Feature Article – Given or Ungiven (English)

I’m very sorry it has been so long since I last wrote. This past month I have had many different things going on. It started with Australia, then Machu Picchu and Grand Prix Santiago where I got food poisoning and played Day Two feeling truly ill. As for the Wizards staff and players who helped me when they saw me in that wretched state, I can’t thank you enough. It is also as a result of their assistance that I am able to write this article on my flight back to Japan.

And then there was Hiroshima, the announcement about the changes coming next season, playtesting at Luis’ father’s home, San Diego, the Hall of Fame ceremony, the World Championships…

There are many things I would like to write about, as well as some topics I feel I should avoid, but I think I will start in my usual style by discussing the decks I have played and encountered. I am going to skip over ChannelFireball’s Tempered Steel deck because it seems likely that members of the team who understand the deck much better than I will state their opinions in forthcoming articles, and it is difficult to ascertain whether the subject matter in my article will be out of date due to the lag from translation.

I think I will write about the Yasooka Control style Modern deck I used at Worlds, as perhaps I will be the only one to do so.

My result with the deck was 6-0, but all joking aside I did not have a Modern deck ready for the tournament Friday night even as Saturday morning dawned. As everyone knows, the majority of ChannelFireball’s members chose to play Zoo, but that story cannot be told in just a few words. I think that perhaps Luis or Paulo will write on the subject in detail around the time this article comes out, but there was a real scene when they changed the deck they planned to play. And once again, I had my own situation.

At the end of Day Two, my results were seven wins and five losses. In order to make Top 8 in the average year you would need to have four losses and one draw or fewer, so I basically had no hope of making the cut. Additionally, to maintain my level eight pro status and make Top 64 the following day I needed to have a record of 4-1-1 or better.

Only this result would allow me to continue my lifestyle next season, so I couldn’t afford to fail, but today I can look back with pride on that result which came on the heels of a 3-3 record in the Innistrad draft portion. I got the record I needed!

Zoo isn’t a bad deck, but I decided to use Yasooka’s deck at the very last minute. The decision stemmed from the fact that while other members who were in contention for Top 8 (Luis, Paulo, Ben, Owen, as well as Brian Kibler) would face players using control decks against which Zoo is strong, I wanted a deck like Yasooka’s build that would be powerful against the beatdown strategies I would likely see in my bracket. Thus, I thought it was the correct choice.

Kibler was joking about this on Facebook, but I posted the following on the Channel Fireball team member message board. I think it best expresses my circumstances at the time.

Shuhei Nakamura
playtesting 30 min in my room. I’ve really no idea for play tomorrow, will play GBRU gift, it can beat zoo and affinity…

Saturday 12:56 AM

I felt very anxious when the first round began on the morning of Day Three and even during the afternoon. This was because I had basically done zero playtesting and had only about an hour to acquaint myself with this version of Yasooka Control and its very unique card choices (in the end, Ben couldn’t get a hold of the cards and had to play Zoo).

Here is the deck I played:

[deck]1 Blood Crypt
1 Breeding Pool
1 Darkslick Shores
1 Forest
2 Graven Cairns
4 Grove of the Burnwillows
1 Island
2 Misty Rainforest
1 Overgrown Tomb
1 Stomping Ground
2 Swamp
1 Tectonic Edge
2 Twilight Mire
3 Verdant Catacombs
1 Watery Grave
2 Eternal Witness
2 Kitchen Finks
4 Sakura-Tribe Elder
1 Snapcaster Mage
1 All Suns’ Dawn
1 Consuming Vapors
2 Damnation
1 Doom Blade
1 Duress
2 Engineered Explosives
4 Gifts Ungiven
1 Go for the Throat
2 Inquisition of Kozilek
1 Life from the Loam
3 Liliana of the Veil
3 Punishing Fire
1 Raven’s Crime
1 Rude Awakening
1 Smother
2 Thirst for Knowledge
2 Ancient Grudge
2 Combust
1 Extirpate
1 Obstinate Baloth
2 Seal of Primordium
4 Tarmogoyf
3 Thoughtseize[/deck]

If you are thinking you might want to give this deck a try I would like to impress upon you that, although it is a Yasooka creation, this particular deck is extremely quirky. Happily it was a build I was able to adjust to rather easily, but Yuuya Watanabe had a great deal of trouble with it.

