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Variations on Snow Control

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The last time I talked about my own forays in Standard play, it was around my Golgari Snow deck:

To recap, I had used some coveted orange wild cards on then-brand spanking new chase Planeswalker Wrenn and Seven... Which resulted in making Mythic on Magic: The Gathering Arena in record time.

There was a lot of good going on in that deck.

Based on one of CovertGoBlue's Blood Money shells from Standard 2022, it hybridized the Treasure engine and Snow payoffs with the best Ramp card in the format and arguably the most powerful threat from the new set. At the time, the enemy was Goldspan Dragon in Black or Green; and pairing Wrenn and Seven with Lolth, Spider Queen - especially on turn three - was a great route to dominating the top of the format.

The Golgari Snow version had trappings of The Two-for-One Deck; everything being a cantrip or better. It had the DNA of what Patrick Chapin's Next Level Deck-building calls the Non-Blue Control Deck. But on top of everything else, it's a potential lottery winner. Especially when you're on the play, no one is beating a Shambling Ghast plus a Deadly Dispute. With two different whiz bang hitters on five, in that naive era Golgari could get the luckiest most often in a room of already successful scratch-offs.

But as time went on and the metagame progressed a little, I felt like the Green mana base was no longer where Blood Money wanted to be. Ultimately, the Standard world coalesced mostly into Mono-Green, Mono-White, and the family of truly challenging opponents: The Blue decks. Both macro strands of Izzet Blue decks were rough opponents - Epiphany combo ones, especially. But they weren't alone. Blue-White brought Devastating Mastery as a way to simultaneously defend against both Blood Money's creatures and Planeswalkers at the same time... Not to mention their poor Treasures (and sometimes Clues).

The world needed a new (or new-old?) way of looking at Snow-covered Swamp for an evolving metagame. Lucky you: We'll talk today about four.

#4Blood4Meathook4Life

In Medias Res

I won't bore you with the earliest developments... Seemingly distant at this point, a month past. Believe it or not, I had a whole different folder dedicated to running just two copies of The Meathook Massacre at one point!

I tried a lot of different one-ofs and fun-ofs before setting on this:


I would consider the Mono-Black Blood Money with four copies each of Blood on the Snow and four copies of The Meathook Massacre the baseline. Initially I tried to get fancy with two copies of Test of Talents; then after the Grixis Epiphany folks at the World Championships, Duress as a two-of.

Ultimately, I concluded it was just better to play four copies of The Meathook Massacre. It isn't realistic at this point to crush an Epiphany opponent with a single splashed Test of Talents. They just aren't blown open nowadays unless they're woefully inexperienced, or desperate. Duress is better, maybe; but it's not better than just playing all the copies of the mighty Massacre.

First of all, this build crushes Mono-Green. If you're going to lose, which is uncommon, it's because their outlier draw had a lot of copies of Old-Growth Troll; which can trample over your defensive Spiders to get to Lolth. Or some combination of the trampling (and resilient!) Old-Growth Troll and Unnatural Growth. If you can weather a normal amount of Old-Growth Troll action (say 1-2 copies before you're in the 6+ mana range) you basically always win.

You just live to get to a zone where your Planeswalker is hiding behind some chump blockers every turn, and you're gaining multiple cards worth of value every turn while they lose two or three cards every cycle. The opponent is taking a couple of points of Meathook chip shot damage, and your life total is being buoyed by the same. Spiders and Dwarves and sideboard cards are playing like a well-oiled high school marching band. Eventually you just take one big turn, after leeching more cards than their admittedly robust value engine can muster.

The single greatest reason to play a Blood on the Snow deck is this: You farm Mono-Green.

Mono-White, even with four copies of The Meathook Massacre, is not an automatic matchup. Faster than Mono-Green, a "go-wide" White Weenie draw can just kill you, especially on the play. They also have a nasty habit of drawing multiple copies of Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa when you need your sweeper on time; but Brutal Cathar // Moonrage Brute on the rare occasion you need to hide behind a Skullport Merchant. How do they do that?

Obviously, you'd rather be on the Black side of this matchup, but it's far more competitive than Mono-Green. Basically, just trade aggressively, get any number of creatures with The Meathook Massacre to alleviate the snowballing chaos of Luminarch Aspirant and the Adeline, Resplendent Cathar, in one word: Survive.

