Flores Friday – What I Would Play This Weekend

Mike Flores changes the equation with his U/B Control deck designed with a single purpose in mind: kill all the things! Try it this weekend at the Invitational.

I was super duper excited to play in the Star City Invitational tomorrow for one reason: Gerry Thompson Infect deck.

I am pretty shocked that it hasn’t become uber-popular in Legacy… Gerry’s deck is basically everything that I would ever want to play in a deck. It can kill multiple different ways on turn two, backs up its spit with tons and tons of free counterspells… and even has a backup combo that is basically as powerful as most decks’ Plan A’s.

This deck is so unreal exciting!

But, alas, I decided to be a responsible adult and put some work into a fairly important project this weekend instead (more on that later / soon).

Well, that would be half my decks.

The other half probably looks familiar, but isn’t, really.

Many people think it is “just” a B/U Control deck, but it is actually quite different… kind of a child of the work of Caleb Durward, Andrew Cuneo, and Patrick Chapin, drawing from different elements of different B/U, Grixis, and even U/W decks that they have played in the last couple of months.

Okay, big question: What’s different?

The main thing is that this deck focuses on removal rather than permission and big threats. I came to the conclusion, playing against all different decks for the past several weeks, that everyone wins—or tries to win—with creatures.

Whether their creatures are little 1/1 guys for one mana or 6/6 guys for six mana, they are all creatures. Even against Wolf Run decks, I felt like Mana Leak was “whatever.” Even really good players play around it (Larry Swasey told me it didn’t matter that I didn’t have it; he was respecting it). This concept came into stark relief the first time I played against a Heartless Summoning deck [with a more conventional B/U deck].

Game One was a hard-fought battle, but his Heartless Summoning mana advantage eventually won out. Freebie Solemn Simulacrums were the least of my worries when he was able to play Fact or Fiction Sphinx (Sphinx of Uthuun) and Demonic Tutor Demon (Rune-Scarred Demon).

I thought about it for a while and realized that Mana Leak—on the play at least—might be good for stopping Heartless Summoning itself, but once that enchantment was down (and I am B/U remember, not particularly good at dealing with enchantments), Mana Leak was dead.

So instead I just brought in every kind of Black Sun’s Zenith and Doom Blade variant in my sideboard.

It worked!

Between Liliana, Go for the Throat, and of course Dissipate, I was able to point-remove, counterspell, or Trish every threat in his deck. He had other “stuff,” but my Snapcaster Mages allowed me to keep pace with what seemed to be bigger threats.

So then I made the leap… If Mana Leak is getting cut in a matchup where Mana Leak should probably shine, should I be Leaking at all?

Crazy, right?

Now remember, this isn’t like when Jon Medina didn’t play Mana Leak in his Solar Flare deck. I have four copies of Dissipate (an actual hard counter and contextually relevant in a world of flashback cards). But, again, I am playing like Bobby Fisher late in his World Championship run… a stifling, resource-denying plan that cuts off the opponent at the pass.

Or, it’s like Optimus Prime said upon invading Chicago in Dark of the Moon: “We will kill them all.”

Now speaking of killing them all, there is a gigantic question mark around a particular creature in this metagame: Primeval Titan. The sometimes-best-creature-in-Standard is awfully good right now, and when the opponent is trying to play an attrition game, the core issue is that if you just kill a Primeval Titan instead of Dissipating it, you can end up losing to Inkmoth Nexus.

Enter Curse of Death’s Hold.

This is a card that answers so many different cards… but somehow does this insane job of doing so. Problem cards. The kinds of cards that allow Wolf Run a better-than-control endgame (typically) or give Weenies staying power against sweep. Inkmoth Nexus. Moorland Haunt. Whole decks, honestly.

…There isn’t much that makes me happier than killing a Birds of Paradise and a Viridian Emissary (or three) with an Inkmoth Nexus in play, right before the opponent is about to play Primeval Titan.

Sure, he is going to play the Titan still, but you are going to kill it, and the Curse is going to keep the ensuing Inkmoths off your back.

The main problem lots of control decks have had this format is Moorland HauntCurse of Death’s Hold holds the Haunt down. The screwball, of course, is Honor of the Pure. That is why there is the one Ratchet Bomb in the main and the other in the side. I originally started with lots more copies of Black Sun’s Zenith, but Black Sun’s Zenith, Life’s Finale, and Ratchet Bomb all kind of fill similar roles. Obviously Life’s Finale is better against bigger threats; Black Sun’s Zenith lets you re-buy over and over; and Ratchet Bomb plays nicely with Buried RuinRatchet Bomb’s ability to deal with things like Oblivion Ring, Honor of the Pure, and so on gives it an important measure of flexibility for a deck that is perfectly willing to play for forty turns… especially when you can buy time with all the one-for-ones.

