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Author Topic: 5C Humans - Article/Primer  (Read 5373 times)
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« on: April 02, 2015, 09:50:43 am »


Welcome to the wonderful realm of endless possibilities. That is in fact what 5C Humans is about. You get to explore and experiment with cards that normally would be classified as questionable for Vintage competitive play. So what makes cards like Exava, Rakdos Blood Witch or Mayor of Avabruck good in a Vintage deck?

5C Humans is an idea that has slowly established itself and became a small part of the metagame just about almost everywhere. You will see many iterations and players trying out all kinds of stuff, but there is a clear common identifiable overlap between these lists. So how can we define 5C Humans, or how can we generate a definition that will serve as a good reference for all the different takes on the archetype.

1. 5C Humans is not a hatebear deck. It is also not an descendant of the GWx hatebear deck. At best, you can call the two archetype distant cousins. But it is a creature based deck. Usually the hatebear that is used by 5C Humans it Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. With the printing of Containment Priest, some lists have been using Priest in main deck as well.

2. 5C Humans is a control deck. If you really want to compare, I would compare the deck with landstill. Cavern of Souls, Mental Misstep, Abrupt Decay and Thalia are cards that serve as our denial package. Some decks have shifted towards Sudden Shock instead of Mental Misstep to react to the Monastery Mentor presence. A card like Exava might seem as a creature that just beats, but it is in fact our card that counters Jace and other Planeswalker strategies. This is taking up the control role.

3. 5C Humans is not a topdeck mode deck. Even the most tempo-ish versions I made have had Dark Confidant and Dack. The most standard list of 5C Humans has (and should have) Sensei's Divining Top. The combination of Top, Dack and Dark Confidant is what gives me, personally, the feeling that I am on 5C Humans.

4. 5C Humans is a powered deck. Again, there are versions out there that do not run all the power. But you will see that most lists will have all the power and even the black tutors with Demonic and Vampiric to find Ancestral, Time Walk or Strip Mine. 5C Humans does run most of the restricted cards, and can compete with the blue decks in that regard. I have even been trying out Mystical Tutor recently, with the idea to get Time Walk, because in normal circumstances, the Human deck has things like Mayor, Top and/or Dark Confidant in play, and these cards benefit greatly from an extra turn. Or if you have an active Dack for example. This might help you get closer to what you are looking for, or get Dack closer to his Emblem. In any case, in a deck with plenty of permanents that 'do stuff', taking extra turns sounds pretty good. Not to mention you get an extra attack phase, and with a card like Exava, that is brutal.

5. 5C Humans is rewarding. The time you invest in building your own version accordingly with your target meta in mind, is well compensated when you are going through your swiss rounds. This is the most important argument for me. You have a high surprise value and it leads to quick games wins. This has to do with the fact that 5C Humans is probably only 2% of metagame. Nobody is expecting it and do not know how to play correctly against it. You on the other hand, have been testing and tuning for a long time, and you will punish even the smallest mistakes pretty easily. Getting in the top 8 is in that regard much easier than people realize. And once you are in the top 8, you still will keep most of the surprise value, because nobody is going to crack their match up against 5C Humans just by 'hearing' about it.

So these five properties are the ones that I find typical for the archetype. Obviously one or two can always be used to describe another deck. But to have all of them compressed in one idea, is what I call 5C Humans. A sixth property that could be add is that 5C Humans runs non Human creatures as well, just to clarify. You do not have to run only Humans, the title or name of the archetype could be misleading. Stoneforge Mystic is a good example of this. The card can get Batterskull, and it has been a returning theme to have some kind of life gain options to compensate for the damage your are taking. Most lists do run Mana Confluence and some even run City of Brass on top. The 5C stands for five color and that does sometimes call for the use of gold lands to support all the different color cards being used.

So what will you be able to read in the upcoming article? For starters I will start by pointing out that there are a lot of decks that call themselves 'Humans'. I will try to shed some light on that matter. After that you can take a look at the most used cards so far. You will be able to read how I look at these cards. Once you are familiar of the cards, you can move on to a couple of deck lists that me and a couple of others have used in competitive environments with good results. I will point analyze these lists and attach the tournament reports of the lists that I piloted in events. Next there will be a chapter where I discuss the workshop match up in specific. To finish things off, I will talk about the current meta shifts and how I think 5C Humans should evolve to survive.

All them Humans?

Let me quickly give you the history on the matter. Humans started after I decided to stop working on GWx Hatebear startegies. Now the GWx Hatebear archetype was something that was a direct result of my old (2007-2008) Gaddock lists. The first attempts of myself to make aggro control work (with Vials and not Null Rod). I don't remember the exact day, but at some point (after Thalia was printed), I took Dark Confidant, Noble, Thalia and started testing. After a while I added Mayor of Avabruck. I remember a lot of tuning with AmbivalentDuck. We tested mana bases with Ancient Zigurat (Mana Confluence was not printed) and Phyrexian Revoker was a staple too, with even things like Phantasmal Image and Meddling Mage. There should be some threads on TMD if you go use the search option. I would like to thank Duck here for all his support back then, and he never really took any credit, but he is in fact one of the masterminds behind what we call 5C Humans right now. This was in my view how it all started, because nobody else was working on it.

Then it slowly attracted attention left and right. Brian Kelly was the first that actually went to a paper event and achieved good results with the Mayor Fish strategies. He really invested a lot of time and effort to make it work. He innovated with Exava, the Jace Slicing Queen of Humans. Sadly, we lost Brian to the Dark Side, he is now a blue mage. And I fear the worst for him, he is deep into it and I don't expect an easy return to the wonderful town of the Mayor. But he is welcome of course, he is a legend.

The thing to note here is that Brian introduced a series of decks that I labeled as TPS Humans. He was actually bringing back the combo storm deck and he was doing this with Humans. Magus of the Unseen is a card that shines out here. Trinket Mage is also an important one that helped Brian a lot to find the tools he needed. If we zoom forward, now he is playing Planeswalker Control (and he is enjoying great success with it). To stay on topic, Brian spawned the Human Storm variant of Humans.

Then we have another known player of our boards. Stormanimagus, aka Noah, has been investing a good amount of time in finding  away to combine the older GWx strategies with some of the idea's of 5C Humans. He is respectful to the core creatures like Noble (Deathrite), Thalia, Mayor, Dark Confidant. What he basically did was adding Knight of the Reliquary to the list and worked out a very competitive version of what I call 'Abzan Prison Humans'. Keep up the good work, we appreciate it.

