Feature Article from David Caplan

UGr Threshold Primer

David Caplan

2/29/2008

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I have heard it called Thrash, Canadian Thresh, Tempo Thresh, and Stifle-Waste Thresh. The name is irrelevant, what is relevant are the results it has put up, and its strength in the metagame. Threshold is what most people believe to be the best deck in the format, yet there is no universally accepted list. By writing this primer, I want to make the argument that this Threshold list, whatever you want to call it, is likely one of the best Threshold lists to play in the current metagame and I hope to answer the questions which I am constantly asked when people see this list.

I hope by making this article as in-depth as possible it will remove the guesswork associated with simply netdecking a list without knowing how to play it properly. I will provide very specific matchup details, including important cards and sideboarding technique. By being as specific as I can be, and by going very in-depth into the deck, I hope that other players can take this list with the information provided in this article and be able to pilot the deck properly. Having just the best decklist is not how you win. You win by having a good deck and by knowing how to play it properly.

Let's start this off with some credentials. After all, who wants to read about a deck that has no tourney experience or results? My name is David Caplan, and I am from Ontario, Canada. I have taken this list, with very small variations to seven tournaments since April 2007 Out of these seven, starting with the farthest away, I have had: 1 Top 4 (30+ man Event, Mississauga, Ontario), 1 GP Columbus Day 2 (Finishing in 67th place out of around 900, No Byes), 1st Place (20+ man Event, Toronto), Gencon Legacy Prelims Top 8, Gencon Legacy World Championships Top 4, Winter Wonderland Top 4 (Syracuse) and another Top 4 split somewhere in there. My most recent tourney report can be found here.

Out of the 7 events I have gone to, the worst I have done is a GP Day 2, which I believe is quite impressive. Also, it isn't just me who obtains these results, Lam Phan won Winter Wonderland with the same list, it also popped up in the top 8 of the German Legacy Championships (my exact Gencon list), about 4 people Day 2'ed with it at Columbus, 1 finishing in the top 32, another top 8 at the Running GAGG, 2 players played a similar list at Gencon, both made top 8, and quite a few local events all around the world. It is also worth noting that I have played this list in Toronto, Indianapolis, Columbus and Syracuse, all with different metagames.

The list was originally created in wake of Flash in order to compete at Columbus by Lam Phan. Lam is a Grand Prix top 8er (with a Threshold deck) and designed 3 of the top 8 decks at the Gencon Legacy World Championships including the winning list. Since that time, he and I have been tweaking the list to try to improve it.

As much as I like the story of the progression of the deck, because of the addition of Tarmogoyf after Grand Prix Columbus, it has become irrelevant. So let's get this started with my most current list:

The List:

UGr Canadian Thresh by David Caplan
Main Deck
Sideboard
4 Nimble Mongoose
4 Tarmogoyf
Creatures [8]
4 Brainstorm
4 Daze
4 Fire // Ice
4 Force of Will
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Ponder
1 Rushing River
4 Spell Snare
4 Stifle
1 Wipe Away
Spells [34]
2 Flooded Strand
2 Polluted Delta
4 Tropical Island
4 Volcanic Island
4 Wasteland
2 Wooded Foothills
Lands [18]
Deck Total [60]


2 Engineered Explosives
2 Krosan Grip
2 Pithing Needle
2 Pyroblast
2 Pyroclasm
2 Red Elemental Blast
3 Trygon Predator
Sideboard [15]





Click for full deck stats & notes!


Basic Questions about the List

Many traditional thresh players see this list and many problems jump out. I have received criticism about the following things:

Why are you playing red over white as your splash?
How does the deck even work with 8 creatures?
Don't you have mana problems with just 18 lands and only 14 blue sources?
How can you play no basic lands?
You play both Stifles and Wastelands?
Are 4 sorceries enough to make your Tarmogoyf big?
How do you get threshold with only 8 cantrips?
Doesnt' Fire//Ice suck?
How do you deal with Tarmogoyf?
What??? No Counterbalance/Sensei's Devining Top?
How do you win without having a big finisher like Fledgling Dragon?
What do the bounce spells do?

