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By: RexDart, Chris J. Wynes
Aug 19 2013 2:44am
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In the entire history of Magic, Slivers have been seriously tournament-worthy for about all of a week.  Their unique "mechanic", that every Sliver contributes its abilities to all other Slivers, requires making a real commitment to the board and exposes your whole team to disaster.  As threats go, they're like Soviet collective farmers.  Maybe now and again you get a grain surplus if everything goes right, but wouldn't you rather just have a greedy capitalist pig like Tarmogoyf wrecking the board on his own?

Like their real-world counterparts (above, right), a lack of success has never stopped Slivers from being strangely popular.  Slivers remain heavily-played in casual circles, and always seem just on the cusp of being a quasi-legitimate tribal strategy in Legacy. Recent printings have encouraged me to give the tribe a new look. No, actually I don't mean the M14 Slivers, though those will be discussed below. I am speaking of THESE two cards:

Cavern of Souls has made all tribal strategies a bit better, but is especially valuable to multicolor ones. As we'll see in the deckbuilding section below, Slivers is necessarily a multicolor deck. Goblins and Merfolk can go mono-color with light splashes and still maintain a stable manabase, with the luxury of Wastelands, Rishadan Ports, and Mutavaults in some number. Slivers have to support AT LEAST 2 colors, and still want to play some number of those colorless lands.

Abrupt Decay won't be going into my Sliver deck. Its popularity doesn't make Slivers better... but it does make Merfolk much, much worse. You never want to be just a bad version of some other better deck, and that's been Slivers' problem for a long time. Since at least Lorwyn/Shadowmoor block, the starring role of "legacy aggro-control tribal deck" in the Legacy metagame was firmly held by Merfolk, relegating Slivers to be some community-college understudy whose career highlight was in a dinner theatre version of "The Lion King" and has no hope of ever being in the show.

Historically, aggro-control decks like Merfolk thrive in a meta full of combo decks. The theory-crafty reasoning is that Merfolk can put a real legitimate clock on their combo opponent, forcing him to act before he has enough ammo to fight through the Merfolk player's disruption. But all those Abrupt Decay BUG decks are holding them down, while various Delver decks try to take Merfolk's old spot. With Abrupt Decay around, Merfolk can't protect their lords with countermagic anymore, and have to resort to the off-tribe Kira, Great Glass-Spinner out of sideboards to fight spot removal. Slivers, on the other hand, are built around a nearly-universal U/W core that starts with Crystalline Sliver. In an environment with unprecedented levels of spot removal -- by Legacy standards, at least -- Slivers can make a legitimate claim to having something Merfolk doesn't have.


So where to begin building this thing?

Well, we can take 4x Crystalline Sliver as a starting point. Historically, some number of Winged Sliver has always been used to give the team evasion, and here we get to make our first direct upgrade from days of yore. Let's pack 4 copies of the new Galerider Sliver now that M14 is online. We're already firmly in white, so a full set of Sinew Sliver is a given.

Branching out, there are three plausible directions: Bant, Esper, and 4-color. I will be making this choice primarily based upon what Slivers are available. Although the colors of the deck allow certain sideboard cards to be used, and that isn't irrelevant, we will be somewhat limited by the manabase, so I won't let that be the determining factor. We will also be keeping this to Slivers that cost 3 or less, because our manabase will likely not support any more than that, and we want to keep our Vials set on 2 most of the game. With that in mind, let's see what each color has to offer.

Green splash:

* Muscle Sliver: Another pumping lord.

* Predatory Sliver: New in M14, yet another pumping lord.

* Harmonic Sliver: Versatile sideboard card, a definite inclusion if we go Bant.

* Horned Sliver: If we load up on power-pumping lords, the trample could prove useful in occasional matchups, but not very often.

* Quick Sliver: I advocate this in budget builds without free countermagic, as he allows you to hold up counterspells and still develop your board. But in a full-power build, his tactical uses are diminished and his body is underwhelming.

Black splash:

* Frenzy Sliver: Pumps power of unblocked Slivers, sort of the black alternative to the green p/t lords

* Hibernation Sliver: Gives your Slivers another layer of protection, including from board sweepers. Also, it's a blue card, so it pitches to Force of Will, much like former powerhouse Storm Crow.