The 5C Human version is already defined in the introduction. And if you try to check if the path the decks above fit in, you will note that they wont. They are trying to do a different thing, they are trying to play a different kind of magic. For instance, what Brian tried to do with his Human Storm lists was to spawn the board with permanents and get value after value and storm you to death. He used a lot of additional acceleration on top of the 5 moxes and Lotus (this is what a normal 5C Human deck uses). Cards like Sol Ring and Mana Crypt (and sometimes Opal/Petal and so on) where not left behind. Obviously a card like Stony Silence is no longer an option, and in fact is a strong card against such endeavors.

What Abzan Humans is trying to do is the exact opposite, the deck is playing Chalice of the Void on top of Stony Silence and squeezes you further with Thalia and Knight to get Wastelands. It is much like a Workshop deck that tries to prison you out of the game.

What 5C Humans is trying to do is to play the grindy control game, while still able to put a considerable clock. Thalia is not a prison card in 5C Humans, while it is in Abzan Humans. This is interesting, it shows that a card like Thalia can also be used as a control card. You offer just enough of the 'Daze' effects that your real threats like Dark Confidant, Mayor, Exava can get the job done. This is why Mental Misstep, Abrupt Decay and Sudden Shock are good cards. They offer you the time and tempo you need, just like Thalia would do.

Lastly, there are also the Delver and Pyromancer decks out there. These are sometimes also called Human decks. Not to mention the Monastery Mentor decks that run 1 or 2 Cavern of Souls. Strictly speaking, these are also Human decks.

What I find important is that people are clear about what they actually mean when they are using the term Humans when talking about Vintage. Otherwise, things can get very confusing and clouded.

Most common 5C Human card choices

By far the most powerfull card in the 5C Humans deck, but it does have its limitations and I would like to point them out. Also funny is that the first list of Humans did not have Cavern of Souls, because it was not printed yet. About the card, yes it is great against Force of Will, Misstep, Spell Snare, Mana Drain and Chalice of the Void. But it also makes casting a card like Abrupt Decay or Non-Human creatures hard. The overall goal though is to have a {0} mana accelerator plus the Caverns so you can cast a Thalia or Dark Confidant. What Cavern really is when you look at the end result, is that it counters counter magic before they are cast. It forces the opponent to have a removal spell, which means they will have to use turns, cards and mana to deal with your threats. So you basically make them play into your gameplan, and this is why we are running 4x Thalia:

As mentioned earlier, Thalia is not meant to be a prison or mana denial card on the long term. All you are looking to do is prevent the opponent of going all too crazy and make them spread their plays. Thalia is like your scissor when you are trying to cut their game plan in pieces. I have to point out that sometimes Thalia does punish greedy decks, decks that keep 1 landers often and rely on that 1 cantrip. Or decks that only have 1 land in their deck (Tolarian academy / Blue Belcher). Thalia and a couple of Wasteland effects can also randomly cripple any deck out there that has only non basic mana sources in hand. These lines of play are not the goal in any way, but they are there and add up to our winning percentages. The early Thalia 'lock' is by no means as degenerate as the turn 1 Tinker or turn 1 Trinisphere. You always give the opponent a chance to interact in some way before the game ends. Also, if Thalia 'seems' broken, it usually is the direct result of the opponent trying to be greedy.

The card Cavern of Souls and Thalia both have one issue. They both limit the options and push the archetype into a certain directions, and a lot of cards are already not able to make the deck. This means the card pool decreases in size substantially. Note that I also am talking about a card like Oath of Druids here, from my perspective, 5C Humans is not a beat down deck or anything. If at some point I would feel like Oath of Druids would be a good card to play, I would. But that will most likely not happen, given the fact that we still want to run around 20 creatures. The idea of Human Oath has been explored by Brian Kelly. He has surprised his meta with it and still is doing the same. He used a couple of specific Humans to Oath up and was able to usually win on the spot or generate enough of an advantage to seal the deal. Cards that were selected: Auriok Salvager (infinite mana with Lotus), Magus of the Unseen, Trinket Mage, Snapcaster Mage, ... But I choose for Thalia and this is where our paths separate most likely.

5C Humans is an explosive deck but does not really want Sol Ring, Mana Crypt or Mana Vault. Instead it does like mana dorks like Noble Hierarch and Deathrite Shaman because these offer additional utility. In the latest list a variety of configurations have been tried. The most common split is 3/3. But I have see lists without Deathrite, 1 Deathrite and 3/4 Noble or the other way around. This depends a bit on the player. A good rule would be to have at least 4 and up to 6 mana dorks. My preference right now goes more towards Noble because of Falkenrath Aristocrat.

By my knowledge Falkenrath Aristocrat has been used by a couple of players. Both of them used it on MTGO in the Vintage Daily's. The card replaces Exava and has a similar function. Exava is still a little better at protection herself because of the natural 4 shield the card has. I have recently adopted the idea of running the Vampire over the Queen and I have to say that I was impressed. I am of the opinion that it is a good idea to run both, but always just 1 Exava and maybe 2 Aristocrats. Aristocrat does not suffer from a legandary type restriction and can be very deadly. In fact, in a token heavy metagame, I believe the Flying ability is more important than the First strike. I have also had a lot of instances where the Vampire is just faster and tends to have more tricks up her sleeve.

In a recent game for example, I was able to finish of a friend of mine who managed to hard cast Dromoka. Life total was below 7. He blocks the Vampire, but it would not matter. I will just sacrifice the creature that Dromoka blocks to prevent life gain. Also against Workshop, it has similar applications against Wurmcoil Engine and tends to just race whatever the opponent can muster to squeeze you to death. The Vampire feels like a busted Delver in 5C Humans.

