Down And Dirty – Winning With Wizards: City Champion!

Read Kyle Sanchez every Thursday... at StarCityGames.com!
Thursday, April 17th – Kyle Sanchez, armed with his funky and fresh Wizard deck, rocked up to his City Championship tournament… and walked away the victor! Today, he takes us through the intricacies behind his deck, and shows us how he made it to the top. Arbiter of Knollridge… who knew?

Before I get started on my congruent conquering of the Austin, San Antonio, Houston, El Paso, Marble Falls City Champs region, I’d like to talk about the City Champs system.

First of all I’d like to point out that our region of City Champs spans from El Paso to Houston, the second largest City Champs district of which I’m aware. The first is poor Hawaii, who got thrown into the Los Angeles region. I mean really, City Champs should be a local program, and forcing the Hawaii or El Paso players to drive/fly/swim an unusually large distance is absurd.

Last year’s program was super loose, with each city getting a Nationals invite. But this year, it seems like they tightened up a little too much. Giving a Nationals invite to each city isn’t a good idea, but dividing one up between Houston, Austin, and San Antonio is just as stupid, given that SA and Houston are two of the biggest cities in the freaking country, and have three and a half hours of driving between them. Not to mention the 750 miles and 11 hours of driving between El Paso and Houston.

I only played in four or so City Champs events, won all of them, and just rode it out until the finals. A lot of the events wouldn’t get 8 people. I’m not sure on the overall numbers, but this program doesn’t seem to be working. And the fact that they took away all the States events means that Wizards is going to have to come up with something new and not too flashy to cater to the tournament-level people.

I talked about this deck two weeks ago, but I have a bit more to add. I’ve been playing with it a lot in preparation for the illustrious City Champs Finals this past Saturday.

Evan Erwin chimed in on the forums, supporting the deck and a few of his own additions. While I wholeheartedly agree with Oblivion Ring is greater than Negate, I can’t support the addition of Crovax. His Crovax decision was made before he probably knew about Magus of the Tabernacle, which is fair, but now that Magus is around Crovax has no place in this deck. Not only does he cost double White, he also isn’t even a Wizard, meaning you’d have to play something like two main deck and a third in the board, or two to three in the sideboard. Either way it’s space I don’t have, and I don’t really need him. He’s a blank against any White deck, and he also brings the stats down on all my dudes, killing Vendilion Clique before his trigger even resolves.

Seriously though, Magus of the Tabernacle might be the answer to this format. He’s extremely hard to kill with modern removal excluding Shriekmaw, which will be too late for them anyway since they will have to pay for all their dorks during their upkeep. And the fact that you can curve out into him on turn 4 on a fairly consistent basis, given a turn 3 Wizardcyle, makes him the perfect weapon against both Bitterblossom and the various Tribal guys running around. He also doesn’t have the downside of pumping all your opponent’s Kithkin, like Crovax.

The addition of Oblivion Ring also adds some subtle combos to the deck. For instance, against a lot of the aggro decks, after you land an Arbiter it’s a very powerful play to O-Ring your own Arbiter. With Venser and Cryptic Command it’s almost impossible to lose. This enables you to take some more beats for a few turns, then bounce the Ring back to your hand to gain all the life back. From there you can use the O-Ring to take out one of their permanents or reset the game again. After doing this a few times the opponent will probably realize that he can mana burn, so using this trick will most likely only work once or twice.

There’s also the well known Venser / O-Ring combo, in which you cast the O-Ring and with the remove trigger on the stack, use Venser to bounce the O-Ring. The leaves play trigger will stack, resolve, and then the remove trigger will resolve, removing the chosen creature forever.

I added another Tolaria West to the deck as land #27, mainly because I didn’t feel #26 was enough and I don’t mind drawing into it late game. I’ve also always been firmly on the standpoint that you can never have too much land in decks like these. Managing the T-Wests is very important for this deck, and dropping it on turn 1 is almost never right because there are so many zero casting cost cards that swing matchups. Going for a Desert, Ancestral Vision, Pact of Negation, Mouth of Ronom, or even Calciform Pools can swing an entire matchup around.

