The Icy Grip – States, Worlds, And My Magic Future

Times have changed, but Shaheen’s resolve to provide you with powerful control decks has not been weakened. In preparation for Worlds, he presents two control decks: one for Standard and one for Modern.

I have found myself playing poor Magic in recent months after the announcement that Magic would shift from the Elo system to the new Planeswalker Points system. This change has completely eradicated the way that I and many other magicians qualified for Pro Tours. Since 2006, I have kept a rating in the range of 2000-2120, and that has allowed me to play sweet decks like Blink Riders, Mass Polymorph, Urzatron, and various other brews in high-level events. I’ve played Magic at the highest levels and done reasonably well, but I’m not a cutthroat player that grinds for four months at a time. This means it may be the end of the road for my competitive stretch. I have won four PTQs in the past, but that was before my career when I could easily travel state to state battling enemy mages for the chance to do something great in Magic.

Times have changed, but my resolve to provide readers and friends with powerful control decks has not been weakened. You can say it has even grown with the rating system shift. This is because I know deep down that the old rating system was flawed in many ways, and this new rating system will increase the amount of people playing for that chance to land themselves in the Pro Tour one day or even a Friday Night Magic Championship. This means more people will be looking for a great deck idea to achieve that dream that I have been chasing for many years.

Thankfully, I am invited to the World Championships this year in San Francisco.

Magic is a game with a huge random element in it; this random element makes the game much more interesting. The same people do well most of the time, but not every time. The better player wins most of the time, but not every time. That is why Magic is so great and why I still feel like this old dog can get out there and do well in at least one more tournament.

I think I am different from many of the writers out there. I for one play the decks I post. I think that is a lost art in Magic, and many players are quick to drop lists in articles, insist on playing with them, and never think about using it as their own weapon. Another difference I find in my writing is that I only write when I have something to write about. I have a lot of requests to write articles regularly instead of once or twice a month, but I don’t want to drop off topics that I’m not even interested in.

You know what to expect from me… control all day, every day. I do dabble in the mentality of a Magic player and my own personal experiences, but I am a vessel for control information and card selection. I have always asked my readers on Twitter, Facebook and email what they want to hear about, and the answer has been updates on lists when I come to a final draft. Ali Aintrazi and I always draft very similar lists as of late, and in the past I have aligned with players of all writing styles.

A funny example is when I arrived at Pro Tour Amsterdam, and Patrick Chapin and I gun-slinged a random match. We both sat down at the table playing nearly the same 5cc deck, completely rogue and created without any communication. To top it all off, both decks had a variety of spells with a Grave Titan win condition in Time Spiral Extended.

The purpose of this rundown is to guarantee my continued interest in Magic. Even though I might not be able to travel and qualify for most of the Pro Tours in the future, I still plan on being out there, meeting you guys and providing the world with control decks that can hang in a competitive environment.

Today I bring two decks, one for Modern and one for Standard. These are the two decks that I plan on playing at Worlds in some form or another. Changes will be made to both I’m sure, but those changes will be mentioned via Twitter prior to the tournament for those who want to stay up to date for FNM, Opens, or any other tournament you find yourself playing in. I’ll present the Standard list first with a brief rundown on my experience at the State Championships a couple weeks ago.

I wrote an article last month championing U/B Control as a powerhouse, and I stand by it. The color combination still provides the best removal and win conditions. I would say the best card draw as well; however Garruk, Primal Hunter is still a favorite of mine… it’s a shame that it costs triple green. Grave Titan and Consecrated Sphinx still team up to provide a dual threat that, if not dealt with immediately, makes games unwinnable for your opponent. There is another win condition you may have noticed, and it’s new to the U/B lineup for me.

Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas

I mentioned in my last article how amazing Tezzeret is as a card draw engine, a threat that must be killed/countered, a win condition and a finisher. But the poor planeswalker didn’t have a home. I tinkered and tweaked U/B over and over, then finally reached a product that could effectively use Tezzeret without watering down the list.

