U/G Madness, a.k.a. "Wonder Dog," is a deck near and dear to my heart. I’ve run it at two major tournaments recently – and unless I find something better, I will be playing it at Regionals.
However, unlike most of its Tier 1 counterparts, U/G has a fair amount of flexibility in terms of different cards that can be added to it, altering it in subtle and not-so-subtle ways.
I’m not going to go into an in-depth discussion of how to play the deck; the archetype has been around for over a year now, so I’m going on the wild assumption that most readers are at least familiar with the turn 1 Careful Study/Basking Rootwalla, turn 2 Wild Mongrel, turn 3 Arrogant Wurm progression. This will be more of an overview of what cards can and should go into the deck.
The "core" of the deck – the cards that are without fail always in U/G Madness, are:
After these twenty-odd cards, there are a number of decisions to be made building the deck, some dependent upon the metagame, some dependent upon your own personal preferences.
The mana base: U/G generally runs twenty-two or twenty-three lands. The 23rd land gives you a little more mana stability, but the deck seems to do fine with twenty-two as well. The mana base is not as stable as it was when Yavimaya Coast was Standard legal. The only suitable replacement is City of Brass – Grand Coliseum would be fine if it didn’t have that annoying”comes into play tapped” problem. U/G can’t afford to waste a turn waiting to use a land – it’s a bit like old-school Sligh decks in that regard. Somewhere between one and three Cities seems about right, with an equal or near equal number of islands and forests.
Flooded Strand and Windswept Heath:
I once experimented with subbing these for Cities. Didn’t work. Nice in theory, lousy in practice. Worth running if you can get the tri-color version of the deck to work, splashing white for Glory, Worship, and Intrepid Hero – but otherwise not.
Centaur Garden and Cephalid Coliseum:
More at home in the Threshold version, not Madness – although the Garden pops up more than the Coliseum, which seems odd, since drawing cards and discard effects would seem to be a natural fit for the deck. They are also painlands, though, and with City of Brass, the deck has enough pain as it is. The Garden was good for pushing through that last three points of damage (just as Gabe Carlton-Barnes; I had him dead to rights at a qualifier once until he topdecked this card, giving him enough to kill me with an alpha strike – I’ll have my revenge yet, Barnes! Just you wait!).
Sorry, I got a little distracted there. In short: Don’t run these in U/G Madness.
Aquamoeba and Merfolk Looter:
Here is where U/G makes a minor evolutionary split, creating two very similar albeit distinct decks, decks with differences akin to the differences between a chimpanzee and a gorilla. You can run four Looters or four Aquamoebas, but not four of both, and which one you choose to concentrate on will decide which subtle direction you want to push the deck. Aquamoeba is a 1/3 body that can become a 3/1 mini-powerhouse. Merfolk Looter is a 1/1 that can become… Well, a 1/1, but it draws you cards. Both are madness outlets. Which is better?
There are pluses and minuses to both cards. The Looter draws you cards, which has long been established as a Good Thing. Aquamoeba, at three toughness, makes for a good blocker – but most important, you can use him the turn he’s played, whereas the Looter takes a turn to warm up.
It’s also easier to splash Aquamoebas in the deck, acting as a fifth or sixth Mongrel, than it is to splash one or two Looters.
I wouldn’t say there’s a wrong choice per se. The Aquamoeba build will be slightly more beatdown oriented and stronger against R/G and Astroglide, but will run out of gas sooner. The Looter build sacrifices power for being able to dig deeper into the deck, which makes it better against Psychatog and other control-oriented decks.
A week ago, if you asked me, I would have said the Looter is the better card; now, I’m not so sure. The slowness and fragility of the Looter makes it less than optimal against R/G and Astroglide, and at Regionals, I anticipate a lot of red. As of today, I’d go with the Aquamoeba. As the metagame evolves, I reserve the right to change my mind.
Some people run this main deck. Some in the sideboard. Some not at all. I, personally, really like this card. U/G has no way to get rid of permanents already on the board outside of combat, and runs a miniscule number of counterspells. If your opponent drops a reanimated Akroma, Angel of Wrath, unmorphs an Exalted Angel, or has a 6/6 Wurm token with a Wonder in the graveyard and you don’t, Aether Burst gives you the answer. And lest we forget, it gets better in multiples, able to bounce your opponent’s entire board with one or two in the graveyard. The tempo shift this card provides is amazing.
