The Kitchen Table #146: The Casual Metagame #3

Hello and welcome again to the newest installment of our weekly trek through the five corners of casual Magic. I am examining each Archetype in an article, and then looking more closely at the Subtypes within that Archetype. I’ll also build a quick deck for each Subtype in order to demonstrate what I am discussing with a solid example.

Hello and welcome again to the newest installment of our weekly trek through the five corners of casual Magic. I am examining each Archetype in an article, and then looking more closely at the Subtypes within that Archetype. I’ll also build a quick deck for each Subtype in order to demonstrate what I am discussing with a solid example.

For those who may not have read (or may not remember) the first two entries, I have divided Magicdom into five distinct Archetypes in which virtually every deck can fit. Within each Archetype are a variety of Subtypes that describe individual genres of decks. In the first article, I outlined this structure that I call the Magic Deck Framework, or the Framework of All Things Casual. Last week, I examined the first Archetype in detail, the No-Holds-Barred Aggro Archetype. I then investigated its six Subtypes.

As an aside, one of the things I want to do is get away from the traditional Aggro-Control-Combo template. It seems like different people think different things when they hear words like Combo and Aggro. As such, you’ll note that my names for these three Archetypes are slightly different. I use Controlling the Board instead of just Control, No-Holds-Barred Aggro, instead of just Aggro, and Crazy Combo Man instead of just Combo. I wanted the names to be reminiscent of the previous template, which was good in many ways, but to still disassociate itself from that because there were many flaws.

As a quick reminder, all competitive decks can fit into their Framework into their own Subtypes, but many casual decks would normally be left out by an analysis of just competitive Subtypes. Therefore, in order to be a full analysis, this series of articles will entail competitive decks within its structure.

This week I move to the next Archetype, which is Controlling the Board. This Archetype seeks to win by gaining control of the board. This is its winning condition. Although it will later play a card that is technically a winning condition, it has usually won the game by that time. Many decks may include controlling cards or elements, but the key to this Archetype is the goal of that removal. The goal here is to control the board first and last. Once that has been achieved, the actual winning condition is inconsequential.

The CTB Archetype is very commonly played both in tournaments and in casual Magic. Some players are very drawn to this form of deck, and as a consequence, they are very likely to play a CTB strategy. Have you ever had that friend who tried to build a deck that was not a CTB deck, but they still wound up playing some form of control? That’s the type of player drawn to these decks.

Here is, for your reference, the entire CTB section of the Framework that we’ll be looking at today.

Archetype #2 – Controlling the Board – Seeks to win by establishing control, then uses a method to win

Counter Deck – Have more counters than opposing threats
Roadblock Deck – Have protection from opposing threats *
Quick Defense Deck – Have more defense than opposing threats
Sweep and Stop Deck – Have more removal than opposing threats
Negate Deck – Have more use from your creatures than opposing threats

* After consideration and conversation, I have decided to change the name of Subtype B from Neuter to Roadblock. Neuter and Negate are too similar both in name and in function, so I felt that another term was called for. In all future Frameworks, Archetype 2, Subtype B is now Roadblock.

With that out of the way, let’s head into out first Subtype.

The Counter Deck (More Counters)

Everybody knows counter decks. In fact, I believe most players think of a counter deck when they think of Control. Some Subtypes lend themselves to a particular color or colors. The Counter Subtype is no different.

The Counter Subtype tries to use countermagic to stop every threat in an opponent’s deck from being played. Then, when the opponent is out of threats, the counter player plays a single threat of their own and rides it to victory.

Last week I used American football analogies. This week, let’s use European football (soccer or footy). On a football field, this deck would win by stopping virtually all of the opposing players from even getting on the pitch and then, once you’ve done that, you can kick the ball into the net at your leisure, but it obviously doesn’t matter which player scores because you’ve already won…

This is the classic Controlling the Board strategy. You want to stop things from ever hitting the board. Since countermagic is usually a one-for-one trade, understanding what should and shouldn’t be countered becomes an art. These decks often have a smattering of bounce or removal to handle the things that make it through the counter wall.

There are several ways a Counter Deck can be built. The first tries to out-counter anything the opponent does. This deck will typically feature more than twenty counters. This deck will traditionally have between one and four cards dedicated to winning the game. By having few to no threats, this deck gets card advantage through useless cards in the opponent’s hand.

