Rise Of Aintrazi – U/B Solution

US National Champ Ali Aintrazi talks about his U/B Solution deck from Nationals and why it is a constant work in progress. He discusses the maindeck, sideboard, and the Caw-Blade matchup; ask him questions in the comments!

Gather around, young and old, fat and skinny, lovers and haters—it’s story time!

I arrived at the haven for nerds that is Gen Con; it made me feel infinitely better about myself for being a nerd. It could’ve been much worse; I could’ve been into cosplay. (Side note on cosplay: we should leave it to the Japanese.) After getting lost in the river of geeks and goblins for what felt like hours, I found the light at the end of the tunnel, which led me to my friends. And I of course forced them to playtest even though they would rather do anything else. I was obviously sporting Grand Architect in the beginning; this was my list:

The matchup against Caw was okay, but Caw was favored overall. I didn’t want to play a deck that didn’t have a good win percentage against Caw, and I didn’t want to play no dumb birds. John Winters came to the rescue with U/B Control. The deck just stomped all over Caw-Blade like it was some bad brew I had made. I was sold instantly and started shaving numbers and staying up into the wee hours of the morning making the sideboard. Here is what I ended up with, which also happened to be the winning U/B list that also went undefeated (I gotta milk this for all it’s worth!).

Before we talk about U/B you need to understand something. U/B is a solution deck. You can’t just make one for an unknown metagame. As a U/B builder, you need to know what you want to answer and how you’re going to answer it.

For example, you want to ask yourself questions like: Is Valakut or Splinter Twin a bad enough matchup that you want to have four Memoricides against them? Do you even have four cards to cut from the maindeck for them?

My conclusion was no. Against Twin all your cards are live against them. The only hope they have of winning is to have multiple Shrines of Piercing Visions out. Against Valakut, you are already stripping away their hand. I wouldn’t want any more than two Memoricides unless it was the most played deck. Not to mention Surgical Extraction is fine as a pseudo Memoricide. We’ll get to the board and why I chose the cards I did later.

Let’s talk about the main deck!

I predicted that Tempered Steel would be the aggro deck of choice at Nationals, not Vampires, hence the 3-1 removal split between Doom Blade and Go for the Throat. The reason I ran one Consume the Meek over two Black Sun’s Zeniths is because I wanted another way to kill manlands and small casting cost creatures that were huge (Tempered Steel).

Consecrated Sphinx was the MVP of the deck. She was a powerhouse; don’t shave her at all—I would even consider playing a third.

I would instantly cut the Dismember from the deck in favor of an Into the Roil. Dismember doesn’t do much that the other removal spells don’t; I also hate having to pay life to remove a creature, since many games are won with you at low life.

I wanted the fifth discard spell to be able to hit Squadron Hawk, hence Despise over Duress. The Mystifying Maze was not my idea but that of John Winters, and I approve of it since it really doesn’t hurt your mana base since you are running Solemn Simulacrums. It fights off big creatures, pesky Hawks with swords, and the annoying manland when you can’t draw Tectonic Edge. I like Solemn Simulacrum since he fixes and ramps your mana, can put a clock on Jace, and also works as an amazing blocker. I believe this is a great home for him, and now he is even better if you happen to play against other U/B control decks.

Karn Liberated is your ultimate win condition. You want to be careful with him; he’s not something you want countered or dealt with right away. The longer Karn lives, the more your opponent is going to feel that icy grip around their neck.

Liliana Vess is another great card; she combos well with Jace Beleren and Consecrated Sphinx. Vess also allows you to find your one-ofs or anything else you need. I can see putting a second in the board if you expect U/B to increase in popularity.

The Sideboard:

What a disaster right? I’m actually in love with it. I love running silver bullets when I have a good understanding of the format and what I need my deck to do. The majority of the cards are just the 5th-8th hand disruption/removal spells. Volition Reins was amazing since it was the best answer to pesky planeswalkers, forcing your opponent to waste resources to kill their own planeswalker or play two more.

I grouped Memoricide and Surgical Extraction together. You want them both against combo decks. Surgical Extraction may not be as good as Memoricide vs. some combo decks, but it couldn’t be any better against Vengevine Pod decks, which U/B has an inherent problems with.  

Peace Strider and Wurmcoil Engine come in against the same types of decks. Peace Strider comes into play a little earlier than Wurmcoil and allows you not to get blown out by an Act of Aggression. I was debating between Peace Strider and Vampire Nighthawk, but the Hawk always gets Bolted or dealt with before you can gain life. Whereas if Peace Strider gets Bolted, you just gained six life.

