Mastering Standard: U/W Master Of Waves

Mark has a new deck for you that he highly recommends checking out and giving a shot at the SCG Standard Open in Cleveland, Ohio this weekend.

I have a new deck for you, and I think it’s one you’re really going to like.

Given the results of the latest StarCityGames.com Standard Open, I’m almost certain that what I’m about to give you is going to be a huge contender, and I strongly suggest adding it to your gauntlet and testing. It’s entirely possible that spoiling it before the Pro Tour is a mistake; I probably should just be emailing it around to all my friends who will be playing in Dublin, maybe helping them do well on the grandest stage of them all.

Oh well. Their loss, your gain.

Before I tell you about this juggernaut, however, I want to share a story with you. It’ll be short, but I promise it has a point. My stories usually do.

When I was younger, roughly about fifteen years ago, I met a friend that pretty much changed my life.

I had just moved from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (you know, the city that is at least 1,000 times better than Cleveland) [Editor’s Note: Tread lightly Mark.] to southwest Florida about two months before the school year ended. Being the new kid sucks, and despite having an outgoing personality, making friends when everyone was gearing up for summer vacation was extremely difficult. To say I was miserable would be an understatement, but luckily I was able to meet a few people—one of them a rather tall and shy kid named John Dean.

John and I became pals, and over our middle school years we had an on-again, off-again friendship mostly because I moved around a lot and had to attend a bunch of different schools. Eventually in high school we settled into a friendship that has lasted for about twelve solid years. We were able to bond over our mutual love of Magic, and even though John was a much better player than I was, he took me under his wing and tried to show me the ropes.

To this day my wife and I still joke about how John is like my significant other; she can even pinpoint the day that it became solidified. Our senior year, JD (as I affectionately call him) had something very important: a car. Despite being a rust-bucket without A/C, it served the extremely important function of driving us to local tournaments. It was a Friday night, and I had just made plans with Jessie (my wife) to go out to a movie and maybe grab a bite to eat.

After hanging up with her, my phone rang almost instantly. John was on the other end, and he asked me to go to something called "FNM." I had absolutely no idea what it was since I was a bit of a casual player. He told me about a place where people went every Friday night to play in a big Magic tournament, and to me it sounded like the coolest thing I’d ever heard. I immediately said yes, completely forgetting that I had just made a date with my future bride.

I called her back and explained to her that this was a "once in a lifetime" situation because at the time I had no idea that this was a weekly thing. She happily obliged, letting me break the rendezvous in favor of a night of slinging spells. I put together what meager deck I could and waited for John to arrive. When we started on our way, he asked me what I was playing, and my reply literally made him laugh.

"You’re not playing that. Don’t worry; I have a deck for you."

O . . . k? Was my Mono-Black Nightmare deck not good enough? I guess not.

He handed me a copy of R/G Beasts, which was a deck that performed quite well against something called "Affinity." It was a five-round tournament, and I was able to go 3-2. It wasn’t good enough for Top 8, but it was the most fun I’d ever had playing Magic. There were rooms filled with players cracking packs because Fifth Dawn had just come out and everyone was excited to get their hands on new product. I was like a kid in a candy store.

John was able to Top 8, and I thought it was the coolest thing that had ever happened. Watching him play made me want to get good at this game because people seemed to respect him there. In school I was somebody; I was the class clown, I was in a band, and I had a gaggle of friends. At this Magic tournament? I was nobody, and people sometimes look down on nobodies.

For the next few years, John taught me everything he knew about Magic, and I came to respect his opinion on just about every issue he discussed. Sometimes I wouldn’t understand things the way he would, but he’d always take the time to break it down for me without making me feel inferior and always asked my opinion on things, making me feel like I was in on the process. I started getting better, and I started winning. Those FNMs that seemed like the biggest tournaments in the world to me became a small pond, and I was finally the big fish. That led to bigger events: PTQs, GPs, Opens. Even when I was losing and he was winning, John was always my biggest cheerleader. I never thanked him for the encouragement he gave me early in my Magic career because I was too proud.

In 2009 I had my first taste of big success when I qualified for Nationals via winning Florida Regionals. It didn’t matter that he had been knocked out of the tournament early on because he stood behind me every single round as I navigated the Swiss and told me what to do better next time, always tactfully to not shake my confidence but to let me know what I can do better in the future. When I won, I politely shook my opponent’s hand, but John started cheering and demanded that I get on his back and ride him around the room for a victory lap. My greatest regret to this day is that I didn’t.

In the years since we’ve both had our fair share of tournament success, but we always keep each other grounded and constantly push ourselves to get better. We have long, intricate talks about plays, decks, and the results of tournaments. Recently, with school being such a big factor in his life, John had to take a step back from Magic in order to concentrate on the degree we both should have gotten years ago. However, that didn’t stop him from almost winning a $5,000 tournament a month ago. I was tired and not feeling very well, and selflessly he shrugged and said in the Top 4 that he would scoop to our friend Nick if I wanted to leave early. Obviously I told him to play it out, but that’s just the kind of guy he is.

