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Silvestri Says – Dragons Over Islands

Going on a Dragon’s Quest

Last weekend, my plan was to battle dual Standard events with a 1K at ChannelFireball Game Center and a TCG 2K over in Stockton. After a while I had become pretty dissatisfied with my current options, including Junk Aristocrats and Bant Hexproof, which have been my go-to decks on Magic Online. I turned to friends for help with getting a deck together and found little relief. Finally I ended up on GR Bigger Aggro, but my initial builds were all horrific and I was about ready to shelve them and Just Do It Play Jund.

Thankfully, I had an out left in Michael Boland, who had an interesting looking [card]Predator Ooze[/card] GR deck—More or less the old mono-green Ooze aggro decks now splashing for [card]Domri Rade[/card] and [card]Burning Earth[/card], which made a lot of sense to me. Ooze was a solid performer against most of the field, and [card]Elvish Mystic[/card] meant you could consistently get him on turn two now. The rest of the deck seemed bland though, but with some advice from Sam Pardee we had a fair-looking list.

Of course, right around then, Kibler’s World Championship RG deck was posted, and suddenly the question became, ‘why are we not just playing [card]Thundermaw Hellkite[/card]?”

[deck]Main Deck
4 Stomping Ground
4 Rootbound Crag
9 Forest
6 Mountain
1 Kessig Wolf Run
4 Arbor Elf
2 Elvish Mystic
4 Flinthoof Boar
4 Strangleroot Geist
3 Scavenging Ooze
4 Hellrider
4 Ghor-Clan Rampager
4 Thundermaw Hellkite
3 Mizzium Mortars
4 Domri Rade
Sideboard:
4 Burning Earth
2 Gruul War Chant
2 Bonfire of the Damned
2 Flames of the Firebrand
2 Pillar of Flame
1 Volcanic Strength
2 Zealous Conscripts[/deck]

I’m sure Kibler expected a lot of the 16-man field to be on Jund and UWR. Instead of joining them, he battled with a sweet RG aggro plan that looked to go big and retained the aggressive elements that made an aggressive green strategy relevant. It still played [card]Burning Earth[/card] and [card]Domri Rade[/card], and even took it a step further by slamming [card]Hellrider[/card] and [card]Thundermaw Hellkite[/card] as must-answer threats. It also opened up his sideboard options with the extra red sources.

The only change Kibler said he would make is to swap [card]Gruul War Chant[/card] with [card]Chandra, Pyromaster[/card], and after trying that swap, I think Chandra has a home now. She does a very good job of clearing [card]Boros Reckoner[/card] and other obnoxious blockers out of the way, and can be [card]Domri Rade[/card] #5-6 in a pinch. As for the rest of the board, a singleton [card]Volcanic Strength[/card] seems a bit suspect, but the rest of the choices complement the deck well.

My biggest issue with the fast red decks littering Magic Online at the moment is that holding them off just isn’t that hard. M14 gave Jund a better catch-all removal spell at [card doom blade]two mana[/card] and [card scavenging ooze]another creature[/card] that gains life while making a 4/4 or 5/5 wall. UW and UWR Verdict decks are still just blasting [card supreme verdict]Verdict[/card] at everyone and everything, and [card]Detention Sphere[/card] is good against the multiple [card]Burning-Tree Emissary[/card] draw. [card]Boros Reckoner[/card] is still a giant stonewall, and so on.

While you lose the sheer explosiveness of the [card burning-tree emissary]BTE[/card] starts,* you gain resilience and remove a good chunk of your weaker draws from the deck. [card]Stromkirk Noble[/card] and [card]Rakdos Cackler[/card] vs. [card]Arbor Elf[/card] and [card]Elvish Mystic[/card] may seem like a wash, but one set of hired goons lets me cast my 5-drops instead of being totally dead after turn two.

*Note that you could actually add BTE back to the deck without too much trouble. There are plenty of castable 2-drops in the deck already and between [card]Mizzium Mortars[/card], [card]Hellrider[/card], and [card]Kessig Wolf Run[/card], you can make use of the body later. It’s just an opportunity cost since you either need to remove some of your green 1-drops, cut down on [card]Strangleroot Geist[/card] (good against other aggro decks), or board [card]Mizzium Mortars[/card].

Kibler’s deck instead keeps mana Elves around to still have explosiveness and pumps up the curve with [card]Thundermaw Hellkite[/card] and [card]Domri Rade[/card] alongside staples like [card]Ghor-Clan Rampager[/card] and [card]Hellrider[/card]. Everything in the deck skews toward going bigger to overload removal-based decks instead of just racing them. For where the metagame is right now, this seems like a sound strategy. You still get some number of free wins with aggressive starts, and aren’t just dead because Jund miracled a Bonfire on turn four and played a [card]Thragtusk[/card] on turn five.

Unfortunately for my plans, I only played a handful of games before the tournament. Still, I had picked up decks cold before and done fine with them, so I wasn’t particularly worried. Upon arriving at the Game Center, I was informed of two unfortunate facts. First was that our HJ for the event was in a car accident (he was fine), so he wasn’t sure he would make it for the event. I high-rolled the other judge not playing and I lost, so I assumed I’d end up judging the event. Luckily for me, our HJ took it in stride and showed up about 20 minutes later, still ready to run the event.

