Working with Theory

Magic is a game of nearly infinite possibilities–even in a format as small as standard there more possible card interactions than can be categorized easily, which makes sufficient  playtesting a near-impossibility.  Actually testing every reasonable variation of every viable deck against each other is something even the pros don’t have time to do, and even that doesn’t cover playtesting the sideboard possibilities.

Instead of trying to complete the Sisyphean task of playing every deck against every other, playtest time should be spent trying to gather broader pieces of information.  For example, if I were testing UW Control against UR Twin I wouldn’t bother playing set ten game sets with every UW list I have seen recently against every UR Twin list I had come across–that would take far more time than is available and would not cover the other, similar, matchups such was UWR Control against URW Twin, or UB Control against URB Twin, and so on.  While playtesting, I instead look at the matchup as a blue-based control deck against a deck featuring the Deceiver Exarch-Splinter Twin combo as its main win condition.  By broadening the scope like this it becomes easier to focus on the big picture and gather information that can be applied to more decks.  In this case I might note that the Ux Control deck does not have many significant threats for less than five or six mana, which makes applying meaningful pressure to the combo deck difficult, which gives the combo deck enough time to sculpt a hand and board state that should give it the chance it needs to push through.  It may also be learned that the combo deck is susceptible to a variety of hate cards such as Torpor Orb or Spell Skite, and that it can answer these with Shatter, Into the Roil, or (in the ‘Skite’s case), Twisted Image.

These gems are all true no matter what the exact flavor of the control deck or the colors in the combo deck–Torpor Orb must be answered by the combo deck before it can win whether playing UWB or UG control, and Shatter and Into the Roil can deal with the Orb without caring whether the combo is wrapped in a URG Birthing Pod shell, a discard heavy URB build, or any other possibility.  Once enough information about how the cards interact in a broad sense it is easy to apply that information to deckbuilding, even if there is little time between the final build and the start of the tournament.  If I were considering playing a blue-based control deck I would know to want something that would let me apply pressure to the combo deck that didn’t require me to tap out and could look at something like Vampire Nighthawk, Beast Within, or perhaps avoid the deck entirely if no suitable card could be found.  Looking at a combo deck for the tournament, I would know that a backup plan in case Torpor Orbs and Dismembers are out in abundance is required, or else significant counter-hate.

The point is: don’t try to play every variation of every deck against each other, that’s a fool’s errand.  Instead learn the broad strokes about how the matchup works and then use that information to build your own deck for the tournament.

With that in mind, I have several lists with a significant amount of theory and exactly zero playtesting behind them for you:

BG Persecutor

4 Beast Within

4 Abyssal Persecutor

3 Grave Titan

2 Vampire Nighthawk

4 Inquisition of Kozilek

3 Bloodhusk Ritualist

4 Explore

4 Lotus Cobra

4 Go for the Throat

3 Sword of War and Peace

4 Verdant Catacombs

4 Misty Rainforest

4 Creeping Tar Pit

1 Island

2 Terramorphic Expanse

5 Forest

5 Swamp

For Standard, the expected decks at this point are Mono Red, Deceiver Exarch-Splinter Twin combo in various shells, UW control, and Valakut.  There are of course other decks that may see play, but those are the pillars–if you are OK against those you will probably be OK against the rest, because they are similar.

RDW and Valakut will both have inevitability on their side.  As the game continues to infinity their chances of winning go up because they will eventually draw enough Lightning Bolts or Valakuts and Mountains to deal twenty damage, which puts control decks in an awkward position.  They are trying to control the game until the later stage of the game so their card advantage and more powerful spells can take over the game, but they then have to win before the game continues to go on so long that the inevitability of these decks begins to show.  Against these decks I wanted something to show some amount of resistance while still attacking them aggressively, which meant Abyssal Persecutor.

The earliest builds of UB with Abyssal Persecutor were less than thrilling because they had to play cards that no one would be interested in playing normally to deal with the drawback, like Consuming Vapors.  Putting in bad cards to answer your own Persecutor is not a recipe for success.  In today’s metagame this isn’t such an issue–we have Go for the Throat and Beast Within to play with.  Both of these cards are excellent for maindeck use in today’s metagame and are also excellent ways to dispose of your own Persecutor.  With a full eight ways to kill off the Persecutor when the opponent has been reduced to negative life finding an answer at the appropriate time should not be difficult.

Bloodhusk Ritualist is a potentially devastating bear that has never seen much attention.  Conley Woods attempted to brew with the Ritualist for a short time before PT Paris but abandoned the idea after CawBlade was unchained.  While excellent against counter-light control decks and Valakut, the Ritualist was not as well suited to the demands of a Stoneforge-centric arena.  With CawBlade banned into oblivion, however, it may be poised to make a comeback.  The Bloodhusk Ritualist can turn a game singlehandedly, stripping away an opponent’s entire hand and leaving you with a dominating board position.  Explore and Lotus Cobra can combine to allow the Ritualist to be kicked to ridiculous levels surprisingly early in the game.

