This past weekend featured the inaugural tournament for Shadows over Innistrad Standard. Last Thursday, I put everything out there with U/R Control, showing the masses what I wanted to play in the format. After putting all of my testing information on the table, I ended up with U/R Control featuring Pyromancer's Goggles. While the rest of the Roanoke gang ended up W/B Eldrazi, I was the lone participant playing Pyromancer's Goggles.
And you know what? I am confident I had the most fun at the tournament. It was a deeeee-light.
Most things with the list went perfectly right, while a few small things went a bit wrong. The first day of play was full of my deck performing as expected. I didn't mulligan all that much, and most of my draws featured a reasonable number of removal spells and card-drawing effects. I was able to leverage the advantage gained from Pyromancer's Goggles because not many decks I played against put all that much pressure on me.
And when a deck doesn't put a lot of pressure on you and doesn't have access to a lot of cards that can destroy Pyromancer's Goggles, you can gain a ton of advantage. Either by drawing extra cards with Magmatic Insight and Tormenting Voice or killing two creatures per removal spell, Pyromancer's Goggles is kinda ridiculous when you have enough time to get it set up. The trick is finding ways to buy yourself enough time to make sure you can get your Pyromancer's Goggles online.
As these new Human decks become more streamlined and more aggressive, the time you have to assemble your “combo” is lessened, but that doesn't mean you can't get everything set up before they kill you. That just means you need to work a little harder to get the job done. Now, I've tried a few different versions of U/R Goggles that tried Fiery Impulse and a number of other removal configurations, but I've found that each version becomes a little less reliable when I don't have enough cards that “bridge the gap.”
Some people have argued with me over Anticipate, and others say that Oath of Jace is better than a number of other cards in the deck, but my testing has shown that there aren't a lot of cards you can really cut from the deck before everything starts to break down. I agree that too many copies of Jori En, Ruin Diver can be awkward at times, but I like the ten creatures to (hopefully) overwhelm the removal from the opponent.
Anticipate helps bridge a gap between the early-game and mid-game, while also triggering Thing in the Ice. After sideboard, it also works pretty well with the counterspells, acting as a way to hit land drops while you hold up mana for Negate and the like.
But as for the deck itself, I wouldn't change all that much. A few friends from Roanoke convinced me to play some sideboard cards to help out in the Ramp matchup, namely Eldrazi Obligator. After losing in the semifinals to an aggressive Human deck, I realized that this was foolish.
As I stated last week, beating ramp decks wasn't a priority. Out of the fifteen rounds of Swiss, I only played against one ramp deck, and I beat them him with Thing in the Ice. Everything else was virtually irrelevant. I know that the deck can beat Ramp decks, but I don't want to flood my sideboard with cards that are only good against one archetype, and especially one that isn't highly played and is already a bad matchup. Instead I want to focus on beating what I think the metagame is going end up being: aggressive white decks.
While the maindeck isn't all that different, the small change is important for helping against aggressive decks. The second copy of Kozilek's Return is important for punishing early rush attacks from white aggressive strategies, but it also has use in other matchups. One of the hardest combos to deal with for U/R Control is Secure the Wastes into Westvale Abbey flipping into Ormendahl, Profane Prince. Kozilek's Return can't be cast to double up on Pyromancer's Goggles (devoid), but it is an instant, which is awesome when beating other cards that make creatures at instant speed. It also is a surprise attack for decks relying on token creatures to get a lot of small jobs done. Killing one or two creatures with the trigger of Thalia's Lieutenant on the stack is also pretty sweet, but not exactly easy once they know the jig is up.
Overall, the cutting of a copy of Jori En, Ruin Diver is necessary to make room for the second copy of Kozilek's Return, but I'm not exactly happy about it. The card is good, but not so good that I want to ruin the rest of the archetype to shove it into the deck. However, with the strong showing of Human-based archetypes in the last Standard Open, I can only assume that most creature-based decks in the upcoming Standard format will feature a lot of small, aggressive creatures. While there are a lot of ways to build a Human-based deck, most will feature a lot of small creatures that try to deal five to ten damage before the opponent can really get a handle on things. Kozilek's Return is solid at helping deal with that early rush, though it gets worse as the game progresses, thanks to Always Watching and Thalia's Lieutenant.
