling one of these cards to Food Chain, your opponent gains some mana; they then recast the card from exile, still having one mana left over from Food Chain. By repeating this cycle, they can generate infinite mana. Using that mana, they can: 1. cast a bunch of Misthollow Griffin; 2. Cast an Emrakul, the Aeons Torn; or 3. Cast a huge Walking Ballista and murder your opponent.
The addition of Walking Ballista pushed the deck from fringe playable to being truly competitive. Unlike Emrakul, it’s a completely reasonable card on its own; casting it for X=2 or 3 is actually backbreaking against many of the fair decks of the format. While the combo finish is strong, the midrange portion of the deck actually gets most of the wins. Even when they don’t combo off, infinitely recurring Griffins from exile is often enough to wear down most of the decks in the format. Nice Swords to Plowshares you’ve got there… Food Chain also has Manipulate Fate, the most absurd draw spell in the format. They get to exile some combination of Misthollow Griffin and Eternal Scourage, then draw a card. Admittedly, the second Manipulate Fate packs a little bit less of a punch though.
For fair decks like Delver and D&T, it’s extremely difficult to overcome the recurring stream of idiots as the game goes to extreme late game. If you somehow get all of their recursive idiots in the yard, Deathrite Shaman, Relic of Progenitus, and Surgical Extraction threaten to undo all that work very quickly. Since Food Chain is playing on the idea of inevitability, it’s often best to try and end the game quickly. Accordingly, decks that can end the game quickly, like Burn, Show and Tell, or ANT, tend to crush Food Chain.
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. Part of the battle against Food Chain is going to be identifying which of these builds you are playing against; when in doubt, assume the 4x Walking Ballista version, as it is the most popular and likely the best in a vacuum.
The Matchup and Important Interactions
Food Chain is a tricky little card. It only produces one color of mana at a time. This means that your opponent can’t convert a Deathrite Shaman into a Baleful Strix, for example. It’s ability can be activated at instant speed, don’t forget that. This means your opponent can block and then exile the creature before damage. With an Eternal Scourge, it can be *very* difficult to connect with equipment. Mom can’t help you push damage through a recurring, colorless blocker.
In most cases, Food Chain will be a turn 4 combo deck. You play a Food Chain on one turn and an Eternal Scourge or Misthollow Griffin on the other. The deck can go off faster though. Playing a Baleful Strix on turn two followed by a Food Chain can lead to a win if you have Eternal Scourge. The deck can theoretically go off on turn 2 if they have an opener with Food Chain, 2 Deathrites, Eternal Scourge, 2 lands (one of which is a fetch), and a Walking Ballista. These scenarios are exceedingly rare.
The path to victory in the matchup often involves about two pieces of disruption to throw your opponent off balance. Once you’ve done this, you can try to take over the game with equipment. In game one, you rely heavily on Phyrexian Revoker to do the heavy lifting. Revoker is really difficult to use in this matchup. While it can shut off Deathrite Shaman, you usually need to save them for Walking Ballista or Food Chain. The question then becomes: what do you name if your opponent has neither on board? The bad news is that there isn’t an easy answer.
If you name Walking Ballista, you are accomplishing two primary things: you prevent your opponent from pinging your creatures and you prevent them from killing you instantly with the combo. If you have a couple of important creatures on the board, this can be very potent. If you have a Prelate on three, for example, cutting off Ballista would leave Abrupt Decay as the primary out to your board; if you have a Mom to boot, things are looking pretty. If your opponent has the Food Chain combo active, they can still just make an infinite sized Ballista that will force you to chump every turn for the rest of the game unless you have a Flickerwisp to clear it off the board. If you name Ballista, you still can realistically lose the game to Griffin beats.
If you name Food Chain, you are accomplishing three primary things: You prevent your opponent from instantly winning the game, you prevent your opponent from recurring their idiots for free, and you stop chump blocking and exiling the creature to blank equipment. This does “more things” than naming Ballista, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is better. If your opponent just casts a Ballista for X=1, they can snipe your Revoker and combo off if they have it. If they cast it for X=2 or X=3, most of your board is going down. Your entire board might go down if they have the patience to not just blow all the counters right away.
If your opponent is not on a 4x Ballista build, naming Food Chain will likely be better. If they are on a 4x Ballista build, the choice is very difficult. You need to read the situation and figure out which one of those things you’ll have a harder time beating. If you have a Mirran Crusader and a piece of equipment, you might need to name Food Chain so that you can connect with that equipment. If you have a board full of Moms and fliers, you probably need to name Ballista so you don’t lose your position. Also take into consideration your opponent’s exile zone in making the decision. If you opponent already resolved Manipulate Fate, Food Chain can be a scary card. If they haven’t, you might care much more about Ballista.
