Innovations – Winning with U/W Control: PT San Diego *14th* Part 2

StarCityGames.com Open Series: Indianapolis on March 13-14
Monday, March 1st – Patrick Chapin and crew created a controlling monster for Pro Tour: San Diego. Today the Innovator talks us through the card choices in depth, and rounds out with a tournament report that highlights his sideboarding strategies throughout the event!

By now, it is no secret that U/W Control is a major player in the new standard format. This week, I am going to pick up where I left off in Part 1. Last week saw the breakdown of the card choices and a wide range of important tactical plays that regularly occur with this exciting new archetype. This week, I am going to review the ten rounds of Standard I played at Pro Tour: San Diego, helping me lock up a 14th place finish. No question, Nassif and I were both sick after our 3-3 records left us each a single match win (or less) outside of the Top 8 (and talk about our dream Top 8).

In addition to what lessons can be gleaned from the rounds I played in the event, I am also going to expand on sideboarding and talk about the future of the archetype, now that the cat is out of the bag. First though, let’s take a few minutes to discuss the cards we did not play with in San Diego. Even though we did not play them, it doesn’t mean that it would not be right to play them next week. These are all fine cards; we just didn’t think they were right for this event, though the metagame could surely shift.

First, for reference, here is what we played in Pro Tour San Diego:

To begin with, when it comes to cards we did not play, the most notable class is (for the most part) creatures. With only a lone Iona (which blanks most removal anyway) we are essentially a pure control deck. Interestingly, one of U/W’s greatest strengths is that while it does not rely on creatures at all (which are so good these days, so everyone plays a ton of creature kill), but it is not short on victory conditions at all, with 4 Jace, the Mind Sculptors, 4 Celestial Colonnade, and 2 Martial Coups, and Iona herself, as well as wide range of fantastic victory conditions out of the sideboard, allowing you to shift the field of battle as you see fit.

When Heezy first suggested that I try brewing some classic U/W Control decks, we discussed both the shroud creature plan, using Calcite Snapper, Wall of Denial, or Sphinx of Jwar Isle, as well as the good creature plan, using Baneslayer Angel, Sphinx of Lost Truth, Knight of the White Orchid, and Kor Firewalker. Both schools of thought had their merits and we tried both extensively, but in the end, we moved away from both.

An important concept that I see people miss all the time is that when you start down the shroud plan, you might as well go the whole way, or you get very minimal value for doing it at all. So often I see people armed with Baneslayers and Sphinx of Jwar Isle, fighting side by side. Take a moment and think about this. When you play Sphinx of Jwar Isle, you are paying for the Shroud ability. Being able to look at the top of the library is probably not worth as much as First Strike and Protection from Demons and Dragons combined. Once you set those aside, you end up with Shroud versus Lifelink, which are somewhat comparable in power level, but Sphinx of Jwar Isle costs an additional mana (which is the price you must pay if you absolutely want to blank your opponent’s removal).

The point is, Sphinx of Jwar Isle is nowhere near as strong as Baneslayer Angel on power level, but you might want it to blank your opponent’s removal. However, if you put Baneslayer Angel in your deck anyway, it is all for naught. What did you pay that extra mana for? The point was to blank their Terminates and Paths, and now you are turning them back into great cards? If you are on the Shroud plan, mean it! Why do you think that we always put Baneslayers in the sideboard? Nassif, Heezy, and I did it in Austin, LSV did it shortly after Worlds, and we are doing it again. Baneslayer out of the board is discussed more in depth in last week’s article, but suffice it to say, a good rule of thumb is all shroud or none.

Think of it this way: if you play 2 Baneslayers and 2 Sphinx of Jwar Isle, and draw one of each, they kill the Baneslayer, then don’t have removal anymore anyway. If, however you had used all Sphinx of Jwar Isle, they would have a dead card. If you had used all Baneslayers, the creature you are left with is a Baneslayer, not a Sphinx. You can do it either way you want, just pick one or the other.

So why did we pick Iona? Well, Iona is essentially a Shroud creature (since you usually name White or one of Maelstrom Pulse’s colors). So many people instinctually name Black, by the way, which is usually right against Jund, but not so much against Junk. Yeah, you want to stop Pulse, but why not name Green instead? I am willing to bet they have a lot more Green cards than Black.

