At this point, I feel like I’m the poster boy for playing what you know.
When the stakes are high, you might be tempted to play a new deck you saw that might be very good, but it could easily end up being awful in a number of circumstances. When you’re lost, you might be tempted to go with whatever your friend says is the deck to play even if you’re inexperienced with the archetype or don’t believe him.
For me, the choice is easy—I play Islands.
Due to a knowledge of the matchups, a solid read on the metagame, and a string of luck that seems to follow me throughout Invitationals, I managed to ride U/W/R Flash and Shardless BUG to a fourth-place finish at the SCG Invitational in New Jersey last weekend. Sometimes I end up doing poorly in double-elimination tournaments, such as SCG Opens, PTQs, and WMCQs, but if you give me the ability to sustain multiple losses throughout a two-day tournament, I will probably do well.
My decks don’t beat everything all the time, but they don’t lose to anything all the time either.
Awkwardly enough, I positioned my Flash deck for a metagame that existed but that I didn’t face.
I expected a fair amount of Junk Aristocrats and W/B Tokens but played against neither. Junk Reanimator, previously thought to have been dead, was something I faced twice. I had a similar experience regarding Esper Control. Jund Midrange, the deck I expected to be the most prevalent, was something I played against twice as well.
Other than my Top 4 match against Andrew Tenjum’s Naya Midrange, I mostly avoided creature decks. That was somewhat disappointing considering I generally like those matchups, but I did well in the tournament anyway.
The Counter Suite
Choosing what counterspells to play is somewhat tricky. Essence Scatter is good against nearly every deck, but what happens when they side in Burning Earth? For that reason, I played a Syncopate and a pair of Dissipates. Syncopate, frequently a terrible card, is useful just for its versatility but not something you want to draw more than one of.
Dissipate is still miles better than Counterflux, at the very least because of the presence of colorless lands in the mana base. If that’s not enough to persuade you, consider that things like Lingering Souls and Unburial Rites are more popular than control mirrors. On top of that, being able to Dissipate a card with flashback is more backbreaking than Counterfluxing a Sphinx’s Revelation or Aetherling. The flashback decks are typically worse matchups also.
I could see a rationale for getting clever like Dave Shiels did and running an Izzet Charm again. While it’s not as useful against something like Jund Midrange or a control mirror, Izzet Charm can kill a creature or potentially counter a Burning Earth.
Rewind is good against Jund Midrange and any big mana deck, but the main reason I didn’t play it was because it’s very bad post-board in control mirrors. A four-mana counterspell is fine if they’re playing tapout control, but once they start boarding in Dispels and Negates, you end up losing every counter war despite having your own cheap counterspells as well.
At Pro Tour Gatecrash, I played a Rewind but had to side it out against any other blue deck, which is very awkward for a counterspell. If the metagame is devoid of blue or decks with primarily cheap threats, Rewind wins out. However, I didn’t regret not playing Rewind, nor would I cut any of the five counterspells I played for it.
The Mana Base
One of the biggest questions about the mana base is how many lands plus cantrips you’re supposed to run. In order to play a land each turn in the early game without getting flooded in the late game, I recommend playing 25 lands, four Thought Scours, and at least two Think Twices (or similar cantrips).
26 lands, four Think Twices, and zero Thought Scours is the Matt Costa industry standard at this point, but I’m not sure that’s correct. Every time I tried cutting Thought Scour, I got flooded in the mid-to-late game unless I was able to successfully chain Sphinx’s Revelations. Without Thought Scour, it feels like you see a lot fewer cards. In the Invitational, that was the case, but I was lucky enough to win anyway.
Additionally, "thinning" your deck by one land might be miniscule for a few draw steps (hence the argument against playing something like fetchlands in a monocolored deck), but when games are decided by attrition, drawing one fewer land could mean all the difference. When the game goes very long and you’re in topdeck mode, any time you come up with a spell you’ll be grateful.
The next biggest debate is how many—if any—utility lands can you afford to play. For me, the answer is simple. I’ll play as many colorless lands as I can, assuming they are free rolls. With 26 lands, you can easily afford one colorless land without suffering mana issues most of the time. I believe that U/W/R could play up to three but that the reward isn’t necessarily worth it.
As for what the colorless land should be, I still believe Ghost Quarter is what you want. Last week it looked like most arguments in favor of Encroaching Wastes were that they wanted to punish mana-light opponents. Let me tell you that Flash is very unforgiving if your opponent is stumbling in the first place. It can set up a wall of removal and counterspells or just start pulling away with Sphinx’s Revelation.
Sometimes adding another angle to your deck, such as one of land destruction, can lead to free wins. I’m just not that into that. I want to build my decks to have what they need! An answer to Kessig Wolf Run is likely necessary, but making that answer cost four mana instead of zero is something I’m not interested in.
Consider this: you’re searching for that last removal spell for your newest deck. Your options are the format staple Path to Exile or the "techy" Plague Spores. While Path to Exile is more efficient, they will usually get a basic land from it. In the scheme of things, that’s irrelevant most of the time, except when you want to kill a mana producer on turn 1.
Plague Spores has the option of mana screwing them if they’re stuck on land, whereas Path to Exile might actually help them. Obviously, you run Plague Spores, right?
No! If things are killing you, you want to cheap answers in order to play multiple spells per turn and potentially catch up. Sure, Plague Spores might give you a little added utility, but that’s generally not how we select our card choices in Magic.
Red or No?
Considering what I faced in the tournament, I can easily say that I would have performed just as well—if not better—had I been playing straight U/W. For now, I’m going to say that red is necessary given what decks exist, but U/W is something I’ll be experimenting with.
Inevitability or No?
