Saturday, June 30, 2012

Tibalt, THOU Art a Villain

"Patience perforce with wilful choler meeting
Makes my flesh tremble in their different greeting.
I will withdraw: but this intrusion shall
Now seeming sweet convert to bitter gall."

- Tybalt, Act I, Scene 5, Romeo and Juliet
I know, homes.  That’s how we all feel now.

In the history of planeswalkers, each has been given due attention for their game-changing ability and their iconic, mythic status.  Each and every one of the thirty planeswalkers to be released to date, with two more on the way in M13, has had a part to play.  Some have had effects in a broad sense over the entire color, like Ajani Pridemane, Jace, the Mind Sculptor, or Chandra, the Firebrand.  Some of the narrow (read: bad) ones, however, have fallen by the wayside, collecting dust as trade fodder in binders everywhere, being carelessly flipped past for the more pragmatic cards that Magic has to offer. 

With the release of Avacyn Restored, we received a burst of excitement with the release of the fiery, malicious menace Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded. 

"Have at thee, coward!"
Tibalt is one of the most interesting planeswalkers to be released since the supertype’s advent in the Lorwyn expansion in 2007.  Tibalt has created two new landmarks for planeswalkers: he is the cheapest to cast at just two mana but, as such, is the most color intensive, requiring 100% colored mana.  No doubt about it, he is a thoroughly red planeswalker.

When he was released, there was a lot of speculation about his usefulness, terror over the power creep of planeswalkers and his admittedly aggressive cost, and hurried attempts to break him.  However, except in a somewhat obscure or obligatory (“he’s a planeswalker, he has to be good”) inclusion, he hasn’t seen a lot of love.  As is a common occurrence with over-hyped cards, Tibalt fell out of the spotlight, his price dwindling from well over $20 to barely on parity with a booster pack at about $4.  Just like a strip mall in a failing community, people abandoned it and let nature run its course.  And they left their Starbucks cups everywhere.

Skaab Ruinator, is that you?
Many deck builders far beyond my skill and experience have tried to crack the Tibalt puzzle, too, trying to find a deck that he actually helps, as opposed to promoting idealistic synergy.  I wanted to give it a shot; I wanted to create a deck in which Tibalt played an integral piece.  What persistent problems would I encounter, and what would I need to do to solve them?

I have a special interest in Tibalt outside of Magic, too, which probably drives me to make this deck happen.  Like his Shakespearean namesake, he is fiery, unpredictable and aggressive at every turn.  Tybalt, the character that is, was not a terribly deep character as Shakespeare wrote him, but rather he personified the endless, engrained struggles of the Capulets against the Montagues, stabbing Romeo’s cohorts here and sounding off on the death of Romeo’s house there.  He represented an ideal, a loyalty and a belief that, if one is a part of something or holds to a certain creed, that one in and of oneself is right across all planes of thought.  Shakespeare put a face, a heart, and a blade in the hand of a doppelganger of our own fidelity.  This stubborn but sympathetic fury is how I feel about many things in my life; one should forge one’s own path, and such a pursuit is not just a motivation but a way of travel, and I bet, if you’re reading this, you feel this way too.  In a Magic sense, as that’s what’s at hand, I feel Tybalt’s righteous, entrenched passion for brewing in general. 

Naturally, any deck with Tibalt should be very red-centric, though probably not mono-red.  Some library manipulation seems in order to mitigate the randomness of his +1 ability, and I believe that other colors are needed to further complement Tibalt’s abilities and the deck that would support him.  Similarly, we need things that don’t really care if they’re discarded and, along with that, get better depending on the other cards in the graveyard.  Also, how can we elevate Tibalt’s -4 ability into a finisher or, at best, a win condition?  His -6 ability is good in and against just about any deck, so that doesn’t take a ton of build-around brain power.  Also, who would ever let him sit there for 5 turns and not try to mess with him?

