Hello there, my name is Evan Erwin... and I'm a hater. I hate your permanents, I hate your spells, and I hate your resources. I found the perfect deck for all you haters out there. It's called Owling Mine. You may have heard of it...
This article is here to inform you on how this deck is built, played, and reshaped based on your local metagame, and how certain game situations hinge on knowing the right reasons for making certain decisions for it.
Where did this deck come from, anyway? I've heard references to other Magic sites, I've heard the Japanese, I've heard all sorts of things. But as for me? This is how I encountered the deck:
Once upon a time I played a game of Magic on a program called Magic Workstation. I brought to the table a Black/White Orzhov control build. I began a random match with a random player. The deck that person played simply demolished my Black/White control.
I challenged it to a rematch and the deck demolished my mono-Blue. I then decided to simply take him down with Greater Good, then I lost again. So I asked the guy for his list. He agreed to share.
I don't remember who I got it from. Joe Random. Guy on the Street. Dude on the Corner. Does it matter?
This deck was out there, somewhere, in an article or a forum post or scrolling past your IRC client window, months ago. It doesn't matter if I didn't invent it, or if I don't know who created it. You want to know how to play this deck? That I can do. Let's get started.
Why Play This Deck?
Because you want to learn what makes Magic tick. Because you want to learn about tempo. Because you're sick of playing against control decks. This deck is a huge “meta” deck. What does that mean? It means that if you think everyone at the tournament scene is taking along a slow deck with big spells, this deck will trump it every single time.
Every. Single. Time.
Barring the obvious Magic-laden exceptions of mana screw and mana flood, I've never lost a match versus a control deck.
But that doesn't mean the deck is infallible, by no means. It's a hard deck to play. Osyp can call it a 12-year-old's dream on MTGO to win with this deck, but that's hardly reality. Even Flores couldn't design a control deck that has trumps on this thing. It is a custom built machine. The Meta T-1000 vs. John Conner Control.
I believe that playing this deck will make you a better Magic player, because it enforces the laws of tempo. You know, that intangible feeling you get when playing? The “Ooh, I'm winning!” feeling? The “Ooh… I'm in deep crap” feeling. If you want to read about how Tempo works and why it is important, check out one of the best Magic articles ever written: Putting It All Together by Jacob Orlove. He said this of tempo:
“Tempo, put simply, is an increase in the value of your future turn-limited resources, relative to your opponent.”
That's it! Now, what's the best example of this concept? Right here:
Got it? Good.
What Build? What's the Difference?
First up is the original build of the deck I wrote about in my article Three Great Guildpact-Infused Decks. It was, at the time, called Ebony and Ivory:
Now, this deck was rough granite compared to the polished statue it would become. At the time I was really enthused by the win condition and the cards it played.
However, after much playtesting (and the simple suggestion for its ultimate win condition, Sudden Impact), the deck changed to the following, which went on to win two boxes in a tournament the following weekend. It lost only one match, to game 1 mana flood and subsequent game 2 manascrew.
This deck was practically unstoppable and I gushed about it as such to my friends. It beat Gifts something awful, it destroyed Greater Good, and after sideboard it handled anything aggro. While this was before Guildpact, it was definitely the start of a trend.
On the weekend of Pro Tour Honolulu, the buzz was high and only two of the same deck made it into Top 8 with a newly crowned name: Owling Mine. Here were the two winning decks, separated by only handful of cards (which we'll go over in a bit). First, you need these lists to play with and get a feel for.
The difference between third place and eighth place is interesting indeed. Let's take a look:
Ruel's build had…
The sideboards are truly unique:
Pretty cool, huh? All of those options, and all of those backup plans. Why did these builds rise to the top while other more dangerous builds did not (other than my obvious foreshadowing)? Let's see what all of these decks have in common:
The Building Blocks
All Owl builds have all of these cards in them to varying number:
The ultimate “casual” card that has come to life in a slow, control-heavy environment, to wreck those who like four-mana-plus spells. Your mission, should you choose it, is to drop this guy as early as possible, or whenever it helps your opponent the least (such as when you have counter backup). We'll go over a few dos and don'ts on when to play a “Howling Mine,” which can mean this card or…
Kami of the Crescent Moon
You know what this lucksack Magic player did? On the morning before playing my Owling Mine 1.0 deck, I fished around the card store's dollar rares box. How many of these guys did I find? Three. How may did I buy?
