Eye Of The Beholder

Smi77y, as he is commonly known, is a brewer from the ground floor of the community. He comes out with unconventional ideas and fights the tide, but his decks have legs. Check out his Modern U/R Blood Moon deck.

Not many people know who I am and that’s okay. I’ll try and earn your respect! My name is Jesse Smith, but I go by Smi77y in the world of Magic: The Gathering and the internet. For those who do know me, I’ve made a name by being a brewer who challenges myself to put up results on Magic Online with my own decks. Occasionally you’ll find me playing a net deck or a slightly altered deck because even though I like to brew decks, I like to win more, and it’s not always the case that a rogue strategy is correct. But for the purposes of Magic Online it can be and usually is right.

Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about. Magic Online goes through very predictable cycles and has an extreme copycat syndrome, and when you can find a loophole, there’s no better time to grind your anti-Magic Online tech and get ahead in tickets and Qualifier Points. I’m sure this is also true for paper Magic, but we see it far less often.

Anyway, my most recent example has to be when I discovered Mono-Black Infect right around rotation time—when Innistrad became Standard legal. My (obligatory mention) good friend Mat Marr and I went heavily into testing when the new set came out, and it was quickly becoming apparent that it was a format full of small creatures like Delver of Secrets. We would battle Solar Flare lists and U/R Delver lists, but one list we came up with was winning quite literally 75% of its matchups.

Usually when I find such a strategy (and often they are discovered by brewing and testing on Magic Online), I get giddy and blow up the world with my discoveries; let’s just say it’s my style! Well Mono-Black Infect was 100% the right choice for any tournament both on and offline for at least a three-week period, although I didn’t see it mentioned until Patrick Chapin and Gerry Thompson both wrote about it towards the end of that three-week period. By that time, I had turned a measly 30 tickets and 1700 rating into 300 tickets and my highest Magic Online rating of 1838.

Quick aside: rating on Magic Online really means nothing to me besides the fact it shows how well I’m doing with a particular deck. I’ve had it drop below 1600 when I keep trying but can’t bust a format open. To date this is my most successful anti-meta build that nearly became a consistent player in today’s Standard environment.

So what’s my real point with all of this besides the humble brags? These strategies I discovered came from real testing and real results. But where it gets interesting is even with the “realness” of my results, there’s still always going to be differing opinions with certain cards, or even decks. Let me try to put this more clearly. Say for example I hand Gerry Thompson or Michael Flores (two people who have helped me tremendously) an excel sheet with my testing results, or better yet—they literally watch all my games and results. Now let’s say those results put up 75% against the field, and they saw a specific card win a good percentage of those games.

In this instance let’s go with the card Silence. I always get flack for my backing of this card in certain strategies, but it actually fits quite perfectly in this example.

My outspoken hatred for the Valakut strategy is well documented on Twitter (@smi77y btw). I felt it completely removed the option of playing any green-based aggro strategy during its heyday. But I was in love with the power level and technology that Naya strategies provided with Bloodbraid Elf, Fauna Shaman, and Vengevine. But I always felt one turn too slow vs. Valakut EVERY SINGLE GAME. And it was true. I was just a slower deck, but I had the consistency and power level vs. the rest of the field. I wasn’t alone in this; in fact at the time I had someone who was feeling the same way.

Well @dcampa93 mentioned the card Silence on Magic Online one day. Instantly I thought “I have to try this.” It was at this point that I never stopped with my support of this card in an aggro strategy. Vs. combo, and even the occasional control decks, Silence can buy you that turn you need. I honestly couldn’t tell you how many times I cast Silence on the upkeep of a Valakut player to see my chat fill up with “Are you kidding me?”, “Use better cards,” or from some respectful people “That’s pretty sweet tech.”

Let’s revert back to the part where Gerry and Mike are watching me use Silence when I have a board full of Bloodbraid Elf and Vengevine and I nullify my opponent’s turn when they are at six life. I cast Silence, and it basically wins me the game almost every time I cast it. You’d think that seeing something with your own eyes would lead people to the same conclusion. But what’s amazing about Magic and why nothing can ever be “perfect” is because it comes down to the eye of the beholder. Now here’s what I mean by the eye of the beholder, keeping in mind the aforementioned example I gave:

Me: “OMG this is ridiculous; I’m putting four in my sideboard; it’s winning every game!”

Gerry: “That card is garbage.”

Mike: “Just put a real card in that slot.”

Me: “This card just won me every game I cast it; you even saw it! This is the best sideboard tech ever!”

Gerry: “You could just be doing better things.”

Mike: “Why don’t you just play Naya Lightsaber?”

Besides poking fun at myself and my mentors, I hope you see my point. There are so many times we see results in a much different manner than others, and that’s what makes Magic so great. You get to go prove what you are talking about on the battlefield and show your nerd powers to your peers!

But how do you approach this issue? It comes down to personal confidence. It’s not something you’ll find from others. That Silence tech was something I could not convince anyone to use, but I put up some of my first 4-0 Dailies with my own brews largely because of that card. I felt I was right, and my results proved it.

