Standard on a budget eh? I can certainly meet that challenge...
Last November I took down the first new age Battle Royale. Last time there was no baggage. This time I had a title to defend. Did I accomplish that? Well yes and no. You'll have to read the article and decide for yourself.
The largest change from the last event to this one was the increase in expenditure. Moving from twenty to fifty dollars radically changes what you can play; you can stop being so thrifty and afford to splurge a little on staples. Whereas last time even a good uncommon like Everflowing Chalice was nearly unusable simply because of how much it cost this time you could even include some mythic rares if you wanted to.
While I enjoy using tighter budget restrictions more because they inspire creativity and force you to reconsider everything you know about a format it was fun to push the envelope a little as well. With all this in mind where did I begin? Well I started by using a similar process as last year: the list.
If you look through my article from last year you'll note that I started by creating a list of underpriced cards that could be taken advantage of. This year however the context was a little different. With more money to spend fewer cards were out of the question. I couldn't really just look at underpriced cards anymore. Instead I had to look at underpriced archetypes.
I built several beatdown-midrange archetypes and tweaked them and you can see the results of that work in my article last week. Exempt from that article I also built more traditional decks like Mono Red (Patrick Sullivan's list can be played almost completely intact) Elves and Pyromancer Ascension as well as a mono-green Leatherback Baloth beatdown deck and a Mono-White Control deck. However after fooling around with all of those I eventually came to a different conclusion: blue control was the place to be.
Look at the quality of blue commons right now. It's insanely high. Preordain? Mana Leak? These cards have consistently been staples of the best decks in the format! The power they provide to any deck is incredible. They give you flexible control over the course and flow of the game and are good against any opponent. The only question quickly became what to pair them with.
I knew I was going to have to go two colors because mono-blue didn't have the ability to deal with permanents as well as I wanted. It was a sacrifice I was willing to make. While ideally I would have loved to stick to one color—to paraphrase Zvi Mowshowitz “look at the mana available in the format and start building decks from there”—there is enough good common mana fixing to make two colors work even if it's not optimal.
However I expected the metagame to beat would mostly herald from Zvi's train of thought: a lot of monocolor decks. Decks I potentially expected to fight were green beatdown decks red beatdown decks white beatdown decks and mono-white control. In addition to the single color decks there was also the possibility of Pyromancer Ascension or even a weakened version of Splinter Twin as well as some other blue control deck.
With all that in mind I looked toward the three other colors most feasible to pair blue control with—red white and black—and drew up a list of potential budget cards for the archetype.
Cards in red:
This list is okay. It has some incredibly flexible removal especially Pyroclasm which is excellent against a lot of the quicker beatdown decks. You also gain access to a Chandra (likely Nalaar) and in a world where most people don't have planeswalkers having your own certainly puts you at an advantage. I've always liked Chandra Nalaar and thought she was underplayed so I'd be happy to play her in this format. Destructive Force is also a card that can potentially end games. However let's explore our other options further.
Cards in white:
This list is fairly attractive. You have some excellent pinpoint removal a pair of sweepers and some good finishers. There's no planeswalker in this batch but it's still a pretty solid control mix otherwise. Additionally by virtue of being white instead of red your mana becomes way better because you can run Sejiri Refuge alongside Terramorphic Expanse and/or Evolving Wilds. Let's see what black has waiting for us.
Cards in black:
Black Sun's Zenith
Chancellor of the Dross
Consume the Meek
Gatekeeper of Malakir
Geth Lord of the Vault
Grasp of Darkness
Inquisition of Kozilek
This list is also fairly attractive. While there are more cards on this list that doesn't necessarily mean it's a better choice. You can only play so many spells anyway so really you just have to look at the top spells of each. Similar to white black has access to Jwar Isle Refuge which helps fix its mana even further. The main difference between the two colors is black has better pinpoint removal discard and a planeswalker where white has more price effective (as in dollar signs) finishers. To look at where to move next it's also important to do the same with blue to see what we already have:
Cards in blue:
Blue Sun's Zenith
Into the Roil
Into the Roil
Sea Gate Oracle
Sphinx of Jwar Isle
Sphinx of Lost Truths
While I thought up lists with both it ultimately felt like the black paired with the blue better. I didn't need any excess finishers—it turns out blue had just the right one—and the cheaper pinpoint removal was going to be very important if I wanted to beat the aggressive decks. Additionally discard was going to be crucial in fighting Pyromancer Ascension and the slower control decks. While white did have the very tempting Luminarch Ascension black did most of what I wanted white to do better.
Now it was just the simple matter of shaving the two lists down the cards I wanted to play.
I quickly determined that Sphinx of Jwar Isle was the best finisher I could buy for six mana and 50 cents. It was evasive cheap budget-wise and nearly impossible to kill. I figured there would be plenty of good removal spells floating around—Condemn Doom Blade Go for the Throat and so on—and Sphinx was rough to deal with short of a Day of Judgment. I didn't want to play too many creatures other than that since it would just turn my opponent's removal on.
I knew from the beginning I wanted to play the full boat of Jace's Ingenuity. When you're holding mana up to represent countermagic and removal spells spending it to pick up three new cards is perfect in this style of deck. I also knew it was going to be very hard to get card advantage in this format because of the color restrictions people were going to have and in an underpowered format card advantage is king.
Of course that doesn't mean it's limited only to budget formats. I wouldn't be surprised if this received a decent amount of play now that Jace the Mind Sculptor is gone if anything else as a sideboard card for control mirrors. In any case casting it on turn five was important enough that I wanted it over Blue Sun's Zenith.
The other pieces I knew were mandatory to have maindeck were Disfigure and Doom Blade as means to fight off the beatdown decks I wanted to be prepared for. I also wanted Duress for the control/combo decks and against the red decks it's still plenty live. And of course Preordain and Mana Leak.