I'll just let you figure out that one by yourself.
Point is, this guy is immune to Shock, to Hideous Laughter, and to multiple Frostlings. Yes, he dies to almost everything else. The problem is, if you can untap with him in play, rarely will you ever suffer for it and if they let him live they will learn to never do that again.
One of the misplays I keep seeing is that people simply let the “Howling Mine” effects stay in play with this deck. This is a sure way to lose. This 1/3 has also ended more games by swinging across a creatureless Red Zone than I care to share as well. If you thought Jushi Apprentice was bad in mono-Blue, you ain't seen nothing yet.
The quintessential bounce spells. They fuel your deck and you need at least seven of them, preferably eight. Only Eye of Nowhere is “inefficient,” but the tempo you gain by bouncing something that your opponent spent a turn playing is devastating and adds up over time. It's how this deck wins after all. In my opinion you should never run this deck without a full set.
A house. Who knew this bad boy was the cheapest Time Walk printed in a long time? Sure, Time Walk is broken, but Exhaustion isn't, right? Now, to contrast, think of Yosei, the Morning Star. Why is he so good? Because he makes the other player skip their untap step. He forces them to tap down their permanents and lose tempo and resource advantage.
Put Exhaustion into that context. When you're playing counterspells, you're putting your opponent at a permanent disadvantage (i.e., the permanent they tried to play doesn't make it into play). You're also up in resources since they had to spend theirs to try and play a card that did nothing for them, while all of your lands are untapped and ready to go. While your opponent is tapped out and runs few (if any) one-drops, Exhaustion says this:
Super Time Walk
Take another turn after this one. All other opponents draw a card and may put a land into play.
Same thing Yosei says, right? Except for three less mana? In a deck that wins while the opponent stays without mana or permanents? This deck could never, ever work without this card, period. To play with any less than four is suicide.
Ebony Owl Netsuke
Who knew? I say this a lot when talking about this deck, because I find it interesting and exciting when an amazing deck is right underneath your nose. And this one truly was. As the environment shifts, some of the best and most innovative deckbuilders look for previously considered “trash” cards with which to play with. The idea for this card to kill players was a joke for many months… but the joke is over. Another automatic four-of in the deck. It can't run without it.
Rules Note: Ebony-Owl Netsuke's “if” condition (they have seven or more cards in hand) must be met at the beginning of the opponent's upkeep and when it resolves. If the condition isn't met at either time, they will not take damage (Thanks Zack!). Keep this in mind—this is why you Boomerang/Eye of Nowhere their land(s) on your turn. You assure Netsuke damage.
Automatic four-of. Its synergy in this deck is unmatched. Sure there's “Howling Mine effects” and “bounce effects,” but the win condition is keeping your opponent's hand full and keeping them on a lack of permanents. This spell also keeps the Ebony Owl Netsuke trigger successfully damaging your opponent when they try to play an instant before the trigger resolves. A game-winner, in all senses of the word.
Mikokoro, Center of the Sea
A beautiful card, and a great asset to the deck. So much so that I took a tip from the Pros in Hawaii and put two in my final decklist. You're never disappointed in drawing one (unless you have the other in play), and it keeps Netsuke smacking the opponent when they try to play spells and get under seven cards. Never be afraid to activate this guy if you've got the mana and inclination.
Only against aggro should you never activate this. If you are activating it in those circumstances, you're probably digging for an answer while they're drawing more gas. Beware, but also be aware that this is a fantastic land for the deck and is always at least a one-of in Owling Mine builds.
Really, do I have to explain this one? One note for the newer players: You almost always want to fire this off during their draw step. Remember that after they draw all of the cards necessary for their draw step (including Howling Mine draws, Kami of the Crescent Moon draws, etc), you have a chance to respond. Technically you have a chance to respond after Howling Mine triggers and Kami triggers, but I won't nitpick to that degree.
Just know that their draw step is when they should have the most cards in hand, and therefore when you should fire this off for maximum damage. If you're not playing it to kill them, their draw step should be the only other time this is played.
