Religion in Magic

I am an atheist. Don’t close the tab yet, this isn’t an article about actual religion, I just wanted to put it out there. This article is about subjectivity in Magic and why you should be aware of it. You can view it as a response to point 4 of Brian Demar’s recent article for ChannelFireball but I actually first thought about it when I read an article by Sam Black a few years ago.

Both of them argue that a decision in Magic (mostly deck choice, but Sam takes it all the way to in-game decisions) can be right for one person and wrong for another person based on their play style. As I see it, there is only one way this can be true; if your play style will influence your other decisions in the game in a way that deviating from that style for one play has so little synergy with your other plays that it will actually reduce your chances of winning. But in that case, you should look at your entire play style and if there is a better one, adapt that. Essentially, their point of view is for players who don’t want to change their play style.

For completeness’ sake, note that two plays can actually have the exact same ‘value’ in which case you are free to pick whichever you like, or it can be impossible for us to discern the actual value of the plays because they depend on information you cannot possibly know (as was the case for Frank Karsten’s awesome analysis ). But this doesn’t mean you just get to say that your play was correct because we don’t know better.

Magic may, as Sam suggests, be art, but Magic strategy is a science. Sometimes science doesn’t know the answer to our question, but the answer is still out there somewhere. I am a Magic scientist in the sense that I am interested in finding the correct answer to as many questions as possible so I can be the best player possible. I (probably) won’t become the perfect player that always gives myself the highest possible chance of winning, but I refuse to limit my potential with shortcuts like the ones suggested in the first two links.

I don’t blame you for doing so; maybe you are just playing for fun (I don’t mean the word just in any demeaning way, it is a perfectly legitimate reason for playing), or maybe you want to win a Pro Tour or Grand Prix before you die of old age and don’t have time to try to figure out the optimal play in every scenario, so focusing on one archetype may yield better results.

While there is surely a (large) narcissistic part of me that wants nothing more than to be holding a trophy, I try to focus on the process of learning and improving. I don’t care where it ends or how many times I’m wrong along the way, as long as I keep striving to improve.

Wow that was quite the rant, let’s get a bit more specific. The easiest way to get punished for focusing on your strengths is forcing archetypes in draft. It’s pretty easy to imagine someone going into an Ixalan draft knowing all the ins and outs of the Merfolk deck only to have the person on her right drafting Merfolk. The result likely won’t be pretty.

Now, you could do as Ondrej Strasky (sorry buddy for not having the correct characters for your name on my keyboard) and learn several archetypes to increase the chances of one of your archetypes being open, and indeed it might be your best chance of doing well in a tournament. In the end, though, you are limiting yourself because while you managed to steer clear of Merfolk and found the open Dinosaur deck, there might have been a Vampire deck that would have been even better for your seat if you only knew to look for it.

I want to emphasize that this isn’t the same as favoring one archetype over others because you think it is simply better. Sometimes Merfolk is just so good that it is better than Vampires even if the latter is much more open than the former. This rarely happens and often the power level discrepancy between archetypes is useful only as a tiebreaker for close picks.

It’s also often in coverage that they talk about a decision made by a player and say something along the lines of: “He likes to be aggressive, so this is the type of line he likes to take”. If the player later loses, the commentators sometimes go as far as excusing that loss with their play style. This makes sense for the Cedric Phillips school of coverage where it’s all about building appealing storylines, but for those who watch coverage to get better at the game, it’s actually detrimental. I don’t have any examples of this and maybe my memory has gone biased but at least keep an eye out for it.

We like to have answers. It’s much more comforting to have answers to all the questions you care about than to have a bunch of them be mysteries. I don’t blame you for striving for this comfort, and I especially don’t blame you for taking shortcuts for short term gains (I’m sure I will be taking some leading up to the Pro Tour). But don’t mistake the easy way for the right way. That’s how you end up with Trump as president.

Did that last sentence need to be included? Probably not, but remember the immortal words of the great Nicholas Cage.


Maybe there are very few people who play Magic for the same reasons as I do, and maybe the rest of you got nothing out of this article, but at least now you know how I approach the game, and that should make it easier to relate to my future content. And you got reminded that Nicholas Cage movies exist…

Temur’s next Move

So William Jensen crushed Worlds in what looked like a most deserved tournament win in terms of preparation and level of play. Of course he got lucky along the way but I don’t think anyone has won a tournament without luck. His and his PGO brothers’ weapon of choice was a very finely tuned version of Temur Energy (you don’t randomly put one Supreme Will and one Glimmer of Genius in your deck for Worlds), and it begs the question: “why play anything else?” An identical copy even won the MTGO PTQ on Saturday.


Temur Energy

Creatures (23)
Bristling Hydra
Glorybringer
Longtusk Cub
Rogue Refiner
Servant of the Conduit
Whirler Virtuoso

Spells (15)
Abrade
Attune with Aether
Commit // Memory
Confiscation Coup
Essence Scatter
Harnessed Lightning
Magma Spray
Lands (22)
Aether Hub
Botanical Sanctum
Forest
Island
Mountain
Rootbound Crag
Spirebluff Canal

Sideboard (15)
Negate
Abrade
Confiscation Coup
Supreme Will
Glimmer of Genius
Torrential Gearhulk
Chandra, Torch of Defiance
Aethersphere Harvester
Chandra's Defeat
Appetite for the Unnatural

To answer the question, let’s start before the rotation where I thought UB Control was a good choice against Temur and the metagame as a whole. Two important changes mean that this is no longer the case. First, the departure of Grasp of Darkness really hurts, especially against Monored where you also lose Flaying Tendrils and Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet. Vraska’s Contempt is considerably worse as the two life just isn’t enough to remedy two extra mana spent to kill Hazoret the Fervent (or heaven forbid, one of the cheaper creatures).

Against Temur it is also a blow because you now have to lean heavily on Fatal Push in the early game. With Grasp you could board out some number of Pushes and still be able to deal with early Longtusk Cubs and Servant of the Conduits. Having to keep in all four Pushes means you end up in spots like Kelvin Chew did in game 4 of the semifinals where he drew all four and had to spend two on Thopter tokens while not being able to kill the Whirler Virtuoso that made them. If just one Push had been a Grasp I think he would have won that game.

Second, you can now expect Temur to have Essence Scatter in the main deck. Having such a tempo positive way to deal with The Scarab God for good or Torrential Gearhulk while stopping the trigger is huge. Of course they don’t always have it and the God is still game over if you untap with it but it does change the matchup and the way you have to play. Search for Azcanta is getting rave reviews but I just don’t think it does enough to make UB the place to be (although I have only played 4 leagues with it).

Generally I would say the way to punish Temur is to play a focused strategy that goes over the top of them. There are two decks that I think do this in Standard, Anointed Procession decks and God-Pharaoh’s Gift decks. The problem is that these decks have either/both consistency issues and/or trouble against the other big decks (UB and Monored).
So even if you beat Temur (which you might not if they prepared their sideboard for you) you aren’t necessarily favored against the metagame. There was an Anointed Procession deck that crushed the PTQ Swiss and it looks to have addressed at least the inconsistency issues with Champion of Wits, so I will be exploring that avenue soon. For now, though, I want to play the best deck and beat the mirror, a tried and true strategy:


Temur Energy

Creatures (23)
Bristling Hydra
Glorybringer
Longtusk Cub
Rogue Refiner
Servant of the Conduit
Whirler Virtuoso

Spells (15)
Abrade
Attune with Aether
Chandra, Torch of Defiance
Confiscation Coup
Essence Scatter
Harnessed Lightning
Magma Spray
Lands (22)
Aether Hub
Botanical Sanctum
Forest
Island
Mountain
Rootbound Crag
Spirebluff Canal

Sideboard (15)
Negate
Struggle // Survive
Confiscation Coup
Carnage Tyrant
Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh
Chandra, Torch of Defiance
Aethersphere Harvester
Chandra’s Defeat
Appetite for the Unnatural
Nissa, Vital Force

This list isn’t revolutionary but the core of the deck is so large now that there is limited room to maneuver, in the main deck at least. I like Chandra a lot and I was actually surprised to see PGO omit her from the main. I hope it was because they wanted to strand opposing Negates and that there isn’t a bigger picture that I’m not seeing (interestingly the control decks largely omitted Negate from their main decks).

As the Worlds list indicate, the sideboard is fair game and where you really make your edge with a deck like this. I haven’t liked the Torrential Gearhulk plan that much so I want to make room for some real mirror-breakers. I think Nicol Bolas is the best for the job but I don’t know if it’s a good idea to play more than one seven-drop.

As I mentioned earlier, The Scarab God has lost a little luster with Essence Scatters being more populous, but it is still the next best in my view. However, you need to play a Swamp which I would like to avoid. The mirror isn’t everything and your mana is pretty stretched as it is. You could put a Swamp in the board but I think Swamp and a God is worse than, for example Nissa and Confiscation Coup.

By the way, I had a great chat with my friend Mattia De Colle and he brought up a good point about Confiscation Coup: what are you actually hoping to steal in the mirror? Longtusk Cub is a great target but you usually board it out. Taking The Scarab God is obviously amazing but many aren’t even playing it. Then you’re basically left with a tapped Glorybringer which means you get a two for two (I’m assuming it killed a creature so the creature and your coup for their Glorybringer and a Harnessed Lightning which they often have since you save it for Glorybringer mostly).

I guess it helps you get Glorybringer superiority but we think the game more often comes down to Bristling Hydra superiority. I will still bring in coup for the mirror but it’s mostly for mono red.

I will board in Carnage Tyrant in the mirror but it’s really there to crush UB. Bristling Hydra is your best threat against them and the tyrant is even better. It’s basically Bontu’s Last Reckoning or game over. Nissa is also quite the boss against control, I only lost one game where it stuck and that was because I punted.

Initially I wanted to cut Appetite for the Unnatural because it just seemed unimportant but with Anointed Procession and God-Pharaoh’s Gift on the rise, it gets to stay. This is also where I hope Struggle // Survive will come in handy. These decks can seem like tough matchups and you can easily lose to their good draws. They are inherently inconsistent though as they need Anointed Procession or God-Pharaoh’s Gift respectively to do broken things.

Since you have answers to both of them, it is possible to keep them from functioning properly in which case you just need to make sure to close out the game before they can find another one. This is a prime example of why Temur is the best deck: it might only be an 8 on the power level scale but it is an 8 almost every game, whereas something like tokens regularly varies from 2 to 10.

The final point I want to discuss is flooding. My list has 22 lands, the Scarab God version goes up to 23. Then you have 4 Attune with Aether which thins your library a bit but still almost counts as a land, and 4 Servant of the Conduit. That’s almost half your deck just making mana (yes you get a bit of extra energy but still).

