Not too long ago, Tony Coutley wrote:”The red/green/white version [of Astral Slide] is absolutely terrible. Nobody in their right mind should be running it.”
He is wrong. He’s wrong about a lot of things.
Let’s start with Tony’s mana base: He plays only twenty-four lands. Do not fool yourself, Slide is a mana-intensive deck. An opening hand with only two lands can be very risky, and it is a damn shame to skimp on the land count when you can play plenty of cycling and sac lands. Never play fewer than twenty-six lands in Slide.
Coutley also wrote that”there is only one good thing going for the green addition – but it doesn’t really make that much of a difference. Living Wish is a great utility tool useful for grabbing that Aven Cloudchaser, or Auramancer, or even grabbing a Gigapede against the mirror.”
My first three-color version of Slide ran Living Wish, and I quickly discovered that the Wish was too slow and basically Burning Wish could do everything better than it. Granted, there was a dramatic mirror match where I won by Wishing up a timely Pardic Arsonist – but what about enchantment destruction? It takes six mana to Wish up Aven Cloudchaser in order to destroy a single target enchantment. With Burning Wish you can fetch Cleansing Meditation and wipe out all enchantments for the bargain price of five mana.
What other great Living Wish targets are there? Exalted Angel is nice for the kill card. Auramancer can help reclaim a valuable enchantment. Teroh’s Faithful can help you gain four life each turn, but life gain alone rarely wins games. And Cartographer can generate infinite cycling. Only the last target here really appeals to me.
Now let’s look at what Burning Wish can do for you – keep in mind that few creatures or lands in Standard can come close to duplicating these effects: Pyroclasm, Pillage, Recoup, Epicenter, Wildfire, Earthquake, Blaze, Morningtide, Cleansing Meditation, Wrath of God, Ancestral Tribute, and Call of the Herd.
More importantly, Burning Wish doesn’t depend on having Astral Slide already in play and cycling cards in your hand. It is late game and your rogue opponent surprised you with Tranquility after you overextended. How do you win immediately? Burning Wish for Earthquake or Blaze. In short, Burning Wish provides access to more answers and each one is faster and more efficient in terms of mana cost.
I also disagree with Tony Coutley on myriad individual card choices. Granted, Slide does need to have twenty-plus cycling cards to work properly, but this doesn’t justify playing crap like Akroma’s Blessing, Sunfire Balm, and Aura Extraction. Sure, in very particular circumstances casting each of these cards might actually be useful. Personally, I prefer to play spells that are powerful and effective the majority of the time.
I’d like to carry on about Coutley’s deck, but Michael Aitchison already covered it quite well in his article. Thank you for writing such an excellent response. I was planning on doing the same, but you beat me to the punch. Many of Aitchison’s points about Slide are echoed in this column – but I’d like to challenge a few of his points.
While I haven’t seen his deck list I can’t believe that Aitchison only runs two Lightning Rifts in his version. During the tournament I played in just tonight, I lost a match versus U/G Speculation after drawing all four Lightning Rifts and not being able to find another cycling card literally for the life of me. That was a rare moment. Rift and Slide are the core of the deck; each one turns every cycling card into card advantage. To play any fewer than four copies is dangerous versus Duress, Counterspell, and the inevitable stroke of bad luck when your enchantments lurk at the bottom of your library. You must be prepared for all three at any given tournament.
I know that main-decking four Exalted Angels seems like too many; initially, I wanted to rip on Coutley about that, too. But gradually, I’ve actually come over to his side on that point, provided there are sufficient mana sources. Morphing out the Angel against U/G Madness on turn 3 is often game over. It’s also excellent against Red/Green Beats, and Sligh. I can’t think of a single match-up where the Super-Serra is bad. Against Mono-Black and Psychatog, your lifeline and dream plan involves protecting your Exalted Angel with Slide. Doing this quickly and consistently is only realistic when you play the full four copies.
Aitchison also comments that Pyroclasm and Earthquake are not quality targets for Burning Wish. I run both in my sideboard, even through they are somewhat redundant. The ‘Clasm really shines against Sligh and Opposition. Sometimes it also comes in handy for nailing Merfolk Looter – and, with a little luck and good timing, Wild Mongrel and Basking Rootwalla. The Quake isn’t as good versus Wonder. However, I run it primarily as an x-damage late game kill card. Between Exalted Angel and Renewed Faith, the sadomasochistic side of Quake shouldn’t be a problem.
