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1.29.03 - Beating Pros-Tides

Beating Pros-Tides

Pros-Tides is one of the most exciting PEZ decks out there and everyone seems to be talking about it since it swept Gen Con last year. Some people talk about it because it is good, but I think the reason it generates so much discussion is because it breaks the mold of what PEZ decks are thought to be. No one expects a mono-blue combo deck to win in an environment like this and people donít expect a $20 deck to win consistently on Turn 3. No one expects this from a deck without rares and with only 5 uncommons. For the benefit of those who arenít familiar with the build here is the one I have used in testing, although it is only 1 card different from the one played by Erik at Gen Con:

4 Cloud of Faeries
4 Frantic Search
4 Opt
4 Brainstorm
4 Impulse
3 Merchant Scroll (2 in the Gen Con deck)
1 Mystic Tutor (Uncommon)
3 Disrupt (4 in the Gen Con deck)
4 Snap
4 High Tides
4 Prosperity
1 Feldonís Cane
20 Island
SB: 4 Blue Elemental Blast
SB: 3 Annul
SB: 2 Boomerang
SB: 3 Force Spike
SB: 1 Feldonís Cane
SB: 2 Words of Wisdom (My sideboard is still in the basic testing phases and not set)

There are different builds but most follow this pretty closely. Some players feel uncomfortable with a deck that wins or loses by pulling an early combo and these players water down the deck by the inclusion of additional counters. This change makes the deck much slower than one would think. The other area of greatest divergence is in the single extra uncommon component. For players worried about this deck being without answers, I would suggest changing the Mystic Tutor to Force of Will. Others have suggested Turn About or Washout.

The deck works by playing High Tides, a card that makes all Islands produce an additional Blue mana until end of turn. Then the deck plays Cloud of Faeries, Snap, and Frantic Search (all of which allow you to untap a number of lands equal to the casting cost). The deck uses this mana to play as large a Prosperity as possible, while floating 3-4 mana. The deck then uses the cards drawn from Prosperity to try and repeat the process until they deck their opponent all in a single turn.

Many players feel like this deck is too good or that cards need to be banned to keep it from destroying the format. Maybe, instead, we should look at ways any deck can beat it. Other decks donít need to have a 100% chance of beating Pros-Tides but if just half the field gets a 50/50 shot against Tides I donít think people will feel that this deck is so unfair anymore and it wonít sweep any more tournaments without a great deal of luck, deck improvement, and skillful play.

Rule #1 Ė The best defense is a good offense. Tides can go off on turn 3 (actually, with a perfect hand and the entire deck stacked right it is possible to go off turn 2 but this will probably never happen in a game). Tides players, however, know that every additional turn they wait greatly increases their chances of success. A good player will never try to go off until they are assured of the win or they will lose next turn. By being as aggressive as possible you decrease their clock and can force them to go off earlier when you still have a decent chance of winning. Whether or not you have answers in the SB, make sure that after using the SB your deck has the maximum number of damage dealing cards possible (all direct damage and creatures in, all life gain/card drawing/enchantment removal/other utility cards out).

Rule #2 Ė A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. While Pros-Tides is arguably the most powerful deck in PEZ it does have moments of weakness throughout the game. Early hand or land disruption can put the deck off its pace. The deck canít deal with counterspells well at all. But most importantly, High Tides is weak while itís running the combo. If the combo is forced to go off early, the deck will tap out to cast the first Snap or Frantic Search, disrupting this spell (through a counter or, in the case of Snap, by removing the target before it resolves) in response to its casting will shut down the combo immediately. Whether or not the combo goes off early, depending on whether a player is aggressive or conservative, they will float either 3 or 4 mana after every Prosperity. Since Snap and Cloud of Faeries both cost 2 and Frantic Search costs 3 they will be able to play, at most, 2 counters against you (and these will most likely be spells like Disrupt or Force Spike). By playing your answer in response to their spell you can avoid a mass of counters and shut them down by denying them enough mana to continue the combo. Even if you have nothing that will shut down the combo completely or get by their counter, by forcing them to use extra mana to thwart you they have denied themselves a number of cards equal to the mana they spent against you. For a deck like Pros-Tides every card drawn is critical to success.

Rule #3 Ė Know your own strengths. Many players have talked about 4 Tormodís Crypt in the SB or running 8 Red Elemental Blasts in the SB (REB and its cousin). Unless you know that most of the field at a given tourney is playing a single deck it is never a good idea to skew your sideboard so heavily. You just make yourself weaker against the rest of the field. As I will discuss below, every color has options that involve only a couple cards from the SB or that use cards that are already a part of the deck. You will always be stronger by playing the cards that make your color strong. This way, you are playing your game and not the Pros-Tides playerís.