Simply the knowledge of the presence of this card will have an opponent playing cautiously around the threat it represents – and in an aggro-control deck such as this, that extra turn or two often makes all the difference in difficult matchups.
The Big Blue Reset Button, and another card that is often seen in the main deck, sideboard, or not at all. This is one of those cards you are almost never sorry to see, but unlike other bounce spells, this is almost strictly a defensive card, not offensive. Less than optimal against speed decks like Sligh and R/G, it shines against mana-hungry decks that play to win past the midgame, like Psychatog and MBC – and I’ve found it to be highly effective against Astroglide as well. Fits in with the slower, more controllish variant of U/G rather than the more aggro version.
Occasionally seen in the sideboard as a supplement to Aether Burst, being able to target non-creature permanents. Anything non-creature that you can target, which is generally enchantment-oriented, can be dealt with better with other cards.
An intriguing card – so intriguing that I had to go dig up my old Exodus set to remember what the heck this does. We have established that bounce is good: How about a permanent that bounces creatures, for nothing more than one mana?
Well, yes, there is a drawback; you actually have to cast a creature first. Fortunately, that’s really not a problem for this deck. This card won’t be that great until turn 5 or so, when you can cast creatures and have mana to spare, but the synergy with end-of-turn madness combined with bounce makes this a likely sideboard addition. End of turn, Rootwalla, Rootwalla, bounce your creatures? That’s some good.
Sometimes showing up in main decks as a "fifth" counterspell to supplement Circular Logic. I chastised Brian Kibler for this strategy at the Magic Invitational, now I’m not so sure he was wrong. Occasionally the double blue can be troublesome, but I have seldom been disappointed to draw this card around turn 6 or so, once I have a Wurm of either the 4/4 or 6/6 variety on the table.
A good sideboard card in OBC when the "other" deck was the sorcery-heavy MBC. The current Standard environment is not very sorcery-heavy, unless MBC starts making a comeback. If that happens, then this is a consideration.
All of the Dreams work well with various madness and flashback spells, and Turbulent is probably the best of the lot for U/G, functioning as mass removal for an alpha strike or just bouncing a few blockers while getting an Arrogant Wurm into play. Again, there’s the double-blue problem, and you have to have cards in hand in order to maximize it, but being able to bounce multiple creatures for only two mana makes it worthwhile.
Almost always in the main deck, but I’ve seen a few variants that eschew it. It’s no Fact or Fiction, but it’s the best card drawing in the current environment. Seldom cast for 3U, more often than not it’s two cards for two mana (and three life), and with U/G Madness’s predilection for maximizing mana, that what the doctor ordered.
More at home in U/G Threshold, I am starting to like this card more and more, although it’s definitely got shortcomings. It’s a great turn three play when you already have established early board superiority with one or two creatures, or even with just a Rootwalla in play. However, if you don’t have board position, then playing this is a Bad Thing and you have a dead card, whereas Deep Analysis will always be able to draw you cards. The value of this card increases with the amount of bounce you have in the deck, especially end-of-turn Aether Bursts. Fits in better with the Aquamoeba-heavy version of Madness than the Looter-heavy variant.
This showed up in Ken Ho’s Chicago Masters deck, which was an odd hybrid of U/G Threshold and Madness. On the plus side, it’s a 4/4 for 1G with threshold and he accelerates your mana. On the minus, it’s a 1/1 for 1G without threshold, which Madness decks don’t reach as quickly as Threshold ones do – and if he’s accelerating your mana, he’s not being turned ninety degrees to terrorize the Red Zone.
There are those who say this card is essential, and there are those who say this card sucks. I fall somewhere between the two. This card can be a bomb in the early game – especially with cards like Chainer’s Edict, Elephant Guide, and Deep Analysis around. It can also act as a pseudo-counter. It can also be filler if your opponent plays around it or always has mana available to use it. If this was Misdirection, I’d play it. As it is, my belief is that it’s too narrow and situational, however, your mileage may vary.
