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Chasing Victory – Swans in Spain

During last week’s Standard tournament, I got a call from LSV saying that he had our Standard deck for GP Barcelona. He told me how Paulo Vitor’s friend had won a Regionals with a 40 land Swan combo deck, and that he wanted to play it in Barcelona. I couldn’t have been happier at that time, as I didn’t like any of my other options, and running a sweet combo deck with a ton lands really appealed to me, especially in this format. Instead of trying to fight the various types of threats in the format, I could just ignore their strategy for the most part.

Sadly, on Sunday night I was told by a few other people about this hot new deck they had heard about. As it turned out, PV’s friend had won a Regionals in the States, not somewhere in South America like I had assumed. Things just kept getting worse, as there were multiple copies of Swans in the Monday night Premier Event, and I heard Sam Black was planning on writing an article about it.

I’m not quite sure why he would do that, because if I knew about a deck that good before a big event, I would want to just sit on it and play it myself. I knew that Sam was planning on just running Faeries, but still. Even if Swans lost to Faeries (it doesn’t, at least not always), there is a better way to exploit the situation that he was in. Some of you might say, “Well, he made top four, obviously it worked out!” While that’s certainly true, there were also three Swan decks in top eight, and Swans won the tournament while Faeries did not. Sam missed a great opportunity.

However, we didn’t miss anything. We weren’t going to scrap the deck just because some articles got published, although to be fair, we did consider playing other decks at various points. Paulo was basically locked in from the get-go, Joel and PV usually play the same deck, Luis was kind of leaning towards Fae, and I brought everything I could find for WG, a Mistveil Plains redux, and of course Swans.

After realizing that Turbo Fog was probably just a better version of my Mistveil Plains deck, I scrapped that idea. I felt like I would be pretty miserable playing WG, and I suppose the same could be said of Swans, but I was confident in my Swans list while the WG deck was probably bad. Swans it was.

Thankfully, judge extraordinaire Rashad Miller was kind enough to beat the crap out of me in a PE with a vastly superior list and then ship it along, including a very awesome transformational sideboard strategy. Getting that list from Rashad really helped me and Luis, as we needed a solid starting point.

Another thing that was very helpful was being able to stay in a local couple’s apartment. Thanks Nadya and Javier! Sadly, Javier lost playing for day two.

Here is what we both registered for the GP:

Swans

We thought we figured out the manabase, but it was still probably a little off. Spinerock Knolls are fairly miserable when you’re the full five colors and don’t have Ad Nauseam. You usually can’t afford to throw four lands at them, flip over a Swans, and continue to combo from there, especially now. In the future, I fully expect people to be ready with more Paths, Forge-Tenders, and whatnot, and you need an extra land to go off in response for each of those cards that they have. The Knolls were just comes into play tapped Mountains, and we all (Rashad, LSV, and myself, although Rashad was the first person I saw to cut them) just wanted better mana.

The manlands are pretty solid, as they give you something to do when you’re flooded, although you don’t actually feel flooded very often. They also help out your sideboard plan a lot, since you usually cut some amount of the combo, and win games with Bloodbraid Elf, Crusher, and Treetop Village.

In the future, I would consider playing some trilands over the awkward Vivids, like Creeks or Groves. I didn’t really think about it at the time, and there were a few games where I just wouldn’t draw Reflecting Pool or the right filter lands, and I’d run out of counters.

The land destruction plan is amazing against other Vivid land decks, including the mirror. PV and LSV were skeptical at first, and why wouldn’t they be? Siding in Stone Rains vs. a 40 land deck is fairly awkward, but it plays out much better than expected, mostly due to cascade. Things like Crusher and Deny Reality really go a long way to ensuring that you have a steady stream of disruption. You don’t need to kill all of their lands, you just need to kill their good ones and color screw them, or just keep them off of the combo. After I 8-0ed LSV in sideboarded games, he was on board.

I considered a wide array of cards in the maindeck, including stuff like Beseech the Queen and Diabolic Tutor, but those just seemed worse than anything with cascade or Primal Command. We cut Ad Nauseam because we definitely didn’t want it maindeck, and would rather have Stone Rains in the sideboard. At no point did we want Ad Nauseam vs. anything.