The Creeping Tar Pits look off and may not be worth the stretch, but with only six lands entering the battlefield tapped it shouldn’t adversely affect the mana base too much, and Creeping Tar Pit is still the best thing to do with black mana, Jace TMS or no Jace TMS.  Their appeal also goes up significantly once I realized there were very few fliers that are seeing play at the moment, which makes Swords in a deck with flying creatures an interesting possibility.

BUG Persecutor

4 Beast Within

4 Abyssal Persecutor

3 Consecrated Sphinx

4 Augury Owl

4 Lotus Cobra

4 Explore

4 Go for the Throat

1 Doom Blade

3 Sword of War and Peace

4 Preordain

4 Creeping Tar Pit

4 Darkslick Shores

2 Drowned Catacomb

4 Misty Rainforest

4 Verdant Catacombs

1 Swamp

3 Forest

3 Island

While the previous deck looked to attack an opponent’s hand to remove their options and finish the game quickly, this would play out more like a traditional RUG list.  It can explode with an early Lotus Cobra draw, or play an almost control game by taking a longer game plan and running the opponent out of resources.  Gone is the hand disruption, and in its place are Preordains and Augury Owls for card advantage and selection.  Swapping out Grave Titan for Consecrated Sphinx is another change that has significant impact on how the deck will play out–its not just changing out one six-drop fatty for another.  Grave Titan’s job is to make they opponent cast a Go for the Throat or Day of Judgment within the next two turns (at most) or lose.  They either have the answer, win on their turn, or are dead.  The Consecrated Sphinx doesn’t hit nearly as hard in terms of life points, instead attacking on the card advantage front.  Creating a minimum of two 2/2 Zombies is certainly worth at least one card, but the Spinx’s ability to draw steady stream of cards can put put away a game in a hurry.

Mono Blue

4 Everflowing Chalice

4 Wurmcoil Engine

4 Batterskull

3 Torpor Orb

4 Preordain

4 Into the Roil

2 Vapor Snag

2 Blue Sun’s Zenith

4 Jace Beleren

4 Mana Leak

3 Dread Statuary

4 Inkmoth Nexus

4 Tectonic Edge

14 Island

There’s not much I enjoy as much as a good Mono Blue Brew.  The biggest problem with Mono Blue is a weakness to quick, aggressive decks, but with a full count of both Wurmcoils and Batterskulls that can hopefully be overcome against decks like Boros after Vapor Snag and Into the Roil buy you a turn or two.  MonoRed is still probably an unwinnable matchup, at least game one, if they are playing a plethora of burn spells.  The more creatures MonoRed lists are playing to get around opposing Leyline of Sanctitys the better as that will force them to interact on the battlefield, where this deck would have a chance to fight back.

Torpor Orb is a currently-underrated gem that shuts down the Exarch-Twin combo, turns Valakut into a bad beatdown deck, and turns off most of the cute things Birthing Pod decks are trying to accomplish.

If the UW and Valakut decks successfully hate out the Vampires and MonoRed decks then something like this could be quite viable, but at the moment its weaknesses to aggressive strategies will probably keep it from being truly competitive.

Mono Blue-ish

4 Energy Field

4 Helm of Obedience

4 Leyline of the Void

4 Force of Will

4 Ancestral Visions

4 Brainstorm

4 Jace, the Mind Sculptor

3 Spell Snare

4 Mental Misstep

2 Vedalken Shackles

1 Crucible of Worlds

4 Underground Sea

4 Polluted Delta

3 Wasteland

3 Mishra’s Factory

2 Ancient Tomb

6 Island

On to the format of kings, Legacy!

The recent printing of Mental Misstep has let true control decks back into the format as a second answer, beyond Force of Will, to many of the powerful first turn plays that traditionally kept control decks out of competition such as Goblin Lackey, Sensei’s Divining Top, or Aether Vial.  After Gerry T, Drew Levin and co. ran the tables with a UW control list that featured Standstill to gain card advantage after stopping their initial assault with Mental Misstep and Swords to Plowshares players flocked to it, leading to the adoption of a Stoneforge Mystic package to trump the mirror.  A Stoneforge in play on the other side of the table with a Batterskull or Sword of Body and Mind in hand makes casting a Standstill a poor option and makes a mockery of much of the removal while also invalidating most of the counterspells.

This brew aims squarely at the UW Stoneforge decks without (hopefully) conceding to the rest of the field.  This list can go toe-to-toe with the control side of the UW decks as it has nearly as many counterspells as they do and retains the Wasteland/Mishra’s Factory/ Crucible of Worlds package so it can fight on the Win-With-Lands front, while also trumping the opponent’s plans with the Energy Field/Leyline of the Void combo and multiple Vedalken Shackles.  Oh, and it has a two card combo that wins the game in Leyline of the Void/Helm of Obidience for after you’ve locked up the game, too.

Thanks for reading,

Brook Gardner-Durbin

@BGardnerDurbin on twitter

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Posted on July 8, 2011, in Articles, Extras. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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