Double or Nothing: Countdown

I called up a friend in the middle of the night to ask him:””What has Torment brought us that makes ‘Tog worse than it was?” “Hi, Jim,” was his reply. I forgot that not everybody thinks about Magic all of the time.

I don’t know how Mike Flores‘ latest article on The Sideboard made you feel, but it steadied my nerves and lessened my increasing worries about Regionals a whole bunch.

I thought that I knew that R/G Beats, Mono Black and Tings were important, and I thought that ‘Tog was better than it was being given credit for. I even went so far as to ring up a team member in the middle of the night to chat about ‘Tog, starting the conversation with one question:

"What has Torment brought us that makes ‘Tog worse than it was?"

"Hi, Jim," was his reply.

Once again, I forgot that not everybody thinks about Magic all of the time.

We mulled over a few new deck types and changes to existing ones, and came to the conclusion that the new Black decks are the main addition and a problem for ‘Tog, but that the U/G Tempo and Threshold decks could give ‘Tog trouble, too. At the end of the day, our list of decks wasn’t that different to Mike’s and that made me feel a lot better. I mean – this is Mike Flores here, not just any random ‘net writer…. MIKE FLORES.

I’ve also nailed down the main deck for my R/G deck, and thirteen of the fifteen sideboard cards. My plan for the day is to take four or five options and decide when I get there what to add in.

At least, that’s what I thought my plan was.

The reason I rang up Chris, my teammate, was that I’m getting edgy about playing a deck with no counterspells in it. I can’t say "No!" to random bad cards that might hose me. I can’t draw lots of extra cards in someone’s end step – hell, there’s very little I can do in anyone’s end step apart from set things on fire….

Hmm, setting things on fire….

That apart, I really enjoyed playing Tog, and I miss the idea of Spiking, Lapsing, Countering and Undermining people’s spells. All I’m going to be able to do it attack for three or more a turn.

I guess part of me just likes being the Evil Mage In Charge.

I’ve been keeping my decks up-to-date, anyway so I took a look at the Tog deck I had built up… and promptly took it apart again: I’d turned it into a Zombie Infestation and Upheaval deck, that I wasn’t that happy with. Ten minutes later I’d put the basis of the Tog deck back together and rebuilt the deck. Here’s the listing:

PhatBeats Tog Tester

Creatures (4):

4x Psychatog

Other Spells (34):

4x Force Spike

4x Counterspell

3x Undermine

3x Memory Lapse

4x Peek

4x Fact or Fiction

2x Rushing River

3x Repulse

3x Chainer’s Edict

1x Innocent Blood

3x Duress

Land (22):

4x Salt Marsh

3x Underground River

2x Cephalid Coliseum

3x Swamp

1x Cabal Pit

1x Darkwater Catacombs

8x Island

Nothing special here. Kai and Patrick Mello played the basis for this deck in the San Diego Masters – to little success – but I felt it fitted me better than Ryan Fuller’s version. I’ve taken out the Probes and Recoils, as I’m expecting U/G Tempo, and U/G Threshold to have a field day with them… Not to mention that some versions of R/G Beats will love them too. Rushing River’s came it to help against non-creature permanents, whilst Chainer’s Edict takes Probe’s place and uses it for a different function altogether.

What I don’t like about the deck is the lack of targeted removal. What’s the point of casting Chainer’s Edict when they have two Birds on the table? I’m also not happy with Repulse. It may be a cantrip, making Tog better and digging to get that next land you need… But Aether Burst can be cast a turn earlier and later on in the game bounces two Beast Tokens, or three Elephants. That leaves us with questions:

So maybe Ghastly Demise sneaks in the deck – or are there too many decks out there ready and willing to play black creatures?

Aether Burst or Repulse? Some versions play both; some play neither! I think I’ll play one or the other… But which one?

Rushing River: Is madness really too scary to play Recoil?

Is Circular Logic good enough to play instead of Memory Lapse? Should I play a few of each (balancing the cost of the spells along the mana curve)?

What I most dislike about Tog in this environment is the lack of a reset button. Upheaval is fine for some… But I want Nevinyrral’s Disk. I want Powder Keg. I want to blow up the world, not give it back to someone with a low mana-to-power curve so that they can dish it out to me as quickly as they did the first time.

Ideally, I’d like to build a version of Tog that used much less blue, so that I could play Mutilate. It’ll need twelve Swamps, really, and I’d rather be playing even more – fifteen, say – which only leaves us eight sources of Blue mana to play with. Unfortunately, that means changing the deck completely as twenty-nine of the thirty-eight spells in the deck need blue mana – and seven of them need two blue. With less swamps, Mutilate isn’t nearly as good.

If you play only ten swamps, you should see two of them by turn 5; not very useful unless you have another way of killing all of their 3/3 and 4/4 creatures. Playing fifteen swamps should let you draw three by turn 5 – better, but still not great.

If you look at the black control decks listed around the ‘net, they’re playing between twenty and twenty-four swamps, and by turn 5 they should have four or five swamps in play – plenty to make a turn 5 Mutilate kill pretty much anything. They also run more creature removal, and so a turn 5 Mutilate isn’t nearly as necessary, since they can afford to wait three or four more turns most of the time and get six or seven swamps into play.

Maybe we should be adding blue to Black Control, rather than adding Mutilate to Tog? It’s an idea that has been passed around and looked at already, so I won’t go into it here… But adding any of the other colours would add something to the deck, as I feel mono-Black has too many ways to lose.

This week, I’m going to playtest Tog against the Black decks out there. I know that it can beat them, but I need to get a feel for how often they crush it and how often I’m going to lose the first game before I take it to an important tourney. That’ll probably mean I have two decks I’m comfortable with to take to Regionals in eight days.

