Stitching Zombies in Hawaii

Feature Article from Raphael Levy
Raphael Levy
10/21/2016 11:01:00 AM
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Pro Tour Kaladesh was a difficult Pro Tour for me. The way the tournaments were scheduled in October didn't allow me to plan much testing. Right after the prerelease, I got some drafts in with the players from Toulouse but very little constructed. GP London was happening the week-end before Pro Tour Kaladesh, and with the traveling time in the middle, we had only a couple of days to figure out what to do in standard.

I left London on Monday morning and arrived on Oahu, the Island where Honolulu is, on Monday evening after 30 hours of travelling. My hometown bud and Grand Prix Prague 2015 winner Eliott Boussaud, World Magic Cup and team Grand Prix teammate Jérémy Dezani, long-time friend Jonathan Melamed and two of his friends Tibor Krepli and Paulo Martinello and I met on the next day to start working.

The only thing we knew was that Red-White Vehicles would be a thing. The rest was widely unknown. Jérémy worked on different builds of control, mostly Jund and Mardu (that he eventually played but that ended up being a wrong metagame call). Eliott and I worked on a deck that looked like Grixis Emerge (I can't figure a good name for this deck). We tried different new strategies, including going more “all-in” on the fill the graveyard plan with more Perpetual Timepiece and Ministers of Inquiries, but we were unhappy with its consistency and its terrible manabase. I suggested we cut a color and stick to only two. There were two cards in the format that had very similar effect to Haunted Dead that could bring back Prized Amalgam: Stitchwing Skaab and Advanced Stitchwing.

With that in mind, we built around the synergy between the blue zombies, Prized Amalgam, Eldrazis and Kozilek's Return and all the discard outlets, including Cathartic Reunion.

Here's what we ended up with.

For a Pro Tour where so many parameters are unknown, I didn't want to play a control deck (but do I ever want to do that?). I wanted a proactive deck that could deal with whatever came to it, which this could thanks to Kozilek's Return, Lightning Axe, Fiery Temper against creatures, and Counterspells in the sideboard, while being able to do its own things, and if possible, unstoppable things and that's exactly what this deck does.

The Stitches

4 Stitchwing Skaab
4 Advanced Stitchwing

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 Advanced Stitchwing
$0.18
$0.01
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MTG Rares 10 $0.07
Kirwan's Game Store 24 $0.08
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Mid
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 Stitchwing Skaab
$0.24
$0.07
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Mythic Games 1 $0.07
JasmineDragon 1 $0.08
Ulrich and Helvas 2 $0.10
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DkSide Games 3 $0.10
White Lion Games 3 $0.10
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The deck is built around these eight creatures, they are the engine of the deck. At first, you think that they're all worse than Haunted Dead, but you realize that the flying ability is relevant. Haunted Dead provides a free chump blocker, but won't be able to attack much. The blue zombies fly over pretty much every creature in the format, or trades with / dominates (for the Advanced Stitchwing) a Smuggler's Copter, which is not such a bad thing. They provide the bodies you need to Emerge Elder Deep-Fiend at a friendly cost (two mana when you sacrifice an Advanced Stitchwing).

4 Prized Amalgam

The power of your draws depends on how many of these guys you draw in the early turns. A draw with an Amalgam and a blue Zombie that you can discard is hard to stop. In this version, you can't hardcast it (no black sources). The point of playing only blue and red is to have a more consistent mana. There's no configuration where you want to add black-producing lands to be able to cast Prized Amalgam. Aether Hub is not an option as it's one of the main reasons we dropped black in the first place (this land is terrible when you don't have other sources of energy).

4 Elder Deep-Fiend
3 Wretched Gryff

Your game plan is to deploy your zombies in the early game and lock your opponent out with a stream of Octopi. Wretched Gryff is a good way to look for an Elder Deep-Fiend as you can sacrifice a zombie and a Sanctum of Ugin to get one. Since it nets you a card, the price to pay isn't so high. 3/4 flying is the right size in the format as it blocks pretty much everything.

