Black Magic – Grand Prix: Kuala Lumpur *Top 16*

Tuesday, March 16th – Going into Grand Prix: Kuala Lumpur, Sam Black was set on playing Zvi Mowshowitz’s excellent Mythic list. However, he decided to audible into an innovative U/W build at the last minute, and it paid dividends. Today, he takes us through the reasons why, explains the decklist, and brings us a game-by-game breakdown of his performance.

When I left for Kuala Lumpur, I was pretty sure I was going to play Mythic again. Zvi had worked out a sideboard plan we were happy with to make sure we would reliably win the Jund matchup, I wasn’t that worried about Naya, and I figured dedicated Cunning Sparkmage decks couldn’t handle the field of Jund, so I wouldn’t have to worry too much about them. Wait. I’m not even through my first paragraph, and I already feel like I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me start over.

I’m attending travelling to Grand Prix: Kuala Lumpur and Grand Prix: Yokohama with Brian Kowal, and for Kuala Lumpur we were meeting up with Mat Marr, Alex West, and Brian Kibler. On the way to Kuala Lumpur, Brian Kowal was looking through decks from Magic Online results and came across several copies of a deck played on different accounts, one of which I recognized as an account on which Martin Juza plays. That list was:

Brian immediately thought the deck looked awesome and decided to work on it. Brian built it on the 7-hour bus ride from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur, and through some goldfishing, theorizing, and some games with Mat Marr, came up with some pretty dramatic conclusions. He didn’t like the curve. It didn’t really have three-mana spells. He wasn’t happy with Spreading Seas, and surprisingly, he wasn’t happy with Jace, the Mind Sculptor. He also felt like the deck needed more land.

I think he started by cutting 4 Spreading Seas for 2 lands and 2 Oblivion Rings, then cut Jace for Divination. I wanted him to try Jace Beleren, but he was pretty sure Divination would be better. When we got to Kuala Lumpur, I was happy to play a bunch of games with Jund against him. I already knew I was playing Mythic; I felt like I knew how I wanted the list to look, and I had a pretty good idea about my matchups, so it was no trouble to help him test. Besides, his deck was starting to play really well.

When we met up with Brian Kibler, he was also planning to play Mythic, but was interested in switching to the UW deck. I talked to him about his reasons for each, and played some post sideboard games with Mythic against this UW deck, and it was looking pretty grim (predictably – they do have a lot of Wrath effects).

The morning of the GP, all the other Americans had decided to play UW. Alex West had won a GP with a build that was more like Chapin’s, and felt very good about it, so he was playing that. Mat and the BKs were on Juza’s deck. (Juza, who we had talked to there, was the one who had been playing the deck on all the different accounts, and felt like it was the best deck he had built in a long time – and I liked his version much less than Kowal’s).

Walking around the site, I saw people playing UW mirrors, naya Mirrors, and I even saw an Ally deck laid out. I didn’t see a single deck I wanted to play with Mythic. At that point I started joking about how I was going to scrub out unless I audibled. Blisterguy, doing coverage, interviewed us, asking about the best cards and decks in Standard. After the testing the previous night, I had to answer that I thought UW was the best deck, which they also said. At that point, they reminded me that it really wasn’t too late to switch decks.

I hadn’t played any games with the UW deck, but I’d seen it play a bunch, and I really did feel like it was the right choice for the event. Kowal was even ready with an empty decklist he called the audible sheet. I took it and his decklist from him and began to copy. When I got to the sideboard, I saw 3 Elspeths, and said that seemed like a lot. He said it was the card you want most in the control matchup, but I was skeptical and put the 4th Knight of the White Orchid in instead. I figured I’d want it whenever I was on the draw, and I’d be on the draw a lot more often than I’d be playing against control. Also, it turned out that I wanted it in any sideboarded game against Jund, since it’s good against Goblin Ruinblaster. I’m happy with the one change I made to the deck.