Mayor of Avabruck is still an important part of the team, but it is not an auto include or anything. I have seen the Abzan list that Storm is using play the Mayor in the sideboard for the Workshop match up. Then he moved the Mayor back to main after a while. In 5C Humans you usually do not see the Mayor in multiples. Maybe 1 in main or a couple in the sideboard. The reason for this is that 5C Humans deals with Workshop in a more brutal fashion. I will talk about this further on, when I specifically offer my insight on the Shop match. Why is Mayor considered good in the Workshop Match up? Well the most key aspect to point out here is that you can almost always choose to flip the mayor (and in most cases you are forced) by not playing a spell. This is rare, but workshop is one of the only decks that do not interact with you on your own turn (at least not with instants). Mayor gives you the ability to ignore the golem, so you can use your precious removal on other things and keep them low on their mana. In time, they Mayor will be able to deal with the Golem. At least, that is the plan. Danger of this is that they copy or dismember your Howlpack Alpha, or sneak in a Hellkite and blow up your zero casting cost army. I still like Mayor in the prison Abzan version and the tempo version which is basically a 5C human lists that does not care about deck manipulation and goes for consistency and tempo all the way (I will analyze this list in the up coming section).

The second value Human that is very important is Dark Confidant or Bob. This is still one of most played cards in any Human list. Especially with Sensei's Divining Top, you can go through your deck without taking too much life loss. Think about the mana dorks and acceleration. You will have plenty of mana, and you will want to use it to get cards and arrange your topdecks. This is the most important control part of the deck. It is what actually gives you the ability to play control, by finding what you need and dealing with the problem, establish a advantageous position. Still, we have tried versions without Dark Confidant, because we felt like it was too slow at times. Or better, we had to wait one turn to get that first card back. We wanted the card immediately and implemented Trinket Mage, Imperial Recruiter, Stoneforge and so on. However, having Bob is still a must in my opinion, the trick is to threaten them hard enough with other cards so they can't really take their time to deal with BoB.

Non creature spells are an important part of 5C Humans. Apart from the power, cards that I consider as a must, if you want to maintain the 5C Humans identity, are Sensei's Divining Top, Dack Fayden, Demonic Tutor and some removal spells. These removal spells usually take up 5 to 6 slots main deck. Abrupt Decay has been an important one for sure. But recently I am finding Path to Exile (over Swords to Plowshares) more and more valuable. You want to make them feel the clock, with cards like Exava, Mayor and Artistocrat. And not giving them life, not even by a bit, does make all the difference when there is 10 damage coming at them when they are at 11 and really need to crack one more fetch or cast a force of will. That Swords to Plowshares can represent a full extra turn for them, while that extra basic will probably not matter anyway because there us not enough time to find the out. Against Oath Griselbrand or Shop Wurmcoil, you do not want Swords to Plowshares over Path to Exile. In fact, what match up does it really matter anyway? BUG Fish? If they run a basic, sure, but that match up is decided by you getting in an Exava or Aristocrat , a card that they can not really deal with.

Speaking of removal, there are two cards I want to talk about on top of Decay and Path. Ingot Chewer and Snuff Out our pretty important cards to have access to post board. Sometimes you even want to design in such a way that you have these main deck. For those who are more into 5C Humans or already read something about it, see the interaction between Oath of Ghouls and Ingot Chewer. A combo I invented to combat my Shop heavy meta game with success.

Then there are a lot of value Humans that deserve an honorable mention. Eternal Witness is a card that can always be used and will always be good. Imperial Recruiter is a nice way to chain into value when the situation allows you to do so. It can also get a card like Orzhov Pontiff or Huntmaster of the Fells. Fiend Hunter, Sin Collector, you name it, there are a lot of goodies out there. Recently I have also been trying Alesha, Who Smiles at Death (instead of Oath of Ghouls) and try to combo with Reclamation Sage. With Phyrexian Tower this is an interesting engine you can work with. This is a work in progress but something to keep in mind.

There are not many counterspells that see play in 5C Humans. Mental Misstep is a classic one that works really well. I tried Mindbreak Trap once, the card works a lot like Thalia against super explosive decks. Other than that, it just is not possible to run Daze or Force of Will right now.

Aegis of the Gods, Meddling Mage and Containment Priest and War Priest have all proven to be solid cards against Oath decks. A deck like Delver does not pair well against Oath/Griselbrand. But 5C Humans can be surprisingly well positioned against Oath, a match up that is normally considered 'bad' against creature decks. The reason for this is because we are actually a hidden control deck. Oath takes up the wrong role and that usually spells doom for them.

I wanted to save the most juicy back breacking Human for last. This is Notion Thief. My favorite one of all the Humans to bring to a tourney. Also with Priest also having Flash alongside Thief, there is this theme of 'put first threat on table' and then 'wait and react' kind of thing you can do now. Putting you in a true controlling position. Don't forget the Missteps and Decays, they also do this. You blow up a lot of Time Vaults with Decay and you want to wait until the last second. Thief is also auto win with Dack Fayden which is the best planeswalker 5C Humans can play in my opinion.

5C Human Decks that did well so far

in 2013 I took my idea's and materialized them into a paper version. I did not have access to all the cards I wanted so the list looks incomplete. Proxies were not allowed, tension was high. But I was determined and practiced a lot. Here is the report:

I played with Human Oath today and got second place, good for a Bayou.

Because I only have 1 Pearl and could lend 1 Jet, i had to play a less powerfull version. It was in Mol, Belgium. The last vintage event here was in 2012. So after a year they decided to do another Vintage event and I am lucky enough to live nearby so I could attend. This was the list I gathered to fight for a top 4 in an event with 10 players.

Human Oath

4 Cavern of Souls
4 Wasteland
1 Strip Mine
2 City of Brass
4 Verdant Catacombs
1 Savannah
1 Bayou
1 Badlands
1 Scrubland
1 Taiga
1 Karakas
1 Mox Pearl
1 Mox Jet
1 Lotus Petal

4 Deathrite Shaman
2 Noble Hierarch
4 Dark Confidant
4 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
1 Eternal Witness
1 Imperial Recruiter
1 Gaddock Teeg
1 Exava, Rakdos Blood Witch
1 Qasali Pridemage
1 Ingot Chewer
1 Stoneforge Mystic
1 Batterskull

1 Darkblast
1 Life from the Loam
2 Oath of Ghouls
3 Swords to Plowshares
3 Mental Misstep
1 Abrupt Decay
1 Vampiric Tutor
1 Demonic Tutor
1 Sensei's Divining Top

SB: 2 Rest in Peace
SB: 3 Grafdigger's Cage
SB: 3 Stony Silence
SB: 1 Mental Misstep
SB: 1 Red Elemental Blast
SB: 1 Stingscourger
SB: 3 Ingot Chewer
SB: 1 Ethersworn Canonist

Round 1: I was paired againd the guy who lend me the Jet. He was playing RUG Delver.

