“Be right back, picking up the last few foils for my deck.” –Luis Scott-Vargas
We all have different strategies for what to do during the byes at a Grand Prix. This week, I’m chilling in my hotel room reflecting on my deck choice
for this event. Am I just too attached to Five-Color Control? As our adventure in Atlanta begins, I have not yet played a round. My weapon of choice?
Leading into this event, I knew my busy schedule meant I wouldn’t be spending as much time playtesting as I would for many events. As a result,
relatively early on, I settled on just tuning the deck that I’m most comfortable with, rather than building many crazy decks or just practicing with
Faeries. Besides, I happen to think that Five-Color Control is a bit underrated right now. After Worlds, the format shifted to become very
anti-Five-Color Control. Five-Color doesn’t have the same resiliency that Faeries does, and the result was a poor position for it in the metagame. Word
spread, and now the common knowledge is that Five-Color Control isn’t even a real deck in some people’s eyes. Oh, how quickly the winds change! A
former Pro Tour Champion even saw my deck and remarked, “Wow, I didn’t know it was possible to play Cruel Ultimatum in this format!”
Really? Didn’t half of the Top 8 of the World Championships, last month, play Cruel Ultimatums in this exact format? I get that the format is much more
hostile this month than last, but being surprised it’s even possible? Of course, he may have just been giving me a hard time.
As I alluded to here , I had a feeling it was time to invent Plumeveil again. It has been over a year, and I just want to kick Faeries’ teeth in. For
reference, I was going to much more graphically describe exactly what it’s like to cast Plumeveil against Faeries, but Michael Jacob talked some sense
into me. He suggested I just link to American History X, but his diabolical plan worked when I reviewed the clip in question and realized that
this wasn’t a pleasant or fun idea at all.
The Wall of Reverences came a bit later. They aren’t to solve any one problem; they’re just really good in the format. They’re great against Faeries,
beating Bitterblossom, Mistbind Clique, and beating Smother, Disfigure, Agony Warp, etc. They’re great answers to Demigod of Revenge, another popular
card right now. They’re a very realistic way to beat Anathemancer. Vengevine is on the upswing, and they do a great job, there. People aren’t ready for
it, and I just like it against such an aggressive field.
Wall of Omens is a surprising cut, but I really just don’t like it very much in this field. It’s pretty terrible against Faeries, as Mutavault isn’t
the problem. Against Jund, where it’s supposed to shine, it doesn’t address Putrid Leech, Anathemancer, Fauna Shaman, or Demigod, which are the only
creatures that actually give us a hard time out of them. Against Naya, he’s a poor blocker for Vengevines, Knight of the Reliquary, and Woolly Thoctar.
Against Omens, he’s just a two-mana, cycling card.
It’s kind of shocking to see how few early plays I have, but one of the benefits of more cards like Plumeveil, Wall of Reverence, and Hallowed Burial
is that you can catch up a bit better. I slowly had to trim the spot removal, as I was finding that neither Path nor Bolt was having a big enough
impact. They were too bad against non-creature opponents, and even the creature opponents would often have the wrong guy for me to kill. Wafo is
playing a slightly different style of Five-Color Control, with no Bolts, two Paths, two Days of Judgment, no Burials, four Walls of Omens, and four
Baneslayers (but Wafo is a psycho). Wafo agrees that Burial is better than Day, generally, but he really wanted to play four Baneslayers, so Day makes
for a better curve.
Some may be surprised to see no Preordains, but this is primarily a concession to Stag. I really wanted to play Great Sable Stag, not to mention
Creeping Tar Pits, and the resulting impact on my mana base made Preordain much less appealing. Thirteen “enters the battlefield tapped” lands, along
with four Pools and seven filters, make Preordain not only a poor turn 1 play but an unlikely turn 3 play. Once you can’t play Preordain until turn 5,
it starts adding up to a pretty big opportunity cost.
That said, I probably just built my deck wrong. I can already feel in playtesting the lack of consistency found in Preordain decks. Maybe I just needed
to give up on the Stags. Maybe I just needed to re-imagine the mana base. Maybe this is a fatal flaw in the current archetype (or at least as long as
Faeries is good and popular enough that Stag is desired). Regardless, this is an example of building a deck with a limited amount of time to prepare. I
tend to think if I spent a few more weeks on the format, I would’ve been able to find a solution that also has the consistency of Preordain, but for
now, I’m “settling.”
