Every once in a while, as Type One’s supercomputer, I deploy one of my android subordinates to make an appearance at a tournament so that there are witnesses who can verify that I exist. With SCG’s Power Nine coming to Chicago again, I thought that this would be as good a time as any. In a process only mildly unfamiliar to me, I had to figure out a deck to play. Here’s what I ended up with.
4 Mishra’s Factory
1 Strip Mine
2 Flooded Strand
2 Polluted Delta
1 Mox Sapphire
1 Black Lotus
3 Decree of Justice
2 Crucible of Worlds
4 Nevinyrral’s Disk
4 Swords to Plowshares
4 Force of Will
4 Mana Drain
1 Ancestral Recall
1 Time Walk
1 Fact or Fiction
2 Maze of Ith
4 Tormod’s Crypt
1 Akroma’s Vengeance
Reasons I chose Landstill included:
1. Landstill is a consistently underestimated deck. JP Meyer and his less-visible henchman Rian Litchard have conducted a long-term campaign (toned down in recent months) against Standstill as a card, and thus Landstill as a deck. Others, like Jacob Orlove, propagated Brainstorm in Fish in conjunction with this earlier public conception. Despite its high finish at SCG Syracuse, I was hoping people would discard it at the same time that they discarded Stax post-Trinisphere.
2. The camouflage factor. Until I cast a Standstill (or perhaps play a Mishra’s Factory), the deck looks like any other control deck. By not playing Faerie Conclaves, I amplify this advantage more than other versions of the archetype. This means that Nevinyrral’s Disk can sometimes come out of nowhere against an overextended Oath or Control Slaver player who was assuming that the worst card I could play would be Balance, leaving all of their artifacts. During the event, it also became apparent that only a Disk or several creatureless turns would make it clear that I wasn’t playing Fish, either.
3. Nevinyrral’s Disk. At the beginning of my preparation for the tournament, I noticed that Oath could win a lot whenever my defenses lapsed at the wrong moment, or if they happened to be able to out-counter me as a 3CC or 4CC player. I decided that leaning on Swords wasn’t really cutting it, and what I needed to do was just deal with the Oath, without committing myself to a huge Disenchant/Seal of Cleansing complement. Disk won me a ridiculous number of test games. Someone suggested Engineered Explosives as an alternative a few weeks ago, and I think I almost fell over laughing.
4. Standstill. Ben Kowal can attest to the lengths I was going to while testing different draw engines. Skeletal Scrying didn’t really please me, because Black didn’t give me that “results” feel. I’m sure there are people who’ve been playing with Mana Drain since 1996 shaking their heads at my ineptness, but I didn’t like it; I felt like other cards could give me more mileage. As it turns out, Concentrate and Opportunity also suck. Standstill does not – more on this later.
5. Consistency. Whereas combo can require you to think all day, and can be mulligan-intensive if you’re unlucky, control can more easily pull off eight rounds of swiss. I’m really bad at playing combo. I couldn’t even get 4-LED Long to be very fast. I also didn’t want to play an underpowered deck like the Burninator build I did passably well with at GenCon. Considering my control options led me to believe that an Oath and Control Slaver player would be working right into the plans of all the best players who had prepared for them. The remaining question was how to be one of those players, so Landstill became my choice.
In round one, I was paired against Jeff. He didn’t know that I write for SCG, and said openly that he didn’t know how to play his deck. This made me positive that it was Dragon, because it’s such a non-intuitive deck. During the first game, I was sitting on two Swords to Plowshares (with one Tundra), but my Force of Will had no Blue buddy in hand. I Plowed his first-turn Xantid Swarm, watched him play second-turn Bazaar of Baghdad, then on my second turn I played land, Sapphire, then, shockingly even to me, I laid down a Crucible. As I let go of it, I got this flash of insight into the depth of my inattentive play when I remembered that my Force was unaccompanied, and knew it was going to be ugly.
Sure enough, he put down a non-Bazaar land, cast Necromancy, and was visibly relieved. However, still having an ounce of sense in my body, I asked him to play it out for me. He used the Bazaar a couple of times as all of his permanents phased in and out of the game, his hand reducing in size each time. When he had no cards in hand, I hoped for one of a few things: he might concede, be forced to take the mana burn from what he had already tapped, or the game might draw. Since I also wasn’t sure how it should go in the latter two cases (I’ve played only a few games against Dragon before), we called over a judge. Unfortunately for me, the judge had to ask if he could break the loop by targeting another creature, which he could, and then with the Eternal Witness in action, I let us move on to the next game.
