Because I don’t have enough to do, I’ve decided to start working on Team Standard decks for the upcoming three man PTQs (months off, obviously). Clearly the best deck in Standard is some version of Mono-Blue Control, a deck whose worst matchup is the mirror. I hardly think that deck’s intact inclusion for most three mana squads is up for debate… But you can’t very well have three players all playing Mono-Blue control decks.
Initially I wanted to start Mono-Blue, The Critical Mass Update, and figure out the third deck based on what open cards we had left, but it seems impossible to me now to be able to run both the best and the next-best decks… There are just too many card conflicts. Like The Critical Mass Update doesn’t play a lot of counters, but whatever counters it wants will be bumping up against Mono-Blue’s core competency. At some point you have a deck that has no sideboarded Threads of Disloyalty or Jushi Apprentices, third string permission spells, and no real way to get an advantage other than Umezawa’s Jitte (which, though admittedly great, can do more damage in a non-neutered listing). At that point you might as well be playing Boros Deck Wins as the aggressor, a plan which has issues of its own.
So the search for a good “B” deck brought me to Greater Good. The South Carolina version of Greater Good was one of the few elite decks to rival Mono-Blue’s dominance in New York. In my States wrapup on the other site, I seemed to imply that Donald Swindler made the deck, but he was merely the State Champion (sorry paps). For reference, this is Swindler’s deck:
There were several obvious places that I started to change the deck before I took it for a single spin in the Casual Room.
3 Sensei’s Divining Top
In Team Constructed, the primary limiting factor is cards, as in you are limited in how many good cards you can “spend” between three players. You can have 4 Sensei’s Divining Tops between three decks. Spending only three total Tops between the decks seems therefore godawful. Anyway, I’m pretty sure this deck wants four in an optimized listing just so you can, you know, draw it.
3 Kodama’s Reach
See the above.
I understand that killing cards like Greater Good was an issue in South Carolina, where three of four misers made Top 8 with the deck, but in the wider world, I decided to make these Top #4 and Reach #4; that said, I side out 1-2 Reaches all the time against aggressive decks in lieu of cards like Faith’s Fetters (not in Swinder’s sideboard but see below).
Because I cut the Naturalizes, and as the deck seems to want lots of enchantment and artifact hate, they went into the sideboard for Ivory Mask. I also eventually cut Circle of Protection: Red and [a] Scour for more versatile and important cards, including the aforementioned fourth Faith’s Fetters, which I am pretty sure is a better general way to deter Red Decks, as well as being something I bring in against Mono-Blue or any narrow threat deck consistently.
My first night out with this deck was fairly successful. After one match against White Weenie I came to the conclusion that there is a reason that Kodama of the North Tree didn’t make the cut in The Critical Mass Update even though it was an All Star in the original Kamigawa Block Critical Mass. Arashi is just better. I mean I trounced the White Weenie with Wraths, Fetters, and fat, but Arashi would still have been helpful whereas the Kodama can actually die in combat to such shenanigans as Hand of Honor + Glorious Anthem. The only match where Kodama of the North Tree is better is probably Eminent Domain, which has few answers for Kodama + Devouring Light. I don’t suspect any team actually planning to win a Team PTQ will exhaust its valuable Dimir Aqueducts, Tide Stars, or Remands on that deck, preventing the incorporation of either Mono-Blue or The Critical Mass Update, so I am pretty sure that Arashi over North Side is just strictly better (as well as easier to cast in a three color special). The fourth Arashi is also a superb use of sideboard space.
Here is the deck I’ve been testing (more or less):
4 Sensei’s Divining Top
4 Wrath of God
4 Devouring Light
3 Faith’s Fetters
4 Greater Good
4 Kodama’s Reach
4 Sakura-Tribe Elder
4 Yosei, the Morning Star
3 Arashi, the Sky Asunder
2 Vitu-Ghazi, the City-Tree
1 Okina, Temple to the Grandfathers
1 Miren, the Moaning Well
1 Eiganjo Castle
4 Temple Garden
The long and the short of it is that this deck is pretty good against most “regular” decks. In the pre-States metagame defined by Gifts Ungiven on one side and White Weenie or Boros on the other, it is actually a very defensible choice, much better against Gifts especially than you might expect. The problem is that at this point, now that the rabbit is scampering out of his hat, roughly 2/3 of my opponents on MODO opens up with Watery Grave, Island, and Jushi Apprentice.
This Deck Can’t Beat Mono-Blue.
I’ve played the matchup easily 20 times and I’ve won almost none of the series. Every match goes to three games, but the games I win require massive swindling, tricking the opponent into walking his board into an Arashi, and lots and lots of finger crossing. Mono-Blue has so many advantages it isn’t even funny. First of all – and most importantly – they can just open on Jushi Apprentice, which is game right there. Your realistic first shot at killing this troublesome student only occurs after the opponent is already up, and sometimes he has the Disrupting Shoal anyway. Strategically, the Blue game plan trumps Greater Good in every way because of all the cheap two and three mana counters. Particularly embarrassing is any post sideboarded games when you try to sculpt the perfect turn and they Remand Cranial Extraction. You. Only. Have. One. Swamp. Last, they can save their key permanents from your bombs with non-counter effects, which is quite annoying. For example, you might spend seven mana on an Arashi cycle to kill Keiga, only to find that the opponent has tapped a whopping two mana to bounce it with Boomerang.
