So, who was paying attention to Worlds?
How ‘bout Selesnya? Woo-woo!
Man, I wish there were more Standard match reports available. I could’ve listened to the Pod cast, if I’d paid attention to its availability. However, I’m pretty sure that listening to Magic isn’t as interesting as watching or playing it. Imagining some hushed Magic announcer crescendoing into euphoria after a good play gives me a chuckle, though.
“Yeah, the only thing that can help him here is topdecking a Loxodon Hierarch. Wait–he’s smiling! HE HAS IT! HE HAS THE HIERARCH! DO YOU BELIEVE IT?!! HELLO LOXODON!”
It’s just not the same.
I will say, all humor aside, that Wizards of the Coast and its reporters deserve much credit for their attempt to bring the game to our computers. I love perusing decklists and seeing what trickiness people come up with.
When I saw the undefeated Standard decks from Worlds, I danced a bit of a jig, because of good performance of the G/W Glare of Subdual deck. I’ve considered Glare decks to be underrated, and I really like Tomohiro Kaji’s build.
Kodama of the North Tree and Selesnya Guildmage work well together. During my run of “let’s throw fat creatures in with Thoughtpicker Witch”, I considered him the Kodama. He looked like a great finisher in his own right. Boy, is he. Additionally, I liked how the Guildmage could save the Kodama from Wildfire, typically leaving Kodama’s controller in an excellent position.
The lesson to be learned here is that you can run cards that aren’t necessarily synergetic with your primary win condition (in this case, Glare of Subdual’s ability to control the board), as long as the win condition has enough support throughout the rest of the deck. Even though Kodama of the North Tree can’t be utilized efficiently by Glare of Subdual, Glare clears the path for him.
I’m proud of Selesnya Guildmage. During my ill-fated attempts to woo Thoughtpicker Witch, that Guildmage stood out as a very good turn two play. He’s underrated, because as the game goes on, he becomes more useful – not less. Usually, your 2/2 critters wind up sitting on the board mid-game, wishing they could contribute. The cycle of Guildmages was well designed… Although I admit I’m annoyed that I can’t discard/draw at instant speed with Dimir Guildmage. Love his abilities. Don’t like sorceries. I’m prejudiced.
The Dimir guild suffers a bit from its not-quite-good-enough cards — its power is diluted. The shame is that I was really looking forward to Blue/Black brokenness in Ravnica. I kinda got used to it back in the old days. I would have liked to see a few more useful cards — ones that aren’t Lurking Informant – and more playable instants. I want Clutch of the Undercity to cost one less mana. I want Psychic Drain to destroy a creature with converted mana cost X or less, and let me draw a card – at instant speed. I want Twisted Justice kill a creature larger than one-to-two casting cost. You can find disappointment in all of the colors, I know; However, Dimir disappointed me personally.
Brian David-Marshall did a metagame breakdown of Standard for Worlds. An amazing fifty-seven out of two-hundred and eighty-seven deck played were Jushi Control. The second most played deck was Boros – with a lot of variation – since Red/White beatdown varies widely from player to player. Where one person goes for flyers, another goes first strikers, and a third goes for burn, and a fourth goes for combat tricks, and so on. Not surprisingly, Golgari decks were well represented as well, with thirty-eight appearing. Those three archetypes accounted for 48% of the field. The rest of the field was split between twenty-one other archetypes. The fifth most played deck was the Glare of Subdual deck.
Ravnica skews Standard tremendously. This isn’t necessarily a surprise… But it’s strange, because I can’t remember another time when the first expansion of a set has tilted the metagame so tremendously. Ravnica seemingly dictates the types of decks being played. You didn’t even see this much color polarization when Invasion came out, because all of the color combinations were represented off the bat.
While I support the decision to release this block with a four-three-three guild plan, it’s really forcing both the players and the game itself into a sense of identification with those guilds. I was glad to see some off-color blends go undefeated at Worlds – Werner Cloete, hats off to your “Blaze them for 20” strategy – considering the strength of the guild-colored archetypes. It really makes me look forward to Guildpact and beyond – when the field should really open up. Maybe I’m an idealist, but I’d love an environment where every color pair can realistically compete.
