At the end of my last article I gave the listing of an Upheaval, Zombie Infestation (UZI) deck. The idea behind the build of the deck was to take the best cards from Mono Black Control (MBC), U/G Madness and Threshold, and try them all out together in the current environment.
I put the deck together, mainly cannibalising my Psychatog deck, and managed to get a few days testing in. We found that the deck was working surprisingly well, and so I decided to give it a run at a PTQ. What’s the worst that can happen?
Well, the worst that could happen was a 2-4 record. If you want to read about a PTQ win and how to beat the best decks, look somewhere else. If you’re interested in what went wrong, why I wouldn’t play UZI at a big event, and what a better build of the deck might be, stick around.
During testing, Compulsion turned out to be an amazing card. It digs for Infestation and Upheaval, it can get you removal when you most need it, and it allows you to cast Circular Logic without loosing a card from your hand. I upped the number to three and dropped one counterspell; other than that, the main deck is the same as in my last article. Here’s the main deck:
4x Rancid Earth
3x Circular Logic
3x Deep Analysis
4x Chainer’s Edict
4x Innocent Blood
2x Diabolic Tutor
2x Zombie Infestation
4x Aether Burst
4x Darkwater Catacombs
As I’ve said previously, the deck brings together most of the good creature control spells of MBC and adds counterspells and card drawing, along with an easy way to deal with token creatures. The land mix favours slightly more Black than Blue, as we want to cast Rancid Earth on turn 3 if we have it in our hand.
The two tutors give you the chance to dig for the missing piece of the combo or to look for a vital removal spell – and with the Compulsions and Deep Analyses, you can dig through your deck very fast indeed.
4x Ghastly Demise
1x Circular Logic
1x Haunting Echoes
2x Skeletal Scrying
2x Coffin Purge
1x Aboshan, Cephalid Emperor
The sideboard shouldn’t require too much explanation: Ghastly Demise comes in against U/G and G/W. I’d bring out a few Bursts for some of them, purely because they kill something rather than bouncing it, but if I think they have Phantom Centaurs I’d leave a few Bursts in the deck. Concentrate comes in for the mirror match: He who draws the most cards wins. Haunting Echoes also comes in for the mirror and against Psychatog decks.
Skeletal Scrying comes in against MBC, as a way to keep your hand full and to frustrate any Haunting Echoes they might successfully cast against you. Upheaval also comes in, as resetting their mana base back to a Swamp can really save your bacon.
Coffin Purge comes in against U/W Birds, U/G Madness, and G/W Beats to deal with Glory, Wonder and Battle Screech, along with putting paid to an early Quiet Speculation if you’re lucky.
Aboshan comes in against G/W Beats. They can’t (generally) make all their guys fly, and you can keep them all tapped out for UUU every turn until you can win.
Divert is the only”odd” card. I added it to help against Mono Black Control, but it can also come in for the mirror match to help in limited counter wars.
So; on to the tourney itself.
I’m not an early riser by nature, but the PTQ was kicking off at 11 a.m. and we were just under two hours away by car. Luckily I managed to drag myself out of bed and meet up with everyone else (Maggie and Claire Williams and Chris Bagnall, the Head Judge of the tourney) and we wandered down to Southhampton (which is scene of another PTQ I wrote about in”A Trip to the Seaside“).
We arrived with plenty of time to spare and so, a cup of coffee and an hour’s rest later we kicked off round one.
Round 1: Ben Ronaldson playing Tomi Walamies‘ UW Battle Screech deck.
If you go to a PTQ you should expect to play against really good players: Some will be aspiring to the Pro Tour, and some will be Pro Tour players who haven’t quite got the points they need. Ben is one of the Hampton Court Palace mob, including John Ormerod, Ollie Schneider and (now) Gary Wise. As Gary, Jon and Ollie were all at Worlds this weekend, I expected that Ben had probably tested with them a lot to help them to get ready.
Sure, you have to play against good players… But couldn’t I have started off against someone easier?
We kicked off and it was obvious that Ben was playing a U/W deck with Battle Screech. I wasn’t sure whether he’d be playing a version I knew or not, and Tomi Walamies had just gone 6-0 with such a deck at Worlds, but I knew that it would be a tough matchup.
Ben started out playing a few creatures and I managed to find the creature kill I needed to get rid of them. Against Screech decks, you need to try to keep them down to two creatures or less so they can’t Flashback the Screech. Each time Ben played a card, I used a card to deal with it, an answer for every threat.