There was one other hurdle I had failed to clear or even consider though, we had sold out of [card]Strangleroot Geist[/card] and [card]Flinthoof Boar[/card]. Oops. I should’ve known this was a possibility, considering we had been sold out of [card]Searing Spear[/card] and various RG commons before. So, I audibled to Jund and a prompt 2-2 out of the 1K, losing to BG Control and then poor draws. I immediately moved my focus to tomorrow’s 2K and acquiring the tools needed to complete my Dragon Quest.

Moving from Dragon Quest to… Island Quest!

On Sunday I one-upped my failure to obtain [card]Strangleroot Geist[/card] and [card]Flinthoof Boar[/card] by failing to acquire any of the deck at all. This was not all my fault—my deck arrived about 10 minutes after registration ended. So my attention turned to finding a deck to play. My friend Eric Pei had Jacob Wilson’s UW list already made, and I conveniently had Jacob Wilson two feet to my right to figure out the final slots.

He wanted to find a replacement for [card]Renounce the Guilds[/card], at which point I start tossing random relevant rares onto the table until we found one he liked. After passing on [card]Haunted Plate Mail[/card] and [card]Planar Cleansing[/card], he settled on [card]Tidebinder Mage[/card] as a sweet one against the new RG decks. After adding two and removing Renounce the Guilds, he was all set and I realized I lacked any more to do the same change. It thankfully didn’t matter, but it would’ve been helpful in two of my matches for sure.

Here’s what I would play today, only about 3 cards different from what I did play at the 2K:

[deck]Main Deck
1 AEtherling
4 Augur of Bolas
4 Restoration Angel
4 Azorius Charm
4 Sphinx’s Revelation
4 Supreme Verdict
4 Syncopate
4 Think Twice
3 Detention Sphere
2 Jace, Architect of Thought
2 Ghost Quarter
1 Moorland Haunt
4 Glacial Fortress
4 Hallowed Fountain
8 Island
7 Plains
Sideboard:
2 Archangel of Thune
1 Clone
1 Dispel
1 Jace, Architect of Thought
3 Negate
3 Celestial Flare
1 Pithing Needle
2 Tidebinder Mage
1 Terminus[/deck]

Honestly, I’m not sure if I even like the maindeck [card]Aetherling[/card] over just a 3rd [card jace, architect of thought]Jace[/card], or the first [card]Jace, Memory Adept[/card] as a kill condition. If I ran a few more instants, I’d consider going back to the old win condition of [card]Runechanter’s Pike[/card] and [card]Moorland Haunt[/card]. Most of the time I boarded the Aetherling out and winning via Jace ultimate or attacking with a pair of [card]Restoration Angel[/card]s.

Becoming a Jace control deck post-board is perfectly reasonable, and one of the best ways to control the pace of the game. Frequently you can reach a position to protect Jace as it ticks up, and the opponent has to make odd decisions about whether to focus entirely on killing Jace or lowering your life total. The fact that Jace protects both you and himself at the same time, and the number of swarm decks, makes him a bigger issue than many realize.

Often I was using Jace to let larger creatures bounce off [card]Augur of Bolas[/card] and [card]Restoration Angel[/card] in combat, and the ability to -2 a dying Jace and then replace it with a fresh one, even if he still had loyalty, was a huge upgrade. Drawing multiples is no longer a bad thing.

I think my biggest breakthrough with Jace, AOT came from just how often I was comfortable ticking him up and not drawing cards. Often people just want to keep up drawing the maximum amount of cards, but honestly once you’ve resolved your first Revelation and are going onto your 2nd, there’s often no reason to throw Jace away for cards. Only once did I feel it correct to -2 Jace as soon as he hit play, and frequently I would only tick him down if I desperately needed to find a [card]Supreme Verdict[/card] or similar card. I felt the same with [card]Jace, the Mind Sculptor[/card] where people would [card]Brainstorm[/card] needlessly instead of improving their board position or simply fatesealing. Advancements in playing JTMS came a long way in the months of Caw Blade, and I feel like post-rotation we’ll see a similar evolution on how to properly play Jace, AOT.

As for the rest of the deck, it performed admirably as a UW Control shell, and outside of [card]Aetherling[/card] and [card]Syncopate[/card] I didn’t think any of the cards underperformed. As far as Syncopate goes, it’s primary purpose is to annoy Jund, Junk, and Naya players who pay exactsies on all their spells and slow down players when you’re on the play. I frequently wanted a [card]Dissipate[/card] instead of a [card]Syncopate[/card], and while I wouldn’t cut them all. My next test will be a 2/2 split.

Sideboard-wise, it’s metagame-dependent and also contingent on what you plan to board out in every match. [card]Tidebinder Mage[/card] worked because you frequently couldn’t lean on [card]Supreme Verdict[/card] as well against bigger RG, and even if you played it on turn two or three just to save life, that played right into getting them to extend into Verdict. If anyone you know is still playing Junk Aristocrats, it also works just fine against Varolz and [card]Voice of Resurgence[/card].

