Back to the Mississippi’s muddy banks, and all I’m doing is planning to leave again. Madison made for one of the best eight-week stretches of time in my life, but all that’s gone, Indonesian is pseudo-learned, and I’m sitting here having to figure out how to manage three banks’ worth of assets in two different countries online while somehow shipping myself living supplies in one single 100-lb rectangular FedEx package. If that sounds like your idea of a holiday, do give me a call, because my international rate-conversion experience is limited to four-color-Merfolk deck-designer Brooks Clark running around the Chinese market in Kuala Lumpur yelling “How Much?” and laughing in the face of any vendor who dared respond.
In between all this madness, of course, Grand Prix: Denver happened. GerryT – who is right, whereas I am wrong, in case anyone asks* – continued to cement his reputation as one of America’s best, and Chapin once again broke out a healthy host of Innovations. You’ve been hearing about Runed Halo here in Chatter for awhile, but all I can say about Archon of Justice is… sorry, guys, for missing that one. Patrick sums it up best by simply relating it to Keiga, and I have no idea how I couldn’t see that comparison.
In my practice sessions since the GP, Archon’s presence on the table reminds me of one of my Nationals games – in Limited, actually – against Jacob Van Lunen. I was running a perfectly fine R/G deck against JVL’s totally ludicrous Mono-Red monstrosity. I was building up some momentum and had a very compelling board presence that threatened to end the game in two turns, when all of the sudden he dropped Spitemare on turn 4. At that point, My Little Pony – which somehow he picked up around like sixth pick – completely turned the tide of the game, but not in your typical fashion. It wasn’t that all the sudden I was entirely out of options, or that my table was wiped, or that I had no cards in hand, or anything else. The issue was rather that everything I could do was bad. Every attack involved a two-for-one, and every turn that I simply passed it back gave him another draw step to just kill me with a Traitor’s Roar or an Ember Gale.
Archon is similar. You play him, and all of the sudden your opponent is looking at losing his two best guys. Or he’s forced to overextend into an Austere Command that also costs him his Bitterblossom or his Mutavault, depending on the modes you’re able to name on the Command. Or, he gets blown out by two turns’ worth of initiative when you cast the first Archon, he does nothing, then you follow up by swinging for four in the air and dropping another Archon. Or he has to kill it to push damage through, and you get a two-for-one that costs you zero tempo. Bottom line, you’re never frowning when you cast him – especially since he provides a free maindeck slot with which you can answer other problematic cards like Runed Halo.
Two thumbs up.
So I wanted to write about this deck prior to the GP, but I was under the assumption that some of the Madison players may be playing it so I kept my mouth shut. Turns out that didn’t happen, but it’s quite a beauty and I’m excited to finally be able to chat it up. The concept isn’t entirely original; it’s based in part on my post-sideboard configuration of Sam Black early-season Faeries list, on a deck that did well at the Nationals PTQ, and the playtesting prowess of Madison players JohnV (affectionately known as GohJohn) and Kyle Ripp. Yes, boys, we have ourselves a straightforward Blue-Black Control deck.
Now, the problem with building pure control decks in Lorwyn/Shadowmoor Block is that you have to continually ask yourself why you’re not 1) Quick n’ Toast or 2) Faeries. Quick n’ Toast has repeatedly proven its manabase is plenty consistent, so if you’re not playing Toast you’re cutting yourself off from the best spells available in three colors of Magic – and you’re doing it in Block, a format where a card’s objective power level is very important because of the incredible disparity between a format’s best and worst spells. Faeries, meanwhile, is rife with backbreaking synergies and a clock that manages frequently to kill an opponent out of absolutely nowhere. Therefore, if you’re not employing either of these strategies, you had better provide some good reasons for failing to do so.