Variance and observation bias probably plays a role here but I’ve flooded a lot since I picked the deck up a couple of weeks ago and I can’t help but wonder if there are too many mana sources in the deck. I don’t have any conclusion so feel free to chime in but I will try shaving a servant since it pretty much always gets killed turn 2 and is a pretty bad draw late.

I hope I can find something that beats Temur consistently before the Pro Tour but I am content with it as my fallback plan. Let me know what ideas you have for both. Thanks for reading.

Does Ixalan Limited suck?

Hi guys, welcome back. It’s been a while but I wanted a chance to play with the new cards so I could actually give an informed opinion. I have only been drafting so far and done about 15 and my initial impressions are good. At first glance the set looks like it could get boring super quickly because of the tribes; just pick a tribe and take all the cards you see in that tribe.

When you think about it, that isn’t much different from a normal set where you just pick your colors and take the best card in those colors. What makes a normal set interesting are the times where the correct pick isn’t just the best card in your colors but something that synergizes with what else you have going on.

The equivalent in Ixalan is then when the correct pick is not just the best card in your tribe, but that is often going to be because there is a super powerful card in your colors that doesn’t have any tribal synergies. I haven’t gone deep enough yet to know how often these things happen but at least you have to consider both tribe and colors when making a pick which is more than the base level for a normal set. I hope there will be rare times when you get to draft a treasure deck for example and I will be looking for it (probably at the expense of tickets), but today I want to talk about what has been the best tribe for me this far; vampires.

Anoited DeaconUnassuming, I know

The key to this deck for me is Anointed Deacon; most of the vampires are 2 or less power and this is the guy that can push them through. With Bishop’s Soldier, Queen’s Commission, Paladin of the Bloodstained, and Call to the Feast, boosting power is worth double sometimes and since the lifelink makes racing difficult, your opponent will often have to start trading real cards for each of your tokens. If you ever get two deacons down together, it becomes extremely hard to lose.

Aside from the lifelinkers my favorite creatures in the deck are Skymarch Bloodletter, Legion Conquistador, both undersized creatures that benefit from getting an extra two power (or 4). You even get two good one drops in Duskborne Skymarcher and Vicious Conquistador. While they’re both uncommons, it’s unlikely that anyone else will be interested in them. Glorifier of Dusk is also good in the deck, but it doesn’t need as much help as the other guys.

Other good uncommons for the deck are Adanto Vanguard (which is also just a great aggressive card), Deathless Ancient, and Bishop of the Bloodstained if you are really deep in the tribe. Once you find that the archetype is open, there are also some great rares that you can expect will come to you if someone opened them; Sanctum Seeker and Mavren Fein, Dusk Apostle. These are straight bombs for you and pretty poor for anyone else.

That actually brings me to a side note on the format which is that the rares in this set are less ridiculous than they often are. Yes, you still have things like Regisaur Alpha and the planeswalkers which are insane, but I don’t think there is anything on the level of Glorybringer and because of the tribal theme, a lot of the good rares are only good in specific contexts, so your first pick will not be a windmill slam rare or mythic as often as you’re used to.

This to me is one of the most important signs of a good limited set; You might lose to Sanctum Seeker but at least it required your opponent to draft reasonably well and they would probably still have a deck that could win without drawing it. I actually didn’t even enjoy many of the draft decks where I had Glorybringer because I lost so many games where I didn’t draw it.

So back to vampires, how do you draft them? As I said, Anointed Deacon is the key but I don’t like first picking it. There a lot of generically good black and white cards that you can often first pick, like Contract Killing, Pious Interdiction, Vanquish the Weak, and Adanto Vanguard. Then if cards like that keep coming for the next few picks, maybe including a Deathless Ancient I will start to look for the deacon and the uncommons.

Legion ConquistadorIgnore this card at your own peril

One important thing to keep in mind is if you have passed any Legion Conquistadors. It is likely to wheel and you obviously need more than one for it to be playable. Let’s say it’s pick 6 and I have a couple of removal spells, a deacon, a Bishop’s Soldier and some good card in another color that hasn’t looked open so far. The pick is now between Queen’s Commission, Skymarch Bloodletter and Legion Conquistador.

If I have passed a Conquistador earlier I will probably take it here but if I haven’t, both of the other cards have higher priority (probably the flier first). Two Conquistador is just playable but as soon as you get more than that it becomes insane since it helps stall the ground and with a deacon to help them trade up, it will grind the opponent out quite effectively.

So you have a couple of removal spells, a deacon and a couple of vampires and now you have to choose between a Contract Killing and a Queen’s Bay Soldier (your first two drop). I am going to go out on a limb here and say you should lean towards the removal spell. The reason for that is that there is so much lifegain in this archetype that your curve matters less than it normally does in limited.

This particular example might be a stretch and it also depends if you have any lifegain so far, but keep in mind that the tools are available in this archetype to stabilize both the board and your life total. Of course, you would also like to have a board presence so your deacon has an effect the turn it comes down so if it’s a Bishop’s Soldier instead, I’d probably take it. I guess a more general way to express it is that you often don’t have to take subpar cards for curve considerations if you have a lot of good ways to gain life.

That’s about what I have learned so far. I will spend next week playing a lot of Standard so I’ll hopefully have something to report back soon. Until then, thanks for reading and good luck in the queues.

5 lessons from Nationals

We’ve waited 6 years and last weekend we finally had nationals again in Denmark; two days of Standard and draft to determine who would represent us at the World Magic Cup alongside Martin Müller. More importantly, for me at least, it was two days where all the awesome people I’ve met in the Danish Magic community met up, even the ones that have stopped playing. It was impossible to be bored because I was either playing Magic or I was hanging out with some of the funniest people I’ve met. I already cannot wait for next year, and I’m sure it will be even better. But we are here to learn, so let’s take a look at some of the decisions I made and see if there are any takeaways.


1. Metagaming

First up is deck selection. I started with UB since it had just won me a Pro Tour invite and the metagame hadn’t really changed since. I was a bit concerned when Mardu Vehicles won one GP the week before and UB won the other. You may think that UB winning was a good sign but it just meant that now everyone knew about it and would get a lot of reps in against it if they played online. Also the GP’s showcased GW Ramp which is a horrible matchup. I stuck to my guns, though and Thomas Enevoldsen was also on board so I hoped we could come up with a good list. This was the result:

UB Control by Anders Gotfredsen

Creatures (6)
The Scarab God
Torrential Gearhulk

Spells (28)
Fatal Push
Grasp of Darkness
Censor
Negate
Essence Scatter
Supreme Will
Disallow
Flaying Tendrils
To the Slaughter
Glimmer of Genius
Lands (26)
Fetid Pools
Aether Hub
Sunken Hollow
Choked Estuary
Swamp
Island
Evolving Wilds

Sideboard (15)
Gifted Aetherborn
Lost Legacy
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
Hour of Glory
Dispel
Negate
Contraband Kingpin
Liliana, the Last Hope
Never // Return
To the Slaughter
Summary Dismissal
Aether Meltdown

The key change was removing Kalitas from the maindeck and putting in a fourth gearhulk. Thomas suggested it but I wanted to try out the third god as per Dolars list. I had just won so many games with the god whereas I always felt like my gearhulks got killed by otherwise dead removal. Turns out that while The Scarab God is still a great card, the new kids on the block (GW Ramp, Mardu Vehicles and the mirror) aren’t as weak to it as, for example, Temur Energy, whereas gearhulk is great against ramp and control at least.

It looked like most of the good players would be on GW, Mardu or UW so gearhulk made the most sense. The only change I would have made in hindsight is an extra Summary Dismissal over one of the sideboard creatures though I can’t decide which one. The format is a lame duck now so it doesn’t matter much. As for the process it was mostly: I suggested something radical and Thomas countered with something reasonable which we then settled on. Not much to improve upon.

Jokes aside, I think the main problem I would have gotten into by myself is overvaluing the recent results and what I thought the people I knew would bring. I was counting on over 100 players and I had a reasonable expected metagame for maybe 20 of them. The rest would probably still be playing decks like Zombies, Mono Red and Temur Energy so we should still keep the deck strong against those. You should try to metagame against the winning metagame but with only 6 rounds of Standard, there were too many variables to do that properly.


2. Remember you have an opponent

The first stretch of constructed went without any mistakes that I can identify, winning against Zombies and losing to Mono White Eldrazi. I think it’s a good matchup but my draws lined up poorly. Then came draft. I first picked Hour of Promise and second picked Reason/Believe. I think both of those were correct but I locked in on GUx ramp way too early. I should have been either UB Control or UW Aggro. I don’t think it was nerves but I just felt uncomfortable during the whole draft, and didn’t manage to think things through before the judge yelled ‘draft’.

Oh well, at least I opened Glorybringer to splash alongside my Chaos Maw. I beat Simon Nielsen as you would expect, but then I threw a match against local game store operator and nice guy Johannes Kristoffersen. His was a UB control deck with Torment of Scarabs (the one I should have drafted on his right). I won game 1 and game two I had a Glorybringer in play that hit him down to 9. He had Torment out and I was down to 1 life with no other nonland permanents and 1 card in hand. My next turn I discarded and drew Scrounger of Souls.

I figured I might as well play it in case, for some reason I would rather sacrifice Glorybringer and let the Scrounger’s lifelink negate the Torment so I wouldn’t have to discard all the time. The problem was that he hadn’t played anything for a long time and had 4 or 5 cards in hand so I should have seen the Countervailing Winds coming and just tried to ride my Glorybringer to victory. He had also complained a bit when he milled his Final Reward off a Winds of Rebuke so chances of him having another removal spell for the dragon seemed low. I also lost the last round of the draft to finish day one at 3-3 and thinking I was out of contention (which turned out to be true).


3. Don’t get married to your first picks

I started out day 2 with quite a masterpiece of a deck; I first picked Ambuscade, second picked Puncturing Blow and then took Adorned Pouncer and Vizier of the Anointed and got a sick UW deck:

UW by Anders Gotfredsen

(40)
Proven Combatant
Adorned Pouncer
Oketra's Avenger
Anointed Priest
Sinuous Striker
Devoted Crop-Mate
Eternal of Harsh Truths
Aerial Guide
Champion of Wits
Vizier of the Anointed
Steadfast Sentinel
Curator of Mysteries
Supply Caravan
Aven of Enduring Hope
Angel of the God-Pharaoh
Traveler's Amulet
Act of Heroism
Strategic Planning
Cartouche of Knowledge
Compulsory Rest
Unquenchable Thirst
Trial of Solidarity
Oketra's Monument
Plains
Island
Desert of the Mindful
Survivor's Encampment
Endless Sands

Yes, getting third pick pouncer is an easy signal to see, but I’m still proud I did the right thing and didn’t try to stick to either of my first two picks. I don’t remember an easier 3-0, and that’s no slight on my opponents; Three ways to give my aggressive creatures flying, and of course the combo of Oketra’s Monument and Trial of Solidarity spelled doom for all three of them.


