At the start of last week, I didn’t plan on playing at Grand Prix Turin. Flights were expensive, I couldn’t find a car ride, and I didn’t feel motivated to play. Fast forward to Wednesday morning when I got a phone call from Ivan Floch.
“Hey, I already promised to go in a car with Martin Juza and other Czech guys, but I’d rather not go. Do you want to take my place?” I thought about it briefly, and figured I had a lot of fun in Metz the week prior, so I decided to go. This put me in a problematic situation though, because I hadn’t played a single game of Standard since the Pro Tour. I had watched some coverage of the U.S. GPs, but I still had no clue what to play.
I turned to my friends. I made a Facebook post explaining my predicament and asked if anyone had a broken deck. The post turned into people commenting songs as suggestions for what to play ranging from Taylor Swift’s “Red” to The Cranberries’ “Zombie.” I decided to go with the best song: “Here Comes the Sun.” Approach of the Second Sun it is! I got a deck list from Eric Froehlich, played a couple of Leagues with it, and it felt good. Problem solved.
On the drive to Turin, Martin told me that he also considered playing the deck because Ben Stark and Martin’s friend Raul Porojan were working on it. In the end, Martin stuck to his guns and played Mono-Red, but I reached out to Ben and got his deck list.
Ben wanted me to play 3 Failure // Comply in the sideboard but I refused to do that. It makes sense to some extent against Temur Energy. You can use the first part to delay Chandra, Glorybringer, or Bristling Hydra, and then you can prevent them from casting Negate on your game-winning Approach or Fumigate. Still, I felt that the Temur matchup was good enough that I’d rather not waste sideboard slots.
First and foremost, 4 Approach of the Second Sun. I’ve seen some versions run only 3 copies, and I think that’s a mistake. Not a giant mistake, but in current Standard, especially in game 1, some decks just can’t beat counterspell, removal, removal, and Approach into Approach.
4 Immolating Glare, 0 Blessed Alliance, 0 Aether Meltdown, 0 Stasis Snare: Ben decided to abandon other removal spells in order to have access to the full 4 copies of Immolating Glare. Going into the GP, I wasn’t 100% sure this was correct, but I decided to trust Ben. In hindsight, I regret the decision to play only Glare. I think Meltdown and Stasis Snare are medium, but I like the flexibility of Blessed Alliance. There is the argument that Blessed Alliance can help you deal with pesky creatures like Bristling Hydra or Hazoret, but the situations where your opponent attacks with those cards as their only creature don’t come up very often. I do think the life gain part of Blessed Alliance is important, though. All in all, this deck mostly tries to survive in order to play double Approach and win the game. It’s not control in the classic sense of having a slow but reliable win condition. Instead, you win quite quickly if you turn the corner. Don’t get me wrong—Immolating Glare was good for me, but I’d still like to play some copies of Blessed Alliance.
This list tries to fill the life gain void with a different card: Renewed Faith. In theory, this card made sense. Against Mono-Red, which is likely your worst matchup, you can gain up to 6 life. In other matchups, you can cycle it away and 2 life can come in handy. In reality, the card didn’t perform. Gain 6 isn’t amazing against Red, and Blessed Alliance might be better as you can get more value out of that spell. I understand what Ben is trying to achieve with Renewed Faith, but I don’t think it works particularly well. At least it didn’t at the GP, as I lost to Mono-Red twice.
The norm is to run 4 Glimmers and 3 Hieroglyphic Illumination. We opted to switch these numbers up. After playing the tournament, I think it might be correct to run the full 8 draw spells as it lets you cycle Illumination more freely and you never run out of gas.
The rest of the nonland cards are pretty simple. You should play 4 each of Censor, Supreme Will, Cast Out, and Fumigate as that’s the core of the deck that shouldn’t be changed unless the metagame shifts dramatically. Disallow was a filler card. I didn’t expect much, but it overperformed for me. It’s decent in every matchup but Red, and it’s an awesome catch-all.
Mana base: The big difference between this and other lists is that you’re running only 24 lands. I was a bit surprised to see this, as it’s a mana-hungry deck. After all, your main goal is to play lands every turn until turn 7, where you want to cast Approach. But it does make sense if you think about how many extra cyclers you’ve included. You will cycle Renewed Faith in most cases so you should be able to draw yourself out of mana issues. I did have a bunch of problems with mana, though, so this might not be the way to go. As for the exact land configuration, you should play 4-of Prairie Stream and Irrigated Farmland, and 0 Port Town. You want to maximize your untapped lands. The extra land slot can be either Westvale Abbey or Blighted Cataract. Both are okay, but Abbey is a bit better in the control mirror and useful post-board if you get hit by Lost Legacy.