Primal Command was sick. We were “only” running 40 lands (man I love this deck!), so while our chances of comboing out was pretty high, we still would have some problems vs. Kitchen Finks and Ajani, or we would be a little short if we had to use Seismic early if we under pressure. Primal Command solved that problem, by allowing us to draw our deck, kill all of their threats if necessary, untap, Primal, and do it all over again, hopefully this time for lethal. Even if not, we can just go infinite with the two Commands.

If I was going to do it all over again, I would probably play another Primal instead of the fourth Deny Reality. Deny was good, but it was often hit or miss, whereas you know exactly what Primal is going to get you.

I figure it’s worth noting that I had three byes, based on the fact that Cedric only had two, and he has a recent PT top eight.

Round Four: RBG Aggro

He wins the die roll but mulligans twice. I gave him plenty of time to come back though, as I couldn’t assemble the combo and we entered into a very anemic attrition war where he is down two cards, but I have forty lands in my deck. Thankfully, Assault turns all my cards into Shocks and he hasn’t been drawing his bigger guys, so I’m ahead due to my manlands.

I make a mistake by taking two damage from an Outlander, down to eight, when he had five lands and a single card in hand. My plan was to race him at that point, but I was probably going to have to kill that Outlander anyway. He played a land and passed. I attacked with my Ghitu Encampment and played another one, which would allow him to rip a land and unearth Anathemancer, but thankfully he didn’t get there.

I sided in Crushers and Pulses for a Deny Reality and five lands, the Mountain, three Rugged Prairies, and the Vivid Creek.

I mulliganed to start Game Two, but had an insane start with turn three Crusher and turn four Bloodbraid into Crusher, which he didn’t seem prepared for at all. He had a couple Bloodbraid Elves of his own, mostly flipping over semi useless Pithing Needles, and the board quickly stalemated, despite me missing on my first two Crusher activations. Pretty likely, I know. He didn’t want to attack, as he could easily just die on my swing back.

I missed on Crusher again, and now I was basically dead, as my hand was full of five drops with only four lands in play. My opponent could finally afford to attack and I traded a Crusher for a Mancer and Fanatic, and an Elf with his, leaving me with a Crusher vs. a couple his guys, and three Pithing Needles. Crusher revealed one land, but then another five drop, and I got burned out on his turn.

It seemed like he kept a sketchy one in game three, as his first play was turn three Ram-Gang, turn four Ram-Gang and a Savage Lands. With Assault in play, I Commanded his Savage Lands and searched up a Swans, and hoped he didn’t have another green land and a Pulse. Thankfully, he just died.

4-0, 2-1

Round Five: WB Tokens

I won the die roll, mulliganed once, but killed him on turn five.

I sided in the Wraths and Pulses for a Deny and three land, this time Ghitu Encampments, as you don’t really block with them, they could have Path so you want to keep your Mountain, and you want the Prairies to cast Wrath. Post board against black decks are usually more attrition based, so you can afford to just start cutting lands, even if it hampers your ability to combo them. As I said, you can draw a bunch, kill their stuff, and just Primal them next turn.

I mulliganed again for game two, and all of my Seismic Assaults got killed while he was able to maintain a solid draw. Against most decks, it’s worth it to run out your enchantments before your Swans, as they will probably have more creature removal than enchantment removal. I definitely wasn’t expecting players to have Wispmare, as almost nobody runs those anymore.

I kept a “sketchy” three lander for game three, but it had a Wrath and ample cascade cards. For a brief moment, I thought I was going to miss my fourth land drop, which would have been extremely awkward, but I got there, Wrathed on turn five, played Swans and that was game.

5-0, 4-2

Round Six: WB Tokens

I saw that he was WB while he was shuffling, and gladly kept two Assaults and lands on the draw, knowing that I probably have a ton of time to draw into a Swan. I drew literally all lands, which happens, and we were onto game two.

Sadly, he got another aggressive start, this time with Wispmares to blow up my Assaults, and that was that.

