Hello! My name is _megafone_, but I am unfortunately forced to sign my name as “Pedro Carvalho” for the authorities since my Dad didn’t like nicknames very much. I am a 29-year-old Gold-level Pro who has been with Dex Army since 2015, specializing in building and tuning aggressive decks.
At its core, this is a burn deck based around Thermo-Alchemist and Fevered Visions’ ability to deal unchecked damage while using up each turn’s mana to keep the board as clear as possible. The plan is to drop a threat, then keep the board clear for a few turns while pinging some life away, drawing and looting cards, thus sculpting your hand to burn the opponent’s face in a span of 2 or 3 turns in the mid- to late-game.
Why Does it Work?
Let’s try to answer a different question first: Why does aggro suck in current Standard?
Decks in this format are great at playing to the board, historically speaking. They fall into two categories: they are either great at flooding the board with mana-efficient blockers that can also interact with creatures like Advocate, Hangarback Walker, and Reflector Mage, or are great at sweeping the board with Kozilek’s Return, Languish, Arrogance, or Avacyn’s flip trigger.
Even worse, all these decks have the ability to sweep the board while still retaining a significant board presence, which shortens the length of time you have to recover. The available burn spells are too expensive for the low mana counts traditional aggro builds require, the early creatures have too much toughness to attack through, and both evasion and haste are in short supply. All of these factors create a metagame where aggro can’t flourish. Dromoka’s Command’s ubiquity also doesn’t help, of course.
Before EMN, White Weenie decks had the tools to bypass this set of problem with Gryff’s Boon and the Spires/Bushwhacker/Gideon anti-Languish sideboard package, which helped the deck stay competitive, but it has always been a very tough fight and the new set made life even tougher: Spell Queller is an effective tool against the deck, instant-speed Kozilek’s Return off Elder Deep-Fiend is miserable, and Liliana is also miserable.
So how did I get to UR Spells?
The first moment that I thought something outside the box was possible was when I looked at Max McVety’s mono-red list from the first Open in the format, which had Thermo-Alchemist in it. Now there was a card that in theory did all I needed: it clocked at a reasonable rate when backed up by enough spells and ignored every defensive creature in the format.
I added Chandras as Alchemists 5-7 and some more burn spells in the deck, and went to work on it.
While I didn’t lose as much as I thought I would, I still lost a lot. There were many problems. You simply can’t keep the board entirely clear while running all face-burn spells since they are too expensive for that job, so you have to run straight creature removal, like Fiery Impulse and Lightning Axe. At that point, you become more of a semi-traditional aggressive deck instead of a burn deck—and traditional aggro decks, as I mentioned above, suck in Standard. Lastly, every random removal spell you add to the deck makes it weaker against noncreature strategies.
The solution I tried at first was to add card draw spells. I swapped the deck to blue to get Stormchaser Mage as a secondary “spells matter” 2-drop alongside Alchemist and Wandering Fumarole, and started trying out all sorts of card-draw spells. At some point, my list had 3 Revelers, 2 Pieces of the Puzzle, and a Pore Over the Pages, prompting my Dex teammates to want to hit my head with a shovel for forcing them to read this stuff during testing and sort through draft trash to find commons. Either way, I wasn’t convinced yet, as none of the draw spells were very good.
At some point, it clicked that I could try Fevered Visions main deck, and then the deck finally had legs.
Visions did everything I wanted—it gave you enough cards to both play to the board and burn opposing face, all while providing more triggers for Alchemist thanks to drawing more spells and dealing damage by itself. And, of course, it was already a sideboard card I was interested in running anyway, as it was simply unbeatable for a certain subset of possible strategies, like, say, random blue control builds or the Emrakul decks which ended up dominating the Pro Tour (which we didn’t have yet at that point in testing).
It was brilliant, if not for, obviously, the existence of Dromoka’s Command. But I decided to test it out anyway, and went for a test run against Company. I then found out that I was able to win games where I played Visions against Company, even after getting Commanded out. At that point, I was sold. Adding Dispel to the deck was also huge—after a quick brainstorming session with bolov0 where he threw the names of all the relevant removal spells in the format at me, and I saw that all of them were instants, my decision looked justified. I hadn’t tested against anything else, but it was solid enough in theory—you improved your supposed bad matchup by a lot, and can loot away the card when it isn’t doing anything.
