Embracing the Dichotomy, A Guide, and Love Letter, to Grixis Tempo Doomsday - Part 1
📅 October 10, 2022•
⏱️28 min read
This article is split into two different parts, a deck analysis and a matchup guide, this is the first part.
I love Tempo Doomsday. I have been playing it ever since Max Gilmore posted his take on the deck near the start of 2022. The deck encompasses many aspects of magic I enjoy, such as having incredible agency at crafting a long term gameplan in a game.
It also allows you to sit back and feel in total control while your opponent squirms. It is flexible in the construction so it can be tailored to the strengths of the player and metagame. If you love casting spells and seeing your opponent give you a look that tells you that they have no idea what is happening, this is the deck for you.
At its heart, Tempo Doomsday is a combo control deck. It has two seemingly dissonant plans, but instead of being a net negative for the deck, it is the strength of this deck. You play two different gameplans and typically one of those gameplans is next to impossible for a deck to deal with. The deck can sit back and play a fair game plan that causes your opponent to fight your creatures and then out of nowhere you cast a Doomsday and the game is over because they used all their interaction trying to beat Murktide Regent and Baleful Strix.
If the piles of Turbo Doomsday scare you and feel like a lot of memorization, I promise that is not the case with this deck. The piles are much more forgiving than in turbo and I always feel calm resolving Doomsday and taking a few turns to win the game as typically the impetus is on my opponent to beat my perfect top decks for the rest of the game.
A Quick Dose of Reality
I will not be all high praise for the deck. There are fundamental issues with the deck. If you haven't read Bullwinkle's article on the Dichotomy issues of Delver, I would highly recommend it. You are two decks smashed together. You do have dichotomy issues when you draw the wrong half of your deck. There is nothing worse than never seeing a Murktide in the tempo matches, or never putting together Dark Ritual and Doomsday in the combo matches.
The deck will fail you sometimes based on what is on the top of the deck. The Manabase is atrocious. I have 20 lands in the deck, but if you remove Cavern of Souls and Mystic Sanctuary, the deck is an 18 land deck. You have strong color requirements, so you can only afford to play 1 basic, and 8 duals. Wasteland is good at cutting you off the colors of mana and land count you need to cast your spells. If you watched my Quarterfinals match at the Legacy Pit Open II against Delver, you will see that double Wasteland in the first few turns of a tempo match up can be backbreaking.
There are no cards that allow you to turbo a Doomsday kill. I rarely can cast Doomsday and win “out of nowhere.” The deck needs a few turns to keep the board stable before you can cast a protected Thassa's Oracle. Sometimes the deck will fail you because it does have consistency issues from time to time.
Your piles should tell a story
The most asked question I get is, “How do you build your piles?” I am sorry to tell you that I do not have a set of spreadsheets that you can look at and memorize. There are no set piles. I think of Turbo Doomsday as a very scientific deck in how it constructs piles. You can make a flow chart of the cards that you put in, and you always have a pile that is going to be best for the situation. That is not the case for this deck. It's much more artistic. Every pile will of course end with Thassa's Oracle, but the rest of the pile is up to you. I rarely make the same pile twice. Every decision is highly contextual, and I find that in a lot of ways it's easier to pile than Turbo. All I ask is that you drop all your heuristics from turbo Doomsday. There are no turbo piles or pass the turn piles.
When I resolve Doomsday I have a few checklists I go through before I start anything else. First is, how do I lose this game before I get to Thassa's Oracle. Typically creature combat is the first worry, and in some cases, you can lose to an opponent's combo. I have put 3 Force of Wills on top of my pile and then cast a Brainstorm and passed the turn until I draw Thassa's Oracle a few times.
The second thing I will do is list out all the possible cases I can lose when I go for Thassa's Oracle. These include, Endurance, Dress Down, Stifle, Removal, Counterspells, etc. General format knowledge helps here. Next, I have a mental checklist of what I can do that beats those things. Endurance loses to Devotion. Dress Down and Stifle lose to Counter Magic. Removal is beat by devotion or emptying the library. Counterspells are beat by Cavern of Souls. Another thing to keep in mind is that people will definitely bring in effects like Surgical Extraction and Boseiju to try and mess up your piles by making you shuffle. If this is a worry, your pile should be good agnostic of order you will draw it in. Expressive Iterations and Strixes are super powerful in this case.
