Deconstructing Constructed – Snow Crash

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Tuesday, April 8th – Today I’ll be covering one of the big gainers in the current metagame, U/R Snow Control. Most of you probably remember the Mono-Red Chandra snow control decks that rose in popularity around States last year. This deck is effectively an update of the old formula…

Today I’ll be covering one of the big gainers in the current metagame, U/R Snow Control. Most of you probably remember the Mono-Red Chandra snow control decks that rose in popularity around States last year. This deck is effectively an update of the old formula of combining Red removal with a Stuffy Doll kill mechanism, except this features real draw and counters to help its agenda instead of more burn. The kill has gotten a little slower, but now you have ways to control decks outside of throwing burn at the problem.

Section 1
The deck

You can find discussion about this list, and similar builds, in this thread. I’d suggest starting on page two for the more up to date information and especially listening to Flip, since he’s the one who brought the deck up in the first place. Michael Corley (Onyxfrog) also has a report on there about his City Champs, which is a decent read if you want an idea about how the games generally play out.

The list may seem a bit awkward at first glance, but all will be explained in time. Before anyone comments and says things they can’t take back about supposed metagame decks and how they have little practical testing behind many of them, a la last week’s set of articles and Merfolk week… this deck has already won two people’s City Champs and done well for me on the 8-man queues on Magic Online*, as well as having a significant amount of testing been done by Flip before any of that.

* Mind you, at any given time this is a joke, as the EV of 8-man queues have dropped considerably thanks to Morningtide packs tanking, so I find fewer serious players grinding them. Whereas before it was difficult to lose any significant tickets due to the “win one round, break even” philosophy, it’s now quite possible to lose big with limited value from wins/splits and some of the inherent randomness and match-up messes. Woo for Magic Online economics, and woo again for it seemingly crashing more than ever now.

Section 2
Deck philosophy and card choices

The deck itself is effectively a control deck with no perks attached or ways to cheat into aggro-control mode early on. You aren’t going to kill anyone off just Ironfoot beats and counters, so games will drag as you grind opponents down, get ahead on resources, and then finish them off. Part of why this strategy is so successful is where it is currently positioned in Standard. Card-draw is a rare and precious thing, and with Think Twice, Ancestral Vision, and Scrying Sheets you have multiple ways to hit your land drops and cycle through your deck without breaking the bank.

You can win attrition wars against any non-Bitterblossom opponent rather easily due to the number of ways you can see new cards, avoiding hitting a string of blanks. The removal itself helps in this capacity… Skred will gradually become more powerful as you need it, while still killing pesky Elves or Faeries in the first few turns of the game. Later they can easily take down a Doran, The Siege Tower or Cloudthresher for the investment of a single Red mana, which is pretty much unrivaled in efficiency. Pyroclasm is probably the best sweeper in the format at the moment, since it’s cheap, has some amount of use against every deck in the format, and is a total blow-out against Elves or Faeries.

Creature-wise, the deck is configured largely with defense in mind and winning as a secondary function (with the exception of the singleton Rimefeather Owl). Phyrexian Ironfoot is an effective wall against most of the format, and with four toughness and artifact creature status it can survive any “normal” removal. Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir is a card I was actually very skeptical about because it felt weak whenever I actually got to use it, and its abilities were hardly as exciting as they once were. That said, the instant speed is very nice in a deck that dislikes tapping out and leaving openings, although this advantage is somewhat negated with Faeries being the top dog in the format. If I was going to cut any specific card in the deck, I’d most likely start here. Then again, the card I’d most likely replace it with — Chandra – isn’t all that amazing against Reveillark, Mana Ramp, or Faeries, so perhaps there’s merit here. Shadowmoor also looks to be providing some interesting options down the road with Swans of Bryn Argoll, which takes advantage of the burn in Skred / Pyroclasm, and can fill the role of “flying, difficult-to-kill beatstick.” Stuffy Doll and Rimefeather Owl are rather obvious ‘kill the opponent’ cards, so I doubt much in the way of explanation is needed there.

In addition to the deck’s removal core, the deck plays nine counters, in large part to help control the pet population and to also neuter the sheer crushing of Bitterblossom or Reveillark. Nothing is more annoying than crushing an opponent’s board to simply see a fresh batch of creatures within a few turns. Unfortunately, Bitterblossom is something with few answers when on the draw, but Rune Snag at least gives you a solid answer on the play, and the counters can also help dilute the awesomeness of the card by stopping Clique and Scion of Oona. Otherwise the counters just hang around so you don’t lose to any randomly important threat coming from an opponent that a well-timed Skred can’t handle.

