Going into the final round of the tournament, I was in fifth place and IDed with second seed for a seventh-place final standing and an invite.
4 Archive Trap
4 Trapmaker’s Snare
4 Hedron Crab
3 Haunting Echoes
4 Jace Beleren
4 Inquisition of Kozilek
4 Doom Blade (I recommend 2 Go For The Throat and 2 Doom Blade now)
1 Liliana Vess
1 Wurmcoil Engine (Preference card, could be Black Sun’s Zenith as well)
4 Darkslick Shores
4 Drowned Catacombs
4 Scalding Tarn (Should be Misty Rainforest, explanation below)
2 Marsh Flats (Should be Verdant Catacombs, explanation below)
2 Verdant Catacombs
2 Tectonic Edge
So why a mill deck? Generally speaking, milling as a primary strategy has always fallen short, but there are three reasons this deck seems to be
strongly positioned in the current environment.
You can mill a significant amount for free —
When sitting down to tackle a major tournament, I try to find a common denominator among the top decks. In the current environment, particularly with
the dominance of Caw-Go, the common denominator that almost every major deck shares is that they search their library. When I realized this, I
began to formulate a strategy around the card that punishes people the most for the least amount of investment, Archive Trap. Given the fact that
Trapmaker’s Snare turns your maindeck Traps into eight instead of four, I felt I had a solid chance of drawing them within a relevant timeframe.
Let me be clear hereâ€”this deck decimates Caw-Blade. I built the deck specifically for this purpose, and the thirty or so matches I tested
against Caw-Go, including those I played in Regionals, leaves me with approximately an 85%+ win percentage against the deck in its current incarnation.
If you win the die roll, a typical game looks like this:
(You) Second land, go.
Twenty-six cards for free. Also they’ve pulled out multiple copies of Birds or an additional card with Stoneforge. A normal strategy after that is to
untap, Duress/Inquisition their Sword, and they’re stuck with a full graveyard and a single creature in play. The rest of the game, you’re either
forcing through a Haunting Echoes or simply Crabbing/Archive Trapping them to death. Jace Beleren pulls VIP duty here for negating all damage Caw-Go
can muster on the board in a relevant manner, threatening to ultimate them if they don’t keep him in check (and yeah, you +2 him every time vs.
Eldrazi are nowhere to be found –
And when they are, they’re sparse. Six months ago, they were everywhere, but as Brad Nelson mused in his Top 10 Decks of Standard, Eldrazi is the
last on the list. The other nine decks above it don’t have a single copy of an Eldrazi in it. Had it not been for Mike Flores last-minute (read:
day-before) decklist of Mono-White Control featuring Eldrazi, the sideboard of my deck would have zero copies of Ravenous Trap (in favor of more
creature hate). In my Regionals tournament, there was only one Eldrazi deck, that being classic Eldrazi Ramp, and it had a mediocre finish. It’s
definitely not something you need to worry about seeing for the time being.
Classic U/B Control has a solid matchup against aggressive decks
– And thanks to state champ Nick Bolanos’s sideboard suggestion, this deck aims to transform into classic U/B Control game two. The milling strategy I
put together by coincidence happened to be fifteen cards, which cleanly switches out for the sideboard (Ravenous Trap notwithstanding, I’d recommend
another Go For The Throat and possibly a Grave Titan or two, but any classic U/B anti-creature cards would work here). After sideboarding, this deck
Definitely not favorable for an aggressive strategy.
Now that’s not to say this deck is the silver bullet of the format. It just happens to be well-positioned in the current environment dominated by
Caw-Blade and other control strategies. Its worst matchups are Vengevine-anything and Boros. Unfavorable matchups are Aggro Valakut and R/B or Mono-B
Vamps and Kuldotha Red. It’s a push with RUG and heavily draw dependent. Favorable matchups are U/B Control, any sort of Tezzeret Control, and classic
Valakut (Haunting Echoes takes all copies of nonbasic lands as well). Its best matchup, almost an auto-win, is Caw-Blade.
Here’s a quick rundown of my matches at Regionals. Six rounds cut to Top 8, with the entire Top 8 getting invites:
Round 1: R/B Vamps
Well crap. I was hoping to start the day well against Caw-Blade, but I sit down to this. First game is laughably bad. I get stomped on and mill his
graveyard full of Bloodghasts, so they can stomp on me, too. Game 2: the mill comes out; the creature hate comes in. Spot removal, a Black Sun’s
Zenith, and two copies of Wurmcoil Engine seal the deal. Game 3: I see a ton of card draw, and my opponent overextends his creatures. After two
Preordains digging three deep and two Jaces, I still don’t see a copy of my four Black Sun’s Zeniths, and he makes short work of me.
