Hello people who think Cloudshift is a bad card! I'm Bernie Makino and I recently won Maryland States with it. I've played in high-level events with various money and Pro Point finishes in the last two years most recently finishing in the Top 16 at Grand Prix Boston-Worcester. I'm not as good at this game as many of the authors of articles on this website which is why it's impressive that I called winning States with Cloudshift then plowed through the field to do just that.
- 2 Angel of Serenity
- 4 Arbor Elf
- 2 Armada Wurm
- 1 Avacyn's Pilgrim
- 4 Disciple of Bolas
- 3 Restoration Angel
- 4 Thragtusk
The aim of this deck is to present some board presence (typically with an early Thragtusk or Restoration Angel) and then use card advantage spells like Disciple of Bolas Unburial Rites and Angel of Serenity to stay ahead of your opponent through pure draw power. This deck cares little for what the opponent is doing (outside of Craterhoof Behemoth) and tries to just give itself more resources leaving the opponent stuck with fair cards and one-for-ones while you grab three to five new cards when you need a refill. This deck is almost never in a rush to end games—staying alive and constantly keeping a full grip and board will eventually end games in your favor.
The decklist itself was pretty close to what I'd want to play if I were to do so again. I think I would have upgraded the Garruk Relentless in the main to something else (Primal Hunter perhaps?) as he was never really awe-inspiring. I probably should have had one more Avacyn's Pilgrim over one Mana Bloom going 6-5 in favor of mana dorks instead of 6-5 in favor of more resilient ramping. Mana Bloom was originally put in the deck when it had more Cloudshifts (mana dork Bloom for two Thragtusk with Cloudshift up is ideal but being able to bubble your mana by using Mana Bloom on both your turn and their turn was more common) and is something you never really want two of.
The sideboard was off by a number of cards but I don't think I was missing any tools—I just needed more copies. If I were to play this deck again I would play four Centaur Healers and another Selesnya Charm. I probably could have used more Garruk Primal Hunter and less little Garruk as well. Abrupt Decay was perfect but Thalia was useless. If you think that any deck playing white mana and creatures should sideboard Thalia for the control decks you're wrong. Thragtusk and Disciple with Unburial backup is so much better than anything else you could be doing that you'd rather bring in cards that actually end the game after those inevitably put you ahead. More Garruk is probably the optimal plan there or even more Unburial Rites.
Throughout the tournament I didn't lose a single game in which I kept a seven-card hand. Literally every time I had a passable hand I just found a way to win. The deck is simply that good at finding whatever it needs to win while not dying. It's that good at going through your entire library and runs out of cards in library and mana before it runs out of things to do. When your opponent thinks their tech of a single Sphinx's Revelation is awesome you can rest easy knowing that you do the same thing for four less mana and can recur yours while gaining free 3/3 Beast tokens.
One thing was universally true of my opponents: they were all nice people. It was a very different feeling from a PTQ where everybody is just there to try to grab the one qualification via rules lawyering or making their opponents nervous and uncomfortable. I'd like to say thank you to everybody involved for making this event happen on a grand scale as well as the local level.
Round 1: U/W Midrange 2-0
Round 2: Zombies 2-1
Round 3: Mono-Red Aggro 1-2
Round 4: Jund Midrange 2-0
Round 5: Esper Control 2-0
Round 6: U/W/R Control 2-0
Round 7: Jund Midrange 2-0
Cut to Top 8 at 3rd Seed
Quarterfinals: Junk Midrange
My opponent was playing a very similar deck but he only had one Disciple of Bolas. We constantly had things to do until he ran out of ways to Disciple and he was eventually out-attritioned.
Semifinals: Junk Tokens
Game 1 on the draw and after a mulligan I lost to a turn 3 Sorin Lord of Innistrad and turn four Garruk Primal Hunter. The other two games my deck kept filling the board and he eventually ran out of cards.
Finals: B/R Zombies
My opponent was playing Bump in the Night. I was playing a deck packed with life gain. He'd been undefeated all day but that ended when the creatures he used Crippling Blight on got Blinked by a Restoration Angel or sacrificed to Disciple of Bolas only to be brought back by Unburial Rites. I had the sideboarded Selesnya Charm for his Rakdos Lord of Riots game 2 and that was all she wrote.
A few interesting scenarios came up during my rounds at States which may not be obvious to the casual decklist observer. Armada Wurm with Vault of the Archangel allows you to run over any creature by assigning one point of damage due to the interaction of deathtouch and lifelink. You can win through a Tamiyo ultimate unless they have Azorius Charm or a sweeper with hard counter backup. Restoration Angel can win through board sweep and Sever the Bloodline can take you through Entreat the Angels or Lingering Souls. Restoration Angel can't Blink an Angel of Serenity but it can Blink a Disciple of Bolas with the Angel of Serenity trigger on the stack to sacrifice the Angel of Serenity and leave their board permanently removed like a Cloudshift can.
It also never hurts to hear your opponent say "I don't think I can ever beat that deck" as happened in my round 6. Playing an unknown archetype is a great way to make your opponents go on tilt and try to play around everything because they just doesn't know what you're up to.