That is a whole load of problems that people see with the deck, and I get them all the time. These questions generally come from players who are used to different type of threshold, but this deck is truly a different breed of the archetype.

Colour:
I am going to start with the most basic question. Why do I play red Threshold over white? The answer is simple, and although this may be controversial, this is what I have found in my experience. Red is better than white for a tempo oriented deck. It is that simple. On paper white removes big fatties with Swords to Plowshares, while red can only hit small creatures with its burn spells. In practice, burn spells are amazing. They absolutely wreck aggressive decks and random decks which you will find in the first few rounds of any tournament. For tempo, you can sit and remove potential blockers for your creatures and deal as much damage as possible before they attempt to stabilize, they also act as a finisher against decks like Landstill, where you can deal quite a bit of damage in the early game, and play burn with counter-backup to end the game. Red also provides great sideboard options in the form of Pyroclasm and Red Elemental Blast.

Creatures:
Onto the creatures: 8 is enough, it allows you to play the control role, which this deck does very well, and finish off quickly with a couple of low casting cost big-powered creatures. The deck does not need a big finisher because it is a dead card until you need it, this deck needs relevant cards to create tempo. Also, most other creatures (besides Werebear) are too expensive for a deck that runs off 1-2 mana.

Lands:
No, I have never found myself wanting to add more lands to the deck. The deck doesn't mulligan too often because it only needs to start with 1 land. I have played games where I only dropped 1 land all game, and won. It is not difficult, you can adequately disrupt your opponent with all the free and 1cc spells. When your deck only requires a few lands, it is very important that you do not see too many. Basics are not needed, you only have a few lands in the deck, it is important that you can play the most spells with the lands you fetch out.

Cantrips/Sorceries:
Originally I didn't play any sorceries with Tarmogoyf. The basis of this is that almost every legacy deck runs sorceries, and as such, they will have a sorcery of their own in their graveyard. I played Opt before Lorwyn, but Ponder is too good not to play. Cantrips are mana intensive, because instead of already having a business spell or counter in your hand, you need to invest mana trying to find them. I prefer to play more relevant cards than cantrips. I never have a problem getting Threshold because the counters this deck plays are all free or 1cc, meaning that you counter early-game spells and fill your graveyard quickly with a couple of cantrips, wastes, stifles, fetches and counters.

Stifle and Wasteland:
Yes, I do play both, and for a good reason. Wasteland perfectly fits in this deck. When you only require 2 mana sources, anymore is overkill. Wasteland has the benefit of tapping for mana when your opponent only has basics, or can be used to totally mana screw your opponent, which comes up very often when you run both Stifle and Wasteland. By denying your opponent mana, you create tempo because they cannot invest in spells like they normally would. Wasteland works in this deck because you do not need normal land drops, and Wasteland fills that gap as well as works to your advantage by killing a mana of a certain color, or perhaps a more troublesome card like Tabernacle, Mishra's Factory or Nantuko Monastery.

How Do You Deal With Tarmogoyf?:
With this deck you can deal with a Tarmogoyf in many ways. First, if he is a 2/3 he is directly in bolt range. The other option is the fact that you have your own Tarmogoyfs to block theirs and then use a Lightning Bolt or a Fire//Ice to seal the deal. Rushing River is also amazing at ending a standoff. Keep in mind that you have Spell Snares which are great for dealing with a Tarmogoyf.

Fire//Ice:
I think that Wizards made this card to go into this deck. This card is great. It is removal, mana denial, cantrip and even sometimes a 2 for 1. It also pitches to Force of Will. This is great for the early rounds where you might face randomness like Elves or Goblins, and is great for near the end to deny mana or kill pesky Survival creatures.

