Deep Analysis — U/B Teachings Play-by-Play

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Today’s Deep Analysis sees Richard “U/B Control” Feldman continues in his rich vein of form as he tackles one of the more intriguing matchups in Time Spiral Block Constructed: U/B Teachings versus Adrian Sullivan’s Baron Harkonnen deck. With aggressive decks slowly fading into the metagame background, Control on Control is the one match you need to crack in order to capture the blue envelope. Let Richard show you how!

I learned two things last week:

One, never title your article “The U/B Teachings Mirror” if you want more than ten people to read it.

Two, don’t change your manabase unless you have time to test the changes.

See, last week I went from the four River of Tears configuration I’d been running since the beginning of the season to two River, on the grounds that I almost never found myself tapping them for Black, and had run into a couple of situations where not being able to Logic Knot or Venser on my own end step got me into trouble. Seems reasonable, right? (You can imagine where this is going.)

Here’s how my PTQ went:

Round 1 versus good man Curtis Heminway with R/U/B Reanimator

Game 1 I mulligan a one-lander and then keep a two-lander (with no Lens) on the draw rather than going to five. I’ve only got around a 50-50 shot of seeing more than two mana sources in five cards anyway, and probably a lower chance of winning overall. I never draw a third land.

I win game 2 handily.

Game 3 sees an embarrassing turn 4 for me: I have three Islands and one Swamp out, and cannot cast either of the two Damnations — or the two Sudden Deaths — in my hand. (Naturally, I recognize the art on one of the Islands as one I’d cut a River of Tears for.) I get a Damnation off using Urborg, but Curtis has an Urborg of his own to put me back in color screw territory.

I Teach for Careful Consideration to find a Black source, even though what I want to do is get a Slaughter Pact for the impending Gargadon, and then spend the next few turns casting Careful and removing his on-table threats. Naturally, this leaves me tapped too low each turn to Tendrils his Gargadon, so when Curtis runs out of threats he just picks up his lands and lethals me when I am holding three removal spells and have a Teachings in the yard. He had no cards left in hand when he did this; all I needed was to fetch Slaughter Pact with Teachings instead of digging for Black sources in order to secure the win.


From there, I don’t lose a game until round 4 against David Miller with U/G Goyf, which goes like this:

I win game 1 with no problems.

Game 2 prompts David to note, “Wow, that’s the actual Workstation draw: you play 27 lands and drew none of them past turn 2.” I sure didn’t; not much to be done about that draw.

Game 3 I have no mana problems, but resolve almost zero spells. David makes creatures on turns 2 and 3, and then has (in some order I forget) three copies of Delay, two of Venser, and one of Mystic Snake. I cast spells left and right, but accomplish nothing the entire game.

I’m okay with the random auto-loss mana draws that hit me; there were more of them than I’d have liked to see, obviously, but I know “this deck needs overhauling” when I see it and I also know “this was far more bad mana draws than you ever saw in testing; pick yourself up and get over it” when I see it. However, the River of Tears episode was entirely my fault. For all the tuning and tweaking of this list I’ve done the past couple of weeks, I would never have imagined that the last-minute subtraction of two River of Tears would have cost me the tournament. Figures.

In short, I lost one game to color screw. I lost a second because I kept a two-lander at six and never drew a third (a low-probability occurrence that plagues every archetype), and a third to a U/G Nuts Draw. The final loss was because I stalled on lands early. Notice a pattern here? Kinda makes those Coalition Relics sound appealing…

Actually, I had been experimenting with a manabase like Shouta Yasooka’s from Montreal: only 25 lands (gasp!) and two Coalition Relics to go along with the expected four Prismatic Lens, prior to this PTQ. I liked the configuration more than I thought I would, but held off because one Patrick Chapin wrote about a G/W list that maindecked four Disenchants last week. It’s tough to say what kind of effect that will have on the metagame, but the last thing I wanted was to show up to a roomful of revitalized G/W veterans packing two-mana Stone Rains for mana sources I’d paid three for.

As it turned out, this didn’t happen, so the Relic possibilities are back on the table again. One of my initial reasons for skipping on Relics was that I didn’t want to lose them to Ancient Grudge, but I re-evaluated this line of thinking when I noticed that I always seemed to lose two Lenses to Ancient Grudge in control mirrors anyway. If Grudge is going to two-for-one me regardless, I might as well enjoy some extra acceleration in game 1. The short-term loss of mana (I paid three for Relic and they paid one or two for Grudge) is of little consequence in those drawn-out matches.

Going to 25 lands when I’d been playing a hearty 27 for so long felt really greedy, but a small sample of playtest games indicated it wasn’t a problem. I played the same list I offered last week in the following playtest set, with two Islands cut for two Coalition Relics.

Iron Man versus Baron Harkonnen

It’s really interesting to see how the Teachings decks of this season have evolved. Until Adrian Sullivan won a PTQ with his original Gaea’s Blessing-powered Teachings list, the card was nowhere to be found in the metagame. Now people are adding it to all sorts of Teachings variants, from old-school Korlash builds to Ruel-style Relic/Hellkite configurations. Still others have remained true to Sullivan’s original list, which is what I’ll be testing against today.

