Duel with Ruel – Blue/White Control versus Pyromancer’s Ascension: The Blue/White Control Perspective

The StarCityGames.com Open Series heads to Denver!
Tuesday, August 10th – In this week’s edition of Duel With Ruel, Hall of Famer Antoine Ruel takes the role of Guillaume Wafo-Tapa, recreating the French Nationals semifinal non-event with his brother Oli taking the role of Guillaume Matignon. Blue/White versus Pyromancer’s Ascension. Control versus Combo. Both decks will likely feature at U.S. Nationals and the StarCityGames.com Standard Open in Denver… Who will be victorious?

In the semi finals of French Nationals, Guillaume Wafo-Tapa scooped to Guillaume Matignon, then to me in the third-place playoffs. I think that he would have become the new French champion, as his deck just seem better than any other in the field. Let’s see what would have happened if the Guillaumes played for real.

Matignon’s deck is very original. He knows the deck quite well, as he played it at Worlds in Rome last year. I expect to beat it overall, as the sideboard games must be very easy, and the main deck should be okay as we both have a lot of dead cards against each other. Julien Parez, the new champion, beat Matignon 3/2 in the finals with a Blue/White Control version a little worse than the one that I will play here.

I will play Wafo-Tapa’s Blue/White Control, from the Top 4 at French Nationals:

Oli will play Guillaume Matignon Pyromancer’s Ascension deck, the runner-up at French Nationals, but a slightly updated version:

Maindeck Games (5 wins, 19 losses, 20.8% games won)

On the play: 3 wins, 9 losses
On the draw: 2 wins, 8 losses

Wow. Standard has become much better than it was when I started this column. There are actually good and bad matchups nowadays; six month ago, every single match looked like a coin flip. Some will complain that it will be “rock, paper, scissors,” and they largely will be right, but anyone who predicts the metagame correctly, or creates an adapted deck, will have a good edge on the field.

I got destroyed in this week’s matchup. That was quite unexpected for both of us, as we thought that UW would have the edge, but the games maindeck were heavily in Pyromancer’s Ascension (PA)’s favor. If you take a closer look at the main deck lists than we did, you will understand why UW is in bad shape there.

At first, you see that Matignon’s decklist has only one kill card: Pyromancer Ascension. Without the enchantment, there is no way he could ever win, as Burn spells alone win not be enough. Wafo’s deck, on the other hand, has 2 Oblivion Ring, 2 Deprive, 1 Cancel, and 4 Mana Leak to prevent the key card in the opponent’s deck from doing crazy stuff. That might look like enough, but PA plays 4 copies of Ponder, Preordain, See Beyond, and Treasure Hunt. When I was struggling to draw lands and spells, Oli’s development was excellent, both in mana and card quality. As a result, he would simply have more copies of his enchantment than I would have answers to it.

One other problem I had was that my answers to PA were not good enough.

Oblivion Ring was good, but I had to “trick” Oli into tapping out for an Ascension early, trying to win with his enchantment quickly, for me to exile it with Ring on the following turn. Sadly, there are only two Oblivion Ring in the deck, and without much card draw options drawers, that’s not enough for us to rely on the card to do its job. Moreover, PA can combo of in one turn if the game goes long. In such cases, there is nothing we can do to do to stop it.

UW Control loses in the long run, and in the race if it tries to just kill as quickly as possible. As I wrote earlier, PA’s mana development is much better. It can easily play a land on every single turn and become immune to Mana Leak. It is hard to counter a decisive spell with only one of these if your opponent is smart. This gives you two options:

– Keeping two Mana Leak for a Pyromancer’s Ascension (and stay with 4 lands untapped until you opponent casts it). In this scenario, your opponent will just play a second copy, or have a game plan against the counters that you have to be holding. You have no quick kill, and if you want to play with many untapped lands for the whole game, then your board position will be non-existent, which will be a pure benefit for your opponent.

– Cast your Mana Leak on any See Beyond or Treasure Hunt to slow down your opponent. That is not dreamy, but I think that you do not have a choice. If you do not put pressure on the PA player, then you are never going to win the game. The longer the game goes, the higher your chances to lose.

Anyway, the majority of the games I won, if not every single one, saw Oli with a really bad draw; a mix of aggression and control on my side won the games. The only way to be able to counter or exile the Red enchantment is to force your opponent to play it into one of your answers. That’s almost impossible against a decent draw, as it takes you ages to deal 20 damage, time during which you will have to tap out almost every single turn.

To know why you cannot win in the long game, you have to understand that PA’s Mana Leak will be much better than yours. His spells (besides Time Warp) are all cheap, while anything relevant on your side costs a minimum of four mana. Couple this with the fact that your land development is slower, and the Mana Leak can only be cast either to counter a card draw spell or to protect one of your threats, you lose any relevant counter battle. Resolving any of the Jace does not really matter, as your opponent can kill it easily with one or two superfluous burn spells that were rotting in his hand. Both Jaces provide a lower standard of library manipulation than your opponent does every turn, so their impact on the game is really weak. Now, what happens if you try to resolve a Jace or Elspeth, Knight-Errant? You will lose, because you will be either tapped out or behind to a Mana Leak. When your opponent resolves Pyromancer Ascension, follows by putting two counters on it, then resolves a couple of card draw spells, you no longer have a hope of winning the game. Even if he does not Time Warp and you can Oblivion Ring the enchantment, it will already have provided him enough card advantage to secure the game.

