his week we are going to talk about hybrid decks. Playing a hybrid deck is a simple and effective way of gaining an edge in Constructed Magic, in particular in the midst of a non-new Constructed format.
What is a hybrid deck?
Put simply, a hybrid deck is a mash-up of two or more distinct deck strategies. The best hybrid decks can play at least one of its embraced strategies at near-peak efficiency, and just add the additional strategies for optional positional advantage.
A great example of a hybrid deck is Thomas Refsdal's "Cephalid Life" combo deck:
Thomas Refsdal's Cephalid Life
Extended - Pro Tour–Valencia - 2007
This deck was played at Pro Tour–Valencia, where Dredge was the format's known boogeyman. Many players would look at Refsdal's Narcomoeba's and Bridge from Below and think "Dredge." This might be reinforced by the speed and success of his (probable) graveyard-centric Game 1 win.
Turn one: Land, Shuko
Turn two: Land, Cephalid Illusionist
On the second turn, Thomas could target the Cephalid Illusionist repeatedly with the Shuko (zero mana on each activation), milling his entire library, three cards at a time. Obviously, the three Narcomoebas, the Dread Return, the Sutured Ghoul, and the Dragon Breath would all be milled (unless he drew one of the pieces, in which case Thomas would simply flashback a Cabal Therapy—at least one would also be milled), to get all the cards into the graveyard.
At that point the three Narcomoebas would be in play, eligible for Dread Return flashback of the Sutured Ghoul, which would in turn eat all the creatures that had been milled, pick up the Dragon Breath, and—this is turn two, remember, with the opponent presumably tapped for a Birds of Paradise or some such—the Ghoul would go and gobble up the other guy.
So—remember this is the anti-Dredge Pro Tour—it would be likely that the opponent would have some large stack of anti-Dredge cards waiting, such as Leyline of the Void, Tormod's Crypt, Yixlid Jailer, so on, and so forth.
Forget about the fact that Refsdal's deck didn't actually use the dredge mechanic, per se.
So, what is a girl to do?
Thomas could actually work a similar—but non-graveyard-reliant—combination substituting Cephalid Illusionist with Daru Spiritualist. He could target the Spiritualist repeatedly in the same way in order to elevate its toughness ... and then sacrifice the Cleric to Starlit Sanctum. This is a hair slower than the hasty Ghoul combination (which can technically win on turn one), but when the opponent has a fist—or even battlefield—full of anti-graveyard defensive measures? A Loop Junktion life combination becomes an even more certain route to victory!
The reason Refsdal's deck worked so seamlessly in two disparate directions was that the two combinations shared so much. If you were going to make a life deck based on making a big (butted) Daru Spiritualist, what would you target it with? Shuko! If you were going to Millstone yourself with a Cephalid Illusionist, what would you use? Shuko!
The search cards were appropriate to both combinations. Living Wish could get either the fourth Cephalid Illusionist or a Daru Spiritualist ... or Starlit Sanctum for that matter!
A more recent (and likely more recognizable) Extended hybrid combo deck is Thopter Depths:
Adam Yurchick's Thopter Depths
Extended - Top 8 - Grand Prix–Houston
The beauty of this dominant archetype is that it was able to so cheaply graft the Sword of the Meek + Thopter Foundry combo onto the fastest combination in the metagame (Vampire Hexmage + Dark Depths).
Consider Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa's deck from the Top 8 of Pro Tour–Austin:
The greatest incentive to PV's deck is the...
Turn 1: Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth; Thoughtseize (your answer)
Turn 2: Dark Depths, Vampire Hexmage (kill ya!)
Yurchick's deck has that. He has the full number of Dark Depths. He has the full number of Urborgs. He has the full number of Hexmages.
But instead of the anti-anti-combination cards that PV played (Chalice of the Void on one to defeat Path to Exile and Repeal), given a hostile-to-20/20 tokens battlefield, Yurchick could just play a different combination.
By the World Championships, players like Tomoharu Saito and Andre Coimbra with their Bant Charms considered Hexmage / Depths decks easy prey for their updates to Rubin Zoo. However, no Zoo deck can easily ignore the other combination. Sword of the Meek + Thopter Foundry is a combination engineered for beatdown suppression, gaining life while infinitely blocking big creatures.
