Clawed Our Way Up: The ’22 Counter-Cat Reboot, Pt. 2

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Welcome to the second of a pair of articles detailing my misadventures retuning Counter-Cat for a Modern flipped turned upside-down. If you missed Part 1, click here to get up to speed. Today, we'll examine the deck's draw and removal suites, its manabase, and the sideboard. And yes, there is a decklist! Who among you bears the mental fortitude required to keep from immediately scrolling down?

To Draw Another Breath

On to the card draw that isn't stapled to creatures.

We are lighter on air than Murktide, since we'd rather affect the board and game texture than spend our precious mana sculpting. But we still need our Channelers to be good. That's where Bauble comes in. The all-star cantrip is also sick alongside Iteration (freebie), Wrenn (repeated fetchland scrying) and Shredder (immediate connives). It was great with Lurrus too, but that ship has unfortunately sailed. (You should have seen my online record! Granted, I have won quite a few games with good ol' Jegantha.)

One ship that hasn't sailed (at least, not in Modern) is the aforementioned Cruise-light, Expressive Iteration. This is the only draw spell we're spending mana on, and for good reason: it provides both filtering and card advantage.

Something that rubbed me wrong about my last build of Counter-Cat was how bad my card draw was with the gotcha cards.

Right after MH2 was spoiled, I went to town with Abundant Harvest and Light Up the Stage, which gave me great goldfishes (14 lands, all action, no problem) but couldn't add up to wins in real games. That's because Pierce and Muta remained our most impactful cards for the mana, but became so much worse once opponents had seen them. Iteration keeps them hidden while doing a great job of digging them up, giving the sorcery heaps of value here.

I'd argue that EI is even better in a low-to-the-ground shell like ours than in Murktide, as we can more reliably cast one or both cards peeled off the top in the same turn cycle and have more obvious cards to bottom since our cheaper spells are also more niche in application.

In for the Kill

As hinted at, our removal suite is a good deal more robust than UR Murktide's, and every spell costs just one mana.

For starters, we are maxing Bolt. Counter-Cat is aggressive enough that Bolt is a real win condition. Maybe my age is showing, but honestly, trimming Bolt in any aggro-control deck strikes me as a bit psycho, and not in a good way (unlike, say, shoehorning Wild Nacatl into the format's premier UR deck).

A-Unholy Heat is the removal spell thresh decks have always wanted. But we're still not maxing it. For one, we are maxing Bolt, and the two do have similar coverage. I also wanted to make room for the white removal spells, which I think earn their place here.

Path to Exile is among the only one-mana ways to deal with Murktide Regent. And man, is it ever good at dealing with Murktide Regent! I kid you not when I say people are actually playing 3 Run Afoul in their sideboards to remove this creature. Now read Path to Exile again. Now read Run Afoul.

Prismatic Ending is a card I immediately called as being a format-defining removal spell upon spoiling, and promptly addd four of to my Counter-Cat decks. As time wore on, though, I simply didn't have space for it anymore. One still makes the mainboard, as we can dig for it with our many card selection tools and randomly beat stuff like Basri's Solidarity game 1. Two more copies call their home the sideboard, where they replace more narrow permanent answers like Ancient Grudge and also come in to help out in creature matchups.

Greed... Is Good

The manabase has always been an important part of Counter-Cat, and something casual onlookers have always questioned. Read on for a window into how to craft an extremely greedy manabase that's also consistent and resilient.

Early in the deck's story, I liked having two "shock pairs" which together could produce all four colors of mana and fully grow Nacatl. It was also valuable for the deck's most represented colors to be split between both lands. For instance, when the deck was mostly blue and green cards, Breeding Pool wasn't a great option for a shock pair, since we couldn't reliably cast Nacatl and Pierce in the same turn cycle. However, since it cast the most spells in the deck, I still ran one (without Foundry, which cast only Bolt and Path) as an optimal "third shock" to compliment a shock pair.

Introducing multicolored cards skews the math a bit, as it's important that our pairs can cast every multicolored card. In this build, we run both RG cards (Kavu and Wrenn) and UR ones (Iteration). The only shock pair that can cast both is Pool-Foundry. So rather than running two different shock pairs, I've elected to run two of each of those lands.

Pool-Foundry is also a great shock pair for us since the deck now has considerably more red than it did in the past, so Foundry itself is no longer dead weight. Indeed, the deck has so much red that both of my chosen third shocks (Vents and Ground) also produce the color, and we'll fetch up one of those ASAP after establishing our pair. Vents is more important since it lets us do Iteration-Pierce in a turn cycle, but there are spots where we've got plenty of green stuff to sling, especially post-board when Veil of Summer shows up, and Ground is the better third.

I've also been testing Blood Crypt in its slot, which lets Kavu out-grow a delirious Heat via Mutagenic Growth and further dominate the battlefield. But so far it seems like giving up Ground's utility for that benefit when we're on just two Kavus isn't worth it.

