SCG IQ Report: Wade Lawson
Hey everyone! My name is Wade Lawson, and I am a grinder that has been on and off the competitive MTG wagon since Return to Ravnica. I played Amulet Titan to a first place IQ finish this past weekend and wanted to spout out my thoughts on the current state of the deck and its position over the next few months.
If you ask Amulet players why they are playing the deck, you will get a couple different answers, such as “It has no bad matchups LUL” and “I have been playing it forever and I don’t know what else I would play”. I am firmly in the second category at this point. My first foray with this deck was borne from my frustration of losing with Grixis Shadow to Humans repeatedly over the last year. I am a fan of weird combo decks in Modern (as Restore Balance has been my pet deck for a while), so Amulet wasn’t too much of a stretch for me. I never got to play the deck in the Summer Bloom era but I have always had the thought in the back of my mind.
After tuning the deck over the past couple months, this is the list I decided to register this weekend:
The current Amulet Titan lists have about 4-5 main deck flex slots which can be taken in several different ways. These have gone through many variations such as: mainboard Reclamation Sage, an extra threat such as Hornet Queen or Zacama, and Adventurous Impulse. Currently those are being filled by the 2 Trinket Mage, 2 Coalition Relic, and the extra Engineered Explosives. I think, at this point, Coalition Relic has become a mainstay and I would not register the deck without it.
Onto the sideboard, which is where you get into the real decisions. Because we play Summoner’s Pact, we basically can play any green bulk rare and probably do fine (people have registered cards like Gaea’s Revenge, so the world is your oyster in this regard). I can talk through each choice, but I believe 10 of them are non-negotiable.
4 Path to Exile, 1 Hornet Queen, 1 Reclamation Sage, 1 Engineered Explosives, 3 Negate/Spell Pierce: These are cards I would not leave home without. Reclamation Sage and Hornet Queen need to be in your 75 no matter what, and Path to Exile and Negate are your interactive spells post-board. In those matchups where EE is good, it is often the best card in your deck, and with Trinket Mage the additional copies come in handy.
1 Tormod’s Crypt: This is one of those slots that gives you too much value not to include. You can transmute for it with Tolaria West, you can find it with Ancient Stirrings, and you can search for it with Trinket Mage. This usually gives you enough time against Dredge to set up Bojuka Bog, and in some other matchups it is pretty much lights out. However, I would not bring this in against UR Phoenix. I would bring this in against Mono Red Phoenix, but not UR.
1 Chameleon Colossus: This is my random Green creature of choice recently, as it is basically unkillable against Grixis Death’s Shadow. More importantly for this past weekend, it was good in the Jund/GBx matchup.
1 Obstinate Baloth: This is the only slot I am currently thinking about changing. If I had access to a Thragtusk, I think that would have been slightly better. This is preference based on the player, but Thragtusk leaves behind a blocker after a Thing in the Ice flip which pushes me toward that direction.
1 Cavern of Souls: Cavern is in a weird place where it is good against not only control decks, but decks like Grixis Death’s Shadow and UR Phoenix when they are playing Disdainful Stroke. It ends up being the best card in the matchups you want it in.
1 Ruric Thar, the Unbowed: This is the spot most people playing Amulet will argue over. The main argument against this one is that the mana-base must be tooled to cast it. In my case I took out a Selesnya Sanctuary for a Gruul Turf and added a Horizon Canopy in place of a forest to keep the same number of white sources. This makes us weaker to Blood Moon, but we are playing Coalition Relic, so I am fine with the trade-off. I think the upside of this card is HUGE. Against Phoenix it stonewalls their Phoenixes and they can only cast 1, maybe 2, spells after this resolves. It is also good enough against Whir Prison that I want to have access to it. My only thoughts for replacement would be Hurkyl’s Recall which is better against the prison deck.
That’s it for the card choices. This is how my weekend played out.
Round 1: Mono-W Martyr (Win in 2, 1-0)
This player seemed relatively new to the format as he had some inclination of what my deck was doing but did not know how to sequence against me. He was activating Ghost Quarter and Field of Ruin during his main phase when he knew I had a bounce land in hand and Amulet in play. Other than playing around Path and not trying to haste a Primeval Titan, there wasn’t many decisions to be made in this game.
SB: A lot of the sideboard in this matchup depends on what your opponent is packing. After game 1, I had seen everything from Runed Halo to Crucible of Worlds to Worship. Main takeaway here is that EE is VERY good, and you need all your copies. The game is going to go long, so make sure to play fast and save Scout activations for Fields and Ghost Quarter.
