Positive EV – UW Control versus Naya Shaman: The Naya Shaman Perspective

Thursday, August 19th – Manuel Bucher provides the flip-side to the recent UW versus Naya matchup analysis articles. He also shares his Ascension deck and sideboarding plans from his recent Nationals tournament.

Now that a lot of National Championship tournaments have passed, two of the most changed decks are U/W Control and Naya. This is the matchup Antoine and I recently tested. Since Antoine asked me which side I would like to play, and since I am not a huge fan of Planeswalkers and their current power level, I quickly decided that I want to sit on the Naya side of the table.

First, here’s the deck list I am going to play, which won Spanish Nationals in the hands of Anibal Carbonero.

There are some things I would love to change in this deck list. I would definitely shift one of the Dauntless Escorts to the main deck, and add a Linvala, Keeper of Silence somewhere to the 75 cards.

As a reminder, here’s the deck list Antoine is playing. It made a Top 8 appearance at the French Nationals in the hands of Control master Guillaume Wafo-Tapa.

I think the matchup will play out fairly close pre-board. I have a lot more sideboard options that seem very good in the matchup, and therefore I expect my win percentage to rocket after sideboarding.

Pre-board Games (14-10. 8-4 on the play, 6-6 on the draw)

Playing first grants a huge advantage to the Naya deck. If you cast a Fauna Shaman on turn 2, and your opponent is unable to counter it, the only way you will lose is if your opponent has Path to Exile there and then. Even then, you have a really big advantage. Therefore, you should cast Fauna Shaman whenever you can. Once you do, there is no need to play more guys, and you can just start fetch up all the Vengevines in your deck until your opponent wants to deal with the Shaman. Then you can get a Bloodbraid Elf and start beating down.

Since all the threats are very good in this deck, it is often right to play the worst guy if your opponent has counter mana available. In this particular matchup, the worst early drops are Cunning Sparkmage followed by Knight of the Reliquary. You should cast Vengevine whenever you can in the early game, assuming you don’t have an active Fauna Shaman. The cascades from Bloodbraid Elf are not very good, and the card should more often be used as a Day of Judgment follow up, or to reanimate Vengevines, rather than for building up your board on the third or fourth turn.

This is the first matchup I’ve played where I actually enjoyed drawing Sejiri Steppe. This is why I try not to play the land in the early game, as it can be used later on to kill a Planeswalker almost every time.

Knight of the Reliquary is usually a beater in the matchup, and you should try to activate it as little as possible, pretty much only to either fix your mana by fetching up a Raging Ravine or to give another guy protection from White to kill a Planeswalker. Otherwise, attacking is usually the best option.

If I can choose to play Birds of Paradise or Noble Hierarch on the first few turns, I like playing the Birds. In almost any game, your opponent has to Day of Judgment at some point, and thus Noble Hierarch is the better card post-Day than the mana bird. Try not to play the second mana critter, because they can become crucial for reanimating Vengevines later.

Try to play around Condemn with your important guys. This is pretty much only Fauna Shaman in pre-board games, but Dauntless Escort is added to the list after sideboarding. Once your opponent does Path to Exile one of your attackers, you can expect him not to be holding Condemn. The same goes for your Noble Hierarch. If you play one on turn 1 and you have the option of either attacking or holding it back, be aware that your opponent might be holding Condemn. If you are on the draw and you hold a Fauna Shaman, be sure to attack before playing the important two-drop, giving your opponent the opportunity to Condemn it and for you to resolve your Fauna Shaman.

The Sideboard:

-3 Cunning Sparkmage
-1 Basilisk Collar
-1 Stoneforge Mystic
-1 Obstinate Baloth
-1 Baneslayer Angel
+2 Realm Razer
+3 Dauntless Escort
+2 Qasali Pridemage

I don’t think you have any other options in sideboarding for this particular matchup and deck list. If your opponent might have Baneslayer Angel while you are playing this 75 cards, I would keep the Baneslayer Angel and instead cut a Knight of the Reliquary, so you are able to fetch up a solution for your opponent’s Baneslayer, even though it’s just trading with your own.

Post-board Games (16-10. 9-4 on the play, 7-6 on the draw)

Post-board games are a lot easier to play. With Dauntless Escort and Vengevine, you are allowed to overextend, since your opponent only has a few ways to deal with Dauntless Escort at the end of turn. Make sure that you don’t run the Escort into a Condemn, and treat him more like an enchantment that has the option to attack for three. Sun Titan, which is more than weak in pre-board games, becomes an all star after sideboarding. Returning Dauntless Escort is a lock on the game, and your opponent will not be able to win.