As an aside, I’m interested to see what people think about my plays in this series. As I don’t know anyone with the patience to record every single card they draw and every single play they make while testing against me, I’m playing both sides of the matchup. That’s easier said than done when the matchup is the U/B Teachings mirror, so I’m certain I’ll make some mistakes as I go through this (especially from the Baron side, as I have far more experience with my own deck).

As such, I’d like to encourage you to point out any mistakes you think I make in the forums. This is for two reasons: first, because I like to, y’know, realize it when I’m doing something wrong, and second, because I don’t want to give people the impression that they should be playing exactly as I did here. Surely some of my plays will be suboptimal when playing under these circumstances, and the hive mind of the StarCityGames.com readership will have a better chance of catching them than I will on my own.


Baron wins the die roll and sees: Swamp, Island, River of Tears, Spell Burst, Damnation, Brine Elemental, Vesuvan Shapeshifter. I’ve got Damnation to hold off beatdown and the Pickles combo in hand.

Iron Man’s opener: Terramorphic Expanse, River of Tears, Urborg, Lens, Tendrils, Sudden Death, Haunting Hymn. This hand is awesome against any opponent. Keep!

BH: River of Tears, pass.
IM: Draw Korlash, play Terramorphic Expanse.
BH: Draw Gaea’s Blessing. Play Island; IM’s Expanse is turned into Island on end step.
IM: Draw another Urborg, play it and Lens. Notice that I’m playing Urborg aggressively here because I have two; I kind of want my opponent to play one and Wasteland me so that I can make use of the dead copy in my hand.
BH: Draw Careful Consideration and play Swamp. I could run out a morph here, but it’s not really going to do anything. Random creatures always die in the mirror because we both have more removal spells than the opponent has finishers, so I’d rather keep them around to Pickles-lock the opponent in the late game or pitch them to Careful Consideration.
IM: Draw Urza’s Factory and play River of Tears. Notice that I’m not playing Korlash here, as he’ll die to an opposing Tendrils, Sudden Death, or Strangling Soot if I play him as a 3/3 without Regeneration mana open. He even dies to a random Urborg Wastelanding here, as I don’t have a natural Swamp handy, so holding him makes the most sense for now. (Note that I could have been more aggressive with Korlash by fetching Swamp with my first-turn Expanse instead of Island, but in this match, being aggressive with Korlash isn’t as valuable as extra Blue sources are. You need as many Blue sources as you can get, and running a Korlash out there without Logic Knot backup probably means he’s just going to eat a Damnation, so it’s not worth sacrificing a second non-Lens Blue source to be able to play him earlier.)
BH: Draw Island. Play it, and Careful Consideration. Draw Teferi, Lens, Tendrils, Venser. Discard Tendrils and Spell Burst. Burst is going to be awful for a good long time, and I am unlikely to find any exciting Tendrils targets in the U/B mirror.
IM: Draw Terramorphic Expanse and play it. There’s my natural Swamp; unless BH taps out next turn (in which case I’ll play my mised Haunting Hymn) I’ll run him out then.
BH: Draw a second Gaea’s Blessing. Play Lens and Blessing, targeting Careful Consideration and Spell Burst. I’d like to see that Spell Burst later, and of course the Consideration, but not the Tendrils. Draw Slaughter Pact off the cantrip. Man, I’d really like a fifth land here…IM turns Expanse into Swamp on end step.
IM: Draw a second Korlash. Wow, this game is pretty much over now. Play Urza’s Factory and Haunting Hymn. Opponent discards Slaughter Pact, Damnation, Gaea’s Blessing, Venser. (Keeping Teferi, Brine Elemental, Shapeshifter.)
BH: Draw Dreadship Reef and play it. Basically my strategy at this point is to “go for it” with the Pickles lock. Once I get up to eight mana, I’ll play Teferi, let him kill it, and respond by morphing in Brine. Then I untap, Brine him, and then play Shapeshifter for the lock. The other play I could have made was to discard down to Damnation, Gaea’s Blessing, and Shapeshifter. If I do that, I’m playing defensively — hoping he’s a Korlash deck and I can kill one with my Shapeshifter, and then Damnation away his next threat, and hope to win the long game via Blessing despite being down four cards and with him having Urza’s Factory already. That plan might actually work if he didn’t have the Factory, but with him ready to start churning out tokens as soon as two turns from now, there’s just no way that’s the higher-Expected Value play.
IM: Draw Korlash #3. As if I needed it, heh. Play one, pass with Swamp and Island open. (Remember, always tap Urborg for mana if it might get Wastelanded next turn, and leave a natural Swamp open to regenerate. Also, don’t activate Grandeur yet in order to maintain the element of surprise as to how big Korlash “actually” is.) Dreadship Reef gets charged on end step.
BH: Draw River of Tears. That’s my seventh mana source, so with Reef I’ll have eight next turn for sure. Grandeur is activated on end step.
IM: Draw Tolaria West. I could have Grandeured twice, but the second one would have only gotten one Swamp (I only play four), and besides, I’d rather have a backup in case of Damnation. Beat for seven. Transmute Tolaria West for Pact of Negation. Reef is charged again on end step.
BH: Draw Island and play it. Now it’s okay that he will Pact my Teferi, as I’ll have enough mana up to play and morph Brine Elemental next turn. I don’t want to play Teferi right now, though, as he could just die to a random Tendrils/Slaughter Pact/Sudden Death/Strangling Soot on my opponent’s next main phase. It’ll take longer, but I need to wait for his end step.
IM: Draw Extirpate. Score! Extirpate opponent’s Damnations — mainly to see what’s in his hand, but also to remove his outs to Korlash. Beat for seven again. Teferi is attempted on end step, and obviously not Pacted because I know I’ll get Brined if I do. Reef gets its third counter.
BH: Draw Mystical Teachings. Mise! Now I can go get Pact if need be, to protect the Brine.
IM: On my upkeep, Sudden Death Teferi. I don’t want to give him any chance at all to morph Brine. Draw Lens, beat with Korlash. Opponent casts Teachings for Tendrils and aims it at Korlash, who is regenerated. Opponent ends the attack at 14. Play Lens, pass.
BH: Draw Tolaria West. The opponent only has four lands and Korlash tapped here, so it makes more sense to get Pact protection than to go for the Brine right away. Transmute for Pact of Negation and pass.
IM: Draw Tendrils. Beat with Korlash, taking opponent to 7 again. Reef goes to four counters on end step.
BH: Draw Damnation. Morph Brine Elemental. On end step, a Tendrils heads for it and is Pacted, then another Tendrils heads for it. In response, unmorph it. (Reef goes down to 1 counter.)
IM: Draw Careful Consideration. As I have only an Island untapped for this turn, I’ll pass.
BH: Pay for Pact, draw Mystical Teachings. Only three mana up; morph Vesuvan in chump-block mode.
IM: Draw Terramorphic Expanse, cast Careful Consideration. Draw Lens, Careful Consideration, Venser, Spin into Myth. Discard Lens and Careful Consideration. Play Terramorphic Expanse, Venser the morph away, attack for the win.


