Unlocking the Vault #77: Smells like Human Spirit

With the release of Khans of Tarkir, Vintage has taken to the seas aboard the Treasure Cruise. Turns out that Delve is just a broken mechanic, no different than Phyrexian mana, affinity, pitch spells, and every other mechanic that essentially lowers the cost of casting spells or makes them free. Delve is simply a small speed bump in formats with fetch lands, cheap counters, cantrips, and efficient removal. While Dig Through Time may be the more powerful card in the abstract, the conclusion I’ve come to in the first few weeks post-Khans is that drawing 3 for 1 mana is ridiculously powerful (as if it ever hadn’t been powerful).

I’m writing this article prior to the results of Eternal Weekend on October 25 and 26 as I have family obligations during the tournament. Ideally, I would analyze the results of the tournament, but I won’t be able to do that and finish the article before my deadline. That said, I predict that Delve will dominate the top of the tournament and there might even be some new tech/ways to abuse Delve that no one has seen before.

With that in mind, I started to think of ways to try and fight the Delve menace, particularly ways to fight it without resorting to joining them in battling to see who draws the most Cruises in the match. The first card that popped into my mind was this guy:


When people want to jam their deck full of 8 mana spells, Teeg can certainly make life difficult for them. As an added bonus, Teeg also stops your opponent from playing many other cards in Vintage such as Tendrils of Agony, Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Tezzeret the Seeker, Force of Will, Chalice of the Void, Gush, Engineered Explosives, Misdirection, and more.

The natural fit for Teeg is in a Hate Bears build. One of the things that has surprised me the most about Vintage on MTGO thus far is that nobody is running Hate Bears (from what I can tell, at least). Amongst all the excitement to play with all of the Power 9 people have ignored other strategies in Vintage. Now, Hate Bears is certainly not a Tier 1 deck when you glance over the decklists, but a well-timed and well-tuned deck with the right amount of targeted hate can be very effective in Vintage. Right now, with all of the Delver-style decks running around, it appears to be prime time to build a new Hate Bears deck from the ground up that can succeed in the current metagame. Admittedly, this is not the typical type of deck that I would build and I’ll probably come to some conclusions about the deck for the wrong reasons, but I think it’s worth investigating if such a deck can succeed in the current Vintage metagame.

When building a Hate Bears deck, there are a couple of routes to take. The first fundamental decision is:

Image-2 vs Image-1

The decision is not as easy as it seems, as there are pros and cons for each. Cavern is best in decks that have a significant amount of tribal synergies, such as Human-dominated creatures. Strikes against Cavern include the fact that it cannot be used to cast non-creature spells with colored mana and is a prime target for Wastelands. Vial is great in decks that do not have a high density of similar tribes and allows you to use your mana to cast non-creature spells. You can also deploy creatures at instant speed, which is no small matter. The biggest strike against Vial is that Mental Misstep is everywhere as is artifact removal. It also prevents you from going down the mana denial path with Null Rod, or better yet, Stony Silence.

In a field of URx Delver decks that want to cantrip for days and prevent you from casting any spell that can take over the game, I feel that Cavern is the better choice right now. It doesn’t hurt that most URx Delver decks do not play Wasteland. With that decision made, it’s time to start building the deck!

Hate Bear Options

There are an endless supply of Hate Bears, most of which are either white, green, or white and green. Here is a shortlist of the ones we should consider in our deck, broken down by tribal type:

Clearly, Humans are the largest single tribe of hate bears and the best tribal type to abuse Cavern of Souls. For the purposes of our deck today, Thalia looks like a particularly appealing creature to have in a Hate Bears deck looking to take on the efficient cantrips and removal spells of Delver decks. Mother of Runes (Mom) is also appealing when everyone is packing targeted creature removal such as Lightning Bolt and Abrupt Decay. Mom’s ability to “counter” Decay is a significant advantage that we might want to employ as BUG Fish decks are popular options as well. Aegis of the Gods, War Priest of Thune, and Fiend Hunter are good sideboard card against Oath decks, which might just show up in increased numbers as the metagame is distorted towards Delver/creature decks. Canonist is also a valuable sideboard card against any Storm decks that might pop up.