The problem is that Ben’s deck has more threats than my deck has answers – and sure enough, we were both low on cards. I attempted to cast a Deep Analysis but Ben had a counter and followed by casting an Analysis of his own. A turn or two later the same thing happened again, leaving me with an empty hand and Ben with three or four threats to play out safely. He nibbled on my life but eventually the big zero stared up at me from my notepad and we moved on to game two.
Out: 4 Rancid Earth, 1 Aether Burst and 1 Compulsion.
In: 4 Ghastly Demise and 2 Coffin Purge.
I figured that although the Earths can kill 1/1 guys, Ben had plenty of Divine Sacraments in his deck, and his land wasn’t really a problem for him, as he only really needed four mana producers. For the Earths to be very useful, I’d need to see two or three very early in the game. I felt the Ghastly Demises were most useful, since they could kill most of Ben’s creatures, and Coffin Purge would get rid of Deep Analysis and Battle Screech when I saw them.
The game kicked off with an early Infestation for me and I started to hit Ben for a few turns until I had to Innocent Blood. I tried to sneak out a few Analyses, baiting Ben with a creature kill, but he knew exactly what I was doing: He let his creatures die and countered by card drawing until we were in the same position as in game one: Ben had a handful of cards and I didn’t. Eventually Ben dropped a second Divine Sacrament and, thanks to all my creature kill, his graveyard was at seven cards. With two 1/1 creatures pretending to be 5/5 monsters in play, I quickly succumbed.
Matches: 0-1, Games: 0-2.
I chatted with Ben about my boarding options and he agreed that the Earths should probably come out. I mentioned that I hadn’t seen any MBC decks and so the maindeck Earths might be a bad call, but he assured me that there were plenty present and that they should get me a scalp or two.
One thing I’d found in the game was that with the one-for-one removal spells I was using, it was easy for Ben to work around them, or wait for me to run low on cards, deny my extra card drawing and pull out the win. I’d had a few email discussions about UZI decks and one build, by Russ Ingram, uses less blue mana and more Swamps to fit Mutilate and Mind Sludge into the deck. After my game with Ben, I was wishing for Mutilate in my deck – but it wasn’t there, and I had another round to play.
Round 2: Nick Jenkins, playing U/B
I sat down opposite Nick and he seemed to be very confident – too confident if you ask me. The English PTQ scene is not as big as some people think and, with tourney reports and final standings posted regularly it would be difficult not to pick up the names of the better players. I’d never seen Nick’s name before, and so I assumed Nick was trying to be confident to put me off. He could be a very good player – but if so, why hadn’t I seen his name? As we were both in the 0-1 bracket I knew his deck wasn’t an auto-loss for me and so we kicked off.
Nick’s confidence soon began to drop as it became obvious I had had a very good draw and he was playing a U/B deck with some non-standard cards main deck. Shade’s Form might be good if your opponent can’t bounce your creatures, and Liquify is good if you’re not tapping out too often and your opponent’s important spells cost less than four mana… But Upheaval costs six.
I quickly gained control at fifteen life and waited out the game, digging for an Upheaval with an Infestation in my opening hand. I knew that he had Envelops as well as Liquify, and so I decided to wait until I could play around it.
Nick then made a big mistake: I had seven land in play and he had seven. He tapped out to play a Shade, then dropped an Infiltrator – using up all of his blue mana. I said”sure,” untapped, played Upheaval floating one Black, dropped an Island, and played an Infestation. Nick conceded and we moved on to game two.
Out: 2 Envelop, 1 Compulsion and 1 Aether Burst.
In: 2 Concentrate, 1 Divert and 1 Circular Logic.
Nick was playing a lot less Sorceries that I would have hoped for, and so some Envelops came out, with a Logic and Divert coming in to help out. I also knew that I’d need to out draw him, and so I bought the two Concentrates in, dropping a Compulsion and a Burst – the Bursts weren’t helping that much.
Turns 3 and 4 I blew up land and eventually dropped Compulsion. I started digging a few cards deeper every turn and eventually saw Upheaval and Infestation. I continued to dig down and kept dropping land until I had ten land in play: Enough for an Upheaval, Circular Logic, and one mana spare to play out the Infestation after dropping a land. Nick didn’t have the Envelop and conceded again as I made five guys.
Matches: 1-1, Games: 2-2.