We tried Wall of Denial and no question, WoD has always been great for us, particularly against Jund, Boros, and Mono-R, but it was pretty clear early on that Day of Judgment was the way we wanted to take control of creature match-ups. Wall of Denial is pretty awesome with Earthquake, but not so much with Day of Judgment. It was proving to be more and more a bad Oblivion Ring (hence we just moved towards Oblivion Ring).

Sphinx of Jwar Isle got cut, as more and more we found that we just won every game with Ultimating New Jace. Eventually, I realized that it was nice to have one alternative kill card, but since I wasn’t dropping Sphinx until I had nine mana anyway, I might as well take full advantage of all this extra mana I was producing and stick an Iona. This sort of works like a combination of Sundering Titan and Mindslaver, continuing the Tron elements of this U/W deck.

Calcite Snapper is a card that every single person I playtested with argued to try. Obviously I tried Calcite Snapper day one, but that didn’t stop everyone from suggesting over and over that we try it more and more. We had found that the Snapper was very good for Grixis, and it seemed good in theory to have a guy that fights Thrinax, blanks removal, attacks Planeswalkers, and blocks other Snappers.

What I found, however, was that Snapper is a poor way to fight Putrid Leech, Knight of Reliquary, Steppe Lynx, Gatekeeper of Malakir, Ranger of Eos, and Baneslayer Angel. Basically, he was too aggressive a card for our purposes and did not actually line up right for the key cards we wanted to beat. On top of that, he did not interact well with the whole Day of Judgment thing. A White Will-o-the-Wisp? I would consider such a card. The Snapper, however, did not cut it. You are spending too much for his aggressive elements which are not well used in this deck. The main issue he was actually solving was blocking other Snappers, and I realized that Kor Firewalker was actually better at this, as he was cheaper and almost as Shroud-like, not to mention a great sideboard card in its own right.

I experimented quite a bit with all the “good” creatures, but I don’t like Baneslayer game one against Jund, many Knight of Reliquary decks, Vampires, or control. In addition, I liked being able to keep the opponent off balance, and starting with Baneslayers and sideboarding them out doesn’t work, since people are all main decking their spot removal and won’t have “more” after boarding.

Sphinx of Lost Truths performed well, but I was finding more and more that I wished it was just Mind Spring. As an experiment, I swapped one and the first time I drew it, I knew there was no going back. I had three Mind Springs for a while, but I made it a daily ritual to ask myself if I could bring the mana curve down every day. Testing was revealing that we were already way more powerful than most of the decks, so I wanted to push us to be faster and more consistent. Besides, the Jaces, Halimar Depths, and Treasure Hunts actually go a long way towards helping you find whatever it is you are looking for.

Over the course of the tournament, every single one of my opponents playing control, including Grixis, Esper, and Austrian (U/W/R), played Spreading Seas against me. Obviously this is a holdover from the days of needing such a weapon to fight Jund combined with the new need to contain manlands (which is particularly important for U/W/R, which has trouble with Celestial Colonnade and Stirring Wildwood).

The thing is, when you Spreading Seas a Celestial Colonnade, it just isn’t as effective as hitting a Savage Lands. My Tectonic Edges, on the other hand, were devastating to the Blue Mages, consistently finding that they could not only not cast Cruel Ultimatum, they could not even properly fight counter wars over Jace. I think Spreading Seas is going to be a hurt a little against Jund anyway, since most savvy Jund players have been adding more and more land to their deck.

Simon Gortzen raised some eyebrows with his 27 land + 2 Rampant Growths, but I think that with time more and more Jund players will adopt similar strategies, and not just because he won. Jund’s Achilles Heel has always been its manabase. The new manlands offer an opportunity to actually play so many lands that you can actually always hit your lands drops and actually be able to cast your spells. The inevitable flood that you are assured of hitting is blunted by the fact that six of your lands are powerful threats in their own rights, not only acting as spells but offering an excellent place to sink all that extra mana.

As you can see, my U/W deck has a similar mentality, where you can just play so many land that you actually don’t get mana screwed nearly as often as most other Standard decks. You avoid the flood by playing a lot of inherent card advantage as well as a ton of lands that act as spells. Where Gortzen had 6 creatures in his resource row, we brought 4 Serra Angels, 4 Stone Rains, and 4 Ponders (not to mention Multi-kicker Mind Stone, which is a virtual card advantage in its own right).