A major guideline for playing this deck involves the order in which you play lands. I think you should try to get double green, double black and then a red source over turns one through three. On the fourth turn play a blue source, and from then on prioritize red mana as much as possible. It is very important to be able to get double green and double black.

One blue source is sufficient, since the only blue cards in the deck are [card]Gifts Ungiven[/card] and Thirst for Knowledge. Red mana is essential at every stage thereafter. You cannot really make use of the [card]Punishing Fire[/card] system if you don’t have most of your deck’s red mana sources at your disposal.

If you use a fetch land on the first turn I think you should generally get [card]Overgrown Tomb[/card] unless your hand lacks a blue source, in which case you would go for [card]Breeding Pool[/card] or [card]Watery Grave[/card]. I think that as you grow accustomed to the way the deck operates you will come to understand the necessary mana combinations. It’s essential to always be aware of the shock lands remaining in your library. Please be careful, as there are only four basic lands in the deck: two Swamps, a Forest and an Island.

Make sure not to fetch too many basic lands in the early turns of the game, because not being able to search for land with [card]Sakura-Tribe Elder[/card] or as the result of an opponent’s [card]Path to Exile[/card] can be an issue. Because this deck has an extremely narrow method of attack there are only a few cards that can function as damage sources, and you have to be particularly careful of the possibility of drawing the Elder in the later stages of the game.

Having solved the puzzling mana base problem, we turn to the question of [card]Gifts Ungiven[/card]. [card]Gifts Ungiven[/card] is this deck’s key component, and I think there can be no doubt that it makes the deck harder to play. Once Masashi Oiso almost received a game loss for slow play while competing on the Japanese national team in the finals of the team portion of the World Championship because he was in the tank about his choices for [card]Gifts Ungiven[/card]. At that time he was playing the Urza lands, and his choice was mainly whether to go for removal or an artifact. In Yasooka’s deck there are three ways to go.

The simplest option is to choose four cards that serve the same purpose. Against a beatdown deck you often go for four removal spells, a straightforward but very effective plan.

For example:

[draft]Doom Blade
Go for the Throat
Liliana of the Veil[/draft]

I think with this selection Liliana will probably end up in the graveyard and you will receive two of the basic removal spells.

Or, consider this example:

Engineered Explosives
Consuming Vapors
Liliana of the Veil[/draft]

The mana cost of these cards is restrictive, but their effects are much more powerful. In reality, the above combinations may also include [card]Nekrataal[/card], [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] or the jack-of-all-trades, [card]Eternal Witness[/card]. You can also find [card]Kitchen Finks[/card] for a blocker that gains you life at the same time. This kind of choice is the fundamental theory behind [card]Gifts Ungiven[/card], but it allows for a wide range of practical applications and game development.

The second path you can take involves choosing four cards that assemble the [card]Punishing Fire[/card] system. With this method, no matter how the four cards you choose are divided your combination can make use of the cards placed in the graveyard. In most cases builds include [card]Life from the Loam[/card], but I think this feature is the real charm of Yasooka Control.

Here the choices are the most difficult, but it’s certainly thrilling when you can do this skillfully and simply playing [card]Gifts Ungiven[/card] heralds the end of the game.

For example, against control:

[draft]Life from the Loam
Raven’s Crime
Tectonic Edge
Punishing Fire[/draft]

It’s pretty much over for you if your opponent is packing graveyard hate. Generally though, their hand size will not increase because of [card]Raven’s Crime[/card], and their land situation will not improve because of [card]Tectonic Edge[/card]. Before long you discard [card]Grove of the Burnwillows[/card], recover it with [card]Life from the Loam[/card] and then use [card]Punishing Fire[/card] to grind away their life total bit by bit.

Once you are able to get the upper hand, the combination of [card]Life from the Loam[/card], [card]Grove of the Burnwillows[/card], [card]Punishing Fire[/card] and one other card is usually sufficient against beatdown decks. This selection aims more directly at establishing the [card]Punishing Fire[/card] cycle. However, you need to make sure to choose a fourth card that is not very powerful. This is because it will almost certainly be put in your graveyard if this is not the case. I think if I were to choose a fourth card for this combination it would be either [card]Gifts Ungiven[/card] or [card]Graven Cairns[/card]. Gifts is a card you won’t need once you’ve got the system in place, and [card]Graven Cairns[/card] can produce two red mana at once which helps with the constant worry of having enough of it available.