Game one I got in a Deathrite which was not through Caverns but he was not countered anyway. My opponent casts a Delver which I try to Misstep but he Missteps it back. The main thing about this game was that i cut him off green because he had to get a Tropical (which got  wasted) with his Scalding Tarn. He had a mox sapphire in play and a strip mine. I chewed away the sapphire with Ingot. He decided to strip my Scrubland but after that kept missing land drops. I had plenty lands and drew a Demonic Tutor, I got a Recruiter, Recruiter got an Eternal, Eternal got back Demonic, and Demonic got something else. Things went downhill fast and he concedes.

Game two was about me using my Oath of Ghouls with Pridemage and Deathrite Shaman. Both sides had all the mana they want. He bolted and fire iced a lot of my threats but my Oath got them back. Then he drew a Scavenging Ooze, and an Ancestral Recall. Did put him back in the game. But I topdecked a Gaddock Teeg, keeping him off Jace and then topdecked a Rest in Peace (only sided 1 in as a tutor target). Also his Delver refused to flip for several turns. I remember REB'ing a Clique and and holding a Misstep. I used that Rest In Peace to shut off my own Oath and to keep future Tarmogoyf small, and not give additional targets to Ooze. He goes on the offensive with Ooze, but I also attack with my Gaddock and Pridemage. So he pulls back with Ooze, playing more defensive. He lays down a 0/1 Tarmogoyf. I topdeck an Exava some turn later and he only had 2 life at that point. I had lethal damage so I alpha strike him.

Round 2: Doomsday

In game 1 I am on the play. I draw a mox and Cavern of Souls. I lay down Thalia. Turn 2 I waste a land and attack, then deathrite shaman in second main. Things look good, I recognize combo elements. Soon Exava arrives and suddenly I have an insane clock of 2 turns. I also draw a Life from the Loam to waste again. A brutal game. Doomsday can not win against these hands.

Game 2 I had no mox but I had deathrite and Canonist. I also believe I had misstep and that made me keep the hand.  He played a Preordain, I Misstep it and he Missteps back. I cast a Deathrite and then pass. He thinks for a while and decided to wait a turn. But I use this time to waste his land and to sneak in Canonist. He then uses his recources to get an Explosives for 2 in play, but no mana to crack it. I take advantage of this and cast Pridemage, swing for 3 with exalted on Canonist. Then dismantle the Engineered Explosives with Qasali Pridemage. This was the crucial play. After that, Thalia joines in and deathrite, canonist and Thalia are a fast clock getting me there.

I am 2-0 at this point without a game loss. Feeling strong. But where are all the Workshop decks?

After the game we discussed his hand, he had Black Lotus, Demonic Tutor, Yawgmoth's Will and Tendrills in Hand. Also Duress. He calculated but he could not get to 10 storm. And after Canonist and Thalia hit, the window was closed anyway. I told him that his deck really needs more removal and he agreed. Maybe a Massacre in the sideboard, and a Dismember.

Round 3: Workshop Stax

Game 1 was so nasty, he starts with a Sphere of Resistance. Follows it up with another sphere and then wasteland and Crucible. Without full acceleration these are the hands I can not fight against.

Game 2 was a long game were I take control of the game with Dark Confidant, but at the cost of a lot of life. His smokestack and Tangle Wire slow me down a lot, but eventually he is empty of cards. The thing is though, he has a Jet and Metamorphs my Deathrite Shaman. I also have two deathrites but they are busy trying to protect me from dying to Dark Confidant. I find a Stoneforge and Batterskull but just can not find the window to forge it in play and attack with it to gain life. I reveal an Ingot at 2 life and lose the game.

This was a complicated game and I did not make the best possible plays I think. Hard to recall were I made the big mistakes, probably not saccing Dark Confidant to smokestack when I had the chance.

Round 4: Welder Workshop

I have to win this match to get in the top 4.

Game 1 he has a lot of Welder play, while I have deathrite going for me. Arguably the two best one drops for vintage history battle it out. He has Wires and Metamorphs. I get in Dark Confidant and a Top. He uses Welder and Metamorph tricks to make Metamorph a Dark Confidant. He welds out my top at some point and that turn he makes a misplay, he forgets to weld in a Tangle wire. I use the chance to Decay the Welder. After he loses the Welder, I quickly take over the game and ride to victory.

In game 2 I assemble my Oath and Ingot while loam/waste lock him. But at the cost of being beaten down by double Wurmcoil. I draw additional removal but he also casts a Golem. I can not hold the castle. He is at 46 life, even if I have control, I can not deal with Wurmcoil. I concede and go to game 3.

Game 3 resolved around me getting both moxes, deathrite and stoneforge. Sadly I already had the Batterskull in hand. He has Revokers around to stall me and also puts down Trinisphere and two Thorns. His pressure is too soft and I get Time to assemble my Ingot/Oath combo.

I made top 4 and can play for the finals in the next match!

I get paired against the Stax Workshop again to have my sweet revenge. I win both game rather easily, I drew a lot of my threats like plow, ingot, bobs, pridemage, gaddock teeg for stax and chalice. Things went well, and in game 2 with the additional Ingot and Stony, I again assembled Oath/Ingot.

Then in the FINALS I faced another Workshop. So my metagame expectations were right on target. Problem was I could not get a hold on Snuff Outs. And without full moxes, it can sometimes be hard to play a simple Swords to Plowshares. Also the threat of Chalice of the Void for 1 is there. A quick report of the finals:

Game 1 he is on the play and opens with turn 1 Trinisphere and Metalworker. I concede fast and we laugh bit. I lose my focus and forget to sideboard. And in game 2 I realize I forgot to sideboard and this worked rather demotivating. Not to mention I was seeing Missteps and Thalia's (cards I sb out vs shops).

But I was very happy with the result. I strongly believe I could have taken the finals as well, even without power. But it is no big deal. I won a Bayou and got another top 2 for Humans Oath!

