Going into the final round of the tournament I was in fifth place and IDed with second seed for a seventh-place final standing and an invite.
4 Archive Trap
4 Trapmaker's Snare
4 Hedron Crab
3 Haunting Echoes
4 Jace Beleren
4 Inquisition of Kozilek
4 Doom Blade (I recommend 2 Go For The Throat and 2 Doom Blade now)
1 Liliana Vess
1 Wurmcoil Engine (Preference card could be Black Sun's Zenith as well)
4 Darkslick Shores
4 Drowned Catacombs
4 Scalding Tarn (Should be Misty Rainforest explanation below)
2 Marsh Flats (Should be Verdant Catacombs explanation below)
2 Verdant Catacombs
2 Tectonic Edge
4 Black Sun Zenith
3 Wurmcoil Engine
3 Go For The Throat
3 Ravenous Trap
So why a mill deck? Generally speaking milling as a primary strategy has always fallen short but there are three reasons this deck seems to be strongly positioned in the current environment.
You can mill a significant amount for free – When sitting down to tackle a major tournament I try to find a common denominator among the top decks. In the current environment particularly with the dominance of Caw-Go the common denominator that almost every major deck shares is that they search their library. When I realized this I began to formulate a strategy around the card that punishes people the most for the least amount of investment Archive Trap. Given the fact that Trapmaker's Snare turns your maindeck Traps into eight instead of four I felt I had a solid chance of drawing them within a relevant timeframe.
Let me be clear here—this deck decimates Caw-Blade. I built the deck specifically for this purpose and the thirty or so matches I tested against Caw-Go including those I played in Regionals leaves me with approximately an 85%+ win percentage against the deck in its current incarnation. If you win the die roll a typical game looks like this:
(You) Second land go.
Twenty-six cards for free. Also they've pulled out multiple copies of Birds or an additional card with Stoneforge. A normal strategy after that is to untap Duress/Inquisition their Sword and they're stuck with a full graveyard and a single creature in play. The rest of the game you're either forcing through a Haunting Echoes or simply Crabbing/Archive Trapping them to death. Jace Beleren pulls VIP duty here for negating all damage Caw-Go can muster on the board in a relevant manner threatening to ultimate them if they don't keep him in check (and yeah you +2 him every time vs. Caw-Blade).
Eldrazi are nowhere to be found - And when they are they're sparse. Six months ago they were everywhere but as Brad Nelson mused in his Top 10 Decks of Standard Eldrazi is the last on the list. The other nine decks above it don't have a single copy of an Eldrazi in it. Had it not been for Mike Flores's last-minute (read: day-before) decklist of Mono-White Control featuring Eldrazi the sideboard of my deck would have zero copies of Ravenous Trap (in favor of more creature hate). In my Regionals tournament there was only one Eldrazi deck that being classic Eldrazi Ramp and it had a mediocre finish. It's definitely not something you need to worry about seeing for the time being.
Classic U/B Control has a solid matchup against aggressive decks - And thanks to state champ Nick Bolanos's sideboard suggestion this deck aims to transform into classic U/B Control game two. The milling strategy I put together by coincidence happened to be fifteen cards which cleanly switches out for the sideboard (Ravenous Trap notwithstanding I'd recommend another Go For The Throat and possibly a Grave Titan or two but any classic U/B anti-creature cards would work here). After sideboarding this deck has
Definitely not favorable for an aggressive strategy.
Now that's not to say this deck is the silver bullet of the format. It just happens to be well-positioned in the current environment dominated by Caw-Blade and other control strategies. Its worst matchups are Vengevine-anything and Boros. Unfavorable matchups are Aggro Valakut and R/B or Mono-B Vamps and Kuldotha Red. It's a push with RUG and heavily draw dependent. Favorable matchups are U/B Control any sort of Tezzeret Control and classic Valakut (Haunting Echoes takes all copies of nonbasic lands as well). Its best matchup almost an auto-win is Caw-Blade.
