One Step Ahead – Zur and Red Deck Wins in the MTGO Standard Queues

Wednesday, September 10th – Last week, Constructed master Gerry Thompson walked us through a couple of Constructed 8-man queues on Magic Online. Today he does the same, rocking out the Standard beats with a Zur deck and… Red Deck Wins. That’s right, folks: Gerry T has packed in the Vivid lands and picked up the burn spells! For a play-by-play breakdown, read on!

What exactly is a Constructed player to do when Magic is at its most boring time of the year? Put together a fun deck, obviously. There’s nothing more fun than Zur, at least in my opinion. Not only do you get to play a bunch of colors (which I happen to enjoy, in case you guys didn’t notice), but there are very few people who respect the Enchanter. Winning is my favorite thing by far, but my second is definitely getting my MTGO opponents riled up. Losing to a Zur deck would hopefully accomplish that.

From my recent MTGO experience, I’ve learned that a lot of the ringers have quit. Because of that, the average player has now become the top of the food chain. I see several players who I didn’t respect with 1900 ratings, and with that comes a sense of entitlement. They believe, because they’ve been running good and beating up on players worse than them, that they should never lose. When they do lose, at least to me, every other opponent seems to complain, attempt to insult me, and bemoan their luck.

I am more than happy to put these individuals in their place, and do so on a regular basis. I figure beating them with a Zur deck should humble them a little.

Before Pro Tour: Hollywood, I was buying up Zurs for a ticket because I thought my team was going to play it at the PT. Shortly after that, a few articles went up on this very site, and I was able to sell them for four tickets each. Sadly, they’ve jumped again, and I couldn’t find any Zurs for less than seven. Thankfully Neil Reeves is now a casual player, and he had plenty of Zurs on hand.

Here’s the list I played, heavily influenced by Kyle Sanchez Nationals deck:

I really didn’t like Kyle’s Bitterblossoms and Thoughtseizes. I can respect that he’s trying to fight Faeries and everything, but that just isn’t how it should be done. When you Thoughtseize them and take one counterspell, they still have plenty left because you haven’t been presenting them with a lot of must counter threats. The deck is effectively “Zur or no?” What you really need to do is make them use their mana and use something like Pact of Negation to force it through.

Bitterblossom, especially as a four of, isn’t really where I want to be.

Instead I chose to run a heavy anti-aggro package main deck, with the usual suspects in the sideboard. Careful Consideration is the only card that might stand out, but I assumed I would need some card drawing to keep up with the control decks, otherwise I would have no late game if they dealt with my Zurs. They would continually cast Mystical Teachings, and I wouldn’t be able to win.

Round 1: 1FLY (Kithkin)

He won the roll but mulliganed once. He drew something of a thinker, but mine was an auto keep: Runed Halo, Firespout, Cryptic Command, two Prismatic Lens, Adarkar Wastes, and River of Tears. This hand could end up being pretty awkward against a Five-Color Control deck, and I start to wish I had some Careful Considerations to sift through the dead cards. Who cares though? I get to play Zurs!

1FLY lead with a Stalwart, revealing a Figure, which certainly made me happy, as I am probably a favorite in this matchup. I drew a somewhat awkward Steel of the Godhead while he played another Stalwart but missed his second land drop. Thankfully, my next draw step was a Zur. He added the Figure to his board, attacked me down to 14, but again failed to play a land. Naturally, I drew the exact card I was hoping to draw, played my Reflecting Pool, and Firespouted away his squad.

He finally drew a Plains, but could only play a Wizened Cenn, which I could easily hold off with my Zur. His next “threat” was a Knight of Meadowgrain. On my turn, I cast Prismatic Lens and Steel up the Zur, which found an Oblivion Ring for the Knight.

I probably should have just sat on Cryptic Command here, as there isn’t really anyway for me to lose except to an Oblivion Ring, which I’m sure he has in his deck. However, at this point I had both Steels and Halos in my hand, so once I searched out the lone Oblivion Ring, I didn’t have much else to fetch. The Knollspine would probably be enough for me to win. If I just sit on Cryptic, I don’t put him on a fast clock and don’t get to develop my board because I’m short on lands. I suppose this would be a good place to have something like Pentarch Ward in my deck, but I could have just as easily sat on Cryptic and not needed it.

The way I played it, I gave him one turn to get there. If he missed in the one turn window I gave him, he can no longer win. Regardless, he missed his land drop again while I drew Pact of Negation, so I just made some goblin soldiers by searching out Rise of the Hobgoblins, and he conceded.

