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Valuable Lessons – Building a Board Presence

It’s no secret that I’ve been playing a lot of Standard lately. In fact, I’ve played three entirely different decks since my last column here. I was enjoying the blue/white deck I wrote about, but I was pretty excited to learn that my Standard Elf Ball deck took 2nd place at a 262-player PTQ in Seattle last weekend, and I kept losing to Junk Rites and Naya variations, especially in game 1. I decided to pick the Elf deck back up and hop in a daily event. One deck with four copies of [card]Supreme Verdict[/card] and a couple turn five Craterhoofs from a Rites deck were enough for me to go back to the drawing board.

The blue/white deck, even with its shortcomings, felt like it had a very powerful core and I knew that I wanted to build a deck based on the original blue/white list I had used. Here’s the list for reference:

[deck]Main Deck
4 Glacial Fortress
4 Hallowed Fountain
9 Island
2 Moorland Haunt
5 Plains
4 Augur of Bolas
4 Restoration Angel
4 Snapcaster Mage
2 Azorius Charm
2 Dissipate
3 Renounce the Guilds
2 Rewind
1 Runechanter’s Pike
3 Sphinx’s Revelation
3 Supreme Verdict
2 Syncopate
2 Think Twice
3 Thought Scour
1 Unsummon
Sideboard
1 Aetherling
2 Increasing Confusion
2 Dispel
1 Negate
1 Renounce the Guilds
1 Oblivion Ring
2 Purify the Grave
1 Supreme Verdict
1 Righteous Blow
3 Terminus[/deck]

I was consistently impressed with the four copies of [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card], [card]Augur of Bolas[/card], and [card]Restoration Angel[/card]. The countermagic was really good and the numbers felt right. [card]Supreme Verdict[/card] was less than optimal in most matchups. I would be developing symmetrically with the opponent, they would get ahead on the board, and I would end up having to lose my board presence in order to survive. [card]Voice of Resurgence[/card] was a nightmare; sure, I had [card]Terminus[/card] in the board, but the big spell isn’t reliable and I often found myself being run over by a single copy of Voice alongside one or two other dorks.

I knew I wanted to be playing [card]Pillar of Flame[/card] in the deck. There’s no removal spell in the format that’s more efficient for this strategy. It combos nicely with Augur, Snapcaster, and Restoration Angel. It allows us to double spell opponents with a Charm on our third turn. It lets us stay in the game against [card]Thalia, Guardian of Thraben[/card]. It even goes to the dome for finishing blows. Adding red to the deck is a big step. I found the following list floating around the internet and I put it together and played two dailies with it.

[deck]Main Deck
2 Supreme Verdict
4 Glacial Fortress
4 Clifftop Retreat
2 Augur of Bolas
3 Think Twice
2 Island
1 Rewind
1 Aetherling
4 Azorius Charm
1 Cavern of Souls
2 Restoration Angel
2 Searing Spear
1 Turn Burn
4 Snapcaster Mage
1 Moorland Haunt
2 Sacred Foundry
2 Warleader’s Helix
4 Steam Vents
2 Syncopate
4 Hallowed Fountain
4 Sulfur Falls
3 Sphinx’s Revelation
2 Dissipate
3 Pillar of Flame
Sideboard
2 Renounce the Guilds
3 Izzet Staticaster
2 Negate
1 Supreme Verdict
2 Purify the Grave
3 Dispel
1 Oblivion Ring
1 Pillar of Flame[/deck]

I was very unhappy with the deck. I went 2-2 in both Dailies, losing games where it felt like I had complete control because I wasn’t putting pressure on my opponent and I never had a board presence. I really liked [card]Pillar of Flame[/card], but I wanted to be playing a deck like the blue/white Flash deck that had enough creatures to actually interact with an opponent that was on the board.

I decided to scrap the deck and work from scratch. I wanted 4 [card]Augur of Bolas[/card], 4 [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card]s, and 4 [card]Restoration Angel[/card]s. I felt like [card]Pillar of Flame[/card] was easily the best spot removal spell for the deck and I felt like [card]Turn // Burn[/card] was pretty bad in most situations. Playing four Pillar also meant I could play four copies of [card]Azorius Charm[/card]. I didn’t need to worry so much about Voice anymore and it was making the deck play more powerful spells in each slot.

[card]Warleader’s Helix[/card] turned out to be an excellent tool. I was using it to stay in games against aggressive decks and I was finishing a lot of games against control decks with Snapcaster/Helix. The card is excellent at fighting the [card]Restoration Angel[/card] war too.

Playing more guys meant that [card]Moorland Haunt[/card] became more important. Drawing a single copy of the forgotten land drastically changes a lot of matchups in your favor. Once you have [card]Dispel[/card] in post-boarded games you get to be very bold with your end step token production against other [card]Sphinx’s Revelation[/card] decks. I decided that I wanted at least two copies.

