Breaking Through – When Christmas Becomes New Year


I often get asked how I was able to get some deck to work or how I finished with such a good record with deck X once people have the list in front of them and fail to realize the same results. One factor going into this is that decks I design are often deceptively hard to play. Take for example, Magical Christmas Land (hereafter MXL), which I talked about last week; I have been getting a ton of emails asking about why I didn’t run more basics, or why I only ran 23 lands etc. Often, people are making these criticisms after only a few trial runs with the deck. This can lead to a ton of differences in results that are usually in the realm of control for the pilot and not the deck itself. This is not to say that my decks are flawless or anything, but the most common complaints I hear tend to be ones stemming from a lack of proper play.

Another big reason my decks tend to burn out faster than people would hope is that I build decks for a tournament and not for a format. Decks are rarely built in a vacuum, yet many people that run across a deck online expect it to perform in a similar manner across time, frozen in some type of perpetual vortex where metagames never fade and players remain oblivious to everything at all times. If the deck builder intended to attack a very specific metagame that would be represented at only a single tournament or maybe a two week block of a PTQ season, the deck generally would fail spectacularly without proper updates and nurturing. Still, despite this, people will still pick up a deck like MXL and complain when they keep losing against all of these decks running 20 basics and1-drops.

Generally, after I have played a deck like MXL, I let it drift away, as much of its surprise element is gone, or the format shifts, or I have other ideas to pursue. For the 2009 States however, between the last few weeks of my college career, moving into a new apartment, and the plentiful other little things eating my time, I don’t really have the luxury of looking for an entire new deck when I so recently spent a ton of time coming up with one (that performed well even). That said, there is still very little chance I will ever pick up an exact 75 across various weeks, especially considering expected shifts in the meta with things like Naya becoming more popular. Therefore, today, I would like to go over some of the potential directions to take a deck like MXL, offering up some unique shells for your 2009 State Championships.

For reference, here once again is the list I ran at Worlds:


So the first thing we want to consider before adapting this list at all to an new expected metagame, is to figure out exactly what we expect that metagame to be. Naya is bound to be much more popular now than before, which presents a matchup that is similar to Jund (from this deck’s perspective) but is not hurt by the land death in the same manner. This makes our faster land death, like Goblin Ruinblaster, much worse and thus places a bigger pressure on Lotus Cobra to provide explosive draws.

Jund will of course be popular still, most likely claiming the most played deck of the weekend across North America. For that matchup, we still sit in a good position and can only really afford the loss of things like Ob Nixilis, which weren’t in there for that matchup anyway.

Fog decks are going to become a little more popular now, with it being shown that they can actually compete in this format. This deck offers a pretty good matchup against them with so many ways to remove their draw engines etc. The countermagic can be annoying which may warrant some hand disruption, but we will need to assess that as the deck(s) flesh themselves out.

Lastly, it is pretty futile to fight that the aggressive decks are officially popular. I managed to dodge Boros at Worlds, but in an eight or nine round tournament, you probably cannot hope to be as lucky. This warrants some consideration in the department of maindeck sweepers or more removal. This is difficult with such a tight list, but the choice is to adapt or lose.

Assuming we wish to keep a land destruction package in the maindeck, we need to look at remodeling the deck a bit. The land destruction is definitely a huge bonus against decks like Jund, or 3+ Color Control decks trying to take advantage of the abundant aggro, but really starts to showcase an inherent weakness against those very aggro decks. In addition, Ob Nixilis is not so good against the aggressive decks, and should probably be moved to the side to combat Fog decks. There is nothing even guaranteeing that keeping land destruction as a focal point is worth it, but let’s explore the possibility anyway.

In this list we cut the Mold Shamblers, as although they are good especially in a more focused LD deck, they also cost 6 and are not an auto 2 for 1 like Slime is. In their stead, we added 4 additional removal spells to help deal with the more aggressive decks. Granted, this does not make those matchups easy, but it does make them bearable. In reality, we only need to buy a few turns until our more impressive big guys and Ultimatums come on line. Burst Lightning was chosen over Lightning Bolt as it deals with mostly the same creatures early, but can also be kicked to take down a Putrid Leech or Broodmate token if needed. Bolt is still probably fine if you would rather go that route though.

We switched up our big guys to have a little better suite against the aggressive decks. Rampaging Baloths is insane against all of the decks looking to get in with 3/3s but he usually takes a turn to establish board control. To remedy this, we added the instant army cards of Broodmate Dragon and Siege-Gang Commander, which both clog up the board quickly and then can turn offensive (or into removal in the case of SCG) once you untap.

Without any way to draw extra cards or prevent excess lands from being dead late game, we wanted to keep the count “low” at 23 to help ensure a steady stream of good cards past turns five and six. The deck can definitely utilize something like 24 or 25 lands but only if it had a way to prevent them from slowing your game plan down. For example, with essentially 35 mana sources, you would much rather topdeck an Ultimatum stuck at 6 lands than you would a land, as the gas is going to be much harder to find than a mana source.