Here's a quick rundown of my matches at Regionals. Six rounds cut to Top 8 with the entire Top 8 getting invites:
Round 1: R/B Vamps
Well crap. I was hoping to start the day well against Caw-Blade but I sit down to this. First game is laughably bad. I get stomped on and mill his graveyard full of Bloodghasts so they can stomp on me too. Game 2: the mill comes out; the creature hate comes in. Spot removal a Black Sun's Zenith and two copies of Wurmcoil Engine seal the deal. Game 3: I see a ton of card draw and my opponent overextends his creatures. After two Preordains digging three deep and two Jaces I still don't see a copy of my four Black Sun's Zeniths and he makes short work of me.
Round 2: Mono Red Homebrew
Ah to be stuck in the losing bracket with all the aggro decks. I wasn't looking forward to this. I was near the last of the tables and this was my opponent's first tournament and her deck wasn't tournament competitive. Despite all this she stomped me game one and I won close games 2 and 3 with Wurmcoil Engine stabilizing around five life each time. Did I mention I don't have favorable matchups against red? Had she been a seasoned tournament player she'd have probably won this one.
I feel like this match was pure dumb luck for me maybe to make up for not drawing that Black Sun's Zenith first round.
Game 1: I win the die roll. I drop a first-turn Crab second-turn fetchland. On his second turn he drops a Stoneforge Mystic which I follow up with two Archive Traps and a Trapmaker's Snare into a third Archive Trap. He's not pleased. He has about six to nine cards left in his library at this point two lands on the board and all four Vengevines in his graveyard. He has approximately two turns to draw his third land to drop two creatures and kill me in one fell swoop but that doesn't happen and I pull a close one.
Second game he takes out the majority of his Tumble Magnets but leaves one or two copies in. I bait him into using his only Tumble Magnet once or twice on my blocking Crab (I left Hedron Crab and Jace Beleren in as hopeful distractions and boarded out the rest of the mill and the Duresses).
This game went really long and involved a Koth emblem (he was Naya base but had tons of Mountains and ways to get them) a few clutch blockers with Mortarpod (to sac in response to combat damage to negate my Wurmcoil Engine life gain) and a ton of card draw on my part. I believe out of the seven spot removal spells I had in my deck at that point I ripped five in clutch situations to deny him blockers/saccing against my Wurmcoil Engine and my life total kept jumping from four or five up to ten or eleven each turn for three or four turns.
I finally pull a second Wurmcoil Engine to seal the deal.
Where are all the Caw-Blade decks?!
Round 4: Caw-Blade (U/W)
When I see him drop a Celestial Colonnade I almost feel bad for him.
My opponent was super nice the whole game in spite getting stomped and I enjoyed his company.
First game I drop a Hedron Crab turn 1 then second-turn drop another Crab before dropping a fetchland. On his turn he brings a Squadron Hawk into play. I Archive Trap him. My third and fourth turn I disrupt his countermagic with discard and fifth turn I Haunting Echoes. The game is so one-sided that my two friends watching have to step away trying not to laugh. Hehe.
Game 2: I get stuck at two lands. Once I finally reach four my opponent has seven and uses two Tectonic Edges to put me back down to two lands. I lose this one.
Game 3: he thinks long and hard about searching with his turn 2 Hawk. He decides to do it and I mill him for thirteen. Jace Beleren makes a cameo and keeps his fowl squadron at bay while Hedron Crab and a Haunting Echoes go to work. I believe I finished at twenty life.
Round 5: U/B/W Tezzeret Control
3-1-0 going into this round I know this is a clutch round for me.
I drop my Darkslick Shores tap it and cast Inquisition of Kozilek. My opponent points to my land and says I can't do that. I didn't drop Darkslick Shores. I dropped the other land with the similar picture that produces the same mana that starts with a capital "D." Damn it. This error has exponential consequences. Missing the first-turn discard snowballs into his landing a key Stoneforge Mystic with my inability to mill him for it. I Haunting Echoes later in the game which would have been thirteen cards fatter considering. When game one ends he has fifteen cards left in his library. Lovely.
His deck's creature base consists of Stoneforge Mystic Phyrexian Crusader Creeping Tar Pit and he uses Sword/Mortarpod/Tumble Magnet in combination with Tezzeret to kill. I'm split on what spot removal to keep in but decide that three Go For The Throat and one Doom Blade will suffice as long as I can keep him off his key artifacts and prevent a Tezzeret from being relevant. After sideboarding I have four Duress and four Inquisition.