Right now, it’s like a cat with one leg longer than the others.
We have a hitch in our stride.
A bit of a lurch.
Surely, Guildpact and Dissension will balance things out a bit. (It took me four tries to type “Dissension” correctly. My fingers don’t like that word. How fitting.)
Now, the Boros, Golgari, and Selesnya decks are accounted for. Where’s the Dimir? Jushi Control isn’t really a U/B deck, even though it has some Black mana and frequently sideboards Black cards. Those are just Black splashes, typically for stronger removal. Note what you did not see at Worlds – Mill decks. Ostensibly, Milling is Dimir’s area of expertise, but judging from the early reports this strategy has been shut out of the competitive arena. I find this amazing – not even one attempt at tricky combo goodness? Damn.
It’s an attitude change for Blue/Black. It’s used to being at the forefront, cackling and giggling, executing convoluted and twisted strategies.
Guess who’s laughing now?
In my attempt to find a Standard deck to call my own, I kept finding myself drawn back to two elements: Dimir, and Control. Really, that’s where I feel the most comfortable – smirking boastfully at my opponent as I deny them spell after spell, while cackling madly.
Ok, I don’t smirk.
Well, I do – but just to my girlfriend, and that’s ok because she smirks back.
I don’t cackle, either – except, again, to her.
It’s funny, really, how intimacy means you become less polite.
See, when I have untapped Blue mana, I have a sense of power. It’s comfortable. It’s like an invisible hand saying, “Nuh uh, don’t go there.” Even if they can go there, it’s good to have that feeling. That feeling comes when you see the other person pause, and see them wonder if they really want to risk casting.
The first thing I tried was a nice Dimir beatdown deck. I’m not going to spend too much time discussing it, but I wanted to give it a mention. It started out as the Dark Confidant special, but it turned into this:
Obviously, it’s an aggressive strategy, with a lot of removal and creature control. Threads of Disloyalty wins games against other aggro decks – take their Dark Confidant. Or their Hand of Honor. Or their Watchwolf. Or their Vinelasher Kudzu. Or their… You get the point.
I considered countermagic, but I wanted to be offensive, not defensive. Plus, I’m pretty much spending my mana every turn to do something useful to the board.
What’s interesting is that there are a lot of different creatures available to Dimir. Some people run Dimir Cutpurse, some run Nezumi Shortfang, and some run the aforementioned Dark Confidant. I considered running Kira, Great Glass-Spinner in place of Umezawa’s Jitte, just to be more disruptive against other removal strategies. I still might. Jittes are expensive, and I like to play around with decks I can actually build, as opposed to those which operate in the realm of the theoretical.
This deck is one reason I wish Clutch of the Undercity cost less to cast. The Clutch just doesn’t quite fit my curve at four mana.
Speaking of four mana, Moroii has won a lot of games by coming out on turn 4, but he doesn’t work well with Dark Confidant. If you run both, you need to also run substandard cards like Consume Spirit – and that just dilutes the deck’s power. Rather than go with the suicidal Bob strategy, I went for the beats and kept Moroii. I trusted in my ability to control the board early, or generate reasonable blockers/attackers.
Nezumi Graverobber is a nice card, particularly if it flips and starts recurring creatures. Dimir Infiltrator exists to frustrate 2/1 creatures, works well with a Jitte (or to tutor for one). He also tutors for removal — in short, he’s versatile.
People often make the mistake of believing that beatdown decks don’t need versatility. Focusing solely on aggressive techniques is fine, but it will peter out by itself. You need your deck to be flexible and adaptive, even if it’s on the aggressive side. This is why Boros does so well – it has evasion, reasonable creatures, both White and Red removal, and direct damage. Likewise, when I built a Dimir beatdown deck, I looked for the same – evasion, efficiency, and both Black and Blue removal.
Unfortunately, a deck with eight removal spells, twenty-four creatures, and four Jittes just isn’t my style. After playing it awhile, I just felt like it didn’t have the oomph to compete with the big boys. I often feel that way about beatdown decks, because, well, I’m not the beatdown.
I’m the Control.
I was drawn to Flores Blue (aka Jushi Control) like Oprah is drawn to a donut. It was remarkably effective. It was the “Most Popular Deck” for a reason. I like to tweak, however.