His start is a little anemic as he plays a handful of 1 mana dorks and Squadron Hawks. I don’t have a Titan but I Trinket Mage for a Walking Ballista and start killing his creatures. I don’t know if he didn’t have a Path or was waiting for a Titan, but by the time he Pathed my Walking Ballista I had found a Titan and the game was over.
Round 2: Bring to Light Scapeshift (Win in 2, 2-0)
I assumed he was only Temur Scapeshift in the first game as I didn’t see any splash color. My first Titan was Remanded, but the following turn my hand was set up to cast 2 Titans in the same turn. His only interaction was a Cryptic Command, and after attack I transmuted for Pact of Negation and the game ended shortly after.
SB: Matchup is pretty even but you can die if they have enough interaction. Usually the strategy is to make them interact with you every turn and overload their permission. This is a matchup Ruric Thar gets to shine.
My hand has Pact of Negation and Trinket Mage, and my first Stirrings finds an Amulet. He plays basic swamp on turn 3 and I immediately realize he is Bring to Light. The worst part is the black splash can be trouble for us because of Slaughter Games. Luckily, I naturally draw my Cavern of Souls and by the time turn 5 comes around, he has 7 mana and I can cast a uncounterable Titan with double Amulet, get bounce land plus second Cavern and play another Titan. In combat he attempts to use Cryptic to tap my hasted Titans, which I proceed to Pact of Negation. He pauses for a minute (assuming looking at a Remand in his hand) and proceeds to die to my double striking Titans.
Round 3: Suicide Zoo (Win in 3, 3-0)
He cycles Street Wraith and I know I am in for a bad time. No action on turn 1 but he plays a Tarmogoyf on turn 2 and I assume he is on Jund Shadow, which is better for me but still not great. He bolts my Azusa to get in an attack after I play a couple of lands, but I am still able to beat his Death Shadow and Tarmogoyf after I resolve my Titan.
SB: The Shadow matchups are the reason we are packaging Chameleon Colossus, so he comes right on in. I assumed Baloth would be good because of K Command and discard, which didn’t end up working out. Scout dies to too much in this matchup to be effective, and since this is a race, we don’t have the luxury of taking out Amulet.
He fetches for Overgrown Tomb and plays Wild Nacatl which is slightly confusing, but everything starts to come together when he plays Sacred Foundry into Monastery Swiftspear plus Thoughtseize on 2. I Path his Tarmogoyf the following turn and the only important decision in this game comes down to which four-mana creature to Pact for (either Baloth or Colossus). I am at 10 life staring down 2 Swiftspears and a Nacatl, which makes me decide to get Colossus, so I don’t die to dismember plus bolt. His last card in hand was a battle rage which trades with the Nacatl and I die 2 turns later because I didn’t gain the 4 life with Baloth.
Turn 1 I play an EE for 1 and he plays Goblin Guide. Turn 2 I play bounce land and he plays Tarmogoyf. I play Azusa and leave up Path for his Tarmogoyf. He bolts my Azusa but the game ends the following turn with a Titan and my EE still in play.
Round 4: Jund (Lose in 3, 3-1)
I don’t remember much of this game other than he doesn’t have a Dark Confidant, and I had natural Khalni Garden, which saves me a bunch of life from an attacking Tarmogoyf. My hand gets torn apart but luckily you can’t Thoughtseize lands. My first Titan gets another, and he game ends shortly after.
SB: This is one of the matchups where Amulet of Vigor is at its worst. It is a lackluster draw in the late game, but since we have Trinket Mage and EE is one of our best cards in this matchup, leaving one in is basically free. Other than that, you want maximum threats and Fulminator Mage can sometimes leave you dead to Pacts, so no need to risk it when you bring in all your threats anyway.
His Turn 1 Thoughtseize sees Stirrings, Path (uncastable with the lands I had in hand), Baloth, Azusa, Relic, and some lands. He takes my Stirrings and I play land and pass. Luckily, I draw Gemstone Mine to Path his turn 2 Bob and the game proceeds on. Basically, the game ended when on turn 4 I play my Baloth and he slams Lilliana of the Veil. I die to this a couple turns later with a Ruric Thar in my hand that wouldn’t do anything.
I path his Bob, he Fulminators my bounce land, my Gemstone Mines end up being depleted and I die to a Lilliana.
