It's funny how fast things can change. It seems like only last week there were dozens of players clamoring for Bloodbraid Elf to be banned. Ban her! Ban her! She's a witch! Ban her! Fortunately cooler heads prevailed and now it is mostly universally accepted that U/W Control is the top Tier 1 deck to beat. It is not even clear that Jund is the second best deck anymore as it seems to have challenging matchups against most of the top decks. Not only is it soft to U/W it has a hard time with the new popular girl Mythic Conscription as well as Laskin and Stark's RWU Planeswalker deck. Even the latest evolution of Mono-Red which is poised to make a stand gives Jund a hard time. What is a Jund player to do?
Every once in a while the boogeyman that everybody hates deserves the spotlight. Jund deserves a chance to be highlighted and discussed card choices analyzed tactical lines explored and sideboarding suggestions offered. Jund players have feelings too you know? Besides at this point Jund has dipped enough in popularity that it is safe to imagine Jund as the hero. It is just an honest mid-range deck trying to make it in a world of Mind Springs and Goblin Guides. Is that really so bad? Isn't U/W the bad guy these days? Jund deserves an article discussing how to push it forward in the new and hostile metagame whether at the PTQ level or your local FNM.
This is not that article. I'm with the Azorius Guild. Screw Jund!
The list above is 61 cards but I certainly do not advocate running heavy these days as you want as high a concentration of Wall of Omens and Spreading Seas as you can. As such I would just decide on the card to cut 2 minutes before the event depending on what "felt right."
As you can see my current list is not too crazy. To begin with I am pretty close to the halfway point between the Tap-Out and Permission styles. I think that Tap-Out is a good choice for the random opponents on account of its powerful game winning spells letting you just brute force through people. On the other hand a little permission goes a long way towards breaking open the mirror. Sometimes a single timely Negate or Deprive can give you a huge advantage from stopping Jace or Mind Spring. Flashfreeze is just not the maindeck card it used to be as there is too much U/W. Essence Scatter is much much worse on account of Wall of Omens and the rise of spell-based decks such as Planeswalker decks. Cancel is still solid but I have opted against it here on account of wanting to best be able to play the Baneslayer-Protect Plan. So many decks right now have so few ways to kill a Baneslayer if you just wait until you have 7 mana (doing your other business first like Gideon or Day or Jace or O-Ring etc) you can drop Baneslayer with a single counterspell and just ride it to victory after you counter the Pulse. There is a time to Transformational Sideboard into Baneslayers and a time to just run 'em from the get go. I think this is the latter.
Some people think that the rise of U/W Control makes Baneslayer worse because it is not good in the mirror. I actually think it is very much the opposite. I think U/W Control is so good that people don't want to play Terminates maindeck etc. Look at the decks that are out there right now. Most Mythic decks can't kill a Baneslayer beyond an occasional Planeswalker; they usually just try to race with Conscription. What about Mono-Red? Okay in that one Baneslayer is obviously the best and without Firewalkers or Wall of Denial in my board it is especially important to preserve this match-up main. Some people prefer Sphinx of Jwar Isle but I don't think the Sphinx is high enough impact right now and I would rather have more Gideons if I was in to that sort of thing. To be frank I suspect I should have a lot more Gideons anyway. I underestimated that card a little. I mean I knew it was very good but now I think it is probably the best card in the set.
As a brief aside while we are on the topic I would like to mention that I have learned a lot over the past two weeks now that I have got to playtest a little more with the Rise of the Eldrazi cards. So many people are quick to point out that they were right about some new card but not enough people remember to point out the places where they missed the mark a bit. For instance I pegged Cryptic Command Bitterblossom and Cruel Ultimatum but I also initially thought Fulminator Mage was the best card in Shadowmoor. It is not even about being humble or "owning up" to anything. I think that when one discusses a place where their intuition ended up being revised once they had more experience it can be very useful in improving one's intuition in the future.
My list before featured Student of Warfare and was six cards deep but I think he has to get the boot. Still a great card but contextually he is not nearly positioned as well as Kargan Dragonlord. Student of Warfare is not really what White decks are looking for these days; however it is hard for a Red deck to ask for much more than Dragonlord. Do you realize that Red mages used to run Ironclaw Orcs? Ironclaw Orc style creatures have never been close to good enough for White decks. Red weenies that are actually good are particularly dangerous and should not be underestimated. It is possible that Devastating Summons should be on the list instead of Emrakul but it is hard to say since Summons is just a sure thing in Standard and Block Constructed whereas Emrakul will have an impact on older formats and over time.