Now the assumption that the opponent is going to win with creatures does not hold true 100% of the time. While we have no Jace, the Mind Sculptor in this format, a deck with only four Dissipates for permission can potentially fall prey to planeswalker-based attacks (especially when the opponent is also playing permission).

That is actually the reason I chose to play Liliana of the Veil. I like Liliana… okay. But at three, Druidic Satchel is actually generally more devastating. The other night I had a game against the aforementioned Larry Swasey where I had Liliana going and Karn in play right next to her, but Larry was trying to make a go of it with Moorland Haunt. But Druidic Satchel? Insta-pack :)

That said, Liliana is one of the most efficient answers to Liliana, and when you don’t play Mana Leak, the opponent is quite likely to be able to resolve his Liliana; hence, Liliana over Druidic Satchel main. To be fair, Liliana and Druidic Satchel often play together; to be even more fair, Druidic Satchel comes in against both beatdown and control.

The other main planeswalker threat is Koth of the Hammer. That man is bad mojo. Luckily, Red Deck players seem to have moved onto (back to?) Hero of Oxid Ridge! Let’s all just go with that Sorin’s Thirst target, shall we? You really only have Dissipate and Karn as answers to Koth, so you have to leave in at least two Dissipates and one Karn if you don’t know what the opponent is going to sideboard.

Speaking of Karn, he is the most likely way for this deck to win.

I mean I only had my first Karn reboot tonight (after having played Karn dozens of times). My opponent had never seen a game restarted with Karn, so we had a go of it. This was my opening turn:

It turns out Karn is awesome to have on turn one! (Elspeth next to him is no slouch, either). You can basically keep your opponent mana-screwed while you develop your board. So it looks like this:

Go go, good sports!

I trust you understand how B/U Control decks in general function, even when they have been given a little bit of a different focus (i.e. killing creatures over general control). Here is a short summary of weirdo choices and one-ofs:

2 Doom Blade, 2 Go for the Throat, 1 Victim of Night

I actually prefer Victim of Night the best, but it is BB, so there is only the one. Doom Blade performs the least impressively, I think… but then again these cards all pretty much do the same thing.

Last night I was playing against @smi77y, and he had a Phyrexian Crusader in play, as well as an Inkmoth Nexus.

Smitty thought for a moment and played Lashwrithe, equipping the Crusader with it. He elected not to activate and attack with the Nexus, which was sad, as I had both Go for the Throat and Doom Blade in hand. Oh well! I killed the Crusader only, then did something on my own turn (made a Liliana I think).

On his turn the reason he did not activate the Nexus became apparent. He needed six mana to crush me in a one-turn kill with Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon, cloaked in that Lashwrithe.

He did.

1 Black Sun’s Zenith, 2 Curse of Death’s Hold, 1 Life’s Finale, 1 Ratchet Bomb

(+Sorin’s Thirst and the singletons)

Again, the deck started out with three Black Sun’s Zeniths, but diversification of these kinds of answers was ultimately fruitful. Enough decks get wrecked by Curse of Death’s Hold that you can afford to try some main. Remember, it stops the special lands. Life’s Finale I borrowed from last weekend’s Open Top 8. It just seems like a great card to play for an attrition deck. Now I no longer have to deal with these particular threats!

One way that critics look at, say, a Ramp v. Control is to line up all the big threats one end and all the potential answers on the other end. Remember how impressive it was to watch Christian Valenti—even if he didn’t win—against Brian Sondag, back at that first dance? Valenti had to play with incredible patience (plus get a little bit lucky) to line up all his Doom Blades and Snapcaster Mages to answer all the Inkmoths after the worst had happened (that is, Primeval Titan started to rumble).

Curse of Death’s Hold contains many threats at once. You aren’t going to have any of these random “I Doom Blade your Viridian Emissary” misplays if you are playing for a Curse of Death’s Hold… just not going to happen unless you are trying to get out from under a mana screw or something (in which case it might be right).

Life’s Finale also changes the math. When you Wrath a [whatever] and also get rid of ~3 Primeval Titans / Thruns / maybe an Inferno Titan or Wurmcoil Engine, that is just a little less work your deck and your Snapcaster Mages have to do.

