I played U/G/W Blink (“Gabe’s deck”) in two Meatgrinders last Thursday. I was signing up for the first one when I got a call from Mark Herberholz. “Whether we play Teachings or Gabe’s deck depends on if there is any Dredge and Project X,” said Heezy. “The U/G/W deck can’t actually beat either of those.”
Five minutes later they were announcing the byes for the first round; I didn’t get one. You can probably see where this is going. Project X. My bane. Damn it. I got Game 1 thanks to my good friend Bob. Dark Confidant is one of my favorite cards. Every time it looks like I can’t win, Bob does me a solid, as he has done for the past ten years, by flipping 10+ damage onto the other side of the table. I didn’t get there the next two games, despite some medium-poor play by my opponent. I wasn’t really playing the tightest, either, so I don’t know that I can complain (over much). Thus I did not get out of the bye round and ended up signing up for the third Grinder.
I got pretty deep in that Grinder and lost… to… nothing. Really, just blanks. We got deck checked and the deck check got me. No lands. Mulligan into Temple Garden, Wall of Roots, two Edge of Autumn, two Remand on the draw. I died to two Troll Ascetics and one unenhanced Scryb Ranger – literally all non-cards – with two Wall of Roots in grip, having never played a second land. In the deciding game, I died to a Serra Avenger (Fettered the others) and two Scryb Rangers. This game was just a comedy of… nothing. He sent any number of worthless ground creatures such as Loxodon Hierarch and Ohran Viper at me, and all that happened was that I kept eating the guys, untapping my Hierarch, and gaining four with Blink. Yet, I sort of saw the writing on the wall, even as I was going to 30 and more life in the early turns.
I might have jumped the gun a little with Riftwing Cloudskate plus Momentary Blink to return all his lands to grip. I hadn’t drawn Red Akroma yet, but I had a third Blink in hand that I vowed not to burn. Anyway, midgame I finally drew Akroma and played her face down, but didn’t have Blinks in my graveyard any more. Miracle of miracles, he has sided out his best card – Glare of Subdual – for Sunlance against my U/G/WHITE deck with Protection from White guys, and pointed at my morph. Obviously I flipped Akroma from hand, but that’s not the point. He probably would have just Avenger’d me if I had a Blink threatening, meaning I could eat it, but instead he didn’t expose his 3/3. Maybe I made a bad attack there, back, but I still had the back-side of the Blink and he had no interest in attacking on the ground despite having multiple 4/4s and a Spectral Force. I still don’t know how I lost this one. Just absolutely nothing. One 3/3 and two 1/1s did 50. Miserable.
Anyway, here is my Blink deck. It is basically the same as everybody else’s Blink deck, but with better lands and the obvious switch to include the fourth Blink main, though according to Ben Peebles-Mundy’s article this week, my sideboard was “the real innovation” of the deck (according to Sadin, who played Gerry in the last round, Gabe saw me playing in the Grinders, and that’s where they got the Red Akromas); never-ending #1 Apprentice Josh [Ravitz] actually thought of the Akromas while we were going bonkers trying to figure out how to beat the Blink deck last week. Paul and Sadin obviously played the Akroma package in the main event, but we ended up cutting Tormod’s Crypt because it doesn’t really do anything. Project X can just go look for a Putrefy.
- 2 Mystic Snake
- 4 Wall of Roots
- 4 Loxodon Hierarch
- 4 Riftwing Cloudskate
- 3 Aeon Chronicler
- 4 Tarmogoyf
- 3 Venser, Shaper Savant
For the record, I don’t think Blink is very good, though I will concede that it was well positioned at least going into Nationals. Certainly it took us a long time to figure out how to beat it. Paul ended up playing Blink because it was the girl what brung him (he ended up winning Grinder #1 in overtime), but Steve was going to play his awesome Gruul deck with some updates. He put the deck on top of Matt Boccio’s car, and they drove off forgetting it was there. My (cursed) Blink deck from two failed Grinders was the only stack Steve had in time for the tournament. He was 9-1 with a 7-0 in Limited, but cursed Blink couldn’t give him the 2-2 he needed for Top 8.
Every year, U.S. Nationals comes in with a metagame ripple right before the tournament. If you ride the ripple correctly, you make Top 8, like when Kibler had a G/W that beat both known quantity Affinity and the Fujita G/R deck, Josh’s Kuroda-style beating known quantity Tooth and Nail and new deck White Weenie coming out of English Nationals, or Cheon having the Solar Flare to beat Solar Flare. This year the ripple deck was Blink… I know it threw us off the last week (see Patrick’s article this week to see one of my reactions, tragic as it was). I think that one of the decks we had in arsenal (see the second Standard section at the bottom) would have ended up a better gap choice; I just wish I had the brains or balls to have made the right decisions, or at least the right recommendations.
