For me, tuning decks is easy. Granted, I have my own series of pitfalls and shortcomings, just as everyone else does. However, I do a certain thing, and I do it pretty well. Over the last few weeks, you've seen me tweak and tune my U/W Flash deck and find success with it.
It all started here:
The premise of the deck is to not tap out on your own turn. If they decide to play around your counterspells, you draw some cards or play some flash creatures and start administering the beatdown. Unfortunately, I knew the deck couldn't exist permanently, as the natural answer, Cavern of Souls, was a well-known but underplayed card. It wouldn't be long until people started playing with it again, but I was going to make the most of it while I could.
I liked Adam's list right off the bat, although I had no idea how good it actually was. After playing with his list for a little bit, the first thing I wanted was another Sphinx's Revelation, another land, and fewer Think Twice.
Lesson #1: When you have Sphinx's Revelation in your deck, you want to make all your land drops. In order for Sphinx's Revelation to function, you need to either play a lot of mana sources and ramping or cantrips to make your land drops. In the ramp version, aka Bant Control, you will find that your Revelations are mostly air.
Cutting a Think Twice was mostly wrong. In order for these underpowered blue decks to win, they have to use velocity, which basically means using your mana every turn. Without cantrips to tear through your deck, you'll miss land drops, not have as many options per game, and your Sphinx's Revelations will be very poor.
Shortly after, Cavern of Souls picked up in popularity in response to U/W Flash, so I knew the deck wouldn't be able to rely as heavily on its counterspells anymore. Post-board, I wanted to become a pseudo tap-out deck with Supreme Verdict, spot removal, and a big finisher.
That's what led me to playing this at Grand Prix Charleston:
I liked the deck well enough. Prosak's deck initially caught my eye because it's the style of deck I like and it's exactly what I want to be doing. My pitfalls sometimes lie in not being able to break away from what I want to be doing, but I think I balanced that well.
G/W was supposed to be a hard matchup, but I went 4-0 against it. I also went 2-0 against Mono-Red Aggro but lost to Zombies in the quarterfinals. While my matchups against the popular aggressive decks were quite good, Zombies won the tournament, so I knew I'd have to adapt.
Angel of Serenity didn't go with the overall strategy, but I knew I didn't want to leave in many counterspells against aggressive decks. I could sweep them with Supreme Verdict a couple times, but Restoration Angel would hardly get the job done in the face of Loxodon Smiter or Gavony Township. Most of those decks also brought in Rest in Peace against me, nullifying my Runechanter's Pikes, my main win condition.
Mostly due to my very quick loss in Top 8 of Charleston to B/R Zombies, I knew I wanted Pillar of Flame. We've splashed for just Pillar before, and Todd Anderson ended up winning SCG Standard Open: Cincinnati because of it, so I wasn't that opposed. However, Flash relies on velocity far more than the clunky miracle deck did, and adding cards that are dead in certain matchups makes game 1s way worse.
Before, we had Unsummon, which shouldn't be very good against a Bant Control deck, but being able to save your Restoration Angels from Supreme Verdict was surprisingly good. Also, you can always trade Unsummon in for a fresh Snapcaster Mage, which would then cast Sphinx's Revelation or a counterspell. Overall, even though they had no good targets, Unsummon was fantastic against them.
Pillar of Flame, on the other hand, basically caused you to lose games. Instead of shrugging off sweepers, Bant could realistically run you out of threats while Pillar rotted in your hand. I couldn't wait to get to the sideboarded games fast enough.
The upside was huge though. It allowed me to fully transform into a control deck against aggressive decks post-board. Since I was mostly using cheap one-for-ones, I could afford to add another Sphinx's Revelation. I would trade early game and then fire off a Revelation for four, and with three in my deck, I was far more likely to chain them together.
Lesson #2: You want to play cheap spells to maximize your early game and survive until you can cast Revelation. Typically, Sphinx's Revelation should be the last spell you cast. Post-Revelation, you still want all your spells to be cheap so that you can unload your hand again.
I've tried different Revelation decks, like Omniscience and Bant Control, but they both felt like they used Sphinx's Revelation worse than U/W or U/W/R. I knew if I wanted to play multiple Revelations, I'd have to keep the curve low. In return, Revelation would bail me out of a lot of tight spots.