Obviously the plan is to get moxes for future tournaments, this Human Oath list really likes Ancestral Recall and Time Walk as well. But even without full power, you can get good results. I must say though, even those few moxes (pearl, jet, petal) made a world of difference. A completely unpowered version would be possible too, but you would need 4 Misstep and 4 Snuff Out in the deck and maybe some extra Stoneforge and another Batterskull or Jitte.

in 2014 I had bought myself into more power and made some friends. I had access to a much more tuned list. I also wrote a report for this one:

Yes Yes, I made it to the finals to face my first Workshop match up. There were a good portion of Forgemaster/Metalworker combo Workshop decks present but my day went fairly shopless until the very end.

First of all I want to start with the Exava and Notion Thief moments. I went into this tournament with 2 things in mind. I want to brutally pound in with my Exava and surprise my opponents with her speed and power. And I wanted to at least set up 1 game were I steal Jace's brainstorm. I succeeded in doing both. This is for me the biggest upside of the entire tourney. I killed an opponent on the spot with an haste Exava, it came out of nowhere for him. He was counting the total damage and it was exactly lethal. Without Exava I could have lost, he had a Time Vault and many cards. The Thief was a (if I may say it myself) brilliant setup from my part. I start with a Duress seeing 2 Jace, Bob and Clasm. I have a Thief and 2 Deathrite. I take the clasm and play deathrite. He only has 3 mana so he needs to topdeck land. It doesn't happen and I get another land and play the second Deathrite. This was game 3 of the quarter finals, he lands Jace and announces the 0 ability of brainstorm. I tell him to hold up and respond with brutality. I take 3 cards, he puts 2 back.

After describing some dream scenarios, I ll give a quick report from what I still remember:

Oh before I start:

24 players
5 Swiss rounds
Top 8 finals

List I played:

5C Humans

4 Cavern of Souls
1 Mox Ruby
1 Mox Emerald
1 Mox Jet
1 Mox Pearl
4 Verdant Catacombs
1 Bayou
1 Taiga
1 Underground Sea
1 Badlands
1 Scrubland
1 Savannah
1 City of Brass
3 Wasteland
1 Strip Mine

2 Grafdigger's Cage
1 Ancestral Recall
1 Time Walk
4 Abrupt Decay
1 Duress
1 Path to Exile
1 Dismember
1 Ancient Grudge
4 Mental Misstep
1 Demonic Tutor

3 Deathrite Shaman
3 Noble Hierarch
2 Notion Thief
2 Exava, Rakdos Blood Witch
4 Dark Confidant
4 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
2 Stoneforge Mystic
1 Batterskull

SB: 3 Ingot Chewer
SB: 1 Oath of Ghouls
SB: 1 Wasteland
SB: 1 Snuff Out
SB: 1 Stoneforge Mystic
SB: 1 Batterskull
SB: 1 Stony Silence
SB: 1 Ancient Grudge
SB: 1 Vampiric Tutor
SB: 1 Tormod's Crypt
SB: 1 Karakas
SB: 1 Rest in Peace
SB: 1 Mindbreak Trap

Round 1: I get paired against Delver. This is not an easy match up but then again, I do have the Decays and a couple Stoneforge to make life hard on them.

In game 1 there is an early Delver on his side and a Dark Confidant on my side. He immediately reveals a Lightning Bolt and shows my Bob the way to the graveyard. I try to stabilize with Caverns, Thalia and Decay but he soon after has a Snapcaster to replay Bolt and follows it up with more threats. He had his run, time for revenge!

Game 2 I side in Stoneforge #3 and Batterskull #2. I have all my stuff, mana dudes, decays, thalia, stoneforges... At some point the board is double batterskull and he crumbles away even with grudge and steel sabotage tricks.

In game 3 I have a very similar game, but this time I have only 1 Stoneforge but I already am holding a Batterskull and tutor up the second. I also have an early Thalia, preventing him from grudging at will. Yes this game also ended with me gaining a lot life while he was bleeding to death.

Good start, a 2-1 match win against RUG Delver!

Round 2: I face a BUG Fish deck that has many similarities with my 5C Human deck. His deck is built very nicely and I think it was one of the best decks at the tourney.

In game 1 there is a battle of who can keep his Bob alive. We both can not because we both run Decays (good card!). The game goes back and forth and I am eager to topdeck an Exava but she decided to be absent. Instead Stoneforge shows up and steals the show. A couple of Batterskull with Noble behind it beats and the game is mine. It was not an easy game, but his 5/5 Ooze was just not enough against the big muscle.

In game 2 there is an early Dark Confidant. I try to keep up with Duress and Ancestral Recall (I duress away a Misdirection). The problem is he also has a Force of Will. His Dark Confidant does give him a lot damage  but then I let a Deathrite Resolve. I was completely blacked out at this point, I had a Misstep but somehow I didn't see the Deathrite resolution. This happens to all of us I think from time to time, distraction and fatigue. The next turn I was like " where did that drs come from? " on which my opponent responded with " I cast it last turn ". Now it was not completely my fault, there was a guy talking and commenting the entire time, it was a rather informal atmosphere and then a player can miss things. I also do not know if it would have mattered since I still had to deal with Dark Confidant. I lost the game a bit later.

So we are going to a game 3 with me on the play. This is not bad, and I do open with Duress seeing Sea, Wasteland, Fetchlands, Bob, Drs, Snapcaster and Lotus. The Lotus hits the graveyard. The problem is that he has a good hand. He starts with Deathrite Shaman and passes the turn. I decide to Wasteland and play my Dark Confidant. But sadly he draws the critical removal spell and soon after he time walks with dark confidant and then uses snapcaster to walk again and so on.

This match was really not easy, I lost 1-2 fair and square.

Round 3: I have to win, or I can forget a top 8, I feel the pressure. Good times.

I win the die roll this time and I lead with a Cavern and Noble. A very decent start and I am holding a Misstep and Thalia for any combo shenanigans. My opponent reveals he is on Noble Fish. I have a Stoneforge, which is good here and I do some tempo plays with Wasteland and Thalia before I begin my Stoneforge plan. When I finally go in with a Batterskull he plays a Hurkly's Recall. His plays so far were Pridemages and more Pridemages. I managed to keep a Dark Confidant alive thanks to Misstep and used Decays to get rid of the Pridemages. Eventually I topdeck Exava and well, I just swing with Exava putting me in a huge lead in the race. He can not recover, knowing I also have a Batterskull, he goes to game 2.

