When Swans Become Demons
As I mentioned last week, Standard on MODO is somewhat boring. It’s old and played out, so I was looking for something new. I saw a few [card]Demigod of Revenge[/card]-powered control decks running around and decided to brew up my own list. I was gunslinging at the Kentucky Prerelease and needed a “fun” deck to play with anyway.
The URB deck appealed to me because I enjoy strategies like this. I would much rather be the guy drawing cards instead of playing Grizzly Bears and hoping they are good enough to get in for twenty damage. With Demigods, the deck is a lot more aggressive than I’m used to. That turned out to be a good thing, considering how insane Demigod is right now, especially in conjunction with Volcanic Fallout.
Demigod Grixis Control
You may notice some similarities to the Swans deck LSV and I wrote about earlier, and that would probably be because I consider this to be the evolution of that deck. The Swan control shell (Jace, [card Cryptic Command]Cryptic[/card], [card Volcanic Fallout]Fallout[/card], other counterspells and removal) is really powerful, and usually works well in this format, but the how you close the game is sometimes an issue.
Demigod is great at ending games, as not only is it immune to the majority of removal spells in the format, if it does die, a second one is almost always game over. Demigod isn’t strictly a threat because of this, you can also use them on defense and use them to provide card advantage.
Four Demigods wasn’t enough threats though, so I turned to Wydwen. While Wydwen has seem some sideboard play as of late, it’s definitely good enough for the maindeck. She is a pseudo Plumeveil the majority of the time, but can also go on the offense post-Fallout.
Both of the win conditions are great because they play well with Fallout, hit hard, and have evasion. This isn’t a typical control deck, as the majority of the time you end up racing in the midgame against decks like Faeries or WB Tokens. If they don’t play carefully enough, a hit from Demigod and Wydwen, combined with points here and there from Fallout, painlands, Bitterblossom, and Thoughtseize all start to add up quickly.
Plumeveil, Terror, and Fallout all work well together, as Fallout sweeps away the little guys, while [card]Plumeveil[/card] and spot removal take care of any big threats, and they are all amazing with Jace. Often you will play a counterspell or removal spell on turn two, Jace on turn three, and then Plumeveil or Fallout on turn four to protect it, and the game is basically over at that point. Jace will keep your hand full and they won’t be able to keep up.
Don’t be afraid to use Jace’s +2 ability, as “Mikokoro-ing“ to keep Jace alive is usually the right play. Generally, when your deck is full of card advantage and removal, you don’t mind each of you drawing a card, as yours will generally trump theirs. Jace is also very important, as if you keep it in play you will probably win, so even if they are going to attack it for three, down to two, it’s worth it for you to give them a card. If you get to untap with Jace in play, you should have enough cards to protect it with.
Against other control decks with Volcanic Fallout, it is almost always correct to +2 a turn three Jace, so that their formerly dead card doesn’t get to destroy your best card. It’s a little embarrassing when they play their own Jace, as you probably missed an opportunity to get a free card, but that’s just how it has to be. You never know if they have Fallout or Jace, so the safe play is playing around one of them. Also, chances are they will probably just discard on their turn, so you are still up a card.
The Sifts always draw awkward looks, as Sift is a “bad” card. Truth is, it is solid enough and the cute interaction with Demigod is enough to get me to play it instead of something like Tidings. The cheaper cost is also nice. If there were something better, I wouldn’t mind playing them, but I think Sift is the right choice for your secondary card drawing spell.
The counterspell suite is fairly standard. Banefire is your inevitability game one against other control decks, and isn’t entirely dead against other decks.
And then, there’s the Cruel Ultimatum. I’ve been over this on other websites, but this is how I feel about the Ultimatum:
1) It’s slow and does nothing until you are basically ready to win the game. Until you get to that point, it is a virtual mulligan. I don’t like having these types of cards in my control decks as once I get to the late game, I don’t feel like I need a card like this to win me the game. I should already have the upper hand because of the card advantage I’ve gained and inevitability.
2) It is extremely hard to resolve against other Blue decks. To combat this, and to easily prevent theirs from resolving, I have four Negates and two Guttural Reponses in my sideboard. However, Negate isn’t exactly good against Faeries, and neither is Cruel Ultimatum. Faeries is always going to be the bane of decks like this, even if Fallout and Banefire do drastically change the matchup. Playing dead cards like Ultimatums further compounds this.