Anyway, I still needed to get cards. Three byes are nice, since they let you audible to a deck you don’t own the cards for minutes before the event starts. The first stop was my room to see what cards I had on me for the deck – I’m glad I decided to stay on site. I had all the rares except three Mind Springs that I had already lent out. All I needed were those, some Divinations, some Fieldmist Borderposts, and some Everflowing Chalices. I asked the dealers, and none of them had Fieldmist Borderposts. I started to worry that I simply wouldn’t be able to build this deck. Fortunately, Milton Lin, who I met when he picked us up from the Airport in Singapore, owned a store and had literally had the trunk of his car filled with commons. It took some digging, but he got me the Borderposts and a Divination. More searching, some epic quests, and a several helpful strangers later, I had my deck in time for round 4.

Before I get into what happened, I should probably back up a bit and talk about what’s going on with this deck, and how Divination could possibly be better than Jace, the Second Coming. The deck is a sorcery speed control deck with no countermagic that just ramps up with Knight of the White Orchid and Everflowing Chalice to cast powerful spells. Path to Exile, the only instant, is there to deal with stuff like man lands and Ball Lightning, but for the most part, you’re not planning to have mana available on the opponent’s turn. “Tap out control” in its purest possible form. You basically want to draw cards and accelerate until you have to cast Day of Judgment, then draw cards, then Wrath again, and roughly alternate until they’re out of action and you can kill them with tokens or a Baneslayer Angel. Sometimes you just play a Baneslayer Angel, they don’t kill it, and you win.

This deck’s only way to shuffle is with Knight of the White Orchid or Path to Exile, all of its cards are more or less the same, and it can use all the extra mana it can get, so it’s going as far as possible to make Brainstorming only as good as drawing a card. When you have Day of Judgment, bouncing an opposing creature isn’t really high on the list of plays you’re looking to make. Basically, the deck just isn’t set up to take particular advantage of any of Jace, the Mind Sculptor’s abilities. Even the ultimate is less useful here than in other decks, because you have no shortage of win conditions.

Meanwhile, Divination is amazing. Drawing 2 cards has never felt so good. It helps the flow of the deck tremendously. The fact that it’s a sorcery doesn’t matter. You don’t have counterspells and you don’t really want to bluff them because you’d rather your opponent overextend into your wraths. It fits the curve perfectly, and it helps find Day of Judgment or your fourth land on turn 4. I can’t imagine a better deck for Divination.

Somehow, Divination at its best actually seemed to be better than Jace at his worst. I never managed to get Brian to test a Jace Beleren though, but costing a single Blue mana is actually pretty important when you’re trying to play Knight of the White Orchid.

Other changes are less surprising. The land count in Juza’s list felt too low. Spreading Seas wasn’t high enough impact, and it wasn’t the thing you wanted to be doing on turn 2 (though it would be nice to have another answer to man lands). Oblivion Ring was necessary to avoid flat out losing to most planeswalkers. Juza had cut the Ionas, but in testing, we were very happy with them against Jund, and since all we really wanted to do was beat Jund (did I mention in the rant above that Jace is generally a bad card against Jund and Divination is generally a good card against them? That’s true too), we left her in.

I played:

The tournament report portion of this is going to be a bit awkward to write. It will include far more instances of “I played badly and lost” than I’d like. Just remember that these were the only games I’d played with the deck, I was jetlagged, I picked up toward the end and I won my last 5 matches. More importantly, it says good things about the deck that it only really lost one time when I gave it the best chance I could, and I’m sure it let me win several games despite suboptimal plays.

Anyway, on to the event:

The first game of round 4 came down to a situation in which I had 8 mana against Jund and Iona in hand. I was at 4 life and he had a Raging Ravine and 4 other lands, but I had a Tectonic Edge. Neither of us had anything else. I drew Celestial Colonnade, which wouldn’t let me play Iona that turn, but would let me play it next turn. I thought about killing the Raging Ravine to keep him back a mana, but decided it was more important to know that I could play Iona next turn. He untapped, played a land, and played Broodmate Dragon. I drew a land and lost. My play there was terrible. I know he has several Broodmate Dragons in his deck, and he hasn’t had a chance to cast one yet. I mean, I also knew that he wouldn’t be able to play one unless he drew a land, but there was no reason to give him the chance when I would be able to play Iona on the next turn if I drew an untapped land anyway, and most of my other draws would be spells that would let me do something.

