After Martin Müller put up an impressive 12-3 finish with his Mono-Blue Masterpiece at Grand Prix Manchester, he was kind enough to hand over his entire physical deck. I played it a bit on Magic Online, made a few tweaks, and took it to Grand Prix Costa Rica. It worked well, as I finished 15th at the Grand Prix with an 11-3-1 record. Maybe if I had spent the Friday on testing rather than sightseeing in Costa Rica I might have been able to clinch Top 8, but the visit to the La Paz Waterfall Gardens was still worth it.
After Grand Prix Manchester, Müller said that his creation might be one of the best decks in Standard. The last time he made that claim, it was for 4-Color Rally (before it had made a Grand Prix Top 8), so he has a good track record. After playing with it a fair amount, I believe this is a competitive deck, and it does something rather unique.
What’s the Game Plan of this Deck?
This deck is the essence of durdling. Basically, you do a whole lot of nothing while making land drops, gaining life, drawing cards, nullifying your opponent’s attacks, and seemingly accomplishing nothing at all. You’re never destroying an opposing permanent—you just make their cards ineffectual. Hence, it’s more of a prison deck than a control deck. And eventually, you win the game out of nowhere.
To win, you build toward a game state where you have 2 Jace’s Sanctum and 8 Islands in play and two 6-mana win conditions in hand. Assuming that you’ve just bounced your opponent’s board with Engulf the Shore, that’s lethal—either you get two attacks in with a 12/12 Island, or you get at least 10 Zombies and another turn. But the double-Part-the-Waterveil win is most common, and flavor-wise it can feel like pushing your opponent over a waterfall.
Main Deck Breakdown
Let’s go over the card groups one by one.
This trio of cards gives you the time you need. They don’t actually answer opposing creatures or planeswalkers permanently, but time is all you need with this deck.
Prism Ring is an excellent play on turn 1, and once you have multiples in play, you can easily get up to 40 or 50 life as long as you keep playing spells.
Hydrolash fills the dual role of drawing cards and Fogging opponents. I have been impressed by how relevant the -2/-0 effect is. So many decks in Standard right now flood the board with small creatures, so Hydrolash can save you a ton of damage.
Engulf the Shore typically bounces your entire opponent’s board. Even Ormendahl can be bounced once you have 7 Islands, and an attacking Gideon will also be swept up if you have 5. Engulf the Shore is one of the most important cards to find early against aggro decks.
Card Draw Spells
These are the card draw spells that allow you to dig deeper into your deck while triggering Jace’s Sanctum and Prism Ring. I have seen the term “velocity” pop up in Magic articles recently, and although I still don’t know what it means, it has some connotations with card draw spells for me, so it should describe this part of the deck adequately. (Seriously, if anyone can give me a definition of “velocity,” then please do!)
Anticipate is typically better than Nagging Thoughts, except when you discard Nagging Thoughts to Pore over the Pages for value. Once you have Jace’s Sanctum in play, Anticipate and Nagging Thoughts cost 1 mana and Pore over the Pages effectively costs 2 mana—pretty cheap!
Day’s Undoing offers a unique effect. Sometimes your hand size gets low and you need a way to refill. Sometimes, after bouncing your opponent’s board with Engulf the Shore, you want to force them to shuffle all of their creatures away. And Day’s Undoing is the perfect follow-up to Part the Waterveil, as you will get to play your 7 new cards first. You might think that Day’s Undoing has anti-synergy with Rise from the Tides, but that was never an issue in the games I played. You never want to draw multiples though, so more than three Day’s Undoing is not needed.
Jace’s Sanctum is arguably the most important card in the deck. Both abilities are relevant. The scry gives a lot of card selection, allowing you to dig for Engulf the Shore early on and for Part the Waterveil later. Making spells cheaper is also pretty important, as it allows you cast a lot of spells per turn. If you have 3 in play, then Pore Over the Pages is free, and a kicked Part the Waterveil only costs 6 mana, so the cost reduction adds up.
