Feature Article – PTQing with Five-Color Control

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Thursday, June 26th – There’s Kithkin. There’s Faeries. And there’s the choice of the connoisseur: Five-Color Control. Gerry Thompson, advocate of the uber-controlling Teachings deck in Time Spiral Block Constructed, is no stranger to the slow strategies. Today, he shares his own take on the Five-Color Control archetype in Lorwyn / Shadowmoor Block Constructed, which has gone through numerous iterations in the search for PTQ glory…

It’s formats like these that make me happy I fell off the train (more or less on purpose). I just like to battle, especially with five color decks. I am a little upset there isn’t a dominating 3U instant, but Reflecting Pool and a bunch of Tendo Ice Bridges will do, I suppose. It was pretty obvious that I would be committed to playing the full amount of Reflecting Pools for the PTQ season, but I needed a jumping off point. Naturally, I used Bucher and Wafo-Tapa’s Grand Prix Top 8 list as a starting point. For reference, here’s their list:

I didn’t like a few things about their deck. First of all, the manabase looked like they didn’t even try. In practice, it also felt like that. Also, three Firespout? Is that real? Bucher said that drawing one Plumeveil is always better than the second Firespout, and I can see his reasoning with that. However, one Plumeveil is never better than the first Firespout, and therefore you should play the full amount of Spouts. That is, unless you don’t want to beat Kithkin. Mind Spring was also a suspicious card. While I can certainly appreciate its applications in the mirror, against any other deck in the format it seems slow and terrible. For something that is a huge mana investment, Oona seems much better, especially since instead of drawing you some cards, it kills them.

Apparently, Bucher hadn’t played against any Kithkin decks until the Top 8, where he promptly lost. Granted, it was Kithkin played by Jelger Wiegersma, but I don’t think the result would be that different either way. You absolutely need to draw and resolve a Firespout early, and Bucher was skimping on being able to do just that. He also had several do-nothing Mind Springs. Obviously, if you get to cast one of them you will win the game, but if you get a turn of reprieve against Kithkin to spend on a six mana spell, you have probably already won.

Kitchen Finks struck me as a sketchy card. At Pro Tour: Hollywood, Owen Turtenwald constructed a UB control deck that showed me the power of Fulminator Mage. I was testing against him with Kithkins, and Fulminator blew me out every single time. It let him deal with problematic lands like Mutavault and Windbrisk Heights, while also preventing some damage. If my Kithkin draw was weak, he would even two-for-one me. After that, he would be able to spend his turn killing my creatures without me having the mana to resolve a very threatening Cloudgoat Ranger.

Not only that, but Fulminator seemed much better against Faeries as it puts you at a mana advantage, makes them harder to cast Mistbind Clique, and could occasionally mana screw them. Obviously it is superior in the mirror too. It could even let you cut down on White sources and run the full amount of Sunken Ruins.

There are no straight beatdown decks in this format that beat you by inches. Kithkin and Faeries both win big almost every time. So why were Finks in the deck instead of Fulminator?

Here’s what I ran for the first PTQ in Columbus:

I ended up cutting the Austere Commands for no real reason. They always seemed unnecessary from my testing with Kithkin (which in hindsight I think is wrong), and they just weren’t that good against anything else. Nameless Inversion got in there basically because I needed an instant way to kill Scion of Oona, mostly to ensure that my sideboarded Plumeveils would be able to kill Mistbind Clique.

I only wanted three Threshers and three Ambitions main because I wanted to be solid against the field and not really sway my matchups too heavily against one deck, as I expected a variation of strategies. For example, you would much rather draw one Thresher, one Ambitions in your opener against a random opponent than two Ambitions and risk them being a Kithkin deck. If you’re on the draw, those Ambitions are usually going to be useless.

My plan in the mirror involved lots of Fulminators, which hopefully lessened the impact of their Mind Shatters and Mind Springs.

