Feature Article — Mono-Blue at Grand Prix: Montreal *Top 8*

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After running U/B to two largely nondescript performances at high-level Time Spiral Block Constructed events, Kenji was looking for something a little different when preparing for Grand Prix: Montreal. The deck he finally settled upon propelled him into the Top 8… and today we have the story of that preparation. From Turbo Land, to U/G, to straight Mono-Blue, Kenji shares his deckbuilding tips and brings us the latest version of his deck, with comprehensive sideboarding strategies for a number of major archetypes! If you’re interesting in qualifying for Pro Tour: Valencia, you can’t afford to miss this!

Hi everyone!

Today, I would like to share my report from Grand Prix: Montreal.

Unfortunately for me, I didn’t have enough time to practice much Time Spiral Block Constructed before the event, because I went to Tokyo to practice Two-Headed Giant… I had only five days from the day I returned home from Tokyo to the day I left for Canada. However, I was not very upset, because I had almost decided on my deck before I left:

Turbo Land Version 1

3 Wall of Roots
4 Fathom Seer
4 Vesuvan Shapeshifter
2 Willbender
1 Brine Elemental
2 Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir

4 Delay
2 Gaea’s Blessing
4 Rites of Flourishing
1 Wipe Away
2 Foresee
4 Walk the Aeons

13 Island
6 Forest
4 Dreadship Reef
4 Terramorphic Expanse

I played at Pro Tour: Yokohama and Grand Prix: Strasbourg with a U/B control deck, but the results were not to my liking… I missed out on Day 2 play at both tournaments. When I played U/B, I seemed I was losing many times even though I always thought I was almost winning. Finally, I pinpointed the reason for this, after playing two large tournaments.

U/B Control must have Mystical Teachings, so you must run a lot of singleton bullet-cards in your deck. This causes the following problem: it adds more randomness to any particular game. It is true that this deck can deal with many problems, but it’s also true that each and every game will be different. This is why my game was turned about, and I lost games when I thought I was winning… my draws going forward in such “winning” positions were too random unless I had Teachings, and thus I couldn’t change the word “winning” into the word “victory.”

So I decided that if I were to play U/B again, I’d run a deck like the build Mitamura ran at PT: Yokohama… or I’d run a different deck entirely.

Of course, by this I certainly don’t mean that U/B is a bad deck. I simply felt that my deck construction skill was not good enough to find the best possible U/B configuration in the five paltry days I had to test, and so I gave up testing the deck. Of course, we now all know that Paul Cheon, Olivier Ruel, Shouta Yasooka, and more, created their own base U/B decks and did very well.

Anyway, let’s talk about Turbo Land again.

Because of the reasons mentioned above, and because I have loved Turbo Land for a long time, I intended to bring this deck to GP… but the testing on Magic Online brought me a lot of 0-1 eight-man queue losses. This deck was worse than I had expected…

I improved the deck, and the next version was better. It gave me 3-0 score-lines in a few Constructed eight-man queues. Back then, there were the makings of good G/W Tarmogoyf decks around, but their construction was imperfect, and there were more Mono-Red or Mono-White decks about. Against Mono-Red, Wall of Roots was great… but against Mono-White, the Wall was crap. I thought, “How about fighting against their speed with suspend spells, as Tsuyoshi Fujita did in PT: Yokohama?” and I improved the deck a little more.

Turbo Land Version 2

4 Riftwing Cloudskate
4 Fathom Seer
3 Vesuvan Shapeshifter
2 Willbender
1 Brine Elemental
2 Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir

4 Ancestral Vision
4 Delay
2 Gaea’s Blessing
4 Rites of Flourishing
4 Walk the Aeons

14 Island
5 Forest
3 Dreadship Reef
4 Terramorphic Expanse

2 Willbender
1 Vesuvan Shapeshifter
2 Brine Elemental
3 Venser, Shaper Savant
3 Aeon Chronicler
4 Serrated Arrows

With this deck, I could win some of the time… but the victories had nothing to do with the Green cards. In other words, however good the situation may have been, or even if it may have made the situation seem better, I never ever played Rites of Flourishing.

It took me two days to figure this out. Only three days of testing to go.

I thought long and hard. “I ‘m winning some of the time with this deck… could I win more if it were Mono-Blue?”

