So far, this PTQ season has been dominated by Faeries, with Kithkin, Elementals, and Five-Color Control all making themselves known. It feels almost strange to have a format contain so few popular decks, after the past several years of formats containing ten or more regular archetypes.
While it is somewhat strange, it is not surprising, as Lorwyn and Shadowmoor blocks are both much more linear than any of the past several years’ worth of cards. The interesting thing about a time like this is that a clever mage can take advantage of this change, as is typically the case with intelligent people being able to take advantage of most changes in the status quo.
What I suggest, to anyone trying to win a PTQ this season, is to look to a “rogue” (not the tribe) deck, something outside of the mainstream. You see, with so few decks to have to tune your deck to beat, you can actually realistically build a deck that is geared to beat the entire expected field.
In addition, most others realize that Bitterblossom, Mirrorweave, and Reflecting Pool make up pretty much the entire format. As such, they will be testing extensively against these strategies. Not only will they tune their decks to beat them, they will learn the nuances of those matchups and, as such, you will get less free wins as a result of presenting game states that the opponent is not as prepared for.
There are some deckbuilders who push “rogue” decks at every opportunity, as they enjoy attacking from an unexpected vector. Some are addicted to the pleasure of being able to create something totally new and make it succeed. Others just place a high premium on the ability to challenge their opponent with a game that he or she has not seen. (Flores, you have to admit, sometimes you are a little Rogue just for the sake of being Rogue. Amiright?)
I personally have absolutely no problem running a rogue strategy, and feel that it is often the highest EV play. However, for the past several years there have been so many viable strategies that players have been forced to build decks that can deal with an unknown field, rather than narrow decks that assume 80%+ of the field can be predicted.
Now that there are fewer decks seeing play, most players will make narrower decks that are gunning for those decks that do see play. This makes it an ideal time to look to attack from another angle.
The trick, though, is that typically the best “things you can do” are the things that the mainstream decks are built around. For instance, what are the best things in this block that one can do? What are the engines?
Bitterblossom plus Mistbind Clique, Windbrisk Heights/Mirrorweave plus Lords, and Mannequin/Mulldrifter plus Reflecting Pool to power the mana.
What is better than these three cores?
Nothing that I know of, at least at this point.
So where to go from here?
See, the problem with a Mono-Black Rogue (tribal) deck is that without Mistbind Clique and Cryptic Command, it is really just a bad Faerie deck (and in many ways a bad Kithkin deck).
The problem with Five-Color Creature decks is simple: why are you not playing Elementals?
The problem with Elves, Warriors, Treefolk, etc, is that each one is just a bad Kithkin deck or a bad Faerie deck, as it doesn’t feature an engine as powerful as the ones listed above.
There are two solutions. One is the use a less powerful engine and just attack from such a sharper angle that your surprise factor will try to make up for it. See Dragonstorm.
The other solution is to drink a Big Rig of Mt. Dew Amp and use one of these core engines, or at least some aspect or aspects of it, but in a new context. This is the route I went with this deck. To make things easier, let me list it here:
- 2 Mistmeadow Witch
- 4 Mulldrifter
- 3 Shriekmaw
- 4 Sower of Temptation
- 2 Wispmare
- 4 Reveillark
- 2 Fulminator Mage
Last week, I actually included a decklist at the end of my article that featured a Burnt Toast update that was accidentally mislabeled Solar Flare. I had been working on this tight little package, but wasn’t ready to unveil it. I guess it was still on my mind, so I apologize for any confusion.
As you can see, this list is very much in line with the true Solar Flare strategy that helped propel Paul Cheon to the title of National Champion two years ago. (Though it should be noted that it was Japanese Magic in its prime that produced this monstrous new archetype). For reference, here is his list:
- 1 Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni
- 1 Meloku the Clouded Mirror
- 1 Kokusho, the Evening Star
- 2 Yosei, the Morning Star
- 3 Angel of Despair
- 3 Court Hussar
- 4 Wrath of God
- 2 Persecute
- 3 Zombify
- 4 Compulsive Research
- 2 Dimir Signet
- 4 Remand
- 3 Mortify
- 4 Azorius Signet
Let’s examine the similarities first. Both decks use a token amount of disruption in conjunction with plenty of removal to interfere with the opponent, while drawing extra cards and reanimating incredible creatures powered by a very expensive manabase.