Regular readers will probably notice that this list is more similar to Wafo’s Worlds list than mine, though one difference is the choice of kills. In
my experience, Jund is a challenging matchup, and the lifelink, size, and durability of Wurmcoil Engine makes it a superior kill to Sunblast Angel.
Wafo is on Baneslayers, now, which is a different story, once you play the full playset. Baneslayer is better against Faeries and Naya, but we have
different enough lists that we want different things out of our finishers.
Fast Forward Twelve Hours…
Well, Day One went well (8-1). Most of my friends that played brews did poorly, and most of my friends that played stock decks (Faeries and Omen) did
well, for whatever that’s worth. There were some definitely interesting scenarios that arose today, and after having played against a pretty nice mix
of decks, I’m actually at the point where I could recommend this list to a player who wants to play control. Before today, whenever anyone asked me if
my deck was good, I had to answer:
“Probably not, or at least not well positioned.”
Now, I’m not so sure. I built it to beat Faeries and random creature decks, knowing full well that my Omens and U/W matchups would be rough, but maybe
that’s okay. Maybe I just have a good enough game against the fringe stuff to be worth it. Then again, maybe this is just the deck I love to play.
After defeating each of the three (consecutive) byes I faced to start off the day, I sat down against an “unknown” opponent. After we shuffled, he
presented his deck, and I took one look at it and remarked, “Looks a bit heavy. Is it sixty?” His response was along the lines of “It might be a little
over.” I counted his deck and, sure enough, 66 cards.
Surely at this point in the story, all of the hard-core Magic Online grinders can tell where this is going. Personally, I was not particularly familiar
with the individual in question, however I had seen some Facebook threads that shared details of encounters (people seem to remember when the player
winning the most on Magic Online shows up with 66 cards…). The individual in question is a young man by the name of JWay, who has been around for a
while, but has recently gained some notoriety as a result of crushing with a 66-card Scapeshift deck.
Why 66 cards, one might ask? Well actually, it seems that nine out of ten people just laugh and make fun of him for it, but that seems very foolish. If
someone who is winning events shows up with a 66-card deck that looks like a tuned list, just six cards over, why would you assume “he is a moron?” Why
would you not ask yourself, what could he be up to? What would make him decide to do this?
With Scapeshift, the answer is pretty easy. He wants to play enough Mountains to consistently go off without Prismatic Omens, but he doesn’t want to
actually draw those Mountains that often. All too many people will just write him off as some bumbling scrub, an image that he isn’t afraid to embrace
and use to his advantage. Now, personally, I don’t think JWay’s Scapeshift is the right deck to play at the moment, but there is some reasonable theory
behind that particular unorthodox decision. I do think that if this strategy ever gained popularity, there would be a hidden drawback that your
opponents would generally know what deck you were playing before deciding whether to keep their first hand of the match.
Wafo’s Scapeshift matchup tends to be a bit better than mine, as he has less dead cards and more cantrips. Still, I ran the sideboard out fifteen,
board in fifteen, and got busy.
+The full 15
4-0 (Three byes = Nice!)
Round five was a feature match between Adam Yurchick and myself. Adam and I have a long history of feature matches, and I think our roughly six-ish is
at the very least my personal highest with anyone. Adam, not surprisingly, was on Faeries. A detailed account of how the match played out can be
foundÂ here. This
match played out fairly similarly to the other five Faeries matches I went on to play. Most players seem to struggle with Five-Color against Faeries,
but I’m definitely from the same school as Wafo and would much rather face the enemy I know than the unknown.
I may have an awful lot of experience playing Five-Color Control against Faeries (almost surely the matchup I have played most, lifetime); however I
also benefited from having a particularly hateful build to work with. Great Sable Stags and Volcanic Fallouts? Please, I’m just getting started.
Plumeveils, Walls of Reverence, tuning my list to be the ideal 60 against Faeries, then working backwards from there. The matchup is hardly unwinnable
for Faeries, but I’d play against Faeries every round if I could. The matchup isn’t just good for me; it’s nuanced and interesting, with tons of little
decisions being made by both sides.
