Ask The Drama — Black/White in Standard, and Mono-Black in Block

After regaling us with high tales from Grand Prix: Amsterdam last week, Jeroen returns to his tried-and-tested Ask The Drama formula. Today’s questions concern the state of Black/White Mid-Range Control in Standard, Mono-Black Control in Time Spiral Block Constructed, plus a few words on when to concede in an important match.

Welcome to an old-fashioned Ask the Drama, with your questions once again being the most important thing. I hope y’all don’t mind me taking a step away from the Q&A format to talk about my experiences at the GP.

Of course, writing a non-question themed article meant that everyone decided I didn’t really need questions anymore. I do guys, I do. So keep em coming to [email protected], or I’m gonna start yelling at the Vintage players again to get some attention!

We have a great bunch of questions for this week… let’s start right away.

Andrew Oyen takes a look at the new Standard, with a deck that looks familiar:

This isn’t a question so much as me asking for a deck critique. It’s a Standard deck that I’ve been having quite a bit of success with in testing since the PC prerelease.

It’s an unusual strategy, and it doesn’t quite run like any deck I’ve played in the past. It’s a control deck but it has a ton of creatures, and still manages to run Wrath. It has a lot of disruption and a ton of card advantage, and it manages to run lots of lifegain without being terrible or really narrow (like Snow White). It totally tools aggro of pretty much all sorts: no aggro deck at the moment can really keep up with Phyrexian Arena. They will often think they are racing, but will run out of gas from your discard while you are pecking away in the air, gaining a ton of life, and drawing cards. Versus control it really comes down to either you getting an Arena to stick or them being able to resolve multiple Tidings or Compulsive Researches, while keeping your Arenas off the table. It doesn’t seem to matter whether you are playing versus control or aggro you always are playing for the long game where your incremental card advantage will seal it for you.

I miss having targeted removal in the maindeck but I find mortify to be clunky and expensive in this environment, and there really aren’t that many enchantments maindeck that you have to worry about. Sudden Death is okay, but better after boarding as it doesn’t really deal with Spectral Force. Maybe you disagree? The only thing I could think to cut would be the Smallpoxes, but they have been really good for me, and I really want to squeeze in the fourth one maindeck. Cutting creatures isn’t really an option as a lot of my guys need other creatures to be effective (Crovax, Ghost Council, Stonecloaker) and my count is already pretty low at 22. I used to have three Ghost Councils in here, but there were a lot of times where they just wouldn’t die and you would draw a second one off an arena, which was pretty lame. The maindeck copies of Crovax could go to the board if there is a lot of Boros around, but that isn’t the case in my area.

Ghost Pox

4 Martyr of Sands
4 Ravenous Rats
4 Shrieking Grotesque
4 Aven Riftwatcher
2 Stonecloaker
2 Ghost Council of Orzhova
2 Crovax, Ascendant Hero

4 Castigate
3 Smallpox
4 Phyrexian Arena
4 Wrath of God

1 Vesuva
2 Orzhov Basilica
2 Tomb of Urborg
4 Flagstones of Trokair
4 Godless Shrine
4 Caves of Koilos
4 Swamp
2 Plains


1 Smallpox
3 Deathmark
3 Sudden Death
4 Ronom Unicorn
4 Hypnotic Specter

I don’t know what is the best approach to help out versus control out of the board. Hyppies seem fine (swapping for the Riftwatchers) but I don’t know if there is something more effective… a hard-to-kill win condition like Sacred Mesa, or Persecute or something. Maybe you can help out in this department? Are there any gaping holes or matchups that my sideboard or maindeck do not address? Dark Confidant has been suggested, and I tested it but it really isn’t as good as Arena, as it is far more fragile, and if you flip over expensive things your lifegain doesn’t put you out of reach – it just keeps you where you were.

The one maindeck Vesuva is for opposing Academy Ruins or even Urza’s Factories. I would almost like Ghost Quarters in the side, but the colored mana requirements are too much to support them, and Saltblast doesn’t seem like a very elegant solution.