The real beauty of this deck, truly, is that very few people have good sideboard cards against you. Chameleon Colossus is about it. So many people have to board Wispmares to beat Bitterblossoms that there are very few Negates (and things like that) around for Faeries’ strategic trumps. Similarly, a lot of plans against Quick n’ Toast revolve around blowing up a bunch of lands with Fulminator Mage so that the colors don’t work out right, but you have 27 lands and 12 basics. Runed Halo on Raven’s Crime is a beating, but some Q&T players don’t have it, and many that do may not even bring it in – and you can always Thoughtseize it first! The Kithkin decks, meanwhile, have exactly zero exciting sideboard possibilities.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The way this deck works is by crippling the ability of the format’s slower decks to plan out their long-term development. Crime is actually the nut trump. With 27 lands, you can count on casting around three Raven’s Crimes unassisted by your opponent’s fourth turn – and that’s if you don’t draw multiple Crimes or Thoughtseizes. Mulldrifters help recoup some of the lost ammunition, as well as of course simply helping you gain card advantage. While this rarely prevents the opponent from doing anything at all, it does typically force them to go all-in on one threat, at least early on, which in turn frequently allows you time to either neutralize that threat, resolve a River Kelpie, or counter that threat with a Cryptic Command. If you haven’t drawn Crime, of course, then you still have a bit of a strategic advantage through your greater land count and the ability to present Mannequins as instant-speed threats. Thoughtseize is also frequently a threat that has to be worked around, and Snuffers can clear the board of annoying Faerie tokens while you set up.
With Kelpie on the table, all of the sudden your gameplan drastically changes. For one thing, the opponent’s Finks, Larks, Mannequins, and Oona’s Graces go tremendously down in value. He’s also not going to die to a single Inversion, so you can tap out without going to great lengths to protect him. From that point, your Crimes become the best zero-investment Compulsions in history, and eventually your Grace will allow you to draw a good chunk of your deck. Eventually you kill the opponent with a combination of 2/2 creatures and Oona.
Against faster decks, you have Shriekmaw, Mannequin, Inversion, and Snuffers to stem the bleeding. Raven’s Crime is still incredibly important in these matchups because it stops their second wave. It is not difficult to kill and entire team with a combination of Snuffers and Mannequins, and don’t be afraid to Cryptic Command your own Soul Snuffers for value. Ashenmoor Gouger, so vaunted for his inability to be killed, becomes just another dude that dies to Nameless Inversion. Spectral Procession and Cloudgoat Ranger, potent weapons in the Kithkin arsenal, become liabilities. Chameleon Colossus, your worst nightmare, nevertheless becomes much more manageable. Stillmoon Cavalier? Nice card. You have the tools to do anything.
Rather than talk about the sideboard in abstract terms, I’d just as soon run through the matchups and examine how they play out.
The way you lose this matchup is to fall into the trap that Teachings players fell into last year versus Blue-Green: Thinking you have a whole lot more time than you actually did. If you have the choice between Mulldrifting for two cards or getting a guy off the table, you had better get that guy off the table. You can’t afford to take damage. Fortunately you have almost no good Mirrorweave targets, but they still have Cenns and sometimes Lieges so make sure to avoid getting “gotten” by those cards. Similarly, don’t think your Snuffers will serve as Wraths all the time. If they have three 1/1 tokens, don’t sit around making some investment-intensive play thinking that their men will still die next turn. You’ll feel like a giant idiot if they Ajani you or are holding a Liege, and all of a sudden you’re dead. Ditto on pointless waiting until their turn to Nameless Inversion, only to take 7 courtesy of an ill-timed Nameless Inversion.
Also, don’t be afraid to throw away a couple of lands on Crimes early on. You really don’t need much land advantage in this matchup unless you’re just convinced you’ll need to trade Mutavaults.
There are two routes you can go with sideboarding. One involves taking out Kelpies, the Grace, the Raven’s Crimes, the Pasture (no Retrace), and the Thoughtseizes for the Necroskitters, the Biting Tethers, the Unmakes, and the Puppeteer Cliques (for blocking and hitting Cloudgoat Ranger). With this plan you’re almost entirely a board-control deck that cannot wait to trade cards. Skitter shores up the ground and can let you completely turn the tide with a well-placed Snuffers, and Tether provides extra insurance in case Figure of Destiny gets out of hand. Mulldrifter stays in to ensure that you hit your land drops, since you’re playing several five-mana spells. The other route simply takes out Oona’s Grace, two Mulldrifters, and Thoughtseizes for Necroskitters and Unmakes, leaving in the Crime plan with Kelpie to stop their second wave and avoiding packing your deck with expensive spells. I prefer the first plan, but both have proven effective in post-board games, and overall this matchup just really isn’t much of a problem for you.