3) It’s powerful, no doubt about it. Against some decks, you can make a bunch of mistakes and still win by casting Ultimatum, but I prefer to just rely on playing well instead of hoping I draw my card that gets me out of the hole I put myself into. Getting to seven mana is the problem. If it cost any less than that, it would probably be worth playing in multiples.
So why am I playing it now? Well, I started with two and played roughly 200 games between MODO and real life. In those games, there was not a single time where I could say “I wouldn’t have won that game without Ultimatum.” Instead, it was more of a “kill you now, rather than later” type of card, as the five damage is convenient with Demigods. I wanted to cut them both, but Gabe Walls insisted that I keep at least one. If you insist on playing two, you can probably cut a Terror for the second one.
So how is the deck? Well, I wouldn’t be writing about it if I didn’t feel like it was viable. I know that’s not exactly a glowing endorsement, but the problem is with control in the current format, not really with the deck. If a deck like GB Elves or WB Tokens wins the die roll, you are on the draw for games one and three most likely. When your main defense is a card like Broken Ambitions and your card drawing is Jace, you better hope you are winning a lot of die rolls, as losing the die roll almost flips the matchup percentage all by itself. My kingdom for a Spell Snare.
Llanowar Elves into Imperious Perfect into Garruk is almost impossible to beat on the draw, as is Bitterblossom into Procession into Ajani. However, if you are on the play, Broken Ambitions takes all the wind out of their sails.
Faeries presents the same problem. Can you counter their Bitterblossom? If so, congratulations. If not, you better get Jace going or draw a bunch of Fallouts. Thanks to things like Fallout, Banefire, and Demigod, you have a lot of things that can ignore their counterspells. Fae can still just get their nut draw, Thoughtseize your Fallout, play Bitterblossom, and counter the rest of your spells, but all you can do is hope that doesn’t happen.
Negate loses a lot of value when you’re on the draw, since about the only thing you can counter is Jace or Cryptic Command. At least Ambitions can counter a Mistbind Clique later, and Response allows you to win the counterwars.
The miser’s Needle comes in, as it’s solid against Mutavault and they might have Scepter of Fugue, thanks to LSV and wrapter. If you know they have Scepters, I would bring in another Needle, or maybe keep in the Negates if you’re on the play.
Sift and Ultimatum are way too slow against Faeries. You will almost never get a chance to cast them.
Overall, Faeries will probably beat you more than you beat them, especially if they really understand the matchup. However, due to a combination of my opponents’ unfamiliarity with my deck, and Fallout, Banefire, and Demigod, I have been beating Faeries far more than I’ve been losing.
WB is a great deck, and probably the best in the format. That said, I like my chances against WB unless they win the die roll and nut draw you. The new persist heavy version is a much worse matchup, but still winnable. I would rather play against [card]Marsh Flitters[/card] than [card]Kitchen Finks[/card] every day.
I used to bring in the third Needle, but with [card]Infest[/card]s and [card]Plumeveil[/card]s you don’t really need to worry about [card]Burrenton Forge-Tender[/card]. If they have something like Scepter, I would consider bringing in the third.
[card]Sift[/card]s are too slow, [card]Banefire[/card] doesn’t do anything, and between your sweepers, Plumeveils, and Ambitions, you don’t need or want the [card]Remove Soul[/card]s.
GB Elves is a very popular deck on Magic Online, but that doesn’t seem like the case in real life. That could all change soon enough though. Elves is very similar to WB, but much worse in my opinion, and much less scary from a control player’s point of view.
Vs Elves: + 3 [card]Terror[/card], 1 [card]Plumeveil[/card], 3 [card]Pithing Needle[/card]
– 1 [card]Banefire[/card], 2 Sift, 2 [card]Negate[/card], 2 [card]Remove Soul[/card] (on the play)
– 1 [card]Banefire[/card], 2 Sift, 2 [card]Negate[/card], 2 [card]Broken Ambitions[/card] (on the draw)
You don’t want too much permission in this matchup, especially on the draw. If they start with a [card]Llanowar Elves[/card] on the play, they can probably play around [card]Broken Ambitions[/card], which is why I side a couple of them out. Even though they generally have a mix of spells and creatures that are threats, I would rather just have [card]Remove Soul[/card] on the draw.
