Last weekend, I woke up a little before the monthly MOCS event with a new idea for a deck. I'd already entered the event with Boros Control, tuned to beat control decks with additional Azor's Gateways and Banefires in the sideboard, as well as an Ixalan's Binding and a fourth Siege-Gang Commander in the maindeck, replacing a Settle the Wreckage and The Immortal Sun. I really like playing this deck and thought those would be good adjustments to account for the deck's weaknesses, but I was afraid of the Jeskai deck Adrian Sullivan won GP Milwaukee with, full of Niv-Mizzet, Paruns.
In my experience, my Boros deck can have inevitability going long against Jeskai thanks to Banefire, and it can win a short game if it happens to draw a lot of Adanto Vanguards and History of Benalias. It struggles in the middle, specifically with needing to line answers up with Jeskai's threats, which all have to be answered immediately or they take over the game. The result is that the more threats the Jeskai deck has, the worse the matchup feels for me, especially if those threats are Niv-Mizzet and Explosion. I could add additional Ixalan's Bindings, but that still loses to Dive Down. I could play something like Cleansing Nova to beat Dive Down, but that gives them a card, and in general, simply isn't a winning proposition against their deck.
I knew how to beat Adrian's deck, or rather, I knew that the best cards against it would be things like Plaguecrafter and The Eldest Reborn, but I didn't have a deck in mind that I liked that could use those.
I didn't really expect Adrian's deck to occupy a large portion of the metagame - it seemed pretty clearly like a deck that was built to take advantage of specific moment rather than a deck that was built to simply use all the best cards available (though I do think all the cards are strong and work well together), it just didn't have that "this is the new deck to beat" feel. It felt like more of a "gotcha" kind of deck, the kind that got a ton of equity from opponent's thinking their Jeskai opponent wouldn't really be clocking them before suddenly finding themselves on the wrong end of a protected Niv-Mizzet. That said, I did generally expect Jeskai decks to become more proactive (how else are you winning the mirror?) and I thought Niv-Mizzet + Dive Down may show up more in decks in general.
Anyway, about this new deck idea I had - there were a lot of different pieces I was putting together. I knew I liked the interaction between Treasure Map and Pirate's Pillage, and I knew I liked how either of those cards allow you to cast Star of Extinction on turn five, which I believe to be a fantastic strategy against Golgari. I also think those cards help a lot with playing three colors, both because treasures can fix your mana in a pinch and also because of scrying or discard and draw as ways to filter cards you can't cast and find mana to cast everything. I also knew I liked Karn, Scion of Urza in this shell.
From completely unrelated testing, I independently knew that I like Pirate's Pillage with The Mirari Conjecture (and Thousand-Year Storm, which I had one copy of in my initial deck sketch). Jack Kiefer had played around with this some in our PT testing, and the fact that, when you're copying everything, Pirate's Pillage lets you discard a card to draw four cards for functionally no mana means that your Conjecture turns are just awesome.
You can naturally curve Pirate's Pillage into The Mirari Conjecture to return the Pirate's Pillage, and now when the Conjecture goes off, you'll have a lot of mana on that turn because of the Treasures and you'll get to reload immediately because of the card draw from the Pirate's Pillage. It was clear that Treasure Map would also help here, letting you cast and copy more and better spells on that turn - basically, one-shot mana is a lot more valuable when it's letting you cast more spells that you can copy than you'd otherwise be able to.
The biggest problem with this shell is that Pirate's Pillage is horrible against counterspells, but if you play black, you can play discard spells to increase the chance that you can resolve it. Also, black offers answers to all the threats that Star of Extinction isn't perfect against - The Eldest Reborn for Jeskai's threats and Moment of Craving and Fungal Infection for Adanto Vanguard or Viashino Pyromancer.
At first, I imagined that I'd want Golden Demise or Ritual of Soot but then I started trying to figure out which lands my deck would play. I could barely support black spells and I certainly couldn't sideboard in cards that cost BB. Once I realized that constraint, I cut the BB spells from my sideboard and just replaced them with basic Swamps since my sideboard was almost entirely black cards, and I felt like that would let me rebuild things as necessary.
Expansion, weirdly, was actually the last card I thought of for the deck. In practice, I won almost all my games by burning people out with Explosion, often powered by treasures and copied by The Mirari Conjecture, but how I actually got there was that I wanted to play Negate to counter my opponent's counterspells to force through my own cards. My cards were expensive enough that Spell Pierce wouldn't cut it and Dispel isn't in the format, so Negate was the best I could do. Expansion does the same thing, but Explosion is a much better alternate use than negating my opponent's planeswalkers or something. While I came to it late, it was absolutely essential to what the deck is doing.