5-1, 4-4

Round Seven: GB Elves

He won the die roll, mulliganed, and played a turn two Putrid Leech. My Assault was Pulsed, Swans was Terrored, and I thought I was good when I played the second Assault and he slumped. However, he drew, smiled and immediately pointed a Pulse at my Assault. The game went on for a couple more turns, but once my other Swan got Profaned, I was very dead.

I sided in Crushers for the Prairies and Mountain. Again, this matchup is basically about attrition now, and while Crusher probably won’t kill them on his own, he’s another solid threat, and makes a good wall that they will probably have to kill to beat you.

In the second game, I Bloodbraid into a Crusher, but he’s got a Pulse for it, kills my Swans, and then Mind Shatters my three lands away. After that, I draw some more lands while he figures out how to kill me in the quickest fashion.

5-2, 4-6

Round Eight: RW

With the die roll mine, I’m able to have two Vivid lands and a Reflecting Pool before his third turn, so he’s scared of Fallout and refuses to Figure a 4/4. I find the combo, but only have a single land and don’t want to get Pathed out of the game, so I just passed the turn. He starts throwing burn at me in the form of Puncture Blast and Incinerate, and when I’m finally comfortable enough to go off, I start chaining lands. His single Path to Exile is not good enough.

I brought in Pulses, but didn’t see any need for anything else. My early Assault in game two was Oblivion Ringed, but I had the Pulse, and then the Swans.

6-2, 6-6

Round Nine: WB Tokens

He won the die roll, but his Sculler didn’t do much against my Seismic Assault. The turn before I die to his huge army, I’m able to Deny my own land, cascade into Swans, and kill him for exactsies, despite his Finks and Ajani.

My opponent kicked off game two with a Procession, but I Sunlighted into a Pulse, and Bloodbraided into an Assault. Swans finished it from there, despite his Forge-Tender.

7-2, 8-6

Day two! I felt pretty lucky to get there after having to win my last two matches, but I don’t feel like I should have really lost to the other WB deck. There was nothing really I could have done, and the matchup isn’t quite a bye or anything. I just had to hope me losing to stuff like Wispmare wasn’t going to continue. I certainly wasn’t expecting very many people (aside from those playing Pulse) to be able to kill Seismic, which is far more annoying that a Pithing Needle that you can ignore or bounce. Elves is probably a bad matchup because they can actually destroy Assault, and they have Thoughtseize and a ton of spot removal.

Round Ten: Cascade Swans

I was definitely happy to finally be playing against a deck with Vivid lands, as I wanted to cast Rain of Tears pretty bad. Sadly, this was not the match for me to do that. We both had early Seismics, but he had an Ad Nauseam and revealed the lands necessary to get me.

I brought in the Crushers, Fulminators, and Rain of Tears for Swans, Sunlights, an Assault, the Prairies, and the Mountain. I thought about my opener for a bit, but it had a Seismic, Bloodbraid Elf, and Deny Reality. If I hit a Stone Rain off the Elf, I was money, and I also had an Assault to stop him from comboing me.

Sadly, I only had one land that come into play untapped, so on turn three I had to think about whether or not to play Seismic on three, or Elf on four. By turn three, I had drawn another Assault and a Crusher, so odds were that I was going to hit an LD spell, so I decided to just keep him off balance with the Elf if possible.

I played a third tapped land on turn three, while he played Assault. My Bloodbraid cascaded into a Crusher, and he played Swans and killed me. Despite dying, I still feel as if my play were correct. I didn’t have anymore lands to pitch to the Assault, so even if he did just run out his combo, I couldn’t stop him. I was also favored to hit a land destruction spell vs. not, and there was no guarantee that he has Swans and the mana to cast it. Overall, I just flipped a coin that was heavily in my favor, and lost.

Rats.

7-3, 8-8

Round Eleven: GW Tokens

I lost the die roll, but managed to cascade into a Swans on the last possible turn with Seismic in play and two lands in hand. My opponent said, “Oh, good job,” and rolled his eyes, but his story changed once I fizzled. When that happened, he said, “That sucks man, sorry about that,” as if he wasn’t complaining about my “luck” a second ago.

