The 2004 Championship Deck Challenge: The Sea Turtles Strike Back

In preparation for this week’s article, BDM actually played his Splicachron Scepter in a real tournament with somewhat disastrous results. If you haven’t been following the themes of the articles this week, the gist of it is that U/W is definitely not one of the tier 1 decks for the States metagame, and Brian David-Marshall is back on StarCityGames.com to tell you why.


Forgive me if I am a little sluggish. I have recently been introduced to the joys of MTGO after all these years. But just before I went into the world of digital objects I played in a real-life – although non-sanctioned and proxy legal – tournament featuring the impending Standard format. I had already been issued the challenge to build a Blue/White deck for Mike and Ted’s little project, so I decided to give my Splicachron Scepter deck a whirl. Neutral Ground was hosting the tournament the Saturday after the Prerelease so players were allowed up to twelve Champions of Kamigawa proxies.


3 Consuming Vortex

3 Glacial Ray

4 Peer through the Depths

4 Reach through the Depths

4 Hinder

4 Condescend

2 Hikari, Twilight Guardian

4 Wrath of God

4 Isochron Scepter

4 Wayfarer’s Bauble

2 Mountain

10 Plains

12 Island


3 Shatter

4 Purge

3 March of the Machines

2 Pulse of Fields

3 Cage of Hands

I had been talking about this deck or some variation on it with the sire of Zevatog, Zev Gurwitz, since the prerelease. The deck is predicated on the idea of getting an arcane spell on a stick and Glacial Raying your opponent until they stop twitching. Of course the biggest flaw in that theory (you can close your “compose email” window, I know, I know!) is that Affinity is still a dominant force in the new hypothetical metagame and as a consequence everyone not playing Affinity is generally armed with more artifact removal than I have artifacts in the deck.

Still, splice onto arcane is the biggest mechanic to come out of the new block and I wanted to see what it had to offer outside of the Limited format. Glacial Ray has been very good to me in the early going in draft, feeling at times like the Rift/Slide decks of the soon to be departing Onslaught block. I felt as though I had to include the Scepter in the build, because without it there did not appear to be enough in the way of viable Arcane spells to support the Ray. I could have gone with Sift Through Sands, but then I was going to drifting in the direction of an Unspeakable deck. In retrospect, that may have actually been a way to go, since I could keep my Arcane spells coming back every turn with the Unspeakable as opposed to the splash damage-susceptible Scepter.

In the interests of this article series I decided to play the deck, despite the fact that I would have otherwise played Affinity or Tooth and Nail. The biggest problem I see with Blue/White control is simply the loss of Akroma’s Vengeance. In the receding Standard format, Blue/White basically had to stay alive long enough to cast Vengeance and with that, you would generally win versus an Affinity deck. Wrath of God was mostly a delaying tactic with Aether Vial on the scene. With Vengeance departed, it seemed like all Wrath could do now was delay the inevitable.

Let me give you the StarCityGames-style run-through on the card choices (I think we can gloss over the older cards like Condescend, Wrath, Scepter, and such…)

Peer through Depths

I was really looking forward to playing with this card. I have always loved Impulse and the idea of searching through my deck five cards at a time for counterspells and Wrath of God was similarly appealing. I was actually a little disappointed in the card – probably because I was comparing it to Impulse. It is a fine card that performs as advertised, but the inability of the card to find you your third land at the end of turn 2 makes it pale in comparison to the original.

Reach through Mists

Solid little cantrip that is insane on the stick. In a deck with Annul, it is sooo much better than Serum Visions.

Consuming Vortex

Okay, this one was somewhat lame. It should have been Sift Through Sands, Thirst for Knowledge, or additional counter magic. Again, if I had it to do over, I might consider shifting the deck in the direction of the Unspeakable to abuse the splice onto arcane mechanic as opposed to the Scepter, in which case Sift is the way to go. The main reason I ended up playing with it was that it also had splice, which could potentially work with my Sceptered arcane spells. At six mana and with a Reach through Mists on the Scepter, you could have a conditional Capsize and Whispers of the Muse – both with buyback.

Glacial Ray

This is going to be a very potent Constructed card – no doubt in my mind. It may take another expansion in the block to provide enough Tier 1 Arcane spells to make it happen. I should certainly have played four of these. There were multiple games I was digging for a Ray and could not find one where it would have made the difference between winning and losing. Also, four copies would allow for the degenerate Glacial Ray on Scepter with another Glacial Ray in hand to happen more often.

I compared this card to Lighting Rift earlier and that is apt. One of the upsides to this card is that it stays in your hand and can’t be destroyed or countered. The big downside is that it can get Cranially Extracted, so if you play with Ray don’t let it be your only route to victory.

