Ever since I bought my Mana Drains, I couldn’t help but think what Drain deck I would just love to use with them. Sure, I ran Oath for a while and had success with it, and I even ran Trygon Tezz once and had success with it, too.
But none of those decks appealed to the kid in me who used to play stupid combo-prison decks because he read about their interactions in InQuest Magazine. Whether it was Stasis + Time Elemental or Daring Apprentice + Hell’s Caretaker + Breeding Pit, or even Null Brooch + Ensnaring Bridge, I loved me some combo, and I loved me some prison.
As strategies got more and more refined, the gap between combo and prison became wider and wider, and now, it’s hard to imagine a combo deck like, say, TPS, having anything to do with a prison deck, like, say, Shops.
And as I got into sanctioned play, I was easily identified in the Philippine metagame as “that combo dude.” I have played Ichorid, Tezz, Oath, and on one very rare occasion, even Landstill, but I was still “that combo dude.” Playing Steel City Vault didn’t really help to change that perception, probably because Steel City Vault plays like a Long deck without Tendrils.
So with Mana Drains, what deck could I possibly run that would allow me to come full circle and honor my roots as a combo-prison player? Surely, I couldn’t run Shops, as I didn’t own any. People would probably laugh at me if I played Stasis. I’m sure it would sound like a cooler story if I told you I was stumped, but I wasn’t, from the get-go.
I had my heart set on playing a spiritual successor to all those combo-prison decks I used to play: Remora.
Now, I call it a spiritual successor because of one simple thing: it isn’t a genuine prison deck, and outside of running Tendrils of Agony, it isn’t a genuine combo deck, either. It was a soft version of both, but with one very distinct archetype nobody can deny: it was a control deck. Not exactly the kind of deck I was ever known for playing, nor (clearly, as my tournament report would show in a bit) one I’ve tested quite extensively.
Remora is a stressful deck to play against in a powered meta. You don’t want to play anything that isn’t a creature or a land from your hand while the mysterious fish is on the table for fear of giving cards to your opponent. And the thing is, you may not be truly locked down by your opponent, but you feel like you are. That’s the signature of Remora right there, and what makes it such a potent threat.
Each turn, you hope and pray your opponent misses a land drop so he can’t pay for the upkeep. But he just doesn’t. Or he draws into a Mox. Or worse, he draws into a Sol Ring with a land open. You curse softly because you’re missing land drops and you’re behind on tempo because you didn’t want to give him any cards. It gets worse when you Time Walk, then he draws, and then smiles and lets you have your extra turn. You just realized that’s exactly what he wanted: for you to take extra turns while locked down under the Remora. More chances for you to be forced to let him draw cards. Less chances for his Remora to die.
Then, finally, aha! He can’t pay for the Remora next upkeep anymore! But wait! He casts Repeal, targeting his Remora. You try to get into a protracted counter battle with him, but each time you throw a Force Of Will at him, he gets to draw a new card. You predictably lose the counterwar, and he gets the Remora back, plus a cantrip for his troubles.
And then he replays the stupid fish, doing the dance all over again.
Now, imagine if that kind of dominance, that kind of power, is on your side of the table.
That’s the rush I got from playing Remora. It was intoxicating. It was addicting. It was the complete opposite of the demonstrations of power I normally show off when playing Steel City Vault, where I show off brute force and sheer strength. Remora is a different animal. It shows off its power by completely suffocating an opponent not by forcing them to not do anything (As Shop players do.), but by forcing them to not to want to do anything.
This was the deck I wanted to run, and people said it couldn’t make any impact in the Philippine meta. Except I took stock of the metagame, and realized how mistaken that assumption was: out of the average 20-30 players playing in a tournament, you can count on less than a fourth of them running a fully unpowered deck, unless if they’re Ichorid. This meant that I could count on more than half of the people playing to be powered decks, and come the Top 8, these were probably the decks I was going to see. All I needed to do was dance around the creature decks, and then I’d be able to grind out a respectable finish in the Top 8. Obviously, the hard part was actually getting to the Top 8.
