Flores Friday – Ten Facts About The End Of The World

Mike Flores won the TCGPlayer Open this past weekend with U/R Twin. No black mana, no Pyromancer Ascension, pure and simple. Is the reign of Caw-Blade at an end?

(I’m paraphrasing here):

“If you had asked me a week ago what was more likely, the Rapture actually coming or Mike Flores winning the New York 5K, I would have picked the end
of the world.”
—Peppermint Von Corduroy

“Truly the sky is falling,” and / or “No, we actually are in hell now.”
—Everyone else

So this past Saturday was May 21, 2011, the anticipated date of the Rapture as predicted by Family Radio preacher (and let’s be honest / give credit
where credit is due, “multimillionaire” given his $122,000,000 in assets, entirely from listener contribution) Harold Camping. No judgments. (Also, no
Judgment Day.)

If it were actually going to be my last day on Earth, I would probably have preferred spending it teaching my son to block and / or throw a punch;
reinforcing my daughter’s control of the center and protection of her queen; and doing whatever I had to in order to make my wife share in my feeling
of just how lucky I think I am having won her over all those movie stars.

… But crushing a big Magic tournament and getting handed 49 Andrew Jacksons by a Hall of Famer Pro Tour Champion comes in a close second.

My doomsday companion:

Here are ten things I learned (or got reinforced) over the course of the successful not-apocalypse:

10. Spellskite is the most overrated two-drop of all time.

Keep in mind this is coming from the guy who wrote the preview article for Lotus Cobra.

Going into the 5K, my intention was to play the full four Spellskites in my sideboard. I read this article by the wondrous Nick Spagnolo and became
further admiring of ye olde Spellskite… To the point that I was actually second-guessing my strategy.

However I was driven by two powerful forces: The first was Zvi’s The Rule, which states that in a new format, it is essentially never right to deviate
from the best strategy for metagame reasons. The second was that my assumption was that not everyone would widely adopt (or have) Spellskite yet, so it
would be less of a factor.

Once I got to the tournament, I was dissuaded from buying the missing two by Josh Ravitz, who predicted they would not retain their value (on site,
they were like $20). So I just played Spell Pierce.

It turns out Spellskite isn’t even that good.

The Spell Pierces I actually played were awesome against Inquisition of Kozilek decks; I sided them lotso. On balance, I beat two Spellskites IN PLAY
at least three times… And I don’t even play Twisted Image. I had opponents burning Twisted Image to cantrip (which isn’t bad), but they weren’t
getting the value they intended when they invested those sideboard slots.

I am not saying Spellskite isn’t a good card. It just doesn’t beat U/R Twin. I did everything from blocking Sword-carrying Spellskites with Deceiver
Exarch to mutilating multiple Spellskites with Manic Vandals (sometimes wearing a Splinter Twin itself) over the path to my victory. The one time I got
mine, my RUG Twin opponent just killed it with his double Inferno Titan draw (I combo-killed him while he was tapped for Titan, of course… No thanks
to Spellskite). I didn’t even side it in versus Reid Duke Go for the Throat / Into the Roil–heavy B/U Control after that point.

No need to retire those Squadron Hawks just yet, guys.

9. Thou shalt not lose to Inquisition of Kozilek.

I got crushed in a PTQ like six years ago by Jordan Berkowitz. I had the whole Duress / Cabal Therapy draw and thought I had sufficiently “disrupted”
him… But my clock was not fast enough. He topdecked a Fact or Fiction into another Fact or Fiction… into a Gush… And not only was I no longer
ahead, I was dead.

Same as it ever was.

Darkblade is just not a challenging matchup. I don’t know how else to say it. A Duress is not scary when your deck is all Sea Gate Oracles and variants
of the word “Jace” … The opponent is spending cards—and what’s more, mana—to NOT put pressure on you. Meanwhile if you get one of your
Jaces (or Oracles, or even Pilgrim’s Eye), you spend no extra mana to dig back into bonus cards.

