Can Tivit Still Compete in 2023 and beyond?
Going into the cEDH 8K in Atlanta last weekend, I had two decks on my radar as the decks to beat: Tymna / Kraum and Rograkh / Silas. cEDH has a limited number of cards that are above the power level standards for the format: Dockside Extortionist, Ad Nauseam, Rhystic Study, Mystic Remora… the more cards of this caliber you can play, the better off your deck likely is. Tymna / Kraum and Rog / Si leverage these cards well while having a strong secondary draw to playing them. Tymna / Kraum will outgrind most decks in the format with its two sources of card advantage in the command zone. Rog / Si is one of the fastest decks in the format with the ability to go under many of the grindy decks in the format. I expected most players with significant experience and the ability to change decks to be on one of those two decks. They just felt well positioned to me. It’s not like cEDH is a two deck format or anything, but I felt like those were good deck choices for the weekend!
Spoiler: both of these decks indeed made multiple top 16 appearances at the event!
Unfortunately, I was not in a position to switch decks for this weekend. Due to other content creation commitments and occasionally making time to touch grass / hang out with the girlfriend, I was locked in to Tivit, Seller of Secrets for the event. I knew that updating a list that I had significant experience with would be better than going in blind with a new deck. So… how did I update Tivit to keep up with both low-to-the-ground decks like Rog / Si while also respecting the crushing card advantage of Tymna / Kraum?
First, I worked on increasing the number of turn one interaction spells in my deck. While Mana Drain, Grim Monolith, and Cabal Ritual are great at powering out your own Tivit to present your own wins, that acceleration means nothing if you are dead. I cut those cards for Dispel, Stubborn Denial, and An Offer You Can’t Refuse.
Second, I knew I wanted to punish card draw while also progressing the game towards an end. Previously I played Notion Thief, but I wasn’t a fan of it in practice despite it looking good in theory. Its fragile body dies to a single Orcish Bowmaster trigger; I hated that on a 4 mana card. Enter Sheoldred, the Apocalypse and Talion, the Kindly Lord. These effects punish my opponents for drawing cards and playing lots of spells respectively. Both MASSIVELY over-performed this weekend.
Now, there was one thing I was unsure of going into the weekend: how many clone effects do I want to play? A massive weakness of Tivit as a cEDH deck is that it doesn’t get to leverage Dockside Extortionist mana on a combo turn. Phantasmal Image, Phyrexian Metamorph, and Imposter Mech are ways to gain access to your own Dockside Extortionist while also having a decent range of flexibility. These cards have what I think of as the “Mnemonic Betrayal Problem”- that is, they are powerful cards, but are largely terrible in your opening hand due to their situational nature. I want my opening hands to either be able to present their own win, produce a strong source of card advantage, or be highly disruptive. Clones don’t check any of those conceptual boxes. I left them at home, but playing one of them might have been better than my Orim’s Chant, which I felt was the weakest card in my deck.
For reference, here is the decklist I submitted for the 8K at Charlie’s Collectible Show in Atlanta (which is a SICK venue, by the way!), and here are the changes I made to my deck since The Cookout this summer. Generally speaking, this list felt smooth. I presented my own win attempt in every game I played, and I regularly stopped opposing win attempts. I felt like I had a large degree of agency and options in games, which is exactly where I want to be in a deck choice. Is Tivit better than Tymna / Kraum or Rog / Si? I don’t think so, but I don’t think the gap is so large that Tivit is a non-viable choice with a tuned list. Here are some of my event highlights and notable moments.
Round 1 Pod: Kenrith, Atraxa, Me, Tivit
When I sat down and looked at this pod composition, I knew we were in for a slog of a game; I gave my opponents the ol’ “Hey, play quickly, this game is likely to draw” speech, and we got going. The first seventy minutes (of an 80 minute round) were the midrange, card drawing slogfest that I expected. The final turn cycle of the game was pretty sick. It is the Atraxa player’s turn. Based on previous turns, I’ve largely sussed out that the coast is clear for a combo attempt; in addition, there’s only about ten minutes left on the clock, so if I want to go for a win instead of a draw, this is the moment. I have Thassa’s Oracle, Tainted Pact, Force of Will, and Tivit in hand. When they cast their Atraxa, I resolve a Tainted Pact in response, leaving a single card in my library and hitting Pact of Negation with my Tainted Pact. The Atraxa player looks at me and asks, “Wait, how did you know that Pact of Negation was your 2nd to bottom card of your library?” before the rest of the table clues them in that I am clearly going for a Thassa’s Oracle kill on my turn.
The Atraxa trigger relevantly reveals a Windfall and Flusterstorm. My opponent casts the Windfall, which will cause me to lose the game if it resolves. I cast a Pact of Negation as bait, and my opponent fires off Flusterstorm in response without thinking. As it turns out, I had five lands in play, so if I paid for Pact, I couldn’t have cast my Thassa’s Oracle. I get to Force of Will the Windfall, I’m ready to present my own win…then Mindbreak Trap comes down from another opponent, and I’m dead.