Here’s the list I ran:
1 Blighsteel Colossus
2 Vendilion Clique
4 Force Of Will
3 Mana Drain
3 Mindbreak Trap
2 Hurklyl’s Recall
1 Ancestral Recall
1 Vampiric Tutor
1 Time Walk
1 Merchant Scroll
1 Yawgmoth’s Will
1 Demonic Tutor
1 Tendrils Of Agony
4 Mystic Remora
1 Sol Ring
1 Mana Crypt
1 Black Lotus
1 Time Vault
1 Voltaic Key
1 Jace, The Mind Sculptor
4 Misty Rainforest
1 Scalding Tarn
1 Snow-Covered Island
2 Underground Sea
1 Tropical Island
1 Strip Mine
1 Library of Alexandria
1 Tolarian Academy
4 Oath Of Druids
3 Forbidden Orchard
2 Yixlid Jailer
1 Nihil Spellbomb
You will notice that this deck bears more than just a striking resemblance to this list by Sergio Perez. I don’t know him, but I’ve been going over so many European lists lately because quite frankly, I find their output more interesting in general than the output of their US counterparts. I only really changed two cards from the list, so as far as I’m concerned, this still counts as Sergio’s deck.
Let me first go into a card-by-card analysis of why I used the cards that I did...
The manabase: This is the standard manabase you use for Remora decks. It has more basic lands than your average Vintage powered deck, and it works well that way because you want to be able to pay for Remora and not worry that Wasteland could get in the way of that. You also run Strip Mine instead of a third Underground Sea for the utility against lands that might prove problematic: a Tolarian Academy when you want to use your own, a Bazaar, or a Workshop. You also want your permanent sources, so no Petal or Mana Vault, which are only one-time uses for the most part. Lotus is an obvious exception, though.
The protection: Force Of Will and Mana Drain are a given, but some might be surprised by Mindbreak Trap. Except it fits very well, because there are only two strategies against Remora: to not play into it, or to commit to playing into it all-out. The former strategy is awesome since it means you don’t need to counter, but the latter is easily curtailed by a well-timed Mindbreak Trap. Vendilion Clique doubles as pressure and a pre-emptive strike against a threat in your opponent’s hand. I love it.
The win conditions: Vault-Key is awesome and easy to assemble when you’re drawing a ton of cards. Blightsteel Colossus is in because it’s easy to protect him when you’re hiding behind a wall of counters. The Clique can swing seven times, but that’s unlikely. Tendrils is viable with all your artifacts and bounce. Jace is just Jace and should never be ignored.
The card draw: This is the engine that makes this deck tick. Remora either lets you draw tons of cards or establish a manabase unmolested. Meditate is a powerful piece of draw, but it’s made even better when hiding under a Remora to mitigate the tempo loss. There’s no reason to not run Ancestral Recall and Brainstorm in this deck. If you lucked out and had Jace and Remora together, you can actually Fateseal your way to victory if you can pay the upkeep for long enough. It isn’t so difficult when you think about it.
The sideboard: What does Remora lose to? Creatures. What do creatures lose to? Oath of Druids. That’s why your board switches over to Oath, and with Emrakul and Blightsteel as your critters of choice, both generally need only one swing to wrap the game up in your favour. You also have problems with Ichorid, so the rest of your slots are all for them, but given the slots you have for the Oath plan, this means you have no direct board slots against anything else. I actually wouldn’t mind using Extirpate against Tezz, by the way. If I can make Time Vault disappear for good, I’d be all the better for it.
In any case, here’s my tournament report. I know the intro I wrote was so much hype, but I decided to just do a tournament report instead of a primer midway through writing it. Maybe when I have an actual tournament win with the deck under my belt, or at least learn to actually play it competently enough for me to not feel I made some critical play errors throughout the tournament, and I was just lucky enough that I still made it as far as I did.
First Round: Versus Trygon Tezz (Migs)
The first game was pretty interesting as I didn’t really get anything going, because my opening hand only had FOW, a Merchant Scroll, Jace, lands, and a Mox. I kept it because it was solid enough, though.
