Well, the holidays have come and gone, and it's time to buckle down again and start thinking about serious tournament Magic. So, why am I writing an article on Standard?! Well, I've always been partial to Standard, and after last night's crazy multiplayer Chaos-Five match,* I'm definitely feeling like I could use some strict guidelines.
So here I am, and my topic of choice is what I call my Finkula Control deck. This deck has evolved from my original B/U/W deck, which included a bunch of counterspells and Nether Spirit for the win. This deck started out with the base of the Finkula deck played at the Invitational; with that starting point, I went on to make a few modifications. I must tell you, this deck is absolutely amazing! And in a twisted sort of benevolence, I'll share with you my secret tech (that everyone already knows) months before Standard season! Nice of me, huh? Seriously, though, I'm going to go in-depth as to why this deck is so good, so be prepared for an inundation of total control.
First things first: The decklist.
Finkula Control, v.2.0
4x Meddling Mage
4x Shadowmage Infiltrator
4x Fact or Fiction
4x Dromar's Charm
4x Salt Marsh
4x Underground River
4x Coastal Tower
4x Adarkar Wastes
3x Darkwater Catacombs
3x Skycloud Expanse
First, let's go through the deck via its different functions.
The main difference between my deck and Finkel's deck is that mine doesn't have maindeck Spectral Lynxes. So how do I win? The answer is"slowly." However, the four Undermines makes a big difference as after several of them, the amount of swings necessary goes far down.
But, why these two particular creatures? Well, it's quite simple to say that Shadowmage Infiltrator is a stick-and-a-half. And he is. Why is he so good? Because he comes out third-turn. But it's only one turn faster than Thieving Magpie - what's the big deal? After all, Thieving Magpie flies, and can block a big flyer in a pinch. Those are true, but the Infiltrator has it's own ways of dealing with things. First of all, although being able to block flyers can be important, if it's necessary you're in big trouble anyway. Plus, the Fear factor ensures that the Infiltrator is almost always bringing you cards.
What really makes Infiltrator better, though, is the extra turn. If you're playing first, your control-playing opponent will never play two comes-into-play lands in a row because he must counter Shadowmage Infiltrator. But, what if he has a bunch of counterspells in his hand, but no Counterspells? Or, what if he doesn't have UU? Denying him that extra turn to get the right mana is a huge benefit of Infiltrator. And once he hits the board, his card advantage is amazing. He just keeps the threats on coming. Finally, the clause that pushes him over the edge:"Whenever Shadowmage Infiltrator deals combat damage to a player, you may draw a card." In a tough game where you might get decked? Don't draw! Have seven cards in your hand and you don't want to discard? Don't draw! Your unskilled opponent forgets to grab his card during combat? Sorry, friend. Yes, this card really is as good as they say it is.
So what about Meddling Mage? Some people have told me he's not too great - but he is. First of all, if you're playing first, he never gets countered on your second turn, barring Force Spike. Plus, once he hits play, there are all sorts of advantages you can get out of him. The most obvious one is to name a card that hoses you. Common play:
Me: Coastal Tower
Me: Land, Meddling Mage naming Urza's Rage
Because you know they're playing R/G. And if you know they're not, naming Call of the Herd saves you eight counters! Of course, Call of the Herd doesn't hose this deck as much as some others - but we'll get to that with Recoil.
What else does Meddling Mage do? Believe it or not, he swings! Against a control deck, I laid a second-turn Mage, and ten turns later I'd won the game. He's also great for Jedi Mind Tricks. After playing a Meddling Mage, watch your opponent's face. Say you name Obliterate. Does he smile? No Obliterate in his hand! Does he flinch? Yes, you've stopped his Obliterate. But don't stop looking. When he draws his second Obliterate, you'll really know it - that sigh of dejection gives it away every time. It doesn't always work but in some matchups, especially control-on-control matches (where naming Gainsay is great because there aren't any in my sideboard) because you need every opportunity you can get.