I’ve come to enjoy fair graveyard-based decks (not Dredge or Reanimator, if you’re asking.)  With a graveyard theme in mind, I gravitated towards two diametrically opposed cards that work against each other.  Although I had originally tried to super-synergize one deck, I found that, when put together, they were pretty underwhelming and fought each other at every turn.  Let’s look at the first synergy I saw.
Who knew geists could be so hot?
This is a card that Johnnies everywhere got excited about.  The possibilities are myriad in Eternal formats, but in Standard, it’s pretty much limited to flashback (except possibly Gravecrawler and Skaab Ruinator).  As much as I liked the combo potential and the possibility of achieving Magical Christmasland™ with a billion things in the graveyard and two or three Burning Vengeances out, I had to stable a prototype of this as I dry ran it.  Burning Vengeance might be the least exciting turn three play in Standard.

Instead, I decided to settle on a more interesting and powerful card that has seen a fair amount of Standard play.
"Fetch me my rapier, boy."
I have vaguely heard of Tibalt and the Pike being used in concert but I hadn’t seen a decklist (I prefer to brew independently, as previously stated.)  The deck would be chock full of cheap sorceries and instants; thus, they are easy to get into the graveyard.  The creatures to hold the Pike would need to have special qualities to make them more attractive than just a blunt instrument, but they wouldn’t need to be big, as the Pike will protect them, at least in combat.  There are tons of choices for the inexpensive creature slots, but I settled on three; Snapcaster Mage, being the most obvious, then Chandra’s Phoenix and Forge Devil.

I have to say "foh-eh-nix" aloud to spell it right.
The Phoenix seems perfect for this deck.  Tons of non-combat ways to hit a player for one, not the least of which being Tibalt’s -4 ability.  Hitting them for 3-4 with that, getting your Phoenix back and bashing with an equipped Pike seems like it’d feel pretty good. 

The Forge Devil, I believe, is an underrated card, especially in the current metagame.  There’s so much it kills, and if it kills something, it’s just straight card advantage for one life.  It kills Birds, Pilgrims, Champions of the Parish, Stromkirk Nobles, Snapcaster Mages, unflipped Delvers, and Thalia (If you know me, you know I hate Thalia).This deck doesn’t really need to go first, and a Mountain and a Forge Devil in your opening hand is a great bet against an opponent who snap-keeps on the play.  He’s a perfectly reasonable Piker, and he’s nice at getting rid of pesky tokens when trying to swing through with your Piker.  I’d like to try him, anyway.

In spell land, I liked Vapor Snag not only for its ability to help you last longer, it clears the path for your Piker and fills there hand for an extra point off Tibalt.  Also, with Reforge the Soul, permanently deal with that bounced critter!  A Reforge is almost all upside for me, filling my hand with more burn, pitching whatever instants I have in my hand and making Tibalt’s -4 ability very live.  Finally, here’s a card I’m really excited about in the deck.

Oh no, my cereal bowl!
This is a great risky-without-being-risky spell.  Run through my hand, dumping my cheap burn, then Dangerous Wager for a little more juice.  It itself is cheap and efficient, effectively being an Inspiration for 1R in this deck.  Also, I’ve discovered two notable uses of this card.  If your opponent lets through a fairly innocuous Pike hit, dump your hand!  2-4 more instants in the graveyard at instant speed!  Not as cool, no, but it does work.  Also, there are some neat stack tricks you can do.  If you cast a burn spell targeting your opponent, then, while it’s still on the stack, cast a Dangerous Wager with a Chandra’s Phoenix in hand, the Dangerous Wager will resolve and, as your burn spell resolves, you can return the Phoenix to your hand.  Value!  AND Snapcaster flashes it back easily (though you’d probably pick something else, the idea of four cards for 4 mana in red is kinda sexy.

OK, so here’s a roughly hewn list. 

Creatures (9)
4 Snapcaster Mage
3 Chandra’s Phoenix
2 Forge Devil

Spells (31)
4 Incinerate
4 Ponder
2 Thought Scour
3 Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded
3 Runecaster’s Pike
4 Vapor Snag
3 Dangerous Wager
2 Reforge the Soul
3 Pillar of Flame
3 Bonfire of the Damned       

Lands (20)

8 Mountain
6 Island
4 Sulfur Falls
2 Desolate Lighthouse

Sideboard (15)
4 Negate
3 Dissipate
2 Geistflame
2 Desolation Tide
2 Vexing Devil
2 Slagstorm

There are some notable exclusions from this list, some of which I’ll mention here.