If your opponent is focusing on ways to get their creatures out of range of Radiant Flames and Kozilek's Return, this can be pretty awkward for the control deck, though I think most of them will be conscious of Languish on top of these effects. They can't beat an early sweeper without some help, so making sure they get enough bang for their buck without putting too many resources on the battlefield is important. Against most U/R Control decks, the only removal spells at your disposal will be damage-based ones that won't always be able to kill what you need to kill. I haven't yet found a good way around this yet, but I'm working on it.
As for sideboarding in various matchups, I've found that each of the current top Standard decks can be attacked in a number of ways. With U/R Control in particular, we don't exactly have a lot of ways to do this, but the sideboard does offer a good bit of help when it comes to each archetype.
While Thing in the Ice is considered an important part of the archetype and helps fight most variants of the deck by providing an “Upheaval” effect, it is pretty tough to flip against a deck packing Reflector Mage, Declaration in Stone, and Silkwrap / Stasis Snare. In those matchups, bouncing their creatures will rarely do enough to actually win you the game, as you'll need a sweeper or a Pyromancer's Goggles to finish off most of the threats they end up playing. If they have Reflector Mage, I'd recommend this configuration:
I've tried out variations that played Fiery Impulse as another way to help contain early threats, but some versions go big with Dragonlord Ojutai and Always Watching. Alongside Negate, this can be pretty hard to beat, and I'm not sure if I have a great way of attacking this strategy yet, other than trying to get Pyromancer's Goggles online and killing them with Fall of the Titans. Cutting Thing in the Ice might be a mistake, but I feel like it virtually never flips and doesn't do enough to stifle the early aggression.
If you expect them to sideboard out some of their removal (which I would not expect once you show them what your deck is trying to do), then you may be able to sideboard out some other stuff, but I honestly have no idea what you could cut besides some of the creatures. Thing in the Ice is worse than Jace, Vryn's Prodigy in the grand scheme of things, but giving yourself an answer to a bad situation (Always Watching plus Dragonlord Ojutai) might be worth it.
Rending Volley isn't exactly a new addition. I wanted to play them last weekend but was convinced by members of the Roanoke crew to try to beat Ramp. I ended up cutting them in favor of Eldrazi Obligator to help steal Dragonlord Atarka or World Breaker to deal a ton of damage once they'd tapped out. I even played a Yavimaya Coast.
This matchup actually looks pretty tough on paper and can be bad if you don't know how to attack them properly. After sideboarding, I try to figure out if it is worth it to cut all of my creatures in order to blank their removal. Against Eldrazi versions, this isn't the case. They can be a bit more aggressive, and you don't have the luxury of cutting all of your threats and morphing into an alternate gameplan. Thought-Knot Seer shuts all of that down.
However, if your opponent is removal-heavy and focuses most of their attention on killing creatures, I've got a plan for you.
Alongside a bunch of counterspells, Fevered Visions could singlehandedly kill your W/B Control opponent or any midrange deck featuring a ton of black removal. This could be a deck with The Gitrog Monster, or it could be any deck that thinks Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet is good enough. Regardless, they will likely have ten or fifteen removal spells to kill Jace and company, but you'll have them completely vexed with your sideboard plan.
Depending on what their deck is packing, you may want to trim on some other removal for some copies of Dispel, but I think you should be fine without it. Your plan, after all, is to kill all of their creatures and ruin their day with Pyromancer's Goggles or Chandra, Flamecaller. The cool thing about this sideboard plan is that it blanks all copies of their removal, aside from Anguished Unmaking, and should put them in a very awkward position.
Another interesting aspect of Fevered Visions is that it can also be used to attack planeswalkers. Two copies will snipe a Gideon, Ally of Zenidkar, while a single copy and a Fiery Temper will also take care of the situation. On top of all this, having access to Fevered Visions will generally flood the B/X deck with resources that it can't get out of its hand. They will literally drown in card advantage, and the damage from Fevered Visions will help your other burn spells close the game rather quickly.
