Standard’s Tier 1 Wakeup Call

The environment for this year’s Regionals and Nationals events has likely been the single most diverse Standard season the game has ever seen. In such a spread-out field it was difficult to cover all your bases, but the one thing we all seemed to be able to agree on was that the Tier 1 was pretty clearly composed of three decks: R/G, U/G, and ‘Tog. That, ladies and gentlemen, has come to an abrupt end. Both Wake and MBC have risen to dramatically shake up the old guard, and I’ll show you why Wake has joined the top tier by giving you a guided inside tour of what may be the single best deck in Standard today.

The environment for this year’s Regionals and Nationals events has likely been the single most diverse Standard season the game has ever seen. In such a spread-out field it was difficult to cover all your bases, but the one thing we all seemed to be able to agree on was that the Tier 1 was pretty clearly composed of three decks: R/G, U/G, and ‘Tog.

That, ladies and gentlemen, has come to an abrupt end.

Both Wake and MBC have risen to dramatically shake up the old guard, and sideboards already strained to bursting will now have to take two more Tier 1 decks into account, while somehow still keeping enough game against the slew of other decks you’re likely to face on any given day. In this article, I’ll show you why Wake has joined the top tier by giving you a guided inside tour of what may be the single best deck in Standard today.

Um, How Does it Work Please?

For those who already understand how the Mirari engine in this deck works, feel free to skip ahead to the next section.

For those who don’t, this deck has several”infinite” combos built into it, all of them involving Mirari. The main”trick” to be aware of is that you can use Mirari to get any instant you have in your sideboard or that you have removed from the game over the course of play, which includes previously-cast copies of Cunning Wish. So if, prior to the current Wish and copy on the stack, you have cast a previous Wish (or if there is one currently in your sideboard) you can use one of your two Wishes on the stack to get the other Wish, then use your second Wish to get whatever other available instants you want. This is one of those things that’s a lot more confusing in words than action, so let’s try a scenario to illustrate this:

On turn 3, I cast Cunning Wish for my Moment’s Peace in the sideboard, removing Wish from the game.

Turn 5, I cast Mirari.

Turn 6, at the end of my opponent’s turn, I tap six mana and cast Wish with three of the mana, and use the other three mana to copy Wish. Now I have two Wishes on the stack. I can use one of these to get the removed Wish from turn 3, and I can use the other Wish on the stack to get any other instant in my sideboard or which has been removed from the game.

Makes sense?

Okay, for those who aren’t used to the deck, the first thing you’re probably realizing is that this gets pretty damn mana-intensive. That’s where Mirari’s Wake comes in, generating enormous amounts of mana and allowing you to do all sorts of disgusting things if you have both cards out at the same time. Additionally, Wake combos with Compulsion by giving you much more mana to burn through your library, allowing you to find any other needed cards very rapidly.

So back to Mirari tricks. First off, you now see that Mirari + Wish (and another Wish in the board or already used) means that each six mana lets you get another instant and a Wish. As long as you keep getting a Wish back, this loop will feed itself as long as needed. Note that it’s often good practice to use the first Wish on the stack to retrieve another Wish, because if you don’t you risk the second Wish on the stack being countered and now you don’t have any Wishes left. If you get Wish with the first and they counter, you can always use the second Wish on the stack to get a replacement Wish. This way it takes two counters for them to break the cycle. Fortunately, you have more Wishes, not to mention your own countermagic (which you can also copy, if needed) to prevent them from breaking the cycle.

So we’ve got recurring Wishes plus any other available instant, for as much mana as we have available. What does that get us? Well, with Elephant Ambush it means you can cast Ambush and copy it, then flash it back and copy it, and now it’s out of the game, which means you can get it back with the Wish engine. Hence, you can make as many Elephants as you want, mana allowing.

With Krosan Reclamation you can do similar tricks, first fetching Reclamation and using it, then flashing it, then fetching it again to repeat the process, since flashing it removes it from the game and thus makes it available (again) for your Wishes. Once you’ve got that Reclamation engine going and you’ve burned through enough of your library you can, theoretically, keep looping Reclamations to stuff your deck with only the cards you want, such as all counterspells, all lifegain, whatever. Since you can loop this as much as you want, you effectively have no limit to the number of times you can cast and loop that life gain, countermagic, Opportunity, Moment’s Peace, or what have you. It takes some practice to do this efficiently (and quickly!) but once you’ve done it a couple times you’ll get the feeling for the rhythm of it.