4. If you’re gonna plan, plan for everything

At the start of the day someone also told me that x-3 was enough for top 8, so hoopoe started to creep back in. It was amplified when I sat down across from Kenneth Brandt in Standard because I thought he was playing UW Approach. When he played a Fortified Village, and I realized he was on GW Ramp, it was quickly quenched again, but I drew Lost Legacy both sideboarded games, hit the only Eldrazis he had in hand and he didn’t draw any others. It seemed meant to be.

I actually think I could have won game 1 as well and it’s an interesting case of planning ahead. I am at 4 with The Scarab God in play and he attacks with his World Breaker. I have the choice of bringing back his Thraben Inspector or his Linvala, the Preserver. I took the Inspector and chumped because if he played one more creature I would get a 3/3 from Linvala. He then played a second World Breaker.

Next turn he played Ulamog and I had to Disallow the trigger and then eternalize Gearhulk to Disallow Ulamog himself, but now I had less than 4 mana left and had to block with both my creatures, returning the god to my hand. Now I had no choice but to play the god and eternalize Linvala to survive leaving me open for his second Ulamog.

If I instead had brought back Linvala to start with, I wouldn’t have had to chump with my god and I could have brought back his first Ulamog after he cast his second, giving me the first attack, and I think I could have chumped his first Ulamog attack letting my second attack trigger eat the rest of his library. I did plan ahead in trying to get the extra 3/3, but I didn’t consider my life total in that plan. When you start planning turns in advance, be aware that some factors that seem unimportant or under control now might not be so in a turn or two.


5. Never give up (and learn math)

In the last round I was up against Lasse Hansen on Temur Energy, and everything looked to come up gravy. This was one of the decks I was hoping to face after all. We traded games and in game 3 he hit me to one with 3 thopter tokens but I untapped with gearhulk and The Scarab God in play and 8 mana. I was pretty sure I was dead, but I brought back a Whirler Virtuoso to go up to 4 energy and scry 1 just in case there was a card I had forgotten about. I bottomed another god and drew a Sunken Hollow. I was about to just scoop but decided to make him play it out; there were a bunch of people watching and they should get their money’s worth.

When he attacked, I realized I actually had a shot: I brought back a Rogue Refiner to go up to 6 energy and if I had Fatal Push on top of my deck I could eat his entire board (he had gotten excited and attacked with all his ground guys as well). I made a wish and flipped…. Swamp. Can you spot my mistake (it didn’t end up mattering but slightly decreased my chances anyway)? By waiting until his turn to reanimate the Rogue Refiner I cost myself a scry and land + push had to be either the first and second cards or the second and third cards of my library. If I reanimate it in my upkeep, the first card has to be either land or push and then the second, third or fourth has to be the other. I had 4 push left and let’s say 10 untapped lands left out of, say 30 cards (the specifics don’t matter as long as they’re the same for both scenarios).

In the first scenario I get 4/30 * 10/29 + 10/30 * 4/29 + 16/30 * 4/29 * 10/28 + 16/30 * 10/29 * 4/28 = 14.45% chance to win. In the second scenario I get 10/30 * 37.1% + 4/30 * 73.5% = 22.2% chance to win. There are two important lessons here: First, Magic can be very complicated and often comes down to math and probabilities, so do yourself a favor and familiarize yourself with the hypergeometric distribution.

Obviously, you can’t do these calculations in the middle of the match but if you do them during practice, it improves your intuition which is often what you will have to rely on in-game. In this scenario there was an 8% chance of winning to be gained and I’m sure it can be even more. Second, never give up! While I didn’t physically scoop here, I had already resigned myself to losing and while it didn’t cost me here (if I had made the correct play and brought back Rogue Refiner on my upkeep I would have drawn The Scarab God and lost) I would prefer to give myself all the percentages possible, and I hope this will serve as a reminder for me in the future.

Lasse ended up in ninth place, which is also what I would have gotten, so it was much ado about nothing (except the extra 75DKK he got compared to my 16th place). Congratulations to our new national champion, Bjarke Larsen, and my friend, Control Maestro Andreas Bendix for making the national team. I hope Martin Müller will put Denmark back in the top 8 of the WMC where they belong when I’m not on the team. Thanks for reading.

Look ma, I made it to the ProTour!

This article will be about two things; my personal experience of qualifying for my first Pro Tour, and the UB Control deck I used to do it. I will start with the deck since I assume that will be the most interesting to people who don’t know me. Let’s kick things off with the list:

UB Control by Anders Gotfredsen

Spells (28)
Yahenni’s Expertise
Fatal Push
Grasp of Darkness
Censor
Negate
Essence Scatter
 Glimmer of Genius
Supreme Will
Disallow
To the Slaughter

Creatures (6)
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
The Scarab God
Torrential Gearhulk
Lands (26)
Fetid Pools
Sunken Hollow
Aether Hub
Choked Estuary
Island
Swamp

Sideboard (15)
Negate
Dispel
Yahenni's Expertise
Bontu's Last Reckoning
Gifted Aetherborn
Summary Dismissal
To the Slaughter
Never // Return
Liliana, the Last Hope

This was a perfect storm of being both a powerful, consistent deck and a great metagame call, and with the results from GP Denver, that looks to continue being the case. The most common decks are Temur Energy, God-Pharao’s Gift, Mono Red, BG Constrictor, RG Ramp, Zombies and UW Approach. I have no problem facing any of these decks and I’ll go through all of the matchups, but first I have some general notes on the deck:

“Best card in Standard(?)”

This card is the reason to be UB instead of UR or UW. The only cards in the above decks that can deal cleanly with The Scarab God are the white exile removals, Cast Out and Stasis Snare, but they are only in the UW Approach deck which, as I’ll explain later, is close to impossible to lose to (there are of course also counterspells but it’s mostly Censor and Supreme Will, which you can play around).

All other decks need two cards and many of them have no way to keep it from coming back. If you get to untap with it or play it on 9 mana, it will immediately dominate most games, and I often had a Torrential Gearhulk in the graveyard along with a counterspell, which is basically game over for anyone (or they might have Goblin Dark-Dwellers in their yard, which is how I sealed the last game of the RPTQ). Against Mono Red, I actually like it more than Kalitas because you can just slam it on turn 5 and unless they topdeck an Ahn-Crop Crasher (I assume they would have played it sooner if they had it, and then you have probably either countered or grasped it), they are completely brick walled.

Alongside my new favorite insect buddy we have all the run of the mill control options: removal, counterspells, Glimmer of Genius and Torrential Gearhulk. There is nothing groundbreaking about it, which kind of proves my point that the god is what makes this deck the best. Censor and Supreme Will are key for a strategy like this since you can’t be stuck with a bunch of them in hand and not be able to deal with something on the board. You can customize a lot of the spells in the deck but I would be hard pressed to play less than 4 of each of these.

“A sign that you will win this match”

Temur Energy has been the top dog for the last couple of weeks. It won the MOCS two weeks ago, an MTGO PTQ a week ago and this weekend it put 3 copies in the top 4 of GP Denver. It also had 3 or 4 copies in the top 8 of my RPTQ for what it’s worth. In short, you want to be able to beat this deck and UB is great at it. You have Fatal Push for their Longtusk Cub, To the Slaughter for Bristling Hydra and Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Grasp for Glorybringer and everything else. This is of course only needed if they resolve, and all your counterspells are great here.

Then you play The Scarab God and get to enjoy all of the delicious ETB triggers from their creatures. Be aware that some Temur decks splash for The Scarab God (and Nicol Bolas) themselves so try and save an Essence Scatter or Disallow for it. Bontu’s Last Reckoning, Never // Return and To the Slaughter Negate come in from the board for Kalitas, Expertise and a counterspell (not completely sure which one, maybe since we are bringing in two potential answers to Chandra).

Try to line up your answers as listed above and try to save the hard counters for last. For example, if you have the choice between Fatal Push and Essence Scatter for their cub, use push. If you have the choice between Disallow and To the Slaughter for their hydra, use To the Slaughter. Be aware of Confiscation Coup on your god post board.

“A sign that you will win this match”

Next is God-Pharao’s Gift. Currently the most popular version is UR but all them share important traits: crappy creatures and then some number of 3 and 7 mana artifacts that can actually beat you. Luckily we are packed with counterspells for them and if you kill Minister of Inquiries they can have a hard time filling their yard to activate Gate to the Afterlife. You should at the very least be able to slow them down and The Scarab God is game over when you untap with it in play.

They have Dispel after board but they need to draw both Dispel, Gate/Refurbish/Gift and some ways to fill their graveyard to beat just a single counterspell from you and their are in a real hurry before we get to five mana. This is about as easy a matchup as you can get in Standard.

“A sign that you will win this match”

Hyper Aggro has traditionally been the bane of control decks and I will say that this is the matchup where I am least certain about my opinion, but I will go out on a limb and say that it’s a fine matchup. You have cheap removal, cheap counters, removal that can kill a resolved Hazoret the Fervent and threats that can close the game out fast. As I mentioned above, The Scarab God is still great here (noticing a trend?) and you get to bring in Gifted Aetherborn, Liliana, Never // Return and an extra Expertise, while lowering your curve a bit (I like to cut one Gearhulk, one Glimmer, To the Slaughter, Disallows and Supreme Wills for the rest). I’m torn on the expertise because your main concern is keeping your life total high and so you can’t really afford to just take hits from their creatures to set it up.

Let’s say they play Falkenrath Gorger turn 1. Do you Fatal Push it if you also have expertise in hand? I think you have to. Then they play Kari Zev, Skyship Raider. Do you grasp it? Again, I think you have to. Then they play Earthshaker Khenra or Ahn-Crop Crasher.

Now your expertise can kill one creature. If you say go and they play another haste creature, do you counter it or take 5 damage? Maybe this is getting too specific but my point is that I don’t really like a 4 mana sorcery speed removal spell when I’m trying to keep the board clear and have mana open on their turn to counter Chandra, Hazoret and Glorybringer. It can still give you a chance in the games where you stumble a bit so I think two is an appropriate number. Again, I’m not sure it’s a great matchup but I just keep beating it over and over again on Magic Online so, running the risk of being too results oriented, that’s what I’m going with.

