Top of the Mountain: Your MD5 Cheat Sheet

No, I am not going to give you sample lists for all of the basic decks you can expect in the upcoming MD5. You can find those in anybody else’s article anywhere else. I wouldn’t be making the decks myself anyway (and if I were, I don’t know what use they would be to you for testing purposes). Instead, I am going to fast track you to the pinnacle of MD5 Inevitability.

No, I am not going to give you sample lists for all of the basic decks you can expect in the upcoming MD5. You can find those in anybody else’s article anywhere else. I wouldn’t be making the decks myself anyway (and if I were, I don’t know what use they would be to you for testing purposes). Instead, I am going to fast track you to the pinnacle of MD5 Inevitability.

You see, Block Constructed formats typically come down to a single Inevitable board position that trumps every other strategy (or at least every other viable strategy). Sometimes this Inevitable board position is a Natural one, and sometimes it is the result of anticipating the opponents’ potential board positions so well that you know exactly what puzzle pieces to assemble in order to win a long game; oftentimes it exists in the”best deck”, though as a season progresses, predator decks often rise up to specifically beat decks headed towards these otherwise unbeatable plans. Confused? Let me run some down:

Ice Age/Alliances – Jokulhaups + Ivory Gargoyle

While GargleHaups didn’t end Ice Age/Alliances as the best deck, this board position would beat everything, from CounterPost to even mighty Necropotence. It was actually Necro’s job to beat GargleHaups before they could set up this Inevitability, though holding Swamp, Dark Ritual, Dystopia could buy a lot of time.

Mirage/Visions/WeatherlightSerrated Biskelion + Vodalian Illusionist + Ophidian

Unless your opponent was playing Sandsipoise, this was pretty much a game over position for every deck. It wasn’t exactly easy to put together, but individual parts were so good that the position was Inevitable for most long games. You could go Boomerang into Ophidian (and probably Man-o’-War) and win right there, or just get Biskelion or just get Illusionist and buy a ton of time while setting up the other pieces. Kill at your leisure with whatever you feel like. Nonconformist Adrian Sullivan favored Manta Ray, while the team of Schneider and Kibler beat down with the always saucy (and ultra-efficient) Waterspout Djinn.

Urza’s Block – Opposition + Deranged Hermit; Grim Monolith + Morphling

Opposition + Deranged Hermit beat just about everything at the beginning of Urza’s Block and in towards the meat of the season; only an inconsistent pre-Sabre Bargain deck could kill the deck before it got its rocks off. Later in the summer, predator decks sprung up that were designed either to beat U/G before it could set up or operate with the lock in play (e.g. Red siding Fire Ants). In the last few weeks of Urza’s Block, PatrickJ.dec (a.k.a. Accelerated Blue) became the uncontested best deck (even translating to not just Standard but Extended!) by setting up an inevitable board position as early as turn 3 (i.e. that’s what happens when you make bomb rares and don’t have very good permission in a format).

Masques Block – Mageta the Lion + Parallax Wave/Seal of Cleansing/Story Circle; Blinding Angel + Cho-Manno’s Blessing/Wishmonger

At the beginning of Masque’s Block season, we started with subtle advantages keying off of main-deck Rebel Informer and/or Reverent Mantra for board control and racing, respectively. The thing is that even though White was the best, its spot control wasn’t great, and even decks with these advantages would eventually fail against Mageta the Lion. So it became the central focus of the best deck to generate Mageta the Lion advantage; that meant playing more lands and more Magetas in order to hit the Lion on five with consistency. When it became obvious for everyone to play with this strategy in mind, the focus changed to include killing the opponent’s Mageta the Lion with cards like Afterlife, while protecting one’s own with Parallax Wave and Seal of Cleansing.

No deck in Masques Block could reasonably compete with steady mana development and Story Circle flowing into Mageta on the board. The most fully evolved version discarded Rebels altogether in order to play more Mageta support cards, including proxy Lions in Blinding Angel (with Blinding Angel + Cho-Manno’s Blessing on Blue arguably better against some decks than Mageta himself).

Invasion Block – Desolation Angel + 0-2 permanents

Invasion block waffled around for a while, with the Desolation Angel deck eventually becoming purely dominant (though a case can be made for Domain, I don’t know that it is a good case). As these things are wont to do (as with decks like High Tide or Necropotence) the metagame attempted to realign itself to hate out the best strategy. The Angel deck eventually evolved past cards like Probe that were easy to handle to meta card advantage like Hobble that could be used even if the opponent had successfully set up a Dodecapod defense.

Because dedicated burn was rare, it was actually pretty easy to set up an opponent with Recoil, Vindicate, and Gerrard’s Verdict per normal, let the opponent get even a pronounced advantage on the board, run a Rout at the end of his turn, untap and play Desolation Angel against a naked board and swing to victory with almost no chance of defeat. Yawgmoth’s Agenda and post-Angel lands were nice, but hardly necessary.