Truth be told, I’ve only ever had to go into serious Reclamation recursion once – and even then it was just a safeguard. The vast majority of the time when you get to this point, you’ll either bury them with Elephant Tokens or they’ll just concede outright.

A quick reminder – don’t forget that Wish can target your instants that are removed from play! This allows you to do things like cast Moment’s Peace turn 3, flash it back turn 4 (removing it from the game), then Wish for it turn 5 and play it, and flash it back turn 6 to play it a fourth time. That’s a lot of Fogs for only two cards – and that’s without any help from Mirari! The same goes for the two different Rays in the board, as well as anything that might get hit by Haunting Echoes or Withered Wretch.

Okay, so we have some understanding of how the actual combos are executed. Time to get to the strategy!

The Combo-Control Spectrum

At its heart, the Cunning Wake archetype belongs to the rarest of all deck types: combo-control. As such, it belongs to the family of decks that includes TurboLand and not much else. Pure combo decks tend to go straight for the throat and as quickly as possible; good examples of this are the various Necro-fueled archetypes from Extended seasons past like the original Necropotence/Illusions of Grandeur/Donate (popularized by YMG diva Michelle Bush) or the Urza’s Saga Block Constructed Fluctuator deck, which took Zvi to his first Pro Tour Top 8. These decks bring it fast and furious, because if they don’t they’re going to curl up and die just as quickly.

While pure combo decks may have some limited amount of”controlling” cards, they are almost always relatively few in number and employed for the sake of either getting through the first couple turns (like Smothers in today’s Reanimator decks) or disruption for ramming the combo through opposing resistance (like Duress from NecroDonate).

When in doubt, pure combo decks can be distinguished from combo-control by their increasing loss of power as the duel enters the middle and later stages of the game. Pure combo decks tend to be strongest in the early stages of the game, before the opponent has really had a chance to establish themselves. If the game goes too long, they’ll typically be in trouble because their focus is on getting the combo, not controlling the game.

Combo-control decks, by contrast, play the waiting game. They seek to stay alive well into the mid-game and beyond. The goal is to keep control of the game long enough to set up some combo-related win condition. Unlike pure control, combo-control tends to get stronger as the game goes on, and is designed to capitalize on this.

As with any other deck classification, there are degrees to this. Taking aggro-control as an example, there are decks that lean more toward the aggro side of”aggro-control” (such as most builds of modern U/G madness) and there are more controlling versions of aggro-control, such as some versions of mono-black which include enough beatdown to not be pure control, but still maintain a very heavy load of creature removal and card drawing.

The same is true with the combo-control spectrum. Decks like TurboLand fall right about in the middle of the combo-control classification… But modern ‘Tog variants could be viewed as the extreme extension of the control side of combo-control. ‘Tog plays as a pure control deck, but its kill method will typically come as the combo of Tog+Upheaval. The goal of the rest of the deck is to just stay alive long enough to find and play this two-card combo.

The reason all this matters is that to truly understand Wake, it’s important to understand its game plan and how that relates to the other decks out there. Wake is not a pure combo deck, and people who try to play it as such will be in for a very long day. Rather than just run four of each combo piece and try to get everything in play as quickly as possible and then win, the Cunning Wake designs acknowledge that this core combo is slow and expensive to set up. Wake and Mirari both cost five mana, which is just too high to try and ram through in a mad rush to put the game away. Instead, you can drop the various combo parts to just a few pieces of each and use the gained space to design a control deck that can live well into the late game, using countermagic and card drawing to both stay alive and piece together the combo. Card drawing is at the core of this combo-control approach, because it allows running fewer combo pieces while also keeping the deck fueled with enough defenses to hold the more aggressive decks at bay.

Search Engines

The key to this deck’s success as an archetype lies in its card drawing suite. The combination of Compulsion, Deep Analysis, and Wish allows this chameleon to adjust its hand to whatever the current situation demands. Against blistering speed like the Goblins deck, Cunning Wake (which, for convenience, I’m just going to call”Wake” hereafter) is able to focus its efforts on buying time with cards like Moment’s Peace and life gain while killing beasties, getting lands into play, and eventually winning with either the combo or an active face-up Exalted Angel.

