The Ins and Outs of Belcher


Hi, my name is Olivier Hamel and I recently finished 2nd at the SCG Syracuse Legacy classic with Belcher. Once the results were in, KYT approached me to write an article concerning my event, I thought it was a good opportunity the break the stigma around Belcher being a deck that only asks the question do you have Force Of Will?

I’ve been playing the deck for slightly less then a year and to be honest, at first I didn’t take this deck too seriously, I thought I would just have fun against non-blue mages and lose to the almighty free counterspell. I played a couple local tournaments and top 8’ed every time I sleeved it even though I faced multiple Force Of Will decks. Seeing that the deck had potential, I brought it to the SCG Open in Worcester where I finished in top 64 and cashed the event followed by a 2nd place finish in Syracuse a month later.

In this article, I’d like to share what I think is the best configuration of the deck based on an objective and mathematical approach. Please note that all odds in this article were calculated by hypergeometric distribution (hypergeometric distribution calculate the statistical probability of having drawn a specific X card(s) (out of Y total draws) from the deck). Hypergeometric distribution is a very useful tool when deck building to see what are the odds of X happening before turn Y (for example what are the odds of making your 3rd land drop in time when you play 24 lands). A lot of hypergeometric distributor calculators can be found for free on Google.

The List

Belcher – Olivier Hamel

Card Choices

0 Manamorphose: This card is a trap, some amount of the time it will fix your mana and bring up your storm count by 1 but here are the issues with this card:

  • Mulliganing decisions become very difficult: with 8 cantrips (counting Gitaxian Probes) being in the deck your odds of having 2 or more in your opening hand is 23%. Since they do not provide any manipulation, you won’t clearly know if you can go off turn 1, which is pretty important to minimize the potential disruption of your opponents.
  • Situations where you have a hand that could go off if you draw a mana source out of your Manamorphose are a big gamble. For example, a hand containing cards that produces 5 mana plus a Manamorphose and a Burning Wish would be tempting to try to go off because if you draw your 6th mana source you’re good to go, but if you draw another business spell instead, you probably just wasted 2 cards to produce mana and now have to wait 2-4 turns before you can attempt to go off again. The probability of drawing a mana source off a cantrip (or another cantrip that leads to a manasource) is 78% which is quite high, but 22% of the time it will likely cost you the game.
  • Nuff’ said.

11 Win Conditions: You have to mulligan any hands that does not contain any business spell (Empty The Warrens, Goblin Charbelcher or Burning Wish) so you want to maximize your odds of having one in your starting hand. With 11 business spells, the odds of having at least one is 78%, we can’t afford to mulligan more then 12 % of the time.

4 Chrome Mox: Repeatable mana source is very useful in this deck as they can help mitigate the opposing disruption, if your business spell gets countered at least you have this ‘free’ ritual lingering until you need it. Chrome Mox also helps making hands with multiple win conditions better by using a business spell as a mana source (it will net a mana in a situation where you need to cast a Goblin Charbelcher and have to wait until next turn to activate it or again if your business spell gets countered). Land Grant is a card often used with Chrome Mox as having multiple in hand is usually bad or hands where revealing information with Land Grant would be devastating.

The rest is pretty standard.

Playing the Deck:

Here are a couple of hints to increase your chance to win against Force Of Will:

It is usually wrong to lead with Land Grant, revealing our hand will let our opponent know exactly what to counter.

When information is unknown and you can play around Force, assume there’s a Force Of Will: Even if a sweet turn 1 is possible, go for the play that doesn’t lose to the Force Of Will.

Consider the following hand:
Lotus Petal, Land Grant, Lion’s Eye Diamond, Chrome Mox, Burning Wish, Tinder Wall, Empty The Warrens.

The sequencing:

Cast Lotus Petal followed by Tinder Wall (nobody will Force your second play), then cast Land Grant revealing your hand, cast Chrome Mox imprinting Burning Wish followed by Lion’s Eye Diamond and Empty the Warrens. At any point if your opponent decides to counter either Land Grant or Chrome Mox you still get to cast Burning Wish and crack LED and get your goblins on!

If you can’t play around counter magic, keep as much resources as possible and try to bait the counter.

Simian Spirit Guide, Lotus Petal, Desperate Ritual, Seething Song, Land Grant, Tinder Wall, Goblin Charbelcher

The sequencing:

Lotus Petal, Tinder Wall, Desperate Ritual, Seething Song. Usually Seething Song has a pretty big target on its head, using Desperate Ritual instead of Simian Spirit Guide is important to threaten 10 Goblins. If Seething Song is countered we still have access to Land Grant, Simian Spirit Guide and Goblin Charbelcher meaning two more turns could allow us to cast Belcher and between one and two turns after, we could be activating it.

If you only have a line that loses to Force but wins otherwise, go for it. Waiting to draw more cards and maybe being be able to play around it is a bad plan. Legacy is a format filled with disruption that cost mana, going for it plays around all the other disruptions.

The Sideboard

Most Belcher lists have a Wish board that attempts to solve any problematic permanents, here is my selection of cards:

0 Artifact Removal: If your opponent lands a Chalice of the Void on turn one and it invalidates some amount of mana sources, it’s not by spending four to five cards to produce enough mana for your Burning Wish to get a Shattering Spree and cast it that you’re going to win, simply wait till you draw mana sources that are not affected by Chalice and win from there. If the opponent has a Thorn Of Amethyst, odds are we can’t even get to Burning Wish anyways.

0 Enchantement Removal: A Leyline is in play? Wish for goblins, a Elephant Grass is in play? Spin the wheel with Reforge the Soul or go for Infernal Tutor (if you have an LED) and try to Goblin Charbelcher them. Again spending 2 cards to cast Burning Wish (removing the wish from your hand) will leave you with very low resources which will give your opponent enough time to control/win the game.

0 Creature Removal: Don’t keep a hand that can’t present a threat before your opponent can cast a disruptive bear, and if you mulligan to five and kept something that allowed them that much time, you’re not going to win by spending 4 cards to produce mana plus your Burning Wish to cast Pyroclasm.

Basically focus on having more silver bullets that can get you out of problematic situations and give you free wins. In game 1 having access to Gitaxian Probe will let you know what is your best target.

1 Bribery – Reanimator, Show And Tell: Get Griselbrand draw 14 cards, live the dream (yes it did happen at the SCG and felt good!).

1 Telemin Performance – Mill Storm with it.

1 Goblin War Strike – One less turn for your opponent to find a solution for your goblins.

1 Infernal Tutor – One more spell for Storm after an LED or get Belcher when you see some mass removal spell with Gitaxian Probe.

1 Reforge The Soul – Gitaxian Probe revealed a Toxic Deluge from your opponent’s hand? Don’t have access to LED for black mana? Spin the wheel making them discard the answer and try again.

1 Tendrils Of Agony – Things went wild with Reforge The Soul? Turn one kill.

Anti-Force Of Will:

4 Guttural Response 4 Xantid Swarm

Don’t bring all of them!

A mix of 5 is usually the right call as having one is excellent but 2 or more is backbreaking. There is a 38% chance to have exactly one in your opening hand while only having 10% chance to have multiples when boarding 5 anti-counterspells. I usually prefer Guttural Response against deck that runs Lightning Bolt and Stifle as they will likely keep them in where as I prefer Xantid Swarm against deck that could run Flusterstorm.

Pyroblast is a good substitution to Guttural Response as it can counter Counterbalance and other good blue spells, but I’d rather be able to cast my interactive spell with any mana source I have (Elvish Spirit Guide), I might be wrong on this one! Let me know what you think!

Thanks for reading,
Olivier Hamel