Part the Waterveil is great. It is a fine play on turn 6 to hit an extra land drop before you cast Day’s Undoing, or just to gain a life or scry. And once you have enough lands on the battlefield, it becomes your main win condition. It is almost impossible for opponents to kill a 6/6 Island at instant speed, so as long as you cleared the board with Engulf the Shore beforehand, 2 Part the Waterveil are lethal. You need a bunch of lands or Jace’s Sanctum in play for that to work, but it’s often possible to set that up.
I would play a 5th Part the Waterveil over Rise from the Tides, but that’s not allowed. I view Rise from the Tides as a piece of insurance for games in which you have already exiled 3 Part the Waterveil to take extra turns earlier in the game. Your game plan at that point is to cast Rise from the Tides and Part the Waterveil on the same turn, so you can swing for lethal without giving your opponent a chance to cast Declaration in Stone, Chandra, Languish, or Radiant Flames. I have also cast Rise from the Tides and Day’s Undoing on the same turn, which is sometimes good enough to get there.
I don’t think the deck wants or needs a 6th win condition. You have to play tight and ration them, but adding, say, Sphinx of the Final Word is not necessary because it will make your opening hands so much worse.
The mana base is simple. You need all your lands to be Islands for Engulf the Shore. Using battlelands for a minor white or black splash (as I did) is an option, but you need those Islands. So Corrupted Grafstone or Mage-Ring Network wouldn’t fit this deck.
Sideboard Card Breakdown
Thing in the Ice is the best card in the sideboard. It gives you a way to attack planeswalkers, it provides access to a bounce effect after you board out Engulf the Shore against a creature-light deck, and it obviously transforms fast in a deck with as many instants and sorceries as this one. There are also a bunch of fun lines that you can set up, such as an Engulf the Shore for 7 that keeps your 7/8 on the battlefield, or an awakened Part the Waterveil to transform Thing in the Ice and win before your opponent gets another turn.
I board in Thing in the Ice in almost every single matchup because it’s so impactful for a 2-mana card, but it still shouldn’t be in the main deck because of the creature removal spells that opponents have in game 1.
This is your fifth Engulf the Shore against White Weenie Humans.
Against BW Control and RG Ramp, your Prism Ring, Hydrolash, and Engulf the Shore won’t do much, so you want some alternative cards to bring in. Negate can counter Transgress the Mind, Anguished Unmaking, Gideon, and more, and I was happy with 4 copies.
Martin Müller had 4 copies of Jace and 2 Invasive Surgery in his original sideboard, but I found those to be underwhelming in the two Magic Online leagues that I played before the Grand Prix. Jace is a value card, offering card selection and 2-for-1s, in a deck that isn’t about value at all. Invasive Surgery was rather narrow—although countering Duress or Explosive Vegetation is useful, it was rotting in my hand on multiple occasions. So I cut 2 Jace and 2 Invasive Surgery from Müller’s original list and added 4 new cards. (If you don’t own Jace and want to build this deck, you could just replace 2 Jace with 2 Invasive Surgery.)
In the two Leagues I played on Magic Online, most problems came from World Breaker, Ulamog, Ob Nixilis, Nahiri, and Goldnight Castigator. To improve against those cards, I added these fliers. I figured they might also surprise opponents who boarded out their creature removal spells, help in games where you’re running out of win conditions, and allow you to win game 3 when there are only a few minutes left on the clock. These additions were untested, and although at the Grand Prix I never played against decks like RG Ramp and UR Ulamog where they would theoretically shine, I still think they are fine.
I didn’t want to go as deep as Raphaeël Lévy and play Dragonlord Silumgar with just 4 sources, so I wanted to put another black source in the sideboard. I figured that Silumgar Monument was the best option because it ramps and offers another attacker in a pinch, but by that time I was already in Costa Rica and hadn’t brought any. Neither did anyone else, for that matter. Even the dealers had not bothered to pack Silumgar Monument. So instead, I opted for Haven of the Spirit Dragon as it seemed better than Swamp or Choked Estuary. I got to return Dragonlord Silumgar once in a match, so I guess it was worth it. Sadly, I never managed to steal an Eldrazi Displacer and activate it.