Praetor’s Grasp, besides having that cool factor, was for mostly the mirror match or other big control decks. Stealing a Karn Liberated or Consecrated Sphinx and having it be immune to hand disruption was priceless in the mirror, and I always want to beat the mirror.

Why and how does this deck beat Caw?

The only way old Caw could put up a fight is if they had an early Squadron Hawk and had the counters for you mass removal. The reason is that the longer the game goes, the more you are favored thanks to Karn Liberated, Consecrated Sphinx, Black Sun’s Zenith / Consume the Meek, and to a lesser extent Grave Titan. If you resolvedJace, you can keep drawing cards while fogging every turn, thanks to little Jace’s +2 ability.

Hands I would keep on the play vs. Caw were any with discard spells, Mana Leaks, or solid hands with Preordain. On the draw I really wanted a discard spell in my hand, a mass removal spell, or a Jace Beleren to stall the game out. If you ever get into draw-go mode vs. Caw-Blade—don’t ever tap out until you can see their hand via a discard spell; then play your bomb. You want to play draw-go against Caw, since, again, the later the games goes, the more favored you are to win. You will have answers to whatever threat they manage to put out since you can sculpt your hand while attacking theirs.

Inquisition of Kozilek and your other discard spells provide information. I can’t urge this enough—you need to use this to its fullest extent. Write down all they have, and whenever they play a card, scratch it out. If they get more hawks, keep track of that; if your opponent has a card like Oracle of Mul Daya, keep track of what they are drawing. This will give you a generalized idea when you can cast you threats or bait countermagic/removal for your win condition against Caw-Blade and other control decks.

Be patient. You are playing a control deck; wait for that perfect window to resolve your threat and win.

I’m sure you want to know how to sideboard with this deck. Well, I’m not telling you!

This Standard format is evolving pretty rapidly every week, so the exact sideboarding techniques that I used to get an edge at Nationals simply won’t work in the post-Nationals world.

Consequently, you need to learn what cards are bad in matchups and what cards you want from the sideboard.

I’ll give you an example to help you get started. Against Caw-Blade on the draw, Mana Leak is very weak. I would always cut two of them in favor of Despise and Black Sun’s Zenith. Despise gives you six ways to get Hawk out of their hand turn 1, and Zenith will eat them all up if you couldn’t snag that Hawk in time. I would also cut a Dismember, since one-for-ones against Squadron Hawk is a losing battle unless you have an active Jace Beleren. I brought in Volition Reins to steal planeswalkers, Consecrated Sphinx, and Emeria Angel. If your Caw opponent is only playing Hawks, then I believe Wurmcoil would be a better option. On the play, Mana Leak hits Squadron Hawk so I wanted all four. I would cut the Dismember and two Solemn Simulacrums (because it’s the weakest card against them) for Black Sun’s Zenith, Despise, and Volition Reins.

Build your U/B deck so you know what you want to bring out against certain matchups and what you want to bring in. Don’t just jam cards in the sideboard for no reason.

This is a bad example, but you don’t want to have three Wurmcoil Engines against aggressive decks and not enough things to cut from the main deck. Just plan your board accordingly and you will do well.

Adapt to survive

The best decks in Standard can adapt themselves to solve whatever is thrown their way. Don’t think a good Caw-Blade player won’t be packing more Mental Missteps, Leyline of Sanctity, or even Luminarch Ascensions. The good players will adapt their sideboard and main deck and so should you. If you expect Leylines or Luminarch Ascensions, more Into the Roil or a card like Vampire Nighthawk can solve your problem. If you see Leyline of Sanctity game 2 but you don’t have a real way to deal with it, then shave your discard spells. I know this sounds elementary, but that is all a sideboard is. I will not claim to be the best at sideboarding, but I usually know what I want in mine and so should you. I would give you a new U/B solution list, but the deck is ever changing, just like the metagame. You need to stay on top of it!

Draft Portion of Nationals

I’ll keep this nice and short. I don’t have any crazy advice for drafting. I just drafted what was open and didn’t force anything. I knew U/W skies was good, and blue was open my first draft. My second draft, I opened Overrun, and green is almost always open. My only advice is don’t force R/B bloodthirst. If it’s there, awesome; you probably just 3-0ed the pod. But until everyone and their mom stops drafting it, your deck will be lacking. Another note worth mentioning: W/x is really good as well since the white commons are exceptional and very deep. Unsurprisingly both my decks had white in them—U/W skies and G/W Overrun.

If you have any more questions about U/B, I’d be happy to answer them for you. May your Jaces live forever and your Karns wreak havoc.

Until next time,
Ali, Lich Lord