Think about it like this… Your opponent presents Inquisition of Kozilek. You show Mana Leak, Sea Gate Oracle, Deceiver Exarch, and Jace Beleren
What the heck is he supposed to take? Remember, he has a very small window to play spells on his own turn. After turn 2, it becomes very dangerous to
play spells on your own turn. Most of the best players I fought on Saturday would wait until turn 6 or even 8 to attempt anything after that initial

Because Exarch Twin can initiate fights on the opponent’s turn, from Into the Roil to test-Exarch to Jace’s freaking Ingenuity (while consistently
playing untapped lands), the fight is not fair from the mana perspective. If you are lucky, when you are on the wrong side of an initiation, Twin will
JUST resolve a Jace, and now you are in a spot where you have to tap 4+ on your own turn to get out from under the Jace.

I would much rather play against Darkblade, with its Edge-vulnerable blue sources and thin Mana Leak count than straight U/W, which has so many more
ways to interact with your non-combo trump cards. It is Mana Leak that is actually at a premium. For most blue decks, that is the only card that can
interact with your Deceivers; ergo, every Mana Leak that is applied to a Jace (or other non-creature) is a Mana Leak that can’t later salvage a game
from either the first part of the combo or a game-closing six.

I played versus Grixis Twin one time (as Paul Jordan did the next day, in the PTQ), and our impression is that their Inquisition of Kozilek is deadlier
(because they can outright kill you), but the matchup is still quite favorable. The highlight of my day was a mulligan to six on the draw in game
three, keeping Into the Roil, big Jace, and Jace’s Ingenuity. He Inquisitioned my Into the Roil and played Spellskite. A turn later, I tried Jace;
Spell Pierced. Next turn, Jace’s Ingenuity, and I turned over both halves of the combo and the Into the Roil I needed to bounce his Spellskite.

Just Magical.

8. I may have had a reason to play Pilgrim’s Eye.

Will I just put Civic Wayfinder into every deck?

The truth is, when you have the unconditional best strategy (especially given a comprehensive anti-plan for most accepted lines of interaction), the
main thing you want to do is avoid mana screw. All the red cards in the main cost RR. The mana is good, but every point counts. When you think about it
that way, the Eye ain’t half bad.

In addition, Pilgrim’s Eye is actually just a sick blocker. It can absorb any Hawk, no matter what Sword it is wearing. I didn’t pull it off in the
tournament, but honestly… What sequence is required to penetrate Pilgrim’s Eye + Splinter Twin?

Very likely, they’ll have to tap a significant amount of mana on their own turn. Doom.

7. This tournament was Not Soft ™.

At least three of my Swiss opponents have won PTQs and / or Nats Qualifier slots in the last two years, but that isn’t even the impressive part. Check
out the Top 8 matchups:

Top 8 – David Shiels

Top 4 – Reid Duke

Top 2 – Edgar Flores

Just completely absurd!

I was impressed by a couple of these players. Shiels is one of the most decisive Caw-Blade mirror match players I have ever seen (not surprising
considering he is a Grand Prix winner with the archetype). He is a very solid thinker and notices small things most players miss (like what sequence
and which lands an opponent plays).

Reid is a very precise IRL player. He has translated his MTGO skills well to real life. Reid tanks at exactly the right times; tanks over the right
things. A good parallel is an MMA fighter on top, in the opponent’s guard. Reid disrupts your breathing with his free hand. A player even slightly off
his game will miss things, be just a hair off his timing playing against Reid.

Edgar is… Edgar. In hindsight, I wish I hadn’t split, but… it was Edgar!

6. Winning the roll matters more for them than it does for you.

I would go so far as to say if you keep a seven-card hand on the play, you’ll beat Caw-Blade 80% of the time. They have essentially no line. Consider
this actual game sequence:

Me: Preordain.

Him: Preordain.

Him: Stoneforge Mystic / Me: Mana Leak

Him: Squadron Hawk, leaving up Island / Me: (resolves), EOT Deceiver, tapping Island

Me: Splinter Twin.

