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A COMPANY YOU CAN COUNT ON! JAMES ALLINGHAM 05/12/2017

Counters Company is a Green/White creature deck which attempts to create a combo to end the game as early as turn three. The deck is built around the interaction between Devoted Druid and Vizier of Remedies – these two cards, printed almost a decade apart, work in such a way as to allow you to create an unlimited amount of green mana. Once you are able to do this, winning the game tends to involve sinking a large amount of mana into either a Walking Ballista or similar game-winning threat.

The truth is there are lots of “I have these two cards, I win” combos in Modern so why do we play an 0/2 and a 2/1 which, to be honest, are not even that good in their respective draft formats? Well, the real power of this deck is in two spells which make the deck more consistent and explosive; Collected Company and Chord of Calling. These allow us to take creatures directly from our Library and put them onto the battlefield. These very powerful spells give us a high level of redundancy when it comes to assembling our Vizier/Druid combo or finding exactly the right card at the right time.

It is this core strategy of being able to find exactly the right creature at the right time and the card advantage that Collected Company offers that make the deck so appealing. Although it places a deck building constraint on us that we should have a high number of creatures which cost less than four mana so that we can “hit” them off Collected Company.

As a Green Creature deck we want to play some number of mana ramp creatures, namely Birds of Paradise and Noble Hierarch. Most builds play at least six with the traditional split being 4 Birds and 2 Hierarch, I decided to move to 4 and 3 as having a mana ramp creature early is quite important.

This gives us the core deck:

4 Birds of Paradise

3 Noble Hierarch

4 Devoted Druid

3 Vizier of Remedies

4 Collected Company

4 Chord of Calling

With this list of cards we have a lot of mana and no action, as mentioned we could just add 4 Walking Ballista or even a few Mountains and some Fireballs and that may work! But fortunately, we have a far more elegant solution since Shadows of Innistrad:

4 Duskwatch Recruiter / Krallenhorde Howler

Duskwatch was almost certainly the best uncommon in SOI limited and in this deck it’s also one of the better cards, it functions as your primary mana sink with the ability to slow-mode find combo pieces or if you have the combo to draw any or every(!) creature in your deck. You pay 2G and look at the top three cards of your library, select a creature and put it into your hand. This means once you have unlimited mana you can go through your library three cards at a time and pick the creature you want.

As mentioned we do play a Walking Ballista to tutor for to actually kill people:

1 Walking Ballista

For additional redundancy we play Eternal Witness which allows us to get back whichever creature or spell is good at the moment, this card is excellent in this deck and I play all 4 copies, some builds play a split between Witness and Renegade Rallier but I’m not a fan of Rallier as you need to ensure you have revolt and you cannot return Collected Company:

4 Eternal Witness

The other combo we play is Kitchen Finks, which interacts really well with Vizier of Remedies in combat as well as the infinite life combo it allows when combined with Viscera Seer as a sacrifice outlet. This combo does require a third colour of mana to include the Viscera Seer but I believe this to be well worth the cost as it also gives us access to Black sideboard cards:

3 Kitchen Finks

1 Viscera Seer

For those of you less familiar with Modern the Finks “Life” combo is you sacrifice a Kitchen Finks, it dies, Vizier of Remedies prevents it from getting a -1/-1 counter from persist so you can gain 2 life and sacrifice it again. With Viscera Seer you can simply scry 1 any number of times to put whatever card you want on the top of your library however the truth is very few decks can beat “over a million” life but being able to always draw exactly the right card each turn means that generally you will win the game shortly after.

To round out the deck list we play some cards which are highly situational or help us interact with our opponents.

In the main deck I have:

2 Voice of Resurgence

1 Scavenging Ooze

1 Selfless Spirit

Then we have some mana to cast our spells, this is just fetch lands plus shock lands and some basics:

4 Verdant Catacombs

4 Windswept Heath

2 Overgrown Tomb

2 Temple Garden

1 Godless Shrine

3 Forest

1 Plains

As utility lands we play one of the better ones in Gavony Township which helps us turn some of our smaller utility creatures into late game threats and Horizon Canopy to give us redraws later in the game:

2 Gavony Township

2 Horizon Canopy

Specific Card choices:

Not playing Blue cards – It is possible to splash Blue instead of or as well as Black in this style of deck, normally to support Reflector Mage, Spell Queller and Unified Will. The cost of splashing Blue is that your Mana Curve tends to go up quite a bit, which puts pressure on you having a 1 drop Mana Ramp creature and that it survives the turn. The other cost is that it makes our mana quite a bit worse as rather than playing four basic lands and often being able to fetch a basic Forest we end up having to find dual lands and therefore pay two life for each one. The benefit if we choose to add Blue cards to the deck is that we improve our Combo match-ups vs the likes of Storm and Titanshift so it comes down to what you expect to play against and what your preferences are.

