GP Oakland is upon us, and if there’s one card you absolutely have to be ready for it’s Painful Truths. The card took a while to catch on but make no mistake, it is here to stay. As we all know, drawing 3 cards is no joke, and the only reason Treasure Cruise hasn’t seen more play up until recently in Standard is that Dig Through Time is usually just a more powerful draw spell.
Speaking of Treasure Cruise, how is Painful Truths any better? The key is that there is almost zero set-up cost. Pay 3 mana, draw 3 cards, lose 3 life. Pretty simple, but so effective. There are a couple of factors you need to consider if you choose to play Painful Truths though.
First, the life loss on Painful Truths isn’t free. It adds up, especially if you’re under any kind of pressure. You can’t justify casting the card from behind while being attacked by a Siege Rhino. If you start chaining Truths, then all of a sudden that incremental life loss becomes a big problem. There are a couple of ways to combat this, however. You can play Soulfire Grand Master, Seeker of the Way, or Siege Rhino to help gain back lost life. The second is to overload on cheap spells to avoid falling behind early and give you enough time to refuel your hand.
Second, if you don’t plan properly or if your deck is misbuilt, you’ll sometimes discard to hand size with Painful Truths early on. Luckily cheap spells combat this problem as well. Leading with a Duress into a 2-drop creature on the draw will let you play a Truths for 3 on turn 3, and pass with 7 cards in hand. On the play it’s much easier since you only need one spell to avoid discarding, and if Truths is the first spell you cast, then discarding is probably the least of your problems.
By DWAGZ, 5-0 in an MTGO Standard League
By THESUMMERS1, 5-0 in an MTGO Standard League
Both of these decks make good use of Painful Truths and can fully utilize the 3 cards. It allows the decks to keep playing a ton of spells into the late game to fuel prowess, and it’s ultimately one of the most important cards in both decks. Now that we’ve covered how these decks mitigate the drawbacks of Truths and maximize its benefits, how can you attack these strategies that are built on efficiency and card advantage?
Make the Life Loss a Downside
Atarka Red is a force to be reckoned with. Everyone knows that, but it still gets overlooked, and many players will fall into the trap of thinking they beat it, and then just lose to it anyway. The mix of aggression and a combo finish means your game plan has to line up perfectly to answer red’s angles of attack. The Painful Truths decks have the tools to fight red, but they need the right early answers to be able to refuel easily and afford a tempo loss.
3 life is clearly more important against red, and Dark Jeskai can often find itself in too poor of a position to cast Painful Truths. As the Atarka Red player you need to stay low to the ground while also answering the key 2-drops that can help Jeskai Black stabilize—namely Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy, Soulfire Grand Master, or Seeker of the Way. Wild Slash and Fiery Impulse are more important than ever for this reason.
The tricky part for Atarka Red is that the Painful Truths decks also have a bunch of cheap interaction thus making a combo finish much harder. Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh is also a much worse plan than she used to be because of the abundance of spot removal. For this reason I recommend staying cheap with all your threats while having access to some Become Immense to keep your opponent honest if they happen to tap out.
Another route is to try to go wide with tokens. Recently, Trumpet Blast made an appearance in the Top 8 of the MOCS as a different type of combo finish that is better against spot removal. All I know for sure is you don’t want to try to play into Jeskai Black’s plan of a late game. Cards like Outpost Siege are just too slow and the drop in tempo for card advantage plays right into Dark Jeskai’s game plan.
Win the Mirror with Heavy-Hitting Midrange Threats
If you look closely at the deck lists above, both have a lot of disruption but take a while to actually kill the opponent outside of an unanswered Monastery Mentor. Because of this, Painful Truths mirrors are about early positioning and trying to stick a difficult-to-remove threat. One card that does this nicely is Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy. If Jace can live for a turn, he’s incredibly difficult to remove due to his high loyalty. The longer the game goes, the more spells Jace will flashback, and the more a game is over. The same is true for Monastery Mentor at one more mana.
If you really want to win a Truths mirror though the best trumps are those that invalidate card advantage. Gideon and Wingmate Roc are two examples that can accomplish this. Gideon is much harder to remove than an ordinary creature and can quickly snowball. Additionally, as a 5/5, Gideon punishes Painful Truths’ life loss well. Wingmate Roc requires multiple answers, and is a general problem for decks full of shocks and Duresses. Find a threat, stick it, and ride it to victory.
Go Over the Top
Control decks can just do more impressive things than the Painful Truths decks can handle. Esper Dragons can land a Dragonlord Ojutai while Eldrazi Ramp can resolve an Ugin, the Spirit Dragon that Dark Jeskai really has no way to handle once it resolves. The problem with either of these plans is that they are not very reliable. Painful Truths almost always exists next to Crackling Doom, and as a result Ojutai is much worse. Eldrazi ramp is impressive when it works, but it’s not going to beat Duress backed up by Jace very often, and if you throw a Negate in the mix at some point it’s going to be next to impossible for Eldrazi to win.
For these reasons you’ll need a way to actually enact your game plans as Dragons or Eldrazi. For Dragons, one of the best ways is through more discard of your own. Duress and Transgress the Mind to forcibly land an Ojutai are quite effective as is Dispel backup on turn 6. Early removal is also key to stopping opposing Jaces and to get to the midgame where both sides are drawing many cards. At that point your Dragons actually become a means to win instead of a liability.
For Eldrazi Ramp you have to drastically change your plans. One thing I was wondering is whether a blue splash would be strong out of the sideboard to play Jace. Suddenly Duress matters less against you, and Jace becomes a reliable plan when the Painful Truths deck cuts its shocks. Den Protector fits a similar plan if you just want to stay green, though it takes quite a while to get going. Perhaps combining both Jace and Den Protector would provide a way to win longer games, though you’d certainly hurt your red matchup doing so, but that’s already so awful that maybe you’re okay with it as a metagame choice against the Painful Truths strategies.
Clearly there are ways to beat Painful Truths, but you really need to have a plan to do so. Otherwise you’ll just lose to card advantage game after game and won’t ever have a creature in play to finish the job. Even if you are completely prepared, the decks playing Painful Truths are just a pile of efficient spells so they’re a bit hard to hate out. If you manage to know your role at each stage of the game and how and when to press your advantage, you can get ahead of these Painful Truths of Standard.
Good luck at GP Oakland and see you there!