And that's it! At this point decks begin using various cards in varying amounts depending on what they can expect in the meta. Let's take a look:
I thought this was an auto-include. It is for me, anyway. This is the spell that gives you the upper hand - the fifth to eighth counterspell slots - and provides the amount of permission necessary to get started correctly. Running only four counters (i.e., Remand), and counters that will never ever put spells in the graveyard where scary spells belong is a, uh, scary situation I think.
Maybe it's me. But I'm all for the ‘Leak.
Why Play This: It makes your opponent potentially waste a ton of resources. In the Guildpact metagame, it makes Bloodthirst essentially moot.
Why Not: It's expensive. At five mana in a deck whose average converted mana cost is two, the spell better jump through hoops and bring you breakfast. What does this spell do? It returns two (maybe three) creatures to your opponent's hand. Sometimes it gives them an opening to throw burn at your head, something this deck doesn't do well with.
It's also a bad idea just because of Kird Ape. A one-mana creature who can deliver quite a beating while you try and stabilize. Evacuation is not that answer, I think.
Now this is a card I can get behind. Mainly because of a deck called Ghazi Glare and new decks like Hand in Hand. The ability to sweep not only efficient creatures (Selesnya Guildmage) but mana accelerants (I'm talking to you, Llanowar Elves) is just too good to ignore. This also rids yourself of powerful White Weenies (Isamaru, Savannah Lions) and at the same time still doesn't kill your own Kami of the Crescent Moon. A winner.
One of the first cards I thought of when Guildpact was trying to squeeze its way into Standard, and a card that Mr. Ruel was such a fan of he ran a full set. This guy is very powerful for obvious reasons, but its synergy with both resource denial, removing attackers, and getting around counterspell decks makes it too good to ignore.
Here's a classic play situation: Game 1 Match 1. You find out you're playing against Gruul. Not a good matchup, but not completely hopeless. They go first. They drop a Stomping Ground… tapped… and grimace as they pass the turn. They're anxious to get going and their hand is obviously full of two mana cost spells.
They grimace again.
Gigadrowse just gave you another turn against what is your worst matchup. Not bad, eh?
I don't like playing this card anywhere near the main deck. Why? Because it's a “win more” card. If you're playing this to a successful amount of damage, why haven't you won already? You should've been drawing Sudden Impacts, which pound-for-pound deal more damage, or you should be playing that other three-mana spell which wins games - Exhaustion. In the place of this card are just too many good choices for your starting sixty.
When is it good? Against other mono-Blue decks, and against the mirror. This deck punishes card drawing, and Owling Mine is a deck full of it. Against the mirror you have another three or four win conditions and you can get card advantage they can't by Night's Whispering at the end of their turn for three mana. Not without its merits, but it should be starting on the bench.
This card was featured in Ruel's sideboard for what I guess is a myriad of reasons: First, it's better, pound for pound, than Cerebral Vortex.
“Boomerang your Island,” your opponent says.
Same goes for control decks where you Twincast their counterspell or, at the end of their turn, Twincast your own Boomerang. Pretty nasty when given room, but definitely a sideboard card. When you start Twincasting Lightning Helix and Char, then you've already lost.
Gaze of Adamaro
A great substitute for Sudden Impact against decks that will definitely be utilizing Cranial Extraction. The exact same winning condition for a minimal increase in mana cost is a-okay with me. I really like this option, but with a heavy-Gruul environment it could be really worthless. I've won games where my opponent has Cranial Extracted all of my Sudden Impacts and simply couldn't stop Ebony Owl Netsuke (or vice versa).
Sleight of Hand
This card alone brings your total converted mana cost down. It thins your deck, evens your draws, and makes mulligan-able hands, well, almost immune to the fact.
But what does it not do? It doesn't bounce permanents. It doesn't control resources. It doesn't counter spells. It doesn't deal damage. Now Tiago Chan obviously has the credentials to back up his decision, but for me this deck is about control, resource management, and denial. This card provides none of those things to me; therefore, I don't run it. Your mileage may vary, and I certainly won't slight you for running this.
Mindset and Priorities
Owling Mine is not a very interesting deck on the surface. Matter of fact, it looks downright goofy. Most decks simply explode with excess cards. This deck turns card advantage upside down: It makes card advantage bad. You, as a player, should almost never have as many cards as your opponent. You should not be discarding spells. Your spells are cheap and versatile, and most decks don't have such a low curve with such a high quotient of disruption.