I sided in the Wraths and Pulses for (I believe) a Deny Reality and some Ghitu Encampments.

Second game was another grinder, with my Assault vs. his army. He kept piling on the Finks and Processions, while I failed to draw anything that would allow me to combo him out.

Rats again.

7-4, 8-10

Round Twelve: GW Tokens

I won the roll and mulliganned, but kept a hand that definitely had access to a Seismic, and then a Deny Reality or two. After buying some time with the Denys, I had a bunch of Assaults in play, and wasn’t looking very good.

My Vivid counters were gone, and I was down to four lands (after bouncing one with the last Deny), with my only way of casting Swans being Sulfurous Springs through Sunken Ruins. He had a 2/1 Finks and two Treetops vs. my Bloodbraid Elf and seven life. If he just fired up everything, I would be at one life and drawing dead, but he didn’t notice my mana situation, and attacked with one Treetop and Finks, and played some more guys post combat.

I drew Swans and managed to go off with my single land. He had that look on his face like he knew he messed up, but didn’t know where. We were having a good time chatting and I liked the kid, so I told him that I was kold if he just attacked with everyone.

He’s off to a pretty good start game two with double Hierarch, double Heights, and a Dauntless Escort. I Bloodbraided into a Seismic, attacked, and passed the turn. If he announced his attack phase, I would have to kill a Hierarch to prevent his Heights from getting active. Instead he just turned his Escort sideways without announcing his attack phase first.

I thought about it for a moment, and decided I’d rather just take five than use some lands that I might need to continue comboing. I think he might have just outplayed me here, but I’m not sure. He was very deliberate the entire match except for this attack phase, and then post combat he played Austere Command to kill my permanents.

I was fairly behind, so I needed to use Assault to kill something, and since his Escort was a 5/5, I killed his mana guys. At that point I started thinking about how maybe not announcing his attack phase was intentional, as he knew that I would probably take five, whereas if he just Austeres pre combat, I probably kill Hierarch or Escort with Assault, and he misses out on some damage that was obviously very precious, especially given what happened in game one.

Sadly for him, I had a backup Assault and ripped a Deny Reality which found me a Swans, and that was that.

8-4, 10-10

Round Thirteen: WB Tokens

I won the die roll, and his draw was kind of slow. I had enough time to cast a Primal Command to put a land on top and find a backup Swans, in case he had a Path. I also just wanted another turn to draw into another land in case he had two Paths. Turns out he had none, and died easily.

Second game was basically the same. He didn’t put up much resistance, and I assembled the combo. I showed him three lands in hand, but he wanted me to go through it. Because of his Finks and Ajani, I knew I couldn’t kill him, so I just drew a few cards and passed the turn. He Scullered my Primal, but I killed off his stuff, cast Primal, and then killed him.

9-4, 12-10

Round Fourteen: Faeries (David Besso)

I wasn’t very happy with this pairing, as Besso is a good player with Wrapter’s Fae deck, and Faeries is one of the worse matchups. In my experience, it’s all about Seismic Assault in Game One. If you can resolve that, you can usually burn them out, but post board seems completely different. They get all kinds of Thoughtseizes and Negates, while you get land destruction, as assembling the combo is hard to do in the face of all that hate. You would rather try to attack them on as many different angles as possible.

We briefly discussed the merits of one of us scooping. We both had three pro points, but I was qualified for everything while he wasn’t. Granted, that could be an argument for both ways, as if he ends up winning a PTQ and hitting up Austin and Worlds, he could make a late effort to hit level four or five, which would be all the more easier with an extra point. However, since I’m going to everything, it’s more likely that the point matters for me. In the end, it was too close to call, and we decided to just play it out.

Besso started with a turn two Blossom, but it was off Mutavault and Underground River, and then missed his third land drop. My Bloodbraid Elf hit, but Assault obviously got countered. I used some Deny Realities to keep him off Cryptic Command mana, although that might not have mattered since I had no idea if he was missing land drops or not. When he tapped out to deal with my threats, I cast Seismic Assault and killed him.