First of all, there are two types of games in this matchup: Games where they have Bitterblossom and games where they don’t. In games where they have
the Blossom, cards like Plumeveil or Wall of Reverence can be big when it comes to buying me enough time to keep drawing extra cards and eventually
force through a win by overwhelming them with card advantage. If I have neither, Fallout is a major stalling mechanism and can be game when combined
with a Creeping Tar Pit (a card surprisingly difficult for many Faeries to remove, at least until we’re all Going for the Throat).
Games where they don’t have the Blossom are generally significantly easier (surprising, I know…), but you still must be aware of three types of
games. First, they may be on Jace, which is a crucial battle to win. Second, they may be on some kind of a Clique draw, with cards like Vendilion
Clique, Mistbind Clique, and maybe some countermagic. Finally, they may just be bad Faeries players and think they’re supposed to just keep lands and
One thing I’ve noticed is that most potential Five-Color pilots seem to greatly underestimate Jace, the Mind Sculptor in this matchup, and Cruel
Ultimatum for that matter. I’m not sure if they just imagine that nothing will ever resolve, so why try, but the truth is it’s actually not that hard
to stick spells against Faeries. When all your cards are good, you run them out of disruption. That is why the worst possible cards for you are either
of the Jaces. Right off top, this makes Jace a crucial weapon for making sure we don’t just lose to Faeries playing a Jace, but we’re not just hoping
to trade Jaces. The best way to beat Faeries is to just keep drawing cards and playing great cards. Plumeveils? Stags? Fallouts? Walls of Reverence?
Just keep getting card advantage where you can, with Esper Charms, Mulldrifter, and Jace, as well as making sure your Cryptics are cantrips (when
possible) and that they actually resolve. This is an important point, as many people get so caught up in the dance with Faeries that they forget that
not all cards are created equal. Jace getting countered is fine, same with Cruel or Wall of Reverence or Plumeveil. Cryptics are generally suppose to
resolve if you play your cards right, because like Esper Charms, they’re generally to be used at instant speed when it would be awkward or impossible
for your opponent to try to fight you on them. The way you win this matchup, outside of blowing them out with powerful hate creatures, is by getting an
extra card with each of your cantrip cards, letting you attrition them out. It really depends on the texture of the game, but I’m back to Esper Charm
draw two, instead of destroying Bitterblossom 85% of the time.
Plumeveils make for exceptional defenders of Jace, as do Walls of Reverence if you can stick one. A flying Wall often makes it impossible for Faeries
to effectively break through and kill Jace, and even if they eventually do, the amount of damage you have soaked up is massive. Generally they’re left
tapped out (from manlands swinging), down cards (from Jace and throwing away attackers), and vulnerable to you dropping another Jace, a Wall of
Reverence, a Cruel or whatever. Even if you don’t have a Wall, often you can just Jace and plus two, setting Jace high enough that it won’t die on your
opponent’s next turn, then go crazy with Brainstorming. I find that I’ll tend to scry myself when there’s a card I’m looking for (removal, a bomb,
land), and if there’s nothing I particularly need or want, I fateseal my opponent and usually let him keep, just for the actual Glasses of Urza (though
occasionally shipping if he gets something that will actually cause me problems).
Cruel Ultimatum is another card that I see people boarding out all the time against Faeries. This is a pretty big mistake, in my opinion. As I said,
it’s not actually that hard to stick cards against Faeries; you just have to be patient. They play so many Inquisitions, Thoughtseizes, and Vendilions,
you aren’t surprising anyone with Cruel, but you don’t need to. It’s obviously not the best card in the first few turns of the game when you’re
struggling to keep up with that Bitterblossom, but as the game goes on, it’s very useful to have there be a very real punishment hanging over the
Faeries player’s head if they ever tap out. Besides, for serious, often the game plan involves sculpting a game where you win the Bitterblossom race,
and when they get into those last few turns before dying to a Bitterblossom, they often have little choice but to attack with their Tar Pits to try to
actually kill you before they hit zero.
This “racing” against the clock is part of what makes Wall of Reverence so amazing against Faeries. Not only does it hold off anything or Abyss the
Bitterblossom, it gains so much life you have that many more turns to draw more cards like Fallout and Plumeveil to buy you even more time. Obviously
the combo with Plumeveil is the primary plan, but remembering to hit a Tar Pit when you can is nice, and Stag is certainly a fine man to gain three off
Speaking of Tar Pit, it’s important in this matchup to be willing to be aggressive with your Tar Pits, particularly after sideboarding. You don’t want
to run them into removal, like Disfigure, but oftentimes you’ll get openings to sneak in three, and after boarding, how much removal do you really
think they have? Even if they have a couple Grasps of Darkness, they’ll be overworked on your Walls anyway. Don’t throw away your mana if you need it,
obviously, but being aggressive with an extra three here or there adds up. That is three Bitterblossom tokens you never have to deal with!
