Wow; where to start? First off, a hearty thank you to all who took the time to write in with your thoughts, comments, and encouragement. The response to last week’s article was overwhelming and made me feel very welcome in my new home here at StarCity.
While we’re there, let’s do some quick housecleaning. First a correction – I evidently made the following claim last week:
Currently, ‘Tog looks good against any of the midgame decks and great against Sligh and Wake.
Sorry; mistyped on that one. Please change”Sligh” in that sentence to”Slide.” Along those lines, I’m going to join Zvi and many of the other writers in henceforth referring to red decks as”Goblins” whenever possible.
Next, I inadvertently defected Swedes Staffan Enberg and Jocke Falk to Germany while covering the mono-black decks. They are, in fact, Swedish. Sorry guys, you can return to Sweden now. Was it because a German took Top 4 in the Stockholm championships? Actually, it was a simple slip – I had been combing several German events for Black Control lists just prior, and clearly had Deutschland on the brain. (And I should have caught that as well, since I was the one who actually hyperlinked it – bad Ferrett! – T.F.)
And with that out of the way, we turn to this week’s specimen. In last week’s article, I gave a survey of most of the decks that I currently consider significantly viable. Decks I didn’t cover were either too rogue to be expected or too unproven/rare to worry about at this time. With such a wide-open metagame, one of the biggest challenges is striking the balance between having a manageable scope without disregarding potential tourney winners. With a week now behind me on that article, I still think that list represents a great starting place in terms of decks to watch if you’re willing to consider both tiers.
In the articles from here on I’ll be covering individual archetypes in considerably more detail, digging into the specific cards and strategies available and the arguments behind them. Because many of these specific decisions will depend on your interpretation of your own expected metagame, my goal with these articles is to show you the nuts and bolts of the archetypes rather than try to provide”the one single list you should play.”
As such the focus of these articles will be to provide analysis of the different options that are available, and my opinions on the strengths and weaknesses of those options. Armed with that knowledge, and your own take on it, you’ll be set to make decisions on the best options for the deck you end up choosing.
So let’s get to it!
4 Arrogant Wurm
4 Basking Rootwalla
4 Wild Mongrel
4 Careful Study
4 Circular Logic
3 Deep Analysis
3 Quiet Speculation
1 Ray of Revelation
3 Roar of the Wurm
1 City of Brass
1 Acorn Harvest
1 Krosan Reclamation
2 Ray of Revelation
2 Turbulent Dreams
As I said in last week’s article, I consider this version from Jeff Cunningham to be the current definitive Blue/Green madness list. This deck is powerful, consistent, and able to handle almost anything thrown at it. It also serves as one of the true benchmarks of the format. Many deckbuilders start at this environment’s drawing board with”how do I handle 6/6 flying Wurm tokens starting on turn 4 (and 5, and 6)? Given that brute power it often handles rogue decks well, punishing archetypes that aren’t able to keep up with its relentless battering.
But it has weaknesses as well. Permanents are normally exactly that against this deck… And this can become a terrible headache when they’re something you simply must deal with. A single Worship can ruin your day, as can many other threats from a surprisingly long list. We’ll cover many of those weaknesses as we advance through the article and explore the main debates revolving around the archetype.
Gentlemen, Choose Your Engines
The #1 advantage to the Blue/Green archetype is the vast array of synergy available.”Enabling” cards like Breakthrough, Merfolk Looter, Wild Mongrel, and Aquamoeba go incredibly well with Threshold effects, the Flashback mechanic, the Incarnation effect (namely, Wonder), and of course the Madness mechanic. Because of this, there was wide diversity of U/G approaches early on, but that has now (pretty much) focused down to one of two approaches:”U/G Madness” and”U/G Threshold.” Exceptions and hybrids appear occasionally, but most of the time you’ll find that the key is focusing on one approach or the other and maximizing its benefits with everything you’ve got.