As I didn’t have much time, I went straight into testing. Soon, I’d settled on the following Mono-Blue list:

Mono Blue

4 Riftwing Cloudskate
4 Vesuvan Shapeshifter
2 Willbender
2 Fathom Seer
2 Brine Elemental
2 Venser, Shaper Savant
2 Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir

4 Ancestral Vision
4 Delay
4 Cancel
2 Serrated Arrows

20 Island
4 Desert
2 Dreadship Reef
2 Urza’s Factory

Back then, I didn’t expect as many Tarmogoyfs as I do today. Also, because many Tarmogoyf decks online played Scryb Ranger or Mire Boa (back then), I overlooked the Tarmogoyf decks’ power, thinking such undeveloped lists would be no problem at all. However, the day before I left for Canada, the Tarmogoyf decks were well defined. They’d picked up cards like Serra Avenger and Thrill of the Hunt, and their Riftsweeper count rose to four, making them much more powerful. As I noticed this, I intended to build a Mono-Blue deck that “splashed” Black for Damnation and Shadowmage Infiltrator, but sadly I ran out of time.

I went to Canada, and tested with Dutch players, and after trading opinions with various people I decided on this final list for the GP.

During my three byes I looked around the venue… and saw Tarmogoyfs everywhere. I practiced with Tomoharu Saito, who brought a Tarmogoyf deck, and my results were not hopeful.

Thus the GP started, and my anxiety grew. I’ll now share the names of my opponents, and their decks. I would like to write a game-by-game report, but since my memory is vague, I can only share results.

Day 1

Round 1: Bye
Round 2: Bye
Round 3: Bye
Round 4: Shingou Kurihara — U/G Pickles – 0-2
Round 5: Soorani, Shaheen — U/R/w Blink – 2-0
Round 6: Zabrecky, Allan C — Mono-Black – 2-0
Round 7: Bernat, Michael D — Teachings Control – 2-0
Round 8: van Medevoort, Robert J — U/B Pickles – 2-1
Round 9: Alec M. Nezin — ID

Day 1… and I didn’t see any Tarmogoyfs. I won all the rounds except the first, and negotiated an ID to ensure Day 2 play.

I’m often asked why I do this in the final round of a Grand Prix Day 1. I think I have done this in almost all GPs, except for GP: Athens. For me, every single pro point is extremely important, so I think it’s good to take an ID when it ensures me of Day 2 play. Of course, I will play when I can make it if I lose, but this time I may not have been able to make Day 2 with a second loss.

Day 2

Round 10: Erik Thoren — Teachings with Korlash – 2-0
Round 11: Josh Sandler — G/W Tarmogoyf – 2-1
Round 12: Sergio Fialho Martins — G/W Tarmogoyf – 2-1
Round 13: Guillaume Wafo-TapaWild Pair Slivers – 1-2
Round 14: Benjamin R. Lundquist — U/G Tarmogoyf – 2-0
Round 15: Olivier Ruel — U/B/g/r/w – 2-0

Luckily, I defeated the dreaded Tarmogoyf decks that I saw, and I could make Top 8 when the shooting stopped. To be honest, there were a number of Tarmogoyf players battling on the second day, and I was just lucky to be matched up against them twice.

Wafo-Tapa’s deck was very interesting. I lost to him because my Teferi was stolen by Take Possession. It was very clever of him to put Take Possession into his main deck.

If you’d like to read more of the Top 8 action, the official coverage is here.

For the rest of the article, I would like to share my new list (improved since the GP), and my sideboarding plan for when facing off against some of the top decks.

Because there is almost no Mono-Red any more, I took out the Fathom Seers. For Tarmogoyf decks, I added Take Possession and Brine Elemental, which I sided in every game. As I play Snapback in my main deck, my deck is better against Tarmogoyf builds with Griffin Guide. I would really like to up my Cancel count to four, but I couldn’t make room. If you do, take a Willbender out.

The reason I added storage lands to my manabase is that I added more high-cost cards (both in main deck and sideboard).

Versus G/W Tarmogoyf

Out: 2 Willbender, 4 Ancestral Vision
In: 1 Venser, Shaper Savant; 1 Snapback; 1 Cancel; 3 Take Possession

I’m still undecided about whether I should take out Ancestral Vision. At the GP, I was sideboarding like this. The same sideboarding plan is fine against those splashing Red.

When you take Visions out, every one of you opponent’s card is stronger than yours, so it becomes difficult to deal with them, but I think you should let your opponent waste their Riftsweeper. He’s not as frightening as a mere 2/2 if he’s nothing to pluck from the Suspend cart. When you have a lot of counterspells, you shouldn’t suspend Riftwing Cloudskate. To win, you must take your time with bounce spells, and assemble the Brine Elemental and Vesuvan Shapeshifter combo. Take Possession was very useful for my victories when I tested, but nowadays your opponent will side in Cloudchaser Kestrel, so you shouldn’t forget they have outs. And your opponent will side in a lot of removal, so you shouldn’t play morphs too early. You should only play Brine Elemental as a morph when you have ten or more mana available. You should put it into play face-up (if possible) on turn 6. In my opinion, the more removal your opponent plays, the better for you the game will be. The slower game will be better for you.

Versus U/B

This match-up depends on your opponent’s deck construction.