My plan against Faeries was don’t get paired against them.

I 5-0ed the swiss and double drew into Top 8. Once there, I mulliganned to five in game 1 against the mirror, won game 2 because I only mulliganned once, and then didn’t play a sixth land until much too late in the final game. Apparently, 26 lands isn’t enough.

While Fulminator was amazing against Elementals and the mirror, Kitchen Finks surprised me at how good it was against me. My opponent in the Top 8 was able to successfully play an aggro control strategy with just Finks. Had I drawn a Fulminator to his Finks, I think I would have been okay, but it didn’t happen and Finks took me very low. Cloudthresher Shocked me to death.

I wasn’t exactly satisfied with the deck. I knew something had to change, despite my decent performance. Michael Pinnegar’s PTQ-winning deck was going to be a problem. Chameleon Colossus, Nath of the Gilt Leaf, and Masked Admirers are all very difficult to handle. Oona was also gaining popularity. Crib Swap seemed like the perfect answer. It deals with all of the those, random Oversouls of Dusk, and even Mistbind Clique.

This is what I ran in the second PTQ:

Not much else I can say about this list except, “Don’t try this at home.” This list was the result of a severe lack of preparation. Sam Black convinced me that Doran was the superior three-drop, and I still almost believe him. The problem is that it is uncastable on turn 3 unless you are extremely blessed.

The fourth Ambitions made its way main because people were figuring out how to beat Kithkin, which should then decrease in numbers. Mirrors were also becoming increasingly popular. Faeries is a bad matchup, and the fourth Ambitions helps there. On top of it all, Austeres made a comeback, so I figured the Ambitions would help more than hurt.

Adding a Vivid seems correct. You almost always need one, and drawing two or more is usually fine as your only two-drop is Broken Ambitions.

The misers one-ofs main are because I had a sixteen-card sideboard and 58-card maindeck, so I decided I could just move a Crib Swap main. I had to cut a Mannequin because without Fulminator, and because Doran never dies, I had fewer targets. For the final slot in the main, I decided I wanted a card drawer to replace the Mannequin I cut. Mind Spring, despite being pretty bad, seemed like the best option.

LSV is also rubbing off on me, to the point where I don’t mind loosening up my lists, at least when it’s for something where a loose list might not really matter, such as a PTQ.

I started 3-0, beating Faeries, Kithkin, and the mirror. Fourth round, I mulliganned both games and kept a two-land Broken Ambitions hand first game and a two-land Broken Ambitions hand game 2. Both times, I failed to draw lands. I knew coming in that 26 lands probably wasn’t enough, and here I was, losing to lack of lands again.

Fifth round I beat a copy of Pinnegar’s PTQ deck. Sixth round I played against Alex Kim. While I didn’t know exactly what he was playing, I assumed a control deck, so I kept a hand without removal. He started with Smokebraider and Incandescent Soulstoke, and with my lack of removal and lands, I fell behind very quickly. The second game was more of the same. He got a quick start and I didn’t really put up any resistance as I was struggling just to find lands.

Lesson re-learned: I probably need more lands. I was a little worried that without things like Tolaria West, Urza’s Factory, and Mystical Teachings, the deck would simply flood a lot more with 27 lands and then have nothing to do with all that mana. There is very little card drawing in this deck, with basically only four Mulldrifters, and sometimes Mannequins if you were already lucky enough to draw a Mulldrifter. Mind Spring is another option, but like I said, Oona is almost always superior.

This is what I recommend for PTQs this weekend:

Awkwardly enough, I am back to a list that is almost exactly Bucher’s main deck. My sideboard is up in the air for one reason: I need to formulate a plan that involves me crushing the mirror every time while also being able to board in a reasonable amount of cards against Faeries. I want to bring in Puppeteer Cliques, Negates, Jaces, and Crib Swaps, but I certainly don’t have all the slots for those plus Wispmares and Plumeveils.

