Vs Shardless BUG
(last updated 5/31/18)
Best Generic Sanctum Prelate Number: See discussion
Note: This deck is largely dead at the moment due to being invalidated by Czech Pile.
Deck Strategy and Key Cards
Shardless BUG is a control deck at heart that often ends up playing a midrange game. The deck essentially takes a smattering of the most powerful cards available in BUG colors and weaves them together into a cohesive shell. That shell is based around Shardless Agent and the cascade mechanic. This causes a few notable deckbuilding decisions, most notably a lack of cheap counterspells; cascading into something like a Spell Piece is pretty bad. On the other hand, cascading into Tarmogoyf, Baleful Strix, or Hymn to Tourach will start a stream of card advantage that can be difficult for many legacy decks to keep pace with.
Shardless BUG tries to play the 2-for-1 game for as long as possible, grinding its opponents out via a series of favorable interactions and eventually refueling with an Ancestral Vision. The deck is, in a word, greedy. The deck often has multiple copies of Wasteland despite being a three color deck, and it also has 1-2 copies of Creeping Tar Pit despite wanting to curve out. This means that sometimes the Shardless players will stumble a little bit during the opening turns, and this is the best time to set up your own gameplan.
Brainstorm is always an amazing card, but it is particularly strong in this deck. You can use a Brainstorm to set up the card you want to cascade into (hint, it is usually Ancestral Vision), or, alternatively, you can use a Brainstorm alongside a Shardless Agent to “shuffle” away some land cards or cards with cmc three or greater.
The Matchup and Important Interactions
Shardless BUG and D&T are both control decks, generally speaking, but both cannot play the control role at the same time. Given Shardless BUG’s innate card draw, that *usually* means that D&T has the aggro role. In most cases, D&T wants to put the Shardless BUG player in a difficult spot which minimizes their ability to play the control role as they wish. There are three commons ways to do that: 1. Play Thalia. 2. Play Mirran Crusader. 3. Play a threat alongside a Mother of Runes. Shardless BUG is built on efficiency and plays a large number of generic answers. When their spells cost an extra mana or the generic answers like Abrupt Decay do not work, you will create a window to win the game, or at least get very far ahead.
That being said, sometimes Shardless does get double Tarmogoyf openings that will clearly put it into an aggro or tempo role. When that happens, you need to use cards like Mother of Runes, Batterskull, and Mirran Crusader to pump on the brakes so that you don’t just die in the first few turns. These tempo hands sometimes go all-in very quickly, meaning that your equipment may very well take over the game if you make it past the initial onslaught.
Fetching equipment can be tricky. Batterskull is objectively the best one in the matchup, as the Shardless player likely has one Maelstrom Pulse to deal with it in game one; it’s not going anywhere once it hits play. That being said, sometimes you need to force damage through a wall of Shardless Agent and Baleful Strix with Sword of Fire and Ice. Jitte too has its applications, as a first strike or double strike creature will pretty easily outclass their board with it equipped. Try to figure out what cards your opponent has in hand based on their playstyle and last few turns and then pick accordingly. If you aren’t sure, getting Batterskull is probably just fine.
There are a couple of important rules interactions you need to know. Let’s say your opponent has an Ancestral Vision suspended and you control a Thalia. What happens when that last counter comes off? Looking at the additional rulings makes it very clear:
“If the spell has any mandatory additional costs, you must pay those if able. However, if an additional cost includes a mana payment, you are forced to pay that cost only if there’s enough mana in your mana pool at the time you cast the spell. You aren’t forced to activate any mana abilities, although you may do so if you wish.”
The suspend ability allows you to cast the card without paying its base mana cost. That means that Thalia’s ability still applies, and your opponent will need to pay one if they want to cast their spell. If they do not, Ancestral Vision will just remain in exile with no counters. Neat!
Similarly, let’s say your opponent casts a Shardless Agent while you control a Thalia. If they cascade into a non-creature spell, they will indeed need to pay one mana to cast that spell. Note that Deathrite Shaman does not have a mana ability (it targets and can be responded to, thus it is not a mana ability), so your opponent won’t get an opportunity to create mana with that card to pay the Thalia tax if they have already started resolving the cascade trigger. Knowledge is power!
