Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Standard Deviations #5 - Dimir KISS (Keep it Strictly Simple)

Hello everyone and welcome back to another edition of The Cardboard Witch.  Those of you who've been reading this blog the past month of so know that almost all of my recent time has been devoted to playing Scars of Mirrodin Sealed/Draft in preparation for the Grand Prix.  Now that GP Toronto is over I'd like to switch gears again for a column or two and talk a little bit about Standard.  Don't worry I'll get back to the "GP Conclusions" article I promised to write last time; I learned a lot about what it takes to compete at a higher level of Magic during this event and I certainly want to share it.  Unfortunately even someone who dearly loves Limited Magic can get sick of writing about it from time to time and I figured talking a little bit about Standard for a while might help recharge my batteries a little bit.  

While it hasn't come up much I've actually been playtesting "Type 2" decks off and on for the past month or so; mostly at work while I'm standing behind the counter. Obviously the level of competition varies wildly in this type of setting but it simply can't be beat for sheer number of games and deck variety.  As a result I've managed to squeeze in a couple hundred games both with and against a wide array of decks; including internet copies of many of the best builds in the format.  Additionally of course like many of you out there reading this blog I devour new online Magic content like an addict; reading as many as 10-15 articles a day and examining the decklists typically provided.  In particular I've found myself fascinated with the sheer number of U/B control decks suddenly bursting out into cyberspace.  Don't get me wrong; I'm not really surprised that U/B control is popular in the current format because it's very strong against both "Ramp" and other control decks.  What surprises me more than anything are the decklists themselves and how complicated they are.  In my opinion U/B Control is potentially one of the simplest and most direct builds in the format; virtually every card in the deck is designed to attack other top tier decks in Standard.

Of course I'm not one to argue with results; many of the U/B lists recently published have performed well at State Championships or Open cash tournaments (very competitive).  It's also quite possible that I'm just not bright enough to recognize the genius behind running cards like Archive Trap, Trinket Mage and Elixir of Immortality (what a terrible card!).  With that having been noted however I'd like to share the "simple" version of U/B control I've recently been testing with and talk about why I prefer it to the many variations I've seen online.  First lets look at the list itself:

Dimir KISS   

Creatures - 4:

2x Frost Titan
2x Grave Titan

Spells - 34:

4x Duress
4x Preordain
2x Brittle Effigy
4x Doomblade
4x Mana Leak
2x Cancel
2x Stoic Rebuttal
4x Jace the Mind Sculptor
2x Jace's Ingenuity
2x Volition Reins

Lands - 26:

4x Creeping Tar Pit
4x Darkslick Shores
4x Drowned Catacomb
4x Tectonic Edge
5x Island
3x Swamp
2x Terramorphic Expanse

Sideboard - 15: 

1x Frost Titan
1x Grave Titan
1x Brittle Effigy
3x Ratchet Bomb
3x Flashfreeze 
2x Into the Roil
4x Disfigure

Overview:  As previously mentioned Dimir KISS is an incredibly straightforward U/B control deck; hence the silly name.  Older players may recognize this design as it's more of a "classic" control deck; albeit with a somewhat inferior counterspells compared to "back in the day".  Basically every card in this deck is designed to either control your opponent's cards, generate some sort card advantage or help you finish off a defenseless opponent quickly and efficiently once you've established control.  In many cases cards like Duress/Grave Titan/etc actually accomplish more than one of these goals at the same time.  Unlike U/W control this deck isn't looking to play a long game; typically it spends the first 5-6 turns disrupting the opponent before sticking a Titan and demanding a response.  Once you do move in for the kill it's typically a matter of 2-3 turns before your opponent is finished       

What I think it's good at: Simply put; this deck tears through both types of Ramp, combo and other control decks like a chainsaw goes through drywall.  The combination of Duress, Doom Blade and 8 main-deck counterspells essentially wreaks havoc on these decktypes; denying key spells and controlling enemy Titans with ease.  Throw in supports cards like Tectonic Edge, Brittle Effigy, Volition Reins and even Frost Titan and it becomes almost impossible for non-aggro decks to maintain threats against you.  Even enemy Planeswalkers aren't much of a problem; assuming Duress and Volition Reins aren't enough you can simply attack them with your unblockable Creeping Tar Pits.  In fact so much of this deck is geared towards beating these decktypes that during testing I've been accused of pre-sideboarding against my opponents; a flattering if somewhat inaccurate accusation.  It's also important to note that this deck is both very powerful and reasonably linear; turn by turn play tends to be fairly obvious while still giving you a variety of ways to significantly affect the game.  In particular the ability to look at your opponent's hand with Duress and manipulate your library with Preordain, Jace's Ingenuity and of course Jace himself takes a lot of the guesswork out of playing control in this format.  I'm not going to say the deck plays itself but it's certainly much easier to execute a control strategy when you know what's in your opponent's hand and what your next couple of draws are going to be.  Finally by being significantly more proactive/aggressive than other control decks Dimir KISS simply wins games faster than they do.  This is pretty important in a format with cards like Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, Gaea's Revenge and Ion, Sheild of Emeria.  It also makes it much harder to get screwed on time by a slow-playing opponent; a common problem for U/W Control players who need 13-15 turns to win a given match.  