I thought, at the beginning, that the games would be close, as both decks have many dead cards.

Mine were: 2 Condemn, 2 Path to Exile, 2 Day of Judgment, 2 Essence Scatter, and 4 Wall of Omens. The best thing I could do with those would be to combo into a Rampant Growth. Otherwise, Jace, the Mind Sculptor can put them back on top of your library, but with only 1 fetchland to shuffle your deck, that is not going help you much.

PA’s dead cards were: 4 Lightning Bolt and 4 Burst Lightning. They often killed the few Planeswalkers that successfully resolved in decent positions, or the Celestial Colonnade with which I was trying to beat down. In the end, those “bad” cards annihilated most of my attempts to find a winning configuration.

With no early kill possibility, and a nonexistent long game plan, you just cannot win if your opponent draws correctly.

The sideboard should be much easier:

Sideboard plan:

-4 Wall of Omens
-2 Day of Judgment
-2 Path to Exile
-2 Essence Scatter
-1 Condemn

+1 Cancel
+2 Negate
+1 Jace’s Ingenuity
+1 Oblivion Ring
+3 Kor Firewalker
+3 Celestial Purge

I will keep a Condemn against a potential creature plan from Oli – probably Kiln Fiend – but the Kor Firewalker should do the job quite well by themselves. Anyway, it will still be better than a Wall of Omens.

The matchup should go from almost unwinnable the exact opposite: very hard to lose.

I want to keep the two Sun Titan to win a game quickly once I’ve got the edge, and to bring Jace Beleren back if the matchup comes down to a battle for the Blue Planeswalker control (as it was against Polymorph, which is the same kind of deck).

Sideboarded Games (12 wins, 14 losses, 46% games won)

On the play: 8 wins, 5 losses
On the draw: 4 wins, 9 losses

Oli played an updated list from Guillaume, with Coralhelm Commander instead of Kiln Fiend and Spell Pierce instead of Negate. That destroyed my sideboard game plan. Assuming that game 2 will be a surprise, I adapted my sideboard to it after the 12th game.

With the first sideboard plan:

3 wins 3 losses on the play
1 win 5 losses on the draw

We started playing some real games in which I had answers to his threats. Oli went into Mono Blue Control mode, in which my Kor Firewalker were good beatdown guys, but I did not stop the creature plan at all.

Coralhelm Commander was really troublesome, as it would get rid of my Planeswalkers easily. It would win any race, while I had a few answers to it. Just as the first game’s namesake enchantment, the Merfolk showed up a lot from Oli’s board, thanks to all his card draw and deck manipulation. And I clearly did not have enough answers to it.

As my spell were still more expensive than his, Spell Pierce was really a pain, as it would counter almost anything on my side before I could gather enough mana to avoid it. The best thing to do will be to cast your important instant spells, including Jace’s Ingenuity, as sorceries to avoid the counters. Once again, people tend to think that instants have to be played at the end of their opponent’s turn; that’s a common mistake that costs games in both Constructed and Limited formats.

The only “victory” in these games was that Oli did not kill me with the Pyromancer Ascension, even once. The Celestial Purge, Oblivion Ring, and extra counters were enough, alongside Kor Firewalker’s beatdown, to mean I only lost to Coralhelm Commander.

I decided to re-sideboard, to see what would happen in a third game with the appropriate sideboard plan, taking in consideration my opponent’s choices.

The alternate sideboard plan for game 3:

-4 Wall of Omens
-2 Day of Judgment
-2 Essence Scatter
-2 Sun Titan

+1 Cancel
+2 Negate
+1 Oblivion Ring
+3 Kor Firewalker
+3 Celestial Purge

I will find a way to win when the time comes. Kor Firewalker will probably be good enough for that, if I can annihilate every win condition belonging to my opponent.

On the play: 5 wins, 2 losses
On the draw: 3 wins, 4 losses

Much better, but still nothing amazing. Considering that the odds of reaching game 3 are low, that’s not enough. More, what if your opponent decides to sideboard out the creatures? You will have many dead cards. Of course, that plan’s probably not worth it for him.

For the first time, I was able to answer his threats efficiently, which allowed me to use my Planeswalkers without seeing them die soon after. Even so, their impact on the game was still not amazing. At least drawing with both Jaces provided good answers, and I did not have blanks such as Sun Titan anymore. I charged Jace, the Mind Sculptor with the +2 ability over and over, to ensure I was able to bounce Oli’s Merfolk when necessary.

The battle for the control of Jace Beleren was easily won by UW, even though I lost a game in which I had Jace Beleren on the table and needed to cast the Mind Sculptor to win. Pay attention to this: sometimes, greediness might kill you when you do not expect it.

To conclude, I was amazed with Guillaume Matignon decklist. It seems that it only loses to Jund decks, but that matchup is still winnable. The changes made to the deck – mainly replacing Kiln Fiend with Coralhelm Commander – means it has a good edge against the powerful Blue/White Control strategy, which should be played more and more often in the weeks to come.

Wafo’s decklist still seems very good to me, and it’s definitely a safe choice for whoever wants to win any given tournament. It should win after boarding whenever you know exactly what your opponent is boarding in, but even if you ask him during the sideboarding process, I doubt he will answer truthfully…

Cheers everyone, and good luck for your upcoming tournaments!

Antoine Ruel