Malaysian Nationals have just ended. Of course, I missed out on the Top 8, let alone a chance at making the National Team. I wound up one win short of making Top 8, with only my awful first draft where I went 1-2 to blame. Stupid misplays were the source of my dismay in this tournament. Anyway, I'm still rather happy with how it all turned out. My teammates got 1st and 2nd place, and they will have a chance to excel in Worlds this year. The eventual champion played a 75-card mirror image of my deck. He got a pretty good result in Standard while mine is just mediocre. Anyway, without further wasting your time, I shall venture into what I'm supposed to talk about today. The deck piloted by the pair of us was Jushi Blue, the build of which originally came from Neil Reeves at U.S. Nationals. We made some minor tweaks and without further ado, here's the list:
At first, we made a lot of tweaking here and there because we found a lot of cards in the deck are pretty weak. We added couple of Melokus maindeck, but they turned out to be awful. Reeves version with 4 Jushi and 4 Spire Golem is probably the best. You cannot change the configuration of these eight creatures. They are a must have in the maindeck. We toyed around with the counters, bounce spells and Thirst for Knowledge configuration, as they are pretty flexible and the changes rely on certain matchups to justify their effectiveness.
But as we tested, we figured out that we want to draw the 2 Thirst for Knowledge every game, regardless of whether we are playing against weenie or control strategies. So we upped the number to 3. But we were still unsatisfied with the chances of casting it early, since your deck does not have any efficient card manipulation other then Thirst itself. Jushi Apprentice is good, but it is slow at the same time. You can't afford to activate Jushi in the early game against creatures. In the control matchup, drawing with Jushi is definitely good, but I've found out that casting a Thirst of Knowledge at times is even better than earning a free card from Jushi. You must have been wondering why I said such a thing, since control matchups usually end up as he who draws the most cards wins.
Wrong. The most essential part of winning the control matchup is the land drop. Whoever has fewer mana sources is the one with disadvantage. It does not matter much if you have five lands and your opponent has six: the difference of only one land is totally fine here. But if you're caught behind two lands, you're not in a comfortable position. If you're behind three lands - say you have five lands while your opponent has eight - you can hardly win the game.
This belief has existed for ages. Lands are the key of winning in the Blue on Blue matchup. I remember there was once Chad Ellis kept a seven-land hand against a Forbidian mirror match. To make things worse, he peeled several lands in his draw steps. Then it was turn 6, all he had in play were lands and the same could be said for his hand. He had nothing at all and if his opponent cast an Ophidian, the game was over. But because both players knew that casting Ophidian during the early turns was probably the worst play ever, Chad took full advantage of this philosophy and kept the seven-land hand. He also made a very interesting move on his turn 6. His opponent missed a land drop on the turn previously, and if his opponent couldn't draw a land next turn, his opponent will have to discard unless he cast something to lesser the amount of cards in hand. Chad definitely smelled the danger here, since all he has were lands. He decided to pass the turn without making a land drop while he could drop a land. This play obviously sent a signal that Chad did not have any land in hand or else he would had played it, which means the cards in Chad hand were spells. By using this unique yet powerful move, his opponent held back as well. Then Chad started to make his land drops and proceeded to draw spells. Eventually, he managed to win that game.
Through this story, I've learnt the importance of land drop in the control mirror: Or should I say the key to winning the control mirror is land.
Anyway, back to the deck now. I would cast Thirst of Knowledge almost all the time instead of activating Jushi if such I face such situation. Jushi will definitely earn you a card. Thirst might not even earn you a card - it only offers card selection at times - but the appropriate cards are the tools you need to carry out your long game. It means you need to have the right cards in hand in order to take a firm control of the game. Thirst fits perfectly in this category. You will be able to make more land drops and have the appropriate cards (mostly counters) or find the Vedalken Shackles faster. You are not in a hurry to draw a card from Jushi.
