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.

Hidden Gems in Modern

Today I want to talk about some cards that see too little play in my opinion. Sometimes people are very rigid in their deckbuilding and are too afraid to innovate. Or maybe they need to see a certain card make four or five top 8’s before they try it out them selves. Tons of things factor in when it comes to deckbuilding, and Magic players are usually on the safe side of things. So losen up the tight belt, ride along and live a little – at least with me in this article!

Can be played in: Blue/White Control, Blue Moon, Ad Nauseam

I played Standard back when Force Spike was legal and enjoy the threat of Daze in Legacy. Do you play your best threat every turn to optimize your potential or do you respect the Force Spike effect? A lot of interesting gameplay comes up with a card like this in the format.

It’s a normal strategy to sideboard out Daze on the draw in Legacy, but the opponent will always have to respect it to some degree. In Legacy you can pitch Daze to Force of Will or Brainstorm it back with a fetchland, while the Force Spike sometimes didn’t have a use besides being cast in early 2000’s Standard.

The point I’m getting at is that Censor has cycling for the cheap cost of one blue mana, so if you can’t counter your opponents threat on curve, you can easily cash it in for another card. Countering opposing turn two plays on the play and turn 3 plays on the draw is likely the most frequent use of Censor. Liliana of the Veil, Thought-Knot Seer and Karn Liberated come to mind, but even something like four-mana planeswalkers, Primeval Titan and Gifts Ungiven are realistic targets. And if they have mana to spare, just draw your card and move on.

It would likely replace Mana Leak – a card that is useful to cast in more scenarios, but also lose value in long games or against weary opponents. In Ad Nauseam Censor will act as a cantrip that maybe 20% of the time is able to counter something from the opponent. Liliana of the Veil and Thought-Knot Seer are your best targets, but Collected Company and Chord of Calling are pretty nice to prevent from happening in that matchup. It also gives you the ability to beat Abrupt Decay with your Laboratory Maniac kill, as you can cycle in response.

Can be played in: Bant Eldrazi, Eldrazi Tron, Blue Tron

The die roll is really important in Modern and Magic in general, and a bunch of games will be determined by it throughout any given tournament. Did I get to suspend my Ancestral Vision before my opponent snatched it with an Inquisition of Kozilek?

Did I get to play my Anger of the Gods before my opponent untapped with Steel Overseer?

Did I play first and won the TitanShift mirror because I was one turn faster? I’m sure you get the picture. With Gemstone Caverns in your deck (you should play 1-2 copies if you play it), you’re basically trying to flip the script whenever you’re on the draw. With you drawing an extra card for the turn opposed to your opponent who actually won the die roll, you have more resources to work with and the exile clause is less damaging. From here you can go turn one Chalice of the Void, turn two Thought-Knot Seer if you have an Eldrazi Temple or hold up Remand turn before depending on which of the decks you’re playing.

The reason why I only included decks with a lot of colorless cards in them is that the flipside of Gemstone Caverns is if you actually win the dieroll (or draw into it on a later turn), then the land must be acceptable to draw. I’m always excited when I win the die roll vs. these decks, but if they all of a sudden have a Gemstone Caverns, I’m back to being nervous again.

Can be played in: Blue/White Control

This card has definitely seen the most play out of the three, but I feel it should be seeing way more play right now. The double white cost limits it to only a few decks with Blue/White Control being the only true tier 1 deck, so I’ll focus on that today. In a deck also playing Cryptic Command, it’s very important that your manabase can support both double white and triple blue.

The easy fix is Mystic Gate which lets you filter both ways. Mystic Gate is not very good with a lot of combined copies of Tectonic Edge and Ghost Quarter, however, so you shouldn’t play more than four colorless lands if you include two Mystic Gate. Now that we established the means to play Runed Halo, let’s dive into its utility in the format. I like Runed Halo out of the sideboard, but depending on your number of available slots between the main deck and sideboard, I could also see my self playing a copy or two in my starting 60.

It’s particularly good against decks with a low number of threats on the table like Death’s Shadow, Bogles and Eldrazi variants. Ironically, these are also the decks that have a difficult time getting rid of the enchantment. Eidolon of the Great Revel vs. Burn, Walking Ballista vs. Eldrazi Tron, Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle vs. TitanShift and Conflagrate vs. Dredge are other strong cards to name.

