One Step Ahead of Wargate

Thursday, January 27 – Gerry, GP Nashville Champion, is a master of finding the best decks in the middle of PTQ seasons, and he think it’s the right time to bring Wargate back – but in very new clothes.

I was in San Jose for the SCG Open, playtesting Extended with Patrick Chapin, and was thinking about how to improve my Wargate deck to fight the
creature matchups like Naya and Jund. Thankfully, Patrick had already done the work for me, as his updated 5CC list had Plumeveil and Wall of Reverence
maindeck. The other option was playing more Scapeshifts and returning to the earlier, combo-fueled versions.

When I got home, I found out that Matthias Hunt, Minnesota PTQ End Boss, had won the local PTQ. His list was exactly what I had in mind. U/G, hell bent
on assembling the combo, but with a little twist: Oracle of Mul Daya. Naya wasn’t running much removal, if any, and for good reason.
There’s basically nothing worth killing in Extended, so what’s the point? Oracle exploits that fact nicely.

After a few Daily Events on Magic Online, I was convinced that the deck was the real deal. A couple days before Grand Prix Atlanta, I updated my blog (which I’ll try to do more frequently) with a few lists of updated, Valakut-central decks that I’d have
considered playing for the GP.

While I was unable to attend, Jason Ford went in my place! With three Valakut decks in the Top 8 with every single one of them advancing past the
quarters, I think it’s safe to say that I was dead-on.

After further tuning, this is what I’d play:

The Return of Wargate

The first thing to notice is the return of Wargate and fewer Oracles of Mul Daya. One of the major complaints about the U/G version was that Prismatic
Omen was difficult to find or keep in play once you found it. I don’t imagine that gets any easier going forward. Wargate adds a little
consistency in that regard but at the cost of a slightly worse mana base.

Wargate is great but unwieldy in multiples. Still, being able to fetch a Celestial Colonnade, Oracle of Mul Daya, or Jace, the Mind Sculptor when
facing down hate cards like Leyline of Sanctity or Tectonic Edge is incredibly valuable.

With the return to white, one might think that Day of Judgment would return over Firespout, and that’s entirely possible. However, Firespout has
been excellent. It doesn’t get blanked by an otherwise non-threatening Gaddock Teeg and can be cast a turn sooner to mitigate the damage done by
Fauna Shaman.

Oracle is cool (and a card I want to try in Legacy very soon) and sort of a mini-Scapeshift once you have Prismatic Omen, but in the face of hate,
putting a bunch of lands into play doesn’t accomplish much. Halimar Depths helps you find combo pieces, but I’d much rather have a smoother
mana base that doesn’t require one-third of your lands to enter the battlefield tapped. I still like drawing one against nearly every deck out
there, but multiples might be pushing the deck in a direction I don’t want to go. I just want to get them dead.

With that out of the way, it’s time to delve into the specifics!

The Mana Base

1 Celestial Colonnade

1 Murmuring Bosk

1 Cascade Bluffs

1 Scalding Tarn

1 Mountain

1 Plains

4 Island

4 Forest

4 Misty Rainforest

4 Flooded Grove

4 Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle

The actual lands should be fairly standard by now. One Colonnade — because having a manland is very good against most decks. You can’t play
too many because you don’t want a bunch of lands that enter the battlefield tapped, but one is fine and searchable using Wargate.

Fetchlands are awesome with the Valakut/Prismatic Omen combo, but the more you play, the more you run the risk of running out of lands to fetch. Misty
Rainforest searches for Murmuring Bosk, while Scalding Tarn helps facilitate the red splash.

The Cascade Bluffs is to cast Firespout and turn Valakut into Mana Leak or Cryptic Command mana.

The Ramp

4 Explore

3 Rampant Growth

1 Cultivate

1 Oracle of Mul Daya

(3 Wargate)

This isn’t the old days, where we played four Counterspells or four Smothers; that was all we could do, and we liked it. There just
weren’t other good options out there. Nowadays, we have our choice between which counterspells we want to run (which admittedly aren’t
nearly as good as they used to be) or which removal. LSV takes a similar approach to the removal suite in his Faeries deck.