Odyssey Block – Mirari’s Wake + an untap; Mirari’s Wake + Mirari + Cunning Wish

Simply untapping with Mirari’s Wake in play was a de facto win in most cases, but when that became apparent (even given designer Pat Chapin’s own dismal finish with Burning Wake’s debut), players eventually honed their Wake decks in order to generate more perfect control positions. It was almost literally impossible to lose with the latter three card combination set up, because against damage you could create an infinite Moment’s Peace, and against control you could set up infinite card advantage (which would be easy to exploit as you were no longer bound by mana). Mirror matches were won and long games broken by patience and correct strategy; no matter how tasty that Compulsion looked before the Big Bads came down, you had to save your removal for Mirari or Mirari’s Wake if you ever planned to break out.

Onslaught Bock – Kamahl, Fist of Krosa + Slice and Dice/Starstorm + an untap

This was the dream. I wish I had made GGGRRR prior to GP: Detroit because it was fabulous against the dominant R/W decks and would have been more than serviceable against the clunky Goblin decks that either didn’t have Siege-Gang Commander or didn’t know how Form of the Dragon worked. As better Goblin decks emerged (especially those playing or siding Rorix Bladewing and Temple of the False God), GGGRRR was revealed to be too slow, though even quite late in the format, Yann Hamon did a great job in London with a similar strategy setting up a Silvos kill via Cabal Conditioning, sitting behind a Silklash Spider.

Which brings us to MD5:

I am pretty sure my conclusion as to the Inevitably dominant board position in MD5 isn’t what you think I am going to say. It’s not a board position that can be easily stopped by an Annul, or one that should necessarily fail against an unrelenting wave of green artifact defense during developmental turns. While many of the above block board positions are merely nigh unbeatable, the MD5 dream setup is as far as I can as close as you can get: if you lose with it in play, it is either your fault or your opponent already had you and just wanted to see you go through the motions, or plays with cards that no one is expecting.

Here goes – Bringer of the White Dawn + Mindslaver (in the graveyard) + an untap

Once you set this board position up, your opponent will typically have a maximum of four turns to live; sure, he could have already Entwined out a Platinum Angel and Leonin Abunas or something, but that won’t let him live so much as stave off the loss until you crib together the proper necessities for victory. During his few turns, depending on his deck, your opponent could very well destroy all his own permanents and/or discard his hand (if not something more humiliating, which is also a possibility).

I’m serious when I say that you can’t lose. It’s not like an Extended Life deck where you can successfully go infinite only to lose to a more infinite Aluren deck or something: I can only think of one reasonable way you can lose if you set up Bringer + Mindslaver and a lone untap (I mean unless you draw an extra card or screw up or something). Your opponent should never have untapped mana on your turn and should never have access to something fatal along the lines of a Ravager + Disciple that doesn’t require mana to operate. If such a combination would be fatal and you probably should never have gotten off your board position anyway, and if it would only be conditionally fatal, you should always be able to do something like sacrifice the Ravager to itself. You will take any number of terrible turns for him, and most times, you should be able to just bash in with your Bringer four times until he is dead.

Before we get too far in, I know that Manuel Bucher won GP: Zurich with exactly this combination of cards. But it was sort of an afterthought out of his sideboard. What you find in many Block formats is that archetype decks border the Inevitable board positions, and over the course of a developing format, move further and further away from their original configurations towards the board setups that win the most over the long haul. Like in Mir/Vis/Lite, you had Blue decks that were mostly beatdown decks with Man-o’-War (clearly one of the best cards).

Dave Price was probably the first player to include Ophidian as a beatdown creature, perhaps two weeks in. Immediately Ophidian went into every Blue deck. Then by the time GP: Toronto hit, Schneider and Kibler ran a configuration that maximized the times Ophidian would hit by considering a large number of complimentary cards. In Invasion Block, you had essentially Dromar control decks that subbed Desolation Angel for Dromar himself (whether or not that was a good choice is moot).

Eventually these players realized that it was better to deny the opponent resources in order to successfully lay Desolation Angel (which was a win in and of itself) rather than to play a control/card advantage game wherein they sacrificed most of their advantage anyway; the reactive permission left in favor of positional advantage cards that made it okay to tap every turn up to the Angel turn (Gerrard’s Verdict, Recoil, etc.). In this sense, we can appreciate that Bucher had the combination, but jump past the arbitrary threat element and refocus solely on the unbeatable Bringer + Mindslaver element.

At which point we implement the tools from How to Make a Deck:

What is our overall goal?

What are our design constraints?

Our overall goal is to untap with a Bringer of the White Dawn in play and a Mindslaver in our graveyard. Just because it’s easier, let’s start with the binned Mindslaver.

We can get a Mindslaver in the graveyard by casting and using one, but that’s boring. First of all, many would consider that play a conclusory strategy in and of itself (the distinction essentially the same as that between untapping with Mirari’s Wake in play as opposed to operating active Mirari, Mirari’s Wake, and Cunning Wish). Not that there is anything wrong with smashing someone with a Mindslaver the old fashioned way… but it takes ten mana. So let’s assume that we want to drop Mindslaver.

