If you’ve played Fires of Yavimaya or other similar Bird/Elf or Noble/Bird decks, you’ll have a good idea right away how to play this deck, and the matchup guide should provide everything you need. If you haven’t, you’ll need to get used to this type of manabase in order to get the deck operating at peak efficiency, and it will take longer before you get used to decisions about mulligans, card order, and how to play around mass removal. A good basic principle is that the deck has high variance in its draws, but that it mulligans well. Don’t be afraid to throw a hand back if it is slow, or if it needs to draw mana but won’t turn into a great draw if you do. Hands with a lot of mana can be kept if that mana comes out quickly and the mana gives you something to do, but are deadly if they are all mana-only lands and Birds of Paradise. Mana-light hands can be kept if you can survive for a bit without drawing any and get a big payoff out of drawing the mana you need.
I will go over the matchups in order of popularity at the Pro Tour. Before that, here is the decklist for reference:
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 3 Rafiq of the Many
- 4 Rhox War Monk
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 1 Thornling
- 4 Knight of the Reliquary
- 4 Baneslayer Angel
- 4 Lotus Cobra
- 2 Rampaging Baloths
They have to remove all of your major threats, because any one of them will win you the game. Knight of the Reliquary will protect a major threat and in time become one, so it has to die; Rafiq of the Many has to die most of the time; Baneslayer Angel definitely has to die; Rampaging Baloths has to die. Thornling can’t actually die unless you choose to take that risk. Finest Hour might be survivable on occasion, but it too is big trouble and only dies to Maelstrom Pulse. On top of all that, Celestial Colonnade is a serious problem for them, with only the Dragon or Terminate able to stop it. Together, this gives you a lot of questions. They have answers, but they don’t usually have that many, and they need to match them up properly. The matchup goes in stages:
Stage one is the opening. Here, you can potentially mana accelerate them out of the game before it begins, and they have to hope that you don’t or they have the right answers if you try. They have a choice whether to try and kill Nobles and Birds or not, and both choices are risky. You can get some free wins here by sticking a threat quickly, including a second turn Knight. They can try to win the game right here by attacking your mana and hope you don’t have enough and you won’t be able to cast your five- and six-drops in the middle game, but that plan does not usually work.
Stage two is the middle game. Here you ask questions and they try to spin the wheel of cascade to find answers. Plan ahead for Blightning, but mostly you want to dump your threats onto the table in the order most likely to leave them without proper answers. Rhox War Monk won’t win you the game without help but it will be very good at making sure you don’t die while you ask them other questions. In general, any serious traction you get will be fatal, so they have to try and stop you.
Stage three is the end game. This happens when you run out of threats, at which point they start to take control of the board. They can also do this if they have had time to get Master of the Hunt going, which will eventually put them far enough ahead to dominate. Either way, eventually your board position collapses and they attack for the win, but this only happens if you haven’t won the game first. Your job is to end the game before it gets this far.
Looked at another way:
Mythic can win by being too fast.
Jund can win by shutting down your mana.
Mythic can win by having an unanswered threat.
Jund can win by killing all your threats and/or accumulating card advantage.
It is rare that the matchup comes down to a fair creature battle, but if it does then it’s time to play some Magic. Remember, you are the beatdown.
The reason you bring in Mind Control is that the cards that actually win the game for them are all creatures: Malakir Bloodwitch, Broodmate Dragon, and Master of the Wild Hunt. All three of these are excellent creatures to take away from them. Broodmate Dragon is a relative frown, but it still deals with the big man, and if you have exalted they will be unable to block yours with theirs. The other two are big wins, as Malakir Bloodwitch forces true removal and Master of the Wild Hunt is very bad for them if it lives. The frowns are if they play Siege-Gang Commander, but that is a risk that you must take. If they don’t bring in Bloodwitch and/or Master of the Hunt, both of which are strong against you, we are happy to be “stuck” taking a Thrinax or even a Bloodbraid Elf or Putrid Leech. There’s nothing wrong with that. You can also try to use Negate to protect a threat, but this strategy has so far not proven to be as good.