The current version of this archetype typically owes its existence to a Sideboard article by Mike Flores:”Single Forest, Double Island“:
4 Nimble Mongoose
3 Seton’s Scout
4 Wild Mongrel
4 Careful Study
4 Mental Note
4 Roar of the Wurm
1 Ray of Revelation
1 City of Brass
4 Flooded Strand
4 Windswept Heath
In that article, Mike does his typical amazing cheerleading job, and by the end you’re ready to throw every other deck out the window. On the heels of this article alone, the value of cards like Nimble Mongoose rose to ridiculous heights on Magic Online within days.
My problem with the Threshold approach is that you don’t have any true disruption. In an environment where so many different decks can do so many different gross things to you, I just don’t buy that the proper approach is to run with no disruption whatsoever. And that should go double in a deck that has so much trouble with permanents.
The real truth is that while this deck is capable of some truly impressive starts just like its bigger U/G Madness cousin, it’s also capable of a frustrating number of absolute garbage starts. Getting threshold can be a terrific struggle more often than you’d like to admit, and many of your guys are just completely outclassed in the meantime. All of that is without taking into account that the deck is a touch mana-light and often struggles with getting the right colors out when it needs them. Ultimately this deck is only truly good in a heavy Control/Combo-oriented field, even if it could be made to be more consistent.
So, as you can probably tell by now, I’m not a big fan of the Threshold approach. It’s not terrible, and you could definitely do much worse, but I consider the Madness approach to be considerably more reliable and powerful. If you’re willing to risk the mana pitfalls of the Blue/Green combination, why not go with the best?
Which brings us to the meat and potatoes of the article. The main question, as the earlier heading indicated, lies in choosing your core engine. Up until recently that engine was typically something like Merfolk Looter, Careful Study, and Deep Analysis. The roots of this go back to last Summer’s English Nationals and the unveiling of Deep Dog, where Gary Wise, Ben Ronaldson, and John Ormerod went a stunning 16-0-2 in their Constructed rounds. Take a look at that list, and remember that this was almost a year ago:
Ben Ronaldson, 2002 English Nationals
4 Yavimaya Coast
2 Centaur Garden
4 Basking Rootwalla
4 Wild Mongrel
4 Arrogant Wurm
4 Merfolk Looter
4 Roar of the Wurm
4 Careful Study
4 Circular Logic
4 Deep Analysis
When you add in consideration for the cards that have come out since, that list is still surprisingly close to many U/G decks out there today. The main difference I have at this point is with the Looters, and I agree 100% with Cunningham at this point that their time is up.
The real issue is fragility, not power. Looters are amazing when they get going – but compared to the days of Deep Dog, those times are getting harder to come by. In a format where red is a lot more popular and even the control decks can kill this guy reliably, you need something more durable. Enter four Aquamoeba. It’s not as sexy or powerful as the fishy Jalum Tome, but it’s a whole lot more likely to survive the turn and do its job of enabling all of the tricks your deck is basically founded upon. All of this is basically insurance for the games you don’t get your Mongrel out – and if it’s Looter instead of Aquamoeba, it’s frighteningly easy to get stuck with a handful of cards like Roar, Analysis, and Arrogant Wurm.
However, to add the considerably more-dependable Aquamoeba we give up on one of our card drawing engines. That’s a big deal, and the reason Quiet Speculation has made such a big comeback in this archetype. Speculation is a natural in this deck – but up until around the time of the Masters, few had figured out how to best add it in without disrupting the rest of the deck’s fine-tuned balance. The secret was firing all the Looters for ‘Moebas, and in my opinion there won’t be much looking back.
Yes, there’s Withered Wretch to keep in mind, but for now I still consider it a red herring. Put another way, I’ll believe people are using Withered Wretch when I see it.
If U/G Madness’ true strength comes from its synergy, its true weakness is mana. This archetype had trouble getting both colors of mana back in the Deep Dog days, and that was when it still had access to four now desperately-missed Yavimaya Coasts.
The mana for the current build is one of the main differences I have with most U/G decks. An awful lot of people out there are running twenty-two lands, commonly with only one City of Brass, and I just don’t buy it. This deck has power to spare to a certain extent, and everyone who runs it will tell you how often the color-screw becomes a serious factor. Given that I can’t imagine running less than twenty-three land, and I’m still very tempted to go to twenty-four.