You need [card]Pithing Needle[/card] to fight Treetop, [card]Mutavault[/card], Garruk, and possibly [card]Imperious Perfect[/card].
Other control decks, such as 5cc, are great matchups. It’s extremely difficult for them to beat Demigods and Banefires. Post board, you get a bunch of cheap counters, which makes all their expensive spells embarrassing.
Vs 5cc: + 2 [card]Pithing Needle[/card], 2 [card]Guttural Response[/card], 2 [card]Negate[/card], 1 [card]Banefire[/card]
– 4 [card]Volcanic Fallout[/card], 3 [card]Plumeveil[/card]
Needles are for the Scepters they almost certainly have. If they have more targets, like [card]Ajani Vengeant[/card], you probably want the third one. The singleton [card]Terror[/card] stays in because you need to fight [card]Wall of Reverence[/card] and Broodmate, but really need to save the [card]Remove Soul[/card]s (and possibly [card]Broken Ambitions[/card]) for Broodmates, so I don’t mind having a single spot removal spell for their Walls.
WR Boat Brew is the most overrated deck in Standard at the moment. The newer versions online play [card]Wrath of God[/card]s and [card]Volcanic Fallout[/card]s maindeck, which they have to in order to beat real decks like Elves and WB. Post board against those decks, WR looks like a really terrible 5cc deck, where all of their threats die to their own sweepers. I’m not sure why anyone would play the deck, but regardless, it’s still popular.
If anything, they should be playing Brian Kowal’s version, with a ton of persist guys. At least then their deck should have some synergy with their sweepers. However, that is still worse than the new WB deck with persist guys.
Vs WR Boat Brew: + 3 [card]Pithing Needle[/card], 1 [card]Plumeveil[/card]
– 1 [card]Banefire[/card], 2 [card]Negate[/card], 1 [card]Terror[/card]
You don’t really need [card]Terror[/card] for anything except [card]Figure of Destiny[/card], but you have Needle to deal with those if necessary. Needle (and fliers) solve the [card]Ajani Vengeant[/card] problem, so [card]Negate[/card] doesn’t really counter anything relevant anymore.
This matchup is similar to WB Tokens, except they don’t have any blowout draws or disruption, and only have [card]Reveillark[/card]s as real threats. You should win this matchup a vast majority of the time.
The new RDW is going to be a tough matchup, as [card]Anathemancer[/card] is a sick, sick card. However, Demigods put them on a fast clock, so you don’t give them a lot of time to peel burn to kill you. [card]Terminate[/card] instead of [card]Terror[/card] would probably help here, but is worse against almost every matchup. It’s just too hard to cast, and [card]Terror[/card] kills almost everything that [card]Terminate[/card] would anyway. [card]Terror[/card] also kills Forge-Tender.
Vs RDW: + 3 [card]Pithing Needle[/card], 2 [card]Negate[/card], 1 [card]Plumeveil[/card], 3 [card]Terror[/card]
– 1 [card]Banefire[/card], 2 [card]Sift[/card], 2 Wydwen, 4 [card]Volcanic Fallout[/card]
Even if you think you are drawing dead, you can do something like Ambitions your own Demigod for zero, and mill three more Demigods. Another trick to consider is the timing with Demigod and counterspells that I learned from watching Michael Jacob when he won Nationals. If, in real life, you cast a Demigod and your opponent immediately counters it, chances are a judge will rule that the intent was to resolve the trigger and then counter the Demigod (Riki?). If you are holding another Demigod, don’t even bother contested it with a judge, as if you cast a second Demigod and they do the same thing, it is obvious that the trigger hasn’t resolved yet, as your initial Demigod is still in the graveyard. At that point, you can happily attack for ten.
I think the Demigod deck has a lot of good matchups in Standard, and none of them are unwinnable. If you like control and are looking for something a little different, this is probably the deck for you. Your matchups across the board are pretty good, especially if you can dodge red decks. You even get a free win against anyone foolish enough to run [card]Sanity Grinding[/card], and have a great matchup against other control decks.