Unfortunately, I lost the coin flip on my trusty Android MTG App. Migs opens with Moxen, and it was clear to me that based on his Tropical Island, he was either Tezz or Bant. I was guessing he was Tezz, though, and I was right when he plopped down a Voltaic Key. I had a non-happening hand, but apparently, so did he. I decimated his hand further when I topdecked a Vendilion Clique, which I cast after his draw step on his third turn. The Clique damaged him a bit, but he also had his own Confidant helping him out. When he hit five life around three turns later, I polished him off with a Tendrils for six to the dome.
Sideboarding Plan: -4 Remora, -2 Clique, -1 Tendrils, -3 Island, +3 Orchard, +1 Forest, +1 Emrakul, +1 Nihil Spellbomb.
My opening hand allowed me to cast Oath on the first turn, but didn’t have Orchard. Still, I liked my chances – until Migs decided to Thoughtseize Oath away. The next turn, he assembled Vault-Key, and that was all she wrote.
Sideboarding Plan: -4 Oath, -1 Emrakul, -3 Orchard, -1 Forest, -1 Nihil Spellbomb, +4 Remora, +3 Island, + 2 Extirpate + 1 Clique.
I fanned open a no-lander. Grumble. My opening six was an all-lander. Grumble. I fanned open my five cards, and saw: land, Ancestral, Meditate, Demonic Tutor, Mindbreak Trap. Not good, but I don’t have much of a choice. I try to Ancestral, to which he responds with Force Of Will. Then, he opens with Black Lotus, land, Jace. Grumble. I topdecked... a Repeal. He then plays a land, holding up what I assumed was Pierce or Dain protection. I topdecked... a Tinker. On one land. He plops down a Trygon Predator. It was pretty clear I was easily under control at this point. A few turns later, he assembled Vault-Key piecemeal. He never even gave me a chance to Mindbreak him.
Not the most auspicious start to my tournament. I was at 0-1.
Second Round: Versus Dredge
I vaguely remembered facing this guy last tournament, and assumed he was Dredge. He won the coin flip, and my assumption was correct. I fanned open an exciting opening hand: Strip Mine, Fetchland, Fetchland, Ancestral Recall, Force Of Will, Mana Drain, Repeal. He opened with Bazaar, and when he discarded, there were no Dredgers. I stripped his Bazaar. He drew dead for the next three turns, which allowed me to Ancestral into a Tinker and a Mana Crypt, and hit him with Blightsteel Colossus.
Thank you, Strip Mine!
Sideboarding Plan: -4 Remora, -2 Meditate, +2 Extirpate, + 2 Yixlid Jailer, +1 Darkblast, +1 Nihil Spellbomb.
I had this hand: Mox Jet, Black Lotus, Vampiric Tutor, land, land, FOW, Time Walk. He opened this time with an Undiscovered Paradise, expecting to drag the game out against me. I opened with Jet, Lotus, land. He plays a Bazaar, and he drops Bridges and Dread Return. Whew. No dredgers at all. I Vamp EOT, he realizes what I probably was gonna get, and I went for it. Tinker into the Colossus. I then hit Time Walk to seal the deal.
I’ve only evened things up, and I just got lucky this time against Dredge. 1-1.
Round 3: Versus Faerie Fish (Aries)
This was a very interesting matchup. I won the coin flip this time, and lo and behold, I fanned open a hand of Lotus, land, Brainstorm, Clique, land, Mox, and land. I played Lotus, Land, and then after his draw step, I went with Clique. He Forced it, and then he laid down a Voltaic Key. I drew, did nothing of consequence, and within two turns, he plopped down Time Vault on me and that was that.
Sideboarding Plan: -1 Remora, -1 Tendrils, -2 Clique, -1 Repeal, - 2 Meditate, -2 Island, +4 Oath, +3 Orchard, +1 Forest, +1 Emrakul.