Think about how advantageous this particular repositioning option is for Thopter Depths. Why was Rubin Zoo so dominant against Dark Depths decks at the Pro Tour? Because who is going to beat 3 Blood Moons, 4 Ghost Quarters, and 4 copies of Knight of the Reliquary with a nonbasic land combo deck? It just isn't going to happen.
What about when the opponent is bogging himself down with Blood Moon and (relatively) inefficient mana drops to beat your nonbasic land ... but you are on a completely different combination? Different and completely unrelated combo? Meet mad value.
Personally, I love a hybrid deck even more than I love a transformative sideboard.
Recently, a number of enterprising deck designers have brought the spirit of archetype hybridization to Standard. Let's check out how some of them have put together multiple, disparate, strategies in order to generate value.
Naya Vengevine + Mythic Conscription: Next Level Naya
This past weekend's TCGplayer.com $5K Series in Hartford, Connecticut revealed a couple of different looks at hybridizing and Mythic Conscription; one of those decks was basically an aggressive Naya Vengevine deck, simply adding the Sovereigns of Lost Alara package; the other started more on the Mythic Conscription side, diversifying planeswalkers and threat quality by dipping into red, in much the same way that White-Blue Control paved the way for Red-White-Blue Planeswalkers.
Noah Walker's Next Level Naya
Standard - 2nd Place - TCGplayer.com $5K Series–Hartford, CT
Thirteen year old Noah Walker produced a deck that went undefeated in the Swiss before finishing an impressive second place.
Vengevine Naya, of the GerryT school, is already one of the most significant aggressive decks in the present Standard format. Its combination of Cunning Sparkmages to hassle and Vengevines as a quartet of relentless attackers makes the deck difficult to defend against, and more difficult to get ahead of. The addition of Sovereigns of Lost Alara via one Island (easy to obtain with Evolving Wilds, Misty Rainforest, Knight of the Reliquary) and the Birds of Paradise / Noble Hierarch package simply gives the deck a different—clearly unexpected—additional way to win.
For example, Day of Judgment is pretty good against Vengevine Naya; not as spectacular as it was against the pre-Vengevine versions like Naya Lightsaber and Boss Naya, maybe, but still effective. So you can see a hapless White-Blue player tapping out for a Day of Judgment, willing to accept a counterattack from Gideon Jura.
But what happens when Noah casts Sovereigns of Lost Alara pre-combat, while his opponent is tapped?
That's right: "16" happens.
For more information about Noah and his deck, check out this interview from KYT at ManaDeprived.com
Red-White-Blue Planeswalkers + Mythic Conscription: Walker Conscription
Recently the guys at Yo! MTG Taps joked that sooner or later, we will just have "one big deck."
The joke was that there was White-Blue Control and White-Blue Control added Sovereigns of Lost Alara at Sendai. Meanwhile Bant decks have moved from their green centers; first Mythic went from mono-creatures to adding cards like Jace, the Mind Sculptor (a card most closely associated with White-Blue Control), and Next Level Bant has added more and more Blue-White-ish cards, from Elspeth, Knight-Errant, to Oust, to Sphinx of Lost Truths.
Like Joey and Joe said: One big deck.
Louis Alvarez's deck is a one-deck giant step in that direction:
Louis Alvarez's Walker Conscription
Standard - Top 8 - TCGplayer.com $5K Series–Hartford, CT
Why do so many mages love a Red-White-Blue Planeswalker deck? The ability to lay out multiple different planeswalkers ... Jace (some kind of Jace) drawing cards, Ajani Vengeant locking down the opponent's mana (or maybe gaining some life), Elspeth and Gideon defending the squad and/or smashing the face. All of them firing, all of them doing something for no mana at all, their efforts piling on to one another.
As you can see, though Alvarez cut some copies, his deck is capable of playing into that Red-White-Blue long game, with the planeswalkers all powering each other up.
But that long game is here grafted on top of a pretty servicable Mythic Conscription offense! He has all of the mana acceleration of a Mythic deck, so he can just play a third turn Jace, the Mind Sculptor if he wants to. He can slug with Sovereigns of Lost Alara ... or he can play the planeswalker game, depending on what is appropriate.