Remember, the default mode on this card is naming a creature on your opponents side of the board, and not only do you shut down that creature, but you also shut down all future copies of that card that your opponent draws. Of course it will be lackluster vs. various Collected Company decks, Affinity and Control matchups, but its overall utility warrants at least a few sideboard slots in my book.

I actually like this topic a lot, so I would be interested in hearing your candidates for “hidden gems” in Modern! 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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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.

Standard

Why Standard is not (that) bad at all.

Editorial Note: 13. June 2017. Aetherworks Marvel is out.

Hi folks. My name is Anders and I’m here to talk about standard, and before you close this tab let me tell you that it is not as messed up as the internet mob will have you believe. Let’s take a look at what people say is wrong with standard:

1: Turn 4 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger is unbeatable. This is true, but there are two things to consider; it doesn’t happen that often but it is of course not a good thing for magic when it does; and there are ways to stop it from happening, mainly censor and negate. I have played Marvel since the Pro Tour and it is very rare in the mirror to face a 10/10 library eater on turn 4. And the games without turn 4 Ulamog are great games of magic. It is very similar to the copycat mirror but I think actually more fun because turn 3 Saheeli on the play was much harder to stop and put the opponent in a terrible spot. Now you at least have Censor which does great work in slowing things down and letting both players play magic.

2: Marvel decks are pushing everything else out of the format. That’s just not true. There were 3 GP’s last weekend and 8 of the 24 top 8 decks were Marvel with only one in each non-american GP. The top 8’s featured several different archetypes beyond Marvel with UW flash winning Manila and GB constrictor winning Amsterdam against UR control in the finals.

3: Playing Aetherworks Marvel is a lottery, takes the skill out of playing. In the case of turn 4 Ulamog, yes very little skill is involved, but plenty of decks have nut draws where the deck basically plays itself. Turn 2 Constrictor, turn 3 Rishkar isn’t that hard of a line to see and that has won plenty of games. As soon as we leave nutdraw territory though, Marvel is quite intricate to play, especially the mirror and UR. I played it in Grand Prix Amsterdam myself and lost at least two rounds because I missed a tricky line of play. Stuff like when to leave up and play around Censor, how to manage your energy reserve, and even when to hardcast Ulamog can be difficult. Against UR control for example you should not play Ulamog into a counterspell unless they have 2 threats in play to remove. Against RG Energy aggro I won a game because I Harnessed Lightninged their turn 2 Longtusk Cub and spent 0 energy. I’m not saying these are top pro plays but they are not exactly intuitive either.

This standard is all fine This standard format is all fine

Now, I am not going to tell you that I don’t think Marvel is the best deck but you can easily choose another archetype and be successful. Since I don’t think Marvel will be banned it makes sense to talk about the deck to help you learn how to play it. First, let’s find a list to play and I don’t see a better starting point than Brad Nelson’s winning list from Grand Prix Omaha:

Temur Aetherworks by Brad Nelson

Creatures (8)
Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
Rogue Refiner

Spells (52)
Chandra, Flamecaller
Attune with Aether
Censor
Dissenter’s Deliverance
Glimmer of Genius
Harnessed Lightning
Negate
Aetherworks Marvel
Woodweaver’s Puzzleknot
Aether Hub
Botanical Sanctum
Cinder Glade
Forest
Island
Lumbering Falls
Mountain
Shrine of the Forsaken Gods
Spirebluff Canal
Sideboard: (15)
Negate
Shrine of the Forsaken Gods
Aether Meltdown
Confiscation Coup
Dispel
Radiant Flames
Tireless Tracker
Ulvenwald Hydra

What a masterpiece! I love how streamlined the maindeck is for maximizing Marvel. Most other people were fiddling around with Whirler Virtuosos, Gearhulks, maindeck Tireless Tracker and such. I even shaved a Woodweaver’s Puzzleknot. Paul Dean and Brad Nelson realized that game one is about Marvel -> Ulamog against basically everything but UR control. After sideboard, most everyone will have ways to deal with Marvel so they just went straight for hardcasting Ulamog with a third Shrine of the Forsaken Gods and Ulvenwald Hydra. Getting a guaranteed 2 mana towards Ulamog along with the biggest creature on the battlefield is great in the mirror and not getting hit by Negate is great against the way most blue decks are set up against Marvel.

It also seems great against Spell Queller decks. I played a single Oblivion Sower in the main to help hardcast Ulamog and I’m not sure which I like better. Hydra is better if you can count on it resolving, but I like Sower better against UR and if more people play Disallow in the mirror (I had one in the board and a few of my mirror opponents did as well). My choice for next week would be a split with Hydra main and Sower in the board. I would assume that most Marvel lists will contain Hydra for the next few weeks so would like 2 Disallows after board.

