Hey, Mana Confluence is doing work!
Uh oh, R/W Burn annihilated the Mana Confluence decks.
It's probably not what we wanted to happen, but it's a step in the right direction. Then again, three copies of B/G Devotion made the Top 8 also, so maybe it's not? At least they all lost, proving that there are decks out there capable of destroying the best deck.
Overall, I think it was a good week.
Why I Won't Be Playing Control
No, working for Wizards did not brainwash me.
I've gotten a reputation for being a "control guy," but that's sort of a misnomer. Decks like Faeries, Caw-Blade, Delver, and Flash all operated with cheap spells and mostly at instant speed. They were also difficult to play against, which the current crop of control decks are not. Today's U/W Control and its variants are tap-out decks, and tap-out decks aren't really my jam. I leave that stuff for Shaheen Soorani.
Planeswalkers are a focal point of U/W, and I'm skeptical that Jace, Architect of Thought (and even Elspeth, Sun's Champion) will be useful at all points of a game. There are several times per tournament where there will be multiple Planeswalkers clogging your hand or you'll be staring down a Stormbreath Dragon or similarly sized monster that Jace doesn't handle very well. That will likely cause you to fall behind, making those Planeswalkers even worse as the game goes further.
If I'm playing a control deck, I want my cards to be effective at all points in the game (and preferably cheap), which Planeswalkers are not. They are expensive and their power level varies depending on the game state, which means that some of the time, they are very, very bad.
The decks I liked flowed well with cheap card drawing, but U/W uses Temples for that, which is worse for a lot of reasons. I look at draw-twos, like Divination and Think Twice, as a card that will hopefully replace itself with another spell and give me another land to work with. That way, I can continually use my mana every turn to answer threats without ever missing land drops.
Relying on the Temples is obviously a viable strategy. I just don't like the pressure it puts on you to have six mana on Turn 6 plus Elspeth, while also requiring that you handle all their threats leading up to that point. U/W's mana curve is higher than previous "control" decks I've played, and without a cheap draw-two to ensure you hit your land drops and continually have answers, I'm going to stay away from those decks.
Divination is an option, but isn't something I'm happy to register on my decklist either, plus that card doesn't really fit into the tap-out strategy. You are hoping to gain card advantage with Supreme Verdict, Jace, Elspeth, and eventually Sphinx's Revelation, so a cheap draw-two impacts the game very little. In the games you lose, you will likely die with expensive spells you never got a chance to cast. In those scenarios, a Divination isn't really going to help you. You're not attempting to grind out small edges, and with the Temples, you probably don't need the help making the land drops.
As it stands, Divination isn't really what U/W wants to be doing right now, unless you're playing an attrition-based matchup. If you really wanted some card drawing, I would suggest looking into Font of Fortunes, though.
If I were going to play U/W, Eric Rill's Cincinnati decklist is close to what I would want, but I think that's because the curve is lower, he's got a lot of lands, and he has more instant-speed interaction with Celestial Flare. That said, trying to bring the deck more in line with the Flash decks from last season is not necessarily a good solution. If a Flash-style deck were viable, we would have seen it already, so there's no point in trying to warp an already good deck to be more in line with my preferred playstyle.
Basically, I'd rather be playing a deck based on draw-twos and cheap removal than Temples and bombs, both because I think it's a strategically superior strategy and because I enjoy it more. However, the decks that I'd prefer aren't exactly viable at the moment, so I have no other option except to look elsewhere.
I don't enjoy playing tap-out control decks and a significant contributing factor is that I'm not as familiar with them and therefore can't build them as well as I could a Flash deck.
I'm better off just finding a different deck.
The Return of Forests
A quick glance at the mythic rares in my Magic Online collection showed me that I've been playing a lot of green, white, and red since my return. I've also been playing various black devotion variants, but those decks don't have a lot of mythics!
- 4 Burning-Tree Emissary
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 4 Sylvan Caryatid
- 4 Voyaging Satyr
- 4 Boon Satyr
- 4 Courser of Kruphix
- 4 Eidolon of Blossoms
- 4 Polukranos, World Eater
- 2 Nylea, God of the Hunt
Inspired by a deck Tomoharu Saito Tweeted, this deck can generate a lot of mana. If your opponent is one of those decks with little interaction, like Mono-Blue Devotion, G/R Monsters, or a white aggro deck, you will probably be doing some powerful things on Turn 4.