These days, we have plenty of options, and drawing a mix of Rampant Growth/Explore/Cultivate is often better than drawing a handful of Rampant Growths.
Cultivate is perfect against the matchups where you want to play draw-go for as long as possible, such as 5CC or Faeries. Still, a decent amount of
two-drop accelerators is something you need against the fast decks in the format. Drawing two or more Cultivates is often too slow.

The Cantrips

3 Preordain

2 Ponder

1 See Beyond

(1 Jace, the Mind Sculptor)

As I said earlier, we have our pick of the litter again. Preordain is nearly always better than Ponder, as Ponder is typically only good with shuffle
effects, and Preordain is like a mini-Ponder with a shuffle included. However, there’s a solid amount of shuffle effects already present, so we
definitely want some amount of Ponders.

Drawing only Ponders is often much worse than drawing one Ponder and one Preordain. Imagine you have two Ponders but no shuffle effects. You cast the
first one on turn 1 or 2 and see one card you want and two cards you don’t. Unless you have restraint and waited until turn 2 to cast both, which
may not even be right if you’re searching for a ramp spell, then you have to draw a terrible card that doesn’t help you.

If those were both Preordains, then life would be simple. You’d find what you need each and every time, meanwhile sifting that garbage to the
bottom. Drawing roughly one Ponder per game is fine though, as is drawing one Ponder to follow up your Preordain with. Most of the time, Preordain will
be better, but there isn’t one that’s strictly better, so you want a mix.

The same could be said of See Beyond. Obviously it’s a tad inefficient when compared to the one-drop cantrips, but its role is valuable. With
this type of deck, you want to draw a mix of lands, ramp, and combo pieces. See Beyond helps you accomplish that, but it’s not something you want
to spend a lot of mana on. It’s far more than just another Ponder and is hardly a weaker version.

Again, you’d rather open on a hand with Ponder, See Beyond, and anything else than just two Ponders. See Beyond isn’t quite Brainstorm/fetchland,
but it does the trick in Extended. Having one of those effects is useful in a deck with Scapeshift, Prismatic Omen, and a lot of other cards that have
diminishing returns.

One other thing to note is that Ponder is much better when you’re setting up Oracle of Mul Daya. If you’re still running Jason’s version
with a bunch of Oracles, it would be wise to consider more Ponders instead of Preordains.

Random Aside

The morning of the Grand Prix, Jason sent me a text telling me to sell him on the singleton Cultivate and See Beyond. I basically wrote a condensed
version of the above paragraphs. Apparently, I won’t make it as a salesman, but it seemed to work out in the end.

Another point of note is that every single time I’ve handed Jason a decklist with Into the Roil, he has recoiled in horror. From some reason, he
seems to be allergic to the card, while I think it’s very good. Yes, sometimes your 5CC opponent thinks he’s cute, hiding behind his triple
Leyline of Sanctity draw, but if he’s got that going on, he probably doesn’t have any other action anyway.

If 5CC manages to stick a Jace, which is one of the few ways to lose to them, then you’re going to wish you had an Into the Roil. Regardless, all
of this becomes moot with the move back to white mana. You get access to Wargate for any number of great things, a manland, and various creatures to
beat them with.

There are also situations where you want to kill their Prismatic Omen but have already played yours, or you have an Omen, but they drew a Runed Halo.
In those situations, Back to Nature is going to hurt you a lot more than it helps. Into the Roil is versatile and better in more situations, but Back
to Nature is like the “OH SH!T” training wheels reset button. If you feel like you need that sort of thing, by all means, go ahead.

End Aside

The Anti-Creature Package

2 Firespout

Yeah, that’s right, my anti-creature package consists of two Firespouts, and Jason only had a miser’s copy. Typically, your combo (with
Cryptic Command to buy a turn or two) kills faster than the other aggressive decks. Mono-Red is the exception because of their reach and can end up
being a fairly poor matchup.

At least in game one, all you need against decks like Naya or Jund is a Time Walk or two. Between Cryptic Command and Firespout, you should be alright.

The Counterspells

4 Cryptic Command

2 Mana Leak

Mana Leak used to be a standard four-of in these lists, but I don’t believe that’s necessary anymore. Faeries has about the only card you
care about Mana Leaking, which is Mistbind Clique. Everyone else can either sneak under it by playing first, at which point you side it out half the
time, or has nothing worth Leaking.