After I came up with the deck, I was still thinking of it as something I'd like to try soon rather than something I should play in a tournament that was starting in ten minutes, but the more I thought about it, the more I felt like I liked what it was doing against everything. I wasn't completely sure it'd be functional, since decks usually get refined quite a bit after my first couple games with them, but I decided I wanted to try it anyway. Sure enough, after sideboarding with it a couple times, I realized things I'd want to change, but the deck still impressed me.
My first realization when I played the deck happened when I was sideboarding. I was thinking of the deck as an Izzet deck that was splashing Moment of Craving and The Eldest Reborn, but then I could sideboard into more black cards. When I went to do that, I wanted to add Swamps, but I didn't necessarily want more lands, so I cut some lands. I realized that I could cut Islands, and now, because I was bringing in Fungal Infection, I had more instants, so I didn't need Opt, which was slow against my aggressive opponent anyway. After cutting Opt, I became a Rakdos deck splashing The Mirari Conjecture.
The Mirari Conjecture is a super easy splash, since it's a five-mana spell that I'm often looking to cast even later and I can play it off Treasure. The key here is really Discovery's hybrid nature - I could think of it as a blue card or a black card, but really the way my mana works, it's probably best to just think of it as a colorless spell since any two lands other than exactly two Mountains can cast it.
Once I realized that I was splashing for Opt, I realized that I should probably think of the deck as Rakdos splashing blue and shift the mana accordingly. The problem with doing this, of course, is that there's no Blood Crypt, so it's actually a lot harder to be Rakdos splashing blue than Izzet splashing black; I think the result is that there's just no reason not to have more blue sources than you need for The Mirari's Conjecture, but that's good because I want to sideboard Thought Erasure anyway.
The final result is that the mana has to be a little awkward in terms of the number of sources of each color you have, but ultimately, it doesn't matter that much because I've made sure to make all of my spells as easy to cast as possible. Outside of Star of Extinction, I've avoided anything that costs CC, and I have a lot of ways to fix my mana and my draws that don't require a specific color of mana.
But, as I said, it was thinking about each matchup that made me decide to play this deck, so let's go through them:
VS Izzet Drakes
I had a lot of cards in common here - both decks had 4 Shocks, 4 Lava Coils, 4 Opts, and 4 Discovery, but my Shocks and Lava Coils are the exact right answers for their threats while theirs don't really do anything. They have Tormenting Voice and I have Pirate's Pillage, and after sideboarding, they get Niv Mizzet, Parun and Ral, Izzet Viceroy, but I get Thought Erasure and The Eldest Reborn. Arclight Phoenix is a powerful card and it gives them some functional card advantage, but my removal lines up so well against their threats in general. I can Shock a Phoenix if they're low on resources, and I don't think they can return it quickly or I can exile it with Lava Coil if I think otherwise. The best thing they have going for them, really, is a few counterspells after sideboarding, but the fact that they don't have counterspells maindeck just lets me punish them by going a little bigger and not using creatures. I believe this matchup must be heavily in my favor.
I did actually lose to one Izzet Drakes deck in the MOCS, partially because I clicked on my opponent's Crackling Drake rather than their Ral, Izzet Viceroy with two counters with my Shock and partially because they had an unexpected and remarkable piece of tech against me in Raptor Hatchling. I imagine this card was in their sideboard to block against Adanto Vanguard and Viashino Pyromancer, functioning similarly to my Fungal Infections, but they brought it in for the third game after seeing that I had several copies of The Eldest Reborn; it meant that I would need to use to removal spells to get it off the battlefield to kill something real with The Eldest Reborn. I didn't have access to anything, so I had to use The Eldest Reborn to kill their Raptor Hatchling while I knew about a Ral and a Niv-Mizzet in their hand.
VS Golgari Midrange
Star of Extinction is the name of the game here. Use removal to buy time and card drawing and library manipulation to find it. After you cast Star of Extinction, you can use The Mirari Conjecture to get it back and Explosion to pull further ahead. Given that accelerating into Star of Extinction has been such an effective plan for me, I was surprised to lose to Golgari in the MOCS, but it makes some sense. I won game 1 pretty easily, as everything went according to plan, but after sideboarding, things get a lot harder. My opponent, Mogged, was playing a slightly unusual take on Golgari Midrange:
- 4 Jadelight Ranger
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 3 Midnight Reaper
- 4 Plaguecrafter
- 3 Ravenous Chupacabra
- 4 Thorn Lieutenant
Thorn Lieutenant offered a faster clock that was better against my early removal spells than the two-mana explore creatures or Wildgrowth Walker, which Mogged didn't play. The big problem was the combination of four Duress and four Midnight Reapers with two Thrashing Brontodons. This is also basically what my Boros Control deck with a similar gameplan lost to the week before at GP Milwaukee. Midnight Reaper is really good against sweepers, but there's currently no real agreement about how many to play - among successful Golgari decks from the MOCS, some had four in their 75, usually 2+2 or 3+1, but some had 1+1 and at least one had zero.
