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River Hoopoe Fish Deck Tech, and The Art of Tempo in Multiplayer

River Hoopoe, Ryan Pancoast, owned by Wizards of the Coast © All Rights Reserved.

I must begin this article by admitting a few things:

  • I am a tempo player at heart.

  • I will always want to relive the glory days of HOD/HOD/AKH draft.

  • I have been watching way too many Vintage videos recently.

With that in mind, I came up with this brew, titled Hoopoe Fish. It doesn’t feature any merfolk, the name is instead a reference to an old deck archetype. Patrick Chapin explains it like this:

“Aggro-Control and Fish are in fact often mistaken for one another — and in the context of a particular format, the decks will often share many individual cards. In addition, especially when comparing Fish or Aggro-Control to traditional control decks, they both tend to play the beatdown, run out a threat (whether it is a Bitterblossom or a Master of the Pearl Trident), and then use their permission to hold a lead they already have.”

Today, “Fish” is more commonly known as “Tempo.” Anyone who has tried a tempo strategy in multiplayer knows that the strategy is almost impossible to play – you simply can’t gain tempo on an entire board. Instead, the deck has to play somewhere in between tempo and draw-go control.

I’m happy to say that Hoopoe Fish gives a very tempo feel at a Pauper EDH table. This will be a non-traditional deck tech. I’ll spend a little bit of time talking about the deck and card choices, but the bulk of this article will be about how the deck plays, and how to make tempo work in multiplayer.

Hoopoe Fish Deck Tech

First let’s talk about Commander choice. Hoopoe sits perfectly at the helm of this deck, and is the engine behind everything. It’s ability, while mana intensive, can keep your hand full throughout the game.

The mana base is light – there’s only 32 lands, and only 31 depending on how you look at Simic Growth Chamber. Of those 32, 6 of them cycle. The deck may need more lands, but it also has roughly 16 sources of ramp. The deck is highly mana hungry, and it wants it as early as possible.

You’ll notice a lack of Llanowar Elves. I instead opted for creatures that could block well, which we’ll get into later. This leaves room for Axebane Guardian and Overgrown Battlement to make a ton of mana. The only mana rocks in the deck are Simic Signet, Cluestone and Mindstone. Signet because of curve purposes and the other 2 because they cycle.

The finishers in the deck are giant creatures like Duskdale Wurm, and X spells like Slime Molding. Because of the capability to make a windfall of mana, it’s best that your finisher scales into the late game.

The rest of the deck is all draw spells and interaction. Ideally, you would never have less than 3 ways to handle any given threat.

How to Play the Hoopoe

This deck will leave you with a lot of choices, which is fun for most enfranchised players. In the early turns, your goal is to gum up the ground with walls and ramp up your mana as much as possible. Early deathtouch creatures like Ambush Viper function as removal, but also as a rattlesnake. If you can stick one of these creatures, the floor becomes them eating an opponent’s removal spell and the ceiling is that the Viper turns into a rattlesnake and keeps you safe. Once you’ve set up a solid defense, you can land River Hoopoe, a series of draw spells, or one of the other incremental value cards, and sit back refilling your hand at instant speed.

Some of the incremental value cards include Ophidians such as Looter-il­-­Kor, which will help shape your hand. Once you’ve got it online, Whispers of the Muse can serve as a backup for the Hoopoe. River Hoopoe, Jaddi Offshoot, and Grazing Gladehart will also pad your life total to get you into the late game. I also want to use the space to restate how insane it is that Rhystic Study is a common.

There are only a handful of ways to end the game, and to recur things that end the game, so you never want to run them out when the possibility for removal is still high. Ideally, wait until your opponents are low on cards or you are high on counterspells. When exactly to play a threat is something I’m still learning. You want to spend as little time being threatening as possible. The best way to gain tempo in a multiplayer game is to have your opponent’s 1-for-1ing each other, or (even better) taking each other out. At some point, though, you’ll have to get in the game.

Once you’re ready to strike, you should have an engine and a ton of mana open. Stick a Duskdale Wurm, and you can back it up easily with bounce spells, auras and counters. You’re going to have to let your opponents do some things, but a well-aimed counterspells should leave you victorious.

From a macro standpoint, the game plan is simple. You want to spend your early turns setting up for the late game, the mid game trying to land a threat, and the late game saying “No” to everything. The deck is light on lands to keep you drawing gas when you already have a handful, while your opponents are stuck in top deck mode.

There are some inherent politics here, though, which I’m not a huge fan of. You should never say, “don’t attack me,” but you need to convince other players that you aren’t a threat. Be wary of making too many moves early on, or drawing the ire of an aggro player, as you may get wiped out. The deck doesn’t feature a lot of ways to make friends in game. If you find yourself being attacked early on, there are two ways the deck can handle it:

  1. Blocking, blocking, blocking. It’s hard to punch through a wall of 0/7’s. If you have been put on your backfoot, you should be digging heavily for ways to build a defense.

  2. Switching modes early on. In the absolute worst-case scenario, you can get aggressive. If you notice other player’s getting anxious about you, you’re going to have to start attacking before it’s ideal. In this case, look for ways to create chaos and get even further up on cards. You have no room to slip, but taking out a whole table is very doable.

If you wanted to take this style into your own deck, just remember this: value is king. Betrayal may seem like a weird card, but in a multiplayer game it can be better than Ancestral Recall. You don’t want to take more turns in multiplayer, you want to be up on every possible resource. You are playing an attrition based game, and the only way to win is to draw cards.

Click here for the full deck tech.



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