Round 5: Goblins (Win in 3, 4-1)
This guy is a local player and a good friend of mine, so we know what we are working with. I win the die roll so his pile of 1/1’s don’t stand up to my Titan on turn 4. He attacks into my Titan and tries to Goblin Grenade it post-combat but I have my Pact of Negation.
SB: I know he has played Blood Moon in the past so I make sure to bring in Reclamation Sage but this matchup is basically 8-Whack in that it is just a race. Hornet Queen[c] is slightly slow and made even worse by [c]Legion Loyalist.
He is on the play and my Trinket Mage isn’t able to block his Piledriver. He kills me on his turn 4 with a flurry of spells from Prospector and War Marshal.
On the play again and his double Goblin Guide start draws me 4 lands before I am able to crack EE. He Skullcracks my Baloth putting me to 7 but my Titan fetching Kabira Crossroads the following turn ended the game quickly.
Round 6: ID into Top 8 (4-1-1, 5th Seed)
Quarters: Burn (Win)
I play against the guy I ID’ed with who is another local player known for playing Bogles. I mulligan a slow hand on the draw and find an EE which I snap off. Unfortunately, he plays turn 1 Grim Lavamancer and I am slightly disappointed. Luckily, I also had my Kabira Crossroads which was enough to win this game. I don’t think he drew any Searing Blazes which made it difficult for him to get through my creatures.
SB: #1 rule of the burn matchup for Amulet – It isn’t about their spells, it is about their creatures. Things like Eidolon and Goblin Guide dealing more than 3 points of damage is how you lose these games. The only spell you want to counter is Deflecting Palm. The best thing that can happen most of the time is they have a bunch of dead Smash to Smithereens or Destructive Revelry in their hand so plan around that.
Being on the draw hurts, as I proceed to get my Amulet Smashed to Smithereens and my hand of 3 drops was not able to get there.
I play an EE on 1 on turn 1 and he has a hand of three one drops, which doesn’t end well for him. Goblin Guide also drew me about 4 cards this game.
Semifinals: MonoG Tron (Win)
Played against my friend and teammate Jacob Crone. Luckily, I am the higher seed which means I am on the play. Turn 4 I couldn’t Titan on time because I had to transmute for it. I pass with Scout, Azusa, and Amulet in play ready to pact for a Titan next turn. He plays his last Tron land and plays O-Stone and immediately cracks it, which lets me freely play a Titan soon after.
SB: This matchup is light as far as possible board cards are concerned. Ramunap Excavator is really the only card that improves this matchup in any significant way. Most of this matchup comes down to if your opponent casts a fast Karn or Ulamog.
I think Jacob mulliganed low in this game because he was slower out of the gate. A timely Spell Pierce and Negate slows him down enough to be able to cast my Titan and copy Ghost Quarter with Vesuva, which was all mattered.
Finals: Jund (Win)
This is a grudge match against the Jund player I lost to in the Swiss. At this point we both have invites and we are playing for honor and glory. I don’t remember much of this match other than it was 2 games and a Hornet Queen off the top in game 2 was good enough to get there.
Before I started playing Amulet I heard something that still sticks with me after even after playing this for a couple months. “This is the hardest deck to play in modern that gives you the least percentage points for playing it well.” That just means that if you play this deck like a ham sandwich you are going to lose a lot, but even if you play this deck at 80% you are basically on par with the power level of the rest of modern. While I wouldn’t recommend picking this deck up for the first time before a big tournament, if you want to hunker down and learn the lines of play, you will eventually get rewarded.
I mentioned some possible changes above but after watching coverage of the open this weekend I saw Primal Command make a decent showing. That is probably what I am going to be testing in the coming weeks with -1 Trinket Mage +1 Primal Command as a place to start.
Follow me on Twitter at @WadeCLawson and Guildpact Gaming on Facebook if you want more information or want to reach out and talk to me!
Additional Sideboard Notes:
Sakura-Tribe Scout is not good against the Gut Shot deck. Blood Moon is their main interaction with you so sometimes if you pact for your first Titan it may be right to grab some basics so you don’t lose. Cavern of Souls isn’t a bad option if Disdainful Stroke is on your radar, but that isn’t something I see in recent Phoenix lists as Dispel is the only card you have to worry about.
This matchup is pretty good, as it turns out maindeck Bojuka Bog is PRETTY DEECE. Spell Pierce is good enough in this matchup as it can tag Reunions and Conflagrate but Negate is too slow. Reclamation Sage might be something to bring in if you see Damping Spherefrom them (which is why we leave one EE in).