I’m not that high on Confiscation Coup and I’m not sure about Dispel vs. Negate. Dispel is almost only for forcing through your own stuff and countering things like Chandra, Torch of Defiance in the mirror can be paramount. I’d go for just one Dispel for now. Tireless Tracker is in a weird spot right now. It’s obviously a great value machine to have in play but Censor means it’s not a guaranteed two for one on turn four and if your opponent untaps and plays Marvel you can be in big trouble. It’s still great against UR, and also on the play against stuff like UW since you can run it out on turn 3 and they have almost no way of removing it.

The last contentious spots for me are Dissenter’s Deliverance, Radiant Flames and Chandra, Flamecaller. We have seen Manglehorn and Sweltering Sun’s take their place in other lists but I like Brad and Paul’s choices more. Deliverance can be played main unlike Manglehorn, freeing up sideboard space without subtracting too much from your game 1 plan. I had cut Deliverance because I wanted to deal with Marvel on the stack but Deliverance is a great card against Vehicles and they did well enough last weekend to expect it for the foreseeable future.

Sweltering Sun’s could also be in the main (although cycling 3 is obviously harder to find time for) and it can be hit off Marvel. On the other hand, with all these Shrine of the Forsaken Gods (and I would like another Island for Disallow) double red is not trivial, and if you need a sweeper, you most likely need it early. More importantly, Zombies have taken massive beatings since the Pro Tour and they are pretty much the reason for running 3 mana sweepers so there’s actually an argument for cutting them. Big Chandra also loses a lot of luster with the decline of zombies. I’ve talked to several players who cited the 0 ability as a great way to turn dead Ulamogs into real cards but hardcasting Ulamog is becoming a larger and larger part of the game plan and in the mirror you often can’t afford to discard copies of him. She is still a powerful card and good at pressuring planeswalkers so I’m looking to play one for now. Here is the list I would play if I was playing this weekend:

Temur Aetherworks by Anders Gotfredsen

Creatures (8)
Rogue Refiner
Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger

Spells (52)
Attune with Aether
Censor
Dissenter’s Deliverance
Glimmer of Genius
Harnessed Lightning
Negate
Aetherworks Marvel
Woodweaver’s Puzzleknot
Ulvenwald Hydra
Chandra, Flamecaller
Aether Hub
Botanical Sanctum
Cinder Glade
Forest
Island
Mountain
Shrine of the Forsaken Gods
Spirebluff Canal
Sideboard: (15)
Negate
Disallow
Shrine of the Forsaken Gods
Shielded Aether-Thief
Dispel
Tireless Tracker
Oblivion Sower
Baral’s Expertise
Whirler Virtuoso

Whirler Virtuoso has made it back into the deck, this time in the board. I have replaced Radiant Flames with it because it has more utility against Vehicles and GB, both of which appear to be on the rise. They are joined by Baral’s Expertise which is the best card I could think of against GB and maybe there should be another one somewhere. Their creatures can get out of range of your sweepers pretty easily and Expertise doesn’t care how many counters are on them. Virtuoso also doesn’t care and both are great at buying time which is what the matchup is about to me.

Lastly, I’m playing Shielded Aether-Thief instead of Aether Meltdown. The only situation where Meltdown seems better is against flyers, notably Heart of Kiran, but we are already playing 3 Dissenter’s Deliverance and Aether-Thief has much higher upside. It is a lot better when you also have 3 damage sweepers but I still prefer it to the enchantment.

Today’s article has two main takeaways.

1: Standard isn’t all bad.

It has some bad aspects, but so do all other formats. There is diversity and a lot of great gameplay so no need to ban anything.

2: Be careful assuming that a metagame is solved.

Brad Nelson has done well in established metagames many times before by adding subtle twists to existing tier 1 decks. Maybe your Naya Planeswalker brew doesn’t have what it takes to compete but taking a successful deck and tweaking it to beat the metagame you’re expecting is a recipe for success. If you have a good reason for thinking a certain card of combination of cards are good in a popular matchup, don’t be afraid to pull the trigger just because no one else has done it yet.

Next week is GP’s Vegas which is sure to be completely awesome, wish me luck and good luck to everyone else going. I love to discuss magic so please comment with your opinions on any of the stuff I have talked about.