In game 2 I again get access to my Stoneforge package and back it up with Missteps, Decays and so on. The game went in such a way that he just could not put a lot pressure and I slowly took over the board. I think this match up is hard for Noble Fish.

Not bad: I am 2-1 and only 2 matches to go for a top 8!

Round 4: I am facing a friend of mine and he is on Oath. I have 4 Decay and 2 Cages main deck and I feel very nice about this.

Sadly game 1 is a disaster for me. He plays Lotus, mox, land and time walk. Then he plays some other firggin artifact (top ^_^) and time vault. and follows it up with a Balance. I haven't done a single thing and I have to discard to 2. He does lose a land but he quickly lands another land. He passes the turn with a big smile. But what did I keep? Lets analyse:

I have:

What would you keep?

Scroll down ...

 a bit more ....

    this is just an anti spoiler don't be bad at me Smile

And I kept ...  

Scrubland and Abrupt Decay. I debated this for a while and decided on this because I wanted black for the Decay or a Deathrite and white for a potential Thalia? At this point he was also on topdeck mode but he had a Top so yea it was a hard start.

I topdeck a Catacomb and play it. I pass the turn with a soft and disappointed voice. He finds an Oath and puts down orchard too. I am like wtf, this is getting insane. But I did keep the Decay and I pass the turn with Decay mana. He makes the token and I Decay the Oath. I am still not in this game yet, but getting closer with tiny little plays.

Then I do find a Dark Confdiant while he is digging. At some point later on, he was obviously setting up something big with Top. He has a loaded graveyard and a Time Vault. This is the critical turn for me. If I topdeck a Cage, I might still win this game. But I topdeck a Batterskull (no hard feelings, Batterskull has won me many games so far) and then another land. Turn later he goes off like a madman with a huge Y Will.

I want blood! I quickly sideboard and draw my new 7, which I intend to use this time. I start with Cage and turn 2 Thalia. I have the Wasteland (yea baby!) and he misses a land drop. At this point I know I am ahead and I do some beatings with Thalia holding Misstep and Decay. He scoops rather fast but this was understandable, he kept missing a land drop and the life total was very low and I have Dark Confidant and Thalia beating for 4.

Game 3 I fear for a big blowout (much like game 1). I brought in the trap here, because his Oath list runs Gushbond, Tyrant, Blightsteel, a lot of broken things all together and explosive openings. He does start off with Moxes and lands but doesn't have something threatening (yet). I get in a Cage and Thalia again, ingoring the Oath for now. I do not want to over commit, and play carefully until I have a 1 turn clock. Exava enables this, and suddenly a slow game became a game were he has only 1 turn. He can't find an answer.

Yoohoo! I win 2-1 versus Oath.

The final round is against Landstill and we decide on a ID. The landstill player is someone I know from cockatrice and we went to Bom twice together. It was a no brainer. We went out to get a drink and relax. We earned it, our decks made it, great feeling Smile

TOP 8:


Grixis versus Humans

A spectacular game, vintage at its finest. He has a Dark Confidant, I get rid of it, I get a Dark Confidant, he Bolts it. I find a Thalia and have a Noble. I have a decent clock, he keeps passing, not able to do much untill he finds another land. I speculate he has a Snapcaster and wants to fire off that Bolt and then proceed with Jace. I did have a low hand size and felt the pressure a bit. Then he executes his plan with Snap Bolt and Jace follows. However he is at 6 life. In response to his bolt I decide to path to exile his Snapcaster (his turn) and he has no mana. He can not counter because of Thalia. He loses Snap but gets an island, my Thalia goes away. But I am holding Exava and another Thalia. So then I have choice, to kill Jace or to bring him at 1 life. He also has a mana crypt in play. What would you do?

I decided to just go for him and give him that 1 brainstorm. There is also a 50% chance that he simply loses the game on his upkeep. He wins the die roll, brainstorms Jace putting back Blighsteel from his hand (learned this after game) and finds Tinker. This is hilarious of course. He tinker and he then has 3 mana left with 2 cards in hand. He passes. I can simply swing in with Exava and Thalia, but does he have another bolt? Or does he have a creature with Flash? I decide to simply go for it and swing in for lethal. He has the Snapcaster. I could have also played the bob in my hand and pass the turn. But I don't know if that would be smart, he does have a Jace and that Snap will still be able to come in later. Would you have gone for it, calling his bluff? Amazing game.

Then in game 2 I have a hand with Scrubland, Mox Ruby, Stony, Ancient Grudge, Vampiric, Noble and Ancestral Recall but no second land. I keep this anyway and start the game with a Stony Silence. It was the right call, he had no lands and 2 Mox. I vampiric for a Cavern to put Noble in play giving me access to blue and 3 mana next turn.

Game 3 is the game were my notion thief steals his jace draws. I explained this game in the introduction. No need to repeat myself. It was all about setting up the Thief after I did Duress. This game also launched me to the Semi Finals making the Thief even more epic!


I have to play the same Oath deck I played in the swiss rounds. I want to keep this short, because the games were rather short. In both games I find Cage, Decay and other good stuff and was able to deny mana with Wasteland and Thalia. In game 1 however, Exava was again the card that made the clock tick fast. Game 2 was also about too few mana for him, and me having the Cage, Thalia, Bob, Decay, etc. There isn't really much to say here, he never got a chance to Oath or do something broken. I remember doing a Duress somewhere, discarding a Time Vault while he has Tinker and Y Will with Cage in play.

The Finals:

Forge/Metal/Staff Workshop with Time Vault, Blightsteel and other big threats. The deck is insane. But I have the outs and if I draw them I have a good chance. Game 1 he begins without even rolling a die. I find this rule disgusting. He had more points and he can start. This is really not helping Vintage for fair games, especially with the Workshop match up. Anyway, he has a Metalworker and I can not destroy it in time. GG (djeez...) If I would start, I would have drs/waste/decay and I probably just win.

Game 2 I destroy him with Dark Confidant, mana, Stone Silence, and removal. He really didn't do anything threatening in my opinion. Death to Workshop!

