Feature Article – Spotlight on States: Blue-Based Beatdown

Are YOU ready for States?
Newly promoted Level 3 Mage Steve Sadin takes us though our next Spotlight on States article. We’ve had Red aggro from Dan Paskins, and White Aggro from Benjamin Peebles-Mundy… now it’s the turn of Blue-based beatdown decks! Steve brings us five decklists that see the Blue cards take an active part in the beatdown role, admirably paired by the other colors in the Magical spectrum. Aggression coupled with a touch of disruption… is this the recipe for success this weekend? Read on to find out!

Before we commence, here’s a little note on Grand Prix: Brisbane…

Rank Player Winnings Pro Points Awarded
Sadin, Steven [USA]


Level 3!

When I booked my ticket to GP: Brisbane I was worried that I was making a huge mistake. What if I didn’t reach Level 3 this season? I would feel like such a failure…

But I decided that I couldn’t worry about that. Getting on the Gravy Train is something that I’ve wanted really badly ever since I started playing in PTQs. I had a chance to reach it this season, and there was nothing that was going to stop me from trying as hard as I possibly could to make it happen.

Of course, even after I “decided” not to worry about how I would do this season, I spent the entire week from the end of PT: Valencia until the end of GP: Brisbane (which was, luckily, shortened by a day due to the international dateline) worrying myself sick about whether or not I would make the Train.

And, to my utter delight, I did.

I am so happy right now, I don’t even know what to say.

In other news, it’s time to start buckling down for States.

I spent the early part of the week gradually catching up from jetlag (of course, I’m still completely exhausted), and working on Blue-based beatdown decks. I had Monday and Tuesday off from school, and I put these days off to good use as they allowed me to go to GP: Brisbane without missing too many classes, and I still had time to play a lot of Standard. So good.

The first deck that I worked on this week was U/b Beatdown.

Notes on the deck:

* I’m not sure if Delay is better or worse then Rune Snag in this deck.

* The Damnations in the sideboard might be better as Tendrils of Corruption.

* I think there should be a better giant monster than Tombstalker for the sideboard, as this deck doesn’t fill its graveyard that quickly.

* Oona’s Prowler is sick. So, so sick.

* There is probably something better than Pongify.

* It is possible to trim a Shriekmaw if you aren’t expecting that many Tarmogoyfs.

* This deck’s threats are very scary. Especially Oona’s Prowler.

I think this deck has a lot of potential, and should do a pretty good job of beating most of the control decks that will show up at States. It also has good game against midrange beatdown decks, due to relatively cheap threats and answers.

However, up and coming New York Player Matt Ferrando pointed out that “Oona’s Prowler simply gets trumped by Mogg Fanatic.”

While this is pretty obvious, when Matt said this I realized that this deck doesn’t just have normal trouble with Mogg Fanatic decks… this deck has a lot of trouble with Mogg Fanatic decks. The creatures in this deck have very low toughness and cost more than most of the burn that the Red decks will be sporting. This is a surefire recipe that, when taken out of the oven, will give you a classic tray of bad matchups.

Another comment that I got on the deck was from Chad Kastel, that “I’m not sure how much I like Looter. Don’t you want most of your creatures to be Shriekmaw-proof?” Shriekmaw is so good, and is likely to be extremely popular, so it would make a lot of sense to try to find ways to neutralize him.

I think this is a really interesting deckbuilding idea that I am going to try to explore more in the coming weeks.

My conversation with Chad led to an untuned version of the deck, one that sports Momentary Blink to better abuse Shriekmaw (as well as Cloudskate and Venser).

4 Thoughtseize
4 Looter il-Kor
4 Rune Snag
4 Riftwing Cloudskate
4 Oona’s Prowler
4 Shriekmaw
4 Shadowmage Infiltrator
4 Venser, Shaper Savant
4 Momentary Blink

4 River of Tears
4 Underground River
3 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
3 Island
1 Swamp
1 Plains
1 Cave of Koilos
3 Adarkar Wastes
4 Terramorphic Expanse

4 Oblivion Ring
3 Slaughter Pact
4 Damnation
4 Delay

This deck is far too rough to be played as is, but I like some of the ideas behind it. That being said, I think that Momentary Blink is going to be a very powerful and popular base for many a Standard deck, with the biggest question being figuring out how to use it. The biggest barrier is that you have to play a bunch of creatures. (I think I still have some ill will towards Blink after my experience at U.S. Nationals…)

While I was building this deck, I also began thinking about how good Oblivion Ring might be. I know that I am just stating the obvious, but Oblivion Ring is actually an answer to (almost) everything. However, the downsides to it are also quite obvious. It is sorcery speed, and it can be Disenchanted or bounced. But it is still an answer to (almost) everything, notably Manabarbs.

Before, most control decks had no reasonable way to deal with Manabarbs. Now they have Cryptic Command, and many will have the option of access to Oblivion Ring. Red decks are likely going to have to look for a new trump card against control.

