Saturday, September 18, 2010

Standard Deviations #1 - Goodbye Shards, Hello Scars! Part 1: "Every Word Means No" U/W Control

Hello everyone and welcome back to another edition of The Cardboard Witch; the blog that proves you don't have to be a jerk to be good at Magic.  While most of my recent posts have been about M11 Limited/Draft play today we're going to switch gears a little bit and talk about Standard (Type 2 for geezers like me) play.   For those of you unfamiliar with this format, the current "rules" for Standard can be found here:

Now before we continue it's probably only fair to warn you that I've only been playing Standard for about 2 months now after a 5+ year absence.  While I'm fairly good at Magic in general the simple truth is that familiarity with the current environment is one of the most important aspects of good constructed play and much like many of you reading this blog I'm most certainly "learning as I go".  Making matters a little more complicated; I jumped back into Standard just as M11 was being released but just before the Shards of Alara Block rotates out (October 1st).  It would ultimately take me about 6 weeks to feel comfortable saying I understood the current environment; leaving me with only a month to enjoy the benefits of that understanding!  Thankfully you can cram a lot of Magic into a month's time if you're a CCG-playing junkie with no social life outside of your Magic circle.  I've probably played well over 300 games this past month, including one epic 4 day weekend where I estimate I was averaging 25 games a day.  During these games I have to confess to having an insane amount of fun with the environment overall; probably a byproduct of being blissfully unaware of the dreaded "Year of Jund" that burnt most players out on Shards era Standard.  Unfortunately all good things must come to and end and like the rest of the Magic card-flipping world I'm eagerly anticipating the arrival of Scars of Mirrodin even though it means saying goodbye to an environment I'm enjoying so much.

With that having been said then please allow me to share with you the decklists I have been playing in the post M11/pre Scars of Mirrodin Standard environment.  While ultimately most of these decks will change quite a bit after the rotation (and in some cases cease to exist) it's my hope that a basic breakdown of each deck can help us improve our deckbuilding skills overall.  By discussing what each deck was and wasn't good at dealing with we can help frame them in the context of the environment we're about to leave behind.  The truth is that Magic really doesn't change, and learning how to play a given decktype in a given environment absolutely does have value as those themes and decktypes will occur in future sets; often sooner than you think.

Deck # 1 - "Every Word Means No" - U/W Heavy Permission/Control:

Creatures - 6:

4x Wall of Omens
1x Frost Titan
1x Sun Titan

Instants and Sorceries - 20:

4x Path to Exile
4x Mana Leak
2x Negate
3x Cancel
3x Day of Judgement
2x Jace's Ingenuity
2x Traumatic Visions

Planeswalkers - 8:

4x Jace, the Mind Sculptor
2x Elspeth, Knight Errant
2x Gideon Jura

Lands - 26:
4x Celestial Colonnade
4x Glacial Fortress
2x Sejiri Refuge
5x Plains
5x Island
3x Tectonic Edge
1x Marsh Flats
1x Scalding Tarn
1x Terramorphic Expanse

Sideboard (15):
3x Celestial Purge
3x Flashfreeze
2x Negate
3x Oblivion Ring
1x Frost Titan
1x Sun Titan
1x Jace Beleren
1x Tectonic Edge

What it's good at: This deck absolutely destroys most creature based strategies.  Whether it be Red Deck Wins, Mythic Conscription, Bant Aggro, Boros or random theme decks (Vampires, Allies) it's very hard to wear this deck down with "random dorks".  4x Path to Exile, 4x Wall of Omens, 2x Gideon Jura, 2x Elspeth, Knight Errant and 3x Day of Judgement make for a pretty impenetrable defensive shield as far as attacking creatures are concerned.  In fact this deck is so good at handling most creatures I typically prefer not to spend countermagic on them; saving my Leaks/Cancels/Traumatic Visions for more dangerous and less controllable spells.  Additionally the inclusion of 11 maindeck counterspells makes this deck very strong against other Control decks and most types of Combo.  After all, it's hard to win a "counter" war when your opponent can match you Mana Leak for Mana Leak and then has 7 additional counters to throw into the mix.  The matchup against Combo becomes almost laughable once you identify which key cards you have to counter and then do so; a task that's considerably easier with 11 counters than with the standard package of 4x Mana Leak.  Finally of course any deck with 3x Tectonic Edges and a Sun Titan is going to excel against "special" land based strategies like Valakuut and Eldrazi Ramp (Eye of Ugin, Eldrazi Temple). 