Come mid-game, the White deck's lack of trample makes every game that goes a certain length ultimately academic. You just have to hit your land drops and keep your life total above water. Your fives and sixes do the rest.

Pro tip: Hold Field of Ruin as long as possible. If the opponent is going to beat you, it'll be with a combination of the high leverage 3-drops (Elite Spellbinder and especially Redaine). Field of Ruin enters the battlefield untapped naturally, unlike a middle turns Hive of the Eye Tyrant; and isn't Snow.

Blood Money is not the best against the best. But it is better than anything else you could pick - including selected mirrors - against the other two-thirds of the format. I don't know that it would have been a very good choice at the World Championships, which were always going to over-index Blue; but for everyday play? Some version is, in my mind, certainly among the best possible weapons of choice.

So, what about Izzet (and to a lesser degree, Azorius, and their cousins)? In a sense I hate every match that starts with a first turn Hall of Storm Giants, but I'm also elated. My senses sharpen and I dig in to try to find the narrow path out. Basically, what I've found is that I was winning more with The Meathook Massacre - especially The Meathook Massacre for 0 - than I was with Test of Talents or Duress.

Black can put on a surprising amount of damage if Izzet is literally ignoring the assault from 1/1 creatures while building their resources; to the point that they can just lose to The Meathook Massacre in the mid-game due to their life total being too low to survive blocks, or sometimes even to activate a Field of Ruin. You have to work in a spot to stick your Massacre, and play with it as part of your end game planning; but it'll be there a surprising amount of the time.

Obviously, tiny X=1 casts are great against both Bird tokens and Sunset Revelry.

Variation 1: Fireball Tech

Here is a fun angle on the Mono-Black build:


The principal changes here are to swap out beloved Skullport Merchant and the aggressively medium Inscription of Ruin for heavier Magecraft.

Spell Satchel is a heavily non-intuitive Fellwar Stone; but it can serve you if you get the hang of it. On turn three, you can play Hunt for Specimens, put a counter on Spell Satchel; and then cast the Environmental Sciences you just fetched; ending the turn with a counter on Spell Satchel. You rarely ever need more than one counter.

It can be inconsistent, though. There are a great many spells in this deck - The Meathook Massacre and Planeswalkers, which are all so important - that don't trigger Magecraft. But on the other hand, there is this card:

Plumb the Forbidden

This card is the big incentive to the deck. If you have Professor Onyx in play, a handful of Pest tokens (or Spiders, or whatever else) are just lethal with a Plumb the Forbidden. The opponent can't stop you from sacrificing creatures, and thus, can't stop you from putting multiple potentially lethal Magecraft triggers on the stack. This idea was explored in Standard 2022 briefly by CovertGoBlue, but I think it's better than ever due to The Meathook Massacre giving the deck even more potential offense borne from sacrificing its own creatures. With both Onyx and The Meathook Massacre in play, just having six creatures on the battlefield will be not only lethal, but nearly impossible to interact with given how Plumb works.

I've found this version to be about the same against Mono-Green (that is, you win the vast majority of all games) and still good against Mono-White. Losing decent blocker Skullport Merchant stinks, but Spell Satchel is in a way faster as a mana accelerator, so that's somewhat of a push.

The big difference is against a deck like uw. While I'm never going to tell you that you're going to run a lap around the room when you see Hall of Storm Giants, getting one of your big permanents to resolve - Professor Onyx or The Meathook Massacre - often puts the opponent into a ticking time bomb situation. The same is true of Izzet. Both decks take expensive turns, whether with Devastating Mastery or Alrund's Epiphany - which can give you an open to slip in the Fireball combo kill. Plumb can do a lot of really cool things, like spoiling the fun of a Sunset Revelry, or really kicking a creature deck while it's ABOUT to be down... Go ahead and draw 3-4 cards right before you blow up a board where they wouldn't have survived anyway.

