I have to be honest – Tog was my first choice of deck to write about for this little exercise, until I was informed that it was no longer a factor in the metagame. Fair enough. I wasn’t really competent enough with any of the other Pro Tour: Columbus decks except for U/G Madness, an archetype that I had seen plenty of times from both sides of the table. After all, the pinnacle (kind of like a small molehill) of my Magic career was reached through engineering the defeat of a deck with undercosted creatures and one-mana counterspells. I thought I could offer a thing or two and told our esteemed editor that I could cover the archetype.
However, what is there really to say about U/G Madness that already hasn’t been said a hundred times? That’s the real problem, amigos. The deck pretty much has an unchanging core of cards that can’t be altered and very little space to shoehorn in any kind of super-technologies. Given that this is Extended and a much more varied format, secret weapons are not as liable to help as much as a solid, versatile maindeck with maximal adaptability to game situations.
I wouldn’t be me though if I didn’t have a few small modifications to the propulsion core. Props bestowed to anyone who catches that reference.
Every U/G Madness deck will contain and should contain the following:
I know I don’t need to explain or justify the numbers; everyone who’s followed this game for the last few years knows why these twenty-six are in the starting lineup.
The rest of the deck’s fourteen or so cards are trickier, but it helps to think about the remainder in terms of a “wish list”. What does U/G Madness want to add to the already well-established core in order to make it more effective in the Extended environment? Before getting specific, let me get conceptual (on that ass).
Sure is a lot to think about, eh? I’ll prioritize these wish list concepts for amending a U/G Madness deck, discuss the available choices, and then make a recommendation.
Additional countermagic is the most pressing and critical item on the U/G wish list. From old Standard to Extended, just about every Blue spell with the word “counter” on it has been tested in this archetype. There are even stone tablets documenting these efforts somewhere, I’m sure. Many have tried to make the deck’s mana work for good old Counterspell and have been reduced from 20 to 0 in frustration. I really think that Daze is the perfect complement to Circular Logic. It’s cheap, effective, fits in with its undercosted pals, and the opponent never truly knows whether you have it or not. I’d never want to draw two of them in my opening hand though, so three is correct.
I may be prioritizing this a little higher that most, but I honestly feel in order to compete with Affinity and RDW, the Madness deck needs that extra little edge in speed. This is a deck that’s always thrived on getting ahead and staying ahead, and it doesn’t really like to play any other way. Chrome Mox, warts and all, is the only option for gaining an edge. The deck that made the Top 8 at Columbus ran two; I’m going to do one better and go for three. Yes, more card disadvantage, but I’ll make up for it later. Besides the obvious goodness of dropping Arrogant Wurm on turn 2, playing with Chrome Mox allows the alternate casting cost of Daze to be paid without losing a turn in mana development. I sure like being able to play Wild Mongrel on turn 1, Daze the opponent’s first play, and then lay another dog or Aquamoeba.
3. Card drawing
U/G Madness has never been without Deep Analysis, nor should it ever be. The other options are not very alluring, as Fact or Fiction is too clunky and Thirst for Knowledge doesn’t have flashback, making it less versatile than our trusty friend from Torment. Accumulated Knowledge might be good, but I’ve never jacked with it. With three copies of Chrome Mox, I think that at least the same number of Deep Analysis is warranted. Two just doesn’t seem like enough and will make for fewer acceptable opening hands. Starting grips just look a lot better if they have a madness enabler and the ability to go deep on turn 2-3 if needed.
4. Madness-fueled fat
This is simply a fancy way of figuring how many Roar of the Wurm are needed. The conventional wisdom seems to indicate that two are perfect, and I’m not going to rock the boat. More may be needed if one expects a lot of RDW in the mix, as 6/6s are quite good against the little red men. There are no other attractive options in this slot.
5. Consistency aids
Intuition is one of the absolute best cards in the U/G Extended deck, as it almost always nets a three for one gain. It is the consistency aid of choice and must be in the deck as a two of at least. Other aids fall into the category of tutors, like Osyp’s recommendation of Worldly Tutor. I haven’t tested it so I can’t say whether it’s good either way, but I think that it’s probably unnecessary. See below.
6. Madness enablers
I’ve seen lists from a number of people that try to wedge in a couple of draw/discard type creatures, and I just don’t think they work. Having the extra outlets may be a nice security blanket, but if a turn 2 Merfolk Looter doesn’t suck in this format, then I don’t know what does. If I was totally hung up on the need for more juice, I’d rather run a single copy of Living Wish and then have the option to fetch either a madness enabler in a pinch or something good like Genesis or Wonder. I haven’t tested that idea, and I’m not all that jazzed about the need for outlets nine and ten anyway. Just draw better! *cough*
7. Removal splash
I love Flametongue Kavu and Fire / Ice as much as any man can platonically love cardboard, but take Osyp’s advice and leave these out of your U/G deck. As he states, they make a couple matchups worse, screw the mana base completely, and add only marginally against other decks. Avoid.
This is extremely close to Osyp’s list, except it eschews Worldly Tutor and the Friendly Looters (sounds like a kid’s TV show, hmm) for additional copies of Deep Analysis and Chrome Mox. I’m not trying to earn any points for cuteness; I just want the smash.