Running the 4th [card]Detention Sphere[/card] is a reasonable call depending on what kind of threats you expect to be up against. Against planeswalkers and enchantments you have limited options, and D-Sphere remains one of the best at a low cost. The worst thing I can say about it is that it interferes with Renounce the Guilds. Thankfully, [card]Celestial Flare[/card] covers many of the same angles, so there’s really no reason to bother with [card]Oblivion Ring[/card].

[card]Archangel of Thune[/card] is my biggest switch-up for how I want to play the red matches, especially Hellkite versions. I simply want to be more aggressive in how I play them and have more ways to gain life, which Archangel accomplishes very well. Archangel also remains resistant to all non-Mortars removal they pack, and can quickly outgrow the damage potential from a red deck. I learned this the hard way, when after shrugging off [card]Burning Earth[/card] from my opponent game one, he swapped them for [card]Curse of the Pierced Heart[/card], which casually dealt me 10 and 7 in games two and three.

You can’t switch to an aggressive enough stance to race slow burn spells like Pierced Heart, [card]Mutavault[/card], and [card]Chandra’s Phoenix[/card] with the current build when they can clear your Augur’s and Resto’s out of the way. Archangel gives them a threat they need to immediately deal with, and one that grows out of burn range after a turn. It may not make a big enough impact though—sadly, the deck lacks a true [card]Baneslayer Angel[/card] analogue that can take the game over. Here’s hoping she does a good enough job (or someone figures out a Thragtusk splash without ruining the mana)!

A few quick notes:

I went 5-2 at the 2K losing to Junk Aristocrats and Big Red in my win-and-in round. Junk Aristocrats feels close, but you have the tools to make their life miserable and Jace, AOT is like a cheaper [card]Curse of Death’s Hold[/card] that can also draw cards. It may not lock half their cards out of the game, but it’s also reasonable on its own and provides other outs if the opponent activated Township during the game. Big Red was just a weird match where I felt massively favored game one, but games two and three involved all these obnoxious cards that lead to death by small cuts. Cards like [card]Supreme Verdict[/card] and [card]Detention Sphere[/card] are not well suited to dealing with [card]Chandra’s Phoenix[/card], [card]Mutavault[/card], and a bunch of haste and burn. [card]Burning Earth[/card] becomes [card]Curse of the Pierced Heart[/card] which actually does do a bunch of damage over the course of the game.

I ultimate’d Jace, AOT 6 times in seven rounds. Three times my opponent scooped in response, once I lost after getting Detention Sphere & Thundermaw Hellkite (Lost to another Hellkite, I was at 4 and tapped out with a Revelation for 7 next turn), once I got an [card]Angel of Serenity[/card] and [card]Restoration Angel[/card], which was enough to win.

My last Jace ultimate was my favorite moment by far in the tournament. It was versus a grumpy Naya player and I rode a turn four Jace, sculpting the game entirely around getting a Jace ultimate. The turn before I activated the ultimate, I got three [card]Restoration Angel[/card] into play, untapped, got an Aurelia from the opponent’s deck and 24’d him.

I drew around 120 cards from [card]Sphinx’s Revelation[/card] over the course of the tournament. I cast at least two Sphinx’s Revelation in all but one game I won.

[card]Aetherling[/card] I used twice as an actual win condition. When it’s good, the card is practically unbeatable, but when the card is bad…

[card]Detention Sphere[/card] helps so much right now because everyone is built around staying in a longer game via planeswalkers.

I took 1 damage from [card]Burning Earth[/card] that wasn’t from tapping out to cast Sphinx’s Revelation.

The only card I missed at all from cutting red was [card]Warleader’s Helix[/card], since it conveniently covers a lot of the weaknesses of the UW deck. It gives you another way to take down planeswalkers at instant speed, and gains enough life to remain relevant in the red matches.

You absolutely need to play fast and can’t mess around with the usual traps like spending too much time thinking about sideboarding, messing with what lands to tap, hemming and hawing to bluff a counter and all that. I went to time in three separate matches, two of which I had judges watching me. In none of my games did I feel like I was spending an unreal amount of time tanking (outside of two times I spent way too long sideboarding), it just took me a really long time to set up a winning board position.

People familiar with UW Flash are pretty familiar with this predicament. When you couldn’t find a [card]Runechanter’s Pike[/card] it was hard to convert material advantage into an actual win. The same applies with this UW deck, but it’s even worse because you often don’t even win via consistent incremental damage. You often just sneak points in when you have a chance and then finally hit a Jace ultimate or Aetherling and kill them over the course of a turn or two. Playing the clock is nearly as important as playing the deck in real life events, on Magic Online you have a bit more leeway to play with, but it’s also easier to overthink situations and get behind on time.

My last Standard PTQ is this weekend at ChannelFireball and I’m either playing RG or running back UW(X), If you have a tournament this weekend, I’d highly recommend either of them, or playing a deck you feel comfortable with that doesn’t fold to UWR, RG, or Jund. Having a poor match against any of those is a recipe for a short day or a bad end in the Top 8. Good luck!

Josh Silvestri
Email me at: [email protected]

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