Delver of Secrets

Yes, he seems like he’d be good here.  The truth is, he probably is good here, but I wanted to try something different.  If I can help it, I’ll avoid putting him in this list.  He may replace Forge Devil if the metagame changes, but a 1/1 for 1 that would flip less than 50% of the time (35/60 cards will NOT flip it), I don’t consider him a good investment.  This is a fairly tailored deck, and I don’t want every U/X instant/sorcery deck to get a playset of these guys.

Other Flashback Spells

I really noodled on including more than just Geistflame, but after playing MiRUcle, which ends up playing like a draw-go most of the time, I wanted to try not running Think Twice, a card that might otherwise be good here.  Also, I’ll most likely flash it back as soon as possible, discouraging the Pike’s value. 


This deck wants to tap out on every turn to commit threats to the board and/or deal with their threats.  With the presence of a lot of burn and offense in this deck, I imagine main-phasing a lot of stuff, including instants.  Also, with Tibalt’s +1 ability, the counters in my hands risk getting discarded anyway.  Burn and bounce allow me to slim my hand effectively and a counterspell would just clog it up.  I do have them in the sideboard if the opponent’s decks come up with some hitherto unanswerable threat, and at that point, the deck would become much more defensive.  It’s hard for me to leave the safety net of counterspells behind, but I think it’s the right decision for this deck.

More Lands

I’m not a fan of running less than 22 lands in any Constructed deck, but I just don’t need much more than that.  My MiRUcle deck runs 22 (down from 23), and I still flood out fairly often.  Packing this deck with Pike-pumping graveyard fodder seems perfectly fine.   


At the time that I have written the portion of the post above this point, I had not tried this deck out, but I hope to do so this evening.  I need to do a bit of trading to get the Phoenixes, Tibalt himself, and a couple Pikes.  If I can do that…

Trial #1

Last night, Tuesday the 26th, I went to Something2Do for their Tuesday night Standard.  I had to make some trades to pick up the last pieces.  Sadly, Tibalt’s were in very short supply and, in lieu of trading them, another player named Michael kindly allowed me to borrow three Tibalts for the evening.  I sleeved up and shuffled, eager to see the deck in action.

Round 1

In round 1, I sat across from John, a Magic player I’ve seen here and there for the last couple years or so.  He usually plays some sweet deck and wears a fraternity shirt, as he did last night.  We played out game one and I had difficulty sticking anything of real value.  He whittled me down to size with some Gravecrawlers for which I could not find my Pillars.  In both rounds, a Piked Phoenix threatened to steal the game, but he always had a Geth’s Verdict at the ready to drain my creature and my life total.  The first game, he got me with a Geralf’s Messenger, and the second game, he got me with Stensia Bloodhall and a Zealous Conscripts melting my 4-counter Tibalt. 


Not a great start, considering I knew I could get that matchup with a better hand.  Oh well, this is a variable card game after all.  On to round 2.

Round 2

In round 2, I was facing off against Chris, a control player playing some kind of Esper Walkers deck.  I had absolutely no chance.  In the first game, he Tamiyo-locked me and gained a bunch of life with his Pristine Talismans, killing me with Lingering Souls.  Game two was grindier, but it was never close; he had a Karn with 20 counters at one point, and he was just toying with me.  I literally ran out of win conditions and frustratingly scooped.


Round 3…maybe this deck could pull of even just one game win.  2-2 would be fine, right?  I was seriously doubting my deck construction, wondering if I had left myself too light on win conditions.  Lifegain really hurt this deck, despite the fact that it had a good amount of gas.

