After a busy few months of tournaments, I didn’t have much time to prepare for the Constructed portion of my Nationals. I was fairly confident in my drafting ability for both formats, especially Coldsnap since I was winning a lot online, but after half a year of fun Limited formats, switching back to Constructed was a real pain. I’m always having fun when I’m drafting, but it’s much different for Constructed and it does take a lot of effort to get to the level of play and the deck you want to have. Fortunately, you’re never on your own when you’re testing, and I was hoping that someone would find a good deck that I liked in time for the event. As it turns out, no one was really excited about testing – not even Frank Karsten, who usually leads our testing plans. He does write a column for MagicTheGathering.com though – Online Tech – meaning he was the only one of the group that was involved in Standard at all. He built us a few dummy decks, and we took a look at what Coldsnap could add to the format. Immediately I liked the concept of a snow deck that would abuse Scrying Sheets, and when I looked at the U/W/B control deck from Japanese Nationals, I wondered if the White would be necessary. I found Shouta Yasooka’s decklist in the blog and started to test with a list like this:
We played a deck much like this at the 2005 World Championships in Yokohama, and I really liked it back then. The main problem with the deck is that when you can’t keep up with your opponent, you’ll be destroyed, since there aren’t many ways in the deck to deal with permanents. The metagame is very wide, and the chance of getting paired against a deck like Zoo is slim, but I expected a few more decks like that (Sea Stompy for example), and it’s just not good against such decks. If you can’t be sure of what to expect because the metagame is wide and open, it’s usually best to play an all-round good deck rather than a deck that has difficulty in dealing with permanents. Too bad for me; it was only until the day before Nationals that I wanted to get away from the U/B control deck, and I didn’t have much time left to test. Wessel Oomens showed me the deck he wanted to play: U/G Beatdown – basically Sea Stompy without the Red – and I gave it a go. After about five games, we called it a night, and we planned on playing the U/G deck:
- 4 Ninja of the Deep Hours
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 3 Meloku the Clouded Mirror
- 4 Plaxmanta
- 4 Trygon Predator
- 4 Ohran Viper
This is basically Sea Stompy only a little less aggressive. The strength of the deck over a regular Sea Stompy deck is that against beatdown you gain consistency, especially in the manabase, while against control you have an unexpected game-winner: Plaxmanta. Wrath of God isn’t a card that sees a lot of play in Standard, since only the Solar Flare deck runs that. While Wrath is a great card against this deck, I wasn’t expecting to see a lot of such decks anyway.
I think this was easily the event with a Constructed portion that I tested the least for. Normally I’ve got my sideboard plan ready and I know what to do against all the popular decks in the environment, but for this particular event I didn’t have much time to prepare, and since there are so many playable decks it’s not all that useful to have all the tactics planned out. There are over ten truly playable decks, therefore in a six-round tournament you cannot expect to play against a certain deck more than once; most of the time you’re just going to have to improvise.
I won the first three rounds of Standard, but they weren’t easy. The first match I played against a B/G/W control deck, and the counterspells and Plaxmantas really did they job against his spot removals and Wrath of Gods. The second round I played against Zoo, perhaps the only matchup that I was somewhat familiar with. Game 1 was very interesting, as I kept a one-land (Breeding Pool) hand on the draw with a Llanowar Elves and Birds of Paradise, not knowing he was playing Zoo or that he had Cryoclasm maindeck. He took out my only land, and I only had the two mana producers and a third that I drew to work with, but he didn’t have a burn spell, allowing me to get Jitte online. There were about five turns before I managed to get out of range of a burn spell, and then I finally drew into a few lands (I had none for most part of the game) and won the game from there. This game once again proved the strength of Umezawa’s Jitte, and I for one am glad that we won’t have to play another Standard format with such brokenness.
The next round was an interesting one. I played against Owling Mine, maybe the only deck I thought wouldn’t be played, and my deck has some very good and some very bad spells against it. Llanowar Elves, Birds of Paradise, and Plaxmanta were great for me, while I had to use Ninja of the Deep Hours and Ohran Viper as 2/2 and 1/3 vanilla bodies, choosing not to draw any extra cards off them. My sideboard doesn’t have much against the deck either – I took out some Ohran Vipers for two Pithing Needles, just to have some cheaper spells. He didn’t seem to get much going either game though; while he had enough cards to make us both draw more cards, I was never the target of a burn spell before it was too late.