Humans are generally frail, which is where Mayor comes in. As an anthem for Humans, it is also considerably valuable in the Workshop match-up where it can transform into a 3/3 that can tangle with Lodestone Golems and also pump out 3/3 tokens if it is able to survive a couple of turns. Amusingly, it shares a tribal type with Teeg, Advisor, which is certainly relevant in a Cavern deck. Knight of the Reliquary is potentially a huge threat that can also tutor up a Karakas, Strip Mine, or Cavern in a pinch.

If we expand the access of tribes to Spirits, we can a couple of options that are particularly adept at fighting a field of Delvers and Cruises. Spirit of the Labyrinth (SotL) can help even the match-up against all Blue decks by limiting their ability to out-draw you. It is also has some against Dredge decks. Kataki might be the best weapon in the sideboard to fight the Workshop matchup.

With all that in mind, here is my first attempt at GW hate Bears, something I affectionately call “Smells like Human Spirit”:

However, after a few matches with the deck, it just seemed… lacking. If you didn’t draw the exact creature you needed to fight the opponent’s strategy, it was impossible to come back. The deck needs to be proactive, and if you aren’t drawing well, the deck folds to just about everything. Perhaps the deck is built incorrectly. Perhaps a tutor engine, such as Green Sun’s Zenith, can help smooth out the poor draws. However, I’m skeptical that would solve the problem completely, and it’s a non-bo with a card so pivotal to the reason to play the deck, Teeg. The deck lacks explosiveness instead relying on the crutch that specific hate bears offer.

At this point, I wasn’t quite ready to abandon the entire concept. I was determined to find a more optimal build of Hate Bears to attack the metagame. I started digging through some older decklists and found a Junk (dare I say Abzan?) Hate Bears deck that offered some intriguing options to fight the current metagame:

Many of the same pieces that I alluded to in the GW build above are present in this deck, but the deck solves a few of the problems that the GW deck had. By adding black to the deck, the mana base becomes more fragile, but gaining Deathrite Shaman, Dark Confidant, and Abrupt Decay are worth the trouble.

The GW deck above often had trouble presenting a threat on Turn 1 if you didn’t manage to draw a Mox. Deathrite will likely eat a Misstep if they have it, but if they don’t, it’s a great start to the game. It provides mana acceleration and can disrupt the opponent’s graveyard enough to be a nuisance. The GW deck also lacked any real draw engine, which is where Bob comes into play. With the amount of removal running around, Bob has a huge target on his back, but the deck really needs a way to fill the hand after the first couple of turns. Finally, Decay presents another level of protection against opponents threats that Swords to Plowshares can’t always answer. Another benefit is adding another on-color Mox to help improve chances that you can play a 2-drop on your first turn.

Despite those strengths, the metagame back in May when this deck was piloted has changed dramatically with the Delve spells in Khans. As such, there are some changes that I felt were necessary for today’s metagame. Here is my deck that I’ve been jamming to some moderate success in the TP room:

The first thing I noticed is that the deck is entirely too slow when on the play and not opening with mana acceleration. I wanted more things to do on Turn 1, and Thoughtseize was perfect. It allows the deck to interact with the opponent in ways the previous deck could never accomplish. It’s prime bait for a Misstep, which would normally be a dead card against you, but it’s a necessary evil to help bridge the gap from turn 1 to Turn 2 without acceleration.

I also wanted to try out Anafenza, the new “Bear” from Khans. As a singleton, it doesn’t come up too often, but I was able to take down an opponent’s Tinkered Myr Battlesphere with the help of a SotL. It hoses Dredge and can prevent a few cards from hitting the graveyard during the Delve matchups just enough to buy you a turn or 2. I’d like more, but I can’t figure out what to cut.