I open this doozy of a hand: Vampiric Tutor, land, Mox, land, FOW, Drain, Oath. I played a land, a Mox, and passed the turn to him. He played a Sol Ring, and then EOT, I Vamp’d for an Orchard. I played the Orchard, Oath, and he was shocked. He played a land, then a Voltaic Key. I Oath into Blightsteel, draw nothing relevant, and play a land. He tries to cast a Trinket Mage. I Drain it, and he scoops.
Sideboarding Plan: Undo all my boarding from the previous round.
I hatch another broken opening hand: Mana Crypt, land, Sol Ring, Mox, Tinker, Brainstorm, Mindbreak Trap. He opens with a Skullclamp, and I open with a Tinker. He looks at the Blightsteel, and then shrugs and casts a Trinket Mage. I let it through, obviously. I draw from the topdeck, and it was... Repeal! I bounded the Mage, and the Colossus poisoned Aries to death.
I may be getting my bearings, but Remora hasn’t played a factor in these matches yet. At all. 2-1.
Round 4: Versus Oath (Luis)
Oh, joy. Of course you could never write Oath off, but how many other decks can I think of in the meta that would typically never cast a creature throughout the game at all? TPS and NLD? I knew I had a huge advantage, but I also knew that the advantage only exists if Remora hits the table. And in Game 1, it definitely did. I won the flip, hid behind Land, Mox, Remora, (FOW) and Ancestral still residing in my hand. He allowed me to refill my hand, and then the next turn, when finally, my hand hit eight, I pitched the stupid Colossus I was holding onto. I Tinkered it back into play, and Luis couldn’t do anything about it.
Sideboarding Plan: -3 Island, -2 Clique, +3 Forbidden Orchard, +2 Extirpate.
He opened with Mox, Orchard, Oath. I didn’t have a counter in my hand, but I had Vampiric Tutor, Orchard, and a bunch of irrelevant blue cards, none of them FOW or Mindbreak Trap. Having said that, he was shocked to see the Orchard, but he had a second one in hand, so my Vamp only kept us even. I attacked into his tokens, leaving us with no tokens each. Unfortunately, he got Time Walk, then proceeded to kill me with a hasted Blightsteel Colossus.
Game 3 was a nail-biter. I established control with Remora during the opening of the game, and had a hand full of goodies. He had his back against the wall over four turns, as I had answers to everything he did, normally topdecking into a FOW when I needed it. Unfortunately, my inexperience with the deck reared its ugly head, and when he went on this play sequence: Demonic Tutor, Time Vault, Voltaic Key, Not only did I stop drawing cards after Demonic Tutor, I forgot to Mindbreak Trap the Key. I scooped before I realized my mistake, and that was all she wrote for this match. Grumble.
That was dumb. Really dumb. But no matter, I will not forget to keep track of spell counts from now on. It will never, eeeeeveeeerrr happen again. 2-2\
Round 5: Versus NLD (Ching)
Ching is my teammate, yet we have never tested against each other, I believe. I win the coin flip, and I look quizzically at my hand: FOW, Meditate, Brainstorm, land, land, Tendrils, Mox. I filter my hand through Brainstorm, and get a second Mox and then a Vendilion Clique. I throw back the Tendrils and the land. I draw, play the fetchland, then get Clique into play. Next turn, with his back to the wall as he clearly didn’t have anything to do except maybe to Duress me, I topdecked an Ancestral Recall, fired it off, got a Tendrils, a Mox, and a Hurklyl’s Recall, and then went Mox, Hurk’s, Mox, Mox, Mox, Tendrils for 14 life. He couldn’t stabilize from there, so when I found Yawgmoth’s Will, I just went for the win.
Sideboarding Plan: -1 Tendrils, -2 Hurklyl’s Recall, +2 Extirpate, +1 Nihil Spellbomb.\
He opens, and he plays a land. Man, his hand struck me as slow. Meanwhile, I had a hand that could Tinker in two turns, and that’s exactly what I did. He didn’t have a response to it.
