Deconstructing Constructed – The Toast Supremacy

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Tuesday, October 21st – In the current Standard, the supposed top-dog is Five-Color Control. The optimal build is hardly unanimous, if such a thing even exists right now, and it causes at least four articles a week to be written about its awesome visage. From the limited reports coming in, it seems as if Reflecting Pool Control decks of all shapes and sizes have become the majority of the metagame.

In the current Standard, the supposed top-dog is Five-Color Control. The optimal build is hardly unanimous, if such a thing even exists right now, and it causes at least four articles a week to be written about its awesome visage. From the limited reports coming in, it seems as if Reflecting Pool Control decks of all shapes and sizes have become the majority of the metagame. If it’s not just Pool decks then it is controlling decks in general, with Faeries being the co-conspirator in making the metagame very control heavy.

As it stands, we’ll be taking a look at various Five-Color Control variants and then going over a few ways to take them out, either via mirror match tech or via decks attacking them in ways they aren’t typically expecting. First, though, I’ll be going over some decks from the recent $1K tournament we had in the Bay Area (San Jose, CA to be precise) this past weekend. Before I get into it, I’d like to thank Superstars for holding the tournament and Eric Levine for graciously supplying the decklists for the Top 8 to me (ones I don’t list will be in the forums later). Despite the lowish turnout of 26 peoeple, most of that can be blamed on the day, with the Grand Prix in Kansas City sucking away people along with the Worlds Qualifier on Magic Online dragging a few more away. Despite that, it was a pretty good field.

The Top 8 ended up being two Five-Color Control, Bant Three-Color Control, three Faeries (UB, UBR and Five-Color), a stock Doran, and a Mono-Green Elves deck, with the finals ultimately being the Three- and Five-Color Control decks splitting prize.

Michael Hetrick – 1st Place

3 Reflecting Pool
3 Mystic Gate
1 Wooded Bastion
2 Flooded Grove
2 Yavimaya Coast
2 Adarkar Wastes
1 Plains
2 Island
1 Forest
4 Vivid Creek
2 Treetop Village
1 Springjack Pasture
4 Kitchen Finks
3 Chameleon Colossus
4 Mulldrifter
2 Cloudthresher
1 Oona, Queen of the Fae
4 Mind Stone
4 Bant Charm
4 Wrath of God
4 Cryptic Command
3 Condemn
2 Remove Soul
1 Tidings

3 Wispmare
1 Condemn
2 Glen Elendra Archmage
3 Negate
2 Twincast
2 Faerie Macabre
1 Counterbore
1 Cloudthresher

This first list is definitely different from the standard Five-Color Control builds, featuring a set of Mind Stone, maindeck Chameleon Colossus, and full sets of Bant Charm, Wrath of God, and triple Condemn over the usual compliments of Pyroclasm, Firespout, Wrath of God, and Esper Charm. It really is just a more aggressive build than many of the typical Five-Color Control variants we’ve seen, which helps negate the damage Bitterblossom will do, as well as keeping other control decks honest with the threat of eight damage a turn coming through.

One of the more interesting swaps that seems possible with the sideboard, is going more aggro-control in the mirror. Using the aggressive creatures, Glen Elendra Archmage, Treetop Village, along with Negate and Counterbore; you can create a version that preys on low removal counters and limited ways to fight a counter-war. A resolved Glen Elendra also puts Five-Color Control in the awkward position of trying to either bait her with spells you really want resolved in the first place, or two removal spells. It almost saddens me not to see Makeshift Mannequin to truly put the hurt on opponents with her, regardless if she resolved the first time around.

That said, there are definitely a few iffy numbers here regarding the singleton Tidings*, Remove Soul, and almost seemingly out of place use of Mulldrifter. All of these cards are good, but in context they seem weaker than they should be. The deck runs 11 ways to deal with 99% of creatures you’ll run into, regardless of toughness or being Black / Protection from Black, so why the need to deal with creatures even moreso? Mulldrifter can’t actually be leveraged into anything due to the lower overall cost of many key spells. I much rather resolve a Tidings at five mana than a Mulldrifter in any deck like this, plus casting it with Evoke before the later turns just seems wasteful when you have so many four-drops, especially with Mind Stone allowing for 3rd turn casting.

* I do love me some Tidings, since it basically serves as the antithesis of Mind Shatter. .