Counterbalance and Top:
Although a very powerful engine, it simply does not fit into the plan for this deck. The whole engine is very mana-intensive and is made for the long game, not the short game. I will not say that CounterTop is bad in Threshold, because it isn't; it is just bad in this type of Threshold.

Big Finisher:
This deck doesn't use cards like Fledgling Dragon because it doesn't need them. After denying your opponent resources and creatures, it is very easy to win with your small Nimble Mongeese or Tarmogoyfs. The big creatures are dead draws in the early game, where you absolutely need to disrupt you opponent.

Bounce Spells:
These are the optional slots in the deck. Bounce spells are a recent addition because we have seen cards like Moat, Humility, Shackles, Solitary Confinement and Tombstalker running around. They are amazingly useful to end ground standoffs, or to remove pesky artifacts, enchantments and creatures that are out of burn range.

The decklist is not particularly customizable, as I see it, the only two variable slots are the ones currently take up by the two bounce spells. The following is a list of cards that have used that slot:
Disrupt
Opt
Mental Note
Portent
Predict
Werebear
Wipe Away
Rushing River
Snapback

The sideboard is fully customizable depending on your metagame, with the following as choices:
Trygon Predator
Pyroclasm
Krosan Grip
Engineered Explosives
Pithing Needle
Red Elemental Blast
Disrupt
Ancient Grudge
Blue Elemental Blast
Flametongue Kavu
Teferi's Response
Tormod's Crypt

And many more that we have yet to try...

Matchups/Sideboarding:

Hopefully that covers most of the questions that people have about the list. I will now go over some of the deck's matchups and sideboarding strategies against some decks. What I will not give you is percentages. Giving number like 70/30 is not smart because they can totally vary depending on the player who is piloting the deck, and the practice they have had with it. This is a variable that cannot be put into numbers, and as such I will say whether a matchup is favourable or unfavourable with an average-skilled player piloting a certain deck.

Landstill:
It is very hard to group this archetype as a matchup because there are so many different versions.
I will mention a few decks in this archetype that I have faced over time. It is worth mentioning that I have only lost once to Landstill in a tourney, but I do not consider it a good matchup in testing.

4cc Landstill with Deeds, 1 Crucible ect. No Goyfs:
I consider this matchup to be even.

It is very important to keep them off of black mana and your Stifles are extremely relevant against their Deeds and especially fetches. Spell Snares are great against Counterspells and standstills. Red Elemental Blasts are very important to stop them from digging with Fact or Fiction and especially Brainstorms when they need to find more colors.

Key Maindeck Cards:
Spell Snare
Stifle
Nimble Mongoose
Wasteland

Sideboarding:
2 Red Elemental Blast
2 Pyroblast
2 Trygon Predator
2 Krosan Grip
2 Pithing Needle
-1 Rushing River
-2 Daze
-3 Lightning Bolt
-3 Fire//Ice
-1 Wipe Away

Or something along those lines, tweak depending on the list they are running.

U/W Landstill
I consider this matchup to be even – slightly favourable.

Stifles are great against fetchlands and cards like Decree of Justice or if they are running Hoofprints. Spell Snares are also great here for the same reasons as 4c. Crucible is a back breaker because of recurring factories and wastes. My sideboarding tactics depend on if they are running Humility, Moat or Crucible. Again, make sure to use the blasts on spells like Fact or Fiction, Standstill and Brainstorm.

Key Maindeck Cards:
Spell Snare
Stifle
Nimble Mongoose
Wasteland

Sideboarding:
2 Pithing Nedle
4 Blasts
X Artifact Destruction (Predators > Grips) (Depends on if they have Moat, Humility or Crucible)
-X Burn
-1 Rushing River
-1 Wipe Away
-1 Ponder

Ichorid:
I consider this matchup to be highly unfavourable.

Sideboarding doesn't matter. Ichorid is not very common of a deck, and I am prepared to take a loss to it in the swiss to it. It is winnable, but very tough.

