If you have been following my recent articles you may remember me talking about Lotus Field in Pioneer recently, but that was before the addition of Underworld Breach, and that card has really taken the deck to the next level. Going into Players Tour Phoenix, the Lotus Breach deck wasn't considered by many to be a top-five strategy in Pioneer. However, there were some players who had success with it at the European Players Tour, and Brent Vos made Top 4 of the tournament with the strategy.
The fact that someone did well with the deck at one event isn't saying a ton, but it was enough for me to want to pick the deck up and test it for Phoenix. Sometimes you pick a deck up, play a few games, and just know it's the deck to play. That was the case with Lotus Breach. As soon as I played the latest version of the deck I made a couple minor changes, but overall it was clear how powerful the deck was. Also, a week ago when I was testing, the hate cards people had for the deck weren't as prevalent.
William Jensen is my teammate, so we traded ideas on the deck and arrived at a very similar list. He ended up doing much better than me, finishing second, and a large part of that is due to my poor performance in Draft. If I'd had his draft record, I also would have made Top 8. The Lotus Breach deck in my opinion, and based off of the win percentages, was the best deck to play in Phoenix. This is the list I played:
This is the exact same maindeck as Huey, and I wouldn't change it.
Sheltered Thicket is a very important land to have access to. There were multiple times where I desperately needed to draw one more card when going off, and this is the way to convert a Sylvan Scrying into a card. It is easy to look at it and cut it to try and "improve" the mana, but I would seriously advise against it. I did consider playing Ipnu Rivulet because of its utility against Inverter, but ultimately decided the cost of adding another land that doesn't produce green is too high.
Expansion // Explosion
The win condition of choice, other than Fae of Wishes to find Jace, Wielder of Mysteries, is Expansion // Explosion. You need a way to win in case you get hit with a game-one Slaughter Games. Thassa's Oracle is another option, and at one point we even considered maindecking Tome Scour, but in the end I do believe Expansion // Explosion is the best option in the slot. Both the Fork option and the option to draw a bunch of cards and kill something came up during my games.
There aren't that many flex slots—as with most combo decks, many of your cards are going to be four-ofs. Arboreal Grazer is an underpowered card, but does give the deck some additional speed, and a blocker is nice too. When first looking at the deck it may seem shocking that there are only 24 lands, but keep in mind there are also four Sylvan Scryings alongside lots of cantrips and card draw. The one Mystical Dispute is the only real slot that I could take or leave based on where the format is, but right now blue decks are very popular, so I think the choice makes a lot of sense.
My first instinct when playing the deck was to not sideboard very much because you want to have a variety of wish options. This is not the correct approach. Don't be afraid to bring in a silver bullet out of the sideboard, as not only will it be very high impact if drawn, but the opponent won't expect it either. There is not a single sideboard card other than the one Underworld Breach I have not brought in at one point or another.
Once you see a two-of in the sideboard, it should be clear the card is not just there to be wished for. In the case of Anger of the Gods, it is your best weapon against aggro decks like Mono-Red. You really want to be able to get rid of the opposing creatures as quickly as possible. In the matchups where Anger of the Gods is important, you want all copies brought in after sideboard, as often there isn't time to wish for one. Supreme Verdict isn't quite as fast a sweeper, but it is more versatile, which makes it a more likely card for us to wish for.
Mystical Dispute comes in against blue based decks, full stop. This is a ton of matchups, and probably ended up being my most-used sideboard card, with Spirits and Inverter being the two most-played decks. Often you want to hold on to the Mystical Dispute until the turn you are going off if possible.
The last two-of is the most interesting one, Blink of an Eye. You normally see this as a maindeck option rather than a sideboard card.
I have Blink of an Eye in the sideboard because it's a flexible answer to all the hate, and it will never be a completely dead card, unlike the various Naturalize effects you often see in sideboards. The hate cards usually don't show up in game one, which is why it becomes more relevant after sideboard.
Disenchant doesn't answer all the hate cards, and you want a card that is okay when the opponent doesn't draw their hate. Most of the time all you need is a one-turn window in order to deal with a hate card in play and win the game. In these scenarios, bouncing a permanent is the same as removing it permanently. I still like having one Natural State and one Unravel the Aether to wish for, but Blink of an Eye is the card I sideboard in much more often.