Well, at this point, if I win again, I have a high chance of making it into the top 8. 3-2.
Round 6: Versus Confidant Tendrils (?)
I won the coin flip, and fanned open a very interesting hand: Land, Land, Land, FOW, FOW, Remora, Drain. Pretty solid, so I snap-keep, and open with Remora. He plays into Remora, and I end up getting Voltaic Key, Mindbreak Trap, Mox, and Tinker. I pay the upkeep of Remora, I play Mox, Key, and a land, then he tries playing into Remora again, giving me even more ammo. I tinkered Time Vault two turns later into play and took the rest of the turns from there.
Sideboarding Plan: -1 Tendrils, -1 Hurklyl’s, -1 Jace, +2 Extirpate, +1 Nihil Spellbomb (I sincerely think I boarded out Jace wrongly here.)
He tries to Thoughtseize me, and I Force him. This is because my hand featured: Time Walk, Mox, Land, Voltaic Key, Demonic Tutor, Force Of Will, Merchant Scroll. I topdecked a Mox, which allowed me to go Mox, Land, Mox, Key, Walk, then I topdecked another land the turn after, which allowed me to Tutor for Time Vault.
After hearing naysayers tell me that Remora can’t do it, I find myself snugly in the Top 8. (4-2)
Quarterfinals: Versus Faerie Fish (Aries)
It’s Aries again, but this time, he came more prepared. He opens with a Skullclamp. I open with a Remora, which gets through. I then play a Mox, a Lotus, and I Tinker into Colossus. It goes through, and on his turn, he hits Echoing Truth on it. I forget to draw, and hold onto the Colossus. I draw-go as I pay for the upkeep, each time topdecking a land to keep me alive, and holding onto FOW, Meditate, and Mana Drain. I was surprised he never tried to Wasteland me. That would’ve ended things sooner. So finally, I play my fourth land (meaning it’s my fourth turn), then on his turn, he lands two more Skullclamp. I draw into Repeal, bounce my Remora, it goes through, then I replay it, and cast Vendilion Clique on his draw step. I start beating him down with Remora covering my tracks. At one point, since I reset the upkeep for Remora, I topdecked a Lotus, Meditated, then Meditated again, then played a land, bringing me to seven cards. I use Library of Alexandria to draw, and then play a Mox Pearl. On his three turns, he tried to match my card draw by playing Painter’s Servant and clamping it to three Skullclamps to draw 6 cards. Then he tried to unload his hand, and I only stopped him from playing a Trinket Mage by Mindbreaking him. He was down to 9. I drew and topdecked a Time Walk. I swung twice, bringing him down to 3 life. The previous turn of his, he had Mana Crypt in play. He loses the flip, and we go to Game 2.
Sideboarding Plan: -4 Remora, -2 Clique, -1 Tendrils, -3 Island, +3 Orchard, +1 Forest, +1 Emrakul, +1 Nihil Spellbomb.
I hide behind Remora again, but this time, the game is slightly faster, because instead of Clique, we end up with a Yawgmoth’s Will into a Tinker into Colossus, and his only answer to it was a Sower Of Temptation. Unfortunately, I had Mana Drain at the ready for it, and that was game. He ran out of mana because he clamped too greedily. And, oh, Darkblast allowed me to deal with his Glen Elendra with relative ease once he clamped it and tried to swing at me. The second time she died was when I baited her with Tinker. Then I Y.Willed into it anyways afterwards.
Semi-Finals: Versus Steel City Vault (Ozy)
Ozy and I tested with each other two nights before the tournament, and the results were staggeringly in my favour. Once I had Remora, his only recourse was to Welder, then hope he could pick up enough artifacts so he could weld Vault-Key back after I counter it. Furthermore, since SCV was the deck I was running last tournament, any plays Ozy would make, I would have a good foreknowledge of, as I’ve goldfished no less than 2,000 games for that deck over the course of a year. Thank heavens for MWS/Cockatrice, I suppose.