Ray of Revelation:
The best enchantment removal available to the deck, with the added bonus of being usable twice with City of Brass. It’s been sneaking into the main deck of U/G Madness lately, and doing so makes those unappetizing turn one matchups, such as Mirari’s Wake and Astroglide, much more winnable. If not main, this card definitely belongs in multiples in your sideboard.
More expensive than the Ray, but more versatile. But do you really need the versatility? There is only one artifact in the environment you should be worried about – and that’s Ensnaring Bridge. With the Bridge, Sligh and R/G decks can hide behind their Bridge, throw out their hamster and elderberry-related taunts, and send burn to the dome. Upheaval can solve that problem, but it’s more expensive and you aren’t always guaranteed to draw it-not to mention that Sligh and R/G can come back just as fast from Upheaval as you can. For that reason alone, it’s worth it to include this in the sideboard.
There’s definitely room in your sideboard for one or two copies of this card, which is a wrecking ball against Wake, Squirrel-Oppo and Astroglide. Wake decks, however, are definitely falling down to the bottom of Tier II-dom, and aren’t to be feared as they once were. The same goes with Opposition. That leaves Astroglide, which only has one enchantment you really fear: Astral Slide. Lightning Rift is good, but you can deal twenty damage a lot faster than they can cycle it, especially with a 6/6 Wurm. In that case, Ray of Revelation (costing either 1W or G) and Naturalize (1G) are better than the sorcery-speed 2G Tranquility. I’d leave one in my sideboard for now and adjust as I see the metagame shifts.
Remember when this card was supposed to be broken and would be the first thing banned in years? Didn’t quite work that way. It turned out to be not all that great, and was dropped from U/G builds. Now it might be coming back, in small numbers, maybe one or two in the maindeck or sideboard. "Spec" accomplishes two things, it thins your deck out, upping the chances of drawing a land (which is sometimes good, given the somewhat shaky mana base) or a non-flashback spell – and of course, it puts flashback goodies in the graveyard, usually a combination of Roar of the Wurm and Deep Analysis. Running Quiet Speculation also lets you run more one-shots of flashback cards, a Napster-esque strategy of packing silver bullets against all your troublesome matchups.
If you are running main deck Ray of Revelation, I’d advise playing Quiet Speculation as well. I’d also run it in the Aquamoeba-heavy version, as it lets you keep filling up your hand with cards from Deep Analysis, getting around the problem of draining your hand to the Li’l Blue Beast.
Why, yes, I get a 3/2 body with a built in Naturalize for only five mana! Act today and we’ll throw in a Pocket Fisherman for free! After Rays, Naturalize and Tranquility, this card is barely worth mentioning. But he gets mentioned anyway. I said this was a comprehensive list, after all.
Yes, this card can be good against R/G or the mirror, if they’re flying in for a Wonder-riffic alpha strike. Yes, you can use Quiet Spec to put it in the graveyard. Yes, this card is just all around bad in the deck-Aether Burst or Turbulent Dreams can accomplish the same thing and is more versatile. You have better uses for sideboard slots than this.
If cards like Tombfire and Withered Wretch become playable, then Ground Seal is a possibility to protect your graveyard from their effects. And even then, it’s marginal. Worth considering, though; it’s at least a cantrip.
An iffy sideboard card which is mostly for the mirror match. In addition to being a cantrip, it shuts down Mongrels, Aquamoebas, Looters, Lavamancers, and Psychatog. It’s a very narrow card, and it doesn’t stop creatures from entering the Red Zone, so keep that in mind. It’s a definite sleeper choice, however-the Weber State of the sideboard.
Primarily defense against the mirror to get Wonder and Roar of the Wurm out of the graveyard, it can also see use against G/W and Beast-based decks for Glory and to save key spells from a Haunting Echoes. One of the better defensive cards against the mirror, but it won’t see much play against any other deck. If you expect a U/G-heavy field, it may be worth running a copy or two of this card.
I toyed with this card as mirror tech, and also being a decent deterrent to Astroglide’s Exalted Angels. Well, I did kill an Angel with it once, but by that time, my opponent was at thirty-six life and I was at one, so it didn’t work out quite as I’d hoped. It wasn’t that much of a mirror deterrent either, since it meant I had to sideboard out Wonder and draw this guy and my opponent had to have Wonder in his graveyard for it to work. Wonderful idea in theory, horrible in practice.