We considered using Spreading Seas, as it is actually a natural combo with Tectonic Edge. However, in the end we opted to try to avoid the natural problem of drawing Spreading Seas and needing to cast it looking for land, but not wanting to tap out (since we decided that counter magic was actually secretly very good right now, even if all the counter spells suck). We were already finding ourselves waiting on casting Treasure Hunt until the last possible minute. Spreading Seas is a fairly poor card to hold until the last minute, and the games that were hardest for us were the Steppe Lynx, Hellspark, Putrid Leech games. Quick aggro is better fought than with Spreading Seas.

While no one seems to ask why we didn’t use Divination, an awful lot of people ask if we considered Jace Beleren (primarily to fight other Jace, the Mind Sculptors proactively). The answer is that we definitely did, and if I played in a Standard tournament next weekend, I would very likely add Old Jace to my repertoire, if not in the main, then at least in the sideboard. He really is a truly great answer, though I really don’t like Old Jace at all right now, except against Jace decks.

Divination is actually somewhat underrated these days. It seems that an awful lot of people are not even considering it anymore, automatically defaulting to the Treasure Hunt plus Halimar Depths plus Jace, the Mind Sculptor engine. While it is true that this engine is far more powerful, it does not obsolete Divination. Obviously it is possible to imagine a deck that might just want more card draw, but also Michael Jacob made a good point when he was experimenting with various Treasure Hunt deck, which was that some of these U/W/R and Grixis decks might not really be able to afford to max out on Halimar Depths (their mana is so bad), and if you don’t try then Treasure Hunt is not automatically better in every way. Treasure Hunt is still a little more powerful, but Divination might be a better card for them, depending on what they are trying to accomplish.

After further contemplation, I realized that this was just an argument for dropping Red, as Halimar Depths, Tectonic Edge, and Everflowing Chalice are just better than Lightning Bolt, Earthquake, and Ajani Vengeant, once you factor in the enormous increase in consistency that they offer. To me, Everflowing Chalice is actually the biggest thing holding back Divination. With Chalice in the mix, it is just hard to justify Divination over Mind Spring for any added card draw you might need.

Into the Roil is a fun card that sort of fits into its own category. The combo with Oblivion Ring is obviously the main draw, but also it is just sort of a holdover from the Grixis decks we liked so much. I was imagining possible sideboard plans and I realized I was boarding it out in most match-ups, and it wasn’t even that good in the match-ups where I kept it, making me question its place at all. I enjoy kicking an Into the Roil, no question, but nothing is sacred.

What I concluded was that Into Roil was much better in Grixis, since they didn’t have Oblivion Ring to deal with problematic permanents like Luminarch Ascension, Ultimate Ajani, and Eldrazi Monument. In addition to Oblivion Ring, we were pushing more and more towards Cancel, ensuring general solutions to problematic permanents. Besides, at the end of the day, Into the Roil is just not that powerful a card. We could do better.

A couple of cards we always assumed would be in our sideboard, but didn’t make the cut this time, are Luminarch Ascension and Pithing Needle. The Luminarch Ascension is a classic anti-control standby that came up when Rubin, Gab, Kibler, and Kowal were walking with me to the Fish and Chips place across the street from the beach house in Solana Beach we were staying at (Thanks Dan Burdick!). We were talking about it and realized that none of us particularly had our hearts set on it… we always assumed that we would use it against control because that is just what people did.

Rubin pointed out we really didn’t have that many cards going out against control, now that we had streamlined the main deck. In addition, our testing indicated that Grixis and U/W/R were both totally outclassed by our U/W deck in the first place, and the only games we would lose were usually to quick Planeswalkers or Calcite Snappers, neither of which was Luminarch Ascension that good against.

In retrospect, I am glad I came with zero, as I played against several control decks and they were all relatively easy match-ups. We went to the extreme against Red Aggro with so much space, but I tell you, the one match I played against Barely Boros, I was really happy to have 12 cards to bring in. It is possible that I would want to use some Luminarch Ascensions next week, but I am not 100% sure that is the right way to fight people, as it might just be better to play a bunch of Old Jaces, or perhaps better still a mixture of something like five different plans so that they can’t adjust to yours.