For the people that know me, it’ll come as no surprise that this is the exact deck that I love to play: creature decks with disruption and slow card advantage that can also play for the long game. One might say this is the closest that any Standard deck is going to come to The Rock at the moment.

A deck much like this was played by the Norwegian / American team at Worlds this year to great effect, and since then it has remained one of my favorites. Here’s a list to show us how it looked back then, played to a 5-0-1 finish on Day 1 by Oyvind Andersen:

As you can see this deck plays pretty much the same cards as yours, if you count the sideboard, but it is more geared towards beating control decks. Yours is geared towards beating creature decks.

That’s what I don’t like about your list. Creature decks right now are close to non-existent, especially on Magic Online. The top dog is Dralnu du Louvre, and with Damnation rotated in I am pretty sure this is going to stay that way for a while. That’s why I feel like some of your choices are awesome, like Grotesque, while others are a little less suited for the maindeck, like the Aven Riftwatcher. Sure, the card is very good versus creature decks, but against control decks the last thing you want is a card that gives you card disadvantage by itself. You don’t care about the life or the four damage it will do.

You also say that beating control is all about getting an Arena out, which to me means that you want as many Arenas as possible after board. That’s why I feel that Dark Confidant is an amazing card to bring in when you are playing decks like Dralnu. After all, you take out cards like Wrath of God and Crovax anyway.

That’s where I feel your deck needs most help. I am not sure what enchantments you fear right now, but I don’t think you want to be running Unicorns when you are better off playing sideboard cards against the real top dogs: Dralnu and even Dragonstorm. I like Sudden Death, as it’s great against creature decks and against Dralnu to kill the dreaded Teferi, so that will have to stay. Other than that, I’d go for a sideboard build more like this, assuming you are keeping the Riftwatchers and the maindeck like it was originally.

4 Dark Confidant — More Arenas.
3 Sudden Death
3 Persecute — Discard is great versus storm and helps you force through those important things versus counter decks.
1 Ghost Council — Great against control and you always want to have one. They will die.
3 Faith’s Fetters — They will help you gain life in important matchups, and should probably go in to be safe when you go for the Confidants
1 Stonecloaker — I almost put in some Extirpates to battle flashback, but these seem to fit the deck a little better. It’s like Extirpate with buyback.

With this board you seem to be more set up for the metagame, instead of just having some cards that might be strong in limited situations. You can also switch between main and board cards pretty easily, given what you are expecting.

Jared Hersh is next, asking the question on everyone’s mind:

I’m getting into playing some Time Spiral Block, and I’m wondering what you think would be the most effective sort of anti-Teferi deck (as you mentioned in your last column: you say, quite correctly, that the two best archetypes are likely Teferi and anti-Teferi.)

I imagine it would run a suite of Sudden Deaths and possibly Sudden Spoilings, but what else?

This puts us into heavy Black, and I’m really not sure what the effective B/x decks should / will look like in this block.

I am not a huge fan of Sudden Spoiling, as it requires your opponent to do things like attack to be at its most effective, which means it is pretty situational. Like I said last time, I am not sure if you need to be looking at anti-Teferi cards, but rather at anti-Teferi decks.

I have been seeing people running White Weenie decks that just rely on their lightning fast starts and efficient guys to outrace the slow control decks. Also there has been talk of R/G deck with no real instants, but with efficient fatties that are very hard to handle for a U/B deck with no decent spot removal. Lastly, there is a close to Mono-Black Control deck, running cards like (of course) Sudden Death, as well as an overload of creature kill, so the Teferi decks just cannot kill them.

A Black control deck would then look something like this:

Of course, this is once again untested, but I feel it’s a great starting point for a deck like this in the current format.

Benjamin Jones comes with the next question, about the current Standard:

I have been watching the Top 8 replays of the Standard Premier Events online, and I was wondering which Tron deck you feel is the best? There is a U/G Tron deck that seems popular, with morphs and even SSS. I also saw a Dralnu du Louvre Tron deck. Do you think U/B Tron will replace U/W Tron in Standard, with the addition of Damnation?