Game 3 I have a dream hand, with Ingot, Taiga, Grudge, Deathrite, Fetchland and Wasteland (i mulled to this hand). I even topdeck a second grudge. The problem however is that he opens with Shop, Mana Vault and Greaves. I waste his Shop and pass. Then he has an Ancient Tomb and casts a Forgemaster. I can't believe my eyes, I have everything I need against Workshop, but he is on the Tinker/Blightsteel plan because he just got all the peaces in the final game of this tournament.

I play a deathrite shaman hoping to topdeck that Path to exile (only out). But he topdecks a dismember and poisons me to death. My mistake was probably to waste his Workshop, Should have simply used Ingot on Lightning Greaves and then the next turn hope that nothing all too broken happens and use my Grudges. Another possibility was to play Ingot on Mana Vault, this would force him to play a non wasteland land in order to play the Forgemaster and he would not have 3 artifacts (unless he is sandbagging a mox). My play was not correct in my opinion. And it costed me the finals.

Last year, I also was in the finals (10 man tournament - top 4) facing the same deck but another pilot. I could not get my reconciliation. The peace was not restored and the Workshop walked away with 2 mana drains and 2 byes for Bom. I won 1 Bye for Bom and a Tropical Island.

So I played 3 tournaments with this deck and got 2 top 8's. The one that I did not top 8 was in Bom Paris last summer. Which is of course a larger event and it is harder to get through 9 - 11 rounds and make it to the top 8. But it is very possible. I love this deck so much.


Then we have Steven Stierman playing 5C Humans at Gencon in 2013.

Here is a link to the deck list:

He was the first that innovated with Orzhov Pontiff and used Imperial Recruiter. Props to him for giving these value Humans a chance. This was important, because these cards are still seeing play from time to time. There is also a podcast about his experience at Gencon with 5C Humans, you can go listen to it here:

Again in 2013 Matt Klinkhammer took first place with almost the exact list at MVPLS. See here:

The list from Madrid is what inspired me the most recently. There are 2 known top 8's.

6th position with 5C Humans
4th position with 5C Humans

This is a deck I want to talk about a little. These lists are very recent and are doing well. The difference between the lists are in the SB. This fellow Human player is obviously trying to solve the token problem of our recent times. First he tried Sulfur Elemental, then he moved to Jitte in the SB. My suggestion would be to do -2 Exava and +2 Falkenrath in main deck as well. I am pretty sure he will feel that change immediately. I also like that he added 2 Notion Thief in the SB. Like I said earlier, I love that card, it is simply nuts.

The list sacrifices a lot of the control and power to gain in speed and consistently. I really love this, but I would not go this far in my meta. In my own event in 2015, I adopted many of the idea's of Luis Manuel Augusto, on his take of 5C Humans, but I also added things like Dack Fayden, Path to Exile, a couple of Alesha and Reclamation Sage's. This is because I did expect Workshop and wanted to be extra safe versus Oath. I ended up 9th place, just barely not making top 8. I had to face 3 Workshop decks and I will talk about this in the next section. But first let me talk about the other match ups in general.

When you see islands on the across the table, you always get this need for denial. It does not really matter that much whether it is an Oath or Delver opponent. Though Oath seems a bit more extreme, like you really don't want them to trigger Oath, a resolved Delver can be equally problematic. This is why you are running the Abrupt Decay in the deck. Same thing goes for Mentor honestly. Basically each blue deck has their holy grail, and you want to blow that up with Decay. And blue decks do not like to run expensive bombs, cause that would be inefficient, and this is why Abrupt Decay is the perfect card to have. Misdirection does not really work for them, because of Thalia causing them to tap out. But Mentor decks did change this a bit. It still works to have a Decay in hand and just race the Token, but there are times where you simply don't have the Decay. Hence the addition of Sudden Shocks in these most recent lists. In my event I didn't go overboard and trimmed the Decay and Sudden Shock count to 3/3 (6 total).

I believe that with Mentor, people who are trying Blue Belcher, Oath and Omni variants, the Brian Kelly decks (which means that almost every card is a cantrip, even the disruption), you really want a fast clock too. Just like Brian uses his disruption cards in such a fashion that he draws cards from them (see Repeal, Notion Thief, Jace, Narset, Nihil Spellbomb), we want to use our disruptive anti planeswalker cards to be very fast. This is why I suggest Falkenrath Aristocrat. The card is capable of changing a board state in an unexpected way. And I am pretty sure that Sac outlet can be combined with Oath of Ghouls or Alesha in the future. To give you and idea, without 3 slots dedicated for 4CC hasty bombs, I was giving my opponent at least 2 extra turns to stabilize. Once I added the 4 power (and to be honest they become 5+ one way or the other), the time my opponent's got to actually do something other than a cantrip, diminished. You practically force them to see the Lotus in their first 3 turns or they are already in trouble. Situations where you have 2 2/x bears and a 4/x haster while they are at 10 life are very comon. You pass the turn, they have 1 or 2 lands in play and are still in shock from what actually happened. So you missteped something, wasteland my land and now put me on a virtually 1 turn clock? Yea that is exactly what happened sir. If your deck is running Mayor or Sudden Shock, these are all lethal the next turn. But let's not forget, by putting them on 2 life, you are also shutting off a lot of the cards that they run, like Probe or Misstep, a fetchland becomes such a hard decision, and so fort. I am trying to figure out a build where I can do this (what I just described) in a consistent manner, without losing all the goodies that I find equally important. I am talking about Tops and Dacks here.

Lastly for this section of this article, I want to talk about the mana base. There are 2 reasonable options. You either run the rainbow or gold mana base, which means Confluences and Cities. Or you use a fetchland mana base which a bit more complicated but perfectly doable for those who like a challenge. Usually the Top/Dack inclusion likes the fetchlands (and additional search effects) more. But one important card that you cut yourself off from is Snuff Out, if you go for the gold mana base. And this is a card that I will talk about next. Whatever mana base you choose, it will have both pro's and con's. Running fetchlands makes your Top better, running Gold lands makes it a bit easier to fix your colors and have a live Abrupt Decay. It would also make Leonin Arbiter an interestiing thing to think about, as ar as I know nobody tried this cleric yet in 5C Humans.