Pithing Needle is one of Gab’s favorite sideboard cards and historically speaking he has probably built more sideboards with Pithing Needle than not, since its printing. It is obvious that Manlands offer a whole host of new reasons to Needle, not to mention Ajani, Nissa, Luminarch Ascension, Behemoth Sledge, and more. At the end of the day, though, the Needle was another casualty of Oblivion Ring, as everything we would have asked it to do, O-Ring could do, save Manlands, which of course we have no shortage of solutions for.

I can already tell this article is going to run long, and it is already a part 2, so I guess all the people who hate my non-Magic stories will get their wish (well, their other one, since they already got the list). When I sat down to play my first round of Standard, my blood was pumping and I was excited, but I was also just in a great mind set and was looking forward to the fun matches I was sure to be a part of. I was really not a big fan of Standard pre-Worldwake, but this set has made all the difference in the world to me.

My first opponent was piloting a Grixis deck and won the die roll. I had a turn 2 Chalice, which is a huge boon in this match-up, but he played a turn 3 OLD Jace and drew a card! Oh no! I tapped out to play New Jace and shipped the turn after they traded. He played another Old Jace and drew a card! Had I been leveled?

I tapped out and played another New Jace to trade. After this we just played draw go for a while, and I started making up the cards when he started having to discard, while I just kept playing land after land, using Tectonic Edge to punish his greedy manabase. Eventually he has too many Flashfreezes and Essence Scatters to properly fight me over my Mind Spring powered by all my Chalices.

+3 Kor Firewalkers, +2 Negate, +1 Essence Scatter, +1 Elspeth, Knight Errant, +1 Plains
-3 Oblivion Ring, -1 Day of Judgment, -1 Path to Exile, -1 Celestial Purge, -1 Flashfreeze, -1 Iona, Shield of Emeria

An important note here: I am listing a way to sideboard, but often the sideboarding varies depending on how you want to play it. It can be good to mix up your sideboarding from game to game, to adjust however it seems natural to you. I don’t want people to think this is some all-purpose sideboarding guide that is just the way you are supposed to play these match-ups.

First of all, this guy’s Grixis deck is not the same as another guy’s. Second of all, you have to adapt on the fly and tune your deck to play the way you want it to. Maybe you sense your opponent is up to something, you might keep more general problem solving cards like O-Ring in. A good practice with a deck like this is to just shuffle your sideboard in, then go through and pull out the cards you don’t want to play.

Count how many you have pulled. If it is more than 15 (which will be rare in this deck) figure out which ones give you any value at all and weigh the pros and cons. Usually it will be a little less than 15, so you have to go through the deck in a way that is sort of like building a draft deck. Look at all of the options and try to imagine which cards are even up for consideration to cut.

The only spells I never sideboard out of this deck are Jace, the Mind Sculptor; Treasure Hunt; Everflowing Chalice; and (almost never) Mind Spring.

After sideboarding, I ended up a bit mana flooded, but was in decent shape after forcing through a Jace. My opponent Bolted it and played a Sphinx of Jwar-Isle, drawing a Martial Coup for six from me. His response was not surprisingly a Cruel Ultimatum, but I had hit another Jace on top, helping me ride the tokens to victory (since he apparently had boarded out Earthquake).

Round 2, I was matched against Open the Vaults. It seemed to be a favorable match-up for me and I easily won game 1 with an Iona on White, though it did eat up a lot of the clock. Game 2 ended up going nearly to time, with my opponent defeating me with 1 minute left, though it is totally my fault. I eventually stuck an Iona and said White because of it being the right color game 1. The thing is, after sideboarding, my opponent had a lot less White removal spells and I had two Negates in hand to counter things like Open the Vaults.

By not naming Blue, I let my opponent’s Jace, the Mind Sculptors and Negates stay live, and eventually he was able to force through a little damage and tie it up. This was very disappointing, especially since looking back, if I had a win instead of a draw, I would have made Top 8, but I was playing the best I could and it just goes to show me that there is really is as much skill in Magic as LSV, Gab, Finkel, and Kai make it look like.