[card]Aetherling[/card] was good when it won me the game, but I felt like I was pretty much winning any game where I stuck an [card]Aetherling[/card] even if I didn’t have the big spell. It sat in my hand a lot against aggressive decks and I was already very comfortable with my control matchup. I cut the big man entirely from my 75 and I haven’t missed him at all.

I wanted to cut the [card]Supreme Verdict[/card]s from the main entirely, they didn’t work well in most matchups. I wanted to build a board against [card]Sire of Insanity[/card] or just turn the game into race with my Angels and use the lifelink mode on [card]Azorius Charm[/card] to ensure victory against the aggressive decks. I was mostly losing to mid-game planeswalkers, double or triple [card]Lingering Souls[/card] draws, or I was just durdling around for too long with no pressure while an opponent topdecked slightly better than me. One card solved all of these problems quite nicely, [card]Thundermaw Hellkite[/card]. First off, we get to attack with Dragons, which is one of my top five favorite things to do in the world. More importantly, Thundermaw solves virtually every shortcoming the deck suffered.

I started at one copy of the dragon main and one in the board. I quickly 3-1ed a Daily Event and felt like [card]Thundermaw Hellkite[/card] was the best card in my deck whenever I drew it. I decided that playing two copies main and another in the sideboard was worthwhile. After further testing, I’m starting to think that I might even want the third dragon in the maindeck. Bad things can happen if you’re just sitting around in Standard: Opponents start to Cavern out [card]Angel of Serenity[/card]. You get hit with a well-timed [card]Blasphemous Act[/card]. The list goes on. Thundermaw says no to the drawn out game and puts the opponent in a position where they absolutely need to wipe the board. It’s pretty safe to tap out for a dragon if you know it’s going to resolve. If the opponent gets a big Revelation you can just cast one of your own and the board presence presented by the dragon is going to be enough to make them use a lot of mana on their next turn and let you control the pace of the game.

I shuffled some numbers to make everything fit and put the following list together late Thursday afternoon. I hopped in the 8 p.m. (PST) Daily Event and easily 4-0ed by attacking people with Dragons.

[deck]Main Deck
2 Think Twice
4 Augur of Bolas
2 Dissipate
4 Steam Vents
4 Sulfur Falls
2 Moorland Haunt
4 Azorius Charm
1 Rewind
3 Sphinx’s Revelation
2 Syncopate
4 Clifftop Retreat
4 Snapcaster Mage
4 Hallowed Fountain
4 Restoration Angel
2 Sacred Foundry
2 Warleader’s Helix
2 Thundermaw Hellkite
1 Island
1 Renounce the Guilds
4 Glacial Fortress
4 Pillar of Flame
Sideboard
1 Oblivion Ring
2 Izzet Staticaster
2 Purify the Grave
2 Searing Spear
1 Thundermaw Hellkite
1 Negate
3 Dispel
2 Supreme Verdict
1 Renounce the Guilds[/deck]

This doesn’t look like any blue/white/red deck we’ve seen recently, but I can assure you it’s quite good. I’ve been crushing control decks, overwhelming aggro decks, and carefully engineering races against [card]Unburial Rites[/card] decks all week. [card]Lingering Souls[/card] Aristocrats strategies, both Junk and black/red/white lists, are extremely easy for the deck now. Thundermaw just kicks people through windows and the [card]Izzet Staticaster[/card] in the board is an absolute house. I plan on playing this list at my big Standard event this weekend and I would strongly recommend it to anyone that’s looking for something new and powerful.

Let’s talk about each of the matchups and discuss our sideboard plans:

Naya Blitz

We want to be trading cards aggressively in the early turns. Once we get to four mana we can start taking over the game with [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card]/[card]Azorius Charm[/card], [card]Restoration Angel[/card]/[card]Augur of Bolas[/card], or [card]Warleader’s Helix[/card]. Don’t be afraid to send a Dragon into the red zone when it’s not immediately apparent that you’re going to die the next turn, especially if you have [card]Azorius Charm[/card] in hand. Lifelinking a team including a Dragon almost always wins the race here if you were using your mana efficiently in the early turns. [card]Burning-Tree Emissary[/card] decks are the only place you want your [card]Supreme Verdict[/card]s.

Out

[draft]1 Rewind
2 Dissipate
2 Think Twice[/draft]

In

[draft]2 Searing Spear
1 Oblivion Ring
2 Supreme Verdict[/draft]

Jund

The Jund matchup feels very good to me. I’ve played against it five times and won the match every time. [card]Renounce the Guilds[/card] is very good here. One might expect [card]Thundermaw Hellkite[/card] to be bad, but it’s great at assassinating Planeswalkers and it’s very good to get one onto the table the turn before they can [card]Sire of Insanity[/card]. No one wants to discard their hand when they’re getting eaten alive by a Dragon. Pillar is pretty bad here for obvious reasons. Just play a tight game and you should usually end up way ahead.