But that same deck will play much differently against Tog. Now the card drawing and search from Compulsion and Wish will be aimed at gradually gaining ground in a slow, grinding resource war. The eventual battle will typically be forced at the end of the Tog player’s turn with the help of Wishing, culminating (hopefully) in a resolved Mirari, rendering Tog unable to win and powering the Wake player straight through any remaining defenses Tog may have left.

This ability to play such different roles is the true strength of this Wake archetype. However, this versatility means that the player at the helm becomes much more responsible for the outcome than is true with many other archetypes. I’m not saying that R/G, for example, is an easy deck to play – but playing it will definitely involve far fewer choices than Wake involves. The reason is that the Wake player is empowered with the ability to choose from many different plans, both short and long range in scope. Which ones you choose to go with will have a profound effect on the course of each game. That means that you’ll want to be as intimately familiar with this deck as possible.

This deck gives its pilot extraordinary flexibility. As such, much of your success with it will depend on your own familiarity with the deck and its various matchups. Put another way, this deck will give allow you the player to have a tremendous impact on the course of the game. Whether or not that’s a good thing or a bad thing will be up to you!

With that in mind, I’m going to list three Wake decks and then do a walkthrough of the various cards and their implications.

And, lastly:

Scott Johns – 11th place Northern California Regionals Deck

5 Island

3 Lonely Sandbar

3 Plains

3 Forest

4 Krosan Verge

3 Brushland

4 Skycloud Expanse

1 Flooded Strand

3 Exalted Angel

4 Wrath of God

4 Renewed Faith

3 Counterspell

3 Memory Lapse

3 Cunning Wish

3 Compulsion

4 Deep Analysis

3 Moment’s Peace

2 Mirari

2 Mirari’s Wake


2 Seedtime

1 Compulsion

1 Exalted Angel

1 Opportunity

2 Chastise

1 Unsummon

1 Reprisal

1 Ray of Revelation

1 Ray of Distortion

1 Elephant Ambush

1 Circular Logic

1 Krosan Reclamation

1 Moment’s Peace

Exalted Angel

The first list above comes from a relatively old Sideboard article from Kai, Wishing at the Masters. While all current Cunning Wake builds still closely resemble this list, the single largest change is the recent addition of Exalted Angel – or”Our Lady of Busty Beatings.”

While it’s true the original deck was a bit low on soft-porn content, it should be pointed out that the Angels have been added to further improve the control aspect of this archetype. On her own, she represents a significant threat against several decks, particularly U/G. In combination with the rest of the deck she provides a way of forcing opposing creature decks to overextend into Wrath of God while also providing a much faster way of killing most opponents once control has been achieved. While some of your kills will still be delivered courtesy of the Elephant Ambush combo (or just plain old concessions), many of your wins will come from just turning this card sideways a few times.

That gain in clock time means that the deck is considerably more viable for timed rounds and isn’t nearly as helpless going into game 3 with only fifteen minutes (or less) on the clock. In addition to all of the above, she’s also just an insanely powerful card – and one which fits into the deck perfectly. If time were no issue, I’d consider running them all in the board… But time is an issue, so I always run three main and one sideboard for when I need her (and I know what I can take out to make the room).

Don’t believe me? Be informed that I’m a pretty slow player and I managed to finish all ten rounds at my Regionals without a single draw. Seth Burn played the same deck, but with no Angels main. He ended up with no less than three draws in his event, and he’s a faster player than I am!

The reason you don’t run all four game 1 is because you do have to make sacrifices to get these into the main. As such, the deck starts to lose some of its flexibility, which has to be approached with a certain amount of caution. Since this is game 1 we’re talking about, it’s too hard to know what else can come out to make space for that fourth angel to be main. However, for game 2 you’ll know what has to stay and what can go, so you’ll find yourself bringing Angel #4 in for most of your sideboarded games.

The Mana

The older non-angel versions of Wake didn’t have as many cards with double white in the casting cost, and I feel that many current builds don’t take this change into account. Let’s take a look at Jelger’s mana base:

4 Krosan Verge

3 Plains

10 Island

3 Forest

3 Brushland

3 Skycloud Expanse

That gives a breakdown of:

Blue: 13

White: 13

Green: 10

With four Wraths and four Angels after sideboarding, I don’t buy for a second that only thirteen white sources cuts it. I’m also not willing to accept that Jelger’s version has only thirteen blue sources, but ups the maindeck Counterspell count to four.