Tezzeret in the past has been put in decks with Sphere of the Suns, Wurmcoil Engines, Contagion Clasp, Tumble Magnets, etc. I believe that is a huge mistake, and the card is powerful enough to play with an artifact package of 10-12 targets. The primary purpose of Tezzeret is to attack with 5/5s with a control shell to provide defense and support. It adds a whole new dynamic that most decks are not prepared for. They’re forced to sit back and watch their planeswalkers get attacked for lethal out of nowhere; they get buried under your card advantage or slowly watch Tezzeret tick upwards to an ultimate for the last few points of damage.

Tezzeret was an absolute superstar at States. I went 6-0-2 in the Swiss and breezed to the finals, only to fall to a matchup that is at least 80%. Mulligans and poor draws are part of Magic; I just wish those had hit me early in the day rather than in the finals against G/W Tokens. Throughout the tournament, I played against all the heavy hitter decks, including Wolf Run Ramp, Solar Flare, Mono Red, and Tempered Steel. The matchups seemed a bit too easy, and I had to really sit and think for a moment about which card were pulling the matches in my favor.

The answer is clear and has finally given me a replacement for Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Obviously Tezzeret isn’t on the same level as Jace, but an unanswered Tezz provides the same result… victory.

The limited amount of artifacts was the key strength of Tezzeret and the key to winning throughout the day. Opponents brought in Ancient Grudges and hit Ichor Wellsprings, Solemn Simulacrums, and Inkmoth Nexus all day. They had no alternative because they were 5/5s, but the value was much weaker than what they had hoped for. I even had an opponent Oblivion Ring an Ichor Wellspring because he was dead on the next turn otherwise.

In the quarterfinals, I played against Kenny Mayer playing Wolf Run Ramp, and he fell to a turn 6 lethal ultimate from Tezzeret after having to use multiple resources to kill the first Tezz on turn 4 (Slagstorm) and stop the 5/5 from taking it to the house (chump blockers). That was all not enough, and the combination of countermagic, Doom Blades, non-artifact win conditions, and general card advantage was just too much.

The interaction of artifacts was very powerful. Two Batterskulls allowed games to end early against an aggro player who didn’t have the answer in hand. Solemn Simulacrum or Ichor Wellspring as a 5/5 functioned as an unorthodox threat against the control mirror. Ratchet Bomb was a bullet that was better than I could have ever imagined. It provides an answer to problematic cards that U/B typically can’t deal with (Tempered Steel, Sword of Feast and Famine, etc.). Against tokens, it is obviously great, and it’s an easy board out card in the control mirror or against Wolf Run Ramp.

Did you know Tezzeret could shatter? I sold my deck to a few professionals last weekend, like Orrin Beasley and John May from my area, for the Baltimore Open. I mentioned the fact that Tezzeret can make opponent’s artifacts 5/5s, which you can then slay. They didn’t know, so I decided to make sure the world does. It’s not something you think about when you see the card, but it provides blue and black a shatter effect, which is very atypical for that color combination. I used it to win two matches separately. One match was against Mono Red, after they tapped out turn 4 for a Koth. I Mana Leaked the Koth, then untapped and played Tezzeret, having Liliana out already. I made his Shrine a 5/5, and one Diabolic Edict later, it was smooth sailing. The other instance was against a token variant where it handled not one but two Swords of Feast and Famine with the powerful planeswalker.

All in all, I don’t believe I’ll be playing a list without Tezzeret for Worlds this year. I believe in the power level of the planeswalker and feel that using it as a primary win condition with 20 artifacts in your deck is a huge mistake, but playing it in a control shell will net you great results.

While I fell in love with this planeswalker again, my love for Liliana of the Veil fell sharply.

Liliana of the Veil who?

The planeswalker is still super powerful but not as a four-of in decks that have zero graveyard synergy. Against aggro, she was still a superstar. Against ramp, she killed all kinds of Dungrove Elders. The main problem with Liliana is that the +1 was awkward against control or ramp. I had to decide half the time between discarding my sixth land, a Titan, and a Sphinx. That was a decision I was not willing to make, and Liliana, for the vast majority of those times, sat at three or one. Against graveyard decks, she was an easy board out. The key problem was how effective she was against aggro decks and how terrible she was against the control archetype. The only solution I could think of was a shift from the maindeck to the sideboard.

