Innovations – U/B Control And R/G Ramp Are The Top Two Strategies

If you’re running a Standard gauntlet, Patrick Chapin recommends a focus on U/B Control, Wolf Run Ramp, and Mono Red. Where will the metagame take us next?

Well, that didn’t take long.

Just one week after Brian Sondag and Christopher Thomson reminded everyone what the best Titan is, their Wolf Run Ramp deck has completely taken over
the format. While we don’t yet have the numbers from the State Championships, we do have them for Grand Prix Brisbane. It’s not just that Wolf Run Ramp
was twice as popular as any other strategy in the Day 2 metagame, it was also obviously a heavy influence on the new mono-green decks that have burst
on the scene. While not “strictly” mono-green due to a single Mountain and a couple sideboard cards, they really are at their cores mono-green decks
splashing Kessig Wolf Run. Wolf Run Ramp and Wolf Run Green were both popular on Day 1, but both overperformed and increased their presence on Day 2 to
3/8th of the field. Both decks continued to perform at the top tables, even taking four of the top 8 spots.

Last week, we stressed the importance of taking the new Valakut deck seriously—as it was sure to become a definite major player in the
metagame—but to also be on the watch for how the strategy evolved to deal with a format that is starting to expect it. Let’s take a look at how
the archetype has evolved. Maybe we want to play with it ourselves; maybe we don’t. Either way, it is crucial to understand it.

Changing very little from Sondag and Thomson’s list, Huang’s list does feature a couple of interesting new strategic elements beyond just playing a
fourth Primeval Titan instead of the third Wurmcoil Engine. To begin with, he cut a Forest for a Ghost Quarter, with a second in the sideboard. This
move obviously gives him a lot of strength in the mirror. A couple random Ghost Quarters can be quite solid in plenty of random decks, but the ability
to fetch them with Primeval Titan increases their effectiveness quite a bit.

People playing decks with Phantasmal Images, such as Solar Flare and U/W Control, would do well to keep this technique in mind. U/W Control should have
no trouble at all playing a pair of Ghost Quarters, and since most Kessig Wolf Run decks only play two (so far…), a pair of Ghost Quarters to fetch
with a copied Titan is even more effective than it ever was against true Valakut. Sadly, the opponent’s Kessig Wolf Run can actually target your
Phantasmal Image, so you’ll still need an answer to the opposing Titan.

Solar Flare is going to have a bit harder of a time making the mana work to support Ghost Quarters, but Brad Nelson manabase described here goes a long way towards
actually making a stable and reliable Solar Flare manabase. His Sphere of the Suns and downplaying a color make his mana actually pretty solid. That
said, cutting counterspells from Solar Flare is an interesting riddle. Counterspells are very effective against Wolf Run Ramp; however the Wolf Run
Ramp matchup is already so bad, maybe the only way to gain some ground is to find a completely different direction to attack from.

Huang also cut a Solemn Simulacrum for a Thrun, the Last Troll. This obviously increases the flexibility of his Green Sun’s Zeniths and gave him a nice
tool to use against the U/B Control decks he correctly anticipated would rise up to fight the R/G decks. Finally, he also replaced the fourth copy of
Garruk, Primal Hunter with Garruk Relentless. Personally, I like Garruk, Primal Hunter more, though both are excellent cards.

I have noticed quite a number of people suggesting that it is awkward to run three Garruk, Primal Hunters and one Garruk Relentless or two of each.
After all, when you have one type of Garruk in play, the other could be stuck in your hand. Right?

Sure, but so what? What does that have to do with playing two of each Garruk instead of four copies of just one? Either way, you have four
planeswalkers named Garruk in your deck. Making one or two Relentless doesn’t increase the odds that you will draw two Garruks at the same time. If you
draw both a Garruk Relentless and Garruk, Primal Hunter at the same time, ask yourself what the game would be like if you played all Primal Hunters.
You’d still have two Garruks in hand, meaning one stuck in your hand. At least with two, you have increased options, as you can play one, then when it
is killed and you play another land, you can play the other.

While Garruk, Primal Hunter isn’t as better than Garruk Relentless as Jace, the Mind Sculptor was better than Jace Beleren, even with Jace, people
sometimes played a mixture to save some mana. The point is, if you play with six Garruks, yeah, you are going to get them stuck in your hand more.
However, playing with four Garruks is playing with four Garruks, regardless of the mix. The correct number of Garruks may be more or fewer than four;
we are just talking about the math behind drawing too many of a “legend.” Remember the old adage: if it’s a legend/planeswalker they can’t beat if it
stays in play, then the legend drawback doesn’t matter at all.