Saturday I played in a Block PTQ. I went 6-2 with – and you know me, I wouldn’t typically say this about a deck I didn’t design so it’s got to be true – BY FAR THE BEST DECK. It’s not even close. After playing this deck I think that playing any other deck is just sub-par. You might as well show up with Sealed Deck. Every other deck is weak by comparison as far as I can tell, not because of any missing merits, but simply because they aren’t this deck, and this deck now has the capabilities to do, if not everything, everything you would actually want or need to do.
I ran basically Kenji’s deck with an awesome sideboard built by Osyp and I by way of Julian (now known as Anatoly Dolohov):
- 2 Willbender
- 4 Brine Elemental
- 4 Riftwing Cloudskate
- 3 Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir
- 4 Vesuvan Shapeshifter
- 3 Venser, Shaper Savant
The unique element is obviously the 13-15 swap you make against any Green deck, specifically G/W Aggro, which is historically straight Blue Pickles’s worst matchup. You basically transform into B/U (G/W’s worst matchup), but with a more consistent Pickles endgame. Aggressive decks are so easy to beat with this sideboard… I easily got past three Serra Avengers in one game without managing to draw Urborg.
My losses are so idiotic it is embarrassing to describe them. They are definitely not the deck’s fault. The first one was Game 3 versus U/G. He had four Green and Blue lands I had four lands including a Desert; the only action to this point was my Desert eating one of his Looters. He played end of turn Venser. At this point I have seven, including both Venser and Cancel. So obviously saying “Okay” is the worst possible play when I can either Cancel or counter-Venser, so that‘s the one I make. At the point that Venser comes into play targeting my Tolaria West, I once again had the option of doing, you know, something, such as playing my Venser to tempo-trade… But instead I didn’t. I don’t know what was going on with my brain during the 30 or so seconds of this exchange. Mayhap I had been hypnotized. It’s not like I haven’t been playing with Venser for months. I just forgot there would be any downside to letting his King Cheetah stick. The really bad thing about this matchup was that I tried so hard to side out all my Ancestral Visions and Riftwing Cloudskates after he stole Game 1 with a Riftsweeper, but he drew three Delays to go with his two Riftsweepers in Game 3 so correct play didn’t matter (though that’s no excuse for basically throwing away the game on that Venser turn).
The other loss was really horrendous as it was win-and-in and based on a massive series of illegal plays. I actually know all the rules involved, yet all the following things happened. What are you going to do?
He swings with Tarmogoyf.
I block with morph and make Tarmogoyf with Vesuvan.
I ask for damage. He agrees. I Desert. He plays Temporal Isolation. Note that this doesn’t actually do anything at this point and his Tarmogoyf is dead. Keep in mind I know the rules; I Cancel. He has another Temporal Isolation. I shrug and bury my Vesuvan.
I untap with eight and play face down Brine Elemental. At this point an onlooker asks why my Vesuvan is dead. The opponent leads me to believe that he knew it was not supposed to be dead, but game state is both of our jobs. Maybe I was just tired? Obviously I have the resources for the Pickles lock, but I had to block and I didn’t press the point of walking back to the beginning of the turn so I could play correctly. I dunno. It’s just unacceptable on every level.
Believe me, it is not the deck’s fault. So embarrassing. I don’t even know what to call these mistakes… They were just brain farts, not even full-fledged brain farts. The depressing thing is that I don’t know that you can even erase these kinds of mistakes from your profile. If your strategy is bad or if you don’t realize there is only one right play on every stack, at least you can get better strategy or you can grow up a little and leave this fantasy land conception of Magic behind, but when you lose to these really inexplicable brain farts… I guess brain drugs? When I played in Charleston and won States last year I was definitely not making these mistakes. I got some packs, I guess. Shrug.
I think that if you are reading this article and you buy my line that Pickles is the best strategy, which it is because it smashes Teachings and with the Osyp sideboard gives you exactly the tools you need to beat creatures, your first strategic conclusion has to be winning the mirror. I think that the best way to go about this is to add Spell Burst. I would replace the 1 + 2 Snapbacks with Spell Burst, because I never really cast a lot of Snapbacks; I think you want the fourth Spell Burst too… Without any testing, my impulse is to cut one Serrated Arrows; you have so much hate for aggression as it is.
I suppose you probably want to know how to side. Typically against beatdown I bring in the 13 non-Willbenders. I take out the Suspends, Delays, and three Islands. Delay is so bad against creatures. Whenever I lose a Game 1 to beats, it’s because I Delayed something and it just kills me later. I always bring in the Willbenders against any kind of Blue. Goodbye Snapback! The other card varies match to match, but I was typically removing a Brine Elemental (they usually have one for you).