I've already detailed how amazing Shadowmage Infiltrator is above, so there's no use re-iterating it. Plus, everyone already knows how near-broken Fact or Fiction is. There's no difference here. But in this deck, it's especially potent because - as I like to say - every card in my deck is good. If they reveal even three non-lands, you know you're going to get at least two good spells. It's really very nice.
However, the important thing to notice is what's not in the deck. One of my friends is very pro-card drawing; he's constantly urging me to somehow include Opt, Sleight of Hand, Peek, Standstill, or any number of card-drawers. However, what I keep remarking to him is that unlike his deck (which is only U/W), I'm happy with almost every card I draw. I don't need to go digging for more, and there's no chaff that I need to send to the bottom. Whereas his win condition is only Serra Angel, I have several, so I don't need to put all my eggs in one basket. I find that Infiltrator and Fact or Fiction are two of the broken-est cards in Magic - and they're all I need.
The main difference between this deck and the pre-Odyssey version is that there are no Wraths in the maindeck. However, with eight creatures (instead of just Nether Spirit), I couldn't see keeping them in, especially in a very controllish environment... So I brought in Vindicate and Recoil. Sixteen counters and four Vindicates can generally take care of most of the threats for this deck. Recoil, however, is its own special gem.
I discovered how truly amazing Recoil is once I really started to heavily playtest this deck. This is a truly versatile card that conforms to any situation. If your opponent's off to a slow start, Recoil a CIP land at the end of his turn. Not only does he discard a card, but he's also set back one - or even two - turns. Additionally, Recoil can act as an instant-speed pseudo-Vindicate, bouncing attacking creatures back to their owner's hands. But where Recoil really shines is in the case of Call of the Herd. Every elephant-generating opponent's face falls when they see me cast Recoil on the new creature. The creature gets removed from the game, and they discard a card. Not only do I get that advantage - but for the rest of the match, I have them second-guessing themselves about all Calls of the Herd. Finally, Recoil can also be used in a pinch to reset a Mage or save an Infiltrator from death. I've only been desperate enough to do this once, as it's horrible card disadvantage, but at least you know you had a last-ditch effort.
As for Dromar's Charm, I've found that to be one of the best cards in the deck. There's nothing it doesn't do. Its primary function is a counterspell, and sometimes it's even easier to cast than my other counterspells, especially with the Darkwater Catacombs and Skycloud Expanses. Also, it serves as removal for bears such as Meddling Mage. However, its main function as removal comes into play with combat tricks. You're attacked by an Elephant token - block with Mage and kill with Dromar's Charm. I've even had the opportunity to pull this on a Kavu Chameleon!
Of course, Dromar's Charm's other use is to give you an extra turn or two with its lifegain function. Over the course of a game, you can gain twenty life with this spell alone - that's not too shabby. The only bad thing about Dromar's Charm is that it's often a target for opposing Mages; I guess it's just that good.
We've already discussed the versatility of Dromar's Charm, so we won't have to mention it again. Moving along to Undermine, we come to one of the more interesting spells in the deck. This was my personal addition to Finkula, replacing Spectral Lynx. I wanted more control, as I was already used to playing sixteen counterspells in my previous version of the deck. Undermine not only functions as a countermeasure, but it's also aggressive. Opponents who know I'm playing with Undermine get wary when their life total drops below eight with the threat of Infiltrator serving every turn.
Absorb does the same job with the opposite effect. Not only does it counter a threat, but it relieves pain taken from earlier threats that I had to let slip through. Two Absorbs in hand and a recently-taken board make me feel secure, even with very low life totals. Absorb even works as an effective counterspell against Urza's Rage! Over the course of a game, your opponent's going to have to kill you more than one-and-a-half-times if all your Absorbs resolve, and I like those odds.
As for Counterspell, I think it's fairly obvious why that's in here. Although Disrupt and Exclude both net me cards, and Syncopate removes bothersome flashback cards permanently, those cards are either too expensive or too situational. I'd rather have my trusty Counterspell, thank you.