“A sign that you will win this match”

This is a Midrange and so plays out similarly to Temur except BG is more straightforward and they rely more on synergy which is good for the all removal and counterspells deck. I guess you can lose if they somehow resolve Dispossess and Lost Legacy but that should be rare. Maybe turn 3 Nissa on the play if you have neither Negate nor Censor but it’s still a pretty slow clock if you can keep Winding Constrictor off the table. Negate, Never, To the Slaughter and Reckoning replace Kalitas, Expertise, a Disallow and a Censor for game 2.

“A sign that you will win this match”

You can lose game 1 to ramp if they get to play Ulamogs before you get enough lands into play to be able to afford losing two of them but after board you get an extra Negate and 3 Summary Dismissal along with a To the Slaughter and Never to replace your useless Fatal Pushes and upgrade two Grasps. So not only can you counter a lot of their ramp, when they finally get to 7 or 10 mana, you have clean answers to their top end. They bring in Tireless Tracker and Thought-Knot Seer but they still fight on the same axis and your counter magic has that axis on lockdown.

“A sign that you will have a fair fight this match”

This is a close one. They have a lot of recurring threats and threats that produce more than one creature and after board they get a few more along with Transgress the Mind. Game 1 is usually pretty easy as they tend to draw a couple of removal spells that don’t do anything until it’s too late but try and make sure that Diregraf Colossus doesn’t get to make a token and that Liliana’s Mastery doesn’t resolve. I bring in all 3 sweepers, Liliana and Never for To the Slaughter, 2 Disallow, a Censor and a Supreme Will. As with the other matchups where I shave counterspells, I’m not 100 percent sure about which ones are actually correct to cut and it also depends on your opponents play. If they always play around Censor, trim those, if they play very aggressively you can trim Supreme Will instead since Censor will often be as good and you might not have time to spend 3 mana for card selection.

“Ask your opponent to just concede so you can go get lunch. He’s not winning”

I said the Gift deck was about the easiest matchup in Standard, well this is the easiest matchup I can remember ever playing in any format. You have all the time in the world and as soon as you’ve drawn 3 of your 4 Negate/Disallow along with enough lands to pay for Supreme Wills and Censors you can’t lose game 1. My opponent in the RPTQ even had a Sphinx of the Final Word main but when he played that and then Approach on 14 mana I could respond with To the Slaughter and Negate which is one of the better feelings I’ve gotten from a play.

It was even more satisfying because I had replaced the maindeck Never//Return with To the Slaughter specifically because I kept facing UW players online who had Sphinx main. Post board they get some hard counters but so do you along with 4 more answers to Sphinx. They probably also bring in a couple of Linvala, the Preserver and/or Regal Caracal and maybe Torrential Gearhulk but you still have Essence Scatter along with all the other counter magic and they just aren’t able to compete in the slightest as long as you don’t draw all spells or all lands.

As you can see from this walkthrough, the current Standard metagame doesn’t really contain any problems for UB; I might not be certain of how good the Mono Red matchup is but I’m sure it’s nowhere near as bad as it is for UR Control (I haven’t played against UR Control with this deck but you are very similar and so I would assume it to be quite even).

I guess Mardu Vehicles is still a deck and that might be problematic but I haven’t faced it at all and from what I hear it’s bad against Temur Energy so I wouldn’t expect to face it anytime soon. Unless something changes drastically, I will bring this to Nationals and I wholeheartedly recommend you do the same. If, by some chance, this deck picks up in popularity, I will figure out the mirror before then and write another article.

Now it’s time for me to get a little sentimental because this past Sunday was a culmination of 6 or so years of trying to get on the Pro Tour. In fact, the last 3 years it has pretty much been the only thing on my mind. Almost every day when I came home from work, I would fire up Magic Online and play until I went to bed. Work, Magic, sleep, repeat. Even at work, I would constantly be thinking about Magic.

I have had a lot of close calls; 1 GP win and in, 10 or so PTQ top 8’s along with a bunch of good GP performances in the first 9-12 rounds only to get crushed in the last rounds. When you have that many near misses, you can’t really blame it on just bad luck anymore. I have enough insight to know that I am theoretically good enough to compete on the Pro Tour, but when the matches got important I would crumble under the pressure.

I qualified for the World Magic Cup twice but failed to make enough of the opportunity to get on the Pro Tour. Both years Denmark top 8’ed the WMC, I lost in the finals of one of the WMCQ’s. Many times, I have contemplated giving up and just do a regular 9 to 5 job and be “normal”, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to do it. About a year ago, I decided to dedicate myself even more and go to all the European GP’s. Around Christmas, when my results kept being #mediocre, I tried to focus not so much on winning but more on just enjoying the competition, the game and the awesome people I have met on the GP circuit.

Brad Nelson and other great players have written articles telling you some variant of “don’t focus on the results” and I have really tried to take that to heart. Make no mistake; I think this game is a lot of fun and I have made a lot of friends that I would love to hang out with outside of Magic, but it can be hard to justify spending that much time and money on something “just” for fun.

So a couple of months ago I began seeing a sports psychologist to deal with the root of the issue: If you present me with a situation, I will usually be able to tell you what the correct play is but when matches become important, my thought process goes awry and I mess up. I am not sure how much of this qualification I owe to my shrink, and I know I have a long ways to go, but I know I’m making progress, so maybe in a year or two, it will just be my strategic ability that limits my performance.

And when I sat down for my top 8 match in the RPTQ I could feel a difference in my mentality; I didn’t like the matchup (BR Control with Scorpion Gods and tons of discard. I wouldn’t expect to face it though) but at least this time, I wouldn’t just be throwing the match (You might think that I didn’t literally throw matches away but the one of Lasse Nørgaard and Martin Dang who sat behind me for the WMCQ Final against Christoffer Larsen will testify that it is true).

I lost game 1 but game 2 he got mana screwed and game 3 he mulliganed into a poor hand and didn’t draw out of it. I have heard myths of winning important matches like this (Oscar Christensen won his win and in at GP Birmingham against an Ad Nauseam player who just did nothing for two games in a row), and always lamented the fact that it didn’t happen to me. Now I’ll have to find something else to complain about, I just hope it won’t be that I got terribly unlucky and scrubbed out of my first Pro Tour. Jinx.

It was so heartwarming to see so many people congratulate me on Facebook and Messenger, and I feel so fortunate to have so many people care in the slightest about how I do. I am a social person and while I try not to chase recognition, of course it’s great when you get it, but ultimately, I started this chase for me; because I want to make me proud. I can finally say that I am proud of my Magic career, but I am not good at settling and I already have a new goal: Become a mainstay on the Pro Tour, and/or make top 8 of one. I’ll get back to you in 20 years or so, probably. Until then, my best piece of advice is to be honest about what weaknesses are keeping you from achieving whatever goals you have for yourself, and do whatever it takes to remedy them.

Next week I’ll be back to tell you about my adventures in Metz and AKH-HOU Limited. Thanks for reading.

GP Birmingham *3rd*

Last weekend was GP Birmingham and if you know me or followed coverage, you’ll know that I didn’t get 3rd. 56th doesn’t sound very cool though and I did travel with Oscar Christensen who got 3rd so I think this is on the acceptable side of clickbait.

If you came to read about his deck and card choices, I am sorry that I’m not him, but it didn’t seem like there was a lot to it: He considered swapping black for blue to replace some cards that you can get with Collected Company and Chord of Calling for some counterspells that you can’t. Then he correctly stopped considering that and voila. I already knew this, so a long time ago I chucked out the Companys and the Chords, the creatures and the mana and focused more on the counterspells aspect of the deck. Here is what I registered:

UW Control by Anders Gotfredsen

Creatures (3)
Snapcaster Mage
Jace, Architect of Thought

Spells (36)
Serum Visions
Path to Exile
Negate
Spreading Seas
Wall of Omens
Blessed Alliance
Shadow of Doubt
Runed Halo
Gideon of the Trials
Detention Sphere
Cryptic Command
Supreme Verdict
Gideon Jura
Sphinx's Revelation
Celestial Colonnade
Lands (21)
Flooded Strand
Ghost Quarter
Tectonic Edge
Hallowed Fountain
Mystic Gate
Plains
Island

Sideboard (15)
Surgical Extraction
Rest in Peace
Grafdigger's Cage
Timely Reinforcements
Dispel
Negate
Supreme Verdict
Blessed Alliance
Leyline of Sanctity
Jace, Architect of Thought
Celestial Purge
Stony Silence
Vendilion Clique

Since last time, one Wall of Omens became a Shadow of Doubt because I didn’t do that much blocking with the Wall and I just love the off chance of destroying someones first or second land drop. It is very rare but it’s so worth it when it finally happens. I’m not sure it’s correct to play it but the cost is so low compared to a Wall that doesn’t block in a lot of matchups and has to be played at sorcery speed.

The main deck Leyline of Sanctity became a Runed Halo after discussing it with my friend Usama, but I am starting to lean back towards Leyline. His point was that Halo isn’t dead against decks that don’t target you but there are some decks that target you with different cards, mostly discard spells and Liliana of the Veil, and Thought-Knot Seer and Walking Ballista.

Yes, you can name Death’s Shadow in that match up but the rest of the deck is pretty much all cards that kill Death’s Shadow and you kind of have to keep it in hand until they play something so you don’t name a creature they might not draw for the whole game. I would rather have my hand be safe from interference.

For Eldrazi Tron, I’m more concerned with the abilities of these two creatures than their body and playing Halo on turn 2 naming TKS might be a waste of time and here you cannot wait until they have played it so you have to guess. The bigger draw for me is to have one of each for the purpose of beating Echoing Truth.

I think both Ad Nauseam and Storm have picked up a bit in popularity and positioning and a lot of post board games come down to Echoing Truth. I would try having Halo in the board and Leyline main. Then a Supreme Verdict turned into a Gideon of the Trials.

Little Gids has been very impressive and is pretty much great in all matchups. Against creature decks, he forces them to overextend into verdict and against combo he ranges from a quick clock to changing how the matchup plays out (Ad Nauseam). I was very happy with two and recommend it going forward.

In the sideboard, I cut Elspeth, Sun’s Champion and the Spell Quellers to make room for the fourth verdict, a Negate, and a Surgical Extraction. The quellers have been fine but they have become so stock now that some people will leave in removal for them and the game is so much harder to plan out when there is a chance of them playing whatever spell is under it at any time. Negate might not come with a clock but I prefer the guarantee that their spell is gone.