Why Are These Cards Not in the Deck?
It’s not necessary. Brain in a Jar’s main role is to cast Rise from the Tides at instant speed to get around sorcery-speed sweepers, but this deck can already achieve that by playing Rise from the Tides and Part the Waterveil on the same turn. Also, Jace’s Sanctum makes cards cheap enough already.
I could see a number of Brain in a Jar and several Rise from the Tides in the sideboard as a plan versus Black/White Control. After sideboard, they gain a lot of discard spells, so they can easily disrupt your main-deck configuration. They still keep a bunch of spot removal spells to answer Thing in the Ice, however, so attacking with big creatures isn’t super reliable either. For that reason, Brain in a Jar plus Rise from the Tides (or some other crazy win conditions like Sphinx’s Tutelage) might be worth testing as a sideboard plan against Black/White.
Could be okay I guess, but it’s hard to find cards to cut. I think this is worse than all the card draw spells already in the deck. Maybe you could cut one Day’s Undoing for Artificer’s Epiphany, but I wasn’t comfortable making that swap. One or two Oath of Jace in the sideboard as insurance against Dromoka’s Command might not be unreasonable, but I haven’t been able to test that yet.
If you play Pieces of the Puzzle with the current 60-card deck, you’d hit 0 spells with probability 3.7%, 1 spell with probability 18.4%, and 2+ spells with probability 77.9%. That’s an expected value of 1.7 spells, which is pretty good, but there are some issues.
First, this is a deck that really wants to hit its land drop every single turn, and Prism Ring and Jace’s Sanctum are essential parts of the game plan, too. Pieces of the Puzzle doesn’t hit any of those cards. If you get, say, Anticipate and Nagging Thoughts, then you may not have the time to play those cards to find the non-instant, non-sorcery cards you need. Another factor is that Pieces of the Puzzle taps you out on a turn that you want to be playing Hydrolash.
I haven’t had time to test Pieces of the Puzzle, but I felt that all the cards that are already in the deck were better. It might be worth cutting one Pore Over the Pages if you want to lower the curve a little bit, but I think that’s it.
Planeswalkers are a card type that you don’t have an answer, and these cards would provide one. But you don’t really care about most planeswalkers. Gideon, Nissa, Chandra, and Sorin just draw some cards or make some creatures, which you can handle easily. An Ob Nixilis emblem and a Nahiri activation on Jace’s Sanctum are more annoying, but I still don’t see a big need to play any of these cards in the main deck, and Dragonlord Silumgar seemed like a cleaner answer in the sideboard.
Keep or Mull?
Let’s go over some opening hands to get a feel for the deck.
This hand may not have any plays before turn 4, but it’s still a keep. The 4-drops are key to the deck’s strategy. I’ve actually been keeping pretty much every 7-card opening hand with three or four lands and at least one card to play by turn 4. Many 2-landers or 5-landers are fine too because you have plenty of cheap card selection spells to find the lands or spells you need.
This is too much of a risk, and I would mulligan. You really cannot afford to miss your second land drop with this deck.
I would mulligan. This hand is slow and lacks early plays. Generally speaking with this deck, if you feel it’s close, I would mulligan. The reason is Day’s Undoing. You could go all the way down to three or four cards and salvage everything with a turn-3 Day’s Undoing.
Are you kidding me? This is the dream—snap it off!
• If you turned an Island into a 6/6 with Part the Waterveil, then it will be bounced by Engulf the Shore or Thing in the Ice. So if you expect to bounce all creatures soon, you sometimes shouldn’t awaken even if you can. A doubly-awoken 12/12 Island can shrug off Engulf the Shore, however, as long as you don’t play your 12th land. So count your lands—sometimes you should decline to make your 12th land drop.
• Pore over the Pages untaps any land, including an animated one. I have used it post-combat to untap a 6/6 blocker.