In addition, I’m just not convinced by a single City of Brass. If a deck this aggressive and undercosted can’t afford to run multiple Cities, I doubt anything ever can. The way this deck spits out fat, I believe you can buy some insurance in the form of two or three Cities. Yes, you will take some damage, and yes, you may occasionally lose because of it, but I think you’re more likely to run into problems because of not drawing the colors you need when you need them. Currently, I’m running two Cities with the idea that three may be too many to support all the Deep Analyzing you sometimes need to do… But I’ve fluctuated between two and three several times in the last month. Of course, you should try all three configurations plenty of times yourself if you have the time. If you don’t, my guess is that two (in a twenty-three land deck) offers the best balance.
Bounce or No?
With the appearance of Elephant Guide in G/W and G/R aggro decks, bounce has become a lot more attractive to many U/G players in recent weeks. Add in the abundance of (often large) token creatures tromping about the environment and bounce gets even better looking, particularly in such a tempo-oriented deck. Aether Burst seems to be the most common addition in this capacity but four slots is a lot of room to dig out of this deck. My own opinion is that I’m not really sure you can afford that much space for a spell like this, and I’ve run into many others who feel similarly. The most common choice for less than four slots is overwhelmingly Unsummon – which may not be as sexy as the Burst, but it’s cheaper and comes with the flexibility of willingness to work in only three slots or less.
Almost surely the trickiest part of this deck lies in boarding correctly. In a deck with so many finely-tuned parts, it’s easy to accidentally knock things out of whack when trying to shove a bunch of board cards in for game 2. Because of that, I can’t stress enough how valuable practicing with sideboards can be. Rather than go matchup by matchup, for this one I’m going to go sideboard option by sideboard option, letting you know where each is best and which specific roles they can play in your overall design. From there, it’s up to you to decide which decks you expect to face and which ones you want the most help against.
This one’s a no-brainer and its usefulness against so many different decks and styles just further cements that. The only question is number, and I haven’t had less than four for weeks. I doubt I’m the only one.
You only get so many slots to work with and U/G feels the pinch for space. One of the results is that you need cards with multiple applications. Equilibrium serves as an answer to creature enchantments (Elephant Guide) while also serving as a tempo weapon in the mirror and against other creature-based decks. This one really shines against G/W and Beasts and is good in the mirror as well, often flipping the tempo advantage around to your side while punishing them for using token creatures. One real concern with these is the UU in the casting cost and also still having enough”real” creatures to trigger this repeatedly – something to keep in mind when deciding how much board space you want to commit and what you’ll be taking out.
This one is typically included as something of a necessary evil. Some permanents simply have to be answered, and you don’t have access to many options on this front. Whether it’s Ensnaring Bridge, Worship, or a handful of other problem permanents, this is the most common answer right now. The real issue, of course, is non-creature permanents, since you have other/better bounce options for creatures. This one also comes with a sometimes problematic double blue, but the discard effect can often work in your favor.
Almost always occurring at least once per U/G board, the Reclamation is a natural addition for Speculation builds and offers answers for incarnations, the mirror, and however many Reanimator decks are still out there. I’ve never run more than one but I can at least understand the temptation to have two. I don’t at all understand people out there running three or even four of these.
Ray of Revelation
Again, a natural fit with both the Madness engine and Speculation. Many decks now sport one of these main and then board the remaining two or three. Their presence is one more reason why I like more Cities of Brass.
This one’s a bit more esoteric and I’ve only really seen it in Jeff’s listing. Jeff’s approach to the deck strikes me as optimizing the deck’s developmental advantages, and I suspect that Divert is intended to further this advantage when facing decks like Control Black and Tog, where establishing the early game is so crucial. This can be particularly handy for helping force out that early Compost or other crucial spell, and can sometimes do absolutely idiotic things to your opponent. Perhaps the best value is what it does to your opponents who already know about it. The danger is getting stuck with them later on.
Compared to other board cards in Cunningham’s list, the Harvest isn’t as commonly seen in other U/G listings. An okay answer to things like Innocent Blood or Chainer’s Edict, I suspect its presence of a single copy is justified by Speculation. Thing is, wouldn’t you rather grab Analysis and get two cards for the same price, rather than two dorks?
