The Icy Grip – Preparing For The Next Open And A Treatise On Innovation

Thursday, April 21 – Shaheen Soorani has a response to AJ Sacher’s most recent article about innovation being overrated–he disagrees. In this article, he talks about the best decks in the field and why you shouldn’t play them!

Right after the Pro Tour in Paris, I warned the community about the dominance of Caw-Blade. Just like any article writer or Magic competitor, I’ve been
wrong in the past, but this one gets a notch in the “correct” column.

True success in Magic is based on innovation, not imitation. The reason I say this is to bring attention to AJ Sacher last article. For
average Magic players, who aren’t among the Kenjis and LSVs of the world, playing the “best deck” might not get the results you want or the results
Sacher suggests you will. Innovation and alteration are a must in order for players to reach a level of fame or success in competitive Magic.

I played Caw-Blade at one of the Opens and played the mirror six times and came out victorious each time. My losses that day were to a Mono Red player,
who played Goblin Gaveleer and a bunch of Equipment that had to be raw-dogged off the top (no Stoneforge Mystic assistance), and a U/B Control deck
with Mind Rot in addition to a lot of juicy hand disruption. I met the red player in the final round, and we were both win and in… and he took the Top
8 away.

My Caw-Blade opponents made a few mistakes here and there, and I won some lucky die rolls. The point is: You don’t want all your matchups to come down
to who can win the die roll and drop their Stoneforge Mystic first. Innovation is key to breaking through in a stale format; innovation is needed to
surface from a sea of Birds and Swords.

I’m writing this article after reading Sacher’s and Sam Black articles. When I saw the headline of Black’s article, I was distraught. Venser is
exactly what I’m playing at Boston this weekend. However, Black’s version is a bit underwhelming in my opinion, and a third color for Tezzeret is too
risky for this spell slinger, so I’m playing a version that’s pretty close to David Sharfman’s deck that made Top 8 in Atlanta. Of course, I
can’t play the same 75 as someone else, so I began to brew and sculpt the list into something more geared to fully handle Caw-Blade.

What about RUG?

The following description of RUG will earn me an earful from friends Orrin Beasley and Alex Bertoncini… but they know it’s true 🙂

RUG isn’t real, and I’ve discovered that through numerous battles in Opens and testing. Never has a deck been so easy to defeat and metagame against…
just kill the damn Lotus Cobra! Our Venser deck has ten answers on the play and six answers on the draw to deal with the luck-intensive Snake, upon
which rests their entire game plan.

RUG’s victory depends on Lotus Cobra. So what happens when the Snake dies? Or what happens if they hiccup on mana? The same thing it did when people
played the deck before the release of Sword of Feast and Famine—nothing. Even though RUG is a Tier 1 deck alongside the Caw menace, it lacks the power
level and consistency of Caw-Blade against disruption.

Although we have a game plan ready for RUG, we still have to dedicate a good portion of the maindeck and sideboard to the matchup because Magic is
still Magic. It doesn’t hurt to pack more heat against a deck that’s super popular and took half the Top 8 slots at GP Dallas. 

So what cards will be used to handle RUG’s early game?

Contagion Clasp


Journey to Nowhere

See you nowhere

Mana Leak

Prevent existence

The beauty of these cards is that they are not just for RUG. Each of these cards is phenomenal against other decks across the metagame, and when we can
use these types of cards as “splash damage” against one of the Tier 1 decks, we’re on the road to innovating a powerful contender.

You think Valakut is dead? Think again!

Look at the Regionals decklists, and you’ll see plenty of Valakut still being played. Primeval Titan and friends are still valuable and powerful, so
you’ll play against it at any Open at least once or twice, regardless of Grand Prix results or Jace frustration. The dynamic duo of Valakut and Titan
can still walk into victory, even if a wrench or two are thrown into the works. People spent a lot of money on Primeval Titans and all their fun green
creatures, so we can’t write them off as a non-factor.