If there is one reason I would advocate this version over any other decks for tomorrow, it is this: This is a B/U deck that performs against Wolf Run. It’s like Prime says: “We will kill them all.”

Sorin’s Thirst is also a card that changes the math. Particularly effective against Delver of Secrets, fast enough to stifle a Stromkirk Noble, Sorin’s Thirst really makes the move to Hero of Oxid Ridge (from Koth of the Hammer) look good for the good guys.

2 Blue Sun’s Zenith, 1 Ratchet Bomb, 2 Buried Ruin

(+ Elixir of Immortality and Ratchet Bomb)

These are innovations I ported to B/U from Cuneo’s U/W. In a sense they represent the two sides of Nephalia Drownyard (ostensibly one of the main ways the deck can win). I have been in position a couple of times to deck the opponent with Blue Sun’s Zenith (but they just conceded first)… Obviously you Blue Sun’s Zenith yourself quite a bit more. Zenith is very powerful, by the by. We have had the opportunity to play it for quite a while, but it is only now that this Zenith is seeing a lot of adoption. Probably ten years from now we will see Blue Sun’s Zenith as just a great card that everyone would play given the opportunity (like Brainstorm); hopefully we won’t forget Andrew [again].

Buried Ruin + the one Ratchet Bomb has been good to me. For instance the other night I got my Bomb to two against double Honor of the Pure when my opponent—bereft of creatures to pump—played Oblivion Ring to kayo my, I dunno, Liliana or Satchel or other awesome permanent. I ramped to three, killed the Ring, re-bought the Bomb, and killed the double Honors later.

Elixir of Immortality is like Druidic Satchel. It can come in both against fast beatdown and stifling control, but for different reasons. It’s just a random card that undoes some damage against beatdown but can also re-buy a bunch of Sorin’s Thirsts (which is awesome)… Or against control you just use it to out-last them. Or likely these days they have their own Elixir and you need it to deuce, even given the inequality of Nephalia Drownyard. Against control, you want your Satchels for their card advantage, but life for beatdown. Weird.

2 Nihil Spellbomb

(+2 Nihil Spellbomb)

I borrowed this (and much of the general philosophy of the deck) from Caleb in Nashville. Basically, I was testing B/U a lot, and sometimes I would lose to Solar Flare. This was disconcerting because 1) I don’t like Solar Flare, and 2) it didn’t make sense to me. I had so much more “stuff suppression” than they had “relevant stuff.”

Games would go long, and I would ultimately lose to—wait for it—damage.

It didn’t take very many Sun Titan-into-Phantasmal Image scenarios to convince me I had to re-calibrate a little bit. I was still winning most of the time, but I didn’t really like the idea of losing—and losing to damage at that—ever, if we were going to play a ~30-turn game.

Really the issue would be 1) they had Liliana early, or 2) they naturally drew an Unburial Rites. Obviously the first could feed the second… You draw a Liliana, which then sets up your Unburial Rites, etc.

The first got me to play Liliana main and forced me to move Druidic Satchel (because there was nothing else to move). The latter got me to play some maindeck Nihil Spellbombs. After boards, I go to all four Spellbombs!

Cool play of the week:

My opponent plays a turn-two Think Twice after I have played a turn-one Nihil Spellbomb. He has four in play, and it is my fourth turn. Main phase I use the Spellbomb. He tanks. For a while, ultimately electing to re-buy the Think Twice. Of course I didn’t actually care if I got the Think Twice. I didn’t have a Dissipate anyway. Nihil Spellbomb draws me into Dissipate. Great. Stay on target.

And that’s exactly what happened.

I stayed on target and used his tapped lands to resolve Druidic Satchel.

I gambled he either wouldn’t have five the next turn or wouldn’t have a big walker to punish me.

He had both.

But I resolved my Druidic Satchel!

That resulted in the above screen shots, by the way. He had Elspeth, and I considered conceding right there. However I played it out for several turns, eventually resolving Ratchet Bomb to stay alive at four against an army of tokens, attack Elspeth down with a lowly Snapcaster Mage, and get back into it with Karn.

You, too, can use a Nihil Spellbomb as a Mana Short!

Screw-up of the week:

Now just because you have the tools to, you know, destroy all monsters doesn’t mean you will actually end up doing so in an efficient way.