The Workshop Dilemma

This match up has evolved to a point where either side brutally slaughters the other. This is not fun, this is not interactive and this is not interesting. I wish Trinisphere was banned, not because it is an unbeatable card, but because it destroys your entire effort of the day by popping op at the moment where you are about to top 8. But I am not here to talk about Trinisphere. The thing is that without a card like Snuff out, you will simply lose in an deterministic way to Workshop if they get a perfect hand. Like there is absolutely nothing you can do, because you do not run force of will. Now you could just accept this and say like, I win the die roll and just win game 1 and game 3. And if I am lucky, I will just 2-0 them (which happens). My issue is not about having a bad match up, let me put that very clear. I think 5C Humans is actually favored versus Shops in the long run. In the long run means if you have a large sample size of matches. So it is, like Randy B. said in one of his commentary video's, some kind of mathematical calculation of permutations and chance calculation where you can happily do the numbers and then scoop fast or maybe play for a couple more turns and then scoop. I am also not asking that this should be 'fixed' or anything, I think it is not fixable. Restricting a card like Chalice is a poor way of solving an issue like this.

I bring up this topic in the light of my own personal view or internal psychological process, in which I ask myself; 'What can I do, as the 5C Human pilot, to position myself'? So am I someone who accepts this non interactiveness? Can I accept that? The simple answer is that I can't. I just am not the type to just say 'hey this is vintage' or 'this is life man'. I rather look harder to find a solution of some kind to even beat the most harsh openers like turn 1 Golem + turn 1 Chalice@0. The turn 1 Trinisphere is something you can't really do anything about, let me just quickly say that, so I won't discuss it. But a card like Snuff Out can actually beat a turn 1 Golem with Chalice pretty easily. In a very brutal manner actually. The only condition is that you have to run fetch lands. You go get your Bayou or Scrubland, tap it and pay that 4 Life. Chances are you are going to follow up with more removal and quickly take over the game. Without Chalice it is even easier to play around Golem. BUG Fish has discovered this too, and are on the Snuff Out plan as well.

It frankly does not matter that much what kind of removal you are running, as long as you can break out once, and activate all your removal in your hand, there is not much the Shop player can do. I usually use Ancient Grudge and Path to Exile with some Dack. With the Snuff Out as your initial 'clearer of the way', you are setting yourself up for a very good game against Workshop.

So to conclude, you just design in such a way that if they don't get the unbeatable hand, you just punish them so hard, that it is not even funny. They want to play the coin flip game, let them I say. They want to play an uninteresting game, let them. This is how I settled for the match up. I either blow them out, or I get blown out. Now this becomes a game of chance and not skill, but a deck like Workshop is just designed to function like that, especially against non force of will decks.

So I played 3 matches against Shops in the 2015 version of the same event I made finals twice. I won 1 match and lost the other 2. I won all my other match ups and ended up 4-2-0 good for 9th place out of 52 people. This is a very decent result. But I do want to talk about what happened in the 2 loss matches. When we look at the games played of the 2 matches I lost, I played 5 games. In the game I won, it was a game where I had enough removal and a Dack Fayden to finish things off. It was still a hard game, even with a 2 Path, a Grudge whch I used twice, a Reclamation Sage and then a Dack. In the 4 games I lost, two of them were Trinisphere losses, and the other 2 where hands with double and triple workshop with 2 Golem hands with additional spheres. These are the kind of games that you do not want to face in a row in a tournament. But sadly enough, it happened and there was nothing I could do to fight or defend myself.

What will be the next step for 5C Humans?

This question is what made me write this primer and article. Writing this is actually my next step. In the past I have got most of my inspiration and motivation from the TMD boards (this also works in reverse, sometimes you do get demotivated). I am sure this primer will get some people to tune in and post their idea's and opinions. And this will cause me to further work on the matter and bring more content. Speaking of content, I have created a Youtube channel to carry my idea's to a audio-visual environment. I also stream live on occasion. You can show your support by just subscribing and following. But most importantly, giving me honest and well placed feedback.

Here are my vintage streams. I also do Legacy.

I do have some final words for this article concerning the direction of the deck. There is a lot of drawing going on right now in the meta. And yes, you also have to be safe against non blue or blue that does not really draw THAT much but has different (but equally dangerous) lines of play that must be taken care off. Also, I have spotted an increase of the color white because of Mentor, and this means more Plows and might mean less bolts. But what it also can mean is just more plows on top of bolts.

Also note that Dig through Times is not going to go away. And that sooner or later Gifts is going to see more play.

Even though they are non human, I feel like a couple of Gaddock Teeg and Spirit of the Labyrinth's are called for. Not much, just as 2 offs is probably fine. This to support Thalia without lowering the Human count in the deck for our Aristocrat to work.

I also feel it would be a very smart idea to play Sylvan Safekeeper again. But only, and only, if you have the fast clock plan where it would not matter if you had to sacrifice a land. You just make sure they are dead before they can capitalize on you losing a land or two. I also think that in the versions with the gold land mana base, you can't indefinitely use city or confluence anyway, so at some point, you can stil make use of these dead lands thanks to Safekeeper. Again, I would not play 4x, but probably 2 is enough. A subtle technology as you can call it. The challenge will be to make a card like Snuff out work. Or hope that they print something new that can be utilized to get rid of that first Golem for 0 mana (hence 1 mana under that sphere effect).

What also is interesting in light of all the Gush lists and the fact that Priest is probably good enough in main deck, you can play Mutavault and Mishra's factory instead of wastelands. You don't need to waste the Bazaar if you have main deck Thalia and Priest. The manlands will provide you with a faster clock against combo (1 Thalia + super fast clock is the best thing you can do here) and seve you very nicely against an opponent who wants to get in Planeswalkers.

So the main goal was to bring everything together regarding 5C Humans into one article and to offer concrete identifiable characteristics of what I call 5C Humans. Let me know if I succeeded in doing so,

and I hope it was enjoyable to read this article/primer!

« Last Edit: April 21, 2015, 10:38:45 am by Guli » Logged

2015 Vintage World Champion
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« Reply #1 on: April 05, 2015, 07:35:02 am »

This was an excellent well-written comprehensive primer which I hope to see being utilized even years from now by players looking to break into this archetype.   Great job!

"It seems like a normal Monk deck with all the normal Monk cards.  And then the clouds divide...  something is revealed in the skies."
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« Reply #2 on: April 05, 2015, 03:30:02 pm »

Wow, it took me two days to finish it. It has tons of material to understand the past, present and future of the archetype. Great job Guli Smile
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