We weren’t able to fit in any sweeper effect, which will keep our aggro matchup from being a welcomed pairing, but we can still add that type of removal to the board. The important thing here is that we turned our aggro matchup into somewhat of a coin flip, allowing our boarding plan to be more effective and take the pressure off of having to rattle off 2 games in a row every round against Boros.

Still, if we wanted to pursue a deck that capitalized on the explosive mana of MXL while having a sweeper in the main and a way to recover from mana flood, where would we turn? Well, it just so happens that I had all of those cards in the original deck, they were just located in the extra 15.

This list incorporates the two things we just discussed, draw filtering via Cruels and the double Sphinx brothers, and sweeper effects from Caldera Hellion and Earthquake. Before we go calling this “the solution” though, we need to realize that those changes did not come without baggage. We have a significantly worse mana base than we did previously. Granted, we were able to go up to 25 lands and even sneak in a Rampant Growth for added redundancy but we are now casting cards with blue in them.

Cruel Ultimatum is the biggest culprit here. Yes you are still going to be casting it on turn five or six most games, but compared to Violent Ultimatum, which could consistently come down on turn four or five, we are losing a full turn of speed. To make up for this fact, we have added more removal, with eight spot removal spells and three sweepers. Caldera Hellion is rarely going to live in this list unless he eats a Cobra, but he is run for the fact that he does not deal damage to you, and can be recurred by Cruel Ultimatum. Testing has proven that Earthquake is better than him in most cases though.

Sphinx of Lost Truths is a fine way to filter extra lands at 5 mana and will provide a Cruel-like effect at 7, usually drawing you into Cruel. Sphinx of Jwar Isle is not only a house, but lets dead draws like Harrow turn into card filtering in the late game. We had to cut Rampaging Baloths due to the fact that it was double green. We can often mise a single green off of a Savage Lands which also allows us to cast Cruel Ultimatum off of seven lands, but needing to fetch a Forest in addition to the Savage Lands made for some awkward situations. We still do run two Forests for fetchland purposes, but you will find as you play this deck that you often will sacrifice your Forests to Harrow in order to allow smoother curves at the top end.

The last option to talk about today is one which utilizes the consistent mana base of the straight Jund list, but ditches the land destruction package entirely in favor of a more traditional approach.

Arid Mesa and Scalding Tarn are interchangeable here. In this build, they only get a Mountain, as we are not playing blue for Cruel Ultimatum.

This list gets away with a 24th land based on the addition of Chandra Ablaze. It is tempting to look at her as some big finisher that rebuys Ultimatums, but in reality, her last ability should basically be ignored. Sure if it happens, you will win, but let’s be realistic and look at the other two abilities. The first plays removal against aggressive decks, and burn against control decks. Typically, the cards you discard to it will be good on there own, but maybe you really need to rid yourself of a Putrid Leech and only have a Jund Charm in hand. Keep in mind that if you do want to go ultimate, this ability can pitch a land as well. It won’t deal the damage, but she will still get the loyalty counter. The biggest reason we are running Chandra however, is in the second ability. Here we have a way to rebuild our depleted hands in red nonetheless. This is the main reason we are running 3 of her, as we intend on utilizing this ability the most, and can pitch extra Chandras to a Chandra anyway. Keep in mind that a turn three Chandra into Wheel of Fortune can also be devastating on an opponent with 5 or more cards in their hand. This acts almost like the All-in-Red play from Extended.

We have lowered our finisher creatures down to just four guys, but in their stead have gained Chandra and Resounding Thunders. This is a card that can remove a pesky creature early and turns into a cantripping Banefire late. Of course, late in this deck is turn five or six, which makes the card even better. With 4 Thunder, 3 Chandra, 2 Bolt, and 2 Siege-Gang, it is entirely possible to just burn an opponent out with this deck. Because of this, some consideration should be given to running Volcanic Fallout or Earthquake in the Jund Charm slot. Currently I am running the charm maindeck for both its synergy Chandra in the main and because all the Standard Dredge lists can just destroy you in game one without it.

-A thing to note: With this list, Harrow will normally be sacrificing a Swamp as it is less important than in the other lists.

Alright, well there are three different lists that all take the engine from Magic Christmas Land and apply it in different ways. Each has its own merits and has different matchups based on that, but each provides a fresh idea to run head first into nine rounds with. Good luck to everyone going to the 2009 State Championships. Thanks for reading.

Conley Woods

22 thoughts on “Breaking Through – When Christmas Becomes New Year”

  1. Pingback: MTGBattlefield

  2. Nice article Conley. I really like engine you designed for these three lists. Can you talk a little bit about what sideboard cards you might utilize for these decks? Or at least, the first and the third deck?