Sideboarding:
2 Pithing Needle
2 Engineered Explosives
-4 Spell Snare

43 Land:
I consider this matchup to be highly unfavourable.

This is a very hard matchup because they have no spells to counter. Stifles are great for stopping factory pumping, Needles are good at stopping monastery. Make sure to keep countering loams.

Key Maindeck Cards:
Stifle
Spell Snare
Wasteland
Tarmogoyf

Sideboarding:
2 Pithing Needle
3 Trygon Predators (on the draw)
-Rushing River
-3-4 Daze (if on the draw)

Goblins:
I consider this matchup to be quite favourable.

You have a great sideboard against goblins. Needles hit vials, Pyroclasms are great, and you have plenty of burn and blockers. If they are running Warren Weirding then you do not sideboard out the Spell Snares, but I have yet to encounter that.

Key Maindeck Cards:
Lightning Bolt
Fire//Ice
Nimble Mongoose
Tarmogoyf
Daze

Sideboarding:
2 Pithing Needle
2 Pyroclasm
-4 Spell Snare

Threshold:

NQG Countertop Red/White:
I consider this matchup to be even.

This is an interesting matchup. If they land a Sensei's Devining Top, they normally win.
This sideboard is a guide, it is a little extreme, but it can work. You can tweak it as you see fit. The matchup is worse depending on the number of tops they play. Use Blasts to hit cantrips so that they cannot get Counter-Top active.

Key Maindeck Cards:
Tarmogoyf
Daze
Spell Snare
Force of Will

Sideboarding:
2 Red Elemental Blast
2 Pyroblast
3 Trygon Predator
2 Pithin Needle
-4 Nimble Mongoose
-1 Ponder
-1 Wipe Away
-1 Rushing River
-2 Lightning Bolt

Moon Thresh:
I consider this matchup to be slightly favourable.

Their manabase is terrible. They cannot play a Fledgling Dragon against you unless they have already laid down a Blood Moon that wasn't countered, they never have 2 red with all the Stifles and Wastelands we pack. They have 2 relevant spells, Tops and Blood Moon. Counter them. Besides that they have very few blue cards, so Blasts aren't that great.

Key Maindeck Cards:
Tarmogoyf
Daze
Spell Snare
Force of Will

Sideboarding:
2 Pithing Needle
3 Trygon Predator
-1 Wipe Away
-2 Nimble Mongoose
-2 Lightning Bolt

Dragon Stompy:
I consider this matchup to be a slightly favourable.

The way that Dragon Stompy wins is to play a turn 1 or 2 Blood Moon where I do not have a counter. Magus of the Moon is easily burnt. Their creatures are all in burn range, and their artifacts are easy to destroy. Spell Snares hit Jittes and Chalice @ 1.

Key Maindeck Cards:
Force of Will
Lightning Bolt
Fire//Ice
Daze

Sideboarding:
3 Trygon Predator
2 Krosan Grip
-1 Ponder
-4 Stifle

Survival (RGBSA):
I consider this matchup to be even

This is a very close matchup. Cabal therapies can steamroll you. Fire//Ices are great against Birds, but make sure to keep mana open in case of a Survival, which is backbreaking without a Krosan Grip.

Key Maindeck Cards:
Lightning Bolt
Fire//Ice
Spell Snare
Daze
Force of Will
Wasteland
Stifle

Sideboarding:
2 Krosan Grip
2 Pithing Needle
-2 Nimble Mongoose
-1 Rushing River
-1 Wipe Away

Cephalid Breakfast
I consider this matchup to be quite favourable.

This match is pretty good, we have a lot of disruption against their lands and their creatures. The sideboard is also great against them. Make sure to force their Vials.

Key Maindeck Cards:
Force of Will
Spell Snare
Wasteland
Lightning Bolt
Fire//Ice
Sometimes Stifle
Daze

Sideboarding:
2 Pithing Needle
2 Red Elemental Blast
2 Pyroblast
-1 Ponder
-1 Tropical Island
-4 Stifle (If on the draw, which you should be)

TES:
I consider this matchup to be slightly favourable.