Jacky Zhang also changed very little of the Open winning decklist but also elected to run a fourth Titan (over Beast Within #4) and Ghost Quarters. In
fact, Zhang actually went ahead and cut a Mountain to make room for the second copy main! Zhang kept most of the sideboard intact, but did manage to
make room for a sideboarded Memoricide package. These are primarily for the mirror, naming Primeval Titan (thereby nerfing the potential effectiveness
of opposing Green Sun’s Zeniths, as well).

Luke Mulcahy definitely mixed it up a bit with his build, though I definitely recommend leaving this one alone. Not trying to Paulo his achievements,
deckbuilding ability, and personal self-worth, I am just not a fan of his build…

Remember, when we criticize a strategy, it is nothing personal. I realize how easy it can be for someone to take it that way, but we are just trying to
share our views on the deck. It is really cumbersome to write out over and over, “This player is obviously good—he top 8ed a GP—so when we
criticize his deck choice, please understand that we are not suggesting he isn’t a good player.” Instead, we ask that it sort of be taken as a given,
save us all a lot of headache and heartache, not to mention time.

With that out of the way, I am not a fan of Mulcahy’s changes. To begin with, he has actually moved the other way on Primeval Titan and Wurmcoil,
picking up the fourth Wurmcoil and only running two Titans. More importantly, however, he has no Beast Withins or Primal Hunters. This gives him room
for a couple extra Acidic Slimes, an extra Solemn, a Thrun, a Batterskull, a Devil’s Play, a Mortarpod, and a single Garruk Relentless. If you are
going to cut Beast Withins, than the Slimes make sense. Extra Solemns? Thrun? Garruk Relentless? Okay, I can see all these.

Some of this action is a bit wild, however. Devil’s Play is a fine card and fits the strategy, so I guess I’ll buy that. Batterskull? Sure, I mean,
once you have maxed on Wurmcoils, I guess it is the next best Wurmcoil available. Mortarpod? Okay, so you lost me. The card is good in the format, I
agree. I guess I’m just not sure how much it is really doing for Wolf Run in particular. You do get to sacrifice Viridian Emissary, which is nice, and
it is effective against Liliana of the Veil, but it still seems dubious at best. I gotta admit, cutting Beast Within is a significant amount of your
interaction, so at least it is a spell that can be played early.

I do enjoy the spice in the board, however. I am not even sure who you board Urabrask in against, but it sounds so sweet, I would probably want to play
it maindeck if Garruk, Primal Hunter weren’t legal. Ezuri’s Archers is a hot little number that we will be seeing more of in the weeks to come. While
they are most well-known as a tool against Tempered Steel, they are also excellent at fighting Inkmoth Nexuses. Even after they shrink from fighting
one, they can still take another down easily. Not bad for a one-drop! They also combat Midnight Haunting and are quite reasonable against token-based
strategies at all, if you can keep Intangible Virtues and Honor of the Pure off the table.

Witchbane Orb is another card I like quite a bit out of Mulcahy’s sideboard. Some burn heavy decks might be ill-equipped to defeat a hexproof and
burnproof opponent. More importantly, a black deck or U/B deck could conceivably make use of quite a number of targeting effects. Witchbane Orb shuts
down Despise, Distress, Mind Rot, and Memoricide, as well as Liliana’s second and third abilities. To make it even more effective against these decks,
Witchbane Orb actually destroys all Curse of Death’s Holds that you may be enchanted with, a card that can actually be quite effective against the
Inkmoth Nexus + Kessig Wolf Run play. That Witchbane Orb is an artifact is also interesting, as not only is it available to everyone, but the decks it
hurts most (U/B and Mono-Black) are generally the worst at getting rid of artifacts in the format.

As we mentioned above, Wolf Run Ramp is also a heavy influence in the new breed of mono-green Dungrove Elder decks that are emerging.

The “mono-green” builds are built to capitalize on Dungrove Elder and more mana Elves, rather than Slagstorm. While Pranato has only one Dungrove Elder
in his list (to Green Sun for), I suspect that most will use more. The mono-green builds aren’t really that different, though they are more threat
heavy. We are talking more planeswalkers, the Dungrove Elder direction to attack from, and more acceleration (and bodies to make the Kessig Wolf

The use of so little red mana constricts our flexibility somewhat, but this style is actually even more intrinsically powerful than the R/G build. It
is more proactive and does more “good things,” although it does have fewer options for adjusting to the meta. I think the jury is very much still out
on which style is better, but most likely there is a spectrum, and future Wolf Run Ramp decks will fall somewhere between the two poles.