The last thing to worry about is land destruction. As I have stated already, the manabase is very susceptible to stumbling. Sometimes your opponent is going to Wasteland every turn for the rest of the game. Fetchlands and the basic island are your best friends here. If they have Wastelands and counterspells, make sure your Cavern of Souls is the last land you play before you cast Thassa's Oracle.
Once I have thought about these things, I then try and go through in my head, and tell the story of how the rest of the game is going to play out. I pretend they have the worst case scenario hand against me. What do I draw in order to beat that? Do I need to play creatures and gum up the board? Do I need to put counterspells in my hand so I can win a counter war over Dress Down in a long drawn out pass go game? I get to stack my deck perfectly for the next few turns to make my story happen.
One heuristic is that the number of turns I need to win the game is related to how many lands I have in play. If I have 1 land in play, it will take 3 or more turns to win the game. If I have 2 lands, I expect about 2-3 turns. If I have 3 lands it is about 2 turns. And lastly, if I have 4 or more lands, it is typically 1 turn. The biggest mistake I see is people try and win as fast as possible. It is not worth it. I often lose my games where I think I need to force a Thassa's Oracle through as fast as possible. When I take my time and play patiently, my win rate is easily 90+% once I resolve Doomsday.
Doomsday Pile Examples
The first example is actually from game 1 of my quarter finals match at Legacy Pit. This is pre-board, and I am on the play versus my opponent on stock Delver. The board state is as follows: Turn 4: My opponent has 4 cards in hand. They have 3 Volcanic Islands, and a flipped Delver of Secrets, and they have 17 life. I am at 15 life, and I have a Murktide with 2 counters, an Underground Sea and a fetch land in play. In hand I have a Dark Ritual, Doomsday, Volcanic Island, Fatal Push and an Expressive Iteration.
I play Volcanic Island and then cast Dark Ritual Doomsday, with the understanding that if they force it or not, I will push this Delver and start crashing in for a big chunk of damage and they are either in check or double check. If they cast Force of Will, I am likely to get a really good blue card out of their hand like Murktide or Expressive Iteration and I am more than happy with that trade. It resolves so I make the pile: Volcanic Island - Baleful Strix – Pyroblast – Cavern - Thassa's Oracle.
I push the Delver and attack and then pass the turn. I want the game to go Expressive Iteration into Strix or Pyroblast and put cavern into my hand. Expressive Iteration allows me to pick my story next turn. If they play a big murktide, I can find the Pyroblast and destroy the murktide, if they do nothing I can Baleful Strix in exile and keep Pyroblast in hand and then thassa oracle with Pyroblast up the next turn. I know I am at 7 life and that's a lot to die to Lightning Bolts and 1 drops in that amount of time. So I want the story to answer a murktide or put together an empty library and cast an uncounterable Thassa's Oracle. I know if they had their 1 of main deck Pyroblast it would have been cast on murktide, so I am not afraid of that. If they had a Force of Will, they would have likely used it on Doomsday. So, the only way I lose is either not putting enough red lands in the pile, not answering a big murktide that comes down next turn, or dying to triple bolt.
This game ends with a win after they Wasteland my volc and put no other threats into play. I cast Expressive Iteration off the Volcanic Island, put strix into hand and cavern on bottom. Next turn they have to Daze my strix to stop me from winning the same turn, but they don't have haste creatures so it doesn't even matter what they do.
The second example is a match against Death and Taxes. The board state is as follows: I am on the draw for game 2, and it is my turn 1. My opponent has Plains and Mother of Runes and 5 cards in hand. My hand is Underground Sea, Dark Ritual, Doomsday, Scalding Tarn, 2x Ponder, Brainstorm, and Volcanic Island. I play the Underground Sea and cast Dark Ritual Doomsday. I make the pile: Force of Will - Scalding Tarn - Thassa's Oracle - Underground Sea - Island My biggest 2 concerns from this position are Stone Forge Mystic getting a kaldra and putting me on a turn 2 clock, and my opponent Wastelanding me every turn. I need to finish the pile to play around solitude. I am also concerned with hatebear beats. My hand contains all I need to draw through my deck, but with Mom in play, I can't reliably kill their t2 play. If they Wasteland, I don't have to deal with any pressure, and if they play a t2 play I get to keep a land. If for instance they play a t2 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, I get to crack the fetch to get the island and cast Ponder and stack the deck with drawing the Scalding Tarn and Thassa's Oracle next turn. They only have 3 points of damage and I will have emptied my deck the next turn with the fetchland and beat a Wasteland on their turn. If they instead play a Wasteland and waste my USea instead of casting a Thalia, Guardian of Thraben all they have is a mom in play and I'll play the Scalding Tarn. The next turn I can play the Scalding Tarn off the top of my library and hold up the Force of Will. Then no matter what they do, I can draw Thassa's Oracle and double fetch the Underground Sea and Island and cast Thassa's Oracle with no cards left. If they cast a stone forge mystic and get kaldra, I can cast Brainstorm and Ponder to leave myself with 2 cards in deck. They can put Kaldra into play after that, but I will draw Thassa's Oracle and use the Scalding Tarn to fetch the last land and kill them with 0 cards in the library. The Force of Will allows you to keep up protection for anything odd they may have in their sideboard.