Eight days…

Time is getting short, hence the title of the article: Countdown.

Last year, and the year before I wrote a lot in the run up to Regionals. Two articles stand out for me from 2000: “Indecision” and ‘Geddon With It‘ the first because it shows that I haven’t changed much. I’m still nervous as all hell about Regionals. The second because it’s probably my best article to date – at least other people tell me it is. In 2001, I played and wrote a lot about CounterRebel.

Playing CounterRebel for a few months probably increased my playing skill forever. I’ve just spent some time looking at my results before and after playing that deck – and afterwards, my results are considerably better. I guess that playing a control deck like Counter Rebel, which needed so much careful play, has changed the way I play Magic. Nowadays, I try to consider what my opponent has in hand – I try to guess why they made one play over another – and I’m often right. Before that, I’d look at the cards in my hand and make plays largely based on the information I knew – not the information I could infer.

Many players don’t like playing control decks; they like the feeling of rushing in with monsters and dealing damage. Playing aggressive decks isn’t as easy as that, though, and playing control decks gives you a great understanding of why. Why shouldn’t you cast all the creatures in your hand if your opponent is playing U/W control? Why shouldn’t you burn your opponent for three when you can burn a creature and attack for two? (Okay, these aren’t always true, but they serve as an example.)

This leads me nicely on to another deck: A U/W Control deck.

U/W Control

Over the last few months, I’ve been wondering why U/W Control hasn’t been doing well. Traditionally, when aggro decks start taking hold of an environment, U/W steps in to give them all a good kicking. The only real UW decks I’ve seen have been based around life gain, with Life Burst, Reviving Vapours, and Ancestral Tribute – or those splashing Green for our erstwhile companion: Mystic Enforcer.

I really liked the U/W lifegain decks, but felt that often they just seemed to be gaining life, waiting for a kill. The reliance on Millstone also put me off; just one Legacy Weapon played (or more correctly, discarded) properly would ruin your day. In order to help me out I wanted a big, fat creature to lend me a hand.

The deck I eventually came up with retains some of the lifegaining characteristics, but moves more down a traditional U/W deck listing:

PhatBeats UW Control

Creatures (1):

1x Mahamoti Djinn

Spells (35):

4x Peek

4x Force Spike

4x Counterspell

4x Absorb

3x Syncopate

3x Wrath of God

1x Rout

1x Persuasion

2x Millstone

4x Fact or Fiction

4x Life Burst

1x Ancestral Tribute

Land (24):

4x Coastal Tower

4x Adarkar Wastes

2x Cephalid Coliseum

9x Island

5x Plains

The deck has counters – fifteen of them – card drawing, deck manipulation, three different win methods, and the lifegain of Life Burst and Ancestral Tribute to keep you alive until you see that one, all-important Wrath. The reason I think that control decks aren’t doing as well as they should is the good early game of R/G and Black. For some reason, given how important it is, people are ignoring Force Spike even though some builds of ‘Tog use it to great effect. I’ve added it in and it really makes a difference: Spiking a Bird or Elf slows people down, and you don’t have to stop there. In the early game decks try to make use of all of their mana; forcing them to keep one spare all the time slows them down enough for you to get land on the table and gain control.

One Rout, instead of a full compliment of Wraths, helps against the annoying Meddling Mage. Force Spike and Syncopate are great in the early game, and can annoy other control players all day (although the Syncopates probably become Gainsays after sideboarding).

The other advantage U/W has it a startlingly good number and quality of sideboard cards. Meddling Mage and Sacred Ground help to beat Tings, while Circle of Protections of all colours will slow down your opponent, and make them over commit. Disenchant and Dismantling Blow can come in, Gainsay against Tog, Deflection or Divert if you’re scared of Urza’s Rage (although Ancestral Tribute should help you there, too).

My sideboard for this at the moment is as follows:

2x Hibernation

2x Deflection

2x COP: Black

3x Sacred Ground

3x Gainsay

2x Dismantling Blow

The key is to remember that you have fifteen counter spells. You’re bound to see a few early on and you don’t need to hang on to them as much as you do in decks with only six or eight.

Against Tings, you can bring in the Sacred Grounds; you need to protect them, as they often have enchantment removal in their sideboard against just this.

Against Control Black and Black Aggro, you need to bring in the COP: Blacks. They’ll attack your hand early on with Duress, Mesmeric Fiend and even Persecute, but try to use Fact or Fictions to keep your hand full, and the Syncopates and Force Spikes should slow them down enough for you to survive. On a side note, Corrupt is targeted; maybe Deflection you help you out? You won’t gain the life, but they won’t do the damage either!

Against R/G Beats, you have Hibernations to give you cheaper, instant-speed bounce. Casting this on turn 3 will often give you the time to wait to Wrath until turn 6 with a Counterspell in hand.

Hibernations will also work well against U/G Opposition, as you bring in the Dismantling Blows to help deal with any Nests they might have.

Gainsay comes in against Tog, and you can bring COP: Black in too if you want to make it next to impossible for them to win.

So why aren’t I playing this at Regionals? Good question. I’m not happy that this does well enough against the Aggro Black and Frog in a Blender decks as yet. The sideboard above is very rough, and I don’t have much practice playing the deck yet. I may play it – I may not. What I’d really like is to find space for some Aether Bursts to help slow my opponent down (again), and late game to bounce annoying Flashback Elephants and Beast Attacks out of the game.

So; one more week before Regionals start in England.

Next Week: MORE PANIC.

Cheers, Jim.

Team PhatBeats.

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