Feature Article – Double Whammy: A Look at U/R Runeflare Trap

Grand Prix: Oakland!

Thursday, February 11th – Once upon a time, there was this curious little U/R deck, built around filling an opponent’s hand with cards and killing them with Ebony Owl Netsuke and Sudden Impact, not only throwing the traditional concept of card advantage out the window, but then rolling over the corpse with a steamroller and lighting it on fire. One could argue that it was truly taking the concept of a “tempo deck” to its most extreme.

Once upon a time, there was this curious little U/R deck, built around filling an opponent’s hand with cards and killing them with Ebony Owl Netsuke and Sudden Impact, not only throwing the traditional concept of card advantage out the window, but then rolling over the corpse with a steamroller and lighting it on fire. One could argue that it was truly taking the concept of a “tempo deck” to it’s most extreme.

It was a cute deck, those in the know said, having seen similar decks before. It might do well at a few FNM’s and such.

Well, the deck did a bit better than that.

There’s a new variant out there, by no means under the radar any longer, called simply U/R Runeflare Trap, built around the same principles: fill your opponent’s hand with cards, bounce/burn everything else, then kill them, usually in one shot, with the combination of Runeflare Trap and Twincast.

Taking this most up to date version, I’ve been playing around with it, and discovered that a) the deck is more than just cute; while it’s not as powerful as Owling Mine, turn five kills are very achievable and b) there is room for improvement here.

The immutable core of the deck looks something like this:

4 Howling Mine
4 Font of Mythos

I’m going to assume everyone reading this has seen Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life. If you haven’t, go see it, but don’t eat beforehand and thank me later. Think of your opponent as Mr. Creosote. You want to stuff him full of cards until they’re ready to burst. Personally, I think four Fonts are the way to go, and that’s not negotiable, as sticking a turn four Font all but assures you of being able to hit a turn five kill.

Also take note, that there is only one spell that sees much play — Maelstrom Pulse — that can destroy a Font of Mythos in the current Standard environment. I can think of three other spells; Bant Charm, Qasali Pridemage and Oblivion Ring, that you might see, but otherwise, unless you’re playing against Jund, you stick a Font, it’s not going anywhere.

4 Runeflare Trap
4 Twincast

And this is your “wafer-thin mint.” Ideally, the kill sequence is turn four Font, then on turn five, at the conclusion of your opponent’s draw step (at which point, the alternative casting cost of Runeflare Trap is triggered), you play Runeflare Trap plus Twincast for the win. Three mana, two cards, and 20+ damage is okay in my book.

4 Time Warp
If, by turn five, you don’t have the win in hand, being able to take an extra turn to find that win (especially when drawing three or so additional cards) is very nice. Time Warp also enables then very seldom used (but it will pop up once in a while) of milling your opponent to death by making them take extra turns while drawing several cards a turn.

24 Lands
Twenty-four seems de rigeur; four Scalding Tarns and then some combination of Islands and Mountains. The one addition up for debate would be Reliquary Tower. Let me tell you, having a grip of twenty-odd cards, or noting that your hand is bigger than your library? That’s just downright fun. The downside? A little thing called Swerve, which does pop up here and there. You have been warned.

That, quite honestly, comprises the “absolutely must have” portion of the deck — a mere 44 cards. That leaves quite a few slots open for other possibilities. Such as…

Jace Beleren: Jace feels like an auto-include, and yet…you don’t really need his “draw a card” ability, and while his “everyone draw a card” ability is part of the deck’s synergy, barring a fortunate turn of events, you can’t get Runeflare Trap to trigger on your turn. Once in a great while, you can win the game by milling with Jace’s ultimate, and sometimes an opponent will basically Fog themselves by going after Jace. Don’t get me wrong, the card is powerful, but the more I think about this, if I start thinking about what to cut, Jace is moving up the list.

Lightning Bolt: What Path to Exile is to U/W Archive Trap-based decks, Lightning Bolt is to U/R. That three to the dome part can be pretty useful, too.

Burst Lightning: Extra Lightning Bolts are always good, but where do we find the room for them?

Goblin Guide: The more I play with the Guide, the more I like it. Firstly, against slower decks, it’s likely going to beat down for two, four, six or more damage. Opponent draws lands? Have we not discussed the modus operandii of the deck enough yet? I have won games because an opponent didn’t want to waste a valuable burn spell on such an “inferior” creature, but those extra four or six points of damage enabled me to win. Worst case scenario, it’s a chump blocker and buys you a turn. I can live with that.

Call to Heel: A marginally decent bounce spell prior to the M10 rules changes, now it’s utter chaff — except in this deck! It’s like when George Costanza decides to make the opposite choice of everything he’s ever done in his life. You need some bounce in this deck to keep creatures off you, and not only does this bounce them, but it also fills up an opponent’s hand. Brilliant!

Quality bounce is hard to come by in this environment. Owling Mine had riches in that category; Eye to Nowhere, Boomerang and Evacuation. One makes do with what one has. You could make a case for Unsummon here, certainly, but Call to Heel has such synergy, it feels like a must-include.

Into the Roil? Meh. It will hit permanents, which can be attractive, but otherwise, isn’t that great.

Whiplash Trap: Speaking of bounce, this isn’t a bad fallback against fast decks which will empty their hands out — but otherwise, is just a very expensive Undo. I think two is the right number for the deck.

Pyromancer’s Ascension: This card can be a downright Sharpie-sniffing high. I’ve chained Time Warps and Twincasts to take six extra turns in a row with this card. Despite that degeneracy, it really feels like a “win more” card. Sure, it’s great against slow control decks, but you already lay waste to slow control decks.