What is “disruption,” anyway? Disruption is the idea that whatever you're opponent is doing, we are going to undo it. This causes frustration, and frustration leads to mistakes, and mistakes are something this deck thrives on. A play mistake, such as your opponent playing a Karoo land instead of a dual, can be deadly.
This deck works on a series of resource denial and control. Without mana, decks cannot work. With excess cards and little mana, decks begin herding out their most expensive, usually game-ending, spells, and work on trying to keep their hand rocking. Besides, you're giving them the gas. They're just looking for a lighter.
The Crucial Early Game
Here's how the deck normally plays out: You play and Island and you see the following land from your opponent:
Forest or Temple Garden – You're on the back foot here, and afraid of a Llanowar Elf or a Sakura-Tribe Elder (seriously). You're actively worried about them getting too much acceleration. This is very bad for you. You are actively seeking to stop their acceleration while stopping their manabase from developing. Kodama's Reach should be countered no matter what.
More on this matchup in a minute.
Island or Steam Vents – You're on the back foot; you'll be countering the first thing they play, which will then lead you to victory. This is a game of attrition: he who gets the last counter, he who has more mana. A classic control match-up. Don't forget Who's the Beatdown here, and who isn't.
Plains – You're worried about weenies. This deck can take beats for awhile, but any sort of Isamaru and Glorious Anthem shenanigans is not what you're looking for. You should try to try to go for their manabase first, which is usually where the deck breaks down. Gigadrowse during their upkeep is amazing for this matchup.
Mountain – Red Deck Wins (x40) simply can't handle a Pyroclasm, which you should be running. If you're not, then you're on the back foot and could die from too many swings from a Frostling or Scorched Rusalka. The last thing you want to see is a Genju while you have no Boomerang or Eye of Nowhere, but this is rare.
Swamp or Watery Grave – You're on back foot, waiting for their first dangerous spell to counter and get you going. This is normally Dark Confidant (which can happily stay in play) but you'll want to stop the Hypnotic Specter for obvious reasons.
Notice that for three matchups: Forest/Temple Garden, Island/Steam Vents or Swamp/Watery Grave, you begin on the ‘back foot'. What does this mean? This means you want to let them make the first move. Your job during the “back foot” matchup is to bounce whatever you can while you can keep counterspell mana ready to go. Since your deck is so cheap, once you hit four mana you should be golden: Enough mana to drop your Howling Mine with counter backup. This lets you draw cheap gas at the beginning of your next turn while your opponent's deck isn't ready to deal with the influx of cards.
It's like Heartbeat of Spring, only funnier to veteran Magic players. Do you have any idea how long it took Howling Mine to actually impact Standard again?! I digress.
In all other matches, you're on the proactive side of things. You want to actively play a Howling Mine (this means without counter backup) and you're searching for the tools that will let you win. Few cheap creatures are worth a counterspell - much less the amazing Remand - so let the weenies fly. You'll need to bounce them soon enough, but you'll also need to be drawing cheap good cards to keep your game flowing.
Why an Opponent's Mana Acceleration Is Bad For You
This breaks down to resources and control. You always want to have resource control. In a push/pull match like Ghazi-Glare, tempo is taken control of by Sakura-Tribe Elder and Kodama's Reach. These cards blaze past whatever you may be trying to do (limit their land drops, control their resources and permanents) and keep you from actively limiting what should be in short supply: Lands.
A Llanowar Elf is rarely, if ever, worth a Boomerang, but it is just as deadly as if they played Exploration on their first turn and dropped another Forest. To ignore this acceleration and its impact is a sure way to lose.
Why? Because your opponent will, at one point or other, get an untap step. They will get several, in fact.
What you're trying to do is keep them off their resources and options during those few glimpses of hope. Sakura-Tribe Elder and Kodama's Reach keep them in the land race and while they're rarely if ever not going to have a land to drop due to your multiple card drawing effects, what you're trying to stop is the two lands a turn possibility which both of these cards enable (and what Llanowar Elves essentially provide as well).