  3. I really enjoy how you explain the process and reasoning behind card choices. You make a good point that every card change has a cost. People often forget this and overcompensate to improve one match up.

    Good article.

  4. I like the ideas here. Did you ever test Lavaball Trap? It is a very powerful sweeper, fits with the Land Death theme, and the trap cost works nicely against Bushwhacker decks with their 12 fetchlands. Of course, it could just be not good enough, and I understand that you cannot use cobra to power out the trap cost without saving fetches (huge giveaway sometimes, and i guess pretty easy to play around). Even at it’s non-trap cost though, It is a house vs most decks.

  5. Nice Article! This completely answers all of the issues I had with the deck that I blogged about on another site, though like you said, the mana base on at least one of them is rather shaky.

    All in all, interesting read. It kept me entertained the entire time I was reading it! Kudos.

  6. I actually ran a version nearly identical to your cruel version to a couple 4-0’s in daily events premieres, so I can vouch for the deck having a place in the field. I didn’t run the sphinx of lost truths, instead using 2 jwar isles, 4 cruels, 3 broodmates, and 3 siege gangs, with two hellions and no quakes main.

    Not enough testing to come to a conclusion on any of the numbers, but I’ve had success with that package. But i also have had a lot of cobras survive turn 2, so who knows?

  7. Hi, I love the deck, and really appreciate that each card is carefully considered etc.

    I was just wondering though, if a sweeper is required whether lavalanche fits better than twisting the manabase? Seems to be a good card receiving no real love.

  8. Conley for president!

    Man, I have no word to describe how good it makes me feel reading your articles, observing your deckbuilding prowess and following your logic and arguments. You truly are one of the best article writers this game has ever seen. You’re doing a great job. I have been reading articles non-stop for the last 5 years and I can really feel I’m learning new things just by reading yours. I know how hard it is to keep up with people’s expectations, but so far you have never failed to amaze. Here’s me hoping that you can keep the fire going for a long time.

  9. Would it be possible to replace one of the mana fixers with Trace of Abdunance in the Chandra list? I realized all three synergize with the fetch/landfall effects so maybe it would be better in a different version. Just am interesting way to reduce dead draws late.

  10. I am sure your wanting to run Trace because its red, but there are a few problems there. first off, the card is pretty difficult to cast in a Jund based deck. Drawing any Swamp, or something like 2 Verdant Catacombs/Misty Rainforest combination is just the nut low. Second, the extra mana late never matter, so you are basically wanting to deal 4 with the card. While thats fine, pitching an Expedition for +1 is still ok without it, and if your really in top deck mode, you should be drawing 3 cards anyway.

    Lavalanche is pretty slow and clumsy. I tried it as everything from a singleton to a 3 of, and only if you topdeck it late is it good. The problem is that your sweepers need to be getting you to the late game, nto only being good when you get there. For 5 mana you get to pyroclasm, which is pretty lame. At least Hellion does 3 and can provide a 4/4.

    Lavaball trap is good the first time you cast it, and pretty awkward there after.Boros can play around it, if you are leaving 5 mana up, they can choose to not play 2 lands etc. Due to the lack of other instants in your deck that aren’t removal, this can make for lost turns where you could have just cast something else. At 8 mana its ok, but 8 mana is much harder to get to than 6 or 7, as combos like Expedition plus harrow make 7.

  11. Great Article and my hat off to you Conley for your innovation as a designer. For everyone else reading this,,,he is giving a “bone” structure for the deck and if you have any questions regarding certain cards that you think should be in the deck,,,just playtest it and do so against some of the decks we expect to play at the event we are going to (just like he mentioned in the beginning) instead of just wanting him to give you the answers. I can appreciate the net decking feature, but as a Magic player you should be ashamed of yourself for wanting the manual instead of doing the work yourself. Come on and just play the deck, do some adjustments, then more adjustments and feel good about actually playing instead of watching others do it for you. Again Conley thanks man and good looking out for answering the comments 🙂

  12. LOVING the Cruel Ultimatum build
    it’s working amazingly well so far in my testing (just a couple matches so far)
    i’m 3-0 in matches so far and lost a game only to mana screw (2 lands all game vs boros)
    turn 4 and 5 cruel ultimatum did make one opponent quit tho…

    thanks for the great article and the fantastic deckbuilding you always seem to do!

  13. save the lavaball traps for block constructed. Been testing a block port thats been having some success

  14. Great ideas, with the mana ramp abuse, my buddy developed something similar a few months ago, right after zendi came out. The list has ridiculous power, and in my experience only lost to control. I feel like you didn’t take into consideration that boros has to have a pretty great draw to actually pull off a turn three kill, which would give you time to get either a mold shambler or a violent ultimatum off. Both of which should potentially save you. I dunno, I’m not the expert, but it seems like less subtle changes could be made to help against boros, because of the strength of the land D core in the current meta. Every deck gets blown out by turn four or five violent, that won’t change for some time.

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