few weeks ago I worked on a deck that used the cheaper cascade spells in conjunction with Restore Balance. You can read about it here. The deck became wildly popular within a very short window of time. I've let the idea stew in my head for a few weeks, and I'm extremely excited about sharing the new additions I've made to the deck. Here's the list I settled on at the end of my last column:
Balancing Tings (version 3)
I really enjoyed playing with this list and I'm pretty sure it does very well against the field. There were a few issues I had with the deck that I feel can be rectified with a bit of tweaking.
The biggest problem I had with the deck was losing to aggressive decks that followed a quick threat or two with an Ancient Grudge. There isn't any way to make this deck less vulnerable to Ancient Grudge, but you can certainly include a few ways to deal with the more aggressive decks in the format.
My first inclination was that Rift Bolt would certainly work as the best spot removal for a deck like this. Its converted mana cost of three means it doesn't interfere with our combo, and its efficiency as a "one-mana" removal spell makes it quite good.
I was not sure what to cut, so I decided to try shaving off the Phyrexian Totems. Unfortunately, the deck was a bit too light on win conditions when I cut all four Totems so I had to get creative with the new list. I played a bunch of games and after a bit of fiddling I ended up playing this list:
Balancing Tings (version 4)
I ended up switching back to the original list after a bit and moving the Rift Bolts to the sideboard. I found that the best ways to beat this deck were aggressive strategies that played Ancient Grudge and Rock players that slow-rolled a pair of lands and played efficient threats off two mana. It's tought to beat a player that never plays more than two lands and has powerful threats like Tarmogoyf and Bitterblossom coupled with powerful disruption, a la Thoughtseize, and things like Umezawa's Jitte that can't be dealt with by simply casting a Restore Balance. I had a few cards I wanted to fiddle with. I can't honestly say I gave each of them extensive testing so I'll give you a list of cards that deserve more testing in the archetype:
Trespasser il-Vec seems like the most exciting thing in here. I like the idea of blocking with it and discarding enough cards to set up a haymaker Restore Balance that drains the opponent's hand, lands, and creatures. I didn't test the Trespasser enough to find room in the main, but I'm sure it deserves space in the board. I like this card a lot in control matchups where it lets you apply awkward pressure on the opponent and force them to tap some mana. A careful Restore Balance player can set up a forced tap-out with Trespasser and Violent Outburst. Once you have this set up then you're free to cast a game ending cascader.
The most exciting card I've came across recently is Ensnaring Bridge. This is a card I want in the main. After sideboarding, it suffers the drawback of being an artifact in a deck that already has a huge problem with Ancient Grudge. Pretty much every deck will have access to Ancient Grudge post-rotation and I advise siding out your Bridges almost 100% of the time. Those of you who followed PAX last weekend know that fetchlands are back, this time in enemy color pairs, and any mana issues you thought the new generation of Extended decks might suffer are looking to be nonexistent.
Here's the list once we include Ensnaring Bridge:
Balancing Tings (version 5)
The light number of win conditions isn't a problem anymore now that we have have the Ensnaring Bridge to hide behind. Bridge is one of those cards that rarely sees competitive play, but usually makes a big splash when it does. At Pro Tour–Berlin last year, a rogue deck builder, Kenny Öberg, completely dominated every Game 1 by playing an aggressive one-for-one game with his opponent and emptying out his hand. Öberg would give his opponent an opportunity to tap out for a reasonable threat and just windmill a Tezzeret the Seeker that would search for an Ensnaring Bridge while he had no cards in his hand. I didn't bother testing Tezzeret because of budget restrictions, but I think those of you who have access to Tezzeret should probably give him a try.
Ancient Grudge is one of those cards that I expected to be a lot worse for us than it actually is. It's quite bad, but it isn't a nail in the coffin. I've even won a game through Kataki, War's Wage. If an opponent draws more than one Ancient Grudge and has any sort of reasonable pressure, then one can almost guarantee a loss. If your opponent draws a single copy of Ancient Grudge, things don't look quite so bad. You can still Restore Balance them out of the game on your fifth turn, and it's generally pretty hard to hard to kill someone by the fourth or fifth turn when you're spending mana to Ancient Grudge your opponent's mana sources.
I decided to play full matches with the deck to see how it faired against some decks we can expect to see in the new Extended season. I used the following sideboard:
4 Rift Bolt
4 Trespasser il-Vec
1 Peace of Mind
3 Thirst for Knowledge
3 Phyrexian Totem
I win the roll and keep Island, Wildfield Borderpost, Veinfire Borderpost, Darksteel Ingot, Demonic Dread, Ensnaring Bridge, and Restore Balance. I cast Veinfire Borderpost and pass the turn, and my opponent casts a Kird Ape and passes the turn. I draw another Borderpost, cast it, and pass the turn. My opponent attacks for 2 and casts a Keldon Marauders. I draw March of the Machines, cast Darksteel Ingot, and pass the turn. My opponent attacks me for 5, casts a Woolly Thoctar, and passes the turn. I draw a Borderpost, cast it, and use my remaining three mana sources to make sure Woolly Thoctar can't block this turn. Demonic Dread cascades into Restore Balance, and my opponent sacrifices all his lands and creatures. No more lands enter the battlefield on his side of the table for the remainder of the game. I drop March of the Machines and close out the game in a very short window of time.
