I have some sort of block against playing the established deck-to-beat in any given format. That being said, I have no problem at all putting forth a great effort in making a deck to be competitive in the metagame and perhaps take some people by surprise. I took a Rock variant of my own design to a PTQ win a few months ago, and I’ve been preparing for Regionals ever since. Okay, that’s a huge lie; in actuality, I finally moved up in the world and got myself a”real” job, which has severely put a dent in my gaming time. I played in Grand Prix: Columbus, made Day 2, and then crashed and burned through a combination of luck, bad drafting, and unfortunate pairings.
On the plus side, I have been theorizing quite a bit about Type Two lately, given its less dynamic nature when compared to Limited. The decks to beat are clearly Affinity, Goblin Bidding, and Slide, with B/G Cemetery/Death Cloud shenanigans and Tooth and Nail coming in right behind the top contenders. I really liked the B/G deck for quite some time, but after revisiting the metagame, there was simply too much”splash damage” done to the deck through graveyard hate and maindeck enchantment removal. Plus, in my eyes, it still had too many problems with Goblins to warrant serious consideration. Tooth and Nail is cute, and extremely powerful, but sometimes the draws you get are either too slow to beat anything or full of mana, but not action.
So that brings me to why I’m writing again in the first place, to try and find something to fill the niche in the format and give me an edge based on play skill. I mean, playing mirror matches all day is awful, but you can prepare for that, and do you know what happens when you do? You lose to the decks that you figured wouldn’t be there. Here’s the deal with Regionals: If a deck exists, it will be represented. The main reason why decks like Affinity and Goblins are top decks in this format are because they smash random stuff that beats one or the other. So yes, you might get paired against the twelve-Shatter deck in round one when you play Affinity, but there’s still a reasonably good chance you’ll win anyway, and in the later rounds, the cream rises to the top and the twelve-Shatter deck will have long been eliminated from serious contention by a Goblin Bidding deck or two.
So I set out to do what I’ll term”making a Rock for the format.” The Rock has no terrible matchups in Extended, meaning that in any given game, you have a reasonable chance of winning. Now generally, this also means that you don’t simply dominate against any deck, but a balanced Rock deck will always be competitive, and in an environment as varied as Regionals, giving yourself a chance to win each and every match on your own merits is definitely something to look for when choosing a deck. After careful analysis into what makes the top decks tick, I crafted a decklist that seemed to be strong against the format, generating decent-to-good matchups with all of the other top decks. Balancing the deck was by far the most difficult issue of the bunch, seeing as how having game against both Goblins and Affinity is difficult enough, but throw in Slide and other White-based control decks, and you really have an awful lot to prepare for when deckbuilding. Here’s what I have, and why I have it:
A very nice piece of spot removal to have in this Affinity-happy world, EB also shines against Goblins, getting rid of the guys that you simply must remove to win (more on that later). Its instant speed, combined with the whopping four damage it deals, make it a major headache for any Ravager Affinity players, creating potential two-for-one situations and setting up the mass removal nicely.
This card was my super-secret tech earlier this year, but now, it shows up in any decks not packing Skullclamp, and with good reason. This is the card that makes the rest of your removal effective against both Affinity and Goblins, although it is not required to win against either deck. It buys you precious time, which is really all the deck needs to win.
The other half of the three-mana artifact devastation package, Culling Scales is less powerful against the aggressive strategies in the format, but remains very good against control decks, killing Talismans (Tooth and Nail) or key enchantments (Oversold Cemetery, Astral Slide/Lightning Rift). It also will generally kill any Skullclamps exposed to it, and can create a soft lock with Darksteel Ingot. Slowly depleting resources, the Scales has great synergy with mass removal, putting opponents in an incredibly difficult situation.
Speaking of mass removal, here’s the best that Blue or Red can offer in that regard, and perhaps better than Wrath of God because of its instant speed and cycling. The important thing to remember about Starstorm is to avoid being greedy when playing it. Killing a key Goblin Warchief and a Goblin Piledriver is certainly enough. Starstorm is rarely ever bad, as it even provides an answer to Decree of Justice, a key element of most control strategies. Flexible, powerful, and undeniably sexy, what’s not to love about Starstorm?