The card I was off on was See Beyond. See Beyond is still a quality card (it is generally a bit better than Divination in many decks) but I don't expect it to have as much of an impact as I initially would have guessed. My experience with the card was first in a Summoning Trap deck which is where it shines. In fact such decks are going to continue to love See Beyond. The key is that they have nearly dead cards that you would rather have in your deck than your hand.
When it comes to See Beyond in U/W Control it doesn't give you the advantage you want for two mana. Spread the Seas is far more powerful and has a much bigger impact on the game. It isn't even the free wins you get from mana-screwing people. It is the ability to fight manlands and make things somewhat awkward for people. Spreading Seas is almost like Brainstorm where the opportunity cost to play it is so low that you should just add it to almost every deck that can cast it. It is not just Spreading Seas that pushes out See Beyond though. If I was going to play another two-mana card drawer I think I would prefer Treasure Hunt (in U/W remember as I still like See Beyond in combo decks). I still think See Beyond will see some play in powered formats but not in Control generally. It is much more of a combo card for decks with dead combo pieces. It is more about a short-term increase in velocity rather than long-term card advantage.
Two weeks ago I discussed why I like Deprive best of all the counterspells in Standard. The only real competition is from Negate but Deprive is usually better since most of time you would Negate you could Deprive and have it be okay. However if you have Negate and wish it was Deprive it is really really bad. Still despite liking Deprive more I have opted for a split since I want to at least be able to threaten to counter a Jace the Mind Sculptor then untap and drop my own. Deprive is not nearly as good at that. Ironically if I had Cancels I would be more inclined to play Deprive over Negate despite it looking like Cancel reduces the need for hard counters.
The philosophy behind this build is that Baneslayers and Jaces will let me overpower most random opponents and I can leverage Wall of Omens and Spreading Seas to gain needed value against Jund so that I can tune the rest of the deck against U/W using 4 counterspells instead of the standard 0-2 as well as playing the full package of Edges to complement my Seas to be as disruptive as possible. In addition I cut a Martial Coup for a Mind Spring as I want more ways to refill now that I don't have Treasure Hunt (or See Beyond). It should be noted that 8 two-mana cantrips go a long way to reducing the variance in a deck which is one of the big advantages U/W has over most of the other strategies. It is just SO consistent.
I took out a Day of Judgment for a Gideon and I am pretty sure I need to find room for more Gideons as the card is insane. The reason I don't just jam them in is that I still want 4 Baneslayers and I think that one must take care when reimagining a deck's manabase. It is certainly doable but to suddenly have 7-8 five-drops changes the deck in other subtle ways. I do not yet fully understand the implications that would go along with Gideon and Baneslayer both headlining this deck so have opted to go for a more conservative hedge that I know works (though I am playtesting more ambitious builds).
Replacing Celestial Purge with Path is pretty obvious at this point as the format has shifted quite a bit. Wall of Omens is unreal good and it is wild that people are actually unclear on whether or not they should be playing it though there is nothing wrong with a little healthy skepticism. Let's just say that Wall of Omens is a "safe" bet (and it makes Path SO much better!). It seems to be more and more popular to play 3 Jace the Mind Sculptor instead of 4. This is worth considering and is even right at times but out of the last 10 Standard lists that I have seen with a number of Jaces that is not 4 or 0 it has looked wrong to me in at least 8 of those cases. Yes the card is not at its best versus Jund. That is what your two-mana cantrips do! Could there be a better Planeswalker to have more copies of? If you somehow have it on the battlefield and have another in your hand you can Brainstorm it away. The EV of Jace sticking is just too high in these decks to pass up having it as much as you reasonable can.
Not playing 4 Jace the Mind Sculptor is like not playing 4 Necropotence. Most people make this decision and most of them are wrong most of the time. This is not hyperbole and I am not comparing Jace's power level to Necro. This is about how most people want to cut a copy of their card draw engine when multiples are not cumulative. The true tap-out versions with 7-8 X-spells don't much value Jace's advantages so I can understand not wanting to max there. Still this is just all the more reason to not play 7-8 X-spells if you ask me.
The sideboard is fairly intuitive with mostly quality utility cards gaining you percentage here and there by ensuring you have the right answers at the right times. Jace Beleren is a favorite of mine for hosing other Jace decks. Ulamog is quickly becoming a standard-one of in the board as it lets you take out (most of?) the Baneslayers against control and not fret any shortage of victory conditions. It gives you a nearly unbeatable bullet against mill strategies and it is actually a fine man to cast. His Angel of Despair ability is uncounterable which can be nice against an Ultimate Jace.
Side note: It has been four months and still there are ZERO reports of anyone - anyone at all - beating Jace the Mind Sculptor's Ultimate. It is interesting because this is the exact type of thing that a lot of people "white lie" about. "Oh yeah I saw someone beat it once etc." For some reason however this has not been the case for Jace. I tend to believe it is because people know that such a statement is absurd and no one would buy it for a second.
