Two weeks outside of Nationals, I was looking pretty well set to play the Aethermage’s Touch / Momentary Blink deck. I’d been talking about it with Adam Yurchick, we both thought it was very good in pre-Tenth Standard, and we were both happy that it wasn’t affected much by the rotation, which meant we could do testing on Magic Online. However, when the Australian Nationals results came in, I became afraid of two things. The first was the fact that the deck had finally gotten a lot of non-MTGO publicity, which meant that I was more likely to play against effective countermeasures. The second was Rakdos Aggro, which was just too fast to consistently beat.
After getting some testing in against Rakdos, I immediately wanted to audible to that deck. It reminded me of all the Red Deck Wins decks that I’d had so much success with in previous seasons, but card availability meant that the dream was not to be. So I went looking for something else, and Gerry Thompson gave me a decklist for a Blue/Green/White Momentary Blink deck that he and Gabe Walls had played at the Kentucky Open. Gerry finished in 9th, and Gabe won the whole thing.
- 2 Mystic Snake
- 4 Wall of Roots
- 4 Loxodon Hierarch
- 4 Riftwing Cloudskate
- 4 Aeon Chronicler
- 4 Tarmogoyf
- 3 Venser, Shaper Savant
The first matchup I playtested extensively was Rakdos Aggro. I played the deck against two different styles of opponent play, and found out that the way to beat each was very different. The first style was an “all burn to the dome” method of playing, where Chars and Incinerates went to the face every time, instead of clearing out dorks like Wall of Roots and Mystic Snake. This turned out very favorable for U/G/W Blink, since it gave the deck time to set up and close out with Hierarchs and Cloudskates.
If, however, the opponent was willing to Char Wall of Roots and Incinerate Venser, U/G/W was pretty far behind. Blocking with Wall on turn 2 suddenly became much more risky, as a smaller burn spell became able to finish off the Wall, leaving the U/G/W deck without the mana acceleration it needed to catch up. There were times when the five damage that the Wall soaked up was enough to more than make up for the fact that your mana acceleration had died, but when Dark Confidant was in the mix, Rakdos never had problems making land drops and stockpiling gas, all while clearing the way for a growing army of men.
I asked Gerry what the plan was against turn 2 Dark Confidant, and received a less-than-exciting answer. “Lose.” Unfortunately for me, this answer turned out to be true, as I lost game 3 of round 5 of the first Grinder to an unanswered turn 2 Dark Confidant out of a Rakdos deck. I exchanged a few more sentences with Gerry, and settled on replacing Faith’s Fetters with Sunlances. They were good enough to carry me past Rakdos in the second Grinder, but I again had my hopes crushed in the later rounds, this time by Angelfire.
Gerry played the deck in Nationals, and he was in contention for Top 8 until he ran into Antonino DeRosa (playing a deck with Dark Confidant and Magus of the Moon), mulliganed to four, and got knocked into the Top 16 instead.
- 2 Mystic Snake
- 4 Wall of Roots
- 4 Loxodon Hierarch
- 4 Riftwing Cloudskate
- 3 Aeon Chronicler
- 4 Tarmogoyf
- 3 Venser, Shaper Savant
Gerry’s maindeck barely changed between the Kentucky Open and U.S. Nationals; one Aeon Chronicler was dropped for the last Momentary Blink, and one basic Plains became a basic Forest. The real innovation happened in the sideboard, so I’ll take a look at the individual cards.
Akroma is an incredibly difficult threat to handle in Blink mirror matches, regardless of whether the third color in the deck is Black, Red, or Green. Bogardan Hellkite can do a good job killing it, since U/G/W can’t Blink or Venser the Akroma out of harm’s way, but that’s nearly the only good answer. Everyone else will be left watching while it sails past Cloudskate, Angel of Despair, Lightning Angel, and friends.
