Four-Color Cryptolith Rites, a deck developed by East-West Bowl and debuted at Grand Prix Toronto last week, is in an odd spot. We've been highlighting new and crazy decks all weekend, for sure. But somehow this deck seems less new and less crazy. It's ridiculous that a week-old deck is “old,” but it's certainly not “new.” Especially considering how ubiquitous the deck is here in New York. How did this format shift happen, and so quickly?
Day 1 undefeated East-West Bowl team member, Eric Severson said it happened because of a man named Tommy Ashton. But we'll get to that after a quick primer on this complicated “4 1/2-color deck.”
The deck uses Cryptolith Rite to empty its hand as quickly as possible against decks without sweepers. Once that job is done, you can get to the real meat—the combo-tastic awesomeness. With Eldrazi Displacer and Brood Monitor, crazy things begin. Sacrifice the three Eldrazi Scions created by the Monitor to pay for a Displacer activation targeting the Monitor. The green dude goes out, then comes back into play and makes three more sac-able Scions. Now you've got yourself a loop. Add in a Zulaport Cutthroat, and you drain your opponent for 3 life with each iteration. To make the deck work, it only took four colors plus colorless activation costs. Ta-Da!
Now back to Ashton. In the build-up to Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad, East-West member Ashton posted the deck on their team forum; he's often referred to as the mad deck wizard of the team. “We already knew Rite was powerful, and that Recruiter was really good,” Severson said, but it wasn't until about a week before the Pro Tour that Tommy Ashton's post started to get traction.
“It was 4 or 5 cards off the current main deck. There weren't too many cute one-ofs, just the solid combo.” Severson continued, “It looks weird on paper, you know, ‘How could you player four and a half colors?'” So though the team was intrigued, no one really bit hard. “I wanted to put more into the deck myself, but it was too close to the PT ... People still flirted with it for a while,” after the crew arrived in Spain, “but we had no sideboard, and we were afraid that everyone would be playing Languish.”
There's a common Pro Tour fear that we call “Fancy Fear.” It's the fear that going too far afield can go horribly wrong at the Pro Tour. It's the reason that people will abandon a deck the night before a tournament and audible into “the red deck.” That's what happened here. Also, they had no sideboard.
No one played the deck at the Pro Tour, but after seeing the success of Black-Green Aristocrats, which were utilizing many of the same synergies, Severson said, “everyone realized that we really had something here.” Especially because they weren't sure about the future of Aristocrats after the Pro Tour. “The problem ... is that there's no interaction. I don't like losing game 1 to a single Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet or Ormendahl, Profane Prince.” But the Rite deck is interactive as all-get-out.
So they slightly tweaked their deck and took it to Grand Prix Toronto. The whole team played it, but Severson had other obligations. After seeing all the fun last weekend, he didn't want to miss out this time.
Severson pointed to two major innovations that streamlined the build into its current success. The first was Andrew Brown's addition of four Reality Smasher in the sideboard. “During the entire PT, playing control, it was the last card I wanted to see ... [Control pilots] play Read the Bones, looking for Languish and pass. Then you go, ‘Ok, cast Smasher, attack with everything?'”
It was this sideboard “transformation” that gave a competitive advantage to the Cryptolith deck. Heck, it's part of the reason the deck is named after the Rite rather than the combo—you frequently side out the combo.
“The other change was going down to two Zulaport Cutthroat.” Severson said the “real” combo is not infinite mana or infinite drain, but the infinite scry, thanks to Catacomb Sifter. Looping Monitor and Displacer with Sifter on the field allows you to literally cut your deck where ever you want, while learning the next cards you'll draw if you know your opponent can disrupt your combo.
“You can always find a Cutthroat when you need it; just cut to it ... If you have enough mana, you can even cast Elvish Visionary to draw it immediately.”
When it comes to playing the deck, Severson was direct. “You gotta get games in with the deck,” was his most salient advice. If you're thinking of picking up 4C Rite, put in the time. The deck does not auto-pilot. But if you're intrigued by a combo deck in Standard that's doing very, very well, Severson had some tips.
- “Play 12 painlands. Some people play fewer, the manabase is borderline already. Don't tempt it.”
- “Think about Languish, but in game one, make them have it.”
- “Write down the top of your deck,” after Catacomb Sifter-ing a combo. You never know when your combo might get disrupted and you'll need that information.
Severson mentioned just one of the corner cases specifically. “If your opening hand is Yavimaya Coast and Llanowar Wastes, always lead with the Coast.” Though it seems odd because you only have one blue spell, if you draw Forest on turn two (and play it), without the Coast you have no way to cast Reflector Mage on turn three.
This is exactly what Severson meant when he said the manabase was borderline; it makes the sequencing tricky.
Even though the deck is better known now, Severson still thinks there's good play in the deck. “It's not too beatable. It's not Rally, but it's relatable in its strengths ... the Green-White matchup is great if they don't know what they are doing.” However, he did admit, “If they do, and use their Tragic Arrogances right, it's a bit harder.”
Going into this weekend, most of East-West Bowl had already moved on from the deck. They thought the Rite moment had past. “Too many people are on it and know about it,” they said. But Eric Severson, the East-West Bowl member who skipped Toronto, is still reaping rewards, even if he was late to the party. Watching the 9-0 feature match from the spectators' area, Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch Top 8 finisher Andrew Brown lamented his choice to abandon his friend Cryptolith Rite. After Severson won, I'm sure Brown felt it even harder.
If you're a combo lover, 4C Cryptolith Rite will satiate your need to puzzle—and you might just go undefeated at a Grand Prix in the process.