Undeniably, it is always good if you have an artifact to pitch for the Thirst instead of dumping two cards into your graveyard. Enter Chrome Mox. This card fits a land slot, is also an artifact for the Thirst and most importantly, gives you a chance to cast the turn 1 Jushi. I started out with four Moxes, but cut one immediately because Blue deck never wants to draw 2 Chrome Mox. Three seems to be the correct number.
The second changes I've made to the deck are the Aether Spellbomb and Echoing Truth. Spellbombs are Thirst fodder and has the versatility to draw a card if unnecessary while providing the option to divide the mana cost among multiple turns. The drawback is pretty obvious - you can't bounce a piece of Urza land (like Boomerang) or a Sword of Fire and Ice, but still, I really like to discard Spellbombs to Thirst and drawing a card from it when you don't need the bounce. To avoid losing to White Weenie's Damping Matrix or random Sword situation, I also ran 2 Echoing Truth.
The reason why I ran 2 Truth instead of 2 Boomerang is because Boomerang are mainly good if you draw it in multiples, but generally, you don't really want to draw multiple Boomerangs unless you have a Jushi online to keep the flow of cards up. I've found out that Boomerang is pretty decent against BlueTron because of the capability to bounce lands, but the thing is, I am not winning those games. Bouncing Tron pieces are good, but how many times did you win games because you cast Boomerang on your opponent's Tron? Did the Boomerang really affect things that much? I figured if half the number of Boomerangs were converted into Spellbombs instead, maybe you would be able to discard it to Thist and it makes all the difference from there.
Generally I do not like to bounce a non-land permanents early if I could have countered it instead. But bounce is still important to give you a temporary solution should you lose control in the early game and you need bounce spell to recover the board. Echoing Truth opens a small window to bounce multiple permanents. Although the situation rarely happens, it is not impossible. I mean, there is only so much that you can get from a bounce, right?
I've upped the number of Annul to four because they are so important in any Blue matchup. If you happen to win the counter war on your opponent Shackles or Mindslaver, most of the time it is merely because a one-mana Counterspell. You want to draw and stock up Annuls against Blue decks, because when it comes to fighting over the most important spell, Annul always comes on top of the counter war due to it cheap casting cost. It is very annoying to get your Shackles Annuled, but you can't really do much about it except for playing four copies of the card itself.
Surprisingly, Hinder does not seem to be as good as the other counters in the deck. Mana Leak and Annul round off the cheap counters and I would rather have Rewind most of the time rather than Hinder. That said, a solid counterpell for three mana is still very good, but I would rather have 3 Rewind and 3 Hinder, as suddenly Rewind becomes a cantrip counterspell when you have a Jushi in play or you would able to counter and Thirst at the same turn.
Our Nationals was actually a week earlier then Japanese Nationals and I contacted Morita for advice. Miren, the Moaning Well was the tech from Masahiko Morita. We chat online and talk about decks, although language was and seemingly will always be a barrier. We couldn't really communicate much, but I guess the cards themselves are the universal language for Magic players. Miren gives a huge advantage to the deck should you be able to draw it. It combos with Shackles and turns your opponent's creature into couple points of life: and the life gain is for you, not your opponent. It holds off Jitte as well, although it is not an effective means. In the mirror match, if both players have a neutral board and hand, Miren comes out on top. It turns your Shackles into actual permanent creature removal. We tested the mirror: one side with the Miren and another without. The build with Miren definitely has a better chance.
4 Threads of Disloyalty
I tried replacing this with Sun Droplet and even using both at the same time, but it was clearly wrong. Threads of Disloyalty is your best weapon ever against WW and Red with Sliths. You need to draw one in your opening hand if you're on the draw against these decks. If not, the game will be much harder to win. Threads steals one threat from your opponent, and he has to use another threat card to trade with his own threat now, which is miserable for them. On the other hand, Sun Droplet does not do anything at all in these matchups. BlueTron could abuse the Droplet because they have much more powerful spells. Obviously, powerful spells need a lot of time to operate and Droplet creates that. Jushi Blue has a different goal. You want to trade a card for card with any deck, or even better steal their cards, then win the game later with overwhelming card advantage from Jushi and Shackles. Sun Droplet does not trade with your opponent's guys nor go about stopping them efficiently.
