The Icy Grip – I Should Have Played Control! A Sad GP Story

Friday, February 4 – At GP Atlanta, Shaheen sleeved up the wrong 75; he sleeved up Doran instead of his beloved U/W Control deck! He still made Day Two, but he feels he made a mistake by not running control – find out why!

What a weekend of spell slinging! Grand Prix Atlanta was full of ups and downs for me, but in the end, I feel I came away with a better understanding
of the Extended format and Magic in general.

This article will have a central focus on how fear of the “best deck” can make you play a questionable deck or even an outright terrible
one (my scenario!). In competitive Magic, we Spikes/Johnnies will metagame to beat the best decks in the field, but is that always correct? In a format
as large as Extended, is a poor Faeries matchup enough to cause you to drop the deck you’re comfortable with for one with a better win-percentage?

After the Grand Prix, my answer is no. I’ve always controlled the board, countered my opponent’s spells, and drawn easily twice as many
cards on average than they do… but in this tournament, I attacked for the first time in my Magic career.

Before I go on…I know, I know 22 land! Trust me; it was the right choice; I didn’t suffer from any mana issues either day.

I survived day one (7-2 record), and I knew I was going to get slaughtered the next day. I beat Fae easily…but, man, was my aggro matchup
horrendous! Naya and Jund ended up being 4/5 of my losses, and all I could think about was “Where are my Wrath of Gods??!?!” I played Doran
in order to beat the Fae and Valakut decks, but being 40% against all the aggro decks in the field was an awful decision. How many of you do the same
thing? You play a deck you’re not comfortable with because the deck you have designed or have been playing for a good amount of time isn’t
equipped to be 50%-plus against “the best deck in the format.”

The deck I wanted to play (obviously it’s close to U/W):

I playtested it against Fae a billion times…and it’s not good. Thoughtseize! So what? Leyline of Sanctity! Is that your strong play? Grave Titan! Is that all you got?

One deck, one menace is all it took for me to drop my U/W-ish baby for that abomination of an aggro deck. Some would be happy with a deck that gets you
to day two, which Doran did, but a deck that does eleven damage to itself with its lands in a field of aggro…come on!

Five Reasons to Play Your Deck

1.     You know how to play it well (hopefully). Some Magic players are just masters that play all formats and every archetype to
perfection, but the majority of us play better with certain types of decks.

2.     Having a rough game against one popular deck in the format is okay. Is it? Yes, it is. I had an
epiphany while I was casting stupid Treefolk…this is Magic! Anyone can win with anything, and no matchup is impossible. U/W might struggle
against Fae, but in a field so large, you might play Fae twice, and that’s an acceptable risk you have to take.

3.     No fear. Have confidence while competing in tournaments. Another question to the reader: How many times
have you dropped the deck you know, love, and practiced with for a last-minute decision and regretted it? An old friend some of you may know as Star
Wars Kid played Early Harvest/Mind’s Desire when Arcane Laboratory, Cabal Therapy, and super-fast aggro were rampant, but the amount of hate did
not weaken his resolve. My resolve was weakened, and I had fear… don’t let it happen to you!

4.     It isn’t Skullclamp-Affinity Standard. Your worst matchup will never be 70% of the field. In this day and age, with
all of these article writers and rogue magicians brewing up lists, there will always be a healthy variety of decks to choose from, especially in open
formats like Extended (sometimes takes a banning or two!).

5.     Be original. I used to be part of the crowd that jeered at people who copied entire 75s, but that old Shaheen is long gone.
The era of Magic Online, internet articles, and tournament reports gives us thousands of lists for Spikes to pick and choose from to win their
respective tournaments. But when you claim victory, doesn’t it feel better when it’s your own creation? This originality concept is what
makes me a Spike/Johnny hybrid rather than a full-on Spike. I made Top 8 at a PTQ once, and Mike Flores took me under his wing; eventually, I won with
a crazy U/W classic brew. I got the nickname “Rewind Master” and was talked about far more in his “Swimming with Sharks” column
than any other PTQ winner. Why? Is it because I’m soooooooooo good? Far from it! It’s because I chose to play a deck that was off
the radar and original.

In this tournament, however, I made the error of playing Doran and changing it around to make it unique. Reveillark was a disappointment, and
Noble Hierarch wasn’t a huge improvement over Loam Lion. My attempt to make an old, established deck more unique was a disaster!

If I’d made the right decision and played a control deck, I’m sure I would’ve swept up the rounds I’d dropped. Let it be U/W Control, U/W/R, or even
5CC; any of them would’ve given me good matchups against the following decks:

Good Matchups

R/G Valakut

RUG Prismatic Omen/Valakut


Mono Red


Doran (For Christian Calcano and the other two players in the room!)

Insert Random Aggro Deck Here

Insert Random Rogue Deck That Has to Face the Icy Grip of Control

Bad Matchups


Mythic (This is more of an even matchup, but that lands it here)

These results came from testing with a few different control decks. So why didn’t I play a control deck? The article thus far explains the poor
reasoning that Magic players and I have shared…Fae is too important to write off as a loss. During my thirteen rounds of competition (first three
were byes), I battled the following decks:

3 Jund

2 Fae

2 Naya

2 R/G Valakut


This Extended format is ripe for the taking with a good control deck. All it takes is some Fae dodging, a little War Priest of Thune off the top,
and/or a perfectly timed Sun Titan with counter backup, and you can win a PTQ. I wouldn’t hesitate to attack the format with countermagic and mass
removal before the format gets bogged down with more control decks. When that happens, achieving victory will be much trickier!

Let me tell you a story. I played a Legacy GP in 2005 and got murdered. The next day, I sign up for the PTQ (Extended with 185 players) with a deck
that can’t beat the Mind’s Desire combo deck! My poor U/W deck just watches as they land Heartbeat of Spring and counter my
counterspell…but alas, I’m going to play Exalted Angels!

I play aggro five times in a row (5-0), then get smashed by Mind’s Desire. In the final round, I can’t draw into the Top 8 safely, so I play
against a Psychatog deck, scrape by, and win. In the Top 8, I play against Affinity first round and look over to my left and see that Mind’s
Desire player right there…blocking my path to victory. I proceed to the semis after Akroma has her Vengeance in back-to-back games, then battle
against another Dredge-Atog deck. My mages meddle with his plans, and I see that the Mind’s Desire player has already lost! A miracle? Yes!

Who is my finals opponent?
Boros with four maindeck Auriok Champions. I remember this match as if it were yesterday. He started on the play with a turn 2 Auriok Champion, and
I’m holding Force Spike. For the first time in my history of playing the game, I don’t counter a turn 2 play with the cheap, one-mana
dagger. This match is a joke…I renew my faith, drop some Angels post-Wrath of God, and easily win my plane ticket to the Pro Tour.

The moral of that story and of the article ….

Play what you enjoy playing (as long as it’s competitive!).

Play what you are good at playing (as long as it’s competitive!).

Metagame, but don’t metagame so much you lose sight of the rest of the decks in the format.

If you have one bad matchup it’s okay!

There is a difference between a bad matchup and an unwinnable matchup. (i.e. U/W vs. Mind’s Desire was unwinnable with my list then, but in U/W vs.
Fae, there’s a small chance!)

I hope I’ve fortified your decision to play a good control deck for upcoming PTQs and in Extended tournaments around the world. I always invite
praise/criticism or general comments directed to my email that many of you have ([email protected]).
Thanks for reading and good luck!