Another way to build this deck is through less countermagic, but more natural defense. This deck might play 16-20 counters, and toss in a few exclusively defensive cards like Wall of Tears or Fog Bank. This deck understands that it cannot counter everything, so it plays card that can take care of multiple threats. A common card that you would find in this version of the Counter deck long ago was Nevinyrral’s Disk.

I suspect that a third version of this deck could be made with even fewer counters. However, that might have a tendency to look more like the Quick Defense Subtype of a CTB strategy than this one.

Let’s take a look at a sample deck:

This deck is the first version, a very counter-heavy deck. It sports 20 counters of various types. I’m choosing to run Hinder over Forbid because there is no real regular draw mechanism here, and I’d prefer not to run the discard buyback counter unless there is. Besides, in casual circles, you come across more cards that you don’t want to just counter, but you also want to remove from circulation. When someone plays a Genesis against you, you don’t want to be stuck without a Dissipate.

The deck tosses in four Sapphire Medallions to reduce the costs of these counters, as well as the two buyback spells. These were more commonly played during yesteryear. You’ll note that, other than Counterspell itself, every other Blue spell in the deck has at least one generic mana in its cost, so the Medallion is a great help. Don’t feel forced to play the Medallion on the second turn if you want to keep up your counter shield. Just play it as you can.

The deck runs four Capsizes. These can bounce any permanent that makes it through your counter shield. With buyback, they can regularly bounce annoying cards, and later, you can start bouncing lands. With the Medallions, the play cost is reduced, so the Medallions do work with buyback. With two Medallions out, you can play and buyback a Capsize for a total of two Blue mana and two generic.

Whispers of the Muse is your card drawing spell of choice. Because you can play it with no buyback for just a simple mana, feel free to play it as needed. Fire it off on the first turn to try to get another land, don’t worry about hording it.

Rainbow Efreet is your winning condition. As a 3/1 flyer, you never have to worry about countering ground creatures with defender. It flies over any defense and it phases out for UU. It can dodge mass and targeted removal with ease, unlike the Morphling, which dies to mass or untargeted removal. Now you don’t have to worry about an Edict getting past your counter shield, because the Efreet will just phase out and come back next turn.

Just in case you can’t find your Efreet or you need another winning condition, I added a pair of Faerie Conclaves to the deck. Most of the time, these are just lands and have no real effect on the game other than tapping for Blue mana. However, when you need another threat, you’ll have it. You can also use it for emergency defense.

This is a quick example of what a Counter Deck looks like. As you can see, it is very heavy on the counter element of the deck, and leans heavily into that area of Control.

The Roadblock Deck (More Protection)

This is a fun Subtype. It tries to play cards that anticipate and shut down routes of attack. This route of attack can be by creatures attacking or it can include spells. Usually, shutting down these routes of attack involves permanents. In football, imagine this deck putting great slabs of rock onto the pitch preventing all ball movement from crossing into the defensive side. Then the defense wins by launching balls with a giant potato gun over the slabs and the players into the net.

(I mean, there is only so far you can take these sports analogies before they start sounding a little strange). [You don’t actually watch much footy, do you… – Craig, appalled.]

There are a variety of ways that you can do this in a deck. One simple way is by plopping down enchantments or other permanents to stop opposing creatures from attacking. Then you play creatures that get around your Roadblock. For example, you can play Moat, which prevents non-flyers from attacking. Sure, it may work against you, but that’s no problem because you prepared by playing exclusively flyers.

Another version of the Roadblock Subtype is where you play a defense that works against a type of permanent or color. For example, you could play Story Circle. Then, whether direct damage or creatures come your way, you are protected from it all.

Yet another way to use this Subtype is to block a strategy. For example, Ivory Mask will prevent you from being targeted, which eliminates discard, milling, burn, and other forms of direct targeting. This eliminates whole strategies.

Remember, the key to this deck is to have more protection than your opponent can pierce. You want to insulate yourself from your opponent in several key areas, and then pounce for victory once you have neutered most or all of the opposing threats.

Let’s take a look at a Roadblock deck:

This deck uses several methods to control the board. The first is the key element – the Humility. Play this enchantment and every creature loses all abilities and becomes a 1/1. 1/1s aren’t going to win the game very quickly. Once you have a Humility out, you can actually outrace most decks, because you can make tons of 1/1 creatures with no abilities that are on par with all of your opponent’s creatures. Using Mobilization and Decree of Justice, you can outnumber your opponent and swing for the victory.