The Darkest Light Before the Dawn
This is the biggest “lucksack” deck I've ever seen. Truly. Never have I played a deck where I said, “Oh man, I am totally dead next turn,” and then draw just what I needed to win. Normally an Ebony Owl Netsuke or Sudden Impact. (Win conditions, how about that?) But those topdecks can also include Pyroclasm (I don't die to weenie swarm!) or Exhaustion (I get another turn to look for the win!).
Simply put, this deck makes you sweat. Opening hands that may be perfect against some decks are terrible versus others. But it doesn't matter. What matters is this:
By the end of the game, you must be drawing more cards per turn than one in order to win.
I'm sorry, I've never seen this deck win without some sort of draw acceleration in play. This is Howling Mine or Kami of the Crescent Moon. It's okay if these cards aren't in your opening hand, but be aware this is what you're going for. You want to be prepared to drop a draw accelerant as quickly as possible.
Makes you wonder if people will begin running Smash, doesn't it? That pesky Mine, always ruining other's plans for World Domination.
Joking aside, to not accelerate in draws is to make your tempo balk while they stare at a huge, loaded hand just waiting to explode. The engine of the deck runs on drawing multiple cards per turn, and without those enablers you will lose.
The Long Game
With this deck you may have this problem: You draw four cards but they're all worthless.
Mikokoro (while another Mikokoro is in play)
What do you do with this hand in the late game? You suck it up and give them a turn. Hope they don't explode. Hope you don't screw up. Hope hope hope. Sometimes this deck can truly test what topdecking skills you have.
Every undisrupted turn you give them is another turn you could just lose.
Does that sound trite? I'm trying to put it a better way but can't think of it. You need your opponent to think about how best to utilize what little mana you've given them. If they're not thinking about that, you're probably losing. You want them afraid of Boomerang. You want them sure you have a Remand in hand. You want the mental game to wear them down as you work on controlling the board.
The secret to the long game is determining whether or not you have enough card-drawing enablers on the board, how best to get them there (and make them stick) and how best to keep them off their win condition while you find yours. Sometimes it's a struggle. Sometimes not.
My Final Build
Here is my current Guildpact-infused build of Owling Mine. This is based on what I saw at Honolulu, and my own playtesting:
Plain and simple: If you're playing a control deck of any sort, you do not sideboard a thing. Period. You're asking to lose if you do so.
Now, that sideboard…
Versus Gruul: Remaking the Deck
The sideboard is a completely transformational one. It rips out the guts of the deck with the following:
-3 Kami of the Crescent Moon
-4 Howling Mine
-4 Ebony Owl Netsuke
-4 Sudden Impact
This deck's worst matchup, as you can imagine, is the Gruul build that won the Pro Tour. Yes, it's a struggle. Yes, the first game is most likely a wash (matter of fact, if you do win game one, you are one lucky SOB), and the latter games aren't much better. This deck depends on players thinking about packing Gruul but then offsetting this by going control to combat it.
Many players are, as we speak, running to their Wrath of Gods for support. And that's exactly what you're banking on. To run this build means that you have a Low Gruul Quotient at your local tournament scene and that this LGQ will see you all the way into the finals.
A few questions you may have:
Why Electrolyze? This doesn't kill anything!
Pyroclasm can't kill Kird Ape or Scab-Clan Bloodthirsted. WTF?
Remember that Pyroclasms also completely wreck Ghazi-Glare. A deck that may have fallen out of favor, but to those players who sank mucho dollars in building it, they'll be very (un)happy to know you still have a solid answer for them.
To continue my Gruul examples, Pyroclasm plus Electrolyze is a mere five mana, and is consistently a two-for-three trade (because you draw a card). With a Gigadrowse or two, you can give yourself time to stabilize.
Picking Your Battles
As the pendulum swings back towards beatdown, this deck may not be the best choice for your next tournament or two. But as time goes by, either players will continue to beat or, more likely, a hot new control deck is revealed… and guess what foils it?
You got it. If they're not leading off with Stomping Grounds, you have a great chance to win.
Let's start with a few opening hands and determining whether they're keepers.
Sample Opening Hands
Let's imagine that you're shuffling up for Round 1 and you have no idea what your opponent is playing. You're playing first.
Eye of Nowhere
Ebony Owl Netsuke
A fantastic hand. This gives you bounce on Turn 2, Remand on Turn 3, Exhaustion for subsequent turns, and plenty of time to get Ebony Owl Netsuke fully online.