That was a really, really weird game. He mised his one-of Brine Elemental to go with the copy of Vesuvan Shapeshifter (a two-of) that he drew, along with a (two-of) Teferi to give him a bona fide Pickles draw. However, I drew both my one-of Haunting Hymn and one-of Sudden Death, which proved to be the superior mise.

Takeaways (Game 1 of Match 1 versus Baron)

It’s interesting how much less crazy Haunting Hymn is in the pre-sideboard mirror match, when the victim has dead cards to pitch to it. My opponent would never have cast the Slaughter Pact he discarded to the Hymn, but the Venser, Blessing, and Damnation that went with it all would have been relevant. (Make no mistake, Hymn is still plenty nuts in game 1.) It’s worth noting that Adrian’s original Baron list is much more vulnerable to Sudden Death than are the other Teachings decks; in fact, it’s the only Teachings list against which I board in more.


Iron Man:
+3 Sengir Nosferatu
+2 Sudden Death
+2 Haunting Hymn
+1 Venser, Shaper Savant
+1 Pact of Negation
+1 Imp’s Mischief
-4 Damnation
-3 Tendrils of Corruption
-1 Slaughter Pact
-1 Spin into Myth
-1 Extirpate

My plan against Adrian’s deck differs vastly from how I board against other U/B Teachings decks. I don’t want to fight the long game against Baron — his Blessings do all their damage in the long game, and I’d just as soon we never got to that point. I don’t even bother with Extirpate; I just want to overrun him with threats as early as possible, which is why I keep in only those removal spells that won’t knock out my Korlash or Sengir as they take out his threat.

I favor Sudden Death over Tendrils both because of its three-mana price tag and its uncounterability. I know the only threat he has that Sudden Death won’t kill is Draining Whelk, which still dies to it if I can cast it in the exact moment where the Whelk is still a 1/1. Otherwise, there’s still a Tendrils left in my deck for emergencies.

Some people play Baron variants with Korlashes or the Relic/Take Possession plan, and against those I don’t board in the Sudden Deaths. I’ve observed that those kinds of players tend to bastardize the sideboard plan as well, and go for something more popular than Whelk/Pact — like 4x Take Possession and/or Boom/Bust. Against those guys the uncounterability of Sudden Death isn’t a big deal, so I can just leave in Tendrils (or even Damnation against Korlash specifically) without worrying about losing them to a Pact or Whelk.

In this particular match, I knew for sure that it was a true Sullivan list in game 1, after observing the entire Pickles lock alongside Gaea’s Blessing. I had a hell of a time figuring out how to board Adrian’s deck, so I just went and asked him how he’d board against me. The following is what he told me.

+2 Draining Whelk
+2 Pact of Negation
+2 Take Possession
+1 Vesuvan Shapeshifter
-4 Damnation
-1 Mystical Teachings
-1 Slaughter Pact
-1 Tendrils of Corruption

Baron is on the play and sees: Plains, Island, Lens, Blessing, Spell Burst, Teachings, Haunting Hymn. Awkward. This hand has far fewer blue and black sources than I’d like, but it’s got Hymn and Teachings (for Pact) to protect it, which is extremely strong. I can also cycle Blessing on turn three to try and draw some more land, or just Teach for Careful Consideration if I have to. I guess I’ll keep.

Iron Man’s opener: 2x Terramorphic Expanse, River of Tears, Tolaria West, Korlash, Sudden Death, Triskelavus. Keep!