Realm Razer is not a card you want to play three times, but he is often able to steal a game. If you are a bit behind on the board, it is just a blank, and your opponent won’t let you be ahead all the time and tap out so you can resolve the Razer and win.

Both Qasali Pridemages and Knight of the Reliquary are the guys you want your opponent to counter, since they are weaker than Dauntless Escort and Fauna Shaman. So if your opponent has counter mana and you are not able to sit there and wait until your opponent plays Day of Judgment, I would start by playing one of the weaker guys.

Playing against the sideboarded list that Antoine played for our testing sees the post-board games being exactly the same for you. Instead of casting weak cards, you now have strong cards in your deck, while your opponent is only sideboarding some marginal cards. Usually, you should be winning the games, but if your opponent has a good draw with Elspeth and Gideon, or casts Sun Titan on the sixth turn, you can get into some trouble.

Recently, I played in my National Championships. I was running the updated deck list from Guillaume Matignon:

The deck was really, really good, even though this is overshadowed by the 3-2 record I posted in the Constructed portion of the tournament. If you are testing the deck a fair bit, you should have good equity against any other Blue deck, and you shouldn’t be afraid by any of the Green or Red decks. While playing the deck, I figured that I wouldn’t play Time Warp anymore. The deck plays so much like a Control deck, and you just can’t allow yourself to draw a five-mana spell which is only good once you have a charged Ascension, simply because you will very rarely lose a game where you have a charged Ascension anyway. It is often enough to simply kill all their guys and counter all the spells they want to play. It can be trouble against a beatdown deck where you can’t kill everything — but I still think that the card is better in the sideboard if you decide to run it in your 75. Against any Blue deck, you just can’t tap five mana in your turn, especially against Polymorph or the mirror match. Your opponent will simply counter the spell and then present a threat you can’t handle, and Time Warp becomes a super blank.

Instead of running Time Warp, I would run Spell Pierce. And if you make that change, run the following sideboard:

2 Negate
1 Into the Roil
4 Jace Beleren
4 Spreading Seas
4 Unsummon

The Into the Roil in the sideboard is mainly for Leyline of Sanctity.

Sideboarding :

Versus U/W

+2 Negate, +1 Into the Roil, +4 Jace Beleren
-3 Burst Lightning, -4 Lightning Bolt

I keep one Burst Lightning as a kill condition. I think it is slightly better than Lightning Bolt, since you can kill Celestial Colonnade with it. Lightning Bolt has the advantage of killing a Jace, the Mind Sculptor if your option doesn’t use the fateseal ability. It is important that you take your time in the games, and don’t try to force a victory as quickly as possible. Your opponent only has a few library manipulation cards, while you can wait and draw the most perfect hand possible.

Versus Polymorph

-2 Burst Lightning
+2 Negate

This is probably the most difficult matchup you’ll face, simply because any mistake will cost either player the game. Make sure that you don’t counter unnecessary spells, or rush when you want to win quickly. Almost never counter Into the Roil, and counter the Awakening Zone if you can. One of the best ways to charge your Ascension is if your opponent is trying to cast Polymorph, and you start by disrupting with the same spell twice.

Versus Jund

+4 Spreading Seas
-2 Burst Lightning, -2 Spell Pierce (on the draw)

+4 Spreading Seas
-3 Burst Lightning, -1 Lightning Bolt (on the play)

On the play, Spell Pierce is a lot better, since you can simply cast your Ascension early and then counter all their disruption spells. If you are on the draw, you have to deal with their beatdown as well. This is another matchup that is not the easiest to play.

Versus Noble Hierarch.dec

+4 Unsummon
-4 Spell Pierce

The only difficulty in this matchup is Qasali Pridemage, if they are smart enough not to play it when you have no Ascension on the table. Try to deal with all their early guys, including the mana guys, so you are able to play the Red Ascension with Mana Leak backup. If they have a ton of hate post board, like the Naya deck I played against Antoine, you are probably a slight dog after sideboarding.

Versus Mono Red

No Sideboard

I played Time Warp at Nationals, and I am pretty sure that I lost to the Mono Red deck because they weren’t Spell Pierces. Once you go off, it is good enough to have access to your Burn spells and Counters, since they have nothing to deal with the Ascension anyway.

Until there is an explosion of hate against this deck, like Relic of Progenitus, I think it is the best deck to play in any given metagame!

Thanks for reading. Good Luck in the upcoming Standard events.

Manu B