I also included a small Stoneforge Mystic package instead of the Voices and Mindcensors. The deck needed a way to fight through and finish a game. One aspect of the deck that I noticed is that even if you lock up the board for the first few turns against Drain decks, they can still buy themselves enough time to play a trump card, like Tinker, which is usually game over if you don’t have a Swords to Plowshares right then and there. Equipment, especially the kind that fight off the other fair decks like Sword of Fire and Ice and Umezawa’s Jitte, can swing the game in your favor. Batterskull just doesn’t quite fit this deck, despite it being a superb equipment to tutor up in other Stoneforge decks because it doesn’t help you fight through the fair match-ups as well as SoFaI and Jitte do. The equip cost of 5 mana is really high which can render the card quite useless, especially against BUG decks packing Abrupt Decay. It’s also difficult to get 5 mana to hard cast Batterskull (6 mana if you have your own Thalia in play) when you draw it naturally, making it an effective mulligan and/or dead draw in many games.

As much as I hate the Elvish Spirit Guides, they are important to get an early 2-drop down on Turn 1. I’m considering dropping one Guide for a Lotus Petal as I have found on a couple of occasions that I wanted the colored mana flexibility. Unfortunately, Petal does not go well with Thalia, so I’m not quite ready to make that change. Petal is also an awful topdeck after Turn 2, whereas Guide is at least a body that can block things.

The key to the deck is understanding that there will be some games where your opponent just has it. Either they lead with a Turn 1 or 2 victory, or you simply draw the wrong bears for the job. That said, there are some tricks that I’ve noticed with playing this deck. If on the play, your best creature to present against an unknown opponent is Thalia, if you can play her. She makes Moxes cost 1, and all of their cantrips, etc., cost 2. The next best creature on Turn 1 is either Bob or SotL. Sequencing is important in these match-ups, too. Leading out with the wrong creature can be the difference in the match. Also, don’t be afraid to preemptively fire off a Phyrexian Revoker before you opponent plays a card to shut down. Naming Jace, Time Vault, Sensei’s Divining Top, etc., before they play the card can strand the card in their hand before they can get any value out of it. Knowing the format and what decks play which spells/lands can help in this regard.

Evolution of Vintage

When people are cutting Gush, a card that was restricted in Vintage for a couple of years, for a draw 3 spell, I think it’s high time we look closely at that card to see if it needs to be restricted. Banning is not really something that Vintage does (the only banned cards are dexterity cards, ante cards, and the Conspiracy cards from Conspiracy), but restricting a draw 3 for 1 mana seems like a reasonable plan of action for Wizards.

For now, we have to live with these cards and figure out a way to combat them, or, join the crowd and help get them restricted. I think strategies like these Hate Bears lists have some merit right now, even if they aren’t perfectly tuned yet. Hopefully, this exercise is a good start for people looking to attack the format from a different angle. I look forward to reading the comments on the deck and how the rest of you would make the deck even better!

Clan Magic Eternal
Follow me on Twitter @enderfall

  1. As an addendum: While I didn’t predict Oath to win Vintage Champs, I did expect it to see an uptick in play thanks to Delver running rampant. Now that Oath has been demonstrated to be at the top of the current metagame, I’d advocate moving the Aegis of the Gods to the maindeck with perhaps Anafenza and 1 SotL moving to the sideboard. We might even want to play a 3rd Aegis maindeck, too.

  2. I’ve been working on hatebears decks, and Human tribal variants thereof, for a few months, and featured them more than once in articles/videos here over that span. So I definitely have a few thoughts about building them, inclusions to make, etc.

    Because of all the Delver decks running around, I don’t think Teeg is that great right now. There is an upside that he now also stops those KTK delve spells, so maybe that pushes him back into relevance in that matchup, but I’m skeptical. I want him when Jace and Gush-Tendrils are popular.

