After the Summer Bloom ban earlier this year, turbo-mana strategies involving Amulet of Vigor and Simic Growth Chamber seemed to have largely died out. But this weekend, brewer extraordinary Matt Nass showed up in Indianapolis with the purpose to show everyone that Amulet of Vigor is still broken.
Who is Matt Nass?
This is Matt Nass. Not pictured: shorts.
Matt Nass, a 24-year old game designer from Denver, stormed onto the scene with his Elves deck to win Grand Prix Oakland 2010. Since then, he has become known as an aficionado of powerful combo decks. Most notably, he was responsible for brewing up the Four-Color Rally deck that dominated Standard last year.
In the words of Luis Scott-Vargas: "Besides being underrated in basically everything he [Matt Nass] does (Matt Nass is the nuts), he [Matt Nass] also has the distinction of being referred to solely by his [Matt Nass's] full name. I don't think I've ever not called him “Matt Nass,” and when someone says “Matt” around him [Matt Nass], I get very confused and start looking for this Matt they are talking about."
In terms of previous Magic accomplishments, Matt Nass has had an excellent 2015-2016 season: He strung together multiple deep 11-5 and 10-6 finishes at Pro Tours and a win at the Team Grand Prix Detroit (with Sam Pardee and Jacob Wilson) to easily reach Gold level. Nevertheless, Matt Nass has an unassuming appearance, and his accomplishments went largely unnoticed even by his friends. For example, in Sydney Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa asked how many points Matt Nass still needed for Gold level in the pro player club. The answer at that time was minus 9—Matt Nass had already locked up Gold level long ago. Naturally, this turned into a running joke.
So let's just set the record straight: Matt Nass is the nuts, has had an excellent, Gold-worthy season, and this weekend the combo specialist casually showed up with Amulet of Vigor.
Just like the Amulet Bloom decks of old, this deck is (still) capable of turn-2 kills.
For that, you would need Forest and Amulet of Vigor on turn one, followed by a second Amulet and a Simic Growth Chamber on turn 2. The bounce-land untaps twice, generating 4 mana in the process before returning to your hand. These four mana let you play Explore, getting you up to six mana, which is what you need for Primeval Titan.
Primeval Titan searches for Boros Garrison and Slayer's Stronghold, which allow you to turn the Titan into a 10-power creature with haste. After attacking, you fetch Vesuva (copying Boros Garrison) and Sunhome, Fortress of the Legion for a lethal double-striking attack. On turn 2.
Now, this dream start requires the perfect hand, and two Amulet of Vigor is about as close to perfect as it gets. " I found that my win ratio is almost exactly correlated to how many Amulets I drew," Matt Nass told me.
Between Explore and Sakura-Tribe Scout, Matt Nass has found suitable replacements for Summer Bloom. "Summer Bloom allowed for turn-three Titans more readily than Sakura-Tribe Scout, but the Scout is actually powerful when it lives," Matt Nass said. "By itself, Sakura-Tribe Scout gets you to 5 mana to turn 3, so you need another Scout or Explore for a turn-three Titan, but that still happens fairly often."
Before arriving at the current version, Matt Nass tried various builds. "I first tried a version with Retreat to Coralhelm, Knight of the Reliquary, Sakura-Tribe Scout, and landfall cards. But it was too finicky, and Retreat to Coralhelm without any other combo pieces is too bad. I also tried a build with Journey of Discovery, but it was too embarrassing—too weak of a card."
So eventually Matt Nass explored a normal-style Amulet deck with Sakura-Tribe Scout instead of Summer Bloom, and Matt Nass liked the way Matt Nass's deck played. "It's not as powerful, but at least the current metagame is not as hateful to it."
How is Amulet positioned in the current metagame?
"Fair decks [Jund, Abzan, Jeskai, etc.] have trouble beating you because your deck is more broken and they don't have hate. I would love playing against those decks," Matt Nass claimed. "Against unfair decks [Infect, Affinity, Dredge, etc.] your deck is slower, so you need a double Amulet draw or a hate card from the sideboard."
Fortunately, there are plenty of strong hate cards in the sideboard. Bojuka Bog (vs. Dredge), Melira, Sylvok Outcast (vs. Infect), and Engineered Explosives (vs. Affinity) stand out as they can be fetched via Primeval Titan, Summoner's Pact, and/or Tolaria West.
But out of all the combo decks in the format, why run with Amulet? "I like playing decks that are off the radar," Matt Nass said. "When you're playing a linear strategy, it's important that people don't have a good sideboard against you. Decks like Elves, Affinity, or Dredge are on many people's radar, so they are packing hate for those decks. But there are not many Blood Moons around, so it's the right time to play Amulet."
Tips and tricks
According to Matt Nass, if you played Amulet before, then it won't be too hard to figure out the new build of the deck. If you haven't, then you may need a lot of practice games before you understand the ins and outs, as it's a complicated deck with all kinds of tutoring effects.
However, Matt Nass had several useful tips for people interested in picking up the deck, starting with his approach to sideboarding. "I would not sideboard very much with the deck in general, as with any linear decks. You don't want to dilute the deck too much." But a few swaps are always fine, and Matt Nass had the following suggestions on what to cut: "you can cut some Sakura-Tribe Scouts if you expect they still have removal post-board, cut some cantrips like Sleight of Hand that are not core to the strategy, or board out a land like Radiant Fountain when you're boarding in a land."
As a final tip, Matt Nass pointed out the many uses of Sakura-Tribe Scout's ability at instant speed. "I can protect myself from Fulminator Mage by flashing in a bounceland in response to them blowing up my land. I can also bring in a blue source in my upkeep with a Pact of Negation trigger on the stack. And this hasn't come up yet, but I could theoretically flash in Khalni Garden in response to a Liliana of the Veil -2 to protect my Sakura-Tribe Scout."
Could this deck play a major role in Modern going forward? It may not be powerful enough to beat sideboard hate, but Matt Nass has certainly assembled another fearsome combo deck.