Aven Riftwatcher is a miniature Loxodon Hierarch that happens to be the perfect size to stall while you curve up to your elephants. You would certainly rather Blink these guys when they’re about to die on your next upkeep, but Wall of Roots will also let you Blink them on turn 3. Even if you don’t have the Blink in hand, it’s often worth considering the bluff by using a -0/-1 counter instead of a land to play him out; aggro players will want to avoid running their Incinerate into a Blink at all costs.
Serrated Arrows is a greedier answer to Dark Confidant than Sunlance, but it’s certainly more powerful. Given that U/G/W Blink has eight two-mana acceleration spells, it’s not out of the question that you can kill a Dark Confidant before it ever reveals a card, but it’s certainly less likely than if you ran Sunlance instead. However, one Arrows kills multiple opposing threats, and Gerry decided that that extra power was worth the extra cost. It is worth noting also that you can bounce Serrated Arrows with Venser or Cloudskate once it’s lost all of its counters, and also that Arrows will let you break out from Magus of the Moon in situations where Sunlance wouldn’t.
Grand Arbiter Augustin IV exists to help all flavors of control matchups, where all of his abilities will help you fight through whatever your opponent is trying to throw at you. Games against decks like traditional Solar Flare often come down to trying to grind out a win with two-power threats like Cloudskate and Venser before you get locked out of the game by something like Skeletal Vampire, and the Arbiter will both help you get your spells into play and keep theirs out.
The singleton Mystic Snake needs little explanation; it comes in for matchups where the first two Snakes are good, such as Solar Flare and most flavors of Blink decks, and it rides the board everywhere else.
Rakdos — The single most important factor of this matchup is whether or not they draw Dark Confidant. Without the Confidant, burn spent on creatures will set them back far enough that you have time for things like Cloudskate and Chronicler to actually impact the game. If you can get to the late game at a reasonable life total, Blinks, Snakes, and Elephants will be able to take things down.
However, with a Confidant in play, the Rakdos deck is at almost no risk of running out of gas before you run out of life. Confidant will feed them all the removal they need for your men, and then another healthy dosage to send right to your face. It is vital that you slow down the Confidants that your opponent does play as much as possible, even when you have to take a little bit of a risk to do so, since an unchecked Confidant is game over unless you have an extremely aggressive draw that tops out with multiple Hierarchs.
Sideboarding gives you four Riftwatchers and three Serrated Arrows, at the cost of your four Remands, two Mystic Snakes, and one Aeon Chronicler. Cutting Remand might seem a little bit strange, since you’re hoping to slow them down long enough for your big guns to come out and fight, but the spells that you hit with Remand are too cheap to be held off for very long at all. Mystic Snake is cut for the same reason; it’s a fine answer to Giant Solifuge, but an intelligent opponent will either sit on instant-speed burn or suspend some Rift Bolts if you pass with 1GUU up. You shave the Chronicler because they are slow in general, but they are good once you’ve stabilized.
Pickles — The first thing to understand is that Fob’s deck is extremely hard to play for someone who hasn’t had a massive amount of practice, so your opponents will usually be giving away percentage points. The game will eventually come down, though, to whether or not they can assemble their lock before you can finish them off. The lock is relatively cheap, so Remand won’t defend you for too long, and Fob’s deck has Wall of Roots to match yours, so your small suite of counterspells won’t look too impressive. Your best guys, as usual, are the comes-into-play 2/2s, as they’ll do something useful and provide pressure at the same time.
Your best bet for sideboarding is Red Akroma, who can only be answered by Vesuvan Shapeshifter. Since you’re just trying to stay out of the lock, getting your Akroma killed by Vesuvan Shapeshifter is certainly not the worst thing that could happen to you. Cut the Walls to make room for these guys, since the Walls don’t truly further your game-plan against Pickles. You can also bring in the Arbiters if you’d like; they will slow your opponent down and make defending yourself easier. However, there aren’t very many painless cuts left. The best cut is likely Tarmogoyf, since this is one matchup where it will be hard to get him above 2/3, and a vanilla 2/3 is certainly unexciting.
