Editor’s Note: Second guest post in a row, Jared Doucette returns with part 2 of his Summer Derby experience, this time a deck tech on the Spice Rack archetype he took all the way to the top. Enjoy! I won’t be able to totally stay away from commentating this time around, though. /Svante
Since the beginning, the early Planeswalkers of Magic the Gathering have looked for ways to gain an edge. This search for power led some to delve into the dark and see what strength lurked there. These mages were soon consumed by the temptations of the darkness and sought ways to commune with the evil spirits from beyond. The easiest way to connect with the dark spirits is to sing them a song and the ballad they prefer is the Hymn to Tourach.
Hymn to Tourach is undoubtedly one of the top 5 strongest unrestricted cards in the Atlantic 93/94 card pool (Mishra’s Factory, Swords to Plowshares, Lightning Bolt, and Disenchant in no order). [Editor’s Note: Counterspell definitely deserves a spot on that list, which leaves it at 6 cards for a top 5, so something has to go. But I’m fairly convinced Counterspell is better than Swords, at least.] It is a powerful source of card advantage and disruption and is a card that deserves to be built around. With the old school 93-94 card pool we have cards that support the Hymn very well. Mind Twist is probably the most despised card in 93-94 but you don’t play black to be courteous or gentlemanly. The cost of this dark power can counted in loss of friendships. Hypnotic Specter is another source of card advantage and disruption as well as an evasive clock. Disrupting Scepter is a nice little artifact that can be a total dud in some matchups but also an all star in others that keeps your opponent’s hand in check. Finally, topping off the discard package is the namesake of the deck, the Rack. The Rack was a terrifying device of torture from the medieval times that is still torturing people today, only this time on the tabletop. The Rack can slowly chip away at the life total of a depleted enemy who has to choose between playing the spells they draw and continuing the torture.
So we have our core but there is more to do. We have an interesting situation in 93-94 where the mana bases are typically very bad and that makes keeping the deck as mono colored as possible. We need to consistently have BB on turn 2 to cast our Hymns and so let’s take a look at the Mono Black Rack list that Jesse Laidlaw played to an impressive 8-0 Swiss record and top 8 finish in the 2019 Summer Derby:
We see the core discard package is included along with the Black staples of demonic tutor, dark ritual, black knight and order of the ebon hand. We have a big pile of swamps that I can only assume is at least 16 deep.
Now, one of the interesting things about 93-94 is that while the mana fixing is pretty terrible we do have a ton of cards that are just so powerful that we need a damn good reason to not include them. Ancestral Recall, Time Walk, and Balance (basically a two mana mind twist) are all among the most powerful cards ever printed and because of their friendly casting costs are actually fairly easy to include in the deck with some adjustments to the manabase. Basic swamps can easily become underground seas and scrublands. Suddenly we can replace more swamps with City of Brass and these splashes become even easier. Black is known for its targeted creature removal in the history of magic; however, in old school it is fairly lacking. Terror is sooooo close to being a good removal spell but its limitations (especially at dealing with the omnipresent Mishra’s Factory) make it hard to include in the main deck. Thus we look to the next best color to kill creatures and end up in Red, which gives us the weapon of Zeus, Lightning Bolt.
With our core and colors established, let’s see where others have ended up. The next list is from Bryan Manolakos, Champion of Lobstercon l in 2018. He played this Spice Rack list to an undefeated finish where in the finals he defeated Danny Friedman on his version of the Deck.
We see the core discard package is here along with some spicy in the form of copy artifact and Gwendlyn Di Corci. I have a love for all the “playable” legends cards and Gwenny is soooo close to being core to this deck. The color requirements of casting cost are just too much. Sedge Troll is a nice inclusion that can take advantage of all the swamps. This clearly isn’t the best deck for Atog but sometimes he can just swing in for a bunch. The deck certainly wants a two drop creature and this was an interesting choice. [Editor’s Note: The Atog can also frequently be played on turn 1 with a mox, something Order of the Ebon Hand doesn’t do (if you have Jet you’re happy anyways as that turns on your Hymns and also Specters). 1C two-drops are good in this archetype.]
