Feature Article – Zur For Regionals

Visit the StarCityGames.com booth at the Atlanta, GA and Charlotte, NC Magic the Gathering Regionals!
Wednesday, June 4th – With Regionals just around the corner, everyone is looking for that sick new tech that’ll ravage the metagame. Well, how about this for an off-the-radar strategy: Zur The Enchanter! Gerry Thompson takes us through his Pro Tour preparation, a huge chunk of which was taken up with innovative Zur decks. He brings us five fresh lists that could make waves at Regionals… and if that’s not all, he shares his Faeries and Reveillark lists too!

I can honestly say that I am more disappointed right now than I’ve been in quite some time. For the first time in my life, I had the opportunity to show up to a Pro Tour with a deck that would turn heads. Obviously, the one time this is possible, there is an absurd deck that my deck can’t possibly compete with.

Ben Lundquist came up with the idea of Zur the Enchanter as a Standard engine, and I couldn’t believe that I didn’t think of it myself. I was trying to find some reason to play Zur in the Extended Next Level Blue decks, but completely forgot that it was Standard legal.

Why should you even want to cast Zurs in Standard? There are several reasons, actually. The biggest reason for our team was that hardly anything in the format kills it. Shriekmaw, Nameless Inversion, and Terror are the most widely-played kill spells by far. Not only is it nigh unkillable, but if it stays in play for more than two turns the game is almost always over. Being able to fetch an Oblivion Ring a turn and then eventually a Steel of the Godhead to put you out of burn range is incredibly powerful.

Zur is also unexpected, which can be a huge plus in a Pro Tour. You can almost guarantee that your opponent has practiced a decent amount. They should know what to do in almost every matchup, but what happens when someone casts a Zur? Will they have any idea what’s in your deck? They could make educated guesses, but that’s all they would be. Our team developed several builds of Zur decks, all with different cards and strategies.

Initially, almost all of our Zur decks were favorites against aggressive decks like Doran, Elves, and Mono Red, which basically means we would be locks for Day 2.

I was under the impression that pure control was just not going to cut it in a Faerie-filled environment, so this is the first build I suggested:

4 Birds of Paradise
4 Tarmogoyf
4 Doran, the Siege Tower
4 Zur the Enchanter

4 Thoughtseize
4 Bitterblossom
4 Oblivion Ring
4 Nameless Inversion
1 Fertile Ground
3 Garruk Wildspeaker

4 River of Tears
4 Murmuring Bosk
4 Treetop Village
2 Gemstone Mine
4 Reflecting Pool
4 Vivid Grove
1 Horizon Canopy
1 Pendelhaven

This is what the final build of that version looked like:

There are several obvious differences in those lists. First of all, Wall of Roots replaced Birds of Paradise as the accelerator. Vivid lands and Reflecting Pool provided the fixing necessary, while Wall of Roots stopped early aggression. Birds was rarely castable on turn 1 anyway, unless you were willing to load up on painlands.

Bitterblossom was reduced to a singleton. Drawing multiples was almost always bad as it was barely better than a Forcefield. The first version didn’t have any life gain which made them a liability. It was later decided that only one was necessary, to Zur for if you needed a threat.

Garruk was basically cut for Primal Command and some tutor targets. Steel of the Godhead was an amazing addition brought to our attention by Brian Kowal. It does exactly what you need it to do: Zur for some immediate life gain and let you attack without fear of Mistbind Cliques ambushing you. Once we added the Godhead, all of our previous testing results were useless, as several games were lost to Bitterblossom killing us or not being able to attack through their army of fliers.

Sadly, a Treetop Village had to be cut because strictly Green-producing lands were fairly terrible and we wanted to cut down on lands that came into play tapped.

The sideboard contains some of the best cards in Standard at the moment. Kitchen Finks gives burn decks a tough time and allows you to race Faeries, or at least put early pressure on them so their Bitterblossoms are worse. Mind Shatter is devastating against control decks like RG Ramp and Reveillark. Firespout gives you a sweeper against Elves and Merfolk, while also providing a much needed answer to Magus of the Moon. Wheel of Sun and Moon was our attempt to disrupt the Reveillark and Juniper combo decks.

Our initial testing of the Faerie matchup was positive, until we figured out how to make the Faerie deck better. With the addition of Rune Snags, resolving a four-mana creature became much more difficult… although once Zur was in play, only multiple Pestermites usually kept you from winning the game.

The testing against matchups like Mono-Red and Elves was extremely positive. I was looking forward to the Pro Tour; we just needed to find a way to beat Faeries consistently.

Although my Doran take on the deck was interesting and ultimately took up the majority of our testing, Lundquist’s take on a Zur deck was completely different.

This list was doing well against Faeries and RG aggro until we started updating and improving those decks. Faeries’ Rune Snags were a major problem again. The RG deck could keep one-landers because the Zur deck didn’t have many threats. Eventually the RG deck would draw lands and have a bunch of castable spells the Zur deck couldn’t deal with. The RG deck could also just Flame Javelin away all the Zurs and Teferis, and it would topdeck a lot better and eventually win.

Some changes had to be made. Remove Soul is basically worse than a Terror against almost everything. Steel of the Godhead was tailor-made for Zur, like I said before. Thoughtseize was underwhelming. Elves and Merfolk were kind of a problem without a sweeper.

The RG matchup shed light on the fact that four Zurs (or rather, having only four cards that can win you the game) just wasn’t enough. Kyle Sanchez Vedalken Aethermages sprung to mind.

