The Road to Regionals 2004: R/G Control

Thanks to the recent French and German Regionals, we now have a first glance at what the metagame for the U.S. Regionals may look like, and it’s pretty much what was expected: Ravager-Affinity, R/W Slide, and Goblin Bidding. There are a few other culprits (like the quite fun and imaginative”Rat Deck Wins” coming from the French side of things), but those three aforementioned decks pretty much comprise the foundation of your testing gauntlet. What I want to look at today is a deck that may have game against all three of the decks above: R/G Control.

Thanks to the recent French and German Regionals, we now have a first glance at what the metagame for the U.S. Regionals may look like, and it’s pretty much what was expected: Ravager-Affinity, R/W Slide, and Goblin Bidding. There’s a few other culprits (like the quite fun and imaginative”Rat Deck Wins” coming from the French side of things), but those three aforementioned decks pretty much comprise the foundation of your testing gauntlet.

And, of course, ’tis the season for March Madness, and fortunately, I recently got my M.A. in Bracketology. To stretch an analogy, the three decks above can be considered the Stanford, St. Joe’s and Duke of the metagame. But how often do the top teams actually win the prize? Not as often as you might think.

To really stretch the analogy, here’s a real sleeper for you, a Michigan State or North Carolina, if you will: a deck that can hang with all three of the big boys but has probably been overlooked.

That’s too much analogy stretching. I think I pulled a groin muscle.

Badges? We Don’t Need No Stinking Badges!

4 Birds of Paradise

4 Viridian Shaman

2 Viridian Zealot

4 Krosan Warchief

4 Ravenous Baloth

4 Molder Slug

4 Electrostatic Bolt

4 Starstorm

2 Sylvan Scrying

4 Naturalize

2 Contested Cliffs

4 Wooded Foothills

10 Forest

8 Mountain


1 Decree of Annihilation

4 Lightning Rift

3 Flashfires

1 Viridian Zealot

4 Pyroclasm

2 Silklash Spider

Remember when R/G was a speedy aggro deck? In this bizarre new metagame, R/G is now a control deck. Go figure.

The first thing you’ll probably notice about this version of R/G”Con-Troll” is that, well, there are no Troll Ascetics – hence, you can’t really call it”Con-Troll” anymore. We’ll stick with the great Treasure of the Sierra Madre quote for now. The Trolls have been replaced by Krosan Warchief, which enables you to power out Beasts a little faster, save them from all but the dreaded Wrath and gives you even more life gain in conjunction with Ravenous Baloth. Also missing is Vine Trellis, a fine mana accelerator, but I just didn’t have space for it.

You may also notice that the land kill element has been axed from the deck. In the post-Darksteel environment, land kill is just too slow when dealing with weenie decks that a) don’t need that much land to begin with and b) will easily draw into more land using the power of Skullclamp.

What’s in the deck in spades is artifact kill, starting with Viridian Shaman and his more versatile cousin, Viridian Zealot, and ramping up to the Molder Slug. All decent bodies for the price, and sure to be the bane of any deck packing significant numbers of artifacts. Maindeck Naturalize definitely tips the scales to overkill, but can also eliminate problematic cards like Worship, Astral Slide, and Lightning Rift.

Electrostatic Bolt replaces Shock. The E-Bolt can’t go to the dome, but it does kill weenies just as well and is extra good against Ravager Affinity. Starstorm stays in the deck as a board-sweeper non pareil, killing a weenie swarm early and sweeping the board completely later.

The final piece of the puzzle is Sylvan Scrying, which allows you to fish out a key Contested Cliffs when needed or, if I end up splashing White into the deck for a metagame shift to get a component like Sacred Ground or Worship, to get that critical Plains or City of Brass. In all honesty, this could evolve into something else (Shock? Vine Trellis? Any ideas?), but for the time being, Scrying it is.

It all looks good on paper. How does it do in practice?

