It's been a while since there was a constructed deck that I was particularly enthused about. The last time I won consistently with anything in Constructed was the extended R/G Scapeshift/Primeval Titan deck that I took to a second place finish in GP Atlanta. I wasn’t playing much Magic in the time leading up to Worlds in San Francisco last year and wasn’t too familiar with the Standard metagame at the time. When I got together with the team a few days before the tournament and started playing the decks in our gauntlet it seemed like they were pretty terrible. Not our decks per se, just the stock lists of the popular decks. There was no doubt that the Tempered Steel list we ran with Moorland Haunt and Etched Champion was a sweet list with significant upgrades from previous Tempered Steel lists and a great deck choice for that tournament. However, the stock versions of Illusions/Wolf Run/Humans/Solar Flare etc. just seemed pretty bad to me.
I remembered that Jeremy Neeman had won a standard GP with UB Control but it seemed like no one was playing it. I figured there were 2 main possibilities:
1) The deck wasn’t very good and Jeremy had won with it because of how well he plays (since he is one of the best players in the world and Luis’s Neemesis of course).
2) The deck was good but it didn’t catch on with the masses post-GP because it was too hard for people not of Jeremy’s caliber to pilot.
After piloting it for a day or so I realized it was definitely option number 2. Everything is a decision with this deck. Do I counter that or do I flashback Think Twice since I am only holding 1 land and don’t want to miss land drops later on in the game? Do I kill that now or Forbidden Alchemy and take some damage but get that selection out of the way now? Do I take the land off the Alchemy which will give me land 7 to flash it back in 2 turns, or do I take this Mana Leak I have no clue if I will need or not? I told the Channel Fireball guys I thought the deck was good, but they said basically even if it was it was too late to start working on a new deck and especially a control one. They were definitely right, as it's a long and hard tuning process for control decks that expect to play with half to three quarters of their library every game. These are the kind of decks where adding just one of something or changing the number of a card by 1 can greatly alter your win percentages in matchups. You can’t just decide to start tuning a deck like this 2 days before the tournament. So I started testing the deck with Pat Cox for fun and the future and resigned myself to play our sweet Tempered Steel list at Worlds.
The testing started with Pat telling me GW beat UB. Then I beat him like 6-1 with my only loss being a mull to 5 or something and he was like "well, you are playing the deck differently than other people were in our testing". Basically the key to that particular matchup was not Black Sun's Zenithing for 2 when they played a Mirran Crusader, but rather waiting until you had 6 mana and could Black Sun's Zenith with Mana Leak open for the Planeswalker they could play on the turn after you Zenith. Even if that meant literally going to 2 life or so, they aren’t playing mono red, they can’t really burn you out save the rare occasional Mortarpod, and you have so many counters and removal. The thing with UB is that every matchup is like that. You have to learn how to time your spells and figure out which cards matter most and your best plans to victory in every matchup. I firmly recommend this deck to anyone who is going to play Standard right now. It has a favorable Delver matchup and crushes the other anti-Delver decks like Wolf Run and Chapin’s sweet removal/control deck that he annihilated delver with in GP Orlando. Basically any form of control is usually pretty favorable. You do have matchups where you are less than 50 percent to win. However, with so much removal these matchups are very winnable. Don’t think I am saying you will just beat everything though, since you are an underdog against Tempered Steel, Mono red, and Humans with Mana Leaks.
GP Orlando 2012 Standard
I started off 9-0, but got really sick between by Sunday morning. Frankly, I am not going to say I would have made Top 8 and even won the GP if I hadn’t, but on Saturday I was 3-0 (6-1) games against Delver and 9-0. I started off Sunday losing 2-1 to PV, and I probably should have won both games I lost. Feeling that sick this was too hard of a deck to play, but I know if I were healthy I would have won that match. Everything after that would change, as I would have been 10-0 looking at mostly very favorable matchups throughout the top tables. Anti-Delverish decks like Conley's and Chapin’s at the end of the GP, and mostly Delver and Wolf Run were throughout the top tables in Day 2. As it was, I played very poorly all day Sunday and finished 32nd. Right now, there isn’t much I would change about the decklist. If you expect a field of around 25-33 percent Delver and a decent amount of other decks and Wolf Runs trying to beat Delver, the deck is constructed the right way, with the only change I would make to the 75 being to cut 1 Virulent Wound from the sideboard for 1 more Phantasmal Image. If you expect a field of say 40-50 percent Delver like it was in GP Orlando, with the 3 bye players and into day2, then I would cut 1 Tribute to Hunger and 1 Blue Sun's Zenith from the main for 1 more Liliana of the Veil and 1 more Curse of Death's Hold in the main.