The other sideboard cards don't get brought in that often, though we did see Huey bring in Ugin, the Spirit Dragon against Sultai Delirium and Thought Distortion against control, and I'm following his lead there. I'm often taking out Arboreal Grazer in slower matchups that aren't all about speed, and things tend to slow after sideboard so this makes sense. Satyr Wayfinder, Expansion // Explosion, Dig Through Time and Mystical Dispute are also cards I frequently take out after game one.
The turn you go off and win the game needs to involve Underworld Breach. You want to play a Breach with as many cards as possible in your graveyard. The other card you need on the battlefield is a Lotus Field, and most of the time copying Lotus Field with a Thespian's Stage will be necessary as well. The Underworld Breach can be naturally drawn or wished for. Optimally you want access to a Hidden Strings to be able to untap the Lotus Fields and generate a ton of mana. Strategic Planning and Pore Over the Pages allow you to keep digging through the deck and fill the graveyard. When you have time to grab the Tome Scour out of the sideboard, do it. It makes milling your library trivial, and then the card that almost always finishes the game is Jace, Wielder of Mysteries. While we are on the subject of Tome Scour it is also very good to have access to against Inverter, as it's a threat to mill them out before they get a Jace in play.
Some turns when you are comboing are pretty difficult because you have a low amount of resources or are missing one of these key cards. It could also be that a hate card is in play making things more troublesome. However, many times you do just have everything, and things line up the way they should.
I have mentioned hate quite a bit, so let's talk about some of the best cards you can play in order to beat Lotus Breach.
Damping Sphere - This might be the best hate card, and since it's colorless any deck can play it. Shutting down Lotus Field is huge. Once you start to see players adding four copies of Damping Sphere to their sideboard it becomes obvious that the metagame is shifting quickly to account for the strength of Lotus Breach. Check out Ben Weitz's winning deck from GP Phoenix if you want an innovative take on Red Aggro with Damping Sphere:
Rest in Peace / Leyline of the Void / Scavenging Ooze - Rest in Peace and Leyline of the Void are the best options as far as graveyard hate. After that, you have cards like Scavenging Ooze, Tormod's Crypt, and the list goes on. Most graveyard hate that isn't Leyline of the Void or Rest in Peace can be fought through, but Leyline and Rest demand an answer. Blast Zone is a convenient answer, but it does take some time to find it and charge it up.
Alpine Moon - This is a great way of shutting Lotus Field itself down.
Eidolon of the Great Revel / Scab-Clan Berserker - These are tools the red aggro decks have access to. They aren't quite as good as some of the other options though, because they die to both creature removal (and in the case of Eidolon, also to Naturalize effects).
Eidolon of Rhetoric - Lotus Breach can't win only casting one spell a turn. Eidolon of Rhetoric being creature-based hate is actually a benefit if you are playing Selfless Spirit as a way to protect it.
Deafening Silence - It's a must-answer permanent, but is easily dealt with via Blast Zone.
Tomik, Distinguished Advokist - I played against White Devotion decks that didn't play Tomik, yet it does seem like the perfect card in those strategies. Stopping Thespian's Stage, Vizier of Tumbling Sands and Hidden Strings is a big deal.
Unmoored Ego / Lost Legacy / Slaughter Games - There are a few different Cranial Extraction effects in the format, and they are not very strong hate against Lotus Breach. Breach can often find a way to win without one of its key pieces, but I also think players name the wrong card a lot. If you are able to take out the Lotus Fields before they get into play, this is always going to be game winning. Also, many times naming Hidden Strings is correct, as it becomes very hard to go off when you're constrained on mana. However, players almost always name Fae of Wishes here, and that is the whole reason there is also one copy of Expansion//Explosion.
My answer here is actually yes. It only took about a day for the format to adjust to a spot where I think there is enough hate running around to stop Lotus Breach from dominating. The deck does require you to dedicate some sideboard slots toward beating it, but the sideboard options against the deck are very strong.
Also, a strong combo deck can have a positive effect on a format. It is possible at some point something will need to be banned from this deck, but I don't think that time is right now. The deck had a great win rate at PT Phoenix, but the format has already significantly changed since then.