One Step Ahead – Breaking Both Formats

Gerry Thompson designed the two best decks in the room for both the Standard and Legacy portions of StarCityGames.com Open: Orlando—Darkblade and U/W Control with Mental Misstep. Will they remain top dog this weekend at Louisville?

I must say that it’s incredibly satisfying to stroll into a tournament weekend knowing that you’re packing two of the best decks
you’ve ever played. It’s an even better feeling knowing that your decks did so well in the tournaments that they definitely left their

For the Standard portion, I still wanted to play Caw-Blade; I just didn’t know exactly how to retool it for the new format. I spent a week doing
a lot of research and ended up determining that returning to Darkblade was probably the right play.

The real turning point was realizing how to beat the U/W Caw-Blade deck. If the game goes late, U/W is typically favored because of their Tectonic
Edges and big spells like Gideon Jura and Sun Titan. They’ll use Edge to either keep you off your important colors or to hit their big spells
before you.

The key, then, is to ignore the late game and try to kill them before those cards come into play. Much like in Charlotte, I decided to bring my Emeria
Angels to fight the mirror. This made the mana base, already the sketchiest aspect of the deck, a little worse. Such things had to be done though.

Here’s what I played:

Discard and spot removal are very attractive in the new format. The Splinter Twin combo is unbelievably threatening, and something that must be
respected. While Darkblade, specifically my build, covered much of the top 16, Splinter Twin was also present.

Edgar-style U/W seems hard-pressed to put up any resistance against the Splinter Twin menace. His counterspells are easily played around, as is Into
the Roil, and the Splinter Twin lists have many things to stop Caw-Blade from getting any action going. Deceiver Exarchs, discard, and their own Into
the Roils buy them a ton of time.

I felt confident hiding behind my trusty Spellskites, but when I showed up in Florida, everyone was packing Twisted Images! How absurd. Rather than
change my strategy against them, I just hoped to either dodge them or play against Twin players that weren’t that ahead of the metagame.

My main reason for not adapting was because I didn’t know what else to play. Despise seemed better than Duress in the maindeck, as I was still
scared of R/U/G and Valakut to some extent. As it turned out, Despise was quite poor. You can rarely get a Stoneforge Mystic on the draw and barely
ever get a Deceiver Exarch. Sure, it’s still insane against R/U/G and Valakut, but those decks are definitely on the decline. Right now, you need
to be able to fight the mirror and Splinter Twin.

With Despise underperforming and therefore likely to be cut, Lewis Laskin’s Surgical Extractions might actually be solid against Splinter Twin,
R/U/G, and Valakut, assuming you have the right discard spells.

While Mana Leak is probably the worst performing card in the deck, I wanted to play a few to keep them honest. Additionally, Leak is superb against
R/U/G and Valakut and usually solid against Splinter Twin as well. Everything else has its place.

Go for the Throat is the removal of choice because they can’t redirect it to Spellskite. Into the Roil is basically another Go but with some
additional utility.

My sideboard was mostly a mishmash. Additional Batterskulls were for aggressive decks. Rather than tap out on turn five for Gideon, I’d play
Batterskull. I probably went a bit overboard with three. Two is most likely a better number.

As I said earlier, Spellskite is probably not where you want to be going forward. Divine Offering was wonderful though. I most likely should have had a
third instead of an Emeria Angel. Nearly everyone is going to Mystic for Batterskull, regardless of their opponent, and you need to kill it ASAP.

I was working with Drew Levin for the event, and both of us were staying with Kitt and Megan Holland. Kitt ended up playing the same list as us, and
when we stopped by Chris VanMeter’s hotel room, I gave him the list as well. He gave it to Ryan O’Connor, who defeated me in round three.
Other than that, I told AJ to play a real deck, and Alex asked for my list so I obliged.

In the end, Chris and I were the only ones to not make top 16, although I finished in the top 32. I’d say that I had the best deck in the
tournament and don’t believe that it was remotely close. With a couple other changes, it would have been difficult to lose to anything.

Rough sideboarding strategies with my old list:

U/W Caw-Blade:

+ 2 Emeria Angel, 2 Divine Offering, 1 Duress
– 3 Go for the Throat, 2 Mana Leak

Darkblade (my list):

+ 1 Emeria Angel, 2 Divine Offering, 1 Duress
– 2 Mana Leak, 1 Go for the Throat, 1 Despise


+ 1 Duress, 2 Flashfreeze, 3 Spellskite, probably 3 Oust
– 4 Squadron Hawk, 2 Emeria Angel, 1 Sword of War and Peace, 1 Into the Roil, 1 Inquisition of Kozilek


+ 2 Flashfreeze, 3 Oust
– 4 Squadron Hawk, 1 Sword of War and Peace

Splinter Twin:

+ 3 Spellskite, 1 Duress, 2 Flashfreeze
– 1 Despise, 4 Squadron Hawk, 1 Sword of War and Peace

RDW (with Shrine):

+ 3 Spellskite, 2 Flashfreeze, 2 Batterskull, 3 Oust, 1 Divine Offering
– 2 Mana Leak, 2 Emeria Angel, 2 Jace, the Mind Sculptor, 1 Into the Roil, 1 Sword of War and Peace, 1 Sword of Feast and Famine, 2 Despise

For Legacy, I had a few choices. I could play the B/U/G-style deck I had played the last few events, but I was getting frustrated with discard spells.
Surely there was a better strategy, even if Mental Misstep made the deck better. Let’s be honest—Misstep made most blue decks better.