Desert is almost impossible for both Faeries and mono-Black Rogues to deal with. Pact of Negation gives you late game protection on the rare occasion you need to do things during your turn. Mouth of Ronom is the key to Teferi Advantage, as well as being able to deal with a large portion of other dudes in the format, and Ancestral Vision is the fuel to the fire that keeps the food flowing when facing Faeries, Fascists, or an Elf army.

My real issue is with the sideboard. The format is so wide open right now its almost impossible to expect a certain number of decks. Clearly I have to be prepared for Faeries, but that matchup usually comes down to the better/really lucky player.

4 Flashfreeze – Although not “necessary” for the R/G matchup, I’d still rather have the card there to squelch any chance they have in that matchup. They can also double against a random Dragonstorm deck, or a mono-Green Warrior deck.

2 Teferi’s Moat, 2 Evacuation, 2 Magus of the Tabernacle – This is really more of a dedicated six-slot against aggro/tribal decks. Teferi’s Moat and Evacuation are basically the same card with different names. Magus of the Tabernacle, on the other hand, is essentially a splashable Wrath of God that also locks down a good portion of their mana resources. The best part is when you slap two of ’em down.

2 Negate – No one has the kind of love I have for Negate, but don’t hate, its great, gonna change the format some day.

2 Pithing Needle – This is primarily for those GB Rock decks, or basically any deck that runs Treetop Village along with some other target it can nail. Like Greater Gargadon or Garruk Wildspeaker. You really only want to bring them in against Treetop Villages, but they also double against Spinerock Knoll and charge lands. You could also board them in against other slow control decks to stop cards like Scrying Sheets, Dreadship Reef, Mouth of Ronom, or Faerie Conclave.

I keep going back and forth on whether or not I want to include Crib Swap to the main deck. You really don’t need it, but not having it there feels kind of stupid. It’s a tutorable removal spell. What the hell? But then I’d have way too many White cards, and not enough true sources, which means I’d have to add Terramorphic Expanse, Boreal Shelf, and possibly Nimbus Maze. I’d gain Wrath of God, possibly Condemn, and Aven Riftwatcher for the sideboard. I wouldn’t have to worry about mana, but I’d lose the ability to play at instant speed since the addition of Wrath and friends would cut back on the counterspell/wizard count, and would make the deck more awkward than the symbiotic relationship between an Elephant and a Dung Beetle.

The Swiss

There were only fifteen or seventeen players, so we played four rounds with a cut to Top 8.

Round 1 I played against a GB Rock player with all the usuals: Garruk, Goyf, Village, and Thoughtseize. I lost game 1 due to mulligans/mana screw, but rallied the other two games behind an unanswered Teferi’s Moat on Green. His sideboarded Eyes of the Wisent weren’t relevant in the slightest.

Round 2 I played against a RG Big mana player. Game 1 I got stuck on three lands with a Calciform Pools that enabled me to cast a Teferi around turn 6 or 7 to block a Treetop Village. He had an Incinerate for it, and was able to resolve a bunch of big mana dudes to overwhelm me through Radha, including an extremely troublesome Akroma, Angel of Fury.

Game 2 he stuck to the Treetop Village plan with some scattered Goyf attacks until he had me down to 7. He had no cards left in his hand and I had the chance to either play Arbiter of Knollridge to bounce back to 20, or Teferi’s Moat to shut down every creature he has in play, then follow up with the Arbiter on the next turn. I obviously went with the Moat path, and I even had Cryptic Command backup thanks to Calciform Pools. On his turn he drew Molten Disaster, and had exactly 10 mana to make it Split Second to get around my counters.

Not cool.

Round 3 my opponent and I both got deck checked, and both received game losses. I forgot to register the 2 Negate in my sideboard, so they got replaced with a Plains and Island, while my opponent only registered one copy of a card he had two copies of. He was playing a Kithkin deck, and in our one and only game he got stuck on two lands, which gave my Cryptic Command’s even more value in the Counter/Bounce modes.