If you agree, there are two options. One is to add back in some more land, going up to twenty-seven or twenty-eight, which many builds have done. The other option is to increase the flexibility of the mana you already have so that you can get away with just twenty-six. The following is the mana base I ran at Regionals:

5 Island

3 Lonely Sandbar

3 Plains

3 Forest

4 Krosan Verge

3 Brushland

4 Skycloud Expanse

1 Flooded Strand

Which gives the following color breakdown:

Blue: 13

White: 15

Green: 10

With this version, you get two more white into the deck without having to add a land, and I found this to be much more reliable in my testing. Those Angels and Wraths are crucial in so many of your matchups that it’s too important to risk stumbling at only one white – something I felt was a real risk when running only thirteen white sources.

Note also that the increased white count takes some of the pressure off of Krosan Verge, making it more likely to be able to Wrath on turn 4 when needed (like when U/G taps out on turn 3 to madness out an Arrogant Wurm). Because there are still only thirteen blue sources, I kept my counter base as three Counterspell/three Memory Lapse, as I found that running four Counterspells with only fourteen blue sources weakened the deck too much against faster decks.

I was 100% happy with the mana base I played at Regionals, and I wouldn’t change a thing if I had to play it again. For those that really want access to that fourth Counterspell, I would recommend adding another blue source and going to 27 land. I would also still recommend the three cycling lands, as there are a lot of Boils out there and having ten or so Islands means you actually have to worry a little about that kind of thing. The ability to cycle for one also comes up surprisingly often for mana gluts and/or when Wake is out, helping avoid mana burn while continuing to churn through the deck.

Lastly, I don’t agree with adding Nantuko Monastery to this deck because I don’t feel it helps enough in the matches where you need it. I also think it does too much damage to your color consistency when only running 26 lands, and I don’t have any cards I’d be willing to lose to add the Monastery as a twenty-seventh land.

Card Drawing

I ran four Analysis and three Compulsion in my main and was very happy with it. Compulsion is very important – but card count is also very important, and Deep Analysis is extremely good at that task. Both cards help out quite a bit in the Tog matchup, but Deep Analysis is basically guaranteed to draw you cards, whereas Compulsion may just draw a counter and that’s it.

The other issues are that Compulsion only costs two, which is a big plus, but Deep Analysis combos with Mirari, which is also a big plus. Throughout my month of heavy testing with Wake I was convinced that seven of these was right, but I never did come to a complete decision on which I preferred to have four of for game 1. In the end, I went with the Deep Analysis because of the Mirari issue and because it’s the better card against Tog since you essentially know it will resolve. Assuming Compulsion doesn’t get Force Spiked you’re in business, but you know Deep Analysis will get you the cards, and that’s enough of an advantage to keep me happy with 4 Analysis/3 Compulsion.

Whichever you end up with, I highly recommend having the eighth copy in the board. This goes double if your eighth card is Compulsion, as it is with my listing. There will be plenty of matches where you want access to Compulsion #4, and the space is definitely worth it! I’m still not 100% sure if I want Compulsion #4 or instead Analysis #4 in the main, but I am sure that I at least want access to Compulsion #4 for sideboarded games. Because of that, if your own list only allows you a total of seven copies between main and board, four Compulsion main is probably the right call.

Cunning Wish

All current typical lists include three Wishes, and that’s the right call if you decide to go with the three Angel main plan. For those that skip the Angel plan, I would advise taking a real look at going to four Wishes. With Angels taking up space, you don’t really have room to get away with the extra Wish, and that’s something you accept by running the Angel version. However, with no Angels you gain the ability to go to all eight card drawers, four Wishes, and another card to boot – often an extra countermagic spell. If time were no concern, I would currently feel that this is the optimal configuration for game 1. Since time is a factor, I’m still running Angels, and that means I’m only running three Wishes because of space.

Moment’s Peace

When Wake went to a three-Wish model, it became standard to move the fourth Peace into the main to avoid losing against aggro decks when you didn’t manage to draw a Peace. Part of the thinking behind this was probably that, against the fast aggro decks, you may not have time to Wish for the boarded Peace – and hence, you might as well have it main so that you can increase your chances of drawing it outright. I found that when I had no Angels that I did indeed want that fourth Peace in the main, but with the addition of Angels to help out on D, you get a little more time to Wish for Peace #4 if needed. Conveniently, the gained slot from moving #4 to the board makes room for an Angel for little cost. A nice bonus.