I boarded:
+2 Negate, +1 Essence Scatter, +1 Mind Control
-2 Flashfreeze, -1 Celestial Purge, -1 Path to Exile

One subtle silver lining was that this put me into the draw bracket. As I have said, I really didn’t want to play against Boros or Mono-R. Those are decks that are generally not in the draw bracket, heh.

My third round opponent was piloting a fairly standard Vampire deck. This is a relatively easy match-up, which was surprising to him, as it would seem most Vampire players just assume that Control is their best match-up. The big keys are that Cancel is the perfect counter spell for stopping them, Jace and Mind Spring beat Mind Sludge, and I have good answers to Bloodghast and Malakir Bloodwitch. They really aren’t that fast and my card draw is so much better than theirs that I am eventually going to get ahead of them. They can’t even over commit because of all my DoJ and Martial Coups. Overall, I think that Vampires has to radically change, because it was already bad against Jund, and now it is pretty bad against U/W, which should quickly become one of the more popular decks in the format.

Whereas Mind Sludge was the best card against control before, it is pretty weak now. Having to deal with getting Malakir Bloodwitch Mind Controlled is a nightmare, and the Chalices actually make you faster than them. I think if I wanted to play a Vampire deck that preyed on control, I might try a more suicide Black build, using Duress, Mire Toll, and Tectonic Edge as the disruption. The problem? You still don’t have a Phyrexian Arena, a Dark Confidant.

+1 Essence Scatter, +1 Negate, +1 Mind Control, +1 Plains
-2 Flashfreeze, -2 Tectonic Edge

My fourth round saw me matched up against David Ochoa, piloting Tom “The Boss” Ross’s Naya deck with Stoneforgers. It is a great deck that I think will become a regular fixture in the format, but LSV is right, U/W has a clear advantage. Boss Naya is just not fast enough to defeat U/W before it gets set up.

My games against David were very tight, with game 1 slipping away after the Basilisk Collar that he fetched earlier turned out to not be as worthless as we joked that it would be. He was under the impression that I had Wall of Denials (presumably), so he fetched the Collar, which was actually pretty close to irrelevant…

…Until I locked him out with Iona and he kept attacking through her. How embarrassing.

Game 2 I just ran the classic “stabilize at 1 life and take control,” with him not drawing anything during the couple turns where I just had to tap out and hope for the best (at 1 life).

Game 3 his draw was a little awkward with the turn 2 Wild Nacatl, but a timely Day of Judgment let me catch up and I rode Jace to victory (well, to a small advantage, which then got the game locked up when I hit him with a Baneslayer Angel and gained enough life to negate any possible outs).

+3 Baneslayer Angel, +1 Essence Scatter, +1 Perimeter Captain
-1 Cancel, -1 Celestial Purge, -1 Flashfreeze, -1 Negate, -1 Iona, Shield of Emeria

I actually sideboarded wrong in game 2 of my match with David, as I initially did not realize that he did not have Baneslayers and thought that Mind Control would be better than it was.

My last Constructed round of Day 1 saw me matched up against what appeared to be a U/W mirror. I kept playing Everflowing Chalices and hitting land drops, whereas he was short on lands from a couple Tectonic Edges. Eventually I win a fight over Jace, the Mind Sculptor around turn 8 or so and look at the top of his library, revealing a Lightning Bolt. At this point, I just kept shipping Red mana to the bottom of his library and Ultimated easily.

Game 2 was pretty easy as well, despite his drawing all three colors. This time, my Tectonic Edges kept him off of double Blue and I was able to win every important counter battle. Whereas he was discarding Essence Scatters and Flashfreezes, I was stockpiling Cancels until at one point BDM looked at my hand and saw a grip of 4 Cancels, 3 Negates, and an Essence Scatter, debating what to discard, as I move Jace closer to his Ultimate and sit comfortably with 14 mana available.

The U/W/R decks of last month are just too fragile, manabase wise. I am sure there is a solution, but it probably involves some crazy stuff, like Terramorphic Expanse or something. One way or the other, you gotta play a lot more mana than 26. I played 30 in my U/W deck, and the Red is only going to make it harder.