Round 4 I drew safely into Top 8 and enjoyed an extremely messy Gyro from the Greek shop next door.


I played the same GB Rock player from round 1. Game 1 was the long slow-paced game that my deck loves to play. He tried for some early beats, but an Arbiter evened the life totals. From there I was able to land an Arcanis through Teferi and he couldn’t keep up with me drawing four cards per turn.

I sideboarded in Teferi’s Moat here, but didn’t feel that I needed Evacuation or Magus since his deck is brutally slow, and no doubt watered down to fit in Extirpates, Eyes of the Wisent, Krosan Grip, and whatever whatnots that might come in.

Game 2 I was a little mana light and he was able to get some quick beats in with Tarmogoyf and Treetop Village. To make matters worse he Extirpated my Vedalken Aethermages, so I was unable to fetch an Arbiter… not that I had the mana to cast him anyway. I put up a bit of a fight with some Vensers and Cliques, to buy some time while my Ancestral Vision was unsuspending. When it resolved I drew into three lands, and ran out of gas while his Garruk made all of his dudes huge and trampling.

Game 3 he mulliganed once, and I had an awesome hand that included turn 1 Ancestral Vision with a bunch of counters and Calciform Pools to give me more mana. He went with the Village route again this game, which eventually died to a Teferi. From there I was able to Wizardcycle for Arcanis and finish the game off with a ton of cards in my hand.


Here I was matched up against recently PT: Hollywood qualified Mandee Peralta, a longtime testing buddy from San Antonio. Mandee was playing a RB Goblin Grave Pact deck that has been giving me fits at FNM these past couple of weeks. Grave Pact is a tricky devil to play against. Letting it resolve so I can either Cryptic Command or Venser it later on is a key play, but Thoughtseize and Extirpate means it’s a shaky ordeal since he can strip any card in my graveyard from my hand at Split Second speed.

Game 1 I was on the play, which is huge in this matchup, and had a plethora of counters to halt his efforts. One of the more subtle plays that I was attempting in this matchup was holding back a Desert in my hand, knowing that he would try to bait out a Mogg War Marshal or Mogg Fanatic to resolve a Thoughtseize on turn 3 or 4. This gives the other counters in my hand a little bit more value since I won’t have to worry about the meat of his deck and can counter the cards that matter like Grave Pact, Siege-Gang Commander, and Marsh Flitter.

Mandee tried to go for the Liege of the Pit route this game, which was easily countered by Venser. He replayed him on his next turn, and I used a Vendilion Clique to strip a Siege-Gang Commander from his hand. He started attacking with the 7/7 again, but I sat back and took it until I used an Arbiter through Teferi to jump back up to 20. From there I started racing him, getting in 10 damage with Venser, Teferi, and Arbiter, using a Cryptic Command to bounce his Mogg Fanatic. He tried to bring in Gargadon during his turn after he took 7 from the Liege, but I had another Cryptic Command waiting to tap all his attackers.

This is a matchup where Magus of the Tabernacle really shines, as the only way he can possibly deal with it is a Grave Pact plus sacrifice outlet. Evacuation and Teferi’s Moat do the same thing, but given that he has a high number of both Red and Black goblins I decided to leave the Moat out, and just focus on Evacuations and Magus.

Mandee mulliganed twice in the next game, and went for the double Bitterblossom special. This was perfect for me since I was able to Wizardcycle on turn three, fetching a Magus of the Tabernacle to completely demolish any chance he had of winning the game since he was stuck on two lands. I started using Venser and Cryptic Commands to bounce his lands, so he scooped.


The plaques were brought to the table, and mountains of cash were sprawled about the worn game table by Latin ladies in tight white shirts and equally binding dark blue jeans. The lights from above centered in on us, and I was forced to wipe the sweat that was dripping down my brow. The ladies, stricken by the heat, ripped off their pearly white tank tops to reveal matching jet black bras. A seemingly random fire hydrant was cracked open by a seemingly random crowbar, and the water soon engulfed the play area, creating a septic pool of watery lady goodness.

