One of the hardest things about heading into a Magic tournament can be the feeling of despair.
When you’re dealing with the ever-changing ways of the current world of Magic, decks can come and go, but often what will happen in the early stages of a format is that the best decks in a format will slowly begin to be uncovered. Typically, this early stage is marked by a lot of decks that are “merely” fine, and few to none that are truly exemplary. Sometimes, as in the case of the aftermath of Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad, you’ll find a high-profile deck that has legs and lasts into the development of the format, but usually, that isn’t the case.
For me, I was actually pretty happy with where I ended up with my decks I liked after the Pro Tour.
Then I played a little versus the newest builds of Steve Rubin’s G/W Tokens decks.
Well, needless to say, I wasn’t happy.
Of course, this is exactly why we put in the due diligence with this kind of work. We need to have our butts kicked if we’re going to do simple things like change some key cards, or, when necessary, even more importantly, abandon ship on a deck.
So I was abandoning my Mardu Planeswalkers deck, which, in its newest configuration, was packing a handful of Nahiri, the Harbinger; Sorin, Grim Nemesis; and other awesome planeswalkers. I had been really pleased with how the deck had been playing in the days after the Pro Tour. This was, though, in part because I hadn’t played against many players in Leagues or two-person queues who were piloting the powerful G/W Tokens deck. When I played against these decks, yes, I was losing, but I wasn’t losing by a really huge margin.
Maybe this was a small sample size on this matchup. Maybe it was the chance happenstance of weaker opponents. But whatever the case may be, I sat down against my friend Louis and basically felt like I was being outclassed in virtually every sense of it. After sideboarding, I felt like I was ever-so-slightly ahead, but that was only for those sideboarded games. Sadly, while a 55% sideboarded match is good enough to maintain your match win percentage at 60% if your Game 1 is 60%, when your Game 1 is horrible, it doesn’t get you over a coin flip, especially if it was as bad as this Game 1 was seeming.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want a miserable matchup versus the de facto best deck in the format.
I sat down again with someone else, and was similarly trounced.
With such a thoroughly demoralizing set of matches under my belt, it was back to the drawing board.
Now, I could end up playing the deck. I’d played it. I knew that G/W Tokens wasn’t just good, it was grrrrrrrrrrrrreat!
But I was immediately reminded of something that had happened back in the Faerie days of Lorwyn. I was eliminated from a PTQ early. I’d been playing Faeries but ended up playing the mirror match four times, losing three of them, inspiring me to drop at Round 6.
I watched Sam Black play at the top table versus another Faeries player. His draw was abysmal in all three games. In the counts that mattered, like Bitterblossom, in every game, he drew fewer of these cards than his opponent. Regardless of this, by leveraging smart use of his cards, applying pressure aggressively, making clever plays, and having a few timely Peppersmokes, Sam won two of those games.
I was impressed.
At the top tables were several players whom I could easily identify had been playing the deck for a while. I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to beat them, unless luck was heavily a factor.
I ended up playing this deck, a Merfolk deck that I’d modified from looking at Mehran Latif’s Merfolk deck of the time, and making alterations to suit what I felt made the most sense.
- 4 Merrow Reejerey
- 4 Silvergill Adept
- 2 Sower of Temptation
- 2 Sygg, River Guide
- 4 Stonybrook Banneret
- 4 Cursecatcher
- 2 Oona, Queen of the Fae
It wasn’t as good as Faeries. But I could beat Faeries players, even good Faeries players, with it, unlike my experience trying to beat those same players with Faeries myself.
Looking at the G/W Tokens matchup, I felt like I was looking at the same situation, albeit less pronounced. I imagined playing against anyone who was either also playing G/W Tokens or had prepared hard to beat the deck. My handful of games felt paltry.
I wanted to play something else.
But everything else I had felt not good enough.
I almost pulled the trigger on W/B Eldrazi or W/B Control, I talked about my idea to update Seth Manfield’s Esper Planeswalkers with a few friends, and I tried out any number of ideas. The best of them seemed to be W/B Eldrazi, but even then, I felt like the deck wasn’t getting me out of jams when I got into them.
Ultimately, I turned my attention to the Internet, and other people’s decks.
One deck stuck out. “BlueLamog!” I thought.
This Magic Online PTQ was intriguing.
I dove in and looked at it more closely. What did I like? What did I dislike?
I knew I loved the countermagic. In my testing leading into the Pro Tour, counterspells had been a powerful effect, but there really wasn’t a deck that we found that felt like a great deck choice that had counterspells. In many ways, it was similar to Pro Tour Magic Origins where we’d determined that Thopter Spy Network was a powerful card, but we couldn’t find a deck for it (not that one didn’t exist – we just didn’t find it).
So it was with counterspells.
This deck had them, and, besides that, it simply looked awesome.
I didn’t like anything else I was doing. I was in.
Of course, I didn’t like everything. So, after playing the deck a few times, I made a few changes.
Kozilek is an awesome card. However, as a singleton in this deck, I had to ask myself, what was it doing? It was either a tutor target or it was a fifth Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. In practice, I knew that, for the most part, once I was at the ten-mana mark, I didn’t want to tutor for much of anything other than Ulamog. If it cost less, I’d be down, but Kozilek was still a card that cost ten. This was a card that could get shaved. For that part, I was potentially interested in cutting down on the Ulamogs themselves, but it would depend on room.