* Necrotic Sliver: Versatile removal, but at a pretty steep price for a deck like this.

* Plague Sliver: We could kill ourselves and then switch life totals with Mirror Universe!

* Syphon Sliver: New in M14. Lifelink is pretty solid when you have a field of evasive dudes, helping you win a damage race easily.

Red splash:

* Blade Sliver: Worse than the other lords, and I wouldn't be adding red unless I was in a 4-color build already, so pass on this.

* Firewake Sliver: Seems a bit tough on the mana.

* Heart Sliver: Likely the best red Sliver, but it has a small body and is poor in multiples. Haste is nice against Jace decks, though.

* Frenetic Sliver: It has sorta-kinda evasion. By that I mean the type of evasion that was sorta-kinda playable when somebody threw Frenetic Efreet into a New York Zoo deck on a lark one weekend in 1996. Nobody other than Stephen Menendian and a lone hobo who sleeps in the parking lot outside Neutral Ground actually remembers that information, so let's just forget it too.

* Ghostflame Sliver: That'll show the guy who brings in COP:Red to fight our Sliver deck! I guess it has marginal application against Mom? Pass.

* Homing Sliver: I actually like him in the aforementioned budget builds that have to hold up mana, as he's another thing to do EOT. He is a bit mana-intensive to be the centerpiece of a Sliver toolbox in a Legacy deck, but has great flexibility if you just use a couple incidentally. Doesn't even actually require red mana.

* Sedge Sliver: In a 4-color build omitting green, he's sort of a lord, but I'd still rather just play green instead if I want more lords, and I'm not going to be able to worry about keeping swamps in play in a 4-color deck anyhow.

* Striking Sliver: New in M14. First strike will have some applications in a few matchups, for example it beats through Baleful Strix and lives.

My plan is to start with the black-splash going Esper. I think Hibernation Sliver will be difficult for control opponents to deal with, and gives me some protection from Supreme Verdict and Terminus. I also want to get some experience playing with Syphon Sliver. I think the lifegain is obviously good against some of the budget aggro decks people might be playing, and racing my opponent with my army of flying lifelinkers should be sweet. 20 creatures should be enough to make the Vial decent I'm going to round out the deck with the usual suite of 8 free counterspells, 4 Brainstorm, the 4 Vials, and 4 Swords to Plowshares. That gives me the following as the rough draft Esper Counterslivers deck:

Esper Counterslivers
Aggro-Control
Creatures
4 Hibernation Sliver
4 Crystalline Sliver
4 Sinew Sliver
12 cards

Other Spells
2 Cavern of Souls
4 Daze
4 Brainstorm
4 &Aether Vial
4 Force of Will
4 Swords to Plowshares
4 Syphon Sliver
4 Galerider Sliver
18 cards
Lands
4 Wasteland
3 Underground Sea
3 Tundra
1 Misty Rainforest
1 Island
4 Polluted Delta
2 Flooded Strand
18 cards

Hibernation Sliver

 

And here's a video deck tech, recapping and expanding upon the ideas discussed to this point:

External Link: youtu.be/KF5Z3NNgXhQ

Now it's time to take it online and get some early impressions. I wanted to do exclusively 2-mans for this, so as to have some assurance of facing "real" or at least "reasonable" decks. I did manage to get one to fire, but there was also a lot of waiting around in the queue alone, and I eventually gave up and just played a bunch in the TP room and recorded the more legitimate games. I do not generally record and play at the same time, preferring to add commentary later, because commenting while I play is distracting. But since people find those more interesting, I'm going to try it for a while, even though I'll likely make more than a few bonehead mistakes from being distracted.

In the deck's very first match, I face off against Miracles in game 1 of a 2-man tournament:

External Link: youtu.be/fAQ32CD97mQ

I lose a very long game 2 that I won't replay here as it wasn't all that interesting. But in the interest of honest self-assessment, I will note I did not play very well, and made a couple obvious technical mistakes such as bouncing my team with Hibernation Sliver in response to the miracle-trigger on Terminus, instead of waiting for him to actually CAST the stupid thing. D'oh! I can usually avoid those kinds of things only by playing so slowly and deliberately that it would bore you to tears, so we're just going to have to put up with some silly mistakes in the pursuit of fun-tertainment.