    Completely agree about using Cavern over Vial, obviously, most of my recent brews in all formats have revolved around Cavern of Souls. Vial is just such an awful topdeck, and an awful play anytime past turn 2, whereas a late Cavern can surprise an opponent with an uncounterable threat and gain a ton of tempo if your opponent was sitting on Mana Drain that turn.

    I agree Humans are the deepest tribe, though as I’ve shown in a couple of video series, I think the Spirit tribal idea has some merit, as it lets you play a hybrid of Hatebears and Fish with your own countermagic.

    Spirit of the Labyrinth is great right now, not only does it shut down a lot of what the blue decks are doing, it blocks Lodestone Golem so it’s not just dead weight in the Shops match.

    I think Voice of Resurgence is okay in a deck with a SFM package. It trades favorably with BUG Delver’s removal, it’s just a matter of making the body relevant by having the equipment there to punch through — and the choice of Jitte and SOFAI is perfect for punching through Young Pyromancer tokens. I would possibly keep a couple in the board for BUG mostly, it’s just another way to win incremental card advantage, presuming you have the equipment and creature total to make the back-end of Voice actually worth a card.

    Here’s the thing about Batterskull — it makes any hand with Turn 1 SFM absolutely killer against Shops, almost regardless of whatever else is in your hand. In my videos a month back playing Sean O’Briens Dega Hatebears deck, I won game 1 against Shops just by resolving SFM and fetching Batterskull. Batterskull also works through the Null Rods that a Terra Nova Shops player might be using, and allows you to play your own Stony Silences if you choose. I would have it somewhere in the 75 for sure. Mayor is also great against Shops, but you’ve cut him, so I think that matchup needs some help.

    Now there are a few things that I suppose are just personal deckbuilding style choices where we differ, though you didn’t discuss them so I’m curious if there were a particular reason in mind. First is that you don’t run your own Mental Missteps, whereas I usually do in this kind of deck, because they are far better early interaction than Thoughtseize when you’re on the draw. I do agree with running Thoughtseize for the reasons you state, you need a disruptive Turn 1 play if you don’t have a Mox or ESG. But on the draw, Misstep at least gives you something against those opponents who “just have it”. I also would tend to play Vamp Tutor and/or Demonic Tutor in this kind of deck. That package adds a lot of consistency to these decks, at only a slightly higher mana premium than playing GSZ would, and it doesn’t bother your Teeg at all. If you are losing because you don’t have the right hatebears in the right matchup, some kind of tutoring needs to be in the discussion.

    Sorry to have such a long reply, but this is a topic I have put a lot of time into thinking about, so I was excited to discuss it with you. Good article, would love to see some videos from you with these, to see how our play style differs.

  3. Hey Rex!

    There are certainly lots of ways to customize these types of decks! I really only scratched the surface here and you bring up a lot of points that I had to debate on during the process. I love Batterskull against Workshop decks. As you point out, they can’t really do anything to stop it, short of naming SFM with Revoker and keeping you off of 5 mana to hard cast it which is difficult for them if you get SFM down early.

    I would love to fit in some Missteps, too, but my major concern is dropping the creature count too low. The tutors might help fix that gap as they can find the exact card you need, though. It’s definitely worth exploring. Maybe Teeg isn’t the right fit after all, or it should be a 1-of with Vamp/Demonic taking the place of the other 2 copies in the deck. In the couple dozen or so games I played, I didn’t seem to draw him too often anyway, so it was difficult to gauge his actual impact. SotL is probably just a better card to fight the same strategies right now since Storm isn’t really prevalent on MTGO and you generally have enough creatures to fight through a Jace. Explosives and Chalice are concerns, though. Every time I cast a SotL without cavern back-up it was either countered or immediately destroyed, so I should probably take that as a sign the card is a big nuisance to the other players.