I boarded in three Teferi’s Moats and two Slaughter Pacts for Knollspine Invocation, Pact of Negation, Teferi, Arbiter of Knollridge, and one of the Steels, as I figured I would never need the second one. By cutting the Knollspine and Steel, I made a conscious decision to make my clock a lot slower, which hopefully wouldn’t come back to punish me.

Second game my opponent had to mulligan again while I again kept my seven: Vedalken Aethermage, Rune Snag, Zur the Enchanter, Prismatic Lens, two Vivid Creeks, and Urza’s Factory. He opened with a Windbrisk Heights and then a Plains and Stalwart, revealing a Wizened Cenn. On his third turn, he played another Plains and the Cenn, but allowed me to Rune Snag it.

He had left a mana open for the last two turns, so it was possibly he could have Mana Tithe, but I assume that he would have used it to force through his Cenn. I decided that he probably didn’t have it, although I only had a Zur and Moat for gas at this point, both of which I would probably need to win the game, so there was no need for me to risk running into a Tithe. He didn’t really have a fast clock on me, so I had plenty of time to wait.

His second Cenn met a Slaughter Pact, but his Cloudgoat was a tad more dangerous. I had the Moat, but the Goat knocked me into single digits. His second Goat was shut down by my Runed Halo, and Zur threatened to lock it up, unless his last card was an Oblivion Ring. He didn’t have it. Despite Zur doing his thing, I was a bit worried about how many turns I was giving him because I had sided out the other Steel and the Knollspine. I drew enough counters that I would have been able to stop anything relevant he played, but he only drew irrelevant ground creatures.

1-0, 2-0 in games

Round 2: Faeries

Magic Online seems to have lost this replay, but I know this game was over quickly. I was on the play, Snagged his Shadowmage, and resolved a Zur while he was tapped out. He bounced it with a Cryptic once, but conceded shortly after.

I sided in Pact of Negation, Runed Halo, two Crovax, and three Careful Considerations for Knollspine Invocation, Arbiter of Knollridge, a Vedalken Aethermage, and four Firespouts. The Invocation didn’t seem as important post board, as I’m not really on the “hope Zur gets me there” plan anymore. I could win the game a bunch of different ways, so I would rather not risk drawing the Invocation.

Runed Halo typically isn’t very good against Faeries, but when they have Shadowmage and no Scion, I would much rather have those to answer his threats than Slaughter Pact. Firespout, as always, is useless as it doesn’t deal with Mistbind Clique or Bitterblossom.

My opponent mulliganed to kick off the second game, which swayed my decision to keep this hand: Rise of the Hobgoblins, Vedalken Aethermage, Oblivion Ring, Prismatic Lens, Urza’s Factory, Rune Snag, Tolaria West. I figured I had one mulligan already in Rise of the Hobgoblins, but I had two decent answers to his early threats and Aethermage could get me whatever I needed. He ended up Thoughtseizing my Snag and played a Shadowmage, which I thankfully was able to Oblivion Ring.

However, my last two draw steps had been the Steels, which I now realize one of which I should have sided out. Sure, he can get rid of the Steel by bouncing the Zur, so I might need the second one potentially. But as I was on the draw, he would most likely have an opportunity to use Cryptic before I managed to get a Zur into play. I wouldn’t need a second Steel at any point, so it should have gotten cut. The Rise might also be bad, or at least just worse than the Invocation.

Either way, my bad choices were costing me. I had dealt with his Shadowmage, but he had a Bitterblossom and a Mistbind that he revealed off an earlier Secluded Glen, so I knew I was in trouble.

Then he conceded. Apparently he had to go or something…

2-0, 3-0 in games

Round 3: ki_com (MGA)

I won the roll and we both kept. My hand was Vivid Creek, River of Tears, Prismatic Lens, Steel of the Godhead, Teferi Mage of Zhalfir, Firespout, and Cryptic Command. These enchantments were starting to piss me off. They take a very solid hand and make it look very awkward.

My opponent started out with a Llanowar Elf and then a Bramblewood Paragon, which I decided to Firespout away. The Paragon was going to pump up his other guys later, possibly putting them out of Spout range. Using Spout this turn would also let me use Teferi next turn and then Cryptic the turn after that. With that in mind, I used the Spout on his non-threatening creatures and passed the turn.