Now I will say that having confidence in yourself is something that does not come easily or cheap. It takes tons of practice, trial and error, and a ton of time. And I’m also not saying you shouldn’t listen to others. In fact I believe some of the best players in the world need to test less and less to see if a strategy is good or not, and some can just tell you without much testing at all that a strategy is going to work. But for 99% of us, seeing it with our own eyes and knowing how to play to our own outs so to speak is more important than hearing what works and what doesn’t.

I started playing Magic at M10 and slowly worked my way up as a deckbuilder. And by slowly I mean countless matches of Magic Online (in money queues), testing all my crazy ideas.

If I could give one word of advice for people who like to tune and test their own ideas to win, it would be this: Don’t get cute; start with the most powerful cards in the format. Where you can start to get cute is when you find holes in your testing or find powerful, unknown cards that dagger the metagame. This is where trust and confidence from your results come from.

My philosophy has changed a lot in terms of how I build my decks. You have to have tough skin to overcome the beatdown that is provided by the Magic community and the haters, but when you know you’re right, just keep at it. One constant however is that no matter what anyone says, and despite the fact you should listen to others, the confidence and results come from the eye of the beholder.

Now it wouldn’t be a Smi77y article without some brewing! Here is a bonus list that I’ve been testing and tuning for the Modern PTQ season.

Lately my brews aim to be a part of the meta as opposed to attacking it. I was trying to find a deck that can last in the metagame and one that needs to be targeted, not one that targets. Generally when you try to build a deck like this, you are starting with some of the more powerful cards in the format. What led me to U/R was the fact that I love flying, and there’s a real lack of flying creatures in Modern; also casting everything at end of turn can be extremely beneficial for you, particularly against worse players, as it leads to misplays on their part (and yours if you don’t know the deck). The set of creatures with the aforementioned criteria in mind are few and far between. But we already know the success of the Faerie clan, so I decided to start there.


Some will look at the list and say it’s a worse Splinter Twin style U/R deck. However it’s a much different deck with a much different strategy. Twin is a combo deck; this is an aggro-control deck with lots more interaction. Twin is also a deck that is starting to get hated against more and more, whereas a deck like this is harder to “hate” out. Although with that line of thought, I will mention that opposing flyers, especially swarms such as Spectral Procession, are difficult to get around. You just have to play consciously and be aware of strategies like that when keeping your opening seven and working out all your lines of play.

There’s one reason more than any other that I wanted to go this route as well, and that is Blood Moon. It’s a card I’m pretty centered around in the Modern format right now. I definitely don’t want to be playing a deck that is dead to it, and I love getting free wins against much of the field once I land one on the battlefield. And that’s close to what happens vs. Jund, Melira Pod, U/W variants, U/B variants, and a lot of rogue decks. Red additionally gives us some of the best sideboard hate against the field in Combust, Double Negative, Firespout, and Ancient Grudge.

Brad Nelson recently made an attractive looking RUG list that has a similar strategy to what U/R Faeries is doing here; the reason I’d want to be in U/R right now is for more consistency on spell options and a better mana base and of course the ability to play Blood Moon.

I ran this in last weekend’s Magic Online PTQ and unfortunately did not do well; however I’d run this again in an instant (pun intended!), and I also believe there’s plenty of room for tuning.

If you want to run this at your PTQ or some Magic Daily Events, here’s a quick sideboard strategy guide.

Vs. Affinity

-2 Repeal
-1 Remand
-2 Cryptic Command
-2 Mana Leak
+4 Ancient Grudge
+3 Firespout

Oftentimes your counterspells will be too slow or not timely enough. You want to hit them with removal every turn until they run out of cards, then start attacking. So with all our maindeck burn and an additional seven removal spells, this matchup turns heavily into our favor.

Vs. Jund

-2 Repeal
-1 Remand
-1 Burst Lightning
-1 Snapcaster Mage
+4 Blood Moon
+1 Double Negative

The removal of Burst Lightning and Snapcaster Mage may not be ideal, but you are replacing them with cards that are far better in this particular matchup.

Vs. Splinter Twin

-2 Burst Lightning
-2 Lightning Bolt
+3 Combust
+1 Double Negative

More counterspells to interrupt their combo are sometimes needed and often do far more than a Lightning Bolt or Burst Lightning. Especially with Spellskites out. I don’t worry about Spellskites here because Combust hits the combo without needing to worry about Spellskite. And since we are cutting removal, we need to use our counterspells effectively. Also, Repeal can get around Spellskite similar to Combust.

Vs. Melira Pod

-2 Spell Snare
-2 Snapcaster Mage
-2 Burst Lightning
-2 Cryptic Command
+4 Blood Moon
+3 Firespout
+1 Ancient Grudge

Spell Snare hits Melira, but that’s usually all, so it’s not worth running here. Taking out Burst Lightning isn’t ideal, as it deals with the combo pieces, but we bring in Firespout, which can sweep virtually everything they cast. Grudge is necessary only because Birthing Pod is so devastating if landed, and that’s another reason we leave in Repeal, as well as to interrupt their combo once they try to go off. Another card option that may end up in the sideboard eventually is some solid graveyard hate in Relic of Progenitus.

In my opinion, those are some of the top decks you need to be aware of in the coming week or two. You can stay updated on my Twitter account, and I can also answer questions here in the comments. Hope you enjoyed my first article here on StarCityGames.com!


Jesse Smith