For these budget challenges I like to start by building cheap as a baseline and then adding cards to increase the price from there. I was pleasantly surprised to find my first draft of this deck was only about $20 so fortunately that allowed me to pepper the deck with some more spendy additions. After playing some games and tweaking some of the numbers this was the final list I submitted:
To really quickly go over some of the card choices that haven't been explained already:
As far as the creatures go I knew I needed some options other than just Sphinx of Jwar Isle to hold the ground. Nighthawk was great against the beatdown decks I was expecting. Originally I had three maindeck Nighthawks but I ended up wanting another cheap draw spell to help find lands early so I switched one for a Sea Gate Oracle since he also blocks pretty well.
Jace's Ingenuity was so good that I wanted even more big draw spells. I looked at Blue Sun's Zenith again but Sphinx of Lost Truths filled that role while also giving me another creature. I've always loved the 3/5 Sphinx and he treated me well in the event.
As far as the other spells go Consuming Vapors was great against the red decks and had built in card advantage. You often take some early beatings against the aggressive decks but Vapors helps you recoup it back. Into the Roil is a card that just gives you flexibility regardless of if you're returning Leatherback Baloths Everflowing Chalices or Pyromancer Ascensions and Consume the Meek was the sweeper I wanted against beatdown.
However by far the most surprising card in the deck was Liliana. All of her abilities really stood out and showed their power. Her +1 generates a lot of card advantage over time; her -2 can pull you out of some rough spots; and I won several games off of her ultimate. I ended up sideboarding one because she was a little slow against the beatdown decks but in retrospect I probably should have just maindecked both and just used it to tutor for Consume or Vapors against beatdown.
As far as the sideboard the only cards that may seem a little out of place are the Neurok Commandos. I had enough slots for all my beatdown matchups and so I wanted something like Jace Beleren as a card advantage engine against other strategies. However Jace was too expensive once I added Liliana. Fortunately there was a solution.
Enter: Neurok Commando.
Against other blue control decks and Pyromancer Ascension I just wanted a steady stream of cards. Commando does that pretty well if you just leave removal in for their stray blockers.
And as for the tournament itself?
Well something strange happened. Out of four players I was the only one not playing Mono-White Control. Three different varieties of Mono White were all of the opposition. This was particularly terrible for me because Mono-White Control was perhaps the matchup I wanted to play against the least. I cut Tectonic Edge for cost reasons so I had no way to beat Emeria going long and if they were going to be on the Emrakul plan I couldn't really race it effectively.
Fortunately I knew I had an out. My most important card was going to be Liliana Vess. It was my one repeatable source of card advantage that could win me the game on its own. I just had to draw Liliana as often as possible…
And so began the #banliliana gambit. I had to draw my Lilianas as often as possible.
I won't get too far into details of the matches as first of all you probably aren't interested about the matchups between the decks in this event and second of all they were all Mono-White Control matchups so you probably really aren't interested in the fast-paced thrill-a-minute details.
The short version is this.
Sean McKeown's version proliferated Chalices Tumble Magnets and eventually won with White Sun's Zenith. Fortunately that build seemed pretty favorable for me since Tumble Magnet is poor against my finisher of choice. It also helped that I drew my Liliana. I took him down.
Jason Ford's Emeria the Sky Ruin-based white deck was going to prove much trickier. I knew I had to be the beatdown and try to somehow beat him before he could get Emeria active. Or I could also just draw Liliana in the first game and -8 which I did. It was a tight match but I managed to take it down.
Ben Lundquist's Emrakul-based white deck was similarly going to be a problem. And indeed he narrowly bested me. I drew my Liliana but his Eye of Ugin trumped my plan.
There is one interesting thing that happened in all three matches. Okay here's the situation. You lay down your seven cards pick them up and your hand is—
Bzzt! If you've got this far you may have already made a mistake.
I chose to draw against my Mono-White opponents whenever given the opportunity. They have no good source of card advantage and every card is crucial in this matchup. The tempo gained from going first is fairly irrelevant considering the length of the game so being on the draw and getting the extra card seemed well worth it.
In the end Ben Lundquist Jason Ford and I ended in a three-way tie at 2-1; Jason Ford was crowned the winner via some kind of arcane divination and high-level wizardry. Or perhaps just whoever lost the fewest games. In any case since the three of us tied at 2-1 I'd like to think that to harness my inner Gerard Fabiano everyone's a winner… or at least us three anyway. (Sorry Sean.)
So would I play this deck again? Unlike last year where I showcased the Vampires archetype to the world I can't say that I would feel comfortable taking this to a PTQ. It's certainly a fun budget deck though and it could be fun to bring to your local Friday Night Magic.
However if I was looking to PTQ with a U/B Control deck and had no budget limit I might look at trying something like this as a base:
U/B Control was once at the height of dominance in Standard. Will it return there? Well it certainly has the tools to. If you can find a way to force it through Memoricide is nearly game over against Splinter Twin (just watch out for Inferno Titan!) and it's very strong against Valakut. You may want some SpreadingSeas sideboard to help the Valakut matchup to make sure you don't lose to Valakut even if you Memoricide them but they might not be necessary.
U/B Control is certainly something to look into and it has a lot of tools to be successful right now. Keep an eye on it as a potential archetype to break out as the fresh PTQ season keeps progressing.
If you have any questions or thoughts feel free to post in the forums send me a tweet or e-mail me at gavintriesagain at gmail dot com. If you've been working on a similar U/B Control deck at all I'd love to hear your thoughts on this archetype. Or if you're just looking for budget advice I'm always happy to help players out there too.
Talk to you next week!