Orim’s Prayer works well because it causes you to gain a life for each creature that attacks you. First of all, this slows down the pain you receive from combat, so it’s solid on its own. With Story Circle, you can gain the life, then prevent the damage, which is a nifty little combo. The real combo, of course, is the famous Humility-Prayer combo. Turn their creatures into 1/1s, and then gain a life whenever they attack. The combination means that they will never touch you with any creature.

Disenchant is included simply to take out offending enchantments and artifacts. Your deck would insta-die to an opposing Prayer, for example, so you’ll want protection. You can also use this for things like Sylvan Library and No Mercy.

The set of Swords to Plowshares are the ubiquitous White removal, and they fit here. It’s very nice to have a reliable removal plan that costs just one White mana. You feel safe when wielding a Swords.

I love Kor Haven because it shuts down one attacker, guaranteed, but unlike Maze of Ith, it taps for mana. Sure, it requires mana to use, and it’s Legendary, but nothing is perfect, not even Swords.

Oblation is a solid card because it is emergency removal for any permanent that gets in your way. You can also use it on one of your permanents (read: tokens) to draw two cards. The ability to either draw or single-handedly take out virtually any permanent threats (save lands, pro instants, and pro White cards) is a real lifesaver, especially if you play in multiplayer.

The role of the Decrees and Mobilizations has already been discussed.

I like to only play of one of the tutors because most formats only allow one. Therefore, there’s just one Enlightened Tutor. I tossed in a trio of Rectors though, because they can help you find the enchantment you need. During a Humility, they’ll be just 1/1s, so don’t even both playing them. However, Humility is often public enemy number one, and gets targeted for removal quickly. Rector can be used then, and also can get another Humility.

With all of these roadblocks, I hope you can see why I named the Subtype after that idea. This is just another deck to help illustrate the principles of the Framework in action.

The Quick Defense Deck (More Defense)

This Subtype is all about playing a quick defense, and then, at its leisure, it will defeat the opposing deck. This deck might bear some outward resemblance to the NHBAggro Subtypes Sneak or Alpha Strike. However, this deck wins through establishing control, not through the regular attacking of creatures.

For proof, take a look at last week’s Sneak Deck, Azorius Beats. I specifically mention that the deck is perfectly fine trading damage with small creatures like Grizzly Bears, because its unblockable creatures can race that. A Sneak Deck is comfortable racing damage, where a Quick Defense Deck is not.

The easiest way to establish a Quick Defense is through powerful defensive creatures. Then, when it has established control, it plays a threat that allows it to break through the opposing defense and win. An example I gave of this last week is the Wall deck that plays cheap, quick walls, and then after keeping opponent’s from attacking into the Walls of Doom, it plays Rolling Stones and attacks with all of its effective walls. A 5/6 flying wall for four mana makes a great, cheap attacker. A 7/4 flying, first strike wall for five mana can trade with Akroma.

Another way is to play your quick defense then smash with one big creature, like a Tidal Kraken. This one creature is designed to be your winning condition after you have mugged up the game with a lot of creatures on both sides.

A third way to play is to play a quick defense and then later, at your leisure, play something that puts you in the dominant position and wins you the game. For example, playing Standardize followed by Peer Pressure when you have more creatures out will give you permanent control of all creatures, and then you can attack as you desire.

A last way to build this deck is to throw up a quick defense and then attack the opponent through an alternate method. You could use a Millstone, or a Telim’Tor’s Darts, to off your opponent.

No matter how you win, the key to the deck is established a Quick Defense. This is an example of a CTB strategy. Just get control, then win however you want to. I’ll be building the last version I mentioned just so you can see the deck.

This deck tries to build a Quick Defense using walls or Laquatus. Wall of Swords is a great 3/5 flying wall for four mana, while Sunweb is a scary 5/6 flying wall for the same mana investment. Wall of Tears is a cheap way to block early drops or to bounce back ground creatures that attack.

This deck will continue to have control by playing Disenchant’s to pop offending enchantments and artifacts that may be at odds with your victory strategy, like Ivory Mask.

The deck also has four Counterspells as emergency countering. Don’t rely on these to counter a creature, but instead save them for the game-ending cards that will cause you to lose.