After sitting in the queue awhile, I abandoned the 2-mans to look for games in TP. In the next video, games 1 and 2 of a match against UWR:

External Link: youtu.be/icLo8ji-klA

Well that went better... ...but after that things went much worse.

The following example is fairly representative of my experience, and why I am choosing to abandon the Esper deck. I had an Omnitell player spend 4 turns doing nothing but casting Ponders and Preordains and Brainstorms, then cast Show and Tell on me, which I Forced. He had Pact of Negation, so I Brainstormed in response and found ANOTHER Force plus a blue card, but he Forced back. That is about as much disruption as the Sliver deck can reasonably expect to cast, but he still had time to assemble TWO free counterspells plus S&T plus Omniscience plus Enter the Infinite.

The Esper deck simply doesn't present enough of a clock on the opponent to force him to go off too early. By the time he actually needs to do something, he has had way too long to durdle around with cantrips and assembles the perfect hand to fight through your limited countermagic. Yes there are hatebears I can bring in, but if I'm giving up game 1 against combo and mulling into hate post-board, I would be way better off just playing Zoo -- if an aggro-control tribal deck can't beat combo in game 1, you give up on it. The Esper deck was built to have more resiliency against control, but even there the matchup did not feel great, because Legacy control decks have too many good, proactive things to do, like Jace.


So... Plan B for Bant?

Bant Meathooks
Aggro-Control
Creatures
4 Muscle Sliver
4 Crystalline Sliver
4 Sinew Sliver
12 cards

Other Spells
4 Galerider Sliver
2 Cavern of Souls
4 Daze
3 Brainstorm
4 Aether Vial
4 Force of Will
4 Predatory Sliver
4 Swords to Plowshares
1 Brainstorm
22 cards
Lands
4 Wasteland
3 Tundra
4 Misty Rainforest
3 Tropical Island
1 Island
1 Polluted Delta
2 Flooded Strand
18 cards

Muscle Sliver

 

This has 12 p/t pumping lords, so if it doesn't give me the amount of aggression I need, I don't know what will. Here's a quick video where I talk about the card choices:

External Link: youtu.be/ZsKtlb5h2CI

And here is a match in the TP room against UWR Delver. After a frustrating series of matches with the Esper deck, I didn't have as much time to play with the Bant build, but you can get at least get a taste of how it plays.

Game 1: youtu.be/sCQdQJooFmA

Game 2: youtu.be/b-d3XcBE1z4

Game 3: youtu.be/Yr4ycdhaAg4


I have a strong affinity for tribal builds, having spent much of the last two years playing and designing decks for Legacy Tribal Wars. But in competitive Legacy, you aren't just going tribal for fun, you are going tribal to reap some rewards. In tribal Slivers, I can spend 1G for a bear that gets better when I play out other creatures, but if I wasn't tribal I could just spend 1G for a 4/5 Tarmogoyf that doesn't require anything else to be good. Slivers require investing a lot more resources into the board, and while there's a payoff, the question always remains whether the payoff is good enough.

There's also the issue of the threat-density. Around 20-24 creatures seems fine for a Vial tribal deck. But that number also appears to exist in a horrible zone right now, where you don't have enough threats to overwhelm the opponent or race him, AND you don't have enough slots for disruption to buy the time you need to win. It's like a reverse "sweet spot". If you go less than 20 creatures, you are clearly better off abandoning Vial and abandoning tribal synergy, and just running a mix of cheap, efficient threats like Goyf and Delver. Or you can go the other way and instead play 30+ threats. If I revisit the Slivers at a later date, I'd like to try some 4-color WURG deck that's mostly dudes, maybe even run a few Domri Rade and see how that card plays. I could probably still build that so that it could run Force of Will out of the board against the dumb Turn 1 combo decks like Charbelcher. The mana would be tricky, and it's going to take a bit more thought to flesh it out.

Even if you build a ton of decks, and you think you have a good grasp on how all the pieces move and how your deck interacts with others, you'll find there's a wide gap sometimes between theory and reality. There's a similar gap between theory and execution -- played perfectly, your deck might do exactly what you want it to do, but you may make so many early mistakes that you quit on it and never learn what it could do when properly piloted. I will be setting Slivers aside for a while, but I expect to return to the hive someday.