I was sad to cut Elspeth but the fact is that she doesn’t feel needed anymore. She is best against grindy decks but I liked her against Death’s Shadow because it was game over if you got to play her. That was Jund Shadow, and Stubborn Denial is bad news for a 6 mana non-creature spell. I haven’t faced a lot of BGx decks lately and the only match up left then is Eldrazi Tron. If I feel like I need more help there, I’ll probably play a Ceremonious Rejection instead.

The tournament itself was the first time it has seemed like people agreed Death’s Shadow is the best deck in Modern; I played it 3 times on day one losing once. Gideon of the Trials was an absolute beast here, keeping their big threat under wraps, pressuring Liliana and killing them in two turns usually. I also beat Storm, Valakut and Ad Nauseam on day one before losing the last round to Abzan Midrange. I had a tricky decision in game 3 that might have cost me the game and I feel is worth discussing in depth:

It’s my turn and I have a Jace on 3 loyalty, 2 Plains, 3 Island, a Ghost Quarter and 2 Spreading Seas on his lands. I draw a Celestial Colonnade, my only card in hand. He has 4 Lingering Souls tokens, a Liliana of the Veil on 6, 2 Tectonic Edge, 2 Swamp and an Overgrown Tomb, though due to my Spreading Seas he only has one Swamp for colored mana. Only his Tectonic Edges are untapped.

I minus Jace and get a Detention Sphere. Now I reason that if I use the Sphere to remove the tokens, a Liliana ultimate doesn’t really do that much; he has to put Jace with one or two lands and I’ll still be able to cast spells. If I take out the Liliana, I have to find verdict or another sphere in the next 4 turns before I die to the spirits. I decide that the tokens are a more pressing threat but he has Dismember for the complete blowout. I think he makes a bad split with Liliana as I’m allowed to keep both Plains, Ghost Quarter and both Spreading Seas, but I don’t draw anything for his tokens before I die.

When I tell the story to Oscar, he asks if it wasn’t better to just plus Jace, something I hadn’t even considered. If I do that, what can he really to with Liliana? I think the best split he can make will be Jace, Island and the two Spreading Seas in one pile, in which case I can keep them and play a Colonnade next turn. I think I’m favored from here and his best play is to tick up Liliana again. This means I should consider playing the Colonnade instead of just discarding it and if I do it only makes a Liliana split tougher for him.

So I still assume he will plus Liliana and I have effectively bought myself an extra turn. It is a very complicated exercise guessing how your opponent will use his Liliana but I am still a bit disappointed that I didn’t even consider ticking up Jace. I don’t mind not playing around Dismember and my opponent said that he wouldn’t have either. 8-1 would have been a lot more fun than 7-2 though.

On day 2, I beat a couple more Death’s Shadow players but lost round 12 to Dredge, putting me out of contention. I didn’t really have expectations of top 8 beforehand so it didn’t bother me that much. I was more upset that people keep playing Dredge. It is not fun magic but I still played it at the World Magic Cup because it was the best deck. With Golgari Grave-Troll gone, the deck is not tier 1 anymore and then I just see no reason to waste your day playing it. I beat Valakut again in round 13 and something I don’t remember in round 14 setting up a barn burner for an extra pro point and 250$ against my WMC teammate Asger Lundblad on Living End.

I lost game 1 on the draw because I played turn 2 Spreading Seas instead of keeping Negate up. He then brought back 2 6/4’s a 3/4 and a 4/4 and I died before I could verdict. It was just an autopilot play, especially since I had a second Seas in hand. You almost always just run out the Seas to slow your opponent down but of course, I should have recognized that eot cycle two creatures into third land and cascade spell was highly likely. Game 2 he mulliganed to 5 and I drew all 4 Spreading Seas to keep him from doing basically anything. Game 3 I had all basics to turn his Fulminator Mage into a Gray Ogre but a well timed Beast Within into cascade spell with Refraction Trap backup got him a bunch of creatures in play and I didn’t have verdict.

I felt pretty bummed out losing because of that first game but the sting immediately disappeared when I heard a familiar voice from behind me and learned that Oscar had faced an Ad Nauseam player who just did nothing for 2 games, putting Oscar in the top 8. Of course, he won a lot of money and qualified for the pro tour, but more importantly, it meant free dinner for me and our third travel buddy, Christoforos Lampadarios!!! My other WMC teammate Simon Nielsen making top 8 as well was icing on an already delicious cake, although as I’m sure he will understand, it’s hard to be as excited when it didn’t result in a free meal for me.

The day continued to please as we had dinner and team drafted against Team Sur (angry in Danish) consisting of Christoffer Larsen, Michael Bonde and Thomas Enevoldsen. I got to do one of the most satisfying things you can experience in magic which is to nut draw Christoffer in limited with some ridiculous rare (or rares). In my case it was turn 4 Crypt of the Eternals, Crested Sunmare game 1 and turn 5 Crypt of the Eternals, Crested Sunmare in game 3 to clinch the draft. Stuff like that is what keeps us coming back to this great game.

Now the pressure is on me and Christoforos to own the RPTQ this weekend so we can join Oscar in Albuquerque, so I am already back to full on Standard mode. I’ll be back soon with an article on it and hopefully some videos. Until then, don’t play Dredge in Modern and don’t play Mono Red in Standard, thank you, and thanks for reading.

Hour of Devastation? Blue 5 mana sweeper

Last week, I told you about the BR Midrange deck I was trying to combat Ramunap Red with. Today I’ll tell you why I’m not playing the deck anymore. I know you’re thinking “if last week was wrong, why should I believe what you’re saying today?” It turns out, the deck has a good matchup against Ramunap Red which was why I chose it, but it also turns out that the red menace is quite beatable. Playing a deck that is almost entirely designed to beat one deck can be fine if that deck is a huge part of the metagame, but I played against it only once or twice per ten matches.

The other 8-9 I played against everything from Zombies (good matchup) to RG Ramp (close to unbeatable). The BR deck is great against linear creature strategies but struggles pretty much everywhere else and everywhere else is currently too big a place for me to be comfortable playing it.

In essence, it comes down to the old adage of threats being better than answers in an open metagame. Make no mistake, this is a very open metagame despite Ramunap Red dominating the Pro Tour. It’s not like right after a rotation where you don’t know what decks people will bring, it’s just that the decks you can expect to face are vastly different. I still wouldn’t want to bring a deck that gets crushed by Ramunap Red, and it’s still the deck I would expect to be most popular at an event, but there is so much else going on in Standard right now. What I want is to find the next God-Pharao’s Gift deck; a deck that has a more powerful game plan than anyone else. The reason I don’t choose the actual God-Pharaos Gift deck is that people are ready now with Scavenger Grounds and Abrades and then the deck can easily fall apart. If you’re looking for the most powerful card in Standard, there is really only one answer:

 

“Now, if only we could get to 10 mana”

 

The problem, of course, is that Ramunap Red isn’t really in the business of giving you time to cast this bad boy. But if we spend all our slots on ramp and cheap cards that buy us time, maybe we can get there. This is what the RG Ramp deck does and I am currently trying out different builds. Hour of Promise is as real a card as they come and Kozilek’s Return is in a great spot right now. My main issue with the deck is consistency; If you don’t draw Hour of Promise, 10 mana is a lot, and if you don’t draw Ulamog, you’re often just buying time to die a few turns later. Here is my current list, mostly courtesy of Gabriel Nassif’s stream:

 

Another problem which, I guess, is an extension of the first one, is that you’re quite threat light and in a way linear, so people can beat you if they want to. Lost Legacy is obviously great against you but even Transgress the Mind and Doomfall can poke a big hole in our plans. Luckily no one seems to be playing Lost Legacy at the moment. I have felt pretty good playing Ulamog decks against control because control decks in standard are so reactive that you can run rings around them by diversifying your threats post board. Game 1 they are going to have a ton of dead cards and I don’t expect they will be able to answer all our big eldrazi. Not that I would expect to face dedicated control decks in this metagame but I bring it up for completeness.

 

So how do we combat our inconsistency issues while maintaining our powerful game plan. I looked to some rares and mythics, you might not even realize are still in Standard. Here is how I planned to crush (spoiler alert) my opponents:

Creatures (11)
Greenwarden of Murasa
Jaddi Offshoot
Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
Walking Ballista

Spells (24)
Censor
Crush of Tentacles
Gift of Paradise
Haze of Pollen
Hour of Promise
Nissa’s Renewal
Weirding Wood
Lands (25)
Botanical Sanctum
Forest
Island
Lumbering Falls
Shrine of the Forsaken Gods

 

“Now, if only we could get to 10 mana”

 

Before Magic Origins rotated out, Steve Rubin played a UG Crush deck at Worlds and it was sweet! It ramped and then looped Crush of Tentacles with Den Protector. We might not have Nissa’s Pilgrimage anymore but there are still plenty of good ramp options. Greenwarden of Murasa is a poor replacement for Den Protector but it will have to do. We also get a new toy with Walking Ballista which combos with Crush in two ways; you can play it for zero to surge Crush if you only have 5 mana, and when you have a lot of mana you can play a big Ballista and then use all but one counter from it and get it back into your hand. We also get repeated lifegain with Gift of Paradise and repeated clues with Weirding Wood. It can be annoying to have to ramp your mana back up again after each Crush though. The rest of the cards, like Haze of Pollen and Jaddi Offshoot try to buy us enough time to get a bunch of mana in play.

 

After a couple of leagues and some brew talk with second year(!) gold pro Simon Nielsen, a couple of things became clear: Permeating Mass is probably better than Jaddi Offshoot. Spring // Mind is better than Weirding Wood and I’m frankly embarrassed that I forgot that card existed. Kozilek’s Return might be too important to the ramp strategy to forgo. Hour of Promise is likely better than Nissa’s Renewal since without renewal we can trim basics for deserts. Even without any other delirium payoff, Traverse the Ulvenwald makes perfect sense in the deck. Simon made the next draft:

Creatures (15)
Champion of Wits
Permeating Mass
Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
Walking Ballista
World Breaker

Spells (21)
Crush of Tentacles
Gift of Paradise
Hour of Promise
Kozilek’s Return
Spring // Mind
Traverse the Ulvenwald
Warping Wail
Lands (24)
Botanical Sanctum
Evolving Wilds
Forest
Hashep Oasis
Island
Lumbering Falls
Mountain
Sanctum of Ugin
Scavenger Grounds
Shrine of the Forsaken Gods
Wastes

 

 

At this point, I think we were trying to do too many things; delirium, Kozilek’s Return, Crush of Tentacles. For example, Simon didn’t think Crush was good enough and I agree that now it just looks like a ramp deck that randomly has a few copies. I think you have to focus more and I still wanted to explore blue before just conceding that RG Ramp is just a better direction. I played some more with straight UG versions but the results were still very varied. There is of course some implied inconsistency by having a deck with such a span in converted mana cost but I had more problems with drawing low impact cards in the late game, than I had with not getting off the ground. Here is how I plan to fix it without completely surrendering the early game. If this doesn’t work I’ll look elsewhere, since I’m playing the RPTQ on August 20 and I need something by then that I know works.