The match ends in a draw, but one of my opponents pointed something out after the match: I had missed that I should have left TWO cards in library, not one. If I did so, I could have also played around the Kenrith player forcing me to draw a card. cEDH is complicated! I still have plenty to learn.
Round 2 Pod: Thrassios / Dargo; Me; Naru Meha, Master Wizard; Atraxa
I had one of the most disgusting turns 1 plays that I think my deck is capable of this round. I played both Tivit and Opposition Agent on turn 1 while in seat 2. I followed this up with a Sheoldred and I think also a Talion on turn 2. Uh, I won that game.
Round 3 Pod: Talion, Me, Sisay / Jegantha, Niv-Mizzet
We had a very interesting judge situation that I want to highlight. The Talion player has missed a Pact of Negation trigger and is starting a combo attempt. Now, under the old rules from a few years ago, if you miss a Pact trigger and don’t pay, you just die. Under the new rules, you will be given a chance to pay. But what if, say, you point out the Pact of Negation trigger at a time where your opponent doesn’t have the mana to pay, as they are attempting a combo turn? What if you wait to point out the missed trigger until your opponent is forced to lose the game?
The Niv-Mizzet player is the first to realize it, but doesn’t say anything. A couple of spectators start whispering to each other, and at this point I realize what happened. The spectators call a judge over and privately speak with the judge. The judge starts walking towards the table, and the Niv-Mizzet player says, “I know, please don’t interrupt the game.” The head judge starts walking towards the table shortly thereafter. Unfortunately, once judges know about a problem, they have to correct it; that’s their job. While we were waiting to catch the Talion player on missing their trigger at a time when they couldn’t pay for it, since players outside the game alerted the judges of the issues, they couldn’t just ignore it. The Talion player got to adjust course and plan the rest of their turn around the decreased amount of mana, and they were still able to present a win. Rats! Of note here, the spectators did nothing wrong and followed policy correctly; it just likely resulted in an unfortunate loss for us. As long as they don’t directly influence our game by, say, speaking to us and giving us advice, they haven’t broken any rules like outside assistance (which results in a disqualification).
Round 4: Tymna / Dargo, Jeska / Tymna, Niv-Mizzet, me.
When is it correct to feed the fish? Mystic Remora is a problem card in cEDH games. If you don’t feed the fish, you aren’t advancing your own gameplan. If you do feed the fish, you are setting an opponent up for victory and/or giving them more resources to fight you. Here’s the situation. The Tymna / Dargo player is casting an Ad Nauseam at 22 life. The Niv-Mizzet player has roughly 10 cards in hand, but does not have an answer to the Ad Nauseam. I can Tainted Pact into a one mana counterspell, but if I do so, I’m feeding the fish TWICE, making it very likely that the Niv-Mizzet player just wins on their own turn given how many cards they already have.
There is a reasonable chance that the Ad Nauseam fails to produce a win from 22 life, but the rest of the table is confirmed as having zero interaction. If I don’t fight here, there’s a reasonable chance the game just ends. I reluctantly feed the fish twice, stop the immediate threat, and lose to Niv-Mizzet on their turn. Maybe I should have been greedier? I’m still unsure about that one.
Round 5: Tivit, Me, Tymna / Kraum, Rog / Si
The two Tivit players are bleeding out the rest of the table with a Sheoldred, the Apocalypse and two copies of Talion set on two mana (again, Sheoldred and Talion over-performed). The Tymna / Kraum player dies to their own card draw, leaving the remaining three players with relatively stacked hands. I’m left in a weird spot. I suspect the Rog / Si player is capable of a combo turn, but I only have a single piece of interaction- a Silence. If I blow this card in my opponent’s upkeep, I’m shields down for the Tivit player’s turn. I’m incentivized to hold my interaction for as long as possible, but am absolutely playing with fire. My opponent spends 3 mana on a Praetor’s Grasp targeting me. I misread this situation. After spending that much mana, I thought this was either setting up for a future combo turn or finding something like Damn to clear the board. I let it resolve.
As it turns out, they had gotten my Fierce Guardianship to protect an Underworld Breach line. They managed to combo off through the Sheoldred and Talions, ending the game with a win at a single point of life!!!
As I only put one win on the board on day one (and I ended up sleeping poorly Saturday night), I opted to drop from the event to enjoy a more casual Sunday at the venue. cEDH is a great format, and Eminence puts on one hell of a show at every event they run. I have one final piece of advice for all you cEDH players from the outside perspective of a 60 card player: consider keeping life totals on paper. I think I was one of about 3 people in my pods keeping paper life totals. While the “phone in the middle of the table method” is super convenient, I don’t particularly trust it. It’s very easy to bump something or not quite hit a button correctly, even if someone is not trying to do something malicious. Maybe I’m the “Magic Boomer” in this situation, but I really want to have a permanent record of life total changes in the case of a life total discrepancy or critical judge call. It just feels like good tournament practice / habits to me. With that said, I look forward to the next chance I have to sling some spells, though I don’t know if I’ll still be on Tivit next event!