Friday, 12 October 2018

Slivers .dec

Muscle Sliver
Slivers are one of the oldest tribal creature sub-types in magic. While some of the big tribal names had lords prior to a Sliver seeing print, in most cases it took a long time after the arrival of the Slivers before they would really get their tribal shit together. Slivers, however, were instantly viable. Merfolk are really the only older tribe that saw play before the Slivers and there was basically one synergy card involved, so it lacked that interwoven tribal feel of the current good tribes. Despite this wealth of time and a good amount of support, I have never really seriously entertained the Sliver tribe in cube until recently. The issue was not power or depth, but fixing. You can make a five colour control deck work with tri colour lands and Vivid lands. There is a lot of depth in lands that come into play tapped but provide outstanding fixing. Doing that for an aggressive deck, however, is highly counter-productive. Mono-coloured aggro decks are typically the most successful in cube, because all their lands are fast and they never get colour screwed, and by that same logic the five colour ones are the least effective. Even if you have access to all the premium dual lands, there simply isn't room to have all the land options you want, nor be robust in the face of mana disruption. A five colour aggro deck can simply lose to having the wrong land blown up. With only 15 or 16 land slots you get really thin, really fast. For a complete even split, you could run 5 sac lands and the complete cycle of duals and your mana base still wouldn't be that consistent or robust. It turns out, however (mostly due to recent experimentation with five colour humans), that a number of reasonable five colour lands have crept into the pool. Enough that you can cobble together an uncomfortable but suitably fast-acting mana base which has little trouble with colour. It is also convenient that the seemingly best builds of cube Slivers contain a chunk more green cards than the other colours, as well as some further fixing from those green cards. This makes it a little more like a five colour green deck, which is far easier to build a mana base for. That being said, this deck should have one drops in all the colours and that is more somewhat more relevant than the ratio of the mana symbols in the deck.

Unclaimed TerritorySpeaking of one drops, there are currently eight with the Sliver type, and a ninth if you want to throw in Mothdust Changeling to bring up the numbers. I advise playing all eight. That is almost always the most important thing in tribal decks - you need to get those bodies on the board so that enhancing them is high value. There are no good, cheap ways to generate Sliver tokens and so you just have to play lots of cheap Slivers. They’re all about the spreading of buffs, so a high and quick count of them is essential. A lot of the one drops are great as well. The white ones add a lot to combat. Galerider is good enough to play as a two drop. I stole games with mill and poison thanks to Virulent and Screeching. Striking is impressively potent. Even Plated is good, just because it is easy to cast! I am sure Mindlash would outperform Virulent and Screeching in a larger sample of games, too, with hand disruption and a sac outlet both being potent. You can lock people out of a lot of things due to the instant speed of the discard. The one drops might look like a bit of a motley crew, but they performed admirably and are a lot lot more than just bodies to receive buffs.

Heart SliverAs you move into the two slots and above you get a bit more choice in how you build and what cards to include. The three Anthem Slivers are the core of the deck and a big part of the strength of it, so don't leave home without. Haste is arguably better, so that locks in Heart Sliver too. After those four, there are still plenty of good options, but I think we are past the auto-includes at this point. While on the topic of haste, we have Blur Sliver on offer as well, which is certainly tempting.

I was a big fan of both Manaweft and Gemhide Sliver, especially with effects that gave haste and vigilance. The fixing was nice, but the burst was also impressive, it gave lots of options and empowered all the abilities with mana costs significantly. I think these two come as a package with Sentinel Sliver.

That is already 15 Slivers, not including Blur, your eight one drops, 3 lords, the haste, the vigilance and the two mana producers. Pretty core stuff! I think 22 is a pretty good number of Slivers to run, you can go a little more or a little less, but you are certainly looking to max out that group pretty hard. When every card buffs every other card, it is hard to justify non-slivers. Regardless of how many we want, we don't have much room to mess about with due to the core of the deck being so well set.

Gemhide SliverThe best thing to do at this stage is rule out things we are not doing. Cube is no place for Sliver Queen and all that five mana cool stuff. If you wanna play with your various iterations of Cromat, then EDH is the place for such things. There is enough depth and power in Slivers that you barely even need three drops, let alone four and above. The lower to the ground you can keep an aggro deck, the better it tends to perform. The only four drop that has any appeal is Bonescythe Sliver and it is probably a bit overkill. It certainly isn't solving the problems the archetype faces. This is mostly how I want to spend the remaining slots in the deck, protecting it against its inherent weaknesses. Those weaknesses number two and are a lack of interactive disruption and vulnerability to mass removal. Both have a couple of couple of solutions. For handling mass removal, you can either try and take it out of their hand, counter it when they play it, protect your dorks with spells and effects or pack a lot of card advantage effects so as to replenish after eating a Wrath. For disruption you can simply play good disruptive spells yourself, you can pack Slivers with disruptive effects on them or you can play supporting cards that are not directly disruptive but that allow you to bypass things your opponent might rely on you not bypassing. With those vague things in mind let us plow into the good options on cards to fill out the rest of the deck.