In rounds 10 through 12 I played only one more match – the last one – because I wanted to make sure I’d make Top 8 by drawing twice, and then try to get a better swiss standing, in case I lost the quarterfinals, by playing the last round (fifth place would be rewarded €600 while eighth place would only get €200). I played against Robert-Jan van Medevoort, who played a B/G/W beatdown deck with four (!) Okiba-Gang Shinobis. I figured this should be a pretty good matchup for me, since it’s mostly about Jitte, only my deck draws extra cards more easily and has counterspells to deal with the broken sword. Anyway, this plan worked for me in game 1, but in game 2 I kept a hand that was semi-playable while he started with turn 2 Ohran Viper, turn 3 Jitte. I didn’t have any of those cards. The third game I had a great start with Ohran Viper and Ninja of the Deep Hours, but then proceeded to draw nine straight lands or mana accelerants and lost the game to Vitu-Ghazi. This was definitely unlucky on my part, but mana flood had been a fairly common problem for me throughout the tournament.
Frank and I stayed at the same place, and were facing each other in the quarterfinals match, so we decided to test a few games against each other. Out of the six games we played before I called it a night, he won five, but I don’t think this result was very meaningful. I drew too many lands, and every time I had to decide which card to play around, he had both. We both agreed that it should be about 50/50. (The match was covered here.)
Not all games were as close as they could have been, as we both took a lot of mulligans, but the match was a good one overall. In this matchup, it’s all about figuring out what the other player has in his hand. With Frank, you can never be sure.
While the deck has been good for me, I would recommend making a few changes to it if you should choose to play it. First off, the deck has too many cards that just produce mana, but the 4 Elves and 4 Birds are very necessary, as is hitting your third and fourth mana. You can’t really go down the 20-land mark, but Simic Growth Chamber should make room for something better. Another way to prevent yourself from getting flood is to add cards that give you some more gas, like Compulsive Research or Moldervine Cloak. Compulsive Research is a bit strange in the deck as it’s an aggressive deck and you’re drawing a few extra cards anyway. The problem with the deck isn’t the quantity of cards it draws; there are just too many cards that don’t do a lot when you’ve entered the late-game. Moldervine Cloak seems like a good solution: you’ve got plenty targets for it because of the Elves and Birds, and it can come back, making your draw steps much more useful. It also gives the deck the possibility to put a fast clock on the opponent. In the version that I played, most of your creatures are efficient in the way that they draw cards or give you board control, but you don’t really deal much damage. If you don’t draw enough counterspells in these situations, it’s often hard to maintain a good board position when your opponent does find a solution for your Ophidian.
Other players have suggested adding Repeal to the deck. While it’s a reasonably good card in itself, I think it’s too expensive for this deck and I wouldn’t know what to take out for it. If I did want to play a card like Repeal, I would prefer Boomerang, since you’re already drawing plenty cards while it’s much cheaper than Repeal. Bearing all of this in mind, this is my suggested new build:
Remands are much more useful now that you can actually put a clock on your opponent. In the previous version, it was mostly used just to gain card advantage by giving yourself another turn to attack with Jitte or an Ophidian, but now it can deny your opponent the extra turn that he might need to survive. Two copies of Spell Snare had to be cut in order to make room, and while it’s amazing when it works, I think you’re better of with it in the sideboard because too often you’re just waiting for him to play anything with casting cost two, and that’s not what you want in an aggressive game plan.
On to the sideboard. If you’ve seen the Top 8 decklists, you’ll see that the only difference between my decklist and Jeroen’s was that he had two Naturalizes while I had two Arashi, the Sky Asunder. I wished that I had those two Naturalizes, and Jeroen wished he had those two Arashi. What that told me about the format and the tournament is that we played very different matchups because there are so many different viable decks, and it’s hard to have a good sideboard for every round and every matchup. Therefore, it’s more useful to look at a good all-round sideboard rather than good cards for particular matchups, unless you’re pretty sure of what you’re going to be up against… but again, it’s hard to anticipate what you’ll face in such a wide format.
If you expect a little bit of everything (the most likely scenario), I would play a sideboard like this:
Except for Threads of Disloyalty, which are only good against Zoo, all these cards can be sideboarded in for a lot of matchups, and in important matches when your opponent knows your deck, it might also be a good idea to not always sideboard the same way. A big part of playing against this deck for your opponents is figuring out what you have in your hand, since there are so many cards to play around, and also because you can follow many different game plans. Here’s a basic sideboarding guide for the popular matchups with this sideboard, but sometimes you’ll want to vary it:
Plaxmanta doesn’t do much in this matchup, so it’s an easy cut. This matchup is really about who gets their big spell online: an uncontested Meloku or Jitte will take games with ease.
Against a deck with a variety of removal spells, you don’t want to make one big creature – you just want to play your Ninja and protect it with your counterspells.
After sideboarding, you’ve got a variety of counterspells to keep your opponent guessing as to what to play around, and that’s exactly what you want. A funny fact about this matchup is that while both players have Jitte, it’s not nearly as good against your opponent as it is against you, but you still need a way to get rid of them. Pithing Needle is a good solution: usually, your opponent won’t have anything to deal with it, and apart from Jitte, he’s got some other good targets: Top, Scrying Sheets, maybe Phyrexian Ironfoot and Meloku if necessary. If he’s playing Phyrexian Ironfoot as well as Jittes, you should bring in 2 Naturalize instead of 1 Needle and 1 Jitte.
Hinder is for their big spells and to put Sosuke’s Summons on bottom, both very good spells for your opponent as this matchup will often end up in a creature stall if no one is able to get Jitte online. That’s also why Higure is a good card; it helps you break through such situations. If your opponent is also playing Glare of Subdual, it’s a good idea to board in the Pithing Needles for some Mana Leaks and Remands.
The cards you’re bringing in aren’t that good, but Ninja of the Deep Hours is very bad as it costs you a lot of tempo while your opponent has a million solutions for it before he actually takes damage. Getting Umezawa’s Jitte online is what you’re looking to do in this matchup, and if you do that and back it up with your many counterspells, your opponent will have a very tough time.
Remand and Ninja of the Deep Hours are terrible in this matchup, and they must go out, and Hinder is the best option in the sideboard to replace them. This matchup is simple: don’t be greedy, trade your guys for his when possible in the early game, and try to set up Jitte. Sometimes you can try to race them if you have Moldervine Cloak, but that’s a very risky game plan as they’ve got twelve more burn spells than you do.
As with Zoo, your plan is to play the waiting game and win using Jitte or Meloku backed up by counterspells, but against B/W it’s much easier to race as they’re much slower. Ghost Council of Orzhova is tough to deal with, so be sure to either counter it or have a Jitte or Meloku ready the turn after he plays it.
All you need to worry about is to counter their big spells, and they don’t have that many. In the meanwhile, you can try to make one big guy with a Jitte or Cloak since all their removal is damage-based, but watch out for Boomerang and Eye of Nowhere. If you come out of the starting blocks quickly, it’s usually hard for them to keep up with you, because they’ll be forced to put a lot of effort in dealing with your creatures, and you’ve got Plaxmanta and a bunch of counterspells to prevent that from happening.
You’ve got many counterspells to disrupt their game plan, while they will have trouble with your card-drawing creatures. You are giving them a lot of time though, as your creatures don’t really deal a lot of damage – that’s why the Moldervine Cloaks and two Jitte stay in.
I’m not sure if this deck is the best choice for a Standard tournament, but that’s only because I don’t have enough experience in this format. It’s worked well for me, and I think with these changes it should be a good all-round deck. Again, in a format where you don’t know what you’ll be facing, aggressive strategies are usually safer, especially when combined with some control elements (the counterspells). The tournament was a success for me, and I’m happy how the team turned out… this might be the year for the Netherlands!