When Theros was spoiled, I was pleasantly surprised to see that John had dove headfirst into the newly emerging format to start brewing and immediately came up with a deck that he thought was going to be competitive. For a few days he called me every day to give me the details of what he was creating, and to be quite honest it sounded crappy to me. His testing was yielding pretty impressive results against the decks we expected to be early frontrunners in the format—things like Naya, Mono-Red Aggro, G/R, and other midrange decks that we came up with that made sense.

This weekend we decided that we were going to hunker down, put on some football and SCG Open coverage, and jam these new decks against each other using the decks we saw during the event as a guide.

As usual, it feels like John is a step ahead of everyone. This is the guy that bought 100 Tarmogoyfs because he knew it was too good. This is the guy who called me up at Gen Con and told me to go all in on Primeval Titan because he had been clearing through Win-A-Boxes with some deck called Valakut.

Now John is telling me to start picking up as many Master of Waves as I can. As is the norm, I questioned his wisdom until I saw the card in action, and if our testing is any indication of what it is capable of, uhh . . . start picking up Master of Waves.

Go ahead. Do it. Say what I said.

"This deck looks like worse U/W Control."

When I sat across from John with my midrange deck packed with Rakdos’s Return, Duress, Thoughtseize, and other disrupting goodies, I was almost certain I was going to beat the living hell out of him in a few quick games that he couldn’t possibly win.

Well, he won the first game. Then the second. Then the third. Screw this—let’s go to boarding! I thought I’d crush him afterward when I had plenty more tools to wreck his hand.

Welp. He won some more after that. I’d get a few games here and there, but the odds were so overwhelmingly in his favor that I started to think that maybe there was something to this deck after all. I picked up a powerful Naya deck that closely resembled the list that made Top 8 in Worcester and decided to battle him with that, figuring that cards like Loxodon Smiter and Domri Rade would put his U/W deck down.


The beauty of his list is that it is able to switch gears very quickly, which turned out to be deadly for my aggro strategy. Against my midrange deck he was able to play very aggressively and force me into reaction mode. Against the faster decks he was able to sit back, play a few blockers, cast a Supreme Verdict, and then clean things up with another sweeper before putting the nail in the coffin with a backbreaking Sphinx’s Revelation. Against control I felt like I had to deal with every single thing he jammed, and if I didn’t have the right answer at the right time, I was just dead. Do you know how hard it is to deal with Thassa if you don’t have a Detention Sphere? Have you played against a Bident when you don’t have an Azorius Charm? It’s miserable! In the dark he also has the illusion of playing maindeck counterspells. At first I was playing around cards he didn’t have!

I’d like to do a breakdown of the card choices because I think it’s important to understand the roles of each piece in this puzzle.

4 Mutavault: The ability to play the greatest man land of them all in this two-color deck is a huge boon, but to make things better, it combos quite well with cards like Bident of Thassa and Master of Waves (who pumps it.) Mutavault is a great addition to this deck and gives tons of reach.

4 Omenspeaker: When this card was spoiled, I was in love with it, but I quickly felt that it could be too weak in this format and moved away from it. What a mistake that was! When people are playing a bunch of Thoughtseizes, Omenspeaker gives the Brainstorm effect, letting you check the top of your library and hide a potentially huge spell that your opponent can’t just take away with the aid of hand disruption. Against control Omenspeaker does something very pivotal: helps you make land drops. Scrying away useless spells in favor of precious lands means that you’re able to always play your best cards.

3 Thassa, God of the Sea: The cheapest of all the Gods, Thassa is freakishly annoying to play against. Without an answer, she makes sure you always hit what you need. Land flooded? No problem! Scry them to the bottom. Need to dig deeper for a removal spell? You got it! One of her most important interactions is making a creature become unblockable because if you couple it with something like Bident of Thassa, you’re able to generate serious card advantage. Also, turning her devotion on isn’t even very difficult in this deck, which can often mean an angry God swinging at your face.

2 Frostburn Weird: The great devotion machine. This guy . . . girl . . . jelly . . . thing plays a pretty important role against the aggressive decks while also being a fantastic way to ramp up your devotion to Thassa. It has a butt big enough to make Sir Mix-A-Lot proud, but when it needs to, the Weird is able to switch to offense. This is the kind of creature that can act as a tank with a Ferrari engine.

2 Elspeth, Sun’s Champion: As we saw this past weekend, her casting cost is merely a suggestion. Playing her at six still feels like cheating, and her effects are so powerful and versatile that if she were any cheaper, she’d be venturing into "busted" territory instead of just "almost hopeless to play against." Elspeth does what you want her to do, and her ultimate along with the army she creates pretty much signifies game over.