Izzet Staticaster is another reason to be red. Most creature decks have trouble with one, let alone two or three. Staticaster helps you to not be pigeonholed into a tempo role, much like Pillar of Flame, and gives you something to gain inevitability with.
Going into Grand Prix San Antonio, I knew there would be more aggressive decks than control decks, but in order to make Top 8 or eventually win the tournament, I'd have to go through some of the better players piloting Bant Control. In order to get to the point where I'd be playing with Top 8 on the line, I'd probably have to never lose to an aggressive deck.
That thought process eventually led me to settle on this:
Lesson #3: Sometimes the best way to sideboard with a deck is to attack from a different angle than they're used to fighting. Nearly every G/W opponent brought in Rest in Peace and Nevermore against me, cards that do nothing against Drogskol Reaver.
The main reason I wanted Reaver was because of Selesnya Charm and Ultimate Price. Being able to dodge Charm didn't work out because if I was doing my job and stranding their Rancors, they could always beef up my guy and kill it. I didn't want to tap out for a big threat only to have to it killed. While Reaver did some good work in that tournament, I knew I didn't need them.
My control matchup was weak, but I didn't think I could do anything about it without diluting my sideboard for a matchup where we might not even play three games. I didn't know it at the time, but I could have made my sideboard better by finding cards that filled the void I needed while being good in different matchups. I'll expand on that in a later lesson.
In my match against heartthrob, Keanu Reeves impersonator, and overall good man Reid Duke, I Thought Scoured away my Runechanter's Pike in game 1 and had a sideboard that did little to improve my matchup against his Bant Control deck. I wondered where I went wrong.
Lesson #4: You don't always have to Thought Scour yourself. People talk about not liking Thought Scour because it can "mill your good cards." Most of the time that's crazy because you should always have more good cards in your deck. However, against Reid's Bant deck, I only had one Runechanter's Pike and desperately needed it.
I later learned that Thought Scouring your Bant opponent is almost always correct unless you've already drawn your Pike. Yes, you can give them extra cards via their Think Twices, but until you've drawn your Pike, that shouldn't matter. You both have plenty of resources to work with, and none of their extra resources is going to change the game very much. There's also the potential to mill their Elixir, which they desperately need so they don't get grinded out.
Many people suggested things like Izzet Charm in response to my article, but I've written about why I don't play that card. Michael Hetrick even played Desperate Ravings in his U/W/R deck last weekend, which seems wrong.
Lesson #5: You don't want to Loot your lands away for other spells because that defeats the purpose of casting giant Revelations in the first place.
As I've said before, the purpose of the deck is to survive using cheap answers, cast Sphinx's Revelation, and then unload on them with more cheap spells. You could use Ravings to stop at six land and win that way, but trust me when I say using Think Twice, getting to eight lands, and casting Sphinx's Revelation makes it much easier to win.
As with Thought Scour, there are certain things in your deck that are finite, such as Runechanter's Pike and counterspells. If you're sitting on Counterflux because you know they're about to cast Sphinx's Revelation, the last thing you want to do is risk discarding it.
This is much different from the Desperate Ravings decks of the past, where nearly every card in the deck had an interaction with the graveyard. Sun Titan and Unburial Rites aren't in my control deck anymore, and I need to get maximum use out of specific cards, so there's no need to risk discarding them.
Think Twice will never be amazing. It will almost never get you out of bad spots like Desperate Ravings could. However, we don't need to get out of tight jams. We want our cards to do exactly what we want them to without introducing any kind of variance into it.
Lesson #6: Playing different but similar cards will yield good results. Drawing four Pillar of Flame will let you beat all the Geralf's Messengers, but it won't do much against Falkenrath Aristocrat and Thundermaw Hellkite. In the same vein, drawing two Think Twice isn't exciting, but drawing Think Twice plus Izzet Charm is. If you have excess spells or lands, Izzet Charm lets you dig for what you need while a handful of Think Twice gives you no options.
The removal is incredibly varied, but so are the threats, so take advantage of that. If you have slots for three removal spells, a Supreme Verdict, Burning Oil, and Unsummon is a fine mix. Similarly, there is no counterspell that is much better than the others right now. Dissipate only really matters against Lingering Souls and Unburial Rites, whereas Counterflux is great against opposing blue decks.