I didn’t expect Storm or Titanshift to be excessively popular for the RPTQ and therefore I played a “Traditional” Green/White splash Black variant.

Voice of Resurgence – I like this card vs both Aggro and Control decks in Modern, it is never the best card in your deck but it also has quite a high floor; it helps block early and provide a large creature, it plays well vs the Grixis Death’s Shadow deck and helps make the Jeskai Tempo match up a bit better. I expected Grixis and Jeskai to be reasonably popular at the RPTQ so I opted to go for 2 Voices in my main deck. In my opinion Voice of Resurgence is not a great card to bring in from the Sideboard, rather it is a decent role-player to have in the main deck and then a card which can easily be upgraded between games, therefore I would suggest starting it or not playing it at all.

Full playset of Duskwatch Recruiters – I played this deck at GP Birmingham and I was only playing two Duskwatch Recruiters, I regretted it from then and I believe that Duskwatch is one of the better cards in this deck and therefore I almost always want to draw one during a game. It digs you into combo pieces and ends the game if you assemble a combo – It’s also not horrible in multiples, that leads me to wanting all four.

Scavenging Ooze – Having access to a Scavenging Ooze in the main deck gives you a way of beating some of the more linear decks in Game 1 that are not setup for Graveyard interaction along with giving you a legitimately great threat that can manage Tarmogoyf size and/or gain a few valuable life points in a tight race. I would not play more than one copy as generally the decks you want it against are not popular enough to justify it and if they are then Yixlid Jailer or Loaming Shaman provide different options that impact the graveyard immediately.

Selfless Spirit – This is a true flex spot, in all honesty I play it because I’m used to playing it and I will often play in such a way as to leave myself the ability to Chord of Calling for a Selfless Spirit in response to a sweeper. This can often be a game changing play and I like having access to it although I will admit that this is not something I can easily justify especially if you expect the format to be more combo heavy or the sweeper of choice is Flaying Tendrils from Grixis Death’s Shadow.

Spells in the Sideboard – I play a few Path to Exiles for the match ups where you need some interaction and a Maelstorm Pulse as a generic catch all which, while not the most efficient solution, does gets the job done. I also play a Dismember which I bring in vs Storm and the Mirror as a better way of having interaction than always being a Path to Exile. I am planning to evaluate if Fatal Push is a good fit in this slot or if one or more of the Paths should be a Fatal Push.

Hate cards in the Sideboard – One of the big attractions to Counters Company is the ability to Tutor with Chord or dig deeply with Collected Company to find a specific hate card such as Kataki, War’s Wage or Eidolon of Rhetoric. This is largely metagame dependant but I will normally play Kataki, Aven Mindsensor, Linvala and Eidolon of Rhetoric. In addition; cards with Enter the Battlefield effects which are situational such as Sin Collector and Reclamation Sage give you access often at Instant Speed to a very powerful effect.

No Rhonas and only one Walking Ballista – I do not think you want more cards which only do something when you are comboing. Rhonas is really hard for you to turn on as a creature without the mana combo and means you have to actually use the combat step to win the game which opens you up to all sorts of extra interaction. The second Ballista is a concession to wanting the slots and the card being really underwhelming when you do not have the combo assembled. These are replaced by Duskwatch Recruiter who finds the last kill piece once you have assembled it.

Playing the deck

Mulligans – Generally keeping a hand without a one drop mana ramp creature is risky, this is the reason to play seven or eight rather than six and the mana ramp creatures and getting Battlefield presence early is important so you need to ensure that your hand has at least some of the constituent elements and a plan on how to come together into a game win. The deck mulligans quite well as it generates Card Advantage quite easily with Eternal Witness, Collected Company and Duskwatch Recruiter. You should not be afraid to mulligan to five with this deck looking for a good hand.

Assembling the Combo – I would say it’s correct more often than not to just jam the combo out there and assume they have nothing. The infinite life combo normally will involve you having a Kitchen Finks and Vizier in play and drawing Chord of Calling, this combo is good vs a lot of decks although I have had awkward situations in the past where both players have “infinite” life and no one has a way to kill each other left in their library as both our Walking Ballista’s got exiled. The upside on the infinite life combo is that you can scry whatever card you want to the top of your Library, generally a shortcut for this is to scry every card without changing the order (aka look at your deck) and then cut it to the card you want placing the cards above that card on the bottom of your deck without changing the order.

Reaction to the Combo – Without Split Second it is not possible to interact with the Devoted Druid Combo once you have a non-summoning sick Druid and a Vizier of Remedies in play, in Paper I generally say “make a few million mana” just to ensure that I can do what I want and continue from there. You are required to pick a number so just pick a very high amount. Players will often try to interact with the Druid after the Vizier has resolved or will try to kill the Vizier in response to the untap trigger, you can just put an additional untap trigger on the stack and carry on going off.