The last option allows you to get an essential card.
The specific card you need, [card]Eternal Witness[/card], [card]All Suns’ Dawn[/card], and [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card]

This combination lets you get the particular card you need. If you have the mana, no matter what kind of selection they make you could get back a blue, black, red, green and white card ([card]Kitchen Finks[/card]). And if you choose [card]Eternal Witness[/card] for green, you can return a maximum of six cards. In reality you don’t usually go this far because in most cases it is overkill. However, it’s very important that you are able to keep the game in a state where this course of action is still an option. After this deck has control of the battlefield it still takes a significant amount of time to win the game, because the only cards in the deck that can deal significant damage in that arena are its two copies of [card]Kitchen Finks[/card]. Besides this, there is the loss of one life per turn from [card]Punishing Fire[/card], and the unimpressive [card]Eternal Witness[/card] and [card]Sakura-Tribe Elder[/card]. The new version of Liliana is excellent due to the absurd bonus of being able to [card]Cruel Edict[/card] your opponent, but it itself cannot get damage through. [card]Rude Awakening[/card] is included because it is a card that can win the game when recovered from the graveyard as part of a [card]Gifts Ungiven[/card] combination. However, if you choose it with Gifts it is essential that you are in a position to win the game with it.

Of course, these three options are the fundamental paths for your choices with [card]Gifts Ungiven[/card], but in an actual match you may end up weaving them together depending on your hand. For example, because you already have [card]Grove of the Burnwillows[/card] in play you might incorporate [card]Punishing Fire[/card] into the four removal spells combination. Conversely, you could go for [card]Punishing Fire[/card] / [card]Life from the Loam[/card] with a draw spell for the fourth spot. Or, because you already have [card]Eternal Witness[/card] in hand you might aim to maximize your efficiency and try picking each of the three paths’ strongest card and [card]All Suns’ Dawn[/card].

In terms of your game plan [card]Gifts Ungiven[/card] is the card that gets results, but when the gears don’t mesh properly it can be weak. Please be careful of this. When this happens, there are fewer effective cards in your library and you can find yourself trapped in some unpleasant situations. In particular, you have to be careful of choosing [card]Gifts Ungiven[/card] and [card]Thirst for Knowledge[/card]. Even with your second Gifts your desired combination may not remain in your diluted library, and it’s easy to find yourself not knowing what to do.

Well, those are the fundamental practices of Yasooka Control. From here on, I am going to discuss concrete examples of game development in detail. Before that though, I would fine tune the deck list a little if I were to play Yasooka Control in a Modern tournament again. I’ll also discuss the sideboard plans.

In the main deck, I would replace Rude Awakening with Worm Harvest.

My sideboard would be:

4 [card]Tarmogoyf[/card] 3 [card]Thoughtseize[/card] 3 [card]Seal of Primordium[/card] 2 [card]Ancient Grudge[/card] 1 [card]Obstinate Baloth[/card] 1 [card]Extirpate[/card] 1 [card]Combust[/card]

As you can see these are very minor changes.

I am including an additional copy of [card]Seal of Primordium[/card] because I want to have a reliable way of destroying the many lethal enchantments in the environment. The four copies of [card]Tarmogoyf[/card] in the sideboard come in against the vast majority of opponents, but they are in the unique position of not being included in the main deck. This is because your opponent may side out their removal and put in graveyard disruption in its place. In short, that route to victory becomes less viable and [card]Tarmogoyf[/card] is a card that has a great deal of value in games two and three if creature countermeasures are neglected.

Versus Zoo:

This is clearly a good match up for Yasooka Control, because almost all of the cards in the deck are quite effective against beatdown.

I think that there is almost nothing you will lose to as long as you are careful not to be defeated exclusively by burn spells. After sideboarding, you exchange hand disruption spells for [card]Tarmogoyf[/card] and additional means of recovering life. The idea is to eliminate as many cards as possible that easily become useless due to game development. I got the impression playing this match up that it was advantageous to begin with and only became better after sideboarding.