Cutting Liliana all together is not an option for U/B Control. Using Liliana and then untapping with an army of control spells is just too good. She is as powerful as I said she was in my last article. But like most cards, she’s bad in some scenarios.

 Removing Liliana from the maindeck opens four slots to be filled, and I feel I have a card that’s very effective against ramp, control, and aggro. That card filling the void is Mimic Vat. Mimic Vat is no four-of, but it is a card that punishes control players if not removed swiftly. The ability to kill enemy Primeval Titans, Wurmcoil Engines, Grave Titans, Consecrated Sphinx, Hero of Bladehold, etc. is absurd with a Vat out. I see myself only boarding it out against the most aggressive of aggro decks and leaving it in as a powerful two-of against the rest of the field.

Since we are in cutting mode, let’s add Jace, Memory Adept to that list.

Jace was absolutely fantastic against Solar Flare and other control variants and absolutely horrendous against anything that attacked prior to turn 4. It was almost like a mulligan in the opening hand, and there is no way I’m playing that maindeck unless control gets to 50%+ of the field. Since Jace was so effective against the control mirror, there is no way I’m cutting it from the deck entirely, and he will find a home as a one-of in the sideboard. The legacy of Jace is coming to the end of the road with this Memory Adept fella, so I hope Wizards presents another cheaper version in the future.

So with the minor changes that I’ve discussed in this article, this is what the deck is going to look like; then off to Modern!

Clear the way for Urzatron again!!

Urzatron has been my flagship in past years ever since Worlds in 2006. The form it was in then is oddly similar to the form it is in now. Obviously we don’t have Decree of Justice or Exalted Angel, and I’m probably not casting a Solemn Simulacrum in an older format again, BUT it is still U/W for many reasons.

Blue is a necessary element, and white will be the support to ensure success. Removal in white has always been my favorite, dating back to the first time I casted a Wrath of God; this format provides for a chance for that moment to be relived. Path to Exile, Martial Coup, Day of Judgment, and Timely Reinforcements are in this beta version of Tron that will change here and there before Worlds this year. I am open to trying other color combinations, but using white has always been the safer route.

Modern looks to be infested with aggro

Elves, little artifacts, Naya Zoo, 5-Color Zoo… it’s everywhere! Control has always been the medicine for decks like these, and today is no different. The Tron list is geared to handle a metagame that seems to be completely dominated by one piece of the archetype puzzle. If your metagame is much different, then I suggest tweaking the list to better serve you, but I’m pretty sure more than half the field will be rocking some form of aggressive strategy. The bannings have left us in this situation, but it’s a situation I love to be in. When the metagame is defined so well, and many people are playing a safe deck, especially in a six-round tournament it is easy to be prepared. Urzatron has the tools to play as a true control deck.

Tron is control this game, and next game it is combo

Urzatron has the infamous Mindslaver lock that has ended thousands of games in old Extended. The combo is powerful because one piece is a land, and the other piece is easily achieved due to the nature of the deck. Tron has the ability to play very expensive spells that other decks cannot, and the cheap delaying / digging spells set up the big plays. In this format Tron will handle creatures early and win big late against a field of beatdown decks. I have always found it interesting that Wizards left Gifts Ungiven off of the banned list because of how powerful the card is. Gifts in this format after the second series of bannings is more powerful than ever.

Gifts Ungiven has been a tool for Tron since the rotation of Fact or Fiction. In order to maximize the value of Gifts in Modern, we will add a few cards. The first card is Noxious Revival. Noxious Revival makes the cards given to you even more powerful and the choices your opponent has to make even more difficult. If you are holding the Noxious Revival, then you truly can manipulate your opponent and turn a Gifts Ungiven into an instant double Demonic Tutor.