You take out one Finest Hour because after sideboarding it is often possible for them to kill all your men and leave Finest Hour without a creature, so we guard against drawing multiples. It is possible you want to go down to one. Rhox War Monk is a strange creature in this matchup, because it is great at holding the ground and often draws removal but usually can’t attack. Having four is inviting a do-nothing hand, but the curve needs to not be too top heavy. Rafiq goes down to two copies because of Lightning Bolt, but this could easily be incorrect.
Game one is highly favorable to Mythic. Unfortunately, their sideboard helps them a lot more than ours helps us. Their best plan is to take out Leech and Thrinax and bring in Deathmark, Master of the Wild Hunt, and Malakir Bloodwitch as well as going to four of Terminate and Maelstrom Pulse. That is a lot of sideboarding, and many opponents won’t have all of those cards or will sideboard incorrectly. If they have the full package, they are still underdogs for the match but probably aren’t for the post sideboard games. If they have much less than that, or they board differently, it will go very badly for them.
You are very well positioned against WW. They have protection from Red and Black, your creatures are White, Green and Blue. They are playing 2/2 creatures, yours are either mana or far bigger. They have cheap creatures and therefore can win games, but it is very difficult for them. The more they try and be a normal Magic deck, the more game they have short of you having no mana, but the less they are able to punish you for a slow start. Your sideboarding plan is simple against a standard version. They have to win fast and can’t possibly overpower you, so play a more defensive game:
This minimizes your chance of being overrun, and you can then win at your leisure. Against a more â€˜tricked out’ version like Wescoe built you are no longer facing as high a probability of a quick loss, and there is nothing that important to take, so you instead would keep the deck more intact because you are in effect playing against a frustrated control deck and your primary fear is Day of Judgment:
Play around Day of Judgment, for which you have Finest Hour and a far higher land count than they have, and you will be fine. This is a strange build of a WW deck, so I’m not sure how to get the most out of the matchup, but I do know that you are in excellent shape as your men will win easily in a fight.
This matchup is highly favorable. Your creatures come out as fast as theirs, and yours are bigger and better. Their hopes lie in one of three places. First, they can overrun you using Vampire Nocturnus and a large army. Second, they can hang their head on Malakir Bloodwitch. Third, they can try to sideboard into an all removal deck.
The Bloodwitch plan is better in game 1, when the deck has no answer to it, but even then it is not as effective as one would expect because it does not actually win in a confrontation with any of the largest creatures in the deck. Baneslayer Angel fights it to a draw, although it does prevent Finest Hour or Rafiq from assisting, while Thornling and Rampaging Baloths go through it without trouble. Eventually you will be able to overrun his side of the board regardless, but it does buy a bunch of time. The bigger worry is Vampire Nocturnus. Without an actual answer, your game 1 response to him is to do something more powerful, which usually means one of the five- or six-drops that has proper support. If they get an effective Nocturnus draw in game one and hit their Black cards, they will win, but the odds are very much against them and no other plan is likely to work. You play out your cards aggressively and kill them as fast as possible to make sure they don’t have time to get there more often than necessary.
Bant Charm and Mind Control combine to prevent the opponent from being able to stick Vampire Nocturnus while also giving you a solution to Bloodwitch. Finest Hour is removed because your biggest issue will be sticking a creature or stopping their big creature, and you have nothing else that wants to come out. Rafiq is superior to Finest Hour here because you want to overload their removal. If you know they are on the quick creature plan, you can also bring in Day of Judgment. Rhox War Monk is a good man, and if you had something else to take out you would leave him in, but your other men are even better since you need the Green top end to go through Bloodwitch.
When sideboarding, they can either try to maximize the chance of winning quickly with Nocturnus, or they can go on the removal plan. If they go on the Nocturnus plan, they have the ability to win games, but you have Bant Charm and Mind Control so they will not win that many this way. If they take out men to put in removal, they are no longer capable of a quick win and can only hope to take out all of your creatures. This can work, in theory, but since your entire deck is men other than Bant Charm (and Bant Charm can be used to counter removal, plus you have manlands), this is not a high percentage strategy.