Renewed Faith

I should warn you of some bias right up front regarding this one: I’m a big fan of this card, and I wish there were more cards like it. It’s a reasonably-priced cycler with great abilities on either side of the card, allows the player some pretty significant decisions, and does a great job filling the role it’s intended for. Put simply, I think Renewed Faith should be the poster child for tourney-worthy cycling cards of the future.

Okay, product sponsorship out of the way, I think Faith is perfect for this deck, and I wouldn’t consider running less than four right now, as some others have done. The cycling life gain is very handy for smoothing out your early draws while fulfilling goal #1 against aggro decks: buying time to get your mana established and your more powerful spells into the game. As a dedicated anti-aggro cards it’s wonderful, and the ability to sometimes hard-cast it (especially with Mirari in play!) comes up valuable on plenty of occasions. That’s a lot of good to ask of a card that’s so easy to cycle or cast, and it lives up to it.

The best part is that, as good as it is against Aggro, it’s also good against slower decks as well, cycling you to the spells (and lands!) you need and providing some”free” life points that will come in handy more often than you might think. Against Astral Slide, this is the card that helps make sure you don’t get burned out by Lightning Rifts before you get everything set up, and against Tog it allows you to flashback your Analyses without having to worry so much. In a pinch, you can even just hard cast a couple against Tog to help make sure they can’t kill you should they get their own combo off. With that kind of flexibility and at such a low price, I would absolutely run four main. Those that run twenty-seven lands often have to cut one of these to make up for the space without losing another card drawer like Compulsion – one more reason I’d rather run twenty-six lands.

Memory Lapse/Counterspell

Everybody seems to agree that three Counterspells is the minimum. The mana can clearly support at least that much, and you do need at least a certain number of hard counters to keep the slower decks in check. Memory Lapse does double duty, accomplishing goal #1 against Aggro (buying time to get your mana developed) while also helping force through key spells against opposing countermagic. For me, Counterspell #4 comes down to how much blue mana you have. If you’re only packing thirteen, I wouldn’t try it.

Which leaves the question of how many Memory Lapses to run. I found that three Counterspells and three Memory Lapses was the best (and most realistic) mix, leaving enough interference to get your key cards through while also not straining your mana more than necessary. I’ve seen some recent listings go down to two Lapses, three Peaces, three Compulsions, and three Faiths, but I think that damages the deck’s curve too much. Memory Lapse does a lot of the same things as Faith here, helping the deck against both Aggro as well as Control, so I still prefer three – and I’d go to four if I didn’t have the Angels to fit. Whichever way you go, I believe you want at least six cards from this category, and it’s very useful against Tog and some other matchups to have at least one more in the board (I used Circular Logic #1, again, for mana reasons).

Combo Pieces – Mirari and Mirari’s Wake

The standard since Kai’s article has been two of each, and that’s still correct in the new versions that incorporate Angel. At two each, you seem to be striking the best balance between having enough pieces to search for without glutting your opening hand, while leaving enough slots for the card drawing and defenses that allow you to keep control long enough to get things set up. Adding too many copies of these pieces means you start leaning too heavily toward the combo side of combo-control – and this set of combos is too slow in too many matchups to pull that off.

It’s vital to understand which of these is most important in each matchup and depending on your hand and situation at the time. This is most true in the ‘Tog matchup, where you’ll need to carefully weight which order to cast things and which permanents are most worth fighting for. As a general rule of thumb (at least until you get more familiar with the deck), Mirari tends to be most important in the Tog match-ups whereas Wake tends to be most important against most of the other decks.

One other important item to note is that once Wake is in play, Compulsion also becomes part of the combo engine, as Wake+Compulsion will typically be versatile enough to get you out of all but the direst of situations. Keep that in mind when choosing your priorities for getting each card into play depending on your situation at the time.

Which brings us to the close of the first half of this series. In the conclusion, I’ll cover the sideboard options and strategies available as well as providing an in-depth guide for each of the major matchups currently out there. By the end of it all, and with some dedicated practice, you’ll be ready to sling this deck with the best! Even if you don’t end up playing it, I guarantee you’ll end up playing better against it!

Scott Johns