The time before States is a chaotic one, as every player scrambles to incorporate different pieces of information while trying to formulate a viable strategy for the tournament. Most often though, whatever’s garnering the most attention on the Internet is what an overwhelming majority of undecided “competitive” players end up playing. Last year’s Affinity deck exploded onto the MTG scene in the week prior to States and many – myself included – were drawn to its raw and vulgar display of power.
I can’t really see that happening this year. Other than the Mirrodin Block Constructed holdovers, there aren’t any new established decks that incorporate Champions of Kamigawa yet. It is likely there will be something viable that’s primarily based on cards from the new block, but nobody’s found it just yet. And hence we have a deck challenge!
Ted came to me about a week ago and told me that StarCityGames.com Greatest Deckbuilding Minds would work individually on a project; he assigned a color archetype and it was on us to build the best piles we could in a week’s time. I was excited about this prospect until I saw that the first assignment was to build a U/W deck. Yuck.
Ugh, talk about a narrow pool of raw materials… I was all excited to build something unique and new, but unfortunately I found the only thing that really works within the framework of the colors is the usual vanilla control deck. That is, if you want to use good cards. I like using good cards, so my Boomerang’R2004 deck tech was already right out the window. I also figured that due to the constrictive nature of the colors, all five writers were probably going to come up with something similar – a conservative U/W approach with a few kill conditions and a ton of permission. Now I see both Flores and Osyp busting out base-blue decks, one of which features The Unspeakable as the chief kill condition. So, uh, clearly, I can be wrong from time to time.
I think going into my thought process behind conceiving the deck and the logic behind some of the choices will be valuable. Here were my priorities, ranked in order of importance:
1) Must beat Affinity greater than 50% game 1 without too many narrow cards.
2) Must beat Tooth and Nail without running too much permission.
3) Must be unspecialized enough to beat the wide range of decks at States.
4) Find a good kill condition.
Must beat Affinity greater than 50% game 1 without too many narrow cards
Surely the most important rule of the bunch, given that Affinity is going to be the top deck played at States. I hadn’t found anything that totally wrecked Affinity that wasn’t already presideboarded a great deal, so greater than 50% was the benchmark that I used. It’s quite possible to get a great game one vs. the artifact decks, but I’m really not a fan of the 4 Imi Statue/4 March of the Machines plan. If you play a heavily metagamed deck at a tournament like States, you will lose to the ten year old kid with the huge milk teeth playing the mono-Red burn deck.
Must beat Tooth and Nail without running too much permission
Too much permission in a beatdown field (which States traditionally is) is generally no good, so the number of Mana Leaks, Condescends, and Hinders had to be right on point. The U/W deck needed enough countermagic to handle the bomb cards of Tooth and Nail without getting its grip all gummed up vs. Affinity and the other miscellaneous beatdown decks sure to creep up. I’m also reasonably sure that Black discard-based decks are going to be a major presence at States; a deck heavy on counters isn’t going to get very far against Nezumi Shortfang and his rodent pals. No, the balance between countermagic and board control must be precise.
Must be unspecialized enough to beat the wide range of decks at States
This is the key that many overlook when taking a deck into a field full of players with uh… varying degrees of skill. Once you’re through the first three rounds, all of those special metagame tweaks will mean something – but they don’t mean anything if you lose early in the tournament. This idea sort of falls in line with priority one in the case of this year’s States, but the concept must be considered on its own when facing any random field.
Find a good kill condition
Eternal Dragon, Exalted Angel, and Decree of Justice were all U/W lynchpins that have since shuffled off into Extended. We are left with: uhhh….we are left with the mighty, um…. Millstone! No, um… What about the hugest genie on the block, good old Mahamoti Djinn! Man, those new dragon legends must be playable right? Sigh. The kill conditions for a U/W deck are now positively atrocious. Pristine Angel, just hold it down until the next set, okay? I think Onslaught block might have spoiled us forever.
With those priorities in mind, here is the list that I came up with under the intense time pressure and whip-cracking of a certain editor:
Jim’s Stock U/W Control 4.0
4 Wayfarer’s Bauble
3 Sensei’s Divining Top
4 Mana Leak
3 Ghostly Prison
3 Thirst for Knowledge
2 Pulse of the Fields
4 Wrath of God
2 March of the Machines
3 Pristine Angel
2 Coastal Tower
1 Eiganjo Castle
4 Relic Barrier
3 Jushi Apprentice
2 March of the Machines
2 Mycosynth Lattice
1 Ghostly Prison
The way the mana curve breaks down in this deck is kind of an accident, but it came out quite well with seven spells in the one slot, ten each in the two and three slot, and six in the four hole. I had precious little trouble with the mana base in this configuration also. The sideboard is obviously vastly untuned but represents at least an idea of what one should be thinking about for the Champs field.