This is a creature fight in two stages. Stage one is all about speed. You can easily overrun them before they can cast their spells and they can do the same to you. If you have a slow hand and you know what you are up against, throw it back. Mythic is set up very well for the quick knockout blow, with more acceleration than most versions and faster weapons to deploy with that acceleration, and that is what you should aim for against Bant. If they survive to the second stage it becomes about who has more and bigger stuff that is relevant to the matchup. Your curve is likely higher end than theirs, which is an advantage, but your cards are focused on offense and dealing the knockout blow so if you fail to do that you can run into big trouble against versions that run cards like Master of the Hunt and Jace, the Mind Sculptor in the maindeck. This is one of the few places where running so much mana can backfire, as they do not threaten yours and games can develop into creature stalls. If they can match your high end but are more oriented to fighting a war, especially with such cards as Dauntless Elemental and Master of the Wild Hunt, then game 1 will favor them.
However, you get to pull off quite the feat of sideboarding:
This transforms your deck into a control deck and forces them into the beatdown role. They will often sideboard in Day of Judgment against you, so make sure to guard against that, but with this setup the long game is essentially impossible to lose. This is why you trim out Lotus Cobra, which their lack of removal allows you to do safely even with the high curve. You have stripped out the low end, and they cannot do this to you because they do not have your land count. Often it will not even occur to them to do so. You now have lots of ways to gain card advantage, get control over the most important cards and dominate the game, granting you an advantage over every version I have seen.
An important point is that this matchup can sometimes run out of time if the first game turns into a massive ground stall. If this happens and the tide has clearly turned against you, do not be afraid to concede the first game even when there is still a remote chance the game could be won or even fail to finish. Once the game stalls and they have an active Master of the Wild Hunt or other route to eventual victory that you can’t match, it is very hard to turn things around, so give yourself enough time to win the next two. I only mention this because it came up in a tournament on Saturday night, and my failure to realize this in time put me in a bad position and may have cost me my only loss.
Most decks with this many creatures have a lot of trouble with control due to their vulnerability to mass removal, but this version is much better prepared for that problem thanks to Rafiq of the Many and Finest Hour, which gives you the punch you need to force a quick response and to do it without having to over-commit to the board. Together with having seven manlands that puts them in a nightmare situation, because they don’t have good answers to the lands even without Finest Hour and once Finest Hour is in play they don’t have a way to get rid of it. As usual with the role you are in the deck must assume a balancing act of being able to deal with Day of Judgment without giving them too much time, and trying to force through the strongest possible threats.
One important thing to remember is that while they are playing control, their counter suite is quite narrow. They have some combination of Essence Scatter, Flashfreeze, and, depending on color, Cancel or Double Negative, but that is generally it.
Game 1 comes down to whether they have the right answers to the questions you are asking. Sufficiently powerful draws on your part are very hard to answer, others require a few good spells or a supported Day of Judgment. Both decks have high variance in how well they play the matchup, and the better draw will usually take game one.
Negate and Jace are the obvious anti-control package. Mind Control may seem counterintuitive, but Baneslayer Angel is going to come in against you, and often they will have their own Mind Controls, both of which this answers. If you know they don’t have such cards, you don’t bring these in, and if you know they have a full package you can bring in three or four. By contrast, Baneslayer Angel is a card you very much don’t want falling into the wrong hands, and is not that efficient an attacker compared to your other creatures. Rhox War Monk is simply too small, as three life a turn is acceptable losses for them and you don’t want to walk into Day of Judgment which is also why you trim a Lotus Cobra given that their lack of removal lets you do that. You would keep all four in if they had Lightning Bolt and had shown a willingness to kill a second turn Lotus Cobra. If you are confident that they won’t use a Bolt on anything smaller than Knight, but they will still have it, then and only then you want to board out Rafiq of the Many. You will always put in Negate and Jace while removing Rhox War Monk, but the other details will vary with the details of what you are facing.