From what I saw at States it looked like there were three kinds of decks:
- Aggro: Red Zombies Burn etc. all fit this bill. They are just trying to get you dead quickly. The basic sideboard plan is to bring in Centaur Healers and sometimes Abrupt Decay / Selesnya Charm depending on what kind of aggro they're playing. You bring out Cloudshifts then shave a bit off the top end of the curve if you need space (Vraska Angel Armada and sometimes Garruk get cut in some quantity).
- Thragtusk: Yes he's so good that now he's an archetype. Thragtusk decks try to survive with value creatures and play defense against aggro while other times they try to play aggro/control against blue decks. Typically you don't even need to sideboard in this matchup but bringing in additional power answers and card draw can be nice. Taking out some ramp isn't a bad idea as the games typically devolve into grind fests. Pull Mana Bloom then Avacyn's Pilgrim if necessary.
- Blue: Typically accompanied by white and sometimes other colors blue is an entire feeling in this format: the feel of delaying the game and relying on Jace Architect of Thought to get ahead. It doesn't even matter if or how you sideboard against most blue decks. Your primary game plan will typically trump theirs. If hate becomes mainstream (which it should) then Acidic Slime may make an appearance. Bringing in planeswalkers can be fun as well but make sure you don't dilute the game plan of Disciple of Bolas / Thragtusk / Unburial Rites.
The reason I liked playing Junk Midrange at States is because I was well geared for all three of those kinds of decks. All three major types of decks have awful matchups against Junk Midrange.
Aggro is trying to beat a deck with a ton of life gain and Thragtusk shenanigans game 1 that brings in more life gain creatures post-board. The only way this tends to work out for aggro is if Junk Midrange stumbles while they have a nut draw as happened during my loss to red when I mulliganned three times over my two losses.
Other Thragtusk decks are doing what I do without the ability to refill their hand. That means we just go back and forth for a while until they run out of things to do and I keep doing things to win the game.
Blue tries to win with card advantage while keeping the board clear. That means that while they waste cards board sweeping away Thragtusk my Disciples put me ahead on cards. Or while they focus on cards I crush them with an end of turn Restoration Angel on Armada Wurm followed by Cloudshifting Armada Wurm (bonus points if they used Tamiyo the Moon Sage's +1 ability on it first) and slamming them for eighteen points after it looked like I'd have zero.
Simply put I don't think the decks that were played at States had the resilience that Thragtusk/ Disciple of Bolas /Restoration Angel bring together and I still don't think they do. No matter who was playing them this deck couldn't seem to lose to any of the Top 8 decks from SCG Standard Open: Cincinnati the week before.
The first response I get from just about everybody about this deck is that four Disciple of Bolas has to be wrong. The friend of mine who first came up with the basis for the deck even played three at States. I too wanted to play less than four at first. I don't know what it is about that card but it's just plain better than anybody wants to give it credit for myself included. I highly recommend that you playtest this deck as-is before making any changes. I guarantee you will be pleasantly surprised by your inability to lose to anything other than your own bad mana or mulligans the vast majority of the time.
Here's the list of things that are problems for the deck and make it possible for you to lose a reasonable percentage of the time:
- Mulligans. The nature of the deck means it's not that great at it. If you're trying to ramp to five mana and then cast spells but you only have five cards in hand your starting hand can't possibly have everything you need.
- Getting out-tempoed. Typically this happens when you keep a slow hand game 1 and they're playing Zombies/Burn. My only complaint with this deck is that since it's not very good with mulligans you're kind of stuck with your seven if it has a lands/spells balance at all (thankfully almost any mixture is good enough to get there). You can't really mulligan to a faster hand without taking a huge risk since this deck is poor on five cards and you don't need a fast hand against 2/3 of the format.
- Wrongly prioritizing board presence vs. card advantage. The critical piece to playing this deck is keeping enough on the board while gaining enough card advantage. Focusing too much on one while allowing the other to suffer will allow your opponent a window of attack you can't let open.
- Playing against perfect ramp into a Rakdos's Return while you have no Unburial Rites. This is one of the reasons four Disciple of Bolas is critical and why Grisly Salvage is so good; you should hopefully be able to dig to Rites such that a Rakdos's Return for five (for example) is immediately offset by a four-mana flashback spell. Disciple of Bolas / Thragtusk is the ideal counter to a Rakdos's Return as it literally undoes all of the progress your opponent made (for less mana I might add).
- Olivia Voldaren sticking. This is the biggest problem for the deck and dictated my choice of removal in the main. Abrupt Decay didn't make the maindeck only because Olivia exists. Sever deals with her well as does Vraska and Angel. Don't waste your somewhat limited removal against Olivia decks.
Having had the chance to see some more lists I can also say that the worst matchup in the field for Junk Midrange right now is Reanimator. If this deck continues to gain popularity I intend to test both Rest in Peace (boarding out the Unburial Rites) and Rise from the Grave to see which plan works better.
As of now I've been running Rise from the Grave and it's been enough. But if Reanimator gets very popular some more work will be needed. This matchup is one of the few where they can actually kill you from nowhere. However taking their Craterhoof Behemoth and returning the favor can be very fun.
- Bryan Hardenberger (deck concept designer).
- Judges (outnumbered more than usual).
- Glenn Goddard for administrating States.
- The people who supported me by staying watching and bringing me Chipotle.
- Poorly allocated prize support. 234 packs versus $3000 collected is well worse than $10/pack.
- Me for telling Bryan that this deck was bad for weeks before he came up with a version I thought was worth tweaking.
Thanks for reading