Well, with only six rounds, I reckoned that most players on 4-1-1 would get in and just maybe one player on 4-2 with amazing tiebreakers would get in. Once again, two losses knocks you out – but with a win, I’m still in the running.
Round 3: Tim O’Donnell playing MBC
Tim won the last PTQ I attended in Southampton, and so I know I’m up against it.
My opening hand was good – with an Envelop, some creature kill, card drawing and two land. I kicked off… But two turns later, I was still a land down when I had to Envelop Tim’s first Rancid Earth. A few turns later, I was very behind in the land stakes, and I couldn’t stop a Mind Sludge from swinging the game in Tim’s direction. I managed to draw some kill and deal with a Shade or Two, but never really recovered – even after my land had started to come back. A Compulsion helped, but I just didn’t see what I needed and we had to move on to game two.
Out: 4 Aether Burst and 1 Compulsion.
In: 2 Skeletal Scrying, 1 Upheaval, 1 Divert and 1 Circular Logic.
During the first game, both Tim and I had been distracted by judging rulings and goings on around us, and we’d both played more slowly than usual. This was to come and bite me in the ass, as I needed one more turn to kill Tim than the five extra turns would allow. During the game I had to cast Upheaval twice to stay alive and stop Tim from gaining the upper hand with the Mind Sludges I knew he had. I looked at a number of different ways to kill Tim, but none of them would allow me to get him to the big zero I needed to.
After the game, I considered the two Concentrates in my sideboard. Bringing them in might well have helped, giving me a chance to come back after a Mind Sludge, or just allowing me to dig a little bit deeper.
Matches: 1-2, Games: 2-3.
Two losses. Looking at my tiebreakers, I know that I’m not going to make top eight – and it’s only lunchtime! Unluckily for me, as I came down with the head judge, I have to hang around until the end of the day. Here’s hoping I can win out.
Round 4: Paul Creedy playing UZI
The simple fact about game one was that I drew more cards than Paul. I saw more Deep Analysis and I managed to resolve a Compulsion. All of my draws became a card I needed whilst Paul drew more land than he wanted. Paul did manage to float a few mana to deal with some Zombies by casting an Aether Burst – I had two in the graveyard. It wasn’t enough though and after one hit for ten points, we moved on to the next game.
Out: 4 Aether Burst and 1 Chainer’s Edict.
In: 2 Concentrate, 1 Haunting Echoes, 1 Divert and 1 Circular Logic.
I figured that I needed a little more control and more card drawing and so the Bursts and an Edict came out. Paul started off well, and started to play out a few Infiltrators. Luckily for me, I killed them and managed to resolve Haunting Echoes to have a good look at his deck. He’d turned his deck into Psychatog, and so I knew I had to be careful. We both played out a lot of land as Paul failed to draw a creature. Both of us got Compulsion on the table and started to dig deep for some answers… Unluckily for Paul, I saw a few counters, Tutored for an Infestation and cast an Upheaval. He countered and I left enough mana open to counter if he felt like casting Upheaval.
He didn’t, and I cast my second one with counter backup and dropped an Infestation.
I could only make a few men and he killed some and bounced a few others, but I had the upper hand, again dropping the Compulsion. Many turns of two and four damage later, we entered extra turns, but Paul couldn’t find the Burst he needed to survive and I picked up my second 2-0 win of the day.
Matches: 2-2, Games: 4-3.
Concentrate was really good in this match, allowing me to plain out-draw Paul. I’ve seen him play before, and I know he tests with some good players and previous PTQ winners and so I was happy to beat him. Only two more games to go, and one win will give me a record I wouldn’t beat myself up over.
Round 5: Martyn Cooper playing UGw Madness
One more win… Heh. That wasn’t going to happen in this game. Martyn was playing a new build of U/G Madness with Standstills, and pretty quickly I was on the back end of card advantage as I struggled to cope with the number of creatures he was piling into play. I began to slow him down, killing a few here and casting my own card drawing spells, but I didn’t have enough Blue mana to dig with Compulsion and it felt a little slow against Martyn. Eventually he dropped an Enforcer and I couldn’t kill it before it killed me.
Out: 4 Rancid Earth, 1 Aether Burst, 1 Compulsion and 1 Envelop.
In: 4 Ghastly Demise, 2 Coffin Purge and 1 Circular Logic.
See that ‘Out’ line above? See the big mistake in it? Four Rancid Earth. I took all of my Rancid Earths out against Martyn. Earlier in the day I’d discussed the boarding options against U/G Madness and we decided that you could take out a few Earths, but needed to leave at least one in just in case they boarded in Squirrel Nests.