Creatures (11)
Champion of Wits
Greenwarden of Murasa
Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
Walking Ballista

Spells (27)
Censor
Crush of Tentacles
Dissenter’s Deliverance
Gift of Paradise
Hour of Promise
Part the Waterveil
Spring // Mind
Traverse the Ulvenwald
Lands (22)
Botanical Sanctum
Forest
Hashep Oasis
Island
Sanctum of Ugin
Scavenger Grounds
Shrine of the Forsaken Gods

Sideboard (15)
Permeating Mass
Tireless Tracker
Pulse of Murasa
Negate
Summary Dismissal
Dispel

I also should mention the sideboard as another reason I wanted blue instead of red. The RG Ramp lists I’ve seen have pretty much no way to win the mirror with any consistency. I’ve seen plenty that basically only contained one Void Winnower and that is in no way guaranteed to win you the matchup. Ramp is already heavily dependent on its draws to line up and the mirror just seems like a complete die roll.

With blue we get access to a bunch of countermagic that can lock down opposing ramp decks, and they are also great against control. With UR and UW Control starting to put up some numbers that should become relevant. Actually, some of the UW lists look like appealing places to go if this doesn’t pan out. But I haven’t given up on 8/8 octopuses yet, and I hope you haven’t either. If you have any suggestions for cards I might have forgotten about or just ideas or comments on the deck, let me know in the comments.

How to beat Ramunap Red (… and zombies)

This weekend, the Pro Tour finally happened and Standard is alive again. The top 8 contained 6 Ramunap red decks, and red was the talk of the weekend.

It’s a very powerful deck with some very fast draws and at the same time a lot of staying power between Hazoret, the Fervent and Ramunap Ruins. If you think you can just play a truckload of cheap/mass removal and be safe, you have another thing coming. So is this the new caw blade? First of all, we need to look deeper than just the decks in the top 8.

This has always been overvalued, because remember the Swiss includes 6 rounds of draft. We also have to keep in mind that basically all the top pros/teams brought Bomat Courier and friends to the table and it was almost 25% of the starting metagame so you should expect to see some copies doing well.

I prefer to look at the decklists published on the coverage page sorted by standard record. That reveals the following: 1 Ramunap Red went 10-0. 2 Zombies and 1 Ramunap Red went 9-1. 1 Ramunap Red and 1 BG Constrictor went 8-1-1. At 8-2 were 6 Ramunap Red, 2 BG Constrictor, 2 Zombies, 1 Four Color Vehicles and 1 Temur Energy. Going down 7-3 there were 12 Ramunap Red, 13 Zombies and 7 BG Constrictor with a few copies of assorted other decks.

Any of these could have been in the top 8 depending on their limited records. Considering that there were more than twice as many red decks as zombies and almost three times as many red decks as constrictor, you could argue that Ramunap Red actually did worse than the other two. Additionally, there was a Standard PTQ on MTGO on Saturday with a top 8 of 3 Zombies, 2 Constrictor, 2 RG Ramp and zero(!) Ramunap Red decks. What I take from all of this is that Ramunap Red is very beatable.

It will continue to show up in the coming tournaments because a lot of people will just copy a list from the pt top 8, especially the winning one, but the decks you should really Metagame against right now are zombies and BG Constrictor. Luckily, all three decks have a comparable game plan: cheap aggressive creatures backed up by resilient, hard-hitting top end threats. First of all we need cheap removal; these decks hit the board early and hard and if you take too much damage from their cheap creatures, you will be hard pressed to keep up answers to their late game.

Second, you need a way to take over the game, once you’ve dealt with their early onslaught. You need to close the game out fast or it could slip away to their top decked Hazoret, Dark Salvation or Verdurous Gearhulk. Lastly, you need to be prepared for their sideboard plans. All of them pack extra punch and Resillience in the board, mostly in the form of Planeswalkers like Ob Nixilis Reignited, Liliana, the Last Hope and extra copies of Chandra, Torch of Defiance. Don’t just board in a bunch of extra Fatal Pushes and Sweltering Suns, lest you risk losing to one of these.

My current way to deal with these 3 decks is BR Midrange. It started just after Hour of Devastation came out, when I saw this list 5-0 a league:

BR Midrange

Creatures (9)
Glorybringer
Goblin Dark-Dwellers
Gonti, Lord of Luxury
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet

Spells (25)
Abrade
Chandra, Torch of Defiance
Doomfall
Fatal Push
Hour of Glory
Liliana, Death’s Majesty
Liliana, the Last Hope
Live Fast
Magma Spray
Never // Return
Lands (26)
Aether Hub
Canyon Slough
Endless Sands
Evolving Wilds
Foreboding Ruins
Mountain
Smoldering Marsh
Swamp

I took it for a spin and liked a lot of it, but there were a few problems; there was too much of a gap between the early removal and the late game.

You often needed to be able to play 5-6 removal spells in the first 4 turns to have enough room for your 5 drops to take over. And then other games you needed to draw much less removal and more big threats because they had a slower start and answers to your first 2 threats. It was basically the classic non-blue control deck problem where you needed to draw the right half of your deck without any card selection.

I knew I wanted 4 Liliana for sure because it was both removal and threat at a cheap cost but other than that I wasn’t too sure. Then last week, Paul Rietzl 5-0’d a league with a similar deck that also top 8’ed the MTGO PTQ the weekend prior:

BR Midrange - 5:o Standard League by Paul Rietzl

Creatures (12)
Demon of Dark Schemes
Glint-Sleeve Siphoner
Glorybringer
Goblin Dark-Dwellers
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet

Spells (22)
Abrade
Chandra, Torch of Defiance
Collective Brutality
Doomfall
Harnessed Lightning
Liliana, the Last Hope
Live Fast
Ruinous Path
Lands (26)
Aether Hub
Blighted Fen
Canyon Slough
Foreboding Ruins
Mountain
Smoldering Marsh
Swamp

The key for me is the 4 Glint-Sleeve Siphoner.

It might look out of place in a control deck but it helps keep the cards flowing and at two mana, it will rarely be stuck in your hand, and you can play it and a removal spell on the same turn in the midgame. It also puts the opponent in an awkward spot for sideboarding because if they board out their removal, they could just flat out lose to it but if they keep removal in for it, they lessen their chances of enacting their own game plan because of a card you might not draw.

It even presents them with a dilemma in-game when you play it turn two because they have to spend mana to kill it in which case it did the same for you as a removal spell; keeping one of their threats off the board.

Along with the 4 Lilianas you have strong proactive early plays that are good against both aggro and control meaning the losses to ‘drawing the wrong half of your deck’ become much less frequent. I was not satisfied with the removal suite though; nothing at 1 mana and 6 at 2 is just not going to cut it against Ramunap red.

I also think you need ways to deal with Hazoret in a deck like this and Doomfall won’t hit it when you don’t have enough cheap removal to keep their small stuff off the board. I want some Grasp of Darkness instead of Harnessed Lightning and some combination of Fatal Push and Magma Spray. Spray is very good in the metagame but Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet is a big part of our plan and push is much better against gb so I think 3 Fatal Push, 1 Magma Spray will be good for now.

You want more against Ramunap red and zombies but that’s what sideboards are for. I’ll give my current list before discussing further:

BR Midrange by Anders Gotfredsen

Creatures (11)
Glint-Sleeve Siphoner
Glorybringer
Goblin Dark-Dwellers
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet

Spells (23)
Abrade
Chandra, Torch of Defiance
Doomfall
Fatal Push
Grasp of Darkness
Liliana, the Last Hope
Live Fast
Magma Spray
Ruinous Path
Lands (26)
Aether Hub
Canyon Slough
Evolving Wilds
Foreboding Ruins
Mountain
Smoldering Marsh
Swamp

Sideboard (15)
Chandra’s Defeat
Magma Spray
Never // Return
Ob Nixilis Reignited
Lost Legacy
Dispossess
Transgress the Mind
Dreamstealer
Sweltering Suns
Chandra, Flamecaller

Against the current “big 3”, the plan is pretty straightforward; keep the board clear for the first few turns, stick a planeswalker or Kalitas and snowball the advantage from them.

If you have Liliana for turn 3, let one or two of their one toughness creatures live. If you have Kalitas, try to conserve your removal until he hits the board. It’s not easy knowing when you should play him turn 4 and when you should wait until you can leave up a removal spell the same turn.

Some of the red decks play Collective Defiance but people almost always copy the winning list (especially when it’s someone as well known as PV) so I would default to running it out turn 4 for now. Zombies have both Grasp of Darkness and Dark Salvation so here I would lean towards having removal the same turn as I play Kalitas.

Of course some games you see their hand with turn 3 Doomfall and the choice will be easy.

Doomfall is an interesting card for standard. I didn’t even consider it for constructed when I first saw it but it has the same kind of flexibility that makes Supreme Will good; it has an “answer” mode and a mode for when you don’t need to deal with something they have played.

The big difference of course is that Doomfall is a sorcery, and sorcery hurts a modal card much more than a one dimensional card. Specifically, exiling Hazoret after it has attacked you once is unpleasant. Unfortunately, discard spells tend to be sorcery so we’ll have to make do. It is bad against Ramunap Red and servicable against Zombies and good against Constrictor but I think you need it main to not auto lose game 1 to decks like ramp and control.

Just having a few makes a big difference when you’re playing Goblin Dark-Dwellers, and as long as it’s not completely dead in any matchup, I think you can get away with it.

The thing I’m most uncertain of is the mix of 5-drops. Goblin Dark-Dwellers is both a good card and a personal favourite of mine, which I fear makes me a bit biased.

The problem is that a lot of the time your first opportunity to play is on an empty board and it happens that you don’t have Live Fast in the yard and either no Doomfall or the opponent has no cards in hand. Glorybringer is often fine to jam on an empty board, though it is true that removal can answer it cleanly compared to the goblins.

There are also situations where the opponent has 2 or more creatures and you can’t really afford to exert it to kill one of them leaving you tapped out and defenseless, where goblins can both kill a creature and stay back to block.

What Glorybringer excels at, which I initially underrated, is end games, and while the goblins are also hard to block, 4 flying haste power is a big deal. Hopefully further testing will give me a clearer indication of which way to lean (if any).