I brought in the package and cut two Swans, two Assaults, two Sunlights, Mountain, three Rugged Prairies, and another land, probably the Vivid Creek.

He Thoughtseized me turn one and took Countryside Crusher, leaving me with Rain of Tears, Deny, and lands. He cast Scepter of Fugue on turn two, taking more damage from his Underground Rivers, and when he just passed on turn three, I decided to not cast Rain of Tears, as that was exactly what he wanted me to do. Instead, I played a tapped land, and prepared to take Besso to Bloodbraid Town the following turn. He Sceptered me the following turn, and the Elf found his good friend Countryside Crusher, which surprisingly both resolved.

Crusher went large, and Cryptic tapped my guys. I killed his Sunken Ruins and played another tap land. I think I messed up the following turn when I ran into Mistbind Clique, but it didn’t really matter as I was so far ahead and he couldn’t really deal with my giant Crusher. Maybe I should have played something precombat, but that could run into Cryptic Command, so who knows?

10-4, 14-10

Round Fifteen: WB Tokens

Cedric lost to this guy earlier, so I knew exactly what he was playing. Game one was quite easy, as it typically is, as no one really has any way to stop you game one. WB’s clock isn’t always fast, and you can usually race them.

Second game we both mulligan, and I’m fairly happy with my Maelstrom Pulse, Wrath of God, Seismic Assault, and lands. I deal with his first two waves of guys, but around turn ten or so, it’s apparent that I’ve drawn literally all lands. That tends to happen with 40 land (although I only had 36 post board), and that trend continued as I failed to draw another spell.

I mulliganed again in game three, failed to cascade into a Swan, and then failed to draw a Swan for the remainder of the game.

Rats yet again.

10-5, 14-12

Another GP, another mediocre finish, and another example of why I hate combo decks that roll the dice. Both times, in Los Angeles and Barcelona, I played a combo deck where chance is a big portion of your win/loss ratio, but I figured that because the decks I would be playing would be relatively unknown, no one would be prepared for them. While that was more or less true, sometimes that isn’t good enough to compensate for your deck being luck based.

Swans is still a sick deck. It is by far the most unfair thing in Standard, but I fully expect the hate to be flowing, and matchups like WB and WG will no longer be as easy as they once were. The mirror will also be prevalent, possibly with Rashad’s amazing LD plan. That makes the mirrors absolutely terrible, and basically dependant on who wins game one.

If you are looking to play Swans, I wholeheartedly recommend LSV’s and my list over the PV/Calafell one, despite the fact that they basically crushed the tournament. Our Commands were insane, at no point did I want Knoll or Ad Nauseam, and our sideboard plan was much more focused and concise, whereas theirs had a bunch of random cards that didn’t do anything like Vexing Shusher and Qasali Pridemage.

Next week: Seattle! See you there! If I am casting Swans of Bryn Argoll, feel free to scold me. I should have learned my lesson by now.

GerryT

4 thoughts on “Chasing Victory – Swans in Spain”

  1. While I understand your reasoning behind not playing Swans in Seattle, I wonder how you would try to outplay Swans?

    Being somewhat new to the deck, what subtle tricks allow Swans to pull out matches it would otherwise lose?

    Just trying to figure out the best way to “hate” the deck without disrupting my main game plan against the rest of the field.

    Thanks, and good luck in Seattle.

  2. Spinerock Knoll has been really good for me. It pushes me past lands when I play it, and I can just throw lands at them after attacking with the elf if I need a Swans or I want to cast whats underneath.

    As far as hate goes; Since I normally run Doran, I main Pridemage and side in Gaddock Teeg, Halo, and Needle. I have seen some really good Merfolk decks that just own this matchup with Meddling Mage and V-Cliques. But it really is a rough matchup against blue in general. Orwen is the only guy that I have seen consistantly beat Faeries, but he sides Fallout instead of Wrath of God.

    I like the cascade deck, but I am more happy with the regular UR version since it has counterspells.

  3. Pingback: ChannelFireball - Chasing Victory: Swans in Spain « The Mise!

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