Responses to Zvi Mowshowitz
A third guy has also been writing about Slide lately. You may have heard of him: Zvi Mowshowitz. In general, I defer to Zvi on strategy and deckbuilding, but this time I just can’t do it. His version is slightly faster since it doesn’t use Burning Wish – and wonderful as it is, I have to admit sometimes the tempo loss is fatal. But he runs the full complement of Teroh’s Faithful and Exalted Angel. My big problem with the former is that it is only good when you have Slide in play, and at four mana it’s no bargain. If you’re expecting a metagame that is loaded with Sligh, I guess it makes sense… But Sligh isn’t that popular. Trying to overload the life total to survive Upheaval? I guess that plan makes sense, but there is no way in hell any respectable player with countermagic will let Slide resolve.
Zvi also prefers Starstorm to Wrath of God. Yes, there are those games where Wrath is a dead draw, but Starstorm is expensive mass removal and an expensive cycler. Sure, it does provide a certain amount of flexibility, but Wrath does its job more elegantly and doesn’t ask questions. No saving Wild Mongrel or Basking Rootwalla with pumping. No preventing damage or regenerating. It even handles Psychatog when Mr. Teeth tries to go aggro in the early game.
Here is the version of Slide I’m currently playing. Please note that it is entirely based on and inspired by the deck piloted by Alex Player to first place at the West Virginia State Championship.
The Mana Base
Playing twenty-seven lands has never felt so good, since eleven of them cycle and four of them thin your deck, preventing color screw at the same time. Strangely, I have not seen a single other version that plays City of Brass. Do not leave home without it. Any life loss is negligible thanks to Angels and Faiths and no other single card can make your mana base so drastically more consistent. Critics say that the three-color Slide has mana problems: Don’t believe them; this mana base is rock solid. Between the high land count, Krosan Tuskers, twenty-six cycling cards, and City of Brass I suffer more often from mana screw (lack of lands) than color screw.
On the strategic side, misplaying and mistapping lands is very easy, especially when your game plan involves Burning Wish. Memorize the numbers of each basic land and take that into account when sacking and Tusking through the deck; otherwise, you’ll end up losing one life when there are no valid targets, or paying the rip-off three-mana cycling cost instead of dropping a 6/5 fattie into play.
I’ve already talked quite a bit about the critters. Exalted Angel is the most underrated fattie in Standard; even after all your enchantments have bit the dust or your library has been ripped apart by Haunting Echoes, a single Angel can steal victory. Ensuring an eight-point life swing each attack phase, she can race swarms of weenies – and thanks to Astral Slide, you can ensure that she’ll still be around to block during your opponent’s turn.
Krosan Tusker is the back-up creature plan. Take a deep breath. Put on your best no-nonsense, serious face. Play this deck and you will find yourself casting the Tusker and winning with it. Other times, it will simply be card advantage, mana fixing, deck thinning, and Rift/Slide activation all wrapped in one neat package. That’s all.
Slide and Rift are obvious – four of each, no questions asked.
Even with all the anti-creature spells, Wrath of God is still very necessary and three is the smallest number you can get away with. Sliding and Rifting everything is too mana- and cycling-intensive. In the early- and mid-game, you stymie creature hordes with Rift and Slide; eventually, you Wrath and that’s when you truly take control. Plus, only Wrath can stop the U/G Madness God draw (two Basking Rootwalla, Wild Mongrel, Arrogant Wurm, and Roar of the Wurm by turn four).
Last, but certainly not least, is Burning Wish. I’ll cover this more extensively when I look at individual match-ups, but here are the basics. The Wish lets you cheat. Now you have seven main-deck copies of Wrath of God and six copies of Lay Waste (for Cabal Coffers). You can destroy enchantments in game one without playing cards that are dead in many match-ups (Cleansing Meditation), capitalize on someone’s mana screw (Wildfire), or wash, rinse, and repeat (Recoup).
There’s very little to say here, really. Dipping into green makes it possible to play only the best cycling cards. Each spell has a reasonable and solid effect for its hard casting cost.