I think we should have the aggressive decks covered by now so let me finish with the two other decks I would expect to face: UR(x) control and RG Ramp. Both are going to be very tough game 1 (maybe you should even move the Doomfalls out of the main and just concede game 1 to be even more sure to crush aggro.

But you still have a shot against control since they have a lot of useless removal, so maybe they are fine). Against control, hope to draw as little removal as possible outside of the stuff that kills Torrential Gearhulk; it is possible to just run them out of wincons. You have value creatures, discard and planeswalkers so you can come out on top if you pace your spells properly. Try to hold on to your discard until you can play it and a threat the same turn to overwhelm their mana.

Post board we get even more discard and a new favorite of mine; Dreamstealer. This is a nightmare for them. They have to spend a removal spell on it the first time around and when it comes back they can’t even block it with gearhulk so it’s a guaranteed two for one and if they don’t kill either half, they pretty much just lose on the spot. I haven’t played against ramp yet but it looks rough.

You only have 3 Doomfall that really do anything game 1 and unless you can snipe their only Hour of Promise, it don’t know how you win game 1. You get to bring in more discard along with a Lost Legacy, but it’s probably not enough to make it a good matchup overall. Ramp might pick up in popularity now and I will consider adding another Lost Legacy to the board in that case.

I really like this deck as it has a lot of play to it and a lot of room for innovation to the list. I just saw someone has 5-0’d a league with 4 Gifted Aetherborn instead of the siphoners. If I keep facing all aggro decks, that is a change very much worth considering. Give it a try if you like grinding, and let me know any ideas you have for the deck.

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Really? Control in modern?

I’m taking a break from standard this week so I have some time to get the new cards online and get some decks tested, but let me just say that I hadn’t seen the card Hour of Devastation until this week so that explains my color choices in the last article.

Now, you don’t really need white since devastation is just a better and cheaper revelation. For this week, I will talk about how I got my love of uw transferred to modern. I had been looking for a deck to play Sphinx’s Revelation in since it rotated out of standard, and when the eldrazi took over modern previous winter, the opportunity finally came. Supreme Verdict was an absolute beast in that format and while uw eldrazi was the best deck at the time uw control at least had a good eldrazi matchup.

After Eye of Ugin was banned modern became wide open again which, as we all know, is a poor sign for control mages. I briefly reconnected with the deck while preparing for the WMC but we didn’t spend that much time on it. Then came GP Copenhagen in late May with GP Las Vegas soon after and I took the opportunity to continue working on the deck. I have GP Birmingham coming up so I have been playing the deck a lot the last couple of months and while I’m no modern master (I didn’t even like the last Modern Masters set) I think I’ve gained a lot of insight into the deck that could be valuable to share.

The first question to answer is if you want to play Ancestral Vision or not. For a while, I thought it was about whether you wanted to be better against creature decks or combo decks since ancestral usually leads away from Wall of Omens and lots of planeswalkers, but now I think it’s just about card flow and consistency. Ancestral Vision is obviously a powerful card but oftentimes drawing three cards on turn 5 is just not as necessary as seeing an extra card or two on turns 3 and 4. You see, the real reason uw can be successful in modern is because of Supreme Verdict and white sideboard cards. You would think that modern having so many different archetypes that you can all realistically run into during a large tournament would make it impossible for control to succeed, but for the most part modern is all creature decks and decks that fold to various hate pieces backed by a counterspell and/or a verdict. This is quite a statement and should be looked into a bit more thoroughly. Let’s look at the decks presented in Reid Duke’s recent article on the modern metagame (https://www.channelfireball.com/articles/the-state-of-modern-july-2017/) and how uw stacks up against them. First, my current decklist:

UW Control by Anders Gotfredsen

Creatures (2)
Snapcaster Mage

Spells (33)
Path to Exile
Serum Visions
Spreading Seas
Wall of Omens
Blessed Alliance
Negate
Gideon of the Trials
Detention Sphere
Cryptic Command
Supreme Verdict
Jace, Architect of Thought
Leyline of Sanctity
Gideon Jura
Sphinx's Revelation
Lands (25)
Island
Plains
Celestial Colonnade
Flooded Strand
Hallowed Fountain
Tectonic Edge
Mystic Gate

Sideboard (15)
Leyline of Sanctity
Stony Silence
Spell Queller
Vendilion Clique
Rest in Peace
Dispel
Blessed Alliance
Jace, Architect of Thought
Elspeth, Sun's Champion
Grafdigger's Cage
Celestial Purge
Timely Reinforcements

At least one kid must dream of a
boogeyman that looks like this

Death’s Shadow:

The consensus best deck relies on its namesake and a few more 1 mana black threats backed by discard, Lilianas and cheap counters. They often can’t play out more than one threat at a time because of verdict and that means that pretty much all of our spells buy us at least one turn. The goal is to get to a point where you either run them out of threats or can remove their current one at the end of their turn so you can untap and say go with Cryptic Command up and a clear board (as is often the goal when you play a deck with Cryptic Command). Outside of that general plan we have some jokers like Gideon of the Trials (who is, ironically, still in the deck on a trial basis) and Spreading Seas.

Gideon shines here as, since they often only have one big guy in play, he can bubble it and force them to extend into verdict. He is also great at pressuring Liliana of the Veil and Liliana, the Last Hope varieties, and they pretty much can’t remove him without combat damage. Spreading Seas has gotten worse since most shadow players started including blue but it can still be quite useful to keep them from turn 3 Liliana and sometimes off black mana altogether. The matchup has gotten a bit harder compared to when it was Jund and the color swap is actually a big reason for cutting Ancestral Vision. Turn 1 suspend used to be pretty much gg but when they have the possibility of countering it turn 5 it can completely destroy the plan you had for the game.  On the bright side, some people have continued switching colors to include Lingering Souls. That seems like a bad thing for a control deck but it really just makes them slower and slow is good. Verdict is already often just a 1-for-1 so killing 2 or 4 tokens isn’t that much of a downgrade and if they just have 2 in play you can easily just take 2 damage for some turns. 

Maybe not format breaking anymore, but still quite gross

Eldrazi Tron:  I think I would actually rather play against the pre ban uw eldrazi deck than this since tron lands powering out Karn, Liberated and huge Walking Ballistas is pretty annoying. Chalice of the Void can also be a bitch but without ancestral, but at least you no longer actually get spells countered and you can stock up spells to cast when you finally draw a Detention Sphere. And now if they remove the sphere the chalices do nothing. You will lose some games to their nut draws, but so will every other deck in the format; there’s a reason it’s number two on the list. Verdict is sick here and so is Blessed Alliance. I used to have two Ceremonious Rejection in the board for this and regular tron and they are still in consideration. I saw Corey Burkhart had a Dismember in his list as another way of getting around chalice and I will give it a try at some point. Losing 4 life isn’t typically in a control decks best interests, though.

Are the rest of the creatures in modern finally catching up to the Lhurgoyf?

BGx: Liliana of the Veil is your main concern here as verdict deals with the rest of their deck. Often in the midgame, they will play a discard spell and take your verdict if you have one and then extend the board to kill you quickly. In this spot, it’s super important to have 4 verdicts so you have a good shot at finding one to stay in the game. Of course you can also just start the game with a Leyline of Sanctity in play and it’ll be smooth sailing. One interesting thing we realized in GP Las Vegas is that Abzan cannot beat a Rest in Peace on the board. Their threats are Grim Flayer, Tarmogoyf, Lingering Souls and Scavenging Ooze (sometimes a Siege Rhino will sneak in as well but that is manageable to put it mildly) and it’s pretty intuitive for them to board out Abrupt Decay. All these matchups usually go the same way; either you win easily or the games are very close and interesting (and often winnable), can’t ask for more in a matchup. 

Collected Company:  The infinite combo with Kitchen Finks and Viscera Seer have added another infinite combo and it’s a doozy. I can’t figure out if this is a good matchup but I know it was bad when I played Ancestral Vision. Supreme Verdict should be lights out since it is more creature based than any of the previous decks but Kitchen Finks, Eternal Witness and especially Selfless Spirit give them a lot of counterplay to it. I try to always save a Path to Exile for the spirit and after board Rest in Peace helps out against the other two while Grafdigger’s Cage handles finks along with Collected Company and Chord of Calling. Wall and the extra planeswalkers are definitely better here than vision was but I’m not sure if it’s enough to turn it around. Also note that this is the first matchup where Leyline of Sanctity isn’t good. The elves and humans company decks have far less resilience in the face of verdict and play out pretty much as you’d expect a creature deck against a control deck to do. 

A noncreature spell you’re happy to see; it means creatures en masse

Hatebears:  Maybe I was a bit too brash above saying you’re happy to see Aether Vial. If they play it turn one, there is a good chance I’ll Detention Sphere it turn 3 if I can, since it takes a lot of the oomph out of Supreme Verdict. Nevertheless, the rest of the deck is all creatures and aside from vial they have very little counterplay to verdict. They basically have to keep you from casting it with Leonin Arbiter and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. The black versions have discard spells to help out, but it’s still a fine and fairly straightforward matchup. Note that Ancestral Vision is a big liability against the black versions since Wasteland Strangler can eat it from suspense. 

Affinity is easy, isn’t it?

Affinity:  Great matchup! If you have a Path to Exile and a verdict they can’t win. There is only one Stony Silence in the board because you simply don’t need help here. Spreading Seas takes out their womanlands (#feminism #landswithher) and verdict handles the rest. Remember to board in Celestial Purge for Blood Moon and Ghirapur Aether Grid. 

Valakut, meet Leyline of Sanctity

Scapeshift:  It took 7 spots before we got to a deck where Supreme Verdict isn’t good. While Leyline of Sanctity is good against some of the other decks on the list, this is why there is one in the maindeck. It has picked up a lot online recently and it can be very hard to win without leyline. They have turn 4 Primeval Titan more often than you Cryptic Command for it (especially when you factor in that you can’t counter their turn 4 titan if they’re on the play) and killing the titan after it has found 2 Valakuts still means that almost all their cards deal you 6. Spreading Seas helps but if they play turn 4 titan it’s rare that you can kill it and seas both Valakuts. If you have leyline, everything changes. Now their deck is a 2 mana 1/1 and a 6 mana 6/6 also known as complete crap. Post board they get a Reclamation Sage and maybe some Nature’s Claims that you have to be aware of along with some more random creatures like Obstinate Baloth that shouldn’t cause any problems. 

There’s always that one guy…

Burn:  I hate this deck so very much and I can’t wait to cast Oketra’s Last Mercy against it. Right now I’m relying on 2 Timely Reinforcements and to a lesser extent 2 Blessed Alliance and it’s not something I look forward to. I don’t think the matchup is unfavored beyond 40-60 but it’s just never comfortable. You struggle and struggle to stay alive and then at some point they either scoop or draw enough burn to kill you. And of course there are games where you just get demolished by turn 3, and games where they can’t remove you leyline. 