BH: Island, pass.
IM: Draw Tendrils, play Expanse.
BH: Draw Terramorphic Expanse, play Plains and Lens. Opponent’s Expanse turns into Island on end step.
IM: Draw Careful Consideration. Play River of Tears. I play River over Expanse here because it lets me topdeck any land to Transmute Tolaria West on turn three, whereas Expanse into Swamp (and I do want that particular Expanse to end up as a Swamp) means I have to topdeck an Island.
BH: Draw Venser. Play Expanse, crack it for Swamp, and cast Blessing on it to draw a card. (With a draw this land-light, I think I want to increase the concentration of lands in my deck.) The cantrip yields Tolaria West.
IM: Draw Urborg. Beautiful. Float a blue off River of Tears, play Urborg, Transmute Tolaria West for Academy Ruins.
BH: Draw Island. I could use Tolaria West to get rid of his Urborg, but I have enough mana problems as it is without throwing a land away. Besides, I have a golden opportunity here — I can cast Teachings for Pact this turn and then be guaranteed to have Haunting Hymn mana next turn, if I play Tolaria tapped right now. Play it and pass.
IM: I could go for Careful Consideration here, but my opponent will have Whelk mana available on his next turn, and I have no way to counter back unless Consider hits a Pact for me. I need to keep him off the counter-Whelk plan long enough to get Trisk online, so I’m going to run Korlash out there and just hope he has to dig for a removal spell. Play Swamp (so he can’t Wasteland my guy into a 0/0) and Korlash. End step, opponent Teaches for Draining Whelk.
BH: Draw Dreadship Reef, play it, and Haunting Hymn. Opponent discards Terramorphic Expanse, Sudden Death, Tendrils, Triskelavus. The plan for right now is to Venser Korlash back to his hand and then present Draining Whelk.
IM: Draw Island. Tap out for Careful Consideration while I still can. This exposes me to Tendrils on my Korlash, but I’m confident he’s boarded down to zero or one copies of that card and am not worried. Draw Lens, Relic, Venser, Urborg. Discard Lens and Relic. I want to keep a backup Urborg because I’m all-in on Korlash here, Venser gives me a fantastic Remand effect, and Relic doesn’t pump Korlash. If I really want the extra mana source, I can get it back with Academy Ruins, but right now I just want to keep making lands and holding Venser mana open. Play Academy Ruins and hit for five.
BH: Draw Gaea’s Blessing. Perfect! I have just enough mana to cast it and leave Venser mana open for his Korlash. Blessing shuffles back in Haunting Hymn and the other Gaea’s Blessing. (I’ll leave the Teachings in there for flashback purposes, naturally.) The cantrip hits another Blessing.
IM: Draw Tolaria West. Ooh. I don’t want to Transmute that just yet because I want to keep Venser mana open, but next turn I can use it to either get Pact of Negation (if, say, I Venser a Damnation this turn or something else I want to put away for good) or Urza’s Factory. Play Island and beat for six. On end step, Venser comes in from the opponent. Interesting. I could Venser back, but that will only buy me a turn; he’ll do it again on my next end step, and I’ll be in just as bad a position. Instead, I could just plan to go for the Factory Beatdown route, and hold my Venser for a more opportune occasion (such as him trying to flash back that Teachings, or him casting Take Possession on my Factory.)
BH: Draw Urborg. Cast Blessing to shuffle back in the other Blessing and cantrip into Terramorphic Expanse. Play Urborg for the Wasteland effect and hit with Venser. Life totals are now 9-18 in the opponent’s favor.
IM: Draw Vesuva. Hot. Play it on Dreadship Reef. Opponent goes to flashback Teachings on my end step and I Venser it. Our two 2/2s die, and his Teachings chain is out of the picture for now.
BH: Draw Island. I want to blessing Venser and the other Blessing back into my deck, but if I do that, I can’t keep Whelk or Burst mana up, so I’ll just pay Island and pass.
IM: Draw Sengir Nosferatu. Transmute Tolaria West for Urza’s Factory and play Urborg. Opponent charges his Dreadship Reef on end step.
BH: Draw another Urborg. Play it for the Wasteland effect yet again. Opponent’s Vesuva (a.k.a. Dreadship Reef) is charged on end step.
IM: Draw Swamp. Play Urza’s Factory and pass. Opponent’s Dreadship Reef is charged on end step.
BH: Draw Pact of Negation. Now I can cast Blessing with both Whelk mana up and Pact backup, thanks to Dreadship Reef. Cast Blessing on Blessing and Venser, and cantrip into Brine Elemental. Nice! Opponent’s fake Reef is charged on end step.
IM: Draw Terramorphic Expanse, play Swamp. That’s eight mana; it’s Worker time! Opponent’s Reef is charged to three counters on end step.
BH: Draw Island. Play it, and morph in Brine Elemental. Opponent taps out for a token on end step, so I unmorph Brine using 2 Reef counters.
IM: Draw Urborg. Play Expanse. Sure hope he doesn’t have a Shapeshifter
BH: Draw Venser. Not bad! Beat for five, then pass. End step, opponent’s Expanse turns into Island.
IM: Draw another Sengir. He’s got a 5/4, but I still like the Factory plan best here. I’m not going to start casting things until I have an answer for the Draining Whelk in his hand. Pass with my one Assembly-Worker and active Factory. Opponent charges Reef up to three counters.
BH: Draw a second Pact of Negation. Things are looking very good, as it’s getting tougher and tougher for him to answer my threat. Beat with Brine. Opponent declines to block, and drops to 13. Another token is created on end step, and fake Reef is charged.
IM: Draw Careful Consideration. Beat with tokens; one is Vensered and the other is blocked by the 2/2 Venser. Man! So much for racing. Now I basically have to make two more tokens, double-block the Elemental, and hope he doesn’t have removal. Playing a spell here is still suicide because he’ll just Whelk it, meaning I’ll then have to play Sengir just to block the Whelk, and if he has a Pact for that (and I know he’s got three post-board), I’m dead meat. I’d rather attempt the last-ditch double-block plan first.
BH: Draw Terramorphic Expanse and play it. Beat with Brine; opponent is now at 8 and I’m at 9. Opponent makes a token and charges fake Reef on end step.
IM: Draw Sudden Death. Ding ding ding! Beat with a token and pass. Opponent cracks Expanse for Forest on end step.
BH: Draw another Terramorphic Expanse. Beat with Brine; it is killed by Sudden Death. How obnoxious. Play Expanse and pass. Opponent charges and makes another token on end step.
IM: Draw Tolaria West. Beat with tokens; opponent is now at three and facing down two Workers. The most logical play by far is to Transmute West for Pact of Negation and use it on whatever answer he goes for next turn, as Whelking the Pact leaves him with a mere 1/1 beater. Transmute, pass. Expanse turns into Swamp for the opponent on end step.
BH: Draw Island, lose with a hand of Draining Whelk, Spell Burst, 2x Pact of Negation, with 12 mana sources out and a Dreadship Reef full of counters. Best freaking Sudden Death ever.