The next game took over thirty minutes. We spent most of it under an early Standstill, with him Bazaaring and me wishing I played ten Wastelands. My sideboard included cards that accidentally hose Dragon, so I had brought in 3 Stifle, 2 Disenchant, 4 Tormod’s Crypt, and a Wasteland for my Disks, Crucibles, Decrees, and a card I can’t remember. I figured that I had it made with a Crypt and Standstill on the table, except that I didn’t get a Factory for about fifteen turns. He broke Standstill with Animate Dead, I removed his graveyard including three Dragons, he Bazaars pitching Dragon #4, and I Stifle the trigger that would bring his permanents back into play after the first round. Except that he Forces that. I Counterspell the Force, and he Forces again. He indicates that he’s won, but I point out the RFGed pile of some forty cards, and the game is drawn.
The third game I almost win in the fifth extra turn (my Time Walk gave me both #4 and #5), but he has two life across the board from my two Factories and Tormod’s Crypt (with three Dragons removed, again). He’s up a game, so I lose the match.
Round two I was feature matched, covered here. The best thing that I can add to my Crucible-Strip Mine mindless win is that when I heard the name of my opponent, Wes Cherry, over the PA system, all that my brain put together was “Wes” and a surname beginning with the letter C. So when Kevin Cron and Pete Hoefling asked me who I had been paired against, I said “Wes Craven”, earning exactly the same perplexed look from both of them, causing me to realize I had the wrong name in my head. It did not help that I didn’t remember who Wes Craven actually is.
Speaking of Kevin Cron a.k.a. CH41N5, he is tall. At GenCon he was tall, but I think he’s grown since then. Once, my roommate at IMSA explained to me that the reason Transformers characters can pull guns and objects seemingly out of nowhere is actually, officially explained by each one having a giant dimensional pocket for their stuff. Regardless of whether this is true, the number of different things Cron had in his fanny pack and stored elsewhere on his waist indicates to me that he is Optimus Prime, and has a dimensional pocket from which, at any moment, he may pull out the trailer of a giant semi-truck.
Round three I sit across from Evan, who immediately begins discussing his recent terrible mulliganing luck in the event. He then proceeds to mulligan to three. When he picked up his five-card hand, I made a quip about it having two off-color Moxen as its mana sources, and he revealed, as if by magic, a Mana Crypt and Mox Pearl. I started to feel pretty bad for him, until his three card hand turned out to be Island, Black Lotus, Ancestral Recall, leading into Intuition for Accumulated Knowledge. At the end of his second turn, he had five cards in hand and two land, so I really didn’t feel too bad about the mulligan-to-three part. He soon revealed that he was playing Oath, one of my two target decks.
Here’s where I want to explain why Nevinyrral’s Disk is one of the bestest cards you could play in the field I saw on Saturday. The thing that I noticed in my pre-Landstill testing phase was that both Oath and Control Slaver can bounce back from spot removal because their engines, unlike Extended Reanimator decks, can just activate again. So the first test for most control decks when they are facing these decks is to keep the Oath or Welder off of the table, kill it if it gets there, and pray that you can solve anything that the engine powered out in the meantime.
Landstill positioned me so that I had both the mainline plan of removing Welders or Oathed-up Akromas with Swords to Plowshares, and the far superior plan of Disking away everything, undoing all of their efforts. When my plan proceeds as normal, even the resolution of their main plan is not going to win. Only in the case where they both resolve their main cards and counter my Disks am I backed into a corner – a corner that I can still win out of with Swords. As I understand it, this constitutes strategy superiority, and I was definitely in favor of beating both of the most popular archetypes.
Evan got taken to the cleaners by Nevinyrral, to his credit remaining an amiable opponent the whole time.
Round four my opponent is Rich, and Volcanic Island into Grim Lavamancer tells me I’ve got a Standstill mirror. I hadn’t thought about this too much in my testing, on the theory that people wouldn’t want to play Fish when five proxies could probably make them a better deck some other way. The first game, I knew I was on the short end of the stick. He had more manlands, more Wastelands, and Null Rod against Disk. Moving into game two, I felt I could improve my odds by bringing in the Wastelands, the Mazes, and the Vengeance. With his manland advantage, I didn’t expect any board situation (except post-Crucible) where I would want a Standstill, so I took out all four and a Disk. I left in the other Disks hoping that he would make room for sideboard cards by removing some or all Null Rods.
As it happened, Null Rod remained in, so the Disk I resolved was dead, but I still had a plethora of one-for-ones. I countered most of his threats, Plowed a couple more, and played defensively with my Factories and Mazes. Both games two and three, this kept me playing long enough to resolve Crucible and then, of course, win.
In game two, I had to break his Standstill with my Crucible to gain land advantage, but I still felt confident because of my choice to run Counterspell. I felt that my huge edge in hard counters made it likely that I could resolve the Crucible even if he pulled a Force off of his three cards. I had played Fish in the past, and I knew that it was weaker as the control deck got more chances to counter, if the clock didn’t get rolling fast enough.