Acidic SliverAcidic Sliver is a strong contender. It is the Siege-Gang Commander of Slivers and does a great job at providing control and reach. It wouldn't be as good without Gemhide and Manaweft to help power it, but it is never terrible. Instant damage to any target at a reasonable mana rate, not to mention a sac outlet, is just good. Acidic starts off as a 2/2 as well, so is a good stand-alone card too. You can't go far wrong with this one. This card helps cover both your weak points too, although one significantly better than the other. Disruption and interaction are great with Acidic. Against mass removal it is, however, only the mildest of helps, allowing you to get some return on your cards should you have mana up to throw them at face. Cautery Sliver is just a lower powered version of Acidic, I would say. It is slightly more convenient, but the damage return per Sliver is awful and as you are not producing tokens or anything, it isn’t ideal.

Hunter SliverHunter Sliver is another effective creature control card you can use. While not as direct, diverse or reliable as Acidic, the Hunter can do its thing without having to bin valuable Slivers and it can do it without having to spend any extra mana. Both of those perks are huge. Provoke scales very well with First Strike and even makes the deathtouch-giving Venom Sliver have some appeal. I think in reality that is too deep down one small avenue, but it is cute. I think Hunter Sliver is perfectly solid without need for deathtouch or even first strike. It is just a handy tool that affords a lot of control and potential. It is even mild reach and planeswalker control. When all your dorks have provoke you decide most of combat. If you have more dorks you can remove any options they have in combat all together if you wish.

Blade Sliver is OK, it’s aggressive and an affordable buff, but it is no Muscle Sliver. It is what you want but it a more average power level. It is akin to Blur Sliver or Winged Sliver. Playable, perhaps needed, but leaves a slightly bitter taste.

Crypt SliverClot and Crypt Sliver are both mass removal protection, but neither are great at it. Two mana up per dork is super hard to do, as is having everything untapped and not summoning sick. In both cases, you need the vigilance providing Slivers to make that a reality and there is only one good one of those. Also, regenerate is protection against half the mass removal, at best. Wrath, Damnation, Settle the Wreckage and Wingshards ignore it, while Deluge and Languish bypass it, as does Terminus. Blue board clears are as effective as they ever are, so all you are really doing is handling the red options and a few others. I am not a huge fan of either of these anti-mass removal tools, they seem more like sideboard cards and fairly mediocre ones at that. They may well be necessary in some cases, but I would try and avoid where possible.

Hibernation SliverA far better mass removal protection tool is Hibernation Sliver. It doesn't preserve your board, nor your tempo. It does nothing against blue mass removal effects, but it does allow you to keep all your key Slivers. Redeveloping a board of Slivers is also fairly quick work if you have the mana producing ones and haste. Hibernation Sliver offers protection for no mana cost and that is active immediately. It is the closest you can get to a Selfless Spirit and, in many ways, it is better due to the re-usability of it. Hibernation Sliver also does a great job of protecting against spot removal – much like with Mother of Runes, you really need to aim removal at it first before being able to take down anything else. It is like a mini Standard Bearer that recurs rather than dying. Standard Bearer meets Cavern Harpy. In combination with Quick Sliver and a lot of mana and life, your Slivers become near impossible to kill! Much as I love dorks with flash, I don't think you get much value from it in a very aggressive deck. In more midrange Sliver builds I could see the value of Quick going up, but as a base line two mana 1/1, I don't think it is worth it for the build with all the one drops.

Crystalline SliverOther good spot removal protection Slivers include Diffusion and Crystalline. The latter is very powerful, but it prevents you using combat tricks, targeted buffs, and even some of the utility on the Sliver effects. I don't think you really lose anything you really want to play and so the power level of Crystalline seems too high to pass up on. Diffusion is just a smaller, weaker version of Crystalline, that doesn't get in the way of your own plans. You likely don't want many of the spot removal protection cards as most of the ways that protect you from mass removal also work on spot removal, but not the other way round. You are far better off running the cards that cover more areas and ones that are more of a problem for you - these are more of a luxury.

That pretty much covers all the two-mana Slivers of interest. There might be some ones offering evasion, but even the three mana options seem worse than Winged Sliver and I don't think you need more than two Slivers providing evasion effects. More is obviously nice, but the opportunity cost is big and the returns are diminishing. You have so much control over things like creatures and combat if you want, anyway, which combined with potentially large and powerful Slivers makes it all a bit ‘win more’. The matchups where evasion is good are not your bad matchups.