What I think it's not good at:  If there's one general chink in this deck's armor it's super fast aggro decks that swarm you with cheap/interchangeable monsters.  While Doom Blade may be wonderful for murdering 6CC Titans and Baneslayer Angels it's fairly ineffective against opponents who flood the board with beaters on turns 1, 2 and 3.  Good examples include many types of RDW, good Vengevine/Eldrazi Monument decks and even well built creature based theme decks like U/W Allies or Vampires.  That's not to say it loses to all aggro; in fact Dimir KISS has a great match-up with decks that primarily do their damage with 1 or 2 specific creatures including Boros, White Weenie Affinity and most Fauna Shaman builds.  The basic "toxic" combination is 23 or so interchangeable creatures and enough speed to kill through a couple removal spells before Grave Titan comes down.  Ultimately this problem gets easier to manage after SB because of Ratchet Bomb and Disfigure.  Additionally while it's true that various RDW builds are becoming more popular, for the most part weenie aggro swarm decks fail to reward player ability and therefore don't attract top tournament players en mass.  Finally like virtually every other control deck in the format this deck will struggle against Gaea's Revenge. As far as I can tell the only legitimate answer is to either win the game or put yourself in a position to do so before "the angry green man" comes into play.

What the Sideboard does:  As previously mentioned Dimir KISS sideboards 4x Disfigure and 3x Ratchet Bomb to help control weenie aggro swarm decks of all types.  I chose Disfigure over Smother and Grasp of Darkness because most of the creatures I want to kill have 2 toughness or less; if your environment is full of Leatherback Baloths and Malakir Bloodwitches feel free to switch them out for more suitable answers.  3x Flashfreeze can also be very helpful in the aggro matchup if the aggro deck in question is red (they often will be) while still being solid against Ramp/Primeval Titan decks and annoying mana producing Planeswalkers like Garruk or Koth.  The 2 copies of Into the Roil are included to give you another couple answers to enemy Planeswalkers while still doubling as creature control and drawing you a replacement card.  The extra Brittle Effigy is basically there for decks that run Wurmcoil Engine, Emrakul the Aeons Torn and or more Titans than you can control with 4x Doom Blade, 2x Effigy, 2x Volition Reins and 2x Frost Titan (so like, 8 or so).  Finally the singleton copies of both Frost Titan and Grave Titan are there to give you the ability to add more threats against other control decks.  Additionally the Grave Titan in particular makes a decent SB against aggro if only because it gives you 3 blockers on turn 6 instead of just 1.         

How to play it:  This is probably the easiest control deck in all of Standard to play properly; virtually every card does exactly what it says it does and wants to be played as soon as possible.  Ideally you want to open up with a turn 1 Duress off a Darkslick Shores but dropping a Creeping Tar Pit into play is also an option.  Try to avoid playing Preordain right away unless you're digging for mana; this spell tends to get stronger as the game progresses and it can be particularly effective when combined with the "Brainstorm" effect printed on Jace the Mind Sculptor.  You'll generally want to spend turns 2 through 5 disrupting your opponent's strategy with some combination of Doom Blade, Mana Leak, Stoic Rebuttal/Cancel and any additional copies of Duress you may draw.  Having looked at your opponent's hand once or twice it should also be pretty easy to figure out when to try and safely stick a Jace or cast Jace's Ingenuity; often however turns 4-5 are in fact correct.  Don't be afraid to use Jace to bounce your opponent's creatures back into is hand; remember this deck isn't trying to generate a long game and even setting your opponent back a turn or 2 is often enough to set up your Titan based finish.  As a general rule unless you have VERY specific reasons not to you should cast your Titans as soon as you have 6 mana in this deck rather than waiting for 8 or 9 mana to back the play up with a counterspell.  A turn 5 Duress can be particularly effective when trying to set up this play.  As a final note if given the opportunity try and play the Grave Titan first and then the Frost Titan to clear his path.  This typically allows you to drain the final removal spell from your opponent's hand while still leaving you with 4 power worth of zombie beaters to combo with the Frost Titan.     

Well folks that's about all we have time for today.  As always thanks for reading and I hope this article has been of some value to you.  I can honestly say that in my personal testing this deck is something ridiculous like 60-7 now and I'm starting to think that it's either the best deck in Standard or very close to it.  I may mess around with the Sideboard a little bit more and I'm considering switching the Volition Reins into the SB and adding 2x Abyssal Persecutors but otherwise this is pretty close to a finished product.  See you on the flip side!



  1. This is one hell of a scary deck, looks awfully expensive. As usual amazing job on this one! :)

  2. Thanks and yes it's not exactly cheap; although being fair it has way less "random expensive rares" than U/W Control did. Additionally I think you probably could cut the cost by 80-90 dollars by replacing one of the Jaces with baby Jace from M10/M11/Lorwyn. He's not as good but functionally I don't think it changes the deck very much and man top flight players play a mix of big and small Jaces afaict.

    Dunno but it might be worth $90 to give it a try.