Much to my surprise, I have actually been enjoying playing Standard recently. After playing the Austrian UWR vs Jund matchup against the Ocho (videos found here), my interest was piqued. This UWR deck had a lot of what I was looking for (card draw, counterspells, Wall of Denials), and actually seemed like it could be decent. Most of the similar decks we had put together just didn’t cut it, but the Austrians did well and the deck felt like it played pretty well. Earthquake was one of the missing links, as we hadn’t played much with it, and it was the perfect card to punish them for overextending while still keeping Wall of Denial around.
The original list:
UWR Austrian Control
The plan against Jund was pretty obvious; play no targets for their removal, and kill them with either a Sphinx or burn in the form of Earthquake/Ajani Vengeant/Lightning Bolt. Wall of Denial plus Earthquake and spot removal held off their hordes, while your card draw plus all the dead removal spells they were drawing let you pull ahead.
That plan isn’t bad, but even with 4 maindeck Flashfreeze, 3 Double Negative, and the aforementioned lack of removal targets, the Jund matchup still wasn’t quite good enough. Jund has completely infested MTGO, and it seems like I was facing it in more than half the matches I was playing in 8-man queues.
Luckily, at about this same time, Cheon was starting to play MTGO again, and he had been battling in 8-mans with UWR as well. After managing to get my cards back (since he obviously had been using mine to battle with), I finagled his list, which was the above UWR list which he had changed after a good amount of battling.
UWR Aus-Cheon Control
The changes were pretty sweet, as most of Cheon’s deckbuilding choices usually are. He had identified many of the under-performing cards, as well as adding what he usually does: a ton of card draw.
What Got Voted Off the Island
Seeing as Cheon is in Curacao, the island metaphor seems appropriate.
The biggest change, and one that I was completely behind, was the removal of Jace for Divination. It was a little embarrassing to actually be casting Counsel of the Soratami in Constructed, but it wasn’t really that much worse than Mulldrifter 90% of the time. The fact of the matter was that Jace wasn’t cutting it, particularly since just about every deck in the format was attacking you. Sure, when you had Wall of Denial out and all their creatures dead, Jace could potentially be much more powerful, but it was pretty hard to get two cards out of Jace most of the time. All Jace usually did was eat a Lightning Bolt or Bloodbraid attack, and Cheon wanted his card draw to actually draw him some cards. Hitting land drops is all this deck wanted to do, and Divination did a better job of insuring that than Jace. This change might seem a bit suspect, but after playing in a bunch of queues with it, I was completely sold.
Wrath version 3 (Damnation was version 2) didn’t get completely cut, but instead moved to sideboard duty. Against Green-based decks like GW, Naya, or MonoG, Day was fine, but maindecking it was pretty bad. The plan against Jund was to assemble a bunch of Wall of Denials, and kill their guys once they started to outnumber the Walls. Day of Judgment didn’t help that plan at all, since once your Walls died you were back to having to deal with all of their guys or die. Earthquake, on the other hand, did the job perfectly, and that’s why they remained in the maindeck and the “traditional” UW control card got the boot.
The sideboard plan of adding a bunch of Lifelinked boom-booms was awesome, but the 4/6 wasn’t really a Constructed card. Baneslayer could catch them off-guard if they took out their removal, but it wasn’t like they were siding out Leech, Bloodbraid, or Thrinax, and those guys did just fine in ganging up to kill Sovereign. After a few disappointing games, the King was de-throned.
I already pretty much covered this one when I talked about Jace, but I wanted to reiterate how much I liked Divination in this deck.
I’ll just chalk this one up to Cheon’s never-ending thirst for knowledge. If it says “draw a card” on it, he is probably sold, and the Sphinx even draws three! I will mention later what became of the Sphinx, but for now it was in the deck for additional lategame punch/another big threat.
A strictly sideboard addition, Negate helped against other control decks and decks that didn’t get hit by Flashfreeze, like Vampires with the ever-annoying Mind Sludge. Negate was also critical in helping against Turbo-Fog or Mill decks, even if those matchups were still pretty tough.
And ten queues later
I had a list I liked!
