April 13, 2016

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Five-Colour Cobra

The April 4th banlist update was amazing, was it not? In one fell swoop Wizards knocked Eldrazi down to a (hopefully) tolerable level, gave Esper Draw-Go a massive boost, and unlocked all kinds of new potential blue decks. For me personally though, the moment is bittersweet. I’ve been looking forward to playing with Ancestral Vision and Sword of the Meek for a while now, but I’m actually at the height of brewing an entirely different deck. So as much as I want to get my Suspend on, today I’ll instead be sharing the outcome of several weeks worth of testing and tweaking: Five-Colour-Cobra (or perhaps “WishLight”? Cool deck names are not my forte).

Five Colour Cobra

Creatures (19)
Baneslayer Angel
Birds of Paradise
Blood Baron of Vizkopa
Lingering Souls
Lotus Cobra
Noble Hierarch
Siege Rhino

Spells (17)
Bring to Light
Glittering Wish
Inquisition of Kozilek
Keranos, God of Storms
Maelstrom Pulse
Overrun
Primal Command
Sword of Fire and Ice
Tribal Flames
Voices from the Void

Lands (24)
Blood Crypt
Breeding Pool
Forest
Hallowed Fountain
Mountain
Plains
Sacred Foundry
Stomping Ground
Swamp
Temple Garden
Verdant Catacombs
 Overgrown Tomb
Windswept Heath
Wooded Foothills

Sideboard (15)
Ajani Vengeant
Anafenza, the Foremost
Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver
Bring to Light
Crackling Doom
Crumble to Dust
Fiery Justice
Fracturing Gust
Kolaghan’s Command
Maelstrom Pulse
Rakdos Charm
Rhox War Monk
Safewright Quest
Slaughter Games
Void

Taking a page from the 5-colour Tutor deck I tested out recently, this deck drops the fragile Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker combo and puts Bring to Light and Glittering Wish in a midrange shell instead. The mana fixing is adjusted to be more flexible, and the singletons have a much clearer defined purpose. This is ultimately a completely different deck, with just the seven tutors, four Birds of Paradise, and a Primal Command in common with the Kiki version; that is, this is really an original brew and not a tweak on the previous deck.

Solving the Puzzle

   

Lotus Cobra! The missing piece of the Wish/Light puzzle was Lotus Cobra. A card that looks like it could be Modern playable if only it didn’t require so many things to fall into place to be powerful. Similarly fragile creatures like Young Pyromancer and Dark Confidant can be played because if they don’t die the game will turn rapidly in your favour. Casting instants and sorceries? Easy. Having more than three life to safely draw extra cards? No problem. Having a fetch land and a game-changing five drop in hand? One of these things is not like the others.

Bring to Light is the card Lotus Cobra was waiting for – a five mana spell that is whatever five mana spell will have a game-changing impact: a Keranos, God of Storms against midrange and control; a Baneslayer Angel against Zoo or Burn, a Voices from the Void against the joker who taps out with five cards in hand; a Primal Command against the graveyard deck, etc. The synergy goes the other way as well, as Lotus Cobra helps ensure you can do a full five-point Converge by adding mana of any colour with the landfall triggers.

An excellent starting point, but what about the times when you don’t cast a turn three Bring to Light? For the same five mana Glittering Wish can tutor and cast a high impact three mana spell out of the sideboard: a turn three Kolaghan’s Command against Affinity; a turn three Anafenza, the Foremost against a graveyard deck; a turn three Rhox War Monk against burn; a turn three Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver against midrange; or a turn three Fiery Justice against a weenie deck. When the deck does not have five mana, Wish can simply tutor for something to use on a future turn – up to and including a copy of Bring to Light.

While the backbone of the deck is certainly using its twelve mana dorks to accelerate into its seven tutors to access appropriate bombs, the remaining maindeck slots are designed to keep it from falling apart when the dork eats a Lightning Bolt or the bomb gets Remanded. These additional slots are not really tutor targets but rather versatile and effective cards that smooth out the mana curve and buy time:

   

Lingering Souls buys time against aggro, gives Infect, Affinity, and Jund serious problems, can be played turn two off of a dork or cast and flashed back with a Cobra on turn three. Oh and ends games on the spot with a tutored Overrun.

