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February 11, 2016

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Going Rogue: Death & Tentacles

Hello and welcome back to Going Rogue, where winning isn’t the goal, but it often happens anyway!

Uncertainty is the name of the game this week. We just went into a Modern Pro Tour uncertain if these emerging Eldrazi decks would even show up, and now we’re coming out of it uncertain if Modern is even going to survive without a ban to keep them in check. With six Eldrazi decks in the Top 8 – including both in the finals – we can only describe what happened as a dominating performance of unprecedented proportions. Indeed it was, and it has resulted in the cries of thousands for an emergency banning.

However, those cries have gone unanswered, leaving us to wonder – at least for two months until the next banned and restricted announcement – what the fate of Modern is. Do we forever need to be prepared for turn three Reality Smashers? Uncertain. Is it safe to invest in pieces of this deck, or will Eye of Ugin get cut down by the ban hammer? Uncertain. Are we destined for a meta of David vs. Goliath vs. David-beater? Uncertain.

It seems that on Zendikar only two things are certain: Death and Tentacles.

Beat them, or join them?

I, for one, am not willing to sit idly by for two months. A shaken meta is a Brewer’s playground, and surely there are innovative ways to fight our new overlords, as well as fair (and probably ban-safe) ways to recruit them on our side. So when asked if I want to beat them or join them – I choose both.

Introducing Death and Tentacles.

I came into Oath of the Gatewatch very excited for two-colour deck developments, due to their strong capacity to play into the colourless mana realm as well. Pain lands and Filter lands (like Shivan Reef and Cascade Bluffs) don’t fit Modern’s fetchable three-plus colour plan very well, but their prior weakness translated into a meaningful strength with the addition of colourless mana as a dedicated cost.

Colorless-symbol

I also came into this set with my eye on aggressive, nimble decks with efficient disruption. Leonin Arbiter + Ghost Quarter seemed extra strong in a meta threatening big mana baddies, and Thoughtseize effects are desirable in general, but especially when crafty linear strategies appear to be on the rise.

Death and Tentacles accomplishes all these things. By mish-mashing the strategies and components underlying Hatebears, Death & Taxes, Deadguy Ale, and Black-White Eldrazi, we wind up with an aggressive deck with a disgusting amount of synergy and disruption. It’s built to dismantle every imaginable opposing strategy while filling the board with mid-size threats, and has quickly proven to be a real contender.

Let’s look at some of the key interactions.

Have you ever wanted to play ten Vendilion Cliques?

I have, and now I do. A turn one AEther Vial with either of these two-drops in hand is an excellent start against any deck, and they just keep coming down as the game goes on.

Tidehollow Sculler is especially disgusting if you have ways to interact with it while it’s enters-the-battlefield trigger is on the stack (and we have many of such ways.) By flickering (or even killing) it before picking a card to exile, you can get its ‘leaves the battlefield’ trigger to resolve first, effectively fizzling it as it won’t have exiled a card yet, meaning that when the first ability resolves, its exile effect will be permanent. (Note that this trick does not work with Brain Maggot, however.)

Disruption is great as it is, but breaking the rules around how it is supposed to work it is what really makes this deck tick.

Add some tentacles to this age-old strategy, and now we’re really cooking. If you thought Wasteland Strangler was dirty enough with recent tech such as maindeck Relic of Progenitus and Scrabbling Claws, you are in for some extra gut-wrenching value here. By using Wasteland Strangler to process the card exiled under the Sculler, you render it no longer available to be returned to its owner’s hand.

In a vacuum, this is a heck of a smooth four-for-two exchange. In execution, the cards will often only add up to a three-for two, or even parity (just because the bodies are small), but even at parity you will often be getting an overall value and/or tempo blowout. When they swing their Reality Smasher into your Tidehollow Sculler, and you Vial in a Wasteland Strangler, process the card exiled under the Sculler, shrink the Smasher to a 2/2 (without discarding to its effect!) and trade off, you will be smiling so hard it hurts.

Meanwhile, the deck has other ways of grinding out advantage over the long game (and it doesn’t even need Lingering Souls to do it.) Matter Reshaper is a key four-of that is “online” over 90% of the time when it dies. Blade Splicer is a staple in flicker decks for obvious reasons. Fiend Hunter is a powerful reactive twist on the Tidehollow Sculler approach. And Sea Gate Wreckage is astounding in a deck that loves to play low on cards.

Finally, it wouldn’t be a Death & Taxes variant without the archetype’s classic mana denial engine of Leonin Arbiter and Ghost Quarter, topped off with the Path to Exile cherry on top. Due to space constraints, we only get to play three of each of the engine, but can bring a fourth of each in from the sideboard against opponents who are especially dependent on their mana base.

With 30 creatures (and 174 legs among them – I counted), I present to you Modern Death & Tentacles.

Alex’s Death & Tentacles

Creatures: (30)
Blade Splicer
Brain Maggot
Eldrazi Displacer
Fiend Hunter
Flickerwisp
Leonin Arbiter
Matter Reshaper
Restoration Angel
Thought-Knot Seer
Tidehollow Sculler
Wasteland Strangler

Artifacts: (4)
Aether Vial

Spells: (4)
Path to Exile

Land: (22)
Cavern of Souls
Caves of Koilos
Eldrazi Temple
Fetid Heath
Ghost Quarter
Plains
Sea Gate Wreckage
Swamp
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth

Sideboard: (15)
Fiend Hunter
Ghost Quarter
Kataki, War’s Wage
Kitchen Finks
Leonin Arbiter
Mirran Crusader
Rest in Peace
Sin Collector
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben

Like any non-GBx deck, Death & Tentacles has its bad matchups and its shortcomings. Forcing Thalia, Guardian of Thraben into the sideboard makes control pairings more difficult than they would normally be, and if Brain Maggot wasn’t a weak enough card on its own, the fact that it helps grow opposing Tarmogoyfs into the 6/7+ range is definitely worth mentioning. Mirran Crusader starts to make up for lost time, value, and life, but often won’t be enough.

However, it has a lot of fantastic matchups. Aggro has a hard time with the low-curve value engine of Tidehollow Sculler and Wasteland Strangler, and resolving a Kitchen Finks puts the nail in the coffin. Combo decks are hopelessly vulnerable to draw-step Thoughtseize effects. And – perhaps most importantly – I’ve been happy to record a 3-0 scorecard against the Pro Tour winning Blue-Red Eldrazi deck. There’s nothing quite like being both David and Goliath.

Meanwhile, the deck is also a 10/10 on fun factor. It is complex enough for any Johnny to enjoy its intricacies, and the number of valuable decision options available at any given moment shores up the Spike market too. And on top of everything else, the Vials are the only truly cost-prohibitive pieces, so putting it together doesn’t break the bank – bonus!

Death & Tentacles is, by a wide margin, the recent creation that I’m happiest with. Put it together yourself, process all the things, and let me know what you think.

Until next time, have fun, and may the force be with brew.