After Grand Prix: Montreal, where I missed Day 2 playing my version of Blue/Black control, I had the pleasure of sharing flights to San Diego with Antonino de Rosa. Among many wise – and fun – things Antonino told me, I clearly remember this:
“You shouldn’t play control all the time… you need to explore new horizons.”
The day before the Grand Prix, Antonino was seen at the site wondering whether he should play Blue/Green aggro or Blue/Green control. I had the chance to watch the aggro deck in action for a few games, and while I had no idea on the content of the other build, from what I saw I recommended that he play Blue/Green control. He settled for the aggro deck, and both him and Ben Lundquist finished in the Top 16.
Looking back at those impressive results, and hearing Antonino’s arguments about the deck, made me change my initial impression. If I had to pick an aggro deck to battle with, I would certainly go for Blue/Green Aggro Goyf. In the meantime, I didn’t play any major Time Spiral Block Constructed event, but I kept playing and changing my Blue/Black deck, alongside writing about it and helping people qualify.
After the end of the Nix Tix events on Magic Online, I turned once again to Block Constructed, playing my Blue/Black deck in eight-man queues. I failed to win a single match. That’s a lot of 0-1 scores in the Constructed queues without winning a single booster. Even though the metagame is always shifting, especially the online version, I knew I was losing favorable matchups due to unfortunate situations (this doesn’t necessarily mean bad luck… it was often down to misclicks or lack of attention). I didn’t feel like discarding the Blue/Black deck. I just felt the need to play something new. I actuallly wished I’d changed earlier. I had reasons to do so, but it never happened.
The first reason was because one third of my losses with Blue/Black online, and I’m not exaggerating, are because I time out. It takes a lot of time to make an Urza’s Factory token when Urborg is in play. Recently, I discovered the hard way that I shoudn’t draft Sprout Swarm, because I timed out in a draft match when using it. My computer is volatile… to give you an idea of how bad the situation is, every couple of rounds I have to reboot my computer, and I can’t have any other application open at the same time as Magic Online. [I’m with you there, fella.. — Craig, still without MTGO.]
The second reason was because I was tired of playing Blue/Black control over and over again. I advocate that you need to play many times with any deck in order to fully understand it, and to help you better trace the gameplan against different matchups. But after an unrealistic amount of games with the same deck, you’ll start playing like a machine on autopilot – not really thinking through the situations. While many of them may be very similar, they’re not exactly the same. I’ve never felt so tired of anything since we asked Jelger to do the household shopping and he bought five kilos of spaghetti. No matter how many sauces you have, or how many changes you make to the deck, you’re still eating the same thing over and over again.
Antonino’s words echoed through my head. I told him I would try his deck after Pro Tour: San Diego, as it was my favourite aggro deck in the format and quite possibly my number two choice after Blue/Black. Now seemed a good time. Despite the personal reasons to make the change, there were still valid strategic reasons to pick Blue/Green Goyf. We had a proxy copy of the deck built, and the matchup against Blue/Black was good. With Mono-Blue rising to the top, it seems a good idea to run a deck that has access to Riftsweeper.
We ran some loose testing, and one of my friends decided to play the deck at the PTQ on the 4th of August, precisely because of the good matchup against Blue/Black control (which had won all the Portuguese PTQ slots at that point). I had planned to attend that same PTQ, since it was a 45-minute car ride from Lisbon, but I decided to skip it at the last minute when I discovered there was a 4x Block Constructed Premier Event on Magic Online the very same day. My friend Tiago Fonseca and I played the exact same list in the PE.
4 Terramorphic Expanse
1 Gemstone Mine
2 Llanowar Reborn
3 Psionic Blast
3 Chromatic Star
3 Call of the Herd
4 Looter il-Kor
4 Riftwing Cloudskate
2 Stonewood Invocation
2 Venser, Shaper Savant
3 Vesuvan Shapeshifter
3 Spell Burst
3 Thornweald Archer
3 Utopia Vow
The main difference from Antonino’s deck was the inclusion of maindeck Stonewood Invocation, as suggested by Tiago Fonseca. We decided to make more changes to the sideboard, since I clearly remember Antonino saying he had four bad cards: Wall of Roots. I knew I wanted to play Cancel, Pongify, and Riftsweeper #4. With so many Mono-Blue decks nowadays, I figured Spell Burst was also a good choice. After a brief analysis of cards to board in and out, Tiago Fonseca suggested Thornweald Archer and Utopia Vow instead of the more common set of Serrated Arrows.