In game 2 I would be on the play, so I didn’t bring in Knight of the White Orchid, and I just cut Baneslayer Angels, a Day of Judgment, and an Oblivion Ring for 3 Celestial Purge and 3 Flashfreeze. I was still at 17 life when I played Iona.

For game 3 I brought in the Knight of the White Orchid and the Baneslayers, cutting 3 Path to Exile and 2 Oblivion Rings because it didn’t look like he had much removal after sideboarding.

I mulled to 5 and it looked like I wasn’t going to be able to escape my play mistake this round. He played two Blightnings and attacked with Raging Ravine rather than playing any creatures. The second Blightning came after I played a Martial Coup for 6 just to block his Raging Ravine and left me at 2 life with just a Baneslayer Angel in hand. I drew Flashfreeze and played the Baneslayer Angel. He played Siege-Gang Commander with 3 mana up, so I played Flashfreeze to stay alive, and he Terminated my angel. From there I managed to win with Celestial Colonnade and the tokens. Lucky Flashfreeze topdeck saved the day and I won my first round 2-1.


In round 5 I played against Jund again, and this time he went to 5 cards in game 1. He had 2 Bloodbraid Elves and a Bituminous Blast for my Celestial Colonnade anyway, so he managed to take that one.

I side out 2 Oblivion Rings, 1 Day of Judgment, 1 Iona, 1 Martial Coup, and 1 Path to Exile for 3 Flashfreeze and 3 Celestial Purge. You can see I had a solid sideboard plan at this point.

I had to start the second game with 6 cards, and we passed back and forth a few times while I was stuck on 4 mana after playing a Day of Judgment with some Baneslayers in my hand. When I played the Baneslayers, I found out that he hadn’t been doing anything because he was sitting on answers, and then he played a Sprouting Thrinax, but I Martial Couped for 7. He had Maelstrom Pulse to kill my tokens and attack me down to 7 with his tokens. I played Mind Spring for 7, and passed, forgetting to play a land. He played Bloodbraid Elf, hit Goblin Ruinblaster, and killed me. I should have played Mind Spring for 6 and played a land and passed with Celestial Purge up, but I’m terrible. I also should have sided my Baneslayer Angels out so that I would have had a bunch of extra removal spells rather than just turning on his removal.


In Round 6 I played against UW. In game 1 he Spreading Seas’d my Plains and played a Jace, and the most difficult decision I had left to make was how long to hold out hope before conceding. We were pretty sure our UW matchup would be terrible, since they have Jace and counters and we don’t, but we figured it was worth it, since we really wanted to beat Jund. Anyway, our sideboard gave us hope.

I sided out 4 Baneslayer Angel, 3 Day of Judgment, an Oblivion Ring, and a Path to Exile for 4 Negate, 2 Jace, 2 Elspeth, and a Knight of the White Orchid.

Game 2 started off pretty similarly, but somehow, I managed to resolve a Martial Coup and kill his Jace at some point, and from there I played Iona and won the game. At some point in there he played Telemin Performance and got a Knight of the White Orchid. He also still had Baneslayer Angel in his deck.

Game 3 was more of the same – Spreading Seas made things awkward for me, but I managed to stick Iona again.


In Round 7 I played against Naya. Game 1 I played Mind Spring for 7, but drew 6 mana sources and a Path to Exile, so the game took a long time to win after that, but I was stable at 4 and he didn’t manage to put together two Bolts to finish me off.

I’m not sure how I sideboarded. I think I cut a Mind Spring, a Martial Coup, and 2 Ionas for 3 Flashfreeze and a Celestial Purge. Something like that. It wasn’t optimal, but game 2 was uneventful as he mulled to 5 and my draw was pretty good.


In Round 8 I played against Naya again and I fell too far behind to Bloodbraid Elf in game 1.

In game 2 I had Turn 3 Knight of the White Orchid hit off a Borderpost into Chalice to accelerate, and my hand was all action after that.

I had sided out 2 Mind Springs and 2 Ionas this time, and when he Oblivion Ringed my Baneslayer Angel in game 3, I didn’t have anything to do with my mana and just flooded out. The Mind Spring deck can’t really afford to cut its Mind Springs – things I’d have known if I’d played the deck before the event, or if we had tested against Naya. The problem with switching to a deck that was built the day before is that the sideboard plans aren’t really finalized.


