As confident and seemingly arrogant as I am, I have my own shortcomings.
Consider this: I finally make Top 8 (or even win) a Pro Tour sometime soon with a deck like Jund or Affinity. Now, this would be nearly a decade of work finally coming to fruition, and naturally I should be pleased, happy, proud, etc.
But I don't think I would be. If my first PT Top 8 is because I "gave up" and played something like Affinity, it would be a hollow victory. I used to pride myself on being able to select the best deck for any given tournament and tune it beat the other big decks, especially the mirror. I used to think that playing the best deck was nothing to be ashamed of.
Then the best decks didn't have blue in them. Jund? Really? I'm supposed to play that? I hated the idea of it when it was in Standard. I hated the idea of tapout control too. I played Open the Vaults for like two months! Granted, I won a decent amount of tickets, but how rich would I have been with Bloodbraid Elf?
Cedric Phillips used to annoy me with his deck choices. He would constantly play things that were awesome three weeks ago. I knew he only did it because he was being a Magic hipster—he didn't think the deck was actually the perfect choice, but he didn't want to be playing the same deck as everyone else. Now I'm Cedric and understand what it must have been like to be him, except I've been him all along.
If I did win a Pro Tour with something like Jund, which I would tune, play well, and should expect to do reasonably well with, it would feel like I literally cheated. I feel ridiculous just typing those words because I realize they don't make any sense.
"It's nothing to be ashamed about since you're just making the best choice if you want to win."
For me, Magic is mostly about the deckbuilding or drafting aspect. That's why I don't like doing physical testing, and I often play on autopilot rather than take the time to figure out a complicated game state. I could probably take the time to figure out how to play around Swift Justice, Chorus of Might, Rootborn Defenses, and Angel of Serenity, but... Ehhh, no way he has Angel in his deck anyway.
ARGH, HE'S SO LUCKY!
I dunno, I guess I just can't do it anymore. While my skills have been sharpened and refined to a point where I'm proud of myself and the work I'm doing, I don't have that desire in me to win at any cost anymore. I envy someone like Wrapter who builds decks with simple but beautiful modifications, like Lingering Souls in Jund or adding blue to Naya Pod.
Winning on my own merit is far more rewarding, whereas winning with something like Jund would not be. It wouldn't matter if I'd revolutionized Jund; I'd still be disappointed in myself for not finding something better.
Because of all that, my BS-O-Meter has kind of merged with my Cute-O-Meter.
For an example, take a look at this deck:
Those who know me well are able to tell when I'm going too far. The problem is there aren't very many of them and not many people question me when I'm spouting things off as though they are fact. John Penick, Josh Cho, and Todd Anderson do because they know me, whereas some other people have larger egos than even me and never believe anyone who says they are wrong.
Regardless, it's much easier for me to take the plunge if I have someone's permission. In the meantime, I'll just do it without anyone knowing and treat it like my own guilty pleasure. For example, I played Travis Woo's Omni-Door deck on Magic Online for a while (and, of course, tuned it to where I liked it), but I knew I couldn't play it at a real tournament.
Then Josh Cho saw me play it, started playing it himself, and proclaimed he was going to play it at the Invitational. It's a slippery slope, people.
Anyway, observant folk might notice that my above list is mostly a rip off of the Adrian Sullivan/Jackie Lee Four-Color Control deck. I liked the look of their deck and was looking for an excuse to jump off U/W/R Flash. I was winning with Flash but just wasn't impressed.
Adding a color can make a lot of decks better. However, when you're talking about adding the fourth color, you might be going a little overboard. That said, I really think the fourth color helps in this case. Then again, I can't really trust myself to believe that it's actually true. I might just think it's "sweet" and do it anyway.
U/W/R Flash is a deck that ekes out small edges. That's mostly because the mana costs are cheap and therefore provide simple effects. The best way to build a Sphinx's Revelation deck is to play a lot of cheap spells, and U/W/R has some of the best Sphinx's Revelations. That is a fact. It just doesn't have all the answers.
Pillar of Flame is blank cardboard in a lot of matchups. Sometimes you can double Pillar a Thragtusk and win because of it, but it feels dirty. Most decks aren't favored against a turn 3 Geralf's Messenger, yet they don't play enough Pillar of Flames. I tend to go hard one way or the other, like with my sideboarding plans or deciding which cards I don't want to lose to.
Those are the decisions that make or break tournaments. If I'm entering a Standard tournament, I don't want to beat Geralf's Messenger some of the time or most of the time—I want to kill that card every single time it enters play. I want that card to look so bad every time they cast it that they consider siding it out or don't value it properly. It's an absurdly good Magic card, but I will take the time pre-tournament to play around it.
