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Silvestri Says – When Last Breath Saved Christmas

I’d like to thank Stanislav Cifka for giving me a front-runner deck for this weekend. Over the last two weeks I was slowly banging my head against a wall over all the decks I didn’t want to play at SCG Oakland, and now I have a high chance of playing classic UW Control.

[deck]Main Deck
4 Azorius Guildgate
4 Hallowed Fountain
7 Island
2 Mutavault
6 Plains
2 Temple of Deceit
2 Temple of Silence
4 Azorius Charm
4 Detention Sphere
4 Dissolve
2 Essence Scatter
4 Last Breath
4 Sphinx’s Revelation
4 Supreme Verdict
3 Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
4 Jace, Architect of Thought
Sideboard
2 Archangel of Thune
3 Fiendslayer Paladin
4 Gainsay
2 Negate
1 Pithing Needle
3 Soldier of the Pantheon[/deck]

Stanislav Cifka’s UW Control list is a thing of beauty, there’s no gimmicks involved and there are no concessions to kill conditions. It runs enough countermagic to punish slower decks in the midgame and [ccProd]Last Breath[/ccProd] solves a ton of issues. For a long time this deck was stuck trying to figure out an extra removal slot. With Mono-Blue Devotion taking over and [ccProd]Nightveil Specter[/ccProd] playing such a key role in the metagame, [ccProd]Last Breath[/ccProd] is now in excellent position. It gives the deck another early play, takes out [ccProd]Mutavault[/ccProd] permanently, and eliminates the majority of early game threats this deck worries about.

Really, the only thing I’d consider changing at a glance is to add a singleton [ccProd]Elixir of Immortality[/ccProd] to the main deck a la Dzyl. It lets you go long against any deck in the format without any worry of going overboard with Revelation. Yes, the deck was already good at doing that, however there’s still the pesky problem of bricking out instead of winning the game. Almost any creature you’d consider running is worse than another [ccProd]Elspeth, Sun’s Champion[/ccProd], and [ccProd]Aetherling[/ccProd] isn’t where you want to be (more on this later) in the metagame.

Elixir lets you win the game by just playing a control game of Magic. Your only focus will be wiping the board, drawing cards, and gaining life, and doing it as many times as needed until eventually [ccProd]Elspeth, Sun’s Champion[/ccProd], [ccProd]Mutavault[/ccProd], or straight-up decking wins you the match. Really you don’t even need this many Elspeth in the deck, but they lock up the board against most of the metagame and she is the only kill condition with other relevant abilities. The biggest problem with this plan is time.

Not in the, “I am going to not be able to perform my game plan before my life total is 0” sense of time. More along the lines of, “Oh god, not like this, not like this… Please play faster. Why is the judge just watching this travesty go on? This guy is still taking 45 seconds a turn tanking because he’s losing horribly. Opponent, allow me to me sum up your options in three words: They all suck. I’m sure there’s some distant number of perfects you can draw and bricks I can hit that will keep you in it—probably not—but let’s just say there is. Either you are drawing those and you’ve formed a coherent plan or you aren’t going too. OH GOD, DON’T LEAVE JUDGE! Now my opponent is running the full-on tankapalooza, why is this happening? I’m sure I can kill you in four minutes though assuming I keep a relevant win condition alive and don’t need to make many mechanical actions. OK, so it’s extra turns and I’m clearly going to win with 1/1s, can we… [ccProd]Shrivel[/ccProd]? Are you serious? You sideboarded [ccProd]Shrivel[/ccProd]? Ok. So now we’re going to draw, would you please concede?”

This exact version of the story is fiction, but I’m pretty sure everyone who has played control can relate. I realize some control players are very guilty of this as well and hog up decision time, intentionally or unintentionally stalling so there’s no chance of winning in game three. However I’ve gotten sorer on this point over the past few years, because I never time out with control on Magic Online. Yet some of these optimized control builds when moved to real life are banking on your opponents being considerate or just not hitting the bad breaks of having to cycle through your deck twice to close out a game.

So that’s my #1 or #2 concern with picking this deck—finishing real games of Magic in 50 minutes. Otherwise, I really like where it stands. It doesn’t have a wretched matchup outside of Esper Control, and the number of Esper pilots has dropped off considerably over the past month. So the number of [ccProd]Aetherling[/ccProd]s I need to concern myself with is very low. [ccProd]Aetherling[/ccProd] actually shouldn’t even be played, really—it’s a concession to time restraints.

So now I may go back on board the UW train since I’m familiar with the deck and I feel like its worst matchups have left the building. Great timing for me, since it gives me a backup choice if I can’t work out the other two decks. Mono-Blue is my first choice, but frankly playing the mirror and sideboarding is still frustrating. So many hands feel borderline with the blue deck that I have a hard time battling with it.

At this point, I think everyone is finally on the same page—the deck making the biggest Waves is the best deck in the format. Mono-Blue Devotion has held a consistently high win rate across Magic Online and various real-life tournaments—it’s finally settled in that this is the best deck until Born of the Gods. Since the deck has merely favorable or even matchups across the board and doesn’t do anything obviously overpowered, there’s no major shift or flock of players jumping over to it. Without a [ccProd]Delver of Secrets[/ccProd], [ccProd]Cryptic Command[/ccProd], or [ccProd]Bloodbraid Elf[/ccProd] to galvanize the player base, there’s just been a gradual, rising tide.