We started the tournament playing against the very same matchup: Reanimator. I was facing the more classic version, in the sense that it planned draw and discard effects to put a fattie in the graveyard and reanimate it via Dread Return or Body Double. Those many draw and discard effects allowed him to play with madness spells like Psychotic Episode, and Dark Withering from the sideboard.
The matchup seemed good for me, thanks to many bounce spells – Riftwing Cloudskates; Venser, Shaper Savant; Snapback – plus Vesuvan Shapeshifter and Delay, and even Tarmogoyf for fast beats, and Psionic Blast to kill the discard enablers. I won a close round 2-1, with two close and split first games, but in the third he had the usual draw and discard creatures, but didn’t find anything exciting. Tiago Fonseca lost because he never found the fifth land to play a face up Vesuvan Shapeshifter to copy a Bogardan Hellkite.
Tiago Fonseca would move to 0-2 and drop because of lack of motivation to carry on, after a loss to U/G/W Momentary Blink, which left me without company for the next six hours.
For the next rounds, I played against U/W Pickles, Enchantress/Atog deck and a mirror match. I lost against the U/W Pickles because I never had a great start and the deck outpowered me in the mid and late game. I won against the Enchatress/Atog deck, although game 1 was really close, and if he’d had a second Temporal Isolation when he had two Enchantresses in play, I would’ve probably lost. In the mirror match I was luckier than my opponent, as he spent two games trying to survive. I was now 3-1, and guaranteed to keep playing until the end as 4-4 was good for a Top 64 finish and prizes. I was also using this as serious testing. I believe these big online tournaments to be as hard, or even harder, than a PTQ. Sure, there are some average players, but after winning a couple of rounds the level is very competitive and proficient, just like a PTQ.
When stood at 3-1, it never ocurred to me that I could miss Top 64. After all, I was still in contention for the Top 8. In the second half of the tournament, I faced another mirror match, a Blue/Black Relic Control (Olivier Ruel style), a Green/White Goyf deck, and a Mono-Blue deck, although I don’t remember the exact order.
In my second mirror match, I found myself on the losing side. It seems reasonable to have a 50-50% score in mirror matches. This match saw me post 1-2 in games,w hich mirrors my earlier 2-1 win.
My friend at the PTQ finished 5-2, barely missing the 5-1-1 cut for Top 8. More than half of his wins were against Blue/Black control. He went 3-0 in matches against it, proving the results we achieved in playtest were correct.
Ruel’s style of Blue/Black is different than traditional Blue/Black. His Tarmogoyfs are very good at preserving his life total and buying time until a Bogardan Hellkite appears, or he buries you with overwhelming card advantage. Despite that, I lost the round due to a Magic Online Bug. It’s game 3, and my opponent only has a single card in hand: a Coalition Relic I’ve bounced with Riftwing Cloudskate. His life total is very low, and he probably dies on the next attack. He has no more than two draw steps, but it is possible he has only one.
End of his turn he flashbacks Mystical Teachings, and it’s likely he’s going for Tendrils of Corruption to kill my Cloudskate and regain lots of life. I play Venser targeting the flashbacked Teachings, adding the Venser to the board for a faster kill and forcing him to topdeck something very soon. However, for some reason the Teachings went back to his hand, so in his turn he just played it again and fetched Tendrils. AND it was still in the graveyard for later use. The Teachings should’ve been removed from game. I wasn’t exactly sure on the rule, but I checked the flashback text, asked some folk for their opinion, and even looked for answers in Ask The Judge on StarCityGames.com.