• Always keep track of how many Part the Waterveil you have exiled. I have had long games where 3 Part the Waterveil and multiple Day’s Undoing were exiled already, so the only way to beat Declaration in Stone was by playing Rise from the Tides and Part the Waterveil on one turn. This meant that I couldn’t burn that last Part the Waterveil for value—I had to be patient and wait until I scryed into Rise from the Tides.
• If you have 7 or fewer Islands on the battlefield, then you can cast Engulf the Shore to remove the last counter from Thing in the Ice. Since the transformation happens before Engulf the Shore resolves, your 7/8 Horror will stick around. For a similar reason, it can pay off to not play your 8th Island when you have Thing in the Ice on the battlefield.
• On turn 2, play Anticipate over Nagging Thoughts because you may wish to keep Nagging Thoughts to madness with Pore over the Pages. In case your opponent has Duskwatch Recruiter, then play Anticipate in your main phase.
• Get some practice in with the deck before taking it to a tournament, and play quickly. Games can easily take 30 minutes with this deck, and although Part the Waterveil could allow you to take all five extra turns once time is called, you may still run into draws. For instance, in the last round against Shahar Shenhar, we started game 3 with two seconds on the clock. Although he was kind enough to concede to avoid a draw that would be useless for us both, there are time-related issues with the deck (and with Shahar spectacularly making his flight).
• Although Engulf the Shore is frequently cast in combat (which may also allow you to bounce an animated Gideon) there are other reasonable times to cast it. First, if your opponent wasn’t attacking for much yet, then you can consider playing Engulf the Shore at the end of their turn so that they won’t have any attackers or blockers on the next turn. Second, if your opponent is tapped out and has a creature whose toughness equals your Island count, then you should sometimes cast Engulf the Shore in your main phase so that you don’t get blown out by an extra point of toughness from Dromoka’s Command. Third, you could play Engulf the Shore in your own upkeep to scry with Jace’s Sanctum and improve your draw step.
• If you expect that your opponent has Dromoka’s Command in hand, then playing Jace’s Sanctum on turn 6 and passing the turn with two untapped Islands in play and Hydrolash in hand is dangerous. They can get rid of your enchantment on their main phase, and then you won’t be able to give -2/-0 to their attackers during combat.
• Remember your triggers! I’m sure I forgot some over the course of many rounds, but try your best to gain a life for every Prism Ring and scry 1 for every Jace’s Sanctum. This is probably easier on Magic Online, as you can’t forget the triggers there.
Matchup and Sideboard Guide
I don’t fully understand sideboarding with this deck yet. I’ll describe what I did this weekend, but I’m not confident I’ve been approaching it in the best way possible. The best sideboard approach also depends on how many creature removal spells you expect your opponent to keep, so I’ve sometimes boarded in creatures for game 2 and then switched back to my main-deck configuration for game 3.
In matchups that I won’t cover in detail, if you don’t know what to cut, then you can always shave 1 Day’s Undoing, 1 Pore Over the Pages, 1 Nagging Thoughts, and one land on the draw without affecting the overall strategy of the deck too much.
GW Tokens (Even)
Planeswalkers are a problem for the deck because Engulf the Shore doesn’t hit them and Dromoka’s Command is an issue because it cheaply answers Jace’s Sanctum. Nevertheless, they are playing a deck based around creatures, so if things go according to plan, then you can stall sufficiently with Prism Ring, Hydrolash, and Engulf the Shore and beat them in the late game.
I was boarding in Dragonlord Silumgar and Guardian of Tazeem (and taking out Jace’s Sanctum to reduce my vulnerability to Dromoka’s Command) at first, but after seeing how they played out during the tournament, I don’t think you need them in this matchup. Opponents were also keeping in Declaration in Stone against me, so that didn’t help. I guess they typically don’t have much of relevance in their sideboard (only Angelic Purge?) so you must still expect some removal spells in games 2 and 3.
The sideboard plan you see above right now is how Martin Müller approached it, and I have been liking that configuration so far.
