Feature Article — Planeshifted Paskins: Blue Deck Wins

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Nick Eisel is taking a well-earned vacation, so in his place we have an article by the King of the Blue Mages, Planeshifted Dan Paskins. He brings us his Time Spiral Block Constructed deck of choice — Blue Deck Wins — that he played in the recent Grand Prix: Florence. He also looks at some of the reasons that Tomoharu Saitou is almost certainly a better player than you.

One year ago…

From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Date: September 9th, 2007
Subject: Planeshifting

Dear Dan,

You have been selected as part of an exclusive promotional campaign
for the forthcoming “Planar Chaos” expansion. Please report to
Wizards HQ for “Planeshifting”.



PS: If you do not, then we will not print any Goblins in next year’s set, and instead give Red a new creature type called “Mountain Elves.” You have been warned.

From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Subject: Re: Planeshifting

Dear Aaron,

Damn you. I guess I have no option. On my way.


That was then, this is now…

Dear readers,

My name is Planeshifted Dan Paskins. I like Islands, counterspells, and drawing cards, and dislike Mountains, burn spells, and Goblins. I’m part of an experiment to help promote the Planar Chaos expansion. Apparently something went a little bit wrong, but Aaron told me not to worry about it.

Grand Prix: Florence was the end of the Time Spiral Block Constructed season. The top decks were well known and very heartening for all Island-lovers — Blue/Green, Blue/Black, and Mono-Blue. But for those wanting to play something a little bit different, there was only one option:

This was the quickest deck in the format. Even the Green beatdown decks didn’t play with any one-drops, let alone eight of them. The Blue deck would quickly dominate the board with Unstably Mutated and evasive creatures, and then use Delay to disrupt the opponent’s attempts to remove the creatures or counter attack. The original burn spell, and the only one which has ever been worth anything — Psionic Blast — was present in order to finish off opponents.

As attention turns to Lorwyn, and away from Time Spiral Block, I won’t provide a detailed matchup guide. The most popular deck at GP: Florence was the Teachings deck, which this deck has a great matchup against, and which I therefore played against not a single time. I destroyed a Mono-Red deck despite mulliganing to five and then having to face Jaya (boo) on the third turn, which was immensely satisfying.

The defeats I suffered were more my own failings than those of the deck. I lost to a Fiery Justice deck in game 1 because I never drew a second land, when doing so at any point in the game would have given me the win. In the other game, my opponent used the graft counter from his Llanowar Reborn on my Gossamer Phantasm when he was at three life, and I put the Phantasm in the graveyard, not realising that Llanowar Reborn doesn’t target.

I also played a match against Simon Leigh, a friend of the designer of the deck (Daniel Dervaric?), who was probably the one person in the tournament who had practised against my deck, and I lost a close match against a Pickles deck, which is worth telling about in more detail.

I lost game 1 by being locked with my opponent on one life, won game 2 easily, and in game 3 managed to get my opponent to two life (I was on eighteen), with 4 Islands in play and six cards in hand, including Willbender and Psionic Blast but no counter magic, in hand. My opponent had a Venser and a morph in play, access to 13 mana and three cards in hand, and Ancestral Vision with three counters on it.

I was concerned that if my opponent had a counterspell in hand, then he could counter my Psionic Blast and unmorph a Brine Elemental to kill me. I decided to wait to draw either some more land (to be able to morph Willbender to defend the Blast) or a one-drop, or a land and a Delay.

Four turns later, I had not drawn any more land or one drops, and my opponent had drawn three counterspells. The kicker was that he had drawn them all in the past few turns, in the above scenario, he had no counter magic in hand at all.

I’d be interested in what you would do in that situation – would you go for the kill immediately like one of those impulsive Red mages, or would you wait for the chances of being able to get the Blast through?

On Day 2 I spent some time helping Rich Hagon with the podcasts, which meant I got to watch Tomoharu Saitou, one of my favorite players.

In the penultimate round, I was keeping track of a number of games, including the match on table two featuring eventual winner Masami Kaneko, and Saitou’s match on table six.

Kaneko was playing Green/Blue against his opponent’s Green/White deck, and his strategy was to block up the board with Green creatures on both sides, and then use his superior Blue tricks and bounce spells to gradually get an edge. He did this to perfection.