At the Ravnica pre-release, I drafted with my better half, who plucked a rather interesting card out of her opening pack: Glimpse the Unthinkable. Immediately, my eyes lit up. Hers did, too – even new to the game, she could tell that this card was powerful. Harnessing that power, though, is a different animal altogether.
Let’s rewind. Untap four years, please.
Really, more than four – but that wouldn’t finish the Rewind joke the way I wanted to. Deal.
In the old days, before tournaments even appeared on my radar, I didn’t realize that small-time Mill strategies were worthless. I had Millstones in every deck that I made. Getting rid of two cards – that’s awesome! When I tired of Millstone, I tried using stuff like Vision Charm. Four Charms means the other guy gets sixteen fewer cards! Wow! I thought that a first-turn Vision Charm was a brilliant play — plus my friends cursed and muttered.
There’s a psychological effect that beginning players associate with the Milling. Let’s say I’m a Dimir Mill deck, and I’m playing against my girlfriend’s Wildfire deck. I cast Dampen Thought. She turns over Mountain, Plains, Gift of Estates, and Paladin en-Vec. Her reaction? Relief that these weren’t anything useful.
Useful, in this case, is subjective. Perhaps Paladin en-Vec would have gone on to win the game ten turns later. Perhaps next time she Wildfires, she’ll regret not having that Gift of Estates and two lands available. However, perception is reality – so, while it’s not immediately pertinent, she senses relief.
Now, back up. Let’s do that again, but this time we’ll turn over different cards. My Dampen Thought turns over Hunted Dragon, Lightning Helix, Mountain, and Yosei, the Morning Star. She curses, “ban that Dampen Thought! You took four great cards and threw them in the graveyard, never to be seen again. That card is insanely powerful!”
Again, this thought is subjective. Her game isn’t affected any more or less than if those cards were the bottom four in her deck. That’s the nature of randomness. If you win on turn 30, it’s the exact same than as if the cards you milled were in the bottom half of her deck. You would have been much better served with a threat, not a quasi-threat.
The emotional response of relief versus frustration is natural… But it affects how people view these cards. Their feelings dictate how they mentally rate those types of spells. This is a common mistake; People tend to overrate cards initially, and only over time do they learn to judge a card’s value by its merits.
Thus, putting four Dampen Thought into your Flores Blue build isn’t going to accomplish much. You might think it does, and your opponent might think it does, but really? No, it does not.
Imagine your opponent has twenty life, and you have four Char and fifty-six lands in your deck. That’s kinda what Mill cards do; Doing damage is a win condition, and so is Milling your opponent. Milling away sixteen cards isn’t going to win you the game any more than doing sixteen points of damage. In fact, it’s going to do less, since your opponent usually starts with sixty cards but only twenty life. If damage is going to win you the game, you need to be able to deal it.
Glimpse the Unthinkable intrigued me because it Mills a significantly large number of cards, at a cost-efficient price. It would facilitate a winning Mill strategy, in conjunction with other Mill/draw effects. I felt that Glimpse would enable you to deck someone with great regularity.
Milling is a number. It’s not “which cards did I turn over?” — Although, that information can be useful to keep track of the threats remaining in an opponents deck. Glimpse isn’t “I might knock out ten great cards!” – It’s “they’re down to thirty-four. They’re down to sixteen.” It’s math – a purely objective measurement of how much “damage” I need to do to their deck in order to win.
If you take the basic build of Mono-Blue Control, and tweak it to facilitate a Mill strategy, you can catch a few people by surprise. Even better, the deck still wins even when it’s expected.
4 Watery Grave
4 Underground River
2 Dimir Aqueduct
1 Mikokoro, Center of the Sea
1 Minamo, School at Water’s Edge
1 Shizo, Death’s Storehouse
1 Miren, the Moaning Well
Yeah, I finally found a place for Szadek. He costs one mana too much for my liking, but his ability wins games fast. Consider this:
On his first turn, he’s a 5/5 flyer.
On his second turn, if he gets through, he gets five counters and Mills five cards. This makes him a 10/10 after just one successful attack.