I was in a math class the other day and my teacher was writing up a question where he was using letters to represent colors. R for red, G for green and B for blue.

Obviously I couldn’t write blue down as B, or I would get tripped up whenever I reread the problem with B as black, so I had to write it down as U for blue so I could actually talk about the problem.
End Aside

The most popular Blue-based beatdown deck from the block GP/PTQ season was, of course, U/G.

As inspiration for my U/G update, I looked at the U/G deck that Masami Kaneko used to dominate GP: Florence and the U/G deck that reigning JSS champ Greg Poverelli piloted to a second place finish to NY States last year.

Masami Kaneko – GP: Florence 1st place

2 Forest
2 Horizon Canopy
4 Llanowar Reborn
4 Terramorphic Expanse
1 Pendelhaven
11 Island
4 Looter il-Kor
4 Tarmogoyf
4 Riftsweeper
4 Riftwing Cloudskate
4 Mystic Snake
3 Vesuvan Shapeshifter
2 Venser, Shaper Savant
3 Psionic Blast
4 Delay
4 Pongify

4 Serrated Arrows
3 Thornweald Archer
3 Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir
3 Brine Elemental
1 Urza’s Factory
1 Vesuvan Shapeshifter


Greg Poverelli – 2nd Place NY States 2006

4 Breeding Pool
4 Yavimaya Coast
2 Simic Growth Chamber
1 Pendelhaven
5 Forest
4 Island
4 Birds of Paradise
4 Llanowar Elves
4 Looter il-Kor
4 Plaxmanta
4 Ohran Viper
4 Call of the Herd
4 Moldervine Cloak
4 Psionic Blast
4 Remand
4 Mana Leak

3 Repeal
3 Krosan Grip
3 Stonewood Invocation
3 Trickbind
3 Carven Caryatid

This led me to the following:

As for the rest of the sideboard, the slots can be filled in response to your perceived local metagame.

I think that Jace Beleren is going to be one of the most important cards in Standard. I hate the Terramorphic Expanses in this deck, as there are eight one-drops, but there are enough two-drops that I can still make turn 1 Elf/Bird, turn 2 two-drop plus Expanse. If, however, they can kill your Bird/Elf, it is likely that you are going to want to jump off a cliff. I don’t like this deck as it stands, because – like pretty much every other U/G deck in history – it is really difficult to get the mana to work.

While I was updating U/G Beatdown, I realized that there were a ton of Elves in the deck. While G/b Elves have already made their presence felt by winning the SCG 1K open, I think that there are a lot of different ways to build from an elf package.

(By the way, if you haven’t already, I would recommend looking at the Top 16 decks from the SCG $1K Open, as they give a pretty good idea of what people will be bringing to the table at States.)

I really like Pongifys in this deck. I frequently have an extra mana available to cast it in response to removal, and it gives the deck a good answer to Greater Gargadon.

I wish I could figure out how to bend the mana to enable Venser. He would be such a good fit for this deck (though I would probably have to cut the Pongifys to make room for him). But, for the same reason as I gave up on the U/G beatdown deck, I just couldn’t get the mana to work so I gave up on trying to add him. Hopefully the next set in Lorwyn block will give us a good U/G land.

I think that the Pickles lock is good in the sideboard, but I think it is very possible that it isn’t good enough to win. The Pickles lock was awesome in Block Constructed because there just wasn’t enough good removal to go around, but now that most decks contain a lot of cheap removal (Tarfire, Shriekmaw, etc.) there might just not be any place for the 3+7 Brines. If so, that sideboard space might be better used for, among other things, more counterspells and Masked Admirers.

The next thing I tried was adding Black to this deck, as elf decks have access to an investment-free B/G dual land.

I had a lot of trouble building this deck, as there are just so many options.

Notes on G/U/B Elves:

* Garruk Wildspeaker is so good, especially with two-mana counterspells. It is possible that this deck should go up to three or four.
* Riftsweeper might be better as Thornweald Archer, though obviously this just depends on how many suspend cards you expect to see.
* Thoughtseize is so sick.
* Oona’s Prowler might be worth a spot in the maindeck or sideboard.

I really like this deck, and it is the current choice for States. It has some trouble against Red decks, but I think that my current fifteen-card anti-Red sideboard (!) should be enough to tilt the matchup in my favor. I will probably end up using a few of the cards in my board as anti-control measures, and I have enough room to make whatever anti-Red transformation I deem necessary.

Good luck at States!

Steve Sadin

PS: The following conversation took place this April between my good friend Julian Levin and myself:

Julian: Steve, do you want to go with me to the Legacy GP in Columbus?

Me: I dunno, I haven’t played in a while, and it is the weekend after I get out of school. I need to spend that Friday moving my stuff back. I don’t know if I want to bother flying…

Julian: Are you kidding me? You are thinking about missing a GP. So you can do…

Me: … Nothing. Point taken.

If it weren’t for Julian, who knows what I’d be doing right now…

Thank you.