Owen Turtenwald won Wisconsin State Champs with a similar list (probably influenced by Martin Juza), this past weekend. There really are quite a number
of things you can do with this deck, but having a plan against Titan for Kessig Wolf Run is going to be crucial for the next several months (at the
very least). You can read more on this archetype by Gerry Thompson both here and here.

Innistrad’s debut was marked by Mono Red dominating the first week of unprepared players. Despite this, it was Solar Flare that was the talk of the
tournament. The following week, Solar Flare burst onto the scene in a big way. Loaded with Timely Reinforcements and with Wurmcoil Engines everywhere,
many thought the format was at risk of getting “stale” fast. Solar Flare’s over-hyped “reign” didn’t even last one event, however, as Brian Sondag took
the top spot, as we mentioned above. I can’t even imagine how much fun it must have been to be the only guy in the room playing Valakut…

Wolf Run Ramp naturally preys on Solar Flare, and Wurmcoils and Tree of Redemption help prevent a red resurgence. So what is the next step in the
metagame? Wolf Run Ramp (it still pains me to call it that in print, as a number of us just call it Valakut in conversation) was arguably the top
strategy in GP Brisbane; however, its popularity has paved the way for the return of U/B Control.

Déjà vu.

It was almost exactly a year ago that Valakut was finally taking over Standard. Initially, people held onto U/W-based control, since that had been the
strategy that was working previously. This year, we have seen the same thing. Initially, Caw-Blade and various U/W decks were the most popular, at
least partially due to momentum.

Once again, Primeval Titan has reared his ugly head. Once again, U/B Control is being called on to save us. What’s interesting is that this cycle is
accelerated compared to last year. It wasn’t until December of last year that U/B Control took its proper spot in the metagame. If we are already at
U/B Control in October, where is the format going next month?

Let’s start by taking a look at the champ’s build:

There are a lot of important items to consider, here. To begin with, remember that it is generally a good strategy when evaluating decks like this, to
look at each type of card. For example, in Neeman’s deck, there are only five types of cards:

Win Conditions- 5 (Consecrated Sphinx, Wurmcoil Engine, Grave Titan)

Card Advantage- 11 (Snapcaster Mage, Forbidden Alchemy, Think Twice)

Permission- 13 (Snapcaster Mage, Mana Leak, Dissipate, Negate)

Removal- 12 (Snapcaster Mage, Wring Flesh, Doom Blade, Geth’s Verdict, Black Sun’s Zenith)

Lands- 27

Consecrated Sphinx continues to be the go-to victory condition for control decks, a trend I don’t see stopping anytime soon. The miser’s Titan and
Wurmcoil are valuable, as there really are an awful lot of Memoricides and Surgical Extraction types going around. Besides, having the variety gives
you more options, and sometimes one or another will be particularly strong against a given opponent.

Shaving an Alchemy may seem sacrilegious to some, but it really does cost a lot of mana to operate, and we do have lots of sweet things to be doing
with our mana. Besides, Nephalia Drownyard can help find us more Think Twices and Alchemies if we need, and getting stuck with too many clogging up our
hand is a real risk.

While some players have trimmed down on Snapcasters, preferring a more Liliana-centric game plan, Neeman’s is very much a Teachings/Dralnu/Draw-Go
deck. He has given up Liliana entirely, for the time being, as too much of the field has adjust to the over-popularity of Solar Flare. I don’t see
Liliana completely tanking in value, but already she is down $10 from last week and will surely drop at least $10 more in the next couple. Remember the
cycle that Tezzeret, Koth, and Gideon all went through. The good planeswalkers are initially underrated a little, then when people discover how good
they are, they over-compensate temporarily. Then after reality catches up to them (since $50 mythics are not realistic), they settle down to something
more stable.

Yes, obviously everyone is always chasing the next Jace, the Mind Sculptor. The One last time around was 7 years ago (Skullclamp). The One before that
was another 7 years earlier (Necropotence). By my watch, we have at least another 5 before the next reincarnation of The One. I anticipate saying “Not
the next Jace” every single set for years to come, but when the Chosen One returns, you better believe I’ll be singing His praises from the rooftops.

The use of four Snapcasters with so much permission and so much removal let Neeman reliably always get a Mystic Snake or an instant-speed Nekrataal.
This type of consistency goes a long way towards making up for no Preordains. While Neeman’s list is extremely good at countering spells and Doom
Blading creatures, it is very weak against hexproof creatures and token swarms. Geist of Saint Traft is less of an issue because of so many Snapcasters
to block with, but Dungrove Elder and Thrun are definitely problematic. Neeman has a good amount of “dig,” but definitely crutches pretty hard on the
Geth’s Verdict and Black Sun’s Zenith.