I think that Puppeteer Clique is the correct blowout card. If they have drawn Mulldrifters and you haven’t, suddenly you can get back to parity while also having a decent threat. Late game, Clique is probably going to straight up win you the game. I would consider siding out all of your Cloudthreshers if they have a lot of Cliques.

Jace is another cheap way to draw cards, which I feel is very important. As long as I don’t get flooded or screwed, I feel like I’m going to win every single time. I will probably play Jace for the same reason that I play a lot of lands: consistency.

Negate seems very powerful. Even the good opponents I have played will often not play around Negate, or rather they’ll play right into it. Winning counterwars and stopping their big spells like Mind Shatter is key, so lowering your curve and playing things like Negate and Jace are only going to increase your win percentage.

Wispmare is a necessity if you respect Faeries at all. While the matchup isn’t favorable, it is certainly winnable. I would even say that it’s in your favor if they cannot keep a Bitterblossom in play.

Crib Swap is the perfect answer to all the hate cards people seem to be attempting to throw at the Reflecting Pool decks. I think it’s the best non-Shriekmaw spot removal spell you could be playing right now. Shriekmaw only gets the nod because it makes Mannequin playable.

Plumeveils are your ace against Kithkin. They slow down their best draws while also potentially ambushing a problematic Burrenton Forge Tender. For some reason, no one plays around this card, even though it’s been common knowledge for almost a month. Get with the times, people.

In my testing against Faeries, all I wanted were more instants. Forcing them to fight on their turn and then resolving an Oona is often the best route to victory. While having a strictly defensive card may seem bad against them, that isn’t really the case in this matchup. Faeries will often make an attack with Vendilion Clique, Scion of Oona, or even a Mutavault when they have spare mana, only to get ambushed. Do they fight a mini counterwar and risk you resolving a huge threat, or simply throw away their creature? Either option is fine for you. Not only that, but it lessens the impact of Mistbind Clique, since you are still casting spells instead of getting Time Walked.

In the mirror, I want to side out 3 Shriekmaw and 4 Firespout, while also not minding if I cut Kitchen Finks, Cloudthresher, or Austere Command. I would like to board in 3 Crib Swap, 3 Jace Beleren, 3 Puppeteer Clique, and 2 Negate.

Against Faeries I want to cut 3 Shriekmaw, 4 Finks, and 4 Firespouts for 3 Wispmare, 3 Plumeveil, 2 Crib Swap, 2 Negate, and the fourth Cloudthresher.

Finks are not very impressive. Very rarely do you get in a racing situation, and at best Finks will hold off some Mutavaults. Firespouts are just as ineffective against them. They don’t beat you by just playing out a bunch of Wrath-able dudes. Firespout doesn’t deal with Bitterblossom and therefore isn’t very good. You might think that Cloudthresher serves the same role as Firespout, but not quite. Thresher is an instant, is Mannequin-able, and provides a solid threat. While it doesn’t kill Bitterblossom, it stops their initial rush, deals them some damage which could end up being relevant, and if hardcast, can block future tokens, or just get in some damage and have the Bitterblossom kill its owner.

For Kithkin I want to cut 1 Cloudthresher and 4 Broken Ambitions for 4 Plumeveil and a Crib Swap.

Broken Ambitions are basically terrible against Kithkin. Any solid opponent is not going to walk their token generators into it. They’ll just cast some cheaper spells or attack with Mutavault. It will almost certainly be a dead card the entire game and the threat of you having it never really goes away. They will probably play around it regardless.

I guess if I had to trim the sideboard down to 15, it would look like this:

3 Wispmare
4 Plumeveil
2 Crib Swap
3 Puppeteer Clique
2 Jace Beleren
1 Negate

Sadly, I probably won’t be PTQing this weekend as I’m finalizing plans to go to Grand Prix: Buenos Aires. If anyone is planning on playing Five-Color Control this weekend, let me know how you do in the forums.