Sideboarding: -4 Ensnaring Bridge, +4 Rift Bolt
My opponent chooses to play, and I keep Mountain, Mistvein Borderpost, Wildfield Borderpost, Fieldmist Borderpost, Ardent Plea, Rift Bolt, and March of the Machines. My opponent leads the game off with a Wild Nacatl. I suspend Rift Bolt and pass. My opponent attacks for 3 and passes the turn, and I Rift Bolt the 3/3 and cast a pair of Borderposts. My opponent casts an Ancient Grudge, destroying one of them on my end step. On his turn he cast a Kird Ape and flashes back the Ancient Grudge. I draw a Darksteel Ingot, cast another Borderpost, and pass the turn. My opponent attacks for 2 and passes. I draw another Borderpost, cast it, and pass the turn. My opponent casts a Tarmogoyf, attacks for 2, and passes. I cast Ardent Plea into Restore Balance and take out both his creatres and one of his lands. The next turn I stick March of the Machines, and I easily steal the game.
I lose the roll and keep two Fieldmist Borderpost, Plains, Forest, Ardent Plea, Demonic Dread, and March of the Machines. My opponent plays a Thoughtseize on turn one and bins my Ardent Plea. I draw an Island, cast a Borderpost, and pass the turn. My opponent plays a Tarmogoyf and passes the turn. I draw Violent Outburst, cast another Borderpost, and pass the turn. My opponent casts Duress and takes my Violent Outburst. He attacks for 4 (with a fetchland in the graveyard as well) and passes. I draw a third Fieldmist Borderpost, cast it, and pass the turn, I'm hoping to steal this game by simply casting March of the Machines. Unfortunately, my opponent has Maelstrom Pulse, and things get extra ugly as he essentially Wildfires my side of the board before attacking for a lot of damage. I lose this game in short order.
Sideboarding: -4 Ensnaring Bridge, -1 Fieldmist Borderpost, -1 Wildfield Borderpost, -1 Mistvein Borderpost, +3 Thirst for Knowledge, +4 Trespasser il-Vec
I keep Wildfield Borderpost, Veinfire Borderpost, Forest, Darksteel Ingot, Thirst for Knowledge, Trespasser il-Vec, Demonic Dread. I cast a Borderpost and pass the turn. My opponent plays a Thoughtseize and takes my Darksteel Ingot. I draw another Thirst for Knowledge, cast a Borderpost, and pass the turn. My opponent casts a Bitterblossom and passes. I draw and cast a Borderpost before passsing the turn back again. My opponent casts and flashes back an Ancient Grudge. I draw Demonic Dread and pass the turn. My opponent casts Maelstrom Pulse, destroying my only Borderpost, and I'm left with just one land for mana. The next turn he starts swinging with Faeries equipped with Umezawa's Jitte, and the game ends in very short order.
I lose the roll and keep Fieldmist Borderpost, Mistvein Borderpost, Firewild Borderpost, Island, two Darksteel Ingots, and Demonic Dread. My opponent leads off with a Lava Spike, and I'm at 17. I draw and cast a Borderpost. My opponent has a Hellspark Elemental for turn two, and I'm at 14. I draw and cast another Borderpost before passing again. My opponent unearths Hellspark Elemental and plays a Great Furnace before passing. I'm at 11. I play my Darksteel Ingot and pass. My opponent casts a Lightning Bolt on my end of turn step, bringing me to 8. On his turn he plays a fourth land along with an Incinerate and Shrapnel Blast to take the game.
Sideboarding: -4 Ensnaring Bridge, -4 Demonic Dread, +4 Trespasser il-Vec, +1 Peace of Mind, +3 Thirst for Knowledge
I keep Veinfire Borderpost, Mountain, Forest, Darksteel Ingot, March of the Machines, Peace of Mind, and Violent Outburst. I cast my Borderpost and pass the turn. My opponent casts a Spark Elemental, attacks, and passes the turn. I draw another Borderpost, cast it, and pass the turn. My opponent casts a Shattering Spree and destroys both my Borderposts. I draw another March of the Machines, play a land, and pass. My opponent casts a Hellspark Elemental and attacks. I never draw a third land, and the game is unexciting as he untaps and taps mana to burn my dome. When I finally do draw the Borderpost for three mana, my opponent has a Smash to Smithereens for lethal waiting in hand.
The record may not be as good as it was the first time I tried the deck out, but that's Magic. I really like the Ensnaring Bridge in the main; I feel it gives the deck a reasonable long-term plan when things aren't working out. I want to try Simian Spirit Guide in the sideboard to combat the mana-inhibiting artifact destruction that will likely be played against us. If I were to play the deck tomorrow, I would play the following list:
Balancing Tings (version 6)
I know a lot of you are very interested in making this deck Legacy or even Vintage viable. I've got a couple of lists in the works and will include them as bonus decks in upcoming columns.