I like having two Leaks to hedge against Faeries but also because having some permission keeps them honest. It doesn’t hurt having something that
can say “no” against the mirror either, but you never want to draw too many of them.

Cryptic will always be a four-of. Not only is it the most versatile counterspell to date, but it’s hardly even a counterspell in this deck. Most
often, I’m using it as a Fog or a Boomerang but almost always cantripping.

The Sideboard

1 Sun Titan

1 Wurmcoil Engine

1 Obstinate Baloth

3 Kitchen Finks

2 Vendilion Clique

1 Qasali Pridemage

1 Mana Leak

1 Dispel

2 Firespout

2 Primal Command

“Clearly a mess. One Dispel? A split on life gain cards? It looks like he couldn’t decide which was better, so he played one of

Some of you may not want to try this at home, but it’s as close to perfect as can be. Additional Firespouts aren’t really up for
discussion. I tried beating Naya and Jund with just life gain and got rolled, in addition to suddenly having a bad matchup against Elves (which is
fairly popular in the MTGO Daily Events).

The additional Mana Leak is for Jaces, Mistbind Clique, and Vendilion Clique. Mainly, you want it against Faeries and control decks. Sometimes Leak is
really bad in the mirror, but you don’t have much permission, so it’s probably worth it.

The Dispel is to protect against Cryptic Command and sometimes Nature’s Claim or to just win a counter war. It’s only good once
you’re involved in a counter war, so drawing two is typically bad; therefore I advise only playing one.

I had Guttural Response at first, as I was playing the R/G Scapeshift deck and had a good time getting all up in people’s Gutts. As someone on my blog
forums pointed out, Dispel is just better if you’re blue. There’s some argument to be made that if you have UUUGG, then you want Guttural, so you
can fight over your Cryptic Command, but I think getting the requisite blue mana should be easy enough.

Brad Nelson told me I should be running Autumn’s Veil instead, since it stops Spellstutter Sprite as well. However, a quick read of the card
later, and I figured out that it was still worse than Guttural Response.

Against RDW, you can’t afford to load up on all Primal Commands or Wurmcoil Engines. Those will be too slow. Similarly, you can’t pack four
Kitchen Finks and call it a day either. If their deck was all burn and Goblin Guides, then maybe that plan would be fine, but most red decks have
Kargan Dragonlord and Figure of Destiny. At that point, it’s like you’re trying to fight off Tarmogoyfs with Healing Salves. It just
isn’t effective.

Ideally, you want to curve Kitchen Finks into Primal for Wurmcoil, so that’s what I planned on doing. If you have Wurmcoil Engine already in hand
or are stuck on five and don’t want to risk not drawing a land, there’s an Obstinate Baloth to search for as well. Baloth might just be
better than Finks most of the time anyway, since it’s bigger, doesn’t require itself to die in order to gain those last two points, and
usually comes down on the same turn. Finks seems like the safer bet though.

Qasali Pridemage is there for any random Leylines your opponents might have. It’s possible that it could just be an Into the Roil or something
else, but it’s nice to have an answer that’s searchable via Wargate. Sun Titan, the answer to all the hate cards, can also recur it in case
you do need those training wheels.

Vendilion Cliques are pretty standard. They trade with opposing Cliques, start counter wars on your opponent’s turn (if you’re lucky), and
give you valuable information.

The Matchups


It’s no real surprise that every Valakut opponent advanced in the Top 8 whereas Faeries did not. The matchup typically isn’t that difficult, as
they have no good answer to a resolved Prismatic Omen. LSV’s strategy of boarding up to four Tectonic Edges is scary, as I was generally losing
when they draw two Tectonic Edges. If that trend catches on, then Scapeshift becomes more important.

Tentatively, I would say:

+ 2 Vendilion Clique, 1 Mana Leak, 1 Dispel

– 2 Firespout, 2 Scapeshift

If they’re on the LSV strategy, perhaps it’s best to keep in a Scapeshift and just focus on resolving that. Volcanic Fallout would be a nice way
to fight Spellstutter Sprite, but I’m not sure if that’s something you want to do. Fallout is hard to cast and will be a lot worse against
some decks than Firespout.