It wasn’t until the morning of the tournament itself that I put in the two Crucibles over Counterspells three and four, based on my concern that I would (a) lose to any deck with Crucible advantage, (b) find myself clogged with counters when I needed a way to get more land to cast Disk against the fastest Oath openings, or (c) lose games where I could have won if only I had been able to recur the Strip Mine a few times. Round two proved (c) to be true, and this round backed up (a), because without the Crucible to end the game, Rich could still have pulled back into it while I prayed he didn’t get his own Crucible.
Round five saw me against the first TMDer (that I recognized, none of the first four mentioned a TMD nick) of the day: Lee a.k.a. raye, most often seen on the IRC channel #themanadrain. I went second this match, but fortunately faced no ridiculous opening. Lee, like my second round Control Slaver matchup, seemed to want his Welder to go all the way, and after about six hits from it I almost started to care, but in the meantime he had broken three Standstills, and I had Forced two Thirsts for Knowledge and Drained a Transmute Artifact into a Crucible. (The Transmute revealed that this deck was not really CS, but rather a deck based on the Dutch Transmute-Chi deck.) After the Crucible I Disked, then proceeded to my inevitable victory.
The second game I felt even better about the matchup with Disenchants and Mazes of Ith boarded in for my Wastelands, a Decree, and a Counterspell. It was a slaughter. Lee was forced to put a Welder on the table to bait me to activate my Disk, by which point I was holding another. I had the Plow for Su-Chi and the Disenchant for the next one, and even if he had succeeded in laying a threat, I had a Maze in short order.
In my testing I was not substantially worried about 5/3 or its variants because of this immense level of board control. My skepticism of Workshop aggro is based on its low threat density. If the best they can do is to play a dozen fatties, four Welders, and four Thirsts, then I can field ten hard counters, four Plows, and four Disks, as well as a much better draw engine, illustrated by the absolutely unavoidable breaking of three Standstills game one.
Right before round six I was extremely worried that I would be paired against the Sligh player who was also 4-1, because that would probably be disastrous for me in light of my slow kill and his ability to burn through turn after turn. However, what I actually faced wasn’t that much better for me. When Luke Ojala, the friendly Minnesotan, sat down across from me, I had no idea what he was playing, since I hadn’t seen any of his games to this point. He won the die roll, and both of our seven-card hands were mulliganed, with mutual skepticism towards playing without land.
My six-card hand was perplexing. Force, Drain, Drain, Factory, Wasteland, Strip Mine. I was extremely concerned about abandoning that active Force of Will, and the land destruction convinced me that no matter what, he would be impacted for at least a turn or two. Going second, I felt that gambling on three more cards versus gambling on a hand of five was a better deal. He led with Underground Sea, which I Wasted, then Island, which I Stripped, but then had more land after that.
I still didn’t know what he was playing, so I felt that my active Force, now joined by an Island and a Factory, was a good start. Then he cast Duress, my heart sank, and he revved up to Mind’s Desire for six, revealing mana, mana, and Tendrils of Agony. Luke later informed me that he was holding the other Tendrils beforehand, so there was hardly anything I could do.
For the second game, I had to weigh the chances of him playing a Darksteel Colossus with the potential gains of bringing in both the Stifles and the Crypts (obviously pulling out the Disks) instead of leaving in my Swords to Plowshares. I boarded out the Plows, leaning on my counterspell contingent probably too much, but I was understandably concerned about the potential for Yawgmoth’s Will to win before I even had UU up, after Luke’s mentioning of a few turn 1 wins earlier in the day. Unfortunately, he Forced my Force and Tinker resolved, ending the game and my Top 8 contention in short order.
After that I joined the coverage team, much to the elation of the Son of Knut. I felt pretty dumb for the calamitous mistake round one, which likely could have been a draw or a win if I hadn’t been so flustered by not having any real practice against Dragon. (Hint: Don’t treat it like a control deck. Derf.) Fortunately, my deck did what it was supposed to for the rest of the day. There are a few weaknesses with the archetype that became clear to me, which I’ll briefly overview for people who want to work on Landstill more for the next event.
Most important is the slowness. The only Decree I got Soldiers off of during the day was very win-more at the end of the second game against Transmute-Chi. In my playtesting, Decree sometimes created a faster kill, and I thought that it would be a solid tool for that, but it was too mana-intensive to make a difference in the matches that weren’t a foregone conclusion. Bob Kochis previous choice of Eternal Dragon for the job might be better (I honestly didn’t even consider it seriously), but that’s also a very high-mana card, and loses some of the appeal of operating under Standstill. Maybe Decree does deserve some room in the deck, but I would cut at least one copy.