The third example is a match against 4c Control. It is game 2 and I was on the draw. It is turn 5, and my opponent has 4 Lands and an Endurance in play and 4 cards in hand. I am at 19 life, have a Baleful Strix in play, a Badlands, 3 Underground Seas and a Mystic Sanctuary in play with no land drops. My hand is Doomsday Brainstorm, Hydroblast and a Murktide Regent. My pile is: Force of Will - Expressive Iteration - Pyroblast - Cavern - Thassa's Oracle This Brainstorm will be used to get Force of Will off the top of the library and so I can cast Expressive Iteration getting everything into hand if I need. This is about the most typical kind of pile you can do where Expressive Iteration gets you both Cavern of Souls and Thassa's Oracle and you can wait for the Pyroblast if you need to protect against Dress Down.
The fourth example comes from a MTGO game I played online. I have a Scalding Tarn, Daze, 2x Doomsday, Baleful Strix, Ponder and Dark Ritual in hand on the play in game 1. I fetch an Underground Sea and cast Dark Ritual and Doomsday. My pile is: Island - Underground Sea - Daze - Cavern - Thassa's Oracle. This is a great illustrative game on building piles agnostically. My personal biggest issue is the third card in the pile. I know that I will likely only lose to a few scenarios. Mana Denial is my number 1 concern. Counterspells are the second. I don't think any deck is going to put a meaningful amount of creatures in play to kill me through a Baleful Strix. So I need a pile with lots of lands, so I have 3 in the pile. Island is the best because it can't be Wastelanded. I put Thassa's Oracle on the bottom because if I naturally draw Thassa and then need to pass the turn, you lose the game on the spot to hand hate. You only make that mistake once.
I think the Daze as the third card is the best amount of interaction for the mana cost. This Ponder and Baleful Strix will give me all the card draw I need to get through the pile. A Force of Will could be great but if i have to use the Daze before the Force of Will, I could easily strand it in my hand. I want to put as few cards in the graveyard as possible to not lose to Endurance as well, so fetch lands seem suspect when I want to use the cards in my hand to cantrip. It is possible that there is a better pile than this, but this is what I did.
Play the good cards
I always refer to the deck as “Tempo Doomsday” almost jokingly, but I think a better name for it, as recommended by a friend, is No Bad Cards Doomsday. I want to limit the chances that I draw blank pieces of cardboard. There is no reason why you cannot register exclusively good cards in your deck. Your win rate will thank you, I promise.
Murktide Regent – This card is the best creature beater ever printed and without it, the deck wouldn't function. You need a 1 card clock. It's good in multiples as well. Typically it puts your opponent on a 3-4 turn clock. It does force you to cast your cantrips more aggressively than other Murktide decks because without Dragon's Rage Channeler or other cheap cards, it can be hard to fill up the graveyard otherwise. It has 2 devotion which is a near infinite amount when resolving a Thassa's Oracle.
Dark Ritual – Dark Ritual is simply the most reliable card you can play to reliably cast the most powerful card in the deck, Doomsday. No other fast mana can fill the role of allowing you to cast Doomsday on 1 land. The manabase is rough, and many decks will Wasteland you enough that getting three lands with black mana is nigh impossible. It also has the backup option of allowing you to flash in Opposition Agent on 1 Mana in sideboard games. It also has the underrated features of “pitching” to Force of Will with 3 Mana, and turboing out a Murktide almost all on its own. This is the only card in the deck that breaks my no bad card rule but it is so powerful the trade off is worth it.