Also at the same tournament, Dave Firth Bard made the top 8 with this take on the Rack:
We see a lot of similarities but the noticeable difference is way less creatures and the Dark Rituals. This basically plays a control game and grinds out advantage with the Sticks to use the Rack and Storm world to win the games. The Underworld Dreams in the sideboard are also noteworthy.
[Editor’s Note: I can also humbly refer to a version of the deck I played to the top 8 of the EC tournament at Fishliver last year:
The differences between this and Manolakos’s list above are minimal, but I believe they are quite significant.]
So I have tinkered with this archetype a few times before and I figured the Summer Derby would be a great place to put it through the ringer of the Atlantic OS format. I took the lessons of the past and applied them to the best of my abilities. Here is where I ended up:
When comparing this to the mono black deck above, we see I took the basic black core and expanded the color palette to include some of the most powerful cards that were easy to include while not impacting the number of black sources in the deck, much like Mano and DFB did. It is quite a delicate balance.
I decided early on that I wanted to be more aggressive. I went with another Fallen Empires staple in Order of the Ebon Hand as my two-drop of choice. The Order has a heavy black requirement but it scales up as the game goes on. It is good on turn 2 and it is good on turn 10. It also requires a lot of mana and I settled on three being the correct number as you want to use your mana every turn to cast spells, attack with Factories and still keep some up for Order. So ideally you have one at a time to be able to do it all. I also decided to include a heavy top end of creatures with the 2x Juzam and the 1x Sengir Vampire. The theory being that as the game goes longer and you’ve whittled away the opponent’s resources through attrition and discard, a big bad demon can quickly end the game.
I did decide to make a metagame call as far as deck building was concerned. Recently, Time Vault was unrestricted in the Swedish and Atlantic B&R format and I figured as this was the first major event with that rule change, people would be taking the extra time vaults for a spin and the underworld dreams would be a great way to chip away extra damage and punish the opponent for taking extra turns and drawing extra cards from howling mine. I unfortunately didn’t get to play against a time vault deck but the dreams were not dead cards. I also decided to include 2x Dark Ritual as a way to power out the hippie/dreams. This may seem like a half measure in either direction, and it is, but Dark Ritual is only good in the opening hand and then terrible late. I was hoping to get lucky a few times and see what happened.
[Editor’s Note: I would also add that the Underworld Dreams are a solution for what this deck fears the most, and that is opposing card drawing in general and Jayemdae Tome and draw-7s in particular. Sideboarding Chains of Mephistopheles is an option, especially since it can be case on turn 1 along with a mox and never trades down in mana (answering it usually consists of Disenchant or Counterspell, trading 2 mana for 2), but it can’t be maindecked and is a very expensive and narrow card so not everybody has access to it.]
The other card I would like to squeeze in is Mox Pearl. Now you may have missed it when you looked at the deck picture but I am currently not playing it. Obviously all Moxen are great but as I was building the deck I basically had to decide to include two of the following: Pearl, Scrubland, Strip Mine. I settled on Scrubland and Strip Mine. I didnt want to lower my black count to less than 16 and the strip mine is just so useful and versatile. So i cut the Mox for now. Unorthodox for sure.
Looking to the sideboard, this is where splashing for the additional colors really stands out over your typical Mono Black options. REB is an all star sideboard card for any blue matchups that include Counterspells, Timetwisters, or Serendibs. Gloom is another amazing color hoser. While it doesn’t synergize with the discard and low hand count of the opponent as it actually prevents them from playing spells, it is just so good it is worth it. I put the CoP: Red and Black in as a hedge against other aggro like Atog or Mono Black. The extra Underworld Dreams for the control and howling mine matchups that tried to draw out from the Rack pain. Terror as a 1-of sniper for the big creatures. Finally I had 2x Energy Flux and an Artifact Blast for artifact based Workshops decks. Artifact Blast was a big of a spicy decision but have to have fun when playing this game.
Obviously the Summer Derby went very well for me as I won the whole tournament. I went 6-2 (13-6) in the Swiss and then ran the table in the top 16 for an overall 10-2 (23-11).
Moving forward I fully believe that Spike Rack is a tier 1 strategy in Atlantic Old School. I believe the build I played for this tournament was close but not quite perfect. Here is what I would try going forward.