Down on table six, Saitou was playing the same matchup, but from the other side with a Green/White deck. Every turn he was faced with some extremely complex plays – at one point he had two creatures in play; Sunlance, Temporal Isolation, and 3 Thrill of the Hunt in hand; four mana (but only one Green) in play; and his opponent had mana untapped, two creatures of his own, and a Riftwing Cloudskate suspended.

But Saitou played the game completely differently from Kaneko’s opponent. It seemed that he was making some risky attacks, and with a lack of Green mana was struggling to make best use of the cards in his hand. But his attacks never allowed the board to clog up with creatures, and always kept the Blue/Green player on the back foot.

Having a plan for a particular matchup is important. But what was so clever about Saitou’s play was that he kept on making plays which looked like they were unfavourable – trading a Temporal Isolation for one Call of the Herd token, having a Tarmogoyf die to a double block, but which kept the bigger goal of not letting the Blue/Green deck clog the board up with creatures. In contrast, Kaneko’s opponent, who at this stage was 11-2 in the Grand Prix and so was a pretty good player himself, played very differently and let Kaneko’s Thornweald Archers hold off his supposedly more efficient creatures rather than trading them.

This left Saitou with a fifteenth round match against Andre Coimbra for the Top 8. Game 1, Saitou kept a hand on the draw with a Temporal Isolation and no other land.

He didn’t draw a land on the first turn, and played the Expanse. At the end of Coimbra’s turn, he thought for a while and decided not to sacrifice the Expanse.

On his next turn, he again didn’t draw land, and discarded. This time, at the end of Coimbra’s turn he did sacrifice the Expanse. The story doesn’t end happily – Saitou didn’t draw a second land and lost the first game, won the second, and then lost the third.

But the level of play involved in such a simple decision (whether or not to sacrifice Terramorphic Expanse to look for a land) is amazing.

Most players, I am confident, would either have decided to sacrifice the Expanse immediately, or kept it in play as long as possible (and either way, whined about mana screw after the game). Either play is perfectly defensible: keeping the Expanse in play marginally increases the probability of drawing a land, and sacrificing it means that if you draw a land, then you can start casting spells.

But almost no one would choose one decision (not sacrifice the Expanse) on the first turn, and then change their plan on the second turn (certainly when I was watching, I didn’t spot this play). Why did Saitou do it?

The two decisions are subtly different. On turn 1, there is a small advantage in waiting to try to maximise the chance of drawing a land on the next turn. But on turn 2, the balance has shifted. If Saitou had decided not to sacrifice the Expanse, then even if he drew another land he could not play a creature until the following turn.

Missing the chance to play a creature on turn 2 is annoying for the White/Green deck. Failing to do so on turns 2 and 3 can be fatal, even if the land then starts to flow (not least of the problems is that by this stage Coimbra will be in a position to start casting Avalanche Riders). So on his second turn, Saitou has to sacrifice the Expanse and hope to draw a land. It’s not a great situation, but it maximises his chances of staying in the game. A play that is the right decision for turn 1 (not sacrificing the Expanse) isn’t automatically the right play on the following turn.

This time it didn’t work out (he didn’t draw a land). But if you are looking to improve at Magic, it is this sort of detail that marks out the best players from the rest of us. For a beatdown expert like Saitou, making exactly the right play on each of the first few turns and knowing when to follow a plan (like trading creatures against the Blue/Green deck) is key to success.

Looking ahead to Lorwyn and Standard, the Blue beatdown deck is worth keeping an eye on. It’s probably not one to break out immediately, because there will be a depressing amount of Mogg Fanatics and Incinerates which are difficult to deal with. But if, as it always seems to, the pendulum shifts towards more controlling decks, then the speed and disruption of the Blue deck is well worth revisiting, particularly with some new Lorwyn Merfolk to replace some of the weaker cards in the deck (Infiltrator-il-Kor).

That’s all from me this week. Aaron said something about this “Planeshifting” having some side effects that he wouldn’t tell me about, but I’ve not noticed anything different from how I am normally. So join me next time, for a review of those new, lovely, lovely Blue Lorwyn cards.

Until then, may your Isl-aaaaargh…


Take care.

Dan Paskins