Phantasmal Images out of the sideboard provide extra answers to Thruns and Geists, though the rise of Dungrove Elder may force a revaluation of game
plan. Grave Titan and Wurmcoil can block, however, so it’s not the end of the world, if you live long enough…

With so little sweeping, Neeman’s list is also quite vulnerable to fast creature swarms. The three Ratchet Bombs in the board go a long way towards
shoring up this weakness, though I can’t help but imagine trying some sweet Curse of Death’s Hold action. Yeah, I get the lack of tapping out, but I
have a feeling that card is going to be an important player in the next couple of months.

Gerry suggested Virulent Wound recently, as Wring Flesh is actually quite similar. Obviously Neeman would love a Disfigure, but there really are a ton
of important one-toughness creatures these days, most notably Stromkirk Noble, Birds of Paradise, Champion of the Parish, Inkmoth Nexus, and of course,
Snapcaster Mage. With almost every strategy having at least some one-toughness guys, Wring Flesh is rarely a dead card. This should also serve as a
reminder for anyone with red mana, Geistflame is great right now. Additionally, even if you don’t have red mana, Gut Shot is not out of the question
(especially if you are a little slow).

The sideboard isn’t that crazy, but I gotta say I love the Nephalia Drownyards. The ability to sideboard in more land is so underrated for control
decks. Additionally, Nephalia Drownyards is a card drawer digging to more action. Finally, it is an uncounterable and basically indestructible victory
condition, if push comes to shove. With the amount of Forbidden Alchemies and other card draw spells people play, sometimes they will do most of the
milling themselves, so a little push to finish them off can catch them off guard.

A final note on Neeman, it is amusing that he played U/B and considered mono-green to be his worst matchup. Shuuhei Nakamura played mono-green and
considered U/B to be his worst matchup. How can this be? Neeman doesn’t have all the Lilianas that most U/B players do, which along with a few other
key changes, makes him better against R/G but a bit worse against mono-green.

Daniel Unwin also top 8ed with almost the exact same build. Unwin tested with Neeman, as well as Jiann Hua Chin and others, the result of which was
this deck their team used to dominate GP Brisbane.

Unwin has a second Wurmcoil instead of a Grave Titan (which is 100% reasonable), as well as two maindeck Ratchet Bombs (instead of Geth’s Verdict and a
Snapcaster Mage). He also has a few other options in the sideboard, which really should be customized to fit the style of the pilot. As you can see
though, their team’s deck put two people in the top 8, including the winner, and gets my vote for deck of the weekend.

This archetype has some weaknesses that can be exploited, but it is also extremely customizable and will adapt. This is the next face of U/B Control.
It is absolutely crucial to have this in your gauntlet, as it is sure to become a regular fixture in the metagame. If your gauntlet has only three
decks, they need to be Wolf Run Ramp, Mono Red, and U/B Control.

I recommend a Gauntlet of five, of course, including Solar Flare and either Township Tokens, Tempered Steel, or some U/W creature deck. Solar Flare is
on the decline, but it is still a very real deck. It has (arguably) the “best” cards and synergy; it just has less good mana than other decks and is
actually poorly positioned. That said, as the format evolves, there are sure to be plenty of times where Solar Flare is in the right spot at the right
time, especially if you catch people off-guard with a twist or two they were not expecting.

While the above-listed U/B deck was the deck of the tournament, it was not the only U/B deck to top 8. Former Player of the Year, Shouta Yasooka once
again showed his deckbuilding prowess with yet another Tezzeret Top 8. Shouta has played in three Constructed Grand Prix this year and has top 8ed all
three! His last top 8 was actually with another Tezzeret build, back during full-on Caw-Blade. He also finished top 4 in Japanese Nationals this year,
again with another Tezzeret list. Three different formats (pre-bannings, post-bannings, post-rotation) and three different Tezzeret Top 8s. There are a
number of people who always ask how to make Tezzeret work again. Shouta, it would appear, is the truest Tezzeret master of them all, and one to study
if you are particularly fond of such strategies. Aspiring deckbuilders could stand to learn a lot from studying Shouta’s work, anyway, as he is one of
the best deckbuilders in the world, today.