Rule #4 Ė Be decisive and think ahead. Every turn remind yourself how you are going to beat Pros-Tides. Try to anticipate when they will go off and plan accordingly. If you will need mana to stop them make sure you leave it available. This means you have to look a few turns ahead, if you focus on what is best just for this turn you will lose. This is true in games against any deck but there are very few decks that play out as predictably as Pros-Tides. There are also very few decks that are as unforgiving of opponentís errors as Pros-Tides.

Rule #5 Ė Never give up, never surrender. Pros-Tides is not a sure thing. A bad shuffle can leave the combo player out in the cold. Even though the deck can start to go off on turn 3 it only has maybe a 60% chance of success that turn. Sure the first 2 Prosperity can go off without a hitch but maybe Feldonís Cane is on the very bottom of the deck, maybe there are 12 lands in a clump, or maybe the other 2 Prosperity are on the bottom. By making the player play out the whole combo you allow yourself a chance to win in every game. They might make a mistake or not find the right card but if you scoop right away you will never know.

Listed below are answers for each of the colors. Black has the longest list because it has the most options and the options that apply to other colors have to be explained as to how they work. In order to be considered as a proper answer to Pros-Tides; the card had to be an instant unless there was some way to play it before Pros-Tides went off, had to be a common (unless it was one of the near automatic uncommon picks for the given color), and had to be something already included in most decks or a card that would take up less than 3 slots in the SB.

Black Ė Black has a number of good options against Pros-Tides. Even in game 1, chances are that you can disrupt the combo for at least an extra turn or two. Duress is especially potent if played correctly. The correct cards to ditch (in order of importance, although this is subject to game situation and personal judgement) are Feldonís Cane (this equals a win for you), Prosperity, High Tides, Frantic Search, Snap, Merchant Scroll/Mystic Tutor, Cloud of Faeries, Impulse, Opt, Brainstorm. If you have a way to disrupt the combo latter, like instant targeted removal, then Disrupt or any other counterspell is #2 on the list. Also, if you have a card like Hymn to Tourach, use Duress first and then Hymn. You may be able to hold the Hymn for a turn and get a more useful discard then. Any other discard spells are just as good as long as you can play them early.

Cheap land destruction, usually in the form of Sinkhole, is also a good way to hold off the combo for a few turns as well. Pros-Tides needs land. Part of the reason the deck likes extra turns is for the critical card draws. The more important factor, however, is that after the High Tides each mana source in the deck expands exponentially. At 3 land, the deck can go off and may win. At 4 land, the deck will usually win. At 5 mana and above, the deck will almost always win.

Black also has another piece of the puzzle for stopping Pros-Tides, creature destruction. To be of any use against Pros-Tides the spell must be an instant because it must be cast in response to Snap. By killing off the Cloud of Faeries in response to Snap you keep a total of 4 mana from the Pros-Tides player. If you can do this on the turn they go off (if they only have 3 or 4 land in play) there is a good chance you can survive until the next turn.

All of these options just delay the inevitable and you must hope that your deck is fast enough to make effective use from those extra turns. If your deck is not fast enough to clinch the win right away that means you are probably playing Control Black. In that case you have to use the fourth option.

Tormodís Crypt in the SB is not an option for most decks to beat Pros-Tides since you would need 4 copies to give you a good chance of drawing them before Tides goes off. With Black decks, however, you have access to Demonic Tutor (it doesnít work so well with Demonic Consultation). This allows you to throw 1 or 2 Crypts into your SB and have a good shot at getting one out early, especially with a little disruption.

Blue Ė Well if you canít beat Pros-Tides with a handful of counters you better quit Magic :) Seriously, if you have a Blue deck the only thing you should be doing is playing land and waiting until you have a good supply of extra land before you play any cards. You can probably get away with card drawing spells on the first and second (if you played first) turns or if you donít have a couple counter or bounce (you can bounce a Faerie in response to Snap although this will only deny your opponent 2 mana, unless it is on turn 3 in which case it shuts them down) spells in your hand, but after that make sure you leave mana untapped. You do get an added bonus since High Tides affects you as well.

Green Ė Beating Pros-Tides with Green decks is the hardest thing you will have to do. Some Green decks may be fast enough to beat Tides and aggression is your best option but it might be good to have a back-up plan. So far I have found 2 options.

The first is also the best. With 1 or 2 Rust in the SB, and mana held in reserve to beat the counters, you should stand a good chance of winning. You donít need a search spell to find it because it is an instant and is used in response to the Feldonís Cane they will activate before the final Prosperity. At that point in the game you have about 35-50 cards in your hand so there is a good chance that Rust is one of them. If you have the SB room I would include the second copy just in case your luck is really bad.