My opponent was the same RG Big Mana player from before… the guy that ripped that vicious Molten Disaster off the top.

I won the die roll and had a sick opening with Calciform Pools and a turn 1 Ancestral Vision, which is probably the nut draw for this deck. I was able to hold off his forces for a pretty long time, but he kept getting in Treetop Village damage. When I went for a Clique he used an Incinerate on it, while I took away his Siege-Gang Commander. Eventually I landed a Teferi, which killed his Village and died to another Incinerate. He was almost out of cards so I ran out the main phase Arcanis with Pact of Negation backup.

He drew and played a Garruk on his turn, which I didn’t really care about since his Beasts wouldn’t get past Arcanis and he didn’t have any dudes to make Garruk dangerous. Arcanis got on line and I was able to get another Teferi, then an Arbiter, which only gained me six or seven life but was a big enough body to seal the deal.

I boarded in Teferi’s Moat and Flashfreeze here, taking out Rune Snag, Magus, and a Desert. I’ve found that a lot of the time, in matchups where you don’t need Desert, it’s pretty handy to be able to board one out since it won’t hurt the mana too much.

I mulliganed into a pretty slow hand, but it had turn 1 Ancestral Vision so I couldn’t really turn it down. I topdecked a Calciform Pools on my second draw, but all I had in my hand was a Venser and Arbiter. On his side he had an extremely quick start with turn 1 Elf, turn 2 Troll Ascetic, turn 3 Garruk. On his turn 4 he dropped a Cloudthresher via Garruk, which fortunately drew out a Remove Soul. On his next turn he activated Treetop Village and tried to Overrun me, but I had a Cryptic Command to tap all his creatures and bounce the Village back to his hand.

Vision resolved on the next turn, but I only found more land. I was still in alright shape since I had Venser and Arbiter in my hand, which I’d be able to cast next turn thanks to Calciform Pools. He led out with Garruk next turn, and untapped two lands to play a morph, which I knew was Akroma from our games in the swiss.

On his next turn he floated four mana and activated Garruk. I responded by bouncing his morphed down Akroma back to his hand with Venser. He replayed it with the mana he had up and dropped a Radha. I drew for my turn and realized I have no possible way to beat a morphed up Akroma without some number of Cryptic Commands and a reasonable clock. I had neither, so I scooped.

Game 3 I once again had a Ancestral Vision on turn 1. No Calciform Pools this time, but he did make the mistake of attacking into my Desert with his turn 1 Llanowar Elf. He did resolve a Radha though, and when he attacked and chose not to add mana with it, I made the trade with my Vendilion Clique, which nabbed a Troll Ascetic. He didn’t have another three-drop thanks to Clique, which also revealed a mana-tight hand with Bogardan Hellkite, Cloudthresher, Garruk, and a Siege-Gang Commander.

I let Garruk resolve on his next turn. He made a token, so I used my Venser to bounce the Elephant and attacked into Garruk on my next turn. His Siege-Gang Commander met a Flashfreeze, and I was able to Wizardcycle for Arcanis, while still having tons of gas in my hand thanks to the now unsuspended Ancestral Vision. His Cloudthresher and Bogardan Hellkite were both countered, and I was able to get Arcanis down via Teferi and ride the card advantage to the City Championship Crown.

Shadowmoor definitely has a negative impact on this deck, but the more I think about the way Shadowmoor is going to shape the Standard format, the more I think a UW control deck to be a top notch contender. Whether or not it contains Wizards is yet to be seen, but it’s not completely out of the question. Arbiter of Knollridge really is insane, and definitely one of the most underrated cards in the current format. In the right deck he allows you to cheat the game, and gives you a safety net for the games where you stumble or can’t keep up, as well as being a sizable finisher that can also be tutored up.


Someone’s always coming around here trailing some new kill
Says I seen your picture on a hundred dollar bill
And what’s a game of chance to you, him is one of real skill
So glad to meet you Angeles.



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1) On the Beach – Neil Young
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5) Grogamager – Meff Jeyerson