Forge[/author]“]Pulse of the [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]
That’s right, we’re depending on this to win us the game. I was skeptical at first, but slowly but surely, I’ve come around on this card being the best possible win condition. Using mana burn to get multiple uses out of this card is key, and you’ll learn to love the words,”during your second main phase, I’ll add three mana to my pool.” Combined with Hammer of Bogardan, Blinkmoth Nexus, and damage that the opponent deals to you, somehow this has proven itself to be enough to win with… test it and try it out for yourself.
Hammer of Bogardan
I would address concerns about this card being too slow, but honestly, you simply have to have another win beyond Forge[/author]“]Pulse of the [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author], and Hammer is a slow, but dependable way of doing just that. The added bonus of being able to be aimed at various creatures is just gravy. Taking someone down with Hammer is satisfying, as you know that you’ve earned your victory through total domination.
Slice and Dice
Starstorm’s slower, less versatile brother, Slice and Dice is nonetheless extremely good at what it does, that being killing small creatures at instant speed or standing in for Starstorm when mass removal is necessary. Especially good at killing the small creatures that cause problems in the late game for the deck (Skirk Prospector, Goblin Sledder, Disciple of the Vault, Blinkmoth Nexus).
I strongly considered leaving this off the list because it is so good; I wanted to keep it to myself. I decided that I really do not care who uses my tech, so enjoy. This card is the reason why Blue stays in the deck. It is never dead, as all the big decks have artifacts, enchantments, or both. Stopping Skullclamp before it hits the table is extremely strong, same for Lightning Rift or Arcbound Ravager. Simply slowing Affinity down by countering either a Spellbomb or Arcbound Worker is fine as well. It helps to maintain some sort of tempo, and along with Electrostatic Bolt, gives the deck a fine reason to play Darksteel Ingot.
Most of us missed the memo that Mana Leak is good again. Well, it certainly is, and provides the deck with an out against Patriarch’s Bidding (barring Prospector). Not only that, it turns out to be pretty sick against Affinity, buying you guessed it, time. With decks becoming tighter and tighter on what mana they use per turn, Mana Leak is nearly as good as a hard counter when you need it to be one.
Drawing three cards is really good, especially against control, and with the lack of dead cards in the deck, you’ll always draw something useful, even if it only is a cycling card. I tried both Thirst for Knowledge and Pulse of the Grid in this slot, and both cards disappointed me. Whatever mileage you get from the draw slot in the deck may vary, so if one of the other spells works out better for you, great, use it.
Mountains and Islands make Red and Blue mana with no potential for residual damage from Artifact-killing spells. Blinkmoth Nexus provides a small measure of offense, as each and every point of damage dealt is very big when the plan of winning revolves around recursive burn spells. Not only that, but as a last line of defense, the Nexus shines, chump-blocking (and sometimes killing) early unanswered Goblin Piledrivers. Darksteel Ingot is the most controversial addition to the manabase. A very safe mana source, the Ingot helps to fix the mana in the deck while at the same time speeding things up by a crucial turn. Not only that, but the one-mana spells in the deck help to make the Ingot completely harmless on the turn it is played, but potentially devastating in the advantage that can be gained. Its true reason for inclusion is its synergy with Culling Scales, helping to keep the Scales on the board when at a stalemate, providing a soft lock.
This card is simply ridiculous against both Goblins and Affinity, especially in conjunction with Damping Matrix, but even without. Basically, you try to get two-for-one with Pyroclasm, not get greedy and go for more, and depend on your other spells to gain even more advantage. A quick, painless addition against the big two and also oddball stuff like White Weenie and G/B, Pyroclasm was an easy addition to the sideboard.
This particular U/R deck utilizes this card very nicely, both as an answer to Patriarch’s Bidding (not very dangerous without Goblin Warchief) and Eternal Dragon, along with a fine solution to Oversold Cemetery (one that can continue to be relevant even after Death Cloud). Simple and effective at what it is supposed to do, Scrabbling Claws provides yet another low-risk, high-reward sideboard slot that is not taxing on the deck at all to include.
Feel free to cycle all of the Plains out of your deck, White-based control players, and then Flashfires drops the bombshell. The best part of it all is that Sacred Ground doesn’t stop the U/R deck from a devastating Flashfires, thanks to Culling Scales and/or Annul. Destroying such a huge amount of land in a control vs. control matchup is simply game over, as the recursion of Hammer of Bogardan and the answers to all of their threats should carry you to victory. Flashfires also has usage against White Weenie, setting them back so far that Mass Removal can carry you to victory.