I was very fortunate to win that one after the Hymn hit me. After he Vensered my Korlash with Whelk mana open, my only options were to walk my only threat right into a Draining Whelk that I had no answer to, or to stop playing spells entirely. Miraculously, it worked out for me, but all he needed was a Teachings or a Shapeshifter or for me to take two turns longer to draw Sudden Death, or… yeah, the odds were not in my favor.

Consider, though, that all this only happened because he resolved Haunting Hymn against me. If he hadn’t, I would have won many turns ago because I had two extra removal spells for Draining Whelk and Triskelavus recursion on line. I would have waltzed Korlash right into the Dragon, killed it with Tendrils, and then started replaying Triskelavus until he ran out of Pacts. It was only the Haunting Hymn that forced me to all-in on Urza’s Factory in the first place, which is why I put such an emphasis on that devastating card in my sideboard strategy.

Speaking of which, it’s annoying that I didn’t really get to showcase my sideboard plan… I guess it was pretty clear that the player who resolved the Hymn was way ahead in both games, but usually the post-board matchup is all about me fighting to resolve Hymn with counter backup and deploying hearty threats like Korlash, Nosferatu, and Triskelavus. Although none of those things actually happened (and I still pulled out a win), keep in mind that that’s not how things normally go.

Takeaways (Game 2 of Match 1 versus Baron)

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it’s really hard to lose after resolving Haunting Hymn. Adrian’s Maximum Counterspell boarding plan really locks up the game when it gets set up; I literally could not play spells any more beyond a certain point, as I would surely be beaten down by Whelk plus Pacts before resolving anything of consequence.

Let’s run it back, starting with maindecks again.

Iron Man wins the flip and sees: Terramorphic Expanse, Tolaria West, Lens, 2x Tendrils, Damnation. This hand is so close to good, and yet so far away. If I could count on Transmuting Tolaria West for Urborg, I’d love it (remember that Urborg, Tendrils, and Damnation are all keys to the aggro matchups and I don’t know what I’m up against yet), but as-is I’m going to have to crack Expanse for Island on turn 1, and unless I immediately topdeck another land, I’ll have to play Tolaria West tapped. Then I’ll have to topdeck another land for sure in the next two turns in order to cast Careful Consideration. Alternately, I could go for a Swamp with the Expanse, but if I do that, I have to topdeck either two lands or another Black source to cast Damnation, and my Tendrils still suck. Anyway, I’m shipping this one back. New six: 2x Terramorphic Expanse, Korlash, Tendrils, Extirpate, Logic Knot. This is also terrible. Go to five: a zero-lander. Go to four: River of Tears, Logic Knot, Damnation, Mystical Teachings. Keep.

Baron sees: Terramorphic Expanse, Dreadship Reef, Pact of Negation, Spell Burst, Damnation, Careful Consideration, Draining Whelk. This hand is slow — if I don’t draw lands I’ll be relying on Dreadship Reef to do things — but against a mulligan to four, I’d rather keep as many cards as I can than risk an auto-mull at six that might even the odds. Keep.