I didn't get to use this sideboard plan on camera last weekend, but it helped me clinch the Top 4 by defeating W/B Midrange in the quarterfinals. I also put it to good use throughout the Swiss against various decks that acted in the same fashion.
The best cards against you here are going to be early Duress and Transgress the Mind, followed by planeswalkers that can actually put pressure on you. Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and Sorin, Grim Nemesis should be a priority for your Negates, but you can contain them with a combination of burn spells and Fevered Visions. If you don't have a Fevered Visions online, using your Negates to keep these off the table is very important.
The good news is that they'll have a lot of removal spells rotting in their hand, but the bad news is that they can stick one of these threats if they have access to an early Duress. While you should be trying to get your better spells online (Pyromancer's Goggles), you might want to think twice about tapping out if they can resolve one of these big threats against you.
This matchup isn't exactly easy, but it is one that I do like playing against. They don't have a lot of ways to kill your Goggles, but they do have some ways to interact with you early and have Anguished Unmaking to make your life difficult.
While Esper Dragons didn't show up in high numbers, nor do I expect it to in the future, I think it is necessary to talk about because the deck was around before rotation, and will likely be a factor in some form or another moving forward. I would treat this deck the same way I would treat any other heavy-removal deck, in that I would likely sideboard out most of my creatures in favor of Fevered Visions and a bunch of counterspells. You can literally kill them with Fevered Visions alone, as long as you can take care of their other major threats.
Like most control decks, they can stick a threat and protect it, and that's a very bad thing, but having access to a bunch of extra cards that can deal with Dragonlord Ojutai (Rending Volley) as well as a way to gain a lot of extra resources (Fevered Visions) makes this matchup pretty easy. I don't think it'll be a cakewalk, because Dragonlord Ojutai plus Silumgar's Scorn is always tough to beat, but you should be able to fight through it if you play your cards right. I would sideboard almost the same way as I would in the B/X midrange matchups, except maybe cutting a Fiery Temper and some random card for two copies of Dispel.
I haven't played against this matchup yet, but I assume it goes down a similar road as the B/X midrange decks, in that you can strand them with a lot of dead removal in hand while you draw a bunch of counterspells and removal spells to take out their key components. The major point of interaction will be resolving and protecting your Pryomancer's Goggles, though, and that's one of the main reasons I added Dispel to the sideboard. This matchup will focus on whether or not you can get Goggles onto the battlefield, regardless of whatever else is happening around it.
I ended up losing this match in the Swiss to Jim Davis, mostly because I didn't know exactly how bad Thing in the Ice was in the matchup. I think that, in general, Thing in the Ice is fine against midrange creature decks but is a bit lackluster when they have access to so many threats that can be played at instant speed.
While Rending Volley isn't exactly stellar here, I don't think it is worth playing stuff like Fiery Impulse to make this matchup just a little bit better. I could be wrong, and very well may end up playing some number of Fiery Impulse at the Invitational, but I honestly believe that aggressive white decks are going to steal the show, and I want to be ready for them.
Fiery Impulse is definitely good here, but doesn't exactly solve the problems presented by the Bant Company deck. Many of their creatures present a two-for-one scenario, which means they can outlast removal and go pretty deep into the late-game. When this is the case, we need to make sure we can force through our spells that actually dominate them in the mid- and late-game, like Pyromancer's Goggles and Chandra, Flamecaller. This means making sure we have access to Dispel, and possibly some number of Negates.
I don't think Kozilek's Return is especially good in the matchup, but it is serviceable. After looking at Jim's decklist after the tournament, the Return does kill more creatures that I expected it to, which means it could be the key to cleaning up an early battlefield rush from them before stabilizing. Dispel also keeps them off Collected Company, which can buy you enough time to set up your Pyromancer's Goggles and keep the juice flowing by drawing extra cards or killing two creatures a turn.
After playing the matchup a bit, I would likely sideboard as follows.
I don't know if this configuration will handle everything you need it to, but it should keep most of their stuff in check while giving you a high density of cards that actually matter. Chandra, Flamecaller is particularly good against them, as it can sweep their battlefield and then start accruing card advantage, but it can be attacked rather easily with flash threats like Bounding Krasis.