It’s fine for us to get hit with a Shattered Dreams or Wrench Mind on the early turns, but we can’t really assume our opponents are going to play narrow Black discard spells in order to facilitate our strategy. That means that our first choice is to go with Blue for Thirst for Knowledge and Thought Courier (or even Pulse of the Grid). Thirst for Knowledge is a good card in and of itself that is showing up in more and more decks, and Thought Courier is a reprint of a card that has been everywhere on the spectrum from alternate or support staff to broken enabler of the best deck in a format… I’m guessing it will be reasonably good in MD5, and it certainly has synergy with discarding Mindslaver.

So the other side of the goal is how do we get Bringer of the White Dawn into play. Obviously we don’t want to pay retail for the Bringer. He costs a prohibitive amount of mana, especially in a format defined by Cranial Plating and Shrapnel Blast. There are two ways we can get him out post haste:

We can dump him with Thought Courier and Thirst for Knowledge while setting up our combination (planning to reanimate him later), or we can pay a rainbow to get him out at the discounted converted mana cost of five; in either case it is best if we already have the Mindslaver in the graveyard. Which option we follow is going to be defined by the next chunk of questions:

What are the limitations to our strategy?

Our strategy is simple, but requires a reasonable amount of setup in order for successful implementation. The main issue is that we have to be alive on turn 5-6 (assuming mana acceleration and drawing into our combination) so that we can win with it. For that reason, I think that Black is the better compliment to Blue than Green (despite the fact that Green can Channel out a Bringer one turn faster). Now I am not naysaying Green entirely, and it is quite possible that a superior U/G build will be developed by one of you creative StarCityGames.com denizens out there. But for my purposes, it seems like this should be the core:

4 Mindslaver

4 Beacon of Unrest

4 Thirst for Knowledge

4 Thought Courier

4 Bringer of the White Dawn

As I mentioned earlier, you can also run Pulse of the Grid to set up your graveyard, but I doubt that there will be room. I’m guessing you will have a maximum of four additional slots to finish out the deck. Most of these are going to have to be defensive, given the nature of the format. I would almost certainly play with Condescend because of its dual abilities of keeping you alive digging for your board setup. Annul is an automatic because of Ironworks and even Affinity (and probably has play against almost any deck). My friend BDM also suggested Shattered Dreams, but as fast as that card is, this is a proactive formula deck and that card doesn’t strip answers like Condescend that can ruin our day. Almost certainly we will want something to kill a threat already in play, some mana acceleration, and very likely Serum Visions as well.

Now we can go about listing all the cards we like in anticipation of narrowing that list down to the 36 or so we will actually be able to play:

Aether Spellbomb

Chrome Mox

Leaden Myr

Oblivion Stone

Pentad Prism

Scrabbling Claws

Silent Arbiter

Silver Myr

Solemn Simulacrum

Talisman of Dominance

Wayfarer’s Bauble

Echoing Decay

Shattered Dreams





Pulse of the Grid

Serum Visions

Vedalken Engineer

Get out your carving knife: this list is obviously pretty loose. Basically, it will come down to tuning a deck that will let you survive for several turns until you execute on your combination. Obviously there are potential barriers. You can get horribly out-landed by U/G and never be in a position to win a threat war as they set up Crystal Shard recursion of Eternal Witness and Condescend. You can get killed by Ravager before you are even close.

The challenge is setting up the deck so that it can weather the beats long enough to set up. For example, in Masques Block, you had very aggressive Rebel and Blue Skies decks, as well as B/G Snuff/Blastoderm with Hickory Woodlots speeding out turn 2 Chimeric Idols, Silt Crawlers, and Skulking Fugitives. At one point some Rebel player noticed that he was winning all the games that he drew his 1-2 or sideboarded Mageta the Lion, and elected to refocus his efforts on stuffing his deck full of Magetas, proxy Magetas, cards to keep Mageta alive once it was in play, cards to keep him alive until Mageta got in play, even some anti-Mageta cards to win the Legend fight, and a ton of lands to make sure he could cast his prohibitively expensive Magetas (and Mageta proxies). In that sense, it might actually be right to play cards like Barter in Blood that slow the game down to a control, winning late game via combo. There is certainly a nice synergy between Barter and Beacon of Unrest, and some of the best combination decks of all time have played their opening turns as faux control decks while they assembled their relevant cards (High Tide, Trix).

Anyway, there’s your cheat sheet: untap with a Bringer in play and a Mindslaver in your graveyard and it won’t be easy to lose. You have the answer. Now it’s just about scribbling down the proper equations to get there.

Next up, we return to the land of mistakes. Is there really only one right play? And if so, why do people always win when they make certain blatant errors? That, and a quick lesson in ancient Greek, await in Catachresis.