Round 2: Mono Red Homebrew
Ah, to be stuck in the losing bracket with all the aggro decks. I wasn’t looking forward to this. I was near the last of the tables, and this was my
opponent’s first tournament, and her deck wasn’t tournament competitive. Despite all this, she stomped me game one, and I won close games 2 and 3 with
Wurmcoil Engine stabilizing around five life each time. Did I mention I don’t have favorable matchups against red? Had she been a seasoned tournament
player she’d have probably won this one.
Round 3: Naya Aggro w/ Vengevines
I feel like this match was pure dumb luck for me, maybe to make up for not drawing that Black Sun’s Zenith first round.
Game 1: I win the die roll. I drop a first-turn Crab, second-turn fetchland. On his second turn, he drops a Stoneforge Mystic, which I follow up with
two Archive Traps and a Trapmaker’s Snare into a third Archive Trap. He’s not pleased. He has about six to nine cards left in his library at this
point, two lands on the board, and all four Vengevines in his graveyard. He has approximately two turns to draw his third land to drop two creatures
and kill me in one fell swoop, but that doesn’t happen, and I pull a close one.
Second game he takes out the majority of his Tumble Magnets but leaves one or two copies in. I bait him into using his only Tumble Magnet once or twice
on my blocking Crab (I left Hedron Crab and Jace Beleren in as hopeful distractions and boarded out the rest of the mill and the Duresses).
This game went really long and involved a Koth emblem (he was Naya base but had tons of Mountains and ways to get them), a few clutch blockers with
Mortarpod (to sac in response to combat damage to negate my Wurmcoil Engine life gain), and a ton of card draw on my part. I believe out of the seven
spot removal spells I had in my deck at that point, I ripped five in clutch situations to deny him blockers/saccing against my Wurmcoil Engine, and my
life total kept jumping from four or five up to ten or eleven each turn for three or four turns.
I finally pull a second Wurmcoil Engine to seal the deal.
Where are all the Caw-Blade decks?!
Round 4: Caw-Blade (U/W)
When I see him drop a Celestial Colonnade, I almost feel bad for him.
My opponent was super nice the whole game in spite getting stomped, and I enjoyed his company.
First game, I drop a Hedron Crab turn 1, then second-turn drop another Crab before dropping a fetchland. On his turn, he brings a Squadron Hawk into
play. I Archive Trap him. My third and fourth turn, I disrupt his countermagic with discard, and fifth turn, I Haunting Echoes. The game is so
one-sided that my two friends watching have to step away, trying not to laugh. Hehe.
Game 2: I get stuck at two lands. Once I finally reach four, my opponent has seven and uses two Tectonic Edges to put me back down to two lands. I lose
Game 3: he thinks long and hard about searching with his turn 2 Hawk. He decides to do it, and I mill him for thirteen. Jace Beleren makes a cameo and
keeps his fowl squadron at bay, while Hedron Crab and a Haunting Echoes go to work. I believe I finished at twenty life.
Round 5: U/B/W Tezzeret Control
3-1-0 going into this round, I know this is a clutch round for me.
I drop my Darkslick Shores, tap it, and cast Inquisition of Kozilek. My opponent points to my land and says I can’t do that. I didn’t drop Darkslick
Shores. I dropped the other land, with the similar picture, that produces the same mana, that starts with a capital “D.” Damn it. This error has
exponential consequences. Missing the first-turn discard snowballs into his landing a key Stoneforge Mystic with my inability to mill him for it. I
Haunting Echoes later in the game, which would have been thirteen cards fatter considering. When game one ends, he has fifteen cards left in his
His deck’s creature base consists of Stoneforge Mystic, Phyrexian Crusader, Creeping Tar Pit, and he uses Sword/Mortarpod/Tumble Magnet in combination
with Tezzeret to kill. I’m split on what spot removal to keep in but decide that three Go For The Throat and one Doom Blade will suffice, as long as I
can keep him off his key artifacts and prevent a Tezzeret from being relevant. After sideboarding I have four Duress and four Inquisition.
