Tree of Tales – Surveying the Land

Welcome back to the Tree folks. Let’s all gather round and take a look at what’s happened of late. Things have been a bit rattled up for the past few weeks, but it finally looks as though we are getting a better view of the environment before us, even if it is only for another 2 months. We have a few results to look at, and the archetypes to watch for are finally apparent.

Did things shape up the way I thought? In most ways yes, but there were a few surprises. Some things didn’t work out as well as I thought they would, and others did better than I could have foreseen. Let’s do this one deck at a time, so as not to get things jumbled up.

Pyromancer’s Ascension

So this deck looks like the real deal, and will be a contender. The power of this deck comes partially from it’s ability to switch it’s play style fairly easily, molding itself to whatever opponent it happens to be playing. Against slower more controlling decks, it can slow play it’s hand, land multiple “verbs” in it’s graveyard, then resolve Ascension and just win.

How to play against it: Be aware of what it has done, and what it’s doing. Short of resolving a turn 0 Leyline of the Void against them and protecting it, graveyard hate is out of the question. Attacking their enchantment is usually your best strategy, especially since this gives you reach against the alternate strategy of Deceiver Exarch/Splinter Twin that many of them move to post board. They usually play a fair number of counterspells given the amount of digging they do, so don’t expect a single hate spell to ruin their day. Also, keep in mind that Nature’s Claim can be a liability, since some of these decks run Mental Misstep out of their sideboards.


The big daddy of the environment, this looks to be a heavily played archetype, dominating the Japanese nationals with over 20% of the field. We all knew this would be a strong archetype following the bannings, and it has not disappointed. That being said, I’m not convinced of it as the best deck, given that it still has bad match-ups. A good choice if you don’t want to innovate and ride out the rest of this format.

How to play against it: This can really vary from list to list, since some run Summoning Trap, others run Solemn Simulacrum, and each has it’s own flavor. Non-basic land destruction can be quite helpful against them, as losing their Valakut, the Molten Pinnacles can bankrupt them. Cards like Memoricide are also exceptionally helpful against them, stealing their primary engine early in the game. If you have access to both, so much the better.


I’m going to clump all the Red burn-creature-smash decks together here, since they all play fairly similarly. The addition of Grim Lavamancer to this archetype has helped quite a bit, and it really makes this one to watch. It can beat you before you even know what happened.

How to play against it: Kor Firewalker. If you don’t know, then look it up. Life-gain can be pretty fundamental in beating these decks, as cards like Timely Reinforcements and Obstinate Baloth just abuse their structure. Leyline of Sanctity can be good, but I’m fundamentally against cards that are really only good when they hit them in your opening 7.

R/U/G Twin

Another archetype that I expected to be huge following the banning. It has produced, just not in the numbers I expected. If budget is not an issue and you like winning fast and large, this is the deck for you. Losing Jace hurt this deck, but it still performs admirably, and can even be combined with the engine of Birthing Pod to great benefit.

How to play against it: Attacking their early mana can be a great help, as it stunts their development. Barring that, controlling their top end and keeping them off card-draw can help fizzle them out, leaving you in a dominant position. Just remember that any of their potential threats can beat you by itself.

Tempered Steel

This gained a lot of strength in weeks of late, becoming a true force to deal with. Quick creatures, huge pumps, and some evasion just gives this deck the right formula to be exceptionally hard to beat.

How to play against it: Creeping Corrosion anyone? Seriously though, artifact removal is at a premium against this deck, basically acting as removal for everything they play. Cards that double it with enchantment removal are just brutal, and can make things very troublesome for this archetype. Lastly, beware the Inkmoth Nexus approach, as Tempered Steel can make Inkmoth end the game quickly.

Caw Blade

So apparently losing Jace 2.0 and Stoneforge Mystic didn’t cripple this archetype, it just brought it down to other people’s level. It still backs on Sword-wielding birds and lands, and seems pretty balanced for our current meta. It just no longer has the insane card selection engine it did before, which slows it down quite a bit.

How to play against it: Beat them at their own game. Usually cards like Vengevine and Bloodghast give these guys fits, especially if you can handle a Sword of Feast and Famine when it pops up. Without their equipment, this deck is sub-par at best, so attack it when you can. Don’t let them resolve Gideon unless you can work around him, which can be difficult.

There are more decks in the environment, but these ones are what I’m watching for most closely. Each of these has already produced top 8 finishes in major events since the bannings/addition of M12, which means it possesses the qualities necessary to dominate. In terms of planning, those are the decks I’m testing against most closely, based on likelihood of contact.


So this will be my section where I will gloat for a while about the success of the Hive Mind archetype of late. I began building this archetype shortly after M10 was released, as me and my friend Rick were brainstorming about ways to break Hive Mind. The concept was fairly simple: Get Hive Mind into play, then start spamming Pact spells, causing your opponent to lose the game. I offered up Show and Tell as a quick option, and it really took off from there.

The first incarnation of this deck for us was truly horrific, and didn’t produce the consistency that we wanted. We trimmed down some of the fluff, and added more cantrips, then switched to Lim-Dul’s Vault from Mystical Tutor post-banning. The switch from Mystical was what proved to be the biggest catalyst, as Lim-Dul’s Vault may be the most under-appreciated tutor ever printed. I mean, come on people, I was using this card back in ’99!

Those modifications really helped turn this deck around, and we ended up at a list I really liked. I’m not going to post my list, since if you really want one, go check 1st place at SCG Seattle. That being said, I really have to rub this one in a bit. When I was playing (and winning) tournaments with this deck, it was described as incredibly loose, just plain bad, inconsistent, etc. Now it was won an Open outright, and has placed repeatedly, and in numbers, at Seattle and others. Anyone still think this archetype is loose?

OK, I’ll stop now. Seriously though folks, be prepared. This deck is the real deal, and will own you completely if you aren’t prepared. I’ve beaten decks with upwards of 10 counterspells targeting me. I’ve beaten decks with main deck Stifle AND Trickbind, plus counterspells. The point I’m getting at is as follows; Don’t think this is another TES that you can simply board a couple cards and have a good match-up. Understand this deck, and test against it, and you will find the cracks in it’s armor, and find the best way to abuse this. In my experience, Hymn to Tourach, Thoughtseize, and Wasteland were the instruments of my destruction in the matches I’ve lost.

That being said, my combined record with Hive Mind was 17-3-4. The three losses were to Rock, Merfolk, and Affinity. Rock just punished me out with Wastelands and Hymns, which totally crippled me. Merfolk got there on the back of multiple Wastelands drawn in the match-up. Affinity just flat out beat me, getting there on turn 3 two games in a row. The numbers don’t lie, and if you were a TES player that has finally realized how badly losing Mystical Tutor punished you, switch to Hive Mind and play a much better combo deck.

Well that’s it for this time. I don’t have any relevant tech, as I haven’t been doing much in the way of testing. I’ve already hammered out my list for Extended season, and barring some drastic change in Innistrad, it’s what I will be going with. Legacy has become somewhat stagnant for me, as the only true change in the format has been the surge of Hive Mind, which I’ve been predicting for a long time. So until next time folks, keep turning those cards sideways!