This is a tough matchup to play against a competent opponent. Make sure you keep mana open, one tiny slip is a game loss. The blasts are boarded in to beat up on their brainstorms, stopping their setup is key, don't save it all for their combo turn, as you only have 1 counter to stop chant.

Key Maindeck Cards:
Force of Will
Daze
Stifle
Spell Snare
Wasteland

Sideboarding:
2 Engineered Explosives
2 Pyroclasm
2 Red Elemental Blast
2 Pyroblast
-2 Nimble Mongoose
-3 Lightning Bolt
-3 Fire//Ice

Black Aggro-Control (Deadguy or Eva Green):
I consider this matchup to be slightly favourable.

Spell Snare hits most of their cards, burn is great to do a 2 for 1 when they go Ritual -> Creature. Dazes work very well, as do Wastelands and Stifles.

Key Maindeck Cards:
Fire//Ice
Lightning Bolt
Daze
Spell Snare

Sideboarding:
Nothing

There are other decks which I have never seen in a tournament, but I have heard of, but have no experience testing against like Loam, Sea Stompy, Burn, Goyf Sligh, and Mono W Stax. I think Loam has quite a bit of potential, but without a tested and true list, I cannot provide my experiences against it.

These matchup opinions are my own from testing and tournament experience.

Matchup Afterword:

If you look at my matchup results you see two decks against which I have a very clear unfavourable matchup towards. Ichorid is a very shaky deck in any format that it is played, it rarely sees top 8 action and almost never wins. I am prepared to take a loss to this deck in the swiss if I am unlucky enough to get paired up against it. It is unwise to tweak your sideboard to beat it, because it would water down the sideboard far too much unless your metagame is flooded with the deck. 43 Land is the second deck against which I have trouble, but it is not an impossible matchup. The deck is rarely played because of its weakness or auto loss to combo decks, and it is another deck which I am prepared to take a loss to, because it is rarely seen in the top 8.


Some tips with the deck:
The main goal of the deck is to disrupt an opponent, and not to be aggressive, but it can do both. It is important to leave mana for Stifle and Counterspells open instead of playing creatures, unless you are playing against an aggro deck like goblins. It is important to know what you are doing, get a feel if your opponent is tight on mana, and Daze spells like Brainstorm or Ponder that will help them hit their mana. The deck can play two roles, the aggressive and the control and make sure to remember, “Misassignment of Role = Game Loss”. Try to read the classic article by Mike Flores, “Who's The Beatdown”, it will be very helpful while playing this deck.

Conclusion:

If you made it this far into the article I should be very happy. I am very aware that it is lengthy, but I assure you that this information is all important if you are going to try out this deck. I have seen too many articles that present a decklist with not enough testing or information for players to pilot it correctly, and then they wonder why the readers don't put up any results after writing their article. I have too often read an article, sleeved up the deck, and then set it aside because I could not see what the author saw in his decklist.

I do not normally write articles. I have chosen to write one now because I believe in this deck, and I have seen its potential as well as the results it has put up. There has been much talk about Threshold being the best deck in the format and talking about ways to beat it, yet there is no best Threshold list that is widely accepted. I can think of about 10 different types of builds off the top of my head. I am presenting this Threshold list as “The” Threshold list to play. I would not be playing it if I didn't think it was the best. So to all of you who have read this article and have decided to give the deck a try, let me know what you think and the results you may have, hopefully they are as good as mine have been.

Thanks:
I have some mad thanks to give out. For sure, the guy that deserves most of the credit for this deck is Lam Phan. He is absolutely amazing at creating Threshold decks, and this deck is certainly no exception. He helped me test, shared his results with me and showed me how to play it, he also helped me by editing this article. Thanks also goes out to Brandon Adams (emidln), Will Eldredge (Whit3Ghost) for helping me edit and test.

Thanks for Reading!

-David Caplan
-goobafish on The Source, TMD and SCG
-PatheticSquid on MOTL