The Competitive Corner: Four-Color Copycat

July 28, 2018

 

Hello Frontier players! I’m Sylvan Schrank, an online player in the Untap and Cockatrice leagues. I’m also a moderator on the Frontier Discord server and a member of Team UB, a competitive Frontier testing team. I’m going to be writing a series of articles for mtgfrontier.net that are targeted at more high-level players than the content we already have.

 

For my first article, I decided to make a long-awaited primer for the deck I’ve been playing for about three months now; this article will be about Four-Color Copycat. For those who may have missed it, Riley wrote about Copycat a bit last month; but while that was more of a basic overview, this article will go more in-depth, covering card choices, unique one-ofs, strategies, and an in-depth sideboard guide right at the end.

 

Here’s the decklist I took to the Top 8 of the Cockatrice Frontier League’s sixth season.

 

Cockatrice Decklist

 

4 Felidar Guardian

1 Ishkanah, Grafwidow

3 Jace, Vryn's Prodigy

4 Renegade Rallier

4 Satyr Wayfinder

 

1 Abrade

3 Dig Through Time

3 Fumigate

3 Lightning Strike

1 Nahiri, the Harbinger

4 Oath of Nissa

1 Radiant Flames

4 Saheeli Rai

2 Search for Azcanta

 

1 Canopy Vista

2 Cinder Glade

4 Flooded Strand

1 Forest

1 Island

1 Mountain

1 Plains

3 Prairie Stream

4 Windswept Heath

4 Wooded Foothills

 

Sideboard
 

2 Abrade

3 Arashin Cleric

1 Caustic Caterpillar

1 Chandra, Torch of Defiance

1 Dispel

1 Gideon of the Trials

2 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar

2 Negate

1 Settle the Wreckage

1 Teferi, Hero of Dominaria

 

And here’s the list I chose to register in the Untap Open League’s sixth season:

 

Untap Decklist

 

1 Elder Deep-Fiend

4 Felidar Guardian

 1 Ishkanah, Grafwidow

3 Jace, Vryn's Prodigy

4 Renegade Rallier

4 Satyr Wayfinder

 

1 Abrade

1 Chandra, Torch of Defiance

3 Dig Through Time

2 Fumigate

1 Gideon of the Trials

2 Lightning Strike

1 Nissa, Vital Force

4 Oath of Nissa

4 Saheeli Rai

2 Search for Azcanta

 

1 Canopy Vista

2 Cinder Glade

4 Flooded Strand

1 Forest

1 Island

1 Mountain

1 Plains

3 Prairie Stream

4 Windswept Heath

4 Wooded Foothills

 

Sideboard

 

2 Abrade

3 Arashin Cleric

2 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar

2 Negate

4 Reflector Mage

1 Settle the Wreckage

1 Teferi, Hero of Dominaria


As you can see, the two lists are geared towards different metagames. I expected more Atarka and other various aggro decks going into the CFL, although they ended up appearing in very similar numbers in both leagues. I’m going to be using the more recent list for the sideboard guide, but wanted to show the other list for reference on how different the deck’s variants can look depending on the targeted metagame.

How the Deck Plays

 

If you couldn’t tell by looking at it, this deck plays like a midrange deck with a combo finish. The deck excels at grinding out value through graveyard synergy, planeswalkers, and is topped off by having the threat of a two-card combo that keeps your opponents from tapping out. This means the deck preys on control and midrange while being weaker to aggressive decks. The planeswalkers are particularly hard for control to interact with; for instance, I can’t count the number of times I’ve beaten control solely on the back of Nissa, Vital Force.