Guess what Martin boarded in?
I dropped a turn 2 Infestation in case he was thinking of dropping a Standstill, and he did nothing for a turn. Next turn I did nothing and he dropped a Nest on a land. I started to curse myself. The next turn he dropped a Standstill and we both stood there looking at each other across a Zombie/Squirrel no-man’s land.
Martyn could make a 1/1 a turn. I needed to discard two cards to make a 2/2 a turn. With one already in play, I could discard cards every other turn to keep Martyn on the back foot, but it just didn’t work like that. I decided not to attack (a second mistake) with two Zombies into two Squirrels. If I had life, would have been much more rosy, as I could deal two points a turn and Martyn would have to break his own Standstill to stop me.
As it was, he quickly generated more squirrels than I could cope with and I had to start killing them to stay alive, giving him an extra three cards in the process. A few Werebears and Enforcers later, I was toast.
Matches: 2-3, Games: 4-5.
Martyn spent some time showing me his deck after the game. He’d added five sources of White mana to allow him to add Enforcer and one Glory to the deck, and I have to say it worked beautifully. He played one Nest main deck and three in the Sideboard against MBC, but they worked just as well against me. I hadn’t got any testing in against U/G decks playing Standstill, and I made two bad mistakes. I really didn’t deserve to win this one.
Round 6: Antony Bowker playing WR Beats
So; last round of the day and I’m playing for an even result.
Antony started off dropping Plains and a Tireless Tribe, which I quickly killed, assuming he was playing a U/W Screech deck. Over the next few turns he cast a whole host of creatures, but I managed to stem the tide at only five life before dropping Upheaval and Infestation and waltzing over for six a turn to finish him off.
Out: 4 Rancid Earth, 2 Deep Analysis, 1 Envelop and 2 Aether Bursts.
In: 4 Ghastly Demise, 2 Concentrate, 1 Circular Logic and 2 Coffin Purge.
Antony let slip that he hadn’t seen any red mana, so I decided that Concentrate was a safer way of drawing cards than Deep Analysis. I hadn’t seen any sorceries, so I took out an Envelop for a logic and the Coffin Purges came in to deal with possible Glories or Screeches.
At the start of game two, Antony dropped another plains and a Suntail Hawk. Next he dropped a Mountain and a Patrol Hound, throwing Anger in the graveyard to attack for three. I knew I was going to have a tough time. Next turn I killed a creature and he dropped a Tireless Tribe and wandered in for another three. A few turns of bouncing and killing later, I was down to nine life and felt comfortable – but a Reckless Change on a 2/2 Hound and then the same Charge Flashed back on a Tribe took me from nine to zero.
Game three, I didn’t see the mana I needed to survive. An early missed land drop meant that I was one land behind where I needed to be all game. I drew extra cards, killed creatures, and dug for answers – all to no avail. Antony’s W/R deck beat me down to the point where I had to let him cast Browbeat or die, and die I finally did.
Matches: 2-4, Games: 5-7.
I asked Antony to send me his deck list, and it’s very interesting: I haven’t asked his permission to publish it, but it’s basically a U/W Screech deck with all of the Blue cards removed for Burning Wish, Browbeat, and four Reckless Charges. The Charges let you attack quickly and work well against the sorcery-speed removal that Black has to rely on these days, and Anger comes in from the sideboard to help out. Burning Wish gets any number of useful cards from Antony’s sideboard, and Browbeat is best saved until your opponent is low on life and can’t afford to stop the card drawing.
It’s an excellent deck, so full props to Antony, and thanks for sending me the deck list.
Not a good day, but I realised a whole bunch of things about the UZI deck I was playing.
Firstly Compulsion, although good, is a little slow in this environment. If you get to the mid game it can totally dominate a matchup; the key word is”if.” Having three in the main deck means that you’ll often see them early on – which is exactly what we wanted, but exactly what you don’t want against the renovated U/G decks.
The second thing I noticed was the removal. All the removal spells I’m playing remove one creature at a time – and as has been often stated, you can never have a wrong threat, just a wrong answer. With counterspells that can only work against sorceries in the deck, creatures slip through the net.
So; Why is this article entitled”I Need Wrath of God”?
Successful control decks generally work through card advantage. They either draw many more cards than their opponent, giving them all the correct answers to all the threats, or they use a single card to negate many of their opponents’.
