Worlds is on the horizon, and everyone is making a last-minute scramble for technology. If you haven't been paying attention, it might surprise you to know that Illusions is the deck to beat. Todd Anderson broke Standard a couple weeks back with his update, and it's all anyone is worried about.
Some of you may have noticed the influx of U/R aggro-control on Magic Online as well, and that's probably due to Patrick Sullivan. The Rainmaker played his homebrew in a couple side events at Grand Prix San Diego and was turning heads all day long. He lost in the finals of the “foil out your Standard deck” tournament, and everyone seemingly took notice.
I think his deck kind of sucks. I like where U/R is right now, but not the style that Patrick was playing. If you're trying to do the “flip my Delver of Secrets” thing, you're probably better off playing Illusions. You're playing red for what, Grim Lavamancer and Incinerate? Why not just play Vapor Snag and Stitched Drake? Those deal with creatures just as well.
If you want to do the Chandra's Phoenix thing, stick to Mono Red. Why would you want Mana Leaks in your Mono Red deck? Honestly, Mana Leak doesn't even seem that good right now. Sure, there are some Wolf Run decks hanging around still, trying to relive their glory days, but it just ain't happenin'.
Illusions, W/U Humans, and W/G Tokens all beat up on Wolf Run pretty convincingly. I believe that there's a way for Wolf Run to adapt and beat those decks, but it hasn't shown up yet. Once it does, you better believe people will catch on. Right now, there aren't enough Ramp decks to justify playing Mana Leak in your Mono Red deck.
Don't get me wrong. U/R plays good cards with a coherent strategy. However, the manabase does suck, and you could be doing better.
Precursor Golem seems like the future. As I write this, I'm gearing up for Worlds myself, and the format consists of a lot of decks that can't deal three damage to a creature. Oblivion Ring is a thing, Vapor Snag is a thing, and Gut Shot is certainly a thing. Of those, Snag is the only thing that deals with all the Golems, but not well.
Clearly my plan against Illusions, W/U Humans, G/W Tokens, and U/R Delver is to kill all their creatures. Once I'm stable, I need a way to win quickly or attack a planeswalker that the G/W deck could draw. Even if they're Vapor Snag-ing me, I shouldn't mind, because I've managed to keep the pressure off.
I started playing matches with my U/B Bloodline Keeper deck. I really wanted to cut some lands and add Delvers but decided to shelve it instead. Swords were becoming more and more unappealing as Illusions became more popular. Trying to connect with a Sword just wasn't what I wanted to be doing.
Josh Cho has been trying to get me to play Burning Vengeance for a long time, but I refused based on the fact that its matchups were bad. Now that the format is almost exclusively creature decks, Burning Vengeance could actually shine. I talked to him briefly about his list and made my own take on the deck.
When I got to Grand Prix San Diego, this is what I started grinding with:
A few things were apparent.
- Burning Vengeance was good, but I didn't want to draw too many of them. I cut one and was reasonably happy with it. I think sequencing spot removal into Burning Vengeance is a much better plan than relying on Vengeance to kill all of their creatures.
- Slagstorm wasn't entirely necessary. I would typically trade one-for-one with their creatures and lock the game up with card drawing or Burning Vengeance. At no point did Slagstorm do more than kill one thing unless I had messed up somewhere.
- Desperate Ravings was insane. If your hand is good, you don't cast it. After all, you've got stuff to do anyway. If your hand is bad, Ravings is more like Divination than Think Twice. Chapin has said all this stuff already, and we all should have listened.
- Splashing a color or two seemed easy and played out very well. Ancient Grudge was worth it, and Curse seemed like it as well. I could often kill their first few threats but needed something to lock it up. Curse does that reasonably well, although Curse is weak to the same stuff as Burning Vengeance, namely Celestial Purge and Oblivion Ring.
- Surgical Extraction is a great tool for control mirrors. U/B Control and its variants lean very hard on Mana Leak, Dissipate, and Snapcaster Mage for defense, especially against non-creature threats. The games go long, so Mana Leak becomes dead after a while. If you can Extract their Dissipates, it becomes very hard for them to put up any resistance to a lethal Devil's Play. If you're playing U/B, Ghost Quarter-ing their Nephalia Drownyards and Extracting them is often a lethal play.