After that removal, it seems obvious to play Pacifisms and Faith’s Fetters. You can play these on creatures that would smash through, around, or in the case of Sunweb, under your defense. Use them on Akroma or Tidal Kraken, Razortooth Rats, or Segovian Leviathan. You can also slap the Fetters on something like a Prodigal Sorcerer that messes with your strategy.

After you have established control (and remember that 1/3 Laquatus can do that too) you can cast your Traumatize or start milling with Laquatus. You want to mill your opponent’s deck away, until you win the game.

You also have a pair of Fact or Fiction to draw cards. Use them well, because you only have two.

This deck is just a simple Quick Defense deck, but it shows how to get your defense, and then how to win. Replace Laquatus and Traumatize with Tidal Kraken or Mawcor and it’s still the same deck. It wins by control, not by the kill method.

The Sweep and Stop Deck (More Removal)

I really enjoy this Subtype, by the way. This deck seeks to win by playing a number of sweeping removal spells, each time getting multiple creatures. Then when you’ve swept all of your opponent’s creatures, you play your own threats, and win the game. Like all CTB decks, this deck wins by establishing control, then once it has done that, the actual killing condition is superfluous.

A classic example of this deck was the Onslaught Block era Standard Mono-White Control deck with four Wraths, four Akroma’s Vengeance, four Wing Shards and just six creatures – two Akromas and four Exalted Angels. This is a classic example of the Sweep and Stop Subtype.

The easy way to counter this deck’s strategy is to simply play one creature at a time, so that no sweeping kill method can do much damage. In order to encourage opponent’s to play threats, the Sweep and Stop deck can use several methods.

Firstly, it can play a threat of its own. Typically, this would be something that is protected from the Sweep aspect of the deck. A Wrath of God/Rout deck might play Jade Statues, for example. A Black Pestilence Deck might run Cemetery Gate.

Another way it can encourage a person to play multiple creatures is to play some sort of defensive non-creature permanent that forces the opponent to have multiple threats in order to get through. A classic example from early Magic is a Maze of Ith, which will negate one attacking creature. Now an opponent needs two critters to get through, and now your Wrath effect is guaranteed card advantage by offing two opposing creatures.

Yet another way to encourage an opponent to play multiple threats is to discourage the opponent from keeping cards in their hand. Ways of doing this include a modicum of discard, or spells that attack a player based on hand size, like a Sudden Impact. This encourages the opponent to drop threats, and then you sweep them away and you’re your own winning condition to beat with.

Some opponents may use alternative methods to kill you, like a non-creature permanent, or through burn. Make sure you have an alternate path to victory.

Let’s take a look at one such Sweep and Stop deck:

If you get this reference, which is very obscure, you get a gold star.

This deck wins through most of the methods mentioned above. Its sweeping removal spells are Akroma’s Vengeance, Wrath of God, and Vengeful Dreams. The deck uses these spells to attack all non-land permanents or creatures until it is ready to win.

The deck uses other removal methods. If the opponent plays a creature, you can drop a Shackles. Then your opponent needs to play another creature to begin attacking. When you are ready to Wrath, just pop the Shackles back to your hand, and Wrath.

You can also drop a Blinking Spirit with a similar effect. Your opponent has to play more creatures to get around the Blinky, and when they have played enough, you pop the Blinky back to your hand and Wrath. Then you can play the Blinky again.

The copy of Kor Haven has the same effect. What is really damaging is when you combine these. Your opponent plays a creature, you play Shackles. Your opponent plays another creature, say a Grizzly Bear, you play Blinky. Your opponent plays a third creature, you have Kor Haven. Then, when your opponent plays a fourth creature to get through your defense, you nip the Shackles and Blinky back, cast a Wrath, and your opponent will need another four creatures before penetrating your defense.

To help with the removal, the deck has a pair of Disenchants. These will assist in removing any unsightly artifacts or enchantments that may arise during the course of playing the deck. I only put in two because Akroma’s Vengeance will wipe the board of arties and enchantments, making the Disenchants less useful.

In the early game, there are a couple of cards to help you out. Sensei’s Divining Top can help you get some crucial cards. When you play a Vengeance, you can protect a Top by popping the Top to your library.

The other early game helper is Tithe. These can help smooth your manabase, and they’ll always give you a new set of cards to look through with a Top. Even in the later game, you can always cast a Tithe and get a Plains off it, unlike other effects like Gift of Estates and Land Tax.