Round six was against Mono-Red. Wall of Reverence, Wurmcoil Engine, Cruel Ultimatum, Obstinate Baloth, Runed Halo, Plumeveil, Lightning Bolt, Cryptic Command, etc. This is a fun
matchup and favorable, though you can’t dink around, as Red is capable of some pretty aggressive draws. Just making sure you can cast your spells is
the most important feature. You usually want to trade anything you have for anything of theirs. Bolt? Use it. Plumeveil? Block. Fallout is your only
removal spell? Use it. Pretty much the only card you really care about is Koth of the Hammer; you just don’t want your life total to drop low enough
that they can bottleneck you on mana.
Up next, another feature match, this time on GGsLive against Nick Spagnolo. Initially he appeared to be playing some kind of U/R Pestermite/Splinter
Twin deck, but he claimed afterward to not have Splinter Twins maindeck, despite having Pestermite (a very hard-to-believe claim to be sure). If this
really was some sort of psychological edge, then I guess it’s not completely without merit, as I certainly held up removal during our entire game one.
As it turned out, he was really more of a Demigod/Jace deck, with tons of permission, like maindeck Double Negatives and more sideboarded
Counterspells. We had an exciting round, for those that enjoy watching a good control match, and I managed to edge out a win during a complicated spell
showdown that involved a nearly unholy knowledge of how to use Cryptic Commands.
This is a rough approximation of my sideboard plan, as I definitely evolved it as our games progressed.
Another Faeries match, without anything unexpected. In general, Faeries is pretty easy when they have no new tricks, as having danced all these dances
before gives me the advantage over the Faeries player who has probably little, or at least much less, experience playing against the breed of
Five-Color I was rocking. The most notable feature of this match was my opponent deciding to just attack me instead of Jace, the Mind Sculptor. While I
respect not wanting me to “gain twelve life” or whatever, over the course of the game, the sheer number of times I got to Brainstorm instead of scry
probably contributed more than twelve life points worth of value. There was one point in a game where Faeries played a Thoughtseize, leaving me with
basically no gas, but my very next draw step was a Jace, the Mind Sculptor, letting me turn things around quickly. Faeries has such a hard time with
someone who draws more relevant cards than them.
This time I took a loss to eventual Top 8 competitor Ari Lax, also playing Faeries. Most notable about our games was the effectiveness of his Spreading
Seas (keeping me off of Stag). The other game he played a Vendilion Clique, saw I was mana flooded with only sorcery-speed cards, and followed with
triple Mistbind Clique for the win.
Fast Forward Twenty-Four More Hours…
Round ten: another Faeries opponent to start off Day Two. Nothing out of the ordinary. He plays Bitterblossom; I beat it with my creatures and draw
extra cards from Jace. I actually terribly blundered in one of the games, where I Jace, put my Cryptic Command on top of my library to protect it from
a potential Thoughtseize, as I intend to tap out to play Wall of Reverence. Instead, after I put back my only counterspell, I realize that my
Reflecting Pool no longer made white (as a result of Spreading Seas on my only Vivid Land). My opponent took this opportunity to power up his Tar Pit
and swing with it and a Mistbind, surely expecting Jace to not die. If only I had that Cryptic, the game would’ve been a blowout. Still, I drew well
after that and my opponent did not, so I managed to turn things around despite what appeared to be one of the biggest game-losing blunders I have made
in a while. Thanks Cruel Ultimatum!
Yet another Faeries match, but with a surprising conclusion. In the deciding game, Faeries Thoughtseizes me, then Inquisitions me, and Thoughtseizes
me, leaving me with all land, but him with no action either. He starts swinging with Tar Pit on four, so I do the same. He attacked first but started
four life behind, so this seems good for me, particularly given how many great cards I can rip now that he’s just tapping out. Unfortunately, on his
seventh turn, he drops a Grave Titan, a card that I certainly did not have a lot of answers to, as it was game three. It’s always tough when they bring
a new trick to the table. Nice move, Faeries player, nice move. This was one match where I was particularly hurt by losing the die roll, as we only had
one “close game,” each blowing the other out once, but if I had been on the play in either of his wins, I think I would’ve turned it around. This is
nothing new, so why bring it up? I lost ten of my twelve die rolls, left with only images of Tom Ross dancing in my head to console me.