This round, I played against Chrissy, an opponent I had played a couple times before; I’d seen her play red-green and thought that might be what she’d have.  I felt it would be my best match-up.  Turns out that she was playing Naya Pod and this deck finally got to shine.  The deck got a solid draw, resolving and sticking a Tibalt and flooding her with direct damage.  A pair of Incinerates wrapped up game 1.  In game two, she made a stronger offense, especially with a Zealous Conscripts stealing my Piked Phoenix; the Pike still got the benefit of my instant/sorcery-filled graveyard.  She smacked me from a healthy life total down to 4.  I untapped and went into the tank for a minute.  She was at 20, and I had a Geistflame, a Pillar of Flame and a Ponder in hand, and a fully charged Tibalt out.  She was fully tapped out.  I Pillared her to 18, Pondered, drawing a Geistflame, Geistflamed her twice, popped Tibalt’s ultimate and stole her squad and hit her for exactly 16 (9 from the Piked Phoenix, 3 from her Conscripts and 4 from her Huntmaster and Wolf pal.)


Ok, so that was certainly the most fun match so far; Pod and swarm tactics seem to be very solid matchups for my deck to beat.  Although out of prize range now, I still wanted to test the deck in one more match.

Round 4

My final opponent, whose name sadly escapes me, had originally started at the high tables.  He was very nice and we enjoyed a moment of chatting; this was a nice round, as both of us were out of prize range and this was therefore just a fun round.  His deck turned out to be a clever and synergetic brew utilizing Quicksilver Amulet and mana-ramping creatures to throw huge fatties into the field.  His fatties, many of which came from the Chancellor cycle of New Phyrexia, did powerful things for him if he had them in his opener, such as the Chancellor of the Annex, which Force Spiked my first spell and Chancellor of the Tangle, which provided him an Elvish Spirit Guide on turn one.

In game one, I did fine, eliminating his mana dorks and pushing through a bit of damage.  He resolved his Quicksilver Amulet though and, with literally no way to deal with once it resolved even post-board, it quickly dominated the game.

Game two saw a much more explosive and effective start from me.  Everything worked, and I got him down to dead, keeping his board clear of mana dorks while his deck kept his board clear of lands.

Game three was a little more contested.  I had a solid lead, putting him to a precarious 7 with creatures to support lethal damage.  However, another resolved Amulet promised to complicate things.  Although I’d boarded in counter magic, I didn’t draw any until about two turns after he cast the amulet.  Then, that’s all I drew.


This deck disappointed me, but not so much so that I’m not willing to give it another go.  I learned a lot about the deck; it plays much differently than my MiRUcle deck, but that’s to be expected, and that’s part of the fun.  There can be a lot of diversity in Standard, even within the same colors.  You just have to go and find it.

When I got home, I laid the deck out (proxying the Tibalts I returned) and contemplated what needed to be done.  The deck, although different than MiRUcle at the core, was still a narrow win-condition kind of deck, and a lot of draws were fairly situational.  There were cards that stood out both for their fun and their practicality.

Of the cards that shone, Chandra’s Phoenix shined the brightest.  This card did a lot of work every time I cast it.  It came back often and was the most exciting pitch for Tibalt.  A fourth Phoenix could most certainly make this deck better in every way.  Dangerous Wager was also a star, helping give me extra juice while filling my graveyard with instants and sorceries.  Most of the time, it was a sweet topdeck with an empty hand, but there were times where my hands wouldn’t win me the game and a Dangerous Wager would exchange my hand for two random cards.  Most of the time, this was just fine.  Finally, Forge Devil turned out to be a great choice.  I always had it when I needed it and it always had targets.  Hitting a mana dork with this guy is the bee’s knees, and it was fine to pick off a token or two.  He was also a fine discard option for Tibalt’s +1 ability later in game.

There were some cards that vastly underperformed, both of which are blue cards; Vapor Snag and Thought Scour.  Vapor Snag was a bit better, but I lacked enough creatures to give it much more use beyond being a Time Walk.  It never cleared the path for an attack, which is where I think Vapor Snag is strongest, and the loss of life is a pretty small incentive.  Would I play Unsummons?  No, probably not.  Is Vapor Snag better, especially if I have to bounce my own creature and take a life loss?  Thought Scour was even worse.  Not only did I get unlucky a lot with it, it just doesn’t do anything.  I’d rather cast the instants I’m milling; a single Ponder + Thought Scour combo in round 4 was its only moment of value.  Otherwise, just give me a burn spell.