The nice thing about Asian GPs is that that was the end of day 1, and I had already made day 2.

In round 9 I lost to Naya again. You may be getting the sense at this point that the matchup isn’t too good, but Brian Kibler, playing a very similar deck, only played against Naya and Jund throughout the entire Grand Prix, and all of his losses were to Jund. His deck was built to be better against Naya and worse against Jund though, but I’ll let him tell you about that. The matchup should be good, but we needed a better sideboard plan and a couple more answers to manlands. Also, I needed to play well.

Game 1 Ajani slowed me down while Bloodbraid killed me. I would have barely been able to stop Ajani from killing all my lands if I wasn’t dead.

Before playing day 2 I had a conversation with Brian Kowal about sideboarding for this match, and he suggested that they probably take out their equipment package. I said I’d been playing against Sledge in post sideboard games, and that it seems like their best way to play around Day of Judgment (and attack over Soldier Tokens – it’s actually one of their best cards).

Based on a plan I worked out with Brian, I sided out 3 Divination, 1 Mind Spring, and 2 Ionas for 2 Jace, 3 Flashfreeze, and a Celestial Purge. The card draw felt too slow, but without it we needed Jace, and Jace made our Baneslayers better by taxing their Oblivion Rings, which they’re already tempted to use on our artifact mana.

I felt really good about game 2. He was playing early Oblivion Rings on my artifact mana when I had plenty of lands and a Baneslayer Angel in hand. I hit him with Baneslayer Angel several times, but he had Basilisk Collar in his deck still, and it was in play, and he Rangered for Scute Mob and forced me to Martial Coup away my own angel. From there he was able to come back from 2 life with Basilisk Collar on his manlands and a Pridemage. When things were looking grim for me, I was out of tokens and my hand was just a Day of Judgment, but I had a Celestial Colonnade and he had a Pridemage and an enormous Raging Ravine, I drew Tectonic Edge and suddenly I was back in it. Somehow I convinced myself not to use a Day of Judgment just to kill his Pridemage, and I passed the turn. He animated his Raging Ravine and I edged it. He used his Pridemage to kill an Oblivion Ring on a Dauntless Escort that I had completely forgetten about to save his land and force me to chump with my Colonnade. I drew a Baneslayer Angel, but it just had to chump his Ravine as well and I lost. If I had just played the Day of Judgment on my turn I would have won that game.


At this point I was worried that this would be yet another GP where I make day 2 and completely choke and walk away with nothing, but I tried to tell myself that it wasn’t over yet and I could still maybe even top 8 if I won out.

In Round 10 I was paired against Mono Red, which I was worried might be a bad matchup since we didn’t have Kor Firewalker. Game 1 I was on the draw, but my hand was pretty good. I played Chalice for 1, then Martial Coup for 2, then Baneslayer Angel when I was at 6 life. He didn’t have 2 Bolts, and I untapped, so I won.

For game 2 I cut Ionas, Days, Rings, Coups, a Mind Spring, and 2 Chalices to bring in the full 15. I played a Jace and went +2, so he killed it with a Ball Lightning. Then I played Elsepth and made a token, so he attacked it with a 1/1 Geopede and a Hellspark Elemental. I didn’t block and let Elsepth go to 1, and he finished it, his Geopede, and my token off with a Volcanic Fallout. From there I was still at something like 14 life, and it was very easy to win.


In round 11 against Jund he mulled to 6 and kept a one land hand and missed his second land drop. My draw was excellent and I won quickly.

I sided out 2 Day of Judgment, 1 Oblivion Ring, and 4 Baneslayers for 3 Celestial Purge, 3 Flashfreeze, and a Knight of the White Orchid, having finally found a sideboard plan I like against Jund. The idea is to blank their removal and just play to ramp up to Elsepth to win.

In game 2 I countered his first Goblin Ruinblaster, but the next two put me pretty far behind. The two Blightnings that came after that pretty much sealed it, but he played a Liliana Vess just to be safe.