The last piece of the puzzle was Thing in the Ice. By Thursday afternoon, my build had Curious Homunculus (and only 3 Visions, shamefully). After one of the Spaniards saw an unnamed pro playing Thing in an MTGO League, I started a long internal monologue to convince myself why should I play the card, and the answer was that Thing was the best possible card you could have on the draw. Most decks I could think of in the format besides White Weenie couldn’t realistically beat a turn-3 Visions on the play, and since you had the initiative, you could keep the board clear and thus protect your long-term gameplan.
Visions is kind of a miserable play on the draw if you’re on the defensive, though. Looting away a bad Visions for a good card wasn’t a problem (Collective Defiance is truly a busted card), but with Homunculus you simply couldn’t win a game where you started on the backfoot and had to kill creatures with your burn spells. With Thing, you have an out for this—as a 0/4, they can’t 2-for-1 you with Command, it blocks well (if they Command on the block you can blow them out with an instant), and they can’t simply drop all their Visions-drawn creatures with a Thing out, so they are forced to deal with it. The card is bad in a lot of situations, but mostly those are the matchups which simply auto-lose to Visions.
How to Play the Deck
The big picture is simple: play a 2-drop or a Visions, keep the board clear for a few turns, and watch them die in a fire. There are two important concepts to be mindful of when playing the deck: maximizing damage output per card, and loot planning.
- Maximizing output per card in this deck means, basically, maximizing your triggers. Every turn you have a decision between dropping a guy or playing some burn spell, you have to consider whether they can snowball the board beyond your reach or if you can play the guy first to extract an extra ping (or Thing counter) from your spell. This is probably the most important aspect of playing the deck. A lot of times you’d rather take one extra hit from something so you can untap with Alchemist and get a ping from, say, a Fiery Impulse. Just don’t let yourself fall too far behind on board for this.
- Be as economical as you can with Fiery Temper, as you’d always rather madness it than cast it. Be as liberal as you can when madnessing it away—Temper to the dome when playing Tormenting Voice on turn 3 against an empty board is most of the time a great play. Madness is, after all, a trigger, and you want to maximize those.
The other concept is loot planning. The simplified guide is:
- You never need Thing in the Ice after turns 2 or 3, or Jace after turn 4.
- You never truly need Dispel against anything except Bant Company (and the mirror postboard).
- You never need more than 5 lands in play.
- You never loot away 2 burn spells. Say, 1 burn spell and 2 lands is fine, but never 2 burn spells.
Of course there are exceptions, but if you follow these, you’ll be fine.
Other important notes on gameplay:
- Any 7-card hand with no threat (a creature or Visions) is a mulligan against an unknown opponent, barring some fringe hands with Voice and Temper. If you know the opponent has a deck where removal is very live, you can keep hands with, say, 4 removal spells and 3 lands—this comes up more often post-board.
- You should be way more liberal with burning creatures if your opponent seems to be Visions-locked—playing 1 spell per turn with a Visions in play. Your only way to lose those games is if you screw up by letting them manufacture too big of a board presence while you durdle. Don’t let that happen.
- Dispel hits anything. Really. If you see a spell, it’s an instant, costs 2 mana or more, and affects the game in any way, just Dispel it. You don’t really care about the effect as much as the tempo gain. Maximizing triggers note applies if you are in tight supply of spells to kill your opponent with, but usually you just fire it off.
- Don’t be too greedy with Defiance. It’s the most expensive spell in the deck and if you have an easy window to play it, do so. If you are flooded on turn 4, kill a guy and loot, or even deal 3 to the dome and loot.
- Unsubstantiate on your own spell comes up once in a while as a way to get an extra trigger or win a counter war. Look out for it.
- Fumarole is a very important card, as free damage in a burn deck is huge. Against a tapped out opponent, it is usually better to attack with the creatureland than to drop an extra creature you have in your hand—your creatures don’t have that much damage potential over the very short term in the midgame, and 4 damage is a lot. Also, against a full hand, attacking for just 1 is a safe play that can be correct much of the time, but it is important to recognize the spots where you can play it safely.
- Thing is the most expendable 2-drop, so play it first if you feel like your first guy is going to die. Alchemist is the most important one to protect with Dispel when you have a choice in the matter (exception being a Thing very low on counters).
UR Spells, Updated
This is a tentative sideboard from what I expect the format to be, untested. I’m writing this article on the plane back home and haven’t had the chance to test it yet. I wouldn’t change a card in the main deck at this point.
Some notes if you want to make changes:
- Dispel doesn’t need to be a main-deck card, but I expect Bant Company to remain the most played deck and the rest of the field to still be somewhat soft, so I left it in for now.