They have all the time in the world.
At one point, BDM realized that one possible way to beat Mono-Blue was to try to hose the Jushis, especially as Defense Grid wasn’t cutting it. All the business cards in Greater Good cost four or more mana, meaning that it is reasonable for the opponent (who has Dimir Aqueduct access anyway) To Just Pay For Defense Grid. It’s embarrassing to get your Gleancrawler successfully Hindered with a Defense Grid out. So Brian said hey, why not cut the bad Defense Grids for Pithing Needles (it was disturbing to us that we had at that point 0 Pithing Needles between three decks), which gave the sideboard of:
This version seems better than the previous, but you don’t really beat Blue decks either way. That said, here are my overall strategies for Blue:
1. Don’t play into Mana Leak.
I know it sucks to say “go” over and over, but you can usually kill their main threats with Arashi without fear of counter retribution, so it can pay to strand the Leaks. The games go painfully long between these archetypes, and you will often see the opponent dropping Mana Leaks to 8+ cards in hand. Of course at that stage you have totally different problems (see #4).
2. Get your accelerators countered if possible.
In the early game you run out accelerators and half-hope they get countered. The reason is that if you get them off, fine, but if they get countered, it’s almost better. Your deck has two (or possibly three) fewer lands than Blue (especially post boards), so you can theoretically exhaust them if you can contain Jushi card advantage and win with a lone threat long game. It’s not a great plan, but it is one strand in a tapestry that can, if correctly woven, yield victory.
3. Find Vitu-Ghazi.
Vitu-Ghazi is a realistic threat in the sense that once you ramp to three or so counters, the Blue deck actually has to tap mana to defend itself. It’s not great, but sometimes the threat of 3+ tokens will allow you to Wrath a Meloku.
4. Pin the Jushis.
Sometimes you can sneak a Game One Jushi with Devouring Light when he tries to block Sakura-Tribe Elder, but that never works after boards. Pithing Needle is key… One of the best plays I made the other night was to play Pithing Needle when he played Jushi. I put him on Boomerang when he was on five mana so I played Needle #2 and he let it hit, assuming I’d name Meloku or some such; I just named Jushi again and went on to win the game (if not the match). The mighty Apprentice is great in this matchup because it doesn’t fly. Often you can exhaust the bombs and lose to a flipped Tomoya the Revealer. It’s just the old G/W vulnerability rearing its head again… You don’t have Swords to Plowsares, your main creature kill costs more than their backbreaking activations, so utility guys murder you. Don’t despair… but be warned.
Overall, I would not recommend this deck, however tuned, for a regular Standard tournament. Blue Control (as far as I can tell) is everywhere. I played against Traumatize (misplayed, actually, and Tim might have won with a correct Thaw where I lost), actual Mono-Blue with no Black splash (that was easier to fight because he couldn’t match Extractions after boards… but I still bought it), and my own version repeatedly (almost all losses). The version of Greater Good discussed in this article can’t beat any such deck consistently in its current form, even with the deadly Arashi. It is, however, quite strong at beating any kind of random White Weenie garbage, takes close games against Bobby and the Hypno with a check mark in the win column, and punishes terrible decks with simple cards like “Naturalize” or “Sakura-Tribe Elder” which seem to trump their extravagant and pricey game plans. As such, I think Greater Good may still be a candidate for one of the spots in Teams despite its depressing 3-5 outing in long and painful matches in the MODO Casual Room last eve… but I sure haven’t lost to any Gifts Ungiven. Snap!
Legacy Bonus Section
In the [admittedly short] tradition of the 2005 New York State Championship, we ran another Mock Tournament at Neutral Ground this week. The turnout was even larger than last time, and in addition to reigning New York State Champion Julian Levin, U.S. Nationals Top 8 competitor Chris Manning, and myself, the said tournament included recent transplant, newly anointed Star City Premium author, and PT Los Angeles Finalist Billy Moreno. The ability of the all new mostly old New York gamers to cluster to practice and learn a format in tournament fashion actually brought a tear to young Steve Sadin eye. “I can’t believe it,” he said as he wiped a salty drop from the corner of one prepubescent peeper. “Neutral Ground is good again.”
Our learnings were not insignificant, and are chronicled somewhat up at top8magic.com via more .mp3s.
BDM said “Mock Tournament Podcasts should be up by midnight Thursday,” so hopefully by the time this goes up you can click over and listen to the dulcet tones of my sultry vox. [Truth in advertising requires me to tell you Mike’s voice is anything but sultry. – Knut] Also, we managed to lose the interviews with Billy and co-champ Sadin in between Tuesday and today, but there is an 18 minute interview with yours truly talking about how bad Landstill is and how I didn’t think to test against Affinity. Also BDM accidentally sent me his interview with Antoine Ruel after L.A. but we didn’t put that up.
For those of you who checked in last time, the States interviews are actually up this time, which feature Julian cheering for my Gifts Ungiven opponent Eric Marro during my semifinals match (traitor) and my hunger-induced mad rantings which make literally no sense after the drubbing the young champion gave me in the finals.