Duress is another big problem when you're leaning on a single big spell to do most of the work. I'm not sure what the best way to improve this matchup would be if Star of Extinction isn't enough. Maybe Search for Azcanta could be the best way to beat Duress, letting you find another Star or just a string of answers if they take the one you were counting on away. Overall, I'd still guess that game one is good enough that the matchup can't be very bad for you even if they're favored after they get Duress because you still have a lot of scrying, Discovery, and Pirate's Pillage to find another and The Mirari Conjecture to get it back if they make you discard it.
I actually like Expansion against them, but I'm more worried about staying alive to cast my big spells than having enough big spells.
VS Jeskai Control
One thing I noticed when I was playing against Jeskai in the MOCS was that it seemed like I got a big advantage from the fact that my opponent didn't know my decklist and assumed I had counterspells, so they may not have been as proactive as they should have been. Even if they were, though, they must be careful about leaving mana up to counter my spells because they're very high impact and hard to answer after they resolve. My expectation would be that game one might be a little hard but that cutting all the bad removal for discard would leave me very well positioned. The match I played went very much according to plan.
Cutting all the Lava Coils isn't automatic. Depending on which and how many threats you expect, you can cut the other Star of Extinction or trim Opts or Pirate's Pillage to make room to leave some in if you're afraid of Drakes.
VS Boros Aggro
Ten cheap spot removal spells is a great start against them, but honestly, Star of Extinction has really impressed me in this matchup. It seems like it should be the wrong kind of sweeper since it costs so much mana, but with the ten cheap removal spells to slow them down and the fact that you're accelerating into it, it actually tends to come down at a pretty great time. The fact that it answers Legion's Landing means that you don't have to worry that much if they're transforming it early by attacking with Snubhorn Sentries and Hunted Witnesses that you don't want to use removal on. It also bypasses their efforts to make four toughness creatures with Snubhorn Sentry and Venerated Loxodon to trump Deafening Clarion. Access to -X/-X based removal for Adanto Vanguard is extremely important, and while you only have two Moment of Cravings, the Fungal Infections really shine here.
Also, I haven't mentioned it in other places, but this deck frequently uses Dispersal rather than Discovery, and having it as an answer to Experimental Frenzy is great sometimes (though you can often just outpace Experimental Frenzy with Expansion and The Mirari Conjecture).
Obviously, any additional removal would help is matchup, especially the first two additional removal spells in the sideboard to bring in instead of Thought Erasure.
VS Mono-Red Aggro
This deck may be losing popularity, but I played against it twice in the MOCS. It's scary but I was able to win both matches, regularly gaining well over four life with my two Moment of Cravings thanks to The Mirari Conjecture. One important note is that my opponents cast a lot of Risk Factors and I almost never paid four life, I just let them draw cards and tried to answer those, since I could keep up with the card advantage but I'm relatively susceptible to getting burned out.
Moment of Craving was by far the best thing here and having two more of them would make the matchup feel very comfortable.
Moving forward with the deck, as I mentioned, I'm looking at cutting Opts. I'm currently testing Powerstone Shard which has been interesting. Since I see so many cards, I regularly get multiple onto the battlefield and that makes my Conjecture turns and my Explosions much better. I currently think that my deck has too many mana sources and not enough payoffs because I added them without increasing the number of The Mirari Conjectures or Expansions, and it also makes me want at least one Banefire. I'm not sure that this is the right direction but it's always interesting to watch a card function as explosively as Powerstone Shard can and to think about the implications for building around it, which I certainly haven't finished optimizing.
Having played some with this build, I think if I'm going this way, I need to cut The Eldest Reborn from the maindeck for a fourth The Mirari Conjecture because I need to be better at spending mana proactively. I also might want to trim something like one Shock and one Lava Coil for another Star of Extinction and another Karn or something to get better at using this extra colorless mana. Alternatively, I could drop Powerstone Shard and add another land and maybe more of the middle of the curve cards like Karn and The Mirari Conjecture, maybe even a Fight with Fire, although that's a lot better with Powerstone Shard.
What do you think of Powerstone Shard? Worth it or too cute here?