This is how I sideboard/plan a little for the most common matchups.
Against Delver Blade:
(when I am on the play I switch 1 mana leak and 1 Dissipate)
Really this matchup plays more like a control mirror than like playing against an aggro deck. You just want to keep dissolving their threats and ways to gain card advantage while drawing cards. You don’t want to let your life fall below five or so, but in the early game if you are taking like 2 damage a turn from 15 while making land drops and casting Think Twice, that favors you rather than them. If they overload the board then you should Black Sun's Zenith away everything or whatnot. Flipped Delvers hit hard and fast so try and kill/counter those away in the early game, but try and ignore 1-2 damage a turn from random 1/1s. Build your lands and hand and get to the point where you can clear their stuff and start landing Bloodlines and Curses with mana open to play for Leaks.
Against Wolf Run:
The main plan here is to be a draw-go deck. Counter the meaningful stuff and just keep drawing cards and making land drops. If you do that sooner or later you can Blue Sun's Zenith for a bunch and win easily. However, a lot of times the games get sloppy. You can very easily still win games where they resolve Titans and Planeswalkers. Karn Liberated trumps everything and Curses make Garruks look pretty unimpressive, as well as shutting off Inkmoth Nexus. One of the hardest games I played came against Andrew Auburn in round 9 playing Wolf Run, where he ran me out of counterspells when I was stuck around 4 lands so I couldn’t really get my card drawing engine going. Instead, I ended up having to get a Curse out to make his Garruk more manageable, but then he started resolving Titans. I had Liliana of the Veil/Doom Blade so even after Primeval Titan's search ability, with Curse shutting off Inkmoth and making Garruks 2/2 wolves look a little smaller, the game stayed within reach. Eventually Karn took out Garruk, and I was able to stabilize by the skin of my teeth and win. Obviously you would prefer plan A, but Curse can lock out a lot of what Wolf Run does, so don’t be scared to get dirty.
Against Humans: This is the matchup I sacrificed the most in to make the deck good against DelverBlade. I used to consider Humans are fairly easy matchup, but now I frequently find myself on the wrong side of Human beat down. I sideboard completely differently on the play and the draw in this match.
On the play I take out
On the draw I sideboard out 3 Forbidden Alchemy and 1 Liliana of the Veil for the same 4 cards. The reason for this plan is that on the play it’s much easier to keep Honor of the Pure off the board, and therefore you can ignore most of their little guys and start sweeping the board and Cursing them. On the draw I hope to just kill/counter each thing they play and hit a big Blue Sun's Zenith for the win. If you want to improve this matchup it could probably be done with trading some Ratchet Bombs in the sideboard for some Virulent Wounds. While they would probably come in versus a few other matchups like Delver/Steel, I have found them to be unimpressive versus pretty much everything except Humans.
Against Tempered Steel:
The main reason for the Negates, and the overall plan here, is to keep Tempered Steel off the board. If you can do that, then Curse of Death's Hold will dominate the matchup. Negate also counters Idols and Spellbombs which are the other things you are often interested in countering, while you want to just Black Sun's Zenith away their Memnites, Vault Skirges, Etched Champions, etc. This matchup used to be very bad, but as of late (with all the Curses), I have been beating it sometimes. I still think it is in Steel’s favor, but it is very winnable.
Against the Mirror
Obviously you board a little differently against each control deck, but in generally looks something like this.
The way that you want the games play out is to try and push through Liliana of the Veil or Bloodline Keeper early with counter backup. Late game, never tap out until you would have to discard. If you can outland them and or mill them, that’s great. If you would have to discard good spells then and only then do you usually start trying to play things, and you should generally start with your cheaper threats. Resolving Jace, Memory Adept and Karn Liberated is usually game winning, so you don’t want to throw those around loosely. It is perfectly ok if you burn a Bloodline Keeper or Liliana as long as you don’t allow them to resolve Jace or Karn.
I highly recommend this deck for the current standard season. Pat Cox and I have been testing and tuning it since worlds and it is very powerful and has great answers to everything right now. Just make sure you can play fast and you get in some practice before you use it in a tournament.