This past weekend I had the opportunity to play in the SCG Invitational at New Jersey. This was a mixed format (Standard + Modern) tournament with an impressive number of highly skilled players in attendance and ready to battle. Preparing for this event was unusual in that I didn’t need to just have one deck I was comfortable playing, but two finely tuned decks. For Modern I was settled on Ad Nauseam after a strong performance at the SCG Dallas Open a while back, but for Standard I had to dig pretty deep for a sweet list that was but fun and competitive.
After trying a collection of 4-5 Standard decks that just felt mediocre to me, I stumbled upon the UG Crush deck piloted to 9th place by Cody Lingelbach at GP Portland. This deck caught my attention for three reasons:
- It does something proactive and unfair, attacking at an angle where most decks are unprepared.
- Its game plan and strategy is consistent, as a similar list top-8ed an SCG Open the weekend before.
- It puts 8/8 octopodes into play! (Realistically you can only ever have 1 octopus in play).
Here’s the list I settled on that went 7-1 in the Standard portion of the Invitational. I’ll have updates to the list further down.
The idea behind this deck is to act like a ramp deck by using Nissa’s Pilgrimage and Explosive Vegetation to pull ahead of the opponent. Once there, you take over the game by casting a Crush of Tentacles to reset the board, except you’ll have more lands in play than your opponent. The opponent will be forced to deal with your 8/8 Octopus while also rebuilding their board state. This allows us plenty of time to recast cards like Elvish Visionary and Oath of Nissa that were returned to our hands from the bounce spell, digging deeper into our deck for another Crush, a Den Protector, or one of our two primary finishers: Part the Waterveil and Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger.
The loop is as follows: you morph the Den Protector, megamorph (unmorph) it to rebuy the Crush of Tentacles in your graveyard, then recast the Crush to bounce everything including your Den Protector while putting an 8/8 Octopus onto the battlefield. If the opponent doesn’t have an instant-speed way to interact with the Den Protector, then this combo will usually just win you the game as you can repeat it once each turn. In total this combo takes 10 mana, which is very easy to attain with all of the ramp spells and card draw effects in this deck.
There are a quite a few proactive things this deck does that will put you in a very favorable position to win the game. Elvish Visionary, Oath of Nissa, Anticipate, and Sight Beyond Sight are all cards that work towards a creating consistent game plan, setting up our draws and digging deeper for the ramp spell we need or finding the Crush in time. The elves and enchantment cards synergize especially well because they are permanents, so after we resolve a Crush of Tentacles those cards will go back to our hand to be played against for extra value. Sight Beyond Sight provides a cool trick we can setup because of its Rebound ability, meaning you can cast this turn 4, it will rebound turn 5, and you can crush on that same turn with five mana since another spell was cast this turn. Finally there’s Nissa, Vastwood Seer, which turned out to be a lot stronger than I had initially thought. She will easily become a planeswalker thanks to all of our ramp and when she does her +1 will take over the game in no time. Drawing 2-3 cards a turn is no joke, as you can +1 her followed by a Crush, then replay Nissa with a land, then +1 the “new” Nissa for another card.
Closing out the game is probably the trickiest part of playing this deck. The deck offers a lot of value in the cards you cast with many of them providing a very powerful effect. Trying to end the game simply by attacking with an 8/8 Octopus a few times sounds fairly easy, but in reality this quickly becomes a problem when you discover the opponent can kill off the token about 80% of the time. Cards like Reflector Mage, Ob Nixilis Reignited, or just a bunch of chump blockers will get in the way of us attacking for victory. The best way to get around a defense like this is to setup a turn when you can cast both Part the Waterveil and Crush of Tentacles. Doing this will return all of the opponent’s potential blockers to their hand and give you an 8/8 Octopus to attack unimpeded. On the turn that follows, you can also animate a Lumbering Falls or two to swing for 11+ damage, or just cast another Part the Waterveil with Awaken for even more damage. Chaining together time walk effects is incredibly powerful especially when they come attached to a 6/6 with haste.
Probably the coolest part about playing this deck is how resilient it is to Emrakul, the Promised End. Typically having someone else control your turn and being allowed to play your cards in the most devastating and harmful way possible is terrifying. With this UG Crush deck, however, it’s very rare that your opponent will be able to do much damage to you with your own cards. Most of our more powerful cards have a generic, non-targeted effect that cannot be abused when someone else decides to cast the spell. Crush of Tentacles will always bounce all permanents, Part the Waterveil can only give us an extra turn, Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger if cast can’t exile itself and will threaten to mill out the opponent with our extra turn’s free attack. The very first round of the Invitational standard portion, my opponent ended up casting Emrakul three turns in a row! On the third Emrakul, my hand was Crush, Ulamog, and Waterveil. It didn’t matter what cards he cast, if any, because on my following turn I was going to be able time walk and exile his Emrakul with my own Ulamog. He opted to cast my Ulamog to exile two of my own lands, which meant I got to attack for 20 cards on my free turn, time walk, then attack again for another 20 cards which left him with no cards in his library.
After playing this deck in 8 rounds of the SCG Invitational as well as a slightly modified version in 9 more rounds of the SCG Classic on Sunday, here is the updated list I would play today:
Overall the deck felt very solid to me. One of the cards that impressed me the most was Noose Constrictor. He was very important in the Bant Company matchup as it helped relieve a lot of the pressure from early creature attacks. While it’s true they can just attack with their 2/3 creature into your snake and force you to discard a card, this never happens cause they would rather just keep their creature in play, so you rarely have to spend a card on offering to block with this guy. Oh, and he has reach to block pesky spirits. He also helps keep your hand small when playing against the Fevered Visions decks. The only downside to playing with this card maindecked is that you will want to kill it off before your opponent Emrakuls you. If you don’t they will discard your hand to the snake and you’ll be left with nothing. However, I think the upside of the defense offered by Noose Constrictor is much higher than his downsides.
Jaddi Offshoot is a necessary defense against Mono-White Humans. It helps buy you necessary time to setup for a Crush. Clip Wings is important to have when the opponent’s deck has access to Archangel Avacyn or Goldnight Castigator. Both of these creatures can be cast after a Crush resolves to get in for 4 damage. Aside from counter magic, I included Display of Dominance as a way to answer Fevered Visions and Demonic Pact. I originally was using a Naturalize, but discovered that Display of Dominance destroys the same two cards as well as other pesky permanents such as Liliana, the Last Hope, Ob Nixilis Reignited, and Sorin, Grim Nemesis.