+2 Negate, +1 Essence Scatter, +1 Elspeth, +3 Kor Firewalker, +1 Plains
-1 Path to Exile, -1 Iona, -1 Flashfreeze, -2 Oblivion Ring, -2 Day of Judgment, -1 Celestial Purge

Here, you’ll notice that I was not 100% sure how to board and used a common technique of keeping in 1 O-Ring and 1 Day of Judgment, since they seemed kind of bad versus him (Kor Firewalker is a better way to fight Ajani and Snapper), but I wanted to hedge a little, and with all this library manipulation, finding one-of’s is not an impossible task.

You may also notice that I board Iona out quite a bit. This is true, but does not mean that she is not the ideal game 1 card. Just as Baneslayer gains a lot of utility after sideboarding, Iona is much stronger game 1. The post sideboard games tend to either be much faster (where Iona is too slow) or draw-go battles (where tapping out for a 9-drop is not what you want to be doing). Iona just steals so many game 1’s, but after sideboarding, she can lose her effectiveness a little, particularly when you are boarding in your other roads to victory. If you have some combination of Elspeths, Firewalkers, and Baneslayers, there is a lot less of a reason to keep her in. That said, if your opponent is mono-color, you probably always keep her in.

So 4-0-1 was certainly decent, but I definitely could have won the draw. That alone would have been enough to Top 8, but as LSV reminded me, a single changed match result would have changed everything. What if not getting into that bracket would have stuck me in the Boros Bushwhacker bracket? No use crying over spilled milk, nor idly dreaming of what could have been. Simply understand why you lost, what the correct line of play would be should you meet such a situation again, and move on.

I won’t dwell on the draft portion, but if you are curious you can check it out on the draft viewer over on the mothership. I ended up running a U/W Hedron Crab deck (with three). My 2-1 record was decent, only losing to Gab, but I did make to bad picks that came back to haunt me in my loss to Gab. First, I drafted a Vines of the Vastwood over a Crab 4th pick of the draft. This is certainly defensible, but I should have known that I was going to end up U/W, making the Crab a higher percentage pick.

The other mistake that was much further from a “judgment call” was in the Worldwake pack, I selected Razor Boomerang over Ruin Ghost. I knew the Boomerang was a weak card, but I kind of got sucked into the idea that it would be better in my deck than in most decks, since I have random worthless bodies (Crabs) laying around and can slow the game down, plus I could have issues with the Cunning Sparkmage.

What I failed to take into account was that the Ghost is incredible with Hedron Crab and would have given my deck a huge boost in power, speeding up its kill by many turns. The result? Against Gab I drew the worst card in my deck, Caravan Hurda (which I would have liked to board out against his double Punishing Fires Mono-R). If I had picked the Crab over Vines, maybe I could have won that one. Also, Razor Boomerang was solid against him, as he had a ton of one-toughness guys, but the Ghost very easily could have won the game for me. I had a record of 6-1-1 on Day 1, but both “losses” were mine to win. It blows my mind to see so many people that really believe “there was nothing I could do.” Seriously, if you think there is nothing you could have done, than you understand much less than you think you do. Obviously only one person wins each tournament, but in my experience, Magic is much too hard for humans to play well.

I made enough match-losing mistakes in Berlin, Worlds 2008, Worlds 2009, and San Diego to cost me the Top 8. That is a lot of potential opportunities out the window from not playing as well as Kenji, Finkel, or Kai. Even looking at the other events, there is always more I could have done. If I had a better strategy for preparing for international travel at the time, I would not have missed Kyoto. Maybe if I had played better on Day 1 of Austin, Day 2 would have gone great. Maybe if I had a better play testing arrangement in Hollywood, I could have found the missing link between my five color nonsense and U/W/R lark, or better still, Quick n’ Toast. There is always something you could have done.

Maybe you don’t believe this, but it is not hard to see that it is higher EV to operate as though it is true. If you act like you are a slave to fate and you are free, you make yourself into a slave, a victim. If you act like you are free and you are a slave, you are no worse off, as the “cost” is the potential torturing of yourself, which you can tough it out with. If you act like you are free and you actually are… anything is possible.

Day 2 started out rocky as I drafted what I thought was a decent Mono-B Vampire aggro deck. My deck was fun, fast, and aggressive. Unfortunately, I only managed a 1-2 finish (including, somewhat strangely, a crazy comeback win against Tom “The Boss” Ross). What mistakes did I make? Well, first of all, I certainly could have practiced more. I only did maybe a dozen drafts with Worldwake, and I am much slower to pick up a Limited format than many others these days.