Even without it in hand, a Gifts Ungiven for Urza’s Mine, Urza’s Tower, Crucible of Worlds, and Noxious Revival can set your Tron up immediately. The same is true when you already have Tron or most of it; then you can optimize your Gifts by tossing a Sundering Titan in there or the Mindslaver. The more you have in your hand and the more one-ofs in your Tron list, the more powerful your Gifts will be due to Noxious Revival. This leads me to my second Gifts Ungiven enhancer. Instead of running a second Noxious Revival, I decided to play one Snapcaster Mage. If you REALLY need a card, your Gifts can provide both of these cards and the target necessary. This guarantees you receive your one out and a backup card just in case.

In general, I was very shocked to see Gifts Ungiven left off the banned list. I think the bannings in Modern are excessive, but the more they ban things, the closer my decks from the past come to being competitive. A few more bannings, and I’ll be battling with Greater Good again; so keep neutering the format, Wizards, be my guest!

Gifts, in this case, allows a big mana deck to run singletons and still be guaranteed to land one at some point instead of being forced to run multiples. The Tron list from Worlds I had without Gifts ran three Mindslavers main in order to not miss out on the easy wins once Tron was assembled. The key question remains… how do you survive up until that point?

If it doesn’t draw you cards, it manipulates and delays

The other card draw spell in the deck is Thirst for Knowledge. This fills the void on turn 3 after a turn 2 disruption spell or if you happen to miss a signet/talisman. This is pure card draw that allows you to go through your deck and maybe even pitch an expensive artifact that will be returned later via Academy Ruins. Thirst being an instant allows you to continue to disrupt and dig and in the case that your opponent is inactive, punishes them for it.

Condescend and Remand are the bread and butter cards for big mana Tron and control. You time walk your opponent and dig; you counter their spell unless they pay one and dig; and in combination, it gives you a pretty eventful turn 2 and 3. Survival is the key for Urzatron, and these blue spells allow you to keep moving forward while slowing your opponent down. Once Tron is assembled, your chances of losing are slim with all the powerful weapons at your disposal.

What weapons do you speak of?

The first one that comes to mind is of course Mindslaver. Sundering Titan comes in a close second in this format. With the vast majority of decks running shocklands, Sundering Titan can come down as a one-sided Armageddon with a 7/10 body to boot. Removing it lets you repeat the process, and Academy Ruins can keep him in the game. He’s not the best against artifacts, but the next one does just fine against Affinity.

Martial Coup is the replacement for Decree of Justice in Modern. Martial Coup is the best card in the deck against aggro because with Tron it creates an army that can’t be matched, and without Tron it does just fine for seven. It began as a one-of, but for the Worlds metagame, I expect it to be very effective as a two-of.

Ali wants a Karn Liberated in there, and I’m not including it in the main, but I’m not super opposed to it either. Karn might be a great call, as it is decent against a lot of decks, but I’m going to toss him in the sideboard for those Vendillion Clique, 5cc, or whatever control decks pop up.

So without further delay, here is the pilot list of Urzatron for Modern.

Thank you all for reading, and I hope you gained some helpful information about both formats and the switch to Planeswalker Points. Even though it has affected me negatively in regards to Pro Tour invitations, I feel like it gave a lot of players reason to play Magic on a more regular basis. I promise you that the system in place now is not permanent, and they will tweak and edit it until they perfect the system, but keep playing in tournaments to put your mark on the map one day.

Magic is a great game, and this is evident when a player like me whose only goal in life was to get a Mike Flores name drop in Swimming with Sharks years ago is now writing for StarCityGames.com and has traveled to sweet places to play Magic. How do you get that name drop and travel? Play an original deck, even if it’s slightly “worse” than the Tier 1 mainstream. After you do that, just place slightly well on a regular basis in random tournaments, and I guarantee people will notice. The second thing is travel on your own at first. Grab some friends, gas up the old van, and go road trip to the next Open, PTQ, or GP, and keep trying to break through. If you have the resolve, you can get it done. Good luck, mages, and see you next time.


@shaheenmtg — Twitter
[email protected] – Email