I had Spell Shrivel cast on me in Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad. It was so underwhelming, I couldn’t imagine playing it, even at the benefit of having less color in the cost, even at the benefit of being able to chain a Hedron Archive into it. Void Shatter was much more reliable. I immediately swapped them, making a mental note to make sure I made the mana work.
This card just felt underwhelming to me on paper. Looking into the archeype at large, I found several other versions of the deck, mostly U/R versions, with varying numbers of Warping Wail. Some had four maindeck, some two, some none maindeck but copies in the sideboard, some with none at all. After talking it over with several people, I just cut this.
I already knew I loved this card. I aggressively found the room to fit all four.
Here’s what I registered for #GPNY.
Ultimately, I loved the deck. I ended up finishing at 10-5, which was good for one Pro Tour point but still disappointing.
The big thing I tried out in the deck was a card I’d had success with otherwise was Harbinger of the Tides, essentially to give the deck more play against White Humans decks, as well as to be a potential reasonable way to handle Gideon, Ally of Zendikar.
I had thought that this would be a great addition. In a previously discarded deck, I’d used a couple of Harbinger of the Tides to great effect as a part of a U/W Control shell.
This deck, however, was not that deck. First of all, the pure U/W deck has very few ways to handle an actual creature, whereas this deck actually had a good card in Spatial Contortion and a wildly powerful effect in Engulf the Shores. In addition, the U/W deck had an important card which made Harbinger much more valuable: Ojutai’s Command.
As the day went on, I began to see the ways in which my earlier idea of cutting Warping Wail was shortsighted. It had a lot to do with just how often you actually just wanted one of these cards:
It isn’t exactly a Charm with these precise spell payoffs, but it feels like it. Especially since black-based decks are heavily carried by their sorcery spells and there are a surprising number of creatures you can kill with Warping Wail, it actually is about exactly the filler that I think the deck is looking for (although I did find myself coveting Disperse more than once).
One of the most exciting things about the deck had to do with my losses. Yes, my losses.
My first loss of the day was to G/W Tokens. I lost in three games, but I definitely realize I sideboarded completely incorrectly. I tried to keep in every counterspell I had, and if you decide to lean that heavily on counterspells in this matchup, you’ll simply lose if they sneak a planeswalker out and you don’t deal with it right away. Given what I drew, if I’d sideboarded the way I should have, I would have certainly won Game 3. This loss put me to 3-1.
My second loss was to Four-Color Humans, a white-based deck that used heavy blue, but also dipped slightly into black and colorless. I got utterly crushed this matchup, and, upon reflection, I don’t know that there is much I could have done against a deck that sideboards in cheap countermagic into their already hyper-aggressive deck. You can’t win them all.
My third loss was to Lukas Siow with Grixis Control. I actually view this as a great matchup overall, but he took both of the sideboarded games on the strength of multiple Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy and Dragonmaster Outcast. Here, I certainly lost because I didn’t have access to Warping Wail. In both the sideboarded games, he just worked out an Outcast, and eventually, that was that. This put me at 6-3 and into Day 2 fighting only for Pro Points.
I started off the next day with a loss versus W/G Tokens, here because I accidentally laid the wrong land on turn 3 (not an Island) and then was just behind in being able to cast Engulf the Shore for a proper amount over the course of several turns. After I dropped the wrong land, I thought, “gee, I hope that doesn’t bite me back,” and proceeded to watch it barely slip away. This was inexperience, pure and simple. Suddenly, I was at 6-4.
Finally, after a winning streak, my wins were dashed by Jeskai Control in Round 15, ending my event at 10-5. Again, the lack of Warping Wail in my deck was a really big deal, and while Harbinger of the Tides did a tiny bit of work, it cost me once Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy was around.
I view this as encouraging, though. My losses mostly stemmed from ways in which I was inexperienced in sideboarding, choices I’d made in changing the deck that were wrong, or just inexperience piloting the deck, period. I don’t know 100% exactly what the deck should look like, but I do know that the deck was an utter blast to play.
I’m pretty likely to play this deck at Grand Prix Minneapolis at the end of the month. Probably it will look very close to what I was playing in New York, albeit with some Warping Wails. The devil, as they say, is in the details.
Overall, I don’t like to walk into an event like I did, on a deck I hadn’t worked on extensively. Sometimes, though, especially when you’re preparing for numerous events or your schedule is quite full, you will catch yourself in that last minute bind. I’m incredibly glad that I happened upon this deck, and the more I play it, the more I just find myself loving it.
It isn’t a deck that solves the entirety of the format, but I really love playing it in a world where “real” ramp decks like R/G Ramp aren’t a huge part of the format, and real aggressive decks like Humans are on a downswing. Both of those matchups are differing degrees of “bad,” but the various black-based decks just feel like they’re pretty great to play against.
By the time Grand Prix Minnesota happens, you can bet that if I haven’t sharpened this to a razor’s edge, I’ll be on a deck that is similarly sweet.
This weekend, I’ll be prepping for #GPCharlotte. So far, I don’t love anything, but I’m going to be trying a whole lot of everything until I find something I do. Feel free to say hello if your run into me at any events!