If they have enough removal that they can afford to kill your mana dorks instead of saving it for threats like Polukranos, World Eater, then you have to settle into a slower game. Thankfully, this deck does that quite well thanks to Eidolon of Blossoms and Garruk, Caller of Beasts. Previous versions have relied on Domri Rade to provide the engine in attrition-based matchups, but Eidolon of Blossoms is clean. It always hits, provides a nice boost to your devotion, doesn't require that you splash, and can spiral out of control quickly.
Initially, I was disappointed to pay five tickets per Eidolon, but they've earned it back and then some.
Courser of Kruphix is mandatory, since it's great against all archetypes and adds a sufficient number to your devotion. With cards like Eidolon of Blossoms and Garruk, Caller of Beasts, it can be easy to control the top of your deck, ensuring that you get value from Courser every turn. It's also an enchantment for Eidolon of Blossoms, but in order for that card to be worth playing, we needed more.
Saito's solution was to add Boon Satyr, and while I didn't feel like the card fit the archetype well, it was exactly what was needed. The G/R versions often felt like they had a lot of air. I'd get some draws with no real pressure, activate Garruk once or twice, and still have nothing but mana. With Eidolon of Blossoms and Boon Satyr, you have a secondary engine and can actually start attacking people a little earlier.
In most of my games, I wouldn't have an opportunity to attack my opponent early on because I'd be focusing on building up my board. Suddenly, they'd be facing down eight attackers while I had Nylea, God of the Hunt, Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx, and a Voyaging Satyr ready to make combat impossible for them.
Of course, there are the games where not everything goes according to plan. In those games, you might have a Burning-Tree Emissary and Courser of Kruphix giving them an anemic beatdown (while Courser shows you that you're drawing yet another Sylvan Caryatid next turn), but Boon Satyr changes all that. Suddenly, you're dealing respectable damage and are able to beat people the old-fashioned way.
I'm still exploring other enchantments to add, such as Font of Fertility, but I'm not sure how deep down that rabbit hole I want to go. I'd want to cut some number of Sylvan Caryatids for it, but I've really appreciated having those against aggro decks. Elvish Mystic isn't getting cut since it's probably the best card in the deck, and Voyaging Satyr is needed for those explosive turns. Having a lot of acceleration is nice, but as the games with and without Boon Satyr have taught me, you need your deck to not be full of air when you're in a midgame topdeck war.
I thought I wanted a lot of lands in my deck to ensure that Courser of Kruphix would be more likely to hit. As you might have guessed, that led to me flooding out. I've come to embrace the fact that if I get Mizzium Mortared or Supreme Verdicted, I might be knocked down to two lands.
Another option I want to explore is either replacing Sylvan Caryatid with Gyre Sage straight up, or perhaps going down the Experiment One/Reverent Hunter route. I have a feeling that I'd end up being even worse against Supreme Verdict decks while also losing out on the fun aspect of the deck, at least for me.
Setessan Tactics Killed Mono-Blue Devotion
Also DOA: Any white aggro deck without black, possibly G/R Monsters
I started with one of these in my sideboard, immediately added a second, and not long after I was playing the full amount. Even curving dork, dork, into Eidolon of Blossoms is game against these decks when your next turn involves Setessan Tactics. Most of the stuff I'm fighting is in the 2/2 range, so something as simple as a pair of Burning-Tree Emissaries can enable you to Plague Wind your opponent.
And for whatever reason, it's also an instant. Fighting through Brave the Elements can be difficult, but being instant speed certainly helps its cause. If they are foolish enough to go for a Brave-induced alpha strike, you can wipe their team. If they are patient, you might be able to set it up where you have a pair of Tactics and can use one on their end step and then again on your turn.
It can also be useful to give them a reason to use their Brave the Elements early so that you don't have to deal with it later. For example, you might want to tap out to play stuff and then attack with Polukranos, offering up the trade with it for their Brave.
You can even target their creatures if either of you has an Elspeth, which has come up a couple of times.
Tactics is most effective in Mono-Green Devotion since it's so dense with creatures. Decks like G/R Monsters might not actually be able to take full advantage of Tactics because it has too many expensive spells and not enough creatures. I'm sure a copy or two would be fine, but it won't be a three-for-one as often as it is in Mono-Green Devotion.