The second option is really crazy and Iím not sure that I like it, but it would be nuts to see it played out in a game. First, you will need to have a Wild Mongrel in play (your Green deck does have 4 Mongrels right?). You dump all the creature spells in your hand to the Mongrel on the turn Tides goes off or in response to them Snap-ing the Mongrel. Most Green decks can dump 20+ cards this way. Then you play the Repopulate that was in your SB and itís like your own Feldonís Cane. Again 1 or 2 Repopulate are sufficient in the SB and, unlike Rust, Repopulate is actually somewhat useful against some other deck designs.

The downside to both of these solutions is that, unlike most colorís answers to Pros-Tides, both of these cards are played when the Pros-Tides player has enough mana to fuel all of the counters in their hand. They are also both late game responses, which means the opponent will have those counters. Luckily, with the counters in most Pros-Tides decks, you should only need 4 mana in reserve.

The best answer for Green, and a good answer for any deck, is to use the SB to make your deck as quick and aggressive as possible.

Red Ė Red has many of the same advantages as Black. It has land destruction, although with any deck against Tides you should be careful with Strip Mines and spells like Raze if you have another option to beat them since these spells will also stall your mana supply.

Just as Black uses its creature removal in Response to Snap you can do the same thing. There are some games that will force you to use this strategy, and you should practice enough so that you can identify those situations, but there is a better use for all of your direct damage Ė win directly.

One weakness of Pros-Tides is that it gives your opponent a huge handful of cards. Red can take advantage of this the best since 1/3 or more of those cards are probably direct damage in the form of instants. Just burning them as soon as you can is a mistake, there is, after all, a perfect time for everything. Ideally you would like to cast your damage spells in response to a Frantic Search cast after the second Prosperity. This means their mana pool is empty or at 1 mana. Failing that, you want to cast it in response to the third Prosperity, since they wonít have drawn the final cards in their deck and will probably only have 3 mana in their pool. The key is to make sure you have the mana available to cast all the necessary spells and pay mana for as many counters as they can muster (usually between 1 and 4 mana). Fireblast is a big help here, just remember to tap those lands for mana first. In order to make this whole plan work you have to inflict as much damage as you can before they go off. On the turn they start the combo you must decide if you can pull this off, and if not, you will have to use the above strategy and burn a Faerie to fizzle the Snap.

Lastly, Red has the most talked about answer to Pros-Tides: Pyroblast/Red Elemental Blast. People are talking about including 4 of each in their SBís. I think that is a mistake. Sure, including 5 or more gives you a very good chance at winning (almost automatic) but it also eats up most of your SB. Pre-SB Red has about the same chance of beating Tides as Black decks do, maybe even better. I just donít think the threat of Tides justifies that kind of SB waste. Also, remember that Pros-Tides will almost always sideboard out Disrupt in favor of Blue Elemental Blast in games 2 and 3, donít forget this in your math.

White Ė Most White decks have a hard time beating Pros-Tides. Even White Weenie builds tend not to establish a fast enough clock and this color really only has methods to slow Pros-Tides in most games. Still, White has access to the most non-sideboard early drops for slowing Pros-Tides.

Just as Black and Red can attempt to disrupt the combo by removing Cloud of Faeries in response to Snap, White can use Swords to Plowshares for the same purpose. Just as good as removing a creature is granting Snapís target protection from Blue. Everything from Mother of Runes to Cho-mannoís Blessing can be useful here and they are cards that are likely to be in your White Weenie builds. Standard Bearer also helps a little since the Snap must target him and that will generate only 2 mana for the Pros-Tides player as opposed to 4 mana.

For establishing a clock the best card in Whiteís arsenal is Empyrial Armor. I have long been a supporter of using Empyrial Armor in decks where the uncommon component was Enlightened Tutor and Land Tax as opposed to the usual choices of Mother of Runes and Swords to Plowshares. You will note that both MoR and StP are effective early game drops to disrupt Pros-Tides but the other side of the coin is that Enlightened Tutor can do more than pull an Armor to establish a quick clock. Enlightened Tutor can also be used to find a Tormodís Crypt brought in from the sideboard, a very effective way to fight against Tides.

Even so, White still has the least chance of beating Pros-Tides but, even with main deck cards, it always has a chance.

In the end, no one solution generates an automatic win against Pros-Tides every game. At the same time just playing correctly against Pros-Tides increases your chance of winning even with no deck alteration. With some of the deck alterations suggested here (or your own creative solutions like using Fling and Empyrial Armor in your WR build) you give yourself more than just a fighting chance. Pros-Tides is and will continue to be a powerful force in PEZ but there is no reason to fear the deck and it is about time that player put fear into Pros-Tides. Never give up, never surrender!

Jason Chapman Ė chaps_man@hotmail.com

 


 

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