On his third turn, Szadek can become a 20/20 flying. He’ll have Milled fifteen cards total after just two successful attacks.
On his fourth turn, Szadek gains twenty counters, Mills twenty cards, and grows to 40/40. Booya! He’s milled thirty-five cards.
On his fifth turn, Szadek he becomes an 80/80 creature, mills the rest of your opponent’s deck, and wins you the game.
So, after 5 turns and four attacks, and you win the game. If he were a regular 5/5 creature, he’d also need four attacks to deal twenty damage. Nicely done, R&D. Chances are you won’t need that many turns. That’s the point.
I said “if he gets through”, because he has to be able to do damage to the player to Mill and grow. Shizo helps out here, as so does Boomerang, Threads of Disloyalty, and most other cards in the deck. The worst thing Szadek matches up against is Meloku, who can just throw blockers out indefinitely. I don’t currently have Pithing Needles in my sideboard, but they could easily go in; Meloku can be Needled, and Szadek cannot.
Szadek also makes a hell of a blocker, even if he’s gotten through only once. Miren, the Moaning well loves a big Szadek. Szadek acts as Glimpse the Unthinkable numbers five and six, and he defeats strategies that restock libraries.
Yeah, I’m lovin’ me some Lord of Secrets.
However, I’m not insane. Szadek does cost seven mana, so relying solely on him to win would be ludicrous. That’s I only run two copies – he’s good, and chances are you’ll see him, but having one of him clogging up your hand accomplishes absolutely nothing. You can’t pitch him to Disrupting Shoal – that is, unless your local metagame features such wonderful seven casting cost game breakers like Enormous Baloth, Vine Kami, Ashen Monstrosity, or Bounteous Kirin. Enduring Ideal is the only deck against which he’d stand a chance of countering something useful. (Form of the Dragon as well — Ben)
No, really, that wouldn’t be overpowered.
I don’t miss Force of Will at all.
So yeah, I run two Szadek. Sure, the card has great artwork. Seriously, Szadek LOOKS the part. He’s smug and imposing, but subtly threatening – as opposed to OMG HE WILL KILL ME threatening — but you still don’t want extra copies of him clogging up your hand.
Since I love the guy so much, you’d think I’d name the deck after him. Not really though, because even though he thinks he’s the guy in charge, he isn’t. Know who is? Ricky Ricardo knows:
Jushi Apprentice’s purpose in regular Blue decks is obvious: to repeatedly draw cards. However, consider this alternate scenario. Let’s say I have seven cards in hand and Jushi Apprentice has already flipped to Tomoya.
Me: “End of your turn, you draw seven.”
Normally, giving your opponent seven cards isn’t pretty, but in this case they will wind up discarding most of them during cleanup. This advances your Mill win condition.
If that doesn’t make you happy, try this:
Me: “End of your turn, tap Tomoya, I draw seven.”
Me: “My draw, tap Tomoya, make you draw fifteen.”
There, now you can discard down to seven answers for whatever seven threats your opponent keeps.
Heck, if you have ten lands and Minamo, you can make your opponent draw twice. Just imagine:
End of their turn, you draw seven (hand at fourteen), untap, draw, make them draw fifteen. Untap Tomoya with Minamo, make them draw fifteen again. In the span of two activations, you’ve made your opponent draw half their deck.
Don’t laugh, I’ve done this.
Hence “Jushi Mill.”
You can cackle.
Between Jushi, Szadek, and Glimpse the Unthinkable, decking the opponent usually isn’t a problem. In fact, I’ve only won one game through damage, and that was when Keiga went the distance. While you certainly can deck people, you take what you can get. Mikokoro also contributes, as a Howling Minor – pun intended.
Groan now, please.
You will see a lot of cards every game, from both players. This isn’t some glorified turbo-combo-Mill deck that’s going to win fast. No, this deck builds slow and steady, like a control deck is wont to do. It eventually explodes into a fury of Milling action.
This deck requires good timing to play correctly. You need to learn when to start abusing Jushi, because if you give your opponent too many cards without ensuring you have answers, you will hoist yourself by your own petard. In other words, that trick I listed above about making your opponent draw tons of cards? Don’t be stupid when doing it. You have to recognize the threats your opponent is going to be able to generate, and determine if you can outrace them. This isn’t necessarily a race for board position. Instead, it’s a race of threat generation vs. Milling.