4 Chill (RDW/Goblins)
4 Oxidize (Affinity, Scepter/Chant, Mind’s Desire)
3 Powder Keg (RDW, Affinity, random decks)
2 Rushing River (U/G, Life, random decks)
2 Stifle (Scepter/Chant, Mind’s Desire)
The four major decks in the PTQ environment right now are Affinity, RDW/Goblins, U/G, and perhaps Mind’s Desire. Some things never change, I suppose, as three out of these four were the big players in the post-banning Extended format last year as well. Since Extended is such a wide and diverse format, I’ll only devote my loving attention to the decks one is most likely to see when trying to win that elusive slot.
It should come as no surprise that Affinity is dominating in yet another format. The addition of Vampiric Tutor and Cabal Therapy have made it combo more consistently and find solutions to hate with relative ease. That just doesn’t seem fair at all. Both U/G and Affinity follow the same kind of aggressive strategy but with one miniscule difference that’s hardly worth mentioning. I was going to keep it a secret, but I’ll spill the beans: you pay for your guys and they don’t. If this sounds like a disadvantage, it is.
Game one is pretty uncomfortable as either Aether Vial or Disciple of the Vault come out of the gates unchallenged when Affinity is on the play – the U/G deck hates these cards. Often, all the Affinity deck needs to do is cast Vampiric Tutor for either another Black cleric or an Arcbound Ravager to combo out the helpless Madness player. Getting through Circular Logic isn’t usually a problem for them either, and I particularly hate the counterspells in game one of this matchup. The U/G player has to hope that the Affinity deck has a slow draw, get Wonder in the grumper as soon as possible, and hope to win a damage race. Sideboarded games come out a little better due to the presence of four Oxidize and three Powder Keg. With these cards, the U/G deck actually has a few answers to the artifact scourge and can control the board without getting rolled on. Countermagic is atrocious here, so it all gets boarded out for things which can actually affect the outcome out of the match.
This matchup is ever so slightly in favor of the Red deck in game one, but it’s really heavily dependant on the presence of Wild Mongrel showing up early to the party. Notice that I didn’t say a turn 2 Madness outlet – I said Wild freaking Mongrel. The dog is the only one that I feel confident in as a burn-surviving early drop; Aquamobea is just too fragile for my liking and dies quickly to Volcanic Hammer. If I have a first or second turn Wild Mongrel, I feel a whole hell of a lot better about my chances in a pretty even game one contest. If the dog lives, it just powers out The Big Guns. U/G’s men are two and three times the size of the usual Red creature, and I’m a firm believer in the power of large numbers in the lower right corner of a card. This is the only match where I would like to shoehorn in a third Roar of the Wurm, because casting Intuition for three of them usually spells doom for the red player. It’s just not possible though –
Genesis can’t be cut, since it is also good here. The sideboard obviously is a tremendous boon, as Chill has been a thorn in the side of Red players forever and Powder Keg can destroy quite a bit of their guy supply and serve as an answer to trixxy cards like Ensnaring Bridge. The counters must come out yet again because board control heavily trumps the ability to say “no” against base low casting cost aggro decks.
I’m sure many Magic players have spent a lifetime playing the U/G mirror match and have a relatively good idea of how it goes, so I won’t say much here. Wonder superiority obviously trumps everything – if they have it and you don’t, you probably lose. Most of the time, both players’ creatures do possess the power of flight, and the match quickly becomes a contest of card drawing (and thus more threats) and a battle of combat math efficiency. Rushing River is a great sideboard card for the mirror, but that’s about all that can go in. Assuming equal opening grips, winning will often come down to who simply knows how to eke out card advantage incrementally (getting your opponent to discard non-madness cards while you’re discarding Basking Rootwalla, for example).
I would be more inclined to prepare for Mind’s Desire as the fourth major deck in the format instead of The Rock, Life, or Scepter/Chant. I think that it’s a solid choice, and the lure of combo appeals to many players, regardless of whether they’re adept at it or not. There’s not a whole lot of imagination that goes into playing this match; they try to combo out before you kill them, you try to kill them before they combo out. Pretty cut and dried, eh? The important thing is to keep the heat on at all times and to use countermagic on stuff like Sapphire Medallion and Nightscape Familiar, because it’s not going to do any good once they’re ready to go off. I think that the matchup is generally favorable for U/G, but I confess that I have not tested it enough to have confidence in that. Games two and three make things even better, as Stifle can win the match outright and Oxidize puts in work against Chrome Mox and Sapphire Medallion. Something tells me that Mind’s Desire decks aren’t quite done evolving yet, so keep tabs on how U/G manages to cope with these future changes.
I think that U/G will see a lot of play this season for a lot of the same reasons as last year – it’s cheap to build, relatively easy to play, has good sideboard options, and tends never to be purely outclassed. This is appealing to many players who just want to take a deck to a PTQ and run it without having to put a lot of time into playtesting or metagaming. We shall indeed see over the coming months whether it’s a good enough deck this year to earn folks a spot on the gravy train.