Making Ancestral Vision work was a difficult task, so Ben decided to try Ponder. The Vivid lands plus Reflecting Pool were too important to cut, even for something as good as Ancestral. The newest Zur targets were Sacred Mesa (much better than Bitterblossom when you’re a control deck and have plenty of mana lying around) and Declaration of Naught. You would search up the Naught when you basically had the game locked up but something like a topdecked Profane Command would finish you off.

I didn’t feel like Faeries was as good a matchup as it could be with this deck. Conveniently, Raking Canopy is Zur-able. If you were to add Green, the deck would look like this:

The idea was to Zur them enough turns to set up Raking Canopy plus Declaration of Naught on Cryptic Command. Surely you would be able to handle their only outs after that. If you had two Canopies, that was almost game. They could Mistbind Clique you and then Command your stuff, but it was very difficult to set up. A second Declaration would even solve that problem.

Firespout is better than Wrath of God in this format, and since we were splashing Green off of Vivids and Prismatic Lens, you might as well run the real deal. Magus of the Moon was a huge threat that we always had to keep in the back of our minds when designing decks like this, so being able to splash Firespout solved plenty of problems.

At this point, it was apparent that Faeries and its key components were near unbeatable. We tried to incorporate this into the Zur strategy.

This list was Ben Lundquist brainchild. The man likes his control decks. The problem was, Faeries like to play at instant speed and Zur doesn’t really want to. Mutavault doesn’t fit in very well either, but it’s necessary to pump up Spellstutter Sprites.

With weeks to go leading up to the PT, we were all at a loss. Do we just run a Zur deck and hope to dodge Faeries? We could probably make money if we played Zur, but winning the tournament would almost certainly be out of the question. I don’t want a pitiful $500 check. I want to win big or go home.

In the end, with glaring weaknesses against Thoughtseize, Rune Snag, Pestermite, and Cryptic Command, we all decided that our dreams of Zur-ing the Pro Tour should end. While the matchup with the Doran/Zur deck was around 50/50 against Faeries, it just wasn’t good enough to run it and hope. Awkwardly enough, that’s exactly what the majority of the players who made the Top 8 did. They ran a deck with a 50/50 matchup against Faeries and just won their coin flips constantly. Now I realize that you need to get lucky to Top 8 or win a Pro Tour, but just flipping coins didn’t seem like the best strategy.

I think six people played the same 75 Faerie deck as I did, and only one of us made money. Personally, my head wasn’t in it. Hron kept some bad hands. There are a million excuses why the tournament didn’t go well for us. I believe that my main innovation (Pestermite instead of Scion), was correct and I would barely change anything in my PT list.

Scion is only good in certain situations, many of them just being a random Faerie to champion to Mistbind. The other situation is when you and your opponent both have a Bitterblossom. However, that situation is only likely to occur in the first game of a Faeries mirror. Post board, I was bringing in 4 Thoughtseize and 4 Commandeer just to fight Bitterblossom. When you take into consideration their 4 Thoughtseizes, it is highly unlikely that someone is unable to maintain Bitterblossom advantage. Scion is usually just a dead card.

I would also sideboard it out against the rest of the field. My Faerie deck wants to be a control deck and is hardly ever in a racing situation. People seem to be on a sweeper high against Faeries at the moment. Almost every other article I’m forced to read about how “Firespout solves the Faerie matchup,” or “Cloudthresher kills their board and they can’t come back.” This isn’t even remotely close to being true. How people can even think Firespout is good against Bitterblossom – a card that continually creates threats – and several manlands is beyond me. I would board out Firespout against Faeries, not bring them in.

Scion is just bad. It never accomplishes anything on its own and only helps you win or lose more, depending on the situation. Pestermite, as I’ve said before, helps your bad matchups. You still need a decent amount of Faeries to champion Mistbind Clique consistently, so Pestermite seemed like the right man for the job.

The main deck Oona and Warhammer were basically because I had two open slots and chose two cards that I wanted in my sideboard to go main. If I had to do it over again, those would probably be Thoughtseizes.

The Gemstone Caverns was stupid. I blame Cedric Phillips.

Yes, I said Sunken Ruins was awful. I just didn’t want anyone to be cutting lands that could cast Ancestral for lands that couldn’t. However, I never activated Faerie Conclave in my life, so those got the axe. I wanted another land that would help cast Damnation, Redcap, or just Nameless Inversion on my opponents turn.

Cutting Damnations was a huge mistake. I assumed that people would play around them and would get wrecked by things like Pestermite instead, relying on one big guy to get the job done. I ended up getting knocked out by a pair of Elvish Promenade decks, so I got what I deserved. PV’s Razormane Masticores were sick for him, so I would add some of those if I could find room.

Sideboarding for the Red matchup seems ridiculous to me now. At no point did I think that the matchup was in my favor, and no amount of sideboarding was getting the job done. Instead, I should have just focused on beating the matchups that I should beat. If some unlucky Red pairings kept me from collecting $40,000, then so be it.

So what should you play for Regionals? In my opinion, Reveillark, Faeries, Elves, or Bucher’s deck. Merfolk, Red, Doran, and Zur are less likely to get you there than the other four decks. Merfolk is some bastard Elves/Faeries amalgam and just does what both of those decks do, but worse. Doran is like Elves but with a worse manabase. I would never touch a Red deck in this format, especially after the results of this Pro Tour. There are going to be less Faerie decks, and more Lark and Green decks to battle with. Red stands little to no chance.

Here is the Lark deck that I’ve been working on:

That is probably what I would play if I could, although to be honest, I haven’t tested it as much as I would have liked.

I have always been a big advocate of playing what you know, so if you’ve played Merfolk more than anything, feel free to give it a go. Good luck, no matter what you choose to play.

Comments and questions should be directed to the forums and are greatly appreciated.