In terms of actual in game decisions, I lost one match to a Green mage that played an Oran-Rief Survivalist which I promptly blew my Disfigure on. His Nissa’s Chosen came down next turn and held off a Hexmage, a Lacerator, and a Pulse Tracker. If only I had been smarter with my removal… so greedy. My other loss came to a Green Mage that played Explore on turn 2 and Oracle of Mul-Daya on turn 3. I was sitting holding a Smother which I had drafted over Tomb Hex. I am not 100% sure of the right pick, but from the sound of it, most people seem to be telling me I should have picked Tomb Hex, especially since I already had so many Disfigures and Urge to Feeds, but no Hideous Ends, meaning I could use the help with larger creatures.

Did I torture myself for these mistakes? Sure, but you have to move on. We may seek perfection, but we are never going to find it if we just go full blown life-tilt every time we punt a match. I think an awful lot of Magic players couldn’t handle it if they had to really face just how many matches they punt over and over again. Or maybe, just maybe, facing the truth might just be the best thing to ever happen to their game.

Round 12 brought us back to Standard, and frankly, still being contention after Limited was over is about the best I could have hoped for, you know? My opponent this round was playing Bant, which seemed like it might have been tough from his acceleration, Planeswalkers, and permission. Still, in the end, my card advantage, Cancels, and Martial Coups were too much.

+1 Negate (I might of brought in the second, but I don’t recall for what) +1 Essence Scatter
-1 Celestial Purge, -1 Iona

My next opponent was packing a W/G/B Junk deck, which from testing I knew to be one of my better match-ups. I easily win game 1 and am feeling good for game 2. He opens with turn 1 Birds of Paradise, turn 2 Lotus Cobra, Lotus Cobra, Dauntless Escort. Turn 3 Dauntless Escort, Dauntless Escort. My all Day of Judgment draw proved too slow. Game 3 I was pretty far ahead and thought I had everything locked up. Then he stuck a Duress that hit the Mind Spring I was banking on. I still would have been fine, but I drew stone blanks for about six turns in a row, and he drew platinum hits six turns running. I told ya, I was pretty far ahead.

Was I the victim here? No, as it turns out, I was greedy and countered a Lotus Cobra that I didn’t need to, forcing me to using Oblivion Ring earlier than I would have liked, which left me vulnerable to a turn where I left up Negate and Flashfreeze for counter magic and he surprised me with a Lodestone Golem. The mana disruption hurt me on no less than five separate occasions, he won by 1 life, so the high power was relevant, and the fact that it could bash through Celestial Colonnade left me one mana short again on the last turn, since I had to block his Golem with my Manland.

The point? I was so far ahead that I did not take into consideration that he might have something crazy like Lodestone Golem. I thought, well, I have Negate and Flashfreeze, and even if he sticks some crazy creature next turn, I will just Martial Coup (which I ended up a mana short of at all points in time). He played tight and played to his outs. He deserved to win and it was a good game. Still, no question, that was a tough one to punt, and over a lost 0.1% or whatever.

Well, that was it, at X-4-1, I knew that not even the LSV lottery could save me. For those that don’t know, the LSV lottery is where every time LSV wins (after round 14) someone else gets to sneak into the Top 8 with 4 losses. I was out and knew it. Still, I managed to keep my wits about me and just enjoy playing some Magic. Playing that U/W deck in San Diego was among the most fun games of Magic I have ever played. I know that is not everyone’s idea of a good time, but I loved it, and I loved being able to do it once before everyone else knew what was up. Deck builders may strike out 9 times out of 10 on new and innovative design, but that 1 time makes it all worthwhile.

Round 14, my opponent was packing Jund. A lot of people seem to be surprised when I speak about how good U/W is against Jund, but the secret is that counter spells plus card draw is a great recipe for fighting them. Treasure Hunt is exceptional against Blightning. I don’t tap out for Jace if I can help it. I have Edges for Manlands. Game 1 is even easier, since they have so many dead cards. After sideboard, they board out dead cards, but I gain Kor Firewalkers and Baneslayers, giving me a solid advantage even post board.