Hikari, Twilight Guardian

If Glacial Ray is the Lightning Rift then this guy comes with his own personal Astral Slide. Mike Flores and I had been talking about what creatures were good in Blue/White and his short list included Blinding Angel, Pristine Angel, and Mahamoti Djinn. I had just gotten smashed around by Chris Manning and the White Air Elemental, and I knew that Hikari was virtually unkillable. He fed into my strategy of abusing the Scepter and could work both ends of the court. I could slide, phase, whatever him out before casting Wrath of God. I was not at all disappointed with him, and like many of the numbers in the deck I played, it is likely that the correct number of Twilight Guardians is not accurately reflected on my initial decklist.


This just seemed to be the best counterspell printed in a very long time and I wanted to take it for a test drive. I am never comfortable with the Rewinds and Last Words of the world – four mana just seems to be too much mana too late in most situations. Mana Leak was my other consideration in this spot, but the opportunity to actually counter something and not have it in a graveyard for retrieval later seemed to be well worth the additional mana.

In the sideboard I was trying out Cage of Hands as a possibility against Tooth and Nail. Sadly, there was no Tooth and Nail to be seen in the tournament, so I never had a chance to try it out. If the Tooth and Nail decks are all running Kiki-Jiki, then this will prove to be utterly useless. I definitely like Osyp’s Reweave tech much better out of the board. Not only does it give you the option of screwing up their Urza pieces, but it kills things dead and you can quickly work your way though their singleton creatures with it. I also needed a fourth March of the Machines. Just as with Glacial Ray, I found myself digging for the March against Affinity decks where it would simply seal the game, but with only three I gave them the window they needed to get back into it.

There were just under sixteen players in the tournament and it was going to run with four rounds of Swiss cutting to a Top 8 .

Round 1 – Vincent Cheng

U/R Splicachron

4 Isochron Scepter

4 Rewind

4 Mana Leak

2 Annul

2 Time Stop

4 Peer through Depths

4 Reach through Depths

4 Magma Jet

4 Glacial Ray

2 Pyroclasm

2 Beacon of Destruction

16 Island

8 Mountain


4 Damping Matrix

2 Shatter

2 Pyroclasm

3 Blood Moon

3 Crucible of Worlds

1 Bribery

As I sat down to play, I had figured Vincent for Blue/White as well, since he was trading for Peer through Depths and talking about using it to find Wrath of God. He jumped out to an early lead in game one when he imprinted a Reach through Mists on a Scepter and proceeded to thoroughly work me over with card advantage. I had a grip full of Wrath of Gods at the end of the game, while he had double Scepter and a couple of Glacial Rays working to full effect.

I was able to take the next two games thanks to my Shatters. He did not see my Scepters in the first game so he did not bother with his own Shatters for game two. I did get Time Stopped for the first time and it was not pleasant, but I survived – somehow. I Hindered the Time Stop, but it left me with no mana available to protect my Hikari on Vincent’s next turn. I should have just let the Time Stop resolve and then I would have had Hinder and mana available on his turn to save it.

In game three, he Bribery-ed one of my Hikari’s, but could not save it with his arcane spells, since it would return to play on my side of the table and I was able to bounce it back to my hand and play it. The goal of Vincent’s deck was to imprint Peer on a stick and find a Beacon of Destruction as often as possible, but I was able to counter both of his Beacons and Shatter his Scepters for the match win.

Round 2 – Harrison Beach

Crystal Witness

1 Stalking Stones

12 Forest

12 Island

3 Thirst for Knowledge

4 Condescend

4 Serum Visions

4 Eternal Witness

3 Echoing Truth

3 Last Word

3 Tel-Jilad Justice

3 Viridian Shaman

4 Solemn Simulacrum

3 Crystal Shard

2 Rude Awakening


4 Troll Ascetic

4 Reap and Sow

4 Oxidize

3 Imi Statue

Harrison is a young JSS-er who knows what he is doing. He did not triple mulligan against me twice, and I lost this match. If I was looking for a control deck to play in the new Standard, it would almost certainly be Blue/Green. It has card drawing and counters. The deck has better answers for Affinity with its one-for-one removal. It also has a great win condition that happens all at once with Rude Awakening, and can recur any of the cards with Eternal Witness and Crystal Shard.

There is not even much to tell here, as Harrison smashed me in two quick, efficient games.

Round 3 – Darshan Mehta


4 Arcbound Worker

3 Aether Vial

4 Shrapnel Blast

4 Thoughtcast

4 Arcbound Ravager

4 Frogmite

4 Disciple of the Vault

3 Chromatic Sphere

4 Myr Enforcer

3 Cranial Plating

2 Myr Retriever

2 Atog

1 Darksteel Citadel

1 Glimmervoid

3 Seat of the Synod

4 Vault of Whispers

3 Great Furnace

4 Blinkmoth Nexus

3 Tree of Tales


3 Somber Hoverguard

3 Oxidize

3 Viridian Shaman

2 Naturalize

1 Atog

1 Quiet Purity

1 Glimmervoid

1 Seat of the Synod

A couple of years ago, I watched a documentary about baby sea turtles. Basically, the grown sea turtles would descend on a beach and lay tons of eggs in the sand. All of the eggs would hatch around the same time and the baby seas turtles would attempt to make their way to the sea. The only problem was that this was an all you can eat buffet for birds that prey on baby sea turtles, and they would be circling and waiting for the eggs to hatch.