IM: Play River of Tears.
BH: Draw Teferi. Play Terramorphic Expanse.
IM: Draw Lens. Can’t play it yet; need a second land. Expanse is cracked on end step for Island.
BH: Draw Island. Play Reef.
IM: Draw Swamp. Play it, and Lens. On end step, opponent charges Reef.
BH: Draw Damnation. Play Island.
IM: Draw Damnation. Can’t play anything. Opponent charges Reef.
BH: Draw Terramorphic Expanse and play it. If I cast Careful Consideration here I’ll just have to discard at end of turn, so I’d rather leave Spell Burst mana open and try to catch something.
IM: Draw Sudden Death. Still no plays. Opponent charges Reef and cracks Expanse for Forest.
BH: Draw Tolaria West. Transmute it for Urza’s Factory and play it.
IM: Draw Terramorphic Expanse and play it. Opponent’s Reef gets its fourth counter on end step.
BH: Draw Shapeshifter and morph it in. Opponent cracks Expanse for Island on end step.
IM: Draw Careful Consideration and cast it. It resolves (though Baron could have emptied out the Reef to counter it with Spell Burst). Draw Academy Ruins, Relic, Urborg, Island. Discard both Damnations and play Island. Opponent charges Reef on end step.
BH: Draw Gaea’s Blessing. Cast it to shuffle Tolaria West and one of the Expanses back in (I don’t think I want that many more lands in there), then cantrip into another Blessing. Beat with Shapeshifter, then discard a Damnation due to having eight cards in hand. Now I have Whelk mana up, and can play aggro-control with impudence.
IM: Draw Tolaria West, play Coalition Relic. Teferi jumps in on end step using some Reef counters; I Logic Knot it. (He declines to Pact, as that would leave him tapped on his turn and allow me to sneak a threat past Whelk.) Play Academy Ruins and pass.
BH: Draw Mystical Teachings. Okay, I really need to find a land here. I can’t keep missing land drops like this. Cast Blessing on Teferi and the other Blessing, then cantrip into Lens. Close enough; play Lens, leaving Dreadship Reef and Lens open, but with Pact of Negation in case the opponent plays anything scary. (Draining Whelk will be back online when I untap.) Beat with Shapeshifter and pass. Opponent charges Relic on end step.
IM: Draw Korlash. I could run him out there right now, but he’ll probably just eat a Damnation. If I wait a turn, I can Teach for Logic Knot and play him with Knot backup; that doesn’t help if the morph on the table is Shapeshifter, but if the morph’s Shapeshifter, I’m not keeping the Korlash anyway unless I wait to draw a removal spell, which just gives him time to draw other answers like Damnation or countermagic. Therefore, my default plan will be to just wait a turn and play him next turn with Knot backup for Damnation. Add Blue with Relic, use it to Transmute Tolaria West into Urza’s Factory. Play Urborg and pass; I want to make sure I get my Urborg on the table first so that the Legend Rule doesn’t allow him any mana if he draws his copy. I also would like to know if he’s going to Wasteland me before I play Korlash. I don’t really need to Sudden Death the morph yet, and would rather use my mana on Teachings, so I’ll just pass here. Opponent’s Reef is charged on my end step.
BH: Draw another Dreadship Reef. Factory is almost online. Play Reef and beat with morph. Opponent is now at 14. End step, opponent Teaches for Logic Knot and charges Relic.
IM: Draw River of Tears. Add Black with the Relic counter, and play Urza’s Factory and Korlash. Korlash is Whelked; I Logic Knot it, and he Pacts. I flashback Teachings; I could get Pact and win the counter-war, but that leaves me with a naked, resolved Korlash. He can kill that any number of ways, from Damnation to land plus Tendrils, to Vesuvan Shapeshifter, so it’s not worth it to throw away my Teachings just for that. He’s got six cards in his hand, and Teachings is one of my only good cards here. I’ll just let Whelk stick, Teach for Teachings and pass.
BH: Pay for Pact of Negation, draw Swamp, play it, beat for 7 with Whelk and morph, and pass.
IM: Draw Careful Consideration. If I weren’t at exactly 7, I could Teach for Hymn and cast it right now, to devastating effect. However, he has lethal on the board, so I’ve got to deal with that first. Play River of Tears, Teach for Tendrils, and play it on the Whelk. Go back up to 15 and pass. Opponent’s Reef gets charged again.
BH: Draw Careful Consideration. At this point I just want to Spell Burst his Teachings away and aim for winning the Factory fight. I don’t want to commit my Tolaria West to the table because I’m not all that strapped for mana, so I’ll just beat with the morph and pass rather than playing it. I can come up with a better use for it later. Relic is charged on end step.