Out

[draft]4 Pillar of Flame[/draft]

In

[draft]1 Oblivion Ring
1 Negate
1 Thundermaw Hellkite
1 Renounce the Guilds[/draft]

UWR Mirror

You’re heavily favored against the more stock versions of blue/white/red. You have better countermagic and your threats are all hard for them to deal with positively. They’ll be trying to beat you with cards like [card]Assemble the Legion[/card], [card]Detention Sphere[/card], and [card]Jace, Memory Adept[/card] in post-boarded games. [card]Renounce the Guilds[/card] is obviously quite good against Sphere and Assemble, but it’s also a nice way to deal with a [card]Boros Reckoner[/card] that might get through. [card]Thundermaw Hellkite[/card] should force them to have a [card]Supreme Verdict[/card], but they might be sideboarding those out, assuming that your big spell is [card]Aetherling[/card], which can just dodge the Verdict anyway.

Out

[draft]4 Pillar of Flame
3 Azorius Charm[/draft]

In

[draft]1 Renounce the Guilds
3 Dispel
1 Negate
1 Oblivion Ring
1 Thundermaw Hellkite[/draft]

Unburial Rites

I’ve performed well against these decks thus far, but I don’t feel like the matchup is very good if the game gets drawn out. Our deck has inevitability on almost everyone, so it’s weird to take on the role of aggro, but that seems to be your best option here. They’ll be durdling around trying to Slime you out of the game while you’re bashing their face in with Angels and Dragons. It’s not the best plan in the world, but it works with a startling amount of consistency.

Out

[draft]4 Pillar of Flame
1 Sphinx’s Revelation[/draft]

In

[draft]1 Oblivion Ring
1 Thundermaw Hellkite
1 Renounce the Guilds
2 Purify the Grave[/draft]

Aristocrats

We have [card]Thundermaw Hellkite[/card], [card]Restoration Angel[/card], [card]Pillar of Flame[/card], and tons of card draw in the first game, making the matchup generally swing in our favor. Getting [card]Izzet Staticaster[/card] and an extra Thundermaw after board makes the matchup a breeze. I bring in the extra Renounce even though I’m bringing in my Staticasters. [card]Obzedat, Ghost Council[/card], [card]Assemble the Legion[/card], and [card]Blood Baron of Vizkopa[/card] can all be problems and they’re easily dealt with via [card]Renounce the Guilds[/card]. [card]Izzet Staticaster[/card] does some work when it hits the table and will usually have paid its weight in gold before you have a chance to Renounce it away. If they have a removal spell it’s going to shoot the [card]Izzet Staticaster[/card] immediately anyway, and if you’re Staticaster is alive then it’s unlikely you’ll be needing to [card]Renounce the Guilds[/card] to win the game.

Out

[draft]2 Warleader’s Helix
2 Think Twice[/draft]

In

[draft]1 Renounce the Guilds
1 Thundermaw Hellkite
2 Izzet Staticaster[/draft]

Red/Green Aggro

Think of this deck as a Naya Blitz deck where your [card]Renounce the Guilds[/card] is a lot better. If they’re the version with [card]Firefist Striker[/card]/[card]Stromkirk Noble[/card]/[card]Lightning Mauler[/card] then you’ll obviously be wanting your [card]Izzet Staticaster[/card]s, probably over your last [card]Thundermaw Hellkite[/card] and a [card]Syncopate[/card].

Out

[draft]1 Rewind
2 Dissipate
1 Thundermaw Hellkite
2 Think Twice[/draft]

In

[draft]2 Searing Spear
1 Oblivion Ring
2 Supreme Verdict
1 Renounce the Guilds[/draft]

Naya Midrange

This matchup can be difficult, they attack from a lot of different angles. [card]Supreme Verdict[/card] is surprisingly bad here, but [card]Searing Spear[/card] and [card]Renounce the Guilds[/card] are quite good. Here’s another matchup where you want to use your mana as efficiently as possible in the early turns and force a race with [card]Restoration Angel[/card]/[card]Thundermaw Hellkite[/card] where you’re winning with [card]Sphinx’s Revelation[/card]/[card]Azorius Charm[/card].

Out

[draft]2 Think Twice
2 Dissipate
1 Syncopate[/draft]

In

[draft]1 Renounce the Guilds
1 Oblivion Ring
1 Thundermaw Hellkite
2 Searing Spear[/draft] [card]Dispel[/card] and [card]Negate[/card] are generally very strong against the control decks that aren’t necessarily tier one. [card]Supreme Verdict[/card] is good against all [card]Burning-Tree Emissary[/card] decks. This should be enough sideboarding information for you to play the deck optimally. I have no doubt that this deck is tier one and I would be very surprised if a few of you didn’t go out and win some PTQs with it this weekend. Go forth and attack with Dragons!

Discussion

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