And the endless stream of Faeries continues. Good games, but nothing out of the ordinary. We’re just talking a long, elaborate string of stacks and
draw spells, Walls and removal, attacking planeswalkers, Stag putting pressure on, and Cruel Ultimatum ending the game. It’s tough because these games
are often so long and involved that I can’t possibly do justice to the critical decisions in a recap. Perhaps this matchup is an ideal candidate for a
“One Game” treatment, a la Richard
My round thirteen opponent is former US National Champion, Charles Gindy, piloting what appears to be stock Jund (with Fauna Shaman, of course). I
actually win the die roll, and it proves massive. I chain Cryptics together, then drop a Wurmcoil that takes all of his resources. A Cruel Ultimatum
puts it away. Game two I Runed Halo Demigod, and it turns out he has a triple Putrid Leech draw. I end up Cryptic Commanding my Runed Halo to reset it
to Putrid Leech, but Deglamer takes me out.
Game three is a strange one, as Gindy is stuck on two land, but I’m flooded, and he has an active Fauna Shaman. I use Jace multiple times before it
dies, then another Jace multiple times, but am stuck juggling six land in hand, while never missing a land drop. Runed Halo on Anathemancer has me not
just auto-dead, but I’m not able to produce any action before succumbing to his eventually drawing mana. In general, Jund isn’t what I want to play
against, but it’s pretty close to even.
My second-to-last round opponent was on R/G Scapeshift, and our match began on an odd note. I double mulliganed on the play, but I Cryptic-ed his
Primeval Titan and his Scapeshift, followed by a Path to Exile on Plumeveil for the quick Cruel Ultimatum leaving him with no hand. His next draw?
Scapeshift. Good beats! He later manages to win another by forcing through his combo with Guttural Response. I’m not sure which version is worst for
me, but Scapeshift tends to not be a great matchup for my list. It isn’t as bad as the U/W matchup, but fortunately I never hit any of those.
So picture this:
You’re down a game to U/G Scapeshift in the last round. Winner cashes; loser gets nothing. You’re on the play and already mulliganed. Here is your
possible six: Thoughtseize, Thoughtseize, Thoughtseize, Mana Leak, Great Sable Stag, Sunken Ruins.
I tanked and did some math on how many “outs” I had and what my probability might be of winning if I drew them next turn, the turn after, and so on,
compared to going to five against a bad matchup already. Eventually, I concluded that “if I got there,” I could actually have realistic chances of
stranding him with no action for long enough for me to draw out of it.
Turn 1, I play Sunken Ruins and ship. Turn 2, I ship again, with no land. Turn 3, I rip Reflecting Pool, double Thoughtseize him and take his only two
business spells. I then rip a Vivid land to set myself up to put a Stag clock on him. This is followed by another Thoughtseize, and then I just bash
and win before he draws out of it. I go on to win game three, after attacking with a Tar Pit while he is at four life. He cracks a fetchland (with
Omens in play) to try to kill it, but my Cryptic on his Omens negates his counter play and ends the game that turn.
Well, no question I was disappointed with how Day Two played out, but I had a total blast and was very happy with my deck choice. It’s not really the
best positioned deck, by any stretch of the imagination (U/W, Scapeshift, a tight Jund matchup), but this is definitely a format where one can play a
deck that suits them, not just a netdeck or “the best deck.” There did not appear to be a lot of Five-Color Control at the event, but I know Wafo
finished Top 16 with his build, conveniently dodging Faeries with unrivaled grace. Five-Color dead? Not hardly! But I definitely recommend only the
hardcore control players try this at home!
Now that Grand Prix Atlanta has come and gone, it’s time to fully embrace Mirrodin Besieged. This weekend, I’ll be gunslinging the Game Zone Alpha
Prerelease in Jacksonville, Arkansas, then MJ and I are flying straight to Paris to meet up with Wafo, Nassif, Matignon, and more Frenchies, to prepare
for PT Paris. Next week: my Mirrodin Besieged Set Review. See you then!