It was gruesome. The poor turtles would begin to desperately gasp and flap their way toward the ocean while they were picked off by the ravenous birds. There was one particular shot I recall from the piece, which had a close-up shot of the baby sea turtle as the little guy tried to make it over a dune in the sand. It gasped and flapped and nearly made its way to the top before helplessly sliding back down only to be swooped up in the beak of a hungry gull.

I have always maintained that image in my head when a newer player picks up a powerful and ubiquitous deck like Affinity. They know they need to do twenty, mill your deck, make you lose twenty, or whatever it is their deck does to kill you. They just aren’t quite sure how to get there. They gasp and flail and trying to get off the beach. Darshan is a very nice guy, who is brothers with one of the Neutral Ground regulars. I don’t believe he has been playing the game for very long. He was the proverbial gasping sea turtle trying to flail his way toward the sea.

He made it.

Despite giving me infinite turns to draw something – anything – I just could not deal with Aether Vial and he got it out turn 1 in both of the games we played. I had a Scepter out in game one with a Consuming Vortex imprinted on it. Darshan had a bunch of guys and a Cranial Plating. He would attack, and then equip his Plating as an instant and then I would bounce it with my Scepter. This went on for many turns with me taking minimal damage from his Myr Retriever and Arcbound Worker. At any time, he could have just equipped a guy during his main phase and attacked. I would have had to bounce his guy or take lethal damage. Once I did that, he could then move it as an instant and I would either have another trick or be dead.

Game two was even worse, as I could not find one of my three (should have been four) March of the Machines and he was able to Shaman my Scepters and finish me off with Shrapnel Blast. I don’t believe that a Blue/White deck can actually deal with a first turn Aether Vial at all short of Annulling it. If I am going to play control at States, it will be with Blue/Green.

Round 4 – Luis Alvarez

Luis was yet another new player with Affinity. I believe Luis has come up from the Yu-Gi-Oh ranks to play Magic along with a whole crop of other players. Like my previous opponent, Luis could have probably killed me turns and turns earlier, but was content to make his way to the sea a couple of points at a time. It did not matter as he had the dreaded Aether Vial and I could not ever Wrath him and have a turn to breathe.

I ended up going 1-3 on the day, and all four of my opponents went on to the Top 8. I have no idea how the finals played out, although I do know there was an Azuza, Lost But Seeking deck with Meluko the Clouded Mirror and Budoka Gardener in the Top 8 as well.

I would not play the deck as is at States, and I don’t think a Blue/White deck is going to be high on my list of options. If I was going to play control it would likely be – as I have already mentioned – a Blue/Green variant, which seems to have more play against Affinity and the gasping sea turtles, as well as everything else.

Back in the day (you know…when I was attending very old school) Blue/White was a deck that had all the answers. It had spot creature removal in Sword to Plowshares. It had enchantment and artifact removal in Disenchant. Recall gave it some measure of card recursion and it had Wrath of God and Nevinyrral’s Disk for mass removal.

Nowadays, Green has the disenchant, which also occasionally serves as spot creature removal. It has the recursion and is the only color with enough mana acceleration to play Oblivion Stone. You have to make do without Wrath, but the Blue/Green color combination is still much more potent despite that notch in the con column.

If compelled to play Blue/White, I would change the deck around to lose the Scepters and Consuming Vortexes for Unspeakable and Sift through Sands. I would also go up to four copies of Glacial Ray. I would certainly have four copies of Annul in the board. I was happy with the Purge and Shatter, but if I wasn’t playing with Scepter anymore I would prefer Relic Barriers and Imi Statues. I know there is a lot of talk about how Ghostly Prison hoses Affinity, but I just don’t buy it. Besides, Barrier and Statue is much more in line with Blue/White prison decks of old.


4 Glacial Ray

4 Peer through the Depths

4 Reach through the Depths

4 Sift Through Sands

4 Hinder

4 Condescend

2 The Unspeakable

4 Wrath of God

4 Wayfarer’s Bauble

2 Echoing Truth

2 Mountain

10 Plains

12 Island


4 Relic Barrier

4 Imi Statue

4 Reweave

3 Annul

But I wouldn’t be happy about it. Ultimately the splice onto arcane is going to need a few more cards – hopefully contained in the next release – before it is ready to make it off the beach and into the safe confines of the ocean.