I liked the Burning Vengeance deck. It was fun to play and definitely my style. The eight-mans were untimed, so I had no problem fighting other control decks. The other people in the tournament didn't like my two-hour marathon matches though. In a real tournament, it might be tough to finish a match.
At the end of the day, I liked where U/R was but felt like I could do better. More on that later.
During my byes, I joined an eight-man with Illusions. I wanted to see what the hype was about, and it didn't disappoint. The nut draws were unbeatable, and there were few Mono Red decks in sight. I just didn't like the inconsistent portions of the deck.
Delver of Secrets, while great, doesn't flip all the time. If I fell behind, it was nearly impossible to catch back up. If I drew five lands or more, it felt almost impossible to win. Moorland Haunt did a lot of work, but sometimes it wasn't enough.
One thing that was very interesting was how good Stitched Drake was. That card is a legitimate problem for any red deck relying on cheap removal to kill your little guys. Even against decks like U/W, it required a Day of Judgment all by itself. If you're playing a red control deck, you probably want to sideboard some Combusts or some other way to deal with it profitably. It doesn't hurt that Combust is one of the few cards that kills Mirran Crusader and Hero of Bladehold.
Precursor Golem was a card that was on my radar ever since my buddy Steve McKenna played it in his Wolf Run Ramp deck. There were so few ways to beat all those Golems! When a card is as well-positioned as that one is, you should pounce on it!
Michael Jacob asked me, “Is Burning Vengeance any better than Grim Lavamancer?” He was probably right. Sure, you could trigger Vengeance multiple times per turn, and Vengeance didn't die to Gut Shot or the other removal that people were playing, but it was very slow.
It will often take many turns for Burning Vengeance to take over the game, mostly because you skipped your turn three and didn't start Shocking things until the next turn. Lavamancer is often ready for action after a turn two Desperate Ravings. Forbidden Alchemy and Nephalia Drownyard are awesome with it as well.
So what if Lavamancer dies to Gut Shot? Then they have to keep in Gut Shot against your almost creatureless deck. Is that such a bad thing? Maybe it means that Lavamancer should be in the sideboard, but I was having a healthy number of game one wins based solely on that guy.
MJ and I started with this:
If something looks strange or out of place, it's probably because MJ or I just wanted to try it. Twisted Image is his pet card and works well with Precursor. Unfortunately, it doesn't kill very many things in the format; otherwise I'd be more on board.
The Drownyards were to fuel Lavamancers but to also beat U/B Control with their own weapons. MJ said that once he cut Gut Shots for more Galvanic Blasts, it wasn't difficult to just damage them out. I agreed that that was probably the case and cut them for Ghost Quarters, which were Moorland Haunt insurance.
Around this time, the U/R deck started exploding on Magic Online. Either word of PSulli's deck had gotten out, or somehow everyone else decided the deck was good. We didn't know which.
I started asking myself, “What's the best life gain around?” That seemed like the only problem I would have with that deck. The answer was Timely Reinforcements, so I started looking into splashing other colors instead of black. White also provided Oblivion Ring, and we were already thinking about playing Disperse, so it made sense.
Geist of Saint Traft is another interesting bit of technology. If the people who were going to play Illusions decide to slow down their deck to add red, Geist becomes awesome. If people are playing U/B and Ramp, Geist becomes awesome. If they are playing W/U Humans and Illusions, suddenly you're willing to trade him for the first Grizzly Bear they play.
It's all about making educated guesses, and right now, this is mine:
Inferno Titan got the nod over Consecrated Sphinx because it does something even if it dies. It also fights creature hordes much better than Sphinx does. Having some six-drops was necessary in late games, and Inferno seems like the man again.
With less early red mana, I feel like I should be playing more Gut Shots than Galvanic Blasts. Blast is so good with Precursor Golem though, so it's hard to let go. The Ancient Grudges could become Divine Offerings, but I like that a single Grudge does wonders against the Sword decks. You get to kill their Spellskite and Sword, or Sword and Nexus. With Grudge in your hand, you just always feel safe.
Tribute to Hunger (and a better mana base) was the only thing I was sticking with black for, but Phantasmal Image does work in that category. It's one fewer card you get to board in against Mono Red, but with Timely Reinforcements, you should be fine.
With Worlds only a day away, I'm pretty excited. I like my deck, and I certainly like my chances. Let's just hope that my Desperate Ravings are kind…