For game 3 we both Mulliganed and I kept Island, Chalice, Divination, Oblivion Ring, Iona, and one other spell. I missed my second land drop, but then drew out of it. He Blightninged me, but I just discarded 2 Ionas that it didn’t look like I’d be able to cast that game. From there he was just attacking with manlands, so my purges were able to get things stable (the second one was a crucial topdeck) from there I managed to start playing enormous Mind Springs, which I drew at the perfect times to dodge his Duresses, and Liliana finding him 2 Malakir Bloodwitches wasn’t good enough to beat my giant piles of cards.


In Round 12 I played against UW again, and this time I was able to get ahead in game 1 by playing a Chalice for 2. From there I was able to convince him that we should both be tapping out for giant x spells on our turns, which my deck is much better at than his.
In game 2 my start was awesome: Turn 2 Chalice, turn 3 Knight of the White Orchid, Divination. He played Jace, but since I had Knight to threaten it, he just had to +2. I played another Knight, and between them and an Oblivion Ring, I dealt with his two Jaces and stuck my own. He played a Treasure Hunt for a bunch of lands and an Iona, so I knew that I had to keep pressure on him and Jace in play to stop him from being able to cast Iona. I Jaced away my Mind Springs before shuffling with another Knight of the White Orchid to keep a hand full of action, which I played very quickly, but it worked and I was able to keep pressure on him long enough to kill him with 3 cards left in my hand against his full grip.


In round 13 I played against Jund again. When I played a Baneslayer Angel and he played a Broodmate Dragon, I figured he probably didn’t have removal, moreover, I didn’t feel like I could sit back, because my life total was low, and I couldn’t race his dragons, so I had to attack, play another Baneslayer Angel, and hope he didn’t have the pulse. All he had was another Broodmate Dragon, but I knew that I’d lose if he drew a Pulse, so I attacked with both Angels to get ahead on life 24-4 and played Day of Judgment to start over while he had a one card hand to my 5 spells. That worked out.

I sided the same way as I did against the previous Jund opponent, but I kept a terrible hand of 5 lands, and Borderpost, and a Mind Spring for not good reason. I drew more lands and he played Thrinax into Ruinblaster, into Garruk, and I died in short order.

In game 3 I drew a Borderpost on turn 4 which let me play Knight of the White Orchid and get a land, then I Pathed his Thrinax at the end of his turn and drew another Knight of the White Orchid to get another land and Mind Spring for 3 in the same turn. He played a Siege-Gang, I played Martial Coup, he played Blightning, I played Iona – it was exactly the way I want games against Jund to go.


My final round was against Mythic, or something very close to it, so I knew exactly what to play around, and I knew the matchup was excellent for me. In game 1 he basically has no chance. All I have to play around is extra damage from Exalted, and I have a ton of Wraths and Baneslayers, which he’s not prepared for.

When I lost to Nassif in San Diego with Mythic, he brought in Baneslayer Angels and they were good against me, but when I looked at my sideboard with this deck, all my cards seemed too good and I had to cut them, especially since he might have Bant Charm or Mind Control against me.

Game 2 wasn’t close either, but it was fun for me, since I had to moderate how greedy I could be with my Martial Coups to avoid dying to Negate + an ideal combination of cards. It’s not a match I should ever lose if I don’t walk into something or get totally screwed.


I turns out I was wrong after round 9, and because we were just below the cutoff for an extra round, I had already been eliminated from top 8 contention, which I knew going into the last round, but I was still hoping for a top 12. There were too many 11-2-1s though, and I had to settle for Top 16, knowing that this could have been mine if I had known my deck a little better.

Everyone who played this deck felt extremely confident about it going into the tournament. It just felt like we’d broken it, and overall, I still feel that way, even though our results weren’t great. The deck was a little too raw. We hadn’t worked out the numbers exactly and we didn’t know our plans well enough, and of course we were all jetlagged. The deck needs to be slightly better prepared for man lands, but I think it’s reasonable to play 1-2 Spreading Seas (we’re not trying to mana screw people, we just want to turn off man lands), an extra edge, and maybe the 4th path. Overall, it just felt like we found a way to do even more powerful things than Mythic, and when the counterspells are terrible, it feels really good to just do absurdly powerful things.

I highly recommend this deck.

Thanks for reading..