Vs. Goblin Bidding

This matchup is fairly favorable, but not a cakewalk by any means. Not only do you have cheap, beefy bodies that can chump Goblins handily, but you’ve got a board sweeper (Starstorm), oodles of life gain, and should they want to cast Bidding, you can sacrifice all your Beasts, gain eight to twelve life and bring them back for an encore.

Post sideboard, you might have to worry about Sulfuric Vortex, so leave the Naturalizes in, and bring in Pyroclasm as an extra board clearer (removing the not-as-effective Shamans and a Zealot).

The matchup falls about 60/40 in your favor. Goblins can get the nuts draw, and if you can’t get a board clearer or quality blocker down quickly, kill you with speed.

Vs. R/W Slide

This is not your best matchup, but it’s not impossible to pull out. You have to play aggressively but cautiously, portioning out your kill accordingly (i.e., don’t waste that Starstorm early and protect against a cycled Decree of Justice). If you let the game go too long without sufficient pressure, the dancing Eternal Dragons will end up beating you down.

The sideboard improves your chances. I originally had Stabilizer, but that was too often destroyed with Shatter, Echoing Ruin, or Akroma’s Vengeance, and obviously doesn’t combo well with Molder Slug.

After some experimentation, I added Flashfires (in the”beat ’em” category) and Lightning Rift (in the”join ’em” category). Flashfires punishes their mana base, and Lightning Rift enables you to turn their strengths against them (and Slide doesn’t run much in the way of enchantment removal besides Akroma’s Vengeance).

Another card I’m experimenting with is Dwarven Blastminer. Between that and Flashfires, you can completely lock down the Slide player’s mana base. Unfortunately, the Blastminer is very, very fragile. This slot could evolve into Blood Moon (also a non-basic hoser). Where’s Price of Progress when you really need it?

Game one is a tricky matchup, but once you go to your sideboard the matchup improves to around 45/55 – still favoring Slide, but not by that much.

Vs. Ravager-Affinity

This new version of R/G Control was built to punish Affinity builds, and it shines in the role. You have six maindeck 187 creatures, four Naturalizes, and your friend of mine, Sluggo (and the ability to bring him out one turn early), which makes for a frustrating matchup for Affinity.

With all this hate, you don’t even need Oxidize. Well, it wouldn’t hurt, really, but you can now use sideboard slots for other more useful cards, like Dwarven Blastminer, another card that Affinity just doesn’t have much love for. This is a good matchup for you, especially if you can get – and keep -both a Krosan Warchief and Molder Slug on the board.

Affinity can beat you with the degenerate draws it’s prone to getting, but if you can keep the Disciples of the Vault off the table and keep them from going Clamp-crazy, you should win. From what testing I’ve done, I’d say the matchup is about 65/35 in favor of the Molder Slug’s team. Please note that there are a few sub-archetypes of the Ravager-Affinity build, from the Blue-centric builds that use Thoughtcast and Mana Leak to the really-really-really-aggro builds that pack a full complement of Atogs and Shrapnel Blasts. Of these, fear the super-aggro versions more.

Vs. Other Clamp-based decks

These matchups turn on the ability to get rid of Clamps early and slow down the weenie engine. Elf-Clamp has a few worrisome cards, primarily the Wirewood Herald engine and Caller of the Claw, so you need to be a little judicious in applying the burn, but your larger beasts and Contested Cliffs enable you to play around this engine. Elves are more of a combo engine than a weenie deck, and breaking the chain isn’t that difficult. Aggro-Black has the advantage of recyclable Zombies, Black removal and a powerhouse in Greater Harvester. My WW/r deck has Shrapnel Blast and more Equipment than these decks to apply more pressure.

The critical key here is to keep the Clamp player from”going off,” either by killing the Clamp early or killing the creature being clamped before it gets equipped. Given the presence of E-Bolt, Starstorm and Naturalize, you should be able to do so fairly consistently.

Of these three decks mentioned above, the one I fear the most is Aggro-Black, given its higher numbers of removal spells and potentially deadly combo in Death Cloud and Greater Harvester. Elves just don’t have the”oomph” to break through, and even I have relegated my attempt to invigorate Weenie White as just below Tier 1 at best. I don’t fear other weenie decks all that much.