I posted my Angel Angel deck last week. Osyp played a very similar deck in the Standard portion of U.S. Nationals, and opened up 3-0. Osyp’s deck is exactly This Girl swapping two Shivan Reefs for two Steam Vents, Remands for Serra Avengers, and two incremental Signets for one Demonfire and the Confiscate. I eventually came around to going back to Court Hussars over Careful Considerations because of the rise of Rakdos in the format (they also block Blink dorks); Careful Consideration is needed less without main deck Detritivore (you don’t need the incremental back card dump against aggressive decks).
I really believe that this is the best version of the deck for Standard, and that it is the correct gap deck for the metagame as it came out of U.S. and Great Britain Nationals. It is not THE MOST POWERFUL AND BROKEN DECK OF ALL TIME or anything, but Demonfire and Detritivore are just perfect threats for the environment, and we should all be embarrassed by the paucity of Wrath of Gods at the top – and certainly final – tables. The structure of the Angel Angel deck is already perfect to fight the new Red Decks, just like it was beating their predecessors. Firemane Angel is almost too good against every kind of deck. I don’t know why people stopped playing this awesome card. Remand is really mediocre in this strategy; Osyp convinced me to play it purely due to Sadin’s deck. I was doing a teeny tiny bit better than break even against Sadin’s deck in testing, but that was with take-backs, and Remand is just the best anti-Greater Gargadon card you can play main deck; I wouldn’t play Remand in this deck for any other reason. Despite being maybe the best card in the format, Remand doesn’t generate any tempo in this deck except against opponents like Jacobs Green, who can get caught with three and four mana spells without enough mana development.
This version differs from Osyp’s main via a couple of small, but key, improvements:
-3 Boros Signet, -1 Izzet Signet; +4 Azorius Signet
-1 Izzet Boilerworks; +1 Boros Garrison
The mana change is fairly subtle. There are some minor draws (and one came up for Osyp, costing him a match) where the deck hits a second turn Signet but does not draw Blue. I ran some commentary last year and also worked on the original This Girl manabase that Osyp modeled his mana after, but the Blue is really important so that you can hit third turn card drawing (or in Osyp’s case, he couldn’t play his two Lightning Angel). Moreover, Azorius Signet is the best card you can draw against Magus of the Moon… You have the Red for Lightning Helix automatically, and Azorius Signet gives you the White you need to complete the cost.
Obviously almost every Red card comes with White, so you want Boros mana. If you can’t get it from Signets that are no longer there, the obvious next step is to max out of the relevant Karoo.
There is one flaw in this deck, and it is something that Burger King (Brian Kowal, originator of This Girl) and I discussed prior to Nationals… No fourth Demonfire. Osyp and I modified U/R/W in exactly the same way and came to basically the same wrong conclusion of playing three Demonfires. BK suggests cutting Remands altogether, playing the fourth Demonfire and three some of some other card, or a mix of cards, just not Remand. I think I still like do-nothing Remand; many of the U/R/W Blink decks only play five Signets… That makes some amount of sense, but I think Signets are just too awesome in this deck, so I wouldn’t make that change.
I am not sure about the sideboard, only that I am certain there would be four Detritivores and 2-4 copies of Flash Freeze. I think that you can largely cut Condemn for Flash Freeze (they do the same thing against Tarmogoyf and Greater Gargadon, basically). Sadin thought up Magus of the Tabernacle before Nationals, but I eventually dismissed it; it turned out to be medium awesome for Osyp and the MSS kids. I thought Aura of Silence would be essential as part of the Detritivore package against Signet / Shock lands decks, but no one liked it… It’s even possible we could de-volve back to Repeal, which is good against aggressive decks, too. The one card that Osyp and I eventually fought over is Boom / Bust. Osyp didn’t have any, I had four main over Remand at the time. Somehow my sideboard (to Dolohov for the MSS) had none, and Osyp acquired three. They were awesome for him, and he played them to get an advantage alongside Detritivore in exactly the manner that I had originally suggested. What a mess! Maybe it’s one of those things like Zvi says, where if you get the big thing right (in this case going to a particular gap deck) then the details don’t matter over much. No one played Incinerate but I like that card in the sideboard quite a bit. Think of it as Volcanic Hammer, and everything will start to make sense.
I hope you enjoyed this article and these decks. May you remember to pay for Pacts, and not make minor stupid and loose mistakes. You are probably losing to mistakes that you don’t even realize you are making! Argh! It’s so frustrating, isn’t it? Take care!