If you pack a brain neatly in a jar, then a flock of Zombies will happily rise from the tides to feast. At least, that's how I think the flavor is supposed to work. One way or another, Peter Vieren rarely disappoints, and his blue-black deck featuring Brain in a Jar and Rise from the Tides is an awesome brew. It's competitive, too: Vieren won a lot with it online, and he was battling at a reasonable record on Day 2.
Peter Vieren is a 30-year old player from Leuven, Belgium who has been playing Magic for a long time. He has had a good season so far, finishing second at Grand Prix Prague and 14th at Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar. As a result, he will likely be the captain of the Belgian team at the World Magic Cup later this year.
He often shows up with creative decks of his own design, and he has a fondness for decks with little to no creatures. In his Blue-Black Control deck from the aforementioned Grand Prix Prague, for instance, he only had 1 Pearl Lake Ancient and 1 Silumgar, the Drifting Death as win conditions. The rest of his deck was a bunch of card draw spells, countermagic, and removal spells. That's Peter Vieren in a nutshell, and he found a similar approach in the current Standard.
"The goal of this deck is to assemble the combo of Brain in a Jar and Rise from the Tides," Vieren explained. "Brain in a Jar does other things as well of course, but enabling Rise from the Tides at instant speed is its most important function. At the end of my opponent's turn, I can usually get around 15 Zombies, and then I untap and attack for lethal damage. The nice part is that it's an instant kill, so only Kozilek's Return or Virulent Plague are a problem. Sorcery-speed answers like Languish or Declaration in Stone won't work."
Before setting up the kill, Vieren is content to buy time and play a control game, answering opponent's threats and drawing a bunch of cards. "In a typical game, I would play Pieces of the Puzzle on turn three, followed by Languish on turn four. Then, on turn five, I could play Read the Bones and Grasp of Darkness or I could cast Silumgar's Command."
By the way, in case you were wondering: in Vieren's deck, Pieces of the Puzzle will hit 0 instants/sorceries with probability 2.2%, will hit 1 instant/sorcery with probability 13.5%, and will hit 2 instant/sorceries with probability 84.3%.
"Silumgar's Command is much better now than in the previous Standard," Vieren said. "Bounce is a good answer to Ormendahl, Profane Prince; the -3/-3 effect kills pretty much everything; opponents often try to cast Collected Company at the end of my turn; and planeswalkers are everywhere. Especially because I don't have any creatures, I need some answers to planeswalkers."
One card that I was curious about was Sight Beyond Sight, so I asked Vieren about it. "I was looking for more card draw because Brain in a Jar is card disadvantage by itself and because you can only exploit its mana boost if you have enough card draw spells. In particular, I was looking for a four-cost card draw spell because the curve of my deck has to be flat for Brain in a Jar. Sight Beyond Sight was a perfect fit, even if many opponents had to read the card over the course of the tournament," he laughed.
All of these inclusions make a lot of sense, but how did Vieren conceive of this deck? "I was drafting creatureless decks all the time in Shadows over Innistrad draft," he answered. "Rise from the Tides is a very strong kill condition, and I really enjoy drafting that all-spells deck. I once drafted Brain in a Jar as well, and although that draft was not a success, my experience in Limited inspired me to build this deck in Standard."
I had seen Mono-Blue Brain in a Jar decks before, but his black approach was new to me. So why black? "Black has the best removal in Standard," Vieren explained. "Grasp of Darkness and Languish are excellent. If you go Mono Blue, then you don't have any real removal, and I don't think bouncing with Engulf the Shore is a good enough plan."
Positioning, Matchups, and Sideboarding
"My deck is good versus grindy decks," Vieren said. "They can activate Duskwatch Recruiter all the want—it doesn't matter. They can activate the ultimate on Nissa, Voice of Zendikar—it doesn't matter. Their creatures are too small, so they still give me a lot of time to set up. I can be losing the game horribly and still win out of nowhere with Brain in a Jar plus Rise from the Tides. So I like my matchup against all green decks. I also have Negate and Duress in my sideboard against Naya Midrange to answer their planeswalkers."
"Bad matchups are everything that has something to do with Eldrazi. Reality Smasher is one of the toughest cards to beat because none of my black removal spells are a good answer to it. Against Four-Color Rites, for instance, I am only really scared about their Reality Smasher, so I board Transgress the Mind, Ruinous Path, Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet, and even Infinite Obliteration against them. I cut some clunky card draw spells, like Pore Over the Pages and Read the Bones, against them."
Tips and Tricks
Vieren had three main pieces of advice to share. First, he highlighted the importance of knowing all the decks in the format well. "Know and anticipate what you opponents could have. Sometimes you need to tap out for Rise from the Tides and hope it works, so you have to estimate if your opponent might hold Declaration in Stone or Languish or not."
Second, he recommended keeping at least 32 instants or sorceries for Pieces of the Puzzle after sideboarding and to keep card distributions relatively intact. That means taking out removal for removal, for example. Another piece of sideboard advice he had was that you can often board out Brain in a Jar if you expect that you the instant-speed mode on Rise from the Tides won't be relevant or if you board in Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet.
Third, he mentioned how the importance of the instant-speed Languish, especially against creature-lands like Needle Spires. According to Vieren, sometimes you shouldn't level up Brain in a Jar to ensure you have the ability to cast an instant-speed Languish on the next turn.