This is another strategic aspect that makes Slide challenging: It’s easy to get looked into narrow thinking. 90% of the time, you cycle these spells. Knowing when to cast them the hard way to the greatest effect is what separates the amateur Slide player from the veteran. Earlier tonight, I cast Slice and Dice to nuke a pesky Wild Mongrel. Later on, I managed to Wish for the wrong spell and throw the game, but I definitely made the right play versus the Mongrel.
Lay Waste is clearly the least impressive of the bunch. Four mana to blow up a single land is pretty lousy… But even this slight ability to destroy lands comes in very handy in certain matchups, like Mono Black Control and Mirari’s Wake. On a more fundamental level, the colorless cycling cost is very handy in a three-color deck. I’d play a fourth, but it’s always nice to have a cycling spell to Wish for.
Having access to green makes the board so much better, as if Krosan Tusker wasn’t reason enough. I think Ray of Revelation is the best sideboard card in Standard right now. Having eight ways to Disenchant targets versus Opposition, Mirari’s Wake, and the Mirror match is huge.
Compost is needed to combat Mono Black and its hateful sideboarding tactics. It also offers some hope – not much more than a glimmer, really – versus Psychatog, since the new versions dip more heavily into black than their predecessors. Compost is also helpful versus the random Braids or land destruction variants that pop up every now and then.
Everything else is a target for the Wishes. I used to run two copies of Cleansing Meditation, but it seems like overkill given all the Rays. Plus, in game one you can actually cast the same Meditation five times if you Wish for Recoup, Recoup it, flashback Recoup, then Wish Recoup back and do it again.
Everything else is pretty obvious. I feel really good about this sideboard. I think it’s about one or two cards away from perfect, and those are slots that should shift according to the metagame anyway.
Analysis of the Matchups
There are lots of different versions of this deck, so these comments are pretty general – and they’re certainly not the last word. Your God hand of turn 2 Rift, turn 3 Slide simply destroys U/G. Slice and Dice and Wrath are also excellent. Their mana base is inconsistent, so try to make it even worse with Lay Waste and/or Wildfire. Unless they get an insane draw and you never see enchantments, this match should be pretty easy.
Don’t treat this match casually; they can get off to a fast start then use Glory to ram through the final points of damage. You pretty much follow the same plan as against U/G, but the W/G mana base is more stable, so Lay Waste virtually always cycled. Remember that Sliding out Phantom Centaur refills its +1/+1 counters.
Wrath of God is really the most important spell. You can Burning Wish for Morningtide to handle Glory, but in the late game going for Recoup (double-Wrath) is usually a better idea. I like to leave the Wishes in, since Morningtide and Recoup can both be important, but only in specific circumstances. Plan on winning without enchantments because chances are that you’ll be facing four Rays in games two and three. The Recoup/Tide plan can make things easier, but more realistically look for an Angel to go all the way.
Without Glory, Ray of Revelation, and the explosiveness of madness creatures, R/G Beatdown is generally a much easier match-up. The big difference, of course, is the presence of burn spells. If possible hold onto Renewed Faith so it can be hard cast in emergencies. And don’t be too caviler with Exalted Angel, because it can be fried surprisingly easy with Volcanic Hammer and Shock/Firebolt. Protecting it is the fastest and easiest victory path. Sideboarding simply aims to overload on the creature kill.
This matchup can be over before it begins. Do not screw up playing a single land or spell in the early game, and don’t get greedy. If Cartographer is all you’ve got, throw it out there as a blocker. Burning Wish for Pyromancy ASAP. Once Wrath of God or Slice and Dice get cast you should be able to take control, but if possible only do this with Slide or Rift backup to handle Blistering Firecat. With siding you simply aim for raw speed. A smart opponent will have Lightning Rifts of his/her own to bring in. But you can’t assume pass up the opportunity to speed up your deck. Sideboarding is identical to that of the R/G match-up.
Remember that you can get locked out of sorcery-speed spells as early as turn 4; having Lightning Rift or Slice and Dice in your opening hand fundamentally determines the first game. Seriously consider throwing your hand back if neither is present. However, if you do have one of those two cards this match-up is a breeze. Simply keep the board clean of creatures and Lay Waste any troublesome Squirrel Nests. As for sideboarding, this is one of those matches where you really appreciate green mana and Ray of Revelation.