Expressive Iteration – Expressive Iteration is powerful as a midrange card advantage engine, and I would play 4 if it wasn't occasionally clunky. It is one of the biggest draws to playing a Grixis version of the deck over Dimir. It is one of the key cards against Delver, and it is the number 1 card to beat Narset and Hullbreacher after casting Doomsday. It is still one of my most common first card in Doomsday piles and is an incredibly powerful card advantage engine combined with Mystic Sanctuary.
Daze – A lot of other Tempo Doomsday pilots were cutting on Dazes but I have moved up to 4, and I would not change it unless something drastic changes in the format. Daze will punish any decks that misstep. You make the opponent play on your terms most games and that often forces them to walk into a Daze. Daze and Dark Ritual are best friends as you can t1 Doomsday with Daze backup.
Baleful Strix – It blocks favorably against almost every creature in the format and it cantrips. It's the card I look for to help stabilize the board. It is powerful to put your opponent on an inevitable 2 or 3 turn clock with Doomsday and then force them to shove their board into Baleful Strix to try and win the game. It almost always trades up on cards against Delver and is the key card in the matchup.
Fatal Push – Main deck removal is good. Fatal Push is my choice for removal right now specifically because of elves being so popular and therefore reclaimer and artisan are everywhere. But Lightning Bolt is much better against Minsc & Boo decks. Removal spells come up in piles quite often, so I like having access to some in the main deck.
Young Pyromancer – This is a card that stands out when I say, I don't play bad cards in my deck. I will admit that Young Pyromancer is the most aggressively medium card in the whole deck. I will preface this section by saying that at the end of the day I like the card and therefore I am playing it. You don't have to play it. It is okay. I will have many more bad cards you can register in its place in the next section. The deck struggles when it does not find its creatures. Murktide is the clear best card if you are attacking your opponent for lethal damage. Baleful Strix is the clear best card if you are stabilizing the board enough to force through a Doomsday win. But there are only 4 of each.
I have been trying to find a “secondary threat” card that bridges the gap between the two game plans. I want something in this slot that can double as both creatures. Look at Young Pyromancer. Now squint a little bit. Take a look again. You may see that Young Pyromancer gets 1 bigger for each instant and sorcery you cast. It creates an overwhelming board presence that can attack your opponent for lethal. It costs 2 mana and can take over the game on its own and requires removal. Okay. Now look a third time. You may see that Young Pyromancer when it comes down is able to stabilize the board on its own.
Your opponent will never be able to attack you for lethal damage if you resolve the Doomsday in your hand. It's creating cards of advantage all on its own. Young Pyromancer is simply the card that I have found that I believe does the best impression of Strix and Murktide. It is not a great card, but I don't think there is a great card for this slot and that's okay.
The Lands -The Island is only in the deck for 2 situations. The first is, you only have 1 fetch land in the opener with cantrips and you do not want to get Wastelanded out of the game against an unknown opponent. The second is to beat the decks that Wasteland you every turn after you cast Doomsday so you can keep enough lands to put a Thassa's Oracle into play. The deck is incredibly colored mana intensive and you will need to fetch your dual lands most of the time as the island will stumble your mana a lot. The Badlands is also one of the worst cards in the deck as it interacts poorly with Murktide Regent, Daze and Mystic Sanctuary. But, it is useful when hard casting Doomsday and you need red.
Two Underground Seas and a Badlands is important to have red for Expressive Iteration on top of your pile. It is better than the 4th Volcanic Island or another fetch land. It is also important as some opponents will try and Wasteland your Underground Sea and then surgical the sea, and this allows you to keep access to black mana to cast Doomsday. The 9th fetch is a Flooded Strand which can't get the Badlands, but it can get the island and Mystic Sanctuary which is much more important typically. The deck has a weak manabase and you will lose games to Wasteland and Blood Moon effects. You cannot fit in more basics without cutting red from the deck.
The Cards I am leaving at Home
I will preface this section by saying this deck is incredibly flexible, and you can craft it to your preferred playstyle. I will not follow you around if you change my build and tell you that you are wrong. This is merely to provide an answer to a lot of the common cards that come up that people ask why I am not playing them. If you find my reasons convincing, then you also can not put these cards in your deck. At the end of the day I love being proven wrong. So if you think differently, feel free to try whatever you like.
You have my blessing. EXCEPT DON'T CUT ANY LANDS OR I WILL FIND YOU AND I WILL SHOVE MORE LANDS IN YOUR DECK. Please see the following section on important lessons on deck building for more details.