This is a contentious point as well. I used to play Runechanter’s Pike out of respect for other control decks. Together with Moorland Haunt, you could grind through almost anything they could throw at you. Later versions utilized Boros Reckoner alongside Harvest Pyre.
Most of the time, you can win games by casting big Sphinx’s Revelations, dealing with all of their threats, and killing them with a couple Restoration Angels. Sometimes there are matchups like Jund Midrange, Junk Reanimator, and other control decks where they can run you out of threats. In matchups like these, either you narrowly kill them right before you deck yourself (like I did in my match against Brian Braun-Duin in round 4) or they run you out of threats and you concede.
Sometimes all it takes is a maindeck Runechanter’s Pike; Aetherling; Assemble the Legion; or Jace, Memory Adept and you can’t lose to those decks. The opportunity cost for playing such a card is that sometimes you’ll draw it before you have ten mana in play, at which point it might be a virtual mulligan.
I generally select something that isn’t dead early, like Harvest Pyre, but playing something that can be solid in the midgame, such as Jace, Memory Adept, can also be fine. Right now you should definitely be playing at least one of these finishers maindeck.
Ignore the Detention Sphere / Oblivion Ring split. I own multiples of each but could only find one of each for some reason and was too lazy to "fix" it. Without Renounce the Guilds in my deck, there’s basically zero reason for Oblivion Ring over Detention Sphere unless I want an out to their Detention Sphere on my Assemble the Legion.
Thundermaw Hellkite is absent, and it always will be. Against Jund Midrange, Esper Control, and Junk Reanimator, I want my threat to be resilient.
My archaic Rest in Peaces were for Junk Reanimator and Junk Aristocrats, but both Junk Reanimator decks tried to go beatdown on me. I like their plan, but it does make it easier for me to leave Rest in Peace on the bench.
Izzet Staticaster was supposed to be great, but I never sided them in. That has to be the first time that’s ever happened.
The fourth Clifftop Retreat could be a Plains, which was something I struggled with. It would allow Ghost Quarter to fetch a Plains, but if you’re doing that, it’s desperate times and you’re probably going to lose regardless. The only time I can think of when that might have mattered was when BBD Acidic Slimed my only white source and I could have Ghost Quartered it.
The Ghost Quarter is money, but I’m wary of adding a second copy of any colorless land.
Ratchet Bomb was good in theory and fine in practice, but it might be a bad Detention Sphere.
My removal suite was nice. Having access to a Turn // Burn and a Warleader’s Helix while not overloading on them was perfect.
I’ll probably stick with three Azorius Charms. There aren’t enough decks like R/G Aggro out there to warrant four copies. I’d rather look elsewhere for cantrips.
Overall, I liked the deck, enjoyed my games, am proud of my performance, and wouldn’t change much—if anything—in my Flash decklist. You can copy / paste that decklist and take down a wide variety of decks with ease.
With four copies of Shardless BUG in Top 8 of the Invitational (and only one copy of Esper Deathblade), it looks like I won the argument we had on last week’s [author name="Above The Curve"]Above The Curve[/author].
Why Play Shardless BUG?
In short, because it’s one of the best decks in the format.
I don’t make statements like this lightly. I’ve made a few bold claims, but I only do when I truly believe I’m right. If I don’t know, I say as much, but in this case I’ve played enough tournaments, done my homework, and the four copies of Shardless BUG in the Top 8 of the Invitational make it look like I’m correct.
The strategic answer is that Shardless BUG is versatile. It has a lot of inherent card advantage, can finish games quickly, is disruptive enough to beat combo, and post-board looks like it was designed to hate out whatever matchup you’re facing.
Of course, there are some bad matchups. Things like Omni-Tell are supposed to be bad, but I beat it twice in the Invitational. The combination of Golgari Charm for Leyline of Sanctity and Flusterstorm to take them by surprise has won me several games. Harry Corvese played an Arcane Laboratory in his sideboard, which looks decent against them as well.
Going forward, Shardless BUG will remain on top because it can be tuned to beat whatever problems arise to face it.
For the Invitational, I didn’t change much. I scaled back the discard but added a maindeck Liliana of the Veil, so that was mostly a wash. I expected far more Esper Deathblade than combo, but I’m not sure that ended up being correct.
Maelstrom Pulse made a comeback as a concession to Jace, the Mind Sculptor. For the most part, BUG is better at protecting Jace and attacking Jace than any other blue deck, but I still wanted something to dig for. Plus, Maelstrom Pulse is another answer to Lingering Souls and one of the few reasonable answers to Batterskull. No, they cannot keep open three mana every single turn. At the very least, you can combine Pulse with Thoughtseize to get rid of it for good.
The mana base is close to perfect, but Creeping Tar Pit ranges from insane to awful depending on your mana draw and the matchup. I considered cutting one but figured I’d regret it. A 23rd land isn’t out of the question since you win most games you don’t get stuck on lands or Stifle / Wastelanded out of the game. A Ponder or two could also be a reasonable way to find more mana without having to play more lands.
Chill got the axe, and I didn’t regret it, at least for that tournament. Instead, I added Golgari Charm for Leyline of Sanctity and the Elves matchup. I loaded up on anti-creature cards like Disfigure and Baleful Strix, and those overperformed. The last change I made was cutting the third Flusterstorm for the fourth Baleful Strix, but I would probably keep the Flusterstorm.
As always, the Invitational was a complete blast, thanks in no small part to the people. I talked shop with several people who had totally awesome brews, and I’ll likely be covering those in the future. All in all, I consider the weekend a huge success, and I can’t wait to do it again in Indianapolis.
I wonder what I’ll be playing . . .
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