I believe that this is one of the most difficult matches in terms of sideboarding “properly.” I don’t think there is necessarily a correct way to do it, and I believe that you need to choose a way to approach the matchup and sideboard appropriately. Shardless players will attempt to grind us into the dirt in the post sideboard games with additional removal like Disfigure or Darkblast to keep Mother of Runes from becoming active and to deal with an early Thalia. Additionally, it’s common to see sweepers like Toxic Deludge or Golgari Charm as well as hosers like Dread of Night and Null Rod.
On our side, we have Rest in Peace, which really neuters Shardless BUG’s ability to close out a game quickly. In addition, many versions also have either Wilt-Leaf Liege or Gideon, Ally of Zendikar to try to fight back against the -1/-1 hate. I also like to bring in at least one Council’s Judgment as a generic catch all for the odd hate cards you might see. So then this begs the question: “What comes out?” That part is a little tricker, and various pilots will argue vehemently for their sideboarding approach.
Flickerwisp is a touch anemic in the matchup, as you don’t really have any good things to blink on the opposing side of the board; it does, however, fly over everything except Baleful Strix and saves your cards from Abrupt Decay. Phyrexian Revoker is great at shutting off cards on the other side of the table, but it is never going to push damage through their wall of creatures, and it usually just gets swept up in a Toxic Deluge or Golgari Charm after a few turns. Swords to Plowshares is awesome when you don’t have a Rest in Peace, but basically does nothing once you do.
In general, I suggest cutting some number of your 1 toughness creatures. This will help to hedge against the hate you are likely to see. If you are running three copies of Rest in Peace, it’s not unreasonable to drop one of your Swords to Plowshares. If you are sure that your opponent is running one or more Dread of Night, it’s perfectly reasonable to cut a Mother of Runes and bring in the second Council’s Judgment. Similarly, if your opponent has other problematic enchantments or artifacts (Null Rod, Sylvan Library), the second Council’s Judgment is quite good.
Sanctum Prelate is awkward. It can serve as an out to the cards that matter most in any given situation, such as Toxic Deluge or Abrupt Decay. That being said, the non-creature spells in Shardless are pretty spread out over multiple mana costs, so Prelate isn’t going to just lock them out of the game like it does to many other decks.
Gideon, Ally of Zendikar is amazing in this matchup. All three modes are relevant. Creating a token every turn can keep the small bodies like Shardless Agent at bay or chump block Goyf. The emblem plays around common -1/-1 hate like Golgari Charm or Dread of Night. Turning Gideon into a 5/5 beater is also pretty good against their removal, as it will dodge everything except the odd Dismember, which occasionally shows up. Since all the modes are relevant, Gideon can be a touch tricky to use. If you believe Gideon will not stick around, popping immediately is fine. If the board state is really gummed up, feel free to plus once and then make an emblem; you’ll force your opponent to take action to try to get Gideon off the board, but still have some guaranteed value afterwords. If the board is relatively empty, feel free to just crank out tokens and force your opponent to answer both Gideon and the tokens.
I’m generally pretty happy to be paired against this matchup, especially when I’m running multiple copies of Mirran Crusader or THC. Recruiter of the Guard gives the opportunity to find the cards that matter and give us some card advantage to fight back against Ancestral Vision. On Shardless’s slower draws, it’s perfectly fine to just chain Flickerwisps and Recruiters for a few turns.
D&T is probably favored by 5% or so, but that exact percentage varies depending on the composition of both of your decks. Given that many D&T decks run Mirran Crusader in the main, I think D&T is pretty favored for game one, especially on the play. A well-prepared Shardless player will have many high-impact sideboard cards though, making games two and three slightly more difficult as a whole. Many of the post-sideboard games are really non-games; a powerful enchantment will tip the tide early on, and those games will wrap up very quickly. Don’t neglect sideboard cards for this matchup, especially if you skimp on Mirran Crusaders in the main; if you don’t have a plan for this matchup, it is very easy to just get buried in card advantage. The relative popularity of Shardless is one of the reasons why I almost always run the full three Rest in Peace in my board.
Data as of 5/31/18
Win rate with WW D&T: 1-0 (100%)
Win rate with RW D&T: 1-0 (100%)