I don’t know about you fellow mages, but I’m never excited to play against Valakut. Even if my win percentage against the deck is pretty decent, I’d
rather see my opponent drop a Steppe Lynx than a Valakut on turn 1 any day.

Our sideboard will contain a lot of tools to help us emerge unscathed from a heated battle with the Mountain menace (see what I did there). The good
thing about the sideboard cards we use against this deck and other Tier 1 decks is their versatility; they’ll also help us fight weaker decks.

Should we worry about less popular decks? How would that affect the sideboard?

ASBOLUTELY! The key to making a great deck is to cover your bases in the metagame. Sideboard slots should be used to strengthen weak areas against a
variety of decks in the Tier 2 or lesser groups. No matter how popular Affinity, Fae, or Jund is, if your deck only defeats the biggest deck or two in
the format, your chances winning are small. It’s those weaker decks decks that can throw a wrench into your Top 8 dreams, so be sure to keep them
accountable by packing a few answers.

Kor Firewalker

A must-have for Mono Red and Boros. This card can and will singlehandedly conquer them because of the lack of answers red possess. What’s their best
answer? Ratchet Bomb? Perilous Myr? These cards slow them down so much that the more effective answer would be “I hope my opponent never draws it.”


I used to wrack my brain playing classic U/W before Hawks when trying to figure out how to beat Valakut. I tried Spreading Seas, cheaper threats, and
even splashing another color. I failed to see how easy the matchup became with overloading the deck with countermagic. A full complement of Flashfreeze
in the sideboard proved to be enough to tilt the scales in my favor for games 2 and 3. Today, nothing has changed, and Flashfreeze remains a versatile
card, good against RUG, Mono Red, Valakut, and any green-based deck (Fauna Shaman/Vengevine when you’re on the play).

Divine Offering

Obviously good against Caw-Blade but also serves a dual purpose. This is for all those Tezzeret people out there who want to abuse the planeswalker and
get you with an early army of 5/5s. When I played against these decks, I’ve never had a hard time with them game 1, but additional ammunition is never
a bad thing to help solidify the matchup. Now we all know that RUG and other decks are packing Tumble Magnet, but the beauty of classic U/W is that we
don’t rely on a creature with a sword, and we sit back with the normal control strategy of drawing cards and maintaining a stable board position.

Leonin Arbiter

This I’ll leave up to the reader after my spiel. What a dagger, an amazing two-drop against Valakut and Caw-Blade. But man… does this guy suck or what
after turn 2, especially later in the game? Do we play the near auto-win early on but draw a dud later in the game or rely on safer answers that can be
drawn at any point? This, I’ll leave up to you guys and look forward to your opinions in the forums because honestly I’m stuck. I’ve always leaned
toward a one-card lock on the most popular deck when you’re on the play, but on the draw, it’s quite lackluster, and you’d rather have a Divine
Offering. Against Valakut, Arbiter is fine at different points, but the matchup against Valakut isn’t too bad as is.

Stoic Rebuttal

It’s an answer all for the rogue decks, the U/W Venser mirror match, and random other bad things. I like to board this in to replace dead-ish cards or
cards that aren’t too effective in a certain matchup. It’s always nice to have an answer to any threat around and have even more counterspells to stop
Primeval Titan.

After taking a few things into consideration, I’ve made a list and tested it for the last few weeks. This list contains no Preordains (just like
Sharfman’s list and Sam Black list) and a full set of creature control in the early turns. Let’s take a look before any further analysis.

As I have said before, the list is very similar to Sharfman’s, and that’s for good reason. He understands the power of U/W Control in its classic form,
away from the temptation of swords and birds. Sam Black recently wrote an article that’s dead on, 100% accurate on the claim that Venser can give the
Hawks a real problem and is better in certain cases. I feel that his list falls short in the addition of another color, trying to do too many things
with its array of one- and two-ofs, and it tries to get Tezzeret into the lineup. Don’t get me wrong… I love me some Tezzeret, but in this field of
Tectonic Edges, not packing your own can be detrimental to a winning game plan.