But again, Pillar sucks against a lot of decks. I'm just willing to take that risk because I want the best chance against the B/R menace. So far that decision has proven fruitful. When I see people like Adam Prosak and Matt Nass have success with straight U/W Flash, I get a little jealous. There's just something "pure" about keeping it simple with a mono- or two-color deck. There's just something about a mana base with 20 Islands that makes me happy...
So Pillar of Flame is bad sometimes but probably a necessary evil. What else? Augur of Bolas / Restoration Angel are both fine cards in their own right, but are they good enough? Midrange couldn't care less about an Augur, and even Restoration Angel does little. Zombies has Knight of Infamy to go over both, but that guy should be easily dealt with.
Against control, Augur/Angel allow you to put some pressure on them, hopefully forcing them to tap out for Supreme Verdict or Thragtusk. At that point, you can drop one of your sideboarded Jace, Memory Adepts and go to town. Past that, what are they good at? The bodies are mostly irrelevant, and you don't necessarily need Runechanter's Pike to kill people.
My experimentation with Four-Color Control was mainly because I didn't like the Augur/Angel shell anymore. As I realized, I win a lot less whenever I try to make drastic changes to U/W/R such as cutting Thought Scours, playing Staticasters maindeck, or cutting the Augur/Angel package that made the deck playable in the first place.
Without Thought Scour, you'd think that I'd still be able to make all my land drops, especially since I'd add a land or two. You see, Thought Scour is part of the mana base even though it is "U: Draw a card, try to make the other part of this card impact you as negatively as possible."
When I started playing Esper Control, one of the things I liked was Auguring into a Forbidden Alchemy, which could find your fourth land. It seems that I underestimated the ability of Thought Scour to do that as well. Going up to 26 or 27 land was fine, but it gave me a new set of problems. I couldn't find land in the early game if I needed them because there wasn't enough card drawing.
I found with both decks that I'd have the same chance of missing my sixth land drop. Also, even if I did manage to make every land drop, Sphinx's Revelation would turn up a bunch of bricks. My deck was half mana sources after all. Figuring that out was the final piece of the puzzle.
Cutting Thought Scour isn't just unwise—it will negatively impact your performance one way or the other. On top of it all, Snapcaster Mage is already fine but not spectacular in the deck, hence me rarely playing four. Once you cut Thought Scour, Snapcaster's utility plummets.
But what did the black offer? For starters, Ultimate Price was awesome. Finally, I had more things to do at instant speed that dealt with big creatures. Rakdos Keyrune was the Restoration Angel I always wanted. Unlike what Brad Nelson said this week, Flash doesn't care much about a Caverned Thragtusk. Rakdos Keyrune made me care even less.
Olivia Voldaren was also a pretty big house against midrange and Reanimator decks. She didn't have much synergy with the rest of the deck though. It was like playing Geist of Saint Traft in my Sphinx's Revelation deck. My entire deck was designed to cast Sphinx's Revelation often, yet once Olivia was in play, my plan shifted toward using her to win. Things tended to turn south if they ever removed her at an inopportune time.
The sideboard was what really made me happy. Duress and Slaughter Games are awesome in high-level tournaments (where most opponents are playing carbon copies of last week's decks), but they're not so great if you don't know if your U/W/R opponent has Jace, Memory Adept or not. Against Bant it's always good since they rely on Sphinx's Revelation, but you don't need Slaughter Games to beat them.
I was happy that it could serve as Reanimator hate as well, but it didn't work out like that. It was like fighting them with Purify the Grave, which I think at this point I've proven isn't very effective. There is something to be said about saving sideboard slots, but Slaughter Games isn't very good.
On the bright side, having Ultimate Price made beating Thundermaw Hellkite a lot easier. Nephalia Drownyard was a rather painless addition to the mana base that gave you an advantage against most control decks.
Magmaquake was fine, but it was mostly good when they didn't expect it. Getting them to commit multiple creatures wasn't a problem if you didn't play any white mana. Being an instant allowed me to tap out for a turn 3 Keyrune and still prevent their Huntmaster of the Fells from transforming.
The downside was the sometimes clunky, awkward mana base. Not having an early blocker was tough because it meant you had to kill every single threat instead of holding all their little guys back with Restoration Angel (or the threat of it).
My main issue with Four-Color Control was that the Sphinx's Revelations were much, much worse. The deck couldn't unload its hand fast enough to make refueling worth it.
Also, having Keyrunes and Chromatic Lantern might make it seem like you can accelerate into bigger Revelations; it actually does the opposite. You end up skipping your turn to play these mana sources that put you further behind on board. That makes it difficult to keep up, and in the end, your Revelation never gets cast.