Pro Tip: Anyone posting in the forum for this article with a story of this happening is a troll. No one on Earth has ever beat Jace's Ultimate. Ever. (You want hyperbole? I will give you some hyperbole!)
A lot of people have been asking me about Grixis lately. My response is to ask what does Grixis offer that U/W or U/W/x doesn't? Cruel Ultimatum is just about the only advantage right? I mean there is Blightning Countersquall Lightning Bolt Earthquake Sorin Markov Terminate and Sedraxis Specter maybe Siege-Gang. Why is that mix what you want right now? Who is it better against? In a world without counterspells I would be with you 100% as I like to Cruel Ultimatum people more than most. The thing is that U/W beats almost everything anyway plus the way to get edge there is often to adopt counterspells.
Seriously just play your Grixis deck against Jund. You might even do alright but U/W smashes them. What is the matchup where Grixis shines?
Terminate is just not as good as Wall of Omens. Siege-Gang is no Baneslayer. Earthquake is not as good as Day of Judgment. Sorin is not as good as Gideon. Blightning is a strong card but it isn't what you want to be doing in a control deck right now is it? I think the White is too good to ignore.
(Note: This is where there was a 1500 word rant about "something" that most people wouldn't see why it is useful to them. As a courtesy to the reader I have erased it as it is probably not what some would consider to be premium content.)
That said if you are trying to branch out from just U/W and U/W/r there are other possibilities. For instance:
Gerard has kept the U/W shell intact taking full advantage of all the White has to offer but he hits from a different angle with the Black addition. The heavy discard element seems like it could catch some people by surprise changing the field of battle. Personally I like Spreading Seas too much to go towards discard but there is a subtle beauty to Gerard’s plan. A simple Mind Rot or Esper Charm will often knock out all of your opponent's answers to Baneslayer Angel as how many cards can they really hold on turn 5? There is a subtle elegance to this plan since it makes your Baneslayers game-winners against aggro while adding a powerful way to attack other U/W decks. The weakness to this plan is that it is mostly drawing dead to dedicated Planeswalker-based decks as Mind Rot after Esper Charm will not beat the team of Ajani Jace Gideon and Elspeth.
I mentioned that I liked Spreading Seas too much to adopt discard. What I mean by this is that when you use "Land Destruction" the equity of Mind Rot type discard is low since your opponents tend to have more cards in their hand they can't cast (or cast anytime soon). You may conjure up images of Hymns and Sinkholes fighting together but random discard is a totally different animal (you can hit their land!). Spreading Seas and Blightning are two of the best cards in Standard but they don't work well together since they both let your opponent mitigate the damage done by one with the other.
Gerard's build is vintage Gerard complete with unorthodox numbers but do not be so quick to label this as "wrong." Gerard builds decks that gain some advantage from the opponent not knowing all he is working with. You really can build your deck to sculpt scenarios where you will be able to "outplay" your opponents and too many people seem to forget this all too often. While I would not suggest you copy his list card for card I would suggest reflecting on the way in which Gerard selects the numbers that he does. For instance Gerard is maxing on Baneslayers and even uses Mind Rots for extra Esper Charms to advance his game plan of "Protecting the Queen." Gerard's list is built around the semi-soft lock we described above. The rest of the card choices are various support spells at different places on the curve each giving him options that in his experience are the kind he wants. As a nice bonus when you have at least one out to everything you are always drawing live!
You may assume that it’s either right or wrong to play a certain card. Maybe if you could play perfectly. However no one does. As such it can be very helpful to play into your own natural abilities. Different people look to sculpt the game into different experiences and sometimes your subconscious moving of the game towards a certain state will be different to that of another person changing the relative value to you of various cards.
Would I play Essence Scatter over Wall of Omens? No chance but freeing your mind from preconceived notions of what you should and shouldn't do is necessary to build decks that can capture success in a moment. A lot of people run homebrews all the time and most of them fail most of the time. Gerard is a deckbuilder that has had more success making it rain with real homebrews than most. While some prefer to netdeck exclusively a study of people that have hit a "Bingo" with their homebrews on multiple occasions can be a good way to learn to hack it. [Gerard appears later this week with the inside scoop on this deck and its creation! – Craig]
I am out for this week. I am in Sunny Southern California breaking Block Constructed with Kibler Rubin Sperling Rietzl and The Ben Seck. Grand Prix: DC is just weeks away and I am thinking that if I don't play U/W it will be some sort of filthy Vengevine aggro deck... If I can only crack the code. See ya next week!