Control:  I can’t say too much about this specific mirror match since a lot of the times I face it online, my opponent concedes the match after or during game I don’t get it, why would you pick a grindy control deck if you don’t want to play grindy games? There are a lot of different control decks out there, some with more planeswalkers, some with Ancestral Vision, some with more creatures, some with Esper Charm (that card is a beating against us), but overall I would say be patient and try to keep making land drops. It’s often the first player who taps out in his turn that loses. And play quickly!

Keeping players honest since 1994

Blood Moon decks:  We’re already scraping the bottom of the barrel here but it is important to know if a Blood Moon could be coming when you’re fetching in the early turns. There are 10 basics so it’s not that good against us but if you fetch two Hallowed Fountains without thinking about it you can still lose. The rest of the decks are usually on the slower side and Cryptic Command can take the day against them. 

You don’t want to face this guy

Dedicated Combo:  Well, at least we have a sideboard, right… Storm is the most prevalent right now, which is good because path and verdict still have some use there. Ad Nauseam; not so much, and the chances of you being able to cast more counterspells than they have Pact of Negation are slim. Stony Silence is good but the other hate pieces don’t do anything. Gideon of the Trials can help but I would still hate to face this matchup. Let’s focus on storm as it’s the only one I’ve actually face since Vegas (I guess discard spells and one mana 8/8’s are not what Ad Nauseam excels against). Martin Müller recently told me that you should wait on your removal spell for their electromancer until in response to Gifts Ungiven, and you probably should more often than you do now. If they go for it on turn 3, path in response to gifts is likely to mess them up but they often won’t against 3 open mana from a blue deck. If they stick an electromancer, the most likely way to lose is to double Grapeshot, but even without their spells being cheaper, Gifts Ungiven end of turn can get them enough spells to go off. Again, leyline is lights out game one, and game two you get an extra along with 3 graveyard “removal” spells. Don’t give them an opening for Echoing Truth and keep some number of Jaces/verdicts to deal with Empty the Warrens and you’ll be fine. 

Other: The other decks I feel are worth mentioning are Dredge, Living End and Lantern. Dredge is near impossible game 1 and post board you rely on the 3 graveyard hate pieces. It matters a lot here that Golgari Grave-Troll is gone since they are a lot less explosive so you don’t have to have the hate turn 2; turn 4-5 followed by a verdict can be fine. Living End is a bit strange because on the one hand, you have more verdicts than they have Living Ends but they can kill turn 4 on the play and they have 8 land destruction spells to keep you from 4 mana. Remember that not only does Grafdigger’s Cage not stop Living End, it also doesn’t prevent cascade (which I may or may not have learned the hard way recently). Finally, we have Lantern, and it’s a slaughter. I don’t know how you’re supposed to ever beat them since you give them so much time that they can overcome whatever disruption you throw their way. They can quickly start controlling your draw step but at that point you’re probably dead no matter what you draw. If you really want to beat it, I guess you can play more Stony Silence but I don’t think it’s worth the slots and you’re probably still a huge underdog. 

Almost forgot, you’ll always face a regular tron player. This one is all about Spreading Seas and Tectonic Edge trying to buy you time to get enough lands in play that you can counter their big spells and not be devastated by the cast trigger on Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. As with eldrazi tron you will lose some games to their nut draws, but have a favorable matchup overall. 

Right now, I am leaning towards no Ancestral Vision, but I plan on trying a list with one or two in it. Other than that, I am quite pleased with the list and am mostly looking at minor tweaks as I get more games in with slightly different cards. Go now and enjoy making your opponents feel miserable and helpless, the way Magic was intended.

What can we get banned next?

Welcome back, I hope you enjoyed the Grand Prix Las Vegas either on stream or in person, it was a great celebration of all things Magic, and I hope they do more events like it. While I didn’t get any of the results I was hoping for, it was still an awesome week filled with gambling, drinking, great food and great friends. What more could you ask for?

Now that I’m back, it’s time to head back into standard. The format is a lame duck as far as I know with no more competitive events before Hour of Devastation but the format has already been explored quite a bit after the latest banning. Since I don’t think Hour of Devastation has any cards that will spawn a standard dominating deck, it can be useful look at this metagame and maybe find some new cards that can be part of a deck that can exploit it. The big dog right now seems to be temur energy and it’s not going anywhere, but it is very beatable if you want to. It’s just a bunch of good creatures, some Harnessed Lightnings and some Chandra, Torch of Defiance. Just be careful not to rely on just tons of spot removal, since Rogue Refiner and Tireless Tracker will have you for breakfast. You have to have counterspells if you want to outgrind these cards.

The real glue of both Saheeli and Marvel decks

This would point us in the direction of a control deck but beware, because the scourge of control decks is still lurking out there:

Lands (24)
Aether Hub
Concealed Courtyard
Inspiring Vantage
Irrigated Farmland
Needle Spires
Plains
Spire of Industry
Spirebluff Canal

Spells (16)
Aethersphere Harvester
Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
Harnessed Lightning
Heart of Kiran
Metallic Rebuke
Unlicensed Disintegration

Creatures (20)
Scrapheap Scrounger
Spell Queller
Thraben Inspector
Toolcraft Exemplar
Veteran Motorist
Sideboard (15)
Anguished Unmaking
Ceremonious Rejection
Chandra, Torch of Defiance
Cut // Ribbons
Fumigate
Metallic Rebuke
Nahiri, the Harbinger
Needle Spires
Release the Gremlins

This list just finished 7-1 in the standard portion of the StarCityGames Invitational in the hands of Corey Guild, and it is a nightmare to be reactive against. 1-drops, resilient 2-drops, a must answer 4-drop and even counterspells?! The only upside is that it isn’t that widely played because it doesn’t match up that favorably against temur and bg energy, and because the manabase causes some inconsistency (I hope. If that manabase doesn’t get you in trouble, then no one would ever play anything but 5 color decks).

Last of our targets we have gb energy and/or delirium. Aggro decks built around Winding Constrictor with the ability to grind with cards like Tireless Tracker, Nissa, Voice of Zendikar and Ob Nixilis Reignited. That is actually the theme of all these decks; they are capable of some very aggressive starts but have enough resiliency and raw power that they can win long games as well. At first, I focused too much on the grindy aspects and thought I could go over the top with a gw delirium deck that had Fumigate, Descend upon the Sinful and Ishkanah, Grafwidow to buy time and then Ulvenwald Hydra into Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger to finish. The problem was, as you might have sensed, that I would often be dead before I could cast my sweeper. I still haven’t given up on the idea but I think a third color is needed to shore up the early game.

The reason I mention the gw deck despite it’s lack of success is that there are multiple upgrades coming next week: Hour of Promise and Hour of Revelation. Hour of Promise gives you turn 6 Ulamog by itself since it can fetch 2 Shrine of the Forsaken Gods. If you play either mono green or just one support color, chances are you can play some deserts to not only enable Hour of Promise but also some of the strong colorless cards from Oath of the Gatewatch. Hour of Revelation is a strict upgrade over Planar Cleansing and one of the problems I frequently faced was pressure from creatures, planeswalkers and/or vehicles at the same time.

The downside is that you can’t rely on having permanents in play so stuff like Corrupted Grafstone and Cast Out will probably have to hit the bench. That sounds like it’s worth it to me though and I think Hour of Revelation will be a big player in standard. It may actually prove my initial statement, that the new set won’t push new decks into the top tier, wrong.

 

There has already been some uw control decks popping up here and there including from Gabriel Nassif (https://www.channelfireball.com/articles/control-is-viable-in-standard-and-it-crushes-energy-decks/). He has been playing uw in modern for a while now and seems to be forcing it a bit so we shouldn’t necessarily take his word for it. More importantly, uw is getting another new card that could quietly be the most important card in the set: Supreme Will. Mana Leak and Impulse would both be very playable in Standard and I’m not sure that paying one more mana to get to choose between them is noticeably worse (in an aggro/tempo deck Mana Leak would be much better but in a purely reactive deck Supreme Will could be better). A lot of the shard and wedge charms were very good in standard despite only two of the modes being used the vast majority of the time so having it be mono colored and having only two useable modes is a fine deal, especially when one of the modes is straight up card selection. I’m thinking a list along these lines:

(35)
Supreme Will
Hour of Revelation
Censor
Essence Scatter
Negate
Glimmer of Genius
Torrential Gearhulk
Hieroglyphic Illumination
Disallow
Fumigate
Immolating Glare
Blessed Alliance
Kefnet the Mindful

While I would love for this deck to be great, there is a glaring hole; the early removal. With Supreme Will decreasing the need for double blue on turn 3, maybe we could test the limits of our mana?

(60)
Supreme Will
Hour of Revelation
Harnessed Lightning
Censor
Magma Spray
Glimmer of Genius
Torrential Gearhulk
Fumigate
Kozilek's Return
Hieroglyphic Illumination
Disallow
Kefnet the Mindful
Essence Scatter
Negate
Irrigated Farmland
Inspiring Vantage
Spirebluff Canal
Aether Hub
Mountain
Island
Plains

This manabase is on the surface quite a ways off from Frank Karsten’s recommendations but with so much cycling and card selection I’m willing to give it a try. I’m more worried about how we’re actually going to win the game. You have sweepers that kill your own gearhulks but I imagine that will possible to plan around, it’s more about how reliably Kefnet can win the game; Hour of Glory might see play but probably not too much and you should be able to counter the one copy they might have. It does suck that he is a win condition that does pretty much stone nothing until he starts winning the game, although if you play him turn 3 on the draw, your opponent can’t really play a planeswalker so there is that. I look forward to trying it out.

If a god can’t win the game, then what is even the point of gods?

One last point is the cool things you can do with your sideboard; Spell Queller has been a staple in uw control sideboards for a while but now we also get Nimble Obstructionist allowing us to be really annoying for any slower deck when they have to decide how much removal to keep in. Maybe we even go up to include a couple of Archangel Avacyn. Other than that I have really been impressed with Shielded Aether-Thief in the Marvel sideboard and while we don’t produce near as much energy here, we also have far less ways to spend it. We can round out with some cheap counterspells and maybe a few extra sweepers.

I always hope uw control will be great in the new format and this time is no different. Will Supreme Will and Hour of Revelation be enough to finally get there? Am I insane for not having any Pull from Tomorrow in the lists? Should there be planeswalkers even despite Hour of Revelation? Let me know what you think in the comments.