So what's the answer then? I dislike several things about B/R Zombies, so I'm not going in that direction. The G/B decks, both Kibler's and Zombies, have things I like, but they don't seem good enough. Kibler's deck lacks the raw power that B/R Zombies has, and B/G Zombies is very weak to Azorius Charm and Rest in Peace. Perhaps Duress solves some of those problems though.
Of course, I always have U/W/R as my backup plan.
I've been playing some Modern lately since despite being qualified I still plan on playing in some PTQs. I like the format well enough, and it's getting interesting. In the first Magic Online PTQ of the season, Guillame Wafo-Tapa finished 9th with a Four-Color Teachings deck. In 30th place, there was a G/W Aura deck that put two copies into the Top 8 of the next online PTQ.
Here are those decklists, for reference:
I had no interest in playing the G/W deck but knew it would be a contender. On the surface, it's another one of those decks like Infect or Elementals that's an all-in creature strategy vulnerable to certain hate cards. By the time the third PTQ rolled around, Cedric Phillips was getting Back to Nature cast against him, so it's safe to say its time has likely passed.
As for Wafo-Tapa's deck, I was intrigued. It's definitely the type of deck I like playing, and Wafo-Tapa builds a helluva deck. My initial reaction when I played the deck was that it didn't have enough red sources. Fifteen is a good number to have if you want one on turn 1 every game, and he only had twelve. Additionally, without a basic Mountain, most of them dealt you damage if you wanted to Lightning Bolt something early.
As cleverly designed as the mana base was, it had that glaring hole. Regardless, you could learn a lot of lessons from studying Wafo-Tapa. Despite having few black spells maindeck, Wafo-Tapa played the full amount of Darkslick Shores in anticipation of sideboarded games where he'd need to cast his Thoughtseizes early.
Since he was clearly stressing the need for early black mana, I was surprised Wafo-Tapa didn't use Creeping Tar Pit over Celestial Colonnade. Tar Pit is cheaper and works better with the incremental damage plan, but Wafo-Tapa knew that he'd likely need that land for blocking. Colonnade can hold off a reasonably sized army, whereas Tar Pit will trade with one creature or get Bolted.
Aside from the single Tectonic Edge, every single land in the deck cast Esper Charm. I understand the desire to not play basic Mountain, but with eight red fetchlands and the necessity of killing things early, that Mountain seems far more necessary.
I truly appreciate Wafo-Tapa's ability to keep the kill clean and simple. He's got incremental damage from burn and Snapcasters, a couple of Celestial Colonnades that are dual lands more than anything else, and a single White Sun's Zenith to Mystical Teachings for once things are stable. You don't need fancy things like Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir into Baneslayer Angel or Grave Titan. All you need are some Cats.
If you're a diehard control fan, Wafo-Tapa is your man. His deck clearly relied on burn being able to kill most threats, so if you're expecting a bunch of beefy green guys, you need to switch up the removal suite a bit. Regardless, Path to Exile seems better than playing Dismember or Terminate.
Since U/W Control won the first PTQ, I've been working on that a bit. I gave a semi-updated list to Charles Gindy, who went 7-2 in the second PTQ. I personally played in the third PTQ and ended up 6-3, with one of my losses being a concession to fellow StarCityGames.com writer Brian Braun-Duin. BBD immediately went 0-2 after my concession, but I don't regret my decision!
My other losses were to Jund and Zoo, both matchups that I liked. Then again, their topdecks are usually more live than mine, even if all mine create card advantage.
Here's what I played:
Overall, I was pretty happy with the deck, as was Gindy. Blade Splicer and Spreading Seas did fine work, and I will likely include more of those in the maindeck in the future. Perhaps being a late game-oriented deck isn't correct and it should be more of a smaller U/W deck, but I like Sphinx's Revelation and Sun Titan.
Snapcaster Mage and Jace Beleren underperformed, but Jace rarely showed up when I wanted it to. Snapcaster Mage doesn't have a lot of options since there isn't a good Preordain variant. Serum Visions doesn't cut it. It also gets super awkward when you board in Rest in Peace, so I might cut those entirely.
Ratchet Bomb / Sun Titan was my answer to Lingering Souls and the G/W Aura deck, and those performed admirably. The only other thing I might want to change is adding Baneslayer Angel to the sideboard.
This weekend I'm off to Denver, where I'll be cascading into Ancestral Visions all day long. You can expect a lengthy primer on Legacy BUG next week, but I'm also looking for more matches on which I write "One Game" type articles. I'm taking all suggestions, but I need games/matches that are interesting to break down strategically, not just ones where sweet things happen.
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