Now, if you’re going to play something that costs 3GG, this is it. Great in the mirror, devastating against Astroglide (save for a cycled Slice and Dice or a Starstorm), a flying 6/1 untargetable Insect that can kill Wurms and come back for seconds deserves a spot in the sideboard.
Best as a sideboard card vs. R/G, it’s a potential combo with Aquamoeba (which is a Beast, after all). A 4/4 for four mana is nothing to scoff at, and the life boost is great against burn-heavy decks.
If you have a creature-heavy sideboard, one or two copies of this card might make sense in a controllish U/G build. Being able to fetch cards like Gigapede or Ravenous Baloth would certainly be useful, but this is not a card you’d want to cast in the early turns of the game – it would have to be later, once you have established board position, otherwise you’ll cost yourself a valuable turn casting this over a Wild Mongrel or Arrogant Wurm. I don’t think it’s worth it.
A nicely powered body for three mana, and he shuts down Opposition decks, which is why traditional U/G Oppo is dead and the deck has had to incorporate black into its repertoire to accommodate Smother. Since Opposition decks seem to be fading into Tier II, this isn’t as much of a must-have as it used to be – but you should still have a couple of copies in the sideboard just in case. It’s also decent in the mirror to flummox Aether Burst, which is often what gets sideboarded out for Centaurs in U/G vs. U/G.
I really liked having this guy against Oppo decks, as he enabled me to be able to get rid of my Cities of Brass before my opponent could kill me with them, and I could use him to give all my creatures protection from Opposition for an alpha strike. He is a weak 1/1 body, though. I’d have a slot or two for him in the sideboard if I expected to run into a lot of Opposition decks – otherwise, not.
Squirrel Nest and Acorn Harvest:
There primarily as defense against MBC, also against ‘Tog versions running Innocent Blood and Chainer’s Edict. Squirrel’s Nest is, strictly speaking, the better card – but Acorn Harvest can be fetched via Quiet Speculation if you are going that route, making it easier to find. It’s worth a slot or two in the sideboard if you expect to see a lot of decks packing non-targeted singleton removal.
The most intriguing bit of mirror tech I’ve seen lately, it’s pretty much dead weight against anything running red and/or black – but against non-theme decks not running those colors, it’s a house. It’s expensive and vulnerable, yes, but definitely worth experimentation. I’m not sold on it yet, but I’m starting to come around to the potential power of this card. The most fun I’ve had with it was in a mirror match where an opponent played it against me – I named "Cephalid," then played my own, stole his Oppressor, and it was fun fun fun ’til Daddy took my T-Bird away.
Compost and Phantom Centaur:
I keep vacillating over these two cards. Both are great against anything with black in them. The Centaur has protection from Tog and isn’t too shabby against R/G, either; he can end a game in a real hurry. Compost, however, draws you cards, and in multiples it is insane against Psychatog, MBC and anything else foolish enough to play black against it. I keep going back and forth, but right now, I favor Compost since a) it’s cheaper and b) drawing cards is always a Good Thing. In the Merfolk-centric build, since you already have lots of card drawing, I’d say Phantom Centaur is the choice. In the Aquamoeba-centric, go with Compost.
Merits a mention since a) it, like the Aquamoeba, is a 1/3 Beast for 1U, hence combo-ing with the Ravenous Baloth and b) can become a potential 6/3 with a Roar of the Wurm. However, it takes mana to do that, and it’s not a madness outlet. Cute idea, but there’s no room for it.
I think that about covers it, but I’m sure I’m forgetting one or two cards that can be mentioned as candidates for inclusion.
Right now, I have two versions of the deck, one more aggro, one more control:
Mind you, these decks were built with the current metagame in mind. I’d say, right now, that the Aggro build is stronger than the control build-but that could easily change as the metagame evolves. Funny how I managed to find room for the Baloth in the version I didn’t think it really belonged in. Life – and deck theory – is funny that way.
This is the beauty of U/G Madness; it’s probably the most flexible deck to come down the pipe in years. There are many different ways, some extreme, some subtle, to construct the deck, enabling it to adapt to most any new and potentially unfavorable matchup.
That’s why I’ll probably be playing it at Regionals.