The only thing you need to be careful of is opponents who play Boom // Bust. This is because Yasooka Control always demands both a large quantity of land and many colored mana to play its varied spells. In practice I have never seen Bust cast off of cascade, but against an opponent playing [card]Bloodbraid Elf[/card] you must always have an advantage on the battlefield or the option of immediately recovering land with [card]Life from the Loam[/card].

Side in:
4 [card]Tarmogoyf[/card] 1 [card]Obstinate Baloth[/card]

Side out:
1 [card]Raven’s Crime[/card] 2 [card]Inquisition of Kozilek[/card] 1 [card]Worm Harvest[/card] 1 [card]Duress[/card]

Versus Affinity:

This is this environment’s other chief beatdown deck. The matchup is also quite good for Yasooka Control because of its many removal spells. In particular, [card]Punishing Fire[/card] is a good way to deal with their rush of small creatures. Depending on how you play, in most circumstances you can defend against a sudden [card]Fling[/card]-like loss to a [card]Cranial Plating[/card] equipped to a [card]Blinkmoth Nexus[/card].

After sideboarding you absolutely have to be careful of [card]Blood Moon[/card]. I already mentioned this with Zoo, but this deck’s weak point is its overly demanding mana base. I really don’t think you can win if they stick [card]Blood Moon[/card], and you add [card]Seal of Primordium[/card] for that reason. Combined with [card]Inquisition of Kozilek[/card] I think there are a total of five countermeasure cards.

Side in:
3 [card]Seal of Primordium[/card] 2 [card]Ancient Grudge[/card] 4 [card]Tarmogoyf[/card]

Side out:
3 [card]Liliana of the Veil[/card] 1 [card]Go for the Throat[/card] 1 [card]Consuming Vapors[/card] 1 [card]Raven’s Crime[/card] 1 [card]Duress[/card] 1 [card]Worm Harvest[/card] 1 [card]Eternal Witness[/card]

Versus Mystical Teachings Control:

Against beatdown you can control the game with a barrage of removal, but against control you advance the game by making use of your graveyard. In particular, [card]Life from the Loam[/card] and [card]Raven’s Crime[/card]. With Raven/Loam you can strip your opponent’s hand of resources, and eventually the simplest route to victory involves recovering [card]Punishing Fire[/card] with [card]Grove of the Burnwillows[/card]. Because you almost automatically get the Raven/Loam combo if [card]Gifts Ungiven[/card] resolves, hand disruption is used to get Gifts through.

I think there is also the game plan of using Gifts at their end step as a lure to resolve the powerful [card]Liliana of the Veil[/card]. Liliana is truly strong in an environment like this one where there aren’t draw spells that net cards for your hand. Additionally Modern differs from Standard in that [card]Oblivion Ring[/card] is not played.

I think the common concern with game one and post-sideboard games is the question of what kind of graveyard countermeasures your opponent will take. Whether they include [card]Surgical Extraction[/card] in the main deck greatly influences the game, and it is also important to ascertain what cards they are adding from the sideboard. Setting up two copies of [card]Grove of the Burnwillows[/card] and then using one [card]Punishing Fire[/card] as a lure makes coping with a few copies of [card]Relic of Progenitus[/card] easy. However, the use of basic countermeasure cards like [card]Leyline of the Void[/card] is another case where you need to have [card]Seal of Primordium[/card] ready.

Below is a possible sideboard plan, but depending on the circumstances you may need to use an entirely different configuration.

Side in:
3 [card]Thoughtseize[/card] 4 [card]Tarmogoyf[/card]

Side out:
1 [card]Kitchen Finks[/card] 2 [card]Damnation[/card] 1 [card]Consuming Vapors[/card] 1 [card]Sakura-Tribe Elder[/card] 1 [card]Smother[/card] 1 [card]Doom Blade[/card]

Versus Splinter Twin:

At the World Championships this was the number one potential threat among combo decks. Thanks to its inclusion of so many countermeasure cards, it seems like a matchup Yasooka Control cannot win. Although I didn’t see much of it at the event, I will talk about the great potential I think it has.