Game 2 goes fairly one-sided for me. I rip apart his hand, notice he’s not playing any countermagic at all, and confidently land a Haunting Echoes to
Game 3 is the
closest game I’ve ever played in a sanctioned event.
My opening hand is two Duress and a Haunting Echoes. After much consideration, I keep, hoping to neuter him early and hit my card draw midgame. In
hindsight, I should’ve mulliganed, especially because this deck has a great mulligan with its cheap spells and card draw.
(Him) Turn one: Land, go.
(Me) Turn one: Land, Duress.
With my professional poker face, I’m shaking my head after I make him discard. He’s visibly frustrated at my ripping his hand apart and quips “Why the
f*** are you shaking your head? You just got three discard.” Once I realize I shouldn’t have moved a muscle in the first place, I look at my hand,
which consists of three lands and a Haunting Echoes. Great. Even when I hit five lands, his graveyard is chock full of three cards for me to remove
from the game. I’m a sitting duck. I don’t tell him that of course, but after six successful attacks with his Stoneforge Mystic, he gets the picture.
He draws nothing but land; I draw nothing but land and discard for several consecutive turns, but one of the lands he draws is a Creeping Tar Pit.
After his first activation, he puts me at eight life. I rip a Liliana Vess.
(Him): Activate Tar Pit, swing at Vess. Stoneforge Mystic at me.
(Me): Draw Tectonic Edge, drop it, go.
(Him): Tar Pit, Stoneforge, swing. I kill Tar Pit.
(Him): Stoneforge Mystic at me, Go.
Five life. End of turn Archive Trap him.
(Me): Draw a land, -1 Jace, draw Haunting Echoes. Cast it.
He has twelve cards in his library left. Jace is at one loyalty.
(Him): [After deliberating about Jace Beleren] Swing at me. Drop Phyrexian Crusader.
At this point, I think for a good long while about whether to +2 Jace Beleren or not. I didn’t nail all of his equipment and Stoneforges with my
Echoes. I decide the only way I can pull this out is to hit a key mill spell.
Three Life. Two Poison. He has ten cards in his library.
(Him): Draw, swing. Go.
Two life. Four poison. He has six cards left.
(Me): Draw Crab. -1 Jace, draw Inquisition of Kozilek. Cast it, see nothing, drop Crab, go.
(Him): Draw, swing. [I block Stoneforge Mystic with my Crab.] TIME FOR ROUND CALLED, TURN ZERO. Go.
Two life, six poison. He has five cards left.
TURN 1 OF FINAL TURNS.
(Me): Draw basic land. +2 Jace, draw Scalding Tarn.
I’m at two life. I look at my basic lands in play and realize the last one in my deck is an Island. I drop the Scalding Tarn, search it, go to one
life, put my final basic land into play, mill him for six, and pass turn. He extends his hand. This match could have gone either way.
Round 6: Caw-Blade (U/W)
Standings are posted, and I’m in fifth. I get paired against local legend and moonlighting hairdresser David Daniel whose skill is far superior to
mine, so rather than risking it, I accept his offer for an ID, and I’m confident I’ll be in the Top 8. We sit down to play a game just to see what
happens, and I completely wipe the floor with him game one. I ask him what he would sideboard against me in this matchup, and he shows me a Day of
Judgment or two from the sideboard for my Hedron Crabs, and we don’t play the rest of the match out, but through testing, I know Day of Judgment does
nothing against my deck, unless I have a two-Crab draw, in which case I’ll Duress his Days.
All-in-all, this deck is so left-field with such a great matchup against the most dominant deck in the format with great potential after sideboarding
(I’m sure better deckbuilders can come up with some great choices) that I recommend this deck if you’d like to play something off the beaten path.
As for some final thoughts, the reason I would recommend four Verdant Catacombs and four Misty Rainforest main is because they both fetch green mana,
which combined with some sideboard technology and a single Forest would allow for green spells to be played games 2 and 3. This deck went through many
iterations while testing, and a friend and I came up with a hugely explosive version, sporting green mana and four Lotus Cobra, four Explore (taking
out some discard and removal) while using the same mana base. We scrapped it in the end because the matches we beat heavily (Caw-Blade, Valakut) were
still favorites with a slightly slower U/B version, but the U/B version allowed for a dedicated anti-creature strategy to shore up the other matches,
but the explosive potential of adding green is inspiring enough for me to commit more time to.
Thanks for reading. Onward to Nationals!