Brian Braun-Duin tells you about his ups and downs with B/W Midrange at Grand Prix Cincinnati and why he might stick with it for the SCG Invitational in Charlotte this weekend.


On Wednesday of last week, I was fully locked in to playing Esper Control at Grand Prix Cincinnati. Yes, Esper Control. The Esper Control that finished first and second in both the SCG Standard Open in Los Angeles and the Grand Prix in Cincinnati last weekend. The Esper Control that I wrote an article about last week, that I had been playing for weeks, that I felt very comfortable with, and that has now taken the throne as the best deck in the format, at least for now.

That Esper Control.

On Thursday of last week, I was waffling between two decks. Thursday night I recorded a video with B/W Midrange that is now up on this site. I realized through filming that video and the games I played with the deck afterward that I really enjoyed B/W a lot and that the deck was good.

Suddenly, doubt crept in. I couldn’t tell if the GP was in Cincinnati or in Yellowstone National Park. Do I stick with Old Faithful or abandon it for the shiny new toy?

The more I thought about it, the more I settled on playing B/W Midrange. I knew regardless of which one I chose that if I performed poorly with it, I would regret my decision. Cincinnati was huge for me. I have sixteen Pro Points this season and just need four more to qualify for Pro Tour Journey into Nyx in Atlanta by virtue of hitting Silver in the Pro Players Club. Cincinnati was one of the last chances to get those points.

I registered B/W Midrange. I went 6-3 and didn’t make day 2.

Surprisingly, though, I didn’t feel regret. My thoughts were mostly conflicting because I had made both the right decision and the wrong decision at the same time. I felt like I made the right deck choice for the tournament, yet I felt like my list was terribly wrong and off by a lot of cards. Right deck, wrong build.

It’s weird to say that B/W Midrange was the right deck for the tournament when Esper Control so thoroughly dominated and I went 6-3, but my build was actually very well positioned to beat Esper decks.

I felt extremely confident in beating both ends of the spectrum, Burn and Esper. It was everything in the middle that was a gray area.

I spent a lot of time that night and the next morning simply thinking. I actually just sat and thought about my B/W Midrange deck for hours without physically touching any cards or changing anything in the deck. I knew what was working and what wasn’t working, but I wasn’t sure exactly how to build the deck afterward to take advantage of the information I had learned.

I also thought about the tournament on a deeper scale. I didn’t have nearly enough time to test with B/W Midrange. I felt like B/W was a very powerful deck, but without suitable preparation time, my deck was flawed. Is it right to play a powerful yet relatively untested deck in a big tournament? Should you always stick to what you know or is it right to branch out and do something more risky?

Ultimately, I didn’t come to a conclusion on any of those thoughts. I think the answer is "it depends." Sometimes you audible to a tournament-winning deck. Sometimes you audible to a deck that hands you an immediate 0-2. Sometimes you audible to a tournament-winning deck and go 0-2 anyway.

If I’d had an extra week to test, I think I would’ve performed significantly better at the Grand Prix. At the same time, I don’t necessarily think that not having enough time to test a deck is an acceptable reason to discard a deck choice for an event. Every good deck at one point started out relatively untested.

Eventually, I settled on the following list, which I played in the Super Sunday Series Qualifier the next day.

This list is about fifteen cards different than what I played on Saturday.

I had played both Archangel of Thune and Blind Obedience in my list at the GP on Saturday. I liked the interaction between those two cards, and I felt that Blind Obedience was good against a variety of different decks. The issue with Blind Obedience was that when it wasn’t good, it was really bad. This deck already has enough situational cards that I don’t think it’s reasonable to play more. Blind Obedience was out.

Archangel of Thune was a bit of a deeper problem. The card is obviously quite powerful and is also very good alongside Brimaz, King of Oreskos. The issue is that unlike a deck such as Esper Control where people are looking to cut removal against you, nobody feels the same way against a deck playing cards like Brimaz and Desecration Demon. If anything, they want more removal against you. That makes a snowball card like Archangel of Thune much worse since it has less of an opportunity to start to snowball.

Archangel of Thune died a lot. Archangel of Thune sadly did not attack a lot. A friend of mine also played my B/W Midrange deck at the GP, and his thoughts on Archangel of Thune mirrored my own. He also felt like the card didn’t do much. There was one card we did both agree on though.

Obzedat, Ghost Council was a beating. Obzedat got second place at a PTQ with no prize support. "A box and a beating . . . hold the box." Obzedat was last found harvesting out in his field. He’s a master beat farmer. Obzedat’s favorite show on TV right now is probably Beat’s Motel. Great casting.

Obzedat gushing aside, I think it’s important to talk about the changes I made to the list from one day to the next and why I made them. Learning what works is as important as figuring out what does not.

I went from two copies of Obzedat, Ghost Council in the maindeck to three. Obzedat is very strong in most matchups, and I don’t think it’s wrong to hedge game 1 against decks like Esper Control considering how strong and popular that deck is.

As a result, I changed the mana base. I had played four copies of Mutavault in the Grand Prix. Mutavault doesn’t cast Obzedat very well, and when I add in a third copy of the legendary Spirit, I don’t want to ever be stuck unable to cast him on curve.

