It was two days before Regionals, and I still wasn’t sure what to play. I had been testing Chapin’s 5CB deck and liked how it felt, although I was thinking about removing the Cryptic Commands (sacrilege!), and I was also talking with Adam Prosak about his merfolk deck. Then I got this text from Max McCall: “Check your Facebook. Bill Stark has a Fog deck he claims is insane.”
Two hours of well spent time procrastinating on homework later, and I knew I had my deck for Regionals.
The Fog deck takes advantage of a hole in the format. Very few artifact removal spells are being played right now, and the two most popular ones are Maelstrom Pulse and Qasali Pridemage — cards played by decks you have great matchups against anyway. For those who haven’t seen the deck, you just Fog every turn (Cryptic Command acts as a Fog most of the time, also), drawing cards with Howling Mine and Font of Mythos in the process, keeping your hand stocked with Fogs. You have some permission to control the game with, Runed Halo to ensure you don’t die to noncombat damage or get Cruel Ultimatumed/Mistbind Cliqued, and Jace to clean up the game.
After two days of testing, here’s the list I arrived at for Regionals:
Let me explain a few nonobvious card choices. First up, the manabase. Your first instinct may be to add more Mystic Gates. In reality I actually didn’t want to play them at all, but your sideboard requires you to have WW early. The problem with nonbasic lands is that your opponent will see all of their Anathemancers in any given match, and if they play plus unearth all of them, having a single nonbasic land in play can turn into eight points of damage. Not cool. Your mana isn’t amazing, but it works fine without the full set of Mystic Gates.
The one Story Circle was originally an Ajani Goldmane, but as aforementioned, against the Red decks they will see all of their burn spells, and you really want to have Story Circle going long against them. Story Circle shored up the same holes as Ajani, and did it better against everything but Banefire. Plus, you can just draw the Story Circle sometimes. Mise.
In the sideboard, Aura of Silence is for Everlasting Torment and Pithing Needle. Both are problematic cards out of the Red decks, and I even saw some B/W Tokens decks sideboarding Everlasting Torment. Most importantly, though, it means you get to play with The Aura. The singleton Celestial Purge is the fourth Aura of Silence, and is just there to have a little diversity and give you an extra way to deal with Torment on the draw. It can also knockout Tidehollow Scullers or anything of the sort that stands in your way,
Path to Exile is, probably surprisingly, there for Mistbind Clique more than anything. Clique can cause a lot of problems for you unless you have three Borderposts in play, but if you just Path it before they have to champion then the Mana Short trigger never goes off. Additionally, it helps against Meddling Mage and Tidehollow Sculler.
The Sanity Grinding matchup is pretty bad, and we were expecting some of the mirror, so we determined Wheel of Sun and Moon was our best choice against them. Unlike Reminisce, our other option, we can sneak a Wheel in early and just lean on it. You can also be proactive in the matchup and use either Counterbore or Telemin Performance, but Bill and I felt it would be easier to stick a Wheel. You can also bring a single Wheel in versus control decks to ensure you don’t deck if you think it might come to that.
These were our sideboard plans against what I felt were the five major archetypes to beat at Regionals:
B/W Tokens and G/W Tokens are your best matchups. The only way you can lose is if they Sculler your Howling Mine effect on turn 2, so all you have to do is prevent that. I have actually never lost to B/W Tokens in the 20+ games I tested against it, but I can see a situation occur where they Sculler your Mine on turn 2 and quickly beat you down. Just keep Fogging them, and mill them out. After boarding they might have Everlasting Torment and Identity Crisis. If you expect the former, bring in Aura over Path. Keep Negates up for the latter, or Runed Halo it if you draw your singleton.
Same as above, except instead of Tidehollow Sculler they have Qasali Pridemage and they won’t have Everlasting Torment. Put Needle on Pridemage, and you can also Path Pridemage if necessary. They might have Naturalize or Aura of Silence since the deck is now out in the public domain, so you might also need to Needle Aura of Silence.
On the draw, take out a Cryptic Command and leave one more Halo in.
I hate having to board in a three-cost Disenchant against a Red beatdown deck, but it’s a necessary evil to beat Everlasting Torment. This matchup is about 50/50 and highly build dependant. If they’re more creature-centric you’re way ahead, whereas if they’re more burn spell centric it’s a little worse. I felt like I was beating it more often that I was losing. Also, you should pretty much always be Fogging them. I kept seeing people not Fog a Ram Gang while they’re on 20 life or something, but every life point is important and I’ll happily use Holy Day as a Healing Salve. (For those who couldn’t stomach the Healing Salve comparison, think of it as countering a Lightning Bolt.) You usually want to Runed Halo Flame Javelin first, and then Volcanic Fallout, and then Banefire, but you can also just name one of their creatures early on if you’re short on fogs and want to buy a turn. Don’t let yourself get Banefired out after boarding. I hate having to take out Runed Halos, but the only other card you can move is Negate and Cryptic Command, and the former deals with Everlasting Torment when they play it on turn 3. You could remove more Cryptic Commands if you wanted to leave all of your Halos in.