He played a Vanquisher revealing a Vanquisher, but missed his land drop. I only played a land and passed, but used Cryptic to counter his other 3/3. When he revealed a Twinblade Slasher, I kind of figured he wasn’t running the stock Elf deck. My three Moats were probably going to destroy him. The next turn I was able to play Zur and still have mana open to Rune Snag his Ram Gang. When I enchanted Zur with a pair of Steels, he conceded.

I sided in two Teferi’s Moats, two Crovax Ascendant Hero, two Runed Halos, and two Slaughter Pacts for four Rune Snags, Rise of the Hobgoblins, Knollspine Invocation, Teferi Mage of Zhalfir, and Pact of Negation.

Neither of us mulliganed, and I kept Slaughter Pact, Prismatic Lens, Zur the Enchanter, Crovax Ascendant Hero, Steel of the Godhead, Mystic Gate, and Adarkar Wastes. He lead with Llanowar Elf while I drew a second Gate and played it. He missed his second land drop and could only play a Seal of Primordium, which could potentially cause problems later.

I drew a Vivid Creek like a champion, and played Adarkar and the Lens. My opponent could only add another Llanowar Elf to his board and decided to kill my Lens. Mystic Gate was a rather unexciting draw, but at least I could almost cast Crovax. Forest was a very good draw for my opponent, although he might not have needed it, as he played a Twinblade Slasher and then a Talara’s Battalion. I was suddenly in some trouble.

I played a Zur, while my opponent had another Forest and a Ram-Gang. He attacked with everyone except the Llanowars. I would either Slaughter Pact something or use that mana to Steel up my Zur. While the Pact would prevent eight damage (four this turn, and four next turn), the Steel would gain me an extra seven life if I searched out a second Steel with Zur. I could also use Slaughter Pact next turn, but then I wouldn’t be able to play Crovax, which would kill three of his creatures and prevent any Groundbreaker shenanigans.

Double Steel-ing definitely seemed like the play. He had a Groundbreaker on his turn, but could only bring me down to four, even without me using the Slaughter Pact. Crovax was the nail in the coffin.

3-0. 5-0 in games

I’ll be honest. Those were some lucky matches. I got two ridiculously good matchups and my opponent decided to concede in the other, although it likely would have been decided on a third game. I can’t imagine that Zur is all you would want to read about, so I decided to get serious for the second queue. I was going to play in the 7am premier event, but my alarm didn’t go off.

Five-Color Control wasn’t really an option, as after my last article, my car got egged and a brick was thrown through my window. I got the message, and decided to back off.

I wanted to try out Nassif style UW Reveillark, but Owen Turtenwald had already shotgunned that topic for a future article. While I could have certainly scooped Owen, I decided to be the bigger man and let him have it.

I figured Mono Red might be interesting. I hadn’t really been down the beatdown road in quite some time, so it could be an eye opening experience. Sadly, no one I knew had any copies of Figure of Destiny, so I just shelled out the 80 tickets.

I heard Larsson’s list was the best, as every deck was supposed to be Magus of the Moon proof. I was initially going to run something similar to Frank Karsten’s sideboard from Dutch Nationals, but the Gargadons and Recruits seemed necessary to beat the mirror. With two four-ofs in the board, playing the rest as one-ofs didn’t seem fun anymore, so I tightened it up.

I was really worried that this was going to be embarrassing. I hadn’t attacked anyone in a long time.

Round 1: patola (GB Elves)

Great. My opponent was 1841 Constructed (which is pretty hard to accomplish on MTGO v3, as everyone’s rating is so low). What was even worse was that his Limited rating was 1600. That should tell you that he’s a Constructed master with a new account. The ones with 1600 Limited are the ones you should be scared of. To top it off, my opener was seven spells.

My second hand was playable, although it reminded me why I hate beatdown decks: Figure of Destiny, Flame Javelin, Skred, two Keldon Megaliths, Snow-Covered Mountain. When he kills my Figure of Destiny, what exactly am I supposed to do? I could see how this game was going to end. I Flame Javelin him, Skred some monster, Megaliths him down to 14, then die.

He started with a Gilt Leaf Palace and a Llanowar Elf, which I Skred. My hand wasn’t exceptionally strong, but it had a pair of Megaliths that I would have liked to get active. I decided to try and hit the long game. Not only that, but I only had one snow permanent, so it seemed right.

My Figure got Inversioned, but he didn’t have any pressure other than a Civic Wayfinder. I Flame Javelined him and then played a Demigod, leaving me with a Mountain and another Javelin in hand. Demigod gets Eyeblighted, but he only has a second Civic. A top-decked Ram-Gang is also killed. Flame Javelin killed a Civic and emptied my hand, while he played a mighty Llanowar Elf.