Card Choices

 

There are very few flex slots in this deck. I’d be willing to cut Gideon and Chandra, and if I was expecting very few interactive decks, possibly even Elder Deep-Fiend. I’d cut Nissa (or, more likely, move her to the sideboard) if I expected aggro to be overrepresented in comparison to the Control matchups that she dominates. However, there are a lot of cards that are playable in these slots, so here goes:

 

Elder Deep-Fiend is amazing, and should never be cut from this list - I know I just said I’d cut it if I expected fewer interactive decks, but if you’re expecting more than an eighth of the meta to be uninteractive, your expectations are most likely wrong. Even against aggro, it can function as a Fog - tap down their guys, and block any that still attack. It clears the way for you to tap out for the combo or to deploy planeswalkers, can snipes planeswalkers out of nowhere by tapping down blockers, and is a huge beater that presents a decent four-turn clock all by itself, possibly even expedited through Saheeli backup. I didn’t run the Octopus in Season 6 of the CFL solely because I hadn’t finished testing with it yet, and wasn’t comfortable taking the risk of having a dead or bad card in my deck.

 

Nissa, Vital Force is probably my second choice. She does everything - kills them quickly, ramps, returns your combo pieces from the graveyard, and turns topdecked lands relevant in the late game. She’s won more games for me than pretty much any card in the deck, and I’d be very reluctant to cut her.

 

Gideon of the Trials and Chandra, Torch of Defiance are obviously other candidates, and they’re the best ones in my opinion, but there are other options. Maindecking Teferi, Hero of Dominaria is always tempting for me in particular. I’ve also played extra removal spells in that slot. I only cut the Nahiri recently, and although she underperformed for me, a lot of people seem to like her. In the end, it’s mostly your preference that decides these last slots.

Matchups and Sideboarding

 

Atarka Red

 

This is one of your worst matchups. They can present a fast clock while leaving burn up to interact with your combo. In this matchup, at least pre-board, you just want to try to survive until you can land a Fumigate. Postboard, the matchup improves a lot, and you have a much better chance at winning.

 

In:

 

+4 Reflector Mage

+3 Arashin Cleric

+2 Abrade

+1 Settle the Wreckage

 

Out:

 

-2 Search for Azcanta

-1 Nissa, Vital Force

-3 Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy

-1 Dig Through Time

-2 Saheeli Rai

-1 Chandra, Torch of Defiance

 

In general, you just cut your slower cards for early lifegain and interaction. Felidar Guardian is actually very good here, because they can struggle to attack through 1/4s on the ground, but Saheeli is pretty bad until you combo off with her. If you can’t combo, you can still win with Deep-Fiend or with Gideon, although it gets much more difficult.

UBx Control

 

This is a great matchup, and one of the best reasons to play Cat. In general, Esper is the hardest, due to Teferi being good against most of the Cat deck, but none of them are really that hard to beat. Postboard, they’ll bring in additional answers to the combo, so you can bring in more planeswalkers and other win conditions.

 

In:

 

+1 Teferi, Hero of Dominaria

+2 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar

+2 Negate

 

Out (if they play Grasp of Darkness in the 2-mana removal slot):

 

-2 Fumigate

-1 Gideon of the Trials

-1 Lightning Strike

-1 Ishkanah, Grafwidow

 

Out (if they play anything else):

-2 Fumigate

-2 Lightning Strike

-1 Ishkanah, Grafwidow

 

I personally prefer Abrade to Lightning Strike in this matchup for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, it kills Torrential Gearhulk, which can be a hard ask from a Cat deck - you may have to double-block or use a Teferi downtick otherwise. Second, it hits Sorcerous Spyglass. Almost every UBx deck packs some number of these in the sideboard, and Abrade is one of the best answers out there for this combo-stopper.

The Mirror

 

As with any tier one deck, you’ll occasionally find the mirror match. In Game 1, you can usually just race to the combo, but once people bring in sideboard cards, it becomes unsafe to just go for it, and the matchup turns into a grindfest post-board.

 

In:

 

+2 Negate

+1 Teferi, Hero of Dominaria

+2 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar

 

Out:

 

-1 Ishkanah, Grafwidow

-1 Nissa, Vital Force

-2 Fumigate

-1 Chandra, Torch of Defiance

Abzan Midrange

 

Another good matchup. This deck simply doesn't interact well with the combo; it doesn't present a fast enough clock that it can win with before the combo comes down, and it has very few removal spells that can deal with the combo cleanly. Be careful not to be blown out by a Dromoka's Command when trying to kill creatures. Key cards in this matchup include Fumigate, Ishkanah, Grafwidow, and Gideon of the Trials.