I expect these decks to put up a very good fight against you, no matter how you build your deck. Just make sure you can stick a Goggles and get to work.
Reality Smasher is a very good card against U/R Control. We no longer have Crackling Doom to take care of such annoyances, but we can also figure out ways to deal with Reality Smasher that don't put us at a distinct disadvantage. Most versions of Red Eldrazi are fairly aggressive but could fold to a well-timed removal spell and have virtually no way of interacting with Pyromancer's Goggles once it is online. If you can stick it, you should be fine.
But Reality Smasher isn't their only threat. You still have to beat Thought-Knot Seer and Chandra, Flamecaller, both of which give you major headaches. This matchup is one that I lost to in the Swiss last weekend, and Reality Smasher was the main card that game me trouble. Thanks to Lightning Axe forcing me to discard a card, I was often resource-light. The extra discard from Reality Smasher was particularly annoying, though it wasn't impossible to overcome.
Roast would be a great card to have access to in this matchup as well as the Bant Collected Company matchup, and it might end up making my final list come the Invitational, but right now I have to focus on the metagame set before me. With 30% of the Day 2 metagame being aggressive and Human-oriented, I think Rending Volley is a perfect sideboard option.
Depending on their build, Chandra might be worth cutting. I would consider keeping one or two in the deck in order to kill theirs, and losing Void Shatter could be problematic to your overall plan, but most of your maindeck is set up to interact with them on all levels. You can kill their creatures, sweep away their token generators, and control their planeswalkers. Do that, and you should be just fine.
While G/W Tokens isn't exactly a heavily played archetype, it did do well in the hands of Chris Andersen at #SCGBALT and might see a bit of play in the coming weeks. I do think the deck is good, though it has some inherent flaws. It is weak to Kozilek's Return and Thing in the Ice but has a lot of planeswalkers and sticky creatures to dodge traditional removal. If you attack them correctly, you should be fine.
Without Lightning Axe, Jori En, Ruin Diver is a bit worse than normal, and doesn't actually provide you with much of a relevant body. I think Thing in the Ice is pretty good here, as it can bounce a host of tokens and then attack a planeswalker, but it also just acts as a way to close the game quickly if they're sitting on their hands. A single Thing in the Ice can force them into some pretty bad scenarios, which forces them into Chandra, Flamecaller or just makes them burn a lot of resources to make sure it doesn't kill you.
Pyromancer's Goggles, like in most matchups, is golden here. Try to stick them and use them to build up a lot of extra cards or keep their planeswalkers off the table. Negate is fine here because it helps keep Secure the Wastes into Westvale Abbey in check, while also keeping their planeswalkers at bay.
As we talked about last week, I think this is a bad matchup. You can try all you want to improve it a bit, and you likely won't win it no matter what you do without a little luck and a mistake or two from the opponent. If your draw is a little slow, you can't really do a whole lot to keep them from taking over the game.
On the other hand, Eldrazi Obligator is a great sideboard option, and one I tried last weekend. I ended up beating the only Ramp opponent I had with a handful of Thing in the Ice, but even that wouldn't have been good enough had they just exiled the right things with Ulamog, Ceaseless Hunger.
I don't have any real advice for this matchup, because I don't think this matchup is actually winnable under most circumstances. Bring in some counterspells and sideboard out some Lightning Axes.
#SCGINVI and Beyond
After the Invitational, there aren't a lot of Standard tournaments on the horizon. There are three Modern weekends in a row after Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad, and I will be focusing most of my attention on seeing whether or not Ancestral Vision is broken. I don't think it is, but finding the right shell for it is definitely the right start.
In the coming weeks, it will be interesting to see what develops as far as Standard is concerned, but I can't wait for the Pro Tour and all of the sweet brews it will bring. I've already gotten to see one of my brews perform well under pressure with U/R Control featuring Pyromancer's Goggles, and I hope it continues to do well for me, but a few tournament results could change everything.
If a deck comes out of the Pro Tour that blows mine out of the water, or just makes my deck obsolete, I'll be looking forward to it. After all, what's the fun in breaking the format in the first week?
I want some new ideas to work with, and the Pro Tour is the perfect proving ground.