My current list of UWR, followed by some explanation and sideboarding notes:
After slogging through a sea of Jund, I decided that it would be much better to just make my maindeck into the deck I wanted against Jund, and sideboard into the “normal” list if I played against a non-Jund deck! The only time I can remember wanting to be completely pre-boarded in Standard was when Affinity was legal, which is saying something. I don’t know why everyone on MTGO is playing Jund, since off-line the field isn’t nearly as dominated by Jund. I’m actually talking 50-60% Jund, if not slightly more, in the 8-man queues. Jund is probably that good, but even the best deck usually doesn’t hit those levels. In any case, Jund is all over, and that explains the maindeck configuration.
Off the Island
Playing a maindeck target for Terminate and the like was pretty awkward, since them Terminating a Sphinx was actually card advantage for them, since the Terminate was otherwise dead. This almost never lived, and was worse card draw than Mind Spring, so I was happy to cut them. They also gave the opponent incentive to leave in removal, which is just awful considering I plan to board in Baneslayers most of the time.
Besides the obvious vulnerability to Maelstrom Pulse, the Ring was just too slow to be of much use. Tapping out for a three-mana play in a deck with six counterspells wasn’t exciting, especially since I was happier just casting Divination or Wall of Denial instead. The only time Ring was really useful was against Planeswalkers, but between Earthquake, Lightning Bolt, Ajani, and the third Sphinx, they weren’t really a problem. Eldrazi Monument was also pretty slow, and if they were able to untap with enough guys to make Monument good, I was already in plenty of trouble.
This is the biggest reason I like this list. After siding in Spreading Seas for the sixth match in a row, I decided that having them main would be sweet. A few cuts later (crappy removal like O-Ring, the Sphinx of Lost Truths) and I was turning all sorts of Savage Lands into Islands. The awesome part is, even if Spreading Seas doesn’t hose them, it is such a minimal cost that it is pretty hard for the Seas to actually be bad. I suspect Spreading Seas will see a good amount of play in Standard, since for the low cost of 2 mana, you get a shot at manascrewing them, as well as the side benefit of being able to hose important lands like Valakut, Oran-Rief, and whatever cool lands come out in upcoming sets (see Matt Sperling’s article today for example).
Not exactly a completely new addition, but worthy of mention. Sphinx was so good that I wanted a third, since casting one on turn six was something I wanted to do every game. He is equally good at killing them as he is at holding the fort while you Mind Spring or Divination into answers for their threats.
This may look a little odd in the sideboard, but I was having a little trouble with Malakir Bloodwitch. Sphinx of Jwar Isle and Day of Judgment being the only answers to a resolved Bloodwitch was annoying, particularly when Jund boarded them in (since I don’t bring in Day vs Jund). Mind Control is also a pretty good value card against Green/White, since nabbing a Baneslayer or Knight of the Reliquary is pretty neat too, since if they don’t see any other Enchantments they probably can’t get rid of it easily.
Sideboarding and whatnot
Wait, isn’t this deck pre-boarded against Jund?
Yes and no.
This is the configuration I want against Jund game 1, but I still really like siding in Baneslayers for post-board games. By making all their removal dead game 1, you present them the unenviable choice of either risking dead draws game 2 or straight up losing to Baneslayer. Most decks will have a few Maelstrom Pulses, but that is rarely enough to deal with Baneslayer, particularly if you can leave up Flashfreeze the turn you play her.
+4 Baneslayer Angel, +1 Essence Scatter
-3 Lightning Bolt, -2 Path to Exile
I count on Wall of Denial, Flashfreeze, Earthquake, Ajani, and the one Scatter to deal with their ground guys, so cutting Bolts and Paths has been fine. Great Sable Stag is a little annoying, but they have become pretty rare, and Earthquake plus Ajani is plenty. If you have the read, you can board out the Baneslayers for game three, but I usually just keep them in. If they have Malakir Bloodwitch, which most don’t, you should bring in 2 Mind Control for 1 Ajani and 1 Divination.