Shahar Shenhar – 2nd Place

1 Hellkite Overlord
4 Mulldrifter
4 Cryptic Command
2 Cloudthresher
4 Wrath of God
2 Cruel Ultimatum
4 Kitchen Finks
1 Broodmate Dragon
1 Oona’s Grace
2 Negate
3 Esper Charm
1 Nucklavee
3 Bant Charm
2 Makeshift Mannequin
4 Vivid Creek
1 Shivan Reef
1 Cascade Bluffs
2 Island
3 Vivid Marsh
3 Mystic Gate
4 Reflecting Pool
2 Vivid Meadow
2 Sunken Ruins
2 Vivid Grove
2 Flooded Grove

3 Mind Shatter
1 Cruel Ultimatum
1 Shriekmaw
3 Condemn
3 Remove Soul
3 Raking Canopy
1 Counterbore

On the other hand, we have the more prototypical Five-Color Control deck featured here. You’ll note some of the individual tweaks, Makeshift Mannequin, Hellkite Overlord, and Broodmate Dragon making appearances together along with the usual suspects. You’ll note Broodmate Dragon has started appearing in more Five-Color Control lists as a finisher over Oona and other large creature finishers. The standard reasoning is that it provides a three-turn clock when unimpeded or a five-turn clock while having a flying 4/4 to play defense. It also provides a bit of insurance against spot-removal, so a single Unmake, Oblivion Ring, or other such nonsense like Runed Halo doesn’t completely waste the resources you just invested.

Looking at the board, Mind Shatter is quickly becoming the standard post-board card for the mirror match. Sometimes simplicity is best, in this case “pay six mana, destroy target opponent’s grip.” It hits before Ultimatum comes online, and the variable cost means you can cast it for three or something and still leave mana open to protect it with Negate. The best board plan for the mirror could likely end up being some combination of Mind Shatter, Glen Elendra Archmage, and Negate.

Nison Huynh – 4th Place

4 Cryptic Command
4 Broken Ambitions
4 Mistbind Clique
1 Vendilion Clique
4 Spellstutter Sprite
4 Scion of Oona
4 Bitterblossom
3 Agony Warp
4 Magma Spray
4 Grixis Charm
2 Swamp
3 Island
1 Underground River
2 Sulfurous Springs
4 Shivan Reef
1 Reflecting Pool
4 Crumbling Necropolis
3 Sunken Ruins
4 Secluded Glen

1 Agony Warp
1 Sower of Temptation
4 Guttural Response
4 Flashfreeze
2 Mirrorweave
3 Firespout

Excuse the jump in topics, but I really wanted to highlight this version of the Faeries deck. Splashing Red has been done before, including in Block Constructed where the mana was worse, but usually just for Firespout. Now we have an entire utility belt of Red spells at our disposal from Shards and this deck makes great use of them. Magma Spray is a nice cheap way to take care of Figure of Destiny, Kitchen Finks and most other early drops, with the bonus RFG ability against persist creatures.

Grixis Charm is pretty exciting. At first glance all it seemed like was yet another removal spell, and possibly a finisher if for some reason the opponent let you simply swing in with 3-4 unblocked creatures. However, the Boomerang ability is amazing in the current metagame, especially when on the play. Consider the damage that bouncing a Vivid land does to the tempo and curve of the Five-Color Control decks. They lose out on their normal three-drop, and are a turn behind for the rest of the game. Combined with a Mistbind Clique, Five-Color Control might never recover from the early disruption, especially when you consider what that delay does toward letting Fae get an edge on Mind Shatter, Mistbind Clique, Cryptic Command, or simply attacking for 4-5 extra damage.

Sideboard-wise, Firespout is self-explanatory; it helps against the swarm decks that plague Faeries in Block Constructed. The other card we get to look at is yet another potent weapon against Five-Color Control: Guttural Response. Other than Cryptic Command, consider how many new targets have opened up thanks to the proliferation of Charms in all multi-colored decklists. Suddenly in game 2, Esper Charm doesn’t look scary at all, being able to counter it off a single Red mana. The same goes for fighting against Negate when resolving Jace Beleren or your own Cryptic Command. In fact, this may be one of the most anti-Five-Color-Control decks available if it ran Jace somewhere in the 75, since the main weakness of this build is lack of ways to replenish cards. Perhaps UB is still better with the extra consistency and room for maindeck Thoughtseize, but it is definitely worth a look.