Variation 2: Rakdos Dragons

This is one Innistrad: Midnight Hunt update to my favorite Standard 2022 deck:


Having seen a bunch of Rakdos variants on YouTube that had great mana from Temple of the Dragon Queen (which allowed you to get Kalain down on turn two with crazy consistency) and topped up on Burn Down the House... I was tricked. That stuff is all nonsense, but unfortunately I further tricked poor Barbarian Class co-host Roman Fusco into playing non-Snow Rakdos in the Arena Open.

The proper way to build the deck is with a Snow Engine. There is literally no reason not to Blood on the Snow straight into an attacking Goldspan Dragon. It's just so powerful.

Okay, one reason: Unlike the other decks in this article, the Rakdos build, with dedicated Red, has no Field of Ruin, which can be a potential issue.

While Immersturm Predator gives a Blue deck a juicy target for Fading Hope or Divide by Zero, it's also among the most powerful threats you can present in the format. Not only will the Predator live through Blood on the Snow, Burn Down the House, Doomskar, and even Devastating Mastery, it is a far, Far, FAR faster way to attack Faithful Mending and Memory Deluge than Hive of the Eye Tyrant. The card is amazing defense against Green and many builds of White... Quickly too big for Old-Growth Troll to trample over (though a glaring target for Brutal Cathar // Moonrage Brute, admittedly).

Goldspan Dragon gives Rakdos a different five mana payoff than Lolth. You gain greater initiative against Blue decks, but can no longer drag out the Planeswalker fortress games where you win via many, many turns of exhaustion against Green. With Goldspan Dragon at the top, you actually have to try to win.

Playing the Rakdos deck is more like putting together a puzzle than finding a survivable path into a predictable routine like the Mono-Black builds. It is clearly faster and can exert greater leverage earlier in the game. Plus Immersturm Predator + The Meathook Massacre offers a small quasi-Fireball combo a la the previous deck's Plumb the Forbidden. Of today's Snow Control decks, I consider it the most "fulfilling" to play, but maybe that's because without powerful Planeswalkers, it has a lower potential ceiling.

Variation 3: Divide and Conquer


This deck is the greatest departure from essentially the CGB model. Adding four copies of Ice Tunnel to the cursory Snow-Covered Island, this Dimir build kind of admits that it is a Blue deck, unlike Test-only ones.

So, what about four copies of Divide by Zero versus two copies of Test of Talents?

Test of Talents was consistently awful against Green and White; playing that card at all decreased the Black deck's win rate against two-thirds of the metagame without necessarily crushing Izzet every time. Divide by Zero on the other hand is actually okay against Mono-White but sometimes spectacular against Green.

But add in the ability to lift your own The Meathook Massacre against Mono-White? It's great!

You are clunkier due to the addition of four lands that enter the battlefield tapped no matter what, but Divide utility pays off across the board.

Against Izzet, et al... You get some value. Divide by Zero is actively great against any Flashback, and blunts the efficacy of Galvanic Iteration + Alrund's Epiphany A LOT. Divide the copy and the opponent will have nothing to return to hand, while you'll get the full value of your Lesson / Learn. You might not win on the spot, but on the other hand, you're also not going to fold immediately to four Birds and two turns.

Conclusion:

Despite having so many cards in common, each of these variants plays with a particular character that sets it apart from the others:

  • Mono-Black: #4Blood4Meathook4Life - I would not consider fewer than four copies of The Meathook Massacre in any build at this point. To me, it has become as elemental a component to black control success as Blood on the Snow itself.
  • Mono-Black Fireball Tech: You lose the ability to play a patient Skullport Merchant game, especially in the mirror. On balance you gain a powerful combo kill and explosive card drawing, which can be great right before deploying one of your many sweepers. The greatest incentive to this build is the generally unexpected back door kill against Izzet or especially Azorius opponents.
  • Rakdos Dragons: The fastest variation; and the fastest on the attack against flashback. Lower ceiling, but greater explosiveness, starting potentially turn three. Immersturm Predator will either be your hero or kryptonite. Almost invincible in Blood on the Snow mirrors due to its pre-emotive speed and the Predator's ability to shatter 6-drop symmetry.
  • Divide and Conquer: The most flexible build of Blood. It has the greatest upside outside of a combo kill, but can be betrayed by Ice Tunnel at the wrong time.

Until next time, please Please PLEASE make sure you know how many Snow lands you have in play before tapping six.

LOVE

MIKE

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