The Swasey Shuffle – The Secret Brewing Process And U/R Control

What’s the best way to brew a new deck? Larry takes you through his process and shows you how he created his new U/R Grim Lavamancer Control deck for Standard. If you’re a fan of counterburn, try this at Indy this weekend.

Now that Innistrad is around the corner I feel like it’s my duty to take the fledgling deck designers under my blue and green colored wings (okay, that metamorph—oops, metaphor—may have been a little too over the top). Let’s pretend that didn’t happen, and I’ll start over.

When a new format comes out, people have to design new decks. That’s the truth of the matter. So, what’s the best way to brew a deck? You put on your robe and wizard hat and get to brewing!

Putting On My Robe and Wizard Hat

The first step is to check out the spoiler for the new set right here on StarCityGames.com. Once you have the spoiler up, I find it helpful to make a list of cards that stand out and cards that were very powerful in the previous block (in this case, Scars of Mirrodin). I find that this gives you the building blocks of the format as well as potentially powerful cards to be aware of. As soon as the spoiler was up, I made my list and added notes next to each card as to why I was writing it down. The result ended up looking like this, taken directly from my notepad…

Thrun, the Last Troll (very good vs. Snapcaster Mage decks)

Koth of the Hammer

Hero of Bladehold (amazing in Scars Block Constructed)

Swords! (Sword of Feast and Famine and Sword of War and Peace)

Surgical Extraction (people will be getting cute with the graveyard)

Birthing Pod (didn’t lose a lot, new goodies to play with)

Tempered Steel (Block Constructed and Standard spillover, loses almost nothing)

Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas (maybe good without Valakut?)

Entomber Exarch (could be good discard, set is lacking)

Invisible Stalker (very good with Swords, impossible to deal with sans sweepers/edicts)

Liliana of the Veil (edict effect, good vs. control, 3-drop planeswalker = good?)

Snapcaster Mage (seems very good, also just a 2/1 with flash if needed)

Grim Lavamancer (invalidates a lot of creatures, good in unknown format. Did people forget about him?)

Phyrexian Metamorph (answers legends and copies Swords in a pinch)

Phantasmal Image (answers legends, Sun Titan gets it back)

Heartless Summoning (Perma-Lotus Cobra? Heck yeah! Acidic Slime + Titans? Yessss)

Skaab Ruinator (jumping through hoops is always fun)

Mental Misstep (Good? Bad? Need to be aware it exists)

Grand Architect (maybe a deck without Valakut around? Probably not)

Kuldotha Forgemaster (more like Kuldotha Boremaster!)

Consecrated Sphinx (the Jace of Block, maybe the Jace of new Standard?)

Titans! (Yep, still in the format)

Puresteel Paladin (started to creep into Standard, was very good in Block. Lost nothing)

Torpor Orb (Snapcaster Mage is shut off, anything else?)

Spellskite (still a card)

Geist of Saint Traft (2/2 but swings for at least four damage, dodges removal)

Ratchet Bomb (All the flip cards are blown up by Ratchet Bomb)

Mana Leak (Hello, Hero of Bladehold, have you met my bear Tib—oops!—my counterspell?)

Phew! Now that I have my list, the next step is to see which cards stand out the most and which cards can be safely ignored. Clearly all of these cards are ones to keep in mind, but the all-stars on this list that scream “build around me!” are the blue and red cards. Maybe it’s my not-so-secret love affair with U/R decks, but I find it very calming to always have answers to whatever my opponent plays. This leads me to want to build around three of the cards on the list. Grim Lavamancer, Mana Leak, and Snapcaster Mage.

Before I get into the next step in the brewing process, I think it’s important to figure out how we arrived at U/R over all the other cards in the deck. Werewolves as a tribe were immediately out because Ratchet Bomb actually just wrecks the whole archetype. I didn’t want to make a Birthing Pod deck with an unknown format because those decks are very specifically tuned to beat decks. If there isn’t an answer at a certain converted mana cost, then you’re most likely treading water and slowly drowning. It’s also important to remember that Ancient Grudge and Steel Sabotage are in the format, invalidating any and all artifact strategies I’d want to try.

This leaves the cards that are all fragile or tough to build around, perhaps both. I’m all for innovation, but for the first decks of the format, I want to do something consistent. I want to know what my plan A is and my plan B. So what deck has a solid plan A and a solid plan B? Why, U/R of course!

The Boys Are Back In Town

What draws me to U/R? Lately I’ve been playing U/R Splinter Twin on Magic Online a lot, since the current Standard format online is in the weird stage where we have to wait for the digital release a few weeks after the paper release. What I noticed is that I only won about half my games, if that, with the combo kill (Splinter Twin and Deceiver Exarch combining to make effectively infinite 1/4 creatures with haste for those not in the know), and the other half I was winning with random Exarch attacks and Grim Lavamancer activations.

Post-board was even stranger, as I would often board out some of the combo for Dragonmaster Outcast. I don’t know if you’ve ever played with Dragonmaster Outcast, but that guy is insane! Secretly he’s going to be the card I miss the most in this new format (followed by Vengevine, Preordain, and the fetchlands). Oftentimes games would go very long post-board, and the opponent would have a variety of hate cards. These hate cards ranged from Spellskite to Nature’s Claim. What’s the best way of sidestepping this hate? By ignoring it and having a solid plan B.