So looking at this, there are a few ways to attack Five-Color Control that have been discussed before, and a few that are still being implemented. Glen Elendra and Mind Shatter are two of the more obvious ones, but are mostly hiding in the sideboards of control decks and haven’t made the leap to aggro yet. Fulminator Mage plus Mannequin or Reveillark can do basically sweep the knee of Five-Color Control, but it requires some amount of luck as does all current LD themes*. Past that, there’s still the Faeries / Wizards theme of just casting some cheap dorks and protecting them until they die anyway and finish the opponent with manlands.

* Seriously, Magus of the Moon gets rotated and we get… what? Nothing comes close to replacing it. Reprint Back to Basics or something.

Of course, there’s still the old back-up plan of Raven’s Crime and getting the Kelpie deck to work again. I think the main issue with the deck working currently is that Kelpie dies easily to cards like Bant Charm, and Esper Charm can effectively reduce a hand to dust after a couple of Crime activations. At least that was my major annoyance when I figured the deck would fare a lot better than it did.

Still, there are other legitimate options. Red has proven is can stand-up to versions not running enough life-gain, and, regardless of what people say, I still think Kithkin with Ranger of Eos has too many self-contained threats for Five-Color Control to sweep away. Of course, if Story Circle catches on, this becomes a much bigger annoyance to both decks in game 1. Oh, and it probably counts as the one legitimate reason to want Oblivion Ring over Unmake, as Everlasting Torment doesn’t count as a threat. In the red deck, that’s one of the few ways to really deal with the card.

As far as control goes, we still have some options…

Stupid name aside, since all of these will be known as Five-Color Control, this version has basically been designed to go for the jugular in the mirror match. It attacks opposing Five-Color Control decks from two main directions. The first is simply by using Jace, Esper Charm, and Tidings to outdraw the opposition over time, since on the whole a resolved Tidings beats the tar out of most control decks not packing Mind Shatter maindeck. Jace also comes down early enough to avoid commonly-played counters, and can even survive on an empty board versus a Finks by using the Howling Mine first. The second way to win is simply forcing through Ajani Vengeant and protecting it until it wins the game. Sometimes this is actually quite easy, since Cryptic is the only big worry game 1. Other times you have to get tricky if you want to use it and on occasion it’s just easier to use it as bait.

Glen Elendra Archmage is an odd maindeck choice, but as I said above, if it hits play it becomes very difficult for control to play the game they want. You already have equivalent drawing power to any normal build despite the removal of Mulldrifter, so really this is only taking up Cruel Ultimatum slots. And I’d rather have Glen Elendra against Faeries and Five-Color Control, hence why she ended up in the maindeck. These are probably the most experimental slots in the deck so far, since rather than protecting armies, she is merely there to force through your own spells and stop any opposing insanity from resolving.

You have to take this with a huge grain of salt here; the main control deck I play is Faeries, which has a much different strategy in play. Still, I’ve had people ask me about some of the mirror options, and for me, Jace is an Ophidian that’s much more difficult to kill (in the context of the control mirror) in a format with no good two-mana counterspell. Ajani Vengeant could end up being better as maindeck Mind Shatter or Cloudthresher, as it’s mostly there as an anti-land option whose sole shining use is against slow control decks like Five-Color Control.

So is Five-Color Control the best deck? Yes and no. Yes, in that it has fewer hard matches during an entire tournament than Faeries; no, in that Faeries is the second-most popular deck and still beats Five-Color Control with a good pilot and sideboard. However, I guess we’ll get to see how true this is at the StarCityGames.com $5K Standard Open coming up this weekend.

Oh, and just for all aggro players that refuse to play Kithkin or Red… why not just go back to Elves / Doran, except with Mind Shatter? Yes, they lost Tarmogoyf in the great rotation, but they still pack disruptive elements, a good curve with acceleration, and plenty of Profane Command for everybody who wants some.

Josh Silvestri
Team Reflection
Email me at: joshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom

PS – Did anyone else see Blightning and also think “Wow, that perfectly complements Sygg, River Cutthroat!” I’m not saying it’s good, but if you want to force the card in somewhere…

Top 3 for the week:
1. Two-Mix — White Reflection
2. Two-Mix – Rhythm Force
3. DJ Remo-Con — Pollinosis