What it's not good at: While it's true that this deck excels against most types of combo it's a massive game 1 underdog against good versions of Pyromancer's Ascension.  This is partially because you have no maindeck enchantment removal and partially because once cast Pyromancer's Ascension doesn't *care* if you counter your opponent's spells.  Not only does he still add tokens to the Ascension; he can still make copies of the countered spell once the Ascension is loaded up!  Obviously this match-up gets better after sideboarding but it's safe to say that if you're playing this deck you have no desire to play against Ascension combo decks all day.  Additionally the matchup against Fauna Shaman/Vengine based builds can be a little tricky; especially if you don't see your Path to Exiles.  Because of the way Vengine works you simply can't afford to counter one of them while your opponent still has a potential creature in hand.  If you do and he proceeds to play a Bird of Paradise or something the Vengevine will count *itself* towards the 2 creatures cast trigger and pop right out of the Graveyard.  This is hardly insurmountable even before board, but it can get a little hectic if you don't play the match-up properly.  Typically I will save my Paths for the Vines and try to wipe out Fauna Shaman and whatever else he's cast with a turn 4 or 5 Day of Judgement.    Finally by cutting the O-Rings, Journey to Nowhere's and Spreading Seas that more traditional "tap out" U/W Control decks ran you lose some strength in the matchup against 3 color Mid-Range decks; in particular Shaman Naya and Jund.  Again this doesn't make you the underdog in these matches, it just means you aren't the "auto-win" that previous U/W builds are.  When you consider how much stronger this deck is against Control and most types of Combo, I think it's a fair trade-off.

What the Sideboard does: Celestial Purge is there to help your match-ups against Red Deck Wins, Pyromancer's Ascension, Jund and anything that runs Ajani Vengeant.  Flashfreeze improves your game against Green based mana ramp decks (Valakut, Eldrazi) and can help control Red Deck Wins and Jund if you need more answers.  Negate is excellent in the Control Mirror and against Planeswalkers in general.  Oblivion Ring is a nice catch-all answer to a huge number of problems in the format: Vengevine, Pyromancer's Ascension, Luminarch's Ascension, Sprouting Thrinax (Jund) and your opponent's Planeswalkers all come to mind immediately.  The Frost Titan and the Sun Titan are there to allow you to customize your threats for game 2 based on what you've learned in game 1.  There are a number of matches where either Titan is the superior choice and it's usually pretty easy to figure it out and make the switch for game 2.  A good example might be bringing in the 2nd Sun Titan against a Ramp/Man-lands deck to max out your Tectonic Edge potential.  The lone Jace Beleren is for the mirror match against other Jace based Control decks.  5 Jaces is better than 4 in a Jace war and by also siding in the 2nd Sun Titan you can keep recycling the "baby" one turn after turn.  Finally the lone Tectonic Edge is for any match-up where destroying your opponent's non-basic land is more important than having a smooth mana-base yourself.  I tried very hard to fit this card in the first 60 and ultimately put it in the Sideboard when I couldn't.  It's amazing against Valakuut, Eldrazi and Man Land based strategies.

How to play it:  This is a classic style "Draw-Go" deck at it's core.  What that means is you typically want to avoid tapping your mana out on your Main Phase; pretty much ever.  This deck is quite content to simply draw and play land until it can start casting spells while still maintaining the mana to play a Counterspell.  Early on this will allow you to safely play Wall of Omens, and then Planeswalkers/Day of Judgement and finally even 6CC Titans while still protecting your board position with counter-magic.  Between Jace and Jace's Ingenuity you should eventually break your opponent's hand entirely and force him to play from the top of his deck.  Once that's accomplished it's pretty easy to use some combination of Elspeth, Celestial Colonnade's, Gideon and or Titans to quickly finish off your opponent.  Don't forget to save your Techtonic Edges for Man-lands and "special" lands like Valakuut or Eye of Ugin/Eldrazi Temple.  Lands typically represent one of the few ways to win a long grind against a control deck; by running 3x Tectonic Edge and a Sun Titan you pretty much close that door.

Special Thanks:  I'd like to thank local Constructed Ace Stephen Kerr for helping me tweak this deck.  In particular his willingness to argue with me until I tried Wall of Omens and Traumatic Visions definitely helped make this deck better.  Thanks skittles Stephen.

Well folks that's it for part 1, join me for Part II: Over-Jund just as soon as I can get away from my job.  Apparently being a "Magic Coordinator" for 2 stores *is* actually some hard work.

Check out our Tournament Schedule Thread on the Toronto Gamers Association Forum:

Finally:  I am now on Twitter, I make no promises re: relevant Tweets.  140 Characters isn't very many to work with.  My username is Cardboardwitch.  Feel free to "tweet" in my direction (I may never get used to saying that).

1 comment:

  1. we're gonna have to play test, I'm thinking of running RDW its been capable of hitting wins on turn three, normally GG by five