Winning with this strategy (value creating red one-drops) was exactly how I wanted to play this deck. Now is the perfect time to be playing a Grim Lavamancer deck (yes, without fetchlands unfortunately) with Mana Leaks. Almost every creature that is in Standard does not match up well with Grim Lavamancer. The creatures that do match up favorably? They don’t like Mana Leak at all.

So, sounds like we broke the format, right? Well, not exactly. Sometimes things don’t always go according to plan. That’s where our best friend Snapcaster Mage helps. Already use that Mana Leak on a Tempered Steel and your opponent is tapping out for a Hero of Bladehold? Never fear! Mystic Snake in a box is here! Flash in Snapcaster Mage, target Mana Leak, then counter the Hero! Easy as pie.

“But wait! Surely you can’t mean to play two awesome yet anti-synergistic cards in the same deck, can you? You must be crazy!” is something I bet more than a few of you are saying. The answer? Yes I’m crazy. Crazy like a fox!

Crazy Like a Fox

The reason that I feel comfortable playing such a horrendous nonbo (non-combo, another example is Torpor Orb and Squadron Hawk) is that both cards are amazing by themselves and still passable when used together. Sometimes you’ll have to make the tough decisions of saving a specific spell in the graveyard or getting a Lavamancer activation. These scenarios are highly dependent on the situation and the matchup, but they aren’t the end of the world. Sacrifices have to be made to have a powerful deck.

Speaking of having a powerful deck, what else goes in this deck? Well, there are a lot of potential candidates with some being slightly worse than others (I’m looking at you, Disperse). Mainly I want to build this with Grim Lavamancer and Snapcaster Mage in mind. That means a lot of spells and only the best of the best creatures (sorry Goblin Piker, maybe next time).

In order to answer creatures, we want some removal. Incinerate and Shock will do nicely here, although Dismember is something to keep in mind, most likely in the sideboard. Another good idea is some life gain in the form of Batterskull. The reason I like Batterskull over Frost Titan or Inferno Titan (ignoring the lifelink ability of course) is that a lot of people are playing Phantasmal Image instead of Phyrexian Metamorph due to its interaction with Sun Titan. I’d rather not give my opponents Titans for only 1U.

As far as utility spells go, I think adding a few more counters should help if the games go late and Mana Leak becomes a dead counterspell. Some Dissipates fill that role nicely.

Forbidden Alchemy is another good utility card because it can dig to cards that are few in number but very powerful (Volition Reins, Ancient Grudge, and Phyrexian Metamorph). It also adds four cards to the graveyard, which is equivalent to two Lavamancer activations. Speaking of fueling Lavamancer, Gitaxian Probe also does this, and for free (sort of). It’s always nice to have free draw spells and information.

Lastly, Chandra, the Firebrand will fit in very nice with all of these spells. Doubling up on a spell and then casting Snapcaster Mage to double it up again will definitely win games.

After all that, here’s the deck, Disco Inferno

Just a quick note, the sideboard is all speculative. Slagstorm and Ratchet Bomb are your generic sweepers for swarm decks (Tempered Steel, G/W Tokens, Werewolves potentially). Steel Sabotage and Ancient Grudge are for artifact-based decks, those with Tezzeret or for those with Tempered Steel. The third Shock is to help against fast aggressive decks, mostly red decks since Slagstorm and Ratchet Bomb are usually too slow to help fight them. Dismember is for creature decks with slightly beefier creatures that cannot normally be burned out. It can also be used against non-red based creature decks.

I would also take the mana base with a grain of salt; it could definitely use finer tuning. One of my fatal flaws is my lack of experience making mana bases. Mana bases are definitely not one of my fortes (unlike thinking of clever title and subtitle names). The Ghost Quarters are to answer the new lands from Innistrad as well as Inkmoth Nexus.

(Insert Witty Concluding Title Here)

Well, there you have it. My process for making decks. A quick recap…

  1. Go over the spoiler and the “big” block for the Standard format.
  2. Rule out cards that are too metagame dependent
  3. Rule out cards that are extremely vulnerable to hate
  4. Try to reference the last Standard format to see what is viable still
  5. Try to reference the Block format for skeletons of decks
  6. Choose your favorite cards
  7. Brew!

For reference, here was the U/R Splinter Twin deck I took to 20th place in the MOCS (I ended up losing round ten to the eventual winner Gainsay)

As a quick bonus, here is how I would build Pyromancer Ascension for Modern after the bannings.

The goal is the same as last time; you activate your Ascension and then win. The only difference this time is that you trade your amazing draw spells for mediocre ones (Preordain into Serum Visions and Ponder into Sleight of Hand), and you lose Rite of Flame for an infinite combo with Noxious Revival and Manamorphose. Enjoy!

Feel free to contact me on any of the following mediums or by commenting on the article below, I’ll try to respond as soon as I can

krazykirby4 on Magic Online
@krazykirby4 on Twitter
krazykirby AT gmail DOT com