Of course, Counterflux is much better as a defensive measure than offensive. If your deck wants to be forcing things through, they can simply recounter your original spell. If that's the case, it might be best to play the counterspell that is easiest for you to cast.
Another thing that people kept bringing up was playing Geist of Saint Traft.
Lesson #7: Your deck should have a plan, and you should stick to it. Geist of Saint Traft is a card that wants to pressure them early and use removal only as a way to clear blockers out of the way. On the other hand, Sphinx's Revelation is a card that wants you to take the game slow and refuel midgame. These Azorius mythics, while both awesome and well worth their price tags, don't work very well together.
I believe you could build a deck that wants both Geist and Revelation, but it wouldn't be in large numbers of both. They don't want you to do the same things, so your draws are going to end up conflicted. Either Geist is going to not attack, not block, and then eventually chump block while you try to build to a Revelation, or it's going to kill them before your Revelation matters.
The latter may seem like a fine scenario to be in, but the game probably would have been much easier if Revelation was something that actively contributed to your game plan instead of rotting in your hand.
On Twitter, Chris Pikula brought up an interesting point that they might work well together because Geist forces them to tap out, which is something I didn't really think about. However, that's mostly going to happen on turns 4 and 5, which isn't when you want to be casting Revelation. My other counterpoint was that I typically don't have trouble resolving Revelations, which is true.
Still, his observation is very important and definitely something to consider for the future. When considering card interactions, it isn't just what they do together; it's how they affect the texture of the game as well.
For the next event, Todd Anderson and I did some last minute brewing because we thought we might need Geist of Saint Traft to put a clock on Zombies. That led us down the path of U/W/R Midrange, a deck he's had success with. We both thought the deck might have been a good call but ended up sticking to what we knew.
Lesson #8: Deck advantage is often not worth the last minute audible. If you've been working on something for a while and know it well, you will do much better with a worse deck you know well than a good deck you're just starting to get the feel for.
I felt like audibling would be doing myself a disservice, so I registered this:
This list was wonderful, and it all came together the night before. I typically have information in my head but don't know how to focus and utilize it. I usually have my "Aha!" moments when I'm alone, maybe listening to music, just staring at pages of decklists in my notebook.
In the span of seconds, I changed two Curse of Echoes and one Increasing Confusion to three Jace, Memory Adept, mapping out a sideboard plan to beat Detention Sphere and Pithing Needle. It ended up being brilliant.
It was the threat I needed against control and was a way to win matches that were getting dangerously close to going to time. In addition, it saved me sideboard slots despite necessitating a full plan.
Lesson #9: Sometimes you may want things you feel are necessary, like Clone to stay on parity with Thragtusk or Curse of Echoes to beat the control mirror. Most of the time, there is a better option. In this case, I didn't need to worry about Thragtusk because I could protect Jace long enough to kill them.
If you feel like you need to beat G/W in a timely manner, a singleton Jace is fine against them as well. You will typically load up your board with Izzet Staticasters, making them unable to keep anything in play. At that point, Jace is nigh indestructible against them.
I lost to Reanimator (Chronic Flooding before it was cool) and U/W/R Midrange with Geist of Saint Traft in the tournament, both decks I was unprepared for. Of course, I'll remedy that for the StarCityGames.com Invitational in Los Angeles this weekend.
Lesson #10: You can't always beat everything. Sometimes you have to pick and choose what you are fine losing to and accept that. Just because there were five Reanimator decks in the 500-person tournament and you played against two of them, that doesn't make your choice to cut graveyard hate wrong. You made a judgment call and were ultimately right.
Well, I'm somewhat worried that I'm working on tuning this deck while the whole world passes me by. I've had fantastic results with the deck, and so have other people since they've finally started playing it as well.
Human Reanimator seems very good, Omni-Door is solid with some tuning, and B/R Zombies is still all over Top 16s. Everyone else seems to be innovating quickly while I'm moving at a slow, methodical pace. Who knows, maybe I'll make some bold innovation the night before. I've already been considering Izzet Staticasters maindeck…
Regardless, I'm locked into U/W/R at this point. I know this deck much better than anything else in the format and know I'll be ready for anything—I just hope they aren't ready for me.
@G3RRYT on Twitter