Unfortunately Yasooka Control’s matchup pre-board is quite bad, and this can be said for combo decks in general. This is because the same removal spells that are so effective against beatdown opponents become mostly useless against the combo player. You can put up a fight because Splinter Twin commonly includes removal spells of its own, but there is no doubt that it will still be a struggle.

After sideboarding, combine hand disruption and [card]Tarmogoyf[/card] for a two-pronged attack against their usual plan. Additionally, don’t forget [card]Seal of Primordium[/card] because they will add [card]Blood Moon[/card].

Side in:
4 [card]Tarmogoyf[/card] 3 [card]Seal of Primordium[/card] 1 [card]Combust[/card] 3 [card]Thoughtseize[/card]

Side out:
2 [card]Kitchen Finks[/card] 1 [card]Consuming Vapors[/card] 2 [card]Damnation[/card] 1 [card]Worm Harvest[/card] 1 [card]All Suns’ Dawn[/card] 2 [card]Punishing Fire[/card] 2 [card]Sakura-Tribe Elder[/card]

Versus Ad Nauseam:

In game one, winning is nearly impossible. This is because you lack a clear clock and you have almost no way to stop the [card]Ad Nauseam[/card] combo. Once you find yourself engaged in an Ad Nauseam storm battle, the question is how you can take the remaining two games. Against a slow deck, you add four [card]Tarmogoyf[/card]s, three [card]Thoughtseize[/card]s and all of your artifact destruction. Ad Nauseam’s mana acceleration is often artifact-based, and the creature removal cards are unnecessary. [card]Seal of Primordium[/card] not only destroys artifacts, it is absolutely needed to deal with the deadly [card]Leyline of Sanctity[/card]. Leyline not only renders hand disruption useless, it also prevents the use of [card]Gifts Ungiven[/card]. If you cannot deal with it, the game is definitely over.

If you do these things, I think it will be an approximately even match. After that, it’s a lottery.

Side in:
4 [card]Tarmogoyf[/card] 3 [card]Thoughtseize[/card] 1 [card]Extirpate[/card] 3 [card]Seal of Primordium[/card] 2 [card]Ancient Grudge[/card]

Side out:
2 [card]Kitchen Finks[/card] 2 [card]Sakura-Tribe Elder[/card] 1 [card]Consuming Vapors[/card] 2 [card]Damnation[/card] 1 [card]Go for the Throat[/card] 2 [card]Punishing Fire[/card] 1 [card]Worm Harvest[/card] 1 [card]Smother[/card] 1 [card]Liliana of the Veil[/card]

Versus Storm:

The matchup versus [card]Pyromancer’s Swath[/card] type decks is simple, but [card]Past in Flames[/card] versions are comparable to Ad Nauseam as Yasooka Control’s worst matchup.

First of all, hand disruption is not particularly effective. This is because [card]Past in Flames[/card] decks can storm even without a hand as long as they have mana available.

And, they don’t use artifacts for mana acceleration. Yasooka Control has numerous candidates to side out in games two and three.

Moreover, after sideboarding Storm decks can opt for an alternate win condition. If you leave in all of your removal you won’t be able to deal with their plan.

Although it doesn’t change your disadvantageous position, against Storm you won’t face a turn zero [card]Leyline of Sanctity[/card] which you can do nothing about. Compared to Ad Nauseam there is a somewhat more positive feeling with this matchup. Besides, because you can considerably shift the game to your advantage if you dispose of [card]Past in Flames[/card] with an [card]Extirpate[/card] fetched with Gifts, the structure of the game plan is also rather simple.

Side in:
4 [card]Tarmogoyf[/card] 3 [card]Thoughtseize[/card] 1 [card]Extirpate[/card]

Side out:
1 [card]Consuming Vapors[/card] 1 [card]Doom Blade[/card] 1 [card]Smother[/card] 1 [card]Go for the Throat[/card] 2 [card]Punishing Fire[/card] 1 [card]Worm Harvest[/card] 1 [card]Kitchen Finks[/card]

These are the things I can cover today. I think you know this, but if you use this deck remember that the choices are truly numerous and difficult. It is a challenging deck to play.

I don’t think I have a perfect understand of the deck yet either, and there may in fact be points where what I say differs completely from that of the deck’s creator, Yasooka. However, I hope this will be a help for those who use this deck.

Until next time, thank you for reading.

Shuhei Nakamura


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