Eye of Nowhere
Never keep one land hands. Ever. Some decks? Perhaps. This deck? Never ever. Sure, another Island would completely knock you into the stratosphere. Doesn't matter. Your Inner Bruce won't let that happen.
Let's see what we would've gotten if we mulligan:
Mikokoro, Center of the Sea
Ah, a skill tester. What makes this hand keepable? What if you draw bounce? Well, a few things:
1 – You've got enough mana for one-third of your hand. Thanks to going first, you'll also easily slide into “back foot” mode, where you wait to Mana Leak something and, two/three turns later, you should have the ability to Exhaustion (twice if necessary).
2 – You've got game winners in hand.
Sometimes the best thing you can do is simply drop Howling Mine on Turn 2 and watch the sparks fly. With such amazing permanent control and permission, rarely if ever does this kill you (for the times it does, see Gruul.dec).
For fun, let's look at the next three cards I would've drawn here:
Pretty good draws, all things considered. When you think of double Gigadrowse combined with double Exhaustion currently in hand, that's some scary stuff.
Here's another opening hand:
Kami of the Crescent Moon
Eye of Nowhere
Ebony Owl Netsuke
Another winner. You've got the Turn 2 bounce, you've got a Howling Mine, you've got both win conditions and a counter backup. Though a Steam Vents would be nice instead of the Reef, let's not look a gift horse in the mouth, okay?
Archetype Match Breakdown
I know, I know. If you play control you're going to win. But how?
Not quite. While it is a heavily (heavily) favored match, you don't want to run into an errant Mana Leak if you can't help it. A few tips:
Gigadrowse is a hero here. Having their super mana makers tapped (or their counter mana tapped down) is very painful for them. The way Replicate functions truly punishes this deck.
Kami of the Crescent Moon almost always takes out six or more life points. Call it crazy, call him double-Electrolyze bait (good luck ever seeing that happen), but that tricky little spirit beats the hell out of them while they're busy discarding dragons and Legendary Clouded Mirrors.
This matchup is like a lot of control matchups:
- Stop their early game acceleration
- Watch their mana development and more specifically what mana they use to play spells.
- Play out your hand until it has a Howling Mine (or variant) and a counterspell. If not a counterspell, something that will draw one or disrupt their mana like Gigadrowse.
- Resolving Howling Mine(s) is the key to winning any control matchup.
Hey, here's a neat little deck. It runs spirits, soulshift, card draw, shoals, the whole bit.
Ah yes… Shoals. Shining Shoal is not good for this deck. What does it mean? It means you'll need to be careful. It means you can take damage out of nowhere and a Sudden Impact can suddenly be your worst nightmare.
Well, okay, not worst nightmare, but pretty bad… Just don't play stupid, and realize what this deck is: It's a card advantage deck. It pulls more cards with Dark Confidant, it pulls cards using Spiritcraft and Tallowisp. It is, by definition, a card advantage deck. It's sly, but it's there. This deck errs more on the side of control than aggro, but plays both well.
-1 Ebony Owl Netsuke
Why? Because a great deal of their creatures are destroyed by Pyroclasm. Sacrifice outlets such as Plagued Rusalka. Thief of Hope. Kami of Ancient Law. While this doesn't take down their Teysa or their Ghost Council of Orzhova, what were you doing letting those guys resolve anyway? Teysa isn't as big a problem as Ghost Council, but neither are welcome additions to the board. Get rid of them quickly, and the deck will do the rest.
Cool deck! Great idea, very interesting. This always was a great little deck that I enjoy playing because it's so damn hard to play. But in the end, you're running counterspells and they're not. Keep in mind what is important to counterspell:
Needless to say, this is one of my favorite decks. It's hard to play, but at the same time very fun and rewarding. Sure, it's annoying to play against, but that's what makes it so devilishly fun. Is it no wonder the “real” pros are making fun of it?
This is a great deck, and a solid choice for the soon-to-be-filled-with-Wrath-of-God metagame. Depending on how your local metagame pendulum swings, this could be an easy-to-learn/tough-to-master choice that takes home the top prize.
Until next time,
Evan “misterorange” Erwin
Dubya dubya dubya dot misterorange dot com
eerwin +at+ gmail +dot+ com