It’s not that Twin “always has it” … But it’s pretty obvious that with my Preordains, six-eight Jaces, and Oracles, I am going to have SOMETHING
good. The problem here is that if you mess up an exchange on turns or mana, you don’t just fall behind; it doesn’t become a fight over Hawks and
Swords, or a short-term Precursor Golem or Inferno Titan advantage… You either flat-out lose or Twin resolves a threat that will force you to tap
four or more mana on your next turn. Now you’re really going to lose.

So winning the flip is important because if you don’t, very likely your best-case scenario is to be on the draw in game three (miserable, and likely

However being on the play is awesome.

At least five times in the Swiss, my opponent played a second-turn Stoneforge Mystic, and I had Had HAD to immediately Into the Roil. One of those
games, I had already been Duressed.

You have no choice from the Twin side, but it feels awful.

I won all five games, BTW. But it still sucked at the time.

5. Same as it ever was: It’s all about the mana.

The core misunderstanding is that playing against Twin is about cards. It’s not. It’s about mana and Mana Leak. That is, you have to hit your land
drops, or the game is just a cat playing with its food.

You can’t randomly tap for Jace on turn 4. You’re lucky if all that happens is you lose a counterspell war, and they untapped with Jace in play. You
need to seize your opening on turn 2 or 3 and try to ride it.

I don’t mean to exaggerate here. The problem with U/R Twin is that it is a deck with all the advantages of the best control decks—lots of card
drawing, advantageous mana, powerful finishers, efficient counterspells, strategic defensive deck speed—but if you ever blink, the deck can just
kill you outright.

Mana Leak is important because it is the only maindeck card many decks have that can actually interact with the creature half of the combo. Any time a
Leak goes to a Jace or even to win a counter war, that is one Leak down. They usually only have three!

Eventually you are in a spot where your Inferno Titan or Consecrated Sphinx WILL resolve, and then the opponent will be forced to tap significantly
just to avoid the blowout there.

Think about this one:

Your opponent has six in play, including a Tectonic Edge. At the end of your turn, he innocuously asks, “Deceiver Exarch”?

Are you really going to make the argument that playing against this archetype is about Inquisition of Kozilek, Jace advantage, or even Spellskite as a
“get out of jail free” spell?

How you approach turn 6 here is going to determine the outcome of the game.

One last thing, RE: the pseudo-mirror. One thing we identified as an advantage, even on the draw, is that when Grixis Twin has the nuts draw on SPELLS,
that doesn’t necessarily mean they win turn 4. Often their fourth land is Blackcleave Cliffs, meaning you aren’t dead; and in any case, it isn’t hard
to disrupt their mana with Tectonic Edges. Keeping them off of RR is a key to the kingdom.

Same on Darkblade. I won a match where my opponent resolved Jace, the Mind Sculptor; I bounced it with Into the Roil, untapped, and shredded both of
his blue sources. He never had sufficient blue to Jace again, let alone win a counterspell fight.

I am obviously enthusiastic about this deck and this victory, but I don’t want to make it out like I think it is the be all and end all. I am sure it
can be improved. But what my deck has that gives it an edge over the other available good decks, that undoes the supposed advantages of the decks that
are supposed to beat this KIND of deck, is an inextricable edge on lands. They all come into play untapped, they don’t give the opponent the
opportunity to Edge; whereas our numerosity and consistency allow us to Edge with impunity.

4. Same as it ever was: All War Is Based on Deception.

Long story short, you have the initiative because the opponent can’t really play spells on his own turn after a certain point. That, and the ability to
start fights on end step, gives you a wide berth for drama and overacting.

Nothing is what it seems.

Is this game really going to be about Exarch? Does Jace really matter here? How can I generate an incremental advantage? How about an inevitable board

What are my opponent’s routes to interaction? What can I make him THINK is important?