You should make a note if your opponent has Shadowmage Infiltrator, and remember his morphs and countermagic, etc. I will share my own sideboarding, but it is best if you decide on your own strategy after watching your opponent’s deck in game 1. Obviously, this is true for every match-up, but it is particularly relevant for this one.

Versus Teachings (like Wafo-Tapa’s deck from PT: Yokohama)

Out: 4 Riftwing Cloudskate, 2 Snapback
In: 1 Willbender; 1 Venser, Shaper Savant; 3 Aeon Chronicler; 1 Cancel

Versus Korlash (like Paul Cheon deck from GP: Montreal)

Out: 4 Riftwing Cloudskate; 2 Venser, Shaper Savant; 2 Snapback
In: 3 Aeon Chronicler, 1 Cancel, 2 Serrated Arrows, 2 Take Possession

Versus Pickles (like the Mitamura Deck from PT: Yokohama)

Out: 1Willbender; 2 Venser, Shaper Savant; 2 Snapback
In: 1 Cancel, 4 Serrated Arrows

Whatever style of U/B your opponent plays, this is a good match-up for you. Play your morphs except Willbender with care, and avoid letting your opponent play removal spells at their own pace.

If you have a storage land, you can play Brine Elemental effectively, so it is important to put counters on this at the first possible opportunity. And be wary of Take Possession. This is a control mirror match, so you shouldn’t drop too many creatures, and it will be okay if you’re not aggressive. BE careful when playing Teferi: don’t simply wait and play him when he can’t be countered… the game will be reversed if your Teferi meets a Take Possession soon after. There’s no real reason to play him early. If you would like to do so, Make sure you’re doing it when you can absolutely beat your opponent down, or when you want your opponent to play removal.

I think you shouldn’t give your opponent a chance to play Haunting Hymn, as your spells are cheaper, so I don’t put Take Possession in except against Korlash. Being tapped out in the face of a Hymn is not a good thing.

When you Take Possession of Teferi or Urza’s Factory it’s good, but most of morphs are good against Take Possession by just being turned face up.
Vesuvan Shapeshifter can kill itself by coping itself, Fathom Seer can draw two cards in response and leave you with a tiny 1/3, and with Willbender… well, you can’t even take it. Regarding morphs, only Brine Elemental should be considered a good hit.

Versus Mono-Red

Out: 2 Venser, Shaper Savant; 2 Snapback; 2 Cancel
In: 2 Willbender, 4 Serrated Arrows

Because of the threat of Tarmogoyf, I rarely see Mono-Red these days. Nevertheless, my sideboarding is like this. I moved Serrated Arrow to sideboard, so game 1 will be harder, but it is possible to win. As Mitamura did at the PT, it is good to avoid playing Brine Elemental face down, and to play Willbender face up when your opponent starts with Mogg War Marshal. Do not forget this.

Versus Wild Pair

Out: 2 Willbender; 3 Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir
In: 1 Cancel, 4 Serrated Arrows

I’m not sure on this matchup, as I rarely see it online, but I think this would be okay because you can negate your opponent’s Take Possessions. You should definitely counter Wild Pair, Dormant Sliver, and Telekinetic Sliver. When you have only one counter, you don’t have to counter Dormant Sliver. If you resolve Wild Pair or Telekinetic Sliver, the game will be turned about quickly. So it is good to suspend continuously and beat down quickly, or to assemble the Brine Elemental and Vesuvan Shapeshifter combo. If you draw first, you may well play three Arrows and add one Snapback.

Thinking Back to PT: San Diego

I’m now done with Block Constructed for this article… and I’d like to finish with a few words on PT: San Diego.

My team placed fifth at the Pro Tour, as we didn’t have the greatest tiebreakers… but this Pro Tour was really fun. We were laughing even when we lost. I enjoyed every minute of it and I’m glad I paired with my partner Hirosawa.

And I was very impressed by the drafting strategy of the two guys who won the PT. We had practiced solidly for three weeks, but we didn’t find such a strong technique.

The awesomeness of that strategy is confirmed by Itaru Ishida, our Team Limited Master, as he and Osamu Fujita posted 2-0 with fast Sliver decks in the final draft of the Pro Tour to raise their standing. Our sixth draft deck was really strong, and so we played against them, but we lost to them very quickly.

While everyone hate-drafted Mesmeric Slivers and Lymph Slivers, the champions picked Virulent Slivers that came very late. After the end of PT, I think it was natural that they won the whole thing. We really enjoyed the finals, and I would like to send a big “congratulations” message to the winners, who came up with this strategy and rode it to glory.

Congratulations! Pro Tour Winners… Chris Lachmann and Jacob Van Lunen!

That’s all from me… thanks for reading.

Kenji Tsumura

Translated by Naoki Shimizu