I’ll explain the inclusion of some of the cards and the rationale behind the numbers, but I’m going to skip a full treatment of the really obvious ones. Wayfarer’s Bauble, Mana Leak, Condescend, Thirst for Knowledge, and Wrath of God are all staples that no good U/W deck can really do without. The first three cards in that list are made even better in this deck due to synergy with a few other choices, too.
Sensei’s Divining Top
Brainstorm, anyone? While clearly not as useful as its kin, Sensei’s Divining Top has been simply outstanding in this deck. It’s another way of smoothing out early mana difficulties, it can get you a needed spell in a pinch, and it makes a late game Wayfarer’s Bauble more than just a dead draw. Excess can be pitched to Thirst for Knowledge, too. I will be quite surprised if I am the only one in the challenge running this thing – U/W control is a sensitive archetype and one that requires consistent starts to survive its vulnerabilities in the early game. Usually that means finding Wrath of God, Ghostly Prison, or a mana source. Three copies are just right, as drawing two of them isn’t particularly useful. Sensei’s Divining Top performs many functions, and it slices, dices, juliennes, and comes with a money back guarantee. Operators are standing by.
As I said before, I think that both Affinity and Black-based decks are going to be out in force at States and Purge is a hedge, of sorts, on that bet. It may go dead in some matchups, but I honestly believe that you’ll be glad it’s there most of the day, even if it just kills the odd Blinkmoth Nexus or Solemn Simulacrum now and then. Purge is probably the second-most narrow card in the maindeck after March of the Machines, but it had more targets than I thought it would in testing.
I can’t figure out why I’m the only one who likes this card. Is there something I’m not seeing? I mean, has anyone actually tested Ghostly Prison before dismissing it? Let’s see:
- It’s almost as good as Imi Statue against Affinity and much less narrow
- It’s an enchantment and will be difficult for many decks to remove
- It improves the performance of Mana Leak and Condescend, particularly in the mid game
- It prevents a lot of damage before the all important fourth turn Wrath of God, reducing the likelihood of dying to a follow-up creature or burn spell(s)
- It’s great to sit behind and allow Pulse of the Fields to take control of the game
Most importantly, it will force your opponent to make decisions about how to use their mana. In every decision, there is the possibility for a mistake. The typical player at States will have many opportunities to make a suboptimal choice when staring at a Ghostly Prison (or two, if you’re lucky). No, it’s not that great vs. Tooth and Nail. Yes, it will go dead in the mirror. I still think that it’s worthy of including three in the main and an extra in the board. States is a beatdown field, and this card puts a stall on the beats. If anyone can come up with some good rationale to not include this card, I’m willing to listen.
I’m not really a great fan of having more than a couple of these straight up. Mana Leak and Condescend perform so well in the context of this deck that the need for having “hard” counters is lessened somewhat. I still want a couple copies of Hinder to stop the big bomb spells like Tooth and Nail and as a foil to the ridiculous Eternal Witness. I’m pretty certain that some belong in the board, but I’m not sure on the number. Two for the main does seem correct, though.
Pulse of the Fields
Once again, I think two is correct here; I can’t think of a happy time when I held more than one copy of this card in my grip. In addition to being the best Pristine Angel insurance money can buy, Pulse of the Fields is a life saver against some decks and an outright game winner against others. Pulse will also give you a wonderful sense of superiority while chilling behind a Ghostly Prison.
March of the Machines
This card is regrettably necessary in order to shore up the first game vs. Affinity decks. There’s nothing even maindecked in this build that would allow March of the Machines to serve as an alternate win condition, unless you enjoy beating down one point at a time with Sensei’s Divining Top. While its game 1 purpose is purely defensive, I do board in the Mycosynth Lattice contingency plan for Tooth and Nail and other matchups. I have been told that March is fairly strong against Krark-Clan Ironworks decks, but I can neither confirm nor deny such information.
Well, this is all we’ve got for now, so we’d better get used to it. In fairness, Pristine Angel is not that bad, it’s just nowhere near the caliber of the Onslaught block U/W victory conditions. Yes, it is a sadly lamentable fact that merely one resolution of Cranial Extraction can induce scoopage, but that’s just an occupational hazard of playing these colors. I could see running one copy each of the Angel and one each of the in-color dragon legends, but that’s just A Little Too Cute For My Tastes. No. I will remain firm in my resolve, play the best finisher available, and hope for the best.
It’s a White source that’s no worse than a Plains, and who knows – you just might get to kill Horobi, Death’s Wail with it! What’s the harm?
The general reasoning behind my cobbled together sideboard:
Relic Barrier – More Affinity survival tools are never a bad thing, and these combo with March of the Machines later to become 2/2 beating machines.
Jushi Apprentice – Just a bit of mirror technology, but I’m not really sure how one goes about winning the U/W mirror these days with Decree of Justice gone. Worthy of testing at least.