Now we may finally see the numbers the deck has deserved for a month, but likely too late for many more players to jump on the bandwagon. While Waves is a great deck, it just lacks the killer app that a deck like MBC had to pull a massive number of players in. You won’t see fields with 30% Mono-U players.

Standard is always about extremes, if two extremes are among the best things you can be doing, there’s simply no middle ground to be had. In this case Mono-U and Mono-B punish you for doing different things. Worse still is that because these decks aren’t overpowered or dirt cheap, people simply don’t play them in the numbers required for a pure metagame deck to be good.

Take the example of Mono-Red. Crushes MBC, is crushed by Mono-U, and beats most of the middle of the road decks. Do you really want to bank on ducking Mono-U and people still playing decks like GW and Naya? Trying to duck midrange plans that are naturally well positioned against you and not even being amazing against the top decks is a rough place to be.

The more you hedge against those types of midrange decks, suddenly the weaker you are to [ccProd]Thoughtseize[/ccProd] decks, and maybe then MBC isn’t a bye anymore, or vice versa. You can have a scalpel or a shotgun, and unfortunately for metagame players, you typically get punished because not enough of the field is making equally good metagame decisions. Right now the issue is that the best decks are “only” 55-60% favorites and that the middle ground decks are all hosed by people’s own inclination toward variety. If we really had a Caw-Blade, Faeries, or Jund where you could realistically narrow these two decks to 40-50% of the field, I suspect you’d see vastly different results.

Remember that there’s a big difference between the intrinsically powerful decks and the ones that rely on answers and synergy. Mono-U runs some very powerful single cards in [ccProd]Thassa, God of the Sea[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Master of Waves[/ccProd] while also using cheap aggression. Mono-Black has [ccProd]Thoughtseize[/ccProd], [ccProd]Pack Rat[/ccProd], and [ccProd]Gray Merchant of Asphodel[/ccProd] as powerful cards that force either a very proactive plan or a lot of answers. Control decks right now are decidedly on synergy and trading until they draw their one very powerful card ([ccProd]Sphinx’s Revelation[/ccProd]). [ccProd]Jace, Architect of Thought[/ccProd] is a great engine, but it’s also one that everyone is prepared to deal with, and the same goes for [ccProd]Elspeth, Sun’s Champion[/ccProd].

Most of the metagame decks aren’t doing anything super powerful and lack the power cards from Mono-U and MBC. They run a lot of efficient creatures in the same vein as [ccProd]Tidebinder Mage[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Desecration Demon[/ccProd], but none of them really have the oomph that a [ccProd]Pack Rat[/ccProd] or [ccProd]Master of Waves[/ccProd] can bring to the table. That’s the biggest problem at the moment with playing fair, creature-based plans: All your creatures are so much worse than they were two months ago, or even this past summer.

Before I leave, I do want to touch on Boros, since I mentioned it last week and I do like the deck. The main issue I’ve had with Boros is just running into the problem of dilution, the more you focus on cheap ground guys, the better your general matches are. This in turn makes the Mono-U match worse and weakens your game against green midrange slightly. If you go spell-heavy and ignore early aggression, then you have a realistic route of mostly trading and taking over games with [ccProd]Stombreath Dragon[/ccProd] or [ccProd]Assemble the Legion[/ccProd] against Mono-U. You end up losing points against MBC (primarily due to discard and [ccProd]Gray Merchant of Asphodel[/ccProd]) and control where [ccProd]Sphinx’s Revelation[/ccProd] becomes a very scary end-game to beat.

Ultimately, there are a few Boros cores I like building off of:

[draft]Rakdos Cackler
Firedrinker Satyr
Burning-Tree Emissary
Chandra’s Phoenix
Chained to the Rocks
Boros Charm
Lightning Strike[/draft] [draft]Rakdos Cackler
Chandra’s Phoenix
Chained to the Rocks
Shock
Lightning Strike
Boros Charm
Flames of the Firebrand
Warleader’s Helix[/draft]

As well as [ccProd]Toil // Trouble[/ccProd] [draft]Rakdos Cackler
Young Pyromancer
Chandra’s Phoenix
Lightning Strike
Mizzium Mortars
Chained to the Rocks
Warleader’s Helix
Flames of the Firebrand[/draft]

Both of these are similar in what they want to accomplish, they just take different routes in going about it. With the first deck [ccProd]Boros Charm[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Chained to the Rocks[/ccProd] both accomplish more since you actually care about creature’s survival and forcing damage via the ground. With the second deck you really just want to rack up incremental advantage and using pinpoint removal. Could you still run [ccProd]Boros Charm[/ccProd] in the third build? Sure. Is it ever going to be anything except a 4-point dome-you spell? Nope!

While I don’t hate any of these builds, I have a hard time playing them because they lack the power cards other decks have. At one point I’d consider [ccProd]Burning-Tree Emissary[/ccProd] among them simply because of tempo gains, but that time has passed. As a result by playing Boros you’re intentionally playing a deck with very few cards that can take over a game. You can sideboard [ccProd]Assemble the Legion[/ccProd] or [ccProd]Stormbreath Dragon[/ccProd] to assist, but that takes away from the selling point of low curves and low land counts.

In the end I have a few days left to figure out what I want to battle with this weekend. Barring some breakthrough on Boros, I’ll either be battling with UW Control or whatever version of Mono-U Sam Pardee plays. Good luck to everyone battling this weekend!

Josh Silvestri

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