My B/U is actually pretty good against other B/U decks despite not having Mana Leak because, again, most everyone is trying to kill most everyone else with dudes, and I have more than enough cards to suppress dudes, and if I ever get off a Life’s Finale, that’s just espectaculo (as they say in the trade). All my Snapcaster Mages are focused on just one thing: Gojira-gunning, etc. Creature elimination.

Sure, it might come down to Nephalia Drownyards, but I have a goodly number of those and more virtual lands than most B/U due to my additional trips at Spellbomb; I can even randomly gain additional advantage by nuking their flashbacks.

But, again, gotta execute.

Here is an example of when I didn’t…

Game is long, and I have 9-10 lands in play, tons of cards in grip. Oddly, two of them are Karn; none of them are spot removal despite this being a Game One. And (less surprisingly) I have no counterspell. I have resolved a Blue Sun’s Zenith recently (a card I doubt the other guy has) so I have a reasonable expectation of his not having a counterspell either.

He has been beating me down with a Snapcaster Mage, but I am not realistically going to lose to it. My grip:

He only has a couple of cards and realizes he has to get something going, so he plays a Wurmcoil Engine.

Now depending on what he played here I have different scripts running. If it is Grave Titan, I am going to try to stick Life’s Finale. If it is Consecrated Sphinx, I am going to respond with a big Blue Sun’s Zenith to minimize his missing ability. Wurmcoil Engine is kind of annoying, as it doesn’t fit into any easy paradigm, but… it is also sucky. Like control decks don’t really lose to Wurmcoil Engine.

I decide to respond with flashback on a Forbidden Alchemy to find either Dissipate, a point removal spell, or a Snapcaster Mage. I turn up… like nothing. Obviously something, but the best card to take is like an extra Liliana or a Nephalia Drownyard or something. Something good in-matchup but not really great in this situation.


New plan.

I am going to play Liliana of the Veil and use her as a Cruel Edict. He will sacrifice the Wurmcoil Engine to “gain card advantage,” and then I am going to Life’s Finale him into next week. The plan is to leave him just Snapcaster Mages and then lock those out with Curse of Death’s Hold and eventually win with Karn.


Lilly sticks.

Minus Liliana.

Oh my God, what am I doing?

Obviously he sacrifices the Snapcaster Mage.

I don’t even remember what happened next. I don’t remember what I played next, but I think I played the Life’s Finale anyway (maybe?). Or got Karn countered, or I don’t even remember.

Obviously if I am stuck in that spot and adamant about my threat suppression strategy, I should try to play Curse of Death’s Hold first to kill Snapcaster Mage, then Edict with Liliana with the expectation that she will not live the next turn. I have two copies of motherloving Karn in my hand!

Stuff happened.

I eventually leave him with just two Snapcasters in deck. Unfortunately he already had a Consecrated Sphinx and beat me with that. I think he drew a Dissipate off the Sphinx and got my Karn with it, and then I was on the wrong end and all that.

This whole line was obviously an abomination. Just writing about it now is making me peel back layers and layers of “what could have been” … and it’s not like this match meant anything, right? I could have just played Karn with three open and removed his Wurmcoil Engine… so much stuff.

Two things to take away from this abominable sequence:

  • It’s the end of 2011, and cool things are still dangerous. Sober and far away, I can see so many better lines and sequences to run with that overwhelmingly powerful hand. My opponent only had like four cards (but apparently they were good). The whole reason I won was that I had this spark of “Wouldn’t it be cool if I got him to sacrifice his Wurmcoil Engine so I could sweep everything else? Wouldn’t that be perfect? Wouldn’t that be precious?” Uh, sure. That would have in fact felt pretty cool. However, you can see that it ended up in tragedy.
  • Point being, win or lose, with this deck, you usually can kill all their guys. But you still have to execute (in your efforts to, you know, execute all their men).

At the end of the day, most of us—certainly most players qualified to play in the Invitational—know most of the decks and most of the available cards. Many players have very set ideas about what is good in this format, and we know the face of the enemy. In such a format, it is difficult for any strategist to deliver an edge working entirely within the lines of the box. I mean even in this article and this deck, there are no really unusual cards, are there?

However in order to deliver any kind of edge, we need to do something different, or at least differently… which is why I am advocating focusing on killing all opposing threats and eventually grinding out with cards that change the math as to how many threats you actually have to kill, by removing them from the equation (Karn and Nephalia Drownyard are both good at this).

Or, that’s what I’d play, anyway.

Good luck tomorrow!