Blink-Touch — In stark contrast to the Rakdos matchup, this one is usually all about who can do less. Both players want to get a threat into play and then defend it with a host of tricks and two-for-ones, but neither player wants to tap out for these threats since they’ll just fall behind to the opponent. This makes Riftwing Cloudskate your best friend. Often, when the Skate gets Remanded on turn 5, the correct play is to simply suspend him again and wait another three turns, as opposed to walking into whatever secondary answer your opponent has. Aeon Chronicler is similarly good, since it will let you play a real threat with the ability to defend it, and because it draws you into the gas you need to compete.
Your sideboard has four Akromas, three Arbiters, and one Snake, all of which are good in this matchup. The cards you want to take out are four Wall of Roots and four Loxodon Hierarch. While Wall of Roots can help in the plan of letting you attack and defend at the same time, due to its ability to produce mana on both players’ turns, it pales in comparison to Grand Arbiter (who does essentially the same thing) and Akroma. Loxodon Hierarch is a similarly painless cut. In game 1, the elephants are among your best sources of pressure, despite the fact that they don’t do much beyond attack for four. However, game 2 includes Red Akroma, and she is simply a much better win condition than Hierarch.
Solar Flare — When you make it to the late game, Solar Flare will eventually tax your defenses to the point where a Skeletal Vampire or Angel of Despair makes it through the cracks and kills you. Therefore, your goal is to make sure that you can kill your opponent before he can get to the point where he’s resolving six- and seven-mana spells. Your Cloudskates and Vensers should almost always be aimed at the weakest point in their manabase, whether that happens to be a Signet or a bounceland at the time. It doesn’t take much for Flare to fall too far behind to catch up, as you continually increase your attack force with each spell bounced or countered.
While you have a different goal in this matchup, your sideboarding will be the same as in the Blink-Touch game. Arbiters help slow down the opposition to the point where you can kill them before they crack out the big guns, and Akroma can’t be dealt with outside of a Wrath or an already-running Skeletal Vampire. Again, Wall and Hierarch leave to make room for these guys.
Project X — Unfortunately for U/G/W, the deck has nearly no way to stop Project X’s combo kill. You can certainly try to attack their lands and their board development and hold them off while you beat down with 2/2s, but they have Castigates and Birds, and their combo is fairly cheap. The best way to attack the combo is by trying to Venser away the non-Saffi, non-Champion piece in the middle, so that they don’t get anything out of the loop and have to find another Champion to go off with.
After sideboarding, you have another way to disrupt the combo in Serrated Arrows. Two untapped Arrows mean that Project X can’t go off, but they’re not rock-solid either because of Putrefy and Glittering Wish. Still, multiple Arrows will buy you time, and time is exactly what you want.
A Glance at UK Nationals
On the other side of the ocean, Magus of the Moon defeated Magus of the Bazaar in the finals, instead of Arcanis taking down Augustin. Dredge is certainly one of my favorite decks to play in Standard, and I’ve been kicking myself all week for not playing what I wanted to play in the Grinders.
For a while now I’ve believed that Dredge has a good matchup against every deck, and a terrible matchup against hate cards. This meant that I spent most of my time working on Dredge looking for the version that was the most resilient to hate, and it meant that I thought the deck was amazing in a format free of hate cards.
One feature of the U.S. Nationals coverage was a card-by-card breakdown of every deck that managed to go 4-3 or better. Among all those decks, there were ten total Tormod’s Crypts, seven total Withered Wretches, and four total Leyline of the Voids. There were also zero Yixlid Jailers and zero Loaming Shamans. Granted, there were twenty-three Extirpates, but Extirpate is the worst of the hate bunch, and twenty-three Extirpates spread over forty-nine decks is certainly not frightening at all.
So, next week will be Dredge week, unless Craig smacks me down.
As always, if you have any questions, feel free to contact me in the forums, via email, or on AIM.
ben at mundy dot net
SlickPeebles on AIM