Ponder: I pondered adding this card (oh, the puns, I slay myself, I do), as it is another attractive first-turn one drop — but just couldn’t find the room for it.

Trapmaker’s Snare: Perhaps a one-of might be feasible, but given that the deck goes through it’s library like a fat man at an all you can eat buffet, getting that one Runeflare Trap has seldom been a problem when drawing several cards a turn.

For those playing at home, my current decklist (complete with catchy moniker) looks like this:

I did adjust the mana base slightly; more Mountains to ensure a better chance of a turn one Guide.

How does the deck perform?

Against the slower decks of the format, such as Jund and various controls (U/W/r, Grixis), quite well. It’s very hard for these decks to empty out their hands fast enough before eating a lethal Runeflare Trap for the win. The downside of the Goblin Guide, however, is suddenly those once-dead Terminates aren’t always so dead.

G/W/x Bant-ish style decks can be problematic, as they can drop a lot of creatures quickly, and Brave the Elements effectively counters your attempts to control the tempo. If they’re running Bant Charm and/or Qasali Pridemage — two of the very, very few cards in the format that can get rid of artifacts currently seeing any play — then it gets even worse.

Now, speedy decks, like Boros or (shudder) mono-Red I am not happy to see. Boros isn’t quite that bad, especially when I dig Pyroclasm out of the sideboard, but mono-Red is nigh-unwinnable, primarily due to all the cheap, hasty beaters and to-the-dome instants. I want to face neither of these decks.

That said, the deck is solid, and fun to play, if you’re into decks of this ilk. Perhaps not quite Tier 1, but certainly competitive.

But, just when I thought I’d got this deck pretty well tuned, out comes Worldwake. Curse you new set, for ruining all my hard work!

Then again, there might be some goodies in here to shore up that rush deck weakness and improve the rather scattershot sideboard.

Such as…

Calcite Snapper: Quite honestly, I think the Turtle Convertible is the best Worldwake card in the set — for this deck, that is. Not only is it a superior upgrade to Wall of Frost, but this card is might be good enough to make it into the main deck.

Firstly, shroud means it can’t be Pathed, Terminated or otherwise removed from the battlefield. Secondly, that one power means it can actually kill attackers, whereas Wall of Frost just slowed ’em down a bit. Don’t think that’s not important. Thirdly, it can swing, possibly for four a turn. What’s not to like here?

Comet Storm: I really want a sweeper in the deck somewhere besides Pyroclasm (won’t kill big things) and Earthquake (won’t kill flying things). While not a sweeper per se, perhaps this can do the job of wiping out multiple creatures on your opponent’s side. Then again, consider the double Red casting cost. Go back and look in the annals of Magic history and find how many double Red burn spells have been seen heavy tournament play. Take your time. I can wait.

Chain Reaction: You want a sweeper, here’s your sweeper. Chain Reaction can pull off a very good Wrath of God impersonation. It can also be played around. What I’m hoping/thinking, though, is that the threat of Chain Reaction is sufficient to deter these decks from dropping their entire hand on the table in one turn. Can Chain Reaction put The Fear into those piloting these decks? That is Ye Olde $64 Question, to which I have not answered to my satisfaction as yet.

Everflowing Chalice: Basically, a Mind Stone, as I doubt you’ll ever want to or need to push it higher than one. Here’s the question: how important is ramping up that mana? Is a turn three Font better than one on turn four? The answer would seem to be yes. Then what comes out of the deck? This card might be more at home in a traditional U/W/x control deck, that wants to ramp up for Day of Judgment or Sphinx of Jwar Isle.

Don’t forget that this deck leans heavily on colored mana. The killing stroke generally requires UUR, not 1UR. This has also been one of the downsides of Reliquary Tower. Man, if only I had access to Izzet Signet for this deck…

Treasure Hunt: Awesome card. Perhaps my favorite card out of Worldwake. Really doesn’t fit in this deck.

Jace, the Mind Sculptor: As to how good this card is going to be, I’m really not sure. It’s got a lot of nice abilities, too, that can be very relevant to this deck. But I suspect that he’s just going to be like the original Jace, basically, Brainstorm (or bounce), then die. Then again, if he can hide behind a Calcite Snapper and go to town, then he gets really, really good. I freely admit that if I’m wrong about anything in Worldwake, it will be with this card.

Halimar Depths: Ladies and gentlemen, your new Impulse? Quite possibly. I’ll be honest, I’m not overly fond of come into play tapped lands in this deck, however, the ability to abuse fetchlands with the Depths seems…intriguing.

Quicksand: One possible answer to beater decks, but sets you back a turn in terms of mana development, won’t produce colored mana and won’t kill three-toughness things or fliers. Still might be good enough, though — kills Kor Firewalkers quite dead; Brave the Elements won’t save him. Honor the Pure, that’s another matter.

Remember, also, what I said about Everflowing Chalice — colored mana is very, very important.

With Worldwake, my current configuration looks like this:

Yes, Calcite Snapper is good enough for the main deck. Out went the two Jace Beleren and two Whiplash Traps. Right call? It feels like it, but I haven’t ground out a ton of games with this configuration as yet. The sideboard is still kind of scattershot, and, as mentioned, I really don’t want to run into any Kor Firewalkers. Speaking of which, if they do start showing up in greater numbers, I might consider taking the Goblin Guides out in favor of Ponder or maybe putting the original Jace back in.

If I had a big tournament to play tomorrow, would I run this deck?

In all honesty, probably not. It’s a few steps above “cute,” but Tier 1? Not quite. But, perhaps, not that far off. As to how close it is, I recommend sleeving it up and seeing for yourself.