Trimming down on Mutavault also makes Pack Rat much worse. I ended up cutting Pack Rat from the maindeck altogether, though I ran a few copies in the sideboard for matchups where Pack Rat excels, such as Mono-Black Devotion and Mono-Blue Devotion.

My mana was perfect on Sunday. In fact, it was so good that I’m considering cutting the third Orzhov Guildgate for a third Mutavault. That would reduce consistency slightly but increase the power level of the deck and make cards like Pack Rat more powerful if I want access to that option.

I played two copies of Duress in the maindeck, and it was quite good. I only sided it out once in the eight rounds I played in the Super Sunday Series Qualifier—round 1 against U/W Devotion—and I was able to hit a Detention Sphere in game 1 that ended up being big so it wasn’t even too terrible.

I added a third copy of Bile Blight and made sure that I had no less than two copies of Revoke Existence in the sideboard. Two of my losses in the Grand Prix were to Mono-Blue Devotion. While I don’t think that deck is a great choice in a field full of Esper Control, it isn’t a great matchup for B/W Midrange, and people will still play it. An active Thassa, God of the Sea is basically unbeatable. Being able to Revoke Thassa’s miserable little existence is huge, and Bile Blight is simply a powerful removal option that is really only at its worst against G/R Monsters, which has started to dip in popularity.

I stuck with three copies of Nasty Brimazty. It’s hard to evaluate Brimaz, King of Oreskos. On one hand, he hurts your mana base because you need to be able to cast him on turn 3. He’s much worse if you can’t. On the other hand, you need those white sources to cast Obzedat, Ghost Council and Elspeth, Sun’s Champion anyway, so it’s not like you don’t want to play a lot of them already.

I think Brimaz, King of Oreskos is better than Lifebane Zombie, but I think he is likely worse than Nightveil Specter. However, Specter obliterates your mana base, so there’s certainly a huge drawback there as well. With Specter, you have to either play a lot more lands that come into play tapped, such as Temple of Enlightenment, or you have to throw away a lot of your equity against burn decks by playing Hallowed Fountain. You can’t play basic Plains and Nightveil Specter really. Ultimately I can’t say for sure if Brimaz is the right guy for the job, but I didn’t feel like he underperformed at the very least.

I played two copies of Blood Baron of Vizkopa. Outside of one round against R/W Burn, I did not attack with a single Blood Baron the entire event. The card was microwaved refuse. It was bad.

Blood Baron of Vizkopa is good against burn, black midrange, and . . . that’s about it. It is not good against U/W Control despite popular opinion. It’s actually exceptionally bad against them. Blood Baron makes their best card, Elspeth, Sun’s Champion, even better against us, and it makes Supreme Verdict much better as well.

There will not be Blood (Baron of Vizkopa in my maindeck following this tournament)!

The Super Sunday Series Qualifier went dramatically better for me than the Grand Prix. While certainly the competition is less fierce, I also just felt like my deck was built a lot better and performing a lot smoother. It’s amazing the difference changing fifteen cards can make.

All right, it’s not amazing at all. Fifteen is a lot.

The way Super Sunday Series Qualifiers are set up is that there are two concurrent tournaments, one Standard and one Sealed. The Top 4 from both events merge into a Top 8 draft. As such, I was stuck battling at X-1 in the last round playing for Top 4.

I ended up losing in a very weird match to Matt Hoey, who was also playing B/W Midrange. Games 1 and 2 both involved one player mulliganing to five and then the other player having to rip out of it to not lose to the mull to five. Game 3 consisted of him Thoughtseizeing me four times while Nightveil Specter and Pack Rat did a number on my life total. That number was twenty.

Sadly I won’t be going to Seattle for the Super Sunday Series Championship, but I’m not disappointed with how the event went. It was a good chance to rebuild my failed B/W Midrange deck from the Grand Prix into something better, and I was happy to immediately see the fruits of that labor manifested in a much smoother-running deck.

I might run it back for the SCG Invitational in Charlotte, but who knows. I might just audible to a different deck the night before the tournament so I can go 4-4 and miss day 2. Gotta stick with what doesn’t work!

There are certainly still improvements that can be made, but much like anything else, those improvements will take time and testing to really hammer out. Is Nightveil Specter the pick over Brimaz, King of Oreskos even if you have to take a Butcher’s Cleaver to the mana base? What role do Pack Rat and Blood Baron of Vizkopa serve? The only way to learn the answers is to test.

And I plan to test. The Invitational this weekend is the last chance for William Jensen, Brad Nelson, or Chris VanMeter to pass me in the race to the SCG Players’ Championship, and I don’t intend on making it easy on them. At the very least, Brad and I are engaged in kind of a cold war style standoff in terms of daggering and baiting the other person about the race.

It’s an arms race to see who can produce the most daggers in the shortest period of time, and I’ve got a whole country of Silver-Inlaid specialists on the task. The question is this: can I bait Brad enough times with some quality cheap shots to get him involved in a full-on war? He’s a master, but I’m confident that I’ll win the resulting bait race.

When engaged in a race to qualify for a slot in a high-stakes Magic tournament, the most important thing is to talk as much trash as you possibly can. The second most important thing is to actually win the race. I’m kind of hoping the second thing happens. That would be swell!