Lotus Petal – Lotus Petal is a great card in a lot of strategies. It puts you up on mana and lets you cast spells ahead of curve, and is typically great in piles to let you win the same turn. However the issue I have with the card is that it is actually quite terrible at doing that in this build of the deck. You need 2 lands + petal to cast Doomsday. Dark Ritual is doing that on 1 land which is a huge difference in a lot of key matchups. I will reiterate that this manabase is weak and is a key way a lot of decks will try and beat you. The second part of this is that I have never really found a reason to need to fast pile. I believe the idea of fast piles in this deck are a crutch and a bad heuristic left from people who play a lot of Turbo Doomsday.
I rarely ever lose to not being able to win quickly from a low number of lands. I do, however, lose a large percentage of my games to not functioning as a real deck of Magic the Gathering cards. Lotus Petal is a blank piece of cardboard too often. I want all my cards in my hand to have a lot of value in a wide range of situations. This is true of my feelings on most of these cards. I want cards that have text in the greatest number of situations. That includes in different matchups as well as different gameplans, as well as post and pre-Doomsday. I want cards that I am not disappointed to draw because the more of these cards you have in the deck, the more often you will lose.
Malevolent Hermit – Hermit hasn't aged well in the deck. Against most of the spell based interaction decks you either want to force through a Doomsday early like against control, or you want to not have Doomsday in your deck at all like against Delver. Hermit typically is taking you off from doing anything of note for a turn.
Against control you have to wait until t3 typically to play it and keep up the ability so it doesn't get exiled immediately to plow or prismatic ending. It is only 2 damage a turn, which is not enough to really do much as an attacker. I think Hermit is potentially playable in the future, but it has been a blank piece of cardboard too much for my personal taste.
Ledger Shredder – Shredder is one of the most common cards people want to play in the deck that I absolutely loathe. This is not a Delver deck, you are not really double spelling as often as them. If you had Lotus Petal or Baubles for your Expressive Iterations it would be a better card. I want high impact cards in my deck and Shredder requires you to increase the blank piece of cardboard count in the deck to “enable” it.
I believe Shredder tricks people into thinking they can put more bad cards into your deck because “you can always discard it to Shredder”. Also, it can ruin your win in a post Doomsday game by allowing your opponent to control your draws.
Dragon's Rage Channeler – This is my own personal scam. On paper the card made a lot of sense. I play the deck like a tempo deck (that is why I have 4 Daze), and DRC is the strongest 1 drop clock. It's also powerful in giving you a lot of control over your top decks and is great at fueling Murktide. However, it is too low impact. Murktide is a much more relevant clock, and a DRC hit or two doesn't typically change the clock a significant amount. It's dead against a lot of decks and takes up a lot of slots to not really impact the game.
It's possible that DRC makes a comeback in certain metagames, but as of right now the card is too lackluster.
Temporal Mastery – This is the card that I think really broke this deck into the more mainstream as it really looks cool as content can showcase this offbeat card. Who wouldn't want to take multiple turns after casting Doomsday and stroll into some easy wins? However, this is one of the worst cards in the original deck. You want high impact cards that are consistent and really powerful in post and pre-Doomsday games. I have 0 cards in my 75 that are for piles outside of Thassa's Oracle. My biggest level up with the deck is that you simply do not need any cards that are being put in the deck because of their power in a Doomsday pile.
I promise you do not need them. Baleful Strix, Expressive Iteration, counterspells and a protected Thassa's Oracle is truly all you need. If you have a murktide in play that's going to kill them with a hit or two, a Temporal Mastery doesn't increase your chances of winning after you cast a Doomsday. They are already in checkmate as they have to answer both your murktide and you winning the game in a few turns. It may have felt good, but it did not actually help you win the game. Do not put cards in your deck that will make you feel smart. Put cards in your deck that improve your win rate.
Consider/Unearth – This is a combination of cards that I had in the deck way longer than was necessary. Consider and Unearth have the distinction of being the tightest package of turbo cards that are also reasonable to play in a game when you never draw Doomsday. Unearthing a Baleful Strix is incredible value. However, the biggest problem with the cards is that they are the biggest trap in Doomsday piles for the deck. I only wanted these cards when I cast Doomsday before the game was stabilized. When I start to make my piles, I ask myself, what am I playing around?