Hinder – A couple more copies to board in against the unexpected. Not really sure if they’re necessary, but these definitely get sided in against Tooth and Nail to reduce the effect of Eternal Witness on the matchup.
March of the Machines – Yes, even more Affinity hate and necessary for the alternate win path of Mycosynth Lattice.
Mycosynth Lattice – I’m currently testing this as another victory path and as a way to take a more proactive stance in the Tooth and Nail matchup, effectively trying to get down hard-hitting permanents (that’s a joke, people) like the Lattice itself plus Ghostly Prison (3/3) and March (4/4) and beat them before they beat you.
Ghostly Prison – Sometimes, you’ll just want four. I had four before making a needed cut.
Purge – It makes sense to me, shrug.
I will confess that I didn’t have enormous time to test this deck against a wide field, but in thinking about U/W control decks in general, they usually have decent game against random strategies. I focused more on tuning the deck and sideboard for its most important matchups (Affinity and Tooth) and will worry about the rest if this deck does indeed prove a viable choice.
+4 Relic Barrier
+2 March of the Machines
+1 Ghostly Prison
-4 Mana Leak
-1 Wayfarer’s Bauble
Game 1 is naturally all about survival until you find a March of the Machines and effectively end the game. You have a lot of tools for stalling at your disposal, as Ghostly Prison locks out the attack step of the land-light Affinity deck and forces your opponent to attempt alternate victory paths. Naturally, these paths will be good enough to win a percentage of the games, but you at least force them to have double Disciple of the Vault / Arcbound Ravager or multiple copies of Shrapnel Blast to take you out.
Always be aware that Cranial Plating and Blinkmoth Nexus are the two cards the U/W deck is least equipped to deal with. It makes sense to constantly remind yourself of these two questions: “If I tap out this turn, what will happen if he casts Cranial Plating?” and “If I use my Purge here, can I deal with a Blinkmoth Nexus later?” I’ve pushed game 1 to about 55-60% success with this deck against common Affinity variants. That’s all a deckbuilder can really hope for, since sometimes you will just lose to the nut draw regardless. Affinity decks bearing Aether Vial are also much more problematic, but they are fewer in number thanks to the success of Aeo’s Worlds build. Things get more comfortable in games 2 and 3 thanks to the extra copies of March of the Machines and the four Relic Barriers. With all of the additional hate, these games should definitely be in the U/W deck’s favor.
Tooth and Nail
+1 March of the Machines
+2 Mycosynth Lattice
alt.+X Relic Barrier (depending on the win conditions of the Tooth build)
-1 Ghostly Prison
-1 Wrath of God
alt –X Unspecified extra copies of Ghostly Prison/Wrath of God
Tooth and Nail decks are quite varied, and it’s difficult to say how the overall matchup will go because it often hinges on the inclusion or exclusion of certain cards in your opponent’s build. I can say that most U/W decks will have a difficult time with Tooth and Nail purely on the strength of there being a critical density of must-counter spells and the recursive power of Eternal Witness. Boseiju, Who Shelters All also will put the U/W deck in a real dilly of a pickle. It’s not as if control decks win quickly, either. I’d estimate game 1 to be around 40%, perhaps lower.
There is definitely some chaff here, as Ghostly Prison is semi-dead against the massive mana machine, but it does keep the Eternal Witness and sad robot beats off. Tooth decks are always using their available mana to accelerate their lands, so they’ll tend not to spend mana in the attack step. I’m not sure whether the right answer is to stop the Sylvan Scryings and Reap and Sows or save the counters for Tooth and Nail or what. I don’t know that there is a right answer. It’s just not a comfortable game 1.
Fortunately there are the times when the Tooth and Nail deck just doesn’t give up any business spells, and if you can sneak out a Pristine Angel and untap with it (and you) still alive, winning is pretty easy from there. Stopping Tooth and Nail and Mindslaver from resolving are obviously the most important things that you need to do. My build in particular will struggle against versions bearing Oblivion Stone, since it destroys every single win condition that I have and it’s not going anywhere if it gets on the table. If they don’t have Oblivion Stone, then the alternate win of Mycosynth/March is pretty final. The hope is that you can stall long enough to find the combo and destroy their entire manabase while holding an advantage in permanents. All things being equal, you probably don’t want to have to play against Tooth and Nail with this deck.
Like Osyp, I agree that Tooth and Nail is probably a poor deck choice given the amount of Affinity likely to be at States, but I can’t think of anything else that I feel has enough presence yet to be worthy of testing a new deck against. Tooth builds will also have a tough time against the discard based black strategies that I’m betting will show up. Let’s hope to avoid it, hmm?
Well, that’s all for this spine tingling portion of the Deckbuilder’s Challenge. Until next time, True Believers.