During my upkeep, I decided to Megaliths his Civic. I would have hated to draw something like Ashenmoor Gouger or Magus of the Scroll that can’t effectively block, as I was to preserve as much life as possible so that I don’t die to a Profane Command. While if I drew a Demigod I would look foolish, I would probably win with Demigod next turn anyway. You only look foolish if you don’t give yourself enough turns to draw into your outs.

Llanowar continued his relentless rampage on my life total, and Redcap brought me down to 11. I didn’t upkeep Megaliths anything this time because I would rather kill Redcap on his turn, so it can’t attack me. If I drew any three drop, I could still Megaliths his Elf, and if I drew Demigod, he would probably just die. Figure was a fine draw, all things considered.

He cast a Goyf, while I was content making my Figure a 4/4. If I drew a blank, I would probably have to make Figure an 8/8 and hope he didn’t have the Profane to sway the race in his favor. As it were, I drew an Incinerate. Combined with the Megaliths, I could take down his 3/4 Goyf in response to a Profane, so I thought I would be in a better position to just wait a turn before attacking. If I kept mana open, Profane couldn’t kill me yet.

I passed the turn while he played a Kitchen Finks, which would also allow him to win the race. I drew a Blood Knight and attacked him down to ten. Curiously, he didn’t attack on his turn. An attack from the Figure plus the Incinerate finished him off.

I definitely wanted to bring in the Greater Gargadons and Unwilling Recruits, but wasn’t sure exactly what to bring out. Blood Knight didn’t seem great against his giant animals, although he did have some persisters that he could attack through. Incinerate was the next weakest link, in my opinion. He probably only had Vanquisher and small Tarmogoyfs that I would want to kill with it, and I was boarding in Recruits that would handle the same problem. The rest of the cards seemed too good to cut.

Sadly, MTGO gave the me the familiar “You don’t own x” error that wouldn’t let me submit my sideboarded deck. In this case it was Incinerates. Because of all the time I spent attempting to come up with a sideboard plan (that I definitely should have been thinking of during the match), I didn’t have enough time to log out, log on, and then resubmit.

My opener for the second game was Skred, Blood Knight, Boggart Ram-Gang, Demigod of Revenge, Flame Javelin, and two Snow-Covered Mountains. If all I drew for the rest of the game were lands I would be pretty happy.

He started with a Llanowar again, this time off a Pendelhaven. The Pendelhaven, combined with the fact that I again needed time to cast my spells, made me decide to Skred his Elf. These newer lists seem like they have even more three- and four-drops as well, so Skred-ing their Elf seems like a fine play.

He had nothing on turn 2, while I drew a land and played Blood Knight. A 2/3 Tarmogoyf threatened to stop me in my tracks, but I decided to Javelin it before it got out of range. Another Goyf came down, but it didn’t stop my Ram-Gang from getting in there. My opponent still didn’t have a fourth land and simply passed. My Gang got killed when I attacked. Post combat I cast Magus of the Scroll, Figure of Destiny, and played a fourth land, with two Demigods as my remaining cards.

He finally found a Forest to cast Kitchen Finks, but Demigod brought him down to ten and the second one finished him.

1-0, 2-0 in games

Demigod is a nice card.

Round 2: SIN (UW Merfolk)

I’m pretty sure this is Masashiro Kuroda, although I could be wrong. While I would certainly feel more comfortable piloting a control deck, I wasn’t about to let a Japanese person take my booster packs.

I can’t really get a read on what he’s playing as he doesn’t have the “I owe Kenji – 4 Demigod, 4 Figure” in his profile like some people do, but my opener of three Demigod of Revenge, Boggart Ram-Gang, Skred, and two Snow-Covered Mountains certainly seems like it would match up well against the field. Again, I just needed to draw some more lands.

He started out with a Wanderwine Hub and a Cursecatcher. I assumed that this is a good matchup, although those Japanese decks can be tricky. I drew a second Skred and decided to ignore the Cursecatcher and go for the Lords if at all possible. He played a Silvergill Adept, showing me a second one, so I didn’t think the Lords were showing up anytime soon. I just needed to buy time until my Demigods could show up, so I Skred away his two creatures.

I missed my third land drop, and he played the Adept, showing me yet another Adept. I could only play the Figure that I drew. For some reason, I chose not to block here and I have no idea what my reasoning was, as I was certainly going to block next turn. Sadly, that didn’t end well, as both his Adepts were Unsummoned.