IM: Draw Triskelavus. Ding! New plan. Tap for Triskelavus. It is delayed by Teachings into Venser. Cast Sudden Death on the morph and pass with just Relic open.
BH: Draw Damnation. As he has Academy Ruins and Triskelavus, my only chance is to either race or hit eleven mana so I can Spell Burst it with buyback. To that end, it’s definitely time to play Tolaria West. Beat with Venser (opponent is down to 11) and pass. Relic is charged on end step.
IM: Draw Vesuva. Play Triskelavus and tap out for Careful Consideration; draw Urborg, Korlash, Lens, Tolaria West. Discard Lens and Vesuva.
BH: Draw Gaea’s Blessing. Nice — now I can Teach for Whelk again (nice “one-of”) and hit that recurring Triskelavus in a couple turns. Cast Damnation and then Blessing on Pact of Negation, Whelk, and Vesuvan Shapeshifter; draw Island off the cantrip.
IM: Draw my third Urborg. Transmute Tolaria West for Pact of Negation and play Korlash. He is hit by a flashed Teachings for Pact of Negation (using two Dreadship Reef counters), which I negate with the Pact he knows I have.
BH: Draw Mystical Teachings and Damnation away Korlash. Then cast another Blessing on Blessing, Spell Burst, and Venser (drawing Terramorphic Expanse). Play Expanse and pass. Relic is charged on end step.
IM: Pay for Pact, draw Extirpate. Yes. Use the Relic mana to Extirpate Mystical Teachings. Opponent’s hand is now 2x Careful Consideration and Island. Expanse is cracked for Island on end step.
BH: Draw River of Tears. Play Careful Consideration, drawing Vesuvan, Spell Burst (freaking again? I know they keep getting shuffled in, but you’d think Extirpate on Teachings would at least save me from the one-ofs. Stupid “A.I.”), Lens, and Plains. Discard Plains and Lens. Cast another Careful, drawing Slaughter Pact, Damnation, Brine Elemental, Tendrils. Ding ding ding! It’s Pickles time. Pitch Damnation and Slaughter Pact. Play River of Tears and pass. On end step, Trisk is returned with Academy Ruins and Relic is charged.
IM: Draw Triskelavus and play it. That’s all I got.
BH: Draw Lens. Play Island, morph and unmorph Brine. Looks like this one is over.
IM: I am actually cursing at my monitor when I topdeck Tendrils of Corruption like a freaking champion. I can’t even believe this is happening. I honestly want to abort this game and start over because people are going to think I’m doctoring my game logs. I wish to everything these games were just, like, me getting an average draw and the opponent getting an average draw and us duking it out like gentlemen, but instead I’m stuck with the kind of draws where — if this were a PTQ — the opponent would be making a mental list of all the ways I sacked him out this game, so that he could later unleash the horror stories of my legendary topdecks upon his friends. I’d love to cop a re-do every time someone got a miraculous draw and it made the matchup look unreasonably lopsided, but recording games is so damn time consuming, there’s just no way I can do that and get the article done in time. Harrumph, etc. Anyway, back to the game — I’m tapped out, but the Brine is dead. Beat with Triskelavus. Life totals are 16-16, counting the Tendrils I cast this turn.
BH: Draw River of Tears. Play it, and Lens. I’m now very close to being able to Spell Burst Triskelavus with buyback. Opponent splits Triskelavus into four 1/1 Flyers on end step. I shoot Trisk with Tendrils, and in response it is killed by one of the Triskelavites rather than let me gain twelve.
IM: Draw Slaughter Pact and beat with the two remaining flyers. Opponent makes an Assembly-Worker on end step.
BH: Draw Urborg and play it for the Wasteland effect. Beat with Worker; opponent activates Factory and intercepts. Pass. Relic is charged on end step.
IM: Return Trisk on upkeep, draw it, and play it. It is hit by Spell Burst with buyback. Ahh! That’s going to be rough to overcome. Beat with two Triskelavites, play an Urborg, and pass. Opponent makes another Worker on end step and charges two Reefs.
BH: Draw another Urborg and play it for the Wasteland again, then trade Assembly-Workers on the attack.
IM: Draw Mystical Teachings. Solid. Beat with air force, taking opponent to 10, and play the last Urborg. Pass. Opponent makes another Worker on end step, and charges both Reefs again. I respond to the second Reef activation by Teaching for Haunting Hymn and aiming it at him, He does not have enough Reef counters built up to Spell Burst it, and so discards his two-card hand of Spell Burst and Vesuvan Shapeshifter.
BH: Draw Island. Beat with token, taking opponent to 14.
IM: Upkeep, return Triskelavus. Draw Trisk and play it. Beat with air force, taking opponent to 8. Opponent makes another Assembly Worker on end step.
BH: Draw Terramorphic Expanse; concede to lethal flying damage.