Frenetic SliverSo what other remaining three mana Slivers offer good utility and power? Firewake Sliver is a potential alternative to Blur. The sac ability is OK but the tempo of the card is poor, even compared to Blur. The high value Slivers are not ones you want to risk in combat and the low size to cost ratio of this one makes it lose appeal. It is one of those cards that has poor Synergy with Crystalline Sliver too.

Frenetic Sliver is another version of Hibernation Sliver offering some reasonable Wrath protection. You lose half your dorks, but the rest stay in play and don't need loads of mana reinvested in them. Also, two life adds up fast, so you can't go too nuts on that against a red deck, for example, and as such Frenetic might well be the better option in that setting. Especially with some of the lands you are forced to play, life can be an issue.

Harmonic SliverHarmonic Sliver is a popular one. Depending on your cube and format, I would try and run a card like this in a sideboard. Most decks have few to no targets. When you are not killing something with Harmonic itself, the tempo of it is awful and it gives your opponent the chance to deal with it before playing any key things it can dispense with. As such, you wind up holding it back thus also costing you, probably in tempo, but certainly in opportunity. Against those decks that are made up of many artifacts and enchantments, however, this Sliver will utterly devastate them. It is one of the most brutal things you can bring to bear on a number of cube decks. Ultimately, that makes it a very polar card which I try and avoid. It also means you can't really play your own artifacts or enchantments, as they will be forced into getting killed. Losing a one drop Sliver, even one of the worst, is not a trade-off I want to make for this at all!

Necrotic SliverFor an answer card, I much prefer Necrotic Sliver to Harmonic. It doesn't have the same ceiling, but it does have a much higher floor with a much greater consistency of usefulness. You always have targets, you can even land lock people! Necrotic is primarily a creature removal tool, the big brother of Acidic Sliver. Like Acidic also doubles up as reach when going face, Necrotic doubles up as Naturalize and thus does the job of Harmonic Sliver, if not better directly, at least a lot better overall and without detriment to your build or game. Necrotic seems like one of the most important three drop Slivers, as it brings so much to the deck.

Syphon Sliver is an interesting option. Life gain is useful to fuel both your mana base and your Hibernation Sliver, while also being a really strong way to defeat other aggressive decks. Being aggressive yourself, you frequently won't need to consider your own life total and can go pretty ham on spending it. As such, Syphon Sliver is also a fairly polar Sliver in performance, but it has a reasonably high floor making it a better way of hedging. It is certainly much less of a risk or an opportunity cost running this over Harmonic Sliver. Darkheart Sliver is a cute alternative although, while it is a better tempo play, I am not nearly as much of a fan of having to sacrifice valuable Slivers to gain life.

Spectral SliverSteelform Sliver I think is probably too low powered to bother running. It will afford minor edges against decks leaning hard on burn removal and combat heavy opponents. I think, overall, Blade Sliver is going to increase your win percentage more than this across the field. I doubt you can make a good argument for playing this main over other much higher powered Slivers, nor much more appropriate hedge tech for a sideboard option.

I think I prefer Spectral Sliver to both Blade and Steelform. Certainly, it is more mana intensive to do anything, but it gives options and control. You definitely don't want too many mana-sink cards in a build, but this is an ongoing one that is always pretty useful. Certainly one of the more fair options you could go for, but it does offer something a little different to the flat, static buffs.

Sedge SliverSedge Sliver is undoubtedly one of the most powerful Slivers on offer. The issue isn't power level, but difficulty in having a Swamp in play. Even with access to all the premium lands, it is pretty hard to get Sedge consistently online and not struggle with casting your other exotic gold stuff. I think Sedge hurts the rest of your deck too much to play while reliably being online. If you build from a black base, or even a black / green base, you might well be able to make it work, but it sounds like you reduce your power too much to make that option worth it.

Homing Sliver is a cute one. It can help find your silver bullet answers and even your reach tools. The issue is that it is all very pricey to use. It is a clunky, low-power card to play and it is just worse than most black and green general or creature tutors. In a more midrange deck, perhaps a Bidding based one, I would be more into this, but in the aggressive slant I think you avoid this slow Sliver.

Hive StirringsThat about does it for the worthwhile Slivers you can play in a build. So other than lands and Slivers, what can we enhance this deck with? There is Hive Stirrings as an appealing two Slivers in one card. Having bodies is great and this is your most efficient option for doing that. While it may seem poor compared to a Raise the Alarm, the nutty level of buffs your deck contains means that Stirrings should far outperform such things on average. The main downside of the Stirrings is that it is just dorks in a card that lacks the creature type. If you are packing other cards that make use of the creature type (which is pretty much all of the good ones!) then Stirrings loses value.