Vs. Mono-White Control (w/Urza’s Lands)

Game one is virtually an auto-loss once they get the Urzatron in play. Scoop early once all seems lost to make sure you’ve got time for the rest of the match. Game two all depends upon the Dwarven Blastminer; you get him into play and start nuking lands and the matchup suddenly becomes very favorable. If you don’t, however, it doesn’t look good. This matchup may not be one you run into very much, and it all comes down to the sideboard. You’ll almost always lose game one and then depend upon your land destruction elements to carry the day post-sideboarding. By my fuzzy math, game one is about 10/90 against, post-sideboard goes to about 70/30 for, which averages about 50/50. I think. I’m sure some wizened statistician can correct me. It’s not an unwinnable matchup, but I wouldn’t call it favorable.

Vs. MWC (w/o Urza’s Lands)

This version of the deck packs almost no non-basics; hence, your Blastminers won’t do you much good. Game one, like before, is very difficult to win. Wrath = bad news, and they pack fliers with high toughness values. Post sideboard, the Blastminers won’t help you much but Flashfires and Silklash Spider will. Leave Naturalize in the deck for Sacred Ground. Silklash Spider knocks down all the tough fliers, and this version won’t recover very quickly from Flashfires. But with tons of global removal and cards like Wing Shards and Pulse of the Fields to worry about, it’s a slow hard road for R/G. I haven’t tested against this version excessively, but I don’t see this matchup getting any better than 40/60 at best, unless you want to find a way to make Sulfuric Vortex fit into the deck.

Vs. Ponza

Yuck. If they drop a turn 1 Slith Firewalker and you don’t have the E-Bolt handy to kill it fast, this game is all but over. Combine that with land destruction and potent burn, this matchup is virtually unwinnable. R/G Control has sacrificed much of what enables other R/G decks to hang with a deck like Ponza in order to beat more fearsome decks, and has lost the ability to compete with Ponza. This is a horrible, horrible matchup for Spartan.dec.

Vs. R/G Land kill/Aggro

As above, you’ve lost the land destruction element, ergo, the older, less evolved version (and I use that term loosely) has more game here. They can ramp up to their larger creatures faster with added mana acceleration, use Stone Rain and Creeping Mold to retard your mana base, and keep R/G Control on its heels until it’s firmly in control. It’s not an unwinnable matchup by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s not one in the favorable category.

Vs. Mono-Black Control

Fortunately, this deck has fallen from the graces of Tier 1, so you won’t see it very much. This is very good, since it’s not a great matchup for you, depending upon what kinds of instant-speed removal they’re packing. Terror + Dark Banishing = extremely bad. Echoing Decay + Smother = not so bad. Even the horror of Oblivion Stone can be played around with Krosan Warchief.

Since this version of R/G has sacrificed the speed you normally associate with the two colors and the land destruction elements, that gives the slower MBC time to power up to its suite of spells and burn you out with Consume Spirit. Combine that with all the effective instant-speed removal and you have a tough game ahead of you. And the sideboard doesn’t even have much to offer; perhaps Decree of Annihilation to set them back a few turns. The matchup never gets better than 50/50; in fact, I’d categorize it as much worse than that.

You can see the major hole in the deck: it’s focused, but narrow – extremely narrow. It has lots of game against the Big Three, but other decks that are considered Tier 2 just wreck it. Against many decks, all that artifact and enchantment removal means you have upwards of fourteen dead cards.

This deck isn’t Stanford. Or Lehigh. It falls more along the lines of Arizona, perhaps – talented, dangerous, but kind of overlooked this year.

(BTW, if you want Prognosticator Dave’s picks for the tournament, look for sleepers like BYU and Manhattan in the feared 12 seed slot and teams like Oklahoma State, Maryland and Gonzaga to make deep runs in the tournament – place your bets now and thank me later.)