Nobody loves this card as much as I do. It is never the best card in the deck, but I can't deny the joy of stealing cards from the opposing board. As mentioned earlier, land is the key in mirror control, and Annex gives you additional lands while reducing your opponent's resources. Of course, it is not the easiest thing in the world to resolve it, since it costs four mana and causes you to tap out. But during testing, I realized that I tap out most of the time on turns 1-4 to cast threats like Jushi Apprentice, Spire Golem or Annex to exhaust your opponent's counters. This is because as the game goes on, his Tron will be assembled and your cards are much weaker as time goes on. In order to win, you have to take the aggressive role in this matchup. Try to be aggressive from turn 1 through 4, but usually I started to keep mana open on turn 5 and above, because that is the point where things will become very dangerous if you're tapped low. They often win by casting a Mindslaver, you cast a counter on it, and they respond with their own counter. Without that combination, it is hard for them to pull off their Slavers. They only have 7-8 counters, and if you should try to exhaust their counters in the early game rather then letting them keep their counters, you stand a better chance of winning. Remember, the later the game goes, the harder it is for you to win. Annul is your key counter in this matchup, as they often find it hard to push through multiple Annuls. However, you have to be careful, because usually board in Meloku to catch you when you're tapped low.
Reeves has it in his sideboard to support the Uyo combo against Tooth and well as a Gainsay against mirror. I've expected the number of Tooth decks to decrease since the loss of Plow Under really affects its chances against Blue decks. Because of that, I don't feel comfortable wasting four slots to support the sideboard combo. Instead I felt those slots should be opened up to cards which are good against creatures. Nevertheless, Twincast is still very good against any Blue deck.
3 Meloku, the Clouded Mirror
This card comes in against any creature matchup. She is phenomenal against small critters on the opposing side of the table. WW doesn't like her, Red doesn't like her, nor does Rats. The purpose of playing three copies is because you want to draw them early and they usually don't survive all the time. If they do, it often spells doom for your opponent. Because Reeves's version did not have any of these in his board, it is often a surprise factor when you suddenly cast a turn 4 Meloku and your opponent has boarded out a portion of his creature removal.
Overall, the sideboard is pretty straight-forward against everything: you have seven cards against creatures and eight cards against control. The deck has about 50% chance against every deck in the field except for Rats, but the Melokus in the sideboard will make a difference. The key is not to counter his Ravenous and Chittering Rats, let them resolve. Your Thirst will cover the card loss and the Rats are often irrelevant compared to the key cards like Aether Vial, Jitte, Hypnotic Specter and Nezumi Shortfang. Obviously your Annul will counter any Vial or Jitte that steps into its way, but save the Mana Leak, Hinder and Rewind for those permanent discard men and also Viridian Shaman. Keep the Shackles as the very last card you can cast and protect it, because it is the most important card in the matchup. In fact, you want them to cast Viridian Shaman on your Moxes and Spire Golems instead of the Shackles.
Other than Rats, it has got a fair against anything else in the field. If you expect a field filled with mirror matches and BlueTron, the Mox is utter crap, but if there are a lot of critters in the field, Mox is definitely the right choice.
There are few choices on card selection that can be made to maximize the deck's percentage of winning. Last Word is a good choice against BlueTron, since they can't Mindslaver, counter your counter and win, though they are pretty much the worst against creature decks. Culling Scales is an excellent choice against Rats, but Threads of Disloyalty is better against WW and Red. You also can choose to play Sea's Claim instead of Annex to stop Trons and Boseiju if you don't like the risk vs. reward.
You can tweak the deck around with some minor changes and personal preference. After all, it's all about guessing the right metagame and playing with the right cards.
Until then, may the best players earn the National team slots.