After you have established control, you have six additional creatures you can drop. Akroma is the card you play when you believe that you have won the game. Drop her and finish your opponent off.

Commander Eesha and Dawn Elemental are flyers that can change gears. Play them when you think your opponents have used up their threats, but if you are wrong, or they recover quickly, these can play defense very well until your next mass removal spell.

This deck is a strong Mono-White deck that incorporates elements from the deck listed at the beginning of this section but with some modifications, like Shackles and Blinkies. If you play this deck, good luck with it!

The Negate Deck (More Use From Creatures)

This deck tries to use its resources, usually creatures, to regularly Negate the opponent’s ability to use their resources, usually creatures. Once it has done this, the deck wins by attacking with creatures through defenses that have been negated.

A classic example of this deck is the tapper deck. With Icy Manipulators, Master Decoys, and Whipcorder, this decks locks down opposing threats until it can start attacking with a few creatures each turn through the tapped defenses.

The tapper version of the Negate Subtype shows how it uses creatures more efficiently than opposing creatures, by locking those creatures down. This is how a typical Negate Deck operates.

Probably the most famous version of the Negate deck is one that utilizes bounce elements to bounce opposing threats, building and building resources while the opponent is negated until the bounce player is able to win by attacking with any old creature. Cards like Heidar and Tradewind Rider favor this strategy.

I remember my first time playing against this strategy. My opponent dropped a Time Elemental and began bouncing one of my lands every turn. Then, when he had enough mana, he Boomeranged one of my lands and bounced the other with a Time Elemental. Eventually he played a Ghost Ship and beat me down with a 2/4 flyer while I had no lands out.

This Subtype is very flexible, because the creatures can easily switch to new threats or targets. Play a Terror and you’ll kill a creature, but if something worse comes along, you’ll wish you had your Terror back. Tap a creature with a Whipcorder, and when a worse creature comes along, just switch to tapping the new threat. Play a creature like a Sand Squad and tap-lock a creature, so it can never untap. Then, when something bigger comes along, switch and tap-lock the new creature. It’s elemental.

However, despite this power, the Negate strategy can prove very, very annoying to opponents who just want to win, and don’t want to keep tapping and bouncing creatures.

Let’s take a look at just such an annoying deck:

This is your typical bounce deck, with Tradewind Riders, Heidar, Temporal Adepts, and Capsize all contributing to a general sense of aether sickness. You can bounce many creatures back to their opponents’ hands, but don’t forget to bounce cards you need to counter or bounce lands when there’s no other good choices.

This deck does have eight two drop walls. These will be a quick defense (the Wall of Tears contributes to the bounce theme) early as well as fodder for the Tradewind Rider or Homarid Spawning Bed.

This deck does have some countermagic to stop particularly annoying threats from occurring or removal from going off. You can bounce something that gets through in order to counter it, or just save these for the really important spells, your choice. It’s nice to have options, though, and this deck has many.

The Homarid Spawning Bed can be used to sac any Blue creature for a bunch of 1/1s equal to the casting cost. This can help win the game by giving you a bunch of attackers to win quickly. It’s also a great counter to targeted removal – just sac the creature in question and get a bunch of critters. You can also use this to sac a Wall or something early to give you Tradewind fodder.

Lastly, you have four Sand Squid to tap-lock a creature. It is important to note that the Sand Squid can also serve as a winning condition against any deck with Islands, swinging past the defenses for two damage every turn. It works well against any threat you can’t block or bounce until you get a bounce effect later.

This deck will play as a slow deck for a while, annoying opponents, but due to the presence of the Spawning Bed, at least when it switches to win mode, it will win very quickly.

Well, there you have it. All of the Controlling the Board Subtypes are tucked in their beds, fast asleep, and you have five new deck ideas, just in case you want to farm this article for decklists and not the Framework.

Hopefully, you now have a better idea of the various CTB strategies and paths to victory. Remember, this deck wants to win by establishing control. You don’t want to fight the kill method, because by then you have lost the game. You want to fight over control. Do that, and you can keep these decks from winning.

Good luck with all of your decks, and we’ll see you next time.

Until later,

Abe Sargent

P.S. – Actually, I won’t see you next time. Because of a VERY busy work schedule around training and move in time here at the University, I am unable to write next week’s article. I have asked Talen Lee to step in and write the weekly article for me, and he had agreed. Therefore, I will see you time after next.