The worst thing that can happen to you is that they have Bitterblossom and Mistbind Clique, and you’re either unable to Thoughtseize/Crime the Clique out of their hand, Cryptic Command it, or have the Shriekmaw for the turn after you get Mana Shorted. Clique is without a doubt their best card. Without it, your Soul Snuffers can control the little dudes and you can set about working on their hand. You have card advantage and they don’t, and you have inevitability both because of Oona’s Grace and because sooner or later you can stick a Kelpie, so they have to be the ones killing you. Bitterblossom by itself isn’t particularly scary because you have so many ways to mop up little guys, and it’s easier for you to see their Oona than it is for them to see theirs. Don’t walk into the possibility of Sower, but your Nameless Inversions aren’t really doing a whole lot else so it’s not too difficult to hit that guy.
What is problematic is that their Thoughtseizes are better than yours, but you’re much more likely to be able to obliterate their hand entirely. For this reason you want to start Crime-ing as soon as possible, because so long as you can eventually cast a spell it doesn’t so much matter what it is. Meanwhile, because Faeries is such a synergistic deck, putting them into a topdeck war is good for you because many of their cards do nothing off the top.
Post-board, you want the fourth Thoughtseize to try and hit Blossom – one of the reason you’re running a lot of basic Swamps – as well as Jace, and Unmake for their Cliques. Jace doesn’t seem all that tight, because they have flying creatures, but he’s actually very exciting as a Counsel of the Soratami. Especially if you can take their early Blossom, Jace can win you the game by himself. Shriekmaw is rather bad against them, and even though Snuffers is important to manage Blossom tokens, you rarely want four. You can also shave two Nameless Inversions since they’re principally important for Mutavaults and Sowers, and Sowers should probably not be in their deck after boarding. Watch out for Puppeteer Clique. Some friends of mine advocate bringing in P. Cliques of your own to try and “get them” with their own Mistbinds, but that to me seems to be asking for a lot of things to go right.
This matchup actually plays out very similarly to Kithkin, except they trade a bit of early-drop creature quality for the ability to have range. Your Thoughtseizes aren’t actually as bad as you might think, even though they’ll probably be coming out. Sometimes, even though it’s awkward, you have to take a Demigod, but if it saves you some damage you’ll need to bite the bullet. It may seem counterintuitive to start throwing lands at Raven’s Crime given that some of the builds have both Fulminator Mage and Incendiary Command, but often you’ll be able to hit the Command with a Crime anyway and save yourself four life. In general, though, stay out of burn range by killing their men and gain your advantage with Kelpies and Mannequins.
This matchup is one of the many reasons I prefer Biting Tether to Sower of Temptation in this deck. Even against the decks that can have Wispmare for your Tethers, a) they have to have Mare right then or their guy is Scarred, and b) you can force them to bring in Wispmare and draw it in situations where you don’t have a Tether. Most of the time, though, matchups like this happen where the opponent has infinite creature removal but absolutely no way to deal with an Enchantment, and all of the sudden your biggest problems become your greatest assets. You’re bringing in 3 Tethers, 4 Necroskitters, 2 Unmakes, and 2 Puppeteer Cliques for 3 Thoughtseize, 2 Shriekmaw – their creatures are frequently Black – 1 River Kelpie, 4 Raven’s Crime, and 1 Island. Against the Alex Kim build specifically, take out two more Kelpies for another Tether and the Island. With this configuration, you’re much better equipped to deal with Demigods and Gougers, and Skitter/Snuffers again allows for the possibility of an entire team defecting to your side.