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 Elder Deep-Fiend
$1.96
$0.52
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Elder Deep-Fiend is the centerpiece of your strategy. In the first couple of turns, you'll be setting up the last attack steps. It's not unusual to only need two attack steps to win the game. On your opponent's turn, bring back three zombies from the graveyard (a mix of Stitchies and Amalgams), attack for nine, pass, play Elder Deep-Fiend, tap your opponents blockers / relevant lands and attack for 11. That's 20 in total. If you're missing three damage because one of your guys has been blocked or killed, Fiery Temper provides the finishing touch.

The Spells

Discard Outlets

4 Cathartic Reunion
3 Tormenting Voice
4 Lightning Axe

You need to have a Stitch in the graveyard to start doing things. For that, you can either discard one with Lightning Axe and get rid of a creature, or dig for the other pieces of your combo thanks to Cathartic Reunion and Tormenting Voice.

If you don't have any of these cards and are on the play (or can't cast them), you should probably mulligan.

Removal

4 Kozilek's Return
3 Fiery Temper

Kozilek's Return and Fiery Temper provide the “control” part of the deck. The deck isn't fast enough to race an aggro deck without interacting with them, and “fogging” with Elder Deep-Fiend usually isn't enough.

So like most Emerge decks, you run Kozilek's Return. It's easy to have it available in the graveyard, and unlike other blue-black decks that have less red sources to cast it, it's easy to play.

Fiery Temper provides a little value from all your discard outlets. Bringing back Stitchies comes at a cost (two cards), and you don't always have useful / useless cards to pitch (useful: Prized Amalgam, Kozilek's Return, other Stitchies; useless: extra lands). In combination with the red spells and blue zombies, you'll always have a good window to play one.

Note that seven of your removal spells get rid of Smuggler's Copter, which is something all control decks must have. So in a way, we do have a bit of a control deck.

The Manabase

4 Island
6 Mountain
4 Wandering Fumarole
4 Spirebluff Canal
1 Highland Lake
1 Geier Reach Sanitarium
3 Sanctum of Ugin

This deck requires you to have both colors in play. Red mana allows you to draw into your blue mana (Reunion, Voice), but even then, since you have to play (at least) three Sanctum of Ugin, you'll be struggling in some game to find everything you need (imagine how that is when you play three colors). There's an option to play more Highland Lake, but after Turn 4, drawing a come-into-the-battlefield tapped land hurts a lot.

Geier Reach Sanitarium gives you an extra discard outlet while digging for Amalgams and Deep-Fiends. We even played two in our early version. However, I barely ever used it in the tournament and it feels like there should be an extra Island instead.

With only two and a half days of building, testing and tuning the deck, I'm quite happy with what we had. Along with the extra Island, I'd probably add the fourth Tormenting Voice over the fourth Lightning Axe. It's just too important to have a red sorcery in your starting hand to set up your game.

Sideboard

4 Fevered Visions
4 Negate
2 Ceremonious Rejection
2 Chandra, Torch of Defiance
1 Jace, Unraveler of Secrets
2 Nahiri's Wrath
4 Fevered Visions


Eliott had been trying to put a Fevered Visions deck together for that tournament, but couldn't make it since the card is horrendous against very aggressive strategies, and since Red-White Vehicles was the only deck we knew was going to show up, he dropped the idea.

Mid
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 Fevered Visions
$1.79
$0.49
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SHGaming 1 $0.99
MTG Castle 1 $0.99
Bloated Toads 2 $1.00
Thanatos 2 $1.00
Trained Orgg Store 1 $1.00
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HobbitTerry 1 $1.00

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When we put together the blue-red zombie deck, his eyes lit: Fevered Visions could be a plan against control or slow decks. Against them, it wins you the game on its own. You just have to make sure you don't die (get rid / counter your opponent's threats), and the extra cards help you to Reanimate your Stitches.