This particular build of Tezzeret is definitely on the controlling side, primarily using Tezzeret as a “Jace, the Mind Sculptor.” Basically, Shouta is
agreeing to play with a number of weaker choices (Spellskite, maindeck Spellbombs, Magnets) in exchange for the best planeswalker team in the format
(Liliana and Tezzeret, who is generally the best card in any deck he is in). Once again, we are seeing Wring Flesh and Doom Blade over Go for the
Throat (which can’t hit Inkmoth Nexus, a fatal flaw). Shouta can’t support Stoic Rebuttal or Dissipate easily, but makes up for it a little with
Despise (and sideboarded Distresses and Flashfreeze). What I find to be very interesting is that he managed to get away from Sphere of the Suns. The
allure of a turn 3 Tezz is very tempting, but Shouta has given it up for more consistency and a manabase that is not as vulnerable to Ancient Grudge
(or his own Ratchet Bomb). Instead, he has Nihil Spellbombs and Solemn Simulacrums, helping smooth things out.

As is so common in modern control decks, we see a variety of alternative threats in the sideboard. With no Snapcasters, it is hard to justify leaving
in certain types of small creature removal, making Azure Mage potentially as dangerous a threat as Consecrated Sphinx. Finally, I am a huge fan of the
Curses in Shouta’s sideboard (no surprises there).

With seven out of the top 8 on Kessig Wolf Run or U/B (even if they were split up over four archetypes), the format definitely looks to have a couple
of pillars at this point. Mono Red makes for an excellent aggro deck to keep our gauntlets “honest,” and Solar Flare is still so popular that it
deserves one of the five spots. What about that fifth spot, however? Tempered Steel? U/W Destiny? Caw-Blade? Pod? Puresteel? Kibler’s RUG deck?
Mono-Black Infect? There are plenty of decks vying for this spot in the metagame, not the least of which is G/W Tokens.

While many G/W Tokens lists use Intangible Virtue, Fondum instead favors Overrun and Mikaeus, to complement his Townships, Heroes, and Monks. This is a
deck that makes excellent use of Mortarpod! I love the dimension it gives, offering both removal and reach, as well as just being a great card in the
format. Garruk Relentless fits better on the curve than Big Garruk, as you already have the Monk, Overrun, and Elspeth at five. Blade Splicer is better
than Midnight Haunting in most of these sorts of decks, as it just hits so much harder. Intangible Virtue would change things a little, but remember,
even with Virtue in play, Blade Splicer does more damage than Midnight Haunting.

I love the use of the mana creatures here. Geistflames and Wring Fleshes are everywhere, but they don’t always have the answer, and if they don’t, they
are often very behind. Overall, I am generally a fan except for one fatal flaw… I wouldn’t want to play this against Wolf Run Ramp. Sure, you can
just Hero out the people that cut Beast Within, but in general, we are just as short on tools for fighting Wolf Run Ramp as G/W Tokens used to be
against Valakut. They are a little slower, so I guess we can just be okay with racing, but that is a tough race made even tougher by Slagstorm. At
least the mono-green decks don’t seem as bad.

If you like token-based strategies, this one is legit. It is full of good cards, has good mana, and exploits a lot of slower decks that don’t have many
sweepers. As we mention, not the best positioned at the moment, but maybe there is more you can do to clean this up. Obviously Fondum finished second
at the GP, so he probably beat more than one Wolf Run Ramp player to get there, so who knows…

Looking at the format as a whole, we see a pretty good mix, albeit with an unusually high amount of Wolf Run Ramp:

Day 2 Metagame Breakdown of GP Brisbane

Wolf Run Ramp 27.8%

U/B Control 13.9%

Solar Flare 11.1%

Mono Red 9.7%

Mono Green 9.7%

G/W/x Tokens 8.3%

U/W Blade 5.6%

Tempered Steel 5.6%

Puresteel 4.2%

G/B/W Heartless Pod 1.4%

Mono-B Infect 1.4%

RUG 1.4%

This is sure to fluctuate quite a bit in the weeks to come, as there is no question we are in the midst of a healthy and evolving metagame. Innistrad
is one of the best-designed and developed Magic sets ever and has wasted no time having a major impact. Each week, we have seen major technological
advances, and there is no reason to suspect that is about to stop. Now that we have ourselves a full-blown metagame, what’s next? Which of the tier 2
strategies is going to rise up after some new piece of technology is invented? Tokens? RUG? Mono-Black Infect? What is going to happen to U/W Blade,
Tempered Steel, and Pod? What new forms will they take? What other new cards from Innistrad have yet to find a good home? I’ll be back Wednesday to do
some brainstorming on what’s next. See you then!

Patrick Chapin
“The Innovator”

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