Don’t get me wrong, it is still easy to lose games to Blightning, Bloodbraid into Blightning, especially if they opened with a Leech. I think I lost game 2 against my round 12 opponent simply because I Day of Judgmented away his Sable Stag, which brought a Siege-Gang Commander from him (I could have waited one more turn to hold up counter magic). Still, the match-up is good, and I powered my way through it.

Sideboard (depends heavily on their build):
+3 Baneslayer Angel, +3 Kor Firewalkers, +2 Flashfreeze, +1 Essence Scatter, +0 or +1 Mind Control, +1 Plains
-1 Path, -2 Martial Coup, -1 Iona, -1 Scalding Tarn or Halimar Depths or Everflowing Chalice, -some number of Negate, O-Ring, Day of Judgment, maybe a Cancel.

When I sit down to round 15, I get this paranoid flash and count my sideboard, but it is 15 cards and I can see the cards I boarded in against Jund on top like they are supposed to be. My opponent wins the die roll, double mulligans and plays a Mountain. I study my hand and map out the next couple of turns. I am going to Halimar Depths and look for an untapped land to play my turn 2 Chalice. Sounds good. I draw a Kor Firewalker, which seems fortunate, but I have to find White mana.

I play my Halimar Depths and look at the top of my library. It was then that I saw Day of Judgment and asked myself what match-up I was playing again. I looked at the time and noticed that mere minutes had elapsed. That means that this must be game 1. I looked back at my hand and looked at the Kor Firewalker trying to make sense of the situation. I looked at my sideboard and saw that I had in fact only desided 14/15 and there was a Martial Coup still in my sideboard.

I did the only thing I could do: I called a judge on myself. The penalty is a game loss, which obviously sucked, but the rules are the rules. On to game 2, but what was he playing?

+3 Kor Firewalker, +3 Baneslayer Angel, +2 Flashfreeze, +1 Perimeter Captain, +1 Plains
-3 Day of Judgment, -2 Oblivion Ring, -1 Path to Exile, -2 Tectonic Edge, -2 Martial Coup

I studied my opponent long and hard, then tried fishing around a little bit about previous match-ups and which were good, which were bad. After a good twenty seconds I had become convinced that he was playing some sort of Red Burn deck. As it turns out, I was pretty spot on, as he was on Barely Boros.

The next game was a pretty remarkable battle that involved me running pretty good on him not drawing land or burn spells that deal at least 3 for a couple of turns in a row. Game 3 was a blowout with my opening with Perimeter Captain into Firewalker into Jace into Baneslayer.

After managing to pull out a win despite being down a game to a bad match-up, I was pumped. My last round was somewhat anticlimactic as I end up just destroying Jund, including eventually locking up the game with Jace and me sitting every turn Fatesealing him and letting him keep. If I had one complaint with Jace, the Mind Sculptor: by the time the match actually ended, my adrenaline rush was long since over, as my opponent and I had been joking about his hopeless position for 15 minutes as we went through the motions.

My final score in Constructed was 8-1-1, Nassif on 8-2, and Heezy on 7-3. I know those are not the best scores in the world, but all in all, I was thrilled with the deck and have to look at the event in the right light. This was my last event before falling off the train. A 14th place later and I am back on the train full speed with a renewed faith, as I see that I can still compete at the top level. Did I miss a lot of fun parties and late night dinners? No question, but you know what is a lot of fun?

Playing your best Magic.

If there are any other match-ups you would be curious of how I would board, let me know in the forums (as well as any other questions, obviously). The most popular decks I did not face were WW and Mono-G, which are actually among my best. I am well configured for both and sideboarding is mostly just a case of adjusting my permission.

Thanks again to everyone that showed support during the PT weekend. That positive energy means the world to me. What’s next? The expanded paperback text of Next Level Magic is finally ready! Once we started putting things into motion to release it as a paperback, it took on a life of its own. I kept adding sections and adding to sections. I even cut out a few sections, and the book still ended up weighing in at a hefty 420 pages (full color!) on account of the new material. I gotta tell you, when I finally held a copy in my hands, I was blown away. I have rarely been as proud as when I held up the demo proof and was reminded of just how much I love Magic culture and being a part of it. Watch StarCityGames.com in the days to come for information on the commercial release!

See ya next week!

Patrick Chapin
“The Innovator”