There are some fringe scenarios where you name Deathrite Shaman. These scenarios often involve really grindy boards. Deathrite can return Misthollow Griffin or Eternal Scourge from the graveyard to the exile zone, allowing your opponent to recast them. There are times where you have an extremely mana denial based hand, and it can be correct to name Deathrite there as well.
Sanctum Prelate usually goes on two or three in this matchup. If your opponent hasn’t stuck a Manipulate Fate yet, then you can shut off both that and Abrupt Decay, one of the better cards against us. If they have stuck a Manipulate Fate, then you can name three to keep Food Chain from coming down. If they have resolved both a Manipulate Fate and a Food Chain already, then you probably have better things to do with your mana than drop Prelate. Prelate looses a little it of its oomph on the draw for this reason.
Port is better than Wasteland here. Since the lists have 3-4 basics and your opponent is likely to fetch them out, Port may knock them off a color for their main phase pretty easily. It’s a little tricky to play mana denial against this deck as the game goes long. Once they have a Food Chain, Thalia, Port, and Wasteland may have limited utility. Keep in mind that Griffin requires two blue mana, and deny appropriately when you can.
I don’t usually like to give exact numbers here, but I feel like it’s an important start to this conversation. Here’s what I’m doing:
-4 StP, -1 SoWaP, -1 Jitte. +2 Council’s Judgment, +1 Needle, +2 Canonists, +1 Batterskull
I think it’s pretty clear that those 6 cards come in. There’s an argument for Gideon, but in practice, it didn’t perform well. I also didn’t particularly want to cut other cards for the Gideons. Sanctum Prelate and Thalia are both sort of average here, but I don’t think we can quite afford to cut any disruptive cards. Our path to victory usually involves sticking two pieces of disruption and then riding a threat to victory. Note that this boarding plan largely forsakes attacking Deathrite Shaman; StP is so bad against everything else in their deck that I’m okay with that. Unless you are using Wasteland, DRS runs out of food after a few turns and doesn’t do much in the midgame. It will become relevant again in the very late game, but the game is often (effectively) decided by that point.
Jitte was something I didn’t expect to end up cutting. This is a creature based matchup, after all. I found that it really underperformed in game one scenarios (I always fetched SoFaI first, it can’t get a Griffon with the trigger, lines up poorly with Leovold). It could be used to blink Eternal Scourge effectively to eliminate the colorless blocker, but if they had the Food Chain/Scourge engine up already, I was either already losing to the board or couldn’t get counters in the first place.
I tried trimming a Mom, but ultimately kept in all 4. Theoretically, trimming one makes sense to play around Engineered Plague/Dread of Night effects and to limit the power of Walking Ballista. In practice, I really needed to protect my hate bears from Abrupt Decay, and pushing damage through Griffins was key.
Pithing Needle comes in to name Walking Ballista (or Deathrite Shaman if you are in a pinch). This does NOT name Food Chain. Food Chain is a mana ability, so Pithing Needle doesn’t actually shut it off.
You should expect your opponent to bringing in some amount of generic hate like Pithing Needle, Engineered Plague, Diabolic Edict and Fatal Push.. Your opponent isn’t likely to play any cards that specifically hate on D&T, as the matchup is fine for them, but seeing something like a Dread of Night isn’t out of the question. Your opponent is likely to board out their copies of Force of Will for these generic cards.
We are certainly not favored in game one. The games go long and we get ground to dust by recurring 3/3s or eventually fold to the combo. We don’t have enough disruption, and Swords to Plowshares feels like a dead draw in most cases.
We are favored for post-sideboard games on the play, but not on the draw. On the play, the combination of Thalia, Revoker, and Canonist as strong turn 2 plays (with another the following turn) often gets them off balance and gives you a window to win. On the play, they can sneak a Manipulate Fate, Abrupt Decay, or two spells under you, often giving them the setup to win the game. Games where they are on the play AND have DRS are particularly rough.
As a whole, I’d say we’re somewhere in the 40:60 ballpark in terms of matchup percentages. While we have the tools to win, our hands won’t always line up well against theirs. As the game goes long, usually D&T is favored; however, against Food Chain, their inevitability is a bit scarier than ours. The decision trees for this matchup can often be extremely difficult. I’m usually extremely confident in my lines, but that’s not always true in this matchup. Getting the wrong read on an opponent’s hand or making the wrong call with a Revoker is going to easily lose you games. I think Food Chain is a very good deck, far better than people currently believe. I encourage you to practice this matchup. You’ll be glad you did when you randomly encounter it.
Data as of 5/31/18
Win rate with WW D&T: 1-0 (100%)
Win rate with RW D&T: 2-0 (100%)