R/G Scapeshift

One of those “pure race” matchups. I told Jason Ford to side in Primal Commands here, but he refused. The Stone Rain type effect is really
good against them, and searching up a Vendilion to further disrupt them is excellent. With your ramp and counterspells, casting Primal before they have
a window to resolve Scapeshift or Primeval Titan should be easy enough.

Attacking their lands with various Commands is a solid strategy if all you need to do is buy time before you can put enough lands into play to
Scapeshift them out.

Look out for Nature’s Claim in response to your Scapeshift though.

+ 2 Primal Command, 1 Mana Leak, 2 Vendilion Clique

– 2 Firespout, 1 Jace, the Mind Sculptor, 1 Oracle of Mul Daya, 1 Ponder

The Dispel could also come in if they have Harrow, Guttural Response, or Nature’s Claim. Oracle and Jace have to come out because they’re too
slow, and you can’t risk tapping out for them.


Another “race” matchup, although this one has some disruption in the form of Gaddock Teeg and Qasali Pridemage. Post-board, things change
slightly. You want to make the game not be about Prismatic Omen anymore. By choosing to fight them in a different manner, you’re effectively
sidestepping all of their hate, which is more productive than trying to fight through it.

+ 2 Firespout, 2 Primal Command, 1 Wurmcoil Engine, 1 Sun Titan

– 2 Mana Leak, 1 Jace, the Mind Sculptor, 2 Scapeshift, 1 Ponder

Many would cut Oracle of Mul Daya as well, but I like being able to ramp up to Primal Command and my six-drops. Oracle might seem to not have synergy
with Firespout, but typically you curve Firespout into Oracle if you have it anyway.           


Incredibly similar to Naya. Thankfully, they’re a Fauna Shaman deck that has no disruption bears, no accelerators, and their Vengevines cost one more.
Worse than Naya? Most likely.

+ 2 Firespout, 2 Primal Command, 1 Wurmcoil Engine, 1 Sun Titan

– 2 Mana Leak, 1 Jace, the Mind Sculptor, 2 Scapeshift, 1 Ponder


Whoever blinks first will probably lose here. If they’re missing land drops, don’t be afraid to “burn” a Cryptic Command, setting
them back even further. Either they pick up a land and you carry on, or they fight over it, and you get to punish them on your turn.

+ 2 Vendilion Clique, 1 Mana Leak

– 2 Firespout, 1 Scapeshift

If they have an abundance of hate, I’d consider Primal Command, Sun Titan, and perhaps Qasali Pridemage as well, at the expense of more Scapeshifts and
some cantrips.               


Try to win the die roll.

+ 2 Primal Command, 1 Wurmcoil Engine, 1 Obstinate Baloth, 3 Kitchen Finks, 0-2 Firespout (depending on the version)

– 2 Mana Leak, 1 Jace, the Mind Sculptor, 1 Wargate, 1 Cultivate, 1 See Beyond, 1 Oracle of Mul Daya, 1 Ponder     

Basically, you just want to cut the slow cards for things that prolong your death. They have no real way to stop you from combo-ing them, so do so at
your leisure. Tunnel Ignus is a big threat, so even if they are on the Hellspark Elemental/Hell’s Thunder plan, you may want to keep in some

This is another matchup where Into the Roil wasn’t stellar but was worth boarding in.


You can expect the hate to increase in the next couple weeks, but that shouldn’t bother you if you’re well prepared. Even if you
don’t want to play a Prismatic Omen deck, you can almost bet that at some point, there will be someone standing in your way with a deck similar
to the one on these pages. Were I given the choice, I’d much rather be on the Wargate side though.


Be sure to “Like” my fan page on Facebook. I’ll be phasing
out my real Facebook page soon, so all the Magic related stuff will be going to the fan page!

Still on Twitter, tweeting updates from whatever tournament I’m at.

Also still blogging occasionally, but I have a few things that I want to write about in the near future, so stay
tuned. If the dominance of Valakut strategies surprised you, then you weren’t reading my blog!