Something that doesn’t show up in Cunningham’s deck, Naturalize shows up in plenty of other listings. As I mentioned earlier, U/G has a lot of problems stuffing all the options it wants into those few sideboard slots. One of the ways to get around that is finding cards that can do double-duty. In addition to the enchantments of Slide and some other decks, there’s always Ensnaring Bridge to worry about. For many, the answer is to pass on Turbulent Dreams and Ray of Revelation and instead go with three or four Naturalizes in the board. You lose the synergy with Speculation, but gain a more flexible card in its place, saving precious space in the process.
Best in the mirror, the Oppressor lives up to his name against any removal-challenged deck, such as G/W, the mirror, and Beasts. The main argument against this option is that he’s a bit slower and more fragile than Equilibrium, and not worth the time against decks with removal. Also again, you’re looking at double-blue casting costs, particularly those of you out there with only one City… Given the space concerns and number of things you need to be able to answer, something has to give. Just what doesn’t make the cut will depend on how heavily you expect to see the various deck types. If you’re banking on lots of U/G and W/G, this is a good one to lean on if your mana can take it.
In the quest to save space with versatility, The Big ‘Heave is surely king. The #1 issue here is the casting cost, particularly for people using this as an answer to things like Bridge, which tend to show up in aggressive decks that can make Upheaval feel like stirring molasses. The other common use for this is as a combo punch against Slide – Ray the Slide at the end of their turn, ‘Heave on your turn, and it’s generally smiles all around… Well, smiles for you, anyway.
This is a common board addition earmarked for non-aggro decks, particularly in U/G lists that don’t have two or three copies main. Again, it’s a good card; it’s just a question of fitting everything. If you expect lots of control, the ability to jump to four of these in game 2 can be a big plus.
Primarily for Sligh and R/G, the life gain combined with a fat body means racing is a lot easier. Don’t forget that Aquamoeba is a beast, and be careful with your curve if you’re bringing in a whole herd of these guys.
As opposed to the Baloths, Centaur is a bet against decks like ‘Tog, Control Black, and rogue Black decks such as The Graveborn Identity. Again, the question is one of what you expect – and again, keep an eye on the curve if you’ve got more than a couple of these available.
This one is mainly used to shore up the Control Black and Psychatog matches, and isn’t bad against Reanimator if you expect it. It also stops Wrath from Slide decks, but you can probably do better there. Mostly this is a slower, safer angle on the Divert plan.
Spellbane has a number of handy uses – the primary one being to give the increasingly-rare U/G opposition decks fits. He’s also an answer to opposing Oppressors, but only while he lives, so his use for this role will depend in part on the opposing deck’s colors and removal count. Like many other options on the list, he’s not bad in the mirror either.
U/G Madness is Tier 1 for a reason. This deck harnesses a lot of raw power and offers the potential for some of the most unfair draws available in competitive Standard. It falls somewhere between the polarizing effects of the other two Tier 1 decks, not as controlling as ‘Tog, not as aggro as R/G. In the same vein, U/G doesn’t have many bad match-ups, but also has few amazing matchups.
Interestingly, this is the first time I remember the three Tier 1 decks being Aggro, Control, and AggroControl. That characteristic alone may be an intriguing indicator to just how healthy this current environment is. U/G certainly has weaknesses, but with so many other decks to worry about it’s likely that fewer people will be able to hate you out with as much quantity as they might otherwise have tried. However, it’s important to go into the deal knowing that you are one of the perceived leaders, and as such, presumably all or at least most of your opponents will have something in mind for how to handle you. The question is how much, and how well.
Take a Breath
The way these articles are weighing in, you’d think Star City was paying me by the word! The truth is, there’s just so much to cover… And even with this kind of length, there’s still a lot more that could be discussed. Hopefully, I’ve managed to leave you with a better understanding of this archetype than you came in with, something you’ll find valuable no matter which side of the table you sit on when this deck is being played. In next week’s article, I’ll be covering my take on Reanimator – a deck that’s better than many give it credit for.
Until then, good luck to all those with events coming in the next week!