Some of the most common cards people play in their sideboard are Endurance and Surgical Extraction. People will board Surgical in against you at crazy high rates. I am angry every time, because it's not even good against me! But that doesn't stop people. With that in mind you cannot put Thassa's Oracle into your graveyard and leave it open to Surgical Extraction or Endurance. So I cut Consider and Unearth.
Night's Whisper – I put Night's Whisper on here for card advantage effects as a whole. If you are playing a Dimir version, Night's Whisper makes a lot of sense as getting 2 cards is the quickest way to go through the pile and have a protected Thassa's Oracle,but the life loss is a big Consideration. Expressive Iteration is a significantly better card in the Grixis version.
I don't think I need to tell anyone how busted Expressive Iteration is. It is even better in piles as a lot of the time it allows me to stack 3 cards and pick the best 2 based on what my opponent is doing. Draw Hosers like Narset, Hullbreacher and Spirit of the Labyrinth are significant parts of the format, and you never want to get these cards stuck in your hand if you can avoid it.
Sheoldred, the Apocalypse – This card is the one that most people think is perfect for a tempo shell. However, 4 mana in a tempo version is much different than the turbo version where you have a lot more fast mana. I am cutting the combo against Delver, so I would not be able to cast Dark Ritual to quickly cast the card on turn 2. Casting a 4 drop that does nothing when it enters the battlefield is a non-starter to me. This card will have blank text too often and you lose to your hand being clunky too often.
Street Wraith/Edge of Autumn – These cards look great at enabling fast Doomsday piles and aren't the worst thing ever in a lot of cases, as they are re-draws. Street Wraith life loss is a big deal when the games go longer. Your lands are significantly more important than in turbo so cycling Edge of Autumn is a significant cost. You almost never need to crack into the top card of a pile, as you are likely okay to pass the turn anyway.
Thoughtseize/Duress- Discard spells have been in the deck in the past. They clearly have a lot of power, especially when you are in a situation where your opponent will be trying to answer both your tempo and Doomsday, and seeing their hand lets you sculpt your gameplan to crush them after you punch a hole in their hand. However, they are too low impact. I'd rather not have cards that trade down mana advantage.
A lot of the time you have to cast your Thoughtseize early and then it takes you a few turns to enact a combo, so you don't know what is in their hand anyway. These would theoretically be the cards to play around Dress Down and Stifle (My most feared cards by a large margin) in a pile, but Pyroblast does the exact same thing while also being much more high impact, more flexible and it trades better on mana. These cards are significantly more enticing if you are playing a Dimir shell.
The Core Deck and Sideboard
The sideboard is highly flexible and should be tuned for your metagame. When I put the sideboard together, I assumed a very specific paper meta that I think is different from an online meta. The sideboard has the most room for flexibility, and you can Consider changing the number of cards or adding ones such as End the Festivities, Leyline of the Void, Flusterstorm, Plague Engineer, Lightning Bolt, Tourach, Dread Cantor, Force of Negation, Counterbalance, Surgical Extraction, Pyroclasm, Maddening Hex, any of the cards I listed above or anything else you can come up with. For me, the main deck is very set as of now. The only cards I would Consider are flex are the 1 Young Pyromancer, 1 Pyroblast, and 1 Dark Ritual.
I have typically used these 3 slots as threat slots, like playing 3 Dragon's Rage Channeler for the event I won last month. I think the 1 of Young Pyromancer is the best choice as of today if you want to devote 1 slot to a threat. Pyroblast is clearly strong in a tournament meta, and I am happy with 1 main deck. I try to have 3-4 sources of fast mana in any version of the deck I build, but right now I think the decks that are being played to beat Delver are particularly common, and the 4th Dark Ritual is the best way to ensure I am casting quick Doomsdays so they can't steal a win. The rest of the shell can change if the meta shifts rapidly, but I am very happy with the rest of the deck as it is today.
Lessons Learned, Lands Edition
The builds I played before this weekend were playing 18 lands, which included Cavern of Souls and Mystic Sanctuary, so they were essentially playing 16 lands. I had a deck workshop session with Jarvis Yu, and by far the biggest piece of information he gave me was that I was playing too few lands. The original builds of the deck were playing 17 lands total (with petals) and I had put the 18th in a long time ago. I had always known the issue with the deck was that there were consistency issues particularly around the mana base.