I really liked the idea of Reid Duke’s Reanimator list. Reanimating Jin-Gitaxias on turn two or three was easy, but typically, I needed to draw a
Force of Will off the “draw seven” ability to lock up the game. While a whole lot of fun and probably very good, I felt like I could do

And better I did. Mono-Blue Control (MUC) was something I had been working on for a couple weeks ever since I got the Godbook (kidding!). The idea
seemed very promising. Standstill wasn’t a card that I’d usually describe as “good,” but that all changed with Mental Misstep.

This is what AJ, Drew, and I registered—give or take a few cards:

Now there are plenty of ways to stop their threats on the draw. Coincidentally, there are now enough to make Standstill into Ancestral Recall far more
often than not. Honestly, I didn’t even mind being on the draw with Spell Snare and Mental Misstep in my deck. Oftentimes, I’d play a
Standstill turn two on an empty board, they’d be mostly out of cards, and I’d felt like I won the game already. Granted, the actual game would
last for twenty more turns, but still.

From browsing random forums, it seems like there are a lot of common misconceptions about the MUC, or Landstill, deck that we played. For everything
else, from elaborate explanations as to why Standstill is good, how to play against Standstill, or the reasoning behind most cards in the deck, you can
check out Drew Levin’s article from yesterday.

First off, there’s Repeal, a card that I’ve been a longtime fan of. Cards like these tend to go unappreciated. They are unimpressive and
generally difficult to categorize. Most players don’t appreciate a strict “value” card, especially one where you end up behind a mana
on the exchange.

However, Repeal plays well with Standstill, making it so that you don’t have to lean on your Swords to Plowshares to keep the board clear. Also,
if there’s some threatening permanent that slipped through the cracks, Repeal is there to bail you out.

Most players tend to hide behind things like Engineered Explosives, but there are a lot of problems with that strategy. For one, EE is going to be even
more tempo negative than Repeal, assuming you’re trading on a one-for-one basis. Sure, there are the times where you get to kill multiple
permanents, but with the cheap counterspells available now, they rarely have more than one thing in play.

That logic also makes Jace, the Mind Sculptor absurd against nearly every deck. Basically no one has any direct damage, and a few have Vindicate or
Maelstrom Pulse, but for the most part, Jace is invincible. Four is the correct number in this type of deck because you want it on turn four every
single game in every single (relevant) matchup.

Jace is your midgame card advantage, plays well with Standstill, is insane against decks with big green dudes like Knight of the Reliquary and
Tarmogoyf, locks them out of the game, and eventually kills them. What more could you possibly want? If you’ve ever played Standard, you know
exactly how awesome Jace is. Trust me when I say it’s even better in Legacy.

Is Repeal that important? Yes, definitely. Could you cut one? Probably, but it’s really good against Aether Vial and other assorted, hard-to-deal
with permanents.

Is Jace that important? Hells yes! Have you ever cast that card? There’s basically nothing that it doesn’t do. You want to draw cards, you
want to temporarily deal with big dudes, you want to eventually kill them, and Jace does it all singlehandedly. Do I really need to explain why decks
that can cast Jace should play four, especially when it’s a focal point of the deck?

The only thing that I might change is the sideboard. Our Llawan, Cephalid Empress/Pithing Needle plan was solid against Merfolk, but maybe Peacekeeper
is better. I’m not entirely sure. I always feel like if I were playing Merfolk, I’d have outs to things like Llawan or Ensnaring Bridge,
but it seems like everyone else feels differently. Clearly if you adopt Peacekeeper over Llawan, a basic Plains is necessary, and Pithing Needle (plus
focusing on keeping Vial off the table) becomes less important.

As Drew said, the deck is not only still good, but it’s great! There are very few effective hate cards, and they are very narrow, and no one
plays them. The only real problem is opponents with Sensei’s Divining Top.

AJ and I took an intentional draw round three, feeling confident in our chances in the control bracket. That turned out to be incredibly dangerous, as
it was very likely that we would end up picking up another draw along the way. We knew that other control decks were awesome matchups, but only if we
had about double the normal round length.

If you do decide to play MUC/Landstill in Louisville or Providence, be prepared for some long matches. You need patience. You can’t have a
meltdown due to the clock like I did against John Cuvelier in the Swiss. That was one of the more painful things I’ve experienced lately. Keep a
level head, stay calm and focused, and you should be fine.

Some fun things that happened:

I countered nearly every spell a Goblins player played in two games.

Ok, well, that was about the only fun thing that happened. Old-school blue decks are back in force! This is what a “real” control deck
looks like.

And I don’t need no stinkin’ Cruel Ultimatums