Takeaways (Game 1 of Match 2 versus Baron)

Okay, so I guess there is one takeaway from this game. Six little words:

Tris Kel A Vus: Worth it.

Trisk and Extirpate basically carried me through that mulligan to four by themselves. The topdecked Tendrils to kill the Brine Elemental was key, but now that the game’s over and I’ve had some time to think about it, I actually had a ton of outs there. Tendrils, Damnation, Slaughter Pact, and Tolaria West would have done the trick, and I play all of those as four-ofs except Slaughter Pact.

Anyway, let’s move ahead.

Baron is on the play and sees: 3x Island, Plains, Careful Consideration, Tendrils, Draining Whelk. This seems like a fine hand for the mirror: turn-four Careful, holding a Draining Whelk, and plenty of lands without inducing flood. The Tendrils isn’t great, but it can go to Careful if need be. Keep.

Iron Man sees: Island, River of Tears, Cinnamon Relic, 2x Careful Consideration, Mystical Teachings, Sengir Nosferatu. On the draw, this is an easy keep. All I need is a third land and I’m set.

BH: Island, go.
IM: Draw Plains, play River of Tears.
BH: Draw Pact of Negation, play Island.
IM: Draw Terramorphic Expanse and play it.
BH: Draw Gaea’s Blessing and play Island. Expanse turns into Swamp on end step.
IM: Draw Haunting Hymn. Man, do I ever love boarding up to three of those! Play Island and Coalition Relic.
BH: Draw River of Tears. Play it, and Careful Consideration. Draw River of Tears, Venser, Brine Elemental, Terramorphic Expanse. Discard Tendrils of Corruption and Venser. (I don’t have particular need of either card at the moment, and can fetch them back later once I use the Blessing in my hand to shuffle them back in.) Relic is charged on end step.
IM: Draw another Sengir. Play Plains and tap out for Haunting Hymn. Now is absolutely the best time to do this, as the opponent does not have Pact mana up yet. Opponent discards Plains, River of Tears, Brine Elemental, Pact of Negation.
BH: Draw Dreadship Reef. Play Terramorphic Expanse and pass.
IM: Draw Logic Knot. I’ve got two Sengirs here; might as well play one and see if it sticks. Tap out for Sengir Nosferatu. Expanse turns into Forest on end step.
BH: Draw Draining Whelk. Play Dreadship Reef, pass. I’ll cast Blessing when I can keep six open for Whelk, which should be pretty soon thanks to this Dreadship Reef.
IM: Draw Terramorphic Expanse. Beat with Sengir, play Expanse, and pass. Again, since I’m fortunate enough to have seen Pickles elements in game 1, I know I’m up against the original Time Spiral Baron, and can expect Draining Whelk here. I could cast Careful Consideration here, but will instead leave mana up for Mystical Teachings and/or Logic Knot. Adrian pointed out to me that this situation is exactly the reason he plays Draining Whelk: I know about it, so I’m afraid to act (i.e. cast Careful Consideration), and if I didn’t know about it, he’d get a Dragon and a two-for-one. Opponent charges Reef on end step.
BH: Draw Vesuvan Shapeshifter. There’s my answer to Sengir, but at 16 life, I’m in no hurry to get rid of it in exchange for losing my Whelk. Pass. Opponent charges Relic on end step.
IM: Draw Swamp. Add Blue with Relic, then tap River of Tears, Swamp, Plains for Careful Consideration. Whelk is cast, but I Logic Knot it (removing Haunting Hymn in case of Extirpate), leaving Relic open. Consideration yields Relic, Teachings, Expanse, Hymn. I don’t need two Teachings here, and am not particularly interested in tapping for a second Relic, so I ditch a Teachings and a Relic. Play Swamp, hit with Sengir, and pass.
BH: Draw Sudden Death. There’s an even better answer to the Sengir. I still have another Whelk in hand; pass. Opponent charges Relic on end step.
IM: Draw Swamp, add Blue, play Careful Consideration again. Again he goes for the Whelk, and this time I cast Teachings in response for Pact of Negation. Consideration yields Sudden Death, two copies of Prismatic Lens, and Urborg. Ditch the Lenses, then play Terramorphic Expanse and pass.
BH: Draw another Shapeshifter. Now I’m out of Whelks; time to go get some more. Cast Sudden Death on the Nosferatu by charging Dreadship Reef, emptying it of counters, and then tapping another Island. Then cast Blessing on Brine Elemental, Careful Consideration, and Sudden Death. Draw Prismatic Lens off the cantrip and pass. Opponent’s Terramorphic Expanse turns into Island on end step.
IM: Pay for Pact of Negation and draw Tolaria West. Play Swamp, Transmute Tolaria West for Urza’s Factory, pass.
BH: Draw Island. Play it, play Lens, and morph Shapeshifter. Opponent charges Relic on end step.
IM: Draw Korlash. Play Haunting Hymn to clear the last card out of the opponent’s hand, then play Urza’s Factory and Sudden Death on the morph. Opponent charges Dreadship Reef on end step.
BH: Draw Island, pass. Opponent charges Relic on end step.
IM: Draw Tolaria West. Transmute it for Pact of Negation, play Urborg and Korlash, pass.
BH: Draw Terramorphic Expanse. Korlash is lethal; concede.

Takeaways (Game 2 of Match 2 versus Baron)

Haunting Hymn is nuts,” anyone? It’s really nice that Relic enables turn 4 Hymn all by itself, which is key against Adrian’s list because that’s before Pact of Negation comes online. In all fairness, most lists don’t have three Pacts post-board, so it doesn’t matter, but it’s still a strong play… if they get up to six mana, you need to have Pact of Negation backup to guard against Imp’s Mischief and the like.

This is the way I want my sideboard games to go: I drop Hymn, they discard threats, answers, and mana, I play a threat, they answer it, I play another, they don’t answer that one, and that’s all it takes.

I have to say, though, I like the Blessings. The fact that they cantrip away early and get increasingly potent in the late game makes them a very efficient victory condition. My only gripe about them is that they’re slow, and I’m afraid of not finishing rounds; besides that, Blessing is a fairly similar strategy to Iron Man. I’m choosing my cards carefully so that they can’t be trumped, and Blessing just shuffles trumped cards back in until eventually they stick. It’s a pretty similar strategy, really, except that Blessing has a more consistent early game (and less vulnerability to losing Urborg because it doesn’t play Korlash) and takes a lot longer to finish. I’d say that, at this point, if I weren’t playing Korlash, I’d be playing Blessing. For now, though, I’ll just be adding the Relics.

At any rate, I hope these games were illuminating for you, and that you’ll bring up any questionable plays you saw in the forums.

See you next week!

Richard Feldman
Team :S
[email protected]