 

In:

+4 Reflector Mage

+1 Settle the Wreckage

 

Out:

 

-2 Lightning Strike

-2 Search for Azcanta

-1 Nissa, Vital Force

Temur Marvel
 

Another good matchup. Cat is good against other combo decks - its combo is faster, and usually more consistent. Marvel has difficulty interacting with us in game one, and we can usually close out the game quickly. Postboard, you get to interact with them more, and they don’t get any backbreaking cards against you.

 

In:

 

+2 Negate

+1 Teferi, Hero of Dominaria

+4 Reflector Mage

 

Out:

 

-1 Ishkanah, Grafwidow

-1 Gideon of the Trials

-3 Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy

-1 Nissa, Vital Force

-1 Chandra, Torch of Defiance

Jeskai Ascendancy
 

This is another racing matchup. They play almost no interaction, and although they also could kill on Turn 4, their combo is much less consistent. Postboard, they can bring in Rending Volley, so you’ll want to keep in win conditions other than the combo. Personally, my favorite is Elder Deep-Fiend because you can play it at instant speed. Nissa, Vital Force is also good. This matchup is close, although I feel slightly favored.

 

In:

 

+1 Settle the Wreckage

+2 Negate

 

Out:

 

-2 Fumigate

-1 Abrade

Jund Delirium


This is another very good matchup. You can out-value them pretty easily, and they're forced to hold up interaction for the combo. Emrakul, the Promised End isn't even an out for them because of your Fumigates.

 

In:

+1 Teferi, Hero of Dominaria
+2 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
+4 Reflector Mage
+2 Negate

Out:

-1 Ishkanah, Grafwidow
-1 Gideon of the Trials
-2 Lightning Strike
-1 Abrade
-3 Jace, Vryn's Prodigy
-1 Nissa, Vital Force

Grixis Midrange

 

This is a close matchup. You tend to be favored Game 1, but after sideboarding they can win with a timely Lost Legacy and some pressure.

In:
 

+1 Teferi, Hero of Dominaria

+2 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar

+4 Reflector Mage

+2 Negate
 

Out:
 

-2 Fumigate

-1 Gideon of the Trials

-2 Lightning Strike

-1 Abrade

-3 Jace, Vryn's Prodigy
 

UR Ensoul

 
This is by far your worst matchup. Unlike Atarka, you struggle to interact with it - even Abrade doesn’t kill a Darksteel Citadel. Their clock is fast, and they can interact with your combo. Gideon shines in this matchup pre-board, and Reflector Mages help a lot post-board. If you are expecting to see a lot of Ensoul in your field, I’d add a Natural Obsolescence or two to the sideboard.

In:
 

+4 Reflector Mage

+2 Negate

+1 Settle the Wreckage

+2 Abrade
 

Out:
 

-1 Nissa, Vital Force

-2 Search for Azcanta

-3 Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy

-1 Chandra, Torch of Defiance

-2 Lightning Strike
 

Bant Humans

This matchup is favorable, although their nut draws can race you easily. Your sweepers are the key to winning this matchup, and they have a hard time interacting with the combo. Post-board, make sure your Radiant Flames doesn’t get blown out by a Dromoka’s Command, and you’re golden.
 

In:
 

+1 Settle the Wreckage

+1 Radiant Flames

+4 Reflector Mage

 

Out:

 

-1 Nissa, Vital Force

-2 Search for Azcanta

-3 Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy

Conclusions
 

I think Cat is one of the best decks in the Frontier format. Although it has a few terrible matchups, most still range from close to favorable. It’s a deck that rewards a pilot’s skill and experience with the deck; if you’ve just picked it up, don’t expect to immediately do well with it. It’s also one of the most enjoyable decks to play in the format, and I’d definitely recommend it as something to try out. I think there are three decks any competitive Frontier player should know how to play: this, Atarka Red, and UBx Control.

 

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