This is without a doubt your hardest matchup. Countermagic and Upheaval are the bane of your existence. At the beginning of the match, give your opponent’s deck the Jedi death cut to make sure both Upheavals are buried on the bottom. As Mike Flores recently pointed out, in this matchup you are the beatdown and Tog is the control deck. You cannot afford to sit back and build up massive amounts of mana. There are two plans, and both of them involve a tight – though not impossible – races versus the Upheaval clock. Plan one is to resolve Rift on turn 2 and shoot Lightning as fast as possible at your opponent’s head. You need to apply enough pressure so that flashing back Deep Analysis is not an option. Plan number two involves resolving Slide, morphing out the Angel and protecting her.
Notice that this plan involves resolving two spells rather than one? That’s why it’s plan B. Sideboarding is ugly.
Basically, you transform into a real bad land destruction deck and try to maximize speed and tempo. Meanwhile, the Tog player will be bringing in Duress and possibly Haunting Echoes, making a tough match-up virtually impossible. Looking on the bright side, the Angel plan gets stronger since Mr. Teeth probably dropped black removal spells.
Mirari’s Wake (Cunning and Burning)
The two versions are very different. Brian Kibler Burning Wish version runs only one Mountain, making it especially vulnerable to Lay Waste. Your first and foremost Wish target is Cleansing Meditation, with the second being Recoup (Meditation #2 and #3). Wishing up a Wildfire is also pretty brutal. The Cunning Wake version is nastier since it plays more counters. All you can really do is follow the same plan and aim Lay Waste at Islands. Sideboarding helps immensely. Dead, slow cards go out and enchantment hate and land destruction come in.
I’ll assume that we’re talking about Coutley’s version, since in his words it’s”the best deck in Standard right now.” Remember that Slide and Rift are activated when anyone cycles a card; you have more lands, and that will work massively in your favor. Don’t play an enchantment unless you have plans for it. If you overextend, your opponent will make you pay with Cleansing Meditation. Just play lands and concentrate on handling the seven real threats: Angels and Rifts. You will win the long game. Why? Let me count the ways:
1) Extra copy of Lightning Rift
2) Card advantage with Tusker
3) More real threats (Angels, Rifts, and Tuskers)
4) Using Recoup to cast Cleansing Meditation five times
5) Better library thinning thanks to Tusker and sac lands
6) Mana base less vulnerable to mana-screw
Sideboarding makes the match even more brutal. I’m still figuring out the optimal card swaps, but here’s what has been good to me lately. Though taking the Wraths out seems right at first thought, it turns out that you need them to cope with opposing Angels.
Even though they have tons of creature removal that is dead, this matchup can still be quite difficult. I once lost a Compost to turn 1 Duress and a Rift to turn 2 Duress. The Mind Sludge/Haunting Echoes combo is also a killer. The simple fact is that until you manage to play Slide, all of their creature removal is quite effective versus Angels. In order to win, you really need the turn 2 Rift or turn 4 protected Angel. Once they get Mirari on the board and the Corrupts start flying, you’re basically finished. More than any matchup, Burning Wish earns its keep here – and making the right choice determines the outcome of entire games. If you’re on the road to victory, then take it defensively and Morningtide to prevent a devastating Echoes. But if your opponent is light on land, it’s much better to go for the throat with Wildfire. If you need a faster fix and only have six lands in play, grab Lay Waste and get rid of Cabal Coffers. Remember that the Wish can grab cards that have been removed from the game by Echoes. Compost makes a big difference.
Wrapping It Up
Astral Slide is a deck that forces whoever is piloting it to constantly make decisions. More than any other deck in Standard your success is directly related to your playing skill. Slide is also the only truly new and original archetype to emerge from Onslaught and a strange creature at that – a control deck that doesn’t require that the player say those dreaded words:”I’ll counter that.” More importantly, cycling like crazy through your deck, morphing creatures, and Wishing up spells is just fun.
So if you haven’t tried Slide yet, I highly recommend giving it a shot. And if you’re smart you’ll play the three-color version.
Take it easy,