Game 2 goes fairly one-sided for me. I rip apart his hand notice he's not playing any countermagic at all and confidently land a Haunting Echoes to confirm this.
Game 3 is the closest game I've ever played in a sanctioned event.
My opening hand is two Duress and a Haunting Echoes. After much consideration I keep hoping to neuter him early and hit my card draw midgame. In hindsight I should've mulliganed especially because this deck has a great mulligan with its cheap spells and card draw.
(Him) Turn one: Land go.
(Me) Turn one: Land Duress.
With my professional poker face I'm shaking my head after I make him discard. He's visibly frustrated at my ripping his hand apart and quips “Why the f*** are you shaking your head? You just got three discard.” Once I realize I shouldn't have moved a muscle in the first place I look at my hand which consists of three lands and a Haunting Echoes. Great. Even when I hit five lands his graveyard is chock full of three cards for me to remove from the game. I'm a sitting duck. I don't tell him that of course but after six successful attacks with his Stoneforge Mystic he gets the picture. He draws nothing but land; I draw nothing but land and discard for several consecutive turns but one of the lands he draws is a Creeping Tar Pit. After his first activation he puts me at eight life. I rip a Liliana Vess.
(Him): Activate Tar Pit swing at Vess. Stoneforge Mystic at me.
(Me): Draw Tectonic Edge drop it go.
(Him): Tar Pit Stoneforge swing. I kill Tar Pit.
(Him): Stoneforge Mystic at me Go.
Five life. End of turn Archive Trap him.
(Me): Draw a land -1 Jace draw Haunting Echoes. Cast it.
He has twelve cards in his library left. Jace is at one loyalty.
(Him): [After deliberating about Jace Beleren] Swing at me. Drop Phyrexian Crusader.
At this point I think for a good long while about whether to +2 Jace Beleren or not. I didn't nail all of his equipment and Stoneforges with my Echoes. I decide the only way I can pull this out is to hit a key mill spell.
Three Life. Two Poison. He has ten cards in his library.
(Him): Draw swing. Go.
Two life. Four poison. He has six cards left.
(Me): Draw Crab. -1 Jace draw Inquisition of Kozilek. Cast it see nothing drop Crab go.
(Him): Draw swing. [I block Stoneforge Mystic with my Crab.] TIME FOR ROUND CALLED TURN ZERO. Go.
Two life six poison. He has five cards left.
TURN 1 OF FINAL TURNS.
(Me): Draw basic land. +2 Jace draw Scalding Tarn.
I'm at two life. I look at my basic lands in play and realize the last one in my deck is an Island. I drop the Scalding Tarn search it go to one life put my final basic land into play mill him for six and pass turn. He extends his hand. This match could have gone either way.
Round 6: Caw-Blade (U/W)
Standings are posted and I'm in fifth. I get paired against local legend and moonlighting hairdresser David Daniel whose skill is far superior to mine so rather than risking it I accept his offer for an ID and I'm confident I'll be in the Top 8. We sit down to play a game just to see what happens and I completely wipe the floor with him game one. I ask him what he would sideboard against me in this matchup and he shows me a Day of Judgment or two from the sideboard for my Hedron Crabs and we don't play the rest of the match out but through testing I know Day of Judgment does nothing against my deck unless I have a two-Crab draw in which case I'll Duress his Days.
All-in-all this deck is so left-field with such a great matchup against the most dominant deck in the format with great potential after sideboarding (I'm sure better deckbuilders can come up with some great choices) that I recommend this deck if you'd like to play something off the beaten path.
As for some final thoughts the reason I would recommend four Verdant Catacombs and four Misty Rainforest main is because they both fetch green mana which combined with some sideboard technology and a single Forest would allow for green spells to be played games 2 and 3. This deck went through many iterations while testing and a friend and I came up with a hugely explosive version sporting green mana and four Lotus Cobra four Explore (taking out some discard and removal) while using the same mana base. We scrapped it in the end because the matches we beat heavily (Caw-Blade Valakut) were still favorites with a slightly slower U/B version but the U/B version allowed for a dedicated anti-creature strategy to shore up the other matches but the explosive potential of adding green is inspiring enough for me to commit more time to.
Thanks for reading. Onward to Nationals!