Playing after sideboarding is not that different from playing before sideboarding, except that both decks are better at their jobs and they have the threat of playing Mind Control or Baneslayer Angel. For some reason none of the versions can go into repeated board sweeper mode, which is what would require the biggest reaction. Negate should be used to stop sweepers and force through key spells but they are not usually so valuable they need to be carefully guarded unless you are already far ahead. Overall, I like our chances against both popular versions of control if we give them their due attention, but these matchups cannot be taken for granted.
Before the tournament, I did not respect the possibility of a Naya deck, but it’s impossible not to respect it now. Jund may have won in the end, but LSV put on by far the most impressive performance, and from every angle I look at it, his deck is excellent and will be a force to be reckoned with for some time. As usual when a new deck arrives you don’t know what is in it or what the numbers are, but now that we do I am in a much better position to respond to the deck and the questions it asks of Mythic.
Game 1 you have the advantage. They have two Stoneforge Mystic to get Basilisk Collar or Behemoth Sledge, of which they play one copy each, and their top end business is Knight of the Reliquary, Bloodbraid Elf, and Ranger of Eos with a pair of Ajani Vengeant. None of that makes you especially happy, but neither does it especially cause you problems, and they have only two Oblivion Ring and one Path to Exile to deal with your high end. Your cards are flat out bigger, and more often than not they will simply be overpowered. This is a case of the player with the higher casting costs winning in a fight.
The problem is their sideboard, where in addition to anything else they choose to bring in they are going to bring in a third Mystic, a second Collar, and four Cunning Sparkmage. This is not something our deck has a good answer for, so we do the best we can. I have not tested, but if I had to guess right now I would do this:
Your enemies are Basilisk Collar and Cunning Sparkmage first, and the rest of his deck second. If you can keep those off of the table, you have the power to dominate the game because your cards are bigger, stronger and faster. This sideboarding plan maximizes your chance to stop that plan. They have four Cunning Sparkmage and five Basilisk Collar, plus four cascade effects that can hit either of them. You have three Bant Charm that stop either, and four Mind Control that can take the Cunning Sparkmage, which will usually be tapped to kill something and can then be used to keep in check the next copy if it doesn’t hit the board right away. Knight of the Reliquary has to be watched carefully due to its ability to protect creatures with Sejiri Steppe, so you have to deal with those too, and the result is a fair fight. If they can stick both halves, which will happen less than half the time but still happen reasonably often, they will shut you out and win the game. However, if you can prevent that, then nothing either player did will take away your inevitability. This isn’t the opponent you want to see, but it is nowhere near as terrifying as I thought it was early in the Pro Tour.
The deck is currently making no effort to prepare for this matchup, and the reason for that is because I do not feel I have to. You are starting both Baneslayer Angel and Rhox War Monk, which will draw lots of fire, and lots of other cards that need killing. The speed of Mythic in getting out its threats – and the eight lifelink effects – should make it very difficult for the Red deck to get to twenty damage before it is overwhelmed. There is no secret to playing the matchup other than to be aware of what they can do and try to avoid damage when you can. Don’t tap Birds of Paradise when you don’t have to in case of Hell’s Thunder, know what mana you need, and don’t be afraid to throw guys in the way once they are no longer important. If you know what you are up against, mulligan aggressively with the assumption they will attempt to kill your early men, as they can’t afford to let a third turn Baneslayer Angel draw their fire.
This lowers your curve to its lowest possible point and gives the deck a defensive stance. Rafiq of the Many is the only offensive card left, and it will be very good at drawing fire from you. Bant Charm puts creatures on the bottom so it is an excellent answer to Hell’s Thunder and Hellspark Elemental, plus it can also counter instants, and in general it lowers your curve and helps your survive while Negate prevents you from falling behind and soaks up burn. They have no late game in any form. They may try bringing in Manabarbs, but you’ve lowered your curve, have lifelink, and have sixteen creatures that provide mana without tapping lands. This is not a deck they want to have to face, and there aren’t enough copies running around to consider actively boarding against them with Kor Firewalker.
This matchup is similar in form to Bant. They are more oriented towards removal, but that does not change things much. They may also have access to Identity Crisis, so you’ll sometimes need to play against that in addition to Day of Judgment. It is a balancing act, but at its core this is two Green mana acceleration creature decks slugging it out, so act accordingly.