White Weenie Humans (Unfavorable)
They are fast—often too fast. And depending on how many lands they drew, they could rebuild in a single turn after Engulf the Shore. You need to mulligan toward something quick like a Prism Ring or Hydrolash to beat them.
You add Thing in the Ice and cut expensive cards because you have to lower your curve a bit in order to try and keep up with them. They won’t change much post-board—maybe they add Hanweir Militia Captain or perhaps Eerie Interlude, but that’s usually it.
Bant Company (Even)
You prefer to play against versions with Bounding Krasis and Sylvan Advocate rather than Thalia’s Lieutenant and Lambholt Pacifist, but overall the games play out in a similar way. Sometimes Thalia’s Lieutenant grows beyond Engulf the Shore size, but that hasn’t happened to me yet. And if they cast Collected Company in their first main phase in the hope of growing their creatures, then that may work out in your favor if you have Engulf the Shore up at that time.
Same plan as for Green/White Tokens, because Martin Müller told me he typically boarded this way. After board, they often gain blue countermagic, so adding an alternative creature-based route to victory helps against that.
BW Control (Even)
In game 1, both players have a lot of dead cards. They have dead creature removal spells, while Hydrolash and Engulf the Shore won’t do much against them except for an attacking Gideon. The scariest card to face is Ob Nixilis Reignited because we can’t attack it and the ultimate is annoying. It’s not impossible to beat if you have multiple Prism Rings, though. Another thing to keep in mind in this matchup is Hallowed Moonlight, as it can counter Rise from the Tides.
After sideboard, the matchup changes for the worse, as they add a plethora of disruption, ranging from Duress, Transgress the Mind, and Thought-Knot Seer. Trying to win with your main-deck configuration against that onslaught of discard spells is tough. The ones that exile are even more annoying because they make your Day’s Undoing worse. So I have been boarding like this for game 2 (sometimes with a few different cards, depending on who is on the play) in the hope that my opponent boarded out all of their removal spells, and then putting my creatures back into the sideboard game 3 in the hopes that my opponent will clog up their deck with a bunch of creature removal spells again. It’s a bit of a guessing game, though, and it depends on their list how many creature removal spells they can even realistically board out.
4-Color Rites (Favorable)
The Rites deck may flood the board with creatures, but they’re not attacking for a lot. Hydrolash is almost a Time Walk against them, and Engulf the Shore sets them back considerably. Be mindful of Eldrazi Displacer blinking an awakened Island and don’t let them assemble the combo of Brood Monitor plus Zulaport Cutthroat.
After sideboard, watch out for Reality Smasher—if they manage to ramp it out on turn 4, then you don’t have a lot of time to stabilize. If you’re on the play and can cast a turn-4 Engulf the Shore to keep them off of Reality Smasher mana, then you may want to play it on your own turn.
They often board disruption like Negate, Transgress the Mind, and Enlightened Ascetic, so it may be correct to add Thing in the Ice just like I did against Bant Company, but it will just get blinked by Eldrazi Displacer if they kept that in.
The deck is real. It uses bizarre cards that no other Standard deck ever used, and the games play out completely different from your typical midrange slugfest. But it can win, it’s competitive, and I expect we’ll see it more often in Standard events in the future.
The deck is tough to play, though. It’s a challenging puzzle every single game, and you won’t grasp the intricacies in the first 10 matches you play with it. But don’t give up—keep on playing until you get a feel for how the games play out. Admittedly, your head can explode while piloting the deck and planning 3 turns ahead. But if you enjoy that, it’s a lot of fun. For yourself, at least.
I hope this guide was helpful to you. Feel free to share ideas, test results, or questions in the comment section below, but I may be a bit slow to respond as I’m in the middle of a cloud forest in Monteverde right now. Together with Ondrej Strasky, Chapman Sim, Hao-Shan Huang, and Kai Budde, we’re planning to explore the canopy on hanging bridges, spot some animals, and some of us are considering a bungee jump as well. So far it has been a good trip!