+4 Baneslayer Angel, +1 Lightning Bolt, +2 Essence Scatter, +2 Day of Judgment
-4 Spreading Seas, -3 Flashfreeze, -2 Mind Spring
Boros is a pretty straightforward matchup; they are trying to kill you with a bunch of little hasty guys and you are trying to land an Angel or Sphinx. Even though they are Red, Flashfreeze hasn’t really impressed me, since their main threats is Ranger of Eos. If they side in Manabarbs, keep in another Flashfreeze for a Divination. Don’t be afraid to pull the trigger on Earthquake or Day early, since preservation of life total is your main goal. Ajani is one of your best weapons, and he almost always casts Lightning Helix first.
+4 Baneslayer Angel, +1 Lightning Bolt, +2 Essence Scatter, +1 Negate
-4 Spreading Seas, -3 Earthquake, -1 Mind Spring
This matchup is all about Wall of Denial. The Red deck really can’t beat a turn three Wall, barring a multiple Geopede/Goblin Guide draw. The Wall blanks every single Ball Lightning, Hell’s Thunder, and Hellspark almost singlehandedly. I wouldn’t go so far as to mulligan into Wall, but even a six-land Wall hand is probably keepable. They also have plenty of trouble with Baneslayer, since she either eats two burn spells or they lose. If they have or side in Siege-Gangs, it is worth keeping maybe two Earthquakes over a Negate and a Sphinx.
+4 Baneslayer Angel, +2 Day of Judgment, +2 Essence Scatter, +2 Mind Control
-4 Spreading Seas, -4 Flashfreeze, -3 Earthquake
Earthquake can’t really kill anything but Noble Hierarch or an abnormally small Knight. Flashfreeze misses enough of their spells that I like to cut it, and the Seas are an easy cut. If they play Cedric’s version with Lotus Cobra, Conqueror’s Pledge and Eldrazi Monument, Earthquake and Negate both should go in over Paths and Bolts.
+4 Baneslayer Angel, +3 Negate, +1 Jace Beleren, +1 Lightning Bolt
-1 Spreading Seas, -4 Flashfreeze, -4 Wall of Denial
Excess Seas stay in just because there is nothing else worth bringing in. If they are boarding in Baneslayers, which they really shouldn’t, you can bring in Mind Control and hope to mise. This isn’t an easy matchup, but Ajani does give you a pretty good shot.
+3 Baneslayer Angel, +3 Negate, +2 Essence Scatter, +1 Jace Beleren
-3 Lightning Bolt, -1 Flashfreeze, -2 Wall of Denial, -3 Earthquake
The mirror is kind of odd. You have all these spells that are either dead or awesome, like Flashfreeze, Wall of Denial, Essence Scatter, etc, and all of the threats are pretty hard to remove. I think you want a mix of most of these situational spells, since Flashfreeze stops Ajani or Double Negative, Wall and Essence Scatter stop Sphinx, and both those things are important. If you know they board in Angels, you definitely want Mind Controls, since that’s just good value.
+3 Negate, +1 Jace, +2 Mind Control, +2 Day of Judgment, +1 Lightning Bolt, +2 Baneslayer Angel
-4 Spreading Seas, -4 Flashfreeze, -3 Earthquake
This isn’t the best matchup. You have a bunch of dead cards game 1, and not many ways to stop Mind Sludge. They even have Gatekeepers to eat your Sphinxes or Walls, and Wall doesn’t even stop Nighthawk. After board it does get quite a bit better, but the matchup is overall pretty bad. Luckily, Vampires is rarely played, so the bad matchup isn’t a big deal.
As is, I am very happy with this list. It might not be the best deck in Standard (since it doesn’t play Savage Lands), but it has been working pretty well. Against unprepared Jund players, the Spreading Seas plan can randomly win a ton of games, and even at worst it acts as a psuedo-Time Walk. The turn you play casting Seas is often repaid, since even if they have the correct lands in hand, they have to wait an additional turn on their next play. I can definitely recommend this for online play, and still think it is fine for real tournaments. Maindeck Flashfreezes aren’t likely to be dead often, and like I said before, the Spreading Seas cycle and harass the opponent in every matchup. Plus, this is the most fun I have had playing Standard for a long time, and that certainly counts for something in my book.