They usually need a Monument to beat you. If they stick one, you don’t have many ways to penetrate other than using Knight of the Reliquary to set up a giant protection from Green attack with Sejiri Steppe thanks to Rafiq of the Many and/or Finest Hour. Therefore, your sideboard plan is to deal with this threat by bringing in Admonition Angel and Bant Charm to remove the Monument. Both work at instant speed if they have to:
Mind Control depends on what they are up to. If they are using Ant Queen, Master of the Wild Hunt, or other creatures you want to borrow, then Mind Control is excellent. But if their high end is exclusively creatures that generate tokens when they enter the battlefield, then you may be less interested, but it is hard to imagine them not being good and there will always be acceptable targets.
Your goal is to force them to Fog as quickly as possible while still being able to recover should they sweep the board, which puts an emphasis on Finest Hour. The first game is out of your hands; if they get a top quality draw and start to Fog quickly, then there is nothing you can do, but you are faster and more resilient than other similar decks, so your chances are good. Sideboarding allows you to fight them head on:
That provides six counters to their Fog engine if you want them, with Bant Charm also being able to take out Howling Mine effects. The creatures you take out will not be missed because your life total is not relevant and you still have all the power you need, while Admonition Angel forces them to remove it or go back quickly to drawing one card per turn. Jace gives you cards which may not look like something that is important here but you have eight cards they must answer and you can remove or prevent their Jace with yours rather than having more cards that do nothing but attack an opponent who is already forced to Fog on a regular basis. They don’t have much margin for error with their card drawing engine and every wrench you can throw into it is a serious problem.
A pattern has clearly emerged. The deck starts out with a midsize curve given its mana count and an offensive stance, which is appropriate for an unknown opponent who has not been given the chance to sideboard against you. This is the most natural and most powerful configuration for the deck, which you then mold to fit the situation at hand.
A handful of decks will ask you questions quickly but lose to your deck if it functions at full power. Against those decks, such as WW or Mono-Red (the more things change, the more they stay the same) you sacrifice power for speed while maintaining inevitability. These matchups tend to be highly favorable because the deck is paying for a lot of speed and has good tools to stabilize the board. Against decks where you are not in a time crunch but your mana is potentially under attack, you want to maintain your mana curve. Then there are the matchups where your mana is safe but your inevitability is not and/or Rhox War Monk is not a sufficiently powerful threat, such as against other Bant decks. In those cases, you want to raise your curve as high as it is safe to do so in order to get the tools to overpower your opponent. This process gives you the power you need to win each match without sacrificing more speed than you can afford while the mana engine keeps your combined pool of both larger than that of your opponent.
This also explains why you often take out Rafiq of the Many and Finest Hour. I’m sure a lot of people reading this are wondering why they would start cards that come out so frequently. The reason is that they are far stronger before sideboarding, when you face far less removal and opponents are not prepared for you, and less effective after sideboarding when often they will be attempting to shut off your entire army and any sideboarding you do makes that army smaller. It is tough to sideboard in cards to a deck with this much mana and still keep the threat base intact, and without a solid threat base you can no longer benefit enough from Rafiq of the Many and Finest Hour. In game 1 it is your best overall choice, but after sideboarding it is one plan among several and often forms the core of your anti-control strategy.
The metagame in Pro Tour: San Diego was dominated in terms of player count by Jund. There is nothing wrong with Jund, but there are a number of decks that are a better choice. Do not be fooled by the final two being a Jund mirror. There are three decks coming out of the Pro Tour that I would consider running going forward: Mythic, the Naya/Zoo deck played by LSV, and the White/Blue Control deck played by Patrick Chapin. Which one is best I cannot say, but all three have an advantage against Jund, and also seem to offer better game than Jund against the rest of the field. All three represent big advancements over previous technology, and posted excellent records. Mythic put up a 21-9 record at the Pro Tour (and 6-1 in its only other sanctioned tournament that I know of, when I won a Kindle on Saturday night), while the other two decks put up even more impressive records. I think Mythic is the best deck, but of course I am biased. It is also the most fun you’ll have at a Magic tournament this year.