The sideboard was good for me and I wouldn’t change much. The one change I’d suggest is to swap the numbers of Authority of Consuls and Regal Caracal. It makes sense that you want to maximize the chance to play Authority turn 1, but Caracal is a much better card against Red. It’s really hard for them to beat Caracal into Caracal. The Gearhulks have been great for me as win conditions when I couldn’t rely on Approach. Descend upon the Sinful has been kind of lukewarm, but I have yet to face Zombies where the extra sweeper might come handy, especially when it’s one that takes care of their recurring creatures. This list omits Sphinx of the Steel Wind, which could be a mistake moving forward since people might jump on the U/B Control bandwagon after Robin Dolar won the GP with it. The card is great in control mirrors so if you want to have a better matchup, I’d suggest playing one.
The event did not go well for me. Day 1 was all about the die rolls. I won the matches where I rolled better than my opponent and lost when I didn’t to an overall record of 6-3. It felt bad getting destroyed by a Longtusk Cub or an Earthshaker Khenra that I could have Censored if I had gone first. Instead, I didn’t, and was dealt 8 or more damage by the creature itself and died as a result. I also had the unfortunate moment of getting blown out by Blossoming Defense in response to Immolating Glare. Oh how I have wished I’d had Blessed Alliance in that moment.
I had one quite cool game versus Steve Hatto in round 4. He was playing Temur Energy and it was game 2 so he had access to Negate. He plays Longtusk Cub on turn 2, and I go land and pass, representing Censor. On his turn 3 Steve attacks, then plays Servant of the Conduit and quickly picks up another card from his hand to make it look like he is trying to play a land, but he doesn’t show it to me yet. I stop him because I might play Censor so he puts it back into his hand. But I’m lacking lands, so I decide against Censoring it, planning to cycle instead. It turns out he didn’t have a land and just wanted to bluff me into not using Censor. Pretty cool play if you ask me.
The game goes on and I decide to repay the favor. On his turn 4, he misses his land drop again and attacks with his Cub and Servant. He passes, clearly representing Negate. On my turn 4 I quickly draw a card and snap off Supreme Will, trying to sell that I’m searching for a land. He counters and I smile, play a Plains, and then a turn-5 Fumigate. Unfortunately, on his turn, he manages to sneak in Fevered Visions and I proceed to lose a pretty close game. It might seem silly as I could have countered Fevered Visions, but in my hand I had no answer to the Cub but the Fumigate, so if he kept attacking with his creature and kept up Negate I’d eventually lose. I also had a lot of time to draw a Cast Out for the Visions but didn’t. The rest of the day was pretty uneventful and I was sad to finish 6-3. Day 2 didn’t go much better and I decide to drop after picking up my 4th loss in round 11.
Overall, I’d say Approach is a solid choice. It has the problem that all control decks have these days in that your answers have to line up perfectly against your opponent’s threats. The Red matchup is quite bad, and I don’t know if there’s a solution. Pre-board, if they play Village Messenger turn 1, you’re basically dead.
Post-board the matchup gets better, but it’s not like there is some hoser like Kor Firewalker. Regal Caracal is okay, but if they kill the big Cat, the small ones aren’t going to get the job done. Mono-Red is an impressive deck and it’s currently my number 1 choice for Nationals this week. Another problem with Approach might be the resurgence of U/B Control. I still think that the deck is quite bad, and the GP was proof more of how great Robin Dolar is than it was evidence that U/B is playable. Approach is still good against Zombies, Temur, and I think it might be great against the new White Eldrazi deck that Genesis blew everyone out of the water with this week, so if your metagame is dominated by those decks, I’d suggest giving it a try.
Moving forward, this is the list I’d recommend.
I like having the Negate here as Chandra is one of the most problematic cards. You can also often counter their Negate. On the draw, you might want to keep in the Glare and bring in only 1 Negate. Approach gets worse post-board so you can cut a copy. Disallow is also okay, so you can bring in the 3rd.
Like I said, I haven’t played this matchup yet, as for some reason I haven’t faced it online. Still, I think I’d sideboard like this. You need to have Gearhulk to beat Lost Legacy and it might be correct to bring in some number of Caracal. I think Blessed Alliance is pretty bad as they can just sacrifice Relentless Dead or Dread Wanderer. Immolating Glare is also kind of medium, but I think you need to have access to some so you don’t just die to early pressure.
This deck had a resurgence last week, with Matt Severa taking the title in DC. Control has had problems with Mardu in the past, but I think this version is better suited to beat it than most. Not having a target for Mardu’s removal is a big deal, and Matt wasn’t even playing Gideon main deck.
I had a lot of fun playing at the GP even though I’m obviously disappointed with the result. Standard has been in a great place lately so I’m a bit worried that the rotation is going to shake things up. But there are Merfolk in Ixalan so it can’t really go wrong, can it? Coming up: Nationals. After that, it’s all Merfolk in Ixalan. Can’t wait!