And here’s where it gets interesting. Blood Moon is game over for most Tooth and Nail decks, totally shutting down their mana base and making them easy prey for the long game of attrition that you want to play. Yes, it is a limited card, in that it only is truly effective in one matchup, but in that matchup (one of the more difficult) it improves the chances of winning by a very large margin.
Pulse of the Fields is really bad for this deck, effectively countering Forge[/author]“]Pulse of the [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author] and making Hammer a terrible proposition. So the answer lies in an odd card for a control deck to be playing. The symmetrical damage is fine, as life totals staying close is really just find for the U/R deck, and the amount of direct damage possible makes Vortex quite strong. Against Tooth and Nail, this also comes in, putting them on a very quick clock, one that can be finished with Forge[/author]“]Pulse of the [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author].
Cards that do not belong:
Wand of the Elements
It seems like a perfect fit, being a U/R control deck that is light on win conditions, but honestly, it is both unwieldy and unnecessary. Giving up the most valuable resource in a control mirror (land) is never a good idea, especially when replacing it with easy to deal with creatures. More importantly, the synergy, or lack thereof with both of the three-mana artifacts is staggeringly bad, as Culling Scales will kill a token a turn, while Damping Matrix will shut off the Wand entirely. Not a good idea.
Simply way too slow, as they do not counter anything without a huge loss of tempo against aggro strategies, and even control decks have plenty of threats that slide right underneath these sad counters. Yes, a hard counter is nice, but in a format where the beatdown decks come strong on turns 1-3 with resilient, must-counter threats, a four-mana counter is likely to simply gum up your hand while you lose the game. The control decks produce so much mana that even if something worthwhile is countered, it will not save you on the next turn when something equally ludicrous is cast.
Spellbomb/Artifact Land/Furnace Dragon Package
The original decklist featured this, as the deck was inspired by the quest to beat Affinity. After testing it out, I found out two things. First off, the deck matches up nicely against Affinity already, but the old version was truly lacking against Goblins and Astral Slide decks. The Furnace Dragons were terrible, only shining against Affinity, and providing more anti-synergistic components to the deck. The Artifact Lands were often Oxidized or Naturalized game one, which is painful”splash damage” that this deck simply cannot afford. The Spellbombs were actually fine, but again, Culling Scales and Damping Matrix made them less than optimal.
I couldn’t believe it either. This card just seems like a natural fit into each and every control deck in the format, but tapping out on turn 4 simply does not cut it. Goblins can use Goblin Sharpshooter to hit this out of the way quickly with minimal waste, Affinity sees another one point of loss of life, plus a Time Walk, and control decks find a target for all of their previously dead removal. This was a painful cut, but wouldn’t you know it, actual playtesting has proven it to be correct. Jens cannot be counted on, even as a speed bump, therefore Solemn Simulacrum’s value rapidly decreases.
Meh. Large bodies with largely irrelevant special abilities (that do not even work under Damping Matrix) really have no place in this deck.
When it comes down to it, this just is not efficient enough as anything but a finisher and careful play renders it unnecessary in that regard as well. Simply put, Fireball is a crutch that this deck can neither truly abuse nor afford. Fireball illustrates this point extremely well, as decks in the age of Ravager and Skullclamp can ill-afford to be spending slots on anything the slightest bit weak.
Still with me? Great, now we get into the matchups, which as we all know, is the most important section of the article. You won’t be blowing anyone out of the water with this U/R deck, in fact, there are no draws that have you ending the game in the first six or seven turns. Your goal is to stay alive long enough for the powerful late game cards that you have to matter, gradually taking control of the game to the point where cards like Hammer of Bogardan become not only marginally useful, but extremely powerful. So, with that in mind, here are the matchups:
Game 1: If they have Oxidize, this can be rough if played improperly, but simply put, the plan is to slow them down enough for the board sweeping effects and Culling Scales to take over the game. Use counters on anything remotely relevant, and try to keep the board as limited as possible using Annul or Electrostatic Bolt. Both Damping Matrix and Culling Scales are your friends as long as the board is relatively clear. Forge[/author]“]Pulse of the [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author] allows for the quick comeback once things get cleared up.
Games 2-3: Basically the same general notion as game 1, but they will certainly have artifact removal at this point. Fortunately, the addition of Pyroclasm takes a lot of wind out of their fast starts, meaning that the time that you need, you should be able to find. This matchup has been extensively tested, and despite the multi-pronged assault that the Affinity deck can present, the U/R deck holds up nicely, and wins around 55% of all games.