The current sideboard is a bit loose in some areas, but packs some surprises for certain matches. Commandeer looked like a joke the first time I brought it in from the board as a supposed answer to Bitterblossom. I was surprised at just how easy it was to crush the Faeries player when I traded 3 for 1 to gain control of his Bitterblossom. Many keepable Faerie hands are built specifically around the Black enchantment dropping on turn 2 or 3 and making life difficult for the opponent. The rest of the hand is optimally just support for the endless supply of 1/1 fliers you’ll be gaining. Instead, a resolved Commander means that the Faeries army will be effectively stalled, and many times simply outclassed when backed by spot removal. Of course, it’s still a hefty investment, but the power of the card is not to be underestimated.

Most of the board is pretty obvious in scope. Chronicler gives another large threat / drawing mechanism against slow decks. Flashfreeze, Remove Soul, and Sower of Temptation all help against aggro builds, and Sulfurous Blast is good against swarm decks. Sulfurous Blast is sometimes difficult to cast with the current mana configuration, and I’d suggest adding a Shivan Reef and possibly another Mountain if you plan on running multiple Blasts. Although since swarm Elves (now featuring infinite 1/1 guys!) and Faeries are the main matches in which you’ll want to board the card, Hurly Burly may just be more effective as it’s a slightly worse Pyroclasm… This is still often a two mana Wrath of God. Persuasion is the one card that likely sticks out, but against the larger Green decks where it’s likely you’ll see Cloudthresher and either Nameless Inversion or Siege-Gang Commander, Sower of Temptation has a great chance of dying right after you play it. Primal Command is still a possibility, but recasting Persuasion a turn later isn’t exactly bad times compared to losing Sower permanently. The mixture means you tend to get the best of both worlds instead of getting screwed because of either the extra mana included on Persuasion of the fragility of Sower.

Section 3
The Matches:

Faeries: We’ll start with the top tier match you’ll likely have the most issues with. This isn’t an overall favorable match since you aren’t packing a million Wrath effects (although it’s close), and you have few real ways to beat Bitterblossom on the draw. It’s also easy to be out-tempoed severely in the early game, and simply be unable to get any sweeper spell to stick. Damage isn’t the issue here, as many games against Faeries are won at one or two life; you simply have to do your best to keep Bitterblossom from resolving and either blow up the world once in a while or kill Scions on sight. If you can accomplish those two goals, you’ll eventually have enough card and mana advantage to rout them in a few turns.

The few important things I found in the match are pretty simple to grasp. Never tap out in the early game unless you need to find a land, never use a Pyroclasm before turn 5 unless you can be sure to hit a three-for-one, and Bitterblossom is the most important card in the match. Most of the decisions in this match are pretty easy to make, and you’ll always be at a huge disadvantage on the draw due to BB and the general annoyance that is Spellstutter Sprite. All you can do is run them out of cards and crush them, or get swarmed to death by angry gnats.

Reveillark: This may be the one match where you really like going ‘aggro’ as much as you can. Ironfoot is bigger than any of their blockers (save the ‘Lark itself), and they have no early plays that concern you. Since the combo is rather predictable, they have no real ways to bait you out, considering the removal package and counter set-up. In addition, unless they get Mulldrifter-Blink going, you’ll outdraw them in an average game. Teferi actually shines here since it turns off any way for the ‘Lark player to protect his five-mana spells, and prevents and Blink in response to removal. The ‘Lark player also has no way to stop Stuffy Doll plus Skred as a finisher, short of hitting with one of their few Rune Snag.

Post-board is where the deck shines, because you can simply out-muscle them more often than not. Between all the Control Magic effects, Ironfoot, and Aeon Chronicler, you can collect a significant army for them to deal with. If they realize Chronicler is coming then you still have to deal with Wrath, but more often than not you get one game of simply beating them to death with no repercussions. Due to the amount of space they spend on small utility donks, it isn’t too tough to overwhelm them with even a 4/4 or 5/5 Chronicler, especially if you drop a Teferi or yank a Reveillark to go along with it.

I certainly won’t say this can be considered the best game-plan against the deck, because I haven’t tried too many sideboard strategies out. But for the majority of my games against Reveillark online, I went with the ‘beat them down’ strategy and it’s helped me pick up my fair share of wins. Simply take out the more expensive removal, and perhaps a Remove Soul or two, bring in the stealing cards and Chronicler, and get to work.