During my draw step, I got Vendilion Cliqued, and my opponent wisely chose to leave everything where it was. He could only lose by allowing me to draw lands. My Blood Knight couldn’t stop his army after he played his second Lord. My feeble attempt at an Incinerate was Cryptic Commanded, and then I was drawing dead.

I initially thought that I had nothing to bring in, but then I gave the Everlasting Torments another look. He was almost certainly playing Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tenders, which the Torments could stop. I shaved a Blood Knight and a Gouger for them.

I kept Ram-Gang, two Flame Javelin, and four Snow-Covered Mountains, while SIN mulliganed once. He played a Hub and an Island, while I drew two more Mountains. Oh, beatdown decks, I absolutely hate you. My opponent only plays a third land and passed, while I drew another land. At least it was a Megaliths. I had Flame Javelin ready for his Vendilion Clique, but it never came.

He played a fourth land and passed, while I drew a Magus of the Scroll and attacked. He fell to 11. I decided not to walk my Magus into a potential Cryptic and just ended my turn. An end of turn Venser bounced my Ram-Gang and then attacked me. I drew a Skred, played my sixth land and the Ram-Gang, which got Cryptic Dismissed. I could only cast Magus and pass again.

He played an Adept revealing a Lord, and then attempted to Sower my Magus, which I Skreded. I Javelined him down to three while he was tapped out. When SIN tried for another Sower, I had a decision to make. With his Lord, he could attack me down to 11 this turn. If I Scrolled him, I would kill him with Megaliths next turn unless my draw step was a land. I decided that there is no use killing Sower and then basically playing the same game next turn, except giving him a turn to draw a Cryptic or something to mess up my Megaliths. I simply Scrolled him down to one, let him Sower it, and then drew a non-land and killed him.

I took out another Gouger on the draw for a Blood Knight, as I felt I would want the ability to curve out instead of drawing a million three-drops. SIN kept his hand, but I had to go into the tank for mine: Keldon Megaliths, two Snow-Covered Mountain, Ashenmoor Gouger, Incinerate, and two Everlasting Torments. This is why Everlasting Torment sucks, ladies and gentlemen. I didn’t even see Forge-Tenders from him last game, but I was convinced they absolutely had to be there. If he didn’t have a Forge-Tender, my hand was like a mulligan to five, whereas if he did have a Forge-Tender it would be like I only mulliganed once. I would much rather have one less card and not have to worry about again potential Forge-Tenders than have to mulligan and then have him destroy me with Forge-Tenders. I would love to mulligan into my hand minus one Everlasting Torment, which is effectively what I’m doing, so I kept.

He started off with his usual “Adept revealing Adept” play, which I Incinerated. He was outdrawing me, so I needed Megaliths to get active as I figured I wasn’t going to be able to deal the entire 20 with my Ashenmoor Gouger. Again, I wanted to play the long game. His second Adept revealed a Reejerey, and his Sower stole my Ashenmoor Gouger for a turn. Figure of Destiny could have been a problem for my opponent, but his second Sower turned the tempo in his favor. I didn’t draw an answer to it, and died to my own Gouger, still with two dead Everlasting Torments in my hand.

1-1, 3-2 in games

Maybe I should have only brought in one, as drawing one will almost always be fine. Drawing two is like losing the game on the spot. Sure, the odds are low, but there is still a possibility. If only I had some Careful Considerations to sift through the cards I don’t want…

I am certain that 25 lands is the correct number, and I urge all of you only playing 24 to face reality. You need lands to cast your spells. Cutting a Magus of the Scroll may seem a bit awkward, as it’s one of the cards that is great with more lands, but I never want to draw multiple one-mana 1/1s early on. Magus is more of a mid- to late-game type card, whereas I want to curve out with Blood Knight or Ashenmoor Gouger every game.

While Boggart Ram-Gang is solid, I don’t feel as if cutting Magus of the Moon is the answer. Many decks now have Runed Halo or Eyeblight’s Ending to deal with giant Black animals like Ashenmoor Gouger, so maybe his time has passed. Magus would have been spectacular in both of my matches and would have led to me not needing to side in Everlasting Torment. Maybe only three Magus of the Moon is correct, for the same reason as I think three Magus of the Scroll is. Drawing multiples of these guys while they have no effect on the board is going to lose you games. Magus of the Moon will provide you with free wins from time to time, and I think that is too good to ignore.

Tune in next week when I recap the Minnesota 5K event.