2 Jace, Architect of Thought: As one of the defining cards of Block, Jace’s place in this deck should be self-explanatory. Aside from being an aggro deterrent, an unchecked Jace can generate significant card advantage and put games away very quickly. Get used to seeing this guy for the next year because he’s got all sorts of staying power.

1 Spear of Heliod / 2 Bident of Thassa: As Godly weapons, these should have a huge effect on the game, and they usually do. In concert, the Bident can force a creature to attack that you can then destroy with the Spear, and against stalemates or stalled boards, this can be crucial. Spear in particular works really well with Master of Waves, ensuring that if your Master dies you still get to keep your tokens around, and speaking of Master, with Bident you get to draw a ton of cards. A single attack with your tokens and creatures can yield a full grip.

4 Azorius Charm: Easily the best Charm printed, this Swiss Army Knife can cantrip against control; it can place an attacker on top of the opponent’s library and save you some life; or if you have a few creatures out, the lifelink can help swing a race against aggro decks. I don’t think I need to discuss the merits of this bad boy.

3 Sphinx’s Revelation: You’re winning the game. Your opponent passes the turn with all their mana up. You attack! They’re almost dead. You play another creature and pass. "Revelation for five," they say.

4 Supreme Verdict: We are living in a world full of Mono-Red and G/W Aggro, and one of them just won the latest Open. They have creatures, and we want them dead. Easy enough!

1 Cyclonic Rift: A two-mana Unsummon is hardly something to get excited about, but when the overload can clear an entire board, now we’re talking. This card is a slight concession to aggressive decks mostly because of the dual applications. Early it’s a bounce spell, but when you get to the late game and can overload it, victory seems like something very easy to obtain.

3 Detention Sphere: D-Sphere has proven that it’s powerful in just about every matchup, as having mostly unconditional removal can help swing games. As a one-for-one, it’s acceptable, but when you start venturing into two-for-one territory, this card becomes bonkers. Don’t forget that it even adds to your devotion count.

And lastly:

4 Master of Waves: I wrote this card off when I first saw it as gimmicky because I figured cards like Doom Blade would just stone-cold it. What I didn’t see is that not only does it have protection from red but there are so many decks out there that it just entirely blanks. Can a mono-red deck actually beat this card if it’s played on turn 4 or 5? Follow up a Verdict with it, make a creature, and pass? It’s not dying any time soon, and in multiples it’s the most annoying card I have ever played against.

A turn 2 Omenspeaker followed by a turn 3 Thassa rounded out with a turn 4 Master made me want to punch a baby right in the face. My decks only had a finite number of ways to kill him, and if I just didn’t have it and he untapped, I almost always died. After boarding, when John had access to counterspells, I felt even more irritated. Turn 5 I’d see a Master with one blue up. Kill it? Nope! Swan Song! AS;khjasdkjh.

The board is primarily set up to destroy the vast sea of aggro decks out there but can be easily retooled to play more counters and control cards if it starts popping up more. Blind Obedience is the deck’s answer to two of the cards that can be problematic: Hammer of Purphoros and Stormbreath Dragon. Blind Obedience does a great impression of Imposing Sovereign and can put the brakes on aggressive decks while letting you knick at their life total a little bit and keep yours reasonably high. If needed, though, we’ll fit more in there to handle control decks.

One of the most important skills when playing with this deck is knowing when to switch gears against your opponent, which can often decide the pacing of the game. As John told me, this is not a control deck despite looking like one—it’s more of a tapout deck and should be played as such. Your role against an opponent is usually defined in the first few turns, so knowing when to hold back and be the control deck as opposed to when to start flooding the field with your threats is going to be a big decider in how well you do.

Pay attention to the board state and understand when to flip the switch. This was the thing that kept me off balance the most when I played against John because when I was trying to sculpt the game, he was putting me on a clock and when I was trying to go blow for blow, he was holding back and forcing me to overcommit. This deck has an uncanny ability to force you into a bad spot, so play in such a way that you’re always putting your opponent at a disadvantage.

In the end, like always, my best friend was right. He created something that might be great. I guess it’s up to you to prove to us if it’s the real deal or not. John hasn’t been wrong yet, so try it out and tell me what you think in the comments below!

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As you can tell, this article isn’t just about a really awesome brew that my buddy came up with but is a testament to the power of friendship that Magic can create. As I’ve said before, I’m blessed that my best friends in the entire world all partake in this hobby with me, and I truly hope you can relate.

Regarding U/W Master of Waves, I can’t stop thinking about this deck. I want to make it better. I want to make it a powerhouse. I want people to play with it and love it and win with it. Is that asking too much?

So go forth and battle, folks. Call up your best friends, sleeve this sucker up, and agitate the hell out of them as you crush them with Elemental tokens. They’re going to hate it, but what are friends for?

Catch ya on the flip-

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