On Saturday, I played to create a sense of panic. I would use Tectonic Edge when my opponent hit four lands (if I had bonus in grip), just to see if I
could make him blink. I would run combo pieces into permission… On his upkeep (after all I had more card drawing and could win with sixes). I was
Obi-Wan putting up his saber on the bridge of the Death Star, the mislaid Valyrian dagger of Petyr Baelish, and the Heartbreak Kid kicking Janetty
through the Barber Shop window. At the very least I was holding two Mountains with a line of Islands in play, milking mana and waiting to grow up to be
Ben, Littlefinger, or Shawn.

You? You’re panicked; tapping four.

Or at least that’s how I imagined it :)

3. I did everything right.

Please don’t read this as “I played perfectly” or “my deck was flawless” or anything (though I did play much better than usual, and I brought what is
obviously a very good deck). Basically I addressed the one nagging hole in my game that has been plaguing me as I have gotten older, being sharp late
in the tournament.

I have written about this before, here: the Physical Reality of Magical Spells; and allowed it to
affect my deck choices.

Last time I really wanted to crush a local tournament was the StarCityGames.com Open in Edison, NJ. I went out to the Cavs / Knicks the night before,
stayed out all night at BonChon Chicken. You may recall that our friend PSulli bailed at the last minute (filled in by AJ Sacher), and PSulli went on
to win the Open (though AJ actually also made Top 8).

I had a deck I thought I could dominate Sunday with, but I finished a disappointing X-3-1 when I had the actual draws necessary for X-2. I just left
two wins on the table on account of concentration loss.

This time I went to bed early. I went to bed at actual 9:30 pm, and it was glorious. I actually woke up before my kids! If you don’t realize how
amazing that is, you obviously don’t have a four-year-old and a seven-year-old (they did a pretty good job of illustrating how little ones wake
you up in Date Night, actually).

I bought a four-pack of Red Bulls and kept hydrated all day. I brought some snacks and had a raw cashew bar going into the Top 4.

I am going to try to run it this way, each and every time, if I can… And you should too!

2. AGAG White Weenie monkey-tilt?!?

My one loss was to a White Weenie / Soul Sisters deck. Paul lost to the same player / same deck the second day.

Basically he hit double Sutured Priest all three games and it was dismal. It’s not like his deck has Preordain to dig into a second Sutured
Priest or anything. One Sutured Priest, and I think I could have handled it, Spellskite-style. However the problem was multiple Priests plus
Ajani’s Pridemage clocking for 999 damage.

This kind of White Weenie deck can also obtain infinite life with a Soul Warden of some kind, Leonin Relic-Warder, and Phyrexian Metamorph. With Leonin
Relic-Warder in play, you can run out Phyrexian Metamorph, gain a life, copy the Leonin Relic-Warder (which removes the Phyrexian Metamorph, which is
still an artifact), triggering its return to play, giving you the opportunity to gain a life and copy the Relic-Warder again.

I actually won one of the games he gained an arbitrary amount of life. I could have gone bigger infinite than he had, but I just got Inferno Titan +
Basilisk Collar out (good for killing even 999-sized Ajani Pridemates), and he conceded to the prospect of being decked.

I had Pyroclasm; he had Brave the Elements. I had the combo; he had Act of Aggression (though I managed to get that one, anyway).

Did I mention “monkey-tilt”?

1. The “Age of Caw-Blade” is over.

This is going to seem ironic a bit later given that I am working on a kind of love letter to Caw-Blade… Because (and most of you have probably heard
this before from me), I think Caw-Blade is the greatest Standard deck of all time.

That said, its age is now over.

Caw-Blade is no longer the best strategy in the format, let alone the runaway best.

I don’t mean this to be any disrespect to Caw-Blade (as I just said, I think Caw-Blade is the best ever); but the divide between the two
strategies is wide. Caw-Blade has lots of ways to generate advantages. Exarch Twin kills you outright. Caw-Blade attacks you with Sword of Feast and
Famine on the fourth turn. Exarch Twin kills you that turn. Both decks are good; the main difference is that one makes it hard to come back, the other
makes it impossible.

My guess?

It will take a while for the rest of the format to catch up.

Just remember you heard it here, first!