Aether Vial is a tempting card to run. It is pretty terrifying for people going into combat against a Slivers deck when they have an untapped Vial and cards in hand (although the same can be said of Quick Sliver). All blocks have to be made with the consideration of a wide array of Sliver buffs suddenly applying. Vial is more for the trickery and counter-proofing than it is for mana production or tempo. Certainly, the card never provided early tempo but it somewhat overlaps with the mana production Slivers in the midgame when it would have its most pronounced effect on the tempo. The dud draw of Vial in the late-game also hurts this deck more than most. If playing Vial, I would likely do so in place of a land.

Lead the StampedeGreen has some nice card draw tools that work well in a Slivers deck. Both Collected Company and Lead the Stampede are about as powerful as you can have them be in this list. Company is obviously powerful already, but it has the added bonus of huge combat trick potential on top of being card advantage, card quality, and tempo! The unusually high count of 0-3 CMC dorks in this deck makes it better selection than usual as well. Lead the Stampede is not that far off draw 3. It is more like 2.8 cards, but with all of them being action it feels more like draw four. It doesn't have any tempo to offer, but is one of your most efficient and reliable card advantage tools, which is something the deck sorely lacks otherwise. They help immensely in any grindy game.

Patriarch's Bidding is always a good option in the tribal decks. Double black is pretty difficult to do on a five drop, with several of your lands not fixing for it and some not even helping to play it. In a Sedge Sliver build you will have a better shot at running Bidding. It should do fairly well when you cast it, too, what with having so many buff effects including the all-important haste.

Beyond these few non-sliver non-land cards the only things I might consider are some top rate removal spells. Generally I would rather run those on Sliver cards and try and run more things like Collected Company and Aether Vial to offset the slower function of creature based removal. Here is an example list;

25 Spells
Sidewinder Sliver 
Galerider Sliver
Plated Sliver
Sidewinder Sliver
Striking Sliver

Virulent Sliver
Metallic Sliver
Screeching Sliver
Mindlash Sliver

Aether Vial

Muscle Sliver
Predatory Sliver
Sinew Sliver

Gemhide Sliver
Galerider SliverManaweft Sliver
Heart Sliver
Sentinel Sliver

Hibernation Sliver
Acidic Sliver
Crystalline Sliver 
Hunter Sliver

Necrotic Sliver
Syphon Sliver
Spectral Sliver

Lead the Stampede 

Collected Company

Sentinel Sliver15 Lands

City of Brass
Mana Confluence
Tarnished Citadel
Gemstone Mine

Aether Hub
Tendo Ice Bridge
Cavern of Souls
Unclaimed Territory

Sliver Hive
Ancient Ziggurat
Reflecting Pool

Horizon Canopy
Blooming Marsh
Sliver HiveYavimaya Coast
Stomping Ground

Some final notes on the mana base. The Ziggurat is a bit annoying given that the top of your curve is where most of your spells are, and is thus an awful pairing with Collected Company. I think the need and power level of both is such that you still run them, but hopefully one day this can be avoided. I doubt you can run Ziggurat in a list with Bidding in it, simply because five mana is that much of a taller order than four in this kind of deck. There are some more any-colour lands on offer but their cost is way too much to use. I would consider Exotic Orchard before anything crazy like the Forbidden One, Forsaken City, Thran Quarry or Undiscovered Paradise! While Exotic Orchard can be great, it is unreliable, and critically, unpredictable. I would take the tempo hit and run Vivid Grove in preference to any of the other options mentioned. That, or perhaps just any old random decent dual land .

Metallic SliverMutavault is the final land option I have for consideration. A colourless land is a huge hit to take, but having a hard to deal with Sliver you can call on is potent. I would be inclined towards playing it in a spell slot rather than a land one. In the list above, I would more likely take out the Aether Vial and run the manland. 

So that is my cube take on aggressive Slivers. While I don't think there is loads of directional options in the building, nor indeed that many flexible slots, this archetype has extreme amounts of fine tuning potential. Being five colour, it also has access to basically anything it wants so even with few slots you certainly don't have few choices! Even confining yourself to Sliver cards, you have some good options to hedge against most strategies. The deck is very powerful, easily able to overpower other creature builds. The fine tuning allows you to cope better with the less favourable combo and control matchups. In game, you get a surprisingly fresh experience each time you play, as your dorks are never the same. Even turn to turn your cards fluctuate in what they will get done for you and that is a unique and fun thing to have going on. I think the best way to define Slivers is to call them the most tribal of the tribal decks. Perhaps not as potent as elves, or as powerful as goblins, but absolutely more of a tribe. Most other tribes have good stand-alone cards they can make use of. Slivers are all pretty awful stand-alone cards and only look good when working together. If, like me, you love a tribal brew, Slivers will not disappoint. 

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