Honestly, Mono-Blue Devotion was on the decline anyway. Setessan Tactics might just be the nail in the coffin, assuming people start playing decks that can use it well like Mono-Green Devotion.
If there's one thing I like about this deck, it's that sideboarding is relatively simple. Cards like Eidolon of Blossoms aren't very important in creature mirrors since Garruk, Caller of Beasts typically goes uncontested. The games aren't usually attrition-based, so having an engine isn't all that great. Against most creature decks, I'll try to build a good board position and race with Nylea's Disciple, overrun them with Nylea, God of the Hunt, or wipe out their team with Setessan Tactics.
Ironically, I could probably use more help against control decks. Having another engine piece would be fantastic, so now I'm looking at splashing a couple of Ajani, Mentor of Heroes with another in the sideboard. That would also allow me to play Banishing Light over Boon Satyr if I wanted to. I definitely want ways to break Detention Spheres post-board against control decks, but Unravel the Aether is dead too often. I switched it to Bramblecrush, but it's still not a great solution.
Banishing Light would go a long toward helping that matchup since it can take out an Elspeth and would draw a card off of Eidolon. You probably noticed the flier hate in the sideboard, which is primarily for Desecration Demon and Stormbreath Dragon. Plummet has a lot of the same issues that Unravel the Aether has. While Banishing Light can't touch Stormbreath Dragon, it's going to be good in the matchups that have Stormbreath.
Anyway, against control decks, having an abundance of mana dorks isn't a great strategy. I'd like to cut some Sylvan Caryatids (which I like more than cutting Burning-Tree Emissary), maybe the Nyleas, and maybe some copies of Polukranos. I don't have much to bring in though, so I'll often just cut some Caryatids for Bramblecrushes.
I could certainly do more to fight control, but that's difficult with Mono-Green. Mistcutter Hydra is fine but isn't going to drastically change anything, plus Mono-Blue Devotion is suddenly a fine matchup, so I didn't felt like I wanted it.
Against most things, I'm keeping the full four Garruks. There have been situations against decks like Mono-Black Aggro where I might cut one just because of how fast they are, but even against stuff like R/W Burn, the games can get grindy, especially if they board in Anger of the Gods to go with their Chained to the Rocks. In those situations, you want an engine, and one that gets you closer to Disciple of Nylea is a good one.
Surprisingly, I've been winning with Mono-Green Devotion at a better clip than anything else I've played except for the best deck in the format, B/G Devotion. Mono-Green Devotion doesn't look too powerful outside of its best draws (which I still have yet to get by the way, hmph), but it's one of the most consistent, powerful decks in the format. Also, one of its bad matchups, Mono-Blue Devotion, is both not showing up and a much better matchup than it ever was thanks to Setessan Tactics.
The U/W Control matchup has proven difficult, although that's not surprising. Maybe Saito's Worst Fears are a good idea, but getting to eight mana can be difficult if they are routinely sweeping your board. Instead, I will likely try the white splash for Ajani, Mentor of Heroes and Banishing Light.
Basically, you have to get one of your engines up, either Garruk, Caller of Beasts or Eidolon of Blossoms. Hopefully that will give you enough card advantage to weather all their sweepers. As I mentioned, Ajani would certainly help with that, as would Banishing Light to be able to free your engines from Detention Spheres.
G/R Monsters was tough before JOU, but I'm sure Setessan Tactics helps that a lot. I just haven't gotten to play against any on Magic Online as of late.
There are still many things I need to try out, including (but not limited to) Brave Naya, R/X Devotion, Naya Hexproof, R/W Burn, Athreos decks, G/W Enchantments, possibly G/R Monsters, and even U/W Control.
Why the hell not?
I suspect that R/X Devotion will look better on paper than it performs. Mizzium Mortars is a card that has consistently destroyed me when I've been playing green decks, which makes me want to try the deck in the first place. Chained to the Rocks is also pretty nice. However, most of the creatures are not great in combat, and that's been very relevant lately. Stormbreath, Mortars, or bust isn't really a game I want to play, and I don't want to resort to playing Fanatic of Mogis, but maybe I'll have to.
I suspect that R/X Devotion could end up being a stronger version of G/R Monsters against certain decks, namely B/G Devotion. But we'll see!