I win the coin flip, and I open with land, Mox, Remora. He grumbles, but responds with a Welder. I didn’t have any counters except for a Mana Drain, unfortunately. I keep up the Remora payment for two more turns, then EOT, repeal the Remora to my hand. Here’s where it gets interesting, as I was holding Yawgmoth’s in my hand, already... I topdecked Lotus, I played Meditate, then drew land, Tendrils, Hurklyl’s Recall, land. I then play Lotus, then Hurklyl’s, then replay Lotus, Mox. I then Yawgmoth’s Will, Replay Lotus, Replay Hurklyl’s, Replay Lotus, Mox, Tendrils.
Sideboarding Plan: -1 Remora, -2 Meditate, -3 Island, -2 Clique, -1 Hurklyl’s, -1 Tendrils, -1 Repeal, +4 Oath, +3 Orchard, +1 Forest, +1 Emrakul, +1 Nihil Spellbomb, +1 Extirpate.
He opens with a bunch of artifacts. Given that my hand only had Mindbreak as defense, he gingerly waltzed around it, and proceeded to beat me with Vault-Key in three turns.
On game 3, I had this sick hand: Lotus, Orchard, Land, Oath, Tinker, Force Of Will, Mana Crypt. I opened and played Lotus, Crypt, Orchard, then Tinkered for Colossus. Then I tapped Orchard, and played the Oath. Ozy almost cried. He looked at his topdeck, and scooped.
Finals: Versus Tezz (Jay Pangasinan)
Jay has normally been my Waterloo, as the man holds a winning record over me. To my recollection, I have only ever beaten him twice, and each time, our games have always been high-tension, the result always in question until the final turn. He was also the only player of note to have encountered me during the only other time I have played a control deck, having knocked me out of the Top 4 back then.
He insists on using his dice instead of my app, so I oblige him. I win the roll, and I open with Library of Alexandria, intending to get to seven cards next turn and slowly overwhelm him with card advantage. But he opened with Thoughtseize, and removed my Vampiric Tutor from the equation. I then drew Remora, cast Mox Emerald, played an Underground Sea, and played it. He slow-played into the Remora, and after two turns, I Repeal the Remora back to my hand. I replay it, and then he tries to cast a Confidant on his turn. I Drain it.
Then I make the first unobvious mistake of the match: with the Drain Mana, I used it to Meditate on my main phase when I had Ancestral Recall in hand. Guess I got too greedy with the cards. He then used his two turns to space out his spells and dance around Mindbreak Trap as he assembles Vault and Key through Yawgmoth’s Will.
Sideboarding Plan: -1 Remora, -2 Meditate, -3 Island, -2 Clique, -1 Repeal, +4 Oath, +3 Orchard, +1 Forest, +1 Emrakul.
I fan open a solid hand of lands, Mindbreak, Ancestral Recall. Oath, Vampiric Tutor. I open with Ancestral on his upkeep. It goes through, but he hits me with Thoughtseize and takes out the Remora I drew into. I then play a land and pass the turn to him. He plays a Jace, and is met with no opposition. I Vamp for Orchard. Stupid, stupid, stupid. I cast Oath, and realize that Jace will bounce the creature anyways, so I didn’t bother Oathing. So over the course of the game, he Fateseals me while I try to establish control of him under Remora.
Unfortunately, when I finally went nuts after his penultimate turn, I realized my second unobvious mistake: I Brainstormed Jace back into my deck early on. The moment I pass the turn to him, Jace would ultimate me, and that’d be the game right there. So I scooped, and that was the end of my unbelievable run with Remora, which I played for the very first time.
Overall, I can’t complain, since all I really wanted to do was to prove a point and top 8 with the deck, which is exactly what I did. It was a challenge to play, and I can’t help but feel that I’m gonna do it all over again at some point, when I rethink whether ror not I should keep Vault-Key or Tendrils as my alternate kill condition. To be honest, having both spread the deck too thin. With only three copies of Repeal, it was harder to cantrip into ten storm.
But hey, at least I can now say I’m not just “that combo guy,” right? Right?