You can bring in Path for Fogs if you’d like, but I found I didn’t really need them. This matchup is really in your favor as long as you can stick a Howling Mine effect, but it is build dependant. They’re actually the beatdown deck in this matchup, so you want to keep your Fogs in. Set Runed Halo on Cruel Ultimatum, and do so multiple times. They have Esper Charms and Cryptic Commands to deal with your Halos, and while Cruel isn’t devastating due to the amount of cards you’re drawing each turn, it is a way you can lose if they’ve already knocked you around a little bit with Wydwen or Broodmate Dragon.
Mistbind Clique is your worst nightmare. They can craft the game into a position where they just have to tap you out to deal lethal. Even if you have a couple Borderposts in play, it’s not difficult for them to just counter their Fog effect and kill you. Runed Halo Mistbind Clique (multiple times due to their Cryptic Command), Path Mistbind Clique, and do whatever else it takes to ensure you don’t get Cliqued out. I found you didn’t really need to care about Bitterblossom or Scepter of Fugue, so I don’t feel like you need to bring in ways to remove them. With that said, they could have Everlasting Torment now, so you may need to adjust your sideboard plans accordingly.
Onto the actual tournament! I’m not going to go too in depth on any of my matches, because all of my matches went long, and most games you win play out in a similar fashion, while most games you lose also play out in a similar fashion.
Round 1 — Jund Ramp
Jund Ramp is an excellent matchup. Just Runed Halo their Banefires (or Profane Commands if they have them) and don’t walk into their Maelstrom Pulses on Runed Halo. Game 1 goes just as we drew it up, and I set Runed Halo on Banefire, countered his Maelstrom Pulses, then milled him out with Jace. Game 2 is a little more tricky, as he now has three Thresher and four Fallout with which to combat me. I set up a Runed Halo on Banefire and another on Cloudthresher. He Primal Commands to recycle his graveyard (including all of his Maelstrom Pulse), and when I Cryptic Command he Wild Ricochets. Uh-oh. Fortunately, I am able to Jace him down twenty cards again and find a Runed Halo to ensure I don’t die to Volcanic Fallout.
Round 2 — G/W Tokens
Game 1 I’m on the draw, and on turn 4 I have the option to evaluate the board. I can either cast Font of Mythos, and take 21 if he has Overrun (which most G/W builds only have a singleton of,) or hold the Font with two Fog effects in my hand to buy two turns. If I play Font here and untap, I almost certainly win the game. I go for the Font, he has the Overrun. Happens.
Games 2 and 3 aren’t even remotely close. I think he managed to deal a total of three points of damage between the last two games.
Round 3 — R/B Beatdown
He’s playing a more creature centric version, which puts me as the favorite. I Runed Halo Banefire early on, and see him discard a Banefire, making sure I keep on my toes after sideboarding. I stabilize at six life, and draw the one Story Circle with multiple Howling Mine effects going.
In game 2 the crucial juncture comes on my turn 3. I drew a Howling Mine and have the opportunity to cast it. He mulliganed to five and has done nothing but play lands so far. I have a Negate in my hand, but, judging from his play so far, I felt that if he had a Everlasting Torment he would have already played it. In retrospect I should have just waited a turn and played Howling Mine with Negate up, but my patience broke. I played Howling Mine and he untapped, then Thought Hemorrhaged me for Runed Halo. I take complete control of the game, but end up dying to a pair of Banefires a billion turns later. I didn’t concede because my hope was that he wouldn’t draw them so I could maybe mill them with Jace, but he did and we end up only having a couple minutes to play game 3.
Round 4 — Five-Color Control
We had a two hour technical delay between round 3 and 4 when the computer running DCI reporter crashed and the backup was corrupted, and scorekeeper extraordinaire James Lee had to re-enter the entire tournament’s results by hand, so we were both excited to sit down and play again. Game 1 he resolves a Broodmate Dragon, then I somehow die to them when I can’t find any Fogs while I’m drawing four cards a turn. In all fairness, I discarded two Fogs (leaving one in hand) the turn before he played the Broodmate Dragon, but I figured if I needed them I’d be able to draw plenty more.
Game 2 I mulligan to five, but get in the game with a turn 3 Howling Mine. However, I miss a few land drops, resulting in him winning a war over a crucial Cruel Ultimatum, then hits me with Wydwen a few times and cleans up with Volcanic Fallouts.
Round 5 — R/B Beatdown
I’m paired down, and ask Kasey for the concession. He agrees. Thank you Kasey!