Finally, I like to run a basic to hedge against Field of Ruin, Path, and the like. While I've experimented with Mountain in this build, Forest still gets my vote. Fetching that up lets us cast everything under Blood Moon except for EI, Pierce, and Shredder, and Ragavan can always dash in to turn those spells back on. Forest is especially good against the Ponza decks that used to hassle this deck, as it keeps Wrenn and Six highly accessible. Opening Forest also doesn't hurt as much as, say, Island would, since we can use the green land to cast Wrenn, retrieve our fetchland, and then go for the shock pair.

Fetchland splits are the easiest. With all of the above figured out, choosing which fetches to run is a matter of drawing up a table and figuring out which ones get the most lands. In this build, Wooded Foothills is our best fetch, grabbing everything in the deck. I like Scalding Tarn next; it grabs every shock. Last up is Windswept Heath, which whiffs on Steam Vents but ups our access to basic Forest. (I would rather run a fetch that only whiffs on Stomping Ground instead, but there isn't one.) Critically, every fetch in the deck grabs Pool-Foundry, making our opening mana very consistent.

With a Side of Hate

While I'm pouring out my heart, we might as well run through the sideboard, which I've spent quite a while tuning.

  • Jegantha, the Wellspring: It's no Lurrus, but Jegantha still poses a solid backup plan and an out to board stalls and topdeck wars alike.
  • Snapcaster Mage: Comes in almost everywhere. Extra copies of our best spells for the matchup.
  • Alpine Moon: For Saga decks but also Tron, Valakut, etc.
  • Life Goes On: My Burn hate of choice. It's not rare for us to go down to 7 just from fetching when we're the aggressor. Taking it slow is a must against Burn, but often a piece of hate is needed to seal the deal against them if we don't have find Pierces.
  • Mystical Dispute: Great where it's good, which is all over the place. But it's clearly not widely applicable enough for the mainboard. Especially killer against Murktide and Omnath.
  • Veil of Summer: Same story, but this card may be overkill against black-based decks, which we trounce anyway. Great fun to cast though.
  • Prismatic Ending: More copies for when they're good. Lets us avoid running more narrow permanent hate.
  • Pyroclasm: My all-time favorite sideboard card, Clasm continues to win me tons of games out of nowhere. It's impossible to respect and incredibly easy to set up.

At Long Last, a List!

It's writing Magic articles 101 and a refrain I harp on when editing other creators. Make sure you include decklists! People love decklists! Most people won't even read it, they'll just scroll to the decklist! I do believe it, too. And I usually lead out with the decklist. But I had so much to say about this deck, which has undergone oodles of changes over the past couple years, that I wanted to do things a little differently this time.

Seriously, this guy is still talking? Just drop the freaking decklist already!

Naughty Jungle of Love

Modern is the average enfranchised player’s format of choice precisely because it so deeply rewards players for identifying their preferences and going all-in on a pet deck. The format doesn’t have to be about always jamming the new hotness or whatever latest broken interaction; there’s plenty of fun to be had getting creative within the confines of the format and figuring out ways to hold your own with the cast you’ve always wanted.

Is this deck necessarily better than UR Murktide? Of course not. Are the trade-offs worth it to get sling the spells I most enjoy? Absolutely!

Thanks for riding along for this in-depth brewing exposé. Full of my favorite cards and marked by a personal brewing history now spanning close to a decade, Counter-Cat is my labor of love. What’s yours? Drop me a line in the comments. Until then, may you keep the pressure on… and get ‘em good!

2 thoughts on “Clawed Our Way Up: The ’22 Counter-Cat Reboot, Pt. 2

  1. Hey Jordan, what is your approach to the 4c omnath/blink matchup with thresh decks? What specifically are you looking to interact with with this deck?

    1. Hey great question. The plan is to land some guys early and start watching out for Omnath and other bombs as of turn 4. You can hold up Heat to roast it (or Path) in response to their fetch. Bolt + Wrenn is also fine even if they net some value. And of course Muta lets Nacatl and DRS on defense (or offense with tricky delirium plays) outgrow it at 5/5 (Raga trades). It’s absolutely okay to 2-for-1 yourself to deal with Omnath! The very best way though is to counter it with Mystical Dispute from the sb.

      All this about Omnath itself because the rest of the deck is pretty easy to beat. You can race them easily as their removal can’t keep up with our threat density and our creatures are really strong. EI and Archmage’s Charm are great targets for Pierce also, and Muta can counter burn spells. Coming out ahead in small exchanges like these along the way is really key in winning the race

      Lately I’ve been playing a more midrange-leaning thresh shell that drops Nacatl for a Goyf-centric approach featuring Urza’s Saga. The plan for that deck is largely the same.

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