Siege Rhino is just a flat out solid beater that stabilizes your life total against aggro and turns most race situations in your favour. I was skeptical of its inclusion, but it is important to have stand-alone win conditions that stabilize you, as well as a valid four mana Bring to Light target for times when Converge comes up short of full value.

Inquisition of Kozilek can clear the way for a Lotus Cobra to survive or ensure that our five mana spell actually doesn’t get Remanded. It slows our opponent down, gives us information on what card we want to tutor for, helps make use of surplus mana on any given turn, and lets us interact with combo decks.

In addition to these three Abzan stalwarts, the deck includes three singleton removal/value spells:

   

Maelstrom Pulse is almost never a dead card, and is a very important target for Bring to Light. It lets us handle anything from Detention Sphere to Ensnaring Bridge to a pair of early Wild Nacatls. A copy in the sideboard as well ensures that both of our tutors can always be “destroy target nonland permanent” when that’s what we need.

Tribal Flames is our Roast that can also be a Lava Axe when needed. Like Maelstrom Pulse it’s a card we’re always okay with drawing, and that is occasionally a clutch target for a Bring to Light.

Sword of Fire and Ice is primarily a way to convert a flood of mana dorks or spirit tokens into must-answer threats, but also gives us another source of removal and one of our few sources of actual card draw. While it cannot be tutored with Bring to Light, it is the kind of card you’re almost always happy to draw but never desperate to draw so this is acceptable. It’s also another turn three five-mana play with a Cobra, and incidentally plays quite well with both the trample on Siege Rhino and the lifelink and evasion on our other big bodies.

Playing the Deck

A five colour deck with a Fetch/Shock manabase can be daunting to play, especially one that needs every colour to cast its primary spell. Fortunately, this is really an Abzan deck splashing blue and red, and with twelve mana dorks is very forgiving of sub-optimal land sequences. On that note, the best land sequence is a turn one Overgrown Tomb into turn two Sacred Foundry. If you have a turn three Bring to Light cooking that means you have mana dorks that can provide the blue on turn three – or if life total is irrelevant you can fetch the Breeding Pool. The turn one Tomb covers Birds, Nobles, and Inquisitions while the turn two Foundry puts us up to four Domain and allows us to cast Glittering Wish. This is of course the baseline plan, and you need to adapt it based on the lands and cards you draw and the game state.

The mana dorks will die. Don’t sweat it when the Cobra gets bolted for the fifteenth game in a row. The deck runs 24 lands and can curve out just fine without the acceleration. A turn three Lingering Souls, turn four flashback Souls and cast Glittering Wish is perfectly acceptable. The only dork-removal I find troublesome are things like Pyroclasm or Electrolyze that will often generate crippling tempo and card advantage for the opponent.

On that note, there’s no Supreme Verdict in the 75. This deck plays too many mana dorks and midrange threats for a board wipe to generally be a good idea, and instead leans on Maelstrom Pulse, Void, and Fiery Justice to remove threats, or the big lifelink bodies of Baneslayer Angel and Blood Baron of Vizkopa to stabilize and race them.

Don’t sideboard too much. The only pure sideboard card is Crumble to Dust which comes in against Tron and maybe Celestial Colonnade decks. The Fracturing Gust and Void should be brought into the maindeck when they’re going to be effective, as its better to Bring to Light for them right away than to Wish for them and then wait to cast them (getting seven mana is possible but unlikely). Do not sideboard out the Glittering Wishes as the rest of the Wishboard is situational enough that its better to have the choice of card than to swap it into the maindeck and just hope to draw it. For example, an Affinity board will always be decimated by Fracturing Gust but the next best option between Fiery Justice, Kolaghan’s Command, or Crackling Doom depends on the exact situation. Wish will let you get the right answer every time.

Conclusion

And that’s where I left off with my testing before the banlist announcement broke. I did completely ignore Eldrazi in my testing because the writing was on the wall for that deck, however I cannot say I tested in any way for a resurgence of blue control. I would hope that the toolbox approach means that at worst it needs some different cards, but that’s something we’ll need to revisit once it becomes clearer what Sword and Vision mean for the format overall.

Until next time, get your Cobras and Wishes before they spike like an unbanned Ancestral Vision!