Now for the differences. First of all, one of the biggest functional differences is that Cheon had access to unreal Dragons like Yosei and Kokusho. As we have only Reveillark in that league, we must base the rest of our creature base around that, making sure that the Reveillark provides the value we are looking for.
Oona, Queen of the Fae and Twilight Shepherd are both interesting and powerful… however, I happen to particularly want the extraordinarily-difficult-to-handle Reveillark. As such, I chose the rest of my creatures with him in mind, opting for Sowers, etc.
While I have Mulldrifters easily taking the place of Compulsive Research, I do not have a good Persecute replacement. That said, Cryptic Command is probably the most powerful card in the block (if not Bitterblossom). Cryptic (as well as a couple of Negate) gives me enough interaction to be able to fight over game-winning threats and to gain edge in places like countering someone else’s Command, or a Mind Spring, or even a quick Spectral Procession or Bitterblossom.
My removal is relatively on par, though the fact that I don’t have access to a sweeper means that it is very important to not fall too far behind. Then again, Cryptic Command is the Blue Wrath of God, and it is always an option to try to just attack in the air, double Cryptic Command, and win the race.
I don’t have access to Signets, which is a huge loss and the one I mourn the most. I looked and I looked. The best I could come up with was splashing Farhaven Elf and or Fertile Ground. Honestly, it just isn’t what I want to do. I am just going to play 26 land and do it the old fashioned way.
My Zombify replacement, Makeshift Mannequin, is a huge upgrade, as Zombify was always marginal at best, where as Mannequin is actually just downright amazing. The interactions between Mannequin and Mulldrifter / Shriekmaw / Fulminator / Sower / Reveillark are just incredible.
An interesting feature that I have which the old Solar Flare decks didn’t is the use of Mistmeadow Witch in games that go medium or long. This card is so sick, and if left unchecked can just take over a game singlehandedly, winning entire games completely on the strength of abusing comes-into-play abilities.
This is most pronounced in the Kithkin matchup, as they have no good answer to it. Even Oblivion Ring (if they play it) is easily dealt with by Wispmare, Negate, Cryptic Command (bouncing it), or the Mistmeadow being able to protect itself.
Another interesting aspect of the Witch is that when you play it against someone with plenty of Black removal, they are forced to spend a turn dealing with it. Then when you play Sower, they have one less removal spell to use on it. If they deal with that, you present a Reveillark and they are just straight up locked out.
Now, if you trigger Reveillark, you can get back the Witch plus a creature with a great ability. Combine this with the fact that you will have plenty of mana at this point, and you can totally lock up a game, despite an opponent dealing with every card you played all game.
The sideboard listed is a little stray in the sense that it contains so many one-ofs and two-ofs, but they basically fall into three categories.
1. More of the same: Shriekmaw, Wispmare, Negate, and Fulminator Mage. These cards allow you to tune your deck to have more of whatever is good against your opponent.
2. Cards with high diminishing returns: Oona and Puppeteer Clique. These cards are fantastic role-players, but you don’t want too much of a good thing. Oona is primarily for Kithkin, but she can be brought in against anyone that you want a powerful finisher against. Puppeteer Clique is primarily against Elementals and Five-Color Control. If you see a Reflecting Pool, you have to ask yourself if the Clique goes in. The problem with the Clique is that five-mana spells on your main phase are only good in moderation here, and you need Reveillark.
3. The Spice: Broken Ambitions, Bitterblossom, Crib Swap, and Incremental Blight. Each of these is a fine card that can be used to augment your game plan, but each is particularly excellent when your opponent doesn’t know your decklist. For instance, Broken Ambitions is a fine card against Elementals… however, it gains a lot of utility when an opponent figures you don’t have them (maindeck Negate). Bitterblossom was originally a four-of in the board, but it underperformed at times. Still, rather than cut them all, I chose to leave one in, as it is solid against Faeries but can lead to interesting situations where you run such plays as showing your opponent (accidentally) that you are boarding it in. As a result, your opponent brings in enchantment removal. You don’t have a lot of targets, so this works out well.