Game 1: You have far too many answers to the questions they can provide in their plan A (attacking for the win), so only plan B is a viable threat (Patriarch’s Bidding/Goblin Sharpshooter). There are three key goblins worth keeping off the board; Skirk Prospector (protects Mana Leak), Goblin Warchief (limits surprises), and Goblin Sharpshooter (no burn-out wins). Mana Leak should only be used to counter either Skullclamp if you have no Matrix or Annul, or Patriarch’s Bidding. Forge[/author]“]Pulse of the [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author] makes the early damage that they deal actually a benefit to you, and obviously, Starstorm and Slice and Dice are good friends.
Games 2 and 3: They bring in additional artifact hate, but sadly, it will not matter, as the only chance of winning that they have is a Warchief-enabled Bidding, and Scrabbling Claws is all about preventing that. Pyroclasm is a huge wrecking ball with or without Goblin Sledder, generating important card advantage. So much removal means that as long as Goblin Warchief is not there to spoil the party, things should definitely go in the favor of the U/R deck. My testing has been around 60-63% in the U/R deck’s favor.
Game 1: Lots of irrelevant cards on both sides, and many of them cycle. The thing is, you can deal with their biggest threat (Lightning Rift), and they cannot deal with yours (Pulse of the Forge/Hammer). Culling Scales is insane here, but usually should not be played after the six mana threshold has been reached unless it will kill something for sure, as getting a Scales needlessly Akroma’s Vengeanced away is not something that you want to do. Pulse of the Fields, if they have it, can be extremely annoying, but Forge[/author]“]Pulse of the [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author] helps to counteract that, along with mana burn. They have two threats, Eternal Dragon and Lightning Rift, both of which can be dealt with at least temporarily, while you have two threats that give you actual inevitability.
Games 2 and 3: Simply put, the cards that you bring in are all excellent against Slide, while the potential pool of cards for them to bring in is very limited. Ivory Mask is excellent against U/R, but I expect few people to be running the Mask. Flashfires wrecks them, and Sacred Ground is not a real solution. Vortex helps to end the game before they can come through with mana superiority or Pulse of the Fields, and Eternal Dragon is trumped by Scrabbling Claws, which incidentally should be saved for when there is already a Dragon in the graveyard. Not to sound like certain other”playtesters” on the net, but my record against Slide is above 50%, although if they have Exalted Angel, it decreases.
Game 1: You have plenty of time, but the B/G deck can weasel its way out of many situations that you can put it in. Culling Scales and Damping Matrix are both good here, but depending on the number of Viridian Shaman that they play, they can work their way out of the lock. Death Cloud really hurts as well, decimating the board position. That said, if the U/R deck can keep Oversold Cemetery itself off of the board, it is in great shape to win. Darksteel Ingot is stable even through Death Cloud, and Blinkmoth Nexus shines as an annoying card for the G/B deck to fight. Without Cemetery, the G/B deck folds to mass removal, but with Cemetery, it is nearly impossible to win.
Games 2 and 3: The Claws come in to try and limit the power of Oversold Cemetery and do a relatively good job of doing just that. More artifact kill is certainly on the agenda for the, so play carefully in order to get uses out of each and every artifact that you play. My testing has been limited in this matchup, but I’ve had difficulty, only winning around 40-45% of matches.
Tooth and Nail
Game 1: If they play two Darksteel Colossi, forget it. You can counter Tooth and Nail and hope, but chances are, game 1 is going to be extraordinarily difficult to win. A single Colossus can be beaten, so if they only get/play one, you have a solid chance to win with burn. Game 1 is not very good for the U/R deck, so just go ahead, pack it in if they get a second Colossus.
Game 2 and 3: The race is on, but the Tooth and Nail deck has a nearly impossible time winning through Blood Moon and/or Sulfuric Vortex, even if they do have access to Naturalize. Both cards speed the game up to the point where the burn at the U/R deck’s disposal becomes very relevant. Game 1 is extremely tough, but my overall results aren’t terrible, around 40-45% of matches ending in the U/R deck’s favor.
So this is what I would play if I were to play in Regionals tomorrow. As always, feedback is welcome, and hopefully next time I can get back to discussing what I enjoy most, limited. Thanks for reading.
Quickly learning what the”real world” is all about,