Elves: For reference I’ll be talking about the Bill Stark ELVES! deck rather than the Japanese ones, since that seems to be the new rage online compared to other Elves variants. This match is very hand-dependent, and usually comes down to ‘do you have it?’ in regards to Pyroclasm, Sulfurous Blast, or Hurly Burly. The advantages you have is that you pack maindeck Pyroclasm and six two-mana counters to keep the swarm aspect of the 1/1 Green men in check. The other advantage is any creature you resolve can keep a smaller elf horde at bay until Overrun or Coat of Arms comes into play. That brings us to the big disadvantage in the match, since they’ll be able to stick some amount of 1/1 elf guys in play… the problem of stopping any and all Overrun or Coat of Arms from resolving. Bramblewood Paragon / Imperious Perfect are other cards that basically demand a counter or Skred as soon as possible, unless you have the Pyroclasm or Blast in hand at that very moment.

The key cards you have are the sweepers, Cryptic Command, and Stuffy Doll to some extent. Cryptic and the sweepers can both keep the elvish hordes in check or force the opponent to burn an Overrun, accomplishing approximately jack squat. It also can be used as basic two-for-one removal in its counter / bounce role, which comes up more often than you might think. Stuffy Doll may seem like a weird inclusion on the list, but it means if the Elf player goes for any non-lethal (or supposedly lethal) attacks, he’ll like take 4-5 damage back from his own assault thanks to the Doll (through Coat hugeness rather than Overrun trample goodness, naturally). I also find it goads lesser players into going for a big risky alpha strike because of the danger of just losing to Ironfoot beats plus pings plus Skred.

Post-board you bring in any and all sweepers, Flashfreeze, and Sower of Temptation, in exchange for Remove Soul (check how many relevant creatures are hit by that in the Stark build), Rimefeather Owl, Teferi, a single Rune Snag, and usually an Ancestral Vision. Stuffy Doll is another card that usually hits the bricks due to the slowness.

RDW: Strategy… strategy…

Don’t die.

This is one of the most uninteractive matches I’ve played in Standard recently; effectively all you do is save removal for Countryside Crusher and Mutavault and cast counters on any burn spell that does three damage. That’s literally the game-plan for the entire game and post-board. If you hit an early Ancestral Vision and see any counters at all, this match is a joke. On the play, Ironfoot can trump a Marauders, Fanatic, etc… basically anything in the deck before it can even deal relevant damage. I’ve had few problems winning actual matches even if I drop a game here or there, due to the fact that it is a Red deck and post-board they have Cryoclasm. If I was worried at all, I’d go ahead and board in Dragon’s Claw, but unless you get terrible draws you happen to be positioned very well against them.

Trade all your resources to “gain” six or seven life, and thanks to your own card draw, the Red deck will almost never be able to overcome it. Unlike the Extended version in battles against control, there’s no four- and five-damage burn spells to sack and pull out game wins. Every topdeck is a maximum of three damage, so you have a pretty good idea of where you stand at all times.

Post-board, out goes Remove Soul for Flashfreeze and whatever else you like. I usually take out the Owl as well, and bring in two Chronic. If you want, you can also bring in Persuasion, which is particularly good if they run Gargadon or if you just want to bank on hitting a Crusher.

Merfolk: Resolve a Pyroclasm, gee gee sirs. In all seriousness, it’s hard for me to have any respect for a deck that just falls apart without having its lord creatures out. Skred, Incinerate, and Pyroclasm give you a significant amount of pressure on the fragile 2/2s, and a single Ironfoot can be a gigantic defender to the two-power fish if they don’t get help. If you run Chandra and manage to resolve her, Merfolk basically scoops to that card single-handedly, since all the lords will die and you can typically get 4-5 shots before she dies herself.

I don’t know what else to say here… post-board you bring in your Sulfurous Blast, Control Magic cards, and Chronicler, and trade out some of the more expensive counters and Stuffy Doll. Tapping out to suspend a Chronicler at one is hardly a big deal in this match as long as you don’t let a huge horde of Merfolk stay in play. A 4/4 Chronic or Ironfoot is more than enough to beat them without Lord of Atlantis out. It’s possible I’m underestimating the match due to my opponent’s decks and play-skill, but it just strikes me that this match is essentially a much easier Faeries matchup, since they have no uber trump on the play.

If you have any specific questions about the deck, I’d recommend following the forum link I listed toward the beginning and posting them in that thread for Flip. I feel this deck is very well placed in the current Standard metagame, and if you don’t mind the Faeries issue, you can basically smash (or at least be favorable against) many of the other commonly seen decks in Standard.

Just never play the deck against Dragonstorm. That match is impossible to win.

Josh Silvestri
Team Reflection
Email me at: joshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom

My Top Five this week:
1. Ryu* feat. Mayumi Morinaga – AI (DJ Yoshinori Vocal Remix)
2. Ayumi Hamasaki – Heartplace (Lab-4 Remix)
3. Vanilla Sky – Umbrella
4. Fall Out Boy —Roxanne
5. Nujabes – Other Side of Phase