This deck’s permission base is fairly regular. I tried running it without Remand initially (in favor of more removal), but you really need to exert control in the two-mana slot. In the early game, Remand’s an extra turn. Late game, it’s not quite as desirable as other counters, but it still performs a valuable role as a cantrip. Plus, almost every deck taps a lot of mana for that something big — a spell that can’t be cast twice in one turn. Remand takes advantage of that spell.
Still, I miss Counterspell. If there were an alternate Counter for the 2-slot, I’d probably take it. I tried Induce Paranoia in that slot, but it cost way too much. You need your mana for other spells — too often the extra mana I was paying to counter a spell wasn’t netting a worthwhile number of cards Milled.
Let me correct what I said earlier.
I don’t just miss Counterspell.
I severely miss Counterspell.
See, I have a love/hate relationship with Mana Leak. I dislike counters that become weak late in the game. The lack of a hard two-mana counter in Standard drives me insane. When I first realized Counterspell wasn’t in Ninth Edition (probably two weeks after I started playing again), I was flabbergasted. I promptly sent out some Dimir agents to reeducate R&D, so we could have our double-Blue crutch back.
The creatures I run in this deck are not surprising. I chose Keiga over Meloku because I like Keiga’s ability better – really, every Keiga is like two creatures. I haven’t been disappointed in him yet.
Main deck Threads is rarely a dead card. Against control, you can steal their Jushi and use it to your own nefarious advantage. Late in the game, when opponents are trying to sneak cards through your counters, you can typically let a smaller creature land and grab it with Threads. The only removal spell I’d also consider putting in that slot is Last Gasp, but too many Hand of honor and Paladin en-Vec being included in decks right now. Rather than think of Threads as control, I like to think of it as subtle Blue removal.
The lands I’ve selected grant a consistent mana base without much of a drawback. You might notice the lack of Duskmantle, House of Shadow – but there aren’t any lands I want to cut from the deck. However, if I didn’t have important Black sideboard cards, I could probably ditch the Underground Rivers in favor of Duskmantle. Remember, Milling one card for two mana is relatively inconsequential. Yes, it counts towards your win condition, but that mana is better spent drawing a card off Mikokoro or Jushi Apprentice. Your goal is to remove cards en masse, not one by one.
Sideboard options vary, as always. I’ve faced enough Saprolings in my testing that I feel Hideous Laughter is a must-have, even though it kills Jushi Apprentice. Certainly, Blue/Black players know when to sacrifice a pawn… Er, I mean, valued resource. Our reasons are just a little more sinister – and sensible – than those cultish hippy freaks dancing around the Selesnya tree.
Greater good, my ass.
Yeah, I’m proud that Selesnya, as a guild, came into its own during Worlds – but I’m starting to get suspicious of them.
It’s not paranoia. They are out to control the city.
Good thing we know who’s really in charge.
This power is really starting to go to my head. I gotta be careful.
If you’re facing creatureless decks, you have Cranial Extraction, Quash, Boseiju, and Rewind available. Jushi Mill can morph back into a standard Jushi Control build if need be. Quash may look like a random including – and to a point it is — but I like it as a way to win Cranial Extraction wars. Just try and Extract my Extraction, and I will Quash you! Boseiju is also good for winning the Extraction war, and is generally good against control.
You might ask yourself, “but why would I want to play this?” My answer is: Because it’s different, and it’s kinda fun to hit people out of left field. I like Jushi Mill because people underestimate it, or they mistake it for a different deck. They enjoy the cards drawn off Mikokoro, figure they’ll punch through eventually, and then it’s Glimpse, Glimpse, Jushi for fourteen and the game is over.
I love Jushi Apprentice.
Next week, I hope to return to the Extended Black/White deck I mentioned last week. It’s already undergone significant changes, partially thanks to many suggestions from people who posted on the forums or e-mailed.
Thanks, as always, for your comments. They are appreciated.
Now, my Dimir legions, go out and Mill!
-Mason, Lord of Secrets