The first thing I’m doing is cutting the 2x Dark Rituals, the Sengir Vampire, and moving the 2x Underworld Dreams to the sideboard. Dark Ritual is the kind of card you want in your opening hand and then never again. It is a terrible top deck and I mostly had it in there because I was worried about consistently casting underworld dreams. With 16 black sources in the mana base I think that is enough to be able to cast Dreams fairly reliably out of the sideboard. The Sengir was often rather clunky and it really is just an Air Elemental. Plus with taking out the Rituals, they become slightly harder to cast.
The rest of the deck felt great. I loved the 2x Juzams and 3x Order of the Ebon Hand. Each felt like just the right number. Order is a great card early and late but having two of them requires a lot from your mana. The 1x Psionic Blast also felt great. x/4s are certainly an issue and it might be correct to remove the 1x Fireball for another PsiBlast. It is almost always correct to just throw in the 1x Fireball if you have access to red but the efficiency of Psionic Blast gave me an answer to problems for the deck.
As far as what I want to add. I got a little greedy and short sighted by not including a maindeck answer to artifacts/enchantments. 1x Disenchant is a quick include. I have 7 white sources so the 1x Balance and the 1x Disenchant seems doable. The next card I want to add is Braingeyser. Braingeyser is such a great late game cad to refill my hand it seems likely I should have it in the deck somewhere. The UU requirements has me worried and I may need to address that in the manabase. Obviously Timetwister and Wheel are cheaper and easier to cast but refilling my opponents hand is the last thing I want to do.
The last two spots I’m saving for creatures and I’m torn between Sedge Troll and Serendib Efreet. Sedge Troll gets plenty of benefit from all the dual land Swamps in the deck and is able to be easily cast under Blood Moon (even a grey ogre is something). Serendib is clearly the best creature in the format but is weak to City in a Bottle as well as REB. Additionally, I already take a lot of damage from my mana base with 4 City of Brass and I have the two Juzams already and 2x PsiBlast. I think Sedge Troll will get the slight edge here as I think if someone sees I’m playing Serendib their inclination would be to immediately bring in City in a Bottle and I don’t want to encourage that due to the fragility of the mana base already.
Finally for the last card to come into the maindeck I want another mana source. The two options are the previously mentioned Mox Pearl and Volcanic Island. Adding the Pearl would give me 8 white sources as well as a Mox for acceleration. The Volcanic would give me 10 Red and 10 Blue Sources which would make casting the extra sedge trolls and Psiblast/Braingeyser easier. I think my first inclination is to improve the blue and red counts as I have more of them in the deck. I am going to try to exchange a Scrubland for the Pearl just to test it out and see how it feels. Some people have told me to cut the strip mine but I still just have such a hard time doing that with all the factories, mazes, and libraries that are around.
I consider myself to be pretty knowledgeable of the Atlantic OS Metagame and I would suggest this as a sideboard going forward.
3x Underworld Dreams
3x Red Elemental Blast
1x Storm World
1x Falling Star
Gloom is obviously great against white decks, plus answers CoP: Black. Dreams for control and timevault. Shatter to target disks, books, and early Su-Chis. Energy Flux is surely better against shops than a Shatter but the versatility wins out. I also went with Shatter over more disenchants because I think I would bring in Glooms against The Deck and I want to be able to target their Tomes and mana and it would be a bit of a nonbo if i couldn’t cast my own disenchants. REBs are clearly great. Might want one more. Storm World for the Abyss and extra damage. Terror for big dudes and finally Falling Star, which is criminally underplayed, for quick wide weenies. Earthquake is more efficient and can damage the opponent but i don’t want to kill my own Orders.
Other cards I would consider are disrupting scepter for control matchups, or another REB or Underworld Dreams. BEB for Atog and Blood Moon. Energy Flux against Shops. Chains of Mephsojhagojhagohcles (I can never spell that correctly) is an expensive option instead of underworld dreams to control opposing card draw. Maze of Ith and Control Magic can also be considered for big creature matchups.
So there it is. Spikey Spice Rack. It is certainly a strong deck and I believe a strong contender in the field. Give it a try and let me know if you have any ideas to tweak it or make it stronger. Thanks for reading. Cheers.