The deck shines against the metagame, and the ability to land a Venser against the control mirror turns that match into an uphill battle for your
opponent. Another big step is dropping the Day of Judgments to two, which is not new but important. Journey is not dead against any deck, and I keep
two in against Caw-Blade as an answer to a Stoneforge turn 2 or Titans later in the match. The massive amount of planeswalkers is enough to make any
control mage blush. We all know the power of planeswalkers now, and to not be aboard the walker train is asking for trouble.

This article is a tad shorter than my previous ones for an important reason. I wanted to get this decklist out to you guys before StarCityGames.com
Open: Boston, so you may have some success with it and can help fight against the Hawk Menace.

I personally will not be wielding a Hawk deck for the remainder of its time in Standard, and I’ll tell you why. I love mirror matches that involve
skill and decision-making, but the Hawk mirror simply doesn’t have that dynamic. I seemed to win a lot more die rolls, and as I dropped my turn 2
Mystic and saw the dejection in the face of my opponent, I realized there must be another way. I love to win; it’s the most important thing in Magic
besides notoriety for innovation, but I like to win on my own terms, and I feel using a classic U/W Control deck is a better way.

Hawks are dumb. I dislike the card… simple as that. NOT saying the card sucks; NOT saying those who play it are unintelligent… quite the contrary. I’m
just saying personally I don’t enjoy casting and attacking in the early turns, and hopefully many of my readers are on the same side as I am.

Another negative about the bandwagon is that when you’re on the bandwagon, people know what you’re packing. The art of surprise in Magic is very
underrated and can result in a lot of wins. As I mentioned previously, Sacher writes a great article, slamming innovation and praising conformity. I
think any player like Sacher, Gerry T, my buddy Orrin Beasley, Alex, etc. can and SHOULD pick up the best deck and shine. I consider myself average in
terms of Magic play and well above average in deck creation, so I need that edge in order to achieve the wins that I’ve achieved in the past.

Having the innovation and originality to create metagame answers should be the driving force for many of you out there. Don’t play a pile of garbage
because it’s original, but play a good set of spells that answers the metagame because it’s original. You gain much more than surprise; you gain
answers and new threats and spells that your opponents don’t have the tools to defend against. Wait until you see your opponent freak out over a Venser
followed up by a Frost Titan.

This spiel has nothing against those who play “made” decks, and I praise those people. This is for those who have a definite disadvantage in mirror
matches and do not have the same win percentages posted by level 6 pros. Don’t stop innovating and fall into playing the “best deck” unless you’re
comfortable in your ability to defeat opponents who might be better than you.

I want to end with a few of my “trashy” innovative decks from the past that people have jeered at, even as I was merely sitting, quietly writing down
my decklist at various tournaments. These decks were all crafted. Many of the crafted lists were not tested but goldfished to ensure they had proper
mana. Each deck shared a common quality in that they all were decked out and prepared to defeat the metagame. I also want to toss a few quotes from a
buddy of mine from across the ocean that relate to innovation.

Take care and see you next time!

Decks Once Upon a Time (In chronological order-ish)

G/W Skullclamp Ramp (Regionals Top 8)

G/W/U Pristine Angel / Rude Awakening (State Championship)

Greater Gifts (States 2nd Place, Adopted by Frank Karsten)

“The Masterpiece” (A couple regional winners not me included, promoted by Mike Flores)

Blink Riders (9th Worlds)

U/W Urzatron (5-0-1 Extended portion at Worlds)

U/G/r Teferi Ramp (Top 8 U.S. Nationals)

Classic “U/W” Control (3 PTQ wins, 2 Extended / 1 Standard)

Fixis Control (Top 32 PT Amsterdam)

Mass Polymorph (Day 2, 6-4 record PT Paris)

Kenji Tsumura: Thanks Soorani san 🙂 I really love your decks. Your 4color control deck was the best deck at PT Ams! Keep making a good deck! (In
response for my demands that he gets back into competitive magic)

Kenji Tsumura: lol Don’t retire! Keep making funny decks! : ) (In response to saying I can retire from magic after the best complement from my magic
playing career)