Round 6 — Mirror match
I’m playing against Bill Stark, and we’re playing almost an identical 75. The only differences are that he has four Mystic Gates, and where I have three Needles, and a Celestial Purge in my sideboard, he has two Billstarkington Forge-Tenders, another Story Circle, and the fourth Aura of Silence. We had already discussed the mirror prior to the tournament, and decided the matchup was mostly decided by who won the dice roll. If you win the dice roll that means your opponent has to draw first off of everything, and although you maintain parity on Howling Mines, you get to activate Jace (targeting them), while their Jace just legendaries yours. Bill wins the dice roll. Gulp.
I next level him by mulliganing on purpose to have an extra card in my deck (although, in all fairness, the hand was pretty mediocre) and the game goes just as we had talked about. We both have a Mine, my Jace blows up his, and the game goes back and forth as we match each other on Howling Mine effects and try to get ahead by Cryptic Commanding our own back on the other players turn so we don’t draw off them. The game ends with Bill losing a counter war in his upkeep trying to return his Font of Mythos, then decking. I have no cards left in my deck at the end of the game. Nice mulligan!
Bill runs the Mulligan in game 2, but it’s a whole different ballgame. Our non Pollen Lullaby Fog effects are out, and the Wheels are in. I have the upper hand, though, because I could set Pithing Needle on Aura of Silence and ensure my Wheel of Sun and Moons remained unharassed. He has a Billstarkington Forge-Tender to try and deal twenty with since we both have Wheels in play, but I had the foresight to board in Path to Exile. Time is called eventually, and Bill scoops. What a strange, strange postboard matchup. If there are no time limits and the game goes on forever, I wonder who would win?
Round 7 — Aggro-hatin’ Control
This guy had the anti-beatdown works. Wraths, maindeck Story Circles, the works. That’s not to say his deck was all anti-beatdown, however. His first play of the game was Mistveil plains.
In addition to Mistveil Plains recycling, he wins a couple of Broken Ambitions clashes, which causes the game to get to a state where, including Mistveil plains activations over the next two turns and on his upkeep, I have to force him to draw three more cards than the Mines and Fonts will force him to. I move Jace down to four and force him to draw, then he chooses to attack Jace, bringing it to one. I draw and have two cards left in my deck, causing me to lose on my next turn. I move Jace to zero and force him to draw, then play another Jace and allow both of us to draw, leaving one card in my deck. I have no ways left to force to him draw any additional cards, and can’t Cryptic Command back Jace and replay it. He has Story Circle and Wall of Reverence in play as his only White permanents, so I go for a creative approach.
I look down at my last card and say, “Cryptic Command drawing my last card and… bouncing your Wall of Reverence, I guess.” He nods. I pass, he tries to Mistveil Plains in his upkeep and I tell him he can’t. He gets a little flustered, and for a moment I think I have it as I am going to exactly deck him. Then he taps six mana and casts Beacon of Immortality.
We only have ten minutes left for game 2, and I’m playing at a faster pace than I can ever remember playing. My turns were taking less than ten seconds, but yet I was still playing properly. On the other hand, he was taking the same amount of time as he had been. He wasn’t stalling, but he also wasn’t playing briskly. (Although I was a little suspicious of stalling for a moment when he went into the tank on my end step Pollen Lullaby.)
Time is called, and I finally take a breath. I carefully take my time, and avoid decking (he won two Broken Ambitions clashes again) by playing Wheel of Sun and Moon and cycling two Holy Days in my upkeep to go to zero cards, then set the game up to a point where he will deck on the fourth extra turn even though I know he has Beacon of Immortality in his hand. I explain that neither of us can make Top 8 if we take another draw, and ask him if he will concede. He tells me, “I’ve always wanted to make Top 8 of a big tournament, so I can’t concede. It’s ethically wrong. I’ll draw and take my chances.” While I can understand if somebody doesn’t want to concede in this situation due to pack prizes or whatever, I try to explain one more time that he cannot make Top 8 if we draw, so his point doesn’t make any sense. He decides to stick with it and takes he draw. I shake his hand, sign the slip, and then mark the drop box. Although I felt bad about dropping after taking a draw because it seems so spiteful, once I was out of the running I had to drop so I could protect my rating from dropping below 2000 and severing my third bye.
Still, despite my 4-1-2 record, I felt like my deck was very good and I would have played the same list, card for card, if I were to play Regionals over. The games I lost were due to my own errors, and, had I won my third round, the top tables were mostly full of B/W and G/W Tokens, all easy matchups. I don’t know if I can recommend the deck for GP: Seattle, because it’s very easy to hate out if the metagame is ready for it. However, it is probably a good choice for Barcelona this weekend because I don’t feel like the metagame has shifted to beat Fogs and Howling Mines quite yet.
Additionally, I’d be happy to answer any questions about my list in the forums, or via e-mail at gavintriesagain at gmail dot com. See you there!
Team Unknown Stars
Rabon on Magic Online, Lesurgo everywhere else