I was feeling pretty dejected after that loss, but there were still reasons to play, so I carried on. My last round was a loss to Green/White Goyf. This is a matchup I don’t think favors me. They have better creatures, or at least every creature is matched until they make an unmatchable Mystic Enforcer. After sideboarding they also have better removal… Sunlance joins the Temporal Isolations, which help them win the tempo game.
Somewhere in all of this, I also lost to a Mono-Blue deck. I started all three games with a Riftsweeper on turn 2 removing a suspended card (an Ancestral Visions when I was on the play, and Riftwing Cloudskate when I was on the draw). I played at least two more Riftsweepers hitting suspended cards during the match, but even with all these Flametongue Kavus I still didn’t win. It is a matchup I intend to test some more, since I thought the decks matched each other… but I hoped the Riftsweepers would give the Blue/Green a small edge.
After eight hours of play and a 3-1 start, I wasn’t very happy that I’s missed out on prizes, but I looked at my result in the following way. I went 50-50% versus the mirror match. I grabbed two more wins against a Tier 2 and an off-the-radar deck (Reanimator and Enchantress). I lost to three Tier 1 decks (Blue/Black, Mono Blue, and G/W Goyf). While I concede that the G/W Goyf match isn’t so hot, I think Blue/Black is winnable. Looking back, I think I was winning even though I have no idea what my opponent drew afterwards. Mono Blue seems to be a closer matchup than my games suggest.
Here is the list I’m currently playing
- 4 Looter il-Kor
- 4 Riftwing Cloudskate
- 3 Vesuvan Shapeshifter
- 3 Riftsweeper
- 4 Tarmogoyf
- 2 Venser, Shaper Savant
I didn’t like the Stonewood Invocations, even though they won me one game. I felt the deck was a little short on mana. Somtimes I was short of lands, and I was only really mana flooded once. I prefer to use Looters to get rid of extra lands and set up a good hand, rather than using them as a desperate way to dig for your third land. I added a 23rd land and one more Psionic Blast, which I’m not completely sure about. While I feel the deck needs some removal for stuff like Shadowmage Infiltrator, and it’s a very versatile card, the one time I needed to topdeck a creature to stay alive I drew Psionic Blast… and I drew a Psionic Blast from a Looter when I was at two life.
I opted not to touch the sideboard I had at the tournament. The Cancel, Pongify, and Riftsweepers are natural inclusions. Spell Burst is still the best weapon against Mono Blue. Thornweald Archer was okay, with so many abilities in a two-power two-mana card. I’d like to try Utopia Vow a little more instead of the Serrated Arrows.
– This deck is not a pure beatdown deck. It seems like it’s applying beats, but the opponent might have things under control. Other times it seems to have the game under control, but it’s only an illusion.
– I think it’s very dependant on a turn 2 Looter il-Kor, since Riftsweepers are often just Bears, and Tarmogoyf doesn’t grow as effectively as in does in Green/White decks. Many times it was just a 2/3, and against that my opponent had all the time in the worl to develop his game without being pressured. Looter helps grow the Goyf, and it smooths your draw. It’s the best turn 2 play against pretty much every deck.
– The cards are easily outpowered in the mid to late game.
– It has a good matchup against Blue/Black control.
– It has many bounce spells, which can be a nightmare for certain decks, and they allow the deck to play a good tempo game.
– It’s not your typical Green deck which needs to draw the mana accelerators on turns 1 or 2 and then avoid drawing them later.
Overall, I don’t think it’s a deck I’d play at a major event, but I’ll admit that at some point I was set on playing it at Grand Prix: San Francisco. Nevertheless, I would still recommend that you try it and see for yourself. I wouldn’t criticize anyone for picking it to play at the next PTQ. I know some people who will do it again, and others who didn’t play it because they couldn’t find four copies of Tarmogoyf. While my results were not an improvement on my unfortunate Blue/Black streak, it allowed me to expand my horizons and change things up, and also to learn an unfavorable matchup from the other side of the table for when I’m playing Blue/Black.
Thank you for reading,