In days of yore, Nevinyrral’s Disk and Powder Keg filled this void, allowing mono-blue control decks a way to stem the inevitable creature tide. As those cards were removed from the environment, Rebel decks and Dromar-based decks used Wrath of God. The key is to force your opponent to overextend him or herself so that, after a Wrath they can’t keep up the pace of attack.
MBC does exactly that. With eight one-for-one removal spells, players are forced to play extra creatures to soak up Edicts and Innocent Bloods, then the MBC player plays Mutilate to set them back. If you keep too many in hand, they Mind Sludge – and so you’re caught between a rock and a hard place. Mutilate is OBC’s Wrath of God (since Kirtar’s Wrath is rarely played).
The UZI decks that have done well choose to overwhelm their opponent through drawing extra cards – either with a combination of Deep Analysis and Standstill, and sometimes Skeletal Scrying. This way, even though they have one-for-one removal, and lots of it, they draw enough to keep up with the more aggressive decks out there. They can kill a creature or two, then drop their own Standstill to fill their hand back up.
My deck didn’t do this. It didn’t generate enough of an advantage to be a true control deck, and didn’t force the ‘combo’ aspect of Upheaval/Infestation enough to be a Combo deck either. Basically, I had a nice deck that looks like it should work, but doesn’t.
There are two things I can do. One is go travel the MBC route and add Mutilate
and possibly Mind Sludge to the deck. I’ve had a long discussion about this with
Russ Ingram over the last week and, although I was worried about being more
vulnerable to Rancid Earth (as you’d have less Blue mana sources) I’d have the
Wrath effect I need to generate the massive card advantage the deck wants to be
able to compete.
To make it work, the deck needs to have many more than the 12 Swamps I’m
currently playing, possibly going up to 16, leaving only 8 or nine sources of
Blue mana in the deck. With so few sources of Blue, Compulsion becomes very bad,
and so would have to be replaced with some other method of drawing cards:
Tainted Pact immediately springs to mind.
Here’s a decklist:
3x Chainer’s Edict
4x Innocent Blood
3x Aether Burst
3x Deep Analysis
4x Tainted Pact
3x Zombie Infestation
4x Circular Logic
4x Rancid Earth
3x Tainted Isle
2x Darkwater Catacombs
I’m keeping in the Rancid Earths – but you have to begin to ask if, if you want to keep the Rancid Earths, Mutilate and all the other creature kill why not just play MBC? You don’t have to worry about colour screw, Cabal Coffers give you much more mana, and you don’t have to try to squeeze Mind Sludge into the deck; it just fits.
If I was going to take anything out for Mind Sludge, it would probably be the Aether Bursts – they might head to the sideboard. Another reason to just play MBC.
The second route UZI can take is the route that Kazuhiko Mitsuya and Katsuhiro Mori took to go 5-1 and 4-1-1 at Worlds: They both played four Standstills and three Deep Analysis to give them the card drawing edge over other decks and it obviously worked. The UZI decks that did badly look very like my deck…
Even making changes, whether adding Mutilate or adding Standstill, I don’t think UZI is the deck to play at a large tournament like the upcoming GP London I’m attending. Grand Prix: London is the main reason I’ve been putting so much effort into OBC, last year I played a RG Beats IBC deck and didn’t make day two. This year I’d very much like to make day two.
I think, based on the results its been having, that UZI is a very match-dependent deck: If you have a good hand, you can beat most decks, but if you have an average or bad hand U/G Madness and U/W Screech will kick your butt and you’ll probably lose to the consistent power of MBC. The other thing to remember is that U/G Madness, U/W Screech, and MBC all have an”I win” opening hand: They can all come out of the blocks very fast and devastate pretty much any deck. UZI cannot. It relies of getting to the mid- to late-game and abusing the power of Upheaval.
Anyway, I hope that my failure can contribute to someone else’s success. If you don’t want to use Mutilate, or can’t see how to make it work in your deck you could choose the poor man’s Wrath: Sickening Dreams. Discarding one or two cards to Dreams will kill most 1/1 birds, even with a Divine Sacrament in play. Discarding three cards kills most creatures in OBC, apart from 6/6 Wurms. The drawback of Dreams is that its black damage, and Glory or Prismatic Strands can stop it in its tracks.
Next week: My penultimate OBC article -“The run up to GP: London”.
Team Diaspora and
Level 2 DCI Judge.