I've found that although I'm very solid on three different colors, I have mana problems just as often as any other deck with two colors and a splash. My strong mana base supports the heavy blue concentration (every spell except for Vindicate has at least some blue in the in casting cost), as every land produces blue in some fashion. This is slightly modified from my first version, which ran some Caves of Koilos. Finding that these never really helped do anything, I replaced them with basic Islands and have been happy with their performance.
The interesting choice is the inclusion of six of the new Odyssey lands. In case you don't know, Skycloud Expanse and Darkwater Catacombs are lands that can be activated by a colorless and tapping them to produce UW and BU, respectively. Originally, these lands were difficult to use - I found that I was having a very hard time getting them to work effectively, as you had to put something into it (which could often be a choice between B and U or W and U) in order to get something very specific out of it. I became so frustrated that I was seriously considering taking them out of the deck. However, I persevered, am I'm glad I did, for now the lands serve my will. The main thing I was missing was the simple fact that you can tap a land and two Skycloud Expanses for an Absorb by using the W from the first Expanse to activate a second Expanse, giving you UUW in your pool. Find this out, I came to be accustomed to using the B from Darkwater Catacombs to activate a Skycloud Expanse in order to cast Absorb or the other way around for Undermine. Of course, using the U from one to activate another always spelled Dromar's Charm. I suggest to anyone considering these lands to simply practice with them - you will get better. One of my friends tried these lands in his deck and was ready to take them out. I encouraged him to keep them in and to practice with them; he followed my advice, and now he's sold. They really are exceptional lands - though probably a little too situational to include four copies of each.
The sideboard is the only part of the deck I'm not absolutely sure about; it changes from week to week as I realize what works and what doesn't. The main thing I'm sure you notice is the inclusion of four Wrath effects and four Spectral Lynxes. I've heavily playtested this deck against beatdown, and these cards come in very handy in that matchup. I think that beatdown is my toughest match, so I don't feel wrong devoting half of my sideboard to it. The Kirtar's Wrath is an interesting inclusion, which I decided upon a while ago and haven't been inclined to change. It gives me a little extra boost in the creature race, and it allows me to remove a Meddling Mage against beatdown. Additionally, I can use it against other control decks featuring more creatures, as neither their Meddling Mages nor my own will stop it. It used to be a Rout, but end-step effects aren't what they used to be - at least, not for seven mana.
The other cards deal with more specific situations. For example, Teferi's Response is excellent tech against Opposition, and Aegis of Honor wrecks Urza's Rage. Two copies of Ray of Distortion were added to act as four Disenchants. Although the Ray is vastly more expensive than the simple Disenchant, I find that it'll deal with any bothersome enchantments well enough - especially during my opponent's end step, without extra copies clogging up my hand. Finally, Sacred Ground was included against the one card I fear more than any other: Obliterate. With red's troubles with getting rid of enchantments, I feel that this is an adequate solution to the Obliterate problem, saving my lands from destruction. I used to have three copies in here, but I figure by turn eight, I'll have drawn enough cards to get this cheap enchantment into play.
What's not in the sideboard? Notably, Gainsay is not, and that's the card I miss the most. However, I feel that with the Undermines (not usually included in control decks like this) make up for the lost Gainsays in the sideboard. Additionally, I've removed Legacy Weapon from the board, as Millstones have quietly slipped off the scene. Other choices I've taken into consideration are Death Grasp for surprise kill value, Millstone for alternate win condition, and Worship for added protection.
So there it is: Finkula control. If it can't counter it, it'll directly remove it. If direct removal won't work, look to the sideboard for wins in games two and three. I'm taken by this deck, and for good reason - the deck is amazing! Now that you know why, I'd suggest you prepare some good sideboard slots against it - unless, of course, you're going to be playing against me in an upcoming tournament!
* - Tune in next week for the most unique report you've ever read!