Mid-range Green Decks
I’m coupling Shamans in here as well as more generic Doran/Colossus decks, and even the four-color Merfolk build tends to play out similarly. Colossus is obviously a huge problem, and it’s no secret that your Snuffers are going to be working overtime trying to make their men small enough to handle. Your discard/Kelpie engine is your best friend here, because aside from Dorans and Colossi you actually don’t particularly care about many of their guys. Smaller dudes die to Inversions, non-Black creatures die to Shriekmaws, and Kelpie can end the game really quickly if you’re able to untap with him. But game one you’re on a very hope-intensive plan – one that can get there a good chunk of the time – and sometimes you’re able to counterspell their big threat and they’re out of gas. Still, your plan changes drastically after sideboarding.
You want to take out the Raven’s Crimes, because now that you have the tools to handle all of their threats, trading one-for-one on their random spells just to try to hit a gem is no longer necessary. You also want to take out the Kelpies, because these decks can pack as many as four Crib Swaps and he’s really your only good target for that spell. Shriekmaw has very few good targets, and so he goes as well. Finally, as they don’t attack your land, you can cut an Island, since Springjack Pasture is actually very important against them as a zero-investment way to stall their big Green men. In exchange, you sub in two Unmakes, four Tethers, and four Necroskitters.
Necroskitter is in the board over numerous other means of fending off smaller dorks precisely because of Doran, the Siege Tower. Skitter, put simply, is one of the best possible answers to that card short of Inside Out, and unlike Inside Out he is incredibly effective on his own should they not have Doran. Skitter leaves good ol’ Pants just sitting on the table as an 0/1, clinking in for a damage per turn while their other Siege Towers sit uselessly in their hand. Meanwhile, four whole Biting Tethers threaten to Insurrection their entire army should you look at enough cards. You have access to another Thoughtseize, should you want it, but I’ve found that three is the right number after board, as you don’t want to overload on those cards only to die to an onslaught of Wren’s Run Vanquishers.
Quick n’ Toast
Talk about a matchup where Raven’s Crime shines. They literally cannot do anything about that card, nor do they have a whole lot of outs to the Kelpie engine. Furthermore, not only do you have more land, but you have more lands that do things. In this matchup, you simply do a whole lot of things better than them. You both have Mannequin into Shriekmaw/Mulldrifter, but your Shriekmaws kill things and theirs do not. Both of your Wrath effects are ineffective, but yours is a 2/2 that makes their Persist creatures awkward. Their one advantage is that at least Austere Command can kill an Oona, while your Nameless Inversions aren’t ever going to do a whole lot, and Archon of Justice can pose a problem should they be able to sneak it through your discard and Countermagic. Still, you’re heavily favored – especially if you can set up a “big turn” courtesy of your goat-producing pseudo-Storage Land, given that their Broken Ambitions only get weaker and weaker as the game progresses. The only way they can really kill you is to sneak through a Cloudthresher and manage to Mannequin it enough times that you run out of both blockers and spells that target creatures.
Post-sideboard, they have to have a Runed Halo immediately for Crime, or they’re going to get wrecked. Aside from that, they bring in Chameleon Colossus. Your plan, therefore, is to take out those awful Soul Snuffers, Shriekmaws, and Nameless Inversions – along with a Kelpie, since you’re winning if you’re Retracing, anyway – for 4 Biting Tethers, 1 Thoughtseize, 2 Jace, 2 Unmake (for Persist, any random Sowers, and to avoid things getting Mannequinned) and 2 Puppeteer Clique. Despite Toast being a control deck, they have to kill you with creature spells at some point, and 4 Tethers actually allow you to deal with every single one of their threats while at the same time mitigating their post-board plan. Your discard, meanwhile, is usually going to enable you to see whether or not they have Wispmares, anticipating your plan in advance. If so, and you’re able to take the actual spell that you care about instead, you can just do that and strand them with dead cards, holding your Crimes until you can Mind Twist.
Anyway, that’s a wrap for this creation. Have questions, mail me in the forums. Take care, y’all!
* and not about anything specific, but just in general.