Luckily, I’m not completely in the dark in my attempt to answer this question: we can take a look at the results of the recent Grand Prix in Japan, clearly the land of the best deckbuilders in the world. Obviously Tron played a huge role in that tournament as well, and there were a couple of decks that featured the broken lands that made Top 8. For decklists, take a look here.

First of all, there is the U/G Pickles Tron hybrid, played by Naoki Shimizu, which basically just runs the Tron to be able to go off during important turns with morphs against control. As such, it is not a classic Tron deck in the sense that it likes to sit back and counter until it can play it’s expensive game ending bombs. For that we need to look at the winning deck, played by eventual winner Yuuya Watanabe. Yuuya was an amateur, but was also tipped by Kenji to win it all, which means he is anything but a complete random.

His deck looks to be the ultimate Tron deck right now, with early threats that can be played without tapping out, and then an amazing late game provided by the Urza lands. Simple, yet very efficient. Right now, in the current metagame, it’s capable of beating most every deck, including the “best deck” out there, Dralnu du Louvre. I am saying “best deck” because it didn’t do well at all in Japan, while it still dominates Magic Online… the jury is out at the moment.

As for U/W Tron, this deck only excelled at Worlds, in the hands of some of the best players in the world. Ever since, it really hasn’t been doing well, partly because it is too slow for MTGO (you can’t win in time), but also because the deck is very hard to master. The power of the deck shone because of a few factors, especially the metagame as it stood, and the strength of Martyr of Sands. This means that it can’t easily be replaced by Damnation-based decks. If that’s what you are looking for, Dralnu is probably more up your alley.

Glenn – just Glenn – hits us with this week’s last question:

How do you determine when to concede during a game?

One of the most difficult decisions to make is whether it is worthwhile to continue playing while I still have outs, or whether I should concede to start a post-sideboard match quickly (or start a second game which will give me a higher percentage chance of winning over time). I have played too many matches where I didn’t have quite enough time to close out game 3, games in which I would have won if I had resigned game 1 instead of hoping for my rare chance of an out.

Also, how friendly are you in highly competitive games? When would you let someone immediately take back a move before you have done anything? What are the expectations from other players that aren’t written anywhere (as far as conceding, take backs, calling judges, etc.)?

Glenn, my basic rule is never concede. Often enough I see people concede because they’re not enjoying playing a particular game, or when they are mentally out of it, when they could have easily won with the right card on top. Never concede. There are only a very few situations where you should concede, which usually involve you not having any outs whatsoever, or playing a very slow deck.

This is a fine rule because, in the long run, you will win more games by actually drawing what you need, and getting there, than losing when you will by not have enough time in game 3. If this happens a lot, it probably has little to do with conceding, and more with picking up your play pace. The floor rules demand that you to play at such a pace to ensure you’re able to finish three games, and while the occasional draw may happen, it should be an exception rather than the rule.

If, as you say, you have this happen very often, you definitely need to start playing faster.

In highly competitive games, while I consider myself very friendly, I will never allow take-backs. If you are serious about playing at a high level, you are considered to be good enough to play at that level, so take-backs are never allowed. But I also don’t want to be a d*ck. I simply call a judge whenever anything questionable arises during a game. It is not your job to be nice to your opponent, so get an impartial person there to make sure everything goes well. That way you do nothing wrong, but the game is still run fairly.

At the level I play, no one will blame you for not conceding, calling a judge, or not allowing take-backs. It comes with the territory. I never mind when my opponent calls a judge, and I feel everyone should do this when there is even a tiny case of anything going wrong. Only cheaters or shady people mind when judges are called on them, and I never have anything to hide. I wish everyone called judges, because it does not make you a jerk… it makes for a cleaner game.

And that’s it for this week. Be sure to refill my mailbox, [email protected], with questions… I am running out again.

I’ll see you next week!