Undermining The Concepts Of Magic

Your opponent believes that going from twenty to seventeen is no big deal. How can you take advantage of that?

Before we begin, I’ll update you on the trivia contest; the next article will contain the answers to the main questions, the final Jeopardy category, and the finalists who are going to participate in it. I will take their bids and give them the questions over email, and the final result will be announced the following week. Don’t change that channel – this exciting contest is far from over!

Meanwhile, though, I’m going to be revisiting one of my favorite concepts in Magic: Total and utter control. Here’s a quote from a previous article of mine:

"My control deck didn’t win as I had hoped, but I also got the reassurance that control is still a viable decktype in today’s Standard environment. Once Judgment becomes legal, my Elfhame Palaces go back into the deck, and the beastly Nantuko Monasteries will make the deck, I believe, Tier One. But you don’t have to take my word for it – keep your eyes open in the future.

"But, this isn’t a strategy article, so I’ll leave the reasons why control is so good for you to discover – or for another article."

Well, here’s that other article. The inspiration to write it came from this quote, taken from Andrew Johnson’s Concepts of Magic: Introduction.

"It’s also important to realize that life is valued on an exponential scale. That first point is worth a much less than the last point. Therefore, you should be eager to trade in your first few life points for an advantage in tempo or card advantage. But flashing back is a lot more costly going from seven to four than twenty to seventeen.

"Too many players chump block far too early because they are afraid of going from twenty to fifteen. You should wait for a better opportunity usually."

Now, I’d say that generally, Mr. Johnson has a point. It’s a lot easier to go from twenty to nineteen than from two to one. However, another of Mr. Johnson’s unsaid positions seems to be to take advantage of all resources, either yours or your opponents. In this case, your opponent believes that going from twenty to seventeen is no big deal. How can you take advantage of that?

Well, since you want to deal with an entire fundamental of the game of Magic, it’ll take more than one card to overcome this philosophy – you’ll need a whole deck. However, I’ve found, though extensive testing for a very long time, that one card clashes with this sentiment quite nicely.

First, the deck. Here’s the current, post-Judgment list:

BUWUG.dec (The extra blue is for blue-tiful!)

4x Fact or Fiction

4x Shadowmage Infiltrator

4x Recoil

4x Vindicate

4x Wrath of God

4x Counterspell

4x Absorb

4x Undermine

4x Dromar’s Charm

2x Grip of Amnesia

4x Salt Marsh

4x Underground River

4x Coastal Tower

4x Adarkar Wastes

4x Elfhame Palace

4x Nantuko Monastery

1x Island

(And, yes, it is sixty-three cards.)

This control deck has been my best friend since I first built it with Nether Spirit. It’s had its ups and downs, and with the introduction of Torment, this deck got severely worse. However, you’ll notice that with the introduction of Judgment, this deck now rocks once again. Why?

Well, let’s talk about it, and in doing so, you’ll see the key to taking advantage of the aforementioned philosophy that to lose a little life is okay.

First of all, when I describe the deck, I usually define it as "Twenty-eight answers, eight card-drawers, and eight threats." Now, however, with Grip of Amnesia and Nantuko Monastery, I can say it’s, "30 answers, 10 card-drawers, and 12 threats." And that last bit really is the key: More threats. The main problem with this deck was its reliance on Shadowmage Infiltrator in an environment rife with Chainer’s Edict. (I even maindecked a Death Grasp at my last tournament to deal with the eventuality that all my Infiltrators would die.) But we don’t have to worry about that anymore.

And that’s because Nantuko Monastery is a stick. For the uninitiated, this land can become a 4/4 first-striker until end of turn for a mana investment of GW. Additionally, it taps for colorless mana on its off days! This land is huge, and it makes this deck playable. Sorcery-speed removal can’t touch it, and there are few creatures in competitive Type Two right now that can face a 4/4 first-striker in combat and live to tell the tale. Now, my deck can win!

But, how does it not lose? I think it has something to do with sixteen unconditional counterspells and the amazing Grip of Amnesia. Each counterspell aside from Counterspell itself has a beautifully intricate role to play in this deck. Dromar’s Charm can keep you alive longer or serve as little creature removal. Absorb prolongs your life while it counters. Grip of Amnesia either wrecks threshold or reads: "1U: Counter target spell. Draw a card," which is amazing!

And Undermine… Oh, sweet Undermine! This is the gem that wrecks the unprepared.

Before this deck had Nantuko Monasteries in it, Undermine was key. All in all, I could get twelve points of damage out of them, which left only eight for my Shadowmages and my opponent’s painlands to deal with. Now, the twenty damage allows me to attack with the Monasteries only twice. But the real beauty of Undermine – and the argument I’ve used against those who would have me side it out – is that it’s a silent killer. Like Mr. Johnson said, an early Undermine will bring you only from, say, eighteen to fifteen. No big deal. But then, when you start going from seven to four and four to one, you know you’re in trouble. In effect, if I have board control (which I’ll talk about shortly) and an Undermine in hand, you die at three life. It’ll even kill you if you cast an uncounterable spell. Even if you realize, "Uh oh, I have to watch out for Undermine because it might eventually kill me," that’s still a victory in my corner. This deck thrives off of Jedi Mind Tricks, and this mental antagonism is one of them.

And I keep you coming back for more fun with Undermine by making sure that your permanents stay off the board. I have Recoil, Vindicate, and Wrath of God to deal with threats that slip through my defenses, as well as the blocking Nantuko Monastery. I also have Fact or Fiction and the still-amazing (despite what you may have heard!) Shadowmage Infiltrator to be consistent sources of drawing cards.

As for the mana base, believe me: It works. Most of my lands produce the essential blue, Elfhame Palace can be used for Wrath, Absorb, Dromar’s Charm, and activation of Monastery (as well as a door to green cards in the sideboard).

Now, I just removed some filterlands from the deck (which worked well), so some testing will determine if this mana base is as solid as the previous one, but I’m not concerned about the”come into play tapped” lands or the pain I might feel. It’s all good.

So that’s my control deck. I didn’t go into card-by-card detail because I’ve already gone into great detail on earlier versions of this deck, and I don’t want to rehash the same material (too much!). If you’re that interested, you can check those articles out in our Writer Archive. In the meantime, keep your eyes out for control decks like this one. They’re good, I tell you, and proof will emerge – hopefully from me!

Daniel Crane

[email protected]