The Road to Regionals – Battle of Wits

Magic the Gathering Regionals!

Steve tackles everyone’s favorite 230+ card deck… Battle of Wits! Will this cardboard behemoth cut a swathe through the unprepared at the coming Regionals? Steve thinks it might…

It’s tough to build a good control deck. There are simply too many good cards to choose from. My solution? Throw them all together, wrap them up, tie a little bow for decoration, and battle with Battle of Wits.

Obviously I can’t claim that this list is completely optimized, or even that I have the right number of colors. But I will state with conviction that I’m on the right track. Why do I feel as though I’m on the right track? It’s actually pretty simple; I have pretty much all of the best cards in my colors.

I actually had to make a ton of cuts from the deck, and even after doing so I’m about 8-10 cards over the 235 total I was aiming for. The hardest cuts were Kokusho, the Evening Star; Keiga, the Tide Star; and Ribbons of Night. After that I had to chop Bloodletter Quill, Confiscate, Threads of Disloyalty, Shadow of Doubt, Distress, Eye of Nowhere, Convolute, Stinkweed Imp, Debtors’ Knell, Night of Souls’ Betrayal, Rend Flesh, Bottled Cloister, Eradicate, Kiku’s Shadow, Quicken, Darkblast, Murmurs From Beyond, Peer Through Depths, Horobi’s Whisper, and Ghost-Lit Stalker.

Between manually writing down the second half of the decklist, (fortunately, I was able to sucker my friend Luis into writing the first half before he realized what was up) Sharpie-ing up a copy of the deck and now typing it, I’ve spent literally over an hour transcribing. If that isn’t dedication, I don’t know what is.

Obviously, there’s a consistency issue that arises when running 200-odd cards in your deck, but it’s not as devastating as you might think. The cards are incredibly redundant and, interestingly enough, there isn’t much of a drop off in card quality compared to other top performing Standard decks. The only place where I noticed a significant difference in card quality is in the draw spells. While the deck does feature all the usual suspects in Compulsive Research, Phyrexian Arena, and Tidings it also has Counsel of the Soratami and Consult the Necrosages filling up some of the required slots.

Due to the countless permutations of draws that Battle can get, it’s quite difficult to get an accurate representation of how the matchups work without extensive playtesting. The best that I can offer is to tell you how my limited number of games played out, and what the key factors were in those games.

G/W decks present a pretty easy matchup as all of the Battle’s answers are quite efficient against them, but far more significant than the effectiveness of Battle’s supporting cast is G/W’s lack of fast enough threats or good enough answers to an early Battle. The most interesting part of my online match against Glare was when my opponent played what I can only assume was a sideboarded Pithing Needle… of course, the card (the Brainspoil) he named was nowhere to be found. Even if he had hit with his Needle, my Brainspoil would have been more than sufficient to kill a Loxodon Hierarch.

Blue-based control matchups are certainly winnable, and depending on their build it can become quite favorable. Battle’s threat and answer diversity does spades for you, as it forces your opponent to respect the potential not only for powerful proactive spells and turns, but also for pretty much any answer imaginable.

*Begin tangent*

Threat diversity is often used to considerable effect in very limited doses, but it can be even more effective when done in a dramatic fashion. Usually extensive diversity is impractical, as there are optimal cards that the deck’s builder wants to draw on a regular basis. The oversimplified goal of most deckbuilders is to compile a stack of optimal cards with optimal synergy and optimal matchups in order to build the optimal deck.

Jim Roy famously (or infamously) qualified for Pro Tour Honolulu with a Zoo deck that contained an almost uncountable one- and two-ofs between the maindeck and sideboard. Obviously the fact that he had a very strong quality of cards to work with allowed him to succeed with such an eclectic, non-tutor deck. If there were a tangible drop-off in quality, this style would be completely impractical, but for Jim, his most expensive cost for promoting diversity was the risk of non-synergistic hands: the Evasive Actions, Armadillo Cloak, Firebolt hand is a pretty unappealing opener.

The sideboard is even more striking than the maindeck, as the board is far more eclectic than that found in a Wish (Cunning, Living etc.) based deck. I don’t think that the diverse sideboard has the same advantage that the diverse main has, as there are usually specific cards that can do a lot to swing specific matchups.

(Opinionated, only mildly substantiated paragraph coming up.)

The more that I think about it, the more that it strikes me that Battle should (might) be substantially favored against dedicated control. Battle is almost always in the driver’s seat as, and I don’t mean to repeat myself, there are just so many potentially devastating plays that it’s impossible to get a read on when to make a play. This allows battle to pick its spots and determine when the game will move onto an attrition phase that should favor Battle as the 12 Train of Thoughts (Muddle and Infiltrator) enable you to fully restock.

*End tangent*

The Zoo matchup is pretty tough as their clock is incredibly fast. It’s possible to beat them if you have a turn 4-5 Battle, or if you draw an overabundance of answers to keep them off of an early kill, allowing Battle’s considerable card advantage to take over.

When you’re playing against beatdown don’t be afraid to just cast an early Dimir Infiltrator. Sure, it’s not the most impressive play, but it can work overtime stopping Kird Apes.

The B/W Husk deck presents about the toughest matchup imaginable. Not only do they have a very fast clock that is supplemented by hand disruption, they also have 8 disenchant effects to prevent an early win with Battle of Wits. I can’t imagine that Battle could take more than a 3rd of the games against Husk, making it quite difficult to take a match, especially after boarding.

Other B/W decks are easier, but a lot of the same rules apply. Not having to worry about the combo elements allows you to go for a powerful play, such as Persecute, to prevent resistance to the card Battle of Wits.

Heartbeat is another tough matchup, and the outcome depends almost exclusively upon who is able to “go off” first. Unfortunately, Battle’s considerable amount of creature removal is dead in this matchup, but that can potentially be clawed back with Pithing Needles, Extractions and any number of cards that allow for a sizable advantage against the blazing fast Heartbeat deck.

R/B aggro isn’t as tough as it might seem: their lack of burn and discard effects that can hit a specific target (duress or castigate type cards) not only allow a quick Battle of Wits kill, but the more consistently relevant result of that is that it also allows you to tap out for proactive spells and kill their threats on the following turn minimal fear of a game breaking spell.

Magnivore is winnable, as you can get a very Mono Blue control style draw, but even with that taken into account the matchup is fairly, possibly greatly, unfavorable.

The most significant change that I would consider is going up to 4 Nightmare Void, as they are probably the best cards to help insure your Battle of Wits free passage.

If you want to build the deck with additional colors, you should take a look at the Ravnica legal build that both Akira Asahara and Masahiko Morita piloted to top 8 finishes at “The Finals,” a very prestigious Japanese tournament.

Steve Sadin

It’s entirely possible that I got far too wrapped up in this deck and have, as a result, developed a biased opinion based on a relatively small sample size of games. As that might be the case, I could not recommend this deck in good conscience. What I can do is recommend that, if this deck interests you in the slightest, you should give it a shot, even if you don’t run this in a tournament. It’s an interesting and enjoyable deck to run that not only offers high entertainment value but also gives you the opportunity for many intricate decisions.

Perhaps the greatest reason not to play Battle is the intense difficulty associated with sufficiently randomizing it in a timely fashion. It’s basically impossible to sideboard, as you have to spend your entire allotted time shuffling. Tutoring also eats up some time but fortunately, the deck is constructed in such a way that your tutors will almost always lead to a Battle which, depending on what your opponent is up to, should end the game one way or the other.