Another surprising underperformer was Bonfire of the Damned.  This $30 spell seems good in any deck that can play it, but I’m not so convinced.  It was great in MiRUcle, but suffered from the need to keep counterspell mana up.  As it is, I like it in the sideboard, but not in the main, so it’ll stay there for now.  In a deck with 20 lands, I’m just not going to get a ton of value out of it unless I’m way behind. 

Tibalt RU Pike 2.0

In its next incarnation, I added more creatures, removed some of the pointless spells and tightened up the burn package.  In dry testing, it played much better, offering more threats and forcing the opponent to play more defensively, buying me even more time for Tibalt.

-2 Thought Scour
-1 Vapor Snag
-3 Bonfire of the Damned

+3 Delver of Secrets
+1 Forge Devil
+2 Brimstone Volley

-2 Vexing Devil
-3 Dissipate
-2 Devastation Tide

+3 Bonfire of the Damned
+3 Thunderbolt
+1 Pillar of Flame

Now up to 13 creatures, Brimstone Volley seemed like a slam dunk.  It’s a Thunderous Wrath for half the cost that doubles as Incinerate in a pinch.  It may come out, but I really like it at the moment. 

Other Considerations

Stormblood Berserker

I love this guy, and he holds a Pike SO well.  There may come a point where I realize this is not a good deck for Snapcaster, in which case, 4 of these come in.  Even without bloodthirst, he is tough for your opponent to block effectively, and semi-evasion plus being powerful on his own seems like a winning combination.

Krenko’s Command

Never heard of this card?  No problem; here it is!

Ravnica fodder.
Krenko’s Command, a functional reprint of Dragon Fodder, will be equally as synergetic in this deck.  People lauded Gather the Townsfolk when it came out for its ability to be a solid turn two draw if you played Champion of the Parish or Delver of Secrets on your first turn.  I played that very deck for a while, and I wasn’t disappointed.  Almost certainly a direct replacement for Forge Devil, these will slide in as soon as possible.

Temporal Mastery

A card, probably a singleton, that can just about give me extreme value every time.  Even if I mill it, it’s Piker fodder, and in uber-mana situations, Snap it back!

Phyrexian Metamorph (sideboard)

I borrowed some for a tournament one day for my MiRUcle sideboard and I was not disappointed.  They are just financially unviable for me, considering they rotate out in three months.

Invisible Stalker

A great Piker, he’s just unimpressive by himself, which merits his absence.  After you resolve one, though, he’d be perfectly fine to throw away, and he’d go nicely with Stormblood Berserker.  His inclusion would almost certainly directly replace Vapor Snags.

Arc Trail

I have considered Arc Trail instead of Geistflame in the sideboard as it kills a large number of creatures while still pinging the opponent to recover lost Phoenixes. 

…I miss Searing Blaze.

If you can’t tell, this deck is drifting much more red than it is blue.  I like the few options that being blue brings to this deck, namely Ponder, Snapcaster and the newly inducted (and equally busted) Delver of Secrets.  What this means is that, with some tweaking, the shell of the deck could be color shifted to fit new metagames as well as to try different playstyles.  I’d toyed with a R/G Pike, or even R/W Pike using Timely Reinforcements and Fiend Hunters to keep the board clear for a Pikebearer. 

Time will tell if the newest iteration of this Tibalt Pike can get there.  I’ll most likely be trying it again this weekend, hoping to tweak it into a more consistent and formidable deck.  Despite the inherent weaknesses of this deck, it’s a blast to play.  It blends the fun of burn to the controlled chaos of a reckless red draw engine. 

No movement on the Pack to Power lately.  I haven’t time to just sit down and trade when I’ve played.  It’ll take a while to get going, I’m sure…Hopefully I'll be able to push it forward today.

Thanks again for reading!  Until next time, don’t forget to untap!

- Matt

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