My original fix was to add 2 Preordain to ensure you hit your land drops and to selectively draw the part of the deck that you wanted for the game plan. However, you want your cantrips to be finding your spells and not lands. Changing the preordains to lands made the deck incredibly consistent. You will still have games where you get Wastelanded out of the game, but that number went down a significant amount. I did have a singular game this weekend where I lost to flood, but I also could have played tighter and I don't think the 1 extra land that was a spell before would have meaningfully changed the game.
So please, if you look at earlier versions playing less lands, please do not cut lands from the deck. Lands are good, they allow you to cast all these powerful spells that are in the deck.
Embracing the Dichotomy
When I draw an opening 7, I tend to look at the hand and think about what game plan this hand is good at. If it is good at nothing, or is non-functional, I will send it back. The deck doesn't get to be picky in its hands, so I tend to keep functional hands even if the game plan isn't necessarily good in the matchup. But once I have my opener I try and think about what the game is going to look like. Most hands will lean one way or another, and sometimes you get the rare hands that are good at both. But, assuming the hand leans one way or another, that will dictate how I play. If the hand is full of cantrips, interaction, and a Murktide, then I know I will be casting the cantrips to get more good cards in hand, cast a Murktide and protect it with my interaction. If the hand has cantrips, lands, and a Doomsday I will be casting the cantrips to find a Dark Ritual or interaction.
As the game goes on, I will re-evaluate. My opponent is not a goldfish, so do I need to interact with their gameplan? Do I need to change my gameplan to match theirs? If my opponent plays out a bunch of early creatures, we have to change off the Doomsday plan, and use cantrips to mold the hand to better stabilize the board. If my opponent is playing a deck that is not afraid of Murktide at all, I can use a Murktide to buy time, but I must be aggressively trying to play lands and find a Doomsday. You must take stock and evaluate throughout the game.
What is my opponent telling me? How can they interact with my gameplan? Sometimes the deck will give you cards off the top of the deck that tell you what to do. If I am playing a match where Doomsday isn't particularly good, but all I draw is Doomsday and Dark Rituals, I will listen to the deck and try to force a Doomsday win. You can play adaptively but at the end of the day, you are two decks smashed together and sometimes you will only draw one half.
Do not resolve a Doomsday if you are down on board, unless it is the only way you can win. The board needs to be stable, either with a drawn board state or their side of the board clear for you to win with a pile that takes a few turns. Sometimes if the board isn't clear but they still can't win if you cast mono-Baleful Strix for the rest of the game that is good enough. Losing half your life is a quick way to lose the game if your opponent has a bunch of creatures on board to attack you even if they don't have favorable trades.
I like the terminology of putting your opponent in check for how I think about the deck and how it plays out. A resolved Murktide is putting your opponent in check. Resolving Doomsday is also putting your opponent in check. They must answer you in some way, or else they will lose the game. I am constantly trying to put my opponent in check. If I can do it earlier, it is better as they will have seen less of their deck to try and have the correct answer to the half of the deck that is putting them in check.
It's generally more powerful to be asking questions than answering them. Postboard, people lose their minds sometimes sideboarding, and they will probably have a lot of dead cards against you. Putting them in check quickly is a great way to punish them for having a bunch of dead cards in hand.
Something I have put a lot of thought into is the idea that hiding information isn't always good. For example,in the delver matchup, if I think there is zero chance I can win, but I have a Doomsday in hand, I will Consider casting it and getting it forced or losing even if it resolves. If they think you are a weird Grixis deck with murktide and strix they will likely board correctly against you. But if they see you have Doomsday, they are significantly more likely to overboard. If they force Doomsday then they have a chance to beat themselves by not getting a chance to see the deck but know you are some form of a combo deck so they have to sideboard accordingly.
On the other side, against the fair decks like Depths there is no better feeling than winning without showing Doomsday. They will board for a fair grixis deck and then they will give you the most confused look when you resolve a Doomsday on turn 1 in the postboard games. Sometimes it is better to think about what your opponent has seen. I've been Considering building the sideboard configuration in a way for the delver matchup that if in game 1 they don't see Doomsday I can board accordingly and probably keep the combo in. They will board like the matchup is a fair one and you can steal a game by playing Doomsday in a sideboard game. This juking is more important the better your opponents are. A lot of good delver players know that my sideboard plan is to side out the combo so I need to keep them on their toes.
This deck is incredibly powerful and fun. I hope that this guide helps people pick up the deck. I am always iterating on the deck and I am interested in what people think of the list. If you have any questions about the build you can always message me on Twitter at @SamRoseMurphy.