Play Patterns

  • I would normally look to lead with a Devoted Druid to give myself the ability to combo as early as Turn 3. 
  • It’s often correct to get a land back with Eternal Witness to make sure you hit four Lands relatively early to reduce the reliance on mana ramp creatures. 
  • Gavony Township provides you quite a resilient long game, especially with Kitchen Finks to ensure that the -1/-1 counter gets removed after it has persisted so I would look to hold it in my hand and expose it only when I can activate it if I can help it. 
  • Casting Collected Company in your own turn is often correct once you have a Druid in play, using Collected Company or Chord to dodge Sorcery speed removal spells is important and in some match-ups just the key to winning them. 
  • Horizon Canopy giving you re-draws when you don’t need mana anymore is important to remember, sometimes you should use a Druid twice when getting a Vizier to allow you to draw the extra card. 
  • It’s sometimes correct to use Convoke rather than lands to pay for a Chord of Calling to leave yourself mana to pay for Mana Leak and other permission. 
  • You should be able to fetch a Forest quite a lot of the time which will let you play under a Blood Moon and take less damage from your lands than a traditional three Colour deck.

Sideboarding

Grixis Death’s Shadow – You are planning to become an Eternal Witness midrange deck with removal and card advantage cards, I would normally board out some number of Chord of Calling and mana ramp creatures along with some number of combo pieces as they have a volume of removal to prevent you from assembling the combo quite easily. Infinite Life is good enough in this match-up.

Storm – You need to be able to combo them on Turn 3, you are about the same speed as them but they are slightly more consistent therefore you need to bring in a few removal spells and Eidolon of Rhetoric. They cannot beat infinite life either so both Combo’s are good.

Traditional Tron – Your plan vs Tron is to either Combo kill them on Turn 3 or use your instant speed creature generating spells to apply pressure without giving them an opportunity to use Oblivion Stone for a lot of value. Life doesn’t work as they play Karn.

Eldrazi Tron – Walking Ballista and Chalice of the Void are quite good against you, generally you try to assemble a Combo the problem is Life is not good enough as they do sometimes play Karn. Normally board in the Mindsensor to try to stop them getting lands with Map and Sigarda to fight All is Dust.

Blue/White Control – I use a similar plan to the Grixis match up they are less good at breaking the combo early but have a lot more sweepers. Jeskai with Anger of the Gods is one to watch out for because Bolt means they can interact early as well.

Jund/Abzan – I would suggest that you become an Eternal Witness midrange deck in this match up, generally you can grind them out providing you don’t draw a bunch of excess mana ramp creatures.

Titanshift – This is one of the harder matchups as you need to combo kill them quickly and they have Anger of the Gods main deck, so normally you will need to get a bit lucky and bring in some disruption. You are a couple of turns faster if they do not have the disruption to fight you however and they have limited instant speed interaction so Collected Company is excellent in this match up.

Burn – Matchup is much harder than it looks on paper, you need to keep in combo pieces and don’t have a great sideboard plan against them generally. If you can force them to burn your guys and they don’t have multiple Searing effects.

Affinity – They have limited interaction so you can combo them and you can make Kataki on Turn 3 with a bunch of draws. It’s normally wise to hold an answer to an Aether Grid which is their best card in the match up.

Mirror – I bring in removal and interaction along with Linvala, the mirror is not all that fun as often you just kill each other on Turn 3.

Summary

I would recommend playing this deck in a Paper tournament, for Magic Online it’s a real pain to go through the motions and you have a legitimate chance of timing out if the games get complicated. I managed to qualify playing this deck, from the RPTQ in Edinburgh, for my first Pro Tour which will be in Bilbao in February 2018. I played against Eldrazi and Taxes, Titanshift, Storm, Grixis Shadow, Elves, Tron and Storm during the Tournament with my loss coming to Grixis Shadow.

The Counters Company deck can be customised to fit with the expected Metagame but it is best positioned when people are playing decks like Affinity, Humans and Grixis. I also feel that it is underrepresented on Magic Online because of the challenges of playing this sort of deck in that environment where you need to go through every click.

I am planning to play this deck at GP Madrid in a Team Event will very likely play it at PT Bilbao, it’s a blast to play and if you do end up in a bad matchup, you can just kill ‘em on Turn 3 which limits how bad it can be. 

About James Allingham:

James has been playing Magic competitively since 2010. He joined Team Axion in 2016 as the last of the initial team and has since made his first PT at PT Rivals of Ixalan. He attends as many Grand Prix as his work life will allow and is best known for being perennially busy. He frequently has his own ideas about a format which leads to him playing a different deck to the rest of the team for some major events. Outside of Magic, he is always busy with work but in his spare time he enjoys playing board games and cooking. He will also always make time to watch the NFL games during the season and actively follows the Seattle Seahawks.