This weekend I picked up my invite to the Regional Championship in Dallas with the new hot deck on the block, NeoTraxa. As the name suggests, the deck utilizes Neoform and delve creatures like Tasigur, the Golden Fang to cheat out Atraxa, Grand Unifier for as little as three mana and as early as turn three. Few decks are prepared to deal with such a massive threat, and even decks with removal will struggle to answer the immediate card advantage Atraxa generates.
Two versions of this archetype were propagated by @TandyMTG and @CaseyLancaster9 and saw significant success this past weekend. One build features additional interaction and card selection in the form of Fatal Push and Careful Consideration. The other includes Soulflayer to take advantage of the deck's heavy self-milling and Atraxa's litany of keywords. To further support Soulflayer, these builds also have Zetalpa, Primal Dawn and flex slots that can either be earmarked for Sylvan Caryatid or Striped Riverwinder. A 185-player tournament in Japan saw both versions in the top 8 with the Soulflayer build taking first place. The non-Soulflayer build made the top 8 of an NRG event with over 200 players and put two copies in the top 8 of Sunday's MTGO Showcase Qualifier.
Going into this RCQ, I opted for the Soulflayer build. Soulflayer functions as a secondary win condition and hedges against Necromentia effects. It also has the upside of creating hexproof and/or indestructible threats that can dodge commonly played removal spells like Dreadbore, Supreme Verdict, and Leyline Binding. Knowing the local meta, I expected a significant number of RB Midrange, UR Creativity, and Abzan Greasefang decks in this event. I knew I wanted something that was favored against small creature removal like Fire Prophecy and Bonecrusher Giant // Stomp. I also wanted something that could race Greasefang's otherwise unbeatable early Parhellion II draws. Access to Thoughtseize, Collective Brutality, and big, vigilant, and lifelink fliers ticked off all the necessary boxes.
Other popular decks like Mono-Green plan to race and can't easily interact with the combo. Tasigur lines up favorably against Old-Growth Troll's beatdown plan and it takes two blocking Cavalier of Thorns to kill Atraxa. The only route to victory for the opponent is through Karn, the Great Creator which can be managed via discard spells, Stubborn Denial, and post-board Pithing Needle.
The only matchup that concerned me was UW Control as Dovin's Veto is a massive blowout against Neoform. Six discard spells in the main deck with Founding the Third Path to flash them back seemed like enough to push threats through permission. With that said, Rest in Peace threatens to shut down the deck's entire engine and Soul Partition is a very clean answer to my normally expensive creatures.
I lucked out that my predictions for the room were more or less spot on. Multiple opponents were unfamiliar with the archetype and made suboptimal plays due to this. For example, one of my RB Midrange opponents Thoughtseized me, taking an otherwise irrelevant spell over Neoform, allowing me to combo them.
Another player left in Fatal Push post-board despite having no targets. My RG Vehicles opponent kept a hand with The Akroan War but no early or proactive plays allowing me time to cycle Striped Riverwinder, then delve it away for a hexproof Soulflayer.
The Greasefang player kept a Leyline of the Void hand without much to follow it up, giving me time to Assassin's Trophy it off chapter one of Founding the Third Path. They then cast a second Leyline, but Founding's chapter three re-cast Trophy to destroy that as well. Had they waited another turn, the second Leyline might have been more impactful.
These misplays will certainly decrease in frequency once players are more familiar with the deck, but they certainly opened up opportunities to win that I should not have had.
I was very surprised by how mana efficient this deck is. The main deck functionally tops off its curve at two mana allowing the player to double and triple spell early and often. Otherworldly Gaze then gets to shine as a one or two-mana play to fill the graveyard, fix draws, and dig for critical spells. While the card disadvantage may encourage players to include Careful Consideration in that slot instead, the cantrip cannot compete with the velocity and selection Gaze provides. Looking up to six cards deep for a combo piece or critical interaction is often good enough to get the job done, and resolving an Atraxa trigger more than makes up for the card disadvantage.
Grisly Salvage digs for delve creatures and puts enough cards in the graveyard to cast them by itself. It's worth noting that between Gaze, Salvage, and Founding, incidental hate like Unlicensed Hearse and Graveyard Trespasser // Graveyard Glutton cannot keep up. The player will still be able to resolve their delve spells with ease. Unlike graveyard decks like UR Phoenix, which look to put specific cards in the graveyard, NeoTraxa cares mostly about graveyard quantity over quality.
A last-minute change I made to the list that really paid off was the addition of Liliana, Death's Majesty to the sideboard. I'm surprised a deck focused so heavily on self-mill had so few ways of taking advantage of the threats it put into the graveyard. Not only does she rebuy milled or destroyed Atraxas, but also generates 2/2 zombies to protect against edict effects like Liliana of the Veil.
I was initially worried that Stubborn Denial would be offline too often, but there were no points during the tournament that I had it in hand and it would not be able to hard-counter a spell. Going forward, I think it's correct to go down to 21 or even 20 lands for additional copies of the one-mana counterspell.
I'm pretty thrilled with this weekend's results and, barring a major overhaul to the metagame with March of the Machine, I expect NeoTraxa to be a top-tier deck going forward. As always, you can keep up with me on Twitch and Twitter for all the latest content. I'm well beyond my word count for this week, so leave a comment here letting me know if you'd like a sideboard guide. If there's enough interest, expect it in the very near future.