4 Negate
2 Ceremonious Rejection

We had a hard time figuring out what we wanted in the sideboard. None of us had built a successful Marvel deck and doubted its efficiency. But the fact that we didn't make it didn't mean other teams didn't get there. We thought that adding six Counterspells would probably be enough to disrupt them, in case the deck was real. Turned out it was, and that it was a great inclusion.

2 Chandra, Torch of Defiance
1 Jace, Unraveler of Secrets

The planeswalkers come to complete the anti-control suite. In addition to their role in these matchups, they have specific abilities against others:

- Chandra is an extra way to get rid of Kalitas, Traitors of Ghet.

- Jace is a good way to bounce an Emrakul that resolved (just make sure it never has at least four loyalty counters when you pass the turn).

Nahiri's Wrath was a last minute inclusion that we didn't try enough. It sounded great against all-planeswalkers decks, but these decks just don't exist.

The Matchups

Red-White Vehicles

You don't have much to sideboard against them. The match will mostly depend on your draw. If you manage to setup an early Kozilek's Return, or just shoot their creatures to give you enough time to set up your late game, you'll probably win. Versions like Lee Shi Tian's are especially hard to beat as they don't rely solely on creatures. Cultivating Caravan and Gideon makes it hard for you to stabilize.

Aetherworks Marvel

Sometimes they find an Ulamog on Turn 4 and there's nothing you can do. Most of the time they struggle to find anything relevant and run into your Counterspells. Note that the deck doesn't straight up lose to Emrakul or Ulamog, as you can bring back creatures after Ulamog arrived (and they can't be blocked since they fly), or have enough creatures to Overrun Emrakul, and that's where Wandering Fumarole really shines.

Sideboarding might be tricky as there are a lot of different versions of Marvel out there. Sometimes they board in more creatures (Longtusk Cub, Servant of the Conduit and Bristling Hydra), sometimes they board in Dispel. In most cases, this is what I suggest:

-3 Fiery Temper
-2 Kozilek's Return
-1 Wretched Gryff
+1 Jace, Unraveler of Secrets
+3 Negate
+2 Ceremonial Rejection

If you see that they are going for the full combo, add the fourth Negate. You don't want them to have the four mana on the third turn with Servant of the Conduit or attack you with a Cub, and that's why you have to keep Lightning Axe.

Slow decks / Control decks

Sideboarding in Fevered Visions is tricky. If you're not sure your opponent is going to be annoyed by it, only board them in on the play. Don't board them in against Jeskai that runs Nahiri (Nahiri destroys enchantments).

There are different ways you can find room to bring them in. Against Blac-Green Delirium, you might want to take out your Amalgams. They have Kalitas to block them and exile them, and your plan is just going to burn them out and attack with flyers anyway. Against slow control decks where you don't need removal, you can take out a mix of Lightning Axe and Kozilek's Return.

Overall - and it's true against most decks - you won't be sideboarding too much (except when you go for the Fevered Visions plan) as the deck works as a combo deck and needs a right mix of all its pieces.

I really liked the deck and wish I had had more time to practice with it. There are a lot of sequences that are hard to figure out, triggered abilities to use at the right time. Just an example, returning your Stitchies doesn't always happen during your opponent's main phase. There was one turn when I used it on my end step, played Elder Deep-Fiend on my opponent's upkeep to tap his lands and use Kozilek's Return, and have the Amalgams come back at the end of his turn, so they were safe in the graveyard while everything was taking five damage.

My score wasn't great with it (5-5) but I did throw away two matches due to not having played the deck enough before. If you want to try it, I suggest you practice a bit before entering a tournament. While I'm usually skeptical about how popular the decks I showcase turn out to be, I have no doubt this one is a home run.

If you want me to, I'll try to record videos with the deck. What do you think?

In the meantime, have fun stitching them up!

Raph, Top 32 at Pro Tour Kaladesh
@hahamoud




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