So, what do the matchups look like? First up, Kithkin. This matchup is particularly good for us; the key is to make sure we don’t fall too far behind. Windbrisk Heights is usually the best card against us, though Cloudgoat Ranger is trouble at times. Saving Negate or Cryptic Command or Nameless Inversion to counter a Mirrorweave is crucial.
The plan is to use spot removal to slow them down long enough to start two- and three-for-one trading with the opponent, with cards like Sower, Shriekmaw, Mulldrifter, and Reveillark. Eventually, you win by racing in the air and using Cryptic Command as a Time Walk, or you completely take over the game with Mistmeadow Witch and comes-into-play abilities. After sideboarding, Oona is an important part of the long-game plan, as she can basically counter their whole deck if you can buy yourself some time.
Faeries is a little trickier, as Bitterblossom is a real problem. We have two-plus-two of both Wispmare and Negate, so it is not like we don’t have answers (I would even board in Broken Ambitions on the play), but still, it is very challenging when they can get a Blossom to stick.
An interesting realization I had while testing this matchup is that it is so vital to start clocking the opponent that I will often run a Sower out on turn 4, even if the opponent has no creatures. This may seem like a weak play, but he does start progressing your plan forward and he can be activated later by Mannequin or Witch to take control of a Mistbind Clique at instant speed.
A large part of this matchup is playing around Cryptic Command. I cannot stress enough how that, in every turn your opponent represents Cryptic Command, you must ask yourself what should you do if he has it and how would he be behaving if he did indeed have it.
Playing around your opponents’ Sowers is somewhat easy, as you have Shriekmaws, Nameless Inversions, Cryptic Commands, and your own Sowers. Typically, anytime the opponent over-extends that much on his own turn, you will be able to match or trump him on yours, as you are a far superior tap-out deck.
Another interesting point is that, as Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa has famously said, there are two types of games with Faeries. They either have Bitterblossom or they don’t (although in the Fae mirror there are four matches, as there are all the other permutations). When your opponent doesn’t have Bitterblossom, you have a little more leisure to pace yourself and find ways to extract value from all of your cards, such as saving Shriekmaw to actually kill something relevant
However, when they have a Bitterblossom, it is vital to attack as much as possible. You literally need to apply every ounce of pressure you can. Sower a token, just to help the beats. Play Shriekmaw as a 3/2 creature if you need to. Just keep beating down. There is nothing wrong with Nameless Inversion on a token if you need to keep the beats coming. When the opponent has an uncontested Blossom, you really are in a dangerous race that requires a change in mentality.
The Elemental matchup is really all about your Mulldrifter. You basically win every time you evoke Mulldrifter, trading spot removal for Smokebraider and Incandescent Soulstoke, finishing with Sowers, Reveillarks, Mannequins, and Cryptic Commands. Things can get out of hand pretty fast, though, if the opponent is the one Mulldrifting and you aren’t.
Basically, the keys to this matchup are to kill Smokebraider if it is turn 2, 3, or 4, and kill Soulstoke all the time. Fulminator can shine here, as can the Puppeteer Cliques. In addition, keep attacking, as the game going long can be very dangerous on account of their Reveillarks, Mulldrifters, extra fatties, and the ability to Harbinger for what they need.
Finally, the Five-Color Control is a battle of wills in which it is important to extract as much value as you can out of each of your cards. Don’t over commit and get blown out by Firespout. Make your permission spells count, and use them on Mulldrifters and Mind Springs and Mannequins. Mannequin back creatures with card advantage abilities. Make sure you don’t run Reveillark out without some gas in your graveyard. Typically you want to try to save a Sower in case they go for Oona or similar. Usually you want to save your Witch for a time when she can protect herself.
This matchup is one long struggle for card advantage. Negate and Fulminator Mage are particularly good. If Five-Color Control becomes a bigger part of the metagame, I could easily see adding a couple of Jaces to the sideboard.
I hope this was helpful to you in your preparations for your next PTQ. I highly recommend this strategy as it is already in fighting shape, plus there is plenty of room to improve upon it. Even if you don’t consider running something like this, testing against it could prove useful when you face someone who is.
It’s been fun. See you next week.
PS: There is more information to come on a very special project I am working on… however, until contracts are signed, I can’t get into specifics. I assure you, though, we are going to do it right. A little less Real World, a little more Entourage. Wish us luck!