- Tormenting Voice, Unsubstantiate, and Lightning Axe are great cards that suffer from diminishing returns. Too many copies of the first and you durdle too much, too many copies of the other two make your deck too weak when you don’t draw Visions, as they both trade a card for tempo and you can end up with too few cards to push the tempo advantage into a win if you draw too many. Too few of the tempo cards make your deck too clunky. No Voices and you don’t filter your draws well enough. I like my numbers as they are.
- Stormchaser Mage is a better 2-drop than Thing in the Ice in some matchups, and it is the other creature I seriously consider. All other 2-drops I’ve tried were atrocious, but you can give them a try if you want.
My sideboard for the Pro Tour was not good. I built the deck to attack an unknown (to me) metagame based on the assumption that the angle I was attacking was simple, having a reasonable matchup against the top dog, and beating everything that I thought could reasonably beat the top dog. But I never really thought about what my Plan B would be, and thus my board was a mish-mash of random answer cards and stuff that I thought could be good, based on no post-board testing at all.
This revised sideboard consists of 3 things: a secondary threat against control (Castigator is the best I’ve found so far), counters for bomb decks, and a control plan for when Visions sucks. I have no idea whether the control plan works—I had 1 Wrath and 2 Revelers at the Pro Tour, never drew the Wrath and only drew the Reveler once, so it’s still experimental.
I’ll try to give out the main matchup pointers, so you can change the sideboard later. Again, this sideboard is very tentative. I’m not sure it is good.
On the Play
On the Draw
Tempo’ing them out is easier than it looks. Impulse is practically Swords to Plowshares and you don’t present a lot of opportunities for Command 2-for-1s. Jace has a bigger upside than Thing on the play, so leave it there. Visions might be a liability on the draw sometimes, but 2 is enough that you can loot it away if you don’t need it, and you aren’t forced to play it because it’s the only card you have on turn 3.
Impulse gains you a lot of tempo on the emerge enablers and Jace, so you want to go to 4—you don’t care much about whether they get ahead on cards. Depending on their version, you might want to leave Axe. In that case, take Tormenting Voices out.
BG Delirium (Face to Face’s)
This is the most unique matchup, and can vary wildly depending on the list and how the opponent plays. For example, The Gitrog Monster makes Fevered Visions quite bad as they can empty their hand easier, and the same thing applies to some of the lists that have more 2-drops. If you are aggro’d in one game, consider taking out the Visions and flipping into the control deck. They can’t gain life besides Kalitas, so you can grind their life out in a long game. You might want an actual finisher for this game plan, though—I’m not sure.
On the Play
On the Draw
It might be that running the control plan against GW is unnecessary and staying with the Visions is correct on the play or the draw.
WW, Zombies, and Other Aggro Decks
The 2 Unsubstantiate could also be 2 Tormenting Voice. Become the control deck and snipe all their guys. Any of your creatures has the potential to win the game and they run very few removal spells. Even Jace’s ultimate does the trick—assuming, of course, the control plan actually works.
Axe kills Kalitas and Avacyn. Dismissal is too slow. Other than that, pretty straightforward. I am actually not sure if taking Things out in this matchup is correct, as it does pressure Gideon, but as of now, that’s how I’d board.
I have never played the matchup, of course, so feel free to bash me here. The main thing about Fevered Visions is that it’s not symmetrical, so I think staying with them and playing around the fact that everyone is going to have a lot of cards (and they are the ones taking damage) is the correct play, and since you’ll have a lot of extra lands, you put Wraths in. Defiance is your slowest card and you’ve got to dump your hand hard, so you board it out. Thing is unkillable when flipped, so it stays in. This strategy takes away basically all of the deck’s looting, but I think it’s workable.
Would You Play it Next Week?
Yes. Most of the playable answers that people can run in the Pro Tour Top 8 decks are either too clunky or instants)—most of those decks can’t beat a Visions or an online Alchemist, and gaining life is too hard. At least for next week, I believe the deck will still be an amazing option, especially if the board control plan works out against White Weenie.
So there it is, the most innovative deck of the Pro Tour, and certainly the best deck I’ve ever played in a tournament, relatively speaking. All my matches felt easy save a close win against BG where I played quite badly, and my loss was a close one against one of the best players in the world, who clearly outplayed me in the match. A better player than me would have easily won the tournament with the deck, I believe.
Hopefully, I can keep posting some other good decks in the next few Pro Tours, as the result let me hit Gold status and I’ll be attending events around the world next year. I would like to send out a huge thanks to all members of Dex Army, specially to papa Willy, Márcio, and Thiago, who will represent us at the World Championships. You guys are awesome.