This combination is pretty interesting ... Red-White-Blue Planeswalkers evolved from a desire to unify the efforts of the White-Blue deck (Day of Judgment-resistant threats versus Baneslayer Angels). Playing the deck like this gives Alvarez that same potential, giving him the option to play around, or post-, an opposing Day of Judgment (often pretty good against a Mythic offense). Taken from the other side, Red-White-Blue Planeswalkers is consistently the control ... The Mythic offense lets him play the beatdown, too.
Unearth + Eldrazi Green: Dredgevine
Remember the Unearth deck, sometimes called Standard Dredge? You know, the deck (not unlike Thomas Refsdal's Narcomoeba / Bridge from Below deck) that didn't actually use any cards with the dredge mechanic? This deck jacked its graveyard with Hedron Crab and finished with a flurry of Extractor Demons ... often all in one turn thanks to the massive mana production of Crypt of Agadeem.
Well that deck just signed a free agency deal with the Vengevines and Eldrazi Monuments of the Eldrazi Green squad. It is such a cherry deal that the Eldrazi Green side has gotten off with no green mana at all!
Devon O'Donnell's Dredgevine
Standard - Top 4 - TCGplayer.com $5K Series–Hartford, CT
Devon O'Donnell's deck was another one from the Top 8 of the recent Hartford 5K. It answers a lot of questions, like ...
Can you build a Vengevine deck with no green mana?
Are there good answers to Blightning?
This deck uses the Enclave Cryptologists, Merfolk Looters, and Sphinx of Lost Truths to dump Vengevines (along with Bloodghast and Extractor Demon) into the graveyard. They spring right back and kick all kinds of butt.
The most impressive card in my experience with the deck has been Eldrazi Monument. And you thought Eldrazi Monument was good with token generators! Especially when the opponent falls below 11 life, Bloodghast starts to look like the best partner Eldrazi Monument ever had.
Vengevine and Bloodghast are of course superb Blightning defense. Blightning basically stinks against this deck.
The best way to fight it seems to be cheap removal (perhaps exemplified by Cunning Sparkmage). If you can cut the deck off early so that it can't start to set up its graveyard, that is the lion's share of the resistance work.
Next Level Bant + Mythic Conscription: Previous Level Bant
Naoki Shimizu is one of Japan's most celebrated deck designers. The man behind Solar Flare and Scryb & Force is back with Previous Level Bant, which adds the Sovereigns of Lost Alara combination to Next Level Bant.
Naoki Shimizu's Previous Level Bant
Standard - 2nd Place - PTQ for PT–Amsterdam in Osaka, Japan
Just as we saw in some of the Extended hybrid decks, package size can be key to successful hybridization. The Eldrazi Conscription package takes only five or six slots depending if you want to play three copies of Sovereigns of Lost Alara or the full four; just as adding the Sword of the Meek combination to Hexmage / Depths was relatively painless ... That is why so many disparate strategies from Naya Vengevine to Red-White-Blue Planeswalkers to Next Level Bant can diversify their offenses with this combination. It is particularly cheap here—adding a default-Bant combination to a different successful Bant deck—you don't even have to mess with the mana.
For an example of such a stretch ...
Vengevine Jund + Next Level Bant: Jace Jund
Last week we followed Shaheen Soorani's five Top 8 journey to a Blue Envelope using White-Blue Control; Shaheen's opponent in the finals of the 6/13 Roanoke Pro Tour Qualifier was Brad Sheppard, piloting a hybrid deck joined at the Vengevines.
Brad Sheppard's Jace Jund
Standard - 2nd Place - PTQ for PT–Amsterdam in Roanoke, VA
The one side of his deck is a Vengevine Jund deck—the kind we've seen from Bradley Carpenter and others—Lotus Cobras, Borderland Rangers and Sarkhan the Mad rather than Lightning Bolts and Blightnings.
In an effort to play the most super powerful cards—and Sheppard's deck does a good job of that, certainly—he linked the Jund skeleton to Jace, the Mind Sculptor, bringing in Sea Gate Oracle (a card expert in its Vengevine re-buying, care of Next Level Bant).
Interestingly, the intersection of Jund and blue mana allowed for the play of Sedraxis Specter, an A-list threat played by neither distinctly.
What is amazing to me is that as each week passes, this Standard format seems to give us more and more different ways of competing effectively. I honestly feel like this is one of the most diverse and fun Standard formats I have ever played. The recent crop of hybrid decks is just the latest in a long list of ways that we have seen innovation and interesting decks.