I never cast the Akroma’s Vengeance, but then again I only drew it twice, and both times I chose to use Disks first because of the timing related to their coming into play tapped. It may be that the deck has enough mass removal already.
Despite their strong performance, I don’t think I would go above the current two Crucibles and two Wastelands. There were plenty of times when I felt that Crucibles were good to side out because they weren’t fast enough, and dead cards game one are best kept to a minimum. The Wastelands were most often swapped one-for-one with Maze of Ith, generally because I felt more threatened by attacks than land (in Fish’s case, the two are the same, so I just brought in all of my land). I thought having the other two Wastes in the sideboard was helpful for matches where that would be a crucial edge, and I could definitely see a third Crucible in the sideboard as useful. Right now a lot of decks play a lot of basics (my list itself has nine), so leaning too hard on that strategy in the maindeck can potentially make it harder to win with the rest of the deck.
The loss to TPS highlighted for me how slow Landstill is, and made me feel pretty helpless. Granted, it would have been more of a fight if I had drawn some Blue mana to start game one with, but overall I just feel like it’s a pure luck-of-the-draw matchup, which is why I hate combo decks. Even though I was prepared to stop his Yawgmoth’s Will postboard with Tormod’s Crypt, the other power cards like Tinker were just too ridiculous. If I were trying this again, I probably wouldn’t choose Chalice of the Void for the sideboard, because even setting it at one is painful for me due to Brainstorm being so important in Force-digging. Setting it at zero not only leaves all of their bounce intact, but also isn’t that huge a speed bump. Preventing TPS from casting one Mox isn’t usually what inhibits the final Tendrils, and Stifle is strong because it attacks a Tendrils deck at the one point where it’s designed not to expect resistance, the Storm trigger.
To speed up the deck, I would consider Genju of the Fields and Genju of the Falls. When I was building this deck, neither occurred to me because of the simple weakness that I have never seen a Betrayers card physically in front of my eyes, so it slipped my mind that they exist and would be good. Both of them are dramatically better than the alternative of running the awful Faerie Conclave (*shiver*), and the White one especially would make me feel much less like I am doomed against both combo and aggro. The only question in using them would be how many of which one would promote the deck’s kill, and what to take out for it.
One card that I think could work out well is Enlightened Tutor. Getting Standstill or Disk or Crucible can be enough to win games outright, and that’s more than Decree #3 was doing for me.
Why Doesn’t Standstill Suck?
I said that I would explain this more, and it seems a fitting conclusion to the article to explain why the deck’s draw engine so complements its strategy when I didn’t even cast a Standstill in rounds two, three, four, or six. JP’s basic case for Standstill being a horrible card has long been that it was too easy to just wait until the Standstill-wielder’s end step when they have seven cards, then turn it into a bad Cephalid Coliseum. Apparently, this was the way to win against it in Standard.
One of the (dis)advantages of being a Supercomputer rather than a regular human being is that playtesting has been pretty sparse for me. It would not be exaggerating to say that I did not play a game of Magic between August 2004 and March 2005. So it wasn’t until I started testing Landstill that I saw how wrong the old Standard logic was for Vintage.
The first big reason is that Standstill pushes you into action cards. Whenever it is broken, you get to see more of your deck. Unlike Standard, Vintage decks tend to have such powerful cards that they can pursue two quite different main strategies inside of one deck. Control Slaver can use The Man Plan of hitting with big artifact creatures, or it can go for the Mindslaver recursion lock. 3/4CC can similarly rush its Exalted Angel beatdown or it can go for the Yawgmoth’s Will that will put it a light year ahead of the opponent. In Landstill, the two thrusts are to either keep the board clear of all nonland permanents, or use the Crucible approach. Standstill cards let you pursue the plan that makes sense for the matchup.
Even in the worst case of drawing three and discarding three, it is likely that the Landstill player came out significantly better off. The more cards I see, the more answers I have. I can pitch an extra land, a card that was dead in the matchup, and a third that I didn’t have mana to cast anyway, and end up with a hand considerably more prepared for your next power play.
Moreover, not every deck has enough time or enough instants to playing the waiting game. Round five was so bad for Lee because the only instants I saw were Thirsts for Knowledge, a spell which is a very inviting Force of Will target. The “Cephalid Coliseum” logic fails if Standstill pushes me into a Force of Will or other counterspell that I use immediately, and the closest thing to an un-FoW-worthy instant that will commonly be used this way is Brainstorm. Most other instants are